Maybe We Could Go Eat Caramels?

2 June 2011

“Why do we keep talking about food?” I asked my therapist, mostly to make sure that she knew the right answer.

“What would you like to discuss?” she replied in the typical shrink-speak of answering questions with questions that is simultaneously stereotype, cliché and the reason people hate therapists.

“Ya know doc, when my parents first separated, I was around eight years old. Somewhere around nine, my mother decided that my new-found scholastic apathy had reached a point where she wanted to send me to a shrink. He played backgammon with me, letting me win all the time but losing my overly precocious respect in the process. Even back then I could tell that he was trying to use the game I used to play with my father every Sunday after church as a proxy for other things. I hated that he kept treating me like a child. Sure, I resented my parents for breaking my world, resented my mother for the all white school she insisted I attend, resented my father for not being around to play backgammon with me, resented my mother for making me see this quack, but in those those moments most of my contempt was reserved for the guy that thought letting me win at backgammon and asking dumb questions was going to help.”

“Refugee, why did you tell me that story?”

I could feel the condescension percolating in my veins. I took as deep a breath as I thought I could take without looking even more pretentious.

“Doc, I told you that story for the exact reasons that you already know: to demonstrate that my disdain for this process is not a novelty of our conversations, to indicate that when you answer questions with questions it retards our progression and wastes our time (time I cannot really afford,) and hopefully to let you know that I need you not to be as predictable as some television character playing the role of therapist in some oughta-be-on-E! network drama.”

“Well, Refugee how do you see this progressing?”

“I need this to be a completely safe place for me to start the work on myself. I need you to understand me and know that I know enough about the therapeutic process that we can maybe skip ahead a few steps. I need for you to push me and challenge me. And for those things to happen, I need you to not be so malleable, to be entirely, painfully honest with me, and to skip that rote, therapy by numbers bullshit that is driving me onto my soapbox right now…

“Doc, I’m not sure this is the right relationship for me. I, I, I just don’t think this is going to work out.”

“Refugee, I understand completely why you think that. Our hour is up, but I would be happy to email you the names of some people that might be better equipped to help you.”

I don’t do break-ups well, so I paused for a moment to let the cartoon word clouds of what we both just said to deflate. “OK, thank you for that and for the time that we have spent together” I finally stated.

“Sure” she replied as she extended her hand towards me.

At the moment when a handshake is supposed to end, this doctor I had just dismissed held on and said “One question before you go – what was the best thing that happened to you this week?”

I didn’t need time to think about it. “Oh, I made this amazing sea salt and peanut hard caramel” I said with the left-side only grin that I get when talking about food. “I used a little bit of bacon fat in addition to the butter so it’s this fantastic combination of sweet with a hint of savory, crunchy and nutty.”

“My mouth waters just thinking about it… bring me some caramel when you come in next week” she said without gloating or affect.

I made her the caramels.


A Few Open Letters

23 February 2011

Dear Pretty Pretty Princess, P3 for short*,

You asked me why I lose my poker face and can’t hide my disdain when I am around your bloviating boyfriend or his name is mentioned in discussion. First, we’ve known each other for more than a couple of years, so you know that I know from bloviation. Second, it is not his useless rhetoric or constant need to insert himself and his perceived trump card into any unoccupied corner of a conversation. Third, you have to know that it has nothing to do with your unfounded suspicion that I still want to be in your bed.

No, P3 , my allergic reaction to him has everything to do with the fact that he is about as secure as a puppy that marks every part of his territory at every opportunity. It has to do with the fact that any man who has compulsive need to have a hand on his partner’s ass for the entirety of an evening is small, petty, and ungentlemanly. It has everything to do with the fact that you not only accept this unacceptably possessive, and unseemly behavior, but you seem to embrace it like a woman who thinks she can do no better. My problem with him is the P3 that you’ve become with him. You cannot expect your friends to watch you dissolve yourself into him and then want to drink the weak tea that results.

Sincerely,

A Man Missing a Friend

*****

Dear Bartender at the Ebbit,

When a guest asks you for a “Basil Hayden Manhattan, 75-25, extra-cold and skip the cherry and the bitters unless you have some Orange Bitters around” the proper response is something in the affirmative. You may also be inclined to think that the orderer might know a thing or two about cocktails, might even be Industry. The absolutely improper response would be to, wrongly, insist that Manhattan’s don’t contain bitters. You really should not belabor the point – especially because your lack of preparation is showing – thrice more.

Who did you bang to get that job?

Sincerely,

The Industry Guy Who Went to Another Bar after that Cocktail

*****

Dear Family,

Life is complicated. I get that. You know that I get that better than most. Please stop taking me for granted; I am not your foregone conclusion.

Sincerely,

The Emotionally Exhausted Son, Sibling, Uncle, and Cousin

*****

Dear Woman Who Would Prefer Not to be Named,

That suede kitchen apron might be the most thoughtful gift anyone has ever given me… up there with the book of Neruda Love Poems from another woman who would rather not be named. It means the world to me – you will forever be my lesbian soulmate.

Sincerely,

A Man Who Ain’t Easy to Shop for

*Charmed reference for those of you who don’t think I have ever consumed absent minded pop culture,


Introductions – The Good, The Bad, and The Fraudulent

8 October 2010

When I got to one of my favorite watering holes, the only seat at the small bar was next to two guys (deliberate use of the term.) Both were more than a couple of drinks into their evening – a red flag given the fact that it was barely after 6pm on a Thursday. They were annoying but affable. Their conversation was two notches louder than polite society dictates but they were discussing the relative merits of various Sinatra songs.

I was content to try and ignore them and work on my computer until they were consternating about the meaning of “I wanna wake up in a city that never sleeps.” The line from the classic and iconic song New York, NY didn’t make sense to either – “how can one wake in a city that rejects sleep” they kept asking the other. As a bit of a Sinatra Nerd and a man that has a problem with not answering questions when I know the answer, I finally interrupted to explain that “It’s metaphorical; he wants his life to begin – to wake up – in NYC.” After a couple of added and explanatory comments I returned to my computer and they returned to the loud, the singing, the annoying but affable.

Eventually the guy two stools to my left departed, and the one hard next to me asked for his tab. I was convinced that my evening was about to be free of them, until an attractive 30something blonde walked in and took the seat of the first of this duo to depart.

The next part of this story is as predictable as a sunrise – the remaining guy delayed his departure to try his best to find a reason to stay and talk with the pretty lady. He was still drunk and still annoying, but the lady was too polite to dismiss him. I kept an ear and eye on the evolution of their conversation (probably because I have a low grade savior complex when it comes to women in these kinds of situations.) When I heard the tell-tale sign of eroding civility, “we’ll have to agree to disagree,” I suspected that the interaction was nearing the tipping point. It took me another ten seconds to catch her gaze; at which point, she looked at me and gave him an eye-roll.

I took a deep pull from my beer, hoped that I correctly read the situation, and proceeded to intercede.

“Pardon me for interrupting; I saw you when you walked in but I wasn’t sure it was you from your pictures… I hope you’re here to meet me. I’m Refugee.”

She took just a beat too long (if the rouse was to fool a sober person, but fine for this moment) to recognize and respond to the play, but once she got it, she went with it.

“So nice to meet you; I kinda thought that was you too, I was just about to call you. I’m Hazel, so nice to finally meet you after all of the emails we traded… let me just wrap up this conversation and I’ll come over.”

The drunk dude left (but not before slurring gin too close to her one more time.) Hazel moved a seat over for appearances. “Thank you for helping me out there, I’m never any good at getting out of those situations… you said your name’s Refugee, right?”

“Yes, Refugee, and it’s nice to meet you.”

We chatted for a while after our introduction. I gave her some advice about avoiding the type of conversation that precipitated our meeting – little white lies are helpful. She gave me some advice about the date I had later – a woman would rather be captivating than engaging. We parted with a hug and good luck wishes all around.



Cooking for Those Racing to the Bottom

1 September 2010

I got the call way too early for my taste [ed. note – the way my insomnia manifests varies, but lately it has me finally finding sleep just after sunrise. So calls before 9am are highly unpleasant.] Her voice was way too perky for pre-caffeinated discussion. However, she quickly identified herself as a new client, so I rallied my attentions to have a good conversation. We coverec her planned date (last Saturday,) how she came to contact me (referral from this client,) the number of guests, style of food, and then I heard the two words that stir concern in the heart of any service industry professional:

Bachelorette Party

I have long considered the pre-marriage descent into bacchanalian excess to be to be in the same category as tequila shots, dates with ex’s, and Kevin Costner films*. That is to say: things that have the patina of a good idea but whose shine quickly fades leaving nothing but the dull hue of impending regrets.

Against better judgment, and all prior experience, I took the gig anyway. Mostly because it was a referral from a good client, but also because August is too slow of a month to turn down business. I did have a couple of conditions:

  • I will not be making anything in the shape of a penis.
  • I will not use any cheesy double-entendres in the names of any dish, cocktail, or wine.
  • Should there be any strippers involved in the evening, they may not appear until after the dessert course had been cleared.

…and I still knew that it was a bad idea.

The second indication that I should have rejected this gig, was the host preference that I not hire an assistant for service and prep (six guests are not too much for me to handle solo, but the evening goes so much more smoothly with another set of hands.) I certainly should have expressed more concern when the wine order included double the booze that I would have stocked for my hard-drinking friends.

The host, the bride-to-be, and two bridesmaids were already there when I arrived four hours before the cocktail hour. The first hour of prep proceeded without a hitch… then they all came into the kitchen. I don’t mind questions while I cook but after the second bottle of champagne was popped, their queries took a decidedly more lurid tone. It was the laziness and insincerity of the flirtations that bothered me most. None of them were truly directed at me as much as they were intended for an objectified me – I was simple a placeholder representing any man in their proximity. The pack dynamic was fully displayed with each of these woman trying to one-up the others. It was unseemly.

By the time I served the Prosecco Poached Berries with Hazelnut Whipped Cream I had endured a handful of inappropriate touches, too many flaccid innuendos to count, and overheard a baker’s dozen of suggestions about ways to use “any sauce [I] had left over.”

[ed. note: I am not suggesting – even for the split second it takes to over-poach an egg – that my experience is in any way comparable to what too many women endure in the presence of undignified men.]

As I was cleaning, the host and the maid of honor came into the kitchen to thank me for my efforts, and to “apologize if the girls got a little too rowdy.” The host, followed that by placing a handful of bills in the back pocket of my jeans as a tip.

I was almost done packing my things when she came into the kitchen once more.

Refugee, everything really was lovely, I’m never cooking for a dinner party again. Are you available the first Saturday of October for another dinner of about the same size?”

No, I’m not” I replied with a full stop that I hoped would prevent further inquiry.

Oh, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you’re booked that far in advance” the host said with a slight slur.

I should have left things there, but my lessor demons shouted down the better angles so I responded “I didn’t say I was booked, just that I’m not available.”

*exceptions made for The Untouchables & Bull Durham… and maybe Dances with Wolves too


obligations and rights – kept and ignored, preserved and violated

22 June 2010

I am a fan of enumerated rights and clear obligations… for example:

I am obliged to attend friends’ 30th birthday parties… on roof decks… with stunning 360 degree views… and great company.

I am obliged to accept dates from long-lashed ingénues when asked.

The aforementioned ingénue has an absolute right to cancel at the last minute and by accidental extension make me look supremely over-dressed for that rooftop party that was to be my precursory activity.

I have an absolute right to contend (against all evidence and beliefs of friends) that it was the canceled date that made me over-dressed rather than my natural proclivity.

I have a right to choose extending my night by drinking with my favorite bartender and one of my favorite people.

I have an obligation not to accept the advances of the very tipsy girl who is overly flirtatious with me because her almost-last-call-sensor is ringing like a church bell, or she is expressing latent daddy-issues due to proximity to father’s day and a man more than fifteen years her senior.

I have a right to go onto the sidewalk and hail a cab without being ignored by drivers of empty cabs, or being unduly questioned about my destination before being granted admittance to said cab.

I have an obligation not to become testy when empty cabs keep passin’ me by in search of faster and presumably more lucrative fares of large groups.

Cab drivers have an obligation to know where they’re going and I have lesser obligation to calmly provide direction when they don’t.

All passengers have a right to certain conditions for that ride (heat in the winter, air conditioning in the summer, a silent ride if they choose.)

I am obliged to courteously request a cessation of music being played at ear splitting volumes.

I am obliged to courteously repeat said requests, and a right, guaranteed by law, to expect that said request be honored.

I have a right to indicate that payment will be withheld unless transportation occurs in a manner dictated by law, and a further right to have such disputes mediated by law enforcement officials should a satisfactory agreement not be reached.

Law enforcement officials have an obligation to mediate such disputes without histrionics.

Law enforcement officials have an unmitigated obligation to protect and serve the public while enforcing the laws they are sworn to uphold.

I have several constitutionally guaranteed rights not to be threatened with arrest simply for asking that law enforcement officials do their jobs.

I have additional rights not to have handcuffs produced and told “either get back in the cab or go to jail… right now” when I am breaking no laws.

I have a right not to have the fear of false arrest with an officer producing handcuffs before I have completed two sentences of explanation of the problem.

Police officers have obligation not to foment or underscore the negative stereotypes about themselves.

Knowledge of these rights and obligations does nothing to ease discomfit with the notion that either fear of arrest, or lack of time prevented me from getting a badge number. Nor will that knowledge quell the disquieting erosion of my frequent defense of police officers as a heroic and underpaid lot of civil servants who are too frequently and unfairly tarnished by the actions of a few bad operators… your tarnish just became slightly more fair.


Laws of Attraction, Theories of Relativity

2 June 2010

My dear friend, who writes I’m Gonna Break Your Heart, is tall with long dancer’s legs that make women and men alike swoon a bit.  That she almost always adorns those legs with very high heels means that she is solidly north of six feet tall.  The aforementioned facts are only relevant because it was her height and the moronic on-line dating messages her stature inspired from substantively shorter would-be suitors.  One message (and the accumulated impact of many like it) inspired a blog post about the type of men who feel compelled to contact her with some variation of the “you don’t know what you’re missing” theme.

Her post was built of frustration and fatigue, but it was the comments, which struck a more unforgiving tone, that got me thinking.

I agree that the men who are sending those messages are Napoleonic troglodytes with massive chips about their shoulders and serious insecurities.  However, no one addressed the issue of the origins of said shoulder chips or active insecurities.

Boys are reared in a Lord of the Flies type of world where whomever is strongest, most virile always has the conch.  For better or worse, height is frequently perceived as a component of that strength, height is part of virility, and in that context height has virtue.  That socialization doesn’t go away simply because we have reached adulthood.  Therefore a lot of men read “you must be this tall to ride this ride” as you must be this GOOD to ride, and they have read that/been told that for the better part of their lives.  It may not be conscious but it is certainly looming in the subconscious.

To further complicate matters, it seems that the definitions are limited to tall and short (at least as it pertains to dating) with tall being at least six feet.  Given that every man under that magical number of inches is well aware that the average height of adult males in the US is 5-9, it stings twice when men of average stature are told they’re too short (read not good enough.)  Do all of these factors lead to attempts at over-compensation? Of course.  Do the majority of those attempts have some sort of douchetastic ramifications? Probably, and that’s what shows up in my tall friend’s inbox every so often.

Quick aside: if you are a woman dating a man who tells you not to wear heels, you should generally be distrustful of people who ask you to sacrifice your comfort for the sake of theirs.

The final complication is added by the fact that too many women typically take no ownership of their role in this issue.  As men have been socialized since childhood to place virtue in size and strength, women have been socialized to place virtue in the physicality of size zeros.  Women have been socialized to be the “fairer” sex and a part of that is having a man who is taller and bigger.  I get it and I am not trying to demonize any woman who wants that, but it would be nice if we could at least call it what it is.

So a man is being told he is too short to be dateable (read not good enough,) even though he knows he is about average, and most women who make the claim don’t acknowledge that their explicitly stated preference has even the tiniest root in their own body issues.  That might get frustrating for a man.  I am not now, nor would I ever excuse less than gentlemanly behavior, just offering a theory of its origins.


Happy Blogiversary to Me – You’re Invited to the Virtual Party

26 May 2010

I missed my blogiversary – it passed last Friday – and I am not sure if it means anything that it just kinda slipped my mind.  I will leave that question to another time because I still wish to acknowledge the two years that I have been writing in this space.

This connection has been a real and important part of my life and I value all of the people who stop by to read, comment, cajole, support, question, challenge, or engage.  All of you form the foundation of an e-community that as just as valuable to me as those with whom I share brick and mortar community that had origins in this space.

Last year I asked everyone, readers, regulars, and lurkers alike to leave me a comment as an anniversary present.  Someone who shall remain nameless called that selfish and vainglorious, eh, I thought that it was harmless enough.  However, on this second blogiversary, we shall make the celebration a bit more reciprocal and inclusive.  From now until Friday*, I am collecting questions.  Leave them in the comments, send me an email** (restaurantrefugee at gmail dot com) and ask me anything you want to know about me, the blog, restaurants, wine, or any other area that might pique your curiosity.  The collection of questions and answers will be posted on Friday, the designated day of belated celebration.

Thanks for the last two years; it’s been a helluva lot cheaper than therapy.

___________

* You can send questions anytime you like, they just won’t be in the anniversary post unless I get them before it goes live on Friday.   As time permits, I will update the post to include questions received after Friday.

** All emails will be treated as confidential unless you indicate otherwise.


In Which I Maybe Should Have Gotten Punched for Saying the Wrong Thing

19 May 2010


If you get four wine people together and ask them one question, you’re likely to get at least seven different answers.  That’s half the fun of wine discussions – the nuance, the context, the arguments – I love it all.  The gratis wine and food certainly don’t hurt either.  Thus when I get invited to speak on panels or judge competitions, it takes very little to convince me to attend.

That is unless a particular pretend-journalist is also an invitee.  Teddy and I have known each other since we were both low level restaurant managers meeting after shifts to bitch about our tyrannical owners.  I got Teddy into my wine tasting group – his talent was experiential rather than academic but he had a natural facility with descriptions.

Eventually he parlayed that ability into starting his own website. His small but loyal following grew when he got a mention from a mid-major publication.  It was a “for fun project” that Teddy decided to make a for profit escape from restaurant life… he never really loved restaurants.  A few sponsors came and then he made the decision to get in bed with a consortium of wineries.

He began taking monies from questionable sources and giving great press to those sources… and making a living and a name for himself in the process.

It was a souring experience for me, Teddy knew it, and it functionally ended our acquaintanceship.  We would still see each other when he would occasional post at the late night places.  I may not have been the most cordial to him.

A couple of years ago we found ourselves on the same panel discussion about something obscure that might only matter to 0.2 people who read this.  It didn’t take long before the other people on the dais were just kind of watching us ping-pong increasingly personal points of disagreement.  At one point, I might have accused him of “possessing analysis that has all of the depth of a hair-root.”

Teddy may have retorted something along the lines of “At least people know who I am and what I stand for unlike you and your shaky credibility and flighty career moves.”

I am fairly certain that I responded with “Yes, Teddy, we all know exactly what you are; the only debate is about the price.”

Surprisingly, there were no punches thrown.  Not surprisingly, we have never appeared together since.


In Which I Almost Get into a Fight with a 15 Year Old

18 May 2010


One of the best parts of running my own business is that I rarely have to commute during the busiest time periods.  I generally avoid the trains packed with commuters or too loud with teenagers.  A recent Thursday was an exception.

A couple of stations after I boarded three high school boys entered the train.  They sat in a manner that selfishly occupied more space than they needed, and conversed in a volume that selfishly included everyone in their profanity laced conversation.  F-Bombs and N-Bombs flowed like some of the crap that passes for hip hop these days.

Had I been listening to my mp3 player, I might have just cranked the volume, and swallowed my tongue for the next four stops.  Had they not been wearing gear from my high school alma mater, I might have tried harder to ignore them.

From my position, I only had to rotate a few degrees to face the “Alpha” of the group.

“I know you” I began in a tone that older black men get to use with younger versions of ourselves when they’re “acting-up” and know it.  “Yeah, I know exactly who you are.  You’re fake-tough.  You see, I can tell by the way you speak – pronouncing your G’s a little too carefully, dropping an SAT word here and there – I know you’re not really tough. I know that you sprinkle your expletives from some desire to sound how you think tough kids sound.  It rings especially fake considering your private school uniforms… from a place where I was a student 20 years ago.

“I went to school with guys like you, hell I even tried that fake-tough language once or twice.  But now’s the time you really need to stop, not just because you embarrass yourself and our school with all this phony and foul language around little kids and women.  By the by, it might fool some of the people into thinking you’re not fake-tough, but not me.  Nah, you need to stop now because fake-tough only leads to two things: trouble at home and school, and getting your ass kicked because you tried your fake-tough routine with someone who’s actually tough.

“So let’s just quit this whole farcical charade, shall we.”

I could see the adrenaline and decision making in his eyes – his pride was wounded and he possessed no easy retorts.  I had no regrets about my message or its tone, I do wish I had said all of it in a more private manner, giving him the option of a more graceful surrender before his friends.  To make his decision easier, I finished with “You know I’m right, and you should also know that I have your football coach and principal on my speed dial.”

The trio exited two stops later.  On their way off the train, the “Alpha” made some vaguely insulting comment about my suit being “busted.”

A woman who was standing not too far from me and had witnessed the whole interaction leaned towards me and said “some lessons are hard to learn.”

I laughed a bit before replying “He learned the lesson alright; he might have said my suit was busted, but notice that he didn’t curse when he said it?”


Dreaming in Metaphors

11 May 2010

I have discussed my insomnia in this space on more than one occasion. For me, insomnia manifests in waves.  Over the last twenty years, I’ve faced calm sleeping seas and consecutive years of high swells. Through numerous conversations with my doctors, I have steadfastly resisted their entreaties to allow them to medicate the problem (and me) into submission.  Until recently, that is…

Three nights of little green pills have produced nothing more than fitful sleep and the strangest of dreams.  What follows is an adaptation of one of those WTF!#?? dreams in which the characters and situations have no discernible root to my life.

I thought Jade and I had exorcised all of our relationship demons before getting engaged.  We’d seen each other in crisis, had traveled together, found agreement on all of life’s big ticket items, and I was as mad for her as I was for her four year old son.  For almost two years, we dated and never saw a problem we couldn’t solve with honest communication… and maybe some champagne too.

About a month before our wedding day – small ceremony in the chapel of her undergraduate alma mater – we went to a Mother’s Day lawn party hosted by her classmate and would-be Matron of Honor. The women all seemed to be wearing sundresses and the men all seemed to find a shade of pastel as harbinger of late spring.  After my first hamburger but before my second beer, Jade ended a phone call and headed my way bearing the electric smile that helped me fall for her that first night we met.

“Why are you so happy?” I asked.

She laced her arm around mine and uttered the sentence I never thought I’d hear her from her lips, the sentence that would end our relationship.

“You’re looking at the new chair of the Palin 2012 campaign.”

There aren’t many things that could render me incapable of verbal communication, but this was near the top of a very short list.  The room was spinning like I had the hangover from hell when Jade finally stopped the rotation with “Well, say something.”

“You’re a democrat, a democrat who’s pro-choice, pro-gun-control, pro-green, and you went to Smith for fucksakes!”

And that was it.  Our relationship, our life together shattered in as much time as it takes for three “you betcha’s” and a couple of winks.

I grabbed another beer and went to find Max, the little boy who wasn’t going to understand any of this.

“Max, I need to talk to you” I said just after he stuck his dismount from the Moonbounce.

“Max, your Mom is going to have a longer conversation with you later but the short version is ‘I’m not going to be around for a while.’”

His little head, with surprisingly large ears, nodded up and down – Jade conceived through a sperm-bank and I always kinda suspected that Will Smith was the donor.  I continued “There are some things I may not be around to tell you, but that you need to know in this life:

  • You’re going to get in trouble, you’re going to do something wrong and get caught;   when that happens, never lie about it, that only makes it worse.
  • Steer into a skid… and that doesn’t just go for driving
  • Black and White photographs are always cooler than color
  • The correct number of eggs for an omelet is two not three
  • There is no such thing as ‘out of your league’
  • If  your cab driver is listening to NPR, tip them a bit extra
  • Always make friends with the bartender
  • Never draw to an inside straight
  • A night of bad theater is better than a good night in front of the TV
  • Never do business with someone you wouldn’t drink with
  • Never wear loafers with a suit
  • There is no good sartorial application for polyester
  • People who only have self-taken pictures in their dating profile have no friends
  • Never pass on the opportunity to pay an honest compliment
  • Always wait for the second generation of a new technology before you invest
  • When you’re at a party, only tell one joke; always leave em’ wanting more
  • Quartz watches are for suckas
  • There is no car that looks good in yellow
  • Miller Lite is not beer… but that doesn’t make it evil on a really hot day
  • Learning how to dance early will yield exponential dividends later
  • Do go on that semester abroad
  • Do not gamble with pool players who have multiple word names like Philly Mike, or Six Fingered Tony
  • Chewing gum in public isn’t inherently bad, but everyone else knowing you’re chewing gum because your mouth resembles a bovine with a hunk of cud is bad
  • Daydreaming is a virtuous activity, practice it often… but not in class
  • Do not trust people who begin conversations with ‘Can I be honest with you’
  • Also not worthy of your trust are Yankee fans not from New York… or Yankee fans in general, might as well ad Red Sox fans to the list too
  • Do not see any Kevin Costner movie that doesn’t involve baseball… except maybe The Untouchables
  • Learn the word ‘feckless’ and use it whenever appropriate
  • It is always better to be the irresistible force than the immoveable object
  • Free advice is usually worth exactly what you pay for it, and ‘your mileage may vary’ applies to this list and just about everything you will ever learn as there are very few absolute truths…
  • Among the world’s absolute truths is that you will be judged for your ringtone – choose wisely.

And then I got in my yellow sports car, adjusted the tie on my polyester shirt and steered into my nocturnal skid.


For Whom Doth The Sexy Bell Toll?

19 April 2010

My very dear friend, The Only Slightly Sleazy Lobbyist, and I deluded ourselves into thinking that we were still athletes one recent Sunday.  We played a couple of hours of “hang-over tennis” on a gorgeous afternoon.  After removing protective knee braces, ankle supports, and our respectively bruised egos, we made our way back across the river to grab some beer and sit on his patio with his neighbor and our friend, The Pistol.

The Pistol earned her nickname because of her fierce mind, liberal politics, staunch feminism, irreverent wit, and more than occasionally profane vocabulary.   She is near the top of both of our lists of favorite people.

As we were leaving the corner store with a few six packs of Bell’s Oberon in tow, OSSL told me that he had recently received an email from Southern Charmer, once a relatively recent college grad who OSSL helped land a job in his field.

“Refresh my memory, which one is the Southern Charmer?” I inquired.

“You met her that night at Cashion’s.”

“OSSL, over the years, I’ve met more than a couple of women with you at Cashion’s, more information please.”

“She was the one with the really see-through shirt and the great rack.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, I remember her now. How’s she doing?”

“Eh, she’s alright I suppose… she’s just contacting me because she wants to change jobs.”

“Refresh my memory about why you stopped dating her?” I asked.

“We weren’t dating, I was just helping her out.”

“You took her to a nice restaurant, you each dressed for the occasion, you paid the tab, you two flirted.  Call it whatever you want but it still smells like a rose.”

“Fine, whatever, but it stopped that night you two met… it was the hypocrisy that really turned me off” OSSL declared in a partial confirmation of the rosy aroma.

“What hypocrisy?” I asked.

“Well, she wears this see through shirt with her rather large rack on display in some fucking Victoria Secret Wonderbra, and then bitches about how ‘gross’ it was that men always leered at her.  I mean, you can’t have it both ways.  When a woman wears a shirt like that it’s because she wants men to leer at her.”

“Pump your brakes for a second” I replied.  “I’m not saying it’s likely you’re wrong, but it is dangerous to ascribe motivations to the actions of others.  I’ll concede that she might have been foolish not to expect the looks, but it’s not appropriate to suggest that she actively wanted them.”

“I call bullshit on that” OSSL fired back, “Women who dress that way want that kind of attention.”

By this point, we were parking the car. I tried to make my point more clear – “I’m saying that you’re probably right in your assertions about Southern Charmer, as you are probably right about most women who attire themselves that way, however, it is a bridge too far to suggest that all women who wear something revealing or particularly sexy do so for the attentions of men.  Perhaps they dress for themselves, perhaps they wear something like that because it makes them feel sexy.”

We argued for a few moments more before I said “Let’s let The Pistol weigh in on this… and I’ll bet she’ll agree with me.

The Pistol was already sitting on OSSL’s porch when we rounded the corner of his building.  We popped three bottle caps and immediately delved into the conversation.

“I gotta say, I am more aligned with OSSL on this one” The Pistol said in a declaration that surprised all three of us.  “For most women, sexy is inter-related with how other people react to us… and I would bet that the same is true for men too.”

“I’m not saying that reaction from women isn’t a part of it for men, and vice versa for women, just that it is only a part of it.  More importantly, I am stating that surely some women, and men too, dress exclusively for how it makes them feel.  She surely would be a fool to expect that with her boobs essentially on display that men wouldn’t look.”  It was another unsuccessful attempt to convince OSSL and The Pistol of my point.

“Refugee, are you seriously telling me that when you wear one of those fancy suits of yours” The Pistol began before pausing briefly and concluding with “You really don’t wear them for how women respond to you in them?”

“Pistol, I have three kinds of suits in my closet: good suits, great suits, and meeting ex-girlfriends suits.  When I wear the latter, there is an extra spring in my step but that spring exists on my way to the Metro before I have seen another person.  I wear those suits for me first, and any extra attention I get from women is just the cherry atop the sartorial sundae.”

We argued for a few more minutes before I admitted the failure of my persuasion and changed the subject to that day’s edition of Meet the Press…. But, Gentle Readers, I pose these questions to you:

  • Does a woman wearing something revealing inherently want the eyes or attention of men, or women if she is so oriented?
  • Is it possible for women to wear something risqué just because of how it makes them feel and not as a cry for that attention?
  • Or does the answer exist in some other explanation?

In Other News, Clichés are Clichés for a Reason

17 April 2010

“There is nothing more dangerous that a woman does than getting drunk in public.”

That chauvinistic declaration, with some elements of truth, belonged to my father and the first time I can recall hearing it was around age eight.  For reasons best left to a therapist to explain, those words have stuck with me and resonated in my behavior.

The thought crossed my mind recently as I watched a 30somthing woman weeble her way down a subway platform taking anything but the shortest distance between points A and B.  She wasn’t my responsibility and I had no intention of making her so, but I did keep a cautious eye on her… just in case something really bad was to happen.

When the train arrived we both made our way to the same door.  She grabbed different poles with each hand but still was less than steady as the train moved.  At one point, she leaned her hip against the pole I was holding, pinning my hand there.  My instinct was to prop her up, offer a steadying hand, but I resisted because no one wants to be seen as the guy trying to take advantage of the drunk girl.  Two stops after our boarding location, we exited the train. She walked the first set of escalators – zigzagging her way.  When we reached the second set of escalators, she again walked for a bit before surrendering and standing still.  I walked past her for a few steps before the momentum of nature or nurture (jump ball) could not be quelled and I turned to ask her “When we get topside, may I help you get a cab?”

“No, no, I’ll be ok” she replied with a surprising level of syllabic acuity.

I assured her that “we’ve all been there” and that it’s “not a big deal” while I tried to make the argument that walking home, even the two blocks she needed to travel, wasn’t a good idea.  I volleyed, she countered but her protestations where not very vehement.  Eventually, after we had ascended the last escalator, I had to exercise the guilt option – “My grandma would be really upset if I let you walk home by yourself; I’d walk you home myself but you don’t know me so that wouldn’t be a good thing.”

“It’s only two blocks, I can make it” she said before taking my face in her hands, getting kissing-distance close and saying “I’ll be fine.”

“I’m not worried about your ability to get there, I’m concerned about all of the people you’ll pass on your way there – look there’s a cab right now” I said while waving him over. “Cab’s here, just take it as fait accompli.”

She got in the cab and I paid the driver enough to take her those two blocks with a sufficiently large tip that I am hoping he made sure she got inside as I asked him to do.

Two nights later, I was sitting in the bar where I was headed the night that I helped that woman into a cab when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“We met the other night, but I never caught your name” the same woman said.

“I’m Restaurant Refugee” I replied using my full name for introductions the way that Miss Manners has taught me.

She thanked me for getting her home, insisted on buying me a drink as compensation, and then explained that despite the fact that she was grateful, thinks me a gentleman and kinda cute, cannot date me because she could never get past the embarrassment of our first meeting.

…and the trend of good deeds not going unpunished continues.

…as does the trend of attractive women mistakenly thinking that the dating decision is entirely theirs regardless of their behavior.


Random Friday, Random Housekeeping, Is It Happy Hour Yet?

2 April 2010

I thank all of you for your good wishes on my announcement yesterday. As I emailed more than a few of you who left comments, the proper etiquette, however, requires “Best Wishes” to the prospective bride, and “Congratulations” to the guy who just executed an outstanding April Fools Day Prank.  I’m Gonna Break Your Heart and I will be together forever, but as the great friends we have been since the day we met but there will be no marriage.

******

I recently saw some who was the worst kind of cliché – one that is dangerous is both the literal and metaphorical sense.  From the elevated perch of my Metrobus window seat, I watched some self-centered millennial asshole driving his BMW with his knees while having two hands on his crackberry.  Never have I wanted to throttle someone more than at that moment.  For the love of Bacon and all things Holy, put the bloody phone down and drive!

******

Filed under: How Could I not Know About This, yesterday was the birthday of my severe blog crush, Rachel Maddow.  As I have admitted my horrid ability to remember even the most significant of birthdays, that memory omission doesn’t shock me or anyone who’s know me for more than a calendar year.  The part that annoys me is that Maddow fans on Twitter determined that they would send enough tweets with the hash tag Maddow to get her on the global front page of trends. Never mind that I barely know enough to write or understand that last sentence, but how did I miss that?

******

Some Free Advice to Restaurateurs from Someone who Gets Paid to Give It: I know that everyone is telling you that you have be involved in new media and social networking to be successful.  While there is some truth there, the bigger issue is that you should resist the urge to fuck with things you don’t understand.  If you don’t know the etiquettes and charms and general ways of these tools they can only be more dangerous than productive.

The following is an excerpt from a DC Blogs Round-Up I had put together.  It centered around a soon to open restauranteur who threatened a blogger with litigation over a mostly innocuous but critical comment left on her blog.  For editorial reasons, it got cut before publishing.  I share it with you all here because I still think it entertaining and enlightening.

In a stunning example of “the solution is worse than the problem,” U Street Girl received a complaint from a business owner about a comment left on her blog.  The request threatened legal action and caught the attention of more than a few other bloggers.

Original Post from U Street Girl

Removal Post from U Street Girl

Reaction from 14th and You

Reaction from dcist (and a flood of comments)

Reaction from We Love DC

Reaction from Sophistpundit


How to Lose a Client in 10 Sentences or Less

12 March 2010

The Players in the Room:

Steve – Big shot attorney who is also an investor in a couple of restaurants, the man who writes the big checks to make things happen, insisted on my participation in the deal as a consultant before he wrote one of those really big checks, doesn’t mind people who lose money doing the right things, but detests wasting it.

Damian – professional dilettante turned interior design consultant, happens to be the nephew of Steve’s wife, and has been largely tasked with identifying the space, thinks that he is capable of doing my job, and is technically my client too.

Chef – the relatively young, relatively bright culinary mind who knows enough to know that he is ready for his own place, but also knows enough to listen to people who know more than he in their areas of expertise.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Restaurant Refugee – professional restaurant consultant who’s spent more time in Chicago than DC the past several weeks, is also getting a little impatient with the process at the moment.

Angela – Commercial Real Estate Agent with a permanently painted smile, a mix of “I-want-this-deal” happiness and some flinty Chicago toughness which is betraying a bit of that happiness with the frustration of showing so many places to the same client group.

The Room: yet another empty commercial space that doesn’t really work as a restaurant for reasons that people who know the restaurant business from the inside can understand.

This is our third building of the day.  I didn’t quite judge it from the cover, but as we approached I was silently hoping that this wasn’t it.  After 30 dusty seconds inside, Damian exclaimed “I love the lines in this place; Refugee, doesn’t it have great bones?”

It was a deep-breath-before-responding moment and I took one.  “It does have lovely lines,” I began; “for a ground floor condo space or high-end retail shop, but pros can tell you that there are unmanageable choke-points there, there, there, and there.”  I knew that my tone was about half a degree sharper than I consciously intended – can’t speak for my subconscious.

Damian turned his attention from the windows to me and asked “are you inferring that I’m somehow not a professional?”

I wasn’t sure if this was a line in the sand moment, but I thought it best that we have the conversation internally.  “Angela, would you mind giving us the room so we can walk around and talk about it freely,” I mostly declared.  She and I have had a few off-line conversations about this so she knew the situation.

“Damian, I am just suggesting that there are problems with the space that people who’ve spent a lot of time in restaurants can see but you might be missing.”

“You know, Refugee, I think that’s the second time you inferred that I don’t know what I am doing… and I’m a little tired of you being so fucking smug, you do know that you work for me right?!?!”

Steve may have wanted to enter this fray to mediate, but I had reached my limit and spoke a little too quickly.  The look on Chef’s face indicated that he wanted no part of this.

“Damian, I am not inferring, I am implying; and since it seems that the implication is too opaque, let me be fully clear – your suggestions and ideas indicate that you are thoroughly, completely, and unquestionably out of your depth.  You look at this room and see all of these lovely angles and attractive lines.  I look at it and see all of these load bearing columns which mean that you couldn’t possibly construct a kitchen large enough to accommodate a dining room of this size.  I see impossible corners and walls that can’t be moved.  Damian, you’re tired of me being smug, huh? I find that pretty damn laughable because for the last few weeks, I’ve been going out of my way to include you in conversations, to twist my mind into pretzel-like contortions to find something, anything, nice to say about your ideas and opinions.  All of that was made even more difficult because I generally think your contributions have been about as valuable as a warm bucket of spit.”

There was a stunned silence in the room as I took a breath and… well, I guess I reloaded.

“Other than some sort of random genetic good fortune, I have no idea why you’re here, because you looked at this room and thought it could be a restaurant.  I looked at this room, just like any pro would look at this room, and thought it a waste of time… and I look at you and see a feckless automatron who’s wasted enough of my time and other people’s money.”

More stunned silence, but this was a moment when reloading would have been cruel, so I just left.  Half a block away, I lit a cigar for the calming effect.  That and I was pretty sure that unleashing a verbal barrage on my largest client’s nephew qualifies as a “smoke a cigar moment.”  I walked around the city for a bit, finishing my cigar, contemplating the shithole I had just dug, wondering if I wanted a rope.

When I got back to my hotel room (one more cigar, and a couple of cocktails later) there was a bucket of champagne on the credenza.  The note read:

Refugee, if you could say all of that to a client, I suppose I can have a difficult conversation with my wife.  That was a lot of fun to watch.  See ya next week.

-Steve

p.s. the feckless automatron won’t be joining us.


A Doctrine of Exceptionalism I can Support

17 February 2010

One good thing about being snowbound (or really snow lazy) was that I had an opportunity to catch up on work, among other things.  Like I suspect many of you also did, I vacillated between productivity and television/movies/books.  One of the movies that I finally watched (and no, I am not necessarily proud of it) was the Sex and the City movie.  I have no problems admitting that I followed the show during its early seasons – I may have attended and even hosted a SATC party or four – but I felt no real inclination to watch the movie.  I’m going to blame HBO for showing it a bunch of times and my insomnia for choosing it over infomercials.

This has never been a space for movie reviews and I certainly won’t change that by discussing a 2+ year old movie of marginal cinematic consequence.  But after watching Carrie get left at the alter by Big, I just knew there was no way they were getting back together… and then I wanted to throw day old Domino’s pizza at the screen when they did reconnect and marry at the end of the movie.  “How could she put herself in this position?” I yelled at the screen, followed by the thought “this is the bullshit message that ends a once formidable cultural phenomenon?”

A day or so later the distaste was still lingering in my mind when I trekked to a bar to meet a friend.  The Only Slightly Sleazy Lobbyist and I were sitting on a mostly heated patio lamenting our NFL-Withdrawal while sucking on discount beers and La Flor Dominicana Cabinet Selection #1* for me and American Spirits for him.  A few minutes later a slightly inebriated woman ambled over to our perch at the bar.

“Excuse me, I just broke up with my boyfriend and would like a cigarette please” she said with just a hint of affect.

My reaction to such information has long been the optimistic “Congratulations.”

Over the course of her smoke, Katerina revealed that it was a mostly good thing and that they split because he lives two time zones away.  In an attempt to find the good news in a painful situation, I offered “That’s a good reason to split if for no other reason than the fact that he didn’t inspire you to want to move.”

Eventually Katerina thanked us for the smoke and the company and returned to her friends.  Before we left the bar, she returned twice more for a tobacco intermezzo and some of the breezy yet serious conversation that is most easily found with imperfect strangers.  On her final visit, Katerina broached the subject of the distance again.

“How do I know the difference between not wanting to move and not being inspired to move?” She asked.

“You don’t really know the difference until one exists.  In my little world, if someone really makes your socks roll up and down, you’ll want to do certain things… like move out west because that’s where he is.  Or he’d want to move here, or you two might find some hybrid between because you want home to be wherever they are.  You see, the veracity of anything we have planned for our lives is never truly known until it’s tested.  I used to think, and now think again, that I don’t want to have children.  Then one day I was knocked on my ass by a love I had never even known could exist.  That exceptional woman wanted children and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world for me to want them too.”

“I never knew that” OSSL interrupted but I was on too much of a roll to respond to his statement.

“We believe all of these things about our world and what we want and then suddenly an unordinary love comes along and shakes our sensibilities like a fucking snow globe.  Only in the face of that test are a lot of our really core ‘deal-breakers’ and ‘must haves’ really proven.  It doesn’t happen often and sometimes not even easily, but it’s that exception that you just know, that you feel in the deepest part of your soul.  Call it the Doctrine of Love’s Exceptionalism.”

In that instant, I realized two things 1) I had shifted from answering Katerina’s question and started speaking for some part of me, and 2) that I had to forgive Carrie for marrying Big.

*****

Ya know, just in case any of you ever need to know what kind of cigars your favorite restaurant refugee likes to smoke.


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