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.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 231 other followers