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,


Things I Don’t Understand – A Very Abbreviated List

9 September 2010


I don’t understand the people who use their horn to vent non-specific frustration with traffic at the expense of their fellow urbanites.

I literally don’t understand people who willfully misuse the word “literally.”

I don’t understand the use of abbreviations for the already short names (see: Sophia to Soph, Kathy to Kath, Lisa to Lis, Jason to Jas, Connie to Conn, and those were just a few amongst the most glaring examples and solely from the two syllable names truncated to a single.)

I don’t understand the people who prefer drip coffee to french press.

I don’t understand the guy who just walked by my coffeeshop table; either he’s a late 30something who willfully wears skinny jeans or he’s an appropriately aged hipster who’s just done so much blow that he looks really old… or he’s auditioning costumes for the next holiday. Whatever it is, I don’t understand it.

Speaking of Halloween, let me get started on bashing this poor excuse for women to indulge their inner [choose whatever appropriate and dismissive word that won't get me in trouble.] I don’t understand why perfectly reasonable women use that evening to simultaneously exercise so little imagination (really, throw the word sexy before any common/proper noun and call it a costume?) and leave so little to the imagination.

I don’t understand why Josh choose Donna over Amy.

I don’t understand why television producers can’t at least put some water in those empty Starbucks cups that their characters routinely carry in a way that lets everyone know that this detail is unimportant.

I don’t understand the people who spend hours listening to political talk radio but don’t vote.

I don’t understand the gravitational pull of reality television, but I really don’t understand why the shows set in DC seem to represent the worst in class (yes, I’m looking at you Real Word, Top Chef, and Housewives.)

I don’t understand the people who pay a premium to drive a convertible yet leave their top up on gorgeous days like today.

I don’t understand the people who proclaim (to anyone within earshot) their disdain for DC yet never leave their tiny and provincial comfort zones, or go to museums.

I don’t understand the nearly universal human desire to pick at wounds both physical and emotional.

I don’t understand how I can think myself so good with words yet be such a poor communicator when it comes to certain people.

There are many things of which a wise man would wish to be ignorant” Mr. Emerson once wrote; I don’t understand why I am so bad at making those choices.


Red Flags, Red Dresses, & Recriminations

3 July 2010

For more years than I can recall, I have consistently made two jokes about my ex-wife:

The last time I saw my ex we weren’t able to speak… I was too busy crossing the street and she was too busy speeding up.
Before we got married I ignored every red flag even the really obvious ones. When I passed a bank, instead of the sign flashing the date and time it would say “Refugee, don’t do it.”

Like most jokes, there is some element of truth that under-girds both of those two jokes. The simplest distillation of the truth is that I married the wrong woman. The simple distillation of the reason why I married the wrong woman is that she was a rebound relationship that lasted too long (don’t scoff; that sentence took tons of cash in therapy to produce. I now use it frequently in an attempt to metaphorically amortize the cost over multiple usages.)

It is the rare day that she crosses my mind more than a decade since divorce did us part; but a confluence of coincidence brought her to mind today.

A newspaper advice column was the first with its discussion of compatibility. Then an obscure reference (two mental jumps, and a cerebral leap that only make sense in my mind) while watching Friday Night Lights on Hulu became the second. The final coincidence occurred while watching the ladies final at Wimbledon.

When my ex and I had bad times in our marriage, which is to say about a cup of coffee after vows were exchanged, the tennis court was the one place we always got along.

One random afternoon I went to the racquet shop to get one of my racquets re-gripped. While I waited, I saw a crimson tennis dress that I thought my then wife would look great wearing. Without much forethought, I grabbed the dress and plunked down a credit card. I was so pleased with myself for having done something nice for my wife just because. It never occurred to me that she preferred to play in old gym shorts and ratty t-shirts. Later that evening I gave her the dress and she feigned appreciation for it.

The following night we met at the tennis courts near our house for a few after-work sets. She wore her usual shorts and old t-shirt. I made the critical mistake of asking her about the dress and if she liked it. An argument ensued in which she accused me of trying to change her (maybe a kernel of truth,) that I didn’t think she was good enough for me (patently false,) and that I was being selfish when I bought the dress (true but only in the way that a man who randomly buys lingerie for his partner is being selfish.)

That was the last time we ever played tennis together.

About a year later, I ran into my ex-wife on the tennis court. She was with her new boyfriend and wearing that crimson tennis dress. At that moment, I concluded that it wasn’t that she didn’t like the dress, she just didn’t want to wear it for me. The lesson was at least as valuable as all of the therapy to explain all of the others.


Enough

17 June 2010

WARNING: I’ve had a craptacular couple of days and needed to vent about a couple of things.


Enough with you, Albert Haynesworth owner of the largest contract for a defensive player in the history of the NFL.  Having played a mere 12 games, much of which you sat on the sidelines sucking on oxygen because you were comically out of shape, and already pocketed $32 million, you decided to demand a trade?!?!? Are you fucking nuts?  I’ve long ago surrendered the notion that the modern (and highly paid) athlete owes the public at large anything, but when you bail on your teammates after all of this, you have earned a new station in the pantheon of sports pathetics… sure, you may not be in the OJ, Rae Carruth room, but you’re now keeping Tonya Harding company.

Enough with you Michaela Salahi, and your Bravo TV pimps too.  You, Mrs. Salahi give vapid a bad name.  You are a giant sack of [mostly purchased] hair, and your surface cannot be scratched lest it reveal more surface underneath.  Enough with you and your swarm of sycophants.  You are a liar, a fraud, and a common criminal in a designer dress that probably still has the tag tucked somewhere so it can be returned later.

Enough with you Washington Post.  I’m tired of defending you against the displaced NewYawkers who constantly deride you as not being the NY Times.  I’m tired of attempting to uphold your honor as a world class newspaper when you devote dozens of column inches to the aforementioned Salahi.   Have you abandoned the journalist’s purpose – to paraphrase the great Walter Cronkite, the job of a newsman is not to tell people what they want to hear but what they need to hear – in favor of the notion that “every one else is doing it”?  Mrs. Salahi and her ilk are publicity whores of the proletariat, weeds in society’s garden, thus any journalistic water you give them (good or bad) only makes the weed grow stronger.

Enough with you CEOs / Titans of the World and your conservative defenders (do you buy them buy the hour or the event?)  When leaders of the Big Three automakers testified before Congress, I thought I would never hear a more culturally tone deaf group as they staunchly defended their fiefdoms while still extending hands into America’s pockets … and then the bankers came to town and were even more brazen in public masturbation about their rigged casino successes, average citizen be damned… but now there are new claimants to that ignoble throne; Oil Company execs, you’ve lined your pockets with untold riches while feeding your government lap dog and the public lies about the all too real dangers for catastrophic destruction, and somehow, someway sit before the public, shrug your shoulders and claim risk v. reward? If there is a Hell below, you’ve got a very special place reserved for you.


Reader Question: What to Think When a Night Goes Sideways

25 May 2010

I recently received an email from a reader who wondered if I had seen a New York Times blog post about a sticky situation at a restaurant.

Short version of the story: Chef/Owner of an upscale Italian place in NYC’s TriBeCa neighborhood twice dressed-down an employee.  In full view of an awkward dining room, the chef’s volume was so high and tirade so vituperative and long that one guest, the author of the blog post, eventually went into the open kitchen to tell the chef that the yelling was ruining his experience.  Shortly thereafter, the chef went to guest’s table to apologize and explain that the yelling was in service of “maintaining quality.”  The guest dismissed this excuse because it was still “ruining [his] dinner.”  The party of four is asked/told to leave the restaurant.

The author of the blog post, Ron Lieber, went on to discuss the way he wished that he had handled the situation, the chef’s response when contacted for comment – no further apology was forthcoming – and asked about who was right, and how the readers would have behaved in either party’s shoes.

I’d really like to be unequivocally on Mr. Lieber’s side, but neither man has any claim to moral high ground.   The author stood up to a bully but only because that bully’s behavior had an impact on the author’s ability to enjoy a meal.  Yes, Mr. Lieber does belatedly acknowledge that the affair “conjured up the particular type of nausea that results from watching people yank their misbehaving kids around on the subway” but he does so almost as an aside to the repeated references to the fact that he “was paying to eat there” and that the abusive behavior was “ruining [his] dinner.”  Chef Forgione, for his part, was primarily angry because he felt disrespected in the presence of his employees.

When the essence of the debate pits “Please stop being emotionally abusive to your staff, it’s fucking with the taste of my fois gras” against “How dare you challenge my ability to emotionally abuse someone who depends upon me for his livelihood?” both parties share blame in the erosion of moral framework of restaurants in particular and society in general.

If we, as a society, cannot agree that this is emotional abuse and therefore categorically wrong* then my faith in our world is fundamentally misplaced.  When will we cease giving a pass to certain people because of their talent in culinary arts, or coaching football, or producing prodigious amounts of money?

Emotional terrorism is a poor excuse for leadership, ignoring it is to condone it, and celebrating it is nothing short of profane.  Abusive chefs aren’t charming, their tirades and assaults are not reasonable prices to be paid for their “genius,” and applauding or rewarding that behavior with more fame, more restaurants simply makes us all complicit in the whole sordid mess.

* potentially a reasonable case might be made for the intellectual and emotional manipulation in the armed services but I do not believe that it consistently rises to the point of abusive.


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.


Why Is Truth to Power Easier than Truth to Fools?

20 April 2010

If you’re a gentleman of a certain age and bring a so-young-we-ought-to-look-at-her-ID-twice woman to your local, you are going to get the blues from the rest of the crew next time you come in.  And so it was when I greeted my buddy, The Law Professor, with “It was bad enough when you were dating law students, but when did you start dating undergrads?”

The crew laughed and a few others added their smart-ass comments to the mix.  One cat who was a semi-regular but whom I’d not met was the lone dissenting voice.

“I don’t see nothing wrong with it” the mid 40’s guy said (it will become clear why I don’t refer to him as a gentleman in a moment.)  “The bitch I’m dating now is 25 or 26, and I haven’t dated a bitch over 30 in ten years.”

I bit my tongue.  He continued: “Older broads got too much drama, it’s all about their careers, and they’re too fucking difficult.  You take an old bitch to dinner someplace and she’s thinking ‘it could have been a nicer restaurant.’ You take a 25 year old bitch to dinner and she’s just grateful not to be eating fucking Ramen noodles.”

Perhaps my mistake was engaging him at all, perhaps it was failing to call him on his woman-hating language, but either way my response was a mistake.  “You and I are different” I grossly understated.  “I want a woman who is my conversational, emotional, and intellectual equal, and while it is possible in substantively younger women, I find that more frequently in women closer to my own age.”

“Dude, that’s bullshit” he replied, “There’s thousands of years of history that’ll tell you that bitches mature faster than men.  It only makes sense to date young bitches, history will tell you that.”

Reclaiming a teeny bit of my spine, I answered “Ignoring the intellectual inconsistency of suggesting that women mature faster than men and therefore younger women are a better suited to be the equal you profess that you don’t seek, your statement is really just more evidence that history, like anything powerful, is exceptionally dangerous when people fail to understand it.”

“Man, I don’t even understand what you just said… but all I’m saying is that young bitches make more sense cause older bitches got that fucking clock ticking, want you to be all perfect for them and they’re just too much damn trouble.”

Finally finding the gumption to address the larger issue I stated “Sir, I am quite sure that nothing I say will change the misogyny that let’s you use the word ‘bitch’ as a pronoun for women, but if we are to continue this conversation and that is a big if because I am not sure it is worth it, I will ask you to not refer to women in that way any longer, or at least not around me.”

We argued for a couple minutes more and every time he used bitch as pronoun for woman he would obnoxiously follow it with “sorry, I mean lady.”  Eventually, I no longer wished to be the bigger fool for continuing a conversation with a another fool.

The foul-mouthed-women-hating guy didn’t stay beyond his first round at the bar (but clearly not his first of the night.)  After he left, the bartender, a professional friend who wasn’t really paying attention, but like all good bartenders could sense tension, asked me “Dude, Refugee, what was that all about?”

“It’s simple” I said without taking my characteristic deep breath that aids in polite conversation, “If you use ‘bitch’ as pronoun for woman once, I will just assume that you’re a product of a misogynist society that mislead you into thinking it’s ok to do that, and let it slide.  If you do it a handful of times, I am going to be rather annoyed but probably let it go.  If you do it a dozen times inside a few minutes, I’m probably going to sack-up, call you on it, and stop talking to you because of it.”

I was on my high horse, I knew it, and I was completely ok with it.

After a pregnant silence, the bartender asked me “It’s still ok if we call a specific woman a bitch right, just not the general… I mean you’re not going to have a problem if I say ‘Ann Coulter’s a bitch, right?”

We all laughed a bit, the tension was loosened.

I laughed too, not because I inherently agreed but because at least he choose a hard  example for me to defend.

******

For the record, an earlier version of this post was published before I had an opportunity to finish my edits.  The earlier version did not tell the very end of this experience but it did close with some questions for you, gentle readers.  I will include them now, just because…

But here are my larger questions:

  • No one in polite society would repeatedly refer to any ethnic group by a pejorative slur, nor would people consistently refer to gay men or women by similarly noxious terms.  So why is it that people feel comfortable referring to women in that way?
  • If someone was consistently referencing any ethnic group that way, I am certain that I would have protested sooner.  What does it say about me that I took so long to declare that unacceptable?
  • What does it say about my “bar friends” that I was the only person who noticed this as others at least claimed to not have taken note of the language?

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.


An “Are You F***ing Kidding Me?” Friday Night

13 April 2010

Three stacked redheads at the end of any bar will tend to get noticed and I certainly took note of them as I passed on my way to the wash closet.  We shared outlier positions for different reasons – three redheads are as common an occurrence as me at this particular dive bar that has none of the dive bar charms of my usual haunts.

An hour or so later I stepped out for some air and one of the three followed me to the sidewalk.

“Can I bum a cigarette” Morgan asked with a smile.

“Of course” I replied while pulling a brushed silver cigarette case from the breast pocket of my suit.

“Oh, so fancy, you make me feel under-dressed or something” she mocked.

“Well if we’re gonna kill ourselves we might as well do it with some style.”

“Ha, indeed… you ever stop a bullet with that thing?”

“I never would have thought you old enough to make a Johnny Dangerously reference” I fired back with more than a bit of a laugh.

“Are you kidding me? That was the movie I went to on my first date!” Morgan exclaimed with a big smile.

Just as she was telling me about the teenager who tried to feel her up in the theater, Morgan’s sister came outside.  She too bummed a smoke.  Introductions were made, a couple of laughs shared, and maybe a passing puppy or two got petted.  At some point, they mentioned the sibling debate about a drive back to Richmond because they couldn’t find a hotel room.

“We really want to stay another night, but, we called everywhere; they’re all sold out” Tracy said.

“If you really want a hotel room, I’d be happy to make a few calls for you – I have a couple of connections in that business.

I made four calls before we went back inside because I needed to relieve myself again.  “I haven’t given up; there are still a couple of chits in my pocket.  I’ll come find you when I find you all a room.”

As I was washing my hands, an old friend came through with a room and at the “friends and family” rate too.  Leaving the restroom, I passed Morgan and Tracy on their way into the ladies room.  I gave them the good news and told them that I would scribble down all of the information for them by the time they returned to the bar.

A couple of minutes later I was transcribing the hotel’s address, phone number, and the manager’s name when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Are you the guy that just offered those women a hotel room?” a tallish woman queried without introduction.

“Pardon me” I replied even though I had heard her quite clearly.

“Did you just offer those ladies a hotel room?” the tallish woman repeated still without introduction and two degrees more sharply than acceptable in polite society.

I stood up – an instinctual response to a power move so I could meet her gaze at eye level – before responding “You’re just a bit misinformed, I offered to make some phone calls to try to find them a room; but more importantly how does this concern you?”

“I’m the manager here and this whole thing feels kinda skeevy.”

A quiet smile is the surest sign that I am really angry.  Through that slight smile, I just excused myself and walked right by the tallish woman towards Morgan, Tracy, and their oldest sister who I didn’t meet.  I gave them all of the information for their hotel.  I took one more deep breath before turning my attention back to the manager who curiously was still standing by my empty bar seat.

“Ya know, I’ve done your job, and your boss’s job too; and now I get paid a lot of money to tell people in your position how to do your job.  So I appreciate the fact that you take the safety of your guests seriously.  And I know you work in this popped-collar Georgetown bar where hordes of frat boys descend every weekend night with roofies in the pocket and bad ideas on the brain.  But I am not one of ‘em, I don’t look like one of ‘em and even if I did you don’t talk to your guests like that.  I don’t appreciate your attitude, your condescension, or any part of the way you approached me.  Now, you’re going to bring me my tab, and while you do that I want you to think about whether you owe me an apology.  The short answer is yes, because I’m industry and know how badly you just screwed the pooch, but more importantly you should think about whether you owe me an apology just because I am some random guy who walked into your bar looking for a burger and a beer, and you treated me like shit for no good reason.”


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.


And the R-Cubies Go To…

29 December 2009

Shameless Solipsism and a Couple of Wet Kisses have arrived in the form of the first annual (probably never do this again, but whatever) Restaurant Refugee Rewards or R-Cubes for short.  They are a collection of some of the posts of the last twelve months that had particular meaning to me, or got me in trouble, or simply had subjects that lent themselves to making another joke.  There are also a few other people’s work receiving awards today – though not nearly as many people as should get them so there maybe another installment of this tomorrow.

And the R-Cubies go to…

The Carrie Prejean Award for Pretty but Vapid Restaurants goes to Bar Dupont.

The What Would Happen If Dr. Ruth Looked Like Ginger Award for Sexpert Advice in the blogosphere goes to City Girl Blogs.

The Hallmark Award for Best Invention of a Holiday goes to National Crush Day

The Carl Lewis Sings the National Anthem Award for Shoulda Stuck to What you Know goes to All of my Attempts to Write Memes – Except this one which I thought was really good.

The James Lipton Award for Seemingly Simple but Terrifically Textured Questions goes to Megabrooke of Skrinkering Hearts who asked me “How Much is Too Much” in that interview meme that was going around at the beginning of the year.

The Infield Fly Rule Award for things you Should Know but Maybe Didn’t goes to Advice for Black Tie Galas and Capitol Hill Style’s Ball Tips and Tricks for Ladies that inspired it.

The Cowbell Award for Things I Need More of goes to Jimmy & Sophia.

The Urban Dictionary Award for Teaching me my Favorite New Phrase, Skin-Hungry, goes to I’m Gonna Break Your Heart.

The Oscar Wilde Award for Booze as Creative Lubricant goes to My Weekend as Three Rounds of Jeopardy.

The Max Roach Award for Consistently Leaving Comments Better than the Post that Inspired Them goes to my friend Brad.

The Joe Isuzu Award for Forcing Me to Be Creative with Truth goes to the Unnamed Woman Who Inspired This Post.

The Sarah Silverman Award for my Favorite New Funny and Irreverent Blogger goes to –The Fooler Initiative–.

The Don Imus Award for Unintentionally Causing Controversy goes to The Open Letter to a Few Women and the Subsequent Follow-Up.

The Snuggie Award for Ideas that Seemed Fun Conceptually but in Reality Not So Much… goes to Blog Reader Bingo.

The If Dr. Phil Wasn’t Such a Tool Award for Good Advice Given goes to A Guide to Fighting Fairly.

The Jennifer Tilly Award for Fiction Inspired by both Women and Poker goes to Playing Poker with an Old Foe.

The Donald & Ivanka Trump Award for Being Married to Each Other and Not Inflicting Themselves on Anyone Else goes to Sam & Toni.


Dearest Santa – My Open List

20 December 2009

Dearest Santa,

I begin by explaining my belief in you – it has never wavered.  Sure, there was that one time in fourth grade when I may have pretended to be a non-believer, but that was just a front.  I only let people conclude such heinous things because snotty-nosed Johnny, who I am certain received lumps of coal that year and many that followed, was leading a chorus in which he and his evil cronies accused all believers of being “big fat little sissy babies.” Setting aside his horrific and illogical sentence structure, I assure you, Santa, that I only denied you once and only because even then I deemed arguing with the ill equipped to be a fool’s errand.

Like many bloggers this season, I am making my requests electronically because snail mail to the North Pole would burn hella fossil fuels, and publically because… well because I had to write something.  I am going to skip the obviously impossible requests (world peace, and end to suffering, a return to reason in political discourse, good service at CVS, etc.) because so many folks more worthy than I have made those requests and they seem not to be within your purview.  I will also forego the trappings of materiality (though if I were to find a 1961 Zenith Constellation Chronometer under my pretend tree, I wouldn’t be even a little upset,) because if I have learned nothing these past few years, I have learned that I have everything I really need.

With those caveats and qualifiers, my dear Santa, I give you my Christmas Wish list for 2009:

  1. I would like more uncomplicated relationships, or at least fewer relationships that offer conspicuous complexity.
  2. I would love it if you packaged some emotional availability and put that in my stocking.
  3. That ego deflation valve for my head would make a lovely bauble.  If you accompanied it with some supplemental humility packs it would really pop.
  4. A self-righteous-o-meter complete with the internal warning whistle that sounds before I get on Tilt would be splendid.
  5. While I appreciate all of the virtual friendships you’ve given me in the last year, I would love it if you made a few more of them more tangible.
  6. Santa, I love the delete-all-history function on that phone you gave me last year.  I am wondering if I could have the corresponding functionality for my brain too.
  7. I know that I have asked for a bunch of relationship stuff, but if you’d indulge me one more, I really wouldn’t mind if you helped me redevelop my relationship with Her.  No not that woman, Santa (she’s the reason I asked for number 6;) I’m referencing God, who I am convinced is a woman until I hear definitively contrary information.
  8. More cowbell
  9. A third ear – something stealthy, who wants to be that guy with an extra ear on his forehead – so I can listen a little bit more.

Well, Santa, that’s my list for this year.  I know that most of the things I have listed are within my control.  I suppose that is an implied acknowledgement that you, Santa, live in the heart of every boy and girl, no matter how old we get.

Sincerely, gratefully, yours,

Restaurant Refugee


You Cannot Be Serious

11 December 2009

First things first, I hope that we’ll see you tonight.  Good, now that that’s settled, back to regularly scheduled programming.


Reema reached over and had a gentle hand rubbing just below my shoulder blades.  The gesture wasn’t flirtatious in any way, rather it was a calming, circular motion that communicated a non-verbal “you know I agree with you but don’t start an argument with that guy – you can’t win because intellectual arguments with the unarmed still, somehow, leave everyone bloodied.”

Reema and I are frequent bar mates and almost always in political agreement.  We initially met a couple of years ago when she asked me where I got the “Yes We Can” – in Hebrew – sticker on my computer.  She’s a Hebrew speaking Indian Jew – not as rare as one might think, she keeps insisting.

Early on this random Tuesday evening I sat between Reema and an unfamiliar gentleman to my left.  At one point, Reema or I – my memory fails – asked for the channel on one of the televisions to be changed from FOX News (I had to type that three times before I could force my fingers to form FOX versus FIX) to a game.

As the channel changed, my accidental bar mate to my left said “oh, I was watching that.”

The bartender and I said, in almost unison, “Sorry about that, would you like to change it back?”

“No, no, I’m good” he replied.

In what was, at the time, a question of genuine curiosity, but in retrospect a very large mistake, I asked this gentleman “Do you watch FOX for entertainment, news or both?”

“Absolutely, both… I mean they’re the only ones putting the real news out there.  Come on, Glenn Beck is like a modern day Thomas Payne.”

Many of you may not believe me, but I really don’t seek conflict, and I tried to back away from this one by saying “Oh, I understand” and turning back towards comfortable conversation with Reema.

It took about five seconds for me to learn that starting another conversation would not end the previous one.  “I mean, FOX is the only major media outlet that talked about Obama’s birth certificate, the death panels the democrats are proposing as a health care solution, the fallacy of global warming, and all kinds of things that the left wing media ignores.”

This was the first moment I felt the calming influence of Reema’s hand on my back.  Her hand was the reason my tone was moderated, and my response a restrained “Yeah, well we disagree on this issue, and agreeing to disagree is never a bad thing.”

“You must be one of those typical lefties that think disagreeing with a conservative position is the height of intellectualism, but when conservatives disagree with liberals, you just shut down the conversation because you don’t respect our opinions.”

Reema’s hand urged me to take a moment and a deep breath before responding “It’s not that I don’t respect your opinions, Sir, it’s that I think that they require a dramatic rewriting of history to reach… the notion that Thomas Payne, a vociferous advocate of the equitable distribution of wealth, shares more than a passing resemblance to Glenn Beck is a laughable notion.”  My powder was still mostly dry, and my voice well within acceptable tones, when I continued “That you really consider FOX the bell ringer of unbiased information is as laughable as the people who consider Keith Olberman to be that as well; it’s not that I don’t respect your opinions, rather, it’s that I think that they are so diametrically opposed to mine that there is no middle ground on which either of us could change the other’s mind, and therefore, it’s best that we leave things with a gentleman’s agreement to agree to disagree.”

This conservative gent to my left capitulated to my neutral-corners offer for about five minutes before he offered “So I guess you hate Sarah Palin too?”

Reema was in the restroom so the calming influence of her hand on my back was absent when I finally snapped back “You’re about two sentences from convincing me that you’re a real ass – not because of your political view, but because you seem insistent on arguing about it with someone who has made it clear that they do not wish to discuss such things with you.”  I took another deep breath before concluding with “I don’t know why you insist on trying to snatch conflict from the jaws of peaceable drinking, but…”

My voice trailed off as my mind caught the place my mouth was about to go.

“…Listen, when my friend gets back, I’m going to talk to her; but I do wish you a really happy holiday season, sir.”

He finally got the hint – and his check.


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