Free Concerts & Costly Consequences

15 October 2010

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (if you’re not, what’s keeping you? – a list of reasons you should are the post-script to this post) know that I spent a decent amount of my Tuesday afternoon listening to a homeless man play trumpet. I was just sitting outside one of my usual coffee-haunts when out of nowhere the steady hum of the urban landscape was delightfully, amazingly pierced by the wail of a horn playing Giant Steps. My musician friends tell me that playing the lead for a saxophone driven piece on a trumpet is no easy feat.

I was transfixed from the very beginning of the familiar opening phrase. Before he had finished that musical introduction, I was so impressed that I went to the ATM so could drop a twenty spot on him. I wrote then that he was simultaneously “lifting my spirits while breaking my heart.” I don’t know if I’ve ever penned truer words. This man – who I presumed to be homeless because of his attire and the bags that carried too many possessions – infused each note with a sadness that I can only describe as haunting, yet played so beautifully that I was simply mesmerized.

My favorite versions of our National Anthem are the superlatively soulful offering from Marvin Gaye, and the unquestioned genius of Jimi Hendrix’s left-handed guitar. This homeless man followed Giant Steps with a rendition that became number three. Perhaps it is the heart-wrenching poignancy of a man who’s country may have failed him having the ability to play Our Song, or just my own patriotism being stirred, but I stood to listen because I didn’t know what else to do.

This homeless virtuoso returned to Coltrane with Niama, but he immediately and seamlessly transitioned into a playful version of Pretty Woman when a striking brunette came into view, and just as easily went back to the jazz ballad without a breath. I wanted to applaud just like I would any seemingly impossible bridge at any ordinary concert.

The Prince classic Kiss was interrupted by the vulgarity of car horns from the hands of impatient drivers. Ordinarily I glare at the offending vehicles for interrupting solitude for the sake of their self-absorption and wish the DC Police would enforce the law against non-emergent uses of the horn. That day I wanted them arrested for this crime against civility and music.

For 30 minutes, I needed to go to the wash-closet – I held it. I wasn’t going to miss a single note of Kinda Blue, Sir Duke, Girl from Impanema, or what proved to be the closing number, Fly Me to the Moon.

I was slightly miffed with the people who didn’t find something in their pockets to give this man, but in a tough economy, I gave them all the benefit of the doubt. I was out-right angry, however, with the people that didn’t pause to acknowledge the beauty of the moment; and I was plain furious at the people who hurriedly passed with cellphones against one ear and a finger to the other as if this was some sort of inconvenience rather than one of the incredible bonuses of urban life.

Most of my scorn was reserved for our country – not for the predicament of this one homeless man, who knows what he’s done to arrive here.  When the wealthiest nation in the world has allowed homelessness to reach epidemic proportions, we deserve the scorn. I rarely talk politics in this space, and this will not be an exception. As much as homelessness can be a political-football, it is not a political issue. This is a question of our very humanity.

How is this not a national embarassment? How is this staggeringly large problem not a clarion call to action? How can we even consider the concept of American Exceptionalism without addressing this festering sore on the body of our compassion? Homelessness is about two heartbeats away from catastrophic proportions, yet somehow, the country that invented the internet, placed a man on the moon, and is so proud of its greatness is largely, consistently ignoring it.

 

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Post-script / A Whole New Post – Just call It a Twofer:

Reasons to Follow Me on Twitter / How I (the reluctant Twitter) Think the Medium Should Be Used

  • I will only tweet that which I consider to be truly funny, important, poignant, curious, interesting, etc. In other words, I actively avoid the banal, the vapid, the over-sharing of the aforementioned.
  • The most tweets I have ever sent during a single day is seven – not to diss the more frequent tweeters, but I will never send eight tweets on the same subject that should probably have been combined into one blog post.
  • I do not link my tweets to FourSquare (maybe a valid use for some – helpful in knowing which places to avoid) so you won’t learn through my feed that I am randomly sitting at some coffee-haunt/bar/Metro Station/Ass Waxing shop.
  • I refuse to abuse the English language through annoying (to this Luddite) abbreviations.

And a few of my favorites tweets that you’re clearly missing and you’re life would be all the richer if you saw (ok, not really, but just follow me anyway):

  • if you’re seeing this, you’re not the duplicitous harpy so incapable of decency that she’s no longer welcome to my scotch or tweets#blocked
  • Only in 2010 would a “pre-dating” agreement contain a clause agreeing to joint custody of a bar; in other news, yes, I’m seeing someone now.
  • me: howzabout we watch baseball and drink wine while I condescendingly explain the game to you? her: sounds lovely.#Shegetsmyjokes #smitten
  • With the week I’ve had, it’s fitting that I’d be out of cream for my coffee too. With the week I’ve had , it’s ok to use Baileys instead.
  • I know that she lacks both the physical and cognitive dexterity for it to have been intentional, but I think a 1yo just gave me the finger.
  • Dear Food Network, I’d rather eat Top Ramen for a week than watch a SemiHomemade marathon with that hair-twirling fraud Sandra Lee.
  • her: whatcha doing tonight; me: drinking with a woman of loose morals and questionable character; her: so clearly every pot does have a lid
  • buckets of rain have me stranded in a bar. thank you, mother nature, how’d you know I needed a beer?
  • From a Craigslist post: put the rear adapter assembly on my tranny-possibly transfer case / #accidentalhumor http://tinyurl.com/27pdekb
  • reasons morning drinking is ok: vacation, never stopped from the prior night, thanksgiving, grand slam tennis sundays. where’s my champagne?
  • bible study meeting just broke out around me at my coffee shop. i’m taking it as a sign from god that i should be at the bar.
  • Listening to Yankee Fan argue with Sawx Fan feels like witnessing a debate between Hitler and Gengis Khan. #shootmenow
  • Me; I’ve been lobbying for 10 yrs for cocktailing as olympic sport; My Friend: but Refugee, you lost your amatuer status years ago.#Truedat
  • just learned that really cute stranger at my coffeshop table & reading the SAT Prep book is a teacher. DirtyOldMan crisis averted.

 


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.


Didn’t Know about the Protruding Nail Until I Walked into a Hammer Shop

17 May 2010

In the black community, the Barbershop has long been the great equalizer, a faucet tap for the social consciousness, and a place where all manner of cultural, educational, and professional differentiation are brought low by the common need to get a haircut and discuss the problems of the world while doing so.  For the better part of the last 70 years, it didn’t matter if you lived in the toniest of areas, worked in the most gilded of towers, black men still needed to go back to their metaphorical Harlems to get a cut.

The bankers would wait next to the bus drivers.  The lawyers would talk sports with the restaurant cooks.  The professors would share space with the guys who were students of the streets.  It would make for excellent networking opportunities if discussing one’s occupation wouldn’t violate one of the more inviolable rules of barbershop etiquette: work talk usually means you’re bragging, being uppity, an asshole or all three.

The unwritten rules are complicated, filled with exemptions, and new ones can be added by the singular consent of the guy with the scissors.

And I had no idea how much I had missed it all.

For the past year or so, I have been getting my cuts from a lovely woman who doesn’t work in a traditional barbershop… actually Sydney operates from a beauty salon that caters mostly to Latin American women.  The conversations I could hear were mostly in Spanish and the ones in English were unfamiliar to me at best and of the “men-need-to-steer-clear” variety at worst.  Recently work has kept me from my normal every three weeks schedule and I was at least ten days overdue.

Dear non-black-male readers, I know that every three weeks may seem a bit excessive to you.  I know that some of you may also be wondering “but your hair’s so short why would it matter?”  The answer is within both of the questions.  Because my hair is closely cropped, it doubles in length in 21 days.  If your hair grew twice as long as you prefer to keep it, you might be sprinting to the shop too.

I walked into my backup barbershop a couple of days ago because I still couldn’t get an appointment with Sydney.  I sat for about 90 minutes as the entirety of the shop partook of conversation about the NBA Playoffs, President Obama, DC elections, Strivers Row, and a few more things I cannot recall.  Some of the talk was serious, some of it got called out as ‘barbershop woofing’, but all of it was a social balm.  There’s a “No Profanity” sign on the wall – it seems irrelevant because there is a varnish of reverence at all old-school shops.  We would no sooner curse here than we would in a church undercroft.

The cut wasn’t quite as tight, and surely didn’t feel as good absent the scalp and neck massage that I get from Sydney.  But I certainly don’t get the same visceral needs met with her.  As much as I made a big deal about finding Sydney, I think it’s time for me to tell her that we need to have an open relationship.


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.

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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!

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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?

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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


It’s That Time of Year Again – International Crush Day

16 February 2010

A year ago some blog friends were hosting a Happy Hour with the theme “It’s Just a Little Crush.” While a business trip kept me away from the boozefest, I extrapolated the concept to propose that 20 February be declared International Crush Day.

Among the things I wrote at the time:

I endorse, embrace, and enthusiastically support the crush.

In the same way that some would argue that the single cell organism is the purest form of life, I argue that the crush is the purest form of affection.  It is perfect, wholly contained, and needs no augment.  It can exist in a personal vacuum absent acknowledgment or reciprocity.  The Crush can be romantic, professional, artistic, vocational, social, bloggerational, and can even exist within the confines of a healthy relationship.  The crush is perfect.

To have a Crush is to engage whimsy, to embrace possibility, and in the extreme case to wrap oneself in the courage of romance.

So it’s that time again.  I encourage all of you to spend some time this Friday (International Crush Day is the rare holiday that ought to be celebrated a day in advance when falling on a weekend) declaring your appreciation to someone you’ve been crushing on.  It doesn’t matter what kind of crush it is, or whether it is based on affection or admiration.  What matters is telling someone that you like the way they make you smile when they enter a room, bend a phrase, play a horn, or curl a lip when having the first sip of coffee.  Whatever it is that makes you tingle, tell someone – across the room, or across the country, embrace the notion.

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p.s. please feel free to re-blog this, tweet about it, Facebook it or whatever other new media thingamabob you wish.


A Couple of Endorsements and a Few Not So Much

27 January 2010

Not Exactly an Endorsement – It was barely four years ago that Mel Gibson revealed himself to be an Anti-Semitic jackhole.  His lunatic rants were all over the entertainment news wires.  TMZ published his arrest report, Gibson went on the typical apology tour, about which I am calling bullshit (Booze will lower inhibitions and allow one to say things that are already in his/her heart, but it won’t plant the most vile of thoughts there.)

Now about 40 months later (less than half the amount of time it took for the Holocaust… you know just to add some perspective) this filth spewing, ignorant racist (I know: redundant,) Holocaust Denier has a big budget movie from a major studio.  The trailers are all over the television and the net and I can’t look at his repugnant mug without wanting to change the channel.

An Endorsement – The Wet Martini, also known by its proper name, Martini, is a beautiful drink when well made.  Sadly, we got sold on the notion that a dry martini has virtue as opposed to being what it is: a big glass of cold gin.  Go to a good bar and ask the bartender for a real martini (you’ll know it’s a good bar if the bartender smiles with delight at the prospect) with Hendricks, or Bluecoat American Dry and a dash of Fee Brothers’ Bitters.

Not Exactly an Endorsement – Television Commercials for Anti-Depressants are clearly designed by some people who’ve never dealt with clinical depression.  Attempting to make someone who suffers from this disease feel even worse in an effort to sell more of your drugs may not be equivalent to emotional blackmail but it’s not far behind it.

An Endorsement – Buying the Suit/Dress/Whatever and then find the event later.  Maybe you host a cocktail party yourself and invite your friends to drink in all of their semi-formal finery.  Maybe you gather your friends for a night of fancy drinking just cause, or maybe you just attend one of the hundreds of charity galas held in every metropolitan area every year.  Get the threads, the event will come or you can make your own.

Not Exactly an Endorsement – Professional Football Quarterbacks who consistently blame their teammates when things go wrong.  I’m not naming any names, cough, cough, Peyton Manning, but I am pretty sure that every time it happens butterflies lose their wings, puppies get stomach aches, and maybe a large woman gets ready to sing.


An Idea, A Notion, Some Inspiration, A Contest, and Dinner?

8 January 2010

If I can’t use this blog to do something for others, then what is the point of having it?  That was the question, the notion that was in my head when I was having a beer and a burger with the irrepressibly funny LiLu and her boyfriend B.

I told them of a rough idea I had about offering my private chef service to a couple who couldn’t ordinarily afford to hire me.  Valentine’s Day weekend is a very busy and profitable period for me and I explained that I was feeling this desire to reserve that Friday night, 12 February, for some teacher, or social worker, or Hill Staffer, or really anyone who has a heart of gold but not the bank account to match.  I just didn’t know the best way to find that person.

B gave me the perfect idea: have people nominate someone besides themselves and then do it as a raffle.

And with that, the RR Valentines Personal Chef Raffle begins.

The Rules:

  • You cannot nominate yourself.
  • You can nominate as many people as you want.
  • Nominations can be made via a comment in this post, or by sending me an email (restaurantrefugee at gmail dot com.)
  • All nominees must reside in the DC metropolitan area.
  • Nominations must include your email, a brief description of why your nominee should be included (i.e. My friend John is a really terrific teacher who would never do this for himself but really deserves it.)  You should also feel free to be as verbose as you deem necessary to fully elucidate your reasoning.
  • Nominees should not be fully identified to protect their privacy.
  • Nominees do not need to be a couple in the romantic sense (i.e. if you have two good friends who are meritorious and they don’t have plans for Valentines Day.)
  • Due to other commitments, the date is largely inflexible, but some reasonable accommodations can be made.
  • You may nominate vegetarians – you may not nominate vegans.
  • I may reject any nominee if the reason for nomination trips my bullshit sensor or seems otherwise insufficient.
  • Each nominee will be assigned a number.  All numbers will be placed in a bowl and one will be pulled at random by a third party – someone with a webcam and a penchant for making videos (LiLu, thanks for volunteering) and will be posted on the web.
  • Nominations will be accepted until 26 January.  The drawing will take place within 48 hours of the close of the nominating process.

p.s. in case you’re wondering what type of dinners I prepare for my clients (and don’t have the inclination to sift through the archives to find them,) the following menus are my favorites of the past year:

A Summer Anniversary Dinner for Six:

Canapés

  • Big Eye Tuna Tartar in corn tortilla cups
  • Caprese Salad Skewers drizzled with 10 year aged Balsamic
  • Mini Grilled Cheese: gorgonzola, prosciutto, and tomato on grilled baguette

Amuse Bouche: Sweet Corn Velute with olive oil poached lobster and Parmesan Beignet

First Course: Pork Cigars

Slow cooked pork and mascarpone cheese in a tissue paper potato shell with a spiced apple cream sauce and petite arugula and micro green salad

Soup Course: Shrimp Bisque

North Atlantic Prawns in a tomato based bisque with a six hour roux

Third Course: Beef and Potatoes

Braised Beef Short Ribs with a spinach and artichoke cassoulet, truffled French fries, and reduction of braising jus

Sweet Course: Apple Slapple Sweet

Cinnamon and sugar glazed apples in a deep fried spring roll with cognac & caramel sauce.

Cheese Course: Cheese and Accoutrements

Selection of Cowgirl Creamery Cheese with slivered almonds, wildberry compote, and truffled honey.

Cajun Themed Holiday Dinner for Ten:

Amuse Bouche: Shot of Guacamole Soup with essence of Black Forest Bacon

Canapés

  • Cajun Sushi Roll with Andouille Sausage, Pimento Cheese and Anaheim Peppers
  • Blue Cheese Gourgeres
  • Shrimp and Jalapeño Hush Puppies

First Course

Seafood Gumbo Or Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Entrée Course

Tagliatelle Pasta with Jambalaya style Sauce Or Red Snapper with Heirloom Tomato and Basil Sauce

Dessert Course

Mint Chocolate Mouse topped with frozen and crumbled Peppermint Patty Pieces

Fall Dinner for Four*

Salad of Asparagus “Linguini” with Wild Mushrooms, Pancetta and Poached Quail Egg

Pumpkin and Roasted Pine Nut Bisque with Garlic and Truffle Au Jus

Lamb Tenderloin Medallions with Lamb Shank Confit Spring Rolls and Spinach & Artichoke Cassoulet

Cheese Course: Cheese and Accoutrements

* they didn’t get an amuse bouche because it was this couple


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