Quitters Never Prosper?

29 January 2009


I never called myself a smoker.  I would always qualify my status referring to myself as a cigar-smoker, an occasional pipe-smoker, but never one of those awful cigarette smokers.  I justified this because I didn’t smoke that much.  A pack or so a week wasn’t that bad – I insisted.  My running excused me right? X number marathons equals Y years without having to explain, or worry, right?

The allure was easy and it had very little to do with the addictive properties of smoke.  Smokers were more fun, the conversations more interesting, and I smoked exquisite cigarettes.  I didn’t want to quit, but I have.  I didn’t want to lose those moments – over coffee, after dinner, with a drink, on the patio at a party – the knowingly shared moments, moments that border on being stolen.  I will miss the camaraderie of smoking as much as the taste of my particular brand.

Much like my friend, Foggy Dew, announcing my intentions increases the likelihood of success.  This is the rare occasion where my vanity is too my benefit – I hate failing, but public failure feels fatal to me.  Thus I share this journey with the interweb, I have even added a calendar* to track the time since I have had a cigarette.   Eventually the calendar will change to be the last time I have had a pack in my pocket because in a few months I will probably allow myself the occasional cigarette.

I will never proselytize to anyone who smokes, and if I am diagnosed with some fatal disease, the first thing I grab will be a pack of the exquisite cigarettes that I miss already. 


* see the link to the right


My Once and Future Plan for Valentine’s Day

28 January 2009

In Junior High School, the worst kept secret in my class was the insane crush I had on Jasmine Thomas.   The reasons for this crush are irrelevant – can you think of any reasons for your 7th grade crush that have stood time’s test? 

Sometime near the end of January, I decided that Valentine’s would be my day, my time to confirm what was obvious to everyone but me.  I started saving portions of lunch money, my allowance, and snow shoveling earnings to purchase a symbol of my affections. 

The morning of the 14th I left for school early to allow myself time to stop at the drugstore and buy a profanely tacky box of chocolates.   It was hooker red tin foil, wrapped around a heart shaped as large as my 12 year old chest.  The box of confections didn’t fit in my locker so I convinced my english teacher to hide it.  Even though Mr. Rybcyck had just given me detention the day before, he was a sucker for potential – he stashed the candy for me.

Given my twelve year old angst the day alternated between blurring through courses and moving glacial slow.  2:45 would come eventually.

There was no automated bell at this old fashioned Catholic school; the end of classes and the school day was marked by Sister Mary Too Strict ringing the schoolmarm bell.  As the tweenage tide moved left to the door, I moved against it to find Mr. R.  Always a serious look on his face, I gave it no thought when he handed me the package with a stern “Good luck & be careful, Refugee.”

Despite the five minute head tart (typo, but I’m keeping it) I knew that Jasmine would still be around – we all milled about searching for some inner cool.  That and she wore the plastic orange sash of a crossing guard.

When I bounded through the school doors, I looked for Jasmine in her normal spot on the other side of the street.  I took another minute but this box and my courage were burning a hole through me.  I was so impatient that I asked Kathy Blabbermouthson “have you seen Jasmine?”

She took great joy in pointing between the basketball hoop and the maintenance shed and saying “she’s over there…
with her…







In those moments, words really do echo in the space where your heart should be. 

I walked home that day, just couldn’t bear the indignity of sharing heartbreak with everyone who rode the #14 bus towards my house.  I almost threw the chocolates in the trash, in a little creek I passed, but I carried them almost the whole way home.  A mile or so away from home I passed a woman walking in the opposite direction.  “Happy Valentine’s Day” I said before pressing the box into her hands, “I can’t use these anymore.”

I just kept walking even as I heard her shout “thank you, thank you, you really made my day.” Her words did pause my pouting… for a minute. 


All these years later I do not relive that moment, or that heartbreak, though I have been known to occasionally give an anonymous gift to a random woman.  Neither have I ever really celebrated Valentine’s Day – it helped to always have to run a restaurant.  Without that pre-mixed excuse this year, I was especially happy to sign a client for whom I will be preparing a five course dinner.  Here’s the menu:


Lobster & Shrimp Bisque

Slow Roasted Pork Cigars with warm Spinach and Apple Salad

Wagyu Beef Tenderloin, horseradish potato dumplings, Artichoke and Asparagus timbalé

Mezzaluna  Pastry stuffed with sweet mascarpone cheese & fresh berries

Selection of Cheese with Truffled honey, wild berry compote, and toast points



Oh yeah, since it is Wednesday, I took my turn as contributing editor at DC Blogs. Go on  check out that which moved me more than most this past week.

And here are a few links for blog posts I also was digging but couldn’t use for whatever reason:

The Reluctant Grown-Up wrote A very touching story but not sufficiently touching that it makes me want to procreate.

Grateful Dating becomes The accidental advice columnist…

Georgetown Voice examines how the Gender Gap in Elective Politics extends to the Top Hoya Races

Precycling is the New Black according to Twilight Earth

I am not Admitting Anything

26 January 2009

I am not admitting that I have a shoe fetish.  In fact, I vehemently deny the existence of such a “not-that-there’s-anything-wrong-with-it” peccadillo in my world.  Yet while riding the Metro this weekend I saw a drop-dead gorgeous woman who was six feet tall even before she put on the boots, I will admit that I looked a little longer than I would have liked. 

Even if I could have avoided staring looking at any woman that tall, with seemingly perfect café au lait skin absent blemish or make-up, who could have ignored those boots?  Even if I were able to ignore her un-self-conscious laugh, and mellifluously rich voice, who could expect me not to watch the boots?  Even if I hadn’t wondered about the lustrous, silken look of her hair, no reasonable human doesn’t peep those boots, right?

To be sure, I saw her wedding band – exceedingly tasteful by the way – and noticed when her voice turned soft to take the call from the man I must presume her husband.  I wasn’t trying to be creepy Metro guy, and kept trying to focus on my newspaper.  But damn these boots…


How can anyone blame me?

Hearing a Voice of the Recession

24 January 2009

Late last year I wrote about putting a face to the recession; this afternoon I put a voice to it too.

One of the few downsides of my coffee shop, most coffee shops, is that one is forced to overhear the phone conversations of neighboring tables.  The following is an account of one side of a conversation from a mid forties woman next to me.

Good Afternoon, this is Jane Doe.

Mmm, hmm… mmm, hmm.

I’m sorry but I can’t donate this year.

Yes… mmm, hmm.

No, not at that level either, I just can’t do it this year.

I understand, but please…

Mmm, hmm.

No I can’t…

Mmm, hmm.

Listen, I know that I’ve given to your charity in the past; but I simply cannot do it…

Mmm, hmm.

I don’t want to be rude and hang up on you, but you are tempting me.  Do you really want me to suffer the indignity of admitting to you and anyone within earshot that I am unemployed?  Fine, I’m unemployed.  I haven’t worked in ten months, can’t pay my bills, and certainly can’t give you “whatever I can spare.” I can’t spare a dime and you might want to rethink giving people the hard sell in this economy.

Good bye!



Yeah, I didn’t have any words.

Next Thing You Know I’m Going to be Singing Kumbaya or Some Other Bullshit

23 January 2009

Certain DC Metro stations are burrowed deep underground – did you know that the Wheaton station has the longest escalator in this hemisphere?  For the deepest stations, it is substantively faster to catch the elevator. One of my locals sits about a hundred yards above one of these stations.  As a gentleman who favors expedience and preparation, I tend to know the exact rail car to board to be among the first to reach the elevator. 

There were four people and a toddler who rode with me: three 40 something women, an early thirtysomething and her barely talking child.  The young mother was struggling to get mittens on her son as he utilized the favorite word in any child’s vocabulary – No.  It went on this way for a few moments as he clinched and moved his tiny fists away from his mom.

Maybe it is the spirit of optimism surrounding Obama’s inauguration, but, for some reason I found this scene endearing.  “Look at me” I smiled “I’m putting on my mittens.”

“We’re all putting on our mittens” said the woman to my left as everyone nodded agreement while donning their gloves.

“Yes we are putting on mittens” I refrained in a toddler specific tone that emerged from a part of my soul I do not acknowledge. 

Mittens were secured and then I learned that he had more vocabulary.

“High fife mittens?” he shouted with an outstretched hand.

“Yes, high five for mittens” I replied with a slap to his celebratory little hand.

A Free Lesson to Restaurateurs in Navigating the New Media Landscape

22 January 2009


The modern restaurant professional has concerns that their predecessors could not have even envisioned ten or fifteen years ago.  In that short a time span, the dining community has seen an explosion in the voices influencing where they spend their money.  Where once the newspaper and magazine critics were the nearly exclusive dispensers of media acclaim, now the interwebs are chockablock with message boards, on-line chats, and seemingly innumerable blogs about restaurants.

The smart manager/chef/owner becomes a member of these communities, participates in the forums, and skims the largely valuable feedback of core constituents – those with a sufficient passion for food to spend time writing about it for free.  There should be frequent google searches to identify blogged about experiences at your places of operation.  Use the good ones to motivate staff and the bad should be made whole as quickly and generously as is reasonable.

What you SHOULD NOT do is flame some anonymous blogger who identified and carefully articulated perceived shortcomings in your operation.  You should not be so sack-o-hammers stupid as to conduct such flaming from a traceable IP address that leads right back to you.  You should not have less understanding of this technology than a five year old and leave your real name in the email box.  And if you are to be so impossibly dense as to do all of those things, perhaps you might rethink doing it after clicking on the google search “My Restaurant, My City, Blogs.”

I am fairly certain about the authorship of the flaming comments, but I have consciously not named either you or your place in a display of the gentility you lacked in calling me a: Fucking Moron, Idiot, Cheap Bastard, and a Tool.  I will say that it is a good thing you don’t get paid for your literary skills.

I don’t think that readership of this blog is such that a few less than charitable words from me will seriously impact your business, but a press release just might.  Just in case you’re wondering, “YourRestaurantBlows.com” is an available domain and ungentlemanly behavior just might make me angry enough to spend enough cash for it to appear on the first page of google searches.  In other words, I know I don’t buy ink by the barrel, but you would still be mistaken to pick a fight with me.

Someone Else Deciding What I Write…

21 January 2009

This interview has been making the rounds of the blogosphere for a couple of weeks.  One of my favorite Boston Bloggers, MegaBrooke did it recently and I was happy to have her ask me a few questions.

If you’d like to play along, just follow these instructions:
1. Leave me a comment saying, “Interview me.”
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions. Be sure you link back to the original post.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.


1- What is something about you that you don’t think gets too much airtime on your blog?

Oddly, I don’t think I write enough about restaurants on the blog.  I have a list of my favorite places, and a really dated list of restaurant week recommendations, plus a few other notes but; I still have a sensation that I am giving short shrift to that area.  I hope to better about that in ought nine.


2- Do you believe in soul-mates?

Yes.  Unequivocally, but I also expand the definition to include friends.  Romantically speaking I also believe in soul-mates.  I place my chances of finding one at roughly the same odds of being struck by lightening, or winning the powerball.  That pragmatic expectation does not stop me from playing in the rain, or buying my lottery tickets.

Though I believe the universe to have a twisted sense of humor – introducing us to the largely unavailable (geographically, emotionally, etc.) who feel right – I think that most excuses which prevent us from being with the right person are bullshit.  Those who wait for all things to be perfect are destined to wait forever.


3- What is something that a server has done to go above and beyond, guaranteeing a big tip from you?  

Like many current and former service industry members, I am a habitual over-tipper.  Give me decent service and you can expect at least 20%; good service will yield a gratuity as high as 50%; and for exceptional service, I have been known to double a tab.  I should admit, belatedly, that I know or am known by many servers, bartenders, and managers around town and these relationships often yield unsolicited comps which may inflate a tip in relation to a check. 

A few years ago, I was having a particularly craptastic day at the restaurant I was running at the time – a common condition whenever corporate muckety mucks left the confines of their offices and spent too much time in my restaurant.  Rather than inflict my bad mood on my staff and guests, I made the executive decision that both the restaurant and I would be best served if I gave myself the night off.  I found a cab and headed to Cashion’s Eat Place for dinner at their bar.  Upon arriving, I realized I had nothing smaller than a fifty and the driver didn’t have change.  I went inside – cranky with myself and the driver – to get change.  The bartender, like all good bartenders, was slightly clairvoyant because after I returned to the bar, I found a place set for me in the corner I prefer when I want to be left alone and a Manhattan was the cocktail flag that marked my territory.  Sullenness eased with the first sip of whiskey & sweet vermouth but it was erased for good when the bartender wordlessly produced an un-thumbed newspaper for me to peruse.  Reading the paper was a much better idea than reading the paperwork I had intended to be my dinner companion. 

Three incredible courses later, I was contemplating the cheese board to finish the meal and was in much better spirits.  No dessert menu was presented, but the following invitation instead: “Refugee, you just bought that young lady at the end of the bar a port and invited her to join you for dessert.  She’s visiting from New York and I am fairly certain you both could use the company at this point.  Don’t make me a liar; go have some cheese with the lady.”

The bartender and I had known each other for years; we were more than colleagues, but less than friends.  Still he read everything about me and my mood perfectly and introduced to me to a woman who remains a friend to this day.


4- How much is too much?

Too much is the saccharined sweet of arbitrary and unfounded affection.  Too much is a server who says “my pleasure” ten times during a meal in lieu of  giving good service.  Too much is one text message from the person you don’t really dig, and not enough from the person who has you smitten.  Too much is chasing buzz words instead of leading.  Too much is a coffee drink that takes more than five words to order.  Too much is the dress that renders my imagination useless.  Too much is the affected, the unnatural accessory that screams “I am not comfortable in my own clothes or skin.”  Too much is declaring that which should be obvious or discovered.  Too much doesn’t understand that so much is relative. 

5- What would your “warning label” read?

Contents are contraindicated for those who don’t dream, tilt at windmills, or believe in unicorns.  Common side-effects are eye rolling, exasperated sighs, and frequent arguments about the trivial, semantic, or unnecessary.  Also may cause extreme frustration, or profound dislike in severe cases.  Most test users found the side effects to be mild and decreased in frequency with repeated use.

This medication is not for everybody but those who respond to it generally have good to great results.


Oh yeah, since it is Wednesday, I took my turn as contributing editor at DC Blogs. Go on  check out that which moved me more than most this past week.