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.




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
  • 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.



Recent Restaurant Recaps

14 October 2010

Just in case you were wondering if the inverse relationship between the quality of a restaurant’s view and the quality of their food still holds true, a recent (and forced visit) to the Charthouse in Old Town confirmed it. Over cooked and generally flavorless fish next to an over-priced and uninspired wine list was paired with indifferent service to leave me with the feeling that they are content to being in the league of vapid restaurants so long as the proximity to water and tourists keeps their coffers filled.

And because sometimes piling-on is entirely appropriate… their website commits two cardinal sins: music, and failing to have the address on the homepage. When will restauranteurs learn?


Screwtop Wine Bar – I may be in the minority, but I’m not wowed by this place. The truffled popcorn they serve, gratis, at the bar is addictive, the ambiance is spare but charming, and the cheeses are very carefully sourced. However, if you’re a wine bar, what else should be the primary metric for evaluation? On this note, three recent visits have left me underwhelmed with both the wine list and the knowledge of the staff. Screwtop is a lovely place to spend the early part of an evening if you’re in that area, and you already know your way around a winelist, but I don’t expect to make a special trip in the near future. Not to pile on, but when a bartender flirts with my date when I go to the lieu, as the twitter kids would say #youredoingitwrong.


Grand Cru Wine Bar – I adore their pricing model (retail wine shop with negligible corkage fees for wines purchased) and this is one of the more comfortable urban(ish) patios. However, their menu is in desperate need of an editor as it is fairly well stocked with items they do not execute well. This remains a lovely place to wile away an evening (especially when the weather cooperates) with a bottle of wine. When you get hungry, however, stick with the items they don’t cook (cheese and charcuterie) or the things they cook the least (salads and smoked salmon.)


The three month old Chesapeake Room is a very well appointed space and an attractive addition to Barracks Row. The menu and cooking are, unfortunately, consistent with the general one-notch-above-mediocrity of the bustling lower 8th street area. Two brunches and dinner there were all culinarily flawed in some manner – over-salted or under-salted, sloppily plated, dull flavor combinations, and the like. As they’re still getting their kitchen legs beneath them, I am happy to give them additional chances… but mostly for drinking.


Maddy’s is a Bar & Grille that has no illusions about being something other than that. Their food, however, is a lot better than it needs to be. With meaty and well seasoned wings, a good selection of sandwiches (all will leave some jus running down your fingers in a very satisfying and homey way,) an outstanding beer program, and a staff of pros who make you feel like a regular from your very first visit, I happily place Maddy’s on my list of favorite bars in the city.


And on a final note… Dear Restaurant Owners & Managers, please teach your staff that an “I don’t know, let me check” is always preferable to weaving some nonsense from whole-cloth and unicorn tears.

Being Careful & Preventative Measures

13 October 2010

When I was seventeen, my father and I didn’t have the best relationship; but we still spent one afternoon having “the talk.” My high school best friend’s old man sat my buddy and me down to have “the talk” one night before we left for a party. I’m guessing that he wasn’t sure my dad and I had it. The two conversations were eerily similar.

Two days ago I had the talk with my nephew. Admittedly it was a couple of years past due but I suppose there was a a subconscious wish on my part that I could dodge the role of having “the talk.” When he told me about a recent experience, I knew I had no choice.

“Refugee Nephew, after what you just told me, we have to talk about something. This is extremely important and I need you to pay attention to me – it’s not an exaggeration to say that your life could depend on you remembering this. The next time you get pulled over for Driving While Black, you need to do the following…”

That was one of the saddest moments of my life, and I pray that he never has to give that speech one day.

Lessons Learned & New Rules

12 October 2010

Last weekend I was the chef for a wedding rehearsal dinner (Shrimp & Crab Bisque / Arugula & Asparagus Salad with a Honey, Lime, Rum & Bacon Jus Dressing / Surf & Turf of Maine Lobster Tails and Braised Beef Short Ribs / Cocktail of Port Poached Pears and Apples with a Brandy Demi-Glace and Hazelnut Whipped Cream was the menu… in case any of you were curious.) The following day I was the on-site Sommelier for the reception. That extremely exhausting back-to-back inspired a few New Rules and gave me some Lessons Learned (or reinforced.)

Lesson Learned: I have been in the company of a few sailors (both civilian and military) and generally found them all to be varying degrees of lovely. After being in a room filled with boat-people, however, I am ready to declare the collecting gathering of them at least equal to a barrel of monkeys for delivery of fun.

Lesson Learned: Yacht-people (defined as persons who refer to their sailing vessel as a yacht rather than a boat irrespective of the size of such vessel) are generally a collective bunch of asshats.

Lesson Learned: Some people will never out grow the common grade school mechanism of communicating attraction through hostility. Being mean to people was a shitty method of flirting then and is even worse now. Yes, I’m looking at you, Bridesmaid #1

New Rule: if you don’t have at least one bartender in your life who you would want at you’re wedding, then as the twitter kids like to say, #youredoingitwrong.

New Rule to Qualify the Prior Rule: If you have ten or more bartenders in your life who you would invite to your wedding (and you’re not industry,) #youreprobablydoingitwrong.

New Rule: If you don’t look at your bride as she walks down the aisle and think you’re “marrying-up” #youredefinitelydoingitwrong

New Rule: For every half carat past 1.5 your likelihood of being an asshat increases by 10%. Yes, Bridesmaid #3, I’m thinking of you.

Old but Rarely Followed Rule – The Best Man’s toast should always be more about the bride than the groom.

Lesson Learned (reinforced): A man’s willingness to dance at a wedding is directly related to his ability to get laid at a wedding; and a man’s ability to dance well makes the aforementioned fornication a virtual certainty.

Lesson Learned: When considering your first-dance song, one ought to limit the choices to tunes less than four minutes in duration… after that, it just gets weird.

New Rule: trying to sneak booze to underage guests does not make you “the cool uncle” it makes you a raging asshat who thinks it’s acceptable for a business to risk their livelihood over your intention to slip some wine to a college girl.

Old but Rarely Followed Rule: if there is a champagne toast, and underage guests are attending, be sure to have some flutes of ginger ale so everyone can participate.

Lesson Learned: Throwing the bouquet and tossing the garter, are traditions that need to end. Props to my clients for showing me how much classier a wedding is without the need to herd all single people into a mosh pit like being uncoupled is a pre-existing condition.


Introductions – The Good, The Bad, and The Fraudulent

8 October 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally Reading & Now Sharing Other’s Words

7 October 2010
I almost always read comments on the blog immediately – they come to my crackberry for easy access, and I suppose that I,like all most bloggers, crave the validation reader feedback provides. Something told me not to read the comments that came after my 9/11 post.

Almost a month later, I am sitting at the bar of my watering hole and killing time while I wait to meet a woman for dinner. I just read those comments and have been fighting to hold back water that keeps pooling around my eyes. I lack the vanity to think that many of you read that post or the comments so I’m going to share them here… because, well, they were amazing and moving.


    laloca says:

    11 September 2010 at 17:47 (Edit)

    i was at work; nearly the whole senior staff was on travel. my boss had just landed at logan. one of our lobbyists had her TV on; after the first plane hit, everyone gathered in the conference room.

    i grew up in a country with rampant terrorism; i knew in my bones there wouldn’t be just one plane. after the second hit, i told the HR director i was going home – i didn’t think it was safe to be four blocks from the white house.

    one of my colleagues – also a neighbor – was sitting in her office, frozen. she couldn’t get ahold of her husband, who had a meeting that morning in one of the trade center buildings. i got her out of her chair, grabbed her purse, and took her down to the street where we amazingly were able to hail a cab. we were in the cab when we got word of planes headed toward DC. everything was jumbled; no one really knew what was going on.

    i dropped my colleague off at her apartment where her sister was waiting, and then walked to mine; a friend who had been visiting and was scheduled to fly out that evening was in the kitchen, making breakfast. i turned on the tv, and we sat down to watch.

    Sylvia says:

    11 September 2010 at 18:39 (Edit)

    I was oblivious listening to some CD in the car on my way to the gym at my office building. As I was making the turn into the underground garage – there was Andrea Mitchell in her expensive car blocking the entrance and talking on her cell phone. I honked at her, urging her privileged ass out of my way. She was startled and turned to look at me. Her face seemed very apologetic, almost sad as she moved her car out of the way. She knew something I didn’t. Nine years later I still feel bad about that honk.

    Minutes later I was sitting alone in the TV lounge in the women’s locker room watching the plume of smoke on TV as Katie Couric’s voice told me some small plane accidentally crashed into the North Tower. I saw the second plane hit, and knew instantly it wasn’t an accident. For minutes I was unable to speak or yell as I tried to alert the showering, blow drying and dressing women. I stomped my feet and clapped my hands until I was joined by the women of Tenley Sport and Health.

    The rest of the day urging my team to go home to be with their families and offering refuge to those who thought they would be sitting ducks on the beltway is a total blur. We watched Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC in the command center. And waited for the big one to hit Washington.


    magnolia says:

    11 September 2010 at 20:59 (Edit)

    god, it was beautiful that day. i talked to my best friend in DC as the plane hit the pentagon. i heard it through the phone. we drove across virginia in a panic, trying to get away from hampton roads where we were in college, thinking that the atlantic fleet was the next to go. there were NO cops, obviously. when we finally got to the mountains, to my boyfriend’s school, we were greeted with the news that one of our friends had been sitting at his desk at cantor fitzgerald when the plane hit.

    the rest of that unbelievably beautiful day was a total blur. we were just numb. and i will never forget the color of that sky…


    Vie says:

    13 September 2010 at 08:08 (Edit)

    It was one week before my fifteenth birthday; I was in English class in Charlottesville, VA when a message came over the intercom that the Twin Towers had been struck by two planes. We kind of all looked around at each other, entirely unsure what to make of it. Someone knew they were in New York, but frankly, most of had no idea what was in those buildings, and no conception of what that could possibly mean. We were sophomores in high school, and though some of our parents worked in universities or even for the government in DC, we were not in a town that was saturated with constant news coverage, and none of us really had cell phones. We continued with class as normal.

    As I was walking in between classes, I noticed the front office was flooding with people, and I became nervous. In my next class, the teacher had a television turned to some news channel (MSNBC?). As soon as I saw what happened, I started crying. I knew that, like Pearl Harbor or Kennedy’s Assassination, this was an event that would change the course of the country and my generation, that it would haunt our memories. And I knew we would be going to war, and that it would be different than the ones we had been involved with over the 90s. At lunch, my friends and I held each other crying and discussing what had happened, scared and unsure of what was to come.

    The rest of the day was a blur; half of my teachers kept news coverage on, half kept calm and carried on. When I got home, the lights were off, the television was on, and my parents were glued to the news (something they never did, and rarely do now), with expressions of shock and horror on their faces. I joined them. We didn’t speak.

    Christina says:

    13 September 2010 at 09:54 (Edit)

    I was on 168th street on the east side at a doctor’s appointment in NYC. I heard the news form my doctor but did not understand the magnitude until I got to my office on 34th and 5th and saw tower one implode. the horror that I witness, the woman who feel to her knees will and the traffic that was at a standstill on 5th Avenue will always remain in my brain.

    then when I made it across the street to my office. I saw how it unfolded on the television.

    I was grateful that my father was at a family funeral that day…he worked in tower two.

    k8 says:

    13 September 2010 at 13:02 (Edit)

    I was in bed. And my best friend at the time, called and told me to wake up but not to turn on the TV until she got there. She knew my sister was in NYC and she knew I would have a catastrophic melt down. Thank God for friends.

    Grace says:

    14 September 2010 at 02:49 (Edit)

    I was on my way to school. My dad had just yelled at us to hurry up as he left to start the car. Then he came running back inside. “Turn on the tv.” The tone implied that I not ask questions. We watched as the second plane hit. There we stood for five minutes in silence. Then we got in the car and went on with our day.

A Few Open Letters

6 October 2010

Dear Woman-I-Won’t Name,

I know that you were just being a good bartender, and a little bit of flirting is part of the job. I also know that in the hierarchy of the “most difficult women to pick-up” hot-bartender falls just one notch behind lesbian-stripper. But not for nothing, if I had your address, I would have sent you a hand written card of thanks for the other evening… I would probably have busted out my red wax stamp to seal it for good measure. And that stamp doesn’t come out often.


A Man with a New Crush

Dear Four Seasons & Bourbon Steak,

I’ve been to your joint a half-a-dozen times now and each time the service has not been to the standards of a place I’ve revered for so long and a place that purports to strive for the superlative. To place a really fine point on it,your service isn’t allowed to suck when you charge twenty bucks for a glass of wine. That glass isn’t allowed to sit empty for double digit stretches of minutes before someone inquires about it. The-bad-suit-wearing manager is not allowed to finally offer to get me another glass and then forget about it. And this largely forgetful experience ought not be the best of the six I’ve had.


A Man Whose Trust and Patience You’ve Exhausted


Dear David & Lucinda from NYC,

Meeting and conversing with you two are reason enough for people to be more willing to share space with strangers. Our conversation was the best part of sitting at the Four Seasons. Even though I don’t wish to be fixed up with your niece (but I’m sure she’s lovely,) I look forward to having drinks with you during my next trip to Gotham.


A Thoroughly Charmed Man

Dear Forces That Control the Weather,

I just want you to know that to my liking last Saturday was the perfect fall day around these parts – cool enough for cashmere, warm enough not to need a coat on top of that. This is my favorite time of year, and you all should feel free not to rush through it.

With Sincere Gratitude & Thanks,

A Really Big Fan of Fall

Dear Women SEC Football Fans,

There are many things about the SEC that drive me nuts – your intellectually hallow and insular belief in the superiority of football in your southern conference is atop the list. However, I will never complain about going to your games because only in the south do girls wear pearls to watch football.


A Man with a Weakness for Certain Things

p.s. When it comes to fashion, it is a myth that diamonds are a girl’s best friend; that role always belonged to pearls.

Dear Westboro Baptist Church Members,

You all are the most vile humans on the planet – twisting logic & hating gays enough that you will protests a soldier’s funeral will earn you that label. What makes you even worse – besides all the hate and vomit inducing behavior – is that your Supreme Court case forces me to defend your right to spew this evil.


A Man Who Wants to Renounce His ACLU Membership