Saturday, February 21, 2009

Now on the list.

I was a waiter and spent time on the other side of the bar as well.

When all was said and done it was work that I enjoyed. I liked the friendships I made and the free drinking I did and being part of that world where you experienced the secret life of daytime during the week...when everyone else is sitting behind a desk. And I actually liked the service part of the job. I liked playing a part in making sure that people had a good time.

I also like to think that it made me a better diner. I appreciate the work of a really good server. I know how hard it is to keep a smile on your face when you're completely in the weeds (1) and the host or hostess is working against you (2) and the busboy who's supposed to have your back has vanished. It's why my tips always start at 20% and I move the needle up or down from there.

(And for me to move the needle down...well, you've either spilled something on me, completely ignored me or elected to use my meal as an opportunity to communicate how unhappy you are with your job and life (3).)

So while I have something of a book backlog building up, I'm putting Service Included on my "to read" list. Being weeded in a restaurant is bad. Being weeded by books you want to read is good.

1. "Being weeded" is restaurant speak for falling behind on your tables because you've gotten overwhelmed. You can always tell who at your table has worked in restaurants when someone notes, upon seeing a harried server enter or leave the kitchen, "He's totally weeded." People without a restaurant background often believe you have just accused the server of being stoned.
2. A good host can save your life and actually plays a huge role--sometimes more than your server--in making sure you have a good experience. If you've ever sat down at a restaurant and then waited and waited and waited for someone to come to your might have been the host's fault. Maybe they didn't tell your waiter. Maybe they didn't check to see if they can handle another table. Maybe they're just an awful human being. I admittedly have host issues.
3. Although Scoopgirl, Cute Girl and I once shared an evening where our server made the fascinating leap from being waitstaff to drunken tablemate in a fashion so flawless and complete we worried that we had wandered into some sort of fringe dinner theater event. The entertainment factor saved the tip.

Dear Madam.

Dear Woman-Behind-Me-at-Starbucks-Ordering-the-Venti-"8 pump"-Skim-Chai-Latte,

As a fellow member of the community of consumers doing everything but open their own franchise to keep those brave men and women who wear the green apron employed and foaming milk and purveying drinks that are more lifestyle than nourishment, I understand your enthusiasm.

But what the heck is the "8 pump" thing all about? How does one even come to the point where they know that's something that they want?

And, because these are the things that I start to wonder about, what's the Starbucks standard for chai "pumps?"

I have officially placed you in the category of people who order their drinks with specific temperature requests and claim to be able to taste the difference between a latte made with 2% milk and one made with whole milk.

Seriously. It might be time for a hobby.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Night Radio in the Middle of the Night

Things that may not completely turn your world around but do a pretty good job:

1. The unexpected inclusion of roller derby in your evening.
2. Iron Chef: Battle Basil.
3. Tina Fey telling anyone to suck it as in: "Suck it nerds." "Suck it monkeys."
4. Pizza & too much red wine.
6. Being ambushed by the discovery of a new poet at 3am.

Studio 360, a Public Radio International arts & culture show whose trash I would go through if it were a person, did a two-part series on Japan and included the work of the poet Shuntaro Tanikawa. The Studio 360 blog says his poetry is like "Walt Whitman meets Ron Padgett, in Japanese." (I know, I know...who's Ron Padgett? There you go. Who loves ya' baby...)

As part of the show they included this poem by Tanikawa:

A Night Radio

I’m holding a soldering iron, tinkering with a ‘49 Philco.
Despite warm tubes, the radio is stubbornly silent
but its odor, still fresh, mesmerizes me.
Why do ears wish to hear beyond their capacity?
I think we hear much too much nowadays
and I feel nostalgic over this broken radio’s silence.
I can’t say which is the more important to me, tinkering with a radio or writing a poem.
I long for the days when I’d nothing to do with poems
and walked those dusty childhood roads.
But I’ve forgotten about women and friends,
as though time did not exist.
I just wanted to hear, should have heard, something more,
my breath held, my ears cocked,
in every summer’s towering clouds,
in the muttering of family get-togethers in an untidy room,
refusing to compress living into a story. more:

7. A phrase like "Walt Whitman meets Ron Padgett, in Japanese."

Language is good.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Today I was rejected for a job I wanted.

This is not the end of the world.

Part of the whole being a creative person is the ability to deal with rejection. To be okay with the idea that sometimes other people will not believe in your talents. That's part of being a writer, an artist, a musician, an actor...whatever your spark happens to be. You send things out into the world and you hope, really hope, that someone else loves it all the while knowing that rejection is part of the risk you take.


For just a little while, I think that I'm going to be not ok with this one. For right now I think that I'm not going to be an artist and, instead, I'm just going to be someone who didn't get a job they really wanted.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Tonight, on my walk home from the subway, a little boy came out of the dry cleaner wearing a bright red cape. He was holding his mom's hand and trying to figure out how to manage the lollipop the dry cleaner gave him, his mother's hand and the movement required to make the cape fly out behind him.

My first reaction was to ignore the flutter that happens behind my heart whenever I see a scene like this. The little rattle that reminds me that no matter how many times I tell it to let it go already there is a biological clock inside of me that won't let me forget all those times I wondered what it would be like to be a dad.

But what I've been left to think about is the cape. The cape and the amazing red ribboned tutu that a little girl wore to church last week with a t-shirt whose front was emblazoned with a red rhinestoned letter that might as well have been an "S." I thought of the little girl I saw at the grocery store last week--while I was rushing to pick some things up before running out to review a show--walking behind her mother, pushing a miniature shopping cart, and dressed like a good witch (1).
Sitting here, feeling a little sorry for myself, I can't help but wonder what it would be like if we all let ourselves head into the world dressed like superheroes and good witches and all the people we were when we didn't try to hedge our creativity into a set number of hours outside our "real lives." Before we gave up day dreaming for day jobs.
(1) Okay, truth be told, if you asked her she would probably tell you that she was a fairy princess. But I'm a native New Englander. Witches are always going to trump on the cool scale.

Dear Sir.

Dear Man-Sitting-Three-Feet-Away-from-Me-on-the-Subway-Reading-My-Theater-Review,

So, the slow back-and-forth headshaking you started to do just before you turned the page. What was that?

Disgust? Disbelief?

Maybe you were remembering something another critic said and reading my review you began to wonder what on earth that other critic could possibly have been thinking?

I'm going to go with that last one.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What's for Dinner?

The other night Leopold and I (not his real name but what I’ll be using when I need to mention my partner here in the blog) were out to dinner. The place has great food and, while the size of it dwarfs most of the other places in the neighborhood seating is tight enough that you feel like you’re sharing both conversation and dinner with the table next to you. This is very convenient for those of us who like to see what other people order and eavesdrop on the conversations of strangers. (It's research.)

The woman at the table next to us ordered a pepperoni pizza and not only did it smell freaking amazing…the pepperoni was small. The size of a quarter. Even more fan-freaking-tastic.


When little pepperoni hit the oven the pepperoni they curl up like so many pork Shrinky Dinks. They get charred and taste infinitely better than the large, sprawling pepperoni slices that simply lay there getting hot and greasy like a fat man lolling on the beach.

The small pepperoni is what is used at my favorite pizza place in the world, a place known to the world as Pat’s Pizza and subtitled by the truly local as Farnsworth CafĂ© (no one calls it this but it’s just one of those things that you know).

Back in the day Pat’s pizzas came in one size, they were stapled into a thick cardboard clamshell/pie plate-type thing for transport and you used the bathrooms only out of desperation or on a dare. On a given night you could have a table of Marsh Island widows on one side and UMaine frat boys on the other.

I was thinking about that tiny pepperoni as I finished reading Gumbo Tales, Sarah Roahen’s hunger pang-inducing quest to find her place at the New Orlean’s table. While the food I grew up on will never sweep the nation like blackened fish or jambalaya, Roahen’s is the kind of book that makes you realize that it’s not the food itself but the relationships that get built on top of the dinner plate.

Where she has gumbo and red beans and Sazeracs, I have low-bush blueberries (1) and bean-hole beans (2) and Allagash beer. Serve someone from back home a lobster tail and they’ll ask you what you did with the rest of it. Go into the right corner market and you may find a basket of homemade whoopie pies for sale. Find a better market that the health inspector hasn’t and you might find an electric grill filled with bright red hot dogs and toasting New England-style rolls (3).

But despite the fact that my hometown has never had to survive a Katrina, the reality is that most of these things that I remember are a fading past and not an everyday reality. There are more chains than mom-and-pop corner stores and few of those electric grills are still plugged in.

So, for now at least, I’ll take what I can get. I’ll order pizza with small pepperoni, serve my lobsters boiled and whole and be grateful for writers like Sarah Roahen.

(1) They're smaller than what you probably have in your local grocery store and grow, not surprisingly, on bushes that are low to the ground.
(2) Dig a whole, fill it with hot coals, put a sealed pot of beans in the whole, cover it. Wait. No. Really. I'm serious. It's amazing. There are churches back home that make their annual budgets on the strength of their bean suppers which are beans, rolls and slices of pie as big as your head.
(3) The New England-style hotdog roll had its day in the sun when Martha Stewart plugged them as the perfect lobster roll...which they are. Hotdog roll food porn shot above is by Susan Hayes and taken from Time in the Kitchen where they rock the lobster roll.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Don't Know Much About...Oh, Wait. I Do.

I come by my love of history honestly thanks to a childhood littered with battlefields, walking tours and museums devoted to nautical exploration and the burning of witches.

These were never the forced marches or airless car trips that some of my friends recall, they were pizza-punctuated days that translated all the dates and text book pictures into real life.

In short, history was made out to be something fun.

Thanks to those trips I now giggle when I pick up on things like the use of the word “festering” in National Portrait Gallery’s description text of President Garfield’s portrait (not about his wound) and why I laughed out loud when Mo Rocca noted, on an episode of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” that President Harding may actually have been this country’s first African American president.

It’s why I point out the site of the Garfield shooting to visitors (it’s by the current location of the National Gallery where a train station once stood), count Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins among my favorite musicals (1) and still liked Doris Keans Goodwin even while hissing noises were being hurled at her from academic libraries across the country.

And it’s why I love the writer Sarah Vowell who decided it would be great to devote an entire book to the history of Puritanism in America and nicknamed Robert Todd Lincoln “Jinxy McDeath.”

From Assassination Vacation:

"One man who makes cameo appearances in all three stories was not so lucky. Abraham Lincoln's oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was in close proximity to all three murders like some kind of jinxed Zelig of doom. The young man who wept at his father's deathbed in 1865 was only a few feet away when James A. Garfield was shot in a train station in 1881. In 1901, Robert arrived in Buffalo mere moments after William McKinley fell. Robert Todd Lincoln's status as a presidential death magnet weighed on him. Late in life, when he was asked to attend some White House function, he grumbled, ‘If only they knew, they wouldn't want me there.’"

In other words, Robert Todd Lincoln was the Jessica Fletcher of the 19th century. (2)

(1) But really, how could you not? It includes a duet between Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and John Hinckley. Genius.
(2) The kindly mystery writer who always seemed to arrive for a visit just hours before someone dropped dead on the CBS show Murder, She Wrote. If you didn't know that before this footnote this post was pretty much a waste of your time.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Last night I picked up three new books, one of which has been on my reading list for some time now. Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life is about the author and her family’s pursuit of a place in the locavores nation. For a year they decided they would only eat food raised in their own area or which they grew on their own.

I’ve been on a food book kick lately. This is something that I do, gleefully dig into ruts where I’m reading books that have nothing to do with one another except they’re all about mental disorders or historic events or food.

I realized this on a trip to our local used book shop where I was attempting to decrease the hardcover population of my shelves. Looking through the stack I brought in the clerk said, without looking up, “So, somebody’s in the music industry, huh?”

Me, “*” (1)

Clerk, now looking up at me,” Music industry? The books?”

It was then I realized that six of the books I was handing over were memoirs by people in the music industry.

Now here’s what I didn’t say to the guy at the bookstore. The main reason why I love nonfiction is the habit of nonfiction writers to write about subjects about which they are passionate on a level of near obsession. It’s why I have a particular fascination with music writers because many feel no hesitation to feverishly devote 10 pages to a description of the first time they heard a Led Zeppelin album and how “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” is not only the Rosetta Stone of their entire discography but the foreshadowing of the eventual flannel-clad birth of Seattle’s grunge movement (2).

Instead what I said was, "Um. No."

(1) *This is a blank stare.
(2) This is complete and utter fiction…I have no idea what I’m talking about.