Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dining Out (of my Mind)

 Now that I’ve “retired” from the restaurant business, I feel a little conflicted in my feelings about the industry that was my bread and butter for 37 years.  The husband and I dine out more often now than we have in a decade.  For me, it’s still a kind of schizophrenic experience.  Sometimes, surrounded by the restaurant culture, I feel more at home than I do in my own kitchen.  But more often than not, something will happen to remind me of exactly WHY I don’t own a restaurant anymore, and I want to push away from the table and run away screaming.  There are so many things, new and old, to loathe about dining out in 21st century America.

First, there are the other customers.  Now that I am just a customer myself, it would be so nice if I could sit back and enjoy a meal without paying any attention to the other guests or the service issues going on around me.  But having operated my own eatery for five years, and having spent another thirty years in the business before that, monitoring dining room interactions is second nature to me.  I can’t not do it.  And when someone at the next table starts whining to a server about gluten-free this and dairy-free that, I want to turn around and slap them.  This is not a hospital!  If consuming one particle of the wrong thing is so dangerous for you, YOU deal with it!  Learn to cook and EAT AT HOME!  Grrr.

And while the adults are asking probing questions about the menu and the food, their children are running all over the restaurant, playing in the bathrooms, screaming, crying, and generally displaying their worst possible behavior.  People truly believe they can take their kids anywhere.  Which would be fine, really, if the kids were polite, well-mannered, or disciplined in any way.  Then again, the kind of people to whom that sort of thing would matter do not set their kids up to fail by dragging them to a place where there is nothing to do but sit still for an hour and “enjoy” a meal (at the ultimate expense of the “enjoyment” of everyone else in the place.)

It’s as if America is being bombarded by some kind of narcissism ray.  People just HAVE to drag some kind of helpless, dependent being in their wakes—a being whose ultimate comfort and support derives from merely being in the constant presence of their exalted selves.  If they don’t have a child to tow around, a DOG serves just as well.  After all, only monsters don’t love children and pets…everywhere, all the time.  No one would dare to insinuate that their living appendages are not particularly welcome in a crowded, busy eating establishment.  And woe be to the server or owner who tries.  Been there, done that…and that’s a large part of why I’m NOT doing it anymore.

Once I’ve steeled myself to ignore the other guests, I have to deal with current industry practices that I just…hate.  I’ve come to detest some of the buzz-words that have become popular in “foodie” circles over the past few years.  Like “fresh, local ingredients!”  What a crackpot concept!    Believe me, for half the year there is really no such thing, outside Florida and California.  The other six months, you may get fresh, you may even get local, but only if you operate either on the farm or in a large metro area, and only if you (and your customers) do not think twice about paying premium prices.

And then there’s “How is everything tasting?”  What’s that all about?  It’s obviously the now-accepted language used by staff to ascertain the satisfaction level of guests after the meal is delivered.  But I always get the feeling that I’m being limited in the feedback I’m allowed to give.  If a server asks, “How is everything?” I might be tempted to say my water glass is empty or the music is too loud.  But since I’ve only been asked my opinion of how the food tastes, by the time I’ve nodded my head and mumbled, “Fine, thank you!”  the waitperson has flitted away, my water glass is still empty and the music is still too loud. 

But, honestly, I try not to be too tough on the operators and employees.  I know, I K.N.O.W. how hard it is to do what they do, and exactly how over-worked and under-appreciated they are.  I tend to be effusive in my praise if something is really delicious or if a server is particularly on top of things.  In my heart of hearts, I’m rooting for these folks.  Because I’ve walked a few miles in their shoes, and I know just how fine a line there is between success and failure in this business.

Which brings me to the thing that will drive me nearly crazy enough to commit arson, or worse:  People who have no experience in the industry deciding on a lark that it would be great fun and easy pickin’s to open a restaurant. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Several restaurants in the area have closed their doors since the economy went tits up, and I find the remaining dining choices dismal and bland.  I would love it if someone would come out here with a vibrant new concept, but I also know how difficult-to-impossible that challenge would be.  So I read with interest a story in the local paper about a couple buying an old school building up the road apiece (kind of in the middle of nowhere…) and planning to turn it into a “restaurant and pub.”  At first I thought, “Hmmm….kind of a crappy location.  But a savvy operator with a really good concept might make a go of it…”

And then I got to the description of the prospective business owners.  A nice couple, about my age or a little older, who are “retired, but not ready to settle down.”  He was a music teacher.  She was a sculpture artist with a local puppet manufacturer.  Neither of them has one iota of experience running a restaurant.  His philosophy?  “It’s not as hard as it looks.”  Ho-hum…just something to keep us busy in our semi-retirement.  AUUGHHH! 

WTF??!?!?  Dude.  You have NO IDEA.  You are going to go under.  Quickly.  And with an attitude like that, you will deserve every drop of misfortune that can possibly pour on your head.  I might even be first in line with a slop bucket. 

What makes people believe that this industry, this thing with which I have conducted a love/hate relationship for almost forty years, that has at once provided a place for my slightly hyper-active, over-achieving self to find satisfaction, while at the same time wringing every drop of energy and creativity from my wasted body, is nothing but a walk in the park?  Something anyone in the world can just pick up and do, without having paid their dues or put in the years of apprenticeship it takes to have any kind of a clue what all is involved?  It makes me insanely furious when some old fart and his wife criminally disrespect the industry into which I poured so much of my soul and my life force by declaring, “It’s not as hard as it looks.”  

I may not actually light a fire in this guy’s basement on some cold dark night, but I could be cajoled into attending the bonfire if someone else does.

So, yeah.  I’m still a little schizophrenic about the whole restaurant thing… 

A little tidbit I thought appropriate to post as an addendum here:  Drove by our old restaurant space today, to see check on the seafood market/restaurant that took our place there.  Closed.  Little note on the door, "To our valued customers...(how many of those have I seen in the past few years...?)  I feel bad for them.  Really.  But still, somehow...vindicated.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


April’s was the first full moon since last September’s that was accompanied by weather fine enough to actually SEE the moon, much less kindle a fire outdoors in her honor.  So I dutifully assembled my newspaper and my kindling, my few chunks of wood left over from last summer’s campfires, my rattle and my sage and a couple of cedar scraps.  I set myself up in the yard facing east, after the rest of the household had climbed into bed.  Lit the fire, sat and waited for the moon to show her face above the line of clouds hanging low over the Cascades. 

After a coquettish dance through seven veils of cloud, she eventually showed herself, full and bright.  But as she had crept upward through the mists, her face had changed and morphed…now appearing to wink one eye and grin, then looking for all the world like a silhouette of my bespectacled dad.  At one point, the clouds formed a clear question mark across her face from top to bottom—as if she asked, “Who do YOU want me to be?”  It was quite a show, and I gazed transfixed, forgetting all about my rattle and my songs and my introspections.

Eventually, I settled down to contemplating some things while I studied alternately the face of the moon and the depths of my fire.  I thought chiefly about fear…always the first thing that comes to mind, unfortunately, when my thoughts turn to the state of my life and how I would like to see it change.  Fear is the thing I hate about my life.  It is my constant companion.  It taints 75% of my waking moments.  It is the thing I have to overcome every day, just in order to get out of bed and keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

It took me many years to recognize the constant presence of fear in my life.  About a year and a half ago, I decided that one of the things I would work on now that I have time to work on myself was that ever-present fear.  I would eradicate it, overcome it.  Walk away from it.  At the very least, I would rise above it.  Every day.  I decided I would burn “fear” in a little ritual fire every morning, as an indication that I acknowledged and rejected fear’s hold on me. 

Well, guess what.  It didn’t work.

I’m still afraid of everything.  Always have been.  Always will be.

But as I complained about this to the Universe, in the presence of the Moon, the thought came to me. 

“Why reject fear?  It is part of you…always has been.  And it is only negative if you allow it to be.  Consider how many things you would not have done, what you would not BE, without the role that fear has played in your life.”

Yes…fear has been quite the trigger in my life.  In fact, I think it has been my primary motivator.  I suppose that sounds a little twisted…but it’s true.  I don’t think I would have done anything, achieved any of the things I have achieved, had I not been scared to death of them first.  Evidently, I need to cower in a corner for months, then get up, dust off my hands, spit in the eye of whatever the challenge may be, and have at it.  And if I don’t just follow that raw emotional stirring, I am lost.  God forbid I should give the thing too much thought…if I do, I think myself right back into the corner.

I don’t want to say I’ve made friends with fear…that I’ve become comfortable with it, or even that I honor it as my motivating force.  In fact, I’m kind of ticked that this is what I am saddled with.  Why couldn’t I have had kindness, or love, or generosity, or fairness--something noble and laudable--as my ruling force?  Fear seems so…puny.  So weak.  (What am I saying?  I, of all people, should understand the power of fear…)  But it is what it is.

While I have been contemplating this message from the Moon and the Universe, a friend posted this picture on Facebook:

And I realized this is exactly it.  Exactly me.  Not what I wish I was.  Not what I would like to be.  What I am.

This shows me exactly what the Universe was trying to tell me about myself…and puts it in a way that is much more palatable than, “I’m afraid of everything.”

I'm not a blubbering coward.  I am a Master Wing-Crafter.

So when someone says to me, “I wish I were as brave as you…”  I have two answers.

1.)    No, you don’t.


2.)   Trust me—you are.


Friday, May 17, 2013

Made Myself Sit Down and Write...This is What Came Out

It seems that I’m getting a strong sense of the futility of it all. A society that WILL NOT learn from its mistakes.  “Religions” that WILL NOT acknowledge the Spirit of the Universe as the huge, wonderful, diverse and all-encompassing entity that It is.  The Entity that IS all and CREATED all and, as such, has no animosity toward any creation.

Negative emotions are reserved to mankind alone…who knows why?  (Maybe that IS an indication that the Spirit has ill-feeling toward us.  Why else burden us with the evil that comes from within ourselves?)  Then again, perhaps this negativity, this dark side that man seems so bound to cherish and nourish, is not inflicted upon us by the Universe, but is simply what arises to fill the void between mankind  and the Spirit as we put more and more distance between ourselves and It.  The Spirit of the Universe is Light, and Positivity, and Creation.  By separating ourselves from It,  we create a space that fills with Darkness, Negativity and Destruction —the exact opposites of what the Spirit of the Universe is all about, what that Spirit is yearning to share with us.  Our void has become so vast…our dark side so huge that we cannot control it, so, we reason, it must not be of us.  It must be “God.”  “God” must be the source of all this anger and judgment, jealousy and retribution.  We compound our “sin,” by turning around and assigning those destructive emotions to the Spirit Itself.  We make “God” in our own image.

Now I know that not all “religions” teach of an angry vengeful God.  Even Christianity attempts to bury the awful traits it has assigned to God under layers and layers of “love,” “grace,” and “forgiveness.”  Still, when you start out with a God that you firmly believe is as capable of—and as ready to—squash you like a bug as to embrace and cherish you, that underlying foundation of fear taints anything good and positive piled on top of it.  You can’t hide it.  It is always there.  Always there to be exploited and manipulated.  And so, it is.

If I had an answer, what would it be?  Is the problem too huge, too unacknowledged, for there to be an answer?  Are we so bent on maintaining and widening the separation between ourselves and the Spirit, so focused on walking farther and farther away from It in a misguided attempt to “find our own way” that we are beyond hope?  I don’t know.

I think…maybe.