Thursday, July 15, 2010

I Love Smoking

I was up late last night, wandering the halls of the Fortress of Solitude, adjusting the frames of my extensive 17th century portraiture. And I noticed something. I smoke a lot. For some odd reason, my smoking has increased in the last week, to almost double what I used to smoke. I've gone from a pack-a-day to almost two-packs a day in the space of a week. I don't know why, because I'm not stressed about anything. But I'm not really bothered by my smoking increase; I'm bothered by the fact that the price has just gone up.

Here in New York, in an effort to close a $9 billion budget gap, they've raised the tax on cigarettes to something like $5.85 a pack. It's as though they're hoping to close their little budget gap just with smokers alone. I could buy the original excuse, that it's a sin tax because we smokers use up so many medical resources, but the truth is the state knows it has a captive audience. It has nothing to do with sin; the state just knows smokers will pay the goddamned tax. Why don't they raise the tax on gasoline? How about alcohol? Really, there are a million things they could tax that would get them unelected pretty quickly. Politicians are cowards. I think the tobacco companies should drop their price each and every time the state raises the tax, as a nice "fuck you" to the politicians. Take the price down to a buck. Hell, sell them at a loss.

Those of you who have met me (and really, God help you if you have) already know that I love to smoke. I love it like I love nothing else in the world. Because it's always been there for me. When I am sad, smoking is there to tell me "it'll be okay." When I'm happy, smoking says "let's celebrate with a smoke of victory!" When I'm nervous, smoking says "it's okay, I'm right here with you." It's really the longest, most successful relationship I've ever had. It doesn't judge me. It doesn't ask me to change. It always gives me what I want without all the begging or sucking up. And it really doesn't demand much from me in return; it doesn't ask me to take out the garbage, or do the dishes, or go to the party with all the people I really can't stand....

First, there's the ritual of smoking. There's the tamping of the tobacco. They opening of the cellophane, and removal of the foil. Pulling out the cigarette. The satisfying click of the Zippo snapping open. Oh, and that first drag. It's especially pleasant in the morning, that wave of nicotine rolling across your brain like the incoming tide. It's perfect when you're enjoying a tasty cocktail. This is where the smoking ban in bars really hurts. You can drink inside, but not smoke. You can smoke outside, but not drink. Really, the state just wants to make everyone miserable by not letting them enjoy both alcohol and tobacco at the same time. But the two go together, like peanut butter and jelly.

And I think the ban on smoking indoors is a crock. Allegedly, it's to protect all us service workers from having to breathe second hand smoke. I have a secret to tell you: ninety percent of restaurant and bar employees smoke. Your chef smokes. Your server smokes. They busboys smoke. Hell, the cat downstairs in the kitchen to keep away the mice -- he smokes. Note to government: You're not helping anyone in the service industry. You want to help us, pass paid sick leave for hourly employees or fix the goddamned economy. Otherwise, you're just humorless killjoys.

I learned to smoke in 1988, when I was studying at Fudan University (Motto: thanks for the money round-eye). That was the big year when Deng's reforms started to bite; people were allowed to open their own businesses, and were doing so with gusto. The entire country was like a boomtown right out of Deadwood. It was four in the morning, and we found ourselves in a "bar" in a giant, soul-crushing Stalinist apartment bloc. I use quotations because the "bar" was thrown together by some guy in his basement. I told you, everyone was opening up their own businesses. The "bar" consisted of a plank of wood over two milk crates and some wooden crates for chairs. It was 5 am, and this Chinese guy (who I'm convinced was a gangster) offered me a cigarette. Now, Chinese are very polite, so when I said I didn't smoke, Chinese gangster dude got serious pissed off. Cut my throat and leave me in the Huangpo river kinda pissed. I took the cigarette and never looked back.

I remember getting off the airplane at JFK that summer. I'd been standing in passport control for an hour. Waited another hour for my luggage to appear and pass through customs. By that point, I really needed a cigarette. My dad met me at the airport, and when we walked outside I whipped out a blessed cigarette and lit up. Non-plussed, my dad looked at me and said "I hope you learned how to speak Chinese, too." God, I miss dad.

He died of cancer at the age of 55. He smoked three packs a day. I tell people that, and they can't imagine it. Chain smoking just isn't something you see much of any more. He'd keep a lit cigarette in every room of the house, all of them going at the same time. It's ironic that I'm the only one left in the family who continues to smoke. Mom quit. My sister quit. I do the morbid thing where I subtract my age from my father's age to see how much longer I have left before I die (12 years). I've tried to quit many times. I've done the gum, the patch, Zyban, accupuncture, hypnosis and cold turkey. None of it works. I enjoy smoking too much. Hell, I'm jonesing for a cigarette right now.

But I think the time is rapidly approaching where I must give up smoking. Much like a person finally realizing it's time to give up on an abusive relationship. Because I'm up to two-packs a day, and packs cost $12.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Confessions: Reunion Edition

Believe it or not, this weekend is my 25th high school reunion. It's hard to believe that high school was 25 years ago, considering that I'm still just a big teenager. I haven't really aged that much at all, at least to my perceptions. Which brings to mind: If what I perceive is shaped by my perceptions, then what happens when those perceptions clash with your perceptions, and how does that conflict of perceptions alter what I perceive? Anyway, I am not attending my reunion this year, primarily because the windows in the solarium at the Fortress need to be cleaned. However, in honor of the 25th reunion of the Class of '85, I present to you the Reunion Edition of Confessions.

First, let's recall 1985. Reagan was President. Gorbachev became the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. Terry Anderson was taken prisoner in Lebannon. The mayor of Philadelpha orders the bombing of the MOVE headquarters, killing 11. Live Aid occurred. Back to the Future opened. Coke released New Coke. And the United Kingdom held its first Glow Worm Day. It was an exciting year. It was also the year I left high school and never looked back. Because I hated high school, and everyone inside it.

I was (actually still am) the kid who got picked on. Mercilessly. Books knocked out of my hands on the way to class? Check. No one would sit with me at lunch? Check. Insulting graffiti on my locker? Check. Laughed at by cheerleaders, football players, stoners, and even the foreign exchange students? You guessed it; check. I was even made fun of by the kids who rode the short bus to school and had to wear protective helmets. It was pretty bad.

I would regale you with individual stories of the nightmare that was high school, but, quite frankly, I can't remember any of them. I did my level best to forget anything and everything about Stroudsburg Area High School. There may or may not have been therapy. The only story I recall is actually one of triumph: I was in a creative writing class, where it was the teacher's policy (Hi, Mr. Steen! You were my favorite teacher!) to read one student's story anonymously. Mr. Steen started reading, and I instantly knew who wrote it. When he finished, Becky Weinstein demanded to know who had written the story. Becky was a cheerleader, and auteur of my never-ending persecution, and apparently she liked what she'd heard. Mr. Steen looked at me, I nodded, and Becky looked like she'd eaten a pickled jalapeno pepper when she heard my name. Victory!

I only really had two friends at the time -- John Higgins and Brian Sullivan. We played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons in John's basement. We'd get together on Friday night and play straight through til Sunday night. Considering that I became an award-winning game designer (Origins Award, 1998, Best Roleplaying Game), I suppose I should thank all the jocks and preppies who systematically destroyed my self-esteem and forced me to retreat into my nerd cave in the first place.

Don't even make me recall my ineffective attempts at dating. No one liked me. I didn't have my first kiss until I got to college. 'Nuff said.

I find it ironic that I'm not attending reunion this year (or any other year, for that matter). I used to dream of actually attending reunion. In my revenge fantasy, I would drive up to the banquet hall in my fire engine red Ferrari, clutching my multiple Academy Awards, a beautiful woman on each arm. We would sweep into the room, where I would regale everyone with tales of my exploits: Climbing Kilamanjaro; hanging out with the Dalai Lama, and winning my aforementioned Academy Awards. Then, Angelina, Giselle and I would be picked up by helicopter, abandoning my Ferrari like so much used tissue. There might have been a speech by the mayor, in which I was presented with the key to the city. It would have been a very small key. Let's just say, I totally get why Lady Gaga showed up at her old high school dressed the way she did. It's because she, like I, hated everyone associated with high school.

When I joined Facebook, a curious thing began to happen. I started getting friend requests from people in my graduating class. Did they not recall that they persecuted me for four years? Didn't they remember that they used to throw pennies at me because I was the only Jew in the class? They didn't remember sticking a dead fetal pig in my locker? Or the time a pretty girl passed me a note, telling me she liked me, and asking me to meet her after school, only to have everyone there to mock me? To be honest, I really didn't remember half the names of the people from whom I was getting requests. Bill Hoffner? Adrianne Burkholder? Curtiss Pepe? I dimly recall those names, but can't put a face to them. If Facebook says we went to high school together, then it must be true.

To be honest, I had a really hard time actually accepting their friend requests. Each one elicited a good twenty minutes of consideration. I don't know, call me old fashioned, but I believe that if you're going to accept a friend request you should actually, you know, be friends. And, recall, I hated each and every one of them just on general principle. I swallowed, hard, and started adding them as friends. Even though I was convinced this was going to end up being some kind of strange, internet bullying incident.

And this is where the curious thing started happening. I discovered that bygones could actually be bygones. That I actually liked these people, and they actually liked me. I get periodic love and support from Jenny Hayes. Adrianne Burkholder has sent me enough virtual drinks that, if they were real, I'd have died of alcohol poisoning long ago. Kip Woods has a beautiful family, and Becky Hannon (upon whom I had a tremendous crush) just graduated a beautiful daughter. These people, my nemesis (nemesi?), follow my triumphs and sorrows as closely as I follow theirs.

It's as though we all came to the same, mutual agreement. We all grew up, matured, and seem to be saying to each other "hey, we went through this formative period in our lives together. Let's be friends." I'm glad I reconnected with these people. And so it is in this spirit that I wish you all a great reunion weekend. I'm genuinely sorry I can't be there this year.

But the Ferrari is in the shop, and Giselle has a headache.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kids are Just Miniature Drunk Adults

As I was strolling through the extensive gardens here at the Fortress of Solitude, plucking withered leaves from my prized peony flowers, I began to wonder. Is our belief in a hereafter the mind's attempt to deal with the finite nature of life, are we in fact fooling ourselves, or is our desire for eternity somehow linked to the ego? Also, Pedro my Guatamalan gardner is clearly watering the plants too much. I can be a bit ADD when I'm gardening.

Speaking of gardening, I realize I may have given all nine of you the impression that I don't like children. That's not true. I love children. I'd love them to stay the hell out of my restaurant, so I don't have to wait on them. Other than that, kids are great. And that's because they're basically just miniature, drunk adults.

As I've said before, they share all the qualities of the inebriated. They're clumsy. They're impulsive. They slur their words. There may or may not be public urination (GOD! I love public urination. It makes me feel liberated, as though I'm shunning not only society's mores but also the bounds of basic, human decency). I love watching some kid stomp his way through a store, picking up and putting down his feet like he's just had a fifth of gin. Arms outstretched in front of him, ready to fall. Hell, kid, I know what you're going through. I've had those kinds of nights, too. Last night, to be precise.

In the end, what I find the most entertaining is that kids have absolutely no filter. They have no idea what's acceptable and what's not according to society's dictates. They don't know they're not supposed to stare at the guy with the giant, flaming red mohawk. Nor do they know they're not supposed to shout out "Mommy, what's wrong with that guy's hair?!" Kid, I'm right there with you. What the hell were you thinking red mohawk dude? Hell, we're all thinking it. The kid is just saying what we're all thinking. I totally think that when I have a kid (God help you all), I will encourage him or her to speak their little minds; which means I'll tell Little Daquan or Yuan Min to point and loudly yell "dude! That look died with Joey Ramone!" Because in the end, we all give kids a pass when they commit these social faux pas. So why not take advantage of it?

As I was moving through the NYC subway system carrying my bastard sword (don't ask, but it's a practice sword. Again, don't ask), kids had no problem staring at me, pointing, and laughing. And I wasn't even drunk at the time. The really savvy ones knew exactly what it was, too. "Mommy! That man has a sword!" made me smile. Becuse these kids are clearly nerds and "with it." And they didn't question why I had a sword; maybe they assumed I was going to hunt orc in the subway system (which actually, I do on Thursday nights). All the other kids would just gape and point. I call these stupid ones "future Welfare recipients."

Back to the lack of impulse control. I've seen kids insist that they would prefer the toro maki, not the california roll, and hold their breath to get it. And I'm sure I'm by no means unique. We've all seen some kid throwing a temper tantrum in a store. I just assume when a kid comes into a store that he is a tantrum waiting to happen. Sometimes, I'll bet with friends on which kid will blow first. I had one kid pay off on the trifecta at $280. Sometimes, I'll help to push them over the edge (like the time this kid wanted a Nerf gun, and his mom said "no", and he insisted on it, and she said "no", and I casually strode up and put two in my cart. Then winked at him).

Kids know what they want, and they want it now. They don't care that you don't have enough money to buy it. They don't care if it's not healthy. Kinda like me, actually. They want ice cream before dinner. They want the 12" Master Chief action figure. They want to stay up late to watch South Park. Swap out "South Park" for "porn", and I want the same things.

In fact, I'm not sure why we torture kids with this kind of stuff? Why do we try to inculcate in them a sense of responsibility and restraint? They're just going to max out their credit cards to buy a bunch of useless shit anyway. They're going to buy houses they can't afford, cars they can't afford, big screen TVs... In the end, the only reason to grow up is so we can start earning money, so we can start slavishly following our stupid impulses.

It just seems to me that kids are more honest about it. And I respect them for that. Now if you excuse me, I want to get some ice cream before dinner, and pick up the Futurama DVD set. Because I can. So nyah, nyah, nyah!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Birthday Bus

Yesterday was my birthday, and found me back in the great city of Albany (Motto: We got your goverment dysfunction right here). I was going to go to Vegas, but I hear Paris Hilton will be there; she and I had a fling a few years back and I don't want to bump into her and cause a scene. So I thought to myself "where else can I debase myself in new and unusual ways?" and the answer was Albany. Because small, middle-American cities are kinky that way.

In order to get here, I had to spend the day on the bus. You all know of my deep and abiding love of bus transportation. It's a chance for me to get to hobnob with a vast cross-section of America, who all smell vaguely of cheese. There's the douchebag in the Ed Hardy t-shirt with his pregnant girlfriend, bickering the entire way. Oh, and here's the fat businessman who likes to snore. Over there is the chick noisily eating Doritos out of an incredibly loud mylar bag. She was talking to the woman who couldn't stop laughing with this annoying "snort-laugh" (you know the kind that's part snort, part laugh, and is all annoying). I would rather be transported in the hold of a Chinese freighter, because at least then there would be tasty Chinese food.

I would be all for a seating system similar to the airlines. There could be a first class and a coach. All the mouth-breathing pinheads who wear "Free Lindsay" t-shirts could sit in coach. Or as I would call it "isolation". And I could sit in first class. I would pay an extra $20 to sit in the front of the bus with a nice, but flimsy, barricade between me and the denizens of Innsmouth who ride the bus. I actually believe H.P. Lovecraft got the ideas for most of his degenerate, inbred cultists because he rode Greyhound busses all the time.

I'm a reader by nature. I like to read. I refuse to read on the bus. Firstly, because there's no point. The bickering couple and Queen Laughita were too much of a distraction. Secondly, I'm convinced the rest of the bus is just waiting for me to nod off (because I tend to fall asleep when I read), and then eat me. After they sacrifice me to their noisome, rugrose, gibbering Elder God, of course.

Really, the whole experience is oppressive. There's the giant yellow sign at the front of the bus that says "REMAIN SEATED!" The bus driver rattles off a list of rules (no eating, no drinking alcoholic beverages, no loud music playing and no cell phone calls), which everyone on the goddamned bus violates. Don't get me started on the toxic dump passing itself off as a restroom either (and really, guys, stop trying to pee standing up in a moving vehicle. Your aim isn't that good.). In the end, I feel like I'm being taken to prison, not Albany. All that's missing is the cop with a shotgun standing at the front of the bus. And I wouldn't be opposed to them including that feature, quite frankly.

Happily, my time in Albany more than makes up for the hellish experience that is traveling by bus. Now, I just have to go back.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

If You're Wearing Diapers I Don't Want To Wait On You

Today finds me trying to beat the oppressive heat by chilling in the "igloo room" here at the Fortress of Solitude. Many people ask me if the Fortress is real, to which I can only say: It may be, or it may be a metaphor for the sense of isolation I feel as a consequence of urban dehumanization and a technology that allows me to disconnect from established social norms. But the property taxes on this thing are killer. All of which has nothing to do with my topic for today: I hate waiting on children and old people.

Yesterday, the chef where I work stormed upstairs to confront me. He wanted to know why I had the highest number of special requests and food returns. He impugned (and I do so love that word) my abilities and experience as a waiter. "What is your problem, man?" was his question.

My problem is that I'm the new guy. The new guy gets the crappiest section in the restaurant, until he pays his dues. I'm told that the average at York Grill (89th and York Ave. Come on by) for this journeyman status is two years. This section happens to be at the back of the dining room. It is the place the owner stick all the noisy, obnoxious kids and old people too infirm to walk anywhere else. And that, chef, is my ultimate problem.

For I work on the Upper East Side, the land of priviledged elites. These are the people who spoil their children, who do not discipline them because they fear crushing little Dalton's self-esteem and creativity. They also seem to think their obnoxious little monster has the critical faculties of an adult. For example, they'll order precious little a Kobe beef burger (at $21), when what the kid really wants is a Happy Meal, then ask little Morgan if they like their burger. Well, of course not. What the hell does a five-year old know about Kobe beef? So when they say the burger tastes "funny" it gets sent back. Even better, I had one kid order the chicken milanese plain, then cried because he really wanted chicken fingers. We sent it back to the kitchen to cut it into strips. He remained unmollified, because he wanted goddamned chicken fingers. And I'll get five of these tables a night.

See, children really are like drunk, miniature adults. They're clumsy; one girl, a regular, consistently knocks over her glass no matter what I put her water in. (I'm thinking of just standing there with a water pitcher and pouring water down her gullet like a baby bird.) Which means a scrum of people rushing to clean and re-set the table. They act out; little Chicken Fingers gets bored, and proceeds to fling his bread crusts everywhere. It looks like a bakery exploded by the time he leaves. They're demanding; they don't want the jonah crab ravioli in a seafood nage. They want pasta in butter. And dammit, it had better be the pasta they're envisioning in their tiny, unformed, spoiled little heads or they will pitch a fit. I had one girl send back her burger because it wasn't cooked to her liking; it was too rare. So we cooked it some more. Then she was unhappy because it was overcooked. Just go to Burger King. I hear you can have it your way there.

And really, the ancient adults I end up serving are little better. These people have lived a lifetime of being rich and having their every whim catered to. They also believe they know better about food than I do, or the chef does, by virtue of the fact that they've been eating since Millard Filmore was President. They want the flounder, but they don't want it stuffed, and they want the sauce on the side. They don't understand that I can't bring them a side of broccoli rabe because we don't have any broccoli rabe in the goddamned kitchen. And really, if you want the pan seared ahi tuna, don't order it well done because that makes it no longer pan seared. That's called "cooked".

These people have no problem sending their food back, either, because if they're going to pay $36 for something it had better be the way they want it. I don't generally disagree with this sentiment. However, if they've changed the dish, we really have no idea what it is they're envisioning in their minds. They're basically trying to change the dish on the menu into something completely different. One guy so ancient that I think he witnessed Moses receiving the Ten Commandments ordered the sirloin steak, but he didn't want the blue cheese gratinee that it comes with. He wanted goat cheese. And he didn't like garlic spinach, he wanted plain spinach. And instead of the potatoes it comes with, he wanted steak fries, but without the paprika we sprinkle on them. Really, at this point, why not just stay home and cook the dish you want. Is there any wonder the chef hates my guts?

And this is what chef doesn't understand. I can't say "no" to a customer. I can say "I don't recommend that." I can say "the chef doesn't recommend that." But I really cannot say "no." Little Chicken Fingers wanted french fries (again, really, if you want chicken fingers and french fries, take your kid to McDonalds), which is a subsitution off the prix fixe menu, which is not allowed. Chef calls me downstairs and gives me a hard time. What do you want me to do chef, make a little boy cry? Really?

All of this would be simply fixed if I didn't have to wait on old people and kids. Which is, like, 90 percent of the customers seated in my section.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Return to Greatness

I realized today that I hadn't updated this space for quite some time. You might think it was because I was off having fabulous adventures -- climbing the Alps, scuba diving the Marianas Trench, or perhaps hunting Bin Laden in Waziristan -- but the reality is more prosaic. I forgot I had a blog.

No, that's not true. In all honesty, I really haven't found anything absurd enough to mock. It seems as though life conspires to increase the level of absurdity to match my level of sarcasm. The BP Oil spill and the Mongolian clusterfuck that is the government's response? They're doing enough stupid on their own that I don't really need to mock it. I think, however, I may have finally found something. It combines three of my favorite things: espionage, hottie Russians, and the NY Post.

For the past week or so, the cover story in the NY Post has been the arrest of a ring of Russian spies, specifically focusing on one Anna Chapman. Now, there are nine other people implicated in this spy ring, but you wouldn't know this from the NY Post. Apparently because the rest of the spies are frumpy and look less like Russian spies and more like your fat-headed cousin from Toledo who drives a pickup and likes Coor's Light.

Those of you who were hoping for my critique of the Russian spy plot can stop reading right now. I'm not surprised the Russians are still spying on us after the Cold War ended. We have something they want: Economic might and technological know-how. They have vodka and oligarchs. They also have something we want: A near endless supply of Russian hotties. I'm actually willing to trade whatever technological and economic secrets I hold for a Russian hottie. It could be like a "cash-for-clunkers" deal. Neither will I discuss the efficacy of inserting sleeper cells into our society, except to say that if I were a Russian spy being paid to live in the U.S. on Moscow's dime I wouldn't provide any credible intel either; I'd be too busy watching the American Chopper marathon and sipping MD 40-40 from the bottle.

What fascinates me is the Post's fascination with this story. It's been on the cover four times in the last five days. It always includes a picture of Ms. Chapman looking hot and smoldering. There's always some kind of lurid detail about her sex life in the story. There's always the obligatory paragraph that says, basically, "oh, there were also a bunch of other spies caught who were really too ugly to care about." Really, NY Post? Would you care about this story half as much if this woman looked like a Russian, sausage-and-potato eating grandmother from the Ukraine? Do you think our interest in this story is as purient as you think it is, or are you just being cynical?

(Back to the Russian grandmother thing: Yes, Anna Chapman is smoking hot. And she's apparently kinky (thanks for that important tidbit NY Post). But some day she will look like a traditional fat, dumpy, babushka-wearing Russian grandmother. They all do that. It's as if, genetically speaking, Russian women are programmed to become frumpy at a certain age. So take that, Russia!)

On a personal note: I've found a job and don't have to relocate the Fortress of Solitude to upstate New York. This makes the peacocks and lemurs in my menagerie happy. The hissing cockaroaches couldn't care less.