Sunday, November 29, 2009

Author's Commentary on "Salad Daze"

Since this blog is sponsored by Norton Critical Editions, I am under contractual obligation to provide commentary for any and all creative work I post.  The following are my own comments on my recently posted dramatic piece “Salad Daze.”

First of all, you got me.  You’ve suspected me all along,  haven’t you?  I’ve got aspirations to be something other than a Japanese restaurant and I like to dabble with a little serious writing from time to time.  My background, as you might have guessed, is in playwriting, but I also have aspirations to write for the screen (I’ve got a notebook full  of screenplay ideas if I could only find the time to write them--I only I could dumb them down enough to make them palatable to Hollywood, ha ha).  Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my little creative venture.  I was kind of embarrassed to even share it with you, but putting your work out there is something every artist has to do sooner or later.  What good does it do hidden away in some drawer (or in some secret folder on a hard drive)?

“Salad Days” was an idea I had kicking about my head ever since I had the misfortune of sheltering the Blowhard and his party from the elements on the night they dined inside of me.  It is not complete in and of itself, but the middle territory of a much larger work, which follows the Blowhard and his companions throughout the entire course of their dining experience.  The second act of the play hinges upon a reveal that further illustrates our understanding of the character of Blowhard, namely that his chosen profession is that of lawyer.  Like all good endings, it should be surprising yet inevitable.  I think that many will, in reading the casual manner in which this information is imparted by the Unfortunately Complected Woman, experience the moment of “a-ha,” and then perhaps think to themselves I knew it all along.

To hear the Blowhard speak in his nasal, weasel-like, measured tones, as if he is the very voice of reason, would be the first clue that he is a lawyer (this is why, in casting “Salad Daze,” choosing an actor with the ability to convey the marrow-deep repulsiveness of the Blowhard is of the utmost importance).  It is the type of speech that if the listener should fall into the trap of listening to the music rather than the words, he or she would be in grave danger of swallowing whole any quantity of manure that the Blowhard is capable of producing.  If you talk loud and long enough and with enough conviction in your voice, people are going to believe you.  (Let me save myself from a barrage of complaints by saying that yes, of course, there are good lawyers out there.  The Blowhard, however, is not one of them.)  This manner of speaking seems to be something that is explicitly taught in law school.  If I might make a small suggestion to universities across the country: if you are going to outright teach lawyers-to-be to speak in a certain manner, you might want to see to it that the outcome of this instruction is less grating.

I dare say that a lawyer so obsessed with the work of Larry David is dangerous and would be an obstruction to the very process of dispensing justice.  With the Blowhard in a court of law, a murder trial might quickly devolve into a nonsense discussion of a Cobb Salad or a loaf of marble rye.  Perhaps the Blowhard would even go so far to fabricate evidence for comic effect, since it is obvious to any and all that his true calling is comedy and this whole lawyer thing is simply his way of marking time until he is discovered (because, god knows, we certainly need two Larry David’s in the entertainment business).

The flaws in the Blowhard’s reasoning border on mental illness.  Is he actually so dense that he sees a restaurant as a singular entity--something akin to a colony of ants--rather than a group of individuals working for more or less their own means?  Does he think that the server pledges blind allegiance to the owner?  Is a server’s greatest dream nothing more than to make his boss rich?  If that is the Blowhard’s belief, he is sorely mistaken.  It is not always in a server’s best interest to keep a customer happy.  The Blowhard and his party, with the exception of the young woman, conducted themselves like swine.  An intelligent server, not wishing increase the likelihood of repeated bad behavior by rewarding it with friendliness or good service, will cut his losses and eat a bad tip in the hope that certain individuals will be unhappy with the experience and never return.  If a server sees things otherwise, he needs to reevaluate his relationship with trifling amounts of money.  In all honesty, Blowhard, a server could give a toss about your happiness if you are a pig.  And you, Blowhard, are a pig.

Perhaps the real sickness lies in the Blowhard’s estimation of what is required in the name of good service.  If a server can get in trouble, or, say, lose his job for serving alcohol after closing, why would you expect him to bend the rules for you?  Oh, yes, we have forgotten about your heroic exploits with the salad, for which you lost your job.  Well, listen, Richie Rich not everyone is so ready to cast their job aside (especially in times when unemployment is hovering around the ten percent mark).  Maybe things were different in your youth when you had a summer job as a busboy--a job that if you had lost would not put you in any real danger.  A server is not likely to put his or her livelihood on the line in order to please a man in a tacky shirt.  We’re sorry if your server stopped at the line of providing good service and didn’t actually risk being fired in order to get you another beer--ESPECIALLY WHEN HE OFFERED TO GET YOU ONE FIVE MINUTES EARLIER FOR LAST CALL AND YOU DECLINED.

Perhaps what you really like is to manipulate people, to flex whatever scrap of power you may have at any given moment.  Well, now that I’ve turned down the beer for last call, let’s see if I can’t get another beer out of the server.  If he brings it, he’s a good dude, he knows I’m cool and that it wouldn’t hurt to bend the rules for me.  I’m just like Larry David, after all, and who doesn’t like Larry David?  If he doesn’t bend to my will, I’ll have to break out the big guns--at any rate I’ll get to impress my son’s date with that great salad story that I haven’t told since, well, since the last time I had a bad experience in a restaurant.  There’s no way I can possibly lose this one.  I’m a lawyer, after all, a silver-tongued voice of reason to whom all weaker minds must succumb.

These are the respectable members of our society?  Thanks, Blowhard.  I think I’m starting to like Larry David less.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reservations (from Beyond the Grave?)

Last night, during an unexpected rush, Julie, the front counter employee, handed the server a rather peculiar reservation.  It looked like this:

Rushed though he was, the server said that it would be possible to set aside a table for this oddly-named customer.  The room was nearly full and the server was performing well beyond the limits of what can reasonably be expected from a human being.  He scanned the room and, as luck would have it, saw a table that was unoccupied.  Since seven o’clock would be at hand in less then an hour, he made a mental note not to seat anyone at the vacant table--as if he didn’t already have enough to be concerned with at the moment.

Spirit, he thought, what a stupid name.  Who would have the audacity christen themselves so ridiculously over a dinner reservation?--as if John or Barbara or Smith or Zabrieski were too corporeal and somehow disrespectful of the eternal wonderfulness of the elevated plane upon which this potential eater of sushi resides.  Not only am I drowning, he thought, but I’m soon to add a couple of stupid hippies to the thirty-odd cretins whose happiness already hinges upon my ability to juggle like some super-famous clown (if super-famous clowns existed, he couldn’t be sure.  Wikipedia was far away and even if he were fortunate enough to own a fancy data phone, he would be far too pressed for time to pull the device from his pocket and thumb “super-famous clowns” into the browser’s search bar.  So, unable to conduct such research, for the sake of convenience, the server adopted the notion that there must be clowns that may not be famous as far as the general public is concerned, but could nevertheless be considered super-famous in clowning circles).  The real kicker was that these hippies, vapid lot they are, would most likely be completely oblivious to the busyness around them and plague the server with innumerable questions concerning in order to insure that their meal would be prepared in a manner approved of by hippies (oblivious also to the fact that this business is such that the owner puts profit far above all else).  In other words, they would be completely stoned.

The server couldn’t imagine that this Spirit would arrive with much of an appetite.  Have you ever seen something without a body sit down to a gigantic meal?  Small checks equal small tips equals not worth the pain of having to deal with customers.  (If you think that's harsh, ask yourself this: Would you look at a hippie for two dollars?)  What use would Spirit have for earth food anyway?  Perhaps this Spirit would want to order items not available on the menu, like milk and honey or manna.

As seven o’clock neared the server, having heard over the past weeks several of his coworkers recount frightening scenes from the popular movie Paranormal Activity, had a sudden change of opinion.  What if Spirit was not a hippie, but a ghost returning to the sushi bar to exact revenge for poor or rude service he had received while still alive?  That would be nearly as bad as having to wait on a hippie.  The server put on his mental track suit and took a jog through recent memory.  The number of people he had wronged during his brief tenure at the restaurant was staggering--he made enemies like Wilt Chamberlain took on sex partners.  Now that one among of them had shuffled off the plane in which sushi plays an important role, he would return in ghost form in order to sate his desire for vengeance.  As the minute hand ticked closer and closer to seven o’clock, the server became more and more certain that the scenario would play out in this manner:  The ghost would enter, suck out his soul, and leave without tipping.

The strain was becoming too much.  It taxed his ability to concentrate, which was already stretched to the limit.  The thought that he might not get to do all in life he had dreamed of doing, like going home and putting a couple good hours into Uncharted 2, was starting to become unbearable.  He would have to ask Julie, the front counter person, if there was anything suspicious about the phone call from Spirit.  He left the busy dining room and walked to the front of the restaurant.

The server rehearsed in his mind the questions he would ask:

SERVER:  Hey.  Was there anything, uh, suspicious about that call from Spirit?

JULIE:  Suspicious?  What do you mean?

SERVER:  Well, did he go woooooooooo or anything?

But when he rounded the corner, the register was unoccupied.  Julie was nowhere to be found.  It was as if she were never there.  The server, now badly shaken, returned to the dining room.  His only option was to re-examine the slip of paper upon which the reservation had been written.

But that, too, was gone.

Spirit never showed up.  It turned out that Julie was in the bathroom and the slip of paper was under some receipts that had accumulated during the rush.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Blowhard Part II: Salad Daze

This is the second entry in a series dedicated to a particularly loathsome customer known as The Blowhard.  The stage is set, the act is about to begin.  Come along.  I've saved you a front-row seat for a little drama I like to call . . .


by The Restaurant


SERVER, a handsome, level-headed young man never prone to fits of anger.

BLOWHARD, a pompous ass in a remarkably distasteful bowling shirt with a modified argyle design.

UNFORTUNATELY-COMPLECTED WOMAN, an aging woman with skin like cottage cheese, the wife or significant other of the Blowhard.

TURD, the grubby, college-aged, dim bulb son of the Blowhard.

YOUNG WOMAN, a polite, reasonably attractive young woman who has somehow become entangled with the Blowhard’s band of miscreants.  The date or girlfriend of the Turd.


SETTING, the dining room of a Japanese restaurant.  It is near closing time.  The cloth napkins stand firmly on the empty tables.  Candles flicker in the elegant atmosphere.

With the bulk of the propaganda painting himself to be every bit a brilliant as Larry David behind him, the Blowhard and company have begun to eat the sushi that the server has recently set on the table.  The diners begin to tear into the sushi with the abandon of starved hogs at a freshly-slopped trough

SERVER:  Does everybody have everything they need at the moment?

BLOWHARD (mouth full of food):  Yes.

UNFORTUNATELY-COMPLECTED WOMAN (mouth full of food):  Uh-huh.

SERVER:  We're about to close in a few minutes, so I wanted to make sure I couldn't get you anything else tonight.  More sushi, another drink, dessert . . . anything at all.

BLOWHARD (mouth full of food):  Uh.  I think were all right.

SERVER:  Then I can't get you anything for last call?

BLOWHARD (mouth full of food):  No.

The feast continues, the likes of which to witness would cause one an immediate loss of appetite.  Five minutes pass.  The server moves to and fro about the room, performing his closing duties.

BLOWHARD (mouth full of food):  Excuse me.  Can we get another beer?

SERVER:  I’m sorry.  We’re closed.

BLOWHARD (mouth full of food):  Really?  So you can’t get me another beer?

SERVER:  No, I’m afraid not.

BLOWHARD (mouth full of food):  Is it against the rules or something?

SERVER (actually not sure about the rules or laws, but entirely sure that he is fed up with the Blowhard and his loathsome party):  I can’t serve alcohol after we close.

BLOWHARD:  Huh.  That’s strange.  I’ve owned several restaurants and I’ve never . . .

The server begins to set up the table behind the Blowhard and company.  He is able to overhear their continued conversation.

TURD:  Wow, dad.  What are you going to do?

BLOWHARD:  What can you do?   Why let the little things get to you?  I once heard a very wise man say something to this effect.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.  You go to bed, you wake up, and tomorrow’s another day.  I’m not going to let one little beer ruin everything.

TURD: Gee, dad.

BLOWHARD:  It seems to me it’s a matter of hospitality.  You’re in business to keep people happy, are you not?  If a customer wants a beer, you bring him a beer.  Rules be damned.  This reminds me of a story that takes place years ago, when I was working as a busboy for a local country club.  We had hard, fast rules against serving anything after the kitchen closed.  But there was one customer who wanted a salad.  I couldn’t get him this salad, I told him.  My hands were tied.  But I could see a look in the man’s eyes.  It was like he really wanted this salad.  I’ve never seen a man want a salad so bad in all my life.  Not before, not since.  So you know what I did?

All member of the Blowhard’s party wait with bated breath.

TURD:  What did you do, dad?

BLOWHARD:  I got him the salad.

Gasps from the Blowhard’s party.



TURD:  Wow, dad.  What happened?

BLOWHARD:  I was fired.

Even louder gasps from the Blowhard’s party.

TURD: You were?

BLOWHARD:  Yes I was, Turd.

UNFORTUNATELY-COMPLECTED WOMAN:  Well, you obviously didn’t let that stop you from being a successful lawyer . . . And a piss-poor imitation of Larry David to boot.  I mean you’ve nailed the asshole side of the character he created dead on, but you somehow managed to suck every last ounce of funny out of his shtick.

BLOWHARD:  But I got the job back.  The next day.

TURD (amazed):  You did?

BLOWHARD:  Yes, I did, Turd.  The very next day the manager took me into his office and offered me my job back.  On the condition that I was never to serve food after closing again.

TURD: Wow.


BLOWHARD:  I took it.  But I said that there’s no way I would stop serving food after closing, that I would do it EVERY NIGHT if the customers wanted it.

Turd guffaws.

TURD (in utter disbelief):  You did?

BLOWHARD:  Absolutely I did.

TURD (clapping in a monkey-like fashion): Dad, you are too much.

BLOWHARD:  Ain’t I though? 

YOUNG WOMAN:  What did your boss say?

BLOWHARD:  He said that he admired my pluck and he was lucky to have a busboy such as myself on board and that the cut of my jib was such that it was sure to take me far in life.

TURD:  Wow.  Like, wow.

BLOWHARD:  Anyway, it all comes back to my original point.  I don’t understand why someone would want to run a business that doesn’t please the customer.  Be it a salad or a beer after closing, if a customer wants it, he should have it.  It’s a matter of hospitality.

The Unfortunately-Complected woman exits.  From offstage a shrill hissy fit can be heard.  Moments later she returns triumphantly carrying one small bottle of Sapporo beer, her face a bumpy rictus of triumph.

BLOWHARD (impressed): Ho, ho.  Look at this.

TURD:  What did you do?

UNFORTUNATELY-COMPLECTED WOMAN:  I complained to the manager.

Victorious, she replenishes the Blowhard’s glass and her own with six ounces each of the most mediocre beer Japan has to offer.

Lights out.

The Blowhard, An American Hero

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rockabilly Guy's Guide to Tipping

Who would ever imagine that a guy with a chain attached to his wallet would be tight with the dollar?

I think I've cracked this guy's formula for tipping.  It goes something like this.

Round down the total to the nearest ten dollars.  For example, if the total is $44.86, round down to an even forty dollars for the purposes of calculation.

Tip 15% on the rounded figure.  (So, if the rounded figure is $40.00, the tip would be an even $6.00.)

Congratulations.  You have now left a crappy less-than-fifteen-percent tip.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Local Hero's Halloween Appearance

It should be noted the the Local Hero did make an appearance the restaurant on Halloween of this year, at precisely the time trick-or-treating began.  This was undoubtedly a ploy to avoid giving out candy to children, stingy bastard he is.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Local Hero Forced to Wait Like Commoner

The origin of this latest development takes place roughly about a week ago.  The Local Hero and his dining companion, the French woman with the gigantic nose, sat at the bar, shared a small bottle of Perrier, ate thirty dollars worth of sushi, and talked the chef's ear off (being sure to promote an Important Local Event that was upcoming at his venue).  When the meal was done, The Local Hero showed his gratitude for the artfully crafted meal and the chef's company by dropping a single dollar bill into the chef's tip jar (let's not even entertain the notion that The Local Hero left gratuity for the server).  The Local Hero is under the mistaken impression that he is a friend of the sushi chef.  Perhaps he thinks that this is the reason that proper gratuity need not be left (though tips are for servers, not chefs, and the local hero does not know personally any of the servers).

Who could possibly imagine that the Local Hero's piggish behavior could ever come back to haunt him?  After countless months of walking past the sign asking him to please wait to be seated, of leaving terrible tips, of forcing employees to look at his dopey face, an opportunity for revenge was revealed--and the server was quick to take it.  Is the Local Hero completely oblivious to the bad feelings he brings with his every visit?  Is he unaware of the enemies he has created, waiting in the shadows for the opportunity to strike?  Apparently so.

The Local Hero, being a Local Hero, is not accustomed to waiting.  He and his dining partner habitually help themselves to a place at the bar, no matter who may be politely waiting in line to be seated before them.  The only time they are ever in a position in which they’ll have to wait is if the bar is either full or dirty.  On this particular occasion, a swell of unexpected business had filled every table in my dining room--the six unoccupied seats were covered with dirty dishes.  The server, the unhappy soul saddled with every possible duty that can exist on a restaurant’s floor, was planning on clearing the mess at the bar as soon as he had dealt with every other possible thing that had to be dealt with.

On the way to the bar, the Local Hero and company walked past the counter, fully expecting their places at the bar--those directly in front of the sushi chef--to be set and waiting to be blessed by their locally heroic bottoms.  “There’s a wait,” the server said.  “You’ll have to sign in on the sheet.”

The Local Hero stopped, taking a full four seconds to process this information.  He peered at the server over his granny glasses as if to say don’t you know who I am but the server had already walked away to attend to the countless duties that awaited (but not without looking at the clock to ensure that a minimum of thirty minutes would pass before the Local Hero could even hope to get a seat at the bar).  Somehow, the server’s absolute lowest priority had gotten even lower.

The Local Hero and the large-nosed woman waited on the couch outside the dining room with a dejected air about them.  They did not talk to each other.  Perhaps they were silently mouthing prayers from their creepy cultish religion in order to pass the time, having long ago in their relationship exhausted all possibilities for interesting conversation (I imagine that this exhaustion occurred during their first date, somewhere in the neighborhood of the nineteen-minute mark--and that’s considering the bovine rate with which the Local Hero’s words are issued from his dopey mouth).

The server, in his countless trips from the dining room to the kitchen to unload armload after armload of dirty dishes, was met each time by the silent stares of the Local Hero and his companion.  He could feel their impatient eyes upon him, yet he refused to acknowledge their presence with even a cursory glance.

This game was played countless times over the next thirty minutes.  The server, like a hero of myth, gained power every time the Local Hero and his companion cast imploring looks.  The Local Hero was losing by degrees, a tiny rent had appeared in the paper bag of his ego.  Maybe I’m just another person, he may have thought, no better or worse than anybody else.  Look at me, waiting for a seat in a restaurant like a commoner.  If thoughts of this nature did indeed fire in his sputtering brain, I’d like to congratulate him for being at least somewhat on track.  I’d like, however, to point out one flaw in his thinking--the Local Hero is far worse than other people

The wait for his sushi and the company of his beloved chef became more than The Local Hero could bear.  He was forced to seize what little bit of power he could.  The Local Hero arose from the couch, marched past the counter and to the still-cluttered bar, and said the following to the chef (who neither acknowledged him nor met his eye):

“We waited for a half hour.  We were going to eat here, but . . . “

And with that he shuffled out of the restaurant.  I shudder to think how long it may have taken the Local Hero to craft such a parting shot--I dare say it must have taken the bulk of his time spent on the couch.  On behalf of myself and the workers inside me, I would like to say that we will consider ourselves zinged.  We dropped the ball, and because of it we have missed out on the pleasure of the Local Hero’s company and the insulting tips--amounts better suited to, say, a cup of coffee--he continues to drop into the tip jar.  (And, yes, again we bear witness to another fool deluded enough to think that his absence is a form of punishment.)

Let me close with this.  If you are a creep who leaves bad tips and never returns to a certain restaurant, so be it.  You are a creep, and I guess in your reptile brain you’re winning in you’re own creepy little way.  If, however, you are a creep who continually returns to the same restaurant and leaves shitty tip after shitty tip, it is going to come back and bite you on the ass.  Think of it this way, repeat offenders; you are not only tipping for the service you have just received--you are also tipping for the service you will receive on your next visit.  Ever wonder why a server seems to go out of the way to treat you like garbage yet gets along swimmingly with everyone else in the room?  It might be time to do a little old-fashioned soul-searching.