Friday, August 28, 2009

Son of Warning Signs

More signs that your customers might prove to be troublesome.

Ignoring "Please Wait to be Seated" Sign


From a Non-Tipping Culture

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


No, Kanpyo is not the beloved hero in Hayao Miyazaki's lastest animated feature. It is the name bestowed by the staff upon a particular customer, in part because of his habit of ordering kanpyo rolls (kanpyo is a Japanese gourd,) but also because the shape of his body is undeniably gourd-like.

Kanpyo's exploits are the stuff of restaurant folklore. He falls into a special category of lunatic--the type that shows complete and utter disregard for the menu. It seems that the twelve pages filled with appetizers, entrees, drinks, and desserts are somehow inadequate for Kanpyo, for he is forced to design his own creations to suit his dietary needs. True, Kanpyo does belong to the breed of vegetarian-that-occasionally-eats-fish-if-say-the-handsome-young-man-he-has-hornswaggled-into-dining-with-him-happens-to-order-a-grilled-salmon-dinner, so the entire menu, by his own volition, is not available to him. On the other hand, there are a number of vegetarian and vegan options on every page of the menu--in fact, there are two entire pages dedicated to vegetarian sushi alone. Unfortunately, this is not enough to sate the unique and refined tastes of Kanpyo. Instead, Kanpyo bellies up to the bar and from his mouth comes a series of instructions to the chef on precisely which ingredients he would like in his sushi roll as well as the manner in which the roll is to be constructed--all in a polite, effeminate voice.

Kanpyo's attempts to reshape the restaurant into something that conforms to his own personal vision do not stop at ordering off-menu. He apparently takes issue with the dishware as well.

KANPYO, a round little man, enters and takes a seat at the sushi bar. A SERVER approaches him, carrying a menu. The server sets the menu down in front of Kanpyo.

KANPYO: I won't be needing that.

SERVER: Can I bring you something to dr--

KANPYO (mispronouncing miso, making a little bowl shape with both hands): Could I get my mizo soup in a ceramic bowl?

SERVER: Uhh, sure . . .

KANPYO: And could I have extra tofu and green onions?

SERVER: There may be a charge for that. I'll have to check.

Kanpyo makes a sort of grunt-scoffing noise. The server begins to walk toward the kitchen.

KANPYO (calling after Server): And could I get my water in a wine glass?

The plastic miso bowls in which we regularly serve the soup are not good enough for Kanpyo. Neither are the plastic spoons, for, upon the server's return he will also request to be brought a silver spoon with which to bring the soup to his pink, virginal mouth (it's a good thing we already use cloth napkins, otherwise our servers might very well find themselves in the kitchen bent over a sewing machine whenever Kanpyo arrives). Perhaps he also has some suggestions for music or uniforms for the servers--I'm inclined to think he may suggest French maid uniforms for the women and something involving mustaches and leather chaps for the fellas.

Rosy-cheeked Kanpyo lifts his water-filled wine glass to the light, a bright slice of lemon perched on the the lip, and gazes deeply into it. He moves the stem in a gentle circular motion and the ice tinkles cheerily inside. He brings the glass to his nose and inhales--is this guy seriously judging the nose of tap water? A plate full of edamame shells have been arranged in the the shape of a perfect crescent, Kanpyo's way of artfully diverting himself while he waits for his meal. From over the top of the bar, the chef hands Kanpyo a plate. On it's surface a vegetarian sushi roll is artfully arranged by Kanpyo's favorite chef. Kanpyo begins to methodically eat the roll piece by piece, going on at length to the chef about his enjoyment between bites. He is as much lauding the chef's skill in making the roll as he is himself in designing it. His lunch has been a success. He has reshaped not only the menu, but the very traditions of the restaurant so that they conform to the idealized restaurant that exists in his fantasy life. When finished, he uses the red cloth napkin to tiptoe around the perimeter of his mouth, exhales slowly, and with a flick of his fingernail sounds a round tone from the crystal wine glass.

They broke the gourd-shaped mold when they made Kanpyo, or perhaps Kanpyo cracked it himself with his unwieldy frame. Is it any wonder that sixteen times out of seventeen he dines alone, or that the chef, at Kanpyo's appearance, suddenly finds a number of tasks that he must complete as far away as possible from the sushi bar?

Kanpyo gets zero out of five giant lollies. In the event that he was made to wear sailor suits as a child (and I suspect that he was) that score goes up to one out of five sympathy lollies, but back to zero if his primary means of getting from one place to another was skipping.

Little Lord Kanpyo

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Warning Signs

The following are a few of the warning signs I've compiled during the years I've spent as a restaurant. A customer exhibiting one or more of these features may be more likely than the average customer to prove to be troublesome for the staff. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and there is the slim chance that a person displaying any of the behavior below may prove to be a lovely, gracious guest in your restaurant. But forewarned is forearmed, they say, and in that spirit I offer you Warning Signs:

Reading a Book on Spirituality

Ignoring the Polite Requests of the Management

Flowing Garments on a Man

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Rich Dude

Every time the Rich Dude enters the sushi bar one bears witness to a highly ritualized event. He leaves his sunglasses on for the trip to the front door to the bar proper. He stands next to the counter, smiling, hair brushed back, and surveys the room through the pair of shining black lenses. Then, with a fluid motion, he snatches the sunglasses from his face and takes a second look around, stretching his wide smile even further, deepening the wrinkles at the outer corners of his eyes. He is a hero and the restaurant spread out before him is another chunk of pineapple in the fruit salad that brims in his bowl of conquests. If a spontaneous round of applause were to erupt for his simple act of entering a building, I doubt that it would catch the Rich Dude off guard in the slightest--in fact, part of me suspects that he anticipates it.

The Rich Dude is truly a renaissance man, for he is fully capable of doing two things, playing the saxophone and having obscene amounts of money. I have never heard him play a note on a saxophone, but I have seen him spend money--and he spends it well.

The Rich Dude is inevitably there to meet his coterie of friends, a cast of approximately eight characters who all share the Rich Dude’s love of sushi (to a somewhat lesser extent) and spending money (to a far lesser extent, for none among them are quite as rich as the Rich Dude). His entourage is a rather mixed bag, but those among them with a little bit of money put on a nice show of acting like nouveaux riches--greetings are accompanied by kisses on the cheek, lapses into foreign language are common (particularly French and Spanish); important men in pink dress shirts known as Robert to others are referred to affectionately as Bobby; art, travel, and romantic comedies are frequently the topic of conversation. Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Slumdog Millionaire are a couple of the Rich Dude's more recent favorites. Let’s take a moment to examine these choices.

When the Rich Dude and his friends gather, there hangs a certain quality in the air about them that seems to cry out swingers or sex cult. Being a cosmopolitan bunch, they needn’t be troubled to observe the morals of the lower classes--and one can hardly be expected to pursue a life of unending pleasure if tethered to a concept as pedestrian as marriage, now can one? In fact, the Rich Dude’s actual wife is nearly never present at these gatherings. Though a number of middle-aged and approaching-middle-age females are. On one occasion, I overheard the Rich Dude refer to one member of his circle as his “booty call.” To hear a man rapidly approaching fifty, in 2009 no less, use the phrase “booty call” is a fate I would not wish on anyone--I think I'd rather hear my own grandpa mutter some vague statement about needing to get his "rocks off." I believe that the Rich Dude and his circle of friends are involved in some serious partner swapping. Whether this is going on in the open, with the consent and endorsement of all parties and their spouses, I cannot say. I tend to think that maybe some are in on it and others are not (I tend to think that if no one else, the Rich Dude and Bobby are definitely in on it). Perhaps this is why Vicky Cristina Barcelona resonates so with the Rich Dude. Though it is no doubt a heavily-watered-down version of the endless bacchanalian held by the Rich Dude and his crew, it does depict an alternative lifestyle--a marriage that can be held in perfect harmony only when it involves three persons (one dude and two women, naturally). Perhaps this scenario is something that the Rich Dude aspires to and that some day he hopes to open the door to his cages and set the animals free, release Antonio the midget amputee from his contract, donate his collection of lotions and lubricants to charity, and settle down to a quiet life with two incredibly attractive women, one of whom might even be his present wife.

On the latter, there was a period of several weeks during which the Rich Dude asked every one of his dining partners the question, "Have you seen Slumdog yet?" I thought that perhaps he was clipping the title for ease of communication, the way that some people will refer to "Wheel of Fortune" simply as "Wheel," but, after hearing him utter the phrase time and time again, I have come to another conclusion. The Rich Dude, being a millionaire and having been a millionaire since birth, actually has no concept of the word "millionaire." It has no meaning to him, is utterly transparent, and is therefore discarded as useless. Imagine if the movie Norbit were instead titled Norbit Person. It would be redundant. The word “millionaire” does have not much meaning to the Rich Dude, for in his eyes, all people are millionaires to one degree or another (though almost everyone on the planet is a millionaire to a lesser degree than the Rich Dude). As a result, the Rich Dude seem to have trouble imagining that other people could ever be encumbered by any sort of financial difficulty.

The Rich Dude, being a rich dude, sees no need for propriety. He seats himself, though a sign standing in my doorway asks him to please wait to be seated. He is respectful of the chef, and in general the other members of the staff, as long as the social hierarchy remains intact and that none of his subordinates forget his or her station in life. In general, he tips well, unless he is forced to wait for anything for longer than he feels he should be expected to wait. In short, he is locked in a constant struggle, a war of ideals in which the restaurant and its workers--who try to ascribe as much as possible to the notion that all customers are of equal importance--clashes with his own idea that his patronage is nothing short of a blessing from heaven above and that his happiness should become the priority of any and all the very moment he sets foot inside my confines. Though the Rich Dude has his favorite among the sushi chefs, he certainly would not fit the bill as others would for having a man-crush. Rather, the Rich Dude sees this chef as something akin to a trusted manservant, someone whose very function in life is to throw a little more elegance onto the Rich Dude's already gigantic shit-heap of elegance. In the army of people whose purpose it is to make the Rich Dude's life as pleasurable as possible, this particular sushi chef is a decorated officer.

Naturally, the Rich Dude's solipsism is all-permeating. The following is a conversation I witnessed between the Rich Dude and his favorite chef upon the Rich Dude's return from a three-month sojourn in Mexico:

The RICH DUDE, wearing sunglasses, enters the sushi bar. He smiles as he turns his head from side to side, scanning the room. With a fluid motion he removes the sunglasses from his face, smiles more widely, and looks around the room a second time. He walks to the sushi bar, behind which a CHEF is preparing sushi.

Rich Dude (hoping to see his own enthusiasm about his triumphant return reflected in the chef, perhaps still holding out for that round of applause): I'm back.

Chef (pretty much not even coming close to reflecting that enthusiasm, in fact, entirely lacking it.): Hey.

Rich Dude: How was the summer? Pretty slow?

Chef: No.

Rich Dude (puzzled): Huh.

That the Rich Dude suffers from certain distortions in his thinking is obvious. He seems surprised to see that I haven't gone out of business during his short absence. He is torn. On one hand, he is happy to find that his favorite sushi bar remains to be visited at his convenience. On the other, he is shocked to find that I haven’t been reverted to the Pizza Hut I was before I became a Japanese restaurant. Perhaps there is the beginning of the realization that the world goes on without him, the white void he imagines the world outside of the boundaries of his senses to be is a figment of his imagination and that, in fact, it is populated with buildings and people who live and die, laugh and love, and have blogs and tweet on a regular basis; the notion that he is an Egyptian king and that all of his favorite people, his sushi buddies, servers, cleaning ladies, drivers, pets, mistresses--even his beloved Bobby, the grey-haired dude with the mustache, pink dress shirts, and Ed Hardy sunglasses with the flaming skulls on the arms--will be cast into the tomb along with him to keep him company in the great beyond, has perhaps died a little.

But the Rich Dude need not fear this void, for his absence is felt heavily by the circle of friends whenever he is away. He is at the center, and without him, the ragtag group of diners that assemble without him are a sad bunch indeed, for they can talk only of the Rich Dude and his exploits. If the Rich Dude were ever to disappear, the group would dissolve and fall away. The circle of friends would go back to dining in clusters of two and threes, ordering the cheapest lunch specials on the menu. The sex cult would lose its cult status and, without access to the Rich Dude’s Mexican Pleasure Palace, become nothing more than a loosely-associated band of perverts, resorting to anonymous trysts in rest stops and airport restrooms. And as the various members continue their Faulkneresque slide into poverty and madness, the Rich Dude watches from high atop a cloud in the sky, serenading his old friends with the most mournful, sonorous saxophone solo the world has ever heard.

The Rich Dude gets exactly two-and-a-half out of a possible five jacuzzi jazz records.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Local Hero

Perhaps I am putting my neck on the line by taking shots at someone as beloved as The Local Hero, but his behavior has been less than exemplary. The Local Hero runs a local venue for art and music, which, to many of the citizens of our fair city, would make his actions above reproach. On its wall hang the work of any number of area artists--a great number of works with little space between them, the weight of which I imagine must be incredibly tiresome for the building. It makes me wonder exactly how stringent are his requirements for allowing an artist to show work in the gallery:

A bedraggled ARTIST walks into the gallery. Under his arm he carries a loose collection of newspapers.

Artist: I was, uh, wondering if I could like hang some of--

Local Hero: Absolutely!

Artist: They're, like, some doodles of my toe I did on this newspaper. I didn't have anything to draw with, so I had to use a cigar butt. Then I kind of spilled coffee over it and ruined it, but--

Local Hero: What are you waiting for? Hang them!

Artist: Don't you even want to look at them?

Local Hero: Who am I to evaluate art?

Artist: Well, you kind of run a gallery, don't you?

Touring bands also play there and I think, if you happen to be there at the right time, you might also be able to get a tattoo or a burrito.

The Local Hero dresses in such a fashion that asserts his uniqueness: pork-pie hat, granny glasses, dashiki, cargo shorts, hiking boots, and wool socks. From the waist down, he's a sort of rugged outdoorsman, from the waist up, well, some sort of fucking weirdo. At any moment you might expect him to offer you a cup of Kool-Aid or ask if you're interested on hitching a ride on a passing comet.

The Local Hero invariably starts things off on a bad foot by walking right past the sign reading "Please Wait To Be Seated" and helping himself to a place at the bar. He is apparently oblivious to the possibility that, since I am a small restaurant that cannot accommodate a large number of people at once (but I am secure in my size, people feel that the space inside me is intimate,) there may be other people already waiting politely to be seated by the server. Buildings and restaurant workers alike do appreciate when people can display a modicum of courtesy when arriving as a guest in a restaurant. Perhaps the Local Hero feels that he is above such displays of social nicety and, as an artist, or as at least someone who supports the, er, arts, is more comfortable being in touch with his primal urges for food and the eight ounce bottle of Perrier he splits with his dining partner.

At his side is a woman of indeterminate origin--her accent is difficult to distinguish due to the spiteful hiss with which she shapes her every utterance (though all signs point to French--read as hairy pits). The two are rumored to be involved in a religious movement which aims to unite all of mankind by inundating it with children's drawings of differently-colored people holding hands across a little crayon-scribbled planet earth. Apparently this religion also espouses the practice of leaving a flat tip of three dollars in the chef's tip jar while leaving nothing for the server, even when tipping on a tab that inevitably falls in the thirty to sixty dollar range.

The Local Hero has a man crush on the sushi chef (this is not uncommon--many disaffected people gravitate toward sushi chefs). Since the chef is all but shackled behind the bar, the Local Hero makes of him an unwitting audience as he pores over every inane detail of the latest event held at his venue. The subtext of these one-sided conversations is undoubtedly, look at the ease with which I interact with people from different cultures. Can't you see that the hairy pits of my common-law wife do not bother me in the slightest? The relative ease with which I have risen to the rank of Local Hero is certainly no fluke.

The Local hero is a creature of habit to a disgusting extent. The people who have the misfortune of working at a certain time on a certain day of the week must bear the trial of his presence week after week. Like clockwork he appears again and again. If science could somehow combine Old Faithful with a herpes outbreak, mankind would be able to experience a phenomenon similar to the appearance of the Local Hero in my doorway.

The Local Hero gets zero out of a possible five openings. Unless the openings in question are hobo's assholes, in which case I give him five.

The Hack

If Fozzie Bear had a human analog, the Hack would surely be it. Every time this guy comes in he fills my space with the stench of his bad cologne--perhaps he feels that the aroma of Japanese cuisine is missing something, namely a bass note culled from the musk gland of a crazed raccoon.

First you’ll note the actual physical resemblance, as if Fozzie Bear had been shaved and divested of his bow tie and boater. In order to cover up his shameful nakedness (for to see him naked would indeed cause a great deal of shame for both viewer and viewee,) a pair of pleated slacks and a crisp dress shirt fresh from the shopping mall have been hung upon his foam-stuffed frame. A gold watch resonates with the other shiny baubles with which he has chosen to decorate himself.

The Hack considers himself a funny guy. He may have even owned a joke book in his youth. He is always cracking wise with the servers. He wants everyone to know what a likable, funny dude he is. He holds a doctorate and works at the university, but it will be readily apparent to those around him that his true calling is comedy. Perhaps there is even an element of tragedy in his situation, that he had to leave comedy behind as a lesser calling in order to not deprive the world of the gift of his intellect. He often brings an attractive, female undergrad with him (funny--you never see him dine with a male student,) presumably to discuss some sort of class-related business. This seems to me to be a false pretense for the meeting, for he plies the young coeds with hot sake and uses the server as a sounding board for his premeditated routine. Here’s a sample of the Hack's brand of humor:

Hack (ordering sushi from the server): We’ll take a California roll, a spicy tuna roll . . . And a jelly roll!

Server (with the unflinching coolness of Batman's butler): Very good, sir. Can we get you anything else?

Hack : Yes . . . Some Pepto Bismol!

(Later. The Server sets a plate full of sushi on the table.)

Server: Do you have everything you need at the moment?

Hack: Do y’all have any ketchup?

Waka-waka-waka. If I were a larger, more accommodating building, I’d be sure and find some way of persuading my owners to place a small drum set in the corner of the room and hire someone to provide rim-shots for the Hack's hilarious zingers. Preferably, this drummer would have a background in jazz and go by the nickname "Fingers."

All in all, his overreaching attempts to be a funny, affable guy fall flat. His patronage is like one of those anti-jokes, with a long, winding setup and a punch-line that's purposefully disappointing. In this case, the punch-line is the tip and the joke is on the server.

To be a restaurant is not easy. It seems that the owners will let anyone inside me, into my most intimate of spaces, as long as they have a little money to spend. I have no say in the matter. Every time the Hack pushes his chubby form through the door and takes a seat in my dining room, I can only hope that a long hook will emerge from Stage Left and pull him by the neck from my interior.

The Hack gets zero out of a possible five Larry Wilde Joke Books.