Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Movie Bitch: Fight Club

Sometimes whether or not you like a movie is determined by how you feel about it.

For example, the most disappointing movies I've seen are usually ones that I got kind of excited about. Star Wars prequels. Dolan's Cadillac. Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Why in the name of God did they have to shoehorn a religious plot into a movie that already had a fucking religious plot? Explain, movie! Explain!)

On the other hand, I went to see District 9 and expected a movie other than what I got. Generic Bruce Willis Movie without Bruce Willis was the gist of it. That was not what I got. Black Swan, I expected Single White Female meets Center Stage (I had a dance movie phase. Shoot me.) and got, well, Black Swan. A glorious, beautiful mind-fuck of a movie with ballet shoes on top.

Fight Club, I expected what I was marketed. Guy movie. Beat-em-up (this is there), fuck the establishment (this is there) guns and explosions and sex (there, there and there) and absolutely nothing that could appeal to anyone with two X chromasomes. Rocky, basically. Only illicit.

So after sitting through the completely rocking opening song, and the this-is-what-I-expected intro scene (Tyler Durden sticking a gun in the unnamed narrator's mouth) I find myself sitting, mouth wide open, eyes wide, mind completely blown, when the next scene chronicles a man's journey into support group tourism.

Trying to explain what watching this is like is roughly similar to trying to explain what Niagra Falls is like by bringing home part of the water in a teacup. The Narrator, whose name is never given, has insomnia complicated by narcolepsy (he falls asleep and wakes up in strange places) and his doctor refuses to give him sleeping pills.

I want to point one thing out: The whole movie could have been avoided if this doctor had pulled the stick out of his ass and given Narrator sleeping pills. It might still have happened, but further down the road and probably not in the same way. Instead Dr. Sarcastic Asshole tells Narrator to go drop by a support group for testicular cancer to see "real pain". During which Narrator discovers that if he goes to the support group and cries, he can sleep at night. So he starts going to a different support group every night: cancer, parasites, blood diseases.

I grew up in a world where AA and NA meetings were a daily occurrence and roughly as important as church. My mind. was. blown. Support group tourism.

One thing that the movie didn't seem to make entirely clear, that the book did (yes. I have bought and read the book already) is that Narrator is not having some kind of contact sorrow high. Rather he's allowing himself to realize that his life is pretty much a hopeless mess, and thus giving up hope and sobbing. Same thing everyone else is doing, except they're crying because they have testicular cancer and he's crying because he has a pulse.

Another faker upsets the applecart, a woman named Marla Singer, they split up the days, and ... this is never exactly resolved. The book explains why Marla's presence has such a deep effect on Narrator (and Tyler Durden) but the movie just kind of ... goes with it?

I realized at the "Punch me as hard as you can" scene that this movie was marketed as a testosterone-fuled violent beat-em-up because the marketers had no idea what else to do with it. Realize for just one second that actually selling a story is much harder than writing a story. When you tell a story, hell, you just tell the story and do whatever it takes to make it work. When you sell a story you have to summarize it in a way that is brief, interesting, and coherent. Sometimes, you can do this really well. Sometimes you have to forget what your story is really about, pick the two or three elements that can most easily summarize themselves and then attempt to wing it without actually lying. Selling a story and telling a good story have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and the resulting confusion is one reason why I have never seen this movie before.

After Narrator moves into Tyler Durden's world, things go from "Gee, this is a weird movie" to "What." really quickly. About the time they make soap (from liposuction leftovers, which they then sell back to the women who had lipo to begin with) I realized we were about to have a very strong shift in tone, and I was pretty much right. I also began to realize that this movie has pretty much created internet culture, and is probably the reason why Anon. and trolls are the lovable god-kill-it-with-fire-now-please creatures they are today.

The only "disappointing" thing is, I pretty much knew that Tyler Durden and the Narrator were one person with MPD really, really quickly. I think I must have read something about the movie and then forgotten all about it. That said, though, it almost made the movie more enjoyable, which IMHO is a sign of good writing. Anybody can pull a left-feild plot-line out of their ass. Half of "Anybody" can probably make it work. It takes a writer of incredible skill to make the movie just as good once the plot twist is known.

Also, this is usually the plot twist I most hate. But what made the "it's all in your head" plot work in Fight Club and fail in just about every other book and/or movie I've seen it in is, it wasn't a last-minute left-field twist. Like how in Vanilla Sky (Which, BTW, the Narrator should have watched to cure insomnia) you find out at the last minute that Tom Cruise is in cryo and this is all a dream? Imagine how it might have been if this happened twenty minutes away from the end, and in the last twenty minutes Tom Cruise had to deal with the consequences of choosing to wake up and live in an unknown future. It works in Fight Club because it sets up the finale, and sets up a nightmarish question that it doesn't (quite) answer. How do you fight part of yourself that you not only can't control or even access, but part that is much, much smarter and far more amoral? At this point I was already pretty wigged out. This created so many levels of untold creepyness that I probably would have screamed if I could have stopped watching for a couple of seconds.

The Narrator tries turning himself in to the cops (Which Tyler has already countered) shutting down the movement that grew out of Fight Club (Countered!) and finally shooting himself in the head. Which...kind of works. Except the Narrator survives by blowing out his own cheek. Honestly, the only reason this made any kind of sense to me is, one of my Dad's favorite movies is The Fisher King, and he once spent several hours explaining what abreaction is (the moment the fragments of personality become aware of each other and recombine. Usually a violent and uncomfortable moment) and how it applies to people with MPD. This is also why the many (many. Many) scenes of Narrator grousing about listening to Tyler and Marla have sex made sense, and why I had no trouble believing that Narrator thought he and Tyler were in two different rooms when he was not. Co-consciousness is not completely unheard of (I think), and if you're in deep denial about having MPD, well, you created a whole 'nother person in your head. Making a trip to the basement when you didn't really go isn't that hard.

So yes. I have finally seen one of the great classics of cinema. And read a great piece of literature (whose writing style drives me batty, but that's just me). And this post is little more than me gushing about discovering a new favorite movie for the first time.

So what? It was awesome.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Disturbing non-post.

So yesterday I bought a book to read. Beastly, it's worth reading (even if I did want to bat the main characters across the room mid-way through their romance) (also, kidnapping=good. :(   )

What bothered me was, I bought it at six and began reading it at about six thirty, seven. By the time a friend showed up at eight thirty, I'd been done with the book for a good long while.

Please. Please, please, please, please tell me I cannot finish a book, even a smallish YA book, in one hour.

I want long, sweeping paths of occupation when I buy a book. I don't want to go from store shelf to home shelves in the time it takes to cook a decent roast. Admittedly, I'll read it again. But could it have just lasted a bit longer the first time around?

Even more disturbing: Never been able to read my own novel in one sitting. Maybe this should become my next goal...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lonnegan's Limp

Probably the greatest, most perfect movie of all time is The Sting. It's one of those awesomely good character studies and, if there is any flaw in it, it is that the secondary FBI plot isn't as good the second time around (or third, or fourth, or fifth) and that maybe a couple of scenes lose all tension because you know the actors are misleading you (a great writer would have been able to inject something there IMHO. Kind of how Dumbledore's death in HBP is more dramatic when you knew that Dumbledore had it planned, ya know? "Severus. Please" He is asking to die OMG I was bawling)  The score is iconic and the combo of Paul Newman and Robert  Redford is just ... yummy.

However, this time around I was distracted from all the awesomeness by Lonnegan's limp.

For those of you who have never seen this movie (and why haven't you) the plot is that Hooker (Redford) and his mentor/buddy Luther con a gentleman out of ten thousand dollars. Unfortunately the gentleman belongs to Doyle Lonnegan, an irish gangster in charge of Chicago, who has Luther killed in retaliation. Hooker hooks (heh heh) up with Henry Gondorff to con Lonnegan out of half a million dollars.

Lonnegan is a very bad man, and throughout the whole first quarter of the movie this is built up wonderfully (and I need to watch it again to analyse how they did it). By the time the con is enacted, you realize this man is pretty much unbreakable. He's physically impressive, he's got guns, he's the kill-at-a-distance-type, he's got no conscience whatsoever, and if he wasn't fond of playing cards on this one specific train, Gondorff and his buddies wouldn't be able to get to him at all (speaking of which, your confidence in Henry as a con artist is a little shaky at this point, but that's a thing for another day).

And then Lonnegan starts walking, and you realize he's got a limp. And even though consciously it doesn't register as anything except a limp, subconsciously it changes just about everything.

Our brains are a lot smarter than we are, and they are constantly reading different social cues that we don't ever pick up on. Good writing plays on this, and slides 90% of a story right in under our noses. An incredible example that I blew off as total nonsense the first time I heard it was a specific shot of Darth Vader in Empire Strikes Back. A commander gives Vader a report when he's in this giant white space bubble ... thing. You see Vader without his helmet on, and you see a mass of scars and hoses and other things implying that this person is not in the greatest shape. Commander leaves. End scene. But up until this point Darth has only been seen in positions of overwhelming superiority and almost robotic single-minded evil. This moment tells your brain that under all the wires and circuits, he's human. And not just human, but badly fucked up and broken, and (by implication) that there is probably more to him than just evil. That he might want something. About an hour later, "Luke. I am your father." What makes this moment so impactful, so mind-shatteringly huge is not that Evil told Luke he's got a dad. It was that instant when you realize this thing is human, an hour before Vader pitched a paternal relationship to Luke Skywalker. What's shattering is not ONLY Luke's perspective on the world, but our view of Vader as a wholly evil, mindless, inhuman force to be reckoned with, and it all started with him taking his helmet off an hour before we got here. The shock is our own minds processing the ten thousand hints Empire walked right past us and realizing He's telling the truth.

It wouldn't have worked half as well if those scenes weren't in there.

Same thing with Lonnegan's limp. Up until the train scene, Lonnegan is never seen walking. Oh, he might be moving, lurching around an office, but we never get a good, long view of Lonnegan walking until we get to the train. Also, up until now, Lonnegan himself has not been beaten. We've seen his minions, who will kill without worry, nearly shit themselves because he comes into the room. We've seen him casually discuss murdering a friend of his during a friendly game of golf, and we ourselves are just a little bit scared of this tall, imposing man. We know that the only vulnerable spot Gondorff and Co. could find was his frequent games of Poker on this train, and that the whole rest of the con relies on them getting to him during this game. We know that everyone involved in this is scared out of their wits. We know that if they get caught, they'll be found in the baggage car with ventilated skulls.

And then we see Lonnigan get on the train, and he's limping.

Again, short scene. Not something our brains register consciously for more than a couple seconds. But subconsciously? We have just realized that this man has a weakness. The limp. His facade of imposing mob boss has this chink in his armor, a physical imperfection he can't get rid of. This implies that there might be other, deeper flaws that Henry Gondorff can take advantage of. Three minutes before the Con begins, we are told that taking Lonnegan might be possible--not by words, not by character confidence, but by a limp.

I don't know if the actor who played Lonnigan has a limp naturally or not. The only other movie I've seen him in (Jaws) is probably not a good reference. But Lonnegan's limp, real or an affectation is incorporated and becomes a critical part of the movie. It's a tiny detail that makes the scene that follows (Gondorff out-cheating Lonnegan in a game of cards) very tense. Because we know it's possible to take him. 

Oh, Gondorff doesn't get off easily either. There's a scene right before he goes into the poker game. After he dresses, after he has a girl flawlessly pick Lonnegan's pocket (building on the weakness of the limp; he doesn't catch her do it) and after he explains the best liquor to drink with a mark, he sits down and does card tricks for Hooker, flawlessly, with a smooth flick of the wrist and a wink of those charming blue eyes. And then he flubbs the last one. Cards go flying everywhere. And the same part of your brain that read the limp as hey, we can take this guy thinks Oh, shit. Gondorff will blow it at the very last second. Lonnagan can lose...but so can Gondorff, and so far Gondorff has done more loosing than Lonnegan.

None of this ever registers consiously. You're too wound up in the David and Goliath story unfolding before your eyes. But what makes it interesting is not the charming blue eyed David or the imposing and irish Goliath and their completely bullshit game of poker (the only question is who cheats better?) Rather, it's those little details. The limp, followed by getting his pocket picked. The smooth operating Gondorff and his swift education of Hooker...followed by blowing that last card trick.

The rest of the movie is, thematically speaking, just a repeat of the train scene. We build upon the weakness implied by the limp, and also the blown card trick. The FBI subplot also implies that Gondorff has blind spots, and one of these might blow the con (and get him arrested). Lonnegan is never given a weakness other than the card game, which was completely and totally built on his limp. You could say that the entire conflict of the Sting was constructed on a bad knee that may or may not have originated with the actor himself. A thing that you never really notice, because the movie is just that good.

Good writing is not about picking a decent plot, good, likable characters or using pretty, flowery phrases. Oh, yes, don't get me wrong. You need these things. But you can have these things and still have a flat story. Good writing is about manipulating your reader into seeing things the way you want them to. In the hands of a decent writer, sparkling vampires or a demon possessed car (not to mention a can opener) can be terrifying. Not because we are scared of glitter or can openers, but because there were little hints thrown into the plot before we got there. Things that our brains registered that we never really saw.  It's about setting up an unlikable protagonist by making him your best friend for thirty seconds at the opening. It's about setting up a trustworthy mentor by making him a drunk. It's about telling your reader one thing, because it lets you slip fifteen other things in under the carpet. A good writer will hold the reader in the palm of their hands and make them think what they want them to. A good writer will react to a reader saying "This was my favorite scene because you did this in it" by saying "Damn. You shouldn't have noticed that." and rewriting the whole book.

In short, Good writing is about Lonnegan's limp.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Scorpion Incident

When I was sixteen, we moved into a very small town in the Texas boonies. Now, for those of you who think of cowboys and horses and long wild stretches of red rock and sunlight, well, most of the time you'd be wrong. In this case, you're pretty close. Our house was in the middle of mesquite brush. I say "brush" and not "forest" because "forest" implies trees that grow taller than your house. One of these trees had a beetle plague and split in half without any warning whatsoever. It fell on the SUV and wasn't even big enough to scratch the paint job.

This was a gorgeous house. One story ranch with beautiful woodwork, miles and miles of the softest white carpeting and (very important IMHO) two built-in bookcases in my room. And (other than the three-am freight train phenomenon right across the street) it was so quiet you could hear the grass breathe. Life in this house was probably the last quiet moment my family got before things all went to hell. I loved every single aspect, even the mesquite brush.

Well, except for the scorpions, of course.

The second night we were there, my mother shouted, one of those wordless oh shit sounds that indicate something unexpected has occured. We all came running. She had a small jar with a piece of paper held firmly on top. She held it so gingerly my brother and I immediately realized whatever was in it was live. And there, in the bottom of the jar, was a small beige scorpion about the size of a silver dollar.

This was not entirely unusual. We'd had a scorpion in the house before. One. This other house was also out in the boonies--live oak brush, this time--and the scorpion was outnumbered by the taranchulas four to one. (Possibly five. We brought one home from the road once). These things were not intimidating. They actually look kind of cute, in a aww how--SHIT GET IT OFF ME GET IT OFF GET IT OFF kind of way.

I think my brother named it Bob.

We fed Bob small pieces of other bugs and decided that as soon as our internet connection was up we would find out how to keep Bob around for his natural life span. He would wave a pincher with a half-eaten grasshopper leg at us, little tail bobbing in a way that was amusing and also very terrifying. And our infatuation lasted until we discovered the next one. And the next one. And the one after that.

Apparently the mesquite brush was absolutely infested with the godddamned things. We were finding at least one a day, usually walking down the hall with its little tail erect, pinchers high and if it could have whistled, we would have heard the witch's theme from Wizard of Oz as it trundled down the carpet. My cat, a princely white-and-marmelaide long haired lion named Goofy (don't ask), became expert at spotting them. I swear to god, it was like having a pointer dog, only it was a cat. We'd see him looking at a box or the floor, or scratching at my piano, and we'd know. Goofy found another one. Go get the jar. After one month, we had forty of them in there. We'd sit and listen to the dry sound of their carapaces rubbing against the glass. We no longer knew who Bob was, and part of us devoutly hoped his creepy-crawly bretheren had eaten him.

I had one on my leg once. And didn't realize it until I brushed it off and it went rolling down the tile.

My mother discovered that bug spray cannot kill them. Terminex men can show up clad in white jump suits with their Ghostbusters gear on their back and the scorpions will spend several hours huffing the fumes and then go after the catfood because the munchies have kicked in. They glow under a blacklight. Experts recommend you fight a scorpion infestation by going out at night with a blacklight and picking up everything that glows for a couple hundred meters. And when the scientists suggest you go pick them up because chemicals just ain't gonna do it for ya, you know you've pretty much lost the evolutionary advantage.

My mother not only refused to do this, she point blank refused to let either my brother or me do this. She knew we would find hundreds and hundreds every night and keep them.

Dad was pretty indifferent to the whole thing. They were bugs, after all. A thing to be conquered by the combined powers of Raid and a fly swatter. Explaining that the house had been recently sprayed and that all research showed Raid only pissed them off did nothing. Begging did nothing. Dad would hold the jar up, watch multiple barbs go for his throat, and grin like this was no big deal. Then he'd take a book or the paper back to his bedroom and go to sleep.

Goofy was still my cat, but he'd decided around this time that he liked Dad best of all. The cat would follow Dad around like a puppy, twining between his ankles and crying until he got petted. Dad went along with this reluctantly. Cats, even a scorpion-hunting cat, were supposed to live in barns, catch mice and generally stay out of your way. Goofy's scorpion count (we stopped at forty, when my brother entered his scientist phase and filled the jar with Windex. They were still moving two hours later) had redeemed him somewhat, but not enough for Dad to actually like him. Goofy would usually wind up sleeping on the windowsill over Dad's head, and Dad would complain in the morning about the cat tail getting in his face all night.

About a week after drowning our catch in window cleaner, my brother came in the room to ask my Dad a question. Dad lay sprawled on the flowered comforter, half reading the paper, half drowsing, and the cat was on the window above him. My brother paused in the doorway, frowned, and said "Dad, what is the cat looking at?"

Dad put down the paper and saw the color drain out of my brother's face. He looked at the cat, who was staring intently at the ceiling right above dad's head.

And there, hanging from a vent directly over my father's head was a tiny little gray-brown scorpion dangling by one claw. Its frantic struggles to grab the vent with the other had it swinging violently back and forth.

My dad is a Vietnam vet. He has faced down bullets, rockets and exploding munitions bunkers. I do not think he ever moved as quickly as he did, right then. My brother ran and got a new jar, the old one still being full of Windex, and my father cautiously maneuvered the paper so that the thing fell into the jar and not the bed. He fastened the lid down, gave my brother a hug, and then turned to Goofy.

Goofy jumped down onto the bed and gave the jar a sniff. He looked up at my dad. Looked back at the jar.

Dad sighed. He reached down and scratched Goofy under the chin. "Good kitty," he said.

That night was the first time Dad let Goofy sleep on his bed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dear General Public (of the eating kind)

There is a reason restaurants take reservations. It is so that we can function as a business and prioritize both seating and food consumption. Meaning the people who are kind enough to call ahead? They get a good table, or at least a guaranteed seat during our rush hours, and (most importantly of all) when we run out of food, they get to eat.

So when the Owner is going out of town? And purposefully under orders so that food will not sit in the walk in and rot during the week no one is cooking? And then on Sunday night we have ten reservations, two of them over four people? And we start running out of food? We stop bringing people into the restaurant. This is not because we don't have enough food for YOU. It is because we might not have enough food for the people coming in at eight, and you, I am sorry to say, do not get preference over the people who took the time to call ahead.

So lovely people, if it is your wedding night, and you show up at eight on this particular Sunday night, and you have seven people, and a cake, and you did not make a reservation? You're not eating.

I do not care if it is your wedding night. I do not care if you have been planning this for six months--in fact, I am pissed off because if you HAVE been planning this for six months, which I highly doubt because I know that cake you are holding is the out-of-the-case-Italian-and-cream-cheese-buy-in-two-minutes cake and not a wedding cake, or even a special order cake, and you could have accomplished that purchase in two minutes, you could have taken two minutes BEFORE YOU WENT TO YOUR FUCKING WEDDING to call ahead.

I am a waitress. I have two jobs: make sure the people who either made reservations or are already here have a good night, and follow the boss's orders. Boss says no. Answer is no.

Screaming at me (literally. As in red in the face .Nice going, dude, your new wife is standing RIGHT THERE) will not get you a table.

In fact, you see that woman walking over in the t-shirt and apron? That's the owner. That's the boss. That's the woman who told me "no, don't seat them," and that's the woman who is coming over to see if maybe we can't swing it after all. She just heard you scream at her staff.

NOBODY screams at her staff.

You're telling your friends? She hopes you tell ALL your friends.

And slamming the door in her face as you leave? Yeah.

You're not coming back.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


When you tell someone you are afraid of something, for some strange reason they expect you to be rational about it.

Example? I am afraid of wasps, bees and ants. Ants because I walked into a floating fire ant next as a kid and still have nightmares about it. This is the only one that is rational, because I can explain it. It is the only one that people understand. They see me freaking out about a little sugar ant and say "What the hell is wrong with you?" and I say, "I walked into a floating fire ant nest when I was four", and they usually hand me whatever it was the sugar ant was going for. Hopefully, it was chocolate.

But the fear of ants is nothing compared to my fear of the other two. Bees and wasps are pain with wings. They are divinely engineered to thoroughly fuck up your day. Bees are at least rational about it, unless you're talking Africanized, in which case they have schizophrenia and think you're out to get them and you just indicated it by sneezing. But wasps. Dear. Bleeding. God. Wasps. They have only one purpose, as far as I can see, and it is to make more wasps. And it's not like they can hurt you just once. Oh, god no. They've got a venom tattoo gun for an ass.

I have never been stung by a wasp. I do not know why I view them as the insect version of Ted Bundy. All I know is, I see one on my porch, I leave the porch. One comes in the house? I go find little brother and beg for him to go kill it. I can kill it myself only if it is perfect stationary, on a flat surface and begging to die. Because if it is not a suicidal volunteer, it might go airborne again. And then it might fly into my hair and sting me (my one bee sting happened this way) and ... there would be pain. It would probably be manageable pain, but that's what I mean by irrational phobia. It doesn't matter. There is a great unknown after "sting" that I never want to experience, and the only way to ensure this never happens is to run whenever I see a flying tattoo ass gun of pain coming near.

I discovered a wasp flying in the middle of my porch when I had groceries. This is like discovering a suicide bomber in the library. I had armloads of groceries and a bike, I was tired, I was heat exhausted, and there was a wasp. I stood there frozen while it flew a bare inch off the wood. It landed, I started walking, and then it started flying again. Right. At. My. Feet.

I screamed. Not a little subtle scream either. No sir. I dropped my bike and one bag of groceries (the other was in my backpack) and ran for the porch, waiting for the burning pain and, I assume, instant agonizing death of getting wasp stung. I was practically cowering beside the door, whimpering, waiting for this pissed off aggressive missile of death to begin tattooing a skull and crossbones onto my backside.

It flew away.

I stared after it. Was...was it gone? really? I looked for it for several minutes, not quite trusting my eyes, but it didn't come back. I collected my groceries, dove into the house, slammed the door and contented myself with a milk tea while I processed what I just discovered.

You can walk over wasps and not have them sting you.

This, I am sure, is something the rest of the world knows rather well. Leave it alone, and it will leave you alone. But the thought of coming near the flying tattoo gun of death sends me into cold sweats. Only necessity and stupidity drove me to actually stand above the evil red paper wasp, and only those two things can drive me to do so again! ... but next time I will not be quite so afraid, because I know I will not necessarily die if I come within three feet of a red wasp. The Wasp has lost a few grains of power over me, and perhaps the next time we encounter each other, I will be...

*sees Wasp*

...yeah. Bye!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Work, or: How my boss got me drunk on a Friday.

So the first thing you learn in a customer-service based job is that you no longer have a life. This is because normal human beings have things called "Weekends" and "Holidays", and they like to use these days to do things like shop and go to restaurants because when their free time is over, they will go home and die. So you are scheduled to work when all of your friends and family are doing the beach thing, or planning their celebratory dinner at the restaurant right next to yours. And on your days off, nothing is open, because you get the slow days off. The days when it is not cost effective to be open. The days when all your competition are also closed down and you have to stay at home and get caught up on your movies.

You can adapt around this. Obviously going to that hot new restaurant is out. But, as you have been hearing stories about this restaurant for months now, and your only reason for going would be to attend the train wreck in progress (As of right now, the disaster indicators are paying waitstaff in excess of $600 a week, plans to be open seven days a week from eight till late, HUGE, HUGE floor, owner with no plans of working kitchen/floor duties--as indicated by the presence of three kids under five--and total inability to get appetizers out during free appetizer night. Closing-Restaurant-gossip rocks) this is not a huge loss from your life. HOWEVER, this does leave you relatively unprepaired for the unmigitated fluster-cluck of holiday service.

Which brings us to mother's day. Originally created to celebrate the womb that birthed us and the very real human being in charge of said womb, and currently used to sell cards, flowers and very expensive dinners to justify ignoring Mom the rest of the year. Our restaurant has declined to be open tonight (THANK. GOD.) and did brunch instead.

The lunch crowd is not an improvement. Oh, we survived. Don't get me wrong. And aside from a long adrenaline rush and aching legs, there was nothing notable about it. No, it was the days leading up to it that sucked.

The fluster cluck began three days ago. Thursday. Our slow day. Not at all slow. The phone rings at four oh-two (we open at 5 pm. The idea time for the phone to ring IMHO is 4:30. This means tables. 4:02 means OH FUCK WHO IS ON CALL why are they not calling WE ARE GOING TO DIE). It is answered cautiously.

"Are you doing anything special for Mother's Day?"

This confuses me. First of all, my restaurant is not exactly Joe's Crab Shack. There are several dishes that are worth crawling over hot coals for, and if you like wine, we have some pretty incredible selections. We can also make sake do things that sake cannot normally do (this gets around our lack of liquor license). But I assume that Mother has already been here and would like something super extra to jump up her life.

"We're running brunch out of our (outdoor) stand."

Pause. "What about dinner?"

"We're going to be closed for dinner."

Pause. "Okay." Longer pause.

*Deep breath before customer can regroup* "We will be having Eggs Benedict (and trimmings) along with (lunchity items not normally served in outdoor stand) in addition to the outdoor stand menu." And I hope desperately that they have been to Stand and know the menu.

No such luck. "And that is?"

There are several jobs I need to be doing right now. Including getting both restaurant AND Stand ready for customers. "Several kinds of coffee, (Fancy fried doughnuts), (fancy french sandwich), (fancy bagel preparation) and adult beverages if you come after ten." Thank god for Texas blue laws. If I had to deal with mimosa orders at eight am I would probably start drinking them and throwing things at the customers.

"Can you give me more detail?"

I tried, twice, burning about five minutes each time. Now, normally you would think that five minutes on a customer call isn't bad. But that was ten minutes I needed, desperately, to do basic set up work, spent on people who would not show up on Sunday. You can always tell. The people who will show up start foaming at the mouth at the mention of the fancy doughnuts and the Eggs Benedict. The people who won't say "is that all you have?" and get you to  repeat yourself in the desperate hope that your litany will change.

Then a caller got our owner.

Our owner is one of those spectacular people that you underestimate on first meeting because she looks nice. And outside of the restaurant, she is nice. There is a whole shelf of books spread behind the celebrity booth (friends of Owner only. It doesn't matter if we are cramming two-tops into the bathroom seats, you have to ask her before anybody goes back there) and it is approximately 1/2 cookbooks, 1/2 Kurt Vonnegut. She also has a large collection of oil paintings of pills. There is a fascinating story attached and she will tell you the first chance she gets. But if you are inside the restaurant, god help you.

One of the more interesting floor shows is when one of Owner's friends shows up for dinner. Owner has special people who we are not allowed to take money from, ever. My mother is one of these people. I once poured a glass of Riesling that wasn't properly cooled, and gave it to Mom. She paid for it. Owner told me if I ever took money from my mother again, she'd fire me. She was only half joking. Unfortunately this particular friend is the kind of person who likes to give gifts and/or spend money on her friends. She delights in taking me and my mother out for pricey sushi and she popped my sake cherry long before I came to work for Owner. The last time she ate here I went back to Owner and said (wild eyed and a little desperately. This was not our first run-in) that Friend wanted to pay for her meal. After a few moments of deliberation, Owner told me to just charge for the alcohol, and only because she didn't know the third person Friend had brought with her (the second was, of course, my mother.)  I brought them their check, set it down gingerly, ran back to my post and waited for the invariable "Oh, HELL no."

Fortunately, Owner was right there. Force, meet object. I stayed out of the way.

So Owner is a little stubborn, and also a little volatile. Even more unfortunately for our "menu" caller, this has been a particularly bad day for her. Owner had the roof of our deck removed, no fuss, little mess, but the posts that are left still have old lumber stuck on them and don't look very nice. She wants a privacy fence added and the left over roof bits removed. Today the guy she hired for post removal has finished, four days over schedule (he charged by the day) and he added his broken chainsaw blades to the total because, in his words, "there were nails."

He also left the mess for her to clean up. Bad idea. I could hear her from the front desk.

At this point I am desperately running ice between our water cooler (AKA the Tin Can) and our ice machine. I'm not strong enough to carry the whole thing and I don't like getting Dishman to do it. He's got enough to do. Also, he's not here and if I wait for him, I will forget. So I miss the first part of this call. Then I hear her giving our hours and a brief summery of the menu.

And then I hear a pause. It is the kind of pause one feels when the tsunami crests and has begun to fall towards you. And then I hear "No. I am not going to read you the whole menu." Said very calmly.

I can hear just a little of the other caller.  Someone has shouted at Owner. I set down the ice and listen.

"I do not have the TIME to read you our whole menu. It is posted OUTSIDE, beside our door, and you can come by and read it anytime."

She can also make a wireless handset make noise when hung up. I was not entirely sure this was possible.

"The next time someone does this," She told me, "you say that we are busy." And she repeats the call, and her response, verbatim, to every regular she sees. Everyone laughs. All of our regulars know the Owner.

I have gotten very good at saying "we are busy". In the middle of Friday night I say this four or five times, juggling salad plates, lettuce and the handset. Number two says, "I know you are very busy, but," and continues to ask questions about our dress code. We've had millionaires come in flip flops. If you can pay for the food, there isn't one. 

Then I get the person who thinks we are an all you can eat buffet. And who refuses to be disabused of this, no matter how much I explain. "What do you mean you charge by the item?"

"You order at the shack. You pay at the shack. You sit at a free table and we call out your order."

Pause. "But...how much is it a person?"

I think I have finally hit the nadir of stupidity (not counting Train Wreck: The Restaurant) but this happens twice more. Then the night is over, and I must race around to get the Shack ready for Saturday, which I expect to be particularly grinding.

Owner has other ideas. She sits down with my brother, my mother, a canister of strawberry puree, several kinds of syrup and a bottle of champagne. She calls me over and hands me something with a strawberry stuck on the rim. It is official Champagne Tasting Time. I discover that strawberry puree is good, rose syrup and sugar cubes are better, and that she used too much orange petal water and turned the champagne into perfume. "We won't do that on Sunday," she says.

I then discover that restocking food is difficult, when done on three glasses of champagne. Also, someone has hidden our ham. This is not good. I need the ham. It is when I begin tearing strips off the destined-for-soup bone left over from last week that I realize, my beans-and-rice binge at four wore off about five thirty, and I just drank three champagne cocktails on an empty stomach. The ham bone will begin talking to me any minute. I guestimate that I have enough ham for five fancy sandwiches, locate enough mint for twenty iced teas or two sake mohitos, and decide to leave before the ham and I have a stimulating conversation.

I still don't know why people choose to do that recreationally.

Next morning I wake bright eyed and bushy tailed. Being drunk agrees with me, which is sad. I have pledged never to do it again. And having valiantly survived Mother's Day with only one more glass of Sangria to alleviate the crushing pain, and no more notable morons (other than Train Wreck: The Restaurant's owner coming by for a pep talk from Owner. Floor show was particularly good this time around) I can now curl up with Hamburger Helper and a piece of chocolate pie.

God bless capitalism. It's a great show.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Naked Retreat

So I entered a contest by Janet Reid, and won a new audio book. And still can't quite believe it. 

However, as a writing exercise,  I decided to take my Award Winning Story (BTW I feel like the dad from A Christmas Story. All I need is the goddamn leg lamp and I'll be right there. It's an award, damn it. IT'S A MAJOR AWARD!!!) and flesh it out a bit...meaning that the opening paragraph is the part that won, and the rest of it is me trying to understand the kind of characters the story made. I had three specific characters in mind when I started, and wound up with three kind of almost-the-same characters when I finished it ... and oh just read the goddamn story already.

Comment if you love me. Or the story. Same difference.