Saturday, December 22, 2007

Bengali Cooking



Some people think that Muslims don’t have a sense of humor. But nothing makes my Muslim friends laugh more than my appreciation of the Holy Month of Ramadan.

No, I am not a Muslim. I was raised Catholic. But I love Ramadan.

For those of you not familiar with Ramadan, it basically involves a month of prayers and fasting. And the fasting is pretty intense---no eating, drinking, smoking or sex from sunrise to sundown. It is all about personal discipline, obedience and being a good Muslim.

For me, it’s all about delicious Indian food.

You see, I work with quite a few Muslims. Most of them from Bangladesh. And all of them very nice and generous with their nightly feast---a community meal fondly referred to as Iftar. All of them are men. And all of them have wonderful mothers and/or wives who spend all day in the kitchen preparing glorious curried dishes that their husbands and/or sons pack up in Tupperware and bring into work to eat at the breaking of the fast. This year, Ramadan started around 7:00pm New York City time.

A few minutes before the appointed hour, the smell of curry and spice wafts out of the microwave and thru the kitchen of our otherwise American-themed restaurant. All of the Muslims working that night begin to scurry around the kitchen---opening Tupperware containers, setting the table, and chopping vegetables for the salad---the Middle Eastern version that involves no lettuce, but lots of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and the dressing a mixture of freshly squeezed lemon and spices. While this nightly ritual goes on, they begin to call the Iftar to my attention. Because somehow, I have become a part of their Ramadan.

My Ramadan feasting began a few years ago. One of the bus boys was eating his Ramadan feast alone in the kitchen. I made an innocent comment about the Indian food looking tasty, and next thing I knew, I had a huge plate of rice, goat meat, bread and some sort of coconut dessert in front of me. Sure, I’d eaten Indian food plenty of times before. But this was different. This was the equivalent of somebody’s Mom’s pot roast. It was amazing.

Last year, I noticed plates of Indian food suddenly beginning to appear before me.

“Is it Ramadan?” I asked with glee.

“Yes,” one of the bus boys replied, “Enjoy.”

Enjoy I did. Thank you Allah.

Of course, the Catholic guilt immediately began to creep thru. After all, they’ve been fasting all day. They haven’t even had a sip of water. And here I am eating their dinner. Don’t think I didn’t try to refuse. I’m nothing if not polite. But the Bengali’s explained to me that Allah gave them extra blessings for sharing their food. And there sure was a lot of rice and chicken curry. Well, okay. Twist my arm.

This year, I was immediately included in their Ramadan feast. There was always an extra plate and an extra chair. And all of my little Muslim boys immediately called me over to join in their feast. They know there’s no hope of converting me. They’ve heard me spout too much feminist propaganda to even try. And there’s no talk of Allah or The Koran. Only a discussion of how wonderful the food is. How delicious the feast. They do take the time to explain all the dishes and how they’re prepared. They also answer my questions about the holiday and the particular peppers used in the chick peas. And, for a few moments every night, I’m eating in the best Indian restaurant in town.

For those of you in parts of the country without a significant Muslim population, may I say---I feel sorry for you. I really do. The stereo-typical view of the Muslim as serious and brooding, is not what I know. In fact, I’ve never seen grown men giggle as much as these fellas do. Seriously. Giggle. My friend Kabir has the cutest laugh you’ve ever heard. And he giggles at virtually everything. If anyone ever pulled him aside at an airport, he’d probably start giggling. They wouldn’t know if he was an uncomfortable terrorist or just ticklish.

They all laugh constantly. Maybe it’s because they’re from Bangladesh. It’s not exactly Saudi Arabia over there. But here they are, fasting all day, and it’s 6:30 and they’re starving and they’re laughing their asses off watching me trying to interpret the Ramadan calendar---a chart listing all the dates and local times for each part of the fast.

“So, Iftar is the meal---and after that it says it’s time for Isha. What’s Isha? Dessert?”

Oh, how they laughed. Apparently, Isha is more prayers. They found this extremely amusing.

So this year, for Christmas, one of my managers gave me a copy of a book called “Bengali Cooking”. And, once again, the Bengalis laughed. Though they certainly don’t doubt my cooking abilities. A few times, during Ramadan, I even brought in a few dishes of my own. Of course, the meat thing’s a little difficult. Especially during Ramadan---it really should be halal. But I haven’t the slightest idea where one goes to buy halal meat. Instead, I opted for vegetarian dishes. I made one with couscous, zucchini and an apricot chutney that went over well. They also enjoyed my spicy green beans. And coconut macaroons are always a hit. After all, blessings from Allah or not---I just didn’t feel right eating all their delicious food.

And it’s amazing! I told the Bengalis that if they opened up a restaurant and sold this food---they would make a million dollars. It’s really that good. My favorite dish is the chick peas. The Bengali chick peas are slightly different from your standard garbanzo beans. They’re darker in color and about a third of the size. They even wrote the recipe down for me. It’s so simple. A little onion, a little pepper and some spices. Mmmm. I could eat it everyday. And all the curried rice and the thin breads that seem to be practically fried in something resembling a flavored lard---yeah, I know, lard doesn’t sound appetizing, but just think what it does to a pie crust.

At work tonight, I began skimming thru the Bengali cookbook---which is more than just a cookbook, but also a history of the country and its dishes. The author immediately explains that Bengali cooking is never really found in restaurants---why? Because, for Bengalis, it’s considered simple fare. It’s the sort of thing that is best served in the home. Something that involves love and care. Not the slapdash way food is generally prepared in restaurants. It needs time. And, according to the author, Chitrita Banerji, even restaurants in West Bengal and Bangladesh generally serve your standard Northern Indian dishes.

Bengali food, she explains, “…is not easy to reproduce on a mass scale, nor does it maintain its nuanced flavors after repeated heating or long hours in storage.” She also party blames the Bengalis themselves, for not realizing that the simplest dishes, tried and perfected over centuries, are suitable for more than just their daily meals. According to Ms. Banerji, they would never dream of serving their simple meals to guests---whether in their home or in a restaurant. It just wouldn’t be fancy enough.

As I skimmed thru the book tonight, I began asking questions. They were particularly helpful when it came to the hilsa---a fish. They were all eager to remind me that hilsa is The National Fish. If you mention hilsa, this is the first thing they will all say, “It is our National Fish!” This seems to be something they are extremely proud of---their National Fish. I’ve heard of the phrase “National Dish”, but never “National Fish”. If other countries have a National Fish, I don’t think any of them are as proud of their fish as the people of Bangladesh.

I hear about this damn fish all the time. In fact, I actually tried the National Fish this past Ramadan. It was good. It was fish---what can I say? It did have a lot of tiny bones you have to be careful to pick out---a fact they reminded me of this evening, should I attempt to cook their National Fish.

Frankly, I have no more idea where to get the National Fish than I have of where to pick up a case of halal meat. But I suppose I could give it a try.

“But be very careful,” they warned. “You have to cook the fish. Not like in American where you don’t cook the fish all the way. You must cook this fish properly, or it will make you sick.”

Maybe I’ll stick with the chick peas for a while. But I will definitely be making a trip to the Indian groceries in Jackson Heights soon.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Rats, Pt. 2



Yes, once again, we have rats in our restaurant.

For awhile, they appeared to be gone. At first, no one believed the General Manager’s pronouncement that we were now “rat-free”---perhaps because he’d made the announcement at least seven times before. In fact, no sooner would he announce a “rat-free zone” than one would scurry out from under the prep area. He was the manager who cried “No Wolf”.

However, after two weeks of not even a telltale sign, everyone on staff seemed satisfied that we were indeed “rat-free”. Yes, there had been causalities---although no one but me seemed to feel bad for the little guys. But mostly it was the sheet metal that seemed to do the trick. Lots and lots of sheet metal. One wall in the basement was entirely covered in sheet metal. Extra boards were nailed onto baseboards, holes were plugged up with everything from steel wool to a spray-foam, and every nest was cleaned out, boarded up and shut down for rat business.

Personally, I spent several hours online looking for ways to get rid of the rats without harming them. I even went so far as to spend twenty dollars on bobcat urine. Yes, dried, crystallized, bobcat urine. The online testimonials were fantastic. Apparently, the rats smell the bobcat urine, sense that there’s a large predator nearby, and quickly leave the area. My manager looked at me funny when I walked into work with a jar of bobcat urine, but agreed to give it a try. However, it seems that New York City rats have not seen a bobcat in about 200 generations. I might as well have sprinkled dinosaur urine around the place.
Around Halloween, we joked about getting an owl. We could just put it on a pedestal and if customers asked why there was an owl in the dining room, we could just say it was a Halloween decoration. The General Manager laughed a bit, but he seemed to be getting sick of hearing about the rats. In fact, we all sensed that he possibly wanted to do some firing. However, when you have rats, it’s kind of difficult to fire your staff. You just know the first place they’re calling is the City Board of Health.

But sometime, shortly after Halloween, the rats suddenly disappeared.

I have to say, I kind of missed the little guys. Well, not really. But the place did seem kind of empty without the rats. They’d kind of become a part of our day. Something to take the monotony out of restaurant life. Oh, we all had so many rat stories to reminisce about: The time one of the rats dropped from the ceiling and landed on the manager. Then there was the time one of the cooks came in in the morning and a rat was sleeping on top of a bin of dried mashed potatoes. Then there was the time one of the rats was still awake in the morning and the cook came in and saw the rat just walking around the kitchen. The rat saw him, then kind of looked like he went, “Oh geez, is it eight o’clock already? Ooops. Time to go to bed.” And then just casually sauntered off with a little wobble like Fred Sanford.

No matter what we did, the rats just kept coming. We seriously began to wonder if every week, someone wasn’t dropping off a bag o’ rats. In fact, Bag O’ Rats quickly became our favorite catch phrase.

Oh, we have dozens of rat stories. One of my personal favorites was the time a rat ran into the dining room during the dinner rush. We saw it, but none of the customers seemed to notice. I motioned to our manager, letting him know there was a rat in the dining room.

“Where?”

“Right there----under table 28.”

Luckily, I’d learned how to think like a rat. “Look,” I explained, “the rat has a nest downstairs and he’s just trying to get back to his nest. If we open the basement door, the rat will try to run against the wall and sneak downstairs.”

“But there are people sitting at the tables against that wall.”

“The rat will run against the wall and unless he screws up and runs across their feet, we should be okay.”

He quickly ran over and casually opened the basement door. Then we waited. A few moments later we watched the rat slowly make his way underneath the tables where people were obliviously having dinner. Ladies in expensive designer dresses nibbling on their Caesar salads before going to see a Broadway show---completely unaware that a rat was crawling at their feet. One of the Bangladeshi bus boys noticed the manager and myself standing there trying to act casual.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

With customers within earshot, I simply muttered the magic word---“Edu.”

“Oh, Edu,” he said knowingly. I think it’s safe to say that the nearby family of four from Ohio did not know the Bengali word for “rat”. And then another Bengali bus boy walked up to the first one. I heard the first one say “Edu”. And next thing you know, the entire Bengali bus staff was clustered around each other, muttering “Edu” and staring at the tables against the wall.

“Hey, you guys---stop staring. They’re going to figure out something’s wrong.” Whether you speak Bengali or not---when five Bengalis are all staring at you, it’s safe to say something’s up.

Within a few seconds, the Bengali huddle broke up with them all snickering and muttering about Edu. And moments later, Edu made his way, undetected, down the basement stairs and crawled into his nest. Tragedy averted.

Needless to say, after two weeks with no sign of Edu, we all breathed a sigh of relief. And then, as we exhaled, someone said, “I smell dead rat.”

We all began to sniff.

“Do you smell that?” one of the bartenders asked.

Apparently, one had died somewhere behind the bar. The bartenders were pissed. And then, we began to smell something in the dining room.

“What’s that smell?” one of the waitresses asked. “That’s awful.”

Booths were pulled out, tables overturned, all miscellaneous furniture was moved and looked behind, under, inside, everywhere. Even the dishwasher---notorious for fixing, finding, or taking care of any problem with anything---could not find the dead rat.

You didn’t always smell it. Sometimes, you would be going thru your day like nothing was wrong. Everything nice and rosy. And then you’d breathe in and catch a whiff.

“Someone has to do something about that dead rat.”

The manager went out and bought a can of air freshener. So now it smelled like gardenia and dead rat. It was not pleasant.

Eventually, the smell went away. The dead rat’s still there---buried somewhere in the wall or inside the heating vents. Who knows? But at least the smell was gone.

And then, once the smell disappeared, the rats came back. It started on a Friday night. I wasn’t there, but the girl at work who is the most terrified of the rats was leaving for the night. She left her bag in the back room and as she went to retrieve it, saw a rat scurry across the room.

The next day, around ten o’clock that night, the same girl was in the hallway ringing up some items at the register when I looked at the floor and saw a rat scurry up right next to her foot.

She’s terrified of rats. So terrified in fact that she swore that if one ever got close to her, she’d probably have a heart attack and told me that if she died, I would have to take care of her daughter. And, frankly, her six-year old daughter is kind of a shitty kid. I took a heavy step towards her to frighten the rat and watched it run in front of her foot and into a corner about a foot away. I called her name and she looked over.

“Hey,” I said casually, “come here.”

“What? Why?” she asked as she stood there with her notepad.

I grabbed her arm lightly and said, “Just come over here.”

She immediately guessed what was going on and jumped straight up in the air, let out a stifled scream and ran away from the register. “Where is it? Where?”

“There it goes!” I whispered with intensity as the rat took off into the side dining room. One of the bus boys noticed the commotion and walked over.

“Edu.” I explained, and nodded my head discreetly towards the empty side dining room. I quickly ran to the kitchen and grabbed a huge trash can. The bus boy grabbed a broom.

“Oh no, “I said as I pointed to his broom. “Don’t hurt the rat.”

I spotted the rat in the proverbial corner and quickly placed the trash can in front of the rat. I told the bus boy to go behind the rat and try to sweep him into the trash can. The rat would most likely run into the dark trash can and then I could scoop it up, quickly close the plastic bag with my hands, take the trash can outside and release the rat. At this point, not one customer had even noticed.

Unfortunately, the bus boy either didn’t understand my English instructions (I really need to learn more Bengali) or decided to take matters in his own hands. Next thing I know, I’m in front of the trash can and he’s behind it and the rat is screaming. I mean SCREAMING. “Don’t hurt it!” I cried out.

At this point, he appeared to have stopped doing whatever he was doing, but the rat continued to scream bloody murder. Then the rat ran off. Another Bengali spotted it behind a podium and grabbed his own broom. I don’t think he even touched it, but the rat must have gotten caught on something and started screaming again. By this time, six Bengalis were on the case and were yelling things in Bengali I couldn’t even begin to understand. I couldn’t stop them. I felt bad for the rat, started to cry, and walked away. Whatever they were doing, I couldn’t watch.

And, may I say---I was discreet. The Bengalis---not so much so. They don’t seem to realize that trying to kill a rat in front of customers is not such a good thing. By now, a party of six in the bar and my party of two at a nearby table are onto us. As I walked away with tears in my eyes, the young couple at the nearby table asked, “Are they trying to kill it?”

“I think so,” I sputtered as I felt my face getting red. “I can’t watch. I tried to save it, but… It makes me too sad.”

They seemed to understand my feelings towards the rat. They seemed like nice people. And it felt good to be so candid with them. I’d been lying to customers for months. I felt free. Open. Honest.

“I’m sorry,” the guy replied. “It’s a little mouse, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I replied without even missing a beat. “It’s a mouse.”

The rat got away safely.


After several months with the rats, we now realize that they’re eligible for the union. And once they’re in the union, you can never get rid of them.

If we can't laugh about the rats, we'll all go a little crazy.

We’re not infested, like before. But every so often, one of the little guys pops out to brighten our day. This year, I even made a Christmas card for the staff. On the front, a drawing of a bunch of happy rats decorating a Christmas tree. And beneath the picture, it reads, “From all of us to all of you…” Inside, it says, “Have a Very Merry Christmas. Love, The Rats.”

Of course, we can’t put this on the bulletin board with the rest of the Christmas cards from the produce distributers, the former employees and the pickle delivery guys. But it was passed around discreetly at the company Christmas party. As the big wigs sat around feasting on lobster tail and prime rib, getting drunk on expensive liqueurs at the open bar, and watching us all clean up their cocktail napkins filled with shrimp tails and empty skewers---it was fun for us to imagine their happy little party broken up when someone opened up the latest Bag O’ Rats. Unfortunately, the rats were a no-show.

The morning after the company party, one of the cooks found a rat sleeping on top of the refrigerator.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Giant Microbes


Discovered the strangest idea ever---a company called Giant Microbes.

http://www.giantmicrobes.com

The premise is, they take a picture of a bacteria or virus in a microscope---and then they turn it into a stuffed animal! Genius! Amongst all the other oddities gracing my desk---I now have The Black Plague and Ebola. They’re so cute! I don’t know why they make me happy. They just do.

A friend of mine just had a birthday and he can now say that for his birthday, he got Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and Syphilis. Don’t say I never gave you anything, Timmy.

However, the oddest part of the stuffed animals is the tag which not only gives you the history, symptoms and cures for the diseases---but also adds the safety precaution:

“Remove plastic hangtags and ribbons before giving to a child under 3 years of age.”

Which is more appropriate for a baby gift? Chicken pox or Mange? Hmmm.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Beets

Beets are messy. Let me make that very clear. Not even a Christmas Binge Cookie Bake has made as much of a mess in my kitchen as beets.

My whole beet experience began a few weeks ago. On my weekly shopping trip at my local market, I noticed something new in the produce aisle---bagged greens.

Outside of my usual lettuces and spinach, I’ve really never delved into the greens. Collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, and beet greens were all a mystery to me. According to the handy information on the package, the greens were very good for you and could easily be boiled or sautéed like spinach. A huge bag was only two dollars. Why not?

I plopped the greens in some chicken broth (as suggested on the handy package). They took but a few minutes to cook and were just about the tastiest vegetable I’d ever had. Once I powered thru my bag of beet greens, I quickly moved onto collard greens. Then Swiss chard. I was like an addict going from marijuana to coke to heroin. Only my substance of choice was greens. And there’s no rehab for greens.

Last week I found myself jonesing for some greens in a mostly greenless market---my only choices being collard greens or fresh beets with the greens attached. I decided on the beets with leafy greens. I gobbled up the greens that very night and was left with the beets. And you can’t just throw out perfectly good beets.

According to my handy Joy Book of Cooking, beets took about two hours to boil. What the book failed to mention was the mess. As the beets boiled, they quickly turned the water a bright red and the red juice occasionally bubbled up and overflowed onto my stove top. There was beet juice everywhere. I quickly changed out of my white sweater and into a black one. This stuff made a mess.

When the beets were cooked, I covered them and put them into the refrigerator to cool. Honestly, I had no idea what to do with them. And then it came to me.

Borscht.

I’d eaten Borscht a few times in my life. Can I say?---never particularly cared for it. And I come from Eastern European stock. Borscht is in my blood. However, I had a sinking feeling that I’d never eaten a really good Borscht. I was determined to change that.

The next day, I thumbed thru some cookbooks and distilled the many variations into my own recipe for what I truly believed would be a super-fantastic Borscht. And, cut to the chase---it was. And I will happily share my Borscht recipe, but I firmly believe that all recipes for Borscht should begin with a warning in boldface:

WARNING: BEETS ARE EXTREMELY MESSY!

Perhaps they should also be forced to show you a photo of a kitchen after making Borscht as a deterrent---like those disgusting photos on Canadian cigarettes. Only Borscht photos should include piles of dirty dishes all covered in red juice. Ew.

However, while the clean-up was difficult, making the soup was a breeze. Frankly, the hardest part of making Borscht is getting people to eat it.

I have never encountered such a resistance to soup.

Unlike Chicken Noodle or even Split Pea---Borscht is a hard sell. Maybe it’s the colour. After all, most people aren’t used to eating bright red soup. Then there’s the beets. Sure, tomatoes are bright red---but everyone knows tomatoes. When you order a bowl of tomato soup, there aren’t too many surprises. Beets, on the other hand, aren’t even the most popular root in Vegetable High School. That would be Mr. Popular---the potato. Finally, there’s the name---Borscht. It doesn’t sound appealing. Some people don’t even know what it is. Beet soup tends to go over a little better. But even then, be prepared for a lot of faces.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen people so full of trepidation as when I offered to give them a cup of homemade Borscht. I was this close to offering it to a homeless man just to see his reaction.

And the questions. I’ve never heard so many questions about soup. Normally an offer of soup goes a little something like this:

“Would you like some Black Bean Soup?”

“Yes, I would. Thank you very much.”

Instead, I got this:

“Would you like some Borscht?”

(Pause. Look closely at the soup. Pause again. Make a face.)

“What’s in it?”

“Beets, cabbage, carrots and a little onion.”

(Pause. Look at the soup yet again. Cock your head like a Pomeranian. Take a deep breath. Let it out. Pause again. Squint your eyes and nose and forehead. Pull your hands close to your body. Take a step back. Peer over cautiously into the soup. Pause again.)

“Well…okay, I guess.”

Even unknown meat does not cause as much dread as Borscht. If they ever run out of creepy-crawly things on Fear Factor or Survivor, they should just ask contestants to try Borscht. I guarantee, someone will be getting kicked off the island.

Despite this resistance, those who were brave enough to try my Borscht gave it a glowing review.

I’m not very good at writing down recipes (particularly for soup, which is so easy to quickly alter to taste as you go) however, I will attempt now to offer my recipe.

But be forewarned---BEETS ARE EXTREMELY MESSY. I suggest you not work on or even remotely near unfinished wood or any surface easily stained. Metal and glass are easily cleaned. Your standard kitchen countertop will also clean up nicely with either some bleach or (my favourite home cleaner) a Mr. Clean Magic Dry Erase Pad. Avoid plastics as they might stain. Wear dark-coloured clothes. Your hands will get stained but will easily clean up with soap and water.

Now, having scared the beejesus out of everyone… Go put on a black sweater and...

BORSCHT




1 bunch (approximately 3) large beets
1 medium-sized yellow onion
2 medium-sized carrots
2 cups chopped cabbage
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
Butter
Margarine
Dill
Salt
Pepper
Apple cider vinegar
Sour cream (optional)

Cut the stalks off the beets and save for a tasty greens dish. Wash the beets under cold water, place in large pot, cover with water and boil till done (about two hours). Place beets and the remaining juice in the refrigerator to cool. You can leave it overnight and make the soup the next day, or you can continue on.

Finely chop or shread one small onion and sauté in 2 tbsp margarine. Set aside. Chop about a third of a head of cabbage (perhaps 2 cups) into bite-sized pieces. Sautee in 2 tbsp butter. Shread 2 medium-sized carrots and toss in with the sautéing cabbage. Set aside.

Remove the beets from the refrigerator. The outer skin should peel off easily with your fingers (this is really messy!). Cut off the top and the bottom. Cut the beets into small, bite-sized pieces.
In one large soup pot, add 2 cups water and 1 1/2 cups chicken broth. Add the cabbage and carrots, the sautéed onions and the beets and the remaining beet juice. Add 1 tbsp dill, 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper. Stir occasionally.

Allow to heat but not boil. At the very end, add 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar. Season to taste. Remove from heat.

The borscht is ready to serve and is best with a small spoonful of sour cream.

After you sample the soup, start the clean-up and try to get others to eat the soup. Good luck!

Note:

Unfortunately, a few weeks ago my computer crashed. It is now repaired and I'll be posting soon. Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Tea


I love tea. I would say that it borders on an addiction.

When I was a kid, I spent my allowance money on books and tea. Yeah, I was a weird kid. My twenty dollars a week went to Jane Austen and Earl Grey; Mark Twain and Sassafras; and The Raj Quartet and Darjeeling.

My grandma was my first pusher. As far back as I can remember, she would make big pots of tea. Not charming little ceramic pots. Grandma’s tea consisted of about half a dozen Lipton tea bags dropped into a big metal pot of full of water---the strings from the bags wrapped around the handle to keep the tea bags in place while the water boils. Not steeps. BOILS. The tea bags could simmer on the stovetop for hours. A few years later, during a trip to the mall, a girlfriend pointed out that someone nearby was smoking pot.

“How do you know?” I innocently asked.

“Because it smells like burnt tea.”

This was a smell I knew. Apparently, so did she. I guess all grandmas were taught to boil their tea bags. Maybe it’s a Southern thing. Or Polish. Who knows? But until the age of seven, I firmly believed this was the proper way to make tea. But, I have to say, if you poured a cup before it burned to a crisp like old 7-11 coffee---it was pretty good. Grandma made tea the English way---lots of sugar and whole milk. Mmmm. Not only did I begin to ask for tea---I started ordering it out.

Yes, I was the precocious child ordering tea. I remember the first time as if it were yesterday…

A diner. Somewhere around Grand and Gravois in the Southside of St. Louis. It was a rainy, fall day. I don’t know how I remember all the details, because I couldn’t have been more than seven. But we were on our way to Sears to do some early Christmas shopping and the three of us ducked into our regular diner for a bite to eat. On the jukebox, I could hear Dionne Warwick singing “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again”. Although I should hasten to mention that I’m sure the song had come out several years before---I’ve been told I date myself when I mention popular songs.

In any case, my mom and grandma ordered their regular cup of tea. And, though this was a pivotal grown-up moment for me, they didn’t seem shocked when I informed the waitress that I would like a cup of tea as well.

A few moments later, I was surprised to find an elaborate set-up placed before me: A pot of hot water, cup, saucer, spoon, tea bag, sugar, milk and a lemon.

Hmmm.

This was a dilemma. I was used to my pre-made boiled tea with all the extras lovingly added in by Grandma. Nevertheless, as they continued their conversation over who wanted what for Christmas, I tried to follow their lead and assemble my tea. I felt so grown-up and mature. I was one of the shopping ladies. Dropping in for a club sandwich and a cup of tea. I felt so grown-up that I decided to take Dionne Warwick’s advice to never fall in love again. After all, what do you get when you kiss a guy? Enough germs to catch pneumonia---that’s what. Ick. And, even though I’d never kissed Jeff from Kindergarten--- he’d been more interested in the free popsickles at recess--- I was now a grown-up woman and I could be as bitter and jaded as Dionne. After all, I was tossed aside for a cherry popsickle. And that didn’t make such a good song.


I looked down at my tea. The hot water had turned that beautiful brown tea colour. I added the sugar and the milk. But what was the lemon for? Well, for lemon-scented tea, of course. I went ahead and squeezed it in. Because I was a lady at lunch. With my gal pals. I had no time for a guy with a pin who’d burst your bubble. And what kind of jerk pops a girl’s balloon?--that’s what I’d like to know.

A moment later, my milk began to curdle in my tea cup. This wasn’t right. Grandma’s tea didn’t look like this. My mother seemed upset with me as she called the waitress and explained that I’d squeezed lemon in with the milk in my tea and it curdled and she’s so sorry and is there any way I could get a new pot of tea?

It was at that point, that I decided to learn a little something about tea.

I won’t attempt to distill all my years of tea wisdom into an over-written and under-edited blog. However, I will say that my love of tea has grown and expanded tremendously since my Early Boiled Lipton Period.

For starters, Grandma also made sassafras tea. That, you actually HAD to boil. A big metal pot full of boiling roots---which, a few years after she died, were declared to be a cause of cancer in lab rats. But, boy, was it tasty. Once again, lots of sugar and milk and you had yourself a hot, soothing beverage. How could cancer taste so good?

From there I branched out on my own. I fell into the Twinings line of teas that were conveniently packaged in affordable packets of ten. Earl Grey. Prince of Wales. Russian Caravan. Jasmine Tea. English Breakfast. Irish Breakfast. Ceylon Breakfast. I felt like I was breakfasting all over the world.

In high school I started sampling the herbal teas. Chamomile. Lemon Balm. Orange Spice.

In college, I wore out my hot pot boiling water for cup after cup of Blackcurrant, Green Tea, or something warm and decadent with fruit and almonds.

I think it’s now time to say that I’ve never been a tea snob. I’ve got all the paraphernalia---the little metal tea brewing thingys and the pots and special cups and saucers and the tins of fresh tea leaves blah blah blah. But I would never turn up my nose at a tea bag. Never. I came from tea bags. I would never look down on my roots. No pun intended.

Over the years, I’ve developed a tea fetish that can often get out of control. My brother came to New York to visit me a few years back and noticed all the teas in my kitchen. The next day, we made a visit to Chinatown. As he saw me gathering boxes of tea in my arms, he suddenly burst out, “You’re buying MORE tea?”

Yes. I am.

I guess, as far as addictions go, it’s a pretty healthy one. When they announced the antioxidant properties of tea a few years back, I did a little dance of joy. Like Grace Adler on Will and Grace, “Told you so! Told you so!”

Nothing can stop me now. Just yesterday, I made my bi-monthly pilgrimage to the New Yorker’s Tea Central---Chinatown.

I love going to Chinatown to shop for tea. I have all my special tea stores and am always on the lookout for new and exciting teas. I will be the first to admit that I haven’t tried them all. Someday, I hope to have a full and thorough knowledge of tea. However, for now, I LOVE the adventure!

I will now share with you a secret. For those of you who absolutely LOVE tea---I will suggest that you cheque out the New Kam Man shop on Canal St. It’s my special secret tea-finding place. It’s unimposing. From the front, it looks like a simple Asian grocery. On the way there, you’ll be bombarded by several Asian men who will approach you offering to sell you handbags. Pay them no mind. You don't need a new knock-off handbag. You don't. Just walk away. A few young Asian boys will see you and say, “Hey, baby.” I have no idea what that is about. Just keep moving. But if you can locate New Kam Man, and find the stairs leading to the basement, you will see an amazing collection of wonderfully varied, yet low-cost, teas. Everything from tea bags for 55 cents for a box of twenty to fresh tea leaves at $40 a pound. Nothing is old and dusty. The teas are regularly stocked and fresh. And there’s always something new and interesting. Yesterday, I spent $20 on tea and came home with a treasure.

The inventory:

A small tin of Black Persimmon Tea Leaves
A box of 20 Green Apple Green Tea Bags
A medium sized bag of Roasted Green Tea Leaves
A bag of fresh Pur-Eh Tea Leaves
A box of 20 Lichee Black Tea Bags
A small tin of Lotus Tea Leaves
A small package of Mini-Bowls of Tea Tou Cha
A bag of freshly dried Chrysanthemum Tea
A large box of 100 Yunnan Bo Nay Tea Bags

All this for about twenty dollars. A fabulous deal. If you’re ever in Chinatown in NYC, be sure to pay them a call. The workers who doll out the fresh tea leaves don’t speak much English, so you pretty much have to point and tell them to give you another scoop or stop. Let’s face it---it’s sign language. But they’re ever so nice and more than happy to help you with your tea needs. They also carry a large supply of tea mugs and traditional Chinese and Japanese tea pots. Basically, all your Oriental tea needs will be met at New Kam Man.

I’ve come a long way since Lipton, baby!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Complaint letters


Last week I purchased a four-pack of Charmin Ultra Soft.

Yeah, I'm all for the environment. I try to do my part. But if Laurie David can eat up fossil fuel flying around in a private jet, then I can have my Ultra Soft toilet paper.

However, I was none too pleased to find upon getting home, that I merely had regular Charmin. The packaging said Ultra Soft. But it was just regular Charmin. Which is still pretty soft. But not what I paid extra for.

As a consumer, I was fairly miffed. After all, it's not the sort of thing you have the time or the inclination to exchange. If you're buying toilet paper, it's a safe bet that you need it fairly soon. The odds of you returning it are pretty low. And I can only imagine the looks on the faces of the cashiers at my local market as I stand there swearing that I paid for Ultra Soft, but only got Soft.

However, as a writer, it's my chance to shine. You don't want to mess with a writer. Because we will sit down and write a complaint letter. And, for those of us still struggling in the profession, it's often our only chance to get read. Oh, I will write a complaint letter.

I've written complaint letters about everything from the service on the "A" Train to the discontinuation of the Kraft Spaghetti dinner---all of which I was plenty peeved about. And almost 100% of the time, I get a response. That's about fifty percent higher than my shot at getting a response from query letters about my novel. You bet I'm writing a complaint.

Not only that, but I've been told that I argue my points extremely well. So well, in fact, that I've often been asked to intervene on the behalf of fellow employees who feel they've been treated unfairly. Because, in essense, being a good writer is like being a good lawyer. You need to get the attention of the jury, astound them with your mastery of the subject, take them into a world where they can suspend their disbelief, and totally bring them over to your side. The best writers and the best lawyers do this on a daily basis.

Complaint letters help to sharpen the skills.

A few weeks ago, I had an issue with a new manager in our restaurant. I won't go into details, but suffice it to say, she was mean. Really mean. However, being a union establishment, I didn't have to take this. I could write a complaint letter. Something, I've been told, that most employees don't bother to do. However, what I did learn was that in a corporate environment, an actual letter makes a huge difference in how a company proceeds with disciplinary action.

Having a heart to heart with your supervisor about a problem is always a good choice. And I did that. And was promised action. But when a certain person's behaviour doesn't change...well, then you get my letter. And a letter is the last thing a company or manager wants. Because now it's on paper. There's a document. A paper trail. And they HAVE to do something. Whether they want to or not. In this case, they wanted to. Why? Because I was right. This woman was nasty. She even talked about her fellow managers behind their backs. Everyone wanted her gone. But I wrote a complaint letter. Within two weeks she was gone.

I can't take the credit entirely. After all, I was not the only one experiencing her vitrol. But the manager definitely gave a little laugh when I handed him my complaint letter.

"Wow. Six pages?"

"Yup. Don't mess with a writer."

And bye-bye Melissa.

My love of complaint letters first began many years ago. I've always had a problem with new packaging. When you're going down the aisle of your local grocery store looking for your usual product and suddenly can't find it---Where is it? I don't see it anywhere. And you look and you look and suddenly you see it. But it's different. You almost didn't recognize it. Why? Because there's new packaging.

When Quaker Oats started putting their oats into a container with a plastic lid instead of the cardboard lid with the string---I just about had a fit. Is it the same? Is it different? Because if they changed the packaging, who knows what they changed about the product?

Nestle Quick. Remember?---it used to come in a cardboard container with a metal lid that you had to use a spoon to pry open. Now it's a plastic container.

And Campbell's soup? When did they feel the need to put pictures of their soup on the labels? I don't like it. I don't like it at all.

Because sometimes they DO change the product. Twinings Tea? Hello. The Earl Grey has completely changed since they switched to different packaging. And I don't like the tea quite so much. It's weak. It is. I'll say it out loud. I don't care. The Twinings Corporation is skimping on tea leaves in their Earl Grey tea. It's a fact. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. There's a whole blog some guy wrote devoted to the fact that Twinings Tea is cheating consumers out of tea leaves. It's a crime. And I have a six page letter to prove it.

Frankly, it's all about change. I like continuity. I don't like change. Change is generally arbitrary and pointless.

Why does the Contadina Tomato Paste Company feel the need to continually update the hair and clothes on the lady on the Contadina Tomato Paste Can? Is this all they have to do in their boardroom meetings? It's outrageous. I've been purchasing Contadina Tomato Paste for years. Like my mother. And my grandmother before her. I do not need a modern-looking lady on the label of my Contadina Tomato Paste Can. And---by the way---label? They used to print the label directly onto the can. What happened there? I really would like to know.

This might seems ridiculous to some of you. But I don't see it as any more ridiculous than the change itself. I can imagine no meeting more ridiculous than a bunch of guys in suits sitting around a big table discussing what sort of hairstyle and apron the lady on the Contadina Tomato Paste can should have. It's tomato sauce. It's been around for a long, long time. Nobody's going to start or stop buying it because she has a few more curls.

So tonight, I sat down to compose my letter to the Charmin Toilet Paper Company. It's not quite six pages; but I think I made my point. There's a letter, photos, even a sampling of the two different types of toilet paper to prove that there is a discerible difference in quality. If they're trying to pawn off the Soft as Ultra Soft---they've got another thing coming.

However, if it was simply a manufacturing malfunction---then I think they should be aware of the problem. I never really wanted to be a whistle-blower---but somebody's got to speak up.

Do I get anything from these complaint letters? No. Nothing. I've never received any product in the mail.

Do I get a reply? Generally, yes. There are people employed by corporations to do just this job. And I'm at least moderately sane. I can imagine some of the kooks these people have to deal with. Although I'm still upset by the lack of response regarding possibly the greatest complaint letter I ever sent---to The History Channel. Oh, they were war-mongering with their Saddam Hussein documentaries a few years ago and everybody knows it.

Does my letter get read? YES. And that's the beauty of it all. Even if you're not a writer. There's someone at Nestle or General Mills or wherever who will listen to you. Elected officials don't pay as much attention to civilian complaints as Kraft Foods or the NYC Transit Authority.

Do I get satisfaction? No. By the time you have a complaint, the companies have already decided upon their course of action. It's rare that consumer evolution is reversed. But then, remember New Coke?

Leo Buscaglia once said: "The greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing."

Sure, I don't think he was talking about toilet paper. But if you can't even go out on the limb for toilet paper, what the hell are you doing in that tree?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Old Lady in the Red Hat


I'm aware of the fact that there are websites out there for waiters and waitresses to vent their pent-up frustrations over customers.

I've read a few of them for fun.

But frankly, as a waitress myself, I find most of the complaints to be just a lot of whining. Most waitress jobs are pretty disposable. If the management or the clientele sucks---get the hell out.

But then, I'm pretty lucky. If you can call being a waitress lucky at all. My job is union (so management can't get away with treating you unfairly) and it comes with health insurance---makes Mom very happy. We also get a fairly decent clientele. Our prices are pretty steep so it scares off the riff-raff.

Most of the time.

Tonight I had the table from hell.

Table 18.

Two old-biddy white ladies just off the bus from Pennsylvania. They started by literally walking away from the hostess and just seating themselves. Then, after placing their order (two filet mignon specials with several substitutions and special orders, a Rob Roy and a Screwdriver) I noticed that only one of the ladies had a glass of water in front of her.

"Would you like some water?" I asked the other lady---the one in the red hat.

"No. I'm waiting for my drink!"

Well, just give me a moment to step away from the table and give your drink order to the bar you bitter old alcoholic bitch.

No, I didn't say that. What I said was, "Sure. I'll be right back."

I went to the conputer and entered their food and drink order and then proceeded to pick up their drinks from the bar. Figured I'd better get some alcohol in this one as soon as possible.

As I walked out of the kitchen, there she was. Standing right outside the kitchen waiting for me. The bitter, shriveled-up old lady in the red beret.

"Don't bring our food out right away! We want to enjoy our drinks!" she snapped.

"Oh, well, I already put your order in but I can try to slow it down..." I explained as I walked her back to the table.

"Do you understand? We don't want to be rushed! We want to enjoy our drinks!"

"Nobody's rushing you, ma'am. Let me just go in the kitchen and see if I can..."

"We feel like we're being rushed. We just want to enjoy our drinks first. We're not in a hurry."

"Okay. Let me go in the kitchen and stop them because they've already put the steaks on the grill and I don't want them to get dried out for you..."

"We need some time. We want to sit here with our drinks."

And on and on she went. Meanwhile, the steaks are sizzling away and I can't get away from her complaining.

"You shouldn't have put our order in so fast!" she snaps.

"Well, ma'am---you gave me your dinner order and I put it in. That's my job. Otherwise people get upset if their food doesn't come out quickly."

"The only reason I gave you my order was because you asked for it."

Okay, I have no idea what to say to this crazy woman. I simply explain that if I can go in the kitchen now, I can slow down the process and that when a customer gives me an order, it's my job to promptly place it with the kitchen. She doesn't seem happy with this answer.

I go into the kitchen and immediately inform the cooks to stop making the order and to wait to make it until I tell them.

Then I bitch.

Oh, I tell everyone about Table 18 and the Lady in the Red Hat.

For those of you who go into a restaurant and create a scene---you should know that as soon as your waiter walks away from the table, they talk about you. They use all the seven words George Carlin talks about and quite a few more. You are described in the most unflattering terms to everyone on the staff. And we're good mimics. We do your voice and all your intonations and mannerisms for everyone from the manager on down. And it ain't pretty. Within moments, if you can tear yourself away from your conversation and look around, you will notice all eyes in the restaurant upon you. Because everyone wants to see what you look like. A certain amount of it is curiosity. Another part is sheer identification. We all want to know what you look like in case you come in again.

In fact, even some of the customers will know about you. One of our regulars, a big wig at Lehman Brothers Investment, was recently asking me if servers talk about their customers when they walk away. I suppose, in the financial industry, the water cooler chit-chat is pretty tight-lipped. Servers, on the other hand, can and do. So, in addition to sharing the noisome behaviour of table 18 with the staff, I made sure to share it with him. Within about 10 minutes, everyone in the restaurant had taken a moment to go over and look at the Lady in the Red Hat.

Now here's the funny part. A few minutes later, after I'd shared their behaviour with everyone in the restaurant, I suddenly see the lady gesturing me over. Oh no. This can't be good.

"I just wanted to apologize to you. I'm really sorry about talking to you like that. I know you were just doing your job."

What?

She explained that she was tired. She'd left early this morning from Pennsylvania. She had been walking around all day. She felt so bad. And they were ready for their order after she got her second Rob Roy. She's so sorry. She even made sure I saw her finger the big, gold cross around her neck---a gesture I can only assume is meant to show me that she's a good Christian woman.

Okay. Sure. No problem. I was very nice. I chatted with them for a few moments. I was a little wary, because she still seemed a bit odd to me. But it at least cheered me up a bit to know that she felt bad. Or did she?

Because when she got her food, everything seemed fine. Then, a few minutes later, she pointed out that the shrimp was slightly uncooked. Okay. It was. Sure. I offered to get her some fresh shrimp. But now she was in a hurry. Where before she needed plenty of time to sip her drink---now she was suddenly in a hurry. She had a bus to catch back to the Poconos and couldn't wait for some fresh shrimp. So I offered to show it to the manager and see what he could do.

The manager (who'd already had it up to here with them) took off a percentage of their bill. Then, when I went to the table to tell them, they suddenly decided their steak wasn't cooked to the right temperature. They ordered it medium. I took a good look at the steak. It was medium. And they'd already eaten over half of it.

They wanted to see a manager. And he did not want to see them.

Nevertheless, he went over and came back to tell me the results. They were now refusing to pay for anything---including their drinks! He told them flat out that they would have to pay for their drinks. But he would go ahead and take the food off their bill. Frankly, he just wanted them gone.

He dropped off their bill and I ran the charge. They signed the charge and made sure to thank me as they left.

The tip for all this trouble?

Nothing.

Most likely, the old hag only apologized because she worried I might do something to her food. I know there are servers out there who might resort to this form of corporal punishment. But it's way too low for me. I would never tamper with anyone's food. And 99% of the servers out there would never tamper with food, either. It's just bad form. It's stooping to their level. And I'm better than that.

At this point, I can only resort to voodoo.

No, I am not a regular practitioner. Altho I do have a few souvenirs from my trip to New Orleans a few years back.

And, I'm sorry Old Lady in the Red Hat----but you leave me no choice.

No sooner did she begin her arthritic trek to her Port Authority bus, then I had already begun my curse.

First of all, she would miss her bus. That was a given. With the evil thoughts I directed at her, there was no way she was hopping on the 7:10 to the Poconos. Way too much hoodoo flying around for that to happen.

Then, I sent a curse that she would get robbed. Not beaten. Just robbed. After all, anyone who hangs onto their pennies as much as this woman deserves a real New York Welcome.

Now, while she's crying about losing her wallet, suddenly she's taken ill with some mysterious illness. Maybe the undercooked shrimp will help with this particular part.

And then, as she's sitting on a dirty bench in the Port Authority, bemoaning her plight---don't lose me here---she suddenly dies. Yes, she dies.

Oh com'on, she was pretty old. It's going to happen sooner than later. And I really don't see this woman bringing any joy to the world.

And then, just as she dies, her head drops to her chin and her red beret falls to the ground.

A homeless man picks it up. Good for him.

I've heard that when you die, you poop your pants. And she just ate...

So there she is, lying on the floor of the Port Authority---reeking of poo and Rob Roys. And no identification. She's likely mistaken for a drunken homeless person who's passed out.

Oh, they'll figure out that she's dead in a few days. Once she really starts to smell.

They'll take her decaying body back to the morgue. It'll probably take some time for the family to recover the body. After all, she's out of state and has no id or her trademark red hat. But then, I can't imagine too many loved ones searching for her. I'd give it a good two months.

And I firmly believe this will all happen.

In fact, I have my black candle from the Voodoo Museum lit right now.

See---you don't have to spit in their food.

Ahhh. I feel so much better.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Laundry Room Mystery

When you’re looking for a new apartment, you generally have a list of requirements. Allows pets. Safe neighbourhood. Reasonable rent. These are the basics. By the time you whittle your choices down and make some appointments, you’re now looking for life’s little amenities. Elevator. Hardwood floors. Security cameras. And my personal favourite---vermin-free. Original crown molding is not as attractive if roaches are crawling up the walls.

Therefore, being a savvy and experienced apartment hunter, I looked carefully before making my final decision. And, I’m happy to say that, three months later, the honeymoon is still going strong.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that a home is like a relationship---you learn something new about it everyday. And my latest discovery is like finding out that your new boyfriend is not only a great guy, but also a world class French chef.

Why?

My new apartment comes with free books!

For an avid reader like myself, this is like stumbling upon the Comestock Lode. You see, some mysterious person in my building throws away books. And not crappy old textbooks and out-of-date computer manuals. Good books. Books I would actually pay good money for new at Barnes and Noble or used at The Strand.

For the past few months, I’ve noticed that a mysterious Book Angel seems to leave their unwanted, already-read books in the laundry room. So not only do I get a super fantastic laundry room with state-of-the-art machines---I also get free books! This is an amenity that was not listed in the brochure. Makes the steep Manhattan rents much more bearable. It also gives me the opportunity to stumble across authors I might never have discovered.

Currently, I’m finishing up a free copy of Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. Found it in the laundry room last month. Great psychological thriller. Hitchcock made a movie out of it back in the fifties. Nowadays, people might know her better as the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Last month, I read an uncorrected proof that was left in the laundry room of a book titled Remainder by Tom McCarthy. Very Camus-esque, wildly irritating, yet somehow irresistible. If it were a wine, it would be a petulant pinot noir.

Tonight, as I hauled my two loads of dirty bed linens and miscellaneous clothes into the laundry room, my eye immediately went to the new pile of books waiting in the free-book area. I hurriedly shoved my laundry into the machines and then went to inspect the latest laundry room releases.

At the top of the pile, was a book called Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. The title sounded familiar, but the subtitle completely sold me, “A Novel About the History of Philosophy”. That’s definitely going home with me. Then I discovered the first three books in the Alexander McCall Smith series The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. I’d already read the first volume and had planned on adding to my collection. So, not only do I get the next two volumes for free, I picked up volume one for one of my best friends at work who is hooked on African films. Then there was Waiting by Ha Jin. The added engravings on the cover advertise it as being a National Bestseller and also a winner of the National Book Award. An author I had never heard of and am now looking forward to chequeing out. There’s also a hardcover edition of a novel titled In the Drink by Kate Christensen. It’s a first novel and sounds like an interesting cup of tea. And finally, two Gregory Macguire novels, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Lost. Macguire is the author of Wicked---another book I’ve always meant to read. Either my mysterious Book Angel kept this particular book for his/her own collection, or someone beat me to it. In any case, I’ve decided to pick up a copy of Wicked before I tackle the other two.

Needless to say, today’s catch was particularly enthralling. With no one else in sight, I gathered up the whole stack and scurried upstairs to my nest with about a hundred dollars worth of new books. I could hardly believe my good fortune.

A few hours later, as I lay in bed reading one of my Laundry Room Releases, I began to feel a twinge of guilt. After all, I was benefiting from someone’s largesse. Who was my mysterious Book Angel? And, more to the point, wouldn’t they appreciate a thank you of some sort? Or at least, some knowledge that their books had found a good home? Like those unwed mothers who drop off their babies in front of a church. My Book Angel didn’t throw their babies in the trash. They left them for someone else to care for. Perhaps a thank you note would be in order.

I suppose the laundry room would be the proper place to leave a thank you note. So, after much thought, I sat down and composed a grateful, yet casual missive, thanking my unknown benefactor for their generous donations.

And then, I paused.

Hmmm.

After all, I’m happy with things the way they are. Would beginning a communication with my mysterious Book Angel change my laundry room book-mobile? I know this might sound silly---but I kind of like the mystery. After all, we seem to have a good thing going here. Book Angel makes more room in their apartment, and I get some free books. It’s a win-win situation. Sort of the equivalent of a book booty call. A free exchange of wants and needs. And completely anonymous. Do I really want to ruin my Laundry Day Surprise?

So, for now, I opt to remain the anonymous Book Adoptee. After all, some birth mothers just want to move on with their lives.

Let the mystery continue.

But this is definitely the best apartment ever.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

How I Got My Dresser


The other day, I waited on three guys from Spain. Now, for those of you not in the know, foreigners are notoriously lousy tippers. Sometimes, it’s not all their fault. Every country has different tipping procedures and percentages. And frankly, the US tops the list. Why? Because American waiters are paid sweatshop wages. Most of Europe doesn’t tip more than a few coins. In the UK, it’s generally around 10%. Australians have no qualms about leaving you nothing at all. Asians are usually pretty good---maybe it’s the polite thing. And the Canadians will fool you. They look and sound just like us---and then they hand you the credit card with the maple leaf. Shit! They’re Canadian! They really should have square heads like in the South Park cartoons.

However, in other countries, servers are paid a livable wage. By the time most US servers pay federal, state and city taxes and that damned FICA---well, we’re making about a dollar an hour. Really. If you’ve never waited tables, you should know that waiters in the US live on their tips. In fact, if you don’t tip, it actually COSTS US money to wait on you. We have to pay taxes on our sales, because the government assumes that we’ve been tipped. We also have to pay a percentage from our sales to the bus boys, runners and the bartender. And if we’re not tipped, we still have to pay. All the guidebooks to the US list the tipping customs here---15-20% for service. However, even though I’ve seen the guidebooks actually sitting on the table, our clientele seem to conveniently skip over this section of the manual for their visit to NYC.

Needless to say, it can sometimes be downright frustrating. Especially with the British who go on and on telling you how “lovely” everything was. And they “cheers” you a thousand times. Then they get an $80 cheque and leave you three dollars. A friend of mine swears that “cheers” means “fuck you” in British.

But I digress.

There once were three guys from Spain…

Now, these fellas were nice as nice goes. Didn’t speak English at all. Seemed like business guys. Late thirties to early forties. They started by asking me if I spoke Spanish. I explained that I did a little. Then they asked me about the “costillas”---the ribs. I told them in Spanish what the dinner came with and answered a few more questions in Spanish. I brought them a round of drinks and their dinners came out a few minutes later. They seemed happy. Gave me the thumbs up. I stopped by periodically to see how they were doing and everything was “bueno”. Super. Great. All seemed well. They weren’t overly friendly, but nice enough.

Then the check came. It was $85. I wasn’t counting on much. But then, I’ve always had a hard time kicking that Anne Frank thing about believing people to be really good at heart. Tho I sometimes think that if Anne Frank had survived the Holocaust and gotten a job waiting tables at a café on Leidseplein while supporting her fledgling writing career---well, she would’ve been singing a different tune. That being said, I am an equal opportunity server. While I know there are some servers who skimp on service to Europeans, I like to give them all a chance.

So I left the bill on the table, informed them they could pay me when they were ready, and walked away. A few moments later, I came back to the table to find the three guys gone and three hundred dollar bills on the table. There must be some mistake. What? A two-hundred and fifteen dollar tip on an eighty-five dollar check? But it seemed real. The hundred dollar bills were not stuck together in any way. In fact, they were slightly separated underneath the check. One. Two. Three.

For those of you who might think this sort of bonanza befalls every waitress occasionally---think again. Trust me, do not quit your day job and rush off to your nearest Applebees. It does not. In fact, it occurs so rarely, that I discovered I was actually upset about it.

“Did those guys say anything to you?” I asked the manager on duty at the front door---who also happened to be Spanish. No. They hadn’t said a word.

“Why?” he asked. “Was there a problem?”

“No. But why did they leave me $215 on an $85 check?”

I was this close to peeved. I asked everyone they might have come into contact with during the course of their meal. No one had anything to add. I spent the rest of the night waiting for them to come back for their money, all the time wondering why. Why?

As I sat on the train home that night, all sorts of thoughts ran thru my head: Maybe they just wanted to get rid of their American currency? Maybe they were drunk? Maybe my restaurant Spanish was finally paying off?

The next day at work, the other servers heard about my windfall and began offering their own case scenarios: Maybe they were drug dealers with loads of money to burn? Maybe they didn’t understand American money? Or maybe they were just really nice guys?

Who knows.

What I did know is that I had an extra $215 burning a hole in my pocket, and baby needs a new chest of drawers.

But now, of course, I’m afraid to spend the money. Because what if they come back? What if they made a mistake and come in a few days later wanting their money back? Of course, I would give it to them. But this was really starting to burn me up. I mean, here I am with an extra $215 and I’m afraid to spend a penny of it.

Then word of my fabulous tip got to the General Manager. He was under the mistaken impression that it had been on a charge and that the manager on duty should perhaps have made a copy of the charge in case they called back. In fact, I got the distinct impression that perhaps he thought I didn’t deserve such a tip. And frankly, I’d be the first one to agree with him. Because I had no idea what I did? What DID I do? For godsakes, why didn’t they explain themselves? It troubled me for days.

Maybe they were high stakes gamblers? Maybe they broke the bank at Monte Carlo? Or Atlantic City? Who the hell knows?

And don’t think there weren’t plenty of little risqué remarks going around about what I did to earn that money. I’m sure there are girls working as cocktail waitress in “Gentleman’s Clubs” who get tips like this all the time. Sometimes they flirt with the customers or bend down a little low at the table when they drop off the hot wings. But I’m fully clothed. The whole black pants, white shirt and tie thing. Even if I wanted to lean over a table, all they would see is my tie in their soup. And you don’t get tipped for that. Trust me. Nevertheless, I laughed along with the dirty little jokes. But deep down inside, I was troubled. I felt like a fraud. An imposter. On my worst days, a thief. I hadn’t done anything special, nor shown anything special besides my knowledge of the Spanish word for cheesecake.

It’s been a week now. I assume my three guys are back in Barcelona or somewhere, dining on bistec and polishing off a bottle of Rioja. As for myself, I finally dipped into my ill-gotten tip money and purchased a lovely dresser for my clothes. I bought it at a Spanish-owned store in my neighborhood---figured I should probably give back to the community.

But the guilt has been overwhelming. The Spanish guys never came back. Maybe they didn’t have any more money. Or maybe they hopped on their private jet and were whisked back to their castles in Spain.

What I do know is that the next time you’re in a restaurant and you want to piss off your waitress---just leave her a really, REALLY big tip.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rats





The restaurant I work in has rats. And I find myself conflicted.

On the one hand, I love little animals. Sure, they're not the coziest little creatures. But rats need love, too.

On the other hand, I need my job. And I certainly don’t want to see a repeat of the whole KFC fiasco. It’s not the greatest job in the world, but it pays the rent.

Therein lies the conundrum.

First of all, let me say that rats in NYC restaurants are much more common than you would think. The reason the KFC rats were such a big news item is because the restaurant had just gotten a clean bill of health from the city AND because the rats were extremely camera-friendly. Made a great visual to play over and over on the national news media. However, the reality is that rats are all over the city. Practically a mascot. In fact, I doubt that a tourist in NYC would find their visit complete without a sighting of both a celebrity and a local rat. “Look---there’s Alan Alda!” “Look---there’s a rat!” See what I mean? Sorry, Alan Alda. Nothing personal.

News of the rats began in the kitchen. Like some folktale about a golem---“I swear I just saw something move.”

No one took it seriously until the Spanish dishwasher began to complain about “rata” in the kitchen. Unfortunately, the Spanish work for mouse is “raton” and, since they sounded so much alike, everyone just assumed we had a little mouse. What’s the big deal?

And then, somewhere along the line, Willard and his army of rats invaded our kitchen like the Sixth Airborne Division on the Normandy beaches. But if we were the Germans, we didn’t put up much of a fight. The following day, someone threw down a few glue traps. The rats weren’t deterred in the slightest. Within about two weeks we had a full-fledged infestation on our hands.

Of course, I was not happy about the situation. However, I felt sorry for the little guys. After all, they were just hungry. They had found a nice, warm, comfy place to live and raise their family. On the other hand, I just signed a lease on a Manhattan apartment. Something had to be done.

First of all, let me explain that I am not afraid of rats. Sure, I don’t want the wild ones crawling all over me in my sleep. But, as the old saying goes: They’re more afraid of you than you are of them. But after watching some of our kitchen staff (grown men, by the way) scream like girls and run out of the kitchen trembling in fear, I’m not so sure.

I decided to come to the rescue. Not wanting to see the little creatures harmed in any way, I headed down to the hardware store to purchase a humane trap.

“Hi. I know this might sound a little strange, but I’m looking for a rat trap where you can catch the rat and then let him go.”

“Sorry,” the man said with what I detected was a faint snicker, “we only have the ones that kill.”

In fact, I was snickered at by at least four different hardware store employees at four different stores. Finally, I went to the Big Daddy of them all---Home Depot. For thirty dollars I was able to purchase the Have-A-Heart Rat Trap---a small, metal contraption guaranteed to catch a rat in no time. A short while later, I walked into work with my rat trap and was practically laughed right out of the kitchen. Everyone seemed to think I was crazy.

“Even if you do manage to catch a rat, what are you going to do with it? Turn it into a pet?”

“No. I’ll just take it down to the river and let it go.”

Everyone thought I had completely lost my mind.

“You mean, you’re just going to walk down the street carrying a sewer rat?”

“This is New York. No one would even bat an eye.”

On that point, at least, everyone seemed to agree. I carefully read the instructions on how to set the trap. I then repeatedly tested the trap, baited it with tasty tidbits, and set it in a rat-friendly area.

The next day, I could hardly wait to go to work. Bear in mind, this is a waitressing job---I never look forward to going to work. But that day I could hardly wait to see my new little rescued ratty.

Unfortunately, the trap was empty. No rescued ratty. But I was not to be deterred. Every night, I faithfully set my trap, to the amusement of my co-workers.

One afternoon, I got a call from a manager.

“Did I catch anything?” was the first thing out of my mouth.

“No. But last night after you left, I saw one in the kitchen…”

“And…” I asked with baited breath.

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Meanwhile, the management sent in an extermination crew to put down some more effective traps. I would hear news of the deaths. I was sad, but I understood. It was them or us. I was just trying to give the little guys a sporting chance. I even called my family with the news of my latest adventure. My aunt was particularly supportive, “Oh honey, I hope you catch one of those little rats. If you do, be sure to take a picture for me.” Of course I would. Everyday, I made sure to throw my camera into my bag. What a wonderful picture it would make. Me with a big smile on my face, holding my Have-A-Heart rat trap with a little grey rat inside about to be set free. Kodak Magic.

Everyday I got to work and went directly to my trap. Nothing. “But we killed one this morning,” someone would be sure to add. At least I was trying.

However, the sheer number of rats had me puzzled. This wasn’t just one or two who had snuck into the building. This was an infestation. They must be getting in somewhere, but how? And where? I decided that if I wasn’t saving any rats, at the very least, I could try to keep them away from death’s door. I began to track the little guys as they crawled away. Despite the fact that they can get as big as a small cat, these guys can fit thru some pretty narrow openings. And everyday, when the manager or district supervisor would show up, I would direct them to my latest findings. Often, I would be pooh-poohed on my suspicions. One hole in particular, they practically laughed me out of the place---a tiny hole in the ceiling that allowed cables and wires to pass thru. I suggested that a nimble rat could easily climb up the wires and jimmy his way into the hole undetected.

“I’m not so sure about that one.”

This, despite the fact that I’d successfully discovered at least a dozen rat entrances the week before.

“Trust me. I’m 99% sure that they’re going up there.”

That night before close, just on the off chance I might be right, the manager shoved a metal scouring pad into the hole. The next morning, the scouring pad had been pushed thru and the hole had been chewed to a larger size. I became known around work as Rat Girl.

By this time, the rats had grown comfortable around us---if not we around them. And, lucky for us, the rats preferred to confine themselves to the kitchen during business hours. Then they began to venture behind the bar. A decision not welcomed by our bartenders.

“Okay, that’s the fourth time tonight a rat ran across my foot. It’s hard to stand there smiling at customers when you’ve got rats crawling at your feet.”

And then, one night, the father of a lovely family of four leaned in after I dropped the cheque.

“Do you know that you have critters?”

Ooops. Without ever mentioning the word rat (after all, maybe he had just seen a roach) I apologized and thanked him for his astute observation. I was also able to point out that we were aware of the situation and that “a gentleman is outside in a truck right now waiting for us to close so he can come in and take care of the problem.” Good waitress. Give this girl a raise.

And I was telling the truth. There was a guy in a truck. A guy who came in, threw down some more useless glue traps and noted rat droppings on an official form. I saw the bill. He was paid a few hundred dollars for this amazing piece of detective work.

A few days later, I had a family that wasn’t so complacent. They practically ran screaming from the restaurant. Rat Girl seemed to take on a new meaning as I seemed to get the tables that were seeing the rats. I could only apologize and hope they didn’t call the press. A few minutes later, the rats were running all over the back half of the dining room. Oddly enough, the people in the front half of the dining room didn’t seem to notice. But we did. A phone call was put in to the company headquarters begging for permission to close early. Until we heard back, we told the hostess not to seat the back half of the restaurant. But when one rat started to make his way towards table 12 in the front, I literally screamed, “NO!” and ran towards the host stand. I grabbed two menus and nonchalantly walked thru the dining room casually slapping two menus together as I watched the rat scurry back to its nest. I was now shooing rats away from the customers. Definitely not good.

It was at this point that the extermination began in earnest. The manager offered 30 bucks for every rat. The little guys now had a price on their heads. The only thing missing was a Wild West poster with a picture of a rat and the words, “Wanted. Dead or Alive.”

The next day I called a vet friend. My question? Would it be possible to just pick them up and catch them? They weren’t moving all that fast. Couldn’t I just get some animal control gloves and reach down and grab it by the tail and the scruff of the neck.

“Of course,” she replied. “Just get a good pair of oven mitts. They won’t bite. They’ll probably just be startled and freeze.”

My thoughts exactly. The next day I showed up with a brand new pair of oven mitts and ready for action. It wasn’t until a few days later that the emergency call came in.

“We’ve got one trapped in the back dining room!”

I grabbed my oven mitts, climbed over the make-shift barrier and got ready to catch a rat. Grown men were amazed at my courage. They helped me over the barrier as if I’d just volunteered for a suicide mission. I almost expected to be handed a last cigarette. I couldn’t believe it. Such fear over a little rat.

They knew exactly where it was---behind a wooden pedestal. The only two men unafraid of the rats had joined in the mission. One stood by with a broom while the other stood next to the pedestal, ready to move it and frighten the rat out of its hiding spot.

“Ready?”

“Ready.”

He moved the pedestal and the rat scurried out. The little grey medium-sized rat ran back and forth trying to get away. I ran after it snapping the fingers on my oven mitts like crab pincers and calling, “Come here, little guy!” I just had to grab it by the base of the tail. But he was quicker than I thought and kept scurrying back and forth. Luckily, he became disoriented from his spinning and suddenly stopped right near my feet. I reached down to grab him by the tail and just then, the dishwasher’s foot came down on his head.

I started to cry.

If everyone thought I was crazy before, now I was completely insane. Who cries over a dead rat? Me. That’s who. I was so close. Two inches away.

The rat-killing disherwasher saw me crying and put his arm around me. “I sorry, Mommy,” he said in broken English; and tried to explain in Spanglish that he was worried the rat would bite me.

“No. La rata non morde,” I said in my own Spanglish. “Yo capturo la rata. Par la base de la cola.”

He comforted me thru my tears as he shook his head. Loca gringa.

At this moment, may I add, that I have yet to catch a rat in the Have-A-Heart rat trap. In fact, the trap seems to have disappeared. In the meantime, their hidey holes have been plugged up one by one; yet, they still manage to get in. Yes, the infestation is over. But no sooner does someone declare the place to be rat-free, than one of the little guys crawls out from under the coffee machine. They’re relentless. Every hole has been plugged up, every crumb wiped off the floor, every nesting area shut down. And yet, just this morning it was reported that one of them crawled out, licked a bit of sugar from someone’s morning coffee off the floor, and shuttled back into a hiding spot.

I still have hopes that I will catch one of the little guys and set him free. In the meantime, when one of them runs thru under the prep area, I try to create sympathy for his plight by singing “Ben”. But even ballads about rats don’t seem to help. I understand. And, I admit, that at this point, even I want the rats gone. It’s getting hard to continue apologizing to the tables that spot one of them scurrying near the bathrooms. I leave the glue traps where they are. I don’t disturb the snap traps. Although I do remember to tell the porters a handy bit of information I learned online---that if you do catch a rat in a glue trap, you can simply take him outside, pour a little bit of room temperature vegetable oil on the glue, and the rat can free himself. But I don’t get the feeling that any of them are inclined to offer life-saving vegetable oil to the rats.

In the meantime, we try to make jokes about the special tonight being “ratatouille” and continue hoping for our 15-20% tips. On the upside, the roach population seems to have gone down. See---the rats are good for something.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Big News

The big news in my life this week---are you ready?

I just recently purchased a brand new paper towel holder. Yes. It's true.

You see, I've never owned a paper towel holder. When I said this to my mother yesterday, there was a slight pause on the other end of the phone. Because life without a paper towel holder is something my mother cannot even begin to fathom. Growing up, there were always paper towels. Rolls and rolls of paper towels available for any situation. And there was always one primary roll cocked and ready in a paper towel holder in the kitchen. As a child, I just took it for granted that there would always be paper towels. I never worried they would run out. Never wondered where they came from. They were just there. Comforting. Secure. Right where you needed them at all times. In fact, every member of my family proudly displayed their paper towels in a prominent place in their kitchen---like a tartan or a family crest. It was who we were as a people. And the message our paper towels conveyed to the world:

Hey, sometimes we spill. Accidents happen. Oops.

To this day, hearing the phrase, "Oh, let me just get a paper towel" gets me a little misty.

Therefore, you can imagine my mother's shock at my revelation. After all, I'm a grown woman. I've been sent off into the world to represent the family name. She had just barely gotten over the fact that I didn't have an electric can opener. And now this? I found myself stammering long-distance into the phone.

"Well, I have paper towels. I always have paper towels. It's just...well, I kind of just put the paper towel roll on the counter and it just sort of stands there. Commando."

Silence. Apparently, I'd been living like the apes.

However, on the bright side, she was the first person I'd spoken to in a week who was as excited about my new paper towel holder as I was.

You see, a few weeks ago, I moved into a lovely new apartment. Well, frankly, it's just a nice studio apartment. But it's the nicest apartment I've ever lived in. Clean, pest-free. nothing falling apart, everything works, and my neighbours aren't murderers and/or psychopaths. It's a little bit of heaven. And it has an elevator AND a laundry room. Doing laundry is a breeze. I just put the laundry into the elevator and push the button and voila! There I am! Sometimes, I just get into the elevator and push the buttons and go up and down. It's like The Love Boat---exciting and new.

So my mission the past few weeks has been to create the most comfortable and convenient apartment EVER. Decor can come later. What I strive for now is complete and utter convenience. And nothing is more convenient than a paper towel holder.

For weeks now, I've agonized over every purchase. Even the smallest of items must be carefully chosen. I looked at dozens of toasters for weeks. WEEKS. I poured over office supply catalogs looking at hundreds of desks in a quest to find the perfect desk that fulfilled all my particular desk needs. I spent hours searching online for the perfect ice cube bin. And, yes, I finally found it---at The Container Store. Now, instead of banging the ice cube tray and sticking my fingers into the icy crevices each and every time I want a cube of ice---now, I simply empty the trays into the ice cube bin and when I want a cube of ice, I simply open the freezer door, reach my hand into the ice cube bin, and, with absolutely no physical effort whatsoever, I retrieve a cold cube of ice. It's like magic. This must be how rich people live.

Nevertheless, after two months of careful thought and planning, I still had not come to any decision regarding the paper towel holder. There were so many things to take into consideration. First of all, do I want a free-standing paper towel holder or a wall-mounted one? Not an easy decision. The free-standing one has the advantage of being portable, plus, it doesn't disturb the line of the wall. On the other hand, the wall-mounted paper towel holder generally dispenses the paper towels with more efficiency AND it doesn't eat up much-needed counter space. You see my dilemma.

Then, there is the question of colour. Am I going for your standard white plastic? Or maybe a wooden rustic sort of thing? Or perhaps something a bit more modern and chic would be fetching? How you display your paper towels says a lot about you as a person. And, up until now, my paper towel message said, "I'm single and afraid of commitment." After all, I can't even commit to a paper towel holder.

But I finally made the decision that I wanted the paper towel holder attached to the cabinet over the kitchen sink. What could be more convenient than that? You have wet hands---paper towel. Spill---paper towel. Right there handy. Sink---paper towel. Who wants to walk with wet hands across the room to the paper towel holder? No one. That's who.

I'm so excited about this new paper towel holder. It's completely changed my life. I even took pictures of my new paper towel holder. Okay, here is my paper towel holder without the paper towels.


Mmmm. Sleek. It's shiny and silver and it matches my new toaster. You can imagine my mother's happiness. I not only found my roots, I co-ordinated.

And here is a picture of my new paper towel holder in its brand new home with a brand new roll of paper towels!


Huh? That's what I'm talking about. Is that not the best paper towel holder set-up ever? You can imagine my excitement.

But, outside of my Mom, no one wants to hear about my paper towel holder any more. My friends are literally walking away from me as I begin to tell the paper towel story. I've emailed out-of-town friends my pictures of the paper towel holder, but have gotten no response. And just how many of these people have emailed me pictures of their ugly babies and I've immediately typed back a glowing baby review? I can't even count. In fact, I've been told, by one particular friend, that I've got to move on.

Okay, Fine. I get the idea.

So, this week, I'm thinking bathroom trashcan. Hmmm.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Beowulf


What’s the deal with Beowulf?

I mean, seriously---why is it such a big deal?

I tried to read Beowulf. Three times. Count ‘em. Three. I’ve never been able to get thru it. But I know how it ends. Spoiler alert: Beowulf dies. How do I know? Skipped to the end. I just couldn’t take it. That was in grammar school. Sixth grade, if I recall. Why an 11 year-old needs to read a poem written in Olde English, I have no idea.

I bring up Beowulf, because I was in a conversation the other day with some friends and the subject of Beowulf came up. No, I was not hanging out with literature professors. It was me, a political comic, and a guy who works at the Italian Consulate. None of us dumb people, by any means; but none of us the sort who would suddenly leap whole heartedly into a conversation about Beowulf. And, frankly, who does? For no sooner did the subject come up, than it was quietly dropped. Someone mentioned Beowulf, and suddenly all you could hear were crickets. Why? Because no one likes Beowulf.

No one liked it in sixth grade. And no one liked it a few years later in high school when it was trudged out before us again like leftover fried liver. By the second time around, I’d come to the conclusion that even teachers realize that there is truly no time in life when knowledge of Beowulf will come in handy. Sure, they give a quiz. They have to. That’s their job. However, in order to pass it, there are just a few basic things you need to know.

Beowulf. It’s an epic poem. Beowulf is the hero. Grendel. He’s the monster. It’s in Anglo-Saxon. And, for extra credit---who wrote it? Anonymous.

And if you just know these few answers, you’ll pass. Because even teachers know that this is a complete waste of time. I generally consider myself an over-achiever. But with Beowulf, I was willing to settle for average. Why? Because there is no time in life that you will ever EVER need to know about Beowulf. Grendel. Anglo-Saxon poem. Anonymous. That’s all you will ever need to know about Beowulf in any conversation. Never have I been on a job interview and been asked about Beowulf. Never have I sat down to do my taxes and needed any knowledge of Beowulf in order to fill out the forms. Never have I had to quote anything from Beowulf in order to put together a bookshelf from Ikea. And I’ve hung out with intellectuals. Lots of them. They’ll discuss Keats, Jung, Nietzsche, Bloomsbury writers, The Zimmerman Papers, monasteries in England that no longer exist, whether The Raj Quartet was a realistic interpretation of colonial rule in India---but they will NOT mention Beowulf. Ever.

Nonetheless, a few years later, I decided to give it the old college try. No, it was not required reading for a class. I decided, on my own, to finally read Beowulf. I was in college. I was trying to be smart. Perhaps I’d missed something. With an open, mature mind, I picked up the book. And it was just as boring as ever. After a few pages, I put the book down, never to pick it up again.

Now, I’m not one to shy away from things that other people think are boring. I love Bach. So much so that I added a second minor in college---harpsichord. I’ve studied Hindi. HINDI! For god sakes, my favourite period in American History is the Industrial Revolution. I have no aversion to potential boredom. But Beowulf stops even me dead in my tracks.

As I thought about Beowulf, I realized that the ultimate proof of Beowulf’s lack of entertainment value comes from the Entertainment Capital of the World itself---Hollywood. After all, it’s been almost 1300 years, it’s a pretty good guess that Beowulf is in the Public Domain. So, where are the movies about Beowulf? Hmmm? I logged onto Imdb.com and typed in the most unlikely search ever.

Beowulf.

But there it was. Beowulf. Someone has actually made a movie of Beowulf! It comes out in November! It stars Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich and Angelina Jolie! It’s directed by Robert Zemeckis!

Beowulf!

I was in shock. Not only that, but there have been at least two other versions produced in the past 10 years. BEOWULF! None of them did very well. I can’t imagine why. After all, it’s Beowulf. Surely brings back some great childhood memories.

This can’t be right. This must be a drug front or some other sort of money-laundering scam. No one seriously puts money into Beowulf. I’d put money in the hands of the crackhead on the corner of 43rd and 8th before I’d put it into Beowulf.

Let me explain something to you---I have a weird interest in something else your average person might find boring---silent film. I know something about silent film. I’ve read a lot of books about silent film. And, from what I can recall, even the early silent film producers who made film versions of everything from The Ten Commandments to Uncle Toms’ Cabin never made of film out of Beowulf. They made films of Sarah Bernhardt doing Shakespeare---Shakespeare! Silent films of SHAKESPEARE! And yet they all had the good sense to pass on Beowulf.

But apparently, the good people at Warner Brothers decided to give it the green light. According to an article I read on this new version of Beowulf…

Okay, let me stop there. Yes. There’s press for Beowulf. Beowulf doesn’t just sell itself.

Anyway, according to this article, the script for the film was taken from several different sources of the Beowulf myth. And yeah, they admit they took some liberties with the Anglo-Saxon poem “committed to vellum sometime between 750 and 1100 A.D”---thus making it possibly the longest re-write in Hollywood history. But Beowulf?

Seriously, Beowulf? The Canterbury Tales has a better plot than Beowulf. What did they pass on? The Diary of Samuel Pepys?

Okay, call me crazy, but I don’t see Beowulf being the Blockbuster Hit of the Holiday Season. But that’s just a guess. Who did they test market this on? Druids?

However, I think the Beowulf Play Station Game---probably not so bad. I'm sure there are a lot of disgruntled sixth graders out there who can't wait to get the chance to kill Beowulf. In fact, the movie is most likely just a teaser for a kickass game.

Wait a minute. Wait just a minute.

Yes. I was right. With a Google Search that took approximately .11 seconds, I discovered that there is indeed a Beowulf XBox 360 game coming out in conjunction with the movie on November 13th. Well, it took 1300 years, but Anonymous finally got his big Hollywood break. I guess it's true what they say---there is no such thing as overnight success.