Some women don’t like flowers. My wife is one of them. She’d rather I spend my money on things that last––actually scratch that: she’d rather I not spend any money. I’ve accepted the no-flowers rule because I’m not a fan of them either. A flower shop smells like a funeral home, and that reminds me of dead things, and frankly, I’m not into dead things or zombies.
Back when we were dating, I did entice my wife, who I’ve been with for twenty years this year, with a single sunflower. She thought that was original, but not as original as the comment that I made about her big feet on the day we first met. Yes, I know. You’re probably saying to yourself, what a dope. But let me set the scene. I saw her sitting at a table––legs crossed, one leg bouncing off the other. I said, “You have the biggest feet that I’ve ever seen…I love them.” Her response: “I’m gonna marry you.” So needless to say, I’m grateful that she was true to her word and has kept me around so long. After our first date, I knew I was with someone special. I did one of those one-arm fist pumps like I was Ray Bourque scoring the winning goal for the Boston Bruins. F.Y.I: hockey players invented the fist-pump, not them Jersey Shore kids.
You know what I find truly amazing about my wife: The way she shops. She has a Masters Degree in Shopping––not really, but maybe a college should take a hint and start one. My wife has this Twitter handle @eatshoplivebos. Yes, she does all of those things in Boston, but let’s analyze that second word: shop. If you have a woman like my woman, it will be quite evident if you watch them shop. Do it––just take her to the mall or to one of her favorite stores.
Generally speaking, you won’t see her beeline to the ‘just arrived’ rack in the store, rather a frugal consumer, scratch that––a bargain shopper like my wife dives right into the clearance rack. She’ll whip those hangers around feverishly side to side like she was a lioness attacking a zebra on the Serengeti until she has sifted through the entire rack (please note: no animals were harmed during the writing of this essay).
To get the title of Ms. Bargainess (I actually just made that up) took years of practice. The skills were earned like patches on a Girl Scouts sash by watching her mother Thelma shop at the now defunct Filene’s Basement. Do you want to see a bargain shopper’s eyes light up? Show them a hundred and twenty dollar dress marked down five times to the new low price of nineteen ninety nine. They leave the store like they just robbed it!
Us men, we have no clue what we’re doing in department stores. We buy labels––name brands and what our eyes are drawn to, rather than price. If it fits, that’s a bonus because not everything fits in my world. That’s because my body type just won’t fit into skinny jeans or athletic fit shirts that designers are so eager to pump out to their consumers. I’m one of those average males who exercises occasionally and eats whatever I want––frankly, I don’t have a shut off valve. I’m certain that there’s a lot of ‘my’ type out there, however, this story isn’t about me.
When we’re at a store together, my wife’s adamant that we go our separate ways. “J, you’re not going to follow me around like a little puppy dog. If you’re going to do that, then you shoulda just stayed at home.” It gets even better when she addresses me like she’s a boxing trainer. “Honey, you need to poke around. Move your feet and check out the racks. If you’re tired, go sit in that chair in the corner. I’ll come over and get you when I’m ready to leave. If you’re too tired to shop, go out in the car and take a nap.” Have you ever seen a person leave a store with a bag full of merchandise, hop up on the bumper of their SUV, throw their hands up in the air in victory and shout, “Adrian!” You haven’t? Neither have I, but I bet it would make for a good movie, maybe something like Rocky XVIII: the Nordstrom Rack experiment.
How long do you look at a page before you start to type something? I wrote and edited one essay today and then I started another one. The cursor had been blinking on the page for more than an hour before I realized I was done. This isn’t a ‘writer’s block’ thing. This short story will stand at just two words.
As the story goes, Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a story in six words. He did: For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.
My story stands at two words: Expletive Deleted!
“We’ll be back in a little while. You be good.”
That’s my owner. He says that every day before leaving the house to go to work. If I could talk, I’d tell him, “Okay, you do know that I’m a teenager, right? I’m going back to sleep now.”
I spend a lot of time curled up under his desk. It’s my private sleeping quarters. My scent is embedded in the plush carpet, among other things. At least I don’t have to sleep directly on the wood floors. I got a splinter one time in my paw. Oh, that hurt.
Hanging out with dear old TED
It’s a Saturday afternoon in Boston and I’m holed up in The Hawthorne, a trendy lounge inside the Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square. Decorated with all original artwork and serving up some of the slickest craft cocktails around, it doesn’t normally open until after five pm. However, on this day in February, some of the staff from Garrett Harker’s Eastern Standard and their sister restaurant Island Creek Oyster Bar have congregated into the lounges’ stone room to watch a web simulcast of TEDx from Manhattan. Inside it’s quiet as the team waits for the afternoon session to start. Laptops are resting on their legs – people are texting and checking their e-mails. Scones are piled up on the bar, bottles of water and glasses are stacked on a cabinet and someone from the kitchen staff just brought in a mammoth-sized bowl of homemade sweet potato chips. Garrett calls out, “Does anyone want me to put in a lunch order? I can do that.” Last thing I remember before the video feed started again was this comment – Did anyone send out a memo to advise people to bring a sweater…it’s cold in here!
So what’s so important about this particular TEDx that prompted Harker to round up his troops to watch it? The topic was: Change The Way We Eat – quite fitting for his staff, anyone in the restaurant industry, people that pride themselves as being into organic or locally-grown foods, farmers, people into macrobiotics, and we can’t forget the foodies. I don’t fall into any of the aforementioned categories and I myself am not a foodie…I’m just an invited guest. But knowing Garrett, the topic wasn’t the only reason that he wanted his staff to see this: Garrett is big on learning, something that he incorporates wholeheartedly into the training sessions in his restaurants. You’re probably wondering how much training is involved. In his restaurants, his staff does research projects. “They have tackled regions of Italy – vicariously, although it inspired a few individuals to make the trip”, boasts Harker, “as well as extensive visits throughout the state of Maine, and most recently, they are researching counties throughout Massachusetts.”
Split into a few different teams that are made up of novice food runners to seasoned servers, management staff to veteran line cooks, they have been traveling to the different counties trying the food, meeting the people, visiting breweries, cheese factories and even museums. Each weekday afternoon a different team would present their findings – essentially educating the rest of the staff about what they had learned. Think of it as their own homemade version of a TED talk, happening on a weekly basis within the confines of the restaurant. “You can have all the ideas you like, but without buy in from the staff there’s little chance of a successful education initiative”, says Harker. “The research projects came out of a restlessness, a recognition that some of our best students had become excellent teachers, and we needed to give them a platform.”
The afternoon TEDx Manhattan session began. It started off with one of the speakers making a blunt and direct statement, “It’s easier to raise healthy children than to fix broken men.” Does this make sense to everyone? It should. I’m guessing that the speaker was directing this message to the millions of over-weight citizens in the United States who have a battle with the bulge every year. But let’s go back to the first key word in the quote: children. It starts with them. Guest speaker Anne Lappe took the stage to talk about the impacts of marketing junk food to children. One of the first statements that she presented was that ‘two billion dollars are spent each year on marketing junk food to children and teens’. That is a staggering number if you think of it. Lappe continued by discussing dieting concerns and facts such as ‘diet-related illnesses are on the rise’ and are at ‘downright dangerous’ levels. And it doesn’t help that some of these junk food companies with brands like Oreo are using marketing tactics like sponsoring curricula in schools to maintain its message.
On a positive note, I was happy to hear that ‘Maine was the first state to pass a law banning marketing junk food in schools.’ Bravo, Maine! My favorite quote of the day, one that might really help the younger generation, would be if McDonald’s would just ‘Retire Ronald’. It might be a fast and cheap food, but it’s highly unhealthy – where’s Oysterman or String Bean Boy when you need them?
I worked in the restaurant industry as a adolescent youth and from past experience, I was never educated about the foods that we cook and eat, where it comes from, how it’s grown and the true impact it has. I find it fascinating that Garrett goes out of his way to make sure his staff has this continuous learning experience – that he’s investing back into them in hopes that they learn something valuable. As a patron, it brings me pleasure in knowing that they are well educated about the food that is served. A happy server is a knowledgeable server. “There is the discovery and knowledge, the confidence that results, a respect for hospitality as a profession, and most importantly the magic that happens when you see your peers stretch themselves and grow right before your very eyes,” expresses Harker. “A thoroughly engaged and knowledgeable staff is one of the hallmarks of Eastern Standard. It’s important to continue to enrich the environment so that everyone feels the connection of a team committed to learning and growing. This knowledge is available to our guests, but at their pleasure. They may drink and dine as often as they like at Eastern Standard and enjoy it for pleasure’s sake.”
If you ever find yourself in one of these restaurants and someone from the staff is educating you about something on your plate that was either locally grown or harvested or caught or brewed, just know that what they are explaining to you wasn’t some quick pep talk they got from one of the chef’s during their staff meal – they quiet possibly had to research it themselves.
Harker concludes, “If we can impart some sort of knowledge or understanding, that certainly goes toward creating and making your whole dining experience memorable and come alive.”
Here’s my story about Valentine’s Day, but first, a little back story to set the scene. So, I’ve been doing a bit of writing over that past two years – actually a bit more than normal. In fact, I started writing and keeping journals when I met my future bride to be. That was in ninety-three. For those of you having trouble, a quick math exercise brings us up to twenty – twenty wonderful years with the same woman. It’s not an easy thing to do – you know – being married. Relationships take work – and most of the work tends to be on my end. My wife is easy to live with – I’m the one who brings the drama.
I used to write in a journal every day when we first met. This was well before the advent of Facebook, email and text messaging. When we would get together, she would read what was going on in my life during any given week. Some people forget that there was a time in the past that used to be like this. So for those of you reading this that are smirking at the fact that I was writing in journals – well – most of you are doing in now – that is – those of you who type something every day in Facebook, Twitter or on a blog. Those are the virtual journals of the now generation.
My journals were packed with poems and stories, pictures that I drew, pictures and comics from magazines that I glued in, and photographs of us. Yeah, I was a real sap…but I was also creating memories and those are important to me. Come to think of it…I’m still a sap. Other people created memories back then too buy sticking photographs in photo albums. I’m guilty of doing that, however, with the amount of photographs that I used to take, being a photographer and all, most ended up in boxes.
I asked my wife if she wanted to go out this year on Valentine’s Day. Her response, “No, there are too many shmoopies out.” When you have been together for close to twenty (gulp) years, you should know each other by now – know what the other is thinking (for the most part) and what they really want.
They don’t want store-bought valentines. You know what I’m talking about…they come in many shapes and sizes. I’m sure that most of you are familiar with the popular ones. There are the trademark flowers, of course: roses and carnations et al. Red, pink, yellow, white – they’re all the same thing. In February the florists mark them up and there are a lot of suckers out there who will drop a mint on a few dozen just to get their heart broken a few weeks later. I know some of you have bought the little teddy bears on special at CVS, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates from whatever bon-bon shop you fancy, and let’s not forget those lovely little numbers that are silky and lacy and can be purchased at a place that prides itself for offering the best secrets, stolen from a girl named Victoria, right? It’s the same shit every year. My valentine doesn’t want more of the same. She wants originality and fine execution, pretend like Ed McMahon is judging you on Star Search – right? That’s what she wants.
Then comes the agony of dinner reservations, and if you can’t get reservations at her favorite place, well then, call it a night, or start your Plan B. Reservations are a bitch to get on Valentine’s Day. Since her favorite restaurant is booked up solid months before, and remember she told you this a while ago, you try to be slick and pull some last-minute reservation out your ass at some place that neither of you have been to. After waiting in line in the vestibule freezing your ass off for over two hours, you finally get seated around eleven pm, your date’s irate, the service blows and they still swipe your credit card for one hundred and fifty cause it’s a prix fixe menu. The night ends in a fight and no one gets any nookie. I know this, because it’s happened to me before. In hindsight, the safer play would’ve been to give her that card with Charlie Brown on it with the tag line, ‘Be Mine’. Worst-case scenario would be your ‘Lucy’ pulling the old football trick on you.
The bottom line is, you don’t have to indulge your lady friend, lover, partner, significant other or your wife with these store bought icons of love that they don’t really need and often times don’t want, because let’s not kid ourselves – most of the times the gifts are for us. You don’t have to wine and dine them at the trendiest restaurant with the hottest chef from Europe either. What they really want, what they really deserve, is a moment of true love, honest praise and a whisper of sweet something’s in their ears. Sweet nothings are what they expect from us. Let’s surprise them this year. Let’s offer them something that they least expect. Let’s flip the script! Let’s make them dinner, rather than going out. Let’s do the dishes and clean up afterwards – “Hey honey, it’s Palmolive and I’m soaking in it!” Let’s do the laundry and put away the clothes so they don’t have to lift a finger but make sure you lay out their favorite pair of flannel pajama bottoms on the bed next to their pillow, okay? Let’s offer to be at their beck and call – even if it’s just for one day. Let’s make sure that our valentine is so happy that they brag about us tomorrow to their friends on Facebook! Wouldn’t that be awesome?
If your lady friend is anything like mine, maybe she just wants you out of her hair for the afternoon so that she can relax in peace. I can hear her already, “Jason, go phone a friend.” And if that’s what she wants, then my queen, I shall obey.
If tomorrow comes, I will have survived another Valentine’s Day, and another year without being in the doghouse. Just don’t forget to tell your special someone ‘I Love You’. That’s very important!
~ Jason Landry
February 14, 2013