Tuesday, November 2, 2010

guess who's coming to dinner

What a difference a few days make. A few of us recently attended a conversation for the New York Times restaurant series of panel discussions with Frank Bruni, the former Times restaurant critic. The panel included several of the city's most successful chefs talking about their restaurant careers and the empires that they have built. The chefs who participated were Daniel Boulud, Jean Georges Vongerichten and Michael White. Mr White is not as far down the career path as the other two chefs and acknowledged such in expressing his respect for the restaurateurs and their years of experience.

Mr. Bruni served as an affable host and attempted to not only extract information on business and management tactics but also anecdotes about mishaps and mayhem that had taken place in the dining rooms of these highly regarded chefs.

There was talk of regular customers and their likes and dislikes, menu changes, detailed orders, spilled drinks and of course how the chefs would know that Mr. Bruni was dining with companions for one of a series of meals to rate his dining experience for an upcoming review. As the talk ranged from Michelin stars and kitchen ingredients and trends Mr. Boulud emerged as the most chatty of the restaurant chefs when Mr. Bruni asked how they handled unruly customer requests or behavior. It seemed that once Mr. Boulud started recalling past dining incidents where he had to intervene the examples came rushing back to him as his French accent accelerated, the pitch of his voice rose and his hands fluttered in conversation before him.

Mr. Boulud spoke of world leaders dining at his restaurant and how one man in particular posessed a surprisingly limp handshake to which Frank Bruni joked that Daniel Boulud may need a police escort home. He would barely conclude one tale before another began as he launched into detailed recollections of customer requests or behavior. Most of the tales ended with the same response of how if Mr. Boulud did not think he could satisy a customer's expectations or if the customer had unwarranted demands, Mr Boulud demonstrated how he would just pull the white linen table out from in front of the diners and announce the experience was over. His philosophy was that you shouldn't keep any negative energy of a customer in his dining room only to send them out in the world to speak poorly of his restaurant. He wanted to maintain the dignity of his name and restaurant no matter how much money someone was about to spend. Finis. Au revoir.

Not even a fortnight later Daniel restaurant's received the most publicized patron they received to date in the form of a movie and television actor with a table that included an ex wife when the appetizers were served who then departed, a porn star who he took a shine to during the course of the meal and lots of expensive bottles of red wine. All the debauchery at the restaurant was just a prelude to the naked tantrum he would throw at the Plaza later that evening that included throwing furniture and pillows about as he trashed his hotel room. Antics that even Eloise would snicker at. Perhaps Mr. Boulud was at one of his other restaurants that evening.

Monday, August 16, 2010

men behaving badly

There was a thought provoking Op-Ed piece this past weekend called "Justin Beiber for President." The author's point was that during these difficult times adults seem to be simmering over into emotional meltdowns and that only the children seem composed and content. It is all around us in various forms. A baseball player for the Mets gets into a disagreement and is arrested for punching the father of his common law wife in the face. Francisco Rodriguez, known as the "emotional closer" for the baseball team, demonstrated that maybe his emotions need some anger management tools and proved he knows a whole different way to bring a situation to a close.

New Yorkers are plenty familiar with a certain finger and how it is used to communicate frustration and defiance. You expect it from drivers, people on bikes or pedestrians crossing the street. It is part of the culture of our lives. But who expected the offending gesture to come from former Mayor of New York, David Dinkins, when he flashed it on his way into Democratic Representative Charlie Rangel's eightieth birthday bash? The genteel man in a pink seersucker jacket answered a heckler, who called out to him by name, with the universal sign for you-know-what so quickly that people in the crowd weren't even sure that he had actually done it.

But the title for the whiniest meltdown goes to Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant, who responded to a passenger's rude behavior by getting on the plane's intercom and letting loose with a barrage of choice words, released the emergency air chute, and slid down after grabbing a few beers for the ride. We have yet to hear from the woman who set Mr. Slater's meter into high gear but other passengers have stated that he wasn't without blame.

The City Room section of the New York Times said that we have gotten to know two men in the aviation business through their reactions to circumstances, one being Captain Sullenberger, who became known as the "hero of the Hudson" with his quick thinking that brought a plane to a safe landing in icy waters in January 2009 and the other, Mr. Slater, who became the poster boy of snarky, spectacular exits. The article poses the question "Who are you? Are you a Sully or a Slater?" Do you rise to the occasion in the face of adversity or take your toys, or in Mr. Slater's case a few beers, and walk off in a snit? The names of these two drastically different men are now synonymous with heroism and complete selfishness. Not only are you expected, as the employee of the airline, to be sure and keep your composure, it is what you are paid to do. Rude behavior, punching someone in the face or flipping a certain appendage is a way of expressing yourself but when your actions imperil other people when you walk off the job that is not something to be applauded, as of course, the ubiquitous "fans" are doing on the FaceBook page that has been created for Steven Slater. Someone could have been on the ground when that unannounced emergency slide was dispatched, it will cost the airline money to fix it and he left passengers in his charge unattended. Nothing to be proud of really.

Not responding to negative behavior may be the more difficult path to take but it is certainly the one to aspire to. Mr. Slater's ensuing hissy fit in response to a passenger's rude behavior doesn't make him a hero, it makes him a failure. Whatever that female passenger said or did to Steven Slater that day on the airplane he allowed her to make him lose any composure he may have had and for that he should not feel vindicated for his rant on the airplane's intercom and his trip down the slide to the tarmac below. Eleanor Roosevelt had a well known quote regarding personal behavior. "No one can make you feel inferior without your permission." Perhaps, Mr. Slater and anyone else can heed that advice and people will stop applauding such selfish histrionics.

Monday, July 19, 2010

What an awful bit of avian irony. I filled the bird feeder attached to the window in the den and, as usual, it took about ten seconds for the first of the birds in the yard to land on it and start to peck away at the seeds in the feeder. In the colder months, when the natural food sources are scarce, they patiently wait on a snow covered globe of an evergreen bush for a turn at perching on the feeder for some sustenance. Today, I fill the feeder, hang it on the window and take my paper and cup of tea out to the back porch where I listen to the birds in the morning fly and call to each other in the tall trees that loom over the yard and some birds fly down and land on the edge of the pool as if it is one giant bird bath.
I sort through the pages of the newspaper preparing to read the utterly depressing updates of the damage caused by the hemorrhaging oil rig in the waters off the shores of the gulf coast as the morning sun begins to warm the wooden planks of the deck. I've been reading the tragic results of the spill on the innocent sea creatures and it makes one feel angry and hopeless all at once that something like this could happen and on such a grand scale.
But today the front page news includes some flocks of birds closer to home in the form of wildlife that peacefully coexist with the hum of city life. Canadian geese and their tiny offspring had become a familiar sight to the visitors and park rangers of Prospect Park and when one of the birds was discovered to have an arrow that had pierced its neck the rangers did what they could to help the bird. But as of a hot Thursday in July recently nearly all four hundred of the geese were gone. A group of wildlife biologists had swooped in and crated the geese and taken them to a neighborhood building to be gassed with lethal amounts of carbon dioxide.
Since that fateful day in January of last year that a group of geese flew into the engines of flight 1549 there have been efforts made to thin the population of geese in the areas surrounding the major metropolitan airports although the Smithsonian confirmed that the remains of those geese were not "residential" birds from the area as the Prospect Park birds were. The timing of the round up was intentionally timed to coincide with when the geese are molting and as a result can't fly. You would think that wildlife biologists could come up with a better plan. The pictures from the gulf coast are of technicians in lab coats and hair nets hand washing birds laden with oil on their feathers and morning visitors to a Brooklyn park discover flocks of birds that have become a familiar sight have vanished and wiry secure ties lie beside a pile of fluffy gosling feathers?
British Petroleum has finally put a cap on the flow of oil into the water. After the damage to present and future ecosystems and putting people out of business all along the coast it is a Pyrrhic victory at best. Compare it to the man who screwed up in an astounding way who sends you a colossal spray of flowers to apologize. The flowers may put him on slightly better ground but the focus is on everything he does from that point forward.

Monday, June 21, 2010

dawn of a new day

Day 60. It has become an ominous tally of days since a reckless British Petroleum oil rig started to spew gallon after gallon of oil into the open sea. The world got to meet a company executive in the form of Tony Hayward, a man in charge of so much, and if he is to be believed, a man aware of so little of his corporate information and their procedures. It was a stroke of unfortunate timing that the makers of Dawn, the dishwashing liquid, had run a series of advertisements for Earth Day showing oil slicked animals being washed in tubs of water with their wings and legs covered in soapy bubbles and bottles of Dove on the tables before them. Now British Petroleum has brought us the worst oil spill to date harming defenseless animals and wreaking havoc on ecosystems far into the future. The makers of Dawn are sending thousands of bottles on a daily basis to help in the rescue and clean up efforts. The estimate is that the workers cleaning the animals that come in to the rescue centers use a bottle of cleaning liquid for each gallon of water and as many as three bottles are used to clean one pelican.

Tony "I Want My Life Back" Hayward is in desperate need of some better Public Relations people or a somewhat capable acting coach to teach him how to put in a valiant effort to at least feign sympathy and contrition. Somehow this man's prickly attitude conveys that he doesn't fully comprehend or care that he is at the helm of one of the greatest assaults on the environment. As one columnist pointed out where is Al Gore in the midst of all this? Some people just don't get the fact that in giving a smug answer to a question they inevitably shine the light on themselves even brighter as in Mr. Hayward's defense as to why he wasn't aware of the dangers and concern with this drill off the coast of New Orleans, a place so close to being able to see progress come full circle after Hurricane Katrina. Tony Hayward's flippant answer was they he is in charge of overseeing many of these rigs in an effort to paint a portrait of himself as a distracted and overwhelmed corporate executive. "With respect sir," Mr. Hayward said "We drill hundreds of wells around the world." A Texas Representative, Michael C. Burgess, who was conducting the line of questioning pointedly shot back with "That's what's scaring me now."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

you can't handle the truth

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Andrew Wheeler. Two guys who won't be working as fact checkers any time soon. One aligns himself with veterans of war without ever having been a part of any military action and one duped the most prestigious education institutions in the country with phony credentials and plagiarized letters. Richard Blumenthal has been in politics for many years, fabricated war status and all, but it seems that it is only when he stepped up to run for a national Senate seat that the light was more focused on him and his claims of being mistreated by his fellow Americans when returning home as a veteran is a heart wrenching story he has shared with crowds. Andrew Wheeler had his imagined academic career mapped out to include top tier schools and a 'life of deception' according to one newspaper and a transcript with egregious inaccuracies.

In his teachings Thomas Aquinas presented the philosophy that a lie is something that is a purposefully stated untruth making the intention behind the lie more offensive than the wrongful statement. The prevarications of these two men in their respectful situations are very much the same and yet all together different in their overall scenarios.

Did Blumenthal think he would never be questioned about his distorted perceptions he put forth as a veteran? Of course he would be taken to task by the press. It has forever been the relation ship of the press and politicians to operate on the assumption that most politicians are not telling the whole truth. It is the topic of every late night talk show host and their nightly monologues sometimes giving writers the task of simply getting it down on paper and transferred to cue cards as is. People have claimed to be a part of groups of which they were not members, privy to conversations with people they haven't met and boasting to have earned degrees or awards that they had not received. Whatever side of the aisle you are on most people would most likely think that claiming to be a part of a war you never served in as pretty reprehensible. Perhaps that was the idea that Blumenthal was counting on to try and weave this patriotic tale on the campaign trail.

That belief is how Andrew Wheeler got as far as he did with his armful of creative credentials. An ivy league school is operating on the belief system that if you state that you are a straight A student from MIT that you are in fact that impressive student. This was one of the flags that was raised in the unraveling of Wheeler's imaginary academic career. Even someone as duplicitous as Wheeler missed the fact that MIT does not give letter grades for the first semester of freshmen year as he had taken credit for. A representative from Harvard's admission office explained that they are not in the frame of mind of trying to disprove the impressive achievements of their applicants. In Andrew Wheeler's case he took advantage of that loophole and didn't pad his resume but became a straight A transfer student from MIT instead of the Maine college student he actually was.

In Wheeler's case what he did will surely catch the eye of a Gordon Gecko somewhere and he will probably end up with a more lucrative career than some of the Harvard graduates who would have been a part of his fictional graduation class. Don't just dream. Dream big. Don't lie. Lie big.

Monday, April 19, 2010

return to sender

When I was considering adopting a dog I was amazed at how many people suggested that I could always give the animal back to the shelter if the situation did not work out . Really? What kind of a half-hearted commitment is that? What is your measure of success or failure?

It makes you wonder what an American woman, who adopted a seven year old boy from Russia, was thinking (or not thinking) when she put him on a flight back to Russia alone with a note pinned to his sweater. He had been in her home for a total of four days. We will never know what her "that's it, he's going back" moment was and it doesn't matter. The damage to the soul of this child has been done.

The media kept referring to this woman as a 'mother.' Would she have been able to return a baby she had given birth to because she found the situation to be just too overwhelming? There isn't a more selfless job than being a mother. Mothers are exhausted with newborn babies because of a lack of sleep as well as taking care of a helpless baby who is completely dependant on her for every physical need. As the child gets older a mother is there to guide you through the journey of learning to walk and talk and read and provide the kisses and hugs that allow a child to gain independence and a feeling of confidence.

In this instance the woman said that the Russian adoption agency had failed to disclose the emotional problems that the boy arrived with. She knew that this boy had been taken away from his biological mother because of her struggles with alcohol and was being adopted at the tender age of seven. How much more information do you need to determine that this was going to be a challenge at the very least? What is worse? The fact that she broke the agreement after a mere four days or that she sent him back on a plane all alone? She did what was best for her and not the well being of a child. The only good thing she did was to show that she was not 'mother material' as soon as she did. It is an insult to mothers everywhere that the media kept referring to her as the 'mother' who returned her adopted son to the orphanage that he came from. A mother put the needs of her child in front of everything else.

What kind of work do you put into a commitment if you have an escape clause of any kind? The motto of NASA is one of relentless determination. The words of inspiration between mission control to Apollo 13 are words of advice that everyone should heed when entering into what seems like a daunting task. "Failure is not an option."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

in the pink

Everyone has their inner clock to mark the passing of time. It may be the beginning of a new calendar year, the September back to school rush or a birthday. Mine is rooted, literally, outside the bedroom window. It is around the third week of March when the bare limbs of the magnolia tree start to wink little slivers of cotton candy pink from the heavy buds that have carried the weight of winter snow and frost. Someone, who was my introduction to gardening and the strength of perennials, once commented when I was talking about what I would do differently for the next growing season. "It's in your soul now," she said. "People who really love their gardens in their souls are always looking ahead at ways to improve or plan differently." March is the month of seed and garden catalogues, trays and garden magazines and it feels like a new beginning every year to me.

When we moved into our house on an unseasonably warm day in November ten years ago a friend of mine stopped by with her three small children. One of her boys had the classic Elmer Fudd 'r' speech pattern and pointed up at the magnolia which had dropped most of its leaves by then. He said "I have one of those 'twees.' They are 'pwetty twees' but they are 'vewy, vewy' messy!" He sure knew what he was talking about. I love the magnolia but each season aside from winter has a different clean up assignment. There are enormous leaves that drop, candle shaped parts of the flower pod that bounce off the car and eventually all the delicate pink pedals will come down, leaving the tree bare once more, before the leaves fill in the blanks with new green leaves.

For about two weeks the magnolia tree will start its journey from its winter rest with what seem like tiny pink light bulbs that get a bit brighter every day. The buds are all out of their protective cocoons now and the timing of warm weather arriving in the next few days will be the perfect combination for the perfume of the magnolia's flowers to fill the yard. The magnolia flowers mingle with the intoxicating scent of the hyacinths that sprout at the tree's roots along with daffodils and later the tulips and I welcome the display every spring. The enormous spray of pink flowers against a cerulean sky is a sight so lovely the garbage truck lingered at the end of the drive on one collection morning last year. "Wow. That's a great tree," one of the men yelled to me last year as I worked on my flower boxes.

When the tree drops its leaves in the fall it feels like the awning that we ate outdoor candlelit meals under has been retracted for the season revealing the bird nests that were hidden among the tallest branches. That is the time we retreat indoors and on those chilly days when it feels like spring will never arrive. The first bit of pink in the buds of the magnolia tree says it is indeed on the way.