The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
(NOT IN THAT ORDER)
There's a saying that people in a car accident who're sober and see the other
car coming at them or are otherwise aware of what's going on sustain more severe
injuries, particularly sprains and breaks, than people who're either a) drunk,
b) on a lot of prescription narcotics, c) not paying attention, or d)
all of the above. This is because they brace for it; tensing every muscle and
don't just bounce around the car like drunks and the like do.
I braced myself (not unlike the above persons bracing for the moment
of impact) for Christmas this year (the second without my beloved father).
Indeed, I ignored all of the Buddhist teachings I've been receiving (it's hard
to teach an old dog new tricks). Therefore, I indeed got blue and
got angry and felt loss and all of that good stuff that I
impose on myself (with less and less frequency, thank God). Would that I'd
followed the words of my teacher, "go with the flow of the river, but be
mindful of the stones which may be in your way," all would've been a lot more
The cool thing is that it wasn't nearly as awful as I thought it would be.
There was a lot of joy to be had; I just had to look for it. Here's a random
sampling of the events of Christmas eve/Christmas day at the restaurant:
- 12:00 Christmas Eve: my wife calls and says there's no hot water and she
- 12:01 I tell her to evacuate the building. Fast.
- 12:02 I call the gas company and wait for seven (7) minutes on the "gas
emergency hotline" just to get an operator.
- 12:15 I leave the house, dressed but certainly not showered, fantasizing
about what it'd look like if the old restaurant blew up to smithereens and
I'd have to build a new one with the insurance money.
- 12:25 I and the gas company dudes arrive at the restaurant at nearly the
- 12:45 The gas company supervisor-dude tells me that a gas valve in our
huge, commercial water heater has failed and they must lock the gas valve
off (yeah, there's a space to put a lock on the valve) and "tag it" until a
licensed plumber can fix it, or if I can wait, they can fix it sometime
after New Year's day. They also take a measurement of Carbon Monoxide in
the boiler room and determine that our 30-year-old industrial
furnace is emitting above-acceptable-levels of CO and must be shut off,
tagged and locked as well. No heat. I looked the supervisor in the eyes and
said "you must be kidding; this room is ventilated by a three foot-by
two-foot louver to the outside - you're going to lock me off on Christmas
Eve? Given the fact that there is more than adequate ventilation on both sides of the room, and that the loss of heat would present a serious hardship to our business, couldn't you see fit to take my promise that work on fixing the situation will commence on the next business day? If not, you may then shut off the gas."
- 12:47 The nice man from the gas company looks me
in the eyes and says "you couldn't call your plumber for a gas leak
on Christmas Eve?!"
- 12:48 I told him that the gas company recommends, on all of its
paperwork, bills, etc. that I call the "gas leak hotline" immediately if I
smell gas, not my plumber.
- 12:49 He tells me that he's on call, and was with his family, just like
my plumber, and gratuitously wishes me a Merry Christmas. I wish him the
same and stopped him, much in the fashion of Peter Falk playing the role
of Columbo: "Oh, just one question for you, sir." Him: "Yeah?" Me: "I'd
hazard a guess you get a real kick out of having some kind of power over
people who're ostensibly more financially fortunate than you are."
"What? What're you talking about?"
Me: "I'm talking about tonight you're
going to go home and have a Budweiser or two with either your family or your
girlfriend or your parents, and sit in your little house with the second
mortgage and think about how you screwed a guy today who's got things a little better off than you. I mean, you have to answer to your boss, and the union, and I could go on and on." Him: "Oh, fuck
you." Me: "I got it right, didn't I. You know, I could buy four houses just
like yours for cash (now he gets angry and wants to hit me) and thanks to you I'm gonna
sit inside my restaurant and feel cold while you're nice and toasty warm at
"It must feel nice to be able to make someone else unhappy, after all, it's free; and yes,
sir, you've managed to make me extremely unhappy, so you win. To make people happy, like I do, it takes creativity and lots of money. You have neither creativity nor a sense of charity. I bet you've got no money either. But you won. You can make lots of people unhappy for free. You get the
prize. (He gets in his truck and slams the door, drives away) I yell, "I'll see you at the Casino in the V.I.P. Room Saturday night."
- 1:30 Thank God my plumber comes over and takes care of the hot water.
However, he suggested to me that I not take a bolt-cutters to the lock on
the furnace gas valve and fire it up because I can go to jail for it.
- 1:40 Just as I'm about to take said bolt-cutters and completely ignore
my plumber's advice, he asks me to wait a second. "Paul, did you have a
pissing match with the guy?" I drop my head and mutter "yeah." "Well, then
I'd expect the guy to come back out here on Christmas day just to inspect my
work and if you've clipped the lock he's gonna have you locked up." It was
at that moment that I think I most deeply resented no longer doing business
in New York City, where a crisp $100 bill and perhaps a bottle of
Scotch would've solved my Carbon Monoxide problem immediately.
- MUCH LATER: A little girl walks into the restaurant and I greet her and
say "Merry Christmas Eve, dear. What did you ask Santa Claus for this year?"
Her response was precious: "You're supposed to say
'Happy Holidays'. Chanukah is over. I got some nice presents. Daddy told me
only the goyim believe in Santa Claus."
- We got cold. Really cold.
- The bar crowd broke into a cappella Christmas Carols
spontaneously. And it sounded really good, too!
- I made lots of hot mulled apple cider, hot toddies, and served
up Bushmills and Johnnie Walker Black Label neat, without ice.
The Disaster Movie Ends, Or Does It?
- The day after Christmas, they have the old furnace broken into pieces
and removed. The day after that, they have a new model in, and it's up and
working Sunday night (New Year's Eve-Eve).
- All the supplies for New Year's Eve have arrived, including 5 cases of
Piper Sonoma Methode Champenoise which, although marked non-vintage,
were from fabulous 2004 grapes. I drooled just at the sight of the lovely
black and yellow boxes.
- I got a call at 1:00 p.m. that my mother had broken her hip in a fall
in a parking lot and was in Hartford Hospital.
- I stayed with mother, much to the amazement of the nurses and doctors
she spouted verbal vitriol at. After she'd completely lied about her medical
history and penchant for doctor-shopping to the attending physician, I took
him outside and told him which of her medications she'd decided to stop
taking "because they upset her stomach," and added the fact that she takes
40 vitamin pills a day, despite the fact that toxicity caused her to suffer
kidney stones the year before and she'd been advised by a physician (also a
doctor I see, who's also on the Board of Trustees of the hospital) not to
take anything more than a multi-vitamin and perhaps a little vitamin C and
- She refused to be touched, much less moved, because of the exquisite
pain that a break in the hip or upper leg causes. As much morphine as the
doctors dared give her merely made her crazier, and did not, sadly,
attenuate the pain in her broken leg. Her screams could be heard not just
throughout the Emergency Room but also in other parts of the first floor.
- Hospital protocol forbade her to sleep on the gurney she was on at the
Emergency Room. She outright refused to have her bed changed. She also
thought that the special device they were going to put on her leg to prevent
the broken parts from rubbing together was for their (legal) protection, and
not for her own well-being. She accused the nurses of "ganging up" on her.
- She summons up all of the devious, sly controlling-speak
she can and inflicts serious emotional pain on four nurses, a doctor, an
aide, and myself. My dose was particularly hard to take. She said "When your
father was dying you'd have never let him suffer like this."
- We call my brother the lawyer. He talks to the nurses. There's no
getting around this. They must change her bedclothes. She then vomits, and
still insists on resting in vomitus and feces. Brother's her Power of
Attorney. He tells them to do whatever they have to do despite her
- (Cutest statement from the world's greatest nurse: "Did she get this way
when your father died?" Me: "No. I've lived with it for 50 years (and 18
years of therapy)." She: "Honey, I know God's got a
space for you in Heaven.)
- I spent the entire evening there, asleep on a sofa they put in the
hospital room. Every four hours mom and I were awakened so a nurse could
take her vital signs.
- I took her down to the pre-operative suite at noon on New Year's Eve. I
bade her goodbye as the first shot they gave her to put her out took effect.
- I drove home, cleaned up, put on clothes appropriate for the holiday,
and arrived at work, not having slept for 30 hours, if my math's correct. I
had yet another 12 hours to go.
Indeed, a Happy New Year!
The first seating New Year's Eve went like a breeze. The second seating
was sold out, and, of course, there were little glitches, but everyone
eventually got a seat.
We'd hired two bands this year; one old-school and one very young; but
all jazz, and very well done by all. Some people danced, but not as many as
we'd planned on; so the crowd was kinda squeezed back into the room and
there was this massive space in front of the stage for people to move
around. It was more like a "stand there and sip my drink and look hip" floor
than a dance floor.
There wasn't a big rush on the kitchen (most people opted to eat late, as
late as midnight). At 11:00 we put out the Champagne glasses. I got up in
front of the crowd and pulled off a pretty cool trick that I got from the
writeup authored by baffo included under How to open a bottle of wine
without a corkscrew.
website gives instructions for removing the entire top of a Champagne
bottle with a Saber. Suffice it to say that when one takes an antique
Chinese sword and takes a crack at it, the trick's even more terrifyingly
dangerous but deliciously decadent at the same time. I practiced three
times, once with a great bottle of 5-year old Taittinger Cordon Rouge that
would be my companion between 11:00 and the countdown, and two bottles of
the Piper Sonoma. All three times worked like a charm. At 11:00 when I had
to do it for the initial pouring, it took me two awkward swipes to get it to
go; but go it did, and the crowd oohed and aahed.
I did not sing, for we had plenty of talented singers in the
audience who came up and sat in with one band or the other during the course
of the evening.
Dance we did. In fact, I danced too much and was rather ruddy and sweaty
by 1:00 a.m. But of all the parties we've had, they've never matched the
diversity of young and old, the diversity of cultures, and the genuine sense
of family that we enjoyed that night. The most adorable pair of friends were
an 86-year-old black woman and a teenage Chinese-American girl who danced
together to a cool rendition of James Brown's "I Feel Good" by
the two bands all working at the same time in a ten-piece jam session that
There wasn't a single complainer, whiner, nor party-pooper. Nobody got
too carried away with the booze. There were plenty of designated
drivers, as well as plenty of couples who were within walking distance.
When the music stopped but the crowd lingered a bit longer, I treated
myself to a big Scotch (I couldn't think of what else would mix with
Champagne and not cause unspeakably painful consequences to head and stomach
alike in the morning).
It was 2:30 in the morning by the time we'd cleaned up most of the mess
and given the staff plenty to drink. Two of the chefs decided not to drink
in the restaurant, so we had drivers to take us through the inevitable
roadblock that we encountered. I was glad it was there, so we could rest
assured that we'd arrive home safe and sound absent some horrible twist of
We arrived home and I slept very nicely. The following afternoon at 3:00
they told me that the furnace had shut itself off. So off to work I went. I
had to bleed a little air out of the pipes because the water level had
gotten too low and the thing shut itself off. New Year's Day was just as
delightfully, differently fun as the evening before.
There are few pleasures quite as satisfying as a bit of the hair of the dog that bit
you on the morning after a holiday, when it's still a holiday nevertheless. Champagne mixed with fresh-squeezed orange juice and a little tiny
bit of Chambord was the order of things before a lovely brunch repast brought to us by the chefs. Things got dangerous about dinner hour when I bet the bar
crowd $10 apiece they didn't know what a "French 75" cocktail is. One
fellow, a James Bond fan, got it right; it's a flute of Champagne with a
shot of good Cognac poured in. We all had one. I don't remember what
happened after that.