Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy"--F. Scott Fitzgerald

January 20th, 2009

The Honorable George Walker Bush
President of the United States of America
43 Prairie Chapel Ranch
Crawford, Texas 76638

Dear Mr. President

Welcome home, sir. I hope that as these next few months roll by you can turn back the clock, past the awful burdens you have shouldered for the last eight years. I hope that you can forget he vitriol, the unhinged rage, and out-and-out fabrication hurled at you without ending by deranged private citizen and "impartial journalist" alike. Who knows, you may even see some of the black spring back amongst all those grey hairs.

You restored honor to an office that had been diminished by your predecessor, and governed fairly and with conviction at every turn. Few of your decisions have been easy, and fewer still were given the benefit of the doubt by those screeching harridans in constant opposition to you.

In my opinion you spent far too much money, growing a bloated, ineffective government that you should have been dismantling. Your natural compassion also drove you to ignore rule of law in favor of a reckless immigration policy.

However, I am that rare person who does not expect to agree with everything my President does, everything he says, or every stand he takes. Instead, I can take comfort and pride in the fact that my President acted with honor, in a steadfast and forthright fashion. You are a man of principle and conviction, and you have my undying gratitude.

I wish you had fought some of those who constantly attacked you, refuted at least some of the ludicrous accusations hurled endlessly at your office. I would have loved to see you point out the hundreds of tons of yellowcake uranium that were found in Iraq, or question the efficacy of an investigation into the outing of a covert CIA operative who was not actually covert, an investigation that continued on even after the leaker identified himself and was found to be from outside the White House. Even at the beginning, I wish you could have taken a moment to remind people that Al Gore was suing in Florida not just to have the votes in three counties recounted, but also suing to STOP the legally-mandated recount of all of the rest of the counties in the state [the three counties the Vice President was so interested in were overwhelmingly democrat, while the rest of the state is apparently solidly republican].

I wish more Americans could have seen the real you in public--the eloquent, earnest speaker with a great sense of humor. A less biased media might have remarked on your love of reading, specifically your fascination with world and American history. I wish your magnetism in front of four, forty, or four hundred would have translated to forty million.

I am heartbroken that the thirty years of legislative corruption and ineptitude that started with Jimmy Carter finally came to a head and burst, like a pus-filled boil, in the last year of your administration. The fact that decades of lax regulation, ridiculous laws, and bad loans will be made out, by the media, to look like your fault is criminal; that those truly most responsible will, rather than being blamed, instead be handed a checkbook and asked to fix it is indicative of the huge problems that face us.

I wish you peace and contentment as you leave office. I also wish that you live long enough to be appreciated for all you have done. I have no doubt that millions of us owe you, and those you have so honorably commanded, our lives. I can't say that you're nomination, election, or re-election "sent a tingle down my leg", but I remain proud to have seen you come and sad to see you go.

God bless you and your family.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"A work of art has an author, and yet, when it is perfect, it has something which is anonymous about it..."--Simone Weil

I don't read all of the comments my posts receive--on some posts, generally the political ones, I don't read any of the comments--or at least I have not read them yet. I don't want to debate anyone or feel the necessity to clarify points or retort--this venue, as I have mentioned previously, is one for my own expression with a little anonymous exhibitionism thrown in for vicarious thrill.

However, a very kind and thoughtful comment recently impressed upon me that I should probably clarify certain details about my writing in general, as well as about my identity such as it is.

I am, as previously stated, a steakhouse general manager with well over two decades of restaurant experience in total. I have held my current post for over ten years, and it has become extremely lucrative--more so than any other steakhouse general manager [large or small, corporate or independent] reading this could probably imagine. I have become the de facto CEO of the restaurant company I work for, and my employer has happily abdicated almost all of his responsibilities to me--and he has paid me handsomely for it. I still work almost every night on the floor of my home restaurant, which is our flagship--all of my responsibilities together currently take about 83 hours a week to properly execute.

For over a decade I have also kept a very detailed work log on a nearly nightly basis--this log coupled with an excellent memory, for which I daily thank God, allows me an unusual amount of recall regarding events in my professional past, both great and small.

Mr. Troutman, in his kind and complementary comment, wonders whether I am who I say I am, or if I may in fact be more of a storyteller, or a designed persona.

Anyone who honors me enough to regularly check these often ignored pages deserves proper clarification of a few details insofar as I am willing to clarify.

I am in my late-thirties to nearly-fifty. Politically conservative, physically large [too large, probably], college-educated, successful, and self-made. I was born of rich and well-connected parents but have always made my own way. I was raised with the sensibilities of someone much older, as my father was himself much older than a normal Dad with a young son. My upbringing lacked many "normal" things, but made up for those deficiencies with many other "extraordinary" things, such as the roster of famous and influential people who considered my parents friends and made our houses regular stops. My home restaurant rests somewhere within a roughly 6 million square mile area that contains at least thirty possible candidates, by my estimation. My exceedingly vague references to location are, of course, entirely deliberate. All events described herein have happened, though the timeline is subject to change in order to protect the innocent. My recent story about Gladys' unfortunate evening may have happened last summer, or possibly six years ago--but it did happen. All conversations and interactions related in any post here are probably at least 85% accurate--and the most memorable or arresting quotes probably almost 100% accurate as I usually write those down almost immediately after hearing them.

Details that could identify me or my restaurant will be changed without affecting the content of posts--for example we may not own three restaurants--we may own six or four or seven with an eighth on the way. When I say it was snowing it might actually have been raining or vice versa, our signature ribeye might really be a bison steak or a porterhouse or huge bone-on New York. If I went to Per Se, I went--just maybe not when I said I went.

The details regarding my family are, unfortunately, painfully accurate.

I have led, so far, a somewhat unique and for my own purposes a very interesting life. I am a private person with a small group of very, very close friends and thousands of other people who know me on sight but with whom I share only the most superficial personal exchanges. I have an odd, localized, small kind of celebrity--a result of the prominence of my restaurant and the power I wield within it.

I am, as once described by an ex-employee, "not a normal guy". I do however hope to be an entertaining one.

Lastly, eat at The Scargo Cafe--from the looks of the website it is a really cool place.
"We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace when Arabs love their children more than thy hate us..."--Golda Meir

I overheard this exchange in our lounge a few nights ago as I sat at an adjacent table waiting for an old girlfriend of mine to join me for a New Year's drink. Some of the dialogue throughout and most of the last part is paraphrased [though the last two sentences are dead on, those I remember specifically], but I think I captured the feel of the exchange pretty well, and the details of the summer conflict I think I have almost perfect :

A father and son were seated having a discussion about the current Israeli incursion into Gaza. The father is a regular guest of ours--a very nice guy who has been dining with us for just short of a decade. His college-age son lives in another state with his mother, but has been a periodic guest of the restaurant throughout his youth whenever visiting. In the seven or eight minutes I snooped, I was able to discern that this young man while clearly very well raised and respectful, was also incredibly liberal. Many of the points he attempted to make to his exceedingly sharp and intellectually adroit father could have come straight off of the United Nations homepage or out of the mouth of an New York Times copy-writer.

Now, as an aside, I have always had understanding and appreciation for that old saying, "any person not liberal when in youth is heartless, any person not conservative once an adult is brainless", but here I think I might have been spying not so much on natural youthful naivete as much as an ingrained ideology taught in order to brainwash future generations--but I digress.

The father let his son go on first with his points--that Hamas were the oppressed, innocents were being killed, Israel had no right to the land, they were defying international demands to cease fire, the people in Gaza were starving, the rockets being shot into Israel by Hamas were harmless, and my personal favorite, that oldie but goodie, the Hamas fighters and leaders were just like our founding fathers fighting the Revolutionary War.

Dad took a sip of his bourbon and responded, "You're too young to remember Tom Travis, our neighbor on Carsten Road. When your mom moved away with you, that old neighborhood was already going to shit, but I stayed another six or seven years before finally moving to the condo downtown--I was alone and it didn't really bother me one way or the other--except for one incident over the summer you turned five, or thereabouts. Tom divided his big old place next door into a rooming house, and after a while these three guys moved into the ground floor back apartment--absolute white trash. Mullets, prison tats, and an old busted-up Buick station wagon that they were trying to run a handyman/lawn business out of. These fellas had a liking for shithouse beer and an apparent aversion to garbage cans. They'd sit on the back porch of that old house and drink thirty cent cans of beer all night, and most of the empties would end up in our backyard.

Well, at first I tried to do the Christian thing--I turned the other cheek and picked up the cans and tossed them in the garbage. After about a week and three cases worth I spied the ringleader one morning and mentioned to him, nicely, that there was someone living in the house next to him and would he and his buddies mind not tossing their empties over the fence? Well, this fellow looked all sheepish and apologetic and he told that of course he would never do such a thing, but he'd mention it to "his boys", and he was sure I didn't have anything else to worry about. And I didn't...for three days.

After three days came Friday, and Friday meant Friday night, and Saturday morning I found not just ten empties--but potato chip bags, two quart-size glass orange juice bottles, and a paper towel filled with dog shit from their mangy poodle-looking mutt. As I was inspecting my new garbage dump a couple of the fellas, including the one I had already spoken to, walked out to have a morning camel and ball scratch and so I stuck my head over the fence and once again asked their cooperation in not using my backyard for a fucking garbage dump.

Their response was to tell me that it wasn't them, that there must be someone 'camping' in our yard at night, and that I should stop 'harassing' them.

Again, trying to be civilized, I decided to call Tom and get his help with these guys. Old Tom's response was to tell me what 'good boys' these fellas were, how they cut the grass at that house for free, and how they were paid up on the rent. He went on to surmise that I might be making up my problems because they were 'long hairs'--this from the man who decided our neighborhood was shot and that he should move out and turn his house of forty years into a tenement because an Indian family, who he loudly termed 'grey niggers', had moved in down the street.

"Dad, what does some neighborhoo--"

"Hush--I let you tell me all about what your pals on MSNBC think about the current mideast crisis--now its my turn to explain it to you my way.

Where was I? Oh, right--that evening they were right back on duty drinking, and I decided I would slowfoot it out by the fence and have a listen to them, with my Winchester--I wasn't out there in the dark for five minutes before the first empty can came over the fence--and without thinking, I sent it right back over followed by the empty bags, the rest of the cans, and the two empty orange juice jars. I will admit, hearing the two jars smash on the flagstones warmed my heart."

Now, I noticed out of he corner of my eye that when the father mentioned having a rifle with him the young man perked right up, his face losing the small trace of frustration it had been wearing up to that point.

"Those pricks were heated up, I will tell you. The youngest one scaled the fence to my side and the other two started making noise as if to follow--all three of them were cursing up one side and down the other--until Junior hit the ground in our yard and saw the rifle. Suddenly you could have heard pin drop, and that's when I spoke. 'This here is a Winchester 30-30, and it sits in my gun safe with five or six friends', I told them without raising my voice, 'I don't expect you fellas have anything like this in your little shithole apartment there because I'm positive your gun-owning and voting days are already over, ain't they? I have all the licenses and permits I need to own these guns lawfully, and all the right in the world to use them if I feel threatened--or at least that's what my cousin tells me--and seein' as he is the city attorney I guess I have to believe him. What I want, and what I have every right to expect is one simple thing--that you will respect my property and throw your fucking garbage out properly--which is to say in your own fucking garbage cans. Imagine how stupid you'll feel wearing a bullet just because you decided to pick on the wrong neighbor. I would rather be reading the paper than standing out here with you jack-offs--just leave me alone."

"Did you really tell Pete about those guys, " the son asked, apparently referencing our then-city attorney who has now a well-respected judge.

"Not just Pete, but also the cops that watched our neighborhood, and I tried to talk to Tom again. I got plenty full of shooting people in the Marines, son, and I wasn't looking forward to spilling any more blood--but I also wasn't going to let those three pieces of crap ride roughshod over me either."

"What did the authorities do about the guys", the son asked, now riveted to a story he had never heard before told by a man who probably suddenly seemed much different to him.

"No one could do anything--it was littering, and the evidence was non-specific and gone. I mean, Pete and the cops believed me, but at the same time they told me it wasn't a big deal, that I needed to be the bigger man, that they would stop on their own, that maybe I should try chatting with them again--you know, all the usual shit that never has any effect on any situation."

"So what finally happened?"

"Well, my show of force settled the guys down for about a month, until Labor Day weekend. That Sunday I threw the annual picnic party for all my people out at the lake, and didn't get home till after ten. When I pulled into the driveway I noticed a couple of things right away--all of my rose bushes had been pulled up, and there was something piled up on the front door."


"Dogshit. A giant pile of dogshit. If I had to guess, I would say that every shit that dog of theirs had taken since the night with the rifle had been collected and deposited on my front door and stoop.

I got back in my car and I drove away, because mad as I was I didn't want to kill all three of them and that is exactly what I would have done at that moment.

I went to the office, and I slept in the lounge. The next morning I woke up, went home, and cleaned up the front door and steps. I tossed out the roses, and then I went to the nursery and bought gardenias to replace them. As soon as it got dark, I took my 12-gauge, loaded the magazine with slugs, put a fifth in the chamber, and walked next door. I put two shots into the engine block of their wagon, one through the windshield into the driver's seat, one into the driver's door, and the fifth through one of the back windows and into their lawnmower. Then I went back home, put the shotgun back in its bag, and propped it behind the boiler in the basement."

The kid was speechless--he was actually staring at his dad as if he had never seen him before.

"Someone called the police, as you might expect. Nowadays shots fired in that neighborhood is a regular occurrence, but back then it was still unheard of, and the police took their time, probably expecting to find kids with bottle rockets or a used Roman candle or some other fireworks left over from somebody's Labor Day picnic What they weren't expecting to find was an old station wagon literally destroyed by heavy gunfire.

They went to ask the fellas what happened, only to discover those boys were nowhere to be found. Mrs. Singer across the street played dumb, and while the police clearly viewed my surprised reaction with some scepticism, they never asked any real questions beyond inquiring as to whether or not I had brought a bazooka back from Vietnam.

They took some pictures, and came back the next day to look around for the three guys--but no one ever saw them again. They must have figured that after the car, they would be next--plus without the car and the lawnmower they were unemployed anyway. Tom tried unsuccessfully to get me arrested for the murder of a '73 Vista Cruiser, and later on tried to get me to reimburse him for having the thing hauled away--but he remains to this day unfulfilled."

"Holy shit. My dad is Dirty Harry!"

"No, son, I'm not--and that is my whole point in telling you the story--which I have never told anyone before, by the way. Israel has tried ignoring, they have tried talking, they have tried threatening, and they have tried shows of force. They have tried all of these things over and over. The individuals that are the subject of Israeli attacks will not stop no matter what, as long as they live. They have no respect for diplomacy, for the rule of law, or even for the simple rules of human conduct. The organization Hamas has at its heart, written in its charter, the destruction of Israel as its stated goal. Israel's restraint in regard to Hamas' violence is miles well beyond my restraint in dealing with a few scumbags--but any peaceful conclusion rests with the same type of action--simple overwhelming force--these people just don't understand anything else.

These people set up their rocket launchers in school courtyards, they have their meetings in mosques, they fill their homes with all of the children from the neighborhood. If Israel attacks--'Oh my God look at the destruction of civilian buildings, the loss of civilian lives, the children killed!!' If Israel doesn't attack because of the civilian liability, then rockets get fired, Hamas business gets done, and terrorists continue to live to plot Israel's destruction."

"Why is everyone on Israel's case then? Why don't the two sides just make peace?"

"Only the journalists, to use the word very loosely, can answer the first question, son. And unfortunately I think only God may be able to answer the second."