Friday, July 17, 2009

"The man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap..."--Ayn Rand

"What are you doing right now?"

"Finishing up a schedule and getting ready to make up a liquor order. Why?"

"Forget about that...Come on over to the office as fast as you can, please."

"On my way."

I can't remember the last time I was in my employer's office, which is also to say that I can't remember the last time he was in his office either. The corporate offices for our small company house our controller, a receptionist who covers the phones for the office as well as for all of our places during down time and shift changes, and my employer himself--technically. For the last four years or so my boss has pretty much done business via Blackberry and "ask Last One Home". On my last visit to this facility to drop something off for our controller, the open door to his office revealed a pile of military memorabilia [he is an avid collector] that covered the desk and the two visitor's chairs as well as the blueprint table left over from the last store we built from scratch--it was obvious from the dust atop this priceless pile of crap that the room itself had not been occupied in quite some time.

As I grab my jacket and briefcase and head for my car, I wonder what's up.

"Thanks for coming so quickly. You know, Last One Home, when we first started working together all those years ago, I didn't give you nearly as much credit and recognition as you deserved. I hope that I have remedied that over the years, but I know I've gotten lazy as time has gone on and I also know that I don't always communicate as well as I should--so I just want to start by telling you that, truly, none of this would exist without you. Seriously."

"Am I getting fired?" [You have to imagine the situation for me, as I asked this question out of honest curiosity as well as with some eagerness--I don't mean to belittle the financial trouble that so many are facing right now--but for me getting fired would be, in a way, like being paroled from prison].

"No you're not getting fired...sorry to disappoint you. [apparently the eagerness in my voice came through more than I had expected]

I'm seriously thinking about closing, however. I wanted to tell you before any of the financial people I've had preliminaries with start to blab."

"The Steakhouse??" At this I was truly surprised. We have been by no means immune to the collapse of our nation into Socialism, and both our check average and general revenues have suffered. However, financially speaking we weren't anywhere near where closing should be any sort of a consideration. We were still profitable, as a matter of fact.

"All of the stores."

"What the fuck is going on? Are you sick?"

"I'm not sick. No one is sick. Did you ever read the short story the movie 'The Shawshank Redemption' was based on?"

"I don't think so, but I did see the movie a long time ago. What was the story called? And why?"

"I don't remember exactly, but it had 'Shawshank' in the title. Anyway, in the book the Tim Robbins character was talking to the black guy about how, when he knew he was probably going to be convicted, he started to protect his assets. The Tim Robbins guy made a comparison between two men who live on the beach, both with priceless art collections. A hurricane is on the way, and one guy thinks that God or Providence or whatever would never let all his beautiful art be destroyed, and so he is sure the storm will turn and he does nothing. You know, those storms are so fickle anyway, they almost never end up where anyone expects. Well, the second guy also hopes for the best, and knows alot can happen in between the storm forming and it hitting land, but he still doesn't want to take any chances--so the second guy takes down all of his art and crates it up and moves it inland away from the storm, to protect his investment."


"I believe you are aware of what is going to happen when the stimulus money that extended unemployment benefits and raised benefit amounts runs out next year, yes?"

"Yes. In return for the states getting the money, they had to guarantee that those longer terms and higher pay-outs would be maintained indefinitely--that means that when the "free" money is gone, our unemployment insurance rates and fees go up."

"They will go up substantially, even though we haven't laid a single person off."

"And that's why you are thinking of selling out?"

"Not selling, just closing."

"I have to tell you, boss--I'm at a total loss."

"Do you think this ridiculous health care bill is going to pass?"

"Unfortunately I do."

"So do I, and I have spent the last week with our lawyers and accountants and the controller looking at numbers--some of our well-connected friends back east have made sure we got the text of the bill as soon as it became available--you know they didn't have it when they voted on it--but it is out now.

Businesses like ours will have two choices--pay for the health care for our employees, or pay a penalty that amounts to 8% of total labor cost if we do not. Paying for the health care puts us out of business--straight up. Paying these cocksuckers the penalty almost puts us out of business--and those two conclusions are drawn using last years' numbers, which are a damn sight better than 2009."

"Why close them instead of sell them?"

"A few reasons. I can't imagine that anyone is looking to buy restaurants right now even without this health care bullshit, and I don't want to have them on the market forever just to get lowballed. Half of them are almost worthless without our name anyway, and I'm not going to sell the name. In closing them, I can eliminate most of the operating debt on the properties through the process and in the case of Steakhouse and [one other restaurant] avoid the two big improvement assessments that are about to hit at the same time. And finally, if I close them, the cocksuckers can't tax me like they could if I sell them. I don't think I'm going to be able to save them like the guy from he story, but I'm damn well going to decide what happens to them myself.

I'm fed up with it. I'm thinking about fronting some of our long-time guys in little places--bars mostly. Two or three or four guys working as partners--so there aren't technically any employees. Small footage places, pubs and cool little places like that Pegu Club and PDT we went to when we were in Manhattan last year--but smaller. Maybe some of our kitchen guys want to do the same kind of thing with a little bakery or sandwich shop or something. Nothing too big--no more big equipment, big rents, big anything--and no more employees. I'm thinking of fronting "hospitality LLP's".

I'm so tired of everybody's hands in my pockets constantly. Do you know there are three fucking music licensing companies now? I swear to God if I could play only music in the public domain I would do that too--or maybe just no music at all--just turn up the TV's. Licenses--do you know when I started with 'Harry's' thirty years ago I had two licenses on my wall--the occupational license and the liquor license. Two. How many are on the wall at Steakhouse right now?"

"Twelve or thirteen."

"And how many of them make any fucking sense at all?"


"Exactly. Listen, my friend--we've come a long way together. I've made you rich and you've made me richer--but we have both worked till we bled for every penny--you a good deal more over the last ten years or so than me, but I had plenty of hard, lean years in the 70's and 80's. You know, when 'Harry's' opened it took every last penny I had--I sold my car and got evicted from my apartment--I slept on the bar for three months till I could afford an efficiency finally. But my own place was my dream, and I'm so sad and so angry that we are where we are right now--but I can't see any other way if this shit gets passed--I refuse to get sucked down with everyone else. I always believed that my people worked with me instead of for me--everybody. But all this new stuff has made it so that I'm going to be working for them--and I can't abide that--I just can't."

"You know we're talking about over 400 people, unless you plan to back 200 bakeries and underground bars."

"I know it. I'm sick over it. But here's how I look at it. I have given thousands of people good jobs over the years--great working conditions, good salaries, hourly wages, and good shifts. I've given millions in bonuses, spent hundreds of thousands on parties [our holiday and anniversary parties are legendary and epic]. I've never been able to afford health coverage for the whole staff, just management, but I've paid for emergency room bills, root canals, appendectomies, broken ankles, and all sorts of surprise shit that could have really hurt my guys when they weren't prepared for it--I've fronted down payments, tuition, and bail--I've cosigned a hundred loans. I have paid people more than the going rate because we didn't have insurance, and hoped they would put the extra money toward their own program. I have been stand-up my whole life--my whole life.

But this. This is just like a union trying to push their way into my business. The only difference is that the employees don't have any more control over it than I do. If a union successfully pushed into our places I would close them the next day, I told you that a long time ago. I'm thinking about doing the same thing here for the same reasons--once some other group decides they can tell me what I'm going to do beyond what is right and decent in my own business, I'm up up and away."

My employer might be a little ahead of the curve here, but by no means do I think he is going to be alone in his conclusions. I believe the recent passed and pending legislation in congress will close more than half of all US small businesses.

In responding to a recent comment on another post, I mentioned that I might possibly exit restaurants in a year or so, and that when and if I did I would identify myself and answer any and all questions anyone might have. After the meeting I just came back from, I'm guessing I might be able to do that somewhat sooner than originally anticipated.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

"We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge..."--John Naisbitt

"Good evening, thank you for calling--"

"Frankie playin' tonight?"

"Yes, sir, Frank is playing the--"

"ahright listen! I need a table for two in the showroom in 'bout twenty minutes--we're gonna eat early before the show. And I want a nice table, don't bullshit me! Close to the stage, but not too close!"

"Sir, I'll be happy to take your reservation for two, but--"

"Just put it down--this is Carmine." Click.

As I stare at the handset, one of our hostesses asks, "What was that all about?"

"That, apparently, was a reservation for two for 'Carmine' in about twenty the 'showroom'."


"Yes, in the 'showroom'. And make sure he gets a table close to the stage, but not too close."

"What stage?"

"The guy on the phone asked if Frank was playing tonight, and when I said that he was the guy directed me to make sure he got a nice able in the showroom close to the stage--he wants to eat early, you know, before the show."

"What show?"

"I don't know. Maybe Frank used to be in a band or something. I tried to explain to the guy how our entertainment was set up here, but he was all talking and no listening. Hold a table in the bar room for him and we'll see what happens."

The restaurant's current entertainment is a pianist who has one of those machines that provides extra orchestration for a huge number of songs. The machine allows one musician to sound like a band. He also sings. He plays four or five nights a week, and while he is located in our small bar and lounge room, his music is played thoughout the restaurant on our sound system during his sets. He's been with us for about three years, and does a very good job. He doesn't drink [many lounge musicians are huge drunks] and he constantly updates his set lists [most lounge musicians find thirty songs they like and play them ad nauseum for the rest of their lives--usually in the same order each night]. However, he plays alone, and is set up on our carpeted lounge floor. There is no "stage" and no real "show".

Approximately thirty minutes after Carmine's call, the man himself arrived--along with a companion best described as his "moll". Here was the woman keeping Estee Lauder and Frederick's of Hollywood in business.

"I'm Carmine, you got me a table in the showroom to see Frankie."

"We're all set for you, sir, but if I may, I should probably take a moment and describe our entertainment to you--"

"No grease!"


"I said no grease. No grease the first time. If you treat me right this time I'll duke you when I come back, but no grease now--you need to impress me the first time--so there ain't no reason for you to 'explain' nothin'. Got it?"

"Show Mr. Carmine to 602, please."

Thirty seconds later, "Ay pal! I said the showroom near the stage, not a kiddie table in Siberia!"

"Well, sir. We showed you to a table in our bar room near our piano. The piano Frank will start playing in about forty minutes. We'll certainly be happy to show you to any other unoccupied table in the restaurant--we were just trying to seat you according to your request."

"No showroom?"

"No sir."

"No stage?"

"No sir."

"What kind of supper club you people trying to run here?"

"Actually, we're trying to run a steakhouse that offers live piano music a few nights a week in addition to a number of other amenities. We've been trying to do it nearly every night for the last fifteen years.

Sir, are you sure you have the right restaurant?"

"If you've got Frankie playin', I've got the right place--I just wasn't expectin' such a crazy set-up. Ahright, the 'bar room' it is."

Carmine and his lovely guest returned to their table in the bar and ordered quickly, probably not wanting the food to interfere with the 'show'. They were halfway through their meals when our musician arrived and began setting up for the evening.

While I didn't see it transpire, apparently Carmine hopped up and approached Frank as soon as he saw him. What I did see was Carmine and his "special lady" making a bee-line for the front door, doggie bags in hand, about five minutes afterward.

"Not staying for the show?" [I couldn't help myself]

"You got me! You really got me! All I can say is you got me! That's not Frankie Jacuzzi!!"

"You never gave a last name when you were asking on the phone, sir. I tried to stop you on the phone and I also tried to explain before you were sat--I didn't think you were in the right place."

"Whatever you say, hotshot. You got me, that's all. You got me."

"Sir, with all due respect--you called us."

Shaking his head in disgust, Carmine exited the building positive that I was revelling in my betrayal of his sacred trust.

"What was that guy's problem?" Frank asked, coming up behind me at the desk.

"He thought you were some guy named Frankie Jacuzzi."

"Seriously? That guy died like eight years ago."

"Well, thats not too bad. He outlived supper clubs by about thirty years."

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

"And for the support of this Declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor..."--the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence

"On Independence Day, a few hours ago, they killed my son, Aaron in Afghanistan"--David M Masters

One of my favorite speeches of all time I discovered just recently was actually the work of Rush Limbaugh, Jr., the father of the very popular radio host of the same name. I suppose it is odd to brand something a favorite when it brings tears to my eyes every time I hear or read it--but this speech is perhaps the most succinct expression of what actually made this country--the attitudes and sacrifices and the sheer will--that exists today.

A girl I dated several years ago [who, unfortunately, I realized I was in love with only after she had moved 2000 miles away and gotten engaged to someone else] had the speech framed for me. It is a big piece--a little larger than a full-size movie poster--and it hangs in a prominent place in my home office. To this very day it is difficult for me to walk past the piece without reading at least a little of what is printed there.

When most of us think of the men who created this country we think of the fighting kids in the militia that evaded, outlasted, and eventually outfought the British--and we think of those patriots who had the strongest hand in guiding our young country once it had been created--Washington, Jefferson, and Adams. That fighting force and those individuals deserve all the credit given them and more, but for me personally the men I think most of when I think of our founding are those other signers, the ones who in many cases lost nearly everything after affixing their names to the Declaration.

Jefferson, Adams, and Washington [the general, in the field at the time, was not a signer] all risked their lives and property, but for the most part lucked out for lack of a better term--their homes, estates, and businesses survived largely untouched. For many of their brethren however the toll of freedom was high and harsh indeed.

The vast majority of these men were rich and had large families. Most of them committed to the cause knowing full well that their possessions, families, and lands were, for the most part, located in areas under the direct control or within the near reach of the British forces.

Francis Lewis of New York lost everything, including his wife who was captured, raped, and tortured by British soldiers. She died shortly after being returned to him in a prisoner exchange.

William Floyd of New York saved his family but lost all of his possessions and was forced to live as a fugitive for seven years.

Phillips Livingstone of New York lost all of his great wealth and his life before ever getting to see the dawn of the new nation he had given everything for.

John Hart of New Jersey was nearly captured trying to return home to see his dying wife. When he finally snuck back to the ruins of his property his wife was already dead and his thirteen children gone. He never found his children and died broke and broken in 1779.

Robert Morris of Pennsylvania spent his vast fortune in support of Washington's army. The effort destroyed his merchant fleet of nearly 150 ships and reduced him to a pauper.

Abraham Clark of New Jersey was offered the lives of his two captured sons near the end of the war if he would publicly renounce the Revolution and endorse the British throne. He refused, and his sons died in captivity.

My favorite of these generally unknown heros however is without a doubt Governor Thomas Nelson of Virginia. Nelson commanded the Virginia militia throughout the war and was in command at the epic battle of Yorktown. As American artillery began to zero in on the British, their General Cornwallis ordered his command relocated to Nelson's own immense, opulent home. American cannoneers would not fire on the residence.

"Why do you spare my home?", demanded the angry Nelson.

"Sir, out of respect to you," replied the artillery commander.

Nelson cried, "Give me the cannon!", and went on to demolish his own home in order to defeat Cornwallis.

In total, nine of the signers died during the war, five were captured, twelve lost their homes, seventeen were completely bankrupted, and two saw their wives ravaged at the hands of the enemy.

I have often wondered if I could have made any of the sacrifices that these men did, just as I wonder sometimes whether I would have found myself at a recruitment office on 09.12.01 had I been a younger man.

I have lived my life doing things the hard way, because usually the hard way is the best way. I understand, as apparently fewer people do each and every day, that in order for something to have real value and foundation there must be labor expended, sacrifices made, and even sometimes little blood drawn. I comfortably admit owning a tremendous amount of contempt for those who have decided that their life path will be the easiest, simplest one--no matter how many broken promises, cut corners, failures, and disappointments are left in the wake of that path. I would rather accept responsibility than pass the buck, would rather break trail than follow meekly, would rather do battle than dodge the draft.

When someone says, "I've heard of you," I have no worries whatsoever. My word is good, my credit is good, my bills are paid, my businesses are successful, my reputation is intact, and I sleep like a baby--if a baby only slept about four hours a day, that is. That is the only way I know to live my life.

Could I have made the sacrifices that many of those fifty-six signers made? I don't know--I suppose that is a question that can only be answered just as the deadline looms.

The problem, unfortunately, is that I am much more sure of the answer to another question, namely: "How many of those in our current government would make the sacrifices that many of those fifty-six signers made?"

The answer to that question is a very low, disgustingly low number--and I'm speaking about both parties.

Ironically, the only name that hits me right away as a resounding "yes" is a man in such questionable health that he probably wouldn't last two weeks in such a stressful situation--former Vice President Dick Cheney. Probably Senator Lieberman, who has shown a refreshing willingness to speak plainly about important issues regardless of party line. Probably former President George W. Bush, if he has anything left in the tank. Maybe the two magnificent senators from Oklahoma--but I don't know enough about them personally to be sure. Maybe crazy Dennis Kucinich--his idea of America is diametrically opposed to mine, but he nevertheless seems to go about his business--his insane business--in a pretty forthright manner.

Not only would our current "leaders" have recanted revolution to save their two sons as Abraham Clark refused to do--they would have recanted for a 757 ride [private of course] home to San Francisco, a trip to Paris [excuse me, fact-finding mission], a post office named after their grandfather, $1.2 trillion for the union thugs that get them re-elected every two, four, or six years, hair plugs, custom-made Allen Edmonds loafers, a cheese steak, aluminum collar stays, a can of aqua net, etc. Not only would they have recanted for the most minor of trinkets and geegaws, they never would have considered revolution in the first place unless they could have been exponentially enriched by it--not the other way around.

Yes, I am still furious.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

"Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength..."--Eric Hoffer

"We need another bartender over here."

"Is something wrong, sir?"

"She's got no sense of humor. Me and my buddies are just trying to have a good time, she's supposed to help us have a good time, and she's acting like some kind of robot."

The gentleman and his "buddies", for the moment, are enjoying the benefit of the doubt. They are in our empty lounge on a very slow Sunday, and up to this point have done nothing I have noticed that would brand them as troublemakers.

The bartender is one of my best, but she does have a tendency to be a little sparing with her words. She has lot of regular guests who love her, and she can rock and roll when its busy like few others I have seen--but she is much more focused on the mechanical aspects of her job than the social ones. Normally such a trait would go virtually unnoticed, but because she is quite beautiful and graced with a flawless body, some men take her natural economy with words personally.

I find her in the kitchen, and as I suspected she is clearly upset. She is sensitive to this type of situation, and has trouble with the concept of being blamed for simply being herself.

"What's up with the three stooges?", I ask.

Looking stricken, and near tears, she responds, "I don't know what to do. They sat down, and I asked them if I could get them a drink, and the first thing one of them says is 'I don't know, can you?' so I say 'I'll certainly try' and one of the other one asks 'Well, what else do you like to try?'

Then they asked me how my 'rack' was like they were talking about the lamb, and when I finally got a drink order and they settled down a little and started looking at menus, one of them called me over to say there was something in his drink--he had eaten a mouthful of barsnacks and chewed them up and spit them back into the beer glass and--"

"OK, that's enough--I get the idea. What are you doing back here now?"

"Getting their bread."

"Forget the bread, they won't be needing it. Head back to the bar in case someone else comes in, but say away from them."

As one would suspect, my benefit of the doubt evaporated at "what else do you like to try". I suppose I could dismiss them as three drunks, but it isn't my style to allow people to blame unacceptable behavior on chemical deviation. As I entered the lounge to expel the 'gentlemen' I see a large party gathering for an 80-something birthday--as they weren't the normal crowd for a barfight I quickly and regretfully soften my game plan.

"Sorry gentlemen, I'm afraid I don't have another bartender available this evening--so, this round is on the house and we'll wish you a good evening. Thanks for stopping in."

"That's OK--we'll make due with this little filly--once she gets to know us I'm sure she'll come around."

"She's not going to get to know you. We're not going to serve you anything else. It's time to go, gentlemen. Drinks are on me, I'll walk you to the door."

Like the rising dawn, I can see the realization come over one of the guys that he and his buddies are being thrown out.

"JUST YOU are gonna walk ALL THREE OF US to the door, now??"

"Without a doubt."

--First, It should be mentioned that while I relate a fair number of stories like this, and such incidents are ever more numerous, they don't happen constantly. However, I don't need to write about the five hours of bright, beaming smiles and "everything was wonderful, as usual" comments that I often experience in order to keep myself sane--I need to write about 'The Amazing Douchebags' and people like them to keep myself sane. Secondly, I am more surprised each day by the ever-growing number of men willing to imply or outrightly threaten violence during similar confrontations who immediately and shamelessly back down when I, or people like me, don't immediately yield. Its like they've been watching way, way too much TV.--

"Uh, uh, you're making a big mistake here. We're just havin' some fun--she's too uptight. Uh, you know, we're gonna go right down the street to [insert new outpost of national steakhouse chain that we are currently demolishing] and spend our money there. You're makin' a big mistake."

"I make mistakes all the time."

"You don't know what you're doing, pal!"

"Opinions vary." [Yes, I know, its a line from a bad Patrick Swayze movie--but I've always loved it and do use it on very rare occassion--always to great effect]

"Come on guys, we're outta here."

As they exited the restaurant I returned to their spot at the bar, which in fifteen minutes had been ravaged. Bar stools pushed up against each other on either side, snack mix all over the floor, bevnaps balled up everywhere, a rubber drink pad that they had pulled out of the well stretched sideways across the bar for some inexplicable reason.

After a quick clean-up I turned around to find a little tiny fellow from the still-gathering Octegenarian birthday bash standing right behind me, and I steeled myself for a complaint about the 'scene' I had just made.

"Yes, sir?"

"Thanks for throwing those guys out. When we came in, they told my grandmother she had a nice ass. Thank God she's almost deaf!"