The Glory of Eating Out: Entertainment, Activity, and Ignorance of Calories

Eating food can easily become entertainment, in of itself.

This Saturday, my wife will finish her final class for her Master’s program.  We’ve been anticipating this day for a year and a half- specifically, we’ve been planning to go somewhere nice for dinner to celebrate.  Though we’ve had our sights set for months on Stony River for a good steak dinner, we remembered recently that we don’t really like steak.  So we instead have discovered a quaint “only in Nashville” sort of place that looks to be more our speed: http://www.12southtaproom.com/

Something I’ve been realizing now more than ever is why eating out is fun.  There are obvious reasons for this, like not having to cook, set the table, or clean the dishes.  And the fact that when you eat dinner out, you have many choices of what you will eat.  All valid reasons.  Yet very obvious.

Here are more subtle reasons:

Environment: Whether or not you truly are a “people person”, or are one and just don’t realize it (People Watching 101), part of the allure of going out to eat is to be around people you don’t know, who serve as background noise and sometimes accidently, as entertainment.

Of course aside from the strangers we like dining near (not with), there also is something soothing/weird in looking at the random memorabilia hanging on the walls- whether it’s old pictures of sad, creepy looking people from the 1920’s, a goofy moose head, or a canary yellow guitar that Tom Petty used to record his Wildflowers album in 1994.  Ultimately, whatever it is, it’s something else to look at.

Activity: Eating good food that we enjoy is more than just about “getting full” or about nutrition.  It’s simply a fun activity.  Yes, we could make the same menu items on our own (with enough Internet research for recipes) and they may taste similar.  But aside from the fact that we’re not cooking it, there is something fun about having someone else serve you.  When someone else waits on you, it gives a sense of “I deserve this” (Password).

Ignorance to calories: Yes, we are overaware that fast food is a killer.  But we turn a blind eye to the nutritional facts at nicer restaurants, essentially all of them.  Even when the meal is low-fat, and even more difficult to pull off, low-sugar, it is still almost guaranteed to be high in sodium- which is linked to heart disease and hardened arteries.  But no matter how nice the restaurant it is, it’s pretty much given that there’s at least 75% of your daily sodium in the meal, at best.

And of course, the serving portions are typically at least twice to three times what a meal should be.  But turning a blind eye to all these nutritional facts makes it much more fun.

So go now, and celebrate, with strange wall decorations, quirky people sitting at the table next to you, and a meal prepared by the salt gods.

The Sussudio Effect: Why We Secretly Love the Mysteries of Life

Whether we will admit it or not, we like unexplained mysteries.

Do we really need an answer for everything?  Isn’t omniscience (the ability to know everything infinitely) a trait we reserve for God?  Could we handle the responsibility of having all the answers?  We like to think we want all the answers, but if we did, that would be a life without surprise, suspense, and ultimately, much excitement.

Much of the mystique we deal with revolves around our origin, purpose, and ending.  But even without all the big idea concepts like “why am I here?” and “what exactly happens the moment I die?,” both of which the element of ignorance is attached to, life is still full plenty of petty mysteries to think about.  Which at best, simply reflect the fact that mystery is a part of life.

Like the song “Sussidio” by Phil Collins.  It became a number one hit in July of 1985.  And though I wasn’t quite in pre-school yet at that point, the song has definitely kept a solid spot in the Soundtrack of My Life.  I can’t say that I like the saxophone-enhanced song just because of its feel-good vibes and groovy melody.  A big part of why I like the song is because of its quirkiness.  Because let’s face it, no one really knows what a “sussudio” is.

In recent years, thanks to Phil Collins’ interviews that have surfaced and have been referenced in Wikipedia, I have learned that Phil always did a lot of ad-lib and improvising in the studio.  He often would record the music to the song before he wrote the words, just making up random words and phrases to hold the place; then coming back later to replace the gibberish with actual lyrics.

“Sussudio” was a place-holding made-up word that he never came up with a replacement for.  And so it remained.  The word still doesn’t mean anything.  It’s not the name of a girl, as some have assumed.  It’s just a mysterious word.  You get to decide what it means.  Weird concept, but after all, the song did make it to the number one spot.

Why?  It’s a great catchy song.  And it’s mysterious.

I will deliberately bypass the way-too-obvious fact that LOST’s popularity is associated with its strategic and clever uses of mystique (LOST- Answering Questions that Were Left Unanswered) and instead close with the fact that we can spend a lifetime just unveiling the mysteries of the people closest to us in our lives.

It’s not like we sit down with our parents or spouses or best friends and interview them with a #2 pencil and steno pad about their childhood and see what we can learn about them that we didn’t know before.  Instead, we just wait for those random trigger words to show up in conversation, which prompt a story that we’ve never heard before about them before.

Sometimes when my wife and I are out at a restaurant, we (being “people watchers”) will notice an older couple sitting in silence, only really speaking to say predictable things like “How’s your steak?”  We want to be cooler than that when we’re older; we want to have cool stuff to talk about, even now.

There are so many hidden stories in each of us.  We can only try, in a lifetime, to extract them from each other.  Not that they all can be told even in one lifetime, we ourselves can’t remember them all.  Because unlike God, we mysteriously ended up without an omniscient memory.

The Awkward American Tradition of Tipping in Restaurants

 

Tipping isn’t a city in china…

There are certain events in life that I consider normal and common, incorrectly assuming everyone else participates in them with the same amount as passion as I do. In recent years I have been made aware that I am a “music buff”: I own well over 800 CD’s (not iTunes albums, but actual discs). As well as a “movie connoisseur”: I’m not a guy that can just sit down and enjoy a stupid movie like White Chicks. I will read multiple reviews on all the movies currently playing at the theatre, then choose the top 2 or 3 and see them all in one afternoon.

When it comes to restaurants, I’m no different in regards to my premeditated snobbery towards those eateries that are sub-par in my book. Instant disqualifiers for a restaurant: it has a drive-thru, it has an obvious theme, it’s noisy, it’s expensive for no good reason/prices aren’t listed on the menu, it’s all fried food, it’s a buffet, it’s Mexican, it’s Chinese, I have to pay to park, the actual menu is greasy, the waitress’s name is Flo, and I can see the cook smoking a cigarette as he’s cooking the food, to name a few.

If I could go back in time and influence the culture of American dining in restaurants, I would do whatever it takes in order to eliminate the social acceptance and expectance regarding food servers so that in 2009 I wouldn’t have to participate in the subconsciously awkward world of Tipping. Of all the things I don’t enjoy doing, evaluating another person’s work ability is at the top of that list. So I definitely don’t want to do it while I’m paying to eat. But even so, I pretty much just tip everyone the same percentage anyway.

During the summer of 2005 as I was saving up money to move to Nashville, I was a waiter at Western Sizzlin’ (the South’s version of The Sizzler) where I learned what all goes into serving a table of adults who act like bratty children. Hearing annoying quotes like, “This steak is still mooing at me…”, “I didn’t order pickles on my hamburger!”, and “You got any FRESH coffee?” were all part of my daily routine. (All spoken with Southern accents for dramatic effect.) That experience causes me to be especially appreciative of my waiter when I am out at a restaurant.

But now as the one being served, the whole experience of interacting with the waiter puts me into what I call Game Show Host Mode. I act like everything the waiter does is magic trick, like bringing the menu, then the drinks (as I usually rip off the restaurant by ordering free water), then taking my order, taking away the menu, etc. My response: raising my eyebrows, nodding my head, and smiling too much after each accomplished action. So over the top.

In most other situations if I acted that way, I would deserve a “Punch Me in the Face” sign more than Spencer Pratt or Dane Cook. But the environment of the restaurant and the relationship between me and the waiter excuses my overly grateful and easily amused behavior.

What if I didn’t have to feel like I’m treating my waiter like a kid, needing my exaggerated approval and acknowledgement on every little thing he does? Better yet, what if America was like most other countries in the world and just flat out didn’t associate tipping with restaurants? But ultimately, a country only has the customs that its culture allows and depends on. So when it all comes out in the wash, our society openly accepts the frivolous head game we call Tipping.

The Teaching of Mr. Miyagi: Avoiding Awkwardness, Confrontations, and Fights

 

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who complain at restaurants about their order being less than perfect and those who just let it go. I have learned that my wife and I are the ones that don’t complain and just overlook it. The last thing we want when we’re out to enjoy a nice meal is a confrontation. It’s just not worth it to us to 1) call the waiter to the table and explain why our order is not right, 2) have to listen to him apologize, 3) have the manager come to our table and apologize and tell us our meal is free, 4) accept a free meal on account of someone’s minor mistake. I hate feeling awkward. It’s one of my quirks.

In a great movie that was made ten years ago called Fight Club, leader Tyler Durden gives his members a homework assignment: Start a fight with someone and lose. He then explains, “Most people, normal people, do anything to avoid a confrontation.” I can definitely vouch for that.

Why did telemarketing lasted for so long in our country’s history (until President Bush outlawed it a few years ago)? Because annoying and aggressive telemarketers were ultimately successful. While most people had enough confidence to politely say “no thanks” and hang up, many people caved to the confrontation. They would rather commit to a magazine subscription for two years and “not make the other person feel bad”. Or worse, become a victim of a time-share related pyramid scheme by a “friend”.

For every 30 no’s, there was one yes. And that yes brought good profit. Same thing applies to those annoying salesman in the middle isles at the mall that want to “give you a free ring cleaning”, A.K.A.- try to sell people something to clean their ring with.

I don’t have a problem with confronting someone if it’s about something important. But if it’s not, then it’s better time management to just avoid the situation. I don’t like having to argue with someone when I am solid in my decision. If I am asked to buy something or do something I don’t want to do, the answer is no. And if I’m further asked, then just to spite the person I tend to get aggressive with them, then later spend time thinking about how annoying they where. So my rule of thumb is the same as the point of the 1986 film Karate Kid Part II- the best way to win a fight is to avoid it.

Tips:


1) When at the mall or walking into or out of a Wal-Mart on Saturday, I put my cell phone up to my ear when I see a salesman. They prey on the weak and undistracted.
2) When someone is calling me on my cell phone from a number that is not already programmed as one of  my contacts, don’t answer it. It is definitely someone I don’t want to talk to.
3) When at a restaurant, order salmon, not steak. Then I don’t have to worry about my meal being undercooked. Also, I won’t be tempted so say the cliché phrase that your steak is “still mooing at me”.
4) When at the movies and I realize I’m sitting in front of some punk teenage kids that are going to be talking during the movie and putting their feet on the back of my seat, I just get up and sit somewhere else. They’re idiots and no matter how nicely I tell them, they’re gonna be annoying anyway.