"All That And A FREE Bag of Chips…"

April 25, 2011

We had a large group (20 people, on two tables of 10) the other night, and their servers did an admirable job of taking care of all their demands.  And they were demanding, rearranging every dish on the menu with more substitutions than a hockey game.

When it came time for entrees to be served (we were all shocked they actually ordered some, and didn’t make a meal out of salads and appetizers) the server at one of the tables made the unfortunate mistake of forgetting to order the Veal Chop for one particularly pretentious woman (we had already nicknamed her “Divalicious”);  and of course it was ordered Medium Well.  You got it: 15 minute fire time, at a minimum, to get her another one.  She has refused to accept my server’s apology and her offer of anything else on the menu.  She is now in full-on Righteous Indignation Mode, and basking in the attention she is getting from her table-mates.  She waves her server away, refusing to even speak to her.  So, my number is called, and I had to go over and try to make things right.

I apologized profusely for her server’s honest mistake, and gave her the bad news about how long her Chop would take.  Miss Thang rolls her eyes, big time, and asks to see the menu.  She orders the Trout.  I thank her for her “patience”, tell her it will be on the house, and we get it out and on the table in under 3 minutes.  I go back after a bit, apologize again, and make sure she is happy with her dish.  She is wolfing it down and nods her approval, without even looking up.   She is nowhere near the last person eating when the table is cleared, and her plate is literally licked clean.

When it comes time for the bill (separate checks, of course) my waitress comes over and says that the woman is now refusing to pay for her one drink (which she nursed for the entire 90 minutes they were at the table after sending back her first choice because it “wasn’t pretty enough”) AND she’s refusing to pay the service charge, saying “The Manager said it was on him…”  So, a free entreé wasn’t enough?  Whatever.  I comp out the rest of her check, and my server is just laughing because this woman is being such a ridiculous caricature.

So, as they are leaving, Chef and I are at the podium chatting; and as the group is heading out the door,  I start doing my “Thank yous and Good Nights” to the rest of the party who, truthfully, weren’t all that much trouble after we got past the ordering phase.  Miss Thang stops by, and I was so irritated with her I didn’t even make eye contact.  She reaches into the dish of Jolly Ranchers we have at the podium, and starts fishing through them, searching for the Sour Cherry ones that were apparently the only ones “pretty” enough for her.  She drops one, two, three, four, five of them into her knockoff Louis Vitton bag.  She finally notices me standing there and looks up.  I look her dead in the eyes and say “Haven’t you had enough free stuff for one night?”  Chef bursts out laughing so hard he almost choked.  I spin on my heels and leave her standing there, in mid jaw-drop.

At what point in their lives do these women suddenly become such self-absorbed pains in the ass?  You know that quite possibly they were once very sweet little girls, with pigtails and all that crap.  So, do they just wake up one morning and say to themselves, “Okay.  Time to start acting like a bitch”?  Or is it a long apprenticeship, watching Mom and aunts and sisters put on the Bitch Coat and wear it?  “Don’t worry baby, some day you’ll get to be a bitch too…”  Reality shows on MTV and E Network serve as their training videos; and then they test out their skills on Dad and probably their teachers.  Building on these minor successes, they soon become the full-fledged real deal; and now no one is safe, from cab drivers to store clerks to the counter guy at BK.  Well, check that shit at the door, girlfriend.  I ain’t playin’…

"Happy Uh-Easter…"

April 24, 2011

My favorite and, possibly only, Easter joke, with the exception of the one about why Jesus can’t eat M&M’s (because they keep falling through the holes…):

There are these three Italian guys, discussing the meaning of Easter.

Pasquale says: ” Okay, Easter issa when you gettah this biggah Easter Tree, and you puttah alla you Easter presents under it.  Then, onnah Easter Morning, you open alla da presents…”

Giuseppe interrupts and says:  “No, no, Pasquale.  Thatsa  Crissmus.  Easter issa when you getta bigga Easter turkey, and have the bigga Easter dinner…”

Giovanni says:  “No, no, no, Giusep, you dummy.  Thatsa Thanksagibbin’.  Letta me tella you about Easter.  Easter is about whenna there was thissa guy, Jesus-uh Christ.  He wassa crucified, he died, and they bury him inna tomb covered with thissa bigga rock.  Anna after three days, he rolla the rock back, comes out anna sees his shadow, anna we have six-uh more weeksah winter…”

"For Once In My Lifetime…"

April 17, 2011

An entry in the “For Once, Everything Goes According To The Plan” category: we close at 10pm on Sunday nights (one half hour earlier), and tonight we got no 9:50 table of two star-crossed lovers that wanted to order one $8 appetizer and gaze into each others eyes for two and a half hours, until I wanted to stab them in said eyes with a salad fork. We got no solitary, scary dude sitting at the bar, staring at the TV until Sports Center was over. Our last table sat at 8:15pm, the bar emptied out at 10pm when the NBA game ended; and I beat the kitchen out the back door for the first time in over 3 months. George Peppard would’ve been proud..

"I love it when a plan falls together..."

"Night Sweats In Broad Daylight…"

April 4, 2011

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been contemplating making yet another career change, or if it was the spicy BBQ pork sammy for lunch today, but I have just woken from the Mother of All Waiter Nightmares.  Those of you that have had them will know what I’m talking about when I say they come from out of nowhere.  I know I’m still in the restaurant business and, granted, I have some waiters at work who ARE nightmares; but I haven’t worked a shift as a waiter in almost five years.  Waiter Nightmares?  After five years?

I’ve written about Waiter Nightmares before (click and read), and about how I had learned a kind of “Directed Dreaming” technique, ala “Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Warriors”; so I can usually pretty much just sit back and enjoy the comic relief that comes with the absolute futility in most Waiter Nightmares, somehow knowing that this stuff could never really happen. But today’s was scarily different.

This one started at Chops in Atlanta, except that it wasn’t Chops.  In my dream I knew it was Chops, but the dining room had absolutely no resemblance.  Some of the waiters were guys that I worked with at Chops, as was the Manager, and the room was that kind of Boys Club Steak Housey kind of place with button-tuck booths, men in suits, cocktails clinking, etc.  I am back to work there, and it’s my first night back.  I don’t think I’d gone through any re-training, I think they just threw me out there.  I do remember being strangely happy to be back to work there.  Most therapists at this point would say, “Maybe you should look at that…”

I had just arrived at work, and was saying hello to some of “the guys”.  Everyone is shaking my hand and welcoming me back when The Manager tells me I’m working solo (Chops was team service with a partner, although I had some living Nightmare nights there when somebody no-showed and I DID work solo) but I will have a smaller station, over by the bar.  No prob, it’s my first night back and I’m feeling pretty bulletproof.

So, I’ve got my waiter jacket on, and my little metal badge with a number on it; I’ve got my notepad, my Cross Pens, corkscrew, crumber and all that crap.  I’m feeling good, cocky, ready to take some tables.  I had found my station in the gigantic restaurant (they’re usually gigantic in my nightmares), four deuces and one four top all in a neat little cluster near the end of this horseshoe shaped bar, and it all seems pretty manageable; after all, I’ve worked here before and know the drill.   Then I notice that the Host is walking away from seating a single diner at one of my tables, a professional looking woman in a business suit with briefcase.  I know what you’re thinking:  what kind of useless Shoe Clerk am I, to be having a Waiter Nightmare over a SINGLE!!??

Anyway, I greet madame, and get her a cocktail, a Manhattan or something I think.  She orders:  Spinach Salad to be followed by an 8oz. Filet, medium.  I don’t remeber ordering the salad, but after a couple of minutes I notice it’s on the table and, yikes, she’s almost done with it and I haven’t fired her steak yet.

I’m mildly panicked about the fire time on her Filet but, hey, it’s Chops.  They have about a billion 8oz. filets in the broiler at any one time on busy nights, and maybe I can use my one “New Guy Get Out Of Jail Free Card” to get them to rob another table so Milady won’t have too long of a wait.  But first I have to get to the POS and fire her order before I can go throw myself on the mercy (Ha!) of the Sous Chef.  And, as they say in the Circus, this is where the fun begins…

My cockiness and confidence is beginning to waver a little as I realize I don’t know where the POS is.  I walk out of the bar, into another gigantic dining room that is almost completely empty, and over against one wall is a POS touchscreen about the size of a 52″ plasma TV.  I make my way over to it and, of course, it’s a system I’ve never seen or used before.  I manage to log in, find a screen that looks like a table map, and double tap the icon for my single diner’s table (#63).  But instead of neat rows of buttons, or screens that have actual menu items, the screen looks more like a website; one of those really hard to read websites that was designed by some genius who thought red letters on a black background would be a good idea.  Almost all of the screen is taken up by pictures and advertisements for cars and other stuff.  Way down at the bottom are lines of uber-tiny type, hyperlinks to click on for menu stuff; but the type is the REALLY tiny stuff you get at the bottom of a company’s website where they put stuff like “Privacy Notice.  Site Map.  Contact Us.  Careers.”  And it’s a touchscreen, so every time I try to double tap a tiny link I get the wrong one, and some other gigantic window opens with more pictures and ads.

Now I’m really starting to freak because I know that spinach salad has been cleared and my single is sitting there, tapping her fingers, waiting for that Filet, and wondering where the hell her idiot waiter has gotten to.  In my panic state, and willing to try anything I can think of to navigate this behemoth screen, I decide that there’s not enough light in the room to see it properly, so I take it down off the wall and carry it over to another corner where some sconces are beaming spotlights down on the carpet, creating circles of light in the murky room.  Strangely, there are no wires; and, strangely, this doesn’t even factor into my thinking as I pick up this unusually light, strangely wireless, and utterly useless Piece Of Shit.  Under the glow of the spotlights on the other side of the room the screen is no more readable than it had been on the wall.  And I still haven’t fired her steak.  And, even with the panic really starting to set in, I’m thinking, “Shit, all these steaks are ala carte.  I didn’t ask her about sides!”  I figure I’ll deal with that after I get this DAMN STEAK FIRED!

Still tapping at links, still getting the wrong screens, I try turning the screen around, rotating it, thinking if I can get a closer look at these damn tiny hyperlinks, I would actually be able to read them.  I’m trying to hold it out in front of me, like some massive artist’s sketch pad, and the screen is rotating with the movements, like on my wife’s Droid; so every time I turn it to make the links closer, the screen changes and they move back to where they were before.  Now I’m totally sweating, full blown dread is setting, yet all Mr. Sensitve To The Needs Of Others here, can think about is “I wonder if someone else needs to use this terminal…”  This turns out to be an non-issue, as I look back across the room to see that the screen I have taken down has been replaced by an even LARGER one, about the size of a small billboard, a veritable  JumboTron of a POS.  In my panic I’m willing to try just about anything to get this one stupid, stinking steak fired, and I consider going over to the giant screen, thinking the type must surely be larger on that one, right?  Just as I’m putting my screen down I see the link for “Fire” at the bottom and hit it.  I set the screen down on the floor, and start sprinting back to my station.

As I approach my tables, I am mildly relieved to see that no one else has been seated in my section during my adventure in the Gigantic Room with the Gigantic POS Screen.  The only catch is that my station is now somehow outside, and it’s starting to rain.  Guests at other tables are being moved inside by their waiters, but my single is standing up and looking around.  She starts picking up all her stuff, briefcase, purse, and is grabbing the silverware and napkin off the table and walking off toward the inside area.  I catch her and relieve her of her burdens, and tell her I will usher her into one of my “Inside Tables”.  I don’t know why or how I knew I actually had inside tables, but I did.  Except I don’t know the table numbers, so I don’t know if I’m seating her at one of my tables or someone else’s.  It doesn’t seem to matter, and I’ve still got to get to the kitchen to tell them to hurry that 8oz. Filet which, despite my being out of my station for what seemed like an eternity, has not arrived.  And shit!  What about those side dishes?  I forgot to ask her.

I get my single diner situated at an inside table in a dining room that is now a gigantic white event tent, like they set up at wine auctions.  I know I still have to get to the kitchen, but I can’t stop myself from helping the Manager.  He’s trying desperately to get tables set up for all the people coming in from the rain.  The tables are all 72″ banquet rounds, with one flipped upside down on top of another, so I take my place on one side of the two tables to help him flip the inverted one off.  I’m waiting for him to flip the legs up and lock them into place when I notice a stack of 6 B&B plates sitting on table we are about to flip over.  The Manager has not seen the plates, has locked the legs on his side into place and flips the unusually light table off the other one, sending the stack of B&B’s flying.  Oddly, they all stay together in one stack and fly out onto a road that is outside an open flap of this massive circus tent of a dining room.  I’m waiting for the sickening crash of shattering china, but instead hear a metallic clang; and I realize the plates must have been sitting inside of one of those metal plate covers.  Huh.  Didn’t see that one coming.

Anyway, I still need to get to the kitchen, get that Filet on the fly, and then get back to my section where I still didn’t know what the fuck the table numbers are.  Shit!  And I need to ask her about those sides!  I contemplate just ordering her a baked potato.  I mean everybody likes those, right?  But that would entail a return to the JumboTron POS again.  It’s at this point I see a guy that I used to work with about 10 years ago at another restaurant, who is apparently now working here.  Nothing about this strikes me as the least bit strange, and I stop him to say hi; but he doesn’t know me from Adam.  He does know enough to remind me I’m covering his lunch shift tomorrow, though.   Even though I haven’t been back to check on my one and only guest, I somehow know with all certainty that 8oz. Filet is NOT on the table yet, and I am a total loser.  This is when I wake up to my cell phone buzzing on the nightstand and thank God for text messages!

"Sunday, Bloody Sunday…"

January 26, 2011

Well, hello.  It’s been a while; how’ve y’all been?  Me?  Oh, fine, just fine.  Why yes, I have been working a lot…

After coming to the realization (duh!) that I make my own schedule, and that I really need to take two entire days off each week, my work routine has settled down a bit.  I still have split days off as the restaurant is closed on Mondays, and the other manager has a commitment that makes Tuesdays off impossible for me; but I’ve kind of gotten used to it.  It’s almost like a 3-day weekend every week, if you don’t count the 10 hours of work right smack in the middle of it.  Such a rude interruption…

Really, though, the only aspect of my job that I even mildly dislike is the schedule;  and that only because it involves working Sundays.  No, not the dreaded brunch as I would have opened an artery long ago if Sunday Brunch were required.  Just like Jeff Golblum’s line in Jurassic Park, that “life finds a way…”, brunch also finds a way, every week, to suck.  We are open for brunch and dinner on Sundays, the only day we open the doors during daylight hours; but my “keyholder” manager is there on Sunday mornings, and God bless her for it.   That, and HBO On Demand are the only things that make working on Sundays tolerable, barely.   I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank the bosses at my two previous jobs for giving me almost four years of Sunday-free work schedules.  As Joni Mitchell sang, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…”

Sundays, and the people who dine out on the 7th Day, are a different breed of cat altogether.  You see people out to dinner on Sunday nights that you never, ever see any other night of the week.  They say in the Bible that God rested on the 7th day, and the leper colony we get in each Sunday is your proof.  My theory is that all the people who dine on Sunday nights crawled out of the primordial ooze when God took His one day off because He, too, just couldn’t deal.  God was at home, in His sweats and wife-beater with His feet up and Sports Center on the tube when these people snuck their way into the evolutionary cycle.

And just to add salt to the gaping wound of working Sunday nights, and simultaneously drive a dagger into the heart of our check average, we offer a three-course “supper” for $20.  This is just to make sure that we not only get the weirdos, but also the cheap weirdos.  We have people who ask if they can split the $20 meal.  Really?  Look, if you don’t have enough money to eat out, just stay home…

Last Sunday night was a classic.  Knowing the check average is always down, and often cover counts as well, I was sympathetic to my staff’s need to make a little coin even on Sundays; so I went with a lean crew.  Three waiters, one bartender, one food runner, one hostess and I did over 120 people; and all of them came in at once.  The parties of 8 and 9 started coming in around 7:15, so we were all sufficiently lulled into complacency by then.  And they kept coming through the door, like extras from The Walking Dead.  We have an alarm system that makes a “beep-beep” in the back kitchen when the front door opens and, as I am back there madly buffing glassware and silver to keep us afloat, it was going off to the beat of Funkytown.  Let me take you down, beep-buh-beep, to Funkytown, beep-buh-beep… as more and more piled in.

In the midst of all this fun and good times, my bartender decided now would be a grand time to cut his hand, taking me off the floor and him out of a very busy bar while I triaged his wound.  I found our sparsely stocked First Aid Kit, (and someone please tell me why it is that restaurant First Aid Kits are either stocked to the hilt with eye cups, defibrillators, and enough stuff to treat the victims of the Haiti earthquake, or they have just three band-aids and some dull scissors?) and got his hand wrapped; but the bleeding just wouldn’t stop and the kitchen had run out of latex gloves.  Perfect.  Now wouldn’t this be an excellent time for the Health Department to stop in?  I got on my cell, called in a “Stunt Bartender” who, thankfully, was both nearby and willing to come in: go figure.  She arrived about 20 minutes later and jumped into the fray.

I had just barely hung up the phone when my hostess, who was still doing restroom checks despite being drafted into service running food and bussing tables, informed me that the toilet in the Men’s Room had backed up.  Dealing with the shitty situation in the bathroom brought new meaning to the term “Manager’s Log”.

As I was pushing the mop bucket from the restroom back into the scullery, I noticed that there was no one on the Sautee Station in the kitchen.  The sous-chef informed me that he’d had to send one of the cooks home because he had been caught drinking the cooking wine in the back, and was drunk.  Perfect.  He told me this as I was helping one of my weeded servers process the nine separate checks from a party of really snotty Nelly Queens who had decided they needed to leave, now.  All I needed was a good, old-fashioned computer crash to really make my night complete.

So then, another server comes up to tell me that the four-top on 72 wants to “speak to The Manager.”  All restaurant mangers know that these are words that are generally never followed by anything good; and a big Shit Sandwich is most likely coming your way.  As a manager, I like to remain in the background, offering support to the staff.  I am like an Offensive Lineman in the NFL.  The only time my number is called out over the PA system is when something bad has happened; but instead of “Holding, number 72, offense…” and the touchdown is called back, it’s “Overcooked Veal Chop, table 72…”

The tidal wave of business is beginning to withdraw from the beach, and the crew is starting to pick through the rubble, straightening out the beach chairs and umbrellas; so I cinch up my tie, shoot my cuffs, and head on over to 72.  The gent at Position 3 who, as I was seating them, had made an off-color joke about the “diverse” crew and the “war zone” of the neighborhood surrounding the restaurant, had appointed himself spokesperson. They are four very old, very Jewish people.  Oy.

“Lizzen, I just vant to tell you some-zing, here…”

Okay, here we go.  Open wide for the Shitburger, and make it a double.

“Our soiver, fen-tehs-tic!  And the Duck, to die for.  We loved it all.  Job vell done…”

I was speechless, as an ear-to-ear, decidedly non-shit eating grin had commandeered my face.  A perfectly mashugana end to Sunday, Bloody Sunday…

Redux: "Fishing Off The Company Pier (or Dipping One's Pen In The Company Ink)…

December 23, 2010

Live from the archives, here is an old post that I thought I had lost to “an intenal server error”.  I’ll be back on Christmas with a stocking stuffer for y’all…

In one my earlier posts I mentioned that one of the basic facts of running a restaurant is that people eventually move on. One of my best servers and her line-cook boyfriend are leaving to go back home to Louisiana. I am saddened by their departure not only because Chef and I are losing two of the best workers either of us has seen, but I am also really jealous that they are moving to New Orleans. Ah, the South…

The fact that they were a couple was known when they were hired. Unlike some, our company has no strict policy against hiring people in relationships but perhaps one should be considered; because when you have two staff members involved in a relationship and one decides to move on, so does the other. Conversely, when you have to fire one, the other one usually goes soon after. Actually, first their good attitude goes; they don’t physically leave until after what he/she has deemed an appropriate period of making everyone’s life miserable.

The good news is that when couples work together and they are getting along, they can work with a great synergy. My wife and I did it in Atlanta and it was amazing. But when the personal relationship becomes strained, it can play havoc on the one at work. Fortunately for me, my two are Rock Stars and always did a great job. They left their personal relationship in the car with a window rolled down to wait for their return.

I was never much of a ladies man in my youth. I’ve already told you what a big dork I am, and that’s pretty much a fail-safe method of birth control until you find The One who appreciates the trait. And I am certainly not one now as I am happily married to The One (no, not Keanu Reeves, you wake-and-bake stoners).

Even during my younger days when I commanded “The Position of Power” I didn’t do too much Hound-Doggin’ (play-yuhs is what they call them now, I believe). Working in the day and age of the Tom Cruise-generated perception of bartenders as demi-gods, I was a young, semi-good looking, semi-eligible bachelor; but I was just too big of a nerdy romantic to play a lot of capture the flag games. I was determined to fall in love and that was a four-letter word for women in the early 80’s. Plus, chicks were a lot of work and I am lazy.

Oh, sure, I had my share of go-to, sure things to get me through dry patches (pun intended) between bad relationships, but I was never a big One Night Stand kind of guy. Add to that the hours that I kept, working from 6 till 2am, partying until dawn, sleeping until noon and then doing it all again, and my only pond to fish was the one at work. So that narrowed it down to two groups: barflies and co-workers. Barflies don’t want to fall in love, and falling in love with co-workers is almost always a recipe for trouble.

Over the years I have found these Postulates on Personal Relationships at Work to be mostly true:
• Rarely, if ever, do two great employees get together. It’s always one really good worker, and the one that you most want to quit and get hit by a bus.
o Corollary: When the relationship goes South, it’s always the good one who quits and the irritating one who stays. Kind of like if your neighbors, who have a pool and throw great parties, move out but leave their yapping Chihuahua behind.
• The relationship is most always between people in different departments so maximum damage can be realized when arguments occur.
• And most often the relationship is one of those “He’s dating HER?!” shockers.
o Corollary: Sometimes you get lucky and the two people involved are deserving of each other; and you can be grateful that they are not out there ruining two other lives.

I had a relationship with a waitress once when I was a Sous Chef (I was really the only cook besides the Chef, so I felt I was Sous Chef by default). We had a fairly hot and steamy start, then it cooled; and because we worked together and practically lived together, we got tired of each other real fast. Actually, I got real tired of her but she was still really into the whole idea. And did I mention we worked together? I cherished the two hours of prep time I had at work before she arrived at 4:30 or 5:00 for the start of her shift. Outside of using the toilet, it was literally the only time we were apart. “Did you hear about what so-and-so did on table 32?” Oh, yeah, you were there. “Did you hear that joke that so-and-so told?” Oh, yeah, you were there then, too. And did I mention we lived together? Thankfully, she eventually quit and moved away. I faked the heartfelt goodbye, and did my best to remind my penis that dating co-workers is not how we roll.

I used to work with this guy named Biff. No shit, that was really his name. Biff. And the guy was a machine when it came to getting laid by women at work. He became known as the “Hose-tess Monster” due to his penchant for conquest of the young, vapid ones at the door. Now, if ever there was a valid argument for not fishing off the company pier, dipping your pen in the company ink, whatever, you’d think screwing, and then screwing over, a person who can control your financial destiny would be it. With the spurned hostesses conspiring, Biff’s station would often be empty on many a night, except for old ladies and people with kids, until 15 minutes before closing when he would be triple sat as all the other servers were doing side-work and mentally chilling their after-work Heinekens. Hell hath no fury indeed.

"Tis The Season…"

December 2, 2010

It’s that time of year again, when houses are getting decorated, trees put up, and shoppers are giving each other the finger for stealing their parking space at malls all over this great country of ours. It’s also the time when The Have’s will occasionally donate some of their stuff to The Havenot’s, so they can be Have’s for a while.

Some of The Havenot’s will lose patience while waiting for Toys For Tots to deliver however, and take matters into their own hands. So it’s also the time of year when we get a nice spike in the crime rate. It’s not just the lack of stuff, or the lack of ability to buy stuff, but the pressure folks feel this time of year to have and to hold stuff. Domestic violence, burglaries, armed robberies, road rage incidents, all go up this time of year. Most restaurants will have an annual “Safety Meeting” with their staff, which is all about how not to get robbed; and how not to get shot if you do.

Our next-door neighbors have decided this would be a good time of year to beef up their own home security, and have installed spotlights trained on their side and back yards. Nice idea, but two of them are beaming directly into our bedroom window and have the candlepower of a small sun. Sleeping in our bedroom now is kind of like living a summer in Iceland, with the sun setting, well, never. Is it too late to ask Santa for that “Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle”, so I can pop out one or two of these tanning-machine-wattage bulbs?

Domestic violence goes up this time of year, with divorced couples arguing over who gets the kid on Eve vs. Day, and where the hell is the spousal support, you deadbeat, so I can go shopping, etc. It’s also the time of year when one small tradition can put undue stain on an otherwise healthy relationship, with results ranging from simple shouting matches to divorce to gunshot wounds. I’m talking, of course, about The Tree.

It always starts out as a nice idea, “Hey, let’s go get The Tree after work tonight…” and visions of brightly lit Christmas Tree lots, the steam from frosty breath, and aromas of pine needles and hot chocolate go dancing through our heads. But somewhere out there, a 10-hour work day and a 45-minute commute are lurking, waiting to crash your party and curdle your eggnog, sucking your enthusiasm for the idea as dry as the week-old Thanksgiving stuffing in the back of your fridge. You finally get home, have that cocktail, and start thinking about dinner; it’s 7:15 already, after all. No one is saying it, but everyone is thinking it: “Aren’t we going to go and get The Tree?” So you Himmm and Hawww and, maybe argue lightly (“Can’t we just do it on Saturday morning? I’d be more into it then…”) Bucking up, coats and gloves on, and out into the car, we have gone from “Let’s go get the tree tonight!” to “Can we please just go and get this shit over with?”

Spirits rise markedly, however when we get to The Brightly Lit Christmas Tree Lot, and begin to make our selection. I use the term “we” very loosely here. I have learned, through years of marital and parental experience, that this is one of those times where I am to just nod my head in agreement, and say only things like, “Oh, I agree” or “Yes, that’s a beauty” and “Whichever one you like, baby”. I am not to grimace or argue when asked to fork over the Mastercard to pay $85 for something I will strap to the top of my car, drag into our home, mount on a spike in our front room, vacuum up behind several times, and water daily (“Did you water the tree today??” Yes, I watered the effing tree today…) in order to keep it alive long enough to finally pay the Boy Scouts $15 to haul it away again, three weeks from now.

The other thing I have learned in over 15 Christmases worth of marriage is to let Her do the lights. At first. Even though I am tasked every year with the disassembly, storage of said lights, and the dispatching of the dead tree to the curb, I must subvert my natural Manstincts of not knowing how to do shit, but insisting on doing it anyway, and sit quietly. Pretending not to be watching, I make only the occasional commentary grunt at her technique.

Here is where couples with any kind of chinks in their relationship armor will get into trouble, and you will end up with Police Activity. But I’m confident that the “Here, why don’t you give it a try?” will come soon enough. I know that she will try, in vain, to remove the strings of lights from the box. Lights, that when put away last year, were all neatly bundled to help expedite their re-installation the following December, but have somehow come alive during their storage in the attic and spontaneously contorted themselves into a tangled mass resembling a bucket of Night Crawlers. Knowing this, I am confident I will eventually be drafted into service; and my manly yet gentle and fake-patient demeanor in the face of all this frustration will firmly secure the bonds of marriage for another year. “Here baby, let me help you…”

Now, working together, we dutifully test our strings of festive Holiday lights, which will work fine at first plug-in; but as soon as they are installed on our tree, or way the hell up on our roof and gutters, every third bulb will fail, or half of a strand won’t light, no matter how many of those frustratingly small fuses we change. It’s my Conspiracy Theory that, as a driving force of the Chinese economy, these things are assembled (in a country which doesn’t even celebrate Christmas by the way), and designed with tiny timers that allow them to function fully for one year only, then go on the blink (pun intended) the next; but not until they are fully installed, driving a spike through your brain, and leading to the eventual purchase of more. It’s enough to make a Christmas-Only Catholic like me seriously consider converting to Judaism. Can’t we just put up a Menorah, light some friggin’ candles and be done with it. Oy.