Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Sophisticate

I see many people publishing ‘random thoughts’ – seemingly a cortex data dump. Well, my thoughts are not random. They are very specific and salient, except that I just don’t know what they are yet. But then, oh yeah…   

-    I have been intrigued with Professor Worm, a fellow blogger, for some time. I bounce into his blog to be entertained and always learn something from his caustic take on the absurdity around us. I did just that the other day, and he blew my socks off.

Sometimes I think I have a handle on a particular subject and feel that I have a bit of knowledge about most of the nuances around the subject. While I’ve never been knowingly associated with alcoholism, I have seen Days of Wine and Roses and have read books and have been part of discussions of the subject in psychology classes. I knew nothing.

Professor Worm discusses the subject as I have never heard is discussed. He grabs you by the throat and takes you on his horrific journey with alcoholism, and then you follow him out of it. The post is graphic and will shake you.

This essay is not a recommended read, it is a must. Do so.

-    A while back I found a site that said that they would recommend certain of my posts if I provided my blog address and a RSS Feed. Well, that was a deal breaker because I don’t know what a RSS Feed is. How come every time I nod off technology takes a whopping big leap right past me? Can someone tell me what a RSS Feed is? Use small words.

-    I just made some iced tea and it reminded me of when I was in a little hotel in Middlesborough, England (except they prefer to call it Great Britain for some reason).  Most people stick up there noses at the mention of instant tea and make those weird gagging sounds. But when I travel I always bring instant tea with me because it is easy to concoct the drink with tap water and ice from that ice machine down at the end of the hotel hall, except this little hotel in Great Britain did not have an ice machine anywhere. It seems that British folk are allergic to ice.

I looked forward to calling the front desk because the lady there was really cute and had a really cute accent but I learned that we really had a cultural problem. Is there anything absurd with requesting a bucket of ice?

“May I help you sir?”

“This is Jerry in room 212 and I would like a bucket of ice.”

“I beg your pardon, sir?”

“Yes, I need a bucket of ice.”

“Did you say a bucket of ice?”

“Yes please.”

“You did say ‘a bucket of ice’, sir?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Very well, sir.”

I could only figure that my Texas accent was getting in the way of gentle communication. I was wrong.

Forty minutes later I opened the door to a light tap and saw a porter standing there with a pail…a-bucket-like-one-would-milk-a-cow-into….filled with ice with the price tag from a local hardware store still on the pail.

I don’t know. Maybe I should have asked for a bowl of ice. But I got my iced tea.

-    Just because I’m from Texas does not mean that I am a heathen. We do have indoor bathrooms, ya’ know. But sometimes it occurs to me that I may not be terribly sophisticated.

You probably know what I French Press is. Well I was in that same hotel in the lovely burg of Middlesborough on the Tees river early one morning and I was sleepy and stumbled down to the hotel restaurant and immediately ordered coffee. Now every God-fearing Texan knows that coffee comes from a coffee pot and is usually served to a customer in a coffee cup filled from a coffee pot.  Except in the ‘bucket of ice’ hotel.

The waiter placed a French Press filled with stuff in front of me.

‘What the hell is this’ I grumbled to myself.

Now for those people from Waco and Dallas and San Antonio and Burkburnett – I gotta’ explain this contraption. What was placed in front of me was a tall closed jar with a pour spout on it and a stupid rod sticking straight up in the air right from the middle of the top of the jar. And, get this. It was filled with water with coffee grounds floating in it.

Early in the morning is not a time to present me with puzzles. Who can analyze anything with only four synapses firing? I just wanted a damn cup of coffee. Was that so hard?

I studied this alien artifact very carefully. Maybe the rod sticking out of the top was some kind of carrying handle. Perhaps they drink coffee with grounds in it around here. So what could I do?

I tipped the French Press to my coffee cup and poured some sort very weak coffee complete with coffee grounds into my cup. I heard a gasp from the next table.

There was an elderly couple sitting there. She had her hand to her mouth and was whispering something to her husband. As I raised my cup to my lips, she cried out. “No. Oh no. Do not drink that!”

She then took charge of my life. She called the waiter over and ordered me more coffee-in-a-jar and a new cup. When it all arrived she then instructed me to push down on the handle very slowly. It seems there was a screen at the bottom of the handle and when I pushed it down it captured the grounds and pushed them to the bottom of the jar. Now it made sense…one pushed the grounds through the hot water to make the coffee. Finally I had my coffee.

She politely asked, “Where have you been traveling from?”

“Texas,” I replied.

“Ahh,” she nodded.

-     My dining needs are basic. I don’t care for French food and can talk knowledgeably about Spaghetti and Meatballs. I don’t like hovering waiters and people filling up my glass after I have only taken a sip. I don’t like menus that I can’t understand and my eyes glaze over when a guy stands at the table to verbally list a myriad of things that he thinks I should eat. I will drink wine at the dinner table only when every one else is. And cold soup sucks.

But I know how to play nice.  For quite a few years I had to meet with client companies in far off cities and for some stupid reason they always considered it important to take me out to eat at the most sophisticated place they could find and thought it was a cute joke when I asked if there was a Denny’s around somewhere. So I learned to contend with weird food and hovering waiters while mentally craving McDonalds.

John, my boss, and I were on one of our too many trips to New York.  We finished our meeting in the World Trade Center and by some miracle we were left alone. We were hungry and we didn’t look forward to the cab ride to our mid-town hotel and then searching for something to eat so we said “What the hell,” and took the elevator way, way up to Windows on the World. We had eaten there a few times before so we were relatively comfortable about it as long as we steered clear of the cold soup and we could actually get iced tea instead of wine.

As you know, Windows on the World and the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan are no longer there. But if you had eaten there you would know to be cautious about sitting next to the window because it is damn disconcerting to see airplanes flying below you. So John and I sat one seat removed from the windows and ordered our food and iced tea and received a prize with our meal….a little thing wrapped in what seemed to be yellow crepe paper served on its own little plate.

“What is it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe it is candy. Are we supposed to unwrap it?”

“I don’t know. Does anyone else have one on their table?”

We nonchalantly, and with a sophisticated air, cautiously canvassed the restaurant with our eyes.

“There’s a guy behind you that has one.”

“What is he doing with it?”


That was our cue. We would do nothing with it. We ate and drank our tea and talked and avoided looking out the windows and passed on dessert. The check arrived and he fished for his corporate credit card and glanced up and said,

“Wait. He is picking up the yellow thing.”

“Is he unwrapping it?”


Then John started laughing. He finally blurted out that there was lemon inside. You squeezed the stupid thing over your tea and the crepe thing kept the seeds from falling out.

“We don’t belong here, do we?”

“No. We fly home tomorrow.”

“But this is good information. Someday we will be sitting at a table with a bunch of people and there will be yellow things and we will be very suave in squeezing it over out tea and everyone will be in awe.”

“Never happen.”

“You’re right.”


  1. Jerry, thank you for the nice words. I will have a response to your comment soon.

    RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, which means ... forget it. Let a rotorhead explain it.

    The reason the English call it Great Britain is because if they don't the Scots get all upset.

    And how's this for sophistication? A friend of mine and I were in a restaurant in Montreal and there was a fingerbowl at each place setting for cleansing one's fingers. My friend drank his, and when the waitress returned he asked for a full-size glass because he was really thirsty.

    She stomped off mumbling something in French, and from her tone it wasn't complimentary.

  2. Hahahaha--the lemon thing cracks me up. I've never seen that, and I'm very fond of fancy food. Thanks for the heads up, in case I ever run in to one!

    We have a French press at home. It's actually pretty convenient when you don't drink very much coffee--a whole pot would be wasted on me, so I just make a couple of cups at a time with the fancy French press. I never knew what one was, either, before the hubby worked in a fancy restaurant where they used them regularly.

  3. I find a French press useful for solo camping. I boil water, throw the coffee and water in the press, wait a bit, press, and I have coffee.

    I like exploring new foods. I don't need the "sophistication." I just like food related experiences. I am likely to eat anything indigenous, just for the experience. If I traveled more, I would focus largely on working class foods wherever I might go.

    Since I have no fondness for "sophistication," and little interest in impressing people, I simply ask questions about things like wrapped lemons. This probably explains my level of worldly "success."

    I never found that important, either.

    Great post. Always a pleasure. Now I am going to seek a lemon in a jacket.


  4. I'm with you! Give me an Aunt Effie's Cafe, Denny's, Furr's Cafeteria, Waffle House, or good old fashioned Mexican restaurant any day! Thanks for the hoity-doity tips, never know when the info will come in handy.

  5. It's not even so much about fancy food, or fancy "procedures" that one must master. It's about the absurd level of haughtiness displayed by waiters and "those in the know." I've only seen this kind of behavior in French restaurants. I'm not trying to offend anyone, I'm just saying...

  6. I am like you Jerry..I had no idea about RSS or any such thing. I am techno illiterate and not sad about it bit. I do know about some fancy things but that does not mean i embrace them. I find these rituals silly sometimes and then again sometimes I enjoy them. I understand why they have so many different pieces of silverware when a table is properly set...but I am not sure why you can't just stick to one fork, knife and spoon. I guess a lot of these things were "invented" in Great Britain when they were still considered Great". We Americans really are considered heathens in other parts of the world...I wonder why?? Could it be when we visit other countries we come in our t-shirts, shorts and tennis shoes? i really liked your post. I could go on and on but I think I will stop here.

  7. When I turned 21 my dad took me for a drink at the "Top of the Mark", the very sophiticated bar at the top of the Mark Hopkins hotel in San Francisco.

    After a bit I had to take a leak, so I went to the men's room, did my thing, then as I washed my hands, this tiny old man got up from a chair and thoughtfully handed me a clean white towel for me to dry my hands.

    I handed the towel back to him, telling him "thanks". But as I turned away, he held out his hand...!

    When I got back to the bar I told my dad about the strange guy in the men's room, the towel and him holding out his hand. My dad asked; "what did you do"? I told dad, "I shook his hand, of course."

    "Son, he's a restroom attendant. You're supposed to tip him". Dad turned back to his drink and, after a pause, said, "I wouldn't go back in there if I were you."

  8. The ice bucket had me laughing! I'm trying to imagine a bowl of ice?Crushed? Wonder who has to wrap those lemons? I guess the wrap would also prevent unwanted squirts in the eye or elsewhere. I have wanted to buy a French press but like you the thing was a mystery and I didn't get the point of how it works. Thanks for the clarification. Now I'll reconsider. This time I'll bring one home and try to impress the family with a new brand of sophistication, French pressed coffee. I don't even drink coffee but they do.Thanks.

  9. Oh, Jerry.

    Poor clueless Jerry. What am I gonna do with you??

    Maybe you need to focus more on all the great things you've *learned*...instead of all you can't seem to figure out?

    FYI: Your RSS feed is: I know this because I subscribe to your can't say anything anymore without me knowing about it.

    I wasn't kidding about wanting to see an entire post with you talking to your computer. I will bug you until you do it.

    Sweetly, of course....

  10. Oh Jerry! Am totally following this blog! As a fellow Texan (although now removed-but finding my way home as often as possible - just not during the summer....) how could I not??? Love your blog, found you through Kathryn.

  11. I love how they went out, purchased a bucket put ice in it and brought it to your door. That is so cool! Wonder if the same thing would've happened here? Somehow I don't think so. At least not in the places where I stay.

  12. Jerry...every time I visit I laugh and shake my head at your gift of gab. You always brighten my day.

  13. Loved your post. I must go wrap some lemons now so they are ready for my tea time.

  14. As always I'm laughing! something for you at my place!

  15. I am cracking up...It is like you are reading my mind. I just asked hubby (TWO days ago) what a French Press was! Thanks for enlightening me!

    A bucket of ice...LOL!!! Watch what you ask for?

  16. French press coffee is fabulous! This post is fabulous. Now, I'm heading over to Professor Worm's and thanks for the heads-up.

  17. Hey, Jer, you already know that Prof. Worm is in hospital, right? Breathing problems. Friend is posting for him.

  18. We are nothing if not polite to visitors in this country. If you wish a bucket of ice, that is indeed what you will obtain. But what do you expect if you drink cold tea.

  19. oh Jerry! thank you again for making me laugh.

    I am guilty of rambling, quite often, and my thoughts are never as put together as yours. I call it, verbal vomit. it all comes out quickly, unexpectedly, and when I'm done, I feel so much better.

    I'm now trying to figure out how to share what I have read with hubby because I told him I wouldn't turn on his computer while he was downstairs swimming with the little one ... in my defense, the 10 year old did it ;0)