Friday, May 22, 2009


I moonlight as a server/waiter at a local restaurant. One of the perks to the job is that I get to converse with a broader swath of my fellow man than I would otherwise in my own circles.
The other night , I was taken to school by one woman of a different circle than i am used to. She came in with five others, most of them older- pushing 80. If it wasn't immediately apparent from the embroidered vests and personalized cuff links, a little eavesdropping made it clear these people were upper crust, old money aristocrats- ivy league graduating, charity board sitting, 5th Ave. shopping aristocrats- and definitely in their twilight. Their individual expressions of this status varied among them. But I think that coming of age in the post WW2 era, there were distinct roles for men and women. The men were a bit more loosey-goosey in attire and sense of humor, while the women asserted an kind of iron fisted self-certainty.
All was more or less going according to plan with their ordering of cocktails and dinner. They got their appetizers, and after a few minutes I could see that most of them were done, but one woman still had a half bowl of soup in front of her and I couldn't judge if she was finished or was just taking her time, so I asked, "Are you still working on your soup?" She made a gesture towards my wrist with her hand, not a grab, but a kind of gentle but firm kind of motion and said, "No... I am eating my soup... Don't say, 'Are you working on your soup,' I am eating my soup." I heard one of the men a the table begin to interject, 'oh come on now...' to quell her admonishment, but I immediately said, "You're right. You are right. I appreciate your point." No one made anything of it, I began clearing plates and they went on with their conversation.
My reaction was really rooted in my own sense of what it means to bring professionalism to the job of waiting tables. It has to do with sensing the mood, motives, tastes and dispositions of any given customer (short of some extreme case scenarios) and essentially countering them with whatever would best bring them pleasure and calm. Where there is Yang, I serve Yin, where there is Yin, a dash of Yang.... It strikes me as a kind of art that finds expression in this rather simplistic server/customer dynamic. But in this moment, another voice in the back of my head began to deconstruct this woman's psyche. How her sense of social superiority has over the years nurtured the audacity to be so condescending without hesitation or equivocation, and from that, the neo-intellectual-progressive-egalitarian retort I could have issued. But I had another thought too- the image of an old woman, with her arthritic fingers, engineering a lump of nutritional matter into her moist, feeding orifice, bile, saliva, mucuses churning through her aging, though still essentially functional, digestive system, to finally be expelled into a Clorox-dappled toilet bowl a few hours later- and I thought, yes, "working on your soup," brings us there, in some corner of our mind. And this is why we eat our food rather than work on it. If food was synonymous with an object of labor, rather than an object of pleasure and satisfaction, then the notion of selling food of a higher quality at a higher price is lost. This woman had obviously spent a lifetime affirming this fact through her choices of where to eat, and this was why she choose to eat the food I was serving her, and not the nasty Mexican food next door, and so I stood socially and intellectually corrected. But my response must have kept peace among the titans governing this meal, as evidenced in the fact that the party left contented, offering praise of the restaurant, and they tipped quite well on a very large bill. And the whole thing affirmed the fact that I like the job- with so very little to lose on my end.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Excerpt from Tony Horwitz's "A Voyage Long and Strange"

I stumbled across this tidbit of history in the above mentioned book. Horwitz is describing the Spanish Conquistador, Coronado's first incursion into the present day US. This passage describes his search for the semi-imagined seven cities of Cibola (and of course, gold! gold! gold!) which it turns out was a Pueblo settlement in present day New Mexico (which had only a measly bit of turquoise.)

"Coronado didn't record his first impressions of Cibola. Instead, he describes a curious ritual the Spanish performed outside the pueblo's walls. Coronado sent several soldiers, a friar, and an Indian interpreter ahead to deliver the edict called the Requerimiento, or Summons. Drafted three decades earlier by a Spanish jurist, the document was part of the Crown's tortured attempt to define "just war" against Indians: a sort of sixteenth-century Geneva Convention. Conquistadors carried copies of the Requerimiento all over the Americas and were commanded to read it to Indians before commencing battle.
The proclamation opened with an abridged history of the world: God's creation of heaven and earth; Adam and Eve; St. Peter and the papacy. It also explained that the pontiff in Rome had authorized Spain's claim to the New World, a grant recorded in various document. 'These you may view if you wish,' the Requerimiento assured its Indian audience. Then came the summons. Natives who peacefully accepted the Spanish Crown as "king and lord" would be welcomed "with complete affection and charity," and extended many privileges. Indians should pause to consider this generous offer, taking as much time as "is reasonable."
However, if they delayed, or refused to submit, the consequences would be immediate and awful. "I assure you that, with the help of God, I will attack you mightily. I will make war against you everywhere and in every way... I will take your wives and children, and I will make them slaves... I will take your property. I will do all the harm and damage to you that I can." And further: :I declare that the deaths ind injuries that occur as a result of this would be your fault an not his Majesty's nor ours."
The document concluded with the chilling legalism of Spanish conquest; a notary required to be present at the scene, signed an affidavit attesting that the edict had been pronounced. In modern terms, the Spanish thereby affirmed that natives had been read their Miranda rights. In practice the Requeriminto was more akin to last rites-- a death sentence delivered in language Indians couldn't possibly comprehend, in the name of forces they couldn't possibly imagine. Who was "God, Our Lord"? The "Pope"? The "exalted and powerful monarch" of a place called Castile and Leon?
As if the Requerimiento wasn't a bald enough sanction for slaughter, it was often read without an interpreter present, or was delivered from a distance of several miles, or uttered at night while Indians slept, unaware of an impending attack. The Dominican friar Bartolome de Las Casas declared that he didn't know "whether to laugh or cry" at the absurdity of the document." (Henry Holt & Co., NY; 2008: p.144.)


#1 General guiding principles for Leap Frog

Principles are to be generally self-organizing
Generally coherent grammar
Fictions, non-fictions and poetries
Links to distant locales