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Writer's Block: Table for One

Do you ever go out to dinner (at a sit-down restaurant) by yourself?

No. I don't go out to dinner at sit-down restaurants with people either, it's usually too much trouble and pain. The chairs wreck my back, they don't allow smoking any more and the food often still winds up with pepper in it even when I explain my allergy and have the waitstaff tell the chef. I do not like restaurants.

I used to go to certain types of places alone when I lived in New Orleans, a couple of local diners that did burgers were all right. I don't like spending a lot of money on a meal though and I don't like fancy-restaurant food nearly as much as diner-type food, burgers and so on. Generally it's done to tastes other than mine and much harder to get the cook to not put pepper on or in it.

Diners were more likely to have comfortable padded booths where if I went right up against the wall I could lean and not wreck my back. They were in those days perfectly fine about smoking so I could spend enough time there having coffee and a bit of dessert before having to get up and walk again.

The higher up the scale restaurants went, the nastier they generally got. Portions shrank, my favorites vanished off the menu in favor of too much rabbit food or seafood and it gets harder to communicate with the chef about my allergy. In a diner the cook is right there. I can say "Hey, don't put any pepper on mine, I'm allergic" and he'll turn around and go "Okay" and fry it in front of me. Now that is a lot safer.

There are a few exceptions to the "more pricy less food less pleasure" but they turned out to be five-star restaurants, which rise beyond the social-climbing status-grasping level into a level where their kicks come in making anyone that comes in happy, in providing service as good as their food. I did enjoy that the couple of times I went to a couple of the famous New Orleans ones. But most of the time actual sit-down restaurants weren't worth the trouble even before they started banning smoking in them.

I also, always, hated the waiting. At home it's not as bad to wait for dinner because I'm at home. I've got my computer to fool with or a book to read or art supplies handy, I don't get up till it's ready even with a feast that's a sit-down feast. But going to a restaurant there is a long wait before your order gets filled while it gets made, a longer one if it had to be sent back because some idiot in the kitchen didn't believe you really had an allergy to pepper and thought it'd be ruined without it. Or slathered it in a spicy sauce after not shaking loose pepper on it because he didn't think that tang on the tongue was actually pepper. At that point, I'm still waiting for dinner while everyone else is waiting for their dessert and it gets awkward.
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( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 3rd, 2009 11:03 pm (UTC)
For the most part, I don't go out to restaurants myself. If I'm out in the area alone, I might stop in somewhere to catch a bite to eat, but I'm more likely to stick with someplace I know is quick.

If I'm with people --

Comfort is definitely a concern. I have difficulty with hard booths and chairs, although the booths are still an improvement because even if the back is hard, the seat is usually padded. Chair, I'm likely to lean forward to avoid the back pressing into a tender point and screw up my lower back good. Meh.

I know what you mean about the "waiting for your meal while everyone else is on dessert" thing. I don't have your issues with pepper, but if we choose to go to a steakhouse and I actually want red meat... well, I'm very particular these days about how my steak is cooked. Medium rare, leaning toward rare. Bright red and bleeding, thank you, but still hot. The guys jokingly call it "Scare the cow with a lighter and slab it on the plate". LOL.

I don't have any idea of steakhouses in this area yet, but back in MA... there were only two locations that I trusted to get my steak right. And even they would fuck up from time to time. Grr. At least, most of the time, they would cut the cost off the bill if they screwed up, or offer a free dessert (to-go if I didn't want it there). Some restaurants wouldn't even do that and acted like it was this Huge Big Deal to even make a new one because they fucked up.

Also, an odd thing. I always like going to places where they give you huge portions and I have plenty of leftovers. Italian is often great for this, cause pasta reheats well. But, I have seen comments from people that feel cheated if they walk out of the restaurant with leftovers. I still can't figure out that twisted logic. o.O
Feb. 3rd, 2009 11:25 pm (UTC)
You're right, that makes no sense to me that people would feel cheated if they walk out with leftovers. If I don't then I feel like I've been shorted and probably am still hungry. It's rare to get a full meal that's just right, filling but leaves nothing left over, it tends to run one way or another.

Thanks for commenting! Another restaurant-hater!
Feb. 3rd, 2009 11:18 pm (UTC)
I tend to get takeout more than sit in the restaurant. I can call ahead, dork around at home for 15-20 minutes, then go pick it up. When I go to actually eat in one, I bring a book or my Alphasmart or something.
Feb. 3rd, 2009 11:26 pm (UTC)
Yep, makes sense to me. I might be less annoyed if it weren't for the no-smoking and the chairs causing me that much pain because I'd be doing something like that.
Feb. 4th, 2009 07:31 am (UTC)
I hear you on all of this. (Except the smoking--I used to be unable to go out because people always smoked, and I had very severe asthma.) Same problem with allergies. If I ask what contains what, waiters act like I'm some spoiled brat, while tablemates want to know all about how I must've had horrible parents who didn't allow me to develop normal immunities. Same problem with back-wrecking chairs that look so wonderfully stylish but hurt like hell, too.

So, screw it. Friendly diners>fancy restaurants. That being said, though, I'm always willing to give reasonably-priced new places a shot.
Feb. 4th, 2009 07:08 pm (UTC)
Allergies and sensitivities bite. I can understand that dealing with other people's smoke is as difficult as my not being able to find one with a smoking area -- they need to be separated, thoroughly. Many of the groups and clubs I know about online make a point of asking members not to use scented body products or perfume either because of the number of people with allergies and sensitivities.

Right -- not everyone who wound up being kept inside in sterile conditions had horrible parents. I did, but that's not across the board and I know it. To a large extent that was the custom of the times along with decades of corn syrup baby formulas that wind up setting up for adult obesity.

I don't even think of those chairs as looking stylish or attractive, they tend to look ugly and utilitarian to me. My tastes in furnishings don't run to minimalism. What they look like to me is cheap most of the time.

Going out even to friendly diners winds up on a very low priority compared to things that I wind up owning though. Buying books is an impulse pleasure that can give me years of enjoyment till I wear them out. Eating out even if I found a steak place that had cushioned comfy booths and a smoking area would be only that one night and cost a bundle. I could fill half a bookshelf with that much money, worse if I were taking other people out with me.

Whatever you cook at home is going to be to your taste, right exactly to your taste. One thing that helps for convenience is making stuff that reheats well, big crock pot things and stuff that mean the next meal doesn't need cooking at all.
Feb. 5th, 2009 06:23 pm (UTC)
Thing is, I wasn't kept inside in sterile conditions, except during episodes. I practically grew up in a barn, and was generally raised in healthy, hippie ways. The same is true of a lot of other people I know who developed immune problems, which makes me suspect there's more at work than just parenting and genetics. Similarly, a lot of adults seem to also be developing severe allergies to foods they've eaten all their lives. Besides, I think it's just plain rude when people assume that you--or your parents--must've done something that caused all your problems.

I guess the restaurants we're thinking of have different chairs. Minimalistic wouldn't describe what I'm thinking about. Maybe what's popular in different regions.

I'm at a point where books add to the weight I need to carry when I move. It's much easier for me to return things to a library and remember the title to buy someday. I do cook, but I need to budget the time for that very carefully--ten minutes is often ten minutes more than I can actually afford. A versatile rice cooker is indeed a lifesaver with that. But taking a morning every few weeks to go walk to the nice local diner, enjoy some good company, and eat some great food is a wonderful break. Cheap, too--a meal for me is usually around $5. (Then again, I don't eat much.)
Feb. 6th, 2009 02:42 am (UTC)
Must be something regional. You're right though. I wound up reading about the possibility that allergies develop from kids being kept inside too much in sterile conditions, and I didn't doubt it because that was true for me. I was never let out much as a kid.

But that kind of assumption is rude. It's there in almost everything though. It's odd how very common these things are now. As you pointed out, adults are becoming allergic to foods they've eaten all their lives without trouble. I know my situation is specific and unique.

On top of everything else I'm just screwed up, probably genetically, and have paradoxical reactions to anything from medications to foods. Always have. If it's getting that widespread for adults to have allergies to common foods then something else probably is going on, something serious involving environmental pressures or stress or toxins or slow deficiencies. I can see how deficiencies could cascade into a food sensitivity if the body has trouble metabolizing some element in the food because of a deficiency. Too little is understood about the causes -- but I wonder if it is in some way on a biological level, adaptive?

Ahh, you haven't got a problem getting to libraries though. Transportation is a huge problem for me. Even if I had a car and a driver's license again I could not count on being able to return them in time because of my up and down health. I've never been able to rely on libraries for books. Inevitably if it's a reference book I want to own it and two weeks or even six with a couple renewals is not enough for me to really make use of it.

It sounds like there's different priorities involved too. I couldn't even prepare my own food at all so if I did cook, it became an all day affair and I had to cook for a week during it or I'd fall behind on survival stuff.

Feb. 6th, 2009 06:33 am (UTC)
I do believe it's something regional. Almost all of the kids I know who developed weird problems without being raised in a bubble are from cities, whereas it's much rarer in people born and raised in rural areas. Pollution would be the obvious suspect, but it could also be earlier exposure to more disease, genetic mixing that wouldn't have occurred in earlier ages, and so on. I hope someone's studying it. I should look it up sometime.

It could be adaptive. I really don't know enough to say--and it seems like nobody does. But the body is much like a computer in that it's got good solutions that it will apply without much consideration for the actual problem, so I could see it.

About the rudeness: I see it as a form of "your problems are all your fault." (As little kids are usually assumed to be blameless, parents get swapped in.) People aren't comfortable with stuff they can't understand, and they like to blame someone for everything. Especially with health problems, it's an attitude I hate. I've tried the healthy food--in fact, I eat pretty well. I've tried the mindfulness stuff. I've tried... hell, you name it. It's not like it's fun. But even if you don't talk about it to someone for years, or only bring it up when they try to feed you stuff you're allergic to, they act like you must want to be sick because you want attention. Never mind that there's nothing nastier than that sort of attention... but I have a feeling I'm preaching to the choir.

That attitude is even worse, though, because it comes from somewhere--in a lot of cases, people really did get into problems because of doing something stupid, or could be healthier if they took better care of themselves. But I don't think it's anyone's place but their doctor's to say so, really. And the doctor shouldn't be an ass about it.

Different priorities is correct--and I'm fortunate in that my library is less than a block away, and I can renew online for months.
Feb. 6th, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)
You're right. That's exactly it -- another variation on "your problems are your fault." With the corollary that if you were a remotely different person you'd quit smoking, visit Yogi Wossname, get a better job, get a super therapist, join a health club, eat rabbit food and of course have absolutely no symptoms that could inconvenience you in any mass-marketing situation where Good Standard Normative Product Oriented People know what tastes good and what doesn't.

"Ugh, how can you live without pepper?"

Easily, and without pain either. It had a bad taste before the allergy got so bad I couldn't take it at all.

A warning flavor.

Not to mention that even the doctors if they were general practitioners kept trying to give me Zoloft and push me to take long walks and do calisthenics. That bit about "Check with your doctor before starting an exercise plan?" Not without a specialist, because a regular GP will sign off on things that'll kill you without a moment's hesitation and reach for the psychiatric medication anytime they hear "I can't do that."

Even when it's as literal and physical as "my arm doesn't reach that far."

Most of the GPs go into why it must be my fault I've got chronic illness. It's gotta be the half pack a day smoking habit. Shrinks legs, yanno. Bends bones. Or maybe it's that I'm overweight by the scale.

I'm starting to face up to something that turned my stomach every time anyone sketched me, all my life. It's becoming brutally clear in a) some of my art classes and b) some of my attempts at making art instruction video.

The dwarfing.

My fingers are stunted. My hands aren't too narrow but are shortened, stunted. Your hand is supposed to be the length of your forearm from wrist to elbow laid on the inside of your opposite arm. Not. Your hand is the length of A Head, chin to hairline. Not, my fingertips are at my eyebrow. My hands are stunted.

I remember being deeply embarrassed about my hands as a kid for being that squat, short and dumpy and being told there was nothing wrong with my hands when I complained about it -- by every adult except the damn piano teacher, who took one look and said that I'd never get any good at it no matter how hard I tried. Reason enough to give up piano.

Somebody ought to make the keys in different sizes to fit different sizes of people so that keyboard instruments are not limited to people with long fingers and large hands. But that is like basketball and gigantism, it continues to perpetuate itself.

I sat with one knee pulled up in one of my test videos, not planning to make it a serious one. Something was wrong with the picture. I could not figure out what was revolting about it -- not my chest, not my stomach which wasn't bloated, but my leg looked wrong... and then I finally saw where my knee is. Not up near my shoulder. Nearly a hand's length below the shoulder.

Right. Misproportioned. Extreme. Visible. The elephant in the living room.

I could see it as a kid and I hated it. "It's not true" is no comfort because it was real every time I looked in a mirror or touched myself, true when kids pointed it out though past a certain age they stopped doing that.

And that wasn't even the fibromyalgia, the inivisible disease that didn't get discovered till the 90s. That was something skeletal and blatantly obvious. The elephant in the living room as much as "Your parents have seven or eight drinks every night before they start screaming at each other?" would be.

It's fear.

I think they want to believe it because they don't want to believe that just living in a city can do it.

Most of all that it could happen to them just as easily and hit out of the blue regardless of their choices.
Feb. 6th, 2009 02:18 pm (UTC)
You really nailed it that the body has good solutions that it will apply without much consideration for the actual problem.

When I overworked in the 80s, sleeping only 2 hours a night and working 16+ hour days at the print shop, I was prey to every respiratory infection that wandered in. I was the first to get sick. My boss would send me home, I'd be sick a few days and come back to clear up the massive backlog of accumulated work.

I think my immune system was letting them in because it was the only reason I would stop, otherwise I was working myself into the ground and would have collapsed in sheer exhaustion. I sustained it for years but started to notice that pattern and so I took off at the slightest sign of a cold because I'd get over it faster if I did.

So my body cut right past what the problem was but the solution did work in its terms. I slept if I caught a cold, therefore colds were a good thing. I haven't had any since I moved here, partly because I don't get exposed because I don't go out but partly because I'm not running myself into the ground either.

That blaming attitude is American tradition. It's there in everything -- people's misfortunes must be their fault, Bad Things Never Happen To Good People. The shock - literal physical shock -- when bad things happen to people who thought of themselves as good people can kill them.

It also inevitably for most of them leads them into shame and guilt over whatever they did to deserve it because gods, it couldn't be that something bad could happen for no reason at all and not as a punishment.

I grew up thanks to my disabilities in a world where punishments and rewards bore no relation to reality. I got martyred enough times as a kid, punished for things I knew I had not done wrong, punished for things I didn't believe were wrongs, to doubt the justice of punishment and not buy into that on some levels. On others I did, and there was the elephant in the living room -- the distortions in my body.

The reason that I never got around to working out was because it would be pointless. I will not be strong or handsome if I do. Just sicker with nothing to show for it.

On some things the body's wise.
Feb. 7th, 2009 12:14 am (UTC)
Oh, absolutely--it makes people feel safe. Unfortunately, the tradition of blame isn't American--it's basically human. Just-world thinking is one of the most basic defense mechanisms. I can't think of a studied modern culture where it hasn't been found, or an ancient culture where it wasn't displayed.

Thinking about it, it's easy to see where it comes from. Quite often, bad things happen to people who do something stupid. Back when we didn't know about disease transmission, avoiding people with problems made sense. In cultures where people still believe that HIV, job loss, and all sorts of other events are caused by curses, it makes sense to believe that the people affected got cursed because they did something...

What is seen pretty strongly in America is a Puritan tradition, which plays off that by adding the idea that pleasure leads to bad things. Another one of those ones that came from somewhere, but got taken too far.

Re: proportions: I just tried it and my hand just reaches my eyebrow, too. Knee, about four inches below shoulder. It's hard to see how the knee could be measured wrong, but where is the hand supposed to be measured from? (I know my hands are somewhat disproportionately smaller than the norm, and same for my legs, but I'm within normal limits.)

It does generally suck that your body determines what you can do, though. I'd be the last person to argue that...
Feb. 7th, 2009 12:41 am (UTC)
We disagree on that. I think the Blame Game is cultural. It may run deep in Western culture and many cultures but I don't think it's universal. I think that culture teaches paradigm on these things and that the ancient Romans have a lot to answer for, particularly the Stoics who wound up inspiring Puritanism. That joyless creed carries only one safety valve -- blaming others and self righteousness about a life of self denial.

In its extremes people feel guilty even about a moment of happiness for no reason like looking at the sky, because they ought to be working hard and not enjoying themselves. It makes me sick as a philosophy. It may have been adaptive for survival at some points and it may have been very adaptive for living under Roman rule when everything in life was risk and oppression, but it's not sane in my view.

It is natural to want to know what caused something bad in order to learn how to prevent it, to gain control of risks in life. I think that automatically blaming people for their misfortunes is another order of complexity though, a set of pat answers to that basic question in a society where questioning, especially questioning authorities or experts is treated as subversive and suspect. The same mindset finds it hard to accept an answer like "No one knows. Doctors have no idea what causes that."

When that's true of a lot of things. I'm more emotionally comfortable facing the uncertainty. After all there are other things in life that are bad and do not have my name written on them. There isn't a paradigm for fate very much in modern worldviews, for "things happen without meaning." Not everything in the universe has meaning in human terms!

Sometimes you're just in the path of the tornado.

Right, reading down your comment, yep. Puritanism takes its roots from a strain of early Christian philosophy that came down by way of Paul, who did not stop being Roman and holding Roman ideas of virtue, abstinence and self control just because he embraced the spiritual love of Christ. If anything he goes to great lengths to try to divorce that from anything human or physical.

Chin to top of head. Base of hand at chin, where do fingertips fall? If you know you have small hands then that relieves me about just how extreme the shortness is. My hands are wide but very short.

It's true for everyone that their body determines what they can do. They just have greater limits than I do. Gods there are times I envy the sort of person who at 98 is still getting out to do farm work and enjoying it. Some people have that kind of stamina. I never did.
Feb. 9th, 2009 07:26 pm (UTC)
I don't deny that it runs strongly in Western culture--and I still maintain that the Aeneid is the most astute commentary I've seen on the subject, even though Paul and Augustine and all that didn't appear on the scene for centuries. But which cultures do you see as not having some strains of it?

Fingertips fall right at the top of my nose, between the beginnings of my eyebrows, if I measure from the first line on my wrist. It's also a bit over halfway up the inside of forearm, from the same line. My hands are just small--narrow and short. My fingers make up most of the length, so they seem longer than they actually are. But finding gloves that fit well enough for me to type is a serious challenge.
Feb. 9th, 2009 11:17 pm (UTC)
That's neat that you have relatively long fingers though, your hands probably look cool. Mine look stunted.

I have seen subcultures where it just wasn't common custom and I think that some cooperative cultures like the Zuni don't play that game. I think that the blame game is one specific of a vaguer universal human tendency -- the tendency to latch onto a socially acceptable explanation when anything bad happens rather than to accept that bad things can happen for reasons you can't control and may never know. It's only one of many fans that get waved in front of the scary unknown.

It's too specific of an ideology and behavior. It's too socially acceptable to blame someone else and pass the buck. That type of encouragement of it comes out of Puritanism and I've run into people who were culturally not driven to that. Some cultures will be more accepting of ideas like "that's fate" and not go nuts trying to find someone to blame when something goes wrong.

My son in law is an anthropologist so our long discussions tend to lead to some new observations. Unfortunately I read too much and forget too much to be able to cite anything, which is why he's an anthropologist and I'm a writer digesting it for future stories. It can be eliminated in a subculture or revival movement if that is immersive enough to provide other explanations to stuff into the dark and other socially acceptable patterns of culture for how to react to misfortune.

I think the blame > punishment attitude is Puritanical but it goes way earlier, you're right about the Aeneid. That stream has been in Western culture a long long time. I just happen to think it's a bad idea that's been flogged way too long and ruined too many lives.
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