Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Jacuzzi and Ice Cream Man Cringe

For over a decade, I have enjoyed the PBS series Antiques Roadshow. The premise involves antique appraisal experts touring the United States to visit conference halls where regular people line up with “treasures” in arms: furniture and pottery passed down from long-gone ancestors, garage sale finds, childhood toys. Everyone is hoping that for example, Aunt Pearl’s grandfather’s desk, is worth oodles of money. There have been notable episodes which featured a hidden revolutionary war document found behind an old painting, a rare (rather insignificant-looking) side table worth hundreds of thousands, and a Native American hand-carved bowl that looked like a shop project gone wrong worth $50k. The allure of the show is all about luck. Watchers daydream that they could have the same providence. The folks who line up in the Antiques Roadshow queue probably enjoy gambling. The part of the brain that lights up at the sound of coins ringing in a slot machine likely throbs on line at the roadshow.

Antiques Roadshow has often hosted programs at one of the largest annual antique outdoor fairs in America located in Brimfield, Massachusetts. Brimfield is antiques mecca. I have always wanted to go. In Brimfield, there are thousands of tents erected in a Berkshire Mountain Valley “brimming” with potential bounty. George Washington’s last will and testament (an unknown version) just might be located in the trap pocket of an old doctor’s satchel. In early September, I rented a cargo van with two girlfriends and headed north for five hours. I sat in a beach chair in the back, rumbling over the potholes of the George Washington Bridge. Even if I didn’t uncover George’s hidden documents, I planned to buy stuff and bring it home to sell at a profit. It was a business venture.

We arrived in the early morning and walked the fields for eight hours. We lugged small dressers, chairs, frames, stained glass windows, and interesting building salvage back to the white Unabomber van. Bushed, we headed back to the hotel we booked for the evening. We planned to visit the acres we missed the next morning and stock up again. That luck-seeking part of my brain was pumping.

At the hotel, we passed by an indoor pool and gurgling, empty hot tub. The chlorine frothed on top. I thought that the Jacuzzi looked inviting—a place to unwind from my day of furniture moving. My friends did not want to enter the public Petri dish. Suit yourself, I called, and changed into my swimsuit. The hot water felt good and I shut my eyes for a few peaceful minutes.

Then I heard the plunk of legs in the foam across from me. A man—a stranger—entering the tub. It’s a cringe moment. I’m suddenly in a bath tub with someone. He’s roughly my age and nods at me, then closes his eyes. I’m negotiating how quickly I can exit. It’s one of those odd social predicaments: do I jump up from the water like I’m physically threatened (which I wasn’t), stay as long as I wanted, or wait two cringey minutes and shove off? I pick choice #3 and scurry back to the room, where one friend is performing yoga stretches on the bed to ease the sciatica gained from carrying a porcelain-topped table across a field.

The following day we resume our treasure hunt. Mid-afternoon, we break at an ice-cream stand advertised with a big soft-serve cone ornament. Ice cream seems the perfect idea. I start to order and look up at the ice cream man. It’s my Jacuzzi mate. I say vanilla-chocolate twist, please, with a gulp. As I’m walking away, I’m wondering if the image of my flesh in a swimsuit pops into his head along with the thought that I maybe shouldn’t be stopping for ice cream.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Booted Out Of Restaurant Cringe--Part II

The follow-up from last week....

Angry Cook took Marty’s phone call, and yelled while he crashed commercial pots against surfaces. He claimed Brendan (a.k.a. the worst kid ever) had been throwing glass salt and pepper shakers around his restaurant, repeatedly. Marty countered that there was no way the three adults at the table (me and my two cousins) would have allowed a one-year-old to pitch glass objects across the room. Angry Cook was nuts—maybe he had suffered some form of heat stroke in his sizzling kitchen. Marty accused Angry Cook of being a lousy businessman, and expressed how displeased he was to hear this outrageous story from an extremely upset wife, especially about a place we spent most Sunday mornings at surrounded by other noisy families. Angry Cook refused to apologize, defending his privilege to rid his establishment of our little menace. In the highlight of their conversation, Angry Cook said, “Why don’t you come down here and we can settle this like men?”

“Did you just seriously say that? Dude…get a hold of yourself! You are so out of control right now. I think you need help.”

While Marty argued with a lunatic, I called to get comfort from my dear friend, Tammy. I needed to speak to someone who would be even more outraged than me. Tammy is a passionate, loyal being. She is Brendan’s godmother-- this strengthened her fury. After telling our tale of restaurant booting, my humiliating cringe, I worried that she might leave her job to drive over and throw rocks at Angry Cook’s window—or worse. The best part about speaking to Tammy after such an incident is her amazing creativity with colorful words. If there were a Pulitzer prize for inventive swearing, she would win the gold category. The Angry Cook became a sad, little, sack of s%!@, a slab of meat, a piss-poor excuse for a man, a rancid &@$! cook, a bleeping speck of bacteria that should find his face in boiling fry oil.

Tammy was on fire, these admonishments flowing effortlessly.

The story spread. I received generous support against the Angry Cook. Ted, of the ferry and gas station cringes, vowed to take his children to the restaurant on a crowded Sunday morning and command them to behave like wild animals. Many in my neighborhood wrote off the luncheonette forever, despite the good food.

In the end, maybe the Angry Cook lost a little business, and I was fortified by all of the great people I am lucky to have in my life—including my little screamer, Brendan.

But a lingering problem….three years later, even when Brendan is quietly eating a grilled cheese out somewhere, I still cringe. My heart beats a tad faster. I am fearful of all swinging kitchen doors.