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What You Personally Can Do about the Federal Deficit
THERE ARE ECONOMISTS WHO say, "Hey, don't worry about it. It's not, you know, money, as you know it."
There are economists who say, "It will mean — unless real, drastic, structural steps are taken by next fiscal Thursday — that Arabs will own your grandchildren."
All I know is, it is $200 billion. Or $175 billion. Around in there. And it is America's. Which means it is mine.
And I am not going to just sit here.
I am going to think of something the individual American citizen can do to reduce it.
Here is what I have thought of:
Buy stamps and throw them away.
If you go to your local post office and try to give the person at the window twenty dollars and ask him to forward it on up to the person in charge of balancing the federal books, he will be nonplussed. If, however, you buy a roll of twenty-cent stamps and throw them away, you will have pumped twenty dollars into the federal government without requiring it to do anything except print those stamps and sell them to you. The federal government comes out, I don't know, $19.40 ahead.
And no one is hurt.
Another thing you might do is travel to Russia, find a Soviet citizen willing to pair off with you, and send to the Department of Defense an affidavit signed by you and that Soviet citizen (call her Olga Petrova) to the effect that the two of you have declared a mutual nonaggression pact and therefore you authorize the federal government to reduce military outlays by whatever it costs to defend you against Olga Petrova. But that would take something out of the pockets of people who happen to be employed by our military-industrial complex.
Throwing away stamps doesn't disadvantage anyone. Mailmen are not deprived of any business, because you are still sending the same amount of mail. In point of fact, the stamp-production complex makes more money — so that all the people employed by it can better afford to buy stamps and throw them away. You see how this thing — anti-philately, we might call it — could gather momentum.
Okay. It bothers you to buy anything and throw it away. I can understand that. So here is a fallback position: put twenty-cent stamps on postcards. An extra six cents to the federal government on each postcard mailed. It adds up.
Or you can do this: you can leave an entire new roll of stamps on your windowsill with the window open, allowing sudden rainfall to stick the whole roll together.
That is what I did recently. And I saw the downside of it. I tried to peel the roll apart. I produced stamp clumps, stamp ghosts, stamp shreds.
What a stupid, wasteful thing to do! Was I hacked off. But then I looked at the upside. I had reduced the federal deficit.
You see how ideas like this are born?
Of course if you do a little arithmetic, it looks like every American will have to throw away five thousand twenty-cent stamps in order to eliminate the deficit entirely. (Now that the cost of sending a letter has gone up to twenty-two cents, there are probably a lot of twenties left over.) That's twenty thousand stamps for a family of four. So there might be great whuffling clumps of loosened stamp rolls blowing through the nation's streets like tumbleweed. Still, that's better than picturing your granddaughter as a harem girl.
P.S. It has been objected that — because the post office is no longer a part of the federal government, but is run by an independent company catchily known as the United States Postal Service — this proposal will not work. But it is mine and I am sticking with it. Why does no one ever pick apart the ideas of Ronald Reagan? I'll tell you why: because he owes everyone too much money.CHAPTER 2
How to High-Falute
PERSONALLY I LIKE A good, solid, family-style restaurant that has a name like Rip and Emma's and is presided over by Emma, who on a slow night will sit down with you while she shells peas. She'll call you honey and point out the picture of the late Rip with his accordion and tell you about the time he ran for mayor and his opponent called him a liar and Rip came right back and called his opponent a liar and they attempted to resolve the issue by taking public lie-detector tests but they both passed so they tried again and they both failed; so Rip played his accordion and sang his campaign song, which was to the tune of "Blessed Assurance." At this kind of restaurant, you get seated and served right away as long as you look like a fairly nice person and your nose isn't running.
But I realize that there are people who prefer swanker places. Eateries called Magna Carta or Le Foie Engorgé, which do not encourage the appetite of anyone who has not just come from racquetball with Cap Weinberger. And everybody looks at you as if you probably don't know how to eat caniche vinaigrette avec toute la sauce without getting it all over yourself.
Some feel that the only way to be received and waited upon with any degree of enthusiasm at a restaurant like that is to walk in with one of the Bouvier sisters on your arm and a fifty-dollar bill plastered to your forehead. Not so.
Oh, it's one way. It will work — at least until March 1988, when some analysts expect good tables to jump as high as both Bouviers, three twenties, and a platinum tooth.
But more and more people today are trying less traditional approaches. For instance:
Becoming the Chef
Ferrell Trivet had always wanted to dine at Le Haut Falutin, in Manhattan. Whenever he tried to gain admittance, however, the maître d' sprayed paraquat on him and sent him away.
Ferrell tried humor: "If you spray me with defoliant, how do you expect me to leave?" But the maître d' had heard that one before. So Ferrell said to himself, "I know what. I'll become the chef."
Easier said than done. First there were the inevitable dues-paying years at a live sushi counter on Staten Island. Then at an S and M sushi bar in Queens. Then at a place — whose location Ferrell refuses to disclose because he doesn't want to "bring it one dime's worth of patronage more than, may God cease to avert his eyes, it attracts already" — where he was forced to prepare baby-seal sashimi.
Even when, at last, he got through the portals of Le Haut Falutin's kitchen, it was not as chef. Oh no. It was not even as sous-chef. At the age of forty-seven, Ferrell was expected to perform as saucier.
Part of the job was congenial to him, although debilitating. It is well known that chefs — like all creative people — can get to hitting the sauce so hard that they turn bright red and scuttle sluggishly around on the floor like nearly done lobsters making a break for it. It is the saucier's job to do roughly two-thirds of the chef's tippling — which, depending on the size and intensity of the chef, can be fatal and nearly always causes disorientation, even in Chinese places. Still, Ferrell did not mind.
It was the other half of the saucier's role that Ferrell never warmed to: walking past the tables in a mauve-and-magenta uniform, making snippy remarks to the customers and tossing his head. Intellectually, he knew this was essential in such a fancy place. But in his heart he craved customerhood for himself so fondly that he derived no pleasure from making it unpleasant for the favored few who were able to attain it.
Then one day the chef keeled over permanently, and as it happened he landed on the sous-chefs, although they had been warned repeatedly not to hover. And poof: Ferrell was entitled to a big white hat and imperious ways.
Now he was cooking. But not yet dining. He would race through his duties, hop into evening wear, and dash round to the front entrance, only to be told, "Je regrette, mais la kitchen is closed." Catch-22.
To make matters worse, the maître d' would come back to the kitchen and taunt him: "Eh, Chef Ferrell, how come you nevair take a table, eh? Oo-ha-ha. You no like le coo-keeng, eh? Heh-heh-hehhhh."
Then one evening, as Ferrell was stirring just the right amounts of cockle-muscle extract, minced mussel cocks, and les petites choses inquiétantes et maladroites de la mer into the bouillabaisse polonaise, he paused, inhaled the bouquet, gazed fondly into the vat, and realized he didn't need a table. He could eat all the bouillabaisse he wanted. So he did. The whole vat.
And he left Le Haut Falutin, adopted his saucier (whom he allowed to wear Levi's and required to be fresh but civil), and opened his own place that is all kitchen: patrons are charged prix fixe (eighty-five dollars, lunch; whatever Ferrell feels like charging, dinner) to wander from pot to pot stirring, inhaling, and tasting.
Dressing Up Like Michael Jackson
The bad news: headwaiters are catching on to this one. You'll have to field a stiff battery of questions to prove that you can talk the way Michael Jackson actually does when he is out with his high-life crowd:
"Why do you wear that glove?"
"I got this from Mickey Mouse. Only he has to wear two of them because nobody wants to see mouse fingers."
"Are you, in fact, Diana Ross?"
"No, you're thinking of Carl Lewis, who is Grace Jones."
"Were you just born knowing how to move like that?"
"No. It's from high-school football. I was at an inside linebacker slot, see, and this pulling guard came at me, about two hundred thirty pounds and going hunhf-uffa, hunhf-uffa, and I thought to myself, How'm I going to show him I'm bad? So, I did this little spin, you know, um ch'coot'n — wooo — ch'ch'ch'ch'cootn'-pah: unh! And he missed me. And he still does."
Lowering Your Expectations
What is so wrong, really, about a table situated so that the bartender has to be constantly reminded not to forget himself and dry his hands on your dinner companion's hair? In some parts of the world, people eat bugs.
Sponge Baths on the Way Over in the Taxi
Restaurant service personnel are extraordinarily sensitive to what scientists call phewomones: tiny (it goes without saying, tiny, but I mean truly tiny) ionized particles that are given off by the skin and moist membranes of people who are not quality. A recent study showed that whereas the average person cannot sniff out unpalatable people without the aid of visual clues such as wristwatches obviously costing less than $1,500, the average career waiter can do it blindfolded and while eating yesterday's bait.
Baird Roxie is not particularly built, knows no martial arts, and does not want any trouble. But he can handle himself in a restaurant. When he is welcomed by an icy look, he seizes the headwaiter by the scruff of the neck in such a stringent way that it includes the Adam's apple. Then in a calm, firm voice he says, "I'm Mr. Roxie and here's my major credit card, which as you see does not expire until 9/87. When I turn loose of your neck, I'd like you to say hidy graciously to Jennalynn Russet, as fine a woman as you'd ever want to meet. And then I want you to walk us on over to a comfortable table. And then I want you to go tell your sommelier not to come high-nosing over here with a wine list that looks like an album of wallpaper samples but just to bring us some of your house red, which ought to be fine if the house is worth a shit,"
Baird Roxie always gets good service. It helps to be accompanied by Jennalynn Russet, who is perfectly willing to crouch behind the headwaiter so he can be floored by a slight push on the chest, if necessary.
Affecting Extreme Nonchalance
While chewing a toothpick (which suggests that you may have eaten already) and wearing a feather in your hatband, stand out on the restaurant's doorstep, facing the street. Rock back and forth from heels to toes, contentedly, and hum a tune such as "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time."
After a while, the door will open slightly:
Pretend not to notice.
It will close.
Continue to rock and hum.
The door will open again, slightly wider. An eye will be visible.
Don't pay any attention.
The door will close again.
Keep on humming and rocking.
Finally, the door will open enough for the headwaiter to stick his head out, which he will do. In a moment, he will speak:
You look around. Regard the headwaiter's head as if trying to determine whether you have seen it anywhere before. Shake your own head: You haven't. Face the street again.
"I say," says the headwaiter.
Look around again. "Sorry, stranger, I don't believe I know you."
"Well! I am this establishment's headwaiter!"
"That a fact? I'm Corky Severingham, from Lake Waste, Arkansas." Resume humming. This time the door is slammed. But after a few seconds it opens again.
"I say! Am I to infer that you are interested in dining at this establishment?"
"Hm? Oh, no, thanks, I don't think I'd ... Okay."
Several people come dashing up the sidewalk. "And this is my wife Pepper and her brother Treat and his wife Rosareece and these four are the babies, they'll need high chairs, but Treat and Rosareece's boy Toomey there just needs a bib and a bowl of applesauce, and the same goes for Momma's aunt Mae April here. Momma couldn't come herself, she's got a board meeting back home, but she asked us to bring her some of those real thin crackers. Let's see — nine, ten, eleven, and take away Momma — that's ten of us, but we'll need a table for twelve because we like to have a busboy sit on either side of this batch of little ones here and kind of keep 'em down to an uproar. Now don't you go rearranging a lot of tables for us; we'll do that...."
Meanwhile there is no way the headwaiter can grab all that many people of different sizes, so at least two-thirds of you will get in. "My good man!" the headwaiter will cry. "We couldn't possibly accommodate all these people!"
"Oh. Well. I tell you what we'll do. Just Pepper and I'll take a table for two — make it for three. Great-aunt Mae April don't want to eat anything, but she'd like to sit there and look around. And the rest can all go on down to the Chock Full O' Nuts — they like that better anyway. Oh, I see Great-aunt Mae April has already found us a table. We don't even need to bother you. But I appreciate your interest."
Going in with a Seeing Eye Dog
Once I was at a cocktail party when a very successful unsighted stockbroker came in with her dog, which went right over to the coffee table and ate a nice Brie and two dozen bacon-wrapped water chestnuts. No one said anything. Pretty much anything a Seeing Eye dog does, it does quietly, so its master either doesn't notice or need not admit to noticing, and it can get away with it.
In a restaurant, the dog will take care of everything. It will silently clamp its jaws on the maître d's ankle. The maître d' will hop around and wear an expression of outrage, but if he says anything at all it will probably be no more than "M'sieu! Your dog!"
"Ah yes, Shiva," you say. "I don't know what I would do without her."
Shiva will then lead the headwaiter and you to whatever table she chooses. If people are dining there already — as may well be the case, since a dog prefers a table with food on it — Shiva will seize each diner in turn by the ankle until they all leave. Then she will clean their plates, and both of you will be sitting pretty.
Just be sure not to cry out "WHAT!?" until someone tells you the size of the check.
It will be noted that this essay has dealt primarily with fancy restaurants' first line of defense. That is because, once you have fought your way past the greeter, it is a simple matter to dispel regular waitpersons' antagonism. You just raise your voice every so often to say "national talent search," "some lucky unknown," "we've got Meryl and Warren already, that's not the problem," and "a new face for the second lead." Unless this is such a deluxe place that it doesn't hire show people but only dyspeptic foreign men. In that case you bring along one of those surf-casting reels, a good treble hook, and plenty of line. Eighty-pound test is plenty strong enough, since dyspeptic foreign men seldom jump high enough to bring their entire weight into play.
Excerpted from Not Exactly What I Had in Mind by Roy Blount Jr.. Copyright © 1982 Roy Blount Jr.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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