Thursday, September 30, 2010

What's in a Title?

I don’t remember the details about the night when I first uttered the words that would eventually become the title of my first book. I know I had been upset about the way the guys in the kitchen had been treated by management. We were down to a skeleton crew to save money and they were stretched thin and utterly exhausted.  

We all clocked out after the kitchen had been cleaned. I exited through the front door. The guys in the kitchen walked out the back, lit up their cigarettes and shuffled meekly into their cars. The line cooks and dishwashers and busboys would return to roach infested apartments in neighborhoods crawling with rats. They entered their home overcrowded with extended family and maybe a dog or two and would perhaps find sanctuary in one small area of the apartment.

I walked home through my beautiful neighborhood and into the home where I grew up. I entered my one thousand square foot apartment with no roommates, no crying babies, and no barking dog waiting for a walk. I sat on my sofa that I didn’t share with anyone else, ate my dinner and later, retired to my comfortable bed across from my desk with my Apple computer glowed peacefully.  

I walked home that night thinking how life was for them and how life was for me. They put up with so much daily abuse. And then, those seven words just fell out of my mouth: It’s a miracle they ain’t dead yet.

A lot of people ask me why I decided to write a book. Before my mom moved to Manhattan, our routine consisted of my nightly tales of restaurant horror stories as we sat on our shared sofa. What did she miss most after moving? Those stories.

So I began to email them. Each night, before I sat down on the sofa that I now shared with no one, I went into my room, opened my computer and wrote to mom. That night, I probably wrote about how upset I had been over the way my colleagues—immigrants (most of them legal)—had been treated. They were second-class citizens. Yet they worked as hard as our model ones.

My access to good role models has been limited, perhaps because I chose not to go to college and diminished my opportunity to meet good thinkers in good workplaces. I’ve worked for almost thirty managers in my seven years in the workforce. With the exception of a handful, all have been lousy and useless in every sense of the word: verbally abusive, alcoholic, petty, anti-Semitic, and robotic. What have I learned? How to not manage, how to not treat people. Yes, that’s valuable, but I’ve sadly concluded I’ll never learn useful information from a good manager because in the fields open to me, good managers seldom exist.

From whom have I learned the most? Who has taught me about compassion, respect and trust? Who has taught me to be persistent and hardworking? Who has taught me that there is a time and a place to speak up and defend one’s self? Immigrants. My colleagues who currently withstand nasty and disdainful attacks from American citizens and politicians.

I chose the title of my book with all this bubbling in my mind. As I wrote, I realized that my title offered different interpretations. I loved that Dead Yet symbolized the mistreatment of the men in the kitchen, but it also spoke to the health hazards found in many kitchens. The title seemed to reflect the one chapter discussing health hazards and so that became the title chapter.

People read the title, heard that it was about the restaurant industry and decided they’d rather not read it. Not if it’s going to scare me about eating out, they’d say.

Recently, a new friend asked how I chose the title. After hearing the explanation, she responded that the title is misleading. I suppose so.

Should I have chosen a different name? Maybe. But it’s too late now. I’m married to It’s a Miracle They Ain’t Dead Yet.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Disclaimer: Went to dinner with a woman. Now you can’t judge me. Nah nah nah.

There is a high penis-to-hand-to-handle quotient in the men’s bathroom. Most dudes don’t wash their hands. That means when you do … and then you grab the handle to exit, it’s like you’re touching another dude’s junk.

Hooters solves this problem by placing a hand sanitizer station outside the restrooms. Brilliant.

When you’re eating at Hooters, you’re not ordering a fucking salad—you’re eating wings. With your hands. So they’d better be damned clean, because I don’t want dude junk near my mouth.

If you know me, you know I’m vocal about not eating at chain restaurants. So you’re like, you ate at Hooters? Hypocrite! Is the food top quality? No. Obviously not. The chicken probably comes from a Corporate Farm (Big No No) and the seafood is far from fresh. But when you want wings, you gotta throw convention out the damn window. Hooters.

If you live in DC, especially near Georgetown, you might be quick to recommend Wingos. But try eating there in the middle of the afternoon when you’re not drunk. It’s not that good. Actually, it sucks.

Hooters does business right. Now I’ve never worked there (trust meyou don’t want to see me in orange booty shorts) but from what I saw, that place knows how to operate.  

They epitomize 'sex sells.'  You might think that’s wrong. That it objectifies women. The girls are bimbos and they’re being used. I realize that’s the perception most people have—even myself, perhaps—because when I came home with leftovers, I desperately tried to hide the Hooters labeled to-go box as I rode the elevator up with a woman. She probably judged me. But that’s only because she’s never eaten there and doesn’t know what I now know.

These women are far from dumb. Andrea, our server, was educated, well spoken and the exact opposite of the airhead you’ve pictured as a typical Hooters girl. The longer they chat with you, the more their image is boosted and the less you think of them as sexy girls in outfits. Unless, of course, you’re a creepy asshole, of which at Hooters, there are many. If you are a creepy asshole—like the guy who called a server a bitch when she ignored his catcall, I imagine they have a method of removing you from the premises in a frightening way.

If you’re not a creepy asshole, you’ll see an entirely different side of these servers. Hooters succeeds in rebranding these women. Let me be clearthey sit at your table to flirt and drum up sales and tips. But this actually gives you the chance to see that, unless you’re talking about how chicken breasts are delicious, but your servers breasts are even tastier, these girls aren’t just bimbos with nice bodies.

If you’re going there to ogle the hot women—you’re in luck. There are plenty of them.

If you’re going there to be a creep who tries to grab some ass—the server with an IQ higher than yours will sweet talk all that money out of your wallet and (rightfully) into her pocket.

And if you’re going there because you want some wings, then damn, you can’t go wrong.

PROS: Great service. Spotless bathroom. The paper towels ran out and were replaced with the quickness. Food was good for what it was. I wanted wings, not sea bass with a crème fresh gnocchi.

Place was jam packed, which leads me to …

CONS: I did a little digging (Undercover Boss does not count as a legit fact checker). It appears as if there might be some preferential treatment going on. The FOH is often treated well; the BOH might be overlooked. Hooters easily clears fifty grand a night on weekends. Toss a couple extra bucks towards the guys who cook and clean.

If management sucks, it wasn't apparent at the Rockville, MD Hooters.

Finally, an awful lot of families there. Not exactly the sort of place I’d bring a six-year-old for dinner. But that’s a commentary on society and the parents, not the restaurant.

ON OUR MENU: Fried pickles, nacho cheeseburger, crab legs and, of course, 3-mile island wings.