So I need to tell you why this teenage girl broke into song while serving us ice cream this weekend; its not a simple tale. It’s the story of a semi-grumpy financial planner who needed a few days at the beach; time to quit worrying about the financial markets, retirement plans, and whether my wife’s chemo treatments were going to fix her. I had reached an Anthony Bourdain level of cynicism and I needed to stand in the Gulf of Mexico, up to my neck, and watch stingrays swim by while I zoned out. Except, there were people there, lots of them, and some of them never stopped talking, no matter how deep I went, they chattered on and on. And on. Standing in the water doesn’t require conversation… sigh.
When I get to this level of tired and cynical, it gets dark in here, not like mass murderer dark, more like Mad Magazine dark, I question everything: authority, mass media, dandy facial hair and cellophane wrapped peanut butter crackers: I can’t open them without a sharp instrument… I swear you could make a video series of me against packaging… So I was soaking and working out some things, only these women wouldn’t stop talking; so my brain got worse. Words were on my mind anyway, all because of an uninvited Tweet.
I’m not a Grammar Nazi, mostly because being a Grammar Nazi is not only boring, its kind of ignorant: language is a living (and changing) thing that wonderfully adapts to the times in which it is used. That’s why we aren’t still speaking Latin, or Proto Indo European (or just grunting like Toby Keith, I mean really: Red Solo Cups?); so I’m not some Grammar teacher (I do enjoy words and I appreciate it when they are used meaningfully but this isn’t about meaning. Or words…) Nope, I stood in the ocean and thought about being sold to, night and day, on line and off, how the modern world mostly exists because we are willing to part with our money, or more accurately, the credit card company’s money, and we all just carry on like the good little consumers that we supposed to be, buying Toby Keith songs about America and getting drunk, or getting drunk in America. The weapon of mass destruction is words.
We are the fish, the world is the barrel.
I’m fished out. People with souls, I figured out, have been replaced by algorithms and we are nothing more than data points, we are useful here until Google figures out how to get us to spend all of our money and then we are disconnected, left to go find more money so we can start all over, our job is to spend: the global economy depends on it. And escaping the pressure to spend is almost impossible, you’re reading this on a computer aren’t you? Do me a favor, go over to Amazon, or a travel site, or a (God forbid) car dealer and look at something that you are thinking of buying, go ahead, I’ll wait. Now, for the next few days, the ads on your web pages will miraculously all be about the things you looked up (and their competitors). Big Brother didn’t need a revolution, he just needed math. This is a holdup, I have a gub. (Woody Allen reference, Google it, you can buy the DVD).
On this Memorial Day I was away at the beach, hoping to get some respite and some sun when I started my awakening. Just before going to the beach, I absentmindedly glanced at my Twitter feed and one of my town’s local TV stations had a “Sponsored Tweet” telling me that their “Future Cast” said it was going to rain that afternoon (rain in Orlando in the afternoon, who’d of thought?) I don’t subscribe to this station’s Tweets (Hell, I don’t even watch the news) and I rather absentmindedly typed “Future cast isn’t a word!” and hit send without giving it another thought. To my surprise the station’s head wizard, err, meteorologist replied to me, he felt it necessary to interrupt his holiday to set me straight, “Ha,ha it’s how we brand our model. So yes, it’s a word.” I impulsively wrote back, “Nope, corporate bullshit doesn’t count,” and immediately felt bad because, although I was right, I managed to sound like a grammar Nazi with a potty mouth. I lost. And besides, whose mind was a I going to change? His logic was perfectly impenetrable: “my boss said its a word because his research says that no one understands Latin anymore and the shut-ins and schizophrenics who watch our news think a “Forecast” is preceded by a “Threecast” but; lets face it: they really think we can tell the future, because we are on TV and you know what? We can tell the future, we know it will rain in Orlando this afternoon; so we’ll just call our call for thunderstorms in Orlando a Futurecast (and advertisers will pay more to sponsor Futurecasts: wouldn’t you?) and because we are on TV it’s a word. Fuck you.”
So yea, its a word.
So, I was at the beach at this old hotel with paper thin walls, only one working elevator, a dirty pool, and stupid high prices because it is… hello, on the beach; because I wanted to relax. And eat fish. I don’t eat meat, but I eat fish, that’s how I roll, don’t be so judgmental: okay? I’m not telling you how to live. You can eat all the beef and pork product you want; more power to you. You can go all vegan if you want to, I don’t care what you eat, I just want a few dozen oysters and something grilled. But anyway, this old hotel has a restaurant called Sloppy Joe’s, named after the one in Key West. Now that one, on Key West, has an annual Ernest Hemingway look alike contest and I always wanted to show up and enter. I don’t look anything like Ernest Hemingway but I could swear to the Master of the House that I won my local Ernest Hemingway look alike contest (I could even produce pictures and a blog post, like showing me beating out a black guy and a goat with a Hemingway like beard) and maybe I’d get free drinks because I came from such a weak-ass Ernest Hemingway look alike contest. I’ve not done this because I would then have to drink with all the other losers whose only claim to fame is that they are fat and have grey hair, which is fine but don’t go trying to get free drinks and win some contest just cause of that. Okay? So eat meat if you want, but don’t go trying to look like a dead writer who was kind of a jerk…
So this restaurant is really, really crowded because its… hello, on the beach and because, obviously, Ernest Hemingway might actually be there, his picture is on the sign (although to be fair, I don’t think most of the camouflage wearing, Ford F350 driving, Pabst Blue Ribbon drinking clientele had actually read For Whom The Bell Tolls). And the staff was really focused on banging out those dinners and turning those tables over. The menu was a literary work itself, if Google Adwords is considered literature (oh wait, my kids just told me they are.) They didn’t just sell Grouper, they sold, “The freshest most authentic Grouper,” and the “Mahi Mahi Madness” was “Grilled to perfection.” Even their New York Strip Steak dared you to “Go ahead and be a land lubber!” (I’m sure they weren’t judging either, a lot of people come to the beach to have a New York Strip). The menu and the well trained and rehearsed wait staff were awesome at getting us in, getting our order, slapping the food down, and getting us out the door with as little actual human interaction as possible and I was a little edgy because I had just been schooled by a meteorologist and by women who talked about reality TV in the Gulf of Mexico, scaring away all the stingrays.
I was looking for comedy.
The woman waiting on us had not said an unscripted or non corporate word until she arrived bearing our dinner dishes (I went for the authentic grouper, hoping it came with some kind of verification, like maybe the Gorton fisherman guy would appear and say, “Yup, that’s real,”) when she said, “These dishes are very warm,” but she was moving and grimacing as though they were more than warm. “Why don’t you just say they are hot?” I wondered, out loud, to everyone’s surprise, including my own. “Well,” she said, “they might be hot to you, but I am so used to it that they only feel warm to me. ” I was amazed at this: basic communication, at least in this universe to which I had been transported, was now impossible, we could no longer agree on the meaning of the word hot. Corporate speak meant that the guest would never get a hot plate, a perfectly warm one is all that would be delivered. Futurecast this! I decided to channel Ernest Hemingway himself, yea he was kind of a jerk, but I would not let mere good manners deter me from achieving a moment of unscripted reality.
“I accept your challenge, young lady.”
“Umm… what?” she asked, this was not covered in her training, we were dangerously off script now.
“I accept your challenge, I will take you up on your dare, I believe that I can handle hot plates as well as you can. In fact, I believe that we should skip the plates, go back to the kitchen an just start grabbing hot PANS from the oven, what say you?”
“Well, warm (holding up her left hand), or hot (holding up her right hand), it’s not that complicated.”
“Ahh, but it is since you have implied that my hands are soft, that they are not able to stand even a warm plate. I accept your challenge, I propose a duel.”
Well, after that, she only would wait on our table from behind me, actually reaching over my shoulder to get the credit card and check, there would be no further improvisation, challenges to duels, or simple humanity from this party, she had tables to turn. Not that she asked, but we decided to pass on the “Classic Key Lime Pie, a traditional favorite served with a buttery graham cracker crust, etc” and go across the street for ice cream.
The ice cream parlor was delightful, in the first place, how many places do we still call parlors? Parlors are reserved for the antique couch that Grandma couldn’t wait to get rid of and no one is allowed to sit on, or funerals (the less said about that the better, but I’d prefer to go to a Funeral Parlor as opposed to a Funeral Home)… and for ice cream. This parlor had no scripts, no signs imploring us to buy the “freshly made and supremely tasty vanilla,” no gelato, no fro-yo. Nope, all we got was ice cream and the company of happy people having (or about to have) ice cream.
In a parlor.
The young lady behind the counter was this cute little thing, no more than 17 and she was happy to actually talk and joke with her customers. No script. When she went to ring up our ice cream, she looked at the register’s keyboard and sang, “Ba Da Daa Da daa.”
“That was a beautiful song! Did you write that all by yourself?” I asked with a smile. She grabbed the bait.
“Why yes, yes I did, I can sing about anything you want!”
“You want me to sing about war?”
“Okay,” she said clearing her throat and screwing on her courage while looking around the parlor.
“War! What’s it good for, absolutely nothing!! Uh Huh!!!”
The place broke up, other patrons began to sing and as she handed me the change from my ten I exclaimed, “Best ice cream ever!” and put ALL the change in the tip jar. (Well-played capitalism, well played.)
I told her I could see her future, I FutureCasted her: she was destined to quit this crappy job and go on The Voice where Pharrell would select her and she’d change the world with her music. She’d already changed mine.
And then it rained as we left. The Future was here but I no longer cared.