Disappointing things

Earlier this year, I shared my love of Sei Shonagon and her pillow book in “10th-century blog”. Her writing bursts with the best lists. As one who scores a strong J on the Myers-Briggs test, I can’t help but start with a list of disappointing things.

  • Enjoying a leisurely meal with friends in a well-appointed restaurant, the waiter clears the plates of the guests who have finished, leaving those still eating feeling harried; he has disrupted their mellow mood.
  • Traveling on mass public transit, people rush to step into the train before the doors close. But as they cross the threshold, their pace changes from one of urgency to a full stop, as if they stepped through the wardrobe into Narnia and were struck motionless by wonder. Meanwhile, the crowds behind them try to enter the carriage.
  • Young girls parade the fashions of the day, sporting low-rise jeans, high-rise t-shirts and bejeweled belly buttons. Yet, their premature flab creates an air of decay inappropriate to their youth.
  • In the summer, every person celebrates with geraniums or delightfully gaudy annuals on display in window boxes and in pots on patios. But many fail to respond to the scorching summer heat and find themselves displaying dead plants, which makes one sad in the midst of summer bounty.
  • The energy of young people in the work place is welcome and refreshing. Unfortunately, they frequently mistake conviction for knowledge. The discomfort in watching them comes not from the present situation, but from the memory of one’s own foolishness.
  • In the sweltering summer heat, one can barely move or breathe, and takes a moment’s respite in a department store that is stocking fall fashions. The sight of wool or anything heavier than silk induces nausea. The display steals away the pleasures of summer with a reminder of the cold seasons to come.
  • A friend hosts a party with lobster as the feast. The creatures are massaged into a trance-like state. But shortly, they awaken and start to fall or jump off the kitchen countertop. It is surreal to witness apparently suicidal acts before murder by drowning and scalding.
  • Looking in the mirror, lines have deepened around the eyes. And on my hands, the skin is dryer and losing elasticity. One does not want to refute the natural course of aging, but what is now disappointing will ultimately be horrifying.

12 responses to “Disappointing things”

  1. MF says:

    I LOVE this. I was a Japanese studies major in college and read the Pillowbook. I loved it and you have so perfectly captured the spirit of it.

    Two of your list items, in particular, struck me:
    ‘Enjoying a leisurely meal with friends in a well-appointed restaurant, the waiter clears the plates of the guests who have finished, leaving those still eating feeling harried; he has disrupted their mellow mood.
    I get so irritated when waitstaff take away plates prematurely. This only happens here in the US where everyone is in a hurry at mealtime. One time, I was at dinner with a large group of friends in CA. It was late at night and I think a lot of the kitchen help must have gone home because some of the table was nearly finished before the rest of us got our food (another irritation: people eating before all have been served). The waitstaff not only cleared their plates, but they then brought the desert menus!

    “But many fail to respond to the scorching summer heat and find themselves displaying dead plants, which makes one sad in the midst of summer bounty. ” I’ve thought exactly the same thing.

    Really fun post.
    I look forward to more.

  2. Dave says:

    Stella, this is brilliant.

  3. Scott Godfrey says:

    I’m sorry to zero in on one aspect of this post, but having been a waiter myself for many years, I must comment. This dance, to leave plates or not to leave plates, is not quite as cut and dry as one might imagine. Obviously the standard rule is to leave all plates until everyone has finished, then swoop in and clear, not only the salad/appetizer/soup dishes, but the accompanying silver as well.

    However, I have been in a few situations, serving a large table (six or more) in which everyone has finished except for one person who seems to be eating his or her salad one leaf at a time. More over, the situation can be exacerbated when others at the table seem uncomfortable at the pace of the meal (people pushing plates away from themselves is one thing to look for as a waiter). Only after investigation, you may find out that the slow-salad-person plans on keeping the salad around for the rest of the meal.

    The other issue that most people who have never worked on the other side don’t take into account is the pressure a waiter gets from the kitchen (especially in larger restaurants). Obviously, a skillful waiter should be keeping the chef informed to the status of his table. I have been in situations, however, in which I was forced to make a choice between “firing” my table now, or having it pushed behind other large party’s orders. This one really sucks because you know that the table might be dissatisfied with either decision.

    As far at the US vs. Euro style of service, this brings up another issue; I myself, prefer the Euro style of full-leisure eating, but most Americans don’t; they tend to get impatient relatively quickly, most even like it when a server butts in and asks “how is everything,” which is my biggest customer side peeve.

    Holy crap, I’m way to invested in this. Sorry for the rant…

  4. Tim Wager says:

    As a former waiter myself, I’ve been subjected to harsh glares from patrons whose plates I’ve tried to clear while others were still eating *and* from others whose plates I haven’t cleared early enough (while others still were eating at their table). It’s always a matter of trying to get a read on the patrons and going with it. (Much like the zen ‘feel’ – or lack thereof – that Stella so eloquently describes in these examples. Oh my god, wool in late summer – just the thought of it gives me the whim-whams, not to mention stores that have Christmas decorations up simultaneous with Halloween ones.)

    Unfortunately, there are probably times when a waiter/waitress doesn’t care about his/her diners’ feelings, but there are probably just as many times when he/she doesn’t have the time to get that proper read, or that he/she is subject to the exigencies of both kitchen and hosting staff who have their own schedules to adhere to and don’t give a rat’s ass about what the waitstaff have to do to keep the restaurant’s business humming along at a predictable clip.

    As with hurrying the fall styles into the stores, it is the accelerated rate at which we are expected to consume that can irritate. We are treated not as sensate beings but simply as objects who are expected to consume at the rate set for us by our capitalist overlords. Sometimes this irritation can be ascribed to an individual’s behavior, but more often (I would suggest) it’s da system wot bring da fraud.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed this post, taking as it does the time to measure some of the irksome quotidian details of contemporary life. Stella, do you or have you considered writing haiku?

  5. ssw says:

    Ranting is what is done on this site, isn’t it? having just spent such a pleasant week away in europe, where you definitely get left alone unless you assert yourself–coming back to the us and eating out is quite a shock. my biggest disappointment so far was going into a nice little cafe, paying twice the price for a latte, not getting a lovely little cookie i’d grown so accustomed to in amsterdam. it’s hard to get over vacation.

  6. bryan says:

    not only does the great whatsit bring us white people with phds talking gangsta, it brings us early 21st-century americans talking like 19th-century jewish immigrants from eastern europe:

    “it’s da system wot bring da fraud.”

    or is that an antebellum bowery b’hoy/irish immigrant accent? are you channeling david levinsky or mose? i’m leaning toward the latter, because a good eastern european jewish accent would have had schistem instead of system.

  7. Stephanie Wells says:

    Stizella, er, I mean Stella, I love that this post comes on the heels of Trixie’s list of things that please, just to balance us out–but what I really like is how it’s not things that enrage us, but so much gentler: things that disappoint. Even though the things are so disappointing (well, except the lobster one, which is actually upsetting), there’s something kind of Zen about the way you accept the disappointment they bring. Like Tim suggested, haikuesque.

  8. andrea says:

    I have felt every one of these disappointments and then some. The exhuberance of new co-workers, though…you really hit that one. I felt so guilty for not sharing in their zeal and for thinking, “That’ll never work.” but now you explained it. And that uncomforatble feeling of knowing you were just the same…and then looking down at your hands and wondering, Who’s hands are these?

    You are wonderful, Stella.

  9. Tim Wager says:

    Just so you know, Bryan, I was sort of going for a Mutabaruka vibe on that one.

  10. Stella says:

    The only haiku I produce is the comedic genre in which I’ve been tutored by the mistress of the art form, ms. lisa “omigod i wish i was west coast instead of east coast” parrish. typically presented at birthdays and colleague’s leaving parties, i’m also available for weddings etc.

  11. Stephanie Wells says:

    omigod i wish
    i was west coast instead of
    east coast omigod

    You’re right–it must come naturally to her.

    Incidentally, my dad performs multi-stanzaed limericks at large family functions, often with a full limerick for each person there. he even did one at our wedding (one stanza), as jeremy and tim may remember. sounds excruciating, which at first i thought it was, but then came to find it kind of awesome.

  12. Scott says:

    omigod i wish
    i was west coast instead of
    east coast omigod

    The slap still stings.