Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lessons of the Fall

I have that feeling again.
That one where all your senses are in hyper mode. Like you are experiencing a big threat from an as yet to be identified source. This circumstance makes it a bit hard to sleep well or concentrate fully or be a cheerful presence in the lives of others. I am one of those who believes being a cheerful presence in the lives of others is relevant. The more stressful times are, the more relevant a positive demeanor becomes.

Today I was up early, before daylight, before the paper arrived, hours before Blowfish and the dogs began to stir. So like my grandmother I headed to the Kitchen to start up a big pot of scratch made chili. One of my favorite Fall comfort foods. I also find the orderliness of cooking a soothing activity. It's very rewarding, you begin with raw and end with yum. A very satisfying equation indeed. Certainly life in general is not this orderly as it is possible to put forth all your best skills and end up with nothing.

In our little Southern community some really good things have gone bad. In the past month two of the best restaurants in our being revitalized downtown have fallen. Both have been great dining experiences for a decade or more. One is owned by a husband and wife who met at a prestige cooking school in California. He is awesome at both American and Greek cuisine. Their place also offers a unique blend of the two . She is an incredible pastry chef making desserts as the mood or local ingredients motivate her. There is no dessert menu. At the rear of the restaurant there is a dessert counter. There, in a vintage, glass fronted display, there is a wonderous array of incredible, and very beautiful offerings. They have names like Chocolate Elegance, SummersTaste and Bean There for the coffee dessert lovers. There is often Pistachio Cheese Cake and in the hot summers, amazing desserts of seasonal fruits and delicate crisp cookies. One of my favorites is Fresh Peach Triffle but there are old timey favorites too like Grandmother's Bread Pudding and Tea Cakes. I have been known to skip dinner in favor of dessert and a fine cup of tea. Alas, these experiences are over. They just could not survive the economic realities. I sent them a thank you note in appreciation of all the wonderful experiences we have had there. There was a picture in the paper of the last day... the line wrapped around the block but it wasn't long enough to save them. There are rumors they will stay in our area and offer special events catering and maybe a bakery. I hope so as their life's equation is now askew.

Another wonderful restaurant which offered authentic New Orleans cuisine is gone. No more fabulous Sunday brunches offering Mimosas and Beignets to help you wait for the coming feast.
The chef there is considering a return to his family home in New Orleans. If this is his reality then, of course, we will not be able to continue to experience his genius in another locale. Sigh.

When I drive down the main artery of town and see all the chain restaurants thriving, I get so annoyed. Why go to an O'Charley's or Texas Roadhouse and consume chemical food when a short trip downtown would get you an amazing meal from fresh and often local ingredients, in an interesting environment , for the same or less money?

We also have downtown a beautifully restored 1800's vintage hotel. The developers and architects for this project did a stellar job. The former hotel is now condominiums on the upper floors with the street level being occupied with a Pub, a Billiards Parlor, an English Tea Room, an artisan Pizzaria and gathering rooms for special events. There is off street parking and valet services. Well, make that was. This week we learned the developer/owners have filed for bankruptcy.

Today, after the chili got to bubbling on the stove, the paper came. I wish it had better news. Our one, in town, lakefront restaurant is closing tomorrow. The Fishy's days of calling in an order of chicken wings and watermelon from the boat is over. No more pulling up to the dock and sending one of us to climb the bluff to fetch the picnic. No more sitting on the outside deck under the big shade tree on a hot August afternoon to drink Coronas with lime, listening to the Buffet lyrics til the sun sets on the lake. No more smell of spices intensified by the trip thru the fryers. My only eat out junk food source is closing tomorrow.

There are quotes in the paper from all these business owners. They say kind things about a community that supported their businesses for years but accept the reality of the tightened purses in an area with 12%-17% unemployment. They are gracious, keeping their broken dreams and broken hearts clear of the newsprint. One was asked by some under socialized pup reporter, " So what will you do everyday now that you don't have a restaurant?" With grace and forbearing this fine restauranteur replied,

" I will count my blessings daily for all the years I have lived my dream".

I read that quote a few weeks back.
I think reading that quote was the beginning of the dum-de-dum-dum-dum playing in the back of my head.

I see a parade of tradesmen come through my front door weekly. Fine specialty technique painters, mural artists, tile setters, carpenters, installers. They come through the door clean and pressed with handouts listing their skills and references. They come saying they have seen a FishyDesign sign up at the ya-ya development and is there, will there, can there be work for them on this project? They come through the door with hope and leave in despair. I give them all the positive feedback honesty allows. I do not wish to give false hopes. If there is no chance for them on this project, I keep their handouts for future possibilities and wish them well.
One exited my front door and sort of stood out front for a bit before coming back in. He came not with hunched shoulders and slumped spine but with a smile and a little gleam of hope showing.
" Say Fishy, I was noticing your little flower patch out front and those big pots by the front door need some tending too. And if you don't mind my saying your windows could use a good cleaning and that car with that company logo on it looks road weary and dusty so how about I get these things to looking fine for you?"
This man is a very skilled craftsman. A year ago he had a waiting list of folks eager for him to bring his talents to their projects. I paused before responding,
" Well, I have been meaning to get over to the nursery and fetch the fall plants and some nutrient rich dirt for those pots and a few other things but I've not gotten to that yet and my schedule won't stretch to include that activity today." His grin broadened a bit as he asked, " You going to do a fall display too with straw bales, corn stalks, pumpkins and such? Well, I been doing those for my Mom since I was a sprout, I can go and get all those needs seen to and come on back and have everything just wonderful before you close for the day." It simply was not possible to say no. We discussed flower choices and the slimness of the budget.
I fetched the funds remaining in the petty cash and making change drawers and off he went . Over the course of the day I would see him working out front with the energized body language of the purposeful. When he came in to invite me to take a look at his results they were awesome. Every bit as good as when I do it and maybe even a tad better. More importantly was the smashing into my brain reality that this man was proud of his accomplishments of the day. I doubt the satisfaction of the day was about the meager amount that went into his wallet. I do believe, for him, it was the pleasure of looking back over the days accomplishment . The equation of that day was a bit better. He put forth his efforts and ended up proud rather than empty. God bless him!

As I watched him driving away I heard myself praying aloud,
" Lord, if it be thy will I would really be so very grateful to not be the next business owner in the paper saying how nice it was to have once lived my dream."


Aunty Belle said...

I'll add mah prayers to yores, Fishy.

Lovely meditation.

Jenny said...

I "had" to go to work today - we are working with a limited crew and we had some deadlines. I sat with my biz partner at lunch and told him I was grateful to still have our business and deadlines to worry about. He agreed. Seattle benefits from Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks all having HQ here, but it's still full of people who never intended to lose thier dreams. Ever. This is a sad/bittersweet.... and lovely post. I actually read it twice because it has so many layers.

fishy said...

Thank You, I gratefully accept all prayers.

Smart of you to share the appreciation with your business partner. Thanks for the kind comments, I'm so glad the layers are there for you to "see".

sparringK9 said...

God fishy, what a great post.

you touch on a problem that is huge. and troubling and indicative of a far darker problem. and that is expediency and cheapness and dumbed down ness.

we have developed into a culture that doesnt value real things. we consume -so much that we just want lots to feel full i suppose; and so we consume lots of cheap stuff as entertainment. and the ocharleys types want to consume the familiar and predictable - it is the same everywhere. just like walking into a wall mart. and for our cheap predictibility - we traded away regionality, uniqueness - things that took more effort to patronize - the little stuffs of life that are the labor of someones love -not a boardroom of pinheads deciding what the menu will have based on market testing.

on the dark side, its harder for me than ever to realize that soldiers die everyday in afghanistan,iraq -obstensibly for our freedom, but im worried they are dying so people can have this cheapened banal life. when we talk about "our way of life" i am concerned about what that is.

im glad you found a way for the fellow to earn a way to usefulness -

its time for americans to think of a new kind of economy. at some of my "doomer" blogs we talk about this all the time. i already switched over in a small way but i am pretty sure i will never seek a "job" again. or at least not a job that requires my SSN. anyway you might find this interesting

im pretty sure aunty goes there too.

sparringK9 said...

heres a blurb:

the Third World model of tens of millions of people finding informal employment in non-formal businesses holds much promise for the U.S. unemployed.

As someone who has been "marginally attached to the labor force" for decades (with occasional brief interruptions of formal employment), I can assure you that what I term hybrid work is entirely possible: some paid work, lots of unpaid work, and lots of "experiential capital" created and traded. All it requires is an entrepreneural mindset, an understanding that Capitalism requires Risking Capital and/or Labor to generate a Return (i.e. failure is part of the process, so don't let it get to you) and a very low-cost lifestyle.

The stress level of a low-cost lifestyle is lower than that of a high-cost lifestyle. If happiness is more about "the pursuit of happiness" than consuming, then hybrid work holds the potential of being far more satisfying than formal fulltime work in Corporate America--especially if you can't find work in Corporate America.

fishy said...

Thanks for the rave review.

You make an excellent point: is the "New" American Dream worth fighting for? Do you think there are schoolchildren across America dreaming of one day growing up to be an O'Charley's waitress or a WalMart clerk?

Is my prayer to not be the next small business owner being quoted in the paper a valid hope? Or, am I a dinosaur standing in the last remaining patch of green?

Drinky Crow said...

Okay, clearly y'all need to hear a contrarian viewpoint on some of this post. Frankly, I don't think you're seeing reality and the big picture. And who the enemy is.

The enemy is the traitor-democrat-party-of-filth and the burdens they put on ALL small businesses. It is NOT the small business people who've invested their heart-and-soul in owning an O'Charley's Franchise restaurant. And it is NOT the free American citizens who make a rational decision to dine at an O'Charley's Restaurant rather than the restaurant that YOU prefer downtown.

The O'Charley's franchise owner has done NOTHING wrong in choosing to own a restaurant that has a better chance of surviving Obamanation anti-business policies. The consumer has done NOTHING wrong in deciding that he or she likes O'Charley's and appreciates the hard work the franchise owner puts into their restaurant.

As for "dreaming about being a waitress at O'Charleys"...

That waitress at O'Charley's can work her ass off and become a FOH manager. It wouldn't surprise me if O'Charley's has a program that then pays part of her college tuition should she want to move further up the ladder and provide a better life for herself and her family. And it's not unheard of for former O'Charley's waitresses to BUY an O'Charley's franchise.

Should SHE be scorned because she manages to make her business survive while the downtown eatery does not?

Or should the blame go to the Traitor-Democrat-Party-Of-Filth who's policies made the downtown eater go-under?

Y'all are hating the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

fishy said...

I guess I was not clear. I have nothing against the franchise businesses. It matters not to me if the franchise is food, sporting goods, kids clothes or cars.

I also agree the franchise owners are certainly not responsible for our current economic mess. Unless ... they are a big voting block for the DPOF, which I doubt.

And yes, I do believe the franchise eateries will stand while smaller, one of a kind, businesses fail. The independents do not have the benefit of large multi-media advertising experts assaulting the American psyches. And yes, I think it is a fine American Dream to one day want to own your own business, that applies if it is a franchise or you are a painter.

What I am saying is the business culture of America today is very unfavorable to independent small businesses. Government has long provided "incentives" to large business while incorporating "punitive" policies toward small independent businesses. This is true if you are a restauranteur , a screen printer or the lawnmower man. Certainly bad government attitude and policies have been a major factor in the homoginization of Anytown, USA that K9 laments.

Our government has facilitated that which is threatening the American Dream of the current small business owners and warping the American Dream for the next generations. Since it has long been clear the small business owner is the major source of employment in this country what is coming next?

It may be the dum-de-dum-dum-dum playing in the back of my head is because I am not confident I will be one of the micro business owners who can successfully navigate the current eddies.
Or, it may be that my senses are indeed on target and the end of the American independent business owner is in sight.

chickory said...

i will stand by the diss of ocharleys and here is why: franchises are an urban blight. they destroy any sense of regionality. in europe, certain towns are known for certain things: here we have the best honey, here we have seafood, here are the olives and so forth. there is character to each region and not just food; for example, architecture based on local materials. but here we have endless stretches of concrete slabs with the same ol shite lined along the street.

you wont get an argument out of me on the demoncrats, but i absolutely can and will question the national character - the people whos demand for cheap goods in every sense of the word have devalued the whole - and i submit to you that is part of the structure as set by the global elite. keep buying, make nothing, consume, "you deserve", take meds, get your nails done, etc etc etc. whatever you do dont pay attention to the fact that your wealth, natural resources and future has been stolen.

what is on television, the celebrity culture and preoccupation with superficiality tells the sorry tale of a culture in serious decline.

h said...


Very very well-stated rebuttal to my alter ego's post.


We're not Europe and I thank God every day for that. You spend too much time with spineless moron sheepling leftists with delusions of being "anti-establishment" and against "globalization".

Ever wonder why the hard-left always singles out Wal-Mart for their pretentious rants about "hegemony" and such? How is Wal-Mart different than other Big Box Stores that allowed Unions to push them around and ACORN to extort donations from them? Is a K-Mart somehow prettier than A Wal-Mart?

There is no "National Character" for you to deride. There are individuals within this nation that have the qualities of self-reliance, pride-in-production, mental toughness etc.. that you salute. And there are individuals who are the opposite of that.

The former group don't spend their days thinking they've saved-the-world because they didn't buy a hammer at Wal-Mart or a beer at O'Charley's. And they sure as hell don't think the Federal Government forcing them to be more like Europe is the wise move 100% of the time.

They're the ones that can successfully run BOTH an O'Charley's and an independent restaurant if the GOV would stay the hell-out-the-way. And if they CHOOSE O'Charley's that's their business.

Doctor Troll's prescription for what ails you is MORE time with the hard-working rational real people of Dixie. And far less time at fact-free anti-american anti-Christian anti-capitalist conspiracy blogs. Probably less time with artists too.


chickory said...

dogfight? see ya in the yard tomorrow. grrrrrrrherhahahaha!

Drinky Crow said...

Ruh ro. Rotties are more ferocious in defending the home turf!

I better lay off the booze and get a good night's rest and...

Who am I kidding?

fishy said...

K9, Drinky Troll,
Nice of y'all to sign up to be the Tuesday entertainment.

moi said...

Well, it is a Catch-22 isn't it? Our cities are homogenized into franchised ugliness because that's the most efficient way to get people to consume. Our economy depends on the fact that we are a material species whose stock n trade is buying and selling. But I contend, while still defending capitalism and free will, that we STILL don't have to be so damn UGLY (literally and figuratively) about it.

fishy said...

Well said as always. And about the case of the uglies?Well, what if pretty soon the only place to buy shoes would be what is offered at a Payless or Rack Room?

As you know, I am an advocate for Americans to focus on becoming more productive, self reliant, capable citizens rather than continue on the current path of
mindless consumerism.

sparringK9 said...

please come over to the dog yard where this conversation is currently 25 comments deep. your thoughts would be most welcome