Diary of a Saloon Owner: SEPTEMBER 2005
by CAROL JOYNT
More photos at Photos Central
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30TH... Had to play hooky today. Needed a mental health day, and no kidding. From five miles outside DC to five miles outside Annapolis, it was all waterworks. Maybe we're in a drought regionally, but in my car at 70 MPH on Route 50 it was the monsoon. Peronsally, I think sobbing is a good thing, but it's important to know the source that's feeding the sprinkler system. Cleary this morning it was the cumulative stress that has known no release over the past five weeks. There's so much going on behind the scenes, and most of it can't be vented here. It may seem like I purge everything on to these pages, but it's a well-edited purge. And where does one go with the daily details that feed my particular madness? Not to employees. Not to customers. Not to new acquaintances over cocktails, or even old friends over dinner (though I'm afraid they're not spared as much as they'd like to be). There is the shrink, but he's occasional, and there is my son, but he deserves a childhood. The car can be a sanctuary, and I recommend it if you've not tried. I learned this during the year after Howard died. As I careened around the city from home to pre-school to Nathans to CNN to lawyers to CNN again to Nathans to pre-school and home again, it was where I was alone, at peace, hearing only what was inside my own head, and so I cried. But the good news is: when I arrived wherever I was going the storm was over and my head was clear. And that's how it was today when I got to beautiful, crisp, clear, cool Annapolis. Snuck onto the docks, though some guy with three radios on his belt kept trying to shoo me off, wandered among the yacht flesh and day-dreamed. In a park near "muscle alley," Baltimore Mayor MARTIN O'MALLEY spoke to a slight but interested crowd about why he should be elected the next governor of Maryland. Annapolis is a state of memories for me, all of them good, all of them in my other life, and today I tried to keep my head aimed on the future and all the "what if's" that wait for me there. Enroute home made a must stop at Palate Pleasers in Eastport to buy one of their devil's food cakes. I swear, they are the best chocolate cakes (with white icing) on the planet. Then a hit on Annapolis Seafood to get some of their jumbo lump crabcakes. Sublime. Back on the highway, put in a mix CD. The first song up was "O, Happy Day." Okay. So there you go. Follow the music.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29TH...Though I've been unsuccessful so far in attempts to book MAUREEN DOWD for a Q&A Lunch, last night she sat in Nathans booth #27, right under HILLARY CLINTON'S wincing face, to have dinner with two colleagues: ALESSANDRA STANLEY and JOSEPH LELYVELD. I was at the next booth, #26, under JERRY SEINFELD's smiling face, dining with IZETTE, HENRY VON EICHEL and Henry's cousin, PETRA. I arrived before my guests and sat down alone. Just then, Maureen swung round in her booth and aimed her eyes at me. "You're the owner, aren't you? I know you. We've met." I stretched my hand across the table, shook hers, and re-introduced myself. Before our hands parted she said, "So, can I ask you a question? Could you change the music?" We both glanced up at the speaker from where GEORGE STRAIT's warble emerged. "Enough with the country music," she said, and made reference to GEORGE BUSH. I nodded, got up, but stopped at her table. "If I do this for you, will you do something for me?" I asked. She responded with openness. "Would you do one of my lunches?" The blonde woman beside her blurted an emphatic "Yes." I laughed and looked down. "You're wonderful," I said to the blonde woman. The man said, "that's Maureeen's agent." Maureen said, "this is Alessandra Stanley and this is Joe Lelyveld." We all shook hands. I said I would change the music but asked Maureen if she would please think about doing a lunch. "The patrons ask for you all the time," I said. Sorting out the music was easy. Someone had forgot to push the "shuffle" button, causing the system to play straight through on my mix discs. On disc 2 there is a stretch of country songs that became favorites of Spencer's and mine during the hundreds of miles we drove through the west. Really, I don't associate them with George Bush at all, but maybe other people do. It's a shame. Country music has its virtues, especially for anyone who enjoys words and heartbreak. At the end of dinner and on my way out I stopped again at booth #27. "Can I call you about a lunch?" I asked Maureen. She nodded. "I have a new book coming out," she said. "Perfect," I said. "We sell books. We do real well selling books." I will call Maureen today and lets all do voodoo that this time it works.
LATER: I did call Maureen's office at the NYTimes today. Left a message. Also left a message with her publicist. Keep doinig that voodoo. She would be a terrific Q&A guest.
This afternoon I feel like I'm carrying bags of rocks up hills. No particular event. Simply the accumulation of so much that's going on and on so many tracks; all of it leading from and to Nathans. There's the actual running of the place. There's the making the books balance (HA!). There's trying to get the lease resolved, which is a pressure cooker of indescribable stress. There's the drama of trying to figure out the motives of so many different players who inhabit the stage with me throughout the day and night. One wonders why THIS drama isn't a reality show?
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29TH...Though I've been unsuccessful so far in attempts to book MAUREEN DOWD for a Q&A Lunch, she sat right under HILLARY CLINTON'S wincing face last night to have dinner with two colleagues: ALESSANDRA STANLEY and JOSEPH LELYVELD. I was at the next booth, under JERRY SEINFELD's smiling face, dining with IZETTE, HENRY VON EICHEL and Henry's cousin, PETRA. I arrived before my guests and sat down alone. Just then, Maureen swung around in the booth and aimed her eyes at me. "You're the owner, aren't you?" she said. "I know you. We've met." I stretched my hand across the table, shook hers, and re-introduced myself. Before our hands parted she said, "So, can I ask you a question? Could you change the music?" We both glanced up at the speaker from where GEORGE STRAIT's warble emerged. "Enough," she said, and made reference to GEORGE BUSH. I nodded, got up, stopped at her table and said, "If I do this for you, will you do something for me?" She responded with openness. "Would you do one of my lunches?" The blonde woman beside her did not hesitate: "Yes." I laughed and looked down. "You're wonderful," I said to the blonde woman. The man said, "that's Maureeen's agent." Maureen said, "this is Alessandra Stanley and this is Joe Lelyveld." We all shook hands. I said I would change the music but asked Maureen if she would please think about doing a lunch. "The patrons ask for you all the time," I said. Sorting out the music was easy. Someone had forgot to push the "shuffle" button, causing the system to play straight through on my mix discs. On disc 2 there is a stretch of country songs that became favorites of Spencer's and mine during the hundreds of miles we drove through the west. Really, I don't associate them with George Bush at all, but maybe other people do. It's a shame. Country music has its virtues. At the end of dinner and on my way out I stopped again at booth #27. "Can I call you about a lunch?" I asked Maureen. She nodded. "I have a new book coming out," she said. "Perfect," I said. "We sell books. We do real well selling books." I will call Maureen today and lets all do voodoo that this time it works.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28TH...Could it be I forgot to write yesterday? That's almost impossible but apparently true. Probably the reality of a lot going on, ranging from office work at Nathans, and lawyers and so forth and trying to get a small taste of a beautiful day, to a ham biscuit mission. I happen to love ham biscuits. The romance was renewed during the drive town to Wrightsville Beach in August, when we stopped at a couple of small roadside ma and pa eateries where delicious ham biscuits were on the menu. Also, in the fall, they show up on the passed silver trays at old school cocktail parties. At the Inn at Little Washington, PATRICK O'CONNELL serves an awesome version of them in the lounge before dinner. I prefer them small, buttery, with a few thin slices of dense, salty Smithfield ham. That's what I'm trying to serve at Nathans right now, as a new addition to the bar menu, but the customers have balked. They don't like the dense saltiness of the Smithfield ham. They want a milder ham. Some customers want cheese. (I've not heard of a ham and cheese biscuit). I'm not crazy about our biscuit. It's too fat and dry. Out in Aldie, Va., on Route 50, there's a tiny ma and daughter operation called The Little Apple Pastry Shop. They produce the most perfect little ham biscuits. They've got it all down - the biscuit, the size, the ham. My next door neighbor, HOLLY CALDWELL, joined me for the field trip. We cruised out to the rolling Virginia hunt country via Route 66, Dulles Airport and the old Sully Road. Holly is half my age but that didn't stand in the way of serious, hard-core, woman-to-woman gossip. Outside the car windows, we enjoyed a seamless view of pretty blue sky, green grass, sunlight, early autumn. As MYRA MOFFETT said earlier in the morning during a ritual dog walk, "I'll give you a dollar for every cloud in the sky." No profit in that yesterday. Got my ham biscuits, returned to Nathans, and plated them up for the kitchen staff to analyze. In fast and lively Spanish they deconstructed these very southern American bite-sized morsels - touched, tasted, took apart, put back together - and came up with a plan. This is the fun part of the restaurant business. Still, will they fly? My husband used to always say it was good I wasn't in the restaurant business because "you'd be out of business in a week." He said I was too particular about food, "which is fine at home but not good in a restaurant." This may be true. For all my stubbornness I do accept the customer as the measure of what works/what doesn't, and I do make concessions. Soon the ham biscuits will have conventional Virginia ham. Cheese? I don't know. That's a stretch. Why not just have a ham and cheese sandwich?
There are so many wonderful foods in the autumn, and what about apple cider? I'll drive miles and miles to get my hands on some good cider. A particular favorite is the cider made at Graves Mountain Lodge at the foot of Old Rag Mountain in Rappahannock County, Va. I've been going there for years, since way back in the 70s when old Mr. Graves was alive and patrolled the dining room in his overalls like Capt. Kangaroo. It's a family style chow down in the best tradition, and though they've added a buffet to what used to be strictly table service, the old style southern cuisine is just what it should be, especially on the days when they serve pan fried chicken and ham steak.
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26TH...Finally, today it rained. I'm surprised we mid-Atlantic residents weren't all out in the streets and parks, dancing tribal gyrations of joy, turning our open mouths to the clouds, shooting our arms toward the sky with thanks. Maybe the reaction was subdued because the rain came smack in the middle of the afternoon rush hour, the early dinner hour...an hour when everyone was trying to get somewhere. I was just home from Nathans after a long day that included bookkeeping, re-writing the employee manual, work on the lunches, organizing tonight's first discount wine night (half price on a good list of select wines), and having a meeting with the managers to discuss everything. Later, off to the Folger Shakespeare Library for the annual Pen-Faulkner gala. This was quite a treat. I'd never been before. In fact, it was my first visit to the Folger library. After all these years living in Washington it was a pleasure to go someplace of note for the first time. There aren't many venues left where I'm a virgin. The evening began with cocktails in what looked like the main hall or library. Then we took seats in the theater for the readings. The theme was "Lost and Found." The authors who entertained us were STANLEY CROUCH, DAVID ANTHONY DURHAM, DAVID GATES, JANE STANTON HITCHCOCK, JEANNE WAKATSUKI HOUSTON, HA JIN, TAYARI JONES, MAXINE HONG KINGSTON, RICHARD MCCANN, RICK MOODY, JAMES SALTER, SCOTT SIMON, ELIZABETH SWADOS, HILMA WOLITZER. Impossible to name a favorite. Each was that good. But the standouts for me were two local lights: Jane Hitchcock and Richard McCann. Jane read a short piece about a woman who'd lost her keys. Richard read a rift on love and loss at the old Lost and Found gay bar down where the new baseball stadium will one day be built. Oh, were they good. Elizabeth Swados was out of the box, and Rick Moody brought a healthy dose of quirk to his moment. Scott Simon was charming. Face it, everyone got an A. The dinner after was a more routine affair - tables of ten, adults talking to adults about adult subjects, good food, coffee, a week thank-you speech and everyone bolting for the exits. Just once at one of these things I wish when the dinner was served that the grown-ups would pull an Animal House and start to pitch the food across the tables. THAT would raise ticket prices. Everyone would want to go.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25TH...A day off.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 24TH...Just home from Nathans. The joint is jumpin'. Thank goodness for a cooler breeze and the collateral business that comes with IMF weekend. Many men with foreign accents in suits. But also lots of couples and families. We welcome customers of all ages. Re IMF, on my way up Wisconsin to pickup Spencer at a party I noticed the string of stretch limos parked outside Good Guys. Like any successful American city, DC provides the business and the pleasure.
Happy to page through the new issue of WASHINGTONIAN MAGAZINE, their 40th anniversary special issue. There, on page 80, is a sweet little mention of the Q&A Cafe. Made my day. Will easily make my weekend, and probably my week.
Sooner or later it had to happen. I forgot my camera today. It hurts because the Congressional Black Caucus had their annual Saturday brunch at Cafe Milano and I was there as a guest of Verizon Wireless. The black power structure was out in force, but the first person we saw at the door was none other than the notorious OMAROSA of "Surreal Life" and "Apprentice" fame. She was tall, thin, pretty and blinged out. Then ALFRE WOODARD breezed by, looking more quietly confident in her celebrity. She debuts tomorrow night as a new neighbor on "Desperate Housewives." I had a wee chat with HOWARD DEAN, and invited him to appear at the Q&A Cafe in his capacity as head of the Democratic National Committee. He said he'd like to, but then that's what all politicians say in face to face moments. It's up to me now to work it. My date was one of Dean's earliest, strongest and most generous contributors in his campaign for the White House, but Dean did not immediately remember him. That's a Washington thing, too. Feeling a little frisky, and given this was a restaurant packed with the most powerful African Americans in Washington, I asked various individuals, "Why aren't you at SHEILA JOHNSON'S wedding?" And then we'd both laugh. Ms. Johnson's ex-husband as at the brunch. I did not ask him the question. Interestingly, missed at Milano were LINDA CROPP, JACK EVANS, MARION BARRY, MAYOR WILLIAMS. Maybe they were at the Middleburg nuptials. I particularly enjoyed talking to GAIL CAMPBELL WOOLLEY, who is a communications specialist. She recalled her early days in journalism at the old Washington Star? Remember the Star? A lot of strong talent came out of that newspaper. In the end, I didn't have my camera or else today's pic of the day would be Omarosa. I apologize.
Hurricane Rita, while bad, was no Katrina. Thankfully. We can move on. We can focus on the challenge of rebuilding New Orleans and, if the protest on the Mall today is any indication, resume the national debate about the war in Iraq. Drudge says that tomorrow night 60 Minutes will report that OSAMA BIN LADEN is likely holed up in Afghanistan with a small crew and that he's no longer an effective leader. This from a Pakistani military official. He says it doesn't matter whether bin Laden is dead or alive. I bet if someone took a poll, most Americans, and Brits and other nationalities, would want him dead.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 23RD...There is a perverse dose of comedy in the fact that Houston, the center of the oil industry, is out of gas. And that the tanker trucks sent to help refuel the tapped out cars stuck in evacuation gridlock don't have the right nozzles to get the gas into the cars. Apparently it's not safe to stay in a hurricane's path and it's also not safe to evacuate. What's going on here? The storms are scary, but it may be scarier that our major cities are not able to deal with the impact. Osama and the other murderers in his crew must sit in their tents and giggle. "We don't have to do anything to the Americans. They do it to themselves." All the more reason to hear what BARBARA CHILDS-PAIR, head of DC Emergency Management, will have to say about our city's readiness to handle an evacuation when she appears at Nathans on October 13th. Think about it? This region can barely handle an... orderly rush hour. We rely on bridges. What if we had to do an emergency evaucation at ...high noon on a Wednesday?
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 22...Good news. Good good news. If you read this you probably know the Q&A lunches were started as a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and we try each season to focus a lunch or two or more on that event or our lives in the aftermath. Only moments ago KENNETH FEINBERG, who was the Special Master of the federal government's September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, accepted an invitation to be the guest on Tuesday, November 29th. A former chief of staff for SEN. TED KENNEDY, and a former federal prosecutor, Feinberg has become a renowned specialist in mediation and alternative dispute resolution. He served as court appointed special master in other high profile litigations involving agent orange, asbestos and DES. And, as already reported, on Thursday, October 13th, the guest will be the head of the DC Office of Emergency Management, BARBARA CHILDS-PAIR. It's her job to look out for us, to have a plan, to make sure we're safe, if a catastrophe (terrorist or otherwise) happens in Washington, DC. These are two lunches you won't want to miss.
The Four Seasons Hotel has their grand re-opening party tonight. They will be unveiling the re-done rooms. Did you notice the hotel was half closed the past several months? We certainly felt it at Nathans. Four Seasons customers are a good customer base for us. Every night during the week, especially during the busy seasons of fall and spring, we get business from the Four Seasons. The event is also another launch party for Capitol File magazine. Should be fun. I will do my best to take pics and put them up here.
Flying is not one of my favorite activities. I love where planes take me, but hate the process. How about the Jet Blue drama last night? How about the terror those passengers had to endure? I got white knuckle fever just listening. And how about that pilot, getting it down so well? What a happy ending. If you've never flown Jet Blue do give it a try. It's a terrific little airline. On time, good service, good cabin staff, clean, well-done seating. None of that can compensate for a scary flight, though.
MARTHA STEWART had her "Apprentice" debut last night. Caught only a little of it on the West coast feed. She needs to be meaner. I mean, she needs to behave the way she behaves with staff when the cameras aren't rolling. Then she'll have a hit. She came across like Miss Manners last night, which is daring a yawn. However, I was interested to see CHARLES KOPPELMAN as her sidekick. Back in the 90's, Spencer and I had lunch at his amazing Long Island home. It was a meal I'll never forget. We were invited as houseguests of the late C.Z. GUEST, who was a friend and neighbor of the Koppelmans - Charles and his wife, COCO. Spencer, who was about 8 at the time, played on the marble floor of their vast entry hall, while the grown-ups had lunch in the elegant dining room. A kitchen full of chefs prepared an outrageous lunch, which was accompanied by Cristal champagne at every course. I was so glad not to be driving that day. Koppelman had justed finished his reign as chairman of EMI music and was enjoying a brief retirement. He is one of the smartest men I've ever shared a meal with, and funny and charming, too, and it's a little peculiar to watch him stand aside for the Diva Martha. But I imagine he's having fun. I imagine this little TV gig is a kick for him. Plus, he is vice chairman of Martha's company (I'm pretty sure) and technically her employee . As our lunch wound down that sunny Saturday afternoon he excused himself to go to the airport to catch his jet to Florida for a late afternoon round of golf. He planned to return home that evening. I was like, "You go, man. You go." That's called living your life like you don't get a second one. Can it be that there could actually be another hurricane this season that is as bad, or worse, than Katrina? There's no time to fit it into the schedule now, but I'm thirsting to interview someone who's really really smart about climate and global warming and weather patterns and able to answer whether this is a fluke or a trend? The poor Gulf Coast. I keep thinking lightning won't strike twice and that RITA will weaken. If this is a trend, who in their right mind will invest in Gulf, or Atlantic, property, only to have it wiped away? Wait. Maybe I could move Nathans there!
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21... Back to school night tonight. I always enjoy this evening when I get to sit in Spencer's classrooms, meet his teachers, listen to their plans for the year ahead. I'm so proud of his school and his education, and the serious dedication he gives to being a student. He's a goofball, too, but one who loves learning, gets good grades, adores his friends, is respectful of his teachers, and whines and rebels in appropriate ways. It's his world, not mine, and I always take advantage of the times when I'm let in. I go both in my mother and my father capacities. Sitting in his English class, my enthusiasm carried me back to my 9th grade English class, and 10th grade Creative Writing class, where I realized I loved words, grammar, punctuation and, most of all, writing. By the time I was 15 I wrote a journal every night. It was my daily purge, but also an important writing exercise. Writing to me feels the way playing the piano must feel to a composer. It just flows from brain to fingers, naturally. It's the happiest moment of every day. Honestly, I'd rather write than talk. Verbal communication is never comfortable for me, but writing is always, always, a form of being at home in my brain. This online diary, read by all three of you, is my sanity. The world out there, the slippery slope that is Nathans, the chaotic struggle of inserting myself in that boy's club, trying to be a captain when all I want is to be a mate, slicing and dicing myself to meet all the demands, these monsters chomping at my gut, these moments where I rarely measure up, get set aside when I'm writing. When I'm writing I'm serene and in control, and confident. Spencer likes to write, too, and I hope over time it becomes the pleasure for him that it is for me.
EARLIER... Sitting here at home, cooling my jets, waiting for a delivery from Bray and Scarff, who were supposed to be here today at 8:30 a.m. It's now 11:22. The driver called and said he is stuck in traffic. I know, rush hour traffic happened for the first time today and I don't blame him for not anticipating its existence. It is a unique event. Geez. It's certainly good that I, the customer, don't have to be anywhere today -- like work. It's great that my time is so unimportant that I can sit here at home, watching the clock hands, calling the dispatcher at Bray and Scarff, who can't help me, despite my begging and pleading for information. The driver's supervisor said the screw up is the salesman's fault. Shouldn't there be laws to stop bad service? And shouldn't there be some law that stops this practice of saying a service person will be at the consumer's home between "8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and no we can't tell you precisely when." Why is it that we consumers have to show up everywhere on time -- doctors, lawyers, dentists, etc., -- but the guy who is fixing the A/C, delivering the appliance, delivering or fixing whatever, can arrive approximtely whenever it suits them? And then we, the consumer, are the bad guy for complaining. Doesn't the consumer's time matter at all? And this isn't my first go round with Bray and Scarff. This is an installation that was supposed to happen in August, but they keep getting it screwed up. Excuse me while I go scream into a pillow.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20TH...The Q&A Cafe 2005 fall season was launched today to great success with a boffo performance by MICHAEL ISIKOFF. The most interesting and fun part of his interview was the palpable excitement he showed for the arrest yesterday of ex-White House budget official DAVID H. SADFAVIAN, who resigned only last week -- probably to spare the administration the embarassment of news organizations being able to report the arrest of a current White House official. Ha Ha Ha. Doesn't fool any of us. As the New York Times points out on today's front page, the arrest was the first to result from the wide-ranging corruption investigation of JACK ABRAMOFF, who, I feel compelled to point out, is both an ex DC lobbyist AND restauranteur. Of course, he just sold his restuarant, Signatures, to former republican House spaker BOB LIVINGSTON, otherwise he would be able to see all this ink as fabulous free advertising for his eatery. Isikoff dished the dirt on this story, but also reflected on some other big stories where he's had his big toe in the water, sometimes up to his carotid artery, not the least of which was being the reporter who uncovered the MONICA LEWKINSKY-BILL CLINTON love affair. But being totally in the moment, which is what these lunches are about, he said the Mrs, aka, NY SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, is handily the democratic frontrunner in the '08 prez race, though it's early. He assured us the mid-terms, coming up next year, should be interesting. The lunch was sell out. Not one empty seat. Hooray. Of course, went from the lunch to the office, where we had to stave off the fish company and the coffee company from cutting us off, and that sort of thing. It's a hypercoaster, this saloon of mine. Thank goodness I'm not prone to seasickness. On the way out this evening, G. GORDON LIDDY's radio producer, a nice fellow named FRANKLIN RAFF, asked if he could hang his local yacht club's burgee in the bar. Sure, why not? But, I said, try to get me Liddy for a Q&A lunch. Stay tuned.
Did have the strangest conversation today with the reps for RED BULL. I'm no fan of this drink. It's caffeine and sugar in a can, and the popular thing is to mix it with vodka and therefore create wide awake, sped up drunken people. But I keep getting pressure to carry it at Nathans. So, logically, I called RED BULL to talk to a sales/marketing person about their product. I had an ideato do a RED BULL night in Nathans back room. Heather, their front guard, wouldn't let me speak to anyone. "It's against our policy," she said. What? I asked. Well, can you give me someone's name or email? "No," she said, "That's against our policy, too." The only way they do business is for the caller to leave a name and number. "We're a privately held corporation," she said, knowingly, as if that made any difference to a business owner who wanted to do business with them. I'm also a privately held corporation. So when she asked for my particulars I said giving them out was "against my policy, too."
UNLESS you live here you might not understand, but nothing in Washington matches the way this city feels the morning after a Monday night football game in which the Redskins beat the Dallas Cowboys in Cowboy territory. So, on that basis, it should be a good day.
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 19TH....Random stuff: when I heard the tow truck cranking its gears and belaying chain outside my house at 6:30 this morning my first thought was it's the repo man come to get my car. Quickly I ran outside, but there in the street was my neighbor who two weeks ago had the restraining order brought against her abusive husband, the husband who then snuck back out of sight of the police and disabled the family car. He snuck back again this weekend and swiped the son's car. So she was getting the disabled car towed to a dealer who can get it working again. We gave each other the thumb's up sign and I returned to my home, feeling fortunate. DELIGHTFUL surprise this morning as I opened to page 2 of the The Washington Examiner newspaper. There under the "Daily Guide" is a blurb about Nathans. Who knew? It's called "Dining Out" and promotes our signature and popular Twin Filets steak dinner, and gets the phone number and address correct. The banner headline read "GOOD DAY!" Good day, indeed. PRESIDENT BUSH's speech to the nation from New Orleans last Thursday is still getting play. Personally, I don't think it changed anything. It came across as staged and awkward and the backdrop didn't speak to the story at all. If I'd been his producer I would have mic'ed him, had two steadicams on him, and walked him along the bruised and battered streets of the city, with stops along the way to make his pitch. I would have showed what happened there with all the awfulness intact, winding up at the Superdome with the POTUS saying, "I didn't cause the storm, but had my administration acted sooner and with more understanding THIS would not have happened, for that I am deeply sorry and changes will be made to prevent it ever happening again. Thank you and goodnight." Boom. Fade to black. As it was, he was shot poorly. His neck was missing and he looked like his caricature from the Yip Yap cartoon of him and Kerry back during the campaign. TOMORROW we begin the new season of the Q&A Cafe, and not a moment too soon. I'm eager to get back to doing what I enjoy. Also, it's the one thing I do in the restaurant where I feel qualified. This is not pity little me stuff, this is just fact. WHO KNOWS what today will bring? Either a lot of bounced checks or will get through it by a breath. We had a good weekend. The Bottle Beer Night special didn't hurt. But this week, apart from the Q&A Lunch with MICHAEL ISIKOFF, I will dedicate to due diligence. I have meetings scheduled with a bunch of different smart young guys who are hot and happening in the bar business. I want and need to hear what they have to say. THANKFULLY today is shrink day. Someone said, "You don't let people know you see a shrink, do you? Isn't it embarassing?" I said, "Given my life, it would be embarassing to admit it if I didn't see a shrink." He's helped me through a lot, good and bad, but particularly the bad.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 18TH...If you are reading this you are seeing it on the new website on the day of its grand unveiling. We hope you like it. Can't take all the credit myself. The work was done by web designer TERI MURPHY, and if you like what you see you can reach her at email@example.com. More later after I figure out what I'm doing here.
WHATEVER you think of Vanity Fair magazine -- glossy upmarket National Enquirer; the New Yorker with pictures; waste of time -- if you do one thing this week buy the October issue that is now on newsstands, and while you may secretly appreciate PARIS HILTON's cover shot, buy it to read just one article: "A Cancer Memoir" by MARJORIE WILLIAMS. They tell you at the end that it was pulled together and edited by her husband, TIM NOAH, and he must be proud: it is the most moving, tender, brilliant, beautifully written and honest helping of the human experience I have read in ages. It's stunning and haunting. As I read the words I felt her choosing them, putting them down, and I imagined certain sentences were harder than others and probably brought her to tears. We all know people who died too soon, too young and too horribly from cancer. It is a descent like no other. Marjorie's was no worse, no better, but she shares it with a reporter's eye, a woman's passion, a mother's love, and the reader makes a new friend even if, sadly, with no time left to tell her.
TONIGHT at Nathans we launched our "$2.50 Bottle Beer Night," a grab for business we will keep on the schedule for as long as it takes to build a Sunday night crowd. Happily, this did not alter the mood in the dining room, which was -- as ever -- serving a clientele who want a relatively cozy and quiet dinner at the busiest corner in Georgetown. In the bar, at the same time, lots of beers got sold in a more rollicking setting. All I need is to find an afforable flat panel 50" TV, and we're off to the races...ort he football game, basketball game, NASCAR race, etc., etc., etc.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 17TH ...It can be done, I've been telling myself all day: I can save this business and make it fly again. What I love are the numbers of people writing in with positive suggestions. That's the beauty of having an online diary and sharing the ownership experience with a larger universe. Some ideas are been there/done that -- hire a celebrity chef, for example -- but most of them are viable: flat panel large screen TV in the bar, specials nights aimed at a younger crowd (already on that tomorrow night), divorce myself from the past (oh, how sweet) and embrace what's happening now (yes, yes), and seriously look around at who is doing business and why. Believe me, if someone had told me before yesterday that Clyde's had a successful wine discount night I would have immediately jumped into the competitive fray. We'll be playing catch-up, but I definitely plan to make Monday nights a wine discount night. I also asked the staff if we should begin to carry Red Bull. Over the months I'd been told we shouldn't - because the empties create fruit fly madness - but maybe we should make the effort. Fruit flies are part of the world. We can be diligent about ditching the empties. I mean, geez, let's not let something like clean-up divert us from making a buck. All day I walked around Georgetown, looking and thinking, trying to figure out what to do, especially what to do that is a good idea and maybe not being done by anyone else.
Then, this evening, after a drop by at the Sulgrave Club for FRIDA BURLING's packed 90th birthday party, changed back into my jeans and got to Nathans during mid-dinner. Not as busy as we'd like, but busy enough. A full dining room. Half full bar. With a full moon and a gorgeous night it's tough to compete with the water front. Nonetheless, there was a lovely young couple celebrating their wedding with a group of friends. Snap Snap. Walked around some more, and no one was busier than Nathans, except for the outdoor cafes at Martin's Tavern, Neyla, Milano and Paolo's. Picked up Spen at a friend's party and we walked home, enjoying the full moon. It would be a good night to win the lottery.
--EARLIER: It was fun to be at Nathans last night with the large group of people who came in to give the place some support and to hang out with me. I knew most but not all of them. We sat at tables 1 and 2 until almost 10 pm. They bought lots of champagne, mixed drinks, beer, appetizers and dished helping after helping of radioactive gossip. Is anybody's marriage holding together anymore? I'm always shocked when I hear news of mischief in my friends' marriages. This was all about who is fooling around, who is sleeping with so and so's husband, or so and so's wife, and who's keepiing someone secretly on the side. Geez. Am I, the widow, the only one with a fulfilling marriage?
Our being there did make a difference in last night's total. Because, otherwise, it wasn't as busy as we would have liked. It's that way all over Georgetown, and possibly the city. A long, warm September does not translate into good business. We need those crisp autumn breezes to arrive. Outside my bedroom window I see leaves falling from the giant elm, but I also know the temp outside is beach easy.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 16TH...IZETTE FOLGER has organized a pack of friends to come to Nathans tonight to spend money. It brings tears to my eyes it is such a wonderful gesture of support. Coming up roses, indeed.
Today is an important day. Even with everything else that's going on, it
is also a good day. That's because today we launch our re-designed website.
In fact, you may be reading this on the front page of site. All the same
features are still available: a list of upcoming lunch guests, reservations
links and mailing list links, this diary, which I'm hoping you enjoy (in
a thrill ride kind of way), plus links that have to do with the restaurant
itself, such as menu, history, staff, etc. This is the first stage of the
re-design. Shortly we will also have available on line the full 58-minute
interview with JANE STANTON HITCHCOCK. And when I have the money to shoot
future interviews, they should be available, too. I already have the interview
on DVD.So, as KING MARTHA would say, this is a good thing.
When the chips are down it's still important to count the chips and recognize the good ones as what they are. As bad as it is, not everything is bad. After all, Nathans has a terrific page in WASHINGTON LIFE MAGAZINE and another terrific page in CAPITOL FILE MAGAZINE. I'm thrilled about those. On this National Day of Prayer for the victims of Katrina, it's important to recognize our good fortune compared to the poor souls who lost their lives and the survivors who may have lost all their worldly goods and their homes, and more. I make fun of my precarious state, because the humor gets me through the dark parts and lightens the burden, but when I compare my plight to New Oleans I surely know it is not seriously apt. I do believe the Gulf will be rebuilt better than ever. The process will be interesting. It will probably also be controversial at times, and there will be highs and lows, and and moments of resolution and also some scandal. Politicians careers will rise and fall on the outcome. Some people will get very rich. Some lives will never be the same. But New Orleans will be there.
Someone wrote and asked why I haven't put Nathans in bankruptcy. Well,
good question and I have an answer. Nathans was bankrupt from the moment
I inherited it in 1997. But due to a technicality I am not able to file
for bankruptcy. So, I have to keep it going. It always has been bankrupt.
When Howard had crises like the one we're in now, his father came in with
a check for whatever thousands were needed to save the day. After his father
died, he stopped paying taxes and that, for the moment, kept the place going.
But then the IRS got wise and the jig was up. I've always run it straight,
and any family who could bail us out are dead. And that's not a solution
anyway. That's just a band-aid. The bigger issue is finding the opportunity
to recraft Nathans in a way in which it can afford itself, whether that
is as a bar that caters to the young, or strictly a burger joint, or hiring
ex-Good Guys "employees" as wait staff and bartenders and scheduling
wet t-shirt contests every other night. (That's one of my jokes, darkly.)
The key to all of it is a new lease, and I'm working that. Dancing as fast
as I can, actually.
Today is about hope, and being thankful for my good chips.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 15TH...I had to check out today or else check myself into a mental ward. Nathans, I've decided, is the saloon equivalent of New Orleans after Katrina and I'm about as successful a business owner as MICHAEL BROWN was as FEMA head. Of course, he could quit. I can't. The situation is critical, but at least today there were no alarming crises. No threats to shut off the water, the power, the phone, the deliveries. It's impossible to describe how these developments eat at my insides. I'm in turmoil, and when I don't feel turmoil I feel despair. LARAE MARSH and I are like two co-pilots with our hands on the rudder in a stall. We're doing all we can to prevent a crash, while Sergio, Hockley, Madhe and Jennifer and the rest of the staff keep the passengers distracted and happy. If it were two weeks from now, I wouldn't be worried, but it's right now, and business couldn't be flatter, and the costs of everything are going up up up. Plus all the knots we've been untangling.
So today I went with my murder mystery writer friend to do a long, interesting, truly diverting interview with Asst. DC Police Chief PETER NEWSHAM about murder in Washington. We sat in his Shepherd Street office for close to two hours. Gosh it was fun. It was like the old days - doing an interview with a cop about crime. I love the police beat. It's where I got my start. Then from there we returned to Georgetown. We stopped in at Cafe Milano for more talk about murder, sex and intrigue in DC among the powerful and elite, and for a yummy lunch. The lentil soup was amazing. I also had grilled snapper with root vegetables. In between bites there was lots of laughter. That is the healthiest antidote to a gut full of woe. I feel like a mouse in a vise and can't find the way out, but I'm so thankful for my wonderful son and my friends..and the staff at Nathans who all are busting their butts to help me hold it together.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14TH...Given a choice, a night at home is more appealing
than a night out. Social life is awkward for me, but since owning Nathans
I've learned it's important to make myself go out and mingle. If people
see me they might think of Nathans, and then they might go there for a drink
or dinner. Any party is more fun with a partner in crime, especially a pal
who, like me, prefers to appear, eat, drink, have fun and be home by 9:30.
IZETTE FOLGER is friend #1 in that regard. We can do a lot of partying in
two hours. Tonight we did the National Gallery of Art for the opening of
a beautiful, small, well-edited exhibition of still life paintings by Dutch
17th century master PIETER CLAESZ. It was a NGA party like the old days
- an intimate group of art lovers, great drinks, gorgeous buffet echoing
the themes of the paintings, music, good conversation. ARTHUR WHEELOCK is
the curator and he did his usual bang up job. From there we zipped over
to the Watergate Hotel for the launch party of JASON BINN'S new Capitol
File magazine. The book is glossy and fat and heavy enough to be helpful
with sit-ups. It's full of readable morsels and party pictures and, I'm
proud, a whole page on the Nathans Q&A lunches (pg 286). I would dish
the party except Izette and I were in and out of the room before anyone
else arrived. Literally, we were there long enough to get copies of the
magazine and have a good chat with PR ace LINDA ROTH. Meanwhile at Nathans,
the owner of Budweiser was entertaining some associates and, I'm told, having
a wonderful time at the bar after dinner at table 31. His visit made a sucky
And lest it appears I'm a big party pooper, when a party's good and hot I'll set aside the usual M.O.and groove till I snooze.
TINA SMALL sent this to me. It's a commentary by ANDY ROONEY of 60 Minutes. Sometimes Andy gets a little too curmudgeony these days, but with this one I stand aside. No one could say it better, or has said it better, and best of all it comes from a man who knows a few things:
As I grow in age, I value women who are over 40 most of all. Here are just a few reasons why:
A woman over 40 will not lay next to you in bed & ask, "What are
She doesn't care what you think.
If a woman over 40 doesn't want to watch the game, she doesn't sit around whining about it. She does something she wants to do. And it's usually something more interesting.
A woman over 40 knows herself well enough to be assured in who she is, what she is, what she wants & from whom.
Few women past the age of 40 give a damn what you might think about her or what she's doing.
Women over 40 are dignified. They seldom have a screaming match with you at the opera or in the middle of an expensive restaurant. Of course, if you deserve it, they won't hesitate to shoot you, if they think they can get away with it.
Older women are generous with praise, often undeserved. They know what it's like to be unappreciated.
A woman over 40 has the self-assurance to introduce you to her women friends. A younger woman with a man will often ignore even her best friend because she doesn't trust the guy with other women. Women over 40 couldn't care less if you're attracted to her friends because she knows her friends won't betray her.
Women get psychic as they age. You never have to confess your sins to a woman over 40. They always know.
A woman over 40 looks good wearing bright red lipstick. This is not true of younger women or drag queens.
Once you get past a wrinkle or two, a woman over 40 is far sexier than her younger counterpart.
Older women are forthright & honest. They'll tell you right off you are a jerk if you are acting like one! You don't ever have to wonder where you stand with her.
Yes, we praise women over 40 for a multitude of reasons. Unfortunately,
it's not reciprocal. For every stunning, smart, well-coiffed hot woman of
40+, there is a bald, paunchy relic in yellow pants making a fool of himself with some 18-year-old waitress.
Ladies, I apologize. For all those men who say, "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" here's an update for you.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13TH...Spent my morning at Sibley Hospital, undergoing a routine colonoscopy, my second, the first being five years ago at the same hospital with the same doctor. If you are planning to do this test, and if you are "of age" you should be, let me recommend DR. MICHAEL ALBERT (202.223.5544). He's excellent, of course, but he also is calm, reassuring, thoughtful. He also remembered that five years ago, when they started the heart monitor, I suddenly burst into tears. It was as much a surprise to me as it was to Dr. Albert. But the beeps of the heart monitor took me back to Howard's hospital bedside, and the three weeks before he died. So rather than being lightly drugged and watching the proceedings and listening to the beeps, he had the nurse put me under, which was a blessing. So today, he had an anestheseologist on hand to provide the same service. I told him I was stronger now, and not likely to start weeping, but that I would still like to be unconscious as he looked at my insides. Moments later the room got dreamy and the next thing I knew I was in recovery with a nice nurse offering graham crackers and apple juice. It was a pleasurable change of pace having people take care of me, even though it had to do with a medical procedure. I lolled in my drug stupor, sipped my juice and nibbled my cracker. Eventually they kicked me out and sent me home, where I napped off the last of my drugs before snapping back into reality in time to drive to school to pickup Spencer and then go to Nathans to learn the electric company plans to cut off our power if don't find the money to pay our bill by Thursday. Talk about back to reality. In comparison, the colonoscopy was like being at a spa.
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 12TH...More tranquil this morning back in the airless,
windowless basement office at Nathans. Mondays, at the least, offer possibility.
We have a whole week to work on good ideas of ways to draw more customers.
I've been been thinking about conversations I had over the past couple of
days. One with JOHN COCHRAN, the ABC News Capitol Hill corespondent, who
I saw Saturday night. We've known each other a while, and his wife, BARBARA
COCHRAN, was bureau chief at CBS News back in the day. In chatting about
business and stuff, John said, "Nathans is a cash cow." After
my jaw dropped and I disabused him of that notion, it occurred to me that
I thought the same thing before I owned it. I talked to him about the changing
face of Georgetown's business district, and how the customers of 2005 are
not the customers of 20 years ago: they are younger, more transient, and
they're looking for what's hot. Just consider what's new in retail and you
see the audience: H&M, Club Monaco, Sisley, Zara, Wet, Abercrombie,
Puma, Addidas, Diesel. These shops do not cater to blue haired dowagers
who live up the block. They cater to the dowagers' grandchildren and their
peers in local colleges, entry level jobs, and teens in the suburbs. Also,
fine dining as a concept does not thrive in Georgetown anymore. We have
it at a few spots - Citronnele, the Four Seasons, Milano, Lepic, Chaumiere,
Mendocino, 1789 - but largely the popular theme is cafe and bistro and the
food pub grub and fast. Note the success of Five Guys. Wingo's is getting
it done, too. Wingo's, of which I am a big fan, has a good thing going on.
I joke when I say I might have to go the way of Hooters and sell T&A,
but I'm sure if Hooters could get a lease and liquor license in Georgetown
they would be here and they would do well.
-I also had an interesting conversation with HERB MILLER, the developer, when we saw each other at the Farmers Market Sunday. Talk about a businessman with his finger in the pulse of the consumer dollar. That's Herb. We talked about Nathans, of course; he's endlessly supportive. We also talked about the DC mayor's race, in particular LINDA CROPP, the latest to throw her hat in the ring. She seems to have the chops, though ADRIAN FENTY is an attractive candidate, too. I still wish Ward 2 Councilman JACK EVANS had entered the race, but instead he has his eye on the chairmanship of the city council, which will also be sought by Ward 3 Councilmember KATHY PATTERSON. With those two, either way it goes we the people win.
--My neighbors and I were briefly quite excited because it looked like a big Hollywood movie starring NICOLE KIDMAN would be using their house and a piece of our house for a week's worth of shooting. Location scouts mapped and measured. The director visited and declared the location perfect. Contracts were about to be drawn up .... and now we learn they have decided to shoot in Baltimore instead. Oh, well. That's showbiz. However, for Kidman fans - she will shoot a scene outside Nathans on October 23rd in the afternoon. I would suggest you book a window table now. The movie is called "Invasion" and it is a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The story has to do with a space shuttle crash and the spread of disease. Kidman plays a psychiatrist, I believe.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 11TH...As I write this the sports announcers are barking the play by play of the Redskins-Bears game. Downstairs there's a bowl of fresh picked honey crisp apples bought this morning at the Dupont Circle Farmer's Market. I've been tearing through my closests like a squirrel preparing for winter. There's one small pile of summer clothes to pack away, and then there's another pile of clothes I haven't worn in who knows how long. I will try to get them to the church or the Red Cross or to someone who can get them to the evacuees at the DC Armory. Apparently they don't want us to just drop off stuff there. The organizers want some organization, and who can blame them? My haul includes all kinds of outfits. A woman my size could use them for day to day wear or for job-hunting.
| Now, if autumn would please arrive with some crisp winds, painter's sunsets and blowing leaves. I'm ready.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 10TH...KERRY MARASH and I first met when we worked together as producers at CBS News in the mid 80's. She's now a honcho at ABC News in New York, and clever as they come. Nonetheless her DC friends were able to successfully surprise her at a birthday party tonight at a friend's home in Chevy Chase. She always has work on her mind, which is why she's a success. In fact, she thought she'd catch a 10 pm train back to New York, to be ready to work in the morning, but her friends said, "no no no, tonight you party." So she plans to be on her way back north by dawn. I would expect ABC therefore to be breaking some kind of hot story tomorrow. DAVID WESTIN must know he's lucky to have her. But her DC friends miss having her here.
EARLIER -Honestly, I worked on having a better attitude today. Having a flat Friday night and Saturday brunch presented a challenge to my forward-minded attitude, but still I worked hard on trying to find ways to keep Nathans from sinking at the best corner of the most important city in the world. All my years of sailing help me at a time like this. In sailing, it's always about wind. If it's not here you look for it over there. If it's not there, you look for it somehwhere else. Even in the doldrums you try to be ready for when a puff comes along. You want to be ready to harness it and get somewhere. So, with Nathans, I've got to find wind. Maybe that wind will be wet t-shirt contests on Friday nights (not a top choice), or keg parties for college kids in the p.m. hours (not my fave, either), or a deejay at brunch. Who knows? What I do know is that the traditional Georgetown patron doesn't exist anymore. The days of the old guard being the lifeblood of Georgetown businesses is over. A lot of them are dead or dying, and the residents in their 40s and 50s don't typically patronize bars on a regular basis. The majority clientele in Georgetown are unmarried young people in their 20s and early 30s. They are the crowd who to out and spend money. That's the audience I need to woo. But since I'm not one of them it's important to find another way to get their attention. Today I talked with HOCKLEY WALSH, one of our managers, about pulling together ideas from the wait staff and bartenders. They represent the generation we need to target and I see it as a project for them. "Find a way to get Nathans on the calendar of your peers," I said. "Come up with some ideas and come back to me with them." Of course, right now, this weekend, is when I need the boost. I haven't been paid in a few weeks, and I need to get paid, especially since I don't skim or use other conventional devious bar owner means to pad my pockets. The typical thinking is a bar owner pays herself first, but that's a tough choice to make when those standing in line begin with the government, then the liquor companies, the landlords and the employees. But it's Spencer's and my sole livelihood, and a paycheck matters. There's no time or opportunity for me to get another job to make a living, and if I went to work elsewhere every day I wouldn't be able to also oversee Nathans. It's nuts. I know. Nathans will survive, but it means I have to look for wind where I hadn't thought to look before. That's the only way to keep the boat afloat and going forward.
While I was in no mood for a party last night, I'm feeling a little more socialble this evening. There is a friend's surprise birthday, and I look forward to seeing her and other former colleagues from television. It means I have to drive at night, which is dicey, and that I won't be able to have a drink, which is dull. In the olden days, Howard always did ALL the driving...so I got to enjoy myself as much as I wanted. I hate wearing the pants and doing the driving. I prefer to be an employee, a wife, a passenger, a deckhand - following the lead of some unfortunate sucker who has to make all the decisions, carry the weight, have the sleepless nights of worry, sign the checks and make ends meet when the bank runs dry. Oh, and go look for the wind. Aye aye, captain.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 9TH...I feel like I just got out of Nathans with my life
today. I mean, just barely. It's been a week where every day felt like root
canal without the novocaine. We had near misses with some suppliers, and
then, just this afternoon, with the phone, water and sewer. Someone in the
know said to me late today that there are a few businesses in Georgetown
in more dire straits than I am. If there are I am in awe of them. Why aren't
we all jumping off Key Bridge? Larae tells me next week will be worse, when
we have to come up with the moolah to pay the liquor bills, the rent and
the payroll - plus whatever emergencies we know will come along. I need
a miracle. Another friend in the know counseled me this way: he said, "Look
around you. What has Georgetown become? You still cater to grown ups in
a community that has basically become about college students. The retail
is totally aimed at college students, and the bars that are making money
are geared to college students. If you want to make it you have to re-invent
Nathans as a college bar. That's the only way you'll survive."
Geez. By the time I got home I had no spunk left to go to a party being held by good friends with lots of other good friends. It was a theme party and I simply did not feel themey. My mood was more that of the loser among a bunch of winners, and that's not cool. And not fun, either. When my humor is defeated I know it's best to stay home. So, I'm home and in bed with the dog at my feet and Spencer's pet parrot, Ozzy, on my head trying to peck through to my brain. Good luck. But the pecking is a welcomed distraction.
--The day was not a total loss. Early evening I welcomed student Gulf coast evacuee JONATHAN SHAVER, who will reside in our vacant upstairs apartment for one semester. He and 28 other displaced Loyola law students have been absorbed by Georgetown University. He's a nice young man who came in with his father, a hospital worker who is now homeless and jobless. His hospital was closed. He and his colleagues were evacuated by the National Guard. Jonathan and his father briefly got back to their New Orleans house, but flood waters were already knee deep. They were separated but re-united in Texas. I was awed by their good attitudes and realized that however bad it is for me, it is worse for so many, many, many others. Jonathan is thrilled with the upstairs apartment and hopes to be settled there after the weekend. I know business people would say this was a foolish offer to make -- given all that's happening with Nathans bottom line -- but sometimes we just have to do the right thing, business sense or no business sense.
EARLIER- Last week I posted Nathans vacant upstairs apartment on the website for evacuees seeking housing in DC. I posted it through the Episcopal Archdiocese of Louisiana, and the DC government. Yesterday I heard from a young man whose mother saw the posting. He was evacuated from Loyala Law School and has been provided an opportunity to take classes at the Georgetown law school. We're trying to get him set up now, and already one of our readers has offered furniture, which is very generous. If anybody else wants to get involved, write to me here or phone Jon Moss, our office manager, at 338.2000.
And please, read below, but if you can take in a pet - or want to send toys, food,$$$$ to the shelter, do it.
Remember what I wrote earlier this week about hoping we could make it to
Friday without any surprises? Ha Ha Ha. This is why anybody who is successful
in the saloon business has either to be a criminal or insane. I'm not the
former but could ultimately be the latter, in the meantime I try to have
a sense of humor. Especially when Jon called me -- as I was careening through
traffic to exchange a deep fat fryer out in Tysons -- to tell me the phone
company called to say they would be cutting the phone service tonight if
they didn't get $XXX today. The phone company was nice about it. We worked
out a deal. We'll FedEx a check to them this afternoon that will arrive
Monday morning. That's a big break. Right after we high fived ourselves
for dodging that bullet, the DC Sewer and Water office called to say they
would be cutting the water off by 5 if they didn't get $XXX by close of
business today. They wouldn't cut a deal. We put the payment on my credit
card, because there's no time to drive downtown with a check, because there's
a cross country meet at school, and school's in the opposite direction,
and there's only one of me.
If those are our only two surprises today, I'm fine with that. Please. Let's all have a good weekend. Go out. Spend money. And if you do either please do it at Nathans.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 8TH....Pets rescued from the Gulf coast arrived in
DC this morning. They are at the Washington Animal Rescue League. If you
can help or know anyone who can, please contact them. Donations of toys,
food, love are welcomed. These are household pets whose owners were ordered
to leave them behind. Tomorrow WARL are going back down to rescue more!!!
Please notify others to get out the word for help
FOR MORE INFO,
EARLIER - Let's see: Vice President Cheney has surfaced and plans to show up in the Gulf region to reassure the 100 residents who are still there that he will protect them. Oh, or maybe it's the Halliburton people. President Bush says he plans to oversee the investigation into his administration's handling of the Katrina aftermath. Employees of a nursing home say they were told rescuers would be coming so, rather than waiting for the rescuers, they abandoned their 30 helpless charges, who we now learn were never rescued but drowned in the rising flood waters. Mrs. Bush #41 visited some of the evacuees and said that since they were underprivileged to begin with they are much better off now, having lost everything, living in shelters, and uncertain of the future. The levees still are not fully repaired and water comes into New Orleans at about the same rate its being pumped out. We're told the bacteria level in the water is 10 times the level of what is safe and that this polluted water is back-washing into Lake Pontchartrain. Crude oil prices are dropping, but consumers are not seeing that drop at the pump. It's interesting how when crude prices went up we immediately saw the hike at the pump. Interesting but not surprising. Soon these gas price hikes will show up in the cost of anything that gets to us via petroleum products. On the upside, evacuees ARE being shuttled to new homes, new schools, new opportunities. While this is an improvement over living under bridges or in the Superdome, the heartbreak, disruption and disorientation have to be overwhelming. Another plus: the media have dug in and found a new identity as activist journalists. With the exception of Geraldo Rivera crying into the camera, this is an encouraging turn. We can only hope they will maintain this assertive role and take it to Iraq, and possibly think twice before going bat**it over the next Holloway, Jackson or Schiavo story. Only the ratings will tell.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 6TH...The kind of morning where I called the shrink
to ask if my appointment is today or tomorrow, because he's on my mind A
LOT! Need to get my head screwed back on before it spins off into the stratosphere.
It's tomorrow, which means if I can hold on for 24 hours there's hope.
Here in the hot, airless basement office now, waiting for the ice machine repair man. Inexplicably the machine began to work last night, and then shut down again.So we've got enough ice to get through lunch and early evening. LARAE MARSH is here working on the books and giving me a suggested schedule for covering costs over the next 30 days. It's a challenge and there's no room for surprises, and in this business the SOP is all about surprises. What I tell the staff, and myself, is "Nathans has been through worse and she'll get through this." JON MOSS and LOREDONA LUHRS are working with me on menu changes for the fall. I love this part of owning a restaurant, because food ideas are the best part of the "show." They don't always work out - in costs or with customers - but the brainstorming part is creative and interesting. SERGIO BASTIDAS, our "acting" general manager, is going through the liquor and wine inventory to make adjustments there. Our wine prices are too low, and I hear that from customers who are regular wine drinkers. When you hear it from customers it means pay attention. JENNIFER LANDRETTE, is doing the bank and preparing to open up for lunch today. She will be the floor manager. Jennifer works all the time. Sometimes I have to send her home to rest. She's storing up nuts for when she begins graduate studies in forensic science.
--The New York Times has a good story today focused on the impact of Katrina on the New Orleans restaurant industry. In N.O.,
food is as important as air, music and liquor. The link is:
Among other chefs the story focuses on PAUL PRUDHOMME, the Godfather of contemporary New Orleans cuisine. In 1984, when I was doing "Nightwatch" with CHARLIE ROSE at CBS News, I produced a 2 hour live show that focused on what was then called the "New American Cuisine." We broadcast from the kitchens of the brand new Grand Hotel on M Street in West End. Paul was one of the featured chefs. When we went off the air at 4 a.m., Paul pulled out the boxes of Andouille sausage, crawfish, chicken sauces and other delicacies he'd shipped up from New Orleans, and with the help of the two other chefs who appeared on the show, JONATHAN WAXMAN and PATRICK O'CONNELL, prepared a Big Easy feast for cast, crew and producer, starting with vodka oyster shooters, which tasted marvelous in the pre-dawn hours after a long, hard but terrific shoot. Paul is the epitome of charm, and his talent with food knows no limits. I was happy to read that his landmark restaurant, K-Paul, survived the storm.
My friends who own an apartment in the French Quarter were relieved to learn it survived, too, and they hope to get there in October.
LATER - The ice machine repair man reported that the machine is terminal. He cleaned it and got it working for the moment, but its bell is tolling. Now I have to decide whether to lease or buy a new machine. The purchase price is in the range of $15,000. The lease price is about $300 a month. If I knew what Nathans future holds it would help my decision, but I don't know and my crystal ball is worn out. (See above where I mentioned surprises).
GREAT NEWS - PATRICIA DUFF has accepted my invitation to appear at the Q&A Cafe! The date we set is Wednesday, November 16th. I hope to get an announcement out this evening. I expect a flood of reservations.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 6TH....And so, the summer ends. Back to the September
to May routine today. Back to my wake-up buddies: HOWARD STERN and DON IMUS.
Up at 6 a.m., on the road to school at 7, back home by 8:30, ready for work,
back to school in the afternoon, home, on call for homework (though useless
on most questions, especially math), bedtime 10 pm. In a way I welcome it.
Though I hate rising before the sun, I tend to live cleaner during the school
--The more the media report on the breakdown in authority and communications in the federal and local governments in the Katrina crisis, the more RUDOLPH GIULIANI looks like the kind of leader we need and deserve when the S*** hits the fan. What it comes down to, as we watch the chaos in the Gulf area, is this: has our government made us any safer than we were on Sept. 11, 2001? Is any kind of workable system in place to come to our aid in the aftermath of an unexpected catastrophe? Sure, it takes an hour longer to get on an airplane, and you can't open a bank account without proving your legitimacy going back a couple of generations, but can anybody get boots on the ground and bring relief as quickly as needed? And if you are black and poor do you have any hope? The mid-term elections aren't that far away. Let's hope these issues remain vital in the campaign debates. I especially hope the challengers to incumbents as: what price Iraq? Over and over and over again.
--My DICK CHENEY fans tell me he was quite possibly in Wyoming during the Katrina crisis, and returned to DC toward the end of the week. Good show, Mr. Veep. Also, while not exactly decorating the new Eastern Shore home yet, Mrs. Cheney is consulting with the landscapers for the Japanese Embassy to do her St. Michael's garden.
--I hope to hear from DC today on whether they will accept my offer of the apartment above Nathans to house a couple of New Orleans evacuees. But I plan to also contact the Episcopal Archdiocese of Washington, because they are in direct contact with their counterparts in Louisiana and Mississippi. I heard this morning of two Georgetown families who already have made arrangements to take in other families, and to arrange for school for their children, etc. A good source for general information...
--LATER: Down in Nathans airless, overheated basement office now, CNN blaring in the background, trying to get someone to come fix the busted ice machine. It shut down over the weekend and we've been paying to have ice shipped in for three days at $160 a load. Our regular guy isn't available. I've asked Jon and Jen to phone around to other repair companies. Problem is: it seems we're tapped out, and the refrigeration companies want what we owe them before they'll dance with us. Makes sense, but this is singularly the part of the saloon business that ties my stomach in knots; me as deadbeat. When I worked at CNN, rather than just watching it, all I had to worry about was the show. Someone else in some other office somewhere had to worry about the money. Now, I worry about the money and the machinery, and the ice. It's not fun. As I write this I'm on the phone with our web host, Interland, in my 7th call in three weeks about a search engine problem they can't seem to fix. In this one 45 minute phone call (so far) I've been shunted to 3 people, put endlessly on hold, and now I'm talking to India. They've hung up on me, and now I'm starting the process all over again. And, mind you, I'm still polite. Frustrated, but polite. We will get the ice machine fixed today, even if I have to do it myself, but Interland may do me in. Of course, in return I can do them in.
LATER STILL - The Interland phone call took a total of 1 hr 10 min. Twenty-five minutes of that was holding, or disconnects and call backs. In the end a nice woman said, "we have upgraded this to tech support management, but they don't take calls. We send them messages and they will call you back when they can." Her words."
--The day closed with a phone call from Black Op. A teeny, tiny hopeful boost.
--Mind you, I know my problems are minor compared to most, and it was a beautiful day.
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 5TH...Not to be a big pain in the rear end about it,
but - since he has Presidential ambitions - where has our Vice President,
DICK CHENEY, been this last week? Decorating the new house in St. Michael's
perhaps? Trail riding in Wyoming? I'm sure there is a "logical"
explanation, but we've heard from just about every other high ranking administration
official, but him. Am I the only one who finds that odd?
EARLIER...Every now and then I write about my life as a widow. I don't say "single" because I'm not single, and my perspective on life and love and the lives and loves of my friends is based on my own 20 years of marriage. I can't see the world as I saw it when I was single, 30 years ago, nor can I see it as someone who was never married. Because I am a solo I have a unique place in my friends' lives, mostly Monday through Friday, and I see and hear a lot. When Howard was alive I viewed everyone else's marriage through our marriage, and I naievely assumed we were all basically alike. What I know now is that no two marriages are alike, and that many people live the cliche - lives of "quiet desperation." A friend showed up on my doorstep this morning whose husband had abused her. She refused his demand that she do a particular nasty errand and he angrily doused her with laundry detergent and coffee grounds. As calmly as possible she had me take photos. Strangely there was not much more I could do - because she has a plan - but see her out the door with, "hang in there." She did not want me to help clean her up. Another friend is having an affair, and the husband doesn't know; another friend's husband is having an affair, and she doesn't know; and then I have a friend whose husband is screwing around and she does know, and he doesn't know she knows, and she's waiting for her moment to finish him off. In all these instances I sit and listen. I make tea or coffee or pour a glass of wine and listen some more. I offer advice when I think it can be helpful, but mostly I listen. It's the same with my friends who are in marriages that have hit the doldrums. Some will get it going again, some won't, and some won't care. Some of my friends already made their Faustian pact and are prepared to live with it, or to numb the pain with weed, narcotic pills or odorless alcohol. I listen and watch and try not to pass judgment. It pains me, though, and makes me miss my marriage. We had made peace with a lot in two decades and were comfortable together. As I said, I used to assume that was the same with everyone, but now I know it's not. I admire friends who recently dissolved their marriage because, with children grown, they each wanted to have another chance at passion and romance. They realized they had become roommates, and that wasn't enough.
All of this does not diminish my desire to marry again. To the contrary. I want it more than ever, but I'm not in a hurry, and so hope I can get it right a second time around.
But first, before any of that kind of fun and games, I have to get Nathans resolved. I do three things with my life: raise Spencer try to get the lease sorted out, and keep Nathans afloat. After that there's not much left.
It was a difficult situation last night. For dinner I met up with a dear old friend who is in a position of significance in the Bush White House. He brought two colleagues with him, and I brought Spencer and his pal Patrick. It was tough because I couldn't pretend it's all okay down south. They see it differently, though they reluctantly concede that MICHAEL BROWN at FEMA, and MICHAEL CHERTOFF at Homeland Security both get F's. I had to really bite my tongue. I could have been more candid with my friend alone, but had to watch it with these other guys there, because I could see they were looking at me as genuinely suspect and subversive. It's likely the polls will tell them what they didn't want to hear from me.
FYI, I did offer Nathans top floor vacant apartment to the recovery effort as a temporary home for some evacuees. This is the official word from the DC Government: "the city is trying to coordinate all donations and volunteers through the mayor's call center at 202-727-1000. That's also where you should call if you're willing to offer housing to an evacuee."
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 4TH...What if PRESIDENT BUSH had put RUDI GIULIANI in charge of Homeland Security? Not that Giuliani would take the job, but we all know Rudi gets it done. Also, he most likely would not have been on the Sunday chat shows making excuses for the administration's lame response to New Orleans. But today what it feels like is that New Orleans will survive, it will be rebuilt and restored and returned to its unique, eccentric glamour, and it will happen because of the people who live there, and the people who live elsewhere in the U.S. and the world who care about the city and who care about preservation. The administration will tag along and try to take credit, but everyone will remember they were not there when it mattered most. New Orleans will come back stronger than ever, and let's hope it produces a strong political voice, too. Think of San Francisco after the earthquake, even the one of almost 20 years ago, and Chicago after the fire, and look at those cities today. It seems impossible now, but it won't be if every one of us finds a way to pitch in, even if only with our voices of support or our tourist dollars.
I'm encouraged, too, that DC has a convoy enroute to N.O. to pickup some 400 evacuees and bring them to the Armory as a first stage before finding them temporary housing. They say they are looking for people with vacant apartments which they might make available for 60 to 90 days. I have a vacant apartment above Nathans. I plan to call the city as soon as I find out who to call.
FRIDAY, September 2nd...It doesn't seem like much of a weekend to celebrate
anything. No matter what I do, especially anything as basic and simple as
driving, or bathing, or eating a meal, I think of the American refugees
and that these simple routines of daily life have been taken away from them.
I've mentioned this before, but I still wonder why Washington, DC, isn't
taking the lead as an American city offering refuge. I think now something
like 6-9 cities are welcoming the refugees, but Washington is not among
Earlier: Could Osama be scratching his head and thinking he and his legion of America-hating followers don't need to inflict destruction and turmoil on us because we can do it to ourselves? I know it's fashionable today to pile-on the administration and other accountable authorities for not getting done what needs to be done in New Orleans and environs, but, hey, that's what they are hired to do - lead, fix, comfort. PRESIDENT BUSH seems not able to find his voice on this crisis, which is interesting, given this was the man who went to ground zero, stood on top of a rubble pile, flung his arm around a firefighter and bullhorned to the world that he was in charge. A gulf coast flyover in a 747 earlier this week isn't quite the same statement of leadership - or caring, for that matter. Maybe today's visit will make a difference. It's true that politicians don't need to get into the middle of a crisis, but Presidents do. I'm impressed that Detroit's mayor has offered airplane seats and hotel rooms to the refugees. Where is Washington, DC, in this effort. Why isn't the nation's capital, of all cities, not the first in line offering room and board, clothing, transport? Isn't that the oddest thing?
This episode is a too frightening test of our ability to handle a domestic catastrophe. For four years we've heard countless boasts about all the great strides made by Homeland Security to protect us if there is a terrorist attack. It seems any terrorist attack aftermath would require the same resources being begged for down south. The fact is we're not ready.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 1 ...Though sad in its content I was relieved tonight to see ABC focus on some of the poor black families who aren't looting, raping, rampaging, who are trying to save loved ones and literally get to higher ground. One father, leaning over the hospital bed of his cancer-stricken daughter, said, "you, see, I'm blessed. My baby just opened her eyes." But truth is the story of this day may be facing the fact we are witnessing the first death of an American city since the Chicago fire and the San Francisco earthquake. I hope I'm wrong, but it feels that way tonight. Since 10 a.m. the per gallon price at Exxon already has been hiked once, with another hike expected before evening. It's now noon. Earlier: The Georgetown Exxon, which was out of gas last night, has it back in stock this morning, but they expect to be pumped out before the day is out. Their prices still are fair -- $2.95 for plus gas -- but they say it will probably jump to $4 a gallon rather fast. There was a crowd there this morning, with lots of Maryland license plates.
The disblief, the emotional tug, the horror is reminiscent of 9/11.
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