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As restaurant/bar industry employees, our job is to make others happy– and for most of us, we love to do just that. It’s quite rewarding to know you’ve played a role in someone else’s satisfying and memorable experience out. As someone who loves traveling and visiting new places, I’m especially thrilled when an out-of-town visitor has a great experience that they will take home with them.

However, we occasionally must walk the tenuous line between your (the customer’s) happiness and our (the industry employee’s) misery. When the latter becomes a trade-off for the former, it really is quite a drag. So as a general courtesy, please try and let us satisfy you; please do not come out with a rotting chip on your shoulder, unable to be pleased by even our direst efforts.

Also, please keep in mind that as employees who must interact with scores of people (most of whom are complete strangers) each shift, we inevitably will make an ASS out of ourselves at least once a day. {…at least I know I do} Whether it’s a failed attempt at humor, an uncooperative tongue, sheer clumsiness, or a mistaken mental gaffe–these are our hazards of the work place. So show a little love, and go easy on us from time to time. Thanks!

With that being said, lets get back to the ways you can help from pissing us off. Ohhhhh just kidding.… but seriously.

6. Don’t Try and Cheat Us

As I’ve gone over: we want you to be happy. What we don’t want, however, is for you to try to pull one over on us. Like the parent of a teenager who once misbehaved in their own youth, “We know all your tricks, so don’t even try it.”

Sending something back because it came out wrong or you simply “don’t like it” (as aggravating as this can be) is one thing. Most of us will go out of our way to get you something else more to you’re liking. However, if you down ¾ of your cocktail or devour the majority of your entrée then complain (often after we’ve already checked on you) that you don’t like it and would like something else [read: complimentary], that is something completely different. We are not here to give you a hand-out. I believe they have soup kitchens for that. There, I said it.

In the eloquent words of former-industry-employee-turned-military-wife-expat :

“Unless you found a that your last bite was in fact a dead rat, pay for the meal you ate and suck it up.”

Additionally, it is not our fault if you fail to read the menu and get the wrong impression of a dish. If you have questions about something, please ask us. That is what we’re there for. And, for the most part, please refrain from ordering something that you’ve despised partaking in in the past. Your shoddy memory and/or inability to select something that you may actually (*gasp*) enjoy does not warrant you a free meal. Sorry.

On a slightly different note: if you have a server, please order your drinks through them– not from the bar after you’ve been seated. It’s rude and appears as though you don’t trust your server to do their job. As well as simply making you look impatient. This should also avoid the dreaded “double-order”–where you put in your ONE order to more than one employee, resulting in more than one order being produced.

If you know the bartender and are trying to get their attention, you’re probably trying to get some kind of hook-up. Don’t lie, we’ve all done it. Say “Hello” and return to your table (preferably empty-handed). If you’re bartender-friend really likes you, they’ll probably send you over a drink or round of shots. Whoo! If this is the case, please remember it when taking care of the bill– servers often tip out the bar, so your friend will reap the benefits of it too.

7. We Provide Food and Drinks, Not Child Care

I don’t have children, so I will not begin to assume how difficult it must be to be a parent, especially in public-dining situations. However, it was ultimately your decision to bring a child into this world and to, consequently, bring said child into a restaurant. Keep your kids in check. Most establishments are not run as willy-nilly as Chuck-E-Cheese. So please don’t let them scamper around the restaurant or make an atrocious mess at the table.

Also, if you’re kids have a hard time ordering for themselves, please give them (and us) a hand. In the time it takes to coax your child into going with the grilled-cheese or the chicken tenders, milk or apple juice, we could have gone to the pharmacy for Plan B already.

Having said that, many industry employees are moonlighting for extra money, supplementing their salaries to make ends meet. And what profession do a good majority hail from? You guessed it: education. Teachers are taking care of your kids during the day and serving them at night. Don’t they deserve a bit of a break?

8. Don’t be a Complete SLOB

People dine out for a number of reasons: to indulge in tasty food and drinks they didn’t have to labor over; to people watch/prowl for prospects; or simply to get out of the house. But isn’t it also to have someone else clean up after you? There are no pots to scour, dishes to wash, linens to stain-stick. You eat, pay your bill, and leave. No muss, no fuss.

In turn, we are fully aware that cleaning up after people is part of our job description. Dozens, nay, hundreds of times a day we clear dirty dishes and napkins, wipe down tables, sweep up perhaps, and reset. We also know kids can be messy, and that Cheerio’s are inclined to wind up on the floor (not in the mouth) 9½ times out of ten. As long as you’re not encouraging your child to chuck their spaghetti across the room, this does not bother us.

But what tends to be obnoxious is when fully-grown adults behave in such a disgusting manner. When we have to all-but-power-wash the area once known as table 12 after you’ve departed, then we tend to loathe you.

I’m not talking a few crumbs here… I’m talking chewed-up bits of food, gum, masticated straws, shredded napkins, coasters, and beer labels, dollops of ketchup, the no-longer-needed contents of your purse or wallet, drinking glasses filled with an amalgamation of the liquids (and solids) on the table, etc., etc.

We appreciate you trying to clean-up a little after yourself. We really do. (In fact, we can usually tell which one of our guests has worked in the industry by this very act.) But please keep in mind that we have to retrieve what you’ve shoved into your glasses, find the silverware hidden beneath your used napkins, and carry the plates stacked so perilously that they envy the Tower of Pisa for it’s architectural-integrity. All with a smile and a little grace.

“That’s your job, not my problem,” you say. Fair enough. (*cough-douchebag-cough*) But think about this one: How would your mother react if she saw the mess you’ve left behind? Chances are she wouldn’t be too happy with her little treasure, now would she?

9. There’s a Menu for a Reason, Please Order From It

I’ve learned through the years in this industry that people can be very picky about what they eat. They like what they like, tend to distrust what is out of their culinary comfort zone, and are often unwilling to experiment. This is all well and good. However, can makes dining out (without being a staff’s total nightmare) a bit of a feat.

Restaurants spend thousands of dollars and countless hours developing their menus. Chefs study for years; they research, tinker, and tweak to get their dishes just right. Please do them the honor of actually reading–and then ordering from–the menu. {Sometimes you have to show a little faith.}

Don’t get me wrong, some changes and exceptions can be made: leaving off the tomato, putting the dressing on the side, switching up the cheese or bread, etc. These things are simple to do and are rarely an issue. Most establishments will even make substitutions, with the understanding that some items cost extra (crab meat > steak > chicken). However, please don’t order something that is just straight-up not on the menu. Just because you’re in the mood for Chicken Carbonara, doesn’t mean we’re going to make it specially for you.

And if you’d like us to make a recommendation, please don’t just ask “What’s Good?” without being willing to expand on your preferences. “Good” is a very general term, and tastes are very subjective. What’s “good” to one person may be putrid-garbage-on-a-plate to someone else.

For the most part we’re happy to make suggestions and provide you with more information. But please don’t subject us to such blanket statements. Give us some parameters to work with. For example: How hungry are you? Are you in the mood for a seafood, meat, or vegetarian dish? Do you like robust or more subtle foods? Is there something you’re in the mood for or have been craving lately? These types of gastro-queries can help us immensely when directing you through the menu.

When it comes down to it, I will order for you. But I’d rather have some type of framework to go on to ensure that you like what I’ve selected.

10. Please Tip Well

This probably goes without saying, yet I feel the need to say it anyway: Twenty percent (20%) is the standard amount to tip these days. A little more for great service, a little less for not-so-great service. But if everything was satisfactory, your server was friendly, and your drinks were filled, they deserve at least 20%. If you can’t afford 20%, don’t go out to eat–or don’t order that third cocktail with top shelf liquor you just had to have. This is how we make a living– and in most cases, we don’t get paid hourly, not anything substantial after taxes anyway. Very few of us are in this line of work for the sheer thrill of serving others. We are not independently wealthy. And we don’t want to work for free.

Now for a brief note on the “verbal tip.” Everyone likes to be complimented, especially on their job. Praise is important and can really turn around a bad day. But, when it comes down to it, I can’t deposit a compliment in the bank. Kudos do not pay the bills. Please don’t tell me I did a great job, and gush about how wonderful everything was, then leave 13%. Similarly, telling us “Don’t worry, I’ll tip you really well” or “I’ll take care of you” is often code for: “I’ll make you put up with a bunch of my bullshit, then tip you poorly to boot.” Please don’t say this unless you intend on leaving at least 20%.

We don’t make the prices or the policies. Please don’t blame us. We generally have no control of how much you’re paying for your beer. Bitching at us is not going to sway the monumental forces of inflation or corporate greed. It’s only going to annoy us, and make you look cheap.

Please tip on the full amount. “What is this?” you ask. If you took advantage of a special (half-off entrees, discounted bottles of wine, etc.) that’s great–we’re happy to get you in her, and save you some money. However, we’re doing the same amount of work for what can end up being half the money because you’re tipping on the final discounted amount, rather than the full-price (a.k.a. had there not been a special.)

Also, if you’ve gotten any portion of your bill discounted, please consider this when tipping. Say the bartender’s your friend and he hooked you up with a round; or the chef sent you over complimentary dessert because you used to tutor their kid or they want to get on your sweet side; or the manager, who happens to be your neighbor, discounted your check because she’s trying to be polite. These are all great for you. But please remember that your server is working just as hard, whether or not you got the discount.

In the end, an extra dollar or two– hell, even 50 cents– is probably not going to break the bank for you. But for us it means a lot. It validates that we’ve done a good job in your eyes. And in this case it’s not even about the money.

There’s the oft-forgotten tradition of the single penny (in conjunction with a good tip, not a replacement for, of course.) Leaving a single penny for the server is a way to share that you truly enjoyed the service you received. It’ll brighten our day and show that we’ve brightened yours.

{Note: I know I haven’t posted in a while, and I never finished my two-part series on dining etiquette–and for this I apologize. Seriously, my bad. However, this is my submission for a writing contest I just entered about the legendary American writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Please enjoy! And wish me luck…. 😉 }

Considered today to be one the greatest writers of the 20th century, F. Scott Fitzgerald was not always regarded with such esteem. In fact, while his first novel This Side of Paradise catapulted the young writer to fame and fortune, his subsequent works did little to further his literary reputation. It wasn’t until the late 1940’s, as the world picked up the post-WWII pieces, that his professional stock began to rise again. He now rests comfortably in the literary canon as the author of the “great American novel,” The Great Gatsby, and is held as a foremost chronicler of the Jazz Age.

Fitzgerald was born into an upper middle class, Irish Catholic, Minnesotan family. His father, Edward, contributed a sense of well-bred elegance, as well as an allegiance to the values of the Old South. But it was Fitzgerald’s maternal family, the McQuillans, that provided financial security for the budding writer. While his parents did not participate widely in society life, they ensured that their only son was able to meet all the right people. He mingled with the elite children, attending dance classes and preparatory school, all the while knowing he was not entirely part of this society. What resulted was a self-proclaimed “poor boy in a rich town; a poor boy in a rich boy’s school; a poor boy in a rich man’s club at Princeton,” who was never fully “able to forgive the rich for being rich, and it has colored [his] entire life and works” (according to a 1938 letter written to Anne Ober, wife of his literary agent, Harold Ober.)

At the age of twenty-two, after leaving Princeton and joining the Army, Fitzgerald fell in love with the daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge by the name of Zelda Sayre. The eighteen-year-old belle, however, refused to marry him until he could support her lifestyle, further fueling his literary ambitions. He revised the already-penned (and rejected) novel, The Romantic Egotist, resubmitting it under the title This Side of Paradise. This time it was accepted and published. A week later, Scott and Zelda were married in New York City, beginning a life of extravagance and tumult they would share over the next few decades.

Thrust into a world of lavish parties, overindulgence, and alcohol (despite Prohibition), the Fitzgerald’s quickly blew through Scott’s first novel’s earnings and struggled the rest of their lives to maintain the lifestyle of excess they’d become accustomed to. Fitzgerald  began writing short stories, which appeared in a number of national publications, to pay the bills. However, coupled with his playboy reputation and tendency toward alcoholism, critics were reluctant to regard him as a serious writer. His career would never recover–at least not in his own lifetime.

Riding the ex-pat wave– dubbed The Lost Generation– Scott, Zelda, and their daughter moved to Europe, where they would stay (between intermittent returns to the States) for the next decade and half. During this time, Zelda’s mental health began to deteriorate, creating a further rift in not only the Fitzgerald’s marriage, but also their financial stability.

It was truly a time of rapid change, for both the couple and the generation they embodied. Economic prosperity was met with first a crash, then widespread depression. Gender roles and social hierarchies were shifting; and war was on the forefront, threatening all corners of the world like never before. The promise and frivolity of youth was replaced with the smashing disillusionment of despair and inconsistency. Fitzgerald struggled to keep up. But through his writings, namely The Great Gatsby and a number of his short stories, we see an honest portrayal of the spiritual barrenness and hedonistic escapism he bore witness to.

Fitzgerald’s role, however, was neither pure outside-observer nor inside-participant. He walked (and wrote) a fine line between the two, affording his works a unique perspective rarely duplicated since. He both exalted the notion of the American dream– that lauded ambition for greatness– and criticized its outcome. He presented man as being simultaneously obsessed with wealth and power, as well as hope and equity. Perhaps we can take this as an outward extension of his own internal struggles regarding money, fame, and happiness.

Nevertheless, his stories, and the characters that inhabit them so passionately, possess such a genuinely “felt” quality that has transcended through the decades. They address the evolving nature of the American dream, as well as the role of individual desires in an ever-expanding global society. By addressing this universal notion, Fitzgerald and his works not only serve as a nostalgic return, but also a reminder of the current struggles between optimistic idealism and self-indulgent nihilism.

 

 

 

I’ve been working in the restaurant industry (either as a hostess, server, or bartender), for many years. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many fascinating people, who are often hilarious, friendly, engaging, and polite. However, it can’t be all roses and sunshine. As is true of any line of work that constantly brings you in direct contact with the public, you come to realize that some people just don’t know how to act. They can be rude, discourteous, cheap, self-entitled, and even downright disgusting. The worst part, most of them don’t even know it.

I’m sure I was no treat to wait on when I was younger. Before getting my first restaurant job at 16, I undoubtedly committed many frequent (and most irritating) sins of the patron. I was obnoxious, petty, ignored the server and basic dining etiquette, and had no clue about proper tipping procedure. Sometimes when I get a particularly horrendous table, I assume it’s my karmic retribution for my dining past-life.

As a result, I believe everyone should have to work in a restaurant before they’re allowed to frequent one. It’s amazing how your outlook will change. But until such a law is mandated, I’ve plucked a few tips from my arsenal of dining-and-drinking-out guidelines that will (hopefully) ensure an enjoyable experience… for all parties involved.

(Note: This article is not intended as a rant about all the somewhat-horrid customers I or others have encountered, but rather a  guide on how not to be one of them. Also, neither this article, nor its author, assume that all restaurant/bar industry employees are perfect. We have bad days too.)

1) When in Doubt, Call Ahead

It’s a Friday night, you’re getting a little peckish. You and your closest 9 friends head to the hot new restaurant down the street. “This’ll be nice,” you all think. But when you arrive to a jam-packed restaurant, you’re flabbergasted–maybe even a bit peeved–that you can’t be seated right away. But did anyone think to call and make a reservation? Probably not.

Don’t assume that a restaurant can accommodate your party, particularly if it’s a larger group, or during peak hours. It may take anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour for a table to be ready. You could save yourself some time by looking up the number (shouldn’t be much of an issue with all the smart-phones these days) and checking on your table’s availability.

When you call to make the reservation, let us know what type of gathering you’re having, as this may affect where your table is held, even which server is designated to you. For example, are there children in your party, and do they need high chairs? {perhaps a quieter section of the restaurant with a more out-of-the-way table} Or, is this a birthday, bachelor/bachelorette, or other celebratory party? {a table closer to the bar, maybe even a private area of the restaurant, may be more fitting}

Also, if you already have a table or part of the restaurant in mind, let us know. We will try our best to accommodate you; but keep in mind that it may not always be possible to meet every request.

If you do make a reservation, please honor it. Treat it as any other appointment. If you’re going to be late (or early, for that matter), if the number in your party has changed, or you need to cancel altogether–pick up the phone and let us know. The way we seat the dining room is often directly affected by reservations, as well as walk-in patrons. So if you don’t show for your reservation (or it has become drastically altered from what we have in the books), you deprive us from being able to seat other guests.

2) Keep Us Informed

Part of our job is to anticipate your needs–extra napkins, refill on your drink, replacement cutlery after the first course, etc. But very few of us moonlight as mind-readers in our spare time. Please communicate any special circumstances you may be under, or needs you would like met. And do so ASAP.

If you’d like to change tables, please ask us first (preferably the hostess, not the server). Don’t just pick up and move across the dining room, assuming it won’t be an issue. Most of the time it isn’t, and we’re happy to accommodate you wherever you feel the most comfortable; but understand that it is not always possible. There is a system you may not be aware of, and that table may be being held for a reservation. It doesn’t hurt to ask, but it does hurt to get hot tea “accidentally” spilt down the back of you! (No, no. I kid… I’d probably never do that.)

Also understand that tables are sat according the size of the party. This means that, unless the restaurant is empty and you plead incessantly, it is unlikely that you and your two friends will be sitting at the largest table in the restaurant. That table is for parties of seven or more. Go make a few more friends and we can talk–otherwise, sit at your reasonably sized table and enjoy your meal. Thanks.

If you must get separate checks, please let us know from the start. Please don’t wait until you’re ready to leave, and tell us you’d like the check divided 6 ways based on what everyone has ordered. We’re not here to do the math for you– cell phones have calculators these days. Besides, not all restaurants have the same separate check policy. So you could find yourselves S.O.L. when it comes to bill-paying time.

Finally, if you’re in a hurry for whatever reason, let us know when you first sit down. We can suggest items that don’t take as long, and sometimes even have the kitchen prioritize your ticket so it comes out quicker. However, if you’re ordering a medium-well done steak (especially during peak hours), then 15 minutes later inquiring where your food is because you “have to catch a plane, a train, or an automobile..” Or say you’re “late for a movie, appointment, or very important date…” There’s not a whole lot we can do for you.

3) Don’t be Sleazy

It’s our job to be nice to you, maybe even flirt a little. This is not an open invitation for sexual harassment. We don’t want to bring you a beer, a smile, and put up with your sleaze. Please don’t hit on us, make lewd jokes/comments/gestures, and refrain from overtly giving us “the ol’ once-over” three-times-over, each time we approach the table.

It is not cool to touch us, under any circumstances really. A light tap on the shoulder to get our attention is one thing–groping, grabbing by the arm or restraining, or any form of unwelcome physical contact is quite another. Is this clear, or do I have to get security involved? Have fun. Don’t cross the line.

On the other hand, if you are sincerely interested in your server or bartender there are appropriate ways of making your intentions known. For one, wait until after you’ve paid and the rest of your party has left the table–nothing is more awkward, for everyone involved, than asking someone out in front of other people. Conversely, this does not mean you should follow us to our cars when we’re off work, or any other behavior that borders on stalking, to tell us how beautiful we looked serving that soufflé. This is creepy and weird, which is far worse than sleazy.

4) Treat Us like Human Beings

Please don’t treat us like second-class citizens just because we’re serving you. The very nature of our work is already a bit demeaning; don’t make it worse by looking down on us. If you think you’re better than us, you’re probably showing it somehow (your tone, demeanor, lack of eye-contact, snide remarks, etc.), and we’re probably picking up on it. Sometimes it makes us feel like shit, sometimes it just makes you look like an asshole–either way, it’s unnecessary.

So if we approach your table, the least you can do is acknowledge our presence.

We’re not trying to interrupt your conversation, just get your drink order. And if you’re on your phone when we approach, please ask the person on the line to ‘hold on for a moment’ while we take your order; or end the phone conversation altogether until after you’ve finished.

Smiling, being friendly and all around approachable is a prerequisite for a restaurant/bar employee. However, if we’re working and not interacting with a guest–that is, we’re making drinks, carrying trays of food, clearing tables, etc.– we may not be smiling. It is not your duty (nor your entitlement) to tell us to smile. We don’t go into your cubicle and tell you to smile while you input the numbers, or whatever it is you “real-job”-havers do all day. As a wise and incredibly patient coworker recently shared:

“I don’t ever really get upset when people call me ‘sweetie,’ ‘dear,’ etc. I call people ‘hon’ and ‘sweetie’ all the time, and I’d much rather have that than ‘hey, YOU!!!’…. I DESPISE when people tell me to smile. It’s incredibly rude. I am working, that’s why I’m not smiling. If I am talking to you or taking your order, I will smile. Please don’t stand at the well while I am making multiple drinks and ask me why I am not smiling. I am trying to remember multiple drink orders and add the prices in my head, that’s why. Plus, it would look really silly and a little crazy if I was making drinks and smiling aimlessly…”

And remember: “Please” and “Thank You” go a long way. It’s about manners, people. Simple as that. We’ll go out of our way a lot more if you’ve been polite and gracious to us, than if you’ve been ungrateful and rude.

5) Don’t Wave Your Money, Snap Your Fingers, Whistle, or Throw Things to Get Our Attention… especially if You’re Not Ready

Once again, this goes along with basic manners and treating others with more respect than a dog. And I’m surprised that the last one (throwing things) really needed to be said, but after talking to a few bartenders I’ve learned that this does in fact happen.

You’re at a crowded bar, competing with the thirsty throngs of people. We get it: you want to be noticed, and thus, served, first. And yes, doing these things will probably get you noticed by the bartender– however, it will probably also get you ignored because you’re being a dick. Have your money out and ready, yes. But please don’t wave it around with an air of hasty-yet-idiotic-superiority.

When you have gotten our attention (hopefully by politely waiting your turn), please have your order ready. As a coworker has said:

“This is something I just don’t understand. Why would you force your way to the front of a crowd, wait to get the bartender’s attention, and then not have your multiple drink order ready when you finally get their attention. Unfortunately, if we are that busy, I will move on. It’s nothing personal, but I simply don’t have time to sit there and wait for you to get your entire group’s order together when the bar is packed with people who are ready.”

I’ve had times where I’ve checked on a table, walked away, then have them call me over (even while I’m with another table) because they want to order, then not even be ready when I get there. Unless you’re being completely neglected (your drinks are empty, food came out wrong or unsatisfactory, or your server has forgotten you altogether), please refrain from doing any of this.

We have a working flow we like to maintain–as well as other guests to tend to–and you calling us over every few minutes without much reason puts a serious wrench in the middle of it.

On the same thread, please try to order in unison. (This does not mean talk at once.) If you hear someone at the table asks for another drink, and you think you might want one too, please speak up. Few things are as irritating as a table that sends you back and forth a million times because they don’t collectively understand how lovely a glass of water would be until someone else has one.

{Stay tuned for Part 2} 

October wants us to be healthy and happy. Love the ta-ta’s, get your eyes and teeth checked, and quit smoking. Be nice to your liver. Promote awareness about dyslexia, spina bifida, lupus, and down syndrome.

Feeling blue? October is also National Depression Education and Awareness Month. Get yourself screened, relax with a rub-down, or simply fake it ‘til you make it on World Smile Day (0ct 2). Support your smart-ass side during National Sarcastic Awareness Month. But don’t be too negative, October’s also Positive Attitude Month.

Get silly on Mad Hatter Day (Oct 6). Let it all out on October 12th—it’s International Moment of Frustration Scream Day and Free Thought Day. Still not satisfied? Face your fears (Oct 13), be bald and free (Oct 14), find solace in your teddy bear, or be a grouch for the day (Oct 15)…its okay.

Often a time of harvest and plenty, it’s no wonder that October is Tackling Hunger Month and home to National Food Bank Week (dates vary) and World Food Day (Oct 16). Be a vegetarian for the month—or just the day (Oct 1). Satisfy your sweet tooth during National Bake and Decorate Month, especially on National Cake Decorating Day (Oct 10), the Sweetest Day (Oct 17), and National Chocolate Cupcakes Day (Oct 18). Eat an apple on Apple Day (Oct 21). So eat your heart out in October—it’s also National Caramel, Chili, Popcorn Poppin’, Sausage, and Spinach Month. Not full yet? Check out some more gastro-holidays in October.

October is my favorite month, by far. Not only was I (and many other awesome people) born during this month, it also usually has my favorite type of weather (sunny, crisp, breezy), it showcases the leaves as they die their beautiful death, and includes one of my favorite holidays, Halloween. But there are so many more reasons to love October.

From the Latin for eight (octo), October was originally the eighth month of the year under the Roman calendar. In 46 BC, with the introduction of the Julian calendar (later developed into the Gregorian calendar we use today), came the months of January and February, pushing October to the 10th-month position.      

Nevertheless, packed into the 31 days of October are a plethora of holidays—ranging from obscure to widely-celebrated, religious to secular, serious to sarcastic. Every day, in fact, has some reason to celebrate, honor, or contemplate.

          Superstitions are a curious thing—with people retaining and passing them along for various reasons. Some are related to numbers and have been around since the numbers themselves. In our Western culture we’re familiar with a few: sevens are lucky, thirteens are unlucky, and triple-sixes (“the mark of the beast”) are evil. People can have specific lucky numbers, often coinciding with an important date. In many Asian cultures, numbers take on higher meanings related to their homonyms (words that sound the same.) Religious scripture, folk lore, and other spiritual practices (such as tarot, astrology, and numerology) also contribute to numerical superstitions.

          Certain calendar dates also possess symbolic importance—Friday the 13th being perhaps the most common in our society. Airlines, hotels, and other travel agencies report a noticeable decline in travel on this seemingly-inauspicious day. However, whether the day itself is evil—or merely the belief that the day is evil—remains to be seen. Days such as June 6th 2006 (6/6/06) and July 7th 2007 (7/7/07) have garnered acclaim as being demonic or lucky, respectively. Similarly, August 8th 2008 (8/8/08) was seen as a tremendously fortunate day by many Asians—hence the commencement of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing on this date, at 8:08 pm exactly—because in many Asian languages the pronunciation of the number eight sounds like the words for ‘prosperity’ and ‘wealth.’

          So today—and with future dates such as October 10th 2010, November 11th 2011, and December 21st 2012 (possible ‘doomsday’ according to the Mayan calendar)—we are reminded yet again of the underlying significance of numbers. While no one can really be sure (and many will say that any day is what you make of it) if the numbers mean anything, 9/9/09 should shape up to be a pretty good day…..

The Number 9

          Nine is the highest natural number; that is, it’s the highest whole, single-digit integer. After nine, all numbers repeat themselves. Therefore, nine is a number of completion, conclusion, finality, judgment, etc. Because of this, it may be easy to see nine—and thus 9/9/09—as ominous, as a sign of the impending end of the world. However, according to most of my research, nine is a spiritually-positive number, often representing accomplishment, satisfaction, and unity. Since there is no ending without a beginning, seeing nine as the completion of a cycle, is to see the relation between closure and renewal. (The Latin word for nine, novem, is related to the root word novus, meaning new.)

          On a purely mathematical-level, if you add all the numbers from one to nine (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9) you get 45; add those numbers together (4+5) and you get nine. Further, if you multiply any number by nine (4×9 or 473×9), you’ll always produce a number that adds up to nine (36=3+6=9 or 4257=4+2+5+7=18=1+8=9). Many see this phenomenon as illustrating an “all is one” concept, with nine as an ultimate connector.

          Written in binary, nine is 1001. You get a group of nine items together (such as the nine US Supreme Court Justices) and they’re known as an ennead. Also, most human pregnancies last nine months.

The Almighty 9

          The significance of 9 has held steadfastly true throughout many of the world’s religions and cultures. For example, in Hinduism, nine is revered as divine, as a complete and perfected number; nine monks are usually involved in Buddhist rituals; and in Greek mythology, there are nine muses. Tarot and Western Numerology relate nine to concepts of newness, integration, authority, regulation, attainment, culmination, universal influence, invention, process, recognition, and achievement. Astrologically, it’s related to Neptune.  

          In Norse mythology, there were believed to be nine worlds, or nui heimar. And Odin (the chief Norse God) hung himself in an ash tree for nine days to learn the runes. Established in the late 1970s, The Odinic Rite is a Germanic neopagan organization. They list their Nine Noble Virtues, by which followers are encouraged to live, as: courage, truth, honor, fidelity, discipline, hospitality, industriousness, self-reliance, and perseverance.     

          The Christian angelic hierarchy consists of nine choirs of angels (3 sets of 3—a very popular number in Christianity.) Also, St. Paul speaks of the Nine Fruits of the Spirit: love/charity, joy, peace (one’s relationship with God); patience, kindness, goodness (with others); faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (with the inward self).

          Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting and prayer, falls on the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. Since it is shorter than the Western/Gregorian calendar, the specific dates of Ramadan shift every year—in 2009 it falls between August 22nd and September 19th. In Islam, it is also believed that there are nine openings of the male human body.       

          In Chinese cultures, nine is associated with the Chinese dragon (a symbol of magic and power, as well as of the Emperor). Nine animals make up the Chinese dragon. It has the head of a camel, the eyes of a demon, the ears of a cow, the antlers of a stag (its horns), the neck of a snake, the belly if clam, the foot soles of a tiger, the claws of an eagle, and the scales of a carp (117 of them, in fact. 1+1+7=9). Nines are also featured in much Chinese architecture, such as in the Forbidden City in Beijing (which is said to have 9,999 rooms.) At the Taoist site the Temple of Heaven, also in Beijing, stands the Earthly Mound (or ‘circular mound altar’). At the center is a circular marble plate, surrounded by 9 more plates, then 18 more, and so on, until there are 9 full rings of plates.  

          In the Baha’i faith, nine symbolizes completeness. The monotheistic religion, whose official symbol is a nine-pointed star, was founded in 19th century Persia and is said to have 5-6 million followers in over 200 countries and territories around the world. Baha’i emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind and its various religions, equality, and the abolition of prejudices. It neither promotes, nor discredits, any established religion—but rather, sees them as building off one another, reaching toward a definitive, progressive religious revelation. The Baha’i calendar has 19 months (each named after an attribute of God), each consisting of 19 days.

The Word Nine

          In Mandarin Chinese, the word for nine (jiu) sounds like the words for ‘long-lasting’ and ‘long in time,’ it’s connection with longevity thus making it lucky. There’s even a nationwide celebration, Chongyang (meaning double yang; nine is odd, and therefore a yang number), held on the 9th day of the 9th month. And since another homonym for jiu is the word for ‘wine’ it is customary for it to be drank during the festival.

          A word of caution, here—nine is not seen as pleasantly in Japan. That’s because in Japanese, the word for nine sounds like the words for ‘torture,’ ‘pain,’ and ‘distress.’ Japanese-based airlines will even go as far as to omit a 9th row from their planes and building planners often leave out the 9th room.    

          Many common phrases use the word nine; however, their origins are not always clear. For example, if you’re on cloud nine, you’re in pure heaven. Love potion number 9 is a secret serum of romantic bliss (also a song by the Clovers and a 1992 Sandra Bullock movie.) Being dressed to the nines is as dressed-up as one can be. And going the whole nine yards mean you’re going all the way, baby.

          Nines have also found their way into some literature. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, there are 9 circles of Hell. And in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, nine rings of power are given to the race of men. Finally, exalted in Voeux du Paon (1312), The Nine Worthies (or simply The Nine) were the well-known men in the Middle Ages that personified all that was chivalrous, heroic, and noble. They were broken down into 3 groups—Hector, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar (Pagan); Joshua, David, Judas Maccabeus (Jewish); King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon (Christian).   

The Pop-Icon Nine

          According to musical superstitions, there is the curse of the ninth. It is said to plague composers who complete a ninth symphony, finishing them before they can finish their tenth. It’s said Beethoven was the first to be killed off. Other composers have even tried to trick the curse by giving their ninth a different name…but without much avail, they were laid to rest before their true tenth debuted.

          The Beatles released the track “Revolution 9” on their 1968 self-titled album. Today, their recently-remastered catalog is being released, as well as an edition of Rock Band devoted to them, dubbed “Revolution.” Clearly the number nine was important to them as well.

          An animated movie called “9” is also being released today. Adapted from director Shane Acker’s 2007 short film by the same name (and produced by dark-star Tim Burton), the Focus Features flick tells of nine rag dolls in a post-apocalyptic world. They’re given life by their creator before his death, in order to keep existence (and the human legacy) going. I thought the short film was awesome, so I’m looking forward to seeing the full-length version, especially now that I know a little more about the importance of nine.

 Do you have any thoughts on today’s rare date? Or the number nine? Do you have a lucky number? If so, why is it lucky for you? Do you plan on buying Revolution or going to see 9?

Also, if you’re interested in 2012, be sure to check out The Mystery of 2012: Predictions, Prophecies, and Possibilities.

That one was a doozy!! Yet there was so much more I could’ve said about heels…. and shoes in general.

Apparently, I tend to over-research topics I’m interested in. (I’ve actually known for quite a while.) Not only do I let my investigatory-bug run wild, I also think that most of the information I find is interesting. And naturally, but possibly foolishly, I think others will as well. I suppose time will tell on that one.

In the meanwhile, I will forge on in my little Book of Useless Information—making tick marks next to the bits of random info I like, until nearly all the passages have been highlighted. Until I review them again, selecting and tying together tidbits, and begin once more with research. Temporary obsession will once again set in, spirals will once again fill with notes, and I will compose a new piece.

Nevertheless, I promise the next one won’t be as long…. maybe.   

I don’t know who invented the High Heel, but all women owe him a lot. –Marilyn Monroe

         If you’re a woman in today’s age, chances are you’ve worn a pair of heels—you’ve squeezed your little piggies into tight toe boxes, unnaturally elevated your arch, and felt that ache and pinch of high heels. And if you’re a man, chances are you’ve ogled heel-donning women as they strut (or teeter) by—calves and thighs toned, asses lifted, strides shortened and sexified. The high heel is one of the most controversial and impactful items in fashion and I am here to explore it, its history, and its reputation.

The High and Low of Heels                                                                                                            

          The benefits of wearing these steep shoes are largely aesthetic. Heels give the illusion of longer, leaner legs and smaller, more ‘lady-like’ feet. Much like Chinese foot-binding, Victorian-era corsets, and even African neck-stretching, the goal is to create an exaggerated femininity. Some women claim that once poised atop the spiked shoes, a new identity can emerge—often conveying strength, sexuality, femininity, and confidence. And let’s not forget that the right pair of heels are just divine to look at and can bring an outfit together perfectly.                                       

          On the down side however, many podiatrists claim that wearing heels can be detrimental to the basic anatomy of the feet, knees, and lower back. The negative physical results can include severe pain, foot deformities, and unnecessary stress on the knee joints. Women who wear them frequently enough actually begin to change the arch of their feet, causing pain when sporting other types of shoes.  

          Then there’s the social and sexual stigma tied to the shoes. Opponents of high heels (often feminists) see the discomfort caused by them as punishment, as a form of submission and method of subservience to men. Some even argue that it renders the wearer defenseless against violent attack since it’s so difficult to run in them. Others belief that the choice of shoe perpetuates unhealthy gender roles, further objectifying women and reducing them to sexual objects for the consumption of the male gaze.                                                                      

          Nevertheless, women—and some men—continue to wear them. Fashion trends have varied through the years, but sales of the stately shoes and its many retail relatives (i.e. high heel boots, platforms, heel-less heels, etc.) continue to flourish. Today, heels are seen as a staple in the modern, fashionable woman’s wardrobe. (I recently read an article saying the average North American woman owns at least 30 pairs…. If that’s true, I’ve got some catching up to do!) But how did we get here? Where did these notorious shoes come from?

Walk like an Egyptian…..or a European Aristocrat                                                                                

           The earliest depiction of shoes are found in murals of the Ancient Egyptians from around 3500 BC. During these times, shoes themselves were a privilege of the higher classes, and heeled versions were often worn for ceremonies. Butchers also utilized the stacked shoes to keep them above the blood that accumulated on the ground.                      

          Similar platform sandals, known as kothorni, made their debut on Greco-Roman stages (and brothels) around 200 BC—where varying heights were worn to signify a character’s social standing. Later called pattens in the Middle Ages, these thick, wooden soles were attached to more fragile shoes to protect them from mud. Chopines were also emerging in Turkey, eventually becoming very popular with Venetian women, and commonly showcased heights of six to seven (and up to thirty) inches.                                                                                                                  

          Then, in the 1500s, came a shoe revelation. Cobblers began making them from two pieces: a pliable upper part, which was attached to a heavier, stiffer sole. To address the issue of (then-fashionably-elongated) shoes slipping through stirrups, a one to two inch rider’s heel was developed.                                                                                                                          

          Catherine de Medici is widely regarded as the first wearer of heels as we know them today. In 1533, at the age of 14, her imminent marriage to the Duke of Orleans (who would become the King of France) approached. To compete with the Duke’s much-taller and attractive mistress, Diane de Poitiers, the short-statured, future-Queen donned two-inch heels (rumored to have been created by Leonardo DaVinci) and changed the future of footwear—and fashion—forever. For the next few hundred years, it was common for both men and women to wear heels; and, until the early 1800s, there was no distinction between left and right shoes.                                              

           During the reign of Louis XIV in the early 1700s, intricate heels (known as “Louis heels”) were often decorated with battle scenes and stood some five inches in height. According to the King’s decree, only nobility were allowed to wear them in red, and none shall stand as tall as his own. The Rococo style of court-ordered-ornament and aristocratic-frivolity, embraced the heel, and furthered its reputation as an item of luxury, leisure, and class.                          

The Fall of the Heel                                                                                                                                      

           With the political and social revolution of France in the 1790s, came the (temporary) demise of the high heel. To the oppressed, but strengthened lower-class, the shoe embodied what was wrong with society. In a final, symbolic gesture, Marie Antoinette climbed the scaffold and was beheaded in two-inch heels—which, by this time, had been banished by the Napoleonic Code in an attempt to show equality among the masses. (Ironically, I recently read that Napoleon would have his servants break-in his new shoes for him.)                                                                                    

           Puritan Pilgrims in the new American colonies had passed a similar law prohibiting excessively-tall boots some hundred and fifty years before this. They saw the heeled-shoe as demonic, claiming it akin to the cloven-hoof of the Devil. Ensnaring a man by wearing such heels was enough to charge a woman with witchcraft during this time.  

As the Other Shoe Drops                                                                                                                             

          Flats and sandals dominated shoe trends until the late-1800s, when heels resurfaced in popularity. The invention of the sewing machine brought a greater variety to the styles and materials used by shoemakers, thus further increasing their mass-appeal. And much like the movement of fashion today, America and the rest of the Western world followed the lead of Italian and French designers.                                                                                                                    

          A woman known as Madame Kathy, who owned a famous brothel in New Orleans, is attributed with introducing America to high heels. It is said that, in the 1880s, one of her girls brought a pair from Paris, and after observing their special effects, the Madame doubled her prices. As word spread about the brothel’s sultry shoes, she began shipping them from Europe and selling them to her clients, who gave them as gifts to their wives and girlfriends.                                   

           The twentieth century brought a time of great change, turmoil, and progress—ultimately reflected in shoe and clothing trends. During times of prosperity and growth, such as the Roaring 20s, when spirits (and hemlines) were high, heels were in fashion. However, during the Depression and wartimes, more sensible styles were being worn.                                                              

          Then, in the wake of WWII, came the rebirth of high fashion. To accompany Christian Dior’s post-War collection, renowned shoe designed Roger Vivier created the infamous stiletto heel. Italian for “a small dagger with a slender, tapering blade,” stilettos have a very narrow, tall heel. While this style had been seen before, the technology used to make them sturdy (a thin steel core) was new. The shoes were so sharp, in fact, they were often banned from public building because they damaged the floors.                                                                                                      

          Vivier, who originally studied to be a sculptor and also brought us the Beatle Boot (the Cuban-heel, ankle-boot popularized for menswear in the 1960s), undoubtedly drew inspiration from Italian shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo. He had been creating a range of innovative styles throughout the 1930s and designed shoes for legendary Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe.

Today’s Towering Tootsies                                                                                                                         

          It’s been evident through the centuries that as societies shift and change so do their fashions. For example, the 1980s “power suit” was worn by scores of emerging female professionals hoping to legitimize themselves in the male-centric business world. They often paired these ensembles with high heels to not only give their stature added inches, but also to demand authority. For one of the first times, wearing heels was a sign of power and strength, rather than feminine vulnerability and prettiness.                                                                                                

          Today, most third-wave feminists agree that fashion and personal style can be adapted to identify, experiment with, and challenge concepts of femininity and masculinity, sexuality, and control. With prominent designers like Vivian Westwood, Jimmy Choo, and Manolo Blahnik incessantly shaping the shoe world, one thing is for sure— high heels will continue to thrive. Such wildly-expensive designs demand hundreds and even thousands of dollars to purchase. However, many lines have been introduced making heels much more affordable for the average shopper. In fact, accessory-mogul Tamara Mellon has confirmed that a Jimmy Choo collection will be available at modestly-priced H&M stores this November. (Oh, happy day!!)        

          Now I don’t know about any of you, but I just love to look at a beautiful pair of heels. While I may cringe at the thought of wearing them (especially new, un-broken-in ones) for long periods of time; to me, they’re just so damn pretty, sexy, and even badass. The pure aesthetic pleasure (and the knowledge of how it transforms my body, posture, and attitude) makes up for the crammed toes and unsteady step.

          And as far as feeling helpless and vulnerable in them… please! If there’s really someone coming after me, I think I’d take a few seconds to take them off. Then, come to think of it, I’d have two ready-to-use weapons at my disposal. I’m not saying I’ve ever had to use a heel to defend myself; but it’s nice to know they’ve got my back if the situation should arise. Who knows, maybe I’ll even compete (along with hundreds of other women, in many contests across the world) in a stiletto race. Okay…maybe not.  

 If you’re interested in learning more about the history of heels check out some of these websites and books:

So I suppose I am now a blogger– which means that my aversion to word ‘blog’ has been (at least temporarily) subdued. It also means that I am ready to start sharing my writing…. or, more accurately, that I am forcing myself to be ready.

So what can be expected from this blog? While I make no promises, I hope to entertain, enlighten, and distract. I’m fascinated by so much in the world– food, art, literature, pop culture, travel, fashion, animal behavior, etymology, history, superstitions, cultural traditions and taboos, mythology, symbols, random/useless information, etc.– that I sometimes have a hard time deciding what to focus on. But through this forum I hope to present information that interests people, that makes them think and makes them chuckle.

This will not be a online diary (in the traditional “Today I woke up and it was raining so I went to the movies then to lunch with my best friend and we both had salads and they were delicious” sense). I do not feel my life is that interesting…. yet. While I may mention my day-to-day habits, adventures, interactions, etc., this will not be my main source of information. I live in a great city and draw a lot of inspiration from it. So you can expect to hear a lot about Baltimore and its unique history and attractions. I love to eat, so you can expect to hear a great deal about food as well. Other than that (at the grave risk of sounding cliche) the sky’s the limit.

Please stay tuned for upcoming posts, feel free to comment and track away, and let me know if there’s any facet of life you’d like to know more about….. Thanks!