By David Sherman
I am a recovering asshole. I’m not completely over being an asshole but I believe I’m making progress. Recovery is a lifetime battle.
The first step to overcoming any addiction is realization. My dawning came when my girlfriend took me to her favourite getaway, an inn in Maine on the ocean and I went on the hunt for corned beef hash. One of the only reasons to go to the U.S. is corned beef hash.
If you are not familiar with Quebec’s greasy spoons, you can find all the regular breakfast indignities you find in ROC or in the U.S., except grits, catfish and corned beef hash. The two former are usually reserved to the southern U.S., where they drink Coca Cola with their first meal of the day. If you’ve tasted coffee in diners down there, you know why they drink Coca Cola with their first meal of the day. But that’s another story.
I googled “Best corned beef hash around me” and we were led to a place whose name I’ve forgotten. But, I fondly remember its owner, a corpulent gay and grey-haired chef who called himself Chef George. There were cartoons, drawings of Paris, glib sayings, hand-painted portraits of him on the walls.
There was joy in Chef George’s open kitchen and five or six four-tops..
Chef George was nearing 60, if he hadn’t already hit it. He was Paris-trained and for reasons unknown, decided to open a greasy spoon a few blocks from the sea and offer diner fare with a little panache. The pancakes were not Aunt Jemima and the hash was the real deal. Once we got to know him a bit, he said he was looking forward to retirement. I asked him what he was planning to do.
He said, “Everyone I can.”
Hard not to like Chef George.
My conversion from assholedom came with my order of hash. I ordered it with a side of grits, which was an extra. The addition seemed to perturb the young woman serving us.
The woman I share my life with has been a restaurant owner and manager for almost 40 years though she is still 39, and when I remarked that the waitress did not seem too happy with me, she said softly, “When you order off menu, you make things complicated for her and the cook. She has to write it out on the bill or talk to the cook who then has to remember it, so when you ask for something different, it would help if you give her a smile and maybe say, ‘Would it be a problem if I wanted …?’”
Finding out I was an asshole from the woman I loved was a bit of a surprise. But, I remembered back to my first lover, 200 years ago, who I left, the last straw being her disdain for restaurant staff. She had been raised on a plantation in Jamaica and the “help,” I guess, were a necessary evil that could be treated like something stuck on the sole of her shoe.
When the waitress brought my order, I asked for some sauce or another but this time I followed instructions, not the easiest thing for a confirmed asshole, and I was rewarded with a big smile, which I rewarded with a better-than-decent tip.
This is also part of asshole recovery therapy. An extra dollar or two on the tip, be it at a service station or a restaurant or café is not a burden for the tipper, unless you’re down to your last dollar or two. If everyone kicked in an extra buck or twoonie for the person making your coffee, pumping gas or serving you food, it would make their lives easier.
Most of the people who make our lives easier make minimum wage or, minimum plus a couple of bucks. Life is tainted by a lot of bills and a lot of aches and these days, worrying your job'll kill you with Covid. Many have families. Many go to school. Many work two or three jobs. Life is one paycheque away from hunger. Dropping an extra buck or two is telling them you recognize it’s hard times,that you’re not an asshole.
It also means when you return, you’ll exchange civilities. The transaction becomes a touch of human interaction, appreciated during the paranoid Covid blues.
Now, back to Chef George, where our two-day bond – lunch was good there, too – earned us tastings of whatever the chef was concocting that day, including cinnamon buns, which he insisted were the best in Maine. Cinnamon buns might be the state’s national food. Every café for miles advertised, “Best Cinnamon Buns.” When in Rome, eat cinnamon buns.
Learning my smile and almost obsequious behaviour moved if not mountains, then at least breakfast and lunch plates, I continued rejecting assholedom, with occasional slips.
At the grocery store, I asked the cashier in a mask behind Plexiglass if scanning ten thousand items a day hurts her shoulder. She said it hurt her shoulder, her back, her feet, her neck. I asked when her break was, she said, “eventually.”
I wished her well, urged her to stay safe and she smiled and said the same to me. We acknowledged we’re two tired humans trying to keep it together. The entire enterprise is now a tad easier for both of us, though it’s done nothing for her repetitive stress syndrome, or the fact she's a human scanner who worked in a mask, behind a barrier, one her feet and is passed retirement age.
I had a gizmo installed on my old car recently at a garage a friend recommended. When I retrieved the car, it was clean, the gizmo worked perfectly, all was good.
As part of my recovery from assholdom, after mulling it a bit – would trying not to be an asshole make me sound like an asshole – I called the garage. I thanked him for the good service, told him the gizmo worked perfectly and asked him to thank the mechanic for the good job.
He seemed surprised. He thanked me. I heard the smile in his voice. I’m sure I didn’t make his day but maybe I made his hour. I felt good.
It took me one minute. I’m learning.