Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Infinitive, "To Be": Unconjugated in Modern Ebonics

At our holiday party this past weekend, our friend and neighbor Julie, went into a rather in depth discussion of the new, unconjugated infinitive form of the verb "to be" as it is colloquially used in modern Ebonics. She is an English teacher in an inner city, New Jersey public school. She went on to discuss that Ebonics as we think of it is not at ALL an exclusively African-American phenomenon. She has lots of caucasian, Indian, latino and asian students who speak this way, too. I found that hard to believe.

But, sure enough today, in an IM with one of the ladies in my billing department she used it. I've changed her name to "Nancy" and IM handle to protect her identity. "Nancy" is a 22 year old, Puerto Rican single mother of two. She had brought her son (who is a toddler) to me for orthotics (shoe inserts) to help him with a problem with in-toeing which was causing him to trip and fall down. So I was just casually asking her how he is doing with his new orthotics. Here's the IM:

Ethan (11:45:11 AM): But he's not tripping in them, is he?
Nancy (11:45:30 AM): he be trippin' at first- didn' want to wear em. but now its all good.
Ethan (11:45:38 AM): Well, what I meant was: Is he falling down in them when they're in his shoes?
Nancy (11:45:52 AM): No.
Ethan (11:46:05 AM): Well, that's a good sign!
Nancy (11:46:15 AM): he has a new pair of sneakers at home and i be transferin the orthotics from one pair to the other
EthanCimentDPM (11:46:47 AM): That's the way to do it. I'm glad they're fitting and working. I think it's going to seriously help him with his in-toeing and all of the associated problems.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Check, Please?

So there's this corner on 8th Avenue in Chelsea, where we live that is cursed. That's right, it's cursed. This is the superstition of some New Yorkers-- that certain spaces are just cursed: Whether there's clothing store there that closes, or a restaurant, or whatever-- it's believed that whatever inhabits that space, just is cursed to not be successful, to be a failure and (ultimately) be forced to close it's doors. That's why when over a year ago when this restaurant called Lasagna opened on the southeastern corner of 8th Avenue and 20th street Michael and I were so excited. Italian food-- Hardly a novelty for New York-- though we were relived that it wasn't a Starbucks, a Jamba Juice, a bank or a nail salon. We were really pleased that this was not the typical, local, Chelsea-interpretation of an Italian restaurant (i.e., Haute cuisine, etc...) but simple, down-to-earth food, with reasonable prices, red-sauces, etc...

The one issue that we've had with this restaurant was not the food-- but the service! The waiters have always been more interested in being cute and funny that punctual and getting the order right. About two months ago after having stayed away from the place for a while since being disgusted by the appalling service the time prior, we went in for a lovely dinner, great food and the service was pretty quick. That was until we got the past where we thanked out sassy Latina waitress for everything and asked for the check. It took her nearly 20 minutes to get the check to us so we could pay and leave. Of course, all that while we were watching her running around from table to table, schmoozing the other patrons, taking new orders, and (essentially) attending to everyone in the restaurant except us. Finally, we flagged the manager down, told him we really needed to pay and leave and that we couldn't get her to come back with the check. Ten minutes after that, a check appeared. Michael reached for his plastic and I said, "Are you nuts? We'll be here all night waiting for for them to run the charge. We're paying cash." And so we did and we left, again dismayed by the horrible service.

So it'd been a few months and I was ready again. We went to see Marie Antoinette last night and it was quite disappointing. The plan was to do French food after Marie Antoinette (and to night we'll be doing Spanish Tapas before seeing VOLVER) but I was so disappointed that I said, "I'm wanting red sauce. No French food tonight" and so we walked into Lasagna.

After we were seated, THE VERY SAME WAITRESS came to wait on us. Again, all sassy and perky, she asked if we would like to place our drink orders. I ordered a glass of the Syrah and Michael ordered a glass of the Chianti. She asked if we knew what we wanted to order and so I placed mine, Michael placed his and then she began to repeat it to us-- and was getting it wrong. She started over, and repeated it and got it right. She returned a few minutes later with my Syrah and a glass of Pino Grigio. We both looked puzzled and Michael asked, "What is this? I had ordered the Chianti?"
She looked puzzled and said, "I heard you order the Pino Grigio."
This set me over the edge. I thought to myself, 'This woman who made us wait 30 minutes last time we were here to pay and leave is already starting off with the wrong order, she flubbed the order before when repeating it to us, I'm not going to have this anymore. I want a new waiter.'
Instead, I took a deep breath and replied to her before Michael could, "No. He ordered the Chianti. I heard him order it and you repeated that order. Would you like to write down our order instead of memorizing it?"
And she snapped back at me, "No. I mean, this isn't exactly rocket science, you know?"
And quickly retorted, "No, it's not rocket science. It's also not the first time we've had to deal with this with you."
"Oh it isn't??" She asked in a smug, sarcastic and accusing tone.
"No. We've been through this twice with you." I answered.
"Oh you have??? Twice?? Wow, well...." She said as she fumbled for something clever to say. But remembering herself she stepped it down a notch and said, "Well, I heard him say a Pinot Grigio. But what did you want? "
Michael clearly annuciated, "A CHIANTI."
And she took the White wine, quickly returned with a Chianti and that was that.

She somehow managed to get our orders right for the rest of the evening and the bill came in only 5 minutes. It's really sad, though, that in order to get the kind of service that should naturally come with any dining out, you need to call people on their shit.

Honestly, it's THE ONE AND ONLY aspect of life in New York that, even these 16 years after I first moved here, I cannot adjust to. It's the lack of true customer service in eating establishments. Every single one of these waiters is wearing some other begrudging badge that says, as if stamped in place of their name tag, 'I'm an actor and just doing this until I'm discovered'. Or, 'I'm waiting these tables because I can't collect public assistance, and it's all your fault.' And that's the thing that gets me. I understand that, unlike in Europe where being in the service industry and being a waiter or waitress is truly a career choice, here it is often something that people do by default because they need to make money. And while I am sorry for anyone who is forced to work in a job they don't like or do something they don't want to do because of the situation they're in, I'M NOT THE ONE TO BLAME. I'M THE PATRON-- THE CUSTOMER. I'M SUPPOSED TO BE THE 'RIGHT' ONE IN THE RESTAURANT. It's not my fault you woke up at 37 years old without a plan for your life or how to support yourself. I'm sorry you didn't pay more attention and apply yourself in high-school. But, again THIS IS NOT MY FAULT. Just take my order, get it right and try to put a smile on your face so I can at least justify tipping for bad service.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Save me, Jesus!"

My office is a very modern, open, "boutique" medical practice. I share office space with an HIV specialist in Chelsea- The Gay Ghetto of Manhattan. My office is at ground zero of The Ghetto. Everyone who works in my office, healthcare practicioners included, are gay men. The vast majority of our patients are gay men. We have some gay-themed artwork on our walls and we have HIV-prevention, Hep C-prevention and drug-addiction related pamphlets and educational materials in our waiting room. You get the picture.

Yesterday, a new patient arrived at 3:40 pm for her 4:30 PM appointment. She was an immigrant from the Carribean, mid-40's, and dressed like a nun. She immediately went to the front desk, registered in record time and then asked my front desk receptionist, Ricardo, "Is the doctor going to see me now or will I have to wait another 45 minutes?" He politely advised her that while I would love to take her in sooner, I was booked solid until 4:30 and that we couldn't upset the 4 PM appointment just because she came early. He then reviewed her paperwork only to notice that she did not fill out the 2nd and 3rd sheets of our registration materials. That would be the authorization to bill her insurance (i.e., so we can get paid) and the missed appointment policy agreement (which states that unless it is a true emergency, appointment that are not cancelled with 24 hours advanced notice will incur a missed-appointment fee. She quickly signed the authorization to bill her insurance but refused to sign the missed appointment fee. Ricardo knows very well that if a new, registering patient refuses to sign the agreement, she or he will not be seen to even become established as a patient and we will send them out. This is because, I have learned over the years, as with all relationships, this is someone who is telling you from the outset that they won't be willing to hold up their end of the bargain as far as being polite and considerate of your time. I have no room in my life for people like that- personally or professionally. But I digress...

So she finally, after a bunch of huffing and puffing, signed this agreement and then sat down in a crowded waiting room of gay men to wait to be seen. She began mutterring to herself. Ricardo paged me from the front desk to let me know this and I was horrified. I peeked out of my room to look out to find her clenching her rosary beads, eyes squeezed closed, muttering, "Save me, Jesus... save me from the evil and sin that surrounds me... Save me, Jesus... in your name...." and it went on and on.

My reflex was to be angry and horrified. I felt, "Who is this woman to come into a gay neigborhood and seek out treatment from a gay doctor in a gay office and then condemn us for being gay?!? How dare she!" But then I calmed down. I peeked around the corner and took a look. She was sitting there, clutching her rosary bead, eyes squinted tightly closed, muttering and praying. I looked at the other patients in the waiting area. They seemed confused, upset, offended and very uncomfortable. So I knew I had to do something, while trying not to offend her.

I walked out. I waited until I saw her move her finger to the next bead, signaling to me that it was a pause to interrupt. I quietly said, "Excuse me, Ma'am."

"Yes?" She said, looking as though she was roused from a deep sleep.

"I'm sorry to bother you," I offered. "I'm Dr. Ciment and I certainly don't mean any offense but some of our patients are troubled by the sounds of the prayers you're making. "

I then drew on my parochial education,"If you'll recall in the Book of Samuel when Hanna makes her famous prayer, it says that only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. And clearly, her prayer was more than answered, so we know it works. So if you wouldn't mind, perhaps you could pray like Hannah did."

I don't think she was ready for that one. Stunned by the on-the-spot Biblical reference she replied, "Of course."

On my way back, I stopped at the front desk and turned to Ricardo, "That's $250,000 worth of Hebrew School and Jewish education. I knew it would come in handy!"

Friday, November 17, 2006

Can I Pet Your Dog?

Okay, so I have two dogs: Chandler and Phoebe. Chandler has been Michael's dog since he was three months old and he's now 11 and Phoebe was mine since I adopted/rescued her from the shelter at age 8 months. She's now 8 years old. Chandler is the "Happy to see you, Happy to see you" Yorkie. Phoebe is the "Don't fuckin' touch me or I'll bite your miserable hand off" Chihuahua/Jack Russell mix. The thing is (and LOTS of you can attest to this) once you get to know them you discover the Phoebe is the lover. Sure Chandler loves his friends, but Phoebe goes nuts over people she loves. It just may take her five or six years to decide you're now one of those people.

Anyway, I was just downstairs taking them for their evening stroll. I needed to go deposit some checks in the bank so I took them with. The bank is downstairs in our building: Commerce Bank. I take the dogs in there often with me. It's a dog-friendly bank. Not only do they give lollipops out for kids and local gay boys on Extasy, but they also have doggie biscuits for the four legged patrons, which is sweet. The thing is 1) our dogs eat too much and don't need more treats and 2) I cannot verify what's in these things, so each time that we go in, when they offer a treat I say, "Thank you but they cannot eat it-their on a special diet." I guess they must assume that my dogs keep Kosher or something. Whatever. After the biscuit turn-down, the next question, invariably, is, "Can I pet your dogs?" And I always have to explain that they can pet Chandler and he'd gladly accept the attention and love (ham that he is) but that Phoebe is off-limits because there are limits to my personal liability insurance, and she has quite a nasty set of chompers.

Tonight was no different. I went in, waiting on the interminable line and a new employee there who I've never seen before comes over and goes through the routine. She's wearing the requisite dark blue or black pants and a red top that is the Uniform. She's a big gal and though you can tell she really tried to put herself together, she clearly got dressed into that outfit with a tub of Crisco and some fishing wire. I swear, I never knew what the sound of lycra screaming was until I watched her walk over.

Anyway, after the biscuit turn-down and the Yes-Chandler and No-Phoebe petting talk, she says, "Oh, it's okay... all dogs love me. She'll be fine." I'm thinking, "Great. Another one of these 'I'm different and special' folks." I reiterated to this woman that, "No, really. She looks friendly and cute but bring that hand any closer and she'll snap it off. Really. Please don't try and pet her."

I should think that if she were smart enough to ask permission to pet, when I told her not to and explained WHY that she'd get it and move on. This is the most annoying type of person I encounter in NY when walking them on the streets. She persisted and this time in baby talk and a high-pitched voice: "Oh, No! She's not going to hurt meeeeeeee!!!!" And I'm thinking, "Baby Talk. Kiss of Death. We're at Defcon 5! Quickly! All men to battlestations!!!" Phoebe's hackles start rising on her spine. She's flipping out and starting her low-level growl. I start to tug on the leash but it's no use. She's in alert mode. This genius repeats in a babier tone "I'm not gonna hurt you silly-willy..." And with that Phoebe lunged at her. Thankfully, the leash was already pulled back so she missed this genius by a few inches. Startled, the genius who was crouching down in her heels jerked back on being startled by Phoebe's lunge and BAM! Flat on her ass. She put her hand out to the side to help herself up and, CCRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIPPPPPPPPPP!!!!! Yup. The central ass seam ripped.

I tried so hard not to laugh and I was successful. She got to her feet and immediately felt towards her backside and discovered what had happened. I apologetically asked, "Are you okay?" And she politely, not forgetting her customer service role, faked a smile and said, "Oh I'm fine, thank you." She then turned to Phoebe and there was Phoebe, wagging her tail desperately. Clearly pleased with herself. And I thought for a moment and then said, "Sure... why not. They can have a small treat."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Cup of Joe or Jo?

So I walk into the Starbucks at Sheridan Square to get my Thursday morning, post-therapy usual cup o' Joe from the same inefficient, slow-as-mollasses "Barista". Right. It's called a clerk but the higher ups at Starbucks, in another only-in-America celebration of mediocrity, decided to not call them clerks, or salespeople-- they're Baristas. Serious coffee makers. Right. Whatever. This Barista wears the traditional garb of Starbucks Baristas: A green Starbucks apron, green Starbucks hat and non-descript clothes underneath. He looks to be a young black man in his early thirties or thereabouts. Anyway, I'm ordering my coffee and this man who is serving it to me speaks as though he has lingual paralysis. Yes. He slurs his words. It's annoying because he's shows no other signs of having had a stroke and something tells me this is less of a medical issue and more a laziness/ I-just-don't-give-a-crap-about-working-here-issue. He's very hard to understand.

Ahead of me is this striking, effeminate, African-American woman with straight hair. She is bejeweled and in a smart business suit. You can just tell she's a real princess. She is so engrossed in the mobile phone conversation she's broadcasting, she's fogotten to pick up her cup o joe that she's already paid for and that is sitting on the counter. Then the slurring Barista puts mine down next to hers. This wakes her up and she starts to reach for mine. I stopped her and said, "Oh no that's mine." She must have not broken away entirely from her phone conversation because she said, "What?" It is at this point that the Barista slurs, "Thaaaass naaaaaa youuuuuurssssss..." The Princess replies with an impertinent, "WHAT??" So the Barista repeats, "Thaaaass naaaaaa youuuuuurssssss..." Now the Princess is really frustrated and says to the person on the phone with her, "Hold on, I'm in Starbucks and there is... hold on..." and this time, pulling the mobile phone away from her head says directly to the Barista, "What???" And I said, "What he's trying to say is, 'That's not yours.' That's my coffee. Yours is right here" and I motioned to the other cup on the counter. The Barista snaps at me and says, "Iiiim naaaaaaat a man. I'm a woooomaaaan!" I stopped- frozen, really, in total horror at my faux pas and stared at the hairs on her chin, the sideburns and the very, very masculine facial features in front of me in total disbelief.

I felt horrible and was about to apologize when at that very moment, this Princess snaps at the Barista and condemns her, "Well if you dressed more effeminate and acted like a woman, then people wouldn't make the mistake!" And she grabbed her coffee and just ran off leaving me and the now twice offended Barista staring at each other. I slowly reached for my coffee, picked it up, and as I was leaving offered and sheepish, "I'm sorry" and slinked away from the counter.

Ah... New York. What a loving place it can be.