Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Butcher Christmas Story

A few weeks ago, on a cold and windy Monday night, I found myself alone at home with no food in the refrigerator and no motivation for a trip to the grocery store. The Folk Singer had gone to the Big D (and I do mean Dallas) for work for the entire week, so I was left alone to fend for myself. I had already knocked out the leftover Pizza Delicious from the night before, so my choices were frozen dumplings from Hong Kong Market, Jazzmen Rice, eggs, and marinated Greek olives.

Looking back, that potential spread sounds pretty darn tasty, but on that night I decided to take a walk to Cochon Butcher instead. Downtown living has its obvious advantages in terms of commute time for work, but the walkable distances to the Quarter and Warehouse District are an added lagniappe. So I strolled by Ditcharo's where the bartender sat alone on a high backed chair, feet on the bar and book in her hands. Past the waiters smoking outside the backdoor of Herbsaint, alongside Lucy's where all of the double doors were shut to keep the wind out, and in front of a half-full dining room at Emeril's.

When I arrived at Butcher, only one other table was occupied, so I had no guilt in taking up the corner table where I scrolled through my BlackBerry while waiting on dinner. It wasn't too long when the runner brought over the kitchen's last order of marinated brussels sprouts and my BBQ pork sandwich. (Both of which were excellent, by the way. I have had some ridiculously good brussels sprout dishes lately, so maybe an all brussels sprouts blog post is in order. But I digress.)

About midway through my meal, a large group sauntered in for dinner. After a few moments, I realized that the group consisted mostly of mentally challenged adults and a trio of 20 somethings acting as their chaperones. By this time all of the high tables were full save for the one next to mine, so I offered to move to the bar so that they could all sit together. No such move was necessary I was told, so I stayed at my table while the newly arrived crew surveyed their menus and ordered their food in a form of organized chaos.

I soon finished my meal, but instead of quickly getting up I decided to sit and experience the moment. This group had such a happy innocence about them as they smilingly placed their orders - cold roast beef sandwiches and potato salad, two hot dogs with "catsup" only, a cranberry juice with no ice - with a heightened level of insistence but also obvious gratitude. They asked questions of their handlers like whether their bag was packed and what they were doing tomorrow.  At one point I asked one of the chaperones if their group was local, and he responded that no they were in town visiting from New York and were leaving for home tomorrow. I asked if they had enjoyed their time in my city, and he said that they had. I didn't want to pry with too many details.

The Folk Singer will probably tell you that I am the most spoiled, selfish, and snobbish boy to ever walk the halls of Jesuit High School. She will tell you that I have never wanted for anything in my entire life and that I am inexplicably rough and tough on the ones who love me the most. Personally, I think her characterizations are rife with hyperbole, but my Mom will say that she is not too far off. So it seems that I have lost the swing vote.

But not even a stone hearted grinch such as me could take in those few moments without a serious dose of self reflection. Here is a group of people who most likely do not enjoy the daily freedoms and opportunities that I take for granted. Yet, on their week away from home, they have decided to sit down for a special meal at a restaurant which I can walk to on a Monday night for no other reasons than the fridge is empty and I am too lazy to go to the grocery.

To most of us, Christmas is synonymous with giving and receiving gifts, special gifts which theoretically represent the thoughtfulness of the gifter or the importance of the giftee. But often these end of the year gifts have the unintended effect of discounting the routine gifts exchanged between people everyday.

The same can be said when considering the grand holiday feasts in light of routine meals throughout the year. While finishing my last bites of BBQ pork, I reflected on the fact that a regular Monday night dinner for me obviously meant so much more to the group of people sitting one table over. Celebratory meals during Christmas are de rigeur, but think about all of the simple pleasures of the table that we take for granted every day. How lucky are we natives of New Orleans that every day of the year we can enjoy a po-boy, a steaming bowl of pho, or a plate of red beans and rice for a minimal price and just a short trip to our favorite restaurant? How lucky are we that the bounty of the Gulf is at our finger tips? How lucky are we to live in a town where we live to eat? How lucky are we not to live in Anywhere, USA? How lucky am I?

All of the above thoughts passed through my mind as I sat at my table soaking in the scene at Butcher. Eventually, I made my way to the register, when the Christmas spirit came upon me.

"I need to pay my tab, and I want to buy that group dessert," I said while handing over my credit card.

The man behind the counter paused and said, "Aw, that is very thoughtful of you. You're a good man."

As I signed my receipt, I thought: "I wish The Folk Singer would have been here to hear him say that."

Merry Christmas to all.


Anonymous said...

Like. You've got great perspective. I wish more people did too.

Megan said...

Aw that's why we love you Petey!

Wang said...

Good on ya, Peter. The man behind the counter was right. What a nice thing to do.

From someone who never appreciated it all as much as he should have, right up until he expatriated, at which point it started to dawn on him pretty much daily how special it all is (was... sigh) I applaud you for knowing what you've got.

The Coonhunter said...

Merry Christmas.

Parisian Princess said...

After reading that I am thinking two things:
1) The Folk Singer has hit on a cahracterization of you that is so dead on that she should be my shrink.
2) This better mean your non-grinchy self bought me a Christmas present this year. All forms of dessert, gourmet foods, and wine accepted.

Anonymous said...

Ye Olde College Inn. Didn't see it, although you must have eaten there. CharlieH