Friday, April 15, 2011

"Who's With Me?"

Before he got, as they say, “big in features”, Judd Apatow served, as I did, as a “Creative Consultant” on The Larry Sanders Show. What I remember about Judd was three things: One, he was extremely well connected (at my request, Judd secured Anna two hard-to-get tickets to a Stone Temple Pilots concert, a band Anna adored, and I never heard of.)

The second memorable attribute was that Judd Apatow would regularly pitch outlandish jokes, virtually none of which were remotely funny. After which – arguably his most memorable attribute of all – Apatow would immediately cry out,

“Who’s with me!”

A call to arms that would invariably be greeted with deadly silence.

Nobody was with him.

Nor should they have been.

That was the most indelible Apatow memory on The Larry Sanders Show. The always desperate-sounding, “Who’s with me!” And then,

The silence.

I know the feeling.

I experience it when I appropriate this blog to rail against some disturbing situation, and the response to my position is zero.

I most recently experienced this echo chamber of empty support while taking a stand against people who slip their sunglasses into the top of their Polo shirts, and people who drape their sweaters over their shoulders and knot them in the front, rather than putting them all the way on.

Nobody cared. Nobody – as reflected by the zero comments on that posting –

Was with me.

Well, I’m nothing if not foolhardy. So here I go again.

I’m sure this has happened to all of you, so there’s, you know, an identifiable, common experience. Whether you agree with my reaction is up to you. I am hoping, of course, that you will.

Okay.

We’re sitting in a restaurant. The waiter comes over to take our order. Dr. M orders first. The waiter, recording her selection on his pad, responds:

“An excellent choice.”

The waiter then turns to me, his pen poised to take down my order.

I am now on the spot. My wife has just ordered a selection, which, according to the waiter at least, has been deemed, “an excellent choice.” I am targeted with the “follow-up.”

The heat is definitely on. Will my selection meet with an equally positive response? Or will the only sound I hear be a pen, scratching deafeningly on an order pad?

Steak salad. That’s what I wanted. That’s what looked good to me. But, I wondered – or maybe “worried” is the better word – “Is steak salad anywhere close to ‘an excellent choice’?”

It’s pretty ordinary, steak salad. Unless they make a particularly excellent steak salad. And how could they?

What can you do to a steak salad? It’s steak. And it’s salad.

I am seriously reconsidering my order, so I too can have it conferred with the ultimate “Waiter’s Accolade”:

“An excellent choice.”

There are two problems here. There is no way to predict which selection on the menu this waiter will consider “an excellent choice.” Is it something exotic like the “Freshly ground ostrich burger”? Or is it a dish that this restaurant happens to excel at, which I couldn’t possibly guess, because I’ve never eaten there before, I have not read about the place, and have gotten no “heads up” about it from others?

“If you dine at Pepe’s, you simply must order the catfish ravioli!”

I could choose the same thing Dr. M ordered, which has already been anointed, “an excellent choice.” But deliberate copycatting? How is there anything “excellent” about that?

And then there’s this other troubling question:

The waiter’s credibility.

What makes this guy an expert on excellent choices? “He’s a waiter. The man knows about food.” Really? Then there’s, “The man works here. He knows what they do best.” I see. And if I order something they stink at, will he just as readily divert me from “a horrible choice”?

What if this is just some self-serving, waitperson’s strategy, a flattering puffball he throws off just to butter the customers up? How deep does this recommendation go? Is there some serious judgment involved, or will he “excellent choice” you no matter what you order?

Another possibility is there’s a hidden meaning to “an excellent choice”, like, it’s an excellent choice, because it’s actually the worst thing the restaurant makes, but the waiter gets a bonus every time somebody orders it, ostensibly for pushing it, but in Dr. M’s case it happened spontaneously, and what can be more “excellent” – from the waiter’s perspective, that is – than that?

Or it could be a question of “preemptive conditioning.” The food tastes terrible, but the diner thinks, “I must be wrong, because the waiter said it was an excellent choice.”

All these thoughts are now rampaging through my brain, none of which ever would have dawned on me, if the waiter hadn’t said,

“An excellent choice.”

My position, to all waiters interested in receiving a sizeable tip, from me at least, is this:

Don’t

Do it.

Okay. I am on the record here.

Who’s with me?

15 comments:

Sérgio said...

The first thing that came to mind would be asking the waiter "what other excellent choices there are on the menu?" If he would respond "everything is equally excellent" than I would have two choices: 1) I would choose anything I want of the menu because now I know everything is excellent :-) 2) going into a discussion with him about his comment because it has factually seen no real weight nor sense. Obviously number 2 can get you into trouble with him and the staff but worst: it can get you into trouble with your wife that can say "Why did you go into discussion with him? He was just being nice." The truth, Mr. Pomerantz, is that I don't give any weight to a waiter telling me that my choice is excellent or horrible, unless that waiter is my best friend and he knows what goes on in the kitchen or if I just witnessed him having a heavy discussion with his boss ;-) So, I would take the words of that waiter - from your example - just as pleasant talk and let it be, and just concentrate on having a nice dinner with my wife.

Joe said...

I've always believe waiters' recommendations and comments had some relation to, not so much food quality, but food expiration.

"An excellent choice" = "You just saved the steak you ordered, two days away from expiration, from becoming tomorrow's chili or rat-food out in the dumpster the following day."

Gnasche said...

It's simple: "I have a condition".

"And for you, sir?"
"I'll have the steak salad."
(silence)
"I have a condition."

This can also work for joke pitching, but you really have to sell it.

Kate O'Hare said...

As I see it, you've got three choices:

A: Always order first, putting the pressure on your wife.

B: If you want to stay married, avoid A and always order what she orders, even if you hate it.

C: Don't give a flying toss about the waiter and order what you like, even if he or she gives you the curled-lip sneer.

Anonymous said...

You said,"What I remember about Judd was three things: "

What was the third?

Curt Miller

Bruce said...

I've never encountered this. Every time I order the waiters always say "excellent choice". I'm the Barney Stinson of restaurant ordering. But jeez Earl, your beginnig to sound like Larry David, just get what you want and enjoy the time with Dr. M.

Mike Timlin said...

I'm certainly w/you on the Apatow theory...if you'd presented a theory, it would have been - in my opinion - he just isn't funny!

Steak salad, the ostrich or catfish yule log, they're all ok, unless you get that particular waiter in which case, they're excellent.

diane said...

The waiter's reaction to any choice made on the menu is never going to be derogatory since he would eventually lose his job. How long do you think he'd continue if he made it a habit of sneering at people? Also, why are you competing with Dr. M for the waiter's approval?

JED said...

I think the waiter recognized you and wanted to put you in a difficult position. I think he probably blames you for "Best of the West" being canceled and was thinking, "Let's see how long I can keep Mr. Show Runner squirming."

Actually, I really enjoyed your story here. I liked how you escalated your worries and possible options. I just wish you'd told us what your final choice was.

Mac said...

I'm with you, Earl.
I was also with you on sweater-draping and if I didn't comment, well, that remiss of me but believe me; I too have raged internally at a sleeves-knotted-at-the-front sweater.
Re. "excellent choice," I think it's pretty obvious that the waiter's attracted to your wife and/or
Dr. M, and he's trying to undermine you in front of them, by passive-aggressively belittling your choice of meal. Dr. M and your wife could well be in on the whole thing, and, as is unfortunately so often the case with these situations, you'll be the last to find out about it.
Very interesting Apatow anecdote. Any backstage Larry Sanders gossip is always fascinating.

Joe (another, wholly unrelated and independent Joe) said...

I wasn't with on the sunglasses/sweater thing -- I was too polite to argue -- but I'm with you on this.

Are we good now?

John Pearley Huffman said...

I love it when a waiter says I've made an excellent choice.

It's the only personal validation I'll get all year.

I figured out how to always get that validation too. I order the most expensive thing on the menu. Every time.

Alexander said...

I hope you are joking. If not, I'm laughing at you. Thanks either way.

John Brown said...

I'm with ya!

Dave Olden said...

"You just saved the steak you ordered, two days away from expiration, from becoming tomorrow's chili or rat-food out in the dumpster the following day."

Me (closing menu), "I'll have the chili."

Waiter (taking menus), "... and another rat goes hungry..."