inessential by Brent Simmons



I love 'em. They're one of the good things. Say to me, wanna go out to eat?, and I start panting, my eyes open wide. If I had a tail it would wag.

But there are these little things that make my teeth crawl.

***The pepper mill ritual

When they come over with the pepper mill, conversation at the table stops, as it usually does when someone comes over. And the pepper mill lady goes from person to person, asking if they want pepper, grinding the pepper onto the Caesar salad or whatever.

Since no one's talking, we don't even know what to look at, so we just watch the pepper mill lady do her thing, one person after another.

When she comes to me I lean back out of her way, and I suppose I'm supposed to feel like a king, like this is really great service, I mean, wow, a human actually putting pepper on my salad. Could I get someone to peel some grapes for me?

But I don't feel like a king. Everyone's watching the lady put pepper on my salad, and then I watch her put pepper on the next person's salad, and I feel like a dork.

And the damn pepper mill is gigantic -- majestic, even, as if we're supposed to say, oooohhhh, that's fine living. What a great restaurant to have such grand devices, all for us.

Okay, dear restaurant owners, please invest in those small pepper mills that people own in their own damn kitchens at home. Put one on each table. Let us pepper our own freakin' salads.

***The wine ritual

Now, I love regular old vulgarity. Cartoons, rock 'n' roll, the evening news, fart jokes, the software industry, really loud belches. It's fine, it doesn't pretend to be something else.

The wine ritual isn't regular old vulgarity, it's vulgarity masked as pretend sophistication. Yuck.

The whole point of that swallow of wine, really, is not to show off my enophilic powers of discrimination -- it's just to determine whether or not the wine has turned to vinegar.

How often does that happen? It's never happened to me.

But even if it did, if the wine had gone bad, I would just signal the waiter and let him know. This bottle's turned, please get us a new one.

I suppose I'm supposed to feel like a connoisseur, like some fancy pants fine-palated bastard, but really -- fuck off.

Just open the bottle of wine and set it on the table. We'll make sure it's not vinegar. We'll pour it ourselves.

See, real sophistication is not laboring over these asinine rituals. Good service is unobtrusive, it doesn't make a show of things, it doesn't try to make you feel like a king (or anything in particular). It just brings you your food and drink and makes itself available if you need more or if there's a problem.

Also, I just spent $18.50 for a bottle that I know for a fact costs $7.95 at the grocery store. Let's not pretend otherwise, okay?

***"How is everything?"

About halfway through the meal the waiter comes over and asks that damn question.

And I know it's coming, I'm expecting it, I know we're going to get interrupted. That does things to the conversation and my mental state.

I hate answering that question with my mouth full, as it invariably is. "Fnmnme," I answer.

Better to pass by a few times, look at the table and at us, sure -- but otherwise leave us alone. We'll let you know if there's a problem or we need something more.

***Refilling the water glasses

Okay, if I take just one sip, there's no need to come by and top it off. Wait 'til it gets pretty low, okay?

As much as possible, stay away from my table. We're talking here. Please don't interrupt.

Sometimes I've had them top off my water even when I haven't had a sip at all. The glass was mostly full, but not totally full, so the water bearer adds a few drops. Now it's totally full.

Well. Great.


I never eat dessert at home. Dessert isn't the difference between casual and fine dining.

My night isn't a waste if I don't have dessert.

I know your profit margins for dessert are most excellent. I don't care.

Don't even ask me if I want dessert. Ask me if I want coffee, that's reasonable.

I'll tell you if I want cake.