“Hey man, great shirt!” said the guy at the bar.
Didn’t he know I was storming out of the restaurant? I thought I made it very clear to everyone involved that I was storming out. I had thrown down my napkin purposefully. I had been walking in a straight line, avoiding eye contact with all the shocked (They were shocked, right?) patrons. I felt I had done everything short of a curt “I said GOOD DAY!”
Yet here was this guy looking right at me and smiling like a goon.
“Thank you,” I mustered because, let’s face it, the t-shirt was great –all pleasingly ill-fitting in all the right places, with three-quarter length sleeves and a design that cleverly mimicked the logo for the punk band Black Flag, replicating their logo with cats and changing the name of the band to “Cat Flag.”
Also I felt it was important to acknowledge the compliment because doing so would snap me back to earth, to get me back on my mission, which was to enjoy visiting my friends back in Brooklyn. My mission was not storming out of restaurants. There are plenty of restaurants out of which I can storm in Columbus.
Of course, no one walks into a restaurant planning to storm out. Yet… Black Forest Brooklyn, a very brownstone-y take on the traditional German Biergarten in Fort Greene, had messed with me before. My friend Greg, who I was with this night along with two others, and I had each had escalating bad service experiences here. I mean, the food is good and the room is pleasingly airy, but good luck getting your check.
So when Greg suggested Black Forest that evening, I could feel an aura of dissatisfaction hovering around me, akin to the weird feeling you get when a migraine is about to explode. You just know something nasty is coming your way.
We were giving this place another shot; both my friend Greg and I had had some very disheartening service here in the past. Yet, the food is pretty good, and it’s close to his apartment.
We got the last four seats in the completely enclosed Biergarten. I am facing the wall. I do not like facing the wall in restaurants. I like to see outwards and, as my dad always said, “observe the operation.” Dad was in the restaurant business. I studied a lot of restaurant walls growing up, and as soon as I could go to restaurants on my own, I inherited his need to “observe” the operation. I hate not knowing what’s going on in a restaurant
Black Forest is one of those places that feels like having its waitstaff carry around iPads improves efficiency. To me those iPads make the place seem like it’s from a 1990 TV movie about an idyllic, yet somehow dystopian, near-future where nothing can possi-bly go wrong. So that’s where I’m at. I’m not exactly looking for things to go wrong, but I’ve seen this movie, too.
After a slightly too long wait, really only worth a neck crane or two, a young man with an iPad sneaks up behind me. He takes our order for both beer and food. He functions as a waiter only as much as the Clown at Jack-In-The-Box functioned as a waiter. We say what we want, and he silently thumps at his iPad. Each of us gets a wurst on a roll mit fries as a main course, and we plan to split a Flammkuchen among us. A Flammkuchen is flatbread covered with onions, bacon, and sour cream then stuck in a pizza oven. Everyone knows the Flammkuchen is an appetizer. The gooey, sharey thing on a platter always comes before the individual, not-sharey thing. Got that?
We have a conversation that involves looking at phones because it in itself is about phones. Someone spark up an e-cig so we can complete the unholy trinity of TV movie dystopia.
The beers arrive after twelve minutes, an eternity in a Biergarten.
I would really kill for some Flammkuchen. The clock has dragged past the point it takes a reasonable person to make some Flammkuchen, which is 12-14 minutes as long as you’ve done your mise en place. In other words, the Flammkuchen should have arrived at around the same time as the beer. And it’s not like someone had to walk the order back to the kitchen; with the magic of iPad, the kitchen gets the order instantaneously.
My tablemates continue to discuss phones, blissfully unaware of the seething cauldron of hunger sitting in their midst. Greg would like everyone to know that the Galaxy S6 has a bunch of little dots for you to paw at when you want to take a picture. How are little pixel dots supposed to help me when I’m shriveling from hunger in a Flammkuchen-less void? I spend a good chunk of the next twenty minutes casually, not so casually, turning around and craning my neck. No one approaches us. I don’t even see the person who took iPad’ed our order.
Finally, a completely new person approaches our table with our four orders of wurst. The buns are burnt to a crisp. Not just a little overdone, but burnt black. I know they are burnt black because the kitchen staff tried to scrape the burnt off my bun, leaving long white scratches setting off the black.
We begin to raise a stink, telling the food server to get a waiter over here. One of my dining companions demands the server take it back immediately. “No!” I cry, “We have to save that as evidence!” Evidence. I actually believed that burnt wurst buns rose to the level of evidence. I’m sure if I had the proper equipment, I would’ve surrounded each place with police tapes and drawn little chalk outlines around each dead, dead wurst.
I’m beginning to worry that I may be overreacting a bit, but thirty minutes for what are basically burnt hot dogs could push anyone a little to the edge.
A waiter comes by, still not the same one that took our order. I rise to greet him. “Is there a problem?” he asks.
“Yeah, our food is inedible. Look at the buns!” I say with the slightest hint of screech. The slight screech is always a warning sign
Cutting me off, and without ever inspecting the food, he says he’ll get the manager.
The Flammkuchen arrives. Greg goes to take a piece, but I wave him away because, y’know, evidence.
I try to get in a few deep breaths before the manager arrives. This is about the time my perspective moves outside my body. I’m sure I’m about to lose my sh*t, and I want good seats for the debacle. That’s the thing about having a history of becoming un-hingey at various times: You almost always have a few seconds warnings to get out of your body. I’m ready to go full tilt.
The manager arrives and immediately takes a defensive stance. Maybe it’s the fact that I was standing –I easily have six inches and 150 pounds on her –or maybe she’s just unpleasant.
My mouth opens. “It took a half hour for our food to come out, and look at it. Just look at it!” My out of body consciousness tells me not to over-emphasize it. These burnt buns should speak for themselves.
“Well, the way we cook our wurst calls for some charring on top,” she says in her British accent. WTF is the manager of a German restaurant doing speaking with a British accent? Also, “charring?” “CHARRING?!?!?” Did she learn this word in a menu-writing class she took at the Learning Annex?
“Excuse me, but charring implies intent. This is a mistake. Burning is a mistake. Take a look at the knife-scrapes on my bun…” I’m surprised she can hear me at this point as my voice is so high that only dogs and astronauts can hear it.
She looks over at Greg’s bun and says, specific to Greg’s bun, “Sir, your bun is definitely burnt; we would be glad to replace it.” This angers me because my bun is definitely the most burnt out of the four. My bun deserves all the attention. My bun! I have the only bun with knife scrapes.
I try a different tactic to rattle her. “And the Flammkuchen came out after the wursts!” A-ha! J’accuse! J’accuse! But really, honestly, I think I’m handling this well, considering what a shitshow this could be. That’s one thing about being bipolar with a short fuse: You always have to be watching yourself to make sure you’re reacting appropriately. I think my reaction to the tardy Flammkuchen is well within socially-acceptable parameters.
I spend a good chunk of my time, that time when I am within view of others, wondering if I’m not coming off as crazy.
“Sir, our server only has two hands. He couldn’t carry both the wursts and the Flammkuchen at the same time.”
“It’s supposed to be an appetizer.”
“Sir, I don’t know what to say.” I want to scream, “Acknowledge the Flammkuchen’s appetizer-y nature!” Instead, I turn to Greg and my two other dining companions and bid them adieu. “Guys, I’m just gonna walk back to the hotel. I’ll grab something on the way. I’ll see you later.”
“Sir, there’s nothing I can do to make this right?” asks the manager.
Here’s where I really shine: “My dad was in the restaurant business his whole life, and he would be very, very disappointed in you.” I think I may have let a little spittle go with the P’s in “disappointed.” It all comes out like, “I’m telling my daddy on you!”
I say my final goodbyes to Greg and everyone. My voice is measured, even though I am shaking quite openly. It turn to see a Biergarten full of people staring at me, or rather, I imagine a Biergarten full of people staring at me. I can’t tell; I’m too worried about holding my shit together. That said, a slow clap from the other patrons would’ve been nice. Someone has finally stood up to the tyranny of the shitty Biergarten.
In truth, just a few people are glancing at me. No one really cares. But when you’re bipolar, you just know, just know, everyone cares. After all, aren’t your emotions the most interesting of movable feasts. It’s the inherent narcissism of mental illness.
At least the guy at the bar likes my shirt.