Dave Jay Gerstein, a musician friend who fronts a band in New York City called the Sound of Monday, recently noted in an e-mail that "EVERYBODY needs a theme song." Which is why he penned, along with "a whole horn arrangement idea too -- lots of brass," the following lines:
There's a critic
Her specialty is food
So you'd better make it good
With a pen as sharp as her taste
Won't put fine wine to waste
So treat her right
And feed her well
Or her review tonite
Will send you to Hell
She's a critic
There's a critic
Coincidentally his little ditty arrived right after I had experienced a disturbing incident in a restaurant, and I realized that I hadn't written a good "kvetch" in a while. Everybody may need a theme song, but I should justify mine, right?
Of course I'm right. In fact I'm so right that if I weren't so lazy -- I mean, busy -- I would be hiring a lawyer right about now and launching a discrimination suit against the Wet Olive, where I was made to feel unwelcome because I am white.
Ironically I had heard about this Fort Lauderdale eatery from another friend, also white, who had attended a function there sponsored by the Covenant House. She thought I would like the place if only because its subhead, "Martinis. Tapas. Cigars. Nightclub," made it sound like my kind of joint.
I suppose it was my misfortune, then, to arrive at the Wet Olive for dinner on the second Wednesday of the month, also known as "ePoetry" night. For a seven-dollar cover fee, which was kindly waived in our case because we had come to dine and had no foreknowledge of the event, patrons receive, according to the bill of fare, access to "spoken word, amorous melodies, upscale dinning [their misspelling], drink specials, prizes, cool clientele, [and an] after event party." Oh, yeah, and one-size-fits-all Rasta-colored Lifestyle condoms, passed out tableside by the organizers (we requested extra-large, but they didn't have any).
For the record, the "upscale dinning" and drinks are à la carte, and the prizes -- bottles of booze -- are reserved for those who compete in what is essentially a poetry slam, and which, despite the reference indicated by its logo, is about erotica, not electronica. Founded by ePoetry creator Randolph Dukes, who according to his Website www.feel-epoetry.com "believes this world needs more love and desire" and that "ePoetry is his humble contribution," ePoetry is the equivalent of an open-mike night where "love and sex is a delightful kaleidoscope of passion ... captured by the imaginative art of writing and performance." Dunno what that means exactly? Allow me to translate: a lot of pornographic diatribes that begin with lines like, "My dick hurts" and refer to the penis as "manhood" and "staff."
Yes, I am a poetry snob. I will always believe that poetry is the art that requires from its disciples the most dedication and, in turn, inspires the greatest devotion. I studied for a master's degree in the field; I read both classic and contemporary books of poetry the way kids scan comics; and, of course, I write poems, which are mostly formal and, I admit, largely academic. All of this doesn't mean that I don't recognize spoken word as a legitimate derivation of form, but that I have the background, education, and experience enough to differentiate between good and bad examples of it. And as far as the ePoetry brand of spoken word goes, this stuff is sex scenes taken straight from the pages of trashy historical novels, set to revivalist cadence that is answered by the audience with catcalls and phrases like, "Fuck, yes!" In terms of its sensuality? Well, dripping pus doesn't exactly turn me on.
You can't litigate, unfortunately, for terrible poetry. But apparently ePoetry is not only a so-called erotic thing, it's a black thing. Despite being a party of four Caucasian people, though, we didn't actually feel out of place until the African-American mistress of ceremonies, who was lubricating the crowd to welcome the first thrust of ePoetry, pointed to us and said something like, "The white folks by the window are wondering if they should be scared."
Nor was that the end of it. Whenever something went wrong in the restaurant -- say a glass broke or someone laughed during a poet's (word used loosely) reading -- everyone would turn around and glare at us. At one point the organizer even spread his arms toward our table and admonished us to behave ourselves when the intrusive jingle of a cell phone interrupted someone's performance.
It was useless to point out that the only one who had brought a cell phone with him out of professional necessity, my doctor-husband, was politely talking on it at the time -- in the parking lot. And it wasn't when we called the cops or played where-will-my-finger-land in the section of the yellow pages under "lawyer"; we didn't do that. Instead we asked for the check, paid the bill, left a tip, and walked out. We'd only had drinks and eaten appetizers (see New Times Broward/Palm Beach for a review of the martinis, food, and décor), but we'd lost our appetites.
I know what the knee-jerk reaction to this little tale will be: It's about damn time white people experienced a taste of the degradation and suspicion that is heaped daily on the plates of one of America's biggest minority groups. I'm not going to kvetch (much) about the fact that as a Jewish woman, I've suffered, if not what some would consider my fair share, at least a measure of discrimination throughout my lifetime, and no doubt I will continue to do so. Or take the high road -- though it is the path I've chosen -- and state over and over again that I won't tolerate intolerance in any way, shape, or form, but particularly when it comes to my personal passions: food and poetry.
All I want for everybody, secondary to a theme song, is to imagine the brouhaha that would have ensued if a restaurant had publicly singled out a table of black people and then harassed them throughout the evening. And then add the Wet Olive to my list of establishments, along with notoriously bigoted ones like Denny's, where it's just a little too uncomfortable to ever dine again.
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