Monday, September 01, 2008

Anarchy and the zen of September

Only in America could almost an entire nation take a day off from working on a supposed holiday billed as Labor Day. Many years ago, this was a time to hang up the factory apron and head out to the fields for the harvest. But today, it’s much different. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

For nine-to-fivers, Labor Day means a trip the grocer for a set of 10 lb. steaks, a keg of semi-palatable beer and some Tiki torches. By mid afternoon, it’s time to sit around the backyard and revel about how great the summer was and lament how a splitting hangover will feel come Tuesday morning at the office; all while on the way to the bar for another vodka and tonic.

But for many in Saratoga Springs, the day represents the end of days; the last push before September’s reprieve, when the traffic dwindles, the track closes and every last restaurant worker still standing goes out on the town for a bakers’ dozen cocktails. By midnight, a shroud of tranquility will drape across Broadway and its once-bustling side streets. True workers are too tired to make it much past the witching hour without either losing consciousness or being arrested.

Besides, there’s too much ill will after a solid season in the trenches to come out, waving arms in triumph. And for a the band of kitchen-bound warriors and mercenaries who did battle for two months, only to fight most furiously in the last six weeks, the end –the ebbing flow of tourists –is nothing short of a god send. It’s a sullen time to take stock of the casualties and move their corpses off the battlefield.

For these damned souls, this lifestyle is somewhat of a norm. Six weeks of abject alcoholism, wanton drug use and a passion for anything that might bring the walls of this fair city to an untimely demise. They foster a deep-seeded festering hatred for anything that contributes to their workload, especially if it speaks with an urban accent, drives a BMW and takes every opportunity to brazenly wave around a gold money clip. These instances give restaurant workers a sense that sheer anarchy might not be such a bad thing. After all, anarchy is the tune loudly blasting from the back stoop of every restaurant in the city.

Anarchy? What the hell are you blathering about? There’s no such thing as anarchy in beautiful Saratoga Springs, polished to fine shimmer that’s only accentuated by August’s beaming sun. Flowery hats, fine Italian suites, plus a steady procession of Ferraris, Rolls Royce and Porsches trekking down Broadway, there’s no anarchy in the Spa City.

Why, yes it’s there. But it lurks just off to the periphery in the shadows, behind the double doors, in the alley, waiting for the weak willed and the psychotic to trip over the edge. Then, as the poor bastard falls into the haze, arms flailing and muscles twitching, that’s when the beast lunges, clutching the wayward wanderer in its mandibles for a journey through indentured servitude. And all it takes is one look into its crazed eyes to see the extent of the maelstrom that’s about to touch down come opening day.

Yet there’s something grand about being accosted by such a beast that the few who escape can appreciate. It’s like watching a horrible car accident unfold; nobody wants to watch it, but there’s no way to pull the eyes away. The pulse speeds, the adrenal gland pumps, the stomach churns and the skin crawls. Then suddenly, it happens and it’s all over.

There’s also an air about anarchy that can also bring out the complete best in an otherwise sordid person. There are heroes born in Saratoga every race season. There’s the cook who worked through the night despite nearly severing the tip of his finger; the dishwasher who cleaned the biohazard in the ladies room because no one else would do it; the bartender who travels back from college for a weekend because there’s no one else to man the drinking station. They’re the folks who tether themselves to the bow of a sinking ship and pull the damn thing to shore, instead of of diving for the lifeboats at the first sign of rough waters. They’re not your prototypical run-into-a-burning-building heroes that the news media frequently fawns over, but they’re heroes nonetheless.

This seemly thankless endeavor usually pays less than a livable wage despite the highway robbery many owners choose to bilk from their patrons. This difference causes a sort of quandary for the restaurant worker: they get a pittance of pay, yet take the brunt of caustic remarks made by diners thoroughly pissed off after they realize the $55 steak they just ate came from the same cow as the the shoe leather their drunk Uncle Frank usually serves at his Fourth of July bash.

Yet there is a sense of accomplishment in most kitchens after they’ve beating back the hordes of masticating tourons; a sense that the beast has been beaten into submission for at least a few moments. On the back stoop, the chain smoke cigarettes as they regale over the number of dinners they served. Later at the bars, they’ll bandy about these numbers to others in the business, usually inflating them slightly for effect. They tell stories over beers that sound more like personal conquests than simple restaurant service. They relive the exhilaration they had after putting out the last meal on Travers’ Day. And it’s a feeling of exhilaration that can’t be achieved with drug diets or cocktails.

Today, there’s a cool wind blowing in. For restaurant workers across the city, it’s September, and she’s coming to the rescue. In just a short time, they’ll be sitting in the lap of relative luxury, swilling cocktails and nursing their wounds.

Autumn’s wind means winter isn’t far behind, where the sun disappears and the climate becomes harsh. Still, a keen sense of smell can catch the mellifluous scent left by the ebbing tide of anarchy, as it slowly subsides from the city, taking with it the shattered dreams and lost recollections of thousands. Those who relish this essence are sometimes even saddened, longing for it to hold on for one more whiff before the season disappears behind a veil of amber leaves and cool winds.


Anonymous SKIDMORE DEMO said...

Careful where you stand when that cool wind blows! If you happen to be by the likes of the democrats united crew such as John Tighe,Sharon Boyd,Jennifer Wait,Cliff Ammon,anyone named Kuczynski or McTygue then it is bound to be a foul odor.
If it looks like SHIT and it smells like SHIT, then it's probably SHIT!

4:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great encomium!!

5:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Horatio thank you for a well thought out post. As a former employee of Siros back when the great Harry Kirker ran it {14 to 15 years old} and The Wishing Well {16 to 20 years old} under the great Bob Lee I know exactly what you’re talking about. It is a shame your first comment comes from a hate filled Keehnac it seems their little minds are so clouded with venom they are unable or unwilling to think of anything but mindless humorless personal attacks. Anyway thank you for the post it brought up a lot of memories.

5:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey it seems the Skidmore children are back at there computers minds freshly washed and thoughts on their anal fixations.

5:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The same downtown business owner who stands in front of the city council to promote downtown Saratoga, and also squawks about how poorly his off season business does, continues to park his autombile in front of his establishment. He could have easily given the space up to 5 motorcycles and maybe had 10 more customers that would improve his top line.

5:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh I get now, to be progressive and for change is the ability to use the word “SHIT” three times in one sentence. Very PROGESSIVE!!!

5:59 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

5:54 and 5:36,

Thanks for your words. And I agree, it's unfortunate that an apolitical post needs to be thrust back into the fires raging in the center of the democratic fissure. Alas, I suspect that's the nature of the game here, on a quite political blog.

skidmore demo,

Thanks for being 'that guy.' I also think your moniker is a bit misleading, in that I doubt you have much to do with the college. But that could simply be my morning paranoia acting up on me again. Anyway, I thought I'd offer repost as a foil to your brief but poignant argument. The missive comes anonymously and was left here yesterday, but on a long-forgotten thread. So in the interest of not letting these words go to waste, here it is almost in its entirety(an original can be found in May's 'Go Shorty, it's your birthday' post). A word of caution however, this could be a reprint of a letter to the editor; iSaratoga's diligent fact checkers couldn't affirm or disprove this theory due to a late night bout they had with some Johnny Walker:

"Dear Voters: 'Tis the season for political rhetoric. The buzz word this year seems to be "Change." Empty words buzzing around can be every bit as annoying as flies buzzing around ones head. In the case of the primary race for seats on the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee, the buzz of the cry for change by a small group of people who call themselves Democrats for Change, is not only hollow, it is disingenuous.

"Change can be a good thing when it is based on a genuine need. Change by its nature implies a forward movement. Ironically, this call for change comes from people determined to stay locked in the past. It is disingenuous to have caused the damage and then point the finger at others while crying don't worry, here we come to fix it. It puts one in mind of crying fire in a crowded room, or perhaps a wolf in sheeps clothing? That kind of change can only be destructive.

"When one turns ones back on ones constituents, fails to attend the meetings they were elected to attend, refuses to sit at the table and conduct the business of the people's committee in harmony, one should not run around "buzzing."

"I ask that voters reelect those committee members who have consistently shown up on their behalf: “To promote the principles of the Democratic Party in the open and inclusive governance of Saratoga Springs for the maintenance and continued improvement of the well being and quality of life for all city residents."

"As for the buzz, remember it's a seasonal problem, keep the faith with those who truly work for you, keep your sense of humor, keep that screen door firmly closed and this too will pass."

Well that about sums it up for me. The only thing I would add is that voter should use their common sense when taking to the polls. Don't pull the lever for someone simply because they do or do not fraternize with 'the other side.' Pull the lever after doing your homework, reaching out to the candidates and making an informed choice.

6:37 AM  
Anonymous agphoto said...

To quote michael jerling- one of saratoga's most esteemed songwriters:

"The last tourist is gone
Took the camper and the kids
Took the money too
And i'm glad they did.

"it's the best time of the year!
the air is sharp and clear
Got the lake to myself
The woods full of deer

"It's a good time to take a walk
think about all the things you've got
And play a song for a
North Country Jukebox."

Michael Jerling - 1982- "North County Jukebox"

6:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am I the only business owner that finds this time of year depressing? I love the loud, constant chatter of the track season. I enjoy the tourists - happy and angry - and miss them more than I can say. I wish we could have that busy bustle everyday.
I woke up this morning with a sense of sadness. Bring back the tourists!

11:39 AM  
Anonymous Colonel Sanders(Scotty) said...

Fuck all the democrats. Vote republican!

6:35 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

colonel sanders,

I somehow doubt that will change the plight of the people I refer to in this post.


There is a love-hate relationship with the tourists. Count me among those who really dread the prospect of weaving between one clueless Long Islander or New Yorker after the next for six, eight, sometimes even nine weeks at a clip(depending on weather). But I also LOVE the buzz it creates. It's a similar buzz you get from walking through a bustling metropolis on a Friday night, only it's every night. Take Travers for instance. The city is turned upside down on the Friday before the race. It's an exhilarating feeling to feel the energy, the drunkenness, the passion these people bring. And when they leave, so does this endorphin-laced feeling.

While I'm not willing to send out the welcome wagon for these folks quite yet, I know come January I'll be ready for them again.

5:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

H.A., Thanks for the props to the back of the house! Just finished my 23rd season of sweating in a kitchen in this town. Started busting suds at Gaffney's at sixteen and left there in a slightly elevated position 11 summers later to check out the rainier part of the west coast. Enjoyed that summer off from the tourist madness, but I was back in time to work another line in a year or so. Every year I say I won't do it again. Yet here I am, terribly sore and slightly depressed that the end of tourist season means the end of summer. Winter looms and another year is down the drain. BTW, fuck you SkidmoreDemo, from someone who has voted Democratic in every election in town but the last. Pax, PhilthyRex

9:48 PM  
Anonymous Boyd's Post Labor Day Seer Sucker Suit. said...

6:07 PM  

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