Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Calling for the End of EDS

Notice: This will be my last blog dealing with economic matters. I promise.

It has only now dawned on me that my innocently self-indulgent blogging days are behind me. No longer is my wife my only prodder, my only barometer for letting me know when the time has arrived to post a new blog. Now an internal alarm starts nagging after a month goes by since the last entry. A twitch ensues. And then the guilt sets in. This condition is worsened by a new sign of life in the blogosphere: hounding blogfriends.

After a month or two passed without a posting, the phone calls and emails started. Friends observed that I haven’t been blogging, so am I ok? I tell them, yes, relax, everything is ok except the economy, which is only as awful and real as each of us wants it to be. Winter is snowball season, so Portsmouth’s typical winter downturn tends to snowball out of control when times are tough. I know ‘times are tough’ is a trite understatement. I know that, yet I feel that history is rich with basilisk hiccups that far outstink this one, so why should we be groaning louder than ever before? Maybe we’re not; maybe I’ve just never tried to run a small business that relies on discretionary income in a recession.

I admit to having marveled at the number of responses to my last blog (many of them fomented by my close friend, former boss, regular inspiration and talented chef Jeff Tenner), and I may have felt a little daunted about the idea of people not only reading, but commenting on my ramblings. So, on a few early morning and late night occasions in January, I sat down to write a new entry, and each time I froze. The freezing, if not the result of trepidation, can only be attributed—like every other anxiety right now—to this Dickensian winter of our discontent. Clearly, I must have pulled myself up by the clogstraps, because here I am writing about writing, so here goes…

I have decided to coin the term “econoclimatic distress syndrome,” or EDS, to this winter’s insulting one-two punch of moribund economy and excessively abusive weather.
Perhaps those of us currently suffering from EDS can get some tax relief or, better yet, a percentage of the new President’s Stimulus Package. I'd settle for a free set of winter wiper blades. Or, perhaps best of all, a year’s supply of prescription pain killers. (Speaking of Stimulus Package and pain killers, by the way, shame on anyone who hasn’t capitalized on our three-course, nineteen-dollar Stimulus Package, or on our veritable pharmacy of pain killers we call the Wine Bar. This gratuitous plug was brought to you by the same guy who cringes at self-promotion--a sign of the times.)

Here’s my econoclimatic snapshot of the last six months:
Credit—the great American promise—buckles. Clouds form overhead. Fuel prices skyrocket. People stay home and seethe. Temperatures plummet. Snow falls on seethers. The snowball is headed for the bridge of the economic nose. America’s middle class loses its savings. The snowball grows. Investors panic. Suddenly, the snowball effect has created an abominable snowman. Jobs disappear. Ice storm! Recession. More snow. More panic.

Pessimism and fear are unhealthy bedfellows, codependents on the verge of emotional implosion. This is the cycle we fall into now. We can sit around in a dim room counting our departed riches, subsequent losses and current debts, or we can begin to build the future. What are our individual and collective values as a society moving forward? How can we best pull ourselves out of this mess with the least amount of damage?

People have said to me, “Thank you for keeping your restaurant’s identity throughout this recession.” It’s not that I have calculated that too much, other than refusing to offer twofer coupons or buy cheaper goods. In fact, if anything, I want to dispel the identity many associate with Black Trumpet—that it is an expensive restaurant suited for special occasions. The second part is true, but not to the exclusion of the everyman or the everyday. Our wine bar, a former ship’s chandlery literally dripping with proletarian history, requires a certain amount of loyal, local occupancy in order to ensure its happiness. I know it’s weird to personify a room in a building, irrespective of the building’s history, but I can’t help feeling that way. It really talks to you. Even before that second glass of cabernet. Trust me. So, for the spirit of the building’s sake, I want to appeal to the masses right now and remind them that they can come to my restaurant, sit upstairs in the Wine Bar and sip a goblet of something they find delicious without spending much money.

Back in November, I began to worry seriously about this economy, everyone’s prospects for survival, and the state of the world in general. In December, I turned the other cheek, and then the other cheek got smacked around pretty good, too. So now, in 2009, I’m coming out swinging, with smiles tattooed on both hands, jaw clenched, and fists flying. I’m bracing for the blow, but I’m not going to stop fighting.

Hope is everywhere, thank God. It’s on the face of the man whose singular, principled ambition is to get our nation back on its feet. It’s in the eyes of my incredibly adaptive children who don’t ask why their providers eke out such a Spartan existence for them. It’s in the less frigid air that has begun to swirl down the Piscataqua and up onto the snowmelt of Ceres Street. It’s in the hearts of everyone who understands the cataclysm-catharsis cycle of society and nature as a whole. So please join me in summoning all the gods there are to look down on this crazy, shut-in winterland on the rocky western cusp of the Atlantic: recognize our toil, forgive us our greed, give us strength to crack open our shutters and let in the new air of spring, and give us renewed hope in this season of rebirth.

A few more concrete reasons for renewed hope:

A new Black Trumpet menu featuring lamb shanks and other almost-spring foodstuffs. Mmmm, lamb shanks…

My forthcoming blog about the real “first sign of spring”: the arrival of seed packets in the mail.

Congress’ approval of Obama’s massive spending package.

Our next wine dinner, sometime in April, featuring James Haller, chef of Blue Strawbery, back in the kitchen where he pioneered American cuisine in the seventies.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for eating. Hope to see you soon at 29 Ceres St.