Sunday, June 23, 2013

Finally, An Answer to How We Do it

(or,  How Blogging  Can Be a Cheaper Alternative to Marriage Therapy)

Recently, Denise and I were talking to a woman we know who, after sixteen years with her partner and after producing two beautiful kids, is getting a divorce.  This came at the end of a fusillade of similar dissolved marriages—some friends, some parents of our children’s friends, some relative strangers—in our tight-knit community.  Listening in disbelief to our friend’s tale, Denise and I looked nervously, intensely, at each other at one point, commenting that we were in the midst of a divorce boom of sorts, that we had arrived at a self-reflecting age where bonds are broken, and that we hoped it wasn’t contagious.

The woman who capitulated this trend for us is a super good lady and, as far as we know, a good mom to her two kids.  She said something to us that we hear a lot but rarely spend any time considering.  Her quote: “How do you two do it—the restaurant, the kids, marriage, and now a second restaurant?”

She was referring to Hopestill Garage, an ambitious endeavor we have been pursing for over a year, one which we hope will be a kind of Black Trumpet Jr. (or perhaps Bride of Black Trumpet), set in the charming community of Newmarket.  When the question was posed, “How do you do it?” Denise and I glanced at each other with crooked smiles and stammered polite platitudes before confessing that we have no idea how we do it.  It helps that our parents are present for our children.  That helps quite a lot actually.  It helps that we put the lives of our children ahead of any other priority in our lives.  It helps that our children, almost 10 and 13 years old, are just about perfect; and it helps that their mother is the kind of human anchor that could stop continental drift in its tracks without perspiring.  And it helps that we, two imperfect souls still in love after being together for almost twenty crazy years (fifteen of them in wedlock), remain committed to talking to each other about everything.  I will add here, in the interest of narrative transparency, that I am not always interested in talking about stuff.  I blame that on my pesky Y Chromosome.  The Y makes me do certain irreversible, incorrigibly shameful things…like avoiding meaningful dialogue.  There are other things too, like embracing projects without any clear strategy for completing them, and the inability to find, say, the mustard jar in the fridge if it is even partially eclipsed by another grocery item, forcing me to grow frustrated enough to holler across the house the pathetic refrain, “Denise, where the [adult language] is the mustard?”  On the flip side, I would have no trouble whatsoever finding a bottle of delicious beer buried in a haystack of broken glass.  Can you picture me holding my beer reward in my bloodied hands with a victorious smile on my face?  I can.  But I suppose I digress.

So, because I am better trained at this point, we as a couple do talk things out.  We respect each other and--despite sometimes feeling like the other is fundamentally wrong, or even outright impeachable—we talk through our thoughts, feelings, plans and dreams, even if it means working through our nightmares together.  The unfortunate side effect of this type of arrangement is that much of our disagreement, no matter how heated, occurs in the company of others because we are often surrounded by our staff and family.  It’s like the opposite of PDA; let’s call it PDB (Public Display of Bickering).  We might have more friends if we didn’t do that, but what good are outside friendships if we don’t have a healthy bond of our own, n’est-ce pas?  So we talk stuff through.  As a result, Denise and I have evolved into a team that has found a way to mesh our gears, each of our weaknesses interlocking with the other’s strengths.  I realize this sounds at once mechanical, clinical and sappy, but it’s true, and I think it’s one of the keys to happy, long-term marital success.  At least, that’s true for us.

So, you have to wonder (many of you already have) WTF are we trying to prove opening another restaurant?  Are we pushing the envelope too far this time?  Do we want to join the legion of new single parents of middle age?  Do we want to know where the threshold of ambition and stupidity lies?  Or perhaps we are out to map the abyss known as the Deep End. 

Truthfully, we are neither adventurous nor stupid.  We don’t want to prove anything to anyone, except that we can grow the ideas that we believe in, because they make good sense.  And I can say with certainty that I have seen the Deep End, and marriage is a kiddie pool in comparison.

Denise and I are well aware of the risks, to both business and family, posed by opening a second business.  We are painfully familiar with the statistics.  We dread the unknown, like anyone else.  We bicker publicly because we care, and a relationship of passivity is a lesser alternative I think.  Professionally, we want to bring good food and drink to as many people as we can while maintaining any semblance of balance we can in our lives. 

The restaurant business today has been built by and for the young and the restless; it thrives on drama, attention deficit, immediate gratification.  Yet Black Trumpet is built on something else—I don’t know what to call it, but it feels like a sense of permanence, a commitment to a space that demands a level of authenticity and quality in all of its constituents: the staff, the food, the dried cascade of linseed oil that imbues in the hallowed brick walls a reminder of our maritime roots.  I feel like our relationship has that same quality.

To those who doubt or fear for our future, I can only say that we—as domestic partners and business partners--are not in it to win it, but rather to do our best, enjoy the ride and put as many smiles as we can on as many faces as we can.

To my patient, wise and wonderful wife, I say thank you, I love you, and I look forward to working and living side by side with you—through failure and success--for the rest of our time on this side of the Earth’s crust.  After that, who knows, we might find a cool spot for a restaurant in the ether….