Breakfast on the Blue Nile

 

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Truman Capote, No Stranger to Dining Dust-Ups

We like to eat out. We don’t think of ourselves as, say, Truman Capote and Joanne Carson dining at La Côte Basque, but we do enjoy the occasional easy weekend brunch in town, where we often bump into people we know, and value, and spend a few minutes catching up.

And really, that’s all we had in mind a few days ago when we were seated, handed our menus, and ordered up some coffee at our favorite breakfast joint.

Sometimes such an easy thing just isn’t meant to be.

No sooner had we been seated than a woman, unknown to us, and sitting with a companion across the otherwise empty room, launched into a forcefully loud and seemingly endless political tirade.

It quickly became clear that she was not directing the diatribe directly at her companion, or even directly at us, necessarily, but she clearly felt compelled to speak loudly enough, and passionately enough, to be heard by everyone.

Because, after a time, I had caught her referencing our table after each new cast of political virtue–as if watching a bobber on the lake–I couldn’t help but think that she might have been triggered by my cowboy hat.

The cowboy hat, if you don’t know, is a notorious symbol of over-wrought and ultimately dull machismo, the historical oppression of virtuous bank robbers, homicidal frontier loners, and the indefensible subjugation of bovines.   Nevermind that some us wear them mostly because, as in my case, we are bald, and prefer the luxury of shade over the risks of melanoma.

And maybe it wasn’t that at all. Maybe it was just an outbreak of sudden theater.

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James Bruce, a Scotsman, Who Found the Source of the Blue Nile on November 14, 1770, After a 7 Years Journey

Whatever the cause, my wife and I ordered our food and sat looking at each other wistfully across the table while being treated to a somewhat stumpy harangue on the full litany of American evils. It came from a particular side of the political divide, but in matters of bad manners affiliation hardly matters. The invective that spilled forth, while her companion worked valiantly to bring reason–speaking in that lower and slower tone reserved for embarrassed adults in the face of misbehaving children–would have made the saltiest Navy Chief blush.

We had options. I thought, momentarily, of addressing the outraged djinn across the room with a request for self-restraint, this being Sisters, after all, and well before noon, but the cop in me thought better of saying anything at all. One of the first rules of police work is ironclad: never try to reason with a drunk.

Not that she was drunk, she wasn’t, but there is another rule in there too, which has more to do with letting someone lean so far into their opinions that they eventually fall over.

Also, sticking it out was more in line with our commitment to an ultimate victory over the purely mundane, a vision of our lives lived less on the spectrum of endlessly repetitive and predictable ritual, and more as a thoroughly unpredictable expedition up the Blue Nile.

Mindset matters, naturally, but more importantly: the food was terrific.

So we endured and pondered the mysteries. My wife and I ate in virtual silence, forced into the role of a captured and unwilling audience, reduced to communicating through a kind of method-acting pantomime that would have thrilled Lee Strasberg, and which every married couple out in the field knows quite well.

What fueled this woman’s outrage at the machine, which had obviously been bubbling for some time and which she felt duty bound to share with everyone in the restaurant was, I think now, a kind of rage born of impotence. There was desperation in her vibrato wails against the various agonies of empire, but in the end, though I doubt she could see it, the result was a spectacular demonstration of juvenile pathos rather than a persuasive call to man the barricades.

WILLIAM BUCKLEY;GORE VIDAL

William F. Buckley, Threatening To Sock Gore Vidal

It occurred to me, as I shoveled a beautifully crafted omelet into my face, that the larger problem wasn’t this woman’s opinions because, really, who cares?   It was her obsession with theater over debate; it was made abundantly clear during her monologue that opposition to her views, or even moderation of her positions, was an intolerable affront.

It is a common modern failing:   an inability to distinguish the difference between highly viewable, and highly illuminating, opinions.

I’m tracking a lot more of that sort of thing lately, though there is a sound argument to be made that the root blame belongs to ABC News, who in the 1968 presidential campaign chose to feature debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley rather than the standard “gavel to gavel” coverage of the conventions. It was those debates, which famously concluded with Buckley losing his grip and threatening to punch Vidal in the nose, which ushered in the age of televised political punditry from which we may never, it seems now, recover.

For our endurance, the hostess—long suffering herself–gave us a thoughtful certificate for ten-percent off at our next visit. She didn’t have to say anything at all, and neither did we, as we passed outside into the strange light and primordial smoke from the seemingly endless forest fires.

And, with the passage of a little time, this whole breakfast scene–as we man the deck of our little steamship and chortle up the Blue Nile–now puts me in the mind of Wallace Stevens, who wrote in his beautiful poem “The Snow Man” how important it is for the unwilling audience to hear in these kinds of passionate, theatrical, and sometimes inappropriate outbursts, both the “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”

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12 thoughts on “Breakfast on the Blue Nile

  1. The anger out there on both sides of the ball field is intense, subtle at the same time, most do not realize how they are subliminally being effected by their surroundings, such as TV the NEWS etc. I doubt she knew why she was acting out some scene from an Antifa or Neo Nazi rally, you did not mention her particular political vent, not that it matters, both extremes hurt all of us.
    Too bad she interfered with your Brunch…also kudos to the waitress…!

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    • It seems probable to me that she would have been, if anyone could have wedged a word in edgewise, completely unaware of why she felt so compelled. The lack of self-awareness in the pious set is growing old. But yes, the waitress was on her game 🙂

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  2. Craig…
    As to addressing the inappropriateness of the chosen venue and lack of a proper forum, this was in the very least an unappetizing menu choice by the offending party, and to put it more bluntly quite rude. You covered the waterfront well in fine satirical fashion so nothing more need be said in drawing any further conclusions on that.
    P.S. You cannot reason with insanity either. I have exhausted all efforts towards it. Insanity does not know itself. That splits both ways.

    I would also add, that inspired by your William F. Buckley referenced feigned pugilistic threat there is another one worth checking out. In a debate with Robert Vaughn (so much more than the MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E) Buckley (in his typical almost mocking tone) asked Vaughn if he was a pacifist. Vaughn quickly jabbed back by saying “punch me and find out”. As to the debate Vaughn also kicked Buckley’s ass and that is quite evident as to how Vaughn’s evaluation of the subject matter (The Viet Nam
    Conflict) proved to be very accurate. Vaughn was also closing in on a Ph.D from USC by this time in his career, not that a P.h.D overwhelms me in the least way. It does not. However, respect is given where respect is earned. In closing, I do hope that this is the proper forum for a dissenting view from time to time and not just for congratulatory applause. Whether I agree or disagree is not relevant, as this is your venue to post and share your always well constructed and well written observations and opinions. Your chosen subject matter always inspires and entertains (me) as well as stimulates thought and opinion. Incisive, articulate and colorful essays and prose.
    You have have earned my attention!

    — saddle tramp
    VIA: Denver, CO

    Here’s the debate between Buckley and Vaughn:

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  3. Craig, you have inspired yet another recollection of physical action as related this time to Truman Capote (writer of Breakfast At Tiffany’s) which is also appropriate to your themes in this post. As I recall Truman Capote was at a get together of some kind which included Humphrey Bogart and John Huston. Bogart was challenging others to arm wrestle and decided to pick on Truman Capote placing a money wager along with it. Capote slammed Bogart down 3 times in a row each time with a successive higher wager being anted up by Bogart. Bogart was so pissed he started an all out brawl and as John Huston attests, Capote put Bogart on his ass. Bogart never got over it. Huston called Capote a little Bull. Never underestimate the little guy.

    — saddle tramp
    P.S. Thanks for the vote of confidence. Experience is all I can offer.

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  4. As my wife and I have have our coffee this fine Saturday morning, I am rereading, and sharing this post with her. She is chuckling. As usual, thoughtful, grounded, and highly entertaining.

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  5. It is said that Marcus Aurelius began each day with telling himself the following:

    “I shall meet with meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable people.”

    Perhaps this is good to bear in mind, especially in the territories of strife you found yourself in so often. You are in good company. Marcus jotted down such things for his own instruction during lulls in the war.

    — saddle tramp
    Under a canopy of lingering smoke waiting on my mandatory 34 hour reset of hours to click over at 10:30 p.m. before leaving out for Portland from Phoenix (Oregon) tuned into the State Of Jefferson’s (JPR) Folk Scene where they are keeping it on the sunny side…

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