Thursday, October 4, 2007

Behind every man...

I was struck by a weird wave of sympathy for a stranger last night.

We were watching Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares -- the U.S. version -- as we are huge fans of his. (There's something totally engaging and endearing about somebody who cares as much about food, food safety, and decent management as he does: "you could have killed somebody, you donkey!" he screams, turning red in the face. Seriously, if you like Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, watch Ramsay and delight in him.) On this show, he reforms a train wreck of a restaurant, or at least gives it an extraordinary try. He is bracingly acerbic, blunt, and seemingly heartless. (This is because he gives a damn, but it's tough love.)

The owner was a quiet, shy, doormat sort of gent with a sleazeball floor manager and a slightly domineering wife. It's the wife I most sympathized with. Not because I resemble her in character, but because I understand how she got where she was. (Also, she reminds me of the innumerable wives who run their contractor husbands' businesses, doing their books, scheduling their labor, filling in when needed, etc., whom I insure.)

She was involved in the management of the restaurant, helping out, putting sweat, blood, and tears into it alongside her silent workhorse of a husband. She wanted desperately to close the restaurant, cut away the albatross from hubby's neck, and move on. It wasn't successful. She had had it. As a result, she appeared slightly shrewish; in the coda updating us on the restaurant's progress, Ramsay felt it necessary to mention that their marriage was strong and getting better all the time.

Hmm... it never seemed a bit weak to me.

She wanted people to stop taking advantage of her husband. She wanted him to be free of this crushing weight of financial responsibility (surely ruining their credit and finances) and emotional investment. She wanted to get on with their lives. She was done with the whole restaurateur experience and encouraging him... maybe badgering him... to join her in being through with it all.

When I dropped out of school, I felt just like that... it is very hard for me not to nudge Pat toward the path I took. I feel free, lighter, and able to pursue real, tangible goals-- goals like having children, saving for retirement (maybe), getting clear of debt, having fun on weekends and REALLY RELAXING.

There was a happier than expected ending. The sleazeball reformed a little. The hubby asserted himself just a wee little bit. The restaurant tuned up and rallied, and everyone started pulling together. The wife re-invested herself in the experience.

It could also have been a happy ending if they had cut off that malignant bit of dead weight and just walked on. Life's a journey.

I've gone through that "I'm done, this is killing me" thing several times in the past few years. I don't follow politics as once I did, and I am ashamed to say that I only rarely muster out for causes. I no longer engage in entrenched debates online with people of widely differing moral and political orientation. I quit grad school and was shocked to find that I Regret Nothing.

I am reminded of the time when I was 16 and my friend's panty elastic let go all at once while we were shopping at a box-store (you know the ones, they usually end in -mart). She was wearing an A-line skirt and they pooled around her ankles, buttered-side-up. She stepped out of them, gave them a dainty kick under the shelves, and kept walking with a regal expression and her head held high.

Don't forget that other possibilities are out there, and that the choice is yours. Yes, you may turn around out of that tailspin and make it work, and everything will be happily ever after (til next time). Or you can just step out of those tired old things and keep walking, and the world will open new possibilities to you.

1 comment:

Robert Link said...

Nice piece. Sometimes the wisest strategy is to step away from the board. Other times perseverance is king. Hard to know which is when.