A couple of days ago a friend of mine, an avowed foodie, texted the above picture to my cell phone.
“I disagree,” I wrote back.
“As do I,” he replied. “Sometimes that’s my only meal!”
I like brunch, but brunch done right. Post-waiter-stress trauma makes me leery of places that crank out fusion cuisine or Tex-Mex six days a week and then offer overpriced eggs on Sunday. Cooks making stuff outside their usual routine produce results ranging from bleh to disastrous. Did we forget Anthony Bourdain’s warning about chefs unloading the week’s leftovers by masking them with heavy sauces? Most restaurants don’t do brunch well, it’s a punishment detail for waiters and the patrons can be jerks. If you want to see brunch done right go to the Westgate Hotel in San Diego. It’s a religious experience. My wife and I have been there a couple of times and we’re not assholes. At least I don’t think we are.
Then an article entitled, “Brunch Is for Jerks” serendipitously appeared in the next day’s New York Times. Its author, David Shaftel, delivers a blistering diatribe against brunch, decrying the “hung over and proudly bedraggled” affluenza zombies who’re wrecking the “pastoral” peace of the West Village neighborhood where he’s lived for twenty years in search of overpriced mimosas.
In the interest of full disclosure, the author readily admits he’s enjoyed many brunches, establishing his coolness cred by bragging about an epic fifteen-hour outing ending in a dive bar and some hedonistic affair in a Dubai hotel where he feasted on exotic foods and guzzled a jeroboam of Veuve Clicquot. But now, he writes, “It’s over. I’m through with brunch,” complaining that these legions of young, childless and “well-off professionals” munching on Eggs Benedict are emblematic of the gentrification driving middle class families out Manhattan. “Unencumbered by children” Shaftel writes, they are “exactly the kind of people who can fritter away Saturday, Sunday or both over a boozy brunch.” Meow! Something tells me income inequality isn’t driving Shaftel’s rage.
“But now that I have a young daughter,” Shaftel writes. “Brunch is completely impractical…For me, having a child — and perhaps the introspection that comes with turning 40 — made me realize what most vexes me about brunch: Once the domain of Easter Sunday, it has become a twice-weekly symbol of our culture’s increasing desire to reject adulthood.”
Brunch means rejecting adulthood? That fatuous claim pisses me off. When I was single I hated parents who looked down on my childless status. Before fatherhood hit me at 45 I already knew some parents used their children as an excuse to tell other people how to live. Their incessant proselytizing reminds me of convicts who discover religion in jail. When these earth-mommy/uber-dads were single they were having coke fueled trysts in my restaurant’s bathroom. But once the stork arrived they suddenly couldn’t countenance any one else having crazy fun. You know these killjoy hypocritical types. They’re like people who stopped smoking two days ago and start snapping cigarettes out of other peoples’ mouths. These are the self-important people who’ve brought us breastfeeding jihadists; wimpy slides on the playground and Park Slope mommies trying to ban ice cream trucks in their neighborhood. Question their orthodoxy and they’ll scream you’re a kiddie hating Nazi.
I suspect sleep deprivation’s partly to blame but let’s be real – many parents are pissed their freedom has been curtailed. So after Shaftel finished taking his dump on brunch I figured he was suffering from a case of sour grapes. All this fury over brunch? Really? He’s also upset about being out-gentrified. Sorry man. The West Village hasn’t been “pastoral” since Peter Stuyvesant was in charge.
Then I realized Dave and I aren’t that much different.
My wife and I are looking to buy a house in the leafy Jersey suburb where we now rent, but escapees from NYC are driving up prices. Seeing Zip Cars with NY plates clustered outside a realtor’s open house makes me wish I owned an anti-tank gun. “Jerks,” I usually mutter. “Is Brooklyn full? Stay out of my town.” So I can relate to Dave’s pain.
The similarities don’t end there. When I forwarded Dave’s article to a friend he said he thought I wrote it. That surprised me, but shouldn’t have. I was a cynical waiter and spent years skewering foodie culture, pretentious customers and power mad restaurateurs. If you follow this blog you know I can be a world-class curmudgeon. After all the yuppie bashing I’ve done, faulting Dave for lashing out would be a tad hypocritical.
Dave’s also right about parents not having enough time in the day. Going anywhere with a kid is a logistical exercise akin to the Normandy invasion. By the time I’ve strapped my daughter into her car seat, loaded her diaper bag and stuffed the Baby Bjorn, carriage, bottles, sunscreen, hats and toys into the trunk of my car it’s taken me two hours to get out of the damn house. And, unless you don’t sweat the high therapy bills you’ll pay later, children require tons of attention. Kids make time a precious commodity. So yeah, brunch is sometimes impractical.
I don’t really think Dave’s jealous of childless people. He’s roughly my age and, like me, probably had his fun until it wasn’t fun anymore. I also don’t think he hates brunch – he’s just projecting his anger on an often mediocre culinary pastime. How’d I draw this conclusion? I’ve detected the same anger in myself.
It’s nice if hitting your forties makes you introspective, but it can also make you a crank. Realizing more days are behind you then ahead, a middle-aged myopia threatens to set in. You become territorial, parochial and start pining over a nostalgized past. It’s no accident people are more conservative by the time their AARP card arrives. Now young people are starting to bewilder me, forcing me to install an Urban Dictionary app on my phone so I can understand what the hell they’re talking about.
I’ve also become incredibly intolerant of bullshit. While that’s a good thing overall, it’s a problem when dealing with twenty-somethings. When I hear about their relationship dramas I want to vomit. If a guy doesn’t text you back for four days he’s an asshole! If a girl won’t let you crap in her bathroom after you’ve done the horizontal mambo she’s got a problem. Grow up! Then I realize I’ve misplaced my memory of what it’s like to be young.
It doesn’t help we live in a society that lionizes youth and marginalizes old age. We see teenagers becoming Internet zillionaires and are told youth is the fountain of innovation and genius. Didn’t you know artists and writers create all their masterpieces in their twenties? After that it’s all downhill. Bullshit of course, but when you’re doing late night feedings, worried about bills and terrified your house is conspiring to kill your baby, feeling the energy and enthusiasm of young people makes you wonder if time has passed you by.
So you bitch about it.
“Our youth now love luxury.” Socrates wrote. “They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.” The old philosopher probably wouldn’t have liked brunch either. But bitching about the young is as old as time. Dave’s just another guy wondering where all that time went.
My wife often calls me to task for thinking like Socrates. Since my daughter’s formative years will take place in my forties and fifties that gives me pause. Everything is new for her. I’ll need immense reserves of spiritual and intellectual elasticity to keep up. I’ll have to reign in my cynicism and remember the sweet song the bird of youth sings. If I don’t I’ll be no good to her.
That doesn’t mean I’ll age regress and try being hip. My experience and perspective is hard won and I’ll probably continue bitching about stuff. But I’ll pick my battles. Brunch isn’t one of them. I understand why Dave got hot and bothered, though. Everything changes and sometimes that sucks. That’s the price of admission life charges.
Brunch isn’t for assholes, Dave. Its just that assholes sometimes go to brunch. So from one fortyish guy raising a daughter to another, I wish you the best of luck.
Just don’t move to my town.