Sunday, March 3, 2019

Rules of the Head

Sure, I know about white privilege, but I'd never considered Christian privilege.

At least, not until I went out for restaurant week in Annapolis tonight with my host and hostess. All we did was walk a few blocks, make a few turns and wind up at an old house that's now a venerable seafood restaurant near the river (one of them, anyway, though I'm not sure which one given how many bodies of water converge around here).

It was easy enough to get there and a world away once conversation got going.

At O'Leary's Seafood Restaurant. we watched as the two couples ahead of us who'd walked in without reservations were told in no uncertain terms that there was no room at the inn. That they looked surprised at the news surprised us, but then we had a reservation and were immediately led to a table in the completely full restaurant.

There were so many people packed into every available chair that it was actually hot because of all the body heat. My freezing hands warmed up in not time as I admired the abstract art on the walls and ogled the very un-Richmond-looking crowd.

I don't think I saw a single beard or tattoo.

Because it was restaurant week and because our reservation was at 8:15, we wasted no time in telling our server all the things we wanted: a bottle of Chandon Brut Rose, a half bottle of Merlin-Cherrier Sancerre and for me, spicy vegetable crab soup, crab cakes with mustard lime sauce, haricots verts and fingerlings with bacon, onion and scallion vinaigrette followed by chocolate mousse in a chocolate almond tuille.

C'est tout. And if it sounds like I chose a meal straight out of the Clinton years, well, so be it. When in Rome and all.

Although our affable server had explained that the restaurant had only two footed wine chillers and they were both at the bar, he managed to scam one for us, which made it handy to have our bottles within arm's reach and pleased my hostess no end.

The food was well-executed if not breaking any new ground. Best thing about the crab soup was the wilted kale giving it body and color besides red. Favorite part of the crabcakes were the enormous hunks of backfin practically falling out of every bite. High point of the mousse was its container, the fluted, dark chocolate-lined almond tuille which ate like a Milano cookie of the highest order.

Even the bathroom brought a smile to my face with a sign next to the loo stating, "Please do not put anything in the head that you haven't eaten first." Honestly, there's no simpler way to put that message.

Over dinner, I heard about their recent sailing trip through the Caribbean, a trip that included an excursion to St. Bart's where a besotted turtle followed my host around all afternoon. To prove it, he produced photos of the turtle looking at him with longing eyes and glancing over its shoulder to make sure he was following him.

By all appearances, this turtle clearly had a thing for him.

Meanwhile, my friend had found a comfy place to sit and sip alone while her man went "hiking," which is what he called his afternoon seducing a tortoise.

Maybe it was the wine, maybe the rich meal, but the subject of growing up Jewish arose and my host shared memories from his youth in Kentucky, where he was one of five Jewish people in town.

Having grown up in a white, Christian neighborhood, I didn't meet my first Jewish person until college, a fact that still boggles my mind. But for him, a Jew in a Christian town in Kentucky, there were frequent reminders that he was different.

And mind you, this was the '70s, not the dark ages, although maybe they're more synonymous than we'd like to recall.

Every new school year meant hearing fresh taunts of "Jew boy" and trying to figure out how not to fight kids who name-called. Dating non-Jewish girls meant going to their church to appease her parents, who, of course, were hoping he'd convert.

This was still a thing?

When he played sandlot ball games and the kids went to someone's house to get a drink to cool off, he wasn't allowed inside the houses. I was embarrassed to admit that I'd had no clue this kind of thing was still happening in the '70s.

"It's still happening now probably," he said ruefully.

He talked about how his grandfather made a living by taking orders from people along the way while riding the train to Norfolk where he would buy the things they couldn't get in their mining towns and return to deliver the goods and collect his money. Only when he met the woman of his dreams and her father insisted he get a real job did he open a business that didn't involved riding the rails.

But what really shocked me was that once his grandfather became successful and had the only car in town, he was at the beck and call of the mayor and police chief, who would expect him to drive them to their KKK meetings and wait outside for them to finish.

Holy inequality, how the hell do we call ourselves a democracy?

Needless to say, his recollections made for a fascinating glimpse into a world I never knew, much less imagined still existed in my lifetime. But then, that's Christian privilege for you, the irony being that I'm a heathen of the highest order.

Lest I make it sound like my host only shared traumatic memories, rest assured he's a fascinating guy with a passion for music (Nouvelle Vogue covering Modern English, yes, please) and a droll sense of humor. Thanks to random conversations today, he taught me about Jew-Bus (Jews who practice Buddhism, like Goldie Hawn and Allen Ginsburg), introduced me to the Foremen (a satirical folk band with liberal leanings with songs like "My Conservative Girlfriend") and impressed me by sharing that he'd gone to the first Women's March in 2017 (because he's a feminist and was stoked to hear Ashley Judd, who's also a Kentucky graduate).

Of all the things I thought I'd do while in Eastport this weekend, having my consciousness raised may be the most unexpected. Although hearing Cassandra Wilson cover "The Weight" was pretty mind-blowing, too.

It's all about what others can teach me.

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