Mea Lousy Culpa

22
Aug
2008

I was really just going to let it drop. I should have, but after reading everyone’s advice and figuring there was a tactful way to do this that might spare others in the future a similar problem, I decided to bring it up. I went back to my favorite cafe and waiter and mentioned to him in a very polite manner that I thought there had been a small error in the previous credit card charge. He took my receipt and told me they would look into it. Immediately I was happy I had brought it up, b/c from the look on my waiter’s face it was obvious he had nothing to do with it, so I could continue in my warm assessment of him. A few minutes later the manager came over and apologized for any error and said they would look into it when the accountant got in. He then offered me free coffee and some pastry. I was perfectly happy in that it hadn’t turned into a big deal, and all was well.

But then my contentment was shattered about 30 minutes later when the accountant got in and approached me in a huff with the last CC charge, showing me that it HAD only been charged for 19, not the 21 I had claimed. I checked my bank website and there was the charge for 21, not the 19 he had claimed. I asked him if it was difficult to pull all of the charges I had ever made there (I assumed there were 2 or 3), and he told me no problem and scurried off to his office. When he came back, he showed me 3 charges, two totaling 19 dollars and one totaling 21. Apparently there is a significant delay between when they post and it gets to my bank account listing. These WERE my charges, and I had egg on my face. I apologized to the accountant, who was at this point giving me a self satisfied look, followed by an “OK then. hummff.” Mortified, I then apologized to my waiter, paid my bill and skulked away, totally embarrassed, thinking that now I could REALLY never go back to this place.

As an unbelievable (and further embarrassing) postscript, my waiter somehow found his way to this blog and posted his own comment on that post, which you can read here.  And upon checking my bank account online this morning, that damn charge is now showing up! Next time, I will definitely be keeping my mouth shut. Mea culpa, mea culpa.

A small dog, 2 cans of beer, and security escorts

20
Aug
2008

Gabe invited me to go with his friend Raffy and he to a screening of “Working Girl” in the park last night (part of the Central Park Film Festival). Gabe and I met beforehand below the park to grab sandwiches and drinks, and started walking into the park towards the screening to meet Raffy. When we caught up with him just outside the film area, he had his small dog with him and told us that the people at the gate wouldn’t let him in, even though no where on the site does it mention that dogs are not allowed and this was an outdoor event in the park after all. The problem was that Raffy lives up in Harlem and didn’t have time to take the dog back before the film started. At Gabe’s behest we started walking the perimeter looking for a place to sneak in. Gabe was somehow able to sneak in past the guards and call me on my cell phone to tell me where, but alas we were stopped by security before being able to make it in. Raffy put his dog into the bag he had with him and we approached the main entrance. When the security guy felt Raffy’s bag he told him that pets were not allowed and we just continued to walk in, towards Gabe who was already inside. We then found an inconspicuous place to sit and started to unwrap our picnic. Everything seemed fine for a few minutes until a very large (wide, more than tall) security guy came over to tell us we couldn’t have the dog there, then noticed our beer and told us that was not allowed either, and that we would have to leave. He followed us all the way to the exit where we passed the first security guard wagging his finger at us. So we sat outside on a lonely bench and enjoyed our picnic while the distant voice of Melanie Griffith pretended to gravitas.

2 lousy dollars

19
Aug
2008

There is a cafe that I have been working at most mornings, and I really enjoy the atmosphere in this place. I have even struck up a little acquaintance with my cute and friendly waiter, sharing small talk about our lives. I learned that he just arrived in NYC a few weeks ago from Arizona of all places. He is just a sweet kid of about 22, struggling to make it in the big city.

This morning I logged into my bank account online (as I do occasionally) and noticed an odd charge from the cafe. It was dated yesterday, the last time I used my card there. It wasn’t a huge difference, but I didn’t remember spending that much there, so I found my folded up receipt from yesterday’s pants pocket and sure enough, my card had been charged more than the total I had filled out including tip. As I said, it wasn’t a huge amount, only 2 dollars more (from 19 to 21, which would have increased my 20% tip to 33%, but I digress).

At first, I thought perhaps there was an old charge that had been dated wrong and had coincidentally come through on this day. But when I checked through my records, every other charge was there and was in the correct amount. So I am left with the following possibilities as to how this happened:

– My waiter added a couple of bucks and put the charge through (purposely or by accident)
– Someone else at the restaurant added a couple of bucks and put the charge through (purposely or by accident)
– There was a bank or credit card error in the amount of two dollars

And now there is a dilemma about what to do about it:

– Take my receipt down to the restaurant and demand to talk to the manager to get them to reverse the charge
– Talk to the waiter directly about it, giving him a chance to investigate
– Pretend it never happened (it is only two dollars after all)

If I go down to talk to the manager, what will happen to my waiter if he is to blame? Will he be fired? The poor kid just arrived in New York and is struggling. I don’t want him to be fired over this if by chance he is at fault, and yet if he is, he clearly should not be engaging in this type of behavior. If he is not to blame and someone else is, what happens to them? Perhaps it would be better to confront the waiter directly, giving him the opportunity to explain or investigate without management knowing?

Maybe it is all just a misunderstanding, an accident easily rectified.

I am a practical person. I don’t believe in making a big deal out of things that are trifling. I am not one of those people who is so wedded to “the principle of the thing” that I lose sight of reality. Life is too short really. And yet, I feel a little as if a trust has been betrayed. I have really enjoyed spending time in this cafe, chatting with my waiter, sipping coffee and working. My image of this place is now a little tainted. I would like to be proven wrong, but can only do so by bringing it up.

On the other hand, I could just let it drop, continue to enjoy the environment and pay cash from now on. I think I like the sound of that best. What do you think? (besides the obvious “Haven’t you just wasted more than 2 dollars worth of time and energy thinking about this?”)

Rush hour? Really?

18
Aug
2008

Maybe I am warped from recent living in Mexico City and India, or I’m not riding the lines with the most traffic, but I have yet to see overcrowded subway cars here in NYC. Even at supposed rush hour (around 8:30-9am), the cars are refreshingly roomy. Is the MTA just really good about having a lot of cars in service? Am I just lucky? I almost always have a seat. Here is a shot I took this morning at about that time. Just look at all that space!
image

The blame game

17
Aug
2008

Seeing the Bollywood film yesterday transported me back to my travels in India.  I remembered that coincidentally, there was an important (the first, I believe) gay pride march set for yesterday in Mumbai and I was curious to see how it went. When I got home I looked up the news accounts on the internet and did find mention of it, but I was a little surprised by the theme picked up by the majority of articles I was reading. Most of them talk about how these were demonstrations against the legacy of the British and their penal code (section 377) that outlawed homosexuality and is still in force to this day, and how they were basically calling on Britain to apologize for introducing this penal code. I have to admit to having been a bit bemused by this and so I sent an email to some of my friends in Mumbai to ask a few questions. Was this a tactic to get a greater majority of the Indian public to approve repeal of 377? Hating all things that represent British colonial rule, it would be an easier sell I suppose than simply accepting the right of people to be gay…?

My friend Alok responded by saying it is a strategy both to get greater media attention, and “to highlight that criminalization of same sex activity has no roots in Indian culture/history”.

I am sure that is true, but there are also many examples of politicians in India (and in many parts of the non western world) who blame the very existence of homosexuality itself on “western influence”, claiming it to be foreign to their culture. In both cases (saying homophobia or homosexuality is a foreign thing), there seems to be an attempt to deny any responsibility for the current climate according to one’s beliefs and tastes. I am sure it is more palatable to place the blame squarely outside of ourselves for those tendencies in our cultures of which we don’t approve, and that this is a world wide phenomenon. I asked my friend if he could then perhaps explain to me how India after independence managed to create a constitution and dismantle some of the legal system left by the British, yet still left in place (when it had the opportunity to do away with it) 377? Was it mere convenience?

My point is simply that it is too facile to lay Indian intolerance solely at British feet, no matter how tempting, and even though most definitely part of the reason. That is why I asked if it was a strategy, to make Indians feel that rejecting homophobia is rejecting something intrinsically British, and that this was an easier “sell”, and more patriotic. (Which is hogwash anyway. I don’t believe any nation to be “intrinsically” homophobic. Cultures change and grow into and out of their hatreds all the time. And I’m sure anyone would agree that Britain today is a far more hospitable place to be gay than India.)

The more I travel, the more places and cultures I see, the more of a universal humanist I become. There is a wonderous diversity of life and culture on this planet. And there are many awful systems of oppression in place that must be challenged. But the longer I live, the more I see the folly in assigning blame without action, and without looking in the mirror. There are unfortunately (and on occasion wonderfully) many many examples across cultures of the things that humans do to (and for the benefit of) other humans, and it is obvious that these are human tendencies that are located in our biological makeup. No culture has a monopoly on the truth or beauty, and cultures change enormously over time. One constant that I recognize with great sadness is the very widespread human desire to fear and hate and demonize that which is different or other. For me, humans are at our very best when we work to transcend these hatreds in our individual selves, our families, our social groups, our regions, our nations, and finally our world.

Bollywood evolution

16
Aug
2008

Went on a little outing with my friend Jai and his partner Madison (both of whom I met in India last year). We went to see a Bollywood film called “Bachna Ae Haseeno” at the ever so cleverly(?) named “Imaginasian” movie theater in midtown. Overall, I say it was about an average quality film, but it made me smile more than a little to reconnect with the genre. I really felt back in India, and it is interesting to see how Indian mores move ever so slightly. This film portrayed a couple that live together for several years…without being married! And more than one open mouth kiss! And that’s not all, in the previews we got a sneak look at well known (and gay but closeted) Indian director Karan Johar’s next film, which seems to have the most out in the open presentation of gay themes ever in an Indian film.