Straight Story

I’ve never told this story before, but I experienced it first-hand in Manhattan about 30 years ago. Sit me down with a lie detector and I’ll pass with flying colors because it’s all perfectly true. The details won’t stagger anyone, but I want it fully understood I’m not making it up. It’s just one of those life-lesson stories that repeats the old adage about “you are your friends and vice versa.”

I was inside a new Italian restaurant on Columbus Ave., a block or two south of the Museum of Natural History. It had opened maybe a day or two earlier, and I remember sipping a vodka and lemonade (my drink back then) and talking to the bartender. There was a big noisy party at a big table in the main dining room, and I asked the bartender what the ruckus was and he said, “Oh, that’s the owners and their investors…big dinner.”

I stuck my head inside and noticed that one of the guys at the table was an especially loud, large-framed, overweight guy who looked like a walrus. He was holding a drink in his hand and laughing with great merriment and going “Awwwhhh! Awwggwhhh! Oh-huh…awwwwwhhh!” as he listened to somebody at the table say something wildly hilarious. He was kind of bouncing up and down in his seat and slapping others on the shoulder and going “awwww-haaawwwhh!”

Right away I thought to myself, “That guy’s with the owners?” This new restaurant was trying to sell itself as a serious class act, and this guy was the kind of coarse beast you’d find at some neighborhood restaurant in Astoria or Bushwick on a Saturday night, not that there’s anything wrong with Astoria or Bushwick.

15 or 20 minutes later I was in the bathroom and this same guy sauntered in and went right over to a urinal and did three things at precisely the same time — farted loudly, belched loudly and began to relieve himself. Perfect synchronization. I knew then and there that this new restaurant wouldn’t make it. I think I actually muttered to myself “okay, that’s it” when I heard the belch-fart harmony. Because any Upper West Side resturateur who has animals for friends will sooner or later lose favor with the locals, I reasoned. Having coarse friends means you have no taste and your judgment stinks, and that kind of thing tends to spread out in all directions.

Four or five months later the restaurant had closed.

24 thoughts on “Straight Story

  1. JackBurton2 on said:

    What’s wrong with Astoria? Does the prejudicial BS around here EVER stop?

  2. Fan-fucking-tastic.

    Although I hope the Vodka and Lemonade at least got you laid a few times with similarly-inclined sorority girls.

  3. Did he excuse himself at least?

    I’ve done the fart/burp thing once, in private (I think). Not going to lie, it felt like a life achievement.

  4. A simultaneous fart-belch-urine stream- sneeze usually ends with spontaneous combustion.

    Did the fat man begin laughing when you said “lemonade”?

  5. “Four or five months later the restaurant had closed.”



    Find out in Time-Life’s new book, “Hollywood Elsewhere.”

  6. Wells just oozes elitism, sadly I’m still a fan. The ogre in the story did do those things in the bathroom, the most appropriate place to do all those things. I suppose you’ve never farted or burped in public? As Granny used to say, more room outside than inside.

  7. If following Granny’s charming logic, the guy should have done his disgusting deed outside where there is more room than the restroom with other people. I don’t get how you do that and don’t feel embarrassed.

  8. Don’t most restaurants fail within a year? 4 or 5 months though, that’s pretty rough. But yes, I agree, I wouldn’t want to do business with the gentleman you described.

  9. @nemo, good catch. They say memory is the first thing to go. But in this case, I think “tact” and “taste” clearly preceeded it.

  10. The best part of this story in its 2008 incarnation? This line:

    Now, I’m as human as the next guy and so I try not to look down my nose at people….

  11. In both versions he seems to think people won’t believe this rather pedestrian story.

    To chime in with mizerock – I worked in the Manhattan restaurant biz back in the 90′s when this story supposedly takes place. What the owner of the briefly trendy (“Did you hear? Steve Martin & Robin Williams came in last night!”) grub house I worked at in college told me was that of 20 restaurants that open, 15 will be gone before the year is out (of the remaining 5, only 1 will be around after another 5 years).

    It never fails to amuse me that someone who puts on so many airs as Jeff is continually showing how blessedly ignorant he is in how life really works beyond fiction. I’m sure this story is true and just reinforced his own opinions, but I can think of plenty of examples from my own history of meeting people of class & sophistication who have friends & family who are rather crass.

  12. ADD-ON: forgot to add that the place I worked on, where celebs were a weekly sight, was gone within a 18 months itself.

  13. Wels tells a funny anecdote and people are reaching for the smelling salts like they’re the female principal of a San Francisco Bay area Montessori school. I don’t get it.

  14. Read KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL for Bourdain’s reminiscences about wiseguys getting into the restaurant business. I’m pretty sure he puts them right up there with all the other suckers who get hooked. Most of them are just as clueless as your gorilla about how fast they’re going to drop their bankroll.

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