Sunday, May 3, 2009
I finally got around to reading it
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you may remember me writing about Kenny Shopsin. I had watched the movie, "I Like Killing Flies", and simply fell in love with the guy (platonically, that is). His restaurant and life philosophy makes perfect sense to me. It's odd, for Shopsin is abrasive (or at least that's what people say) and I am not, at least not on the surface. I doubt anyone would say I'm even slightly abrasive, but that's a ruse, not intentionally, but a result of my sometimes annoyingly quiet voice.
So, I've finally gotten around to reading "Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin." I was going to buy it the day it came out in print, but I was broke. Now, I've taken it out of the library, for the truth is, I don't like using recipes and I don't need to re-read it. At least I don't think so.
I am loving it as much as I imagined I would. Almost every word is a gem. And, once again, hearing Shopsin's words brings me back to the New York of my youth, and my thoughts and experiences of being a two-time small service business owner. The first time, I neither understood myself or my customers. The second time, I understood myself (most of the time), but there were problems. And some of them came from being a New Yorker working in Maine. Kenny Shopsin's rules were a bit of problem for some New Yorkers, so my rules must have been hell for folks here in the boonies.
Shopsin considers his restaurant a place where the patrons have a relationship with both other customers and the people who work there. It's a home. I felt the same way about my tattoo shop. It was my more my home than my home for some of the time, and just like a home, I didn't want people who I didn't like hanging out, nor did I want to service them. Now, "service them" is a word most often associated with a pretty awful line of business, but it's apt. That may be a key to understanding why some people throw out customers that they don't want. It's not because they're shoplifting or being belligerent. It's because servicing people you don't like is awful. Prostitutes know this, but they (mostly) don't pick and choose. Maybe that's why drugs help (and come to think of it, maybe why so many in other service industries develop drug problems).
Face-to-face service jobs are akin to prostitution, like it or not. I can't believe I'm writing this, for once my father told me that tattooing was pretty close to prostitution and I was shocked. But now, even though his reasoning may have been different, I agree.
But unlike those who walk the street, I wouldn't service just anybody.
Kenny Shopsin felt the same way about cooking.
Cooking, sex, sticking needles into people. . .well, done the right way, they are all about giving and receiving love. That's the right way indeed.
I once told someone that I felt love for my all my clients when I was working with them and it was true. If I knew that I couldn't feel that way, if I couldn't respect someone enough to work with them or they didn't respect me, I would ask them to go elsewhere. Some people balked at that, but most just left, shaking their heads. I imagine they mumbled something like "asshole" under their breath. Now, in my not-abrasive-and-quiet voice, I may have never earned the moniker "bitch" from anyone (except one disgruntled actual ex-lover), but I was a hard ass a good amount of the time.
I told people when their tattoo ideas were lousy. I teased others for wanting yet another name tattooed on them when they'd already made the same mistake before. I asked people to go think about their dumb ideas for a month before they had them permanently embedded in their skin. I treated those with low pain thresholds with jolly sadistic jokes. If they couldn't take it, they weren't my kind of customer.
And that's the stuff of relationships. I hardly ever remembered people's tattoos afterwards. I remembered the conversations. That was the important thing, for me. And this is what I loved, each individual, all different. I loved the shy young girls who sometimes cried, and the swaggering guys (and gals) in the service who sometimes passed out. I loved the folks who flirted with me and those who didn't. I loved the people who had knowledge of esoteric information and those that had barely anything to say. I never thought of myself as a "people person" and maybe I still am not, but I discovered I really loved people through tattooing.
It's possible, no, probable, that I've been depressed since I started not being able to tattoo, and certainly since I closed my business, which was at least one and a half years ago. But I had to. I couldn't do it anymore. And because I loved my customers, I just could not continue to give them less than excellent work. My hands hae been shot for years. I had hoped that that it would continue, with me working once in a blue moon, and another person tattooing the bulk of the customers, but that didn't work out. And as far as being an entrepreneur goes, and just running a big shop, well, that's not for me. I want relationships more than money. I have no idea how to really run a business. I can do it, sure, but it's all intuition and love*, just like relationships. One can't get an M.B.A. in loving people (not yet), and even if one could, there'd be no guarantee it'd be of any use.
Now, I contend that loving people has been Kenny Shopsin's real job, not cooking and running a restaurant, and he may disagree, but I can have my opinion. Anyway, I don't even know the guy.
Image note: Yes, that's bacon. Why? 'Cause last time I wrote about Shopsin I posted a photo of eggs. Bacon is the other quintessential New York diner food (though Shopsin's was never a diner). Yet, his book has some great bacon stories. And I'm not telling!
*Along with aggravation, boredom, anger, exhaustion, exhilaration. . .and all the feelings that go into relationships. No, if all you feel is love, you're probably in trouble (or have just met last night).