And All I Can Say Is “Brava!”
Next time I'm in Portland, Maine I am going to make it a point to eat at at Marcy's Diner. And if owner Darla Neugebauer is around, I plan to shake her hand.
Marcy's is a relatively small place over on Oak Street that seats around eighty people and only takes cash payment for typical diner fare – a breakfast of two eggs, bacon or sausage, toast, and hashbrowns for six bucks. Soups and sandwiches for lunch. Nothing extraordinary.
What is extraordinary is all the virtual fur flying about the Internet over a recent interaction between Darla and a customer. A two year-old customer. Okay, technically the toddler was not the “customer;” the parents were. But the toddler was the problem. Or was the problem the parents?
John and Tara Carson were vacationing in the Portland area and, with toddler in tow, decided to drop in at Marcy's. They ordered pancakes for the little girl and then inexplicably refused to feed them to her, opting instead to place them in the center of the table out of the child's reach. Well, guess what? The kid started screaming. The problem developed when the kid kept on screaming for the better part of an hour. The owner, Darla, was working the grill, heard the noise and dropped a subtle hint that is sometimes employed in restaurants to hasten the departure of certain customers. She called out loudly, “Has that table gotten their ticket yet?” This is restaurant shorthand for “don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.” But, alas, such subtlety was wasted.
A more direct approach was tried next. Ms. Neugebauer took “to go” boxes over to the table and asked the Carsons to pack up and leave or to at least take the child outside. That got no more reaction than did the subtle hint.
So in a final act of frustration, Ms. Neugebauer, after enduring the unendurable for forty minutes or so, turned from her station, slammed her hands down on the counter, pointed at the red-faced screaming child and shouted, “this needs to stop!” At which point the kid abruptly shut up.
Ah, but now the outraged parents enter the fray. They indignantly demand, “Are you screaming at a child?” To which the put through the mill owner replies, “Yes. I am.” And the battle is on. Oh, nobody came to blows, of course, but the parents immediately established the front line on Facebook, citing the whole brouhaha as “the worst experience” and going on to taunt Neugebauer with the comment, “who in their right mind would behave like this unless you are deranged?” I won't comment on the grammar of that statement. And Ms. Neugebauer replied with an expletive laden response, and on and on it went until the press got wind of the whole thing and battle lines were drawn and sides were taken.
But you know what? The sides are weighted almost three-to-one in favor of the beleaguered owner. A poll conducted on one website following the story had 72% of respondents saying “someone should thank her.” The same poll cited 25% who thought Neugebauer “should have gone about it in a different way,” while a mere 3% thought the response was “totally inappropriate.”
All I can say is “brava!” Can diner owners be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize?
You can call me a curmudgeon – and I'd be pleased if you would – but I've had it up to my eyebrows with brats in public places. Not the little ones, mind you. They don't know any better. It's the big brats, the thoughtless, ill-mannered, ignorant, self-centered, self-important, overly-indulgent, enormously entitled so-called adults who spawn the little ones and then steadfastly refuse to discipline them or try to integrate them into the realities of polite society. They are the ones at fault in every case. The only thing I'd have done differently had I been Ms. Neugebauer would have been to have directed my anger and ire where it belonged. The child was merely a product of her lack of upbringing. Darla should have screamed “this needs to stop” directly at the benighted parents. In case you need clarification on the term “benighted,” it means “in a state of pitiful or contemptible intellectual or moral ignorance.”
You want to talk about pitiful or contemptible intellectual or moral ignorance? Try this; Mommy was later heard whining to the press, “I turned to my daughter and I was like ‘Listen, this is how I’m raising you not to be as an adult. Like, you will never be like this when you get older.' I felt helpless as a mom that, you know, I couldn’t do anything to help her, because I can’t explain why there’s crazy people in this world that behave like that.”
Excuse me while I swallow my gorge. Was there even a coherent thought in all that stumbling, immature rubbish?
In an orderly, civilized society, your right to be a thoughtless, ignorant, disruptive boor ends where my right to the reasonable expectation of a peaceful, quiet dining experience begins. Especially when there are more of me than there are of you. As eloquently expressed by Mr. Spock, it's the whole “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – or the one” concept. In a room where seventy or eighty people are gathered to fulfill their need for peace and quiet, by what possible authority can you demand your singular right to be an undisciplined, disorderly idiot? Or to sanction disorderly behavior in those under your alleged control?
And before you ask, yes, dammit, I've been a parent. Two boys about two years apart. And they never, ever, ever misbehaved in restaurants or other public places. In fact, I used to get compliments on their behavior from relieved diners who surely thought, as I often do today, “there goes the neighborhood” when I walked in with my two potential meal disruptors. It. Never. Happened. And it's not because I beat them to within an inch of their lives, because I didn't. I taught them cause and effect, action, reaction, and consequences at home before they ever ventured out into the wider world. They understood that screaming and demanding would not be rewarded and that misbehavior would not be tolerated. And as a result, they didn't do it.
I'm a baby boomer and perhaps “boom” is the operative word. I was never afraid to lower it. Unlike the wishy-washy, touchy-feely, “timeout” and “let children express themselves” hip pocket child psychiatrists masquerading as parents of the “me” generation, I was not averse to enforcing discipline. My kids learned to respect a stern look or a firm tone of voice. Beating them simply wasn't necessary. And both of them are fine men today with fine families of their own, so apparently their mom and I did something right. Hope the “parents” of the screamer can say the same thing in thirty years.
Okay. Off the soapbox and back to the issue. Was the restaurant owner correct in defending the rights of her other patrons? Without question. Could she have handled it less dramatically and less confrontationally? Probably. But if you read her Facebook posts you'll quickly figure out that restraint is not one of her personality traits. Should she have been placed in such a position in the first place? Never. It's a restaurant, not a day-care. She's a cook, not a babysitter. The parents were on vacation. Were they supposed to leave their 2-year-old at the hotel? Of course not. Should they have allowed her to scream incessantly in a public place while they selfishly filtered it out and reduced it to background noise? You know the answer as well as I do.
So, again, brava, Darla Neugebauer. Don't worry about the three percent idiot faction. Or even the twenty-five percent who think you could have done things differently. The seventy-two percent of us who back you to the hilt thank you for your actions on our behalf. And if I do get the opportunity to visit Marcy's Diner in person, I'll bring my granddaughter. I guarantee you won't have to yell at her.