Not completing our golf round until after 7:00 p.m., my good friend and Leesburg neighbor, Doctor Jim Hardy, and I were starved. We were eating at his home and Peen, Jim’s wife, had fixed an incredible dinner: roast tenderloin of pork baked with a homemade BBQ sauce; Lebanese pancakes made with feta cheese and zucchini; carrots cooked with honey and cayenne pepper; a special desert and a red wine chosen to accompany the menu. Everything was perfect until I noticed the tablecloth and began to think about the combination of red wine, BBQ sauce, white linen and me.
I have a history with white tablecloths that goes back to the mid-80’s when I was being entertained by the executives of a luxury hotel. We were seated at a half-moon shaped banquette in the hotel’s most expensive restaurant. There were five of us: on my left was the hotel’s general manager, seated next to him the assistant manager, on my right was the director of sales and seated next to him a sales manager. The association I worked for represented a big piece of business so they were “putting on the dog.” There were platters of appetizers, salads, entrees, desserts and with every course a different bottle of fine wine.
The table was full of plates, silverware, half full wine bottles and glasses. As each bottle of wine required a different glass, there were lots of glasses. Having to wait for an after dinner flaming coffee, I decided it was a good time to excuse myself to visit the “facilities.” The director of sales and sales manager slid out from the table and as I followed, I grabbed my napkin from my lap with the intent of laying it on the table. What I thought was my napkin was in fact the tablecloth and when I stood bottles, plates and glasses were upended and crashed to the floor. The sound, like a bomb going off, startled everyone in the restaurant with people from other tables standing to get a better view. Needless to say, I signed the contract to book the hotel the next morning.
Years later I attended a dinner party after having minor surgery. I had arrived at the surgical center at the appointed time but they were running late and informed me that I would have to wait a couple of hours. It was my idea to postpone the surgery; Terri decided it was a better idea to keep me there by requesting something to calm my nerves. Since they didn’t have any scotch, they gave me valium. The wait was longer than expected, so the nurse administered another pill and right before the surgery, more valium.
The surgery went fine but Terri had trouble getting me home—at one time I did a complete somersault trying to tie my shoe. Dressing for the dinner party was an adventure; I can remember Terri making me hold up one arm at a time so she could put my coat on. It was a large party and we were seated at a table covered with—you guessed it—a white linen tablecloth. Despite my relaxed condition, I was doing well until I picked up my napkin to sneeze and blow my nose: Paper napkin, no; tablecloth yes. Again, glasses spilled, bottles shook and people stared. This time I had enough valium that I was beyond caring.
So, I resolved to be particularly careful with Peen’s white tablecloth. Throughout dinner, I made sure not to spill any food and was doing well until I poured a glass of red wine. I made sure that I poured carefully, spun the bottle so it wouldn’t drip and then wiped the bottle’s neck with my napkin: red wine with my white linen napkin. Poor Terri, all she could do was shake her head.
It can seem like we are cursed to repeat the same mistake again and again. It’s psychological; as soon as I am seated at a table covered by a white tablecloth, I begin to worry about spilling and overturning. Negative thoughts lead to adverse occurrences: if you believe something bad is going to happen, it probably will—any golfer will tell you that is true. The great songwriter, Johnny Mercer, said it best when he wrote you’ve got to accentuate the positive.
“You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium’s
Liable to walk upon the scene” – Johnny Mercer