Why jerks run the world

February 15, 2008, 1:16 PM UTC


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I’ll tell you a funny story. Last night I went to one of those restaurants that feast on the egos of the rich and famous. The room is often filled with people who you would probably know if you saw their faces on the front page of some tabloid or business publication. It’s amazing that there’s enough air to breathe in there, let alone eat, with so many great narcissists sucking the oxygen out of the atmosphere. 

The place is rather small, with a bar in one small entry room and a bigger room past the portal of glory. People enter, remove their coats, and are then ushered at varying rates of speed to their thrones. I arrived at 7:30 to meet my friends for an 8:00 PM reservation. We were to be a group of three and only one of them was there, my pal Dworkin.

“I wonder if they could seat us a little early,” he said as we were finishing our drinks at about 7:45. I peered into the dining room, which was virtually empty. “Give it a try,” I said.  He returned from his chat with the maitre d’. “He says they’re still setting it up,” he said.

We ordered another drink. The bar was warm and cozy, filled with people drinking, eating at little tables that had no social cache, looking around to see if they could spot somebody famous going in to dine in the big room.

We waited. People began to arrive for dinner. I saw Vreeland, who I know from the corporation, come in with a few pals, doff his outerwear with flamboyance, hug a bunch of people at the door, and breeze into the castle keep. Then a great captain of industry appeared, was greeted with quiet, discreet cries of pleasure by the staff, and was all-but carried in a divan to his position of honor immediately. We continued to hang out at the bar. I was okay about it. It was a scene. I melded into it.

At 8:05, the dining room was still rather empty. I went to the maitre d’ and very politely asked if we could be seated now. He looked at me for a moment, making some inner calculation. I felt either under- or overdressed all of a sudden. “Your party is not complete yet,” he said.

“Yes,” I said very politely. I hate jerks in restaurants who make a scene about things. “But my friend Vreeland just went in there and there are still several empty seats at his table.””Oh!” said the maitre d’. “Mr. Vreeland! Well…” And then he smiled at me indulgently, as if to say, “Come along, my friend. You and a man of Mr. Vreeland’s standing should not be mentioned in the same breath.” I felt a little tickle of annoyance scratch at the back of my amour-propre. “Besides,” he added, not unkindly, “we’re just setting your table now. It should be a few minutes.”

I thanked him humbly, backed off to the bar again, and stood there with my companion. There was nothing else to do. I generally don’t like to have six drinks before dinner so we just hung out. Glossy people continued to enter and receive a fine helmet-polishing followed by immediate conveyance to comfy seats in the sanctified enclosure within.

My tickle was now and itch. I approached the maitre d’ again. “How about it,” I said.

“Actually,” he replied, looking at his book carefully, “we’re still waiting for your table to finish dessert.” A little bolt of sulphuric acid shot from my stomach into the back of my throat. “I thought you were just finished setting it,” I said evenly. “Oh yes,” he said coldly. “We’re just finished setting it.”

“Look,” I said, trying to keep my voice even. “I’ve seen about two dozen people float by here and into the next room. It’s still half empty. I have just heard from our third party, who is stuck in a cab but will be here in minutes. Come on.”

“I’m sure they’ll be finished with their desserts very soon,” said the maitre d’.

At that point I uttered a short observation of no particular import, put on my hat and coat, and left the establishment. I was, in fact, simply too angry to stand there anymore. So I went outside and stood in the cold. It was nice out there. We’re all equal under that big black sky.

About two minutes later, the door to the restaurant opened and Dworkin popped his head out. “They’re seating us now,” he said. I went in, said nothing to the maitre d’, and took off my coat. We were then hustled in to a very fine table, right next to General Pinochet’s. Perhaps it was not him. I heard he died. So maybe it was somebody else. “What happened?” I asked Dworkin.

“The maitre d’ was very upset,” he said. “He said, ‘Is there a problem with the gentleman?” and I said, ‘Yeah, he’s not used to waiting for anything.’ And he said ‘Oh’ and told me to go get you.” Our other pal showed up a few minutes later and we had a very lovely dinner.

What was clear to me was that 1) If I had not thrown a tantrum, we would not have have been seated until early March and 2) If I had not distinguished myself as an angry, over-sensitive, egotistical wheezebag, we would not have gotten such a good table, either. It was by demonstrating all the pushy, aggressive, ill-tempered and self-aggrandizing portions of my personality that I showed my qualification for proper treatment in that establishment.

And that’s why jerks run the world.