The Downside of a Fancy Dinner

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Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Niche Media


In any big city, a sign of status is whether you get invited to the fancy dinners of the elite. To me, there are two problems with those dinners. One is that the food invariably sucks. With 1,000 people in a room, no course can be good. It is even hard to make the salads stand out. It is always better to try to see if you can order something vegetarian or somehow get your meal done differently, so it requires special attention with the hope that it will then turn out better.

What I hate even more than the dreadful food is the dressing up--the damn tuxedos. Recently I had to go to one such dinner. My particular problem is I have no idea how to knot a bow tie. The friend I usually rely on was out for his own dinner. What to do?

There I am in a tuxedo, bow tie dangling, and the dinner is yet to come.

I was in the limo on the way to pick up my brother and on the phone with my youngest daughter. Truth be told she taught me how to knot a regular tie. Well, my father had taught me way back when, but for years I was knotting ties like a left-handed Israeli. What did my father know? He is an Israeli and never learned how to do it properly, and he passed on his ignorance to me. My youngest, however, learned through the Internet and taught me--properly. That's how it is in the modern world.

So I'm in this limo, and my daughter is on the Internet trying to talk me through knotting a bow tie. Failure. I get to my brother's hotel, hoping he will know. After all, he is a suave Hollywood type who has to dress up like a penguin a lot. But he has already left for dinner. There I am in a tuxedo, bow tie dangling, and the dinner is yet to come.

What to do? I ask the hotel's concierge if there is anyone who can help me. "Sure, go to the bar and ask for Carlos."

Carlos, a middle-aged, Hispanic bartender, takes me--a Jewish, over-educated, Administration official (in the lingo of the press)--back into the kitchen. His hands twist and twirl and the bow tie is tied perfectly. It's as if a Boston Brahmin had done it. Isn't America great?!

So if you need to dress up in one of those silly tuxedos for one of those horrid, extravagant "see and be seen" status dinners in Washington and don't know how to tie a bow tie, head to the Washington Ritz and ask for Carlos. It will only cost you a $10 tip.

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Ezekiel J. Emanuel is an oncologist, a bioethicist, and a vice provost of the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author or editor of 10 books, including Brothers Emanuel and Reinventing American Health Care.

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