Societal Collapse (previously Societal Breakdown)

Reader SkippyMom recently took small issue with some of my statements in the post, The Double.

. . . I have to disagree with the “tag” you placed on this.

Your opinion about Halloween seems based on one diner’s observation and adults costumed who showed up at Carney’s – but you labelled it “societal breakdown” because kids no longer trick or treat – either you don’t have children or you don’t live in the right neighborhood {one which has a lot of kids}. Β My oldest is 22 and my youngest is 11 – and they have all done the traditional trick or treating and this year will be our last year {for the 11 year old}, although we will still give out candy – Yay!

I know this is a weird post to pick to comment on, but not everything is as cut and dried as you sometimes present it and I don’t think because you didn’t have trick or treaters or your customer related to you that all the kids go to church or school related functions dictates a label of societal breakdown. Β Just seemed a little harsh.

Still, just my opinion and I do like you blog πŸ™‚

First of all, I want to thank SkippyMom for reading and writing. That’s the most important thing. I get some self-indulgent kicks out of writing this blog, but it’s really out there so others can read, learn, chime-in, disagree, etc.

Next, I kind of apologize for being too ‘cut and dried’ and/or ‘harsh.’ In truth, I am a very ‘gray area’ type of person. However, that doesn’t make good reading. I’m not saying I’m trumping up issues just to be controversial or raise peoples’ ire. I’m saying that because I’m writing publicly, I’ve decided to go ahead and make bold statements about which I feel strongly. And sometimes I’ll make statements that I haven’t necessarily thought through, but just appeal to me emotionally. At the same time, anyone reading this blog for long will trust that I’m not just some jackass shouting the most inflammatory, attention-grabbing things I can conjure.

Regarding Halloween specifically, I probably only grazed the target on that one. I’ve lived in five different neighborhoods since the ’80s. I’ve seen a continuous decline in the number of trick-or-treaters in each location (not just location to location, but year to year). And I’ll include my parents’ old neighborhood in the ’90s, which was teeming with trick-or-treaters but they were all ‘carpetbaggers,’ dropped off literally in busses from other neighborhoods – so that, to me, counts too.

This observation stirred my feelings about the traditions of society and how many seemed to be falling away. Collapsing, if you will. As a waiter, I’ve long held a private theory that the rise in demand for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Thanksgiving Day restaurant dining is actually a sign of a breakdown in society. Wherein important communal, familial rituals were being discarded in favor of merely ‘consuming’ a holiday meal.

Not that I invented the phrase ‘societal breakdown,’ but I did come up with it in my own vacuum. After SkippyMom’s response, I realized I’d better find out what the hell it actually meant. Google didn’t have it. The closest match was Societal Collapse, which turns out to be the same thing I was talking about. If you’re interested, please read the first few paragraphs from Wikipedia about Societal Collapse.

I was prepared to apologize in general for speaking a little too loosely about the disintegration of certain societal customs, but reading the Wikipedia entry, it turns out I might have been right. Like a blind squirrel finding a nut. Heh.

It really is a subject close to the waiter’s heart, as it applies to holidays – traditionally spent at the hearths and homes of family and friend – that are now occurring at restaurants. I don’t mean to say this is happening unilaterally across the nation. But in my lifetime (the last 30 years of which have been in California, admittedly) I have seen this trend accelerate.

What waiters don’t like about it is that we have lives and families too. We understand, first, that we’ll make more money because of the ‘new’ business coming in on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, even Halloween. We understand that as it is, anyway, we are the ones working all those other weekend nights when most people are communing with family and friends. We understand also even on these ‘special’ days our guests are having certain family and friends moments.

But we don’t care. We have family and friends too, and we would like to have these times with those people on just those few days of the year.

Rather than show up at home when everyone’s already asleep and the fire has died and there’s nothing but empty, sticky glasses on the tables. Rather than wake up Christmas day on 5 hours sleep when everyone else is eager and sharp for Christmas. Rather than eat a cold plate of turkey and stuffing taken from the refrigerator at 11 p.m, the rest of the family gone back to their homes.

Waiters: Happy Thanksgiving!

I don’t bemoan change. Society is always evolving, and indeed this is an evolution. Though nostalgia definitely plays a part in my feelings, I don’t complain just because it’s ‘not the way it used to be.’

I simply think the old way was better for me, for people, for society. There is a bonding that happens on those few special days (which is itself an evolution from when perhaps that kind of familial, communal bonding happened day-to-day, week-to-week, season-to-season). People are together as groups and they fairly celebrate that. I lived with my parents till I was 21, then off and on till I was 26, but the moments I remember best – some of the moments that cemented me to the family – were the gatherings at Thanksgiving and during the Christmas holidays.

I can hear the objections now. But I don’t think anyone would be the worse off if virtually everything closed at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve and didn’t reopen till Dec. 26. We’d lose some convenience expected in our everything-now modern world, but we’d be fine. What’s wrong with spending an entire day with the family? What’s wrong with making your own modest meal Christmas Eve, having some eggnog, and putting the presents under the tree – and having to suffer because you can’t buy a pack of smokes anywhere?

Is it that much of a hassle to cook your own food and do your own dishes?

Think of the meaning of the word ‘society.’ Social. Being with, interacting with, people. This brings me to the final aspect of Societal Breakdown (Collapse).

Obviously, people going to restaurants with their friends and family on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is still communal. They are having their gathering, it merely doesn’t happen to be in their homes. But I maintain it’s just not the same.

Before restaurants existed, the gathering over a meal was an important, even sacred, undertaking. But why?

Because any caveman could shake a berry bush and grub-down on the spot. He could catch a squirrel, and with a little fire, eat it in short order.

Merely eating isn’t the thing.

It’s the whole process of coming home with the food. Preparing the food. Preparing the table. Gathering the family. The participation. The anticipation. And finally, the consummation. A real day to remember.

Showing up at a restaurant at 7 p.m., knocking back a couple glasses of wine, eating some prime rib, having some conversation, paying a check, and driving away at 8:45 p.m. is not the same thing. You didn’t have Christmas Eve. You just had dinner.

And you deprived a whole crew of restaurant workers of the chance of even that small pleasure.


5 thoughts on “Societal Collapse (previously Societal Breakdown)

  1. wonker Wed, March 18, 2009 / 10:33 pm

    Interesting blog, I’ll try and spread the word.

  2. SkippyMom Thu, March 19, 2009 / 12:36 am

    Remind me not to comment on your blog again πŸ™‚ [just kidding].

    Thanks for explaining it more in depth. Very well written – I sepdically liked what you said regarding Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. Too true, too true.

    Have a great weekend.

  3. waiternotes Thu, March 19, 2009 / 1:17 am

    Wonker – Thanks! I appreciate it.

    SkippyMom – No, thank you for spurring me on. And have great weekend, yourself!

  4. matt Fri, March 20, 2009 / 11:15 pm

    This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

  5. SkippyMom Mon, May 4, 2009 / 8:11 am

    Just a lil’ visit back…but, did I seriously spell specifically as “sepdically”? LOL omgoodness….I swear Waiter I wasn’t drunk….giggle..

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