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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

And You Can't Make Me

Imagine the heaviest Southern American drawl you can coming from a rather disheveled man with missing and broken teeth. As a business owner in New York City interviewing employees for over 40 years, I have seen a lot of things - like a woman who arrived for her job interview with an electric guitar slung around her neck. But now I was in new territory - apparently someone in government was testing my fairness in hiring practices, because this man would scare the hell out of most city folk.

He said he was from somewhere in the deep South, I don't recall where. But it was deep. Real deep. And unfortunately, everything I know about the South was learned through films, particularly Deliverance and In the Heat of the Night. These films will not give you a very good impression of our Southern brothers and sisters, who are in fact renowned for their kind, sweet and hospitable manner.

However, any positive thoughts I may have had about Southerners was not going to be evoked by a scruffy man with broken and missing teeth. Nonetheless, I tried to remain fair, interviewed him and gave him a brief tour of our production area where he would be working. He appeared confident and hungry to work. He was up North for the first time in his life, seeing if he could make it here. He was staying with someone he knew in New Jersey. He seemed so terribly out of place.

A quick tour around the shop and he asserted "I can run any machine in here. And I will do anything. I'll clean toilet bowls with a toothbrush." If you can imagine this being said with an extreme southern accent, then you can appreciate why I say everyone has their limits and I had reached mine.

After discussing the candidate with an employee, I was encouraged to keep an open mind - "I don't think you should discriminate on the basis of appearance." I guess, but isn't there a limit? I decided to defer to another employee, an NYU film student. She said: "I think we're talking Deliverance." Thank you Christine. I don't need to be terrifying my employees, do I?

At 69 Bayard Street in Chinatown, we have the 69 Bayard Restaurant. This establishment has been in operation for eons and is most well known for its walls which are completely covered in one dollar bills, signed by patrons. Like Wo Hop at 17 Mott Street, 69 Bayard is open 24 hours a day - one of those things so many love about New York City and hard to find elsewhere. Like Kiev or Veselka in the East Village, 69 Bayard is often frequented by late night bar (or club) goers who want to eat after bar closings (4 AM).

As with many inexpensive New York City restaurants, 69 Bayard gets the full gamut of reviews, from the reverential, declaring it to be the best, to those who absolutely abhor the place. It certainly qualifies as an example of pick two, in this case fast and cheap (see my story here). Reading any online review site, like, can not only be informative, but also quite entertaining. Many of the most caustic reviews are actually quite comical and well written. I recommend reading Yelp reviews for entertainment as well as for information.

Once as a child, while playing with matches, I recall my father telling me to put them down. I told him "no, and you can't make me." Of course that solitary act of defiance was short lived - I put down those matches. Since that time, I have played with matches - one of the perks of being an adult is a greater freedom to make choices. I try to chose my restaurants too.

I recently passed by 69 Bayard. I popped in quickly to take a photo of the legendary dollar-covered walls. However, I did not eat there. I've eaten in my fair share of greasy, dirty looking places and one-trick is not enough to get me to pay for a pony show. Now, as an adult, I make choices. I never hired that man from the deep South and I can't tell you what the food is like at 69 Bayard because I'm not eating there. And you can't make me :)

Related Posts: Harder to Keep Full, War Against Disservice Part 2, In Your Hand, Levis, Film and Corn, Mulberry Street, Slummin', No MSG, Greasy Spoon, Hallmarks & Earmarks, At Arm's Length


Dube Juggling said...

Oh I love the institution, and wouldn't touch the food. Maybe just the fried rice. Advice to tourists go to Green Bo across the street.

Great photos.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the guy was scary... but isn't it kind of sad to be unnerved by someone's accent? Perhaps most Americans are comfortable with what discriminations we still have legally available to us. :) I am from the deep South and admire the guy's willingness to leave his comfort zone and try to find a job, any job, in a very different area. Of course I'd admire anyone from the 'deep' North (Yankees ;p) traveling down here for work... but we don't see that much. :D There are no jobs here either. :(

Brian Dubé said...

Anonymous - It wasn't the accent alone. The primary thing was his looks - disheveled, poorly dressed, poorly groomed, missing and broken teeth. The southern accent just put him in a southern film; another accent would just put him in some other film or book. I was born in northern Maine and we had people that we have people there that are the same way :)

Barcelona m'enamora said...

Thank you very much for your blog! You inspired me to do the same, but with my city, Barcelona! It's a pleasure to discover NYC day by bay without living here. But your photos make me miss's so beautiful! Congrats for the blog! :)


Anonymous said...


You didn't just put him in a movie judging by his accent, you consciously put him in possibly THE WORST MOVIES to relate to any southerner. There are plenty of movies I'm sure a man of your age has seen that depicts southerners in a much better sense, but you chose Deliverance and In the Heat of the Night!

I'm sure you've seen Cider House Rules which was based in Maine, but when you say you're from Maine as well, I don't jump to lumping you into an ether addicted or a woman suffering from self-induced abortion injuries category!

My point is, you seem fairly accepting judging from past posts...I mean, you spent a lot of time on a bench in the middle of Houston speaking with a man in 6 inch silver glitter platforms and actually grew from it, which is commendable! I don't appreciate how proud you are of judging the prospective southern employee so harshly though. I highly doubt he was an incestuous rapist character from Deliverance--in fact, he probably would have been the hardest worker you'd have encountered. If not, well then you'd just have ample ground to just fire him.

All in all, I want you to know that I think your blog in general has a great concept, but this post in particular disappointed me. Can you please try to be a little more sensitive from now on? I'm a newcomer to the city from southern Louisiana and the thought that NYC is a place of (for the most part) acceptance is what has kept me positive since relocating a month ago.

Brian Dubé said...

Anonymous - At one level, I am disappointed also. I did interview this man who was completely ill suited to work for our organization. There is a basic level of dress and grooming expected on a job interview. I doubt any employer would even have given him a second look. Knowing how I may have been unfairly judging him is what prompted my discussing this with my employees. All were much younger and typically very accepting of race, creed and color. However, keep in mind that a comment about this man and his triggering of images from a film depicting southerners in a very negative light was made independently by an employee. All in my office were alarmed at the prospect that I would even consider such a candidate.
I may be perhaps more transparent then others in my writings and be willing to bare my soul and thoughts, for better or for worse. I do try to be sensitive, but I do not want to sanitize my writing to appear to be free of bias. This man was an extreme case and unfortunately, those were the things evoked.