As my daughter settled the restaurant bill--I tell ya, it is such a pleasure to get older and to have a son or a daughter pay for dinners!--I briefed the maître d' about why she was in this town, and why I had come visiting.
"No kidding! I was a neuro-psychology major in the undergrad," he said. The maître d' looked barely about mid-thirties in age. About my daughter's age. "But, this is what I love. The magic of the food coming together from ingredients. The wines. People having fun. This is what I wanted to do," he added.
I was genuinely happy for him. "I am so glad you found something that you love doing."
"With that major, I assume you did that as a path towards something ..." I remarked. Perhaps a pre-professional major.
"Yes. But, with this, and my wife and three kids, I am happy."
America might promote the pursuit of happiness. But, it does not mean that Americans are happy. Whether or not a government, a society, actively talks-up happiness, most people all around the world seem unhappy in their own ways, as Tolstoy phrased it.
Restaurant work, which even to the outsider is clearly a whole lot of intense work, is happiness to most who toil in that industry. Even at the neighborhood restaurant back home, the waiters and the crew in the kitchen always seem to be in good moods.
At the previous meal that my daughter took me to, the huge crowd was having a lot of fun, exactly like the maître d' at the other restaurant would love to see. The up-tempo music mix that the DJ was playing added that much more zest. "I will be back in a minute--I want to look through the glass at the people working in the kitchen," I told the daughter. The magic was happening, well-rehearsed.
Our table was by the bar and once when I looked up at a TV screen, I noticed it was a movie from years past--about two immigrant brothers who set up a restaurant business.
That movie, which I loved, was perhaps the first of the many restaurant-themed movies that I have watched in the US. Typically, the characters struggle--physically and emotionally--with everything that comes with the industry, but that is also what they are passionate about.
This maître d', with his origins in the Subcontinent, reminded me of the young immigrant chef in the movie The Hundred-Foot Journey.
The more I think about this, the more I am convinced that we live in a mad, mad world where most people do not seem to be doing things out of passion, and not out of seeing the joy in others, but, instead, they curse their ways through the bullshit jobs that they do. Whatever happened to the pursuit of happiness?