From the Zola System


New York, New York, USA
January 30
I grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, in the Zola System, my father’s philosophy of life. He taught my brothers and me the basic life skills: how to run a street hustle, perpetrate a con or recognize when you were being hustled or conned; information we needed so we could feed our families if another Hitler came to power. My father Aron Zola was a Romanian Jew, a holocaust survivor, a black marketeer, a gun runner, a successful entrepreneur, a true citizen of Detroit. When I was 18, I rebelled against the Zola System and moved to New York City. I was fascinated with cultural heroes – Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson and the aesthetic bohemian artist lifestyle that, in my naivete, I thought they lived. Now I see they were working their own hustles on the public, just like the Old Man. Even the Manhattan dating scene runs on the Zola System. To paraphrase Mark Twain, now that the Old Man is dead, I’m shocked how much he learned. I wrote reviews for SPIN, an unpublished brunch guide for New York City, covered the death penalty, reviewed books for the New York Law Journal and profiled sports stars for the Jewish Forward. I have two crime novels and a bartenders guide to New York City that I am trying to sell. After dabbling in so many genres, I finally realized I’d been running from my subject: my father and the Zola System. The Old Man is gone now and I am his eldest son carrying on as he wanted me to do. This was not supposed to happen.


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MAY 15, 2012 4:37AM

Incinerating Chivalry

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One of the first things a bartender learns to recognize is the dreaded first date.  The awkward pauses and weird body language give it away to the average pub voyeur but the barman/maid learns to read the other signs; the initial handshake instead of hug and cheek kiss and lack of touching during the strained conversation are the dead giveaways.  Of course, there is also the quick shot the guy will generally throw back both before the meeting and when she goes to the bathroom to text her BFF.

Surprisingly, most first dates I’ve seen are successful – success in this case defined as both parties have a good time and agree to see each other again.  The few first dates I’ve seen fail have one thing in common: economic considerations i.e. who pays.  In the not so distant past, the man paid for everything without question. These days, proper etiquette in the confused dating scene dictates the check should be split.  ‘Modern’ chivalry, however, (not to mention taste and breeding) dictate the man should offer to pay and if his date says no, let’s split the check then graciously concede the point or propose she get the next round at the place.

‘Modern’ chivalry, gentlemanly behavior and dressing like an adult seem to be lost on the male members of Generation Y.

I was having a couple of whiskey’s at the infamous HMS Bounty, taking notes on a new project when a young 23 year old couple came up to the service well to order drinks.  She was an attractive brunette, dressed to impress in a tiny black dress, off white sweater and a pair of heels that brought her almost to her date’s 5’10” eye level.  He had on ripped jeans, what appeared to be a 1970’s vintage wrinkled oxford shirt and 4 days worth of facial stubble.  He literally shoved two women out of the way so they could belly up to the bar.  He asked his date what she wanted to drink and tried to get the barmaid’s attention by calling her ‘sweetie.’

Her body language, arms crossed Mona Lisa smile, led me to believe this was not only a first date but she was on the fence as to whether she should run from this boorish excuse of a boy she let take her out on a Friday night.  When the glass of white wine and Captain and Coke were delivered, the brunette handed her card over to pay for the round.  Her date was flustered when he saw her sign the bill.

“You’re paying,” he asked.  “How rude.”

Two minutes later she had to go to the bathroom and was still there when I left an hour later.  Her date was in a corner booth with some other guy.  “Jesus, she’s been in there a while,” he commented.  “I wonder which of her girlfriends she texting.”

Thus we can ascertain the concept of chivalry appears lost on this (and many other) Generation Y boy.  As I walked home, I flashed on an event when I was four or five years old.  Mother picked Rebecca Gleason and I up from pre-school.  I opened the door and jumped inside.  Mom made me get out, close the door, re-open the door and offer Rebecca a seat with an exaggerated wave of my hand.  “Trust me, this is a lesson you’ll want to remember when you start asking girls out,” she said.

Well-played Mother.  Well played.

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Great post, Alex. Very, very long time no see.

You are one observant and chivalrous son-of-a-gun. As an ex-bartender and bartender instructor (ABS), I know how true all that can be.

My wife and I had a great time this Saturday night at The Hound's Tooth Pub (owned by the same people who own Stritch's).

Great pubs in the City.

Hope you are gonna stick around the forum for a bit!