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The Furious Kvetch at Benyamin Bissell

(Photo: Me and my date on a recent Saturday night. Credit: Mattius Klum/National Geographic.)

I am getting old. I know this because a couple of nights ago, on my third trip from bed to bathroom, I took a look at my hands and they were old. As you push through your thirties and witness wrinkles and roughness slowly take the place of smoother, twenty-something skin, it gets harder and harder to tell yourself you’re still on the early end of advancing age.

My mind still says I’m many years from middle age. My hands tell me otherwise. They are now the hands of a forty-year-old man. That’s a neat trick since I’m only 38 and not even a half. Which of course means I begin my fortieth year in less than half a year’s time.

It’s no wonder I’ve been grumpy lately. I tried to keep my short fuse in check on a recent date with Gino Vesuvius, my second transit-averse, suburban Oak Parker (pastry chef Chris was the first and remember how well that worked out). All I can say is the CTA-taking, cityside blogger in me must still be looking for a challenge.

Our initial encounters were surprisingly nifty. I met Gino’s first-date drive through the suburbs and raised him a second-date ‘L’-train tour of my favorite Chicago eateries. When he expressed his affection for Cincinnati chili while we scarfed down cheese coneys at Cinner’s, I figured Saturday’s date–our third–would be a cakewalk.

The day began well, with blog–diva Jasmine Davila and me lunching and traipsing through a snow-smothered Grant Park. I should have taken our sudden, headlong flight for life across the intersection of Monroe and Columbus when we were surprised in mid-crosswalk by a phalanx of five snowplows quickly descending upon us in slush-flinging unison as the sign of impending doom it was.

You can’t say I wasn’t warned.

Gino Vesuvius met me at my Marina City high-rise home and we headed for Lou Malnati’s on Wells. I’ve lived five blocks from the iconic pizza palace for four years, but it took my first real Chicago Italian to inspire me to finally eat there.

I wanted to mark the occasion of finally meeting one. Back in New York, the primary reason I fled Queens for eight years in Brooklyn was to shorten the commute to the homes of the many (many) Brooklyn Italians I dated during my time in Gotham. Since arriving in the Midwest, though, it’s been a fallow, arid time in the Michael-loves-guidos department. So on Saturday night, Gino represented an entire city of unexplored potential for me.

I had a bad intuition about things as we made our way to the pizzeria. Not only was I feeling unexpectedly old, but as Saturday wore on I was also feeling unexpectedly symptomatic. It’s a common occurrence with Attention Deficit Disorder; when you least expect it, the regular sensory inputs of life–sights, sounds, touch, taste–can add up in your brain to a sense of absolutely overwhelming stimulation.

It’s like having a migraine and wanting to put your head under a pillow to shut off your senses. Except in this case, instead of everything in the world giving you a headache, everything just conspires to annoy you into exceeding bitchiness.

“What’s with places like Lou Malnati’s?” I asked Gino as we made our way down Illinois toward the eatery. “They’re supposed to be Chicago legends but most of their locations always turn out to be in the suburbs. I mean look at Portillo’s; they have one freaking location in the city and 7,000 in the suburbs but they call themselves Chicago’s hot dog. What the hell is that?”

“Did you forget to have your coffee again today?” Gino replied. Two dates and I was already pegged.

We didn’t last long at out first table. “I know I wanted a high-top but my snow boots don’t have any heels and they keep slipping off the foot rest.”

I asked the server if we could change tables while Gino kept cultivating the benefit of the doubt.

I opined on the second table before we even had the chance to sit. “This one’s kind of close to the next party. Can we sit in the back room instead?”

Gino answered for our server, “Only if you promise not to tell me that you feel a draft next, Lucy.”

Maybe I shouldn’t have changed my fish oil to a cheaper brand. Omega-3s are great for warding off A.D.D. annoyances, and something had to explain my forgetting to make–and drink–my usual half a pot of coffee for two days, straight.

I made eye contact with Benyamin as we entered the happily uncrowded, low-top tabled back room. A smiling Middle Eastern man with a one-word nametag, I knew immediately the Bissell in his hand spelled trouble.

Before I could parse that suspicion, I had other life-or-death struggles to attend to.

“My God, could the music be louder in here? Oh, look, they sat us right next to the speakers. And it’s 80s music, too. Not even the good kind, not even a Go-Go’s song.”

“Michael, am I going to have to sedate you?” asked Gino.

But I was too busy asking a passing server to turn the speakers down a smidge–easier on the ears, you know–to notice.

Unfortunately, after he did so, I noticed a lot. Especially the incessant, rhythmic rumble of Benyamin’s manual floor sweeper as he attacked the dining room rug with remarkable gusto, as if he were a Forty-Niner and there was gold hidden beneath the carpet.

Back and forth. Back and forth. Thrrrumph-thrrrumph. Thrrrumph-thrrrumph.

“It’s awfully quiet now, huh?” I asked.

“Look,” Gino answered in a carefully modulated tone, each word chosen especially for this specific sentence. “Let it be. It’s OK. Read the menu.”

Thrrrumph-thrrrumph. Thrrrumph-thrrrumph. Louder now; Benyamin was closing in.

I did my best to humor Gino. I looked down at my menu, but it was unintelligible to my eyes. I tried to sound the peculiar words out, but they all sounded the same. Thrrrumph-thrrrumph. Thrrrumph-thrrrumph. THRRRUMPH-THRRRUMPH!

I looked up to see Benyamin smiling down at me, about to slide his Bissell under our table.

In my defense, what I did next any native New Yorker worth their salt would have done, too: I kvetched. And then some. As Gino later recounted numerous times throughout the remainder of the evening, I damned near spit venom.

“I think you scarred the guy for life,” he told me. “He’s just standing there, innocently doing his job, when all of a sudden, in mid-sentence, your head snaps back like a cobra’s, your eyes turn black, you glare at him, lean forward, and hiss, ‘Can you pleassse not do that right nowww!!!’ Then as he’s scurrying away in fright, you put your forked tongue back in your mouth and crawl back into your turban.”

My neighbor Mindy Squarepants put it more succinctly later that night. “You’re the worst kind of high maintenance, Michael. You’re the high maintenance who doesn’t think you’re high maintenance.”

Mindy recently had a head injury, so I’m not sure if she was quoting When Harry Met Sally on purpose, but she’s right.  Still, I stewed at Gino’s repeated teasing. It was just last month, inspired by a fellow A.D.D. blogger, that I drew my line in the sand over my A.D.D. symptoms. I do my best by capsule and cognizance to rein them in, but when they occasionally break free and take a trot around the racecourse I no longer feel the need to apologize.

The world wouldn’t expect someone with a chronic condition like cancer or a missing limb to apologize for the limitations placed on them by their situation. Never again am I begging forgiveness for mine, either.

So for future reference, did I say or do what you think I just said or did? Yes, I probably just did. Now can we please stop talking about it and enjoy our Chipotle already?

Ever the gluttons for punishment, Gino and I tried to do that very thing the following night. The fourth time was not the charm; we went down in flames. I don’t blame him for it, he’s still a great guy and a faithful reader. Which means you can’t say he wasn’t warned, too.

Maybe we’ll go out again, who knows? I wouldn’t write him off just yet. Something I know more surely, what we want and what we need are not always the same thing in this life. For example, I want a man who loves me for who I am.

But it’s becoming pretty clear as I hurtle toward forty that what I need is a man who loves a challenge.

Categories: ADHD Backstory Best Of Chicago Carless Dating

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

My Bio | My Conversion | My Family Reunion


12 replies

  1. I take fish oil in liquid form, not as a giant pill–I can’t deal well with horse pills like that. It doesn’t affect me the same way.

    Mind you, stick with the Carlson’s liquid fish oil–it tastes like lemon. The cheaper brands are half the price, but taste like cod mixed in a blender. Blech!

  2. Hey Mike , How do you deal with the fish blech’s from the omaga 3 I have taken then before and could not get past that all day.. I took one today to try and see if they help my A.D.D any helpfull hints. MS

  3. Born and raised native. Back of the Yards guy. Had a 14 year relationship with a native Chicagoan Italian. He was born and raised in DePaul, back before it was the upscale ‘hood, but an Italian ghetto.

    Oddly now, just celebrated 10 years with a NY Jew (he never imagined he’d be here this long!)

    And, thin crust non-chain is were it’s at!

  4. Deep-dish pizza is Chicago-style pizza because it was born in Chicago. In the city. Downtown. Places “on the west and south sides like Elmwood Park, Harlem Ave. Berwyn, Bridgeport, Oak Lawn etc.” are all one thing: in the suburbs (or in the case of Harlem, might as well be).

    Although I will say my favorite deep dish is at Alex and Aldo’s in LaGrange Park, a stuck-in-time, shabby, old 1960s wood-paneled pizzeria lounge hidden in a strip mall. (I’d kill for their olive-stuffed fried parmesan balls.)

    My favorite pizza in Manhattan would be the John’s in the Theater District that used to be a church. Their onion & black olive pizza with the house red was a favorite lunch of me and a colleague when I used to work in Times Square back in the early 2000s, before I moved to the Second (but better) City.

    And as anyone with any sense knows, the best NYC-style thin-crust in Chicago lives at Santullo’s at North & Milwaukee in Wicker Park.

  5. Chicagoans eat thin crust pizza round cut into squares with an acidic sauce. No self respecting Chicago Italian would eat deep dish. I grew up here and never ate a slice of it until an office party in my 20s. Im not sure how this Chicago-style myth got started. The real Chicago style can be found on the west and south sides like Elmwood Park, Harlem Ave. Berwyn, Bridgeport, Oak Lawn etc. A decent downtown spot is Pizanos on State but not extraordinary. There’s some Indian folks who have done their own thing on Grand just over by wells – Razzatas – amazing. Totally unique awesome sauce.

    Just got back from NYC and I shit you not I ate pizza every meal for 3 days. Tried them all ( n the island) Rays on 6th in the village was decent. The place in Soho Ben’s was neat – especially the Sicilian. Most of the storefront slice places were sort of bland but eatable. Had to do the NY fold too.

  6. Nah, Charles. In six years I’ve learned to be stealthy with the New York Attitude. I pull no punches with it on the blog, but I keep it quietly in check during the practice of my love life.

    While I don’t blame A.D.D. for everything, it is a very powerful and wide-ranging neurological condition. There are many sub-types of it. Mine is an introspective–kind of “spacey”–variant versus the more-recognized hyperactive type.

    There are also various ways to treat A.D.D., again depending on type. Some choose to use prescription stimulant medications, which have gotten very sophisticated of late, with time-release options that help keep symptoms at bay throughout the day.

    Others choose (or without insurance, only have access to) the use of natural supplements whose efficacy has been supported in research. I prefer this road–I take Omega 3s in liquid fish oil form and B-complex vitamins to control overall symptoms, the amino acid L-Tyrosine to manage dopamine use in my brain, and when I can afford it (since the pills are more than $1 each) Phosphatidyl Serine to aid in the production of dopamine.

    All of this is to say just because one or several people that you know appear from the outside to have their A.D.D. symptoms in check, that in no way presupposes anyone else will share the same experience.

    In fact, just because looking on from the outside things seem rosy for the people you mentioned in your comment doesn’t mean that’s actually the case. Unlike me, most people with A.D.D. are a lot less open and frank about the internal and external effects the condition has on their lives. Perhaps the worst thing ADDers ever hear–and we hear it repeatedly–is that we could eradicate our symptoms if we simply tried a little harder, or that the condition is really not as bad as some of us make it out to be.

    I can assure you the effects of having A.D.D. are always significant, are never eradicated completely, and, because A.D.D. is a chronic condition based on the biological makeup of the brain and thus has no “cure”, cannot in any way be lessened by simply “trying harder” and are ever only as far away as your next missed dose of meds.

    I am happy and productive. And having A.D.D. can really suck. The two are in no way mutually exclusive.

  7. You’re blaming everything on ADD, Mike. One of my best friends has ADD, and he’s happily married. And he’s not the only example in my life – I know several people who lead happy, productive, coupled lives despite ADD.

    Have you considered that part of your problem might also be your New York personality? These Midwesterners are grossly polite; they don’t like conflict. New Yorkers are notorious for thriving on conflict. (This coming from someone who grew up in one of the secessionist states, so I can speak with authority on conflict.)

    Combine ADD with NYA (New York Attitude), and it seems to me you have an explosive combination. Perhaps you should work on both rather than just one? I’ve certainly had to tone down my SSC (Southern Superiority Complex) since moving to Chicago.

  8. In Mindy’s defense, she recently had a head injury so she may have thought her words were original. I knew they sounded familiar, though. Even funnier. Darkly, but funnier.

  9. You know that high maintenance line is from When Harry Met Sally, right? Perhaps that is some kind of sign. (Not sure what kind, but some kind for sure.)

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