A.J. Liebling: The Morest

Opening excerpt from A.J. Liebling's 1962 essay, published in the New Yorker — The city of Chicago is like a friend of mine who often complains about the service he gets in restaurants. Over the last thirty years, I have seldom seen him when he has had no tale to recount of indignity, inconvenience, or what he considers sheer larceny suffered. He orders clams Posilipo and the waiter brings him calf’s liver, or a small steak and the waiter brings him a large one—which my friend, a hearty eater, devours rapturously, congratulating himself on having found a restaurant with such generous ideas of smallness. The waiter then charges him for a large steak, now irretrievable. My friend says, “I ordered a small steak,” and litigation looms. Another waiter, deeming his pourboire inadequate, will say “Thank,” instead of “Thanks,” and my friend, sensitive to such shades, will slowly simmer for days. “I gave him fifteen and three-eighths per cent,” he will say. “X gave him fourteen per cent, and he said ‘Thank you, sir.’ ” The odd thing is that my friend does not hallucinate these disasters. They happen before witnesses. If four or five of us have a drink together, everybody except this unfortunate man will get what he ordered, but if my friend has asked for an Old-Fashioned without fruit, the waiter will bring him a Rob Roy with an olive in it. If a waiter—even one who has never seen him before—drops soup, it will be in his lap. His faith in catastrophe is justified so continually that if he were a betting man he could have by this time parlayed a nickel into a large fortune simply by saying to his table companions at every meal, “I’ll bet that my spaghetti will be overcooked,” or “I’ll bet that there will be fruit flies in my wine,” or “I’ll bet that they will have just run out of the kind of cheese I want. Name your cheese from the bill of fare, and I will lay seven to five that if I order it they haven’t got it.”

"Chicago suffers from the same kind of magnetic or inductive pessimism. On my next-to-most-recent visit there, in 1953, Rocky Marciano, the heavyweight champion of the world, was defending his title against Jersey Joe Walcott, from whom he had won it in Philadelphia nine months earlier in a battle that ranks with Mons and Spotsylvania for sanguinary obstination."