Seize the day. We all support the sentiment, of course, but the complete line from Horace makes it much more compelling:
Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.
Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.
I'm certainly more motivated to do something today when I admit that tomorrow might not come. And the message of this post is: Don't wait. Do it today. You might not have another chance.
If that's sufficient motivation for you, great--you may not need to read any further. What follows is a discursive, even self-indulgent piece of writing intended to preserve some beautiful memories that will serve to remind me why it's so important not to wait when an opportunity presents itself.
In February 1946, George Orwell published an essay in the Evening Standard titled "The Moon Under Water":
My favourite public-house, the Moon Under Water, is only two minutes from a bus stop, but it is on a side-street, and drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights...
If you are asked why you favour a particular public-house, it would seem natural to put the beer first, but the thing that most appeals to me about the Moon Under Water is what people call its "atmosphere."
Orwell goes on to describe his pub in great detail, down to the color of the crockery and the terms of endearment used by the barmaids. What matters most to him, though, is the way these characteristics add up to a warm, welcoming environment. I'm so enchanted by Orwell's vision of this "great, good place" that my heart always sinks at his sudden revelation, even though it comes as no surprise:
But now is the time to reveal something which the discerning and disillusioned reader will probably have guessed already. There is no such place as the Moon Under Water.
That is to say, there may well be a pub of that name, but I don't know of it, nor do I know any pub with just that combination of qualities...
But, to be fair, I do know of a few pubs that almost come up to the Moon Under Water. I have mentioned above ten qualities that the perfect pub should have and I know one pub that has eight of them. Even there, however, there is no draught stout, and no china mugs.
For the past two years Amy and I have enjoyed our own Moon Under Water--not in idealized form, but an actual place, a restaurant called the Moss Room. It opened in the basement of the newly revamped California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park in 2008, but we only discovered it in 2010 after Amy went there for lunch with colleagues.
A unique combination of factors made the Moss Room so special to us: It was within walking distance of our apartment in the Richmond, and even on a cold, rainy night walking up to Golden Gate Park is a lovely experience. The physical space was enchanting, starting with the after-hours entrance at the side of the museum that made the place feel like a speakeasy, a feeling that grew as you took the stairs below-ground. And the food was routinely outstanding--I can honestly say that I loved every single dish I ever had there, and we ate there a lot.
But the primary reason we loved the Moss Room was the people--manager and sommelier Kristen Capella, bartender Robert Baker, servers Tuni and Ashley and host Katherine (whose last names we never learned), and "new" manager Rafael Jimenez Rivera, who took Kristen's place late last year after she was asked to help open AQ downtown. They were all spectacularly great at their jobs. Kristen was such a master of her wine list that after our first visit we never ordered a bottle again--we just asked her to pick for us, and she inevitably found the most fascinating wines that perfectly complemented our meal. Robert was, bar none (heh), the best bartender I've ever had the pleasure of patronizing, and his passion for the history and art of his craft informed every drink. Tuni, Ashley and Katherine made us feel truly appreciated and cared for. We usually sat at a table of Tuni's--#50, at the far right in the picture above--and she was always candid (and right) about the menu's strengths and weaknesses on a given night, and uncanny in her ability to both predict and remember our likes and dislikes. And all of them were simply engaging, interesting people who made a really good restaurant a great one.
To be clear, Amy and I love eating out, and eating and drinking at the Moss Room was a very pleasurable experience. But we also discovered the Moss Room at a particularly important time in our lives. Amy's dad and a student of mine passed away in 2009, and we spent the next year in a state of grief and shock, compounded by a number of additional personal struggles. We were emerging from that period when Amy first visited the Moss Room, and it was an incredible gift to find this little community--one that also happened to serve amazing food and cocktails--just a short walk from our home. It was a respite, a place to let go of our cares and learn to relax and have fun again.
You'll notice that I've been using the past tense--last month, just after Christmas, we learned that the Moss Room was going to close, immediately, and that New Year's Eve was going to be its final night of operation. From a business perspective, I wasn't entirely surprised--it's an offbeat, out-of-the-way location, and many nights it was well under capacity--but from a personal perspective I was stunned. I actually cried.
But as much as I'll miss the Moss Room, I've made peace with its abrupt disappearance from my life because Amy and I seized an opportunity not only to have one last meal there but also to thank the people we knew. As Christmas approached, we felt so grateful for everything they had done for us that we decided to get them presents. Nothing big--just something to express our appreciation and let them know that they had made a small but meaningful difference in our lives. We stopped in to drop off the gifts and to have a quick cocktail--I don't remember why, but we weren't planning to stay, and almost left. But at the last minute we said, what the hell, we won't get a chance to come back until after New Year's, let's stay. So we did.
It was an amazing meal, as expected. Robert's cocktails were perfect, and Tuni was incredibly indulgent and extra dishes turned up in between courses, and we just couldn't have been any happier. I'd be upset if we'd missed that last meal, that last chance to say goodbye to the Moss Room, even though we didn't know that was what we were doing at the time. But I'd be much more upset if we'd missed that chance to say "Thank you" to the people who made that experience--and so many like it--possible for us.
I know we'll continue to see Kristin at AQ, and we'll surely see Robert at his next bar, and hopefully we'll cross paths with Tuni and Ashley and Katherine again. But we'll never have the Moss Room again--that little community will never be re-assembled. So the simple lesson I've learned is: Stay for dinner; there may not be another meal--and thank someone who deserves it; you may not get another chance to let them know how you feel.