The tax-bite diet: Hold the caviar, hide the spoons


October 19, 1990|By ROGER SIMON

It is now clear that Congress intends to wipe out the federal deficit by taking away the money of rich people, stripping them down to their underwear and making them ride in cages through the streets.

This is only fair. The American dream has always been to be as successful as you can be. A child born in poverty could work his way into wealth. This was the American way.

Now, however, Congress has decided that nobody in America should be wealthier than they are.

But how do we define "wealthy"? By how much you earn? How much you have invested? How much you have in the bank?

And do we subtract how much you owe? Or whether you have to give half of it to Ivana Trump?

It gets very complicated. To a person living in utter poverty in Appalachia, anyone who earns $50,000 a year would be a very, very rich person.

But to Johnny Carson, anyone who earns $50,000 a year would be his pool boy.

Obviously, a new standard for defining wealth must be found. And I think I have it.

From now on, anyone in America who eats in a restaurant more than once a week is rich and deserves to be taxed until he no longer has any money.

What's that? You eat in a restaurant more than once a week and you're not rich?

Of course you're not. That's because all your money goes for restaurant meals!

I read an Associated Press story just the other day about a restaurant in New York that was responding to the new reality of American hard times.

The name of the joint is Huberts, and I'm betting it's one of those places where there is a guy sitting in the washroom who expects a buck when he hands you a towel.

In any case, the story said that "Huberts used to sell caviar and truffles. Its tables were set with fish forks and fish spoons. Waiters wore designer uniforms. And ties and jackets were required of the customers. A dinner for two cost $165."

Now, however, times have changed. "Today, there is no caviar and the fish forks are stored away."

(The story makes no mention of what happened to those fish spoons, however. This troubles me for two reasons: One, I worry that they may have been dumped in landfills where they won't biodegrade for 12,000 years. And, two, I have no idea what a fish spoon is.)

Back to Huberts and its new policy: "Waiters wear their own slacks and shirts. There are more tables pushed closer together."

Now, the punch line. The prices at Huberts have plummeted to reflect the new lack of buying power of the American consumer: "The price for two is about $100."

Sort of makes you want to run right over there and grab a bite, doesn't it?

But, wait, the chef-owner of Huberts has an explanation for his drastic price drop. "I felt we were in a vastly changing world and that I needed to keep up," said Len Allison.

Yes, the world is vastly changing. And it may change some more. Because under my new deficit reduction plan, anyone who pays $100 for two in a restaurant would be declared rich, all his money would be confiscated, all his credit cards seized and anybody passing outside the restaurant would be invited to come inside and slap him up-side his head for five or six minutes until he regained his senses.

I think Americans would respond to my plan. In fact, they are already responding. Americans are eating out less and less. Surveys have been done and they suggest -- amazingly -- that some people are getting tired of paying $30 for a piece of chicken.

I distinctly remember my first $30 piece of chicken. I saw it on the menu and asked the waiter if, for that price, it came with a set of tires.

"How tres amusent," he said. "How tres, tres droll."

OK, so how is this $30 chicken prepared? I asked.

"It is very lightly cooked in safflower oil and arrayed on a bed of radicchio," he said.

Fried chicken, I said. You're saying this is a piece of fried chicken?

"I should point out," he pointed out, "that this is free-range chicken."

What does that mean? It was allowed to drive the family car on weekends?

"It means it was not cruelly cooped up in a chicken house but allowed to roam freely and humanely," the waiter said.

Right up until they cut its head off, I said.

"Well, we are a Gloomy Gus, aren't we?" he said.

So I had the 30-buck fried chicken. And I'm glad I did. Because today it would cost 50 bucks. And anyone who can afford to spend that on chicken deserves to be taxed until it hurts.

I'm sorry, but that's the way I feel. The average price for dinner for one in New York for a three-course meal, one drink and tip in the city's most highly rated restaurants is $61.In Los Angeles, the second-most expensive restaurant city in America, it is $43. I couldn't find a figure for Baltimore, but I figure it's somewhere around $30. And that includes at least a 15 percent tip, which you have to give these days or else the waiter mugs you on the way out.

But as more and more of our money has to go into our gas tanks rather than into our gullets, how many of us can still afford these kinds of prices?

George Rice, a spokesman for Consumer Reports on Eating Share Trends, which tracks restaurant industry data, described the downward spiral of American eating trends this way to the Associated Press: "It's Chez Paul's to Bennigan's and Bennigan's to Denny's and then Denny's to McDonalds. That's been going on for a few years and it will accelerate."

And soon, government tax collectors will be stationed at restaurants all over America to keep track of who is eating what so they can identify rich people and tax them into oblivion.

So next time you go out to eat, be careful: Make it a small order of fries.

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