Two Fridays ago, my wife and I took our 11-month-old infant to Marcy’s Diner – the same place that had made national headlines earlier that week when its owner yelled at a screaming toddler, then set off an epic and exhausting social-media argument between overprotective parents and all the people who are fed up with overprotective parents.
Bringing an infant to a place whose owner brags on Facebook about being “a foul-mouthed [expletive] with a short fuse!” might not seem like the best idea.
But my wife and I used to visit Marcy’s pretty frequently, in the days before our daughter Mona was born. The combative and unapologetic voice of Marcy’s-on-the-internet didn’t really match our experiences of Marcy’s-in-real-life.
Still, I’ll admit that we did feel a little nervous as we walked to the diner. Would bringing a baby to Marcy’s be seen as an act of provocation? More importantly – would Mona be quiet?
But after a 30-minute wait to be seated at the counter (the diner’s business was booming that week) we were immediately put at ease as one of the staff gave Mona a friendly welcome and Mona returned her most charming smile.
Over the course of our meal, the other waitstaff all took a moment out of their extremely busy morning to bring Mona an extra placemat to crumple up in her hands, or play peek-a-boo, or pick up the spoons she kept dropping on the floor.
When Mona is happy, she sometimes let out a short, very loud and piercing scream of joy. This happened once or twice during our meal (what can I say? she really likes crumpling placemats), and each time, my wife and I both tensed up, ready to run her out of there. Instead, the staff behind the counter immediately put us at ease, telling us “she’s so happy!” or giving Mona a funny face.
As far as I can tell, these are the things that the internet fight has changed about Marcy’s: you can now buy a “I got yelled at” bumper sticker at the cash register; it’s busier; the waitstaff bends over backwards to be nice to young kids (and put their parents at ease).
Something that hasn’t changed: Marcy’s still serves decent diner food at low prices and a sense of humor.
Some of the things that diner owner Darla Neugebauer has said and written on her Facebook page in the aftermath of the controversy are pretty loathsome. But anyone who’s ever worked in a customer service job – and these days, that’s most of us – can understand where she’s coming from. Besides that, most Mainers are familiar with fighting down the dark desire to tell off some clueless tourists.
So, while I wouldn’t want to hang out with Neugebauer in my spare time and talk about parenting techniques, I’m fine with exchanging some small-talk with her as she makes my breakfast.
Besides, getting some sass is part of the diner experience.
At a diner, everything the cooks and waitstaff do is on full display. Sometimes they need to blow off some steam or josh a customer who’s being difficult. If this happens to you, you’re not supposed to take umbrage; you’re supposed to be humbled into being a better person who appreciates how hard they’re working to feed you.
Most of the things we do on the internet are also on full display. But, unlike a diner counter, there’s no pretense of hospitality or bonhomie on Facebook – instead it’s mostly narcissism, outrage and advertisements.
The Marcy’s incident is an ideal internet fight because both sides can accuse the other of raising kids the wrong way, which elicits righteous indignation, which elicits angry comments, which elicits even more angry comments from the other side, ad infinitum.
With the online fight bringing hundreds of new customers through the door, Marcy’s may have just discovered a way to squeeze new profits out of the internet’s vast reserves of bilious cranks. Maybe it’s time for them to start planning an expansion.