Yes, I’m aware that these two things make no sense together. But the nice thing about being the sole proprietor of BE A MAN, LLC is that I can pretty much do what I want, and this week, I decided I wanted to eat meat with a friend and start using a signature suitable for an adult. And maybe the two things do have something to do with each other! You’ve probably never thought about what these two manly activities could possibly have in common until this moment. How foolish you’ve been.
To be honest, my pal Matt wanted to be a MANtor, so the two of us separately brainstormed about what we could do together. He came back with the idea of taking me on a journey of carnivorous pleasures, while I wanted him to help me create a better signature after seeing his one day. It puts my signature, which hasn’t changed since I learned cursive, to shame.
Matt asks me to meet him at Keens Steakhouse, a former pipe room turned eatery. When I walk through the doors, I’m immediately drawn to the ceiling, which is filled with thousands of tobacco pipes. Their website totes this establishment as having the largest collection of long stem tobacco pipes in the whole world. Given my predilection towards Virginia’s famous export, it appears that Matt hit the bullseye.
When Matt arrives, he has own bit of serendipity to share. On his subway ride over, he noticed a man reading a book entitled “Be A Man!” It appears the universe itself has validated our choice of time and place for porterhouses and penmanship.
The maître d’ leads us upstairs through hallways surrounded by dark wood paneling, old framed drawings, and a seemingly endless supply of tobacco pipes hanging from the ceiling. When we are finally seated at our table in a small dining room, the cacophonous noise and frantic energy of the city streets below us seem miles away.
I ask Matt to elaborate on his meat education, and I am surprised to find out that his interest in choice cuts is a recent one. His uncle and two cousins come to New York every year for the Big East Basketball Tournament, but after their team inevitably loses in the first or second round, they scalp the rest of their playoff tickets. With the money they make, they eschew the hot dogs and fast food they consume at the beginning of the trip and start splurging on the finest steakhouses New York has to offer. They’ve invited Matt to join them every year since he moved to the city, and he’s been able to partake in a first-hand education on the finer meats.
I leave it up to Matt to make our food selections. Though we find that we both enjoy a good filet mignon, he decides on the porterhouse for two because I’ve never had that cut before. He orders it medium rare since I tell him that I’m hoping to be more adventurous in my meat ordering, having mostly stayed in the region between well done and medium well growing up. When I visited Q in Paris, I made the mistake of ordering my steak frites medium well, which ended up on my plate still mooing. Though I didn’t make that mistake again, it did have the positive effect of opening my palette up to the other side of medium. This seems like a good opportunity to continue that trend.
I also mention to Matt my love for all kinds of condiments. I explain that my dad used to tease me for ordering A-1 at a nice steakhouse. Having practically grown up in his father’s restaurant, my dad told me that it was an affront to the chef to drown my steak in sauce. (Don’t worry, Dad, I didn’t make the same mistake here.)
However, I still ask Matt for his thoughts regarding sauce on steak, pointing out the béarnaise and au poivre sauces on the menu next to the filet mignon. Matt says that the preparation and quality of the food will determine if he uses sauce or not – a kind of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach that makes sense. I wonder if drowning my food in sauce is a throwback to my days of putting sugar packets in Coca-Cola – a childlike desire for extreme taste. There’s just something inherently manly (possibly cavemanly?) about raw food and so for today’s exercise, there’s no other option.
We dive into the porterhouse as soon as it lands on the table. It’s succulent, juicy, and just the right amount of salty. The preparation seems to be minimal – much like Matt’s thoughts on sauces, when the cut is this prime, there’s no need for any other flavors to dilute the taste. After a few minutes of silence where we give our full attention to the delicious, delicious meat, I propose a shift to our next order of business – my lousy signature.
I’ve never been very happy with the way my signature looks, but then again, I haven’t done much to change it. The way I write my last name makes it appear as though I’ve given up on the signature halfway through. When I ask Matt how he managed to develop such a striking John Hancock, he says he has never thought about it consciously until I asked him to help me with mine. In fact, he always thought his penmanship actually deteriorated over the years. He feels that as soon as he “took the sticks out of [his] ass and grew up a little,” his writing got sloppier and less controlled. But I think his writing looks much freer compared to his attempt to show me what his handwriting looked like before. It shows a certain self-confidence and sophistication as opposed to the insecurity and “seven-year-old with his first library card” that mine evokes.
While searching online for help with my penmanship before meeting with Matt, I found a study whose results proved that CEOs with larger signatures ran worse performing companies than CEOs with smaller signatures. Matt and I agreed that these larger signatures are too self-absorbed, and he also advised me to stay away from what he called “sound effect signatures” – signatures that seem to be the visual interpretation of a noise, like ones with a large SWOOSH! or little scribbles that evoke the pitter-pattering of mice feet. These too smack of over-compensation.
Matt likes the alliteration in his name (his last name also starts with an M) and has always been fascinated by the idea of people who sign with a solitary X, so he’s incorporated both elements into his signature. I really like the idea of focusing on one or two things I like about my name and pulling focus towards that instead of my lackluster handwriting. I have an accent over the e in my last name, since my great-grandfather shortened my surname upon immigrating to America from Greece. Matt likes the accent as well, and after we gorge on the last of the meat, we experiment with my signature, attempting to split the difference between something too boring and robotic and one that appears to have been written with a feather quill.
I realize it might not be the most manly act to obsess over your signature, but tossing one out with little effort is just not something I can do. Matt gave me a lot to think about, and though I still haven’t discovered what I’d like my new signature to look like, I at least have a little bit to chew on. Just like we chewed on some delicious, delicious meat. Okay, fine, maybe a signature and a steak have nothing in common. I tried.
ON THE MAN SCALE…
I’ll give eating a porterhouse a 2.80, and having an adult signature a 3.50, so that averages to a 3.15. I don’t think red meat is going to disappear anytime soon, but it does seem like a strong handwritten signature might be losing its importance in our email age. I may not be beyond the beta testing of my own signature, but I can tell you that it feels good to be moving past the illegible scribbles that used to define me.
NEXT WEEK: Hey, is this thing on? Seriously, folks…