To "Paper or plastic?" and "Obama or McCain?" add yet another wrenching personal choice: "White napkin or black?"
Forget square plates. Small plates. Sauce-drizzled plates. Plate as a verb. The newest craze in fine dining is not on the table but on your lap: the color-coordinated serviette. The idea is to keep lint from marring the dining experience.
At the Capital Grille in downtown Baltimore and at the chain's other locations, the staff scopes out what diners are wearing and swaps out napkins accordingly.
Sometimes they ask the diner's preference - as when I arrived for lunch the other day in a gray-and-black checkered skirt. And no, I don't usually eat that well. And it showed in the puzzled look I gave the hostess who'd sized up my outfit and declared, "You could really go either way."
She then held up a white napkin and a black one - what, no houndstooth? - to clarify that she wasn't, you know, suggesting something else, not that there's anything wrong with that.
"We do get a lot of business clientele in the afternoon hours, and they are wearing dark pants," said hostess Eni Meka. "We simply don't want anyone to walk away with lint on their pants if they're coming in nicely dressed."
With all restaurateurs have to worry about these days - from the health of the economy to the health of the Chinese farmed fish they're serving - somehow they still find time to fret about lint.
Needlessly, for the most part, says Rick Sarai of Linens of the Week, a textile rental company. While 100-percent cotton napkins shed after repeated laundering, most napkins are made of more durable fabric.
"If it's a poly-blend product, you wouldn't have any lint, but I think the perception is out there," said Sarai, general manager of the firm's Baltimore plant. Nevertheless, he said, the trend is growing - and trickling down to some casual restaurants.
"If they're wearing dark colors, then they get a black napkin," says Sarah Thomerson, hostess at Macaroni Grill in Columbia.
There are some upscale holdouts. Charleston in Harbor East, a place so fancy that wait staff refold napkins every time a diner goes to the bathroom, offers only white linens, all-cotton ones at that.
Not to worry. Sarai said Charleston's napkins, made of 500-thread-count Egyptian cotton, are too primo to shed lint.
Maryland law is not allowed to be absurd. Really. A ruling says so
No matter which way you lean on slots, rest assured the outcome for Maryland will not be absurd. There's case law against that.
"[R]esults that are unreasonable, illogical or inconsistent with common sense should be avoided." So says the legal citation from what must have been a doozy of a case, Kaczorowski v. City of Baltimore.
Maryland Assistant Attorney General Bonnie Kirkland cited that bit nearly a year ago when responding to state Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, who'd asked her to interpret part of the slots legislation.
Kasemeyer had inquired about the part stating that if slots passes, "The General Assembly may only authorize additional forms or expansion of commercial gaming if approval is granted through a referendum authorized by an act of the General Assembly in a general election by a majority of the qualified voters in the state."
It's the "majority of the qualified voters in the state" bit that Kasemeyer questioned. At least until now, ballot questions have passed when the yes votes simply outnumbered the nos. In this case, before casinos or even more slot machines could come, would a majority of Maryland's 3.4 million registered voters have to vote yes?
That would be kind of a high bar, which you'd think would concern gambling interests and comfort slots foes, though each side says the opposite, at least publicly.
Said Wayne Wright, executive secretary of the pro-slots Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association: "I don't think at this point anybody's looking that far down the road."
Scott Arceneaux, a senior adviser to Marylanders United to Stop Slots, on the other hand, offered what he called "the Republican business argument": "If the legislation means what it says, it clearly places almost an unreachable hurdle" for adjusting the number of machines or slots locations. "There's absolutely no business flexibility to try to make the thing work."
In any case, Kirkland contends the legislation doesn't mean what it says, and that a simple majority of the votes cast would do the trick.
"If 'a majority of the qualified voters in [the] State' is read literally, the result would be to require more votes than likely would be cast in the entire election," she wrote. "Such a result would be absurd."
Connect the dots
Lots of pageantry - a special Mass, the Handel Choir, the Knights of Columbus in capes and plumed hats - as semiretired Baltimore County Circuit Judge Frank Cicone was honored the other night. The St. Thomas More Society of Maryland gave him its annual Man For All Seasons Award. "He's renowned for his ability to bring parties together and resolve cases," said Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, a former recipient of the award who was on the bench with Cicone. ... The same day that Mayor Sheila Dixon and three city employees set off on a six-day, $17,000 jaunt to a pair of Sister Cities in Egypt, Baltimore forked over $2,900 to rent a tent and banquet equipment for the Baltimore-Piraeus Sister City Committee. Does this cash-strapped city ever see a return on this stuff? The answer came last week in the form of a free concert series performed by the De Coolsingers, a men's choir from Rotterdam, Baltimore's Sister City in the Netherlands.