no_tobogganI woke up this morning thinking about Morton’s. Yes, the steakhouse chain.

No, I was not lying in bed like some condemned prisoner dreaming of his last meal.

This was more like an object lesson in “be careful what you read before going to bed.” Because what I read just before the lights went out last night was this item about an incident last week at the Morton’s in Nashville:

How quickly can the insensitive actions of an employee destroy a restaurant’s reputation in the social media era? In the case of the Nashville outpost of Morton’s Steakhouse, it took about 48 hours.

I’d seen at least one reference to this incident earlier in the day; Morton’s was in the news — i.e. my “news feed” – which is decidedly not the same thing. I pretty much sloughed it off as more of the usual daily noise/distraction until it showed up again in, literally, the eleventh hour.

When I woke up, with the light of the full moon pouring through my bedroom window, this ridiculous business kept running around in my addled semi-consciousness: Something is not quite right here…

Now, I really don’t have any skin in this game. I’ve been to a Morton’s maybe twice in my life. In the almost 20 years I have lived here, I’ve been to the Morton’s in Nashville once, though I’ve probably driven by it hundreds of times. I guess it’s part of my landscape, but as much as I am a healthy red-blooded American beefeater, I don’t tend to frequent high-end steak joints. I”m more a “weekly cheeseburger” kind of guy.

The facts – to the extent they are readily discernible – are these: a large-ish party (16 people) availed themselves to Morton’s for a seasonal feast, running up a tab in the neighborhood of $2,000. Near the end of the evening one of the guests, a cancer patient whose chemotherapy treatments cause some body temperature regulation issues (he gets cold), put some kind of wool cap on his chemo-induced, hairless head.

And then all hell broke loose.

If Zac Brown can appear in public all the fucking time wearing a wool beanie, what’s the harm in one patron with a medical condition wearing one in a restaurant? There’s a dress code? Oh, please.

Well, once the story hit the Internets, you’d think that John Lennon had said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, or that poor Natalie Maines had questioned George Bush’s senseless march to an unjustifiable war.

Suddenly Morton’s, a company that has quietly gone about its business for 35 years – has become the pariah of the social media universe.

Hundreds of angry posts to Yelp. A deluge on the company’s Facebook page. A firestorm on Twitter.

Most, obviously, from people who had no direct connection to the actual event.

Which leads me to conclude that this particular uproar has little to do with the unfortunate, zealous, and dispassionate conduct of one corporate employee whose governing principal was probably something along the lines of “I don’t want to lose my job.”

It is, rather, a disturbing illustration of the pernicious, unforgiving, mob-rule quality of “social” media.

This wasn’t just “that was a bad call.”

This was “Hey, somebody fucked up. Let’s pile on!”

In a culture where the robber barons who 86’d the global economy all live free, we demand the head of a restaurant manager who thought she was doing her job.

It now appears that Morton’s corporate establishment has swept in and offered amends: they have made a contribution in the amount of the party’s check (~$2,000) to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital (Marlo Thomas, feel free to weigh in…) and are revisiting their policies with regard to suitable attire and appropriate local management response to transgressions therefrom.

More to the point: The patron whose haberdashery selection caused the furor in the first place has accepted the company’s apology and, in the spirit of the season, has expressed his sincere desire that nobody lose their job over the incident. I hope the company accedes to the man’s request as a condition of their rehabilitation.

Yes, the manager who objected to the patron wearing a beanie in her establishment should probably reconsider her priorities. Some kind of sensitivity training is probably in order.

But the people who have gone ballistic over a subject about which they have no actual connection… they should be ashamed of themselves.

For whatever it’s worth, this is precisely the kind of environment that David Eggers forewarns us about in The Circle. It’s not in the future. It’s now.

Apparently, in the age of “social media,” the expression “it’s none of your business” is no longer operative.

And I’m going back to sleep now.