Friday, November 30, 2007

Food TeeVee

Not to be confused with Mike TeeVee (from the original "Willy Wonka"), I’m a big foodie, as anyone who sees me knows…not “Jabba The Hut” big, but a food fan for sure…

My peeps and I often talk about the shows on the Food Network. I don’t watch nearly as much TV as I used to, but I still tune into the Food Network now and then. I have my favorites, and the not so favorite, shows and hosts.

I know what I like, and I’m not afraid to tell you. While “Everyday Italian” has a couple of things I like (I’ll give you 36 guesses), I find the soft-focus (the old “Barbara Walters” trick) annoying, the food unapproachable, and that the host’s name (Giada) could be mistaken for a terrible stomach virus. Believe me, even if you put her in HD with a low-cut blouse, I still might not tune in, except for that cavatelle with shrimp and tasso ham.

Rachael Ray—formerly “Yum-Oh”, now bordering on “Yuk-Oh.” It looks like she’s getting paid in products from Dunkin’ Donuts. Don’t get me wrong, I like her, and find her bubbly effervescence fun, but now she’s everywhere…if she keeps eating, she’ll really be everywhere.

Emeril-I feel like I need to hire Robert DeNiro, playing Al Capone in “The Untouchables” and go “Bam!” By that I mean with a baseball bat across his mouth. (Breaking News-Emeril has been canned! Read about it here: http://www.nypost.com/seven/11272007/tv/bam__emeril_gone_858335.htm)

Paula Deen--the high-pitched cackle, the crazed trailer-park accent…she’s great if you want a recipe for chicken-fried pork chop smothered in cream gravy, a side of fried okra and another side of double-fried potatoes and a fried Twinkie for dessert. Stent please?!.

Alton Brown-love the dweeb with the glasses. What’s not to like?

Used to love the original “Iron Chef”, and I still like Masaharu Morimoto. “I just spoke to the Iron Chef. He said he’s never cooked with sea urchin vomit before, but is looking forward to it as the secret ingredient.”

Guy Fieri-Anyone who has a show on diners is ok in my book (my Dad is a former diner owner). But, enough with the street vernacular and whack expressions like “Dude, that’s money!” or “Dude, you’re in it to win it with that!” or “Dude, that’s off the hook!” Plus, he’s got more tattoos than the Illustrated Man. Dude, I really don’t want you touching my food.

Speaking of tattoos, it seems to me that there are only a few categories of shows on TV: CSI, food, tattooing, or rebuilding motorcycles or cars. I’m thinking we could at least combine a few of these and have Rachael and Giardia getting tattoos, or maybe “Pimp My Rachael”. You can skip the Paula Deen episode.
-----------------------------------------
I also watch some locally produced shows, but one to avoid, for me, is “Phantom Gourmet.” I cannot tell you how much I do not enjoy this show, but this past week really hammered it home for me. At least most weeks there are actual reviews, but this week, we got treated to “credit card roulette.”

For the unitiated, this version of roulette is where a half-dozen really wealthy, but equally obnoxious, people go to dinner at a really expensive restaurant. They all hand over a credit card with a high limit, and through the night, one by one, a credit card is removed so that the last credit card remaining picks up the tab. Yeah, this is riveting TV. Do I really care about which one gets stuck with the check? Do I really want to watch these people stuff their faces, along with their bloated egos? Why is this interesting? Hello, am I missing something?

By the way, if there was any doubt, we all know that this show and the Phantom are less than impartial. Firefly’s and Strega, among others, advertise heavily on this show, and one of the Andleman boys even has an appetizer named after himself on the Firefly’s menu. Now wait a minute, here’s a shocker…Firefly’s is highly rated by the Phantom. Can you believe it?! Who would have thought? This show is responsible for bringing mediocrity to your palate, and I for one, can see through it. That’s why I’m here for you…

Gratuitous shout-out: For all you ocular needs, see Dr. Hugh Cooper, adult and pediatric ophthalmologist to the stars…email me for his phone number.

You’ve been a great audience. Don’t forget to tip your waitress…enjoy 10cc (Does anyone else know the significance of the band’s name? You’ve got to just know this…)

Death of The Daredevil

Today, we lost an American Icon--the original Legendary Daredevil, Evel Knievel.

Like every boy growing up in the ‘70s, I was mesmerized by the antics and attempts of Evel. From jumping over the double-decker busses in England to the greatest stunt attempt ever-the rocket-cycle jump over Snake River Canyon. Of course that failed, but the build-up, the hype, and then the broadcast on A.B.C.’s Wide World of Sports was all we talked about in 4th grade. I actually learned where Idaho was, just because of Snake River. He was cool...He was hip...He was America.

I remember being on vacation in Connecticut back in the early 70s, and my parents took us to a drive-in movie. It was a double feature: “The Evel Knievel Story” (starring George Hamilton) and “Macon County Line” (starring Max Baer, Jr.). I don’t remember much about “Macon County Line” (really, does anyone?), but I remember “Evel”.

I had the requisite apparel (t-shirt with a red, white a blue “Evel Knievel” logo) and the best toy ever-an Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle You mount it on a crank device, wind it up and reverse the crank to release the bike. That thing would take off, lose control, and crash into something, throwing the action figure off the bike-just like the real Evel!

Evel was larger than life. Little did we know as kids that he was a high-school dropout, a drinker and drug user, a womanizer and abuser. He practically killed a movie executive with an aluminum bat after the Snake River jump failure. But, mired in the depression of the early 70s, America needed a hero, and he was happy to oblige. Television’s mega-hit, “Happy Days” even used him as a basis for the Fonz jumping stuff with his bike. Of course, that episode lives forever with the expression “jumping the shark.” Well, Evel himself never jumped the shark, even with Hepatitis C! He will forever remain America’s Daredevil…warts and all. Evel is dead. Long live Evel!

Here's a sample of the greatness...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wsq3dWTrRWA

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Wishes

On this holiday, let me wish you all a happy and joyous Thanksgiving and time well-spent with family and friends.

Eric

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Butchers...of language

This has been a bug in my ass (and if you know me, that’s a big bug…) for a couple of weeks, and now having seen the following being advertised on television, I can’t hold back any longer.

A few weeks ago, I was at Quiznos (Mmmm, toasty!) getting a salad. I noticed they had an entirely new menu (really just new ways to feed you irradiated, pre-fab food) and I saw a sign for the “Sammies Special”. I ask the food wench working there “what’s the Sammies Special, who’s Sammie and why is he or she special?” After a question like this, she probably thinks I’m special.

She says I have a choice of “sammiches.” What???!!! What the (expletive deleted)???!!! “You know, a sammich”. Geez, last time I checked, the word was “sandwich.” It has an “n”, a “d”, and a “w” in it. By the way, no “m”. When speaking, I usually pronounce those consonants, don’t add ones that aren’t necessary, and don’t pronounce words like a troglodytic half-wit that just rolled out of the hills in Appalachia (and not the Appalachia of which Aaron Copeland composed wonderful themes). Quiznos could single-handedly be responsible for the dumbing down of America. Run a huge ad campaign, push your “Sammies” and turn us Lemmings into a bunch of illiterates. The Earl of Sammich must be rolling in his grave.

Speaking of Quiznos, it reminds me of the Cold Stone Reamery. Quiznos is trying to convince us that they have created a new, cutting-edge way of serving a sandwich—HOT! First of all, I bet you as soon as they discovered fire, the cavemen were toasting Woolly Mammoth over an open flame. I’ve always thought that mammoth tastes better a little cooked. “Nigiri mammoth” just doesn’t do it. I digress…Well, I’d like to say this to Mr. Quiznos (actually Rick Schaden): Famous Pizza in Pinefield was doing this from the dawn of time. Nothing like a large roast beef with everything and melted provolone from Famous. I haven’t been there in 20 years, but the memory of the beefy deliciousness is as strong as ever.

Why the comparison to Cold Stone Reamery? Like Quiznos, they march into a new market, claiming they’re offering something so new, so cutting edge, that people will flock to them. Reamer’s cutting-edge concept? Mixing toppings right into the ice cream while you watch. Pardon me, I need to stop yawning…GMFB! In the 70s, Steve’s was doing that, whether in Cambridge, Somerville, Fanuil Hall, or in outlets attached to D’Angelos (now featuring toasted subs) all across Massachusetts. Not just Steve’s, but Emack & Bolios, Bart’s in Amherst, or Herbie’s in Framingham. C’mon Cold Stone, do your market research. Know your audience--no one consumes more ice cream per capita than people that live in New England. We have high expectations, and you can’t meet them. Why “Reamery”? Next time, look at those prices. For the price of a small ice cream, the cow should come to my house, milk itself, churn the ice cream and feed it to me.

Random thoughts from a cluttered mind….

Since when did the accepted response to “thank you” become “not a problem”? I think “you’re welcome” is still the best way to respond. At the Outback a few weeks ago, when we thanked the waiter for anything-delivering the food, taking the order, bringing water, his response was “not a problem.” No kidding, jerkweed, if it was a problem for you to bring me water, there would be a real problem, for you. I have noticed more and more people using this expression as a response. To this I say “a problem.”

Rachel Ray-as a friend noted…getting a little wide in the beam and puffy-faced. Too much Dunkin’ Donuts maybe. Just as Tony Montana was warned by Frank Lopez: “Rachel, don’t get high on your own supply.”

Jason Bateman has come a long way from “Silver Spoons” I love “Arrested Development”, and he was superb in that. Played essentially the same character in “The Kingdom” which was not a comedy (unless you find mass murder and suicide bombing in Saudi Arabia funny), and he was great. The fact that he is married to Paul Anka’s daughter only elevates his stature in my mind. Paul Freaking Anka!!!! It could only be better if his father in law was Richard Carpenter.

I am half unhappy with the writers’ strike in Hollywood. This gives me a chance to catch up on “House”, but I miss new episodes of “Little People, Big World” and “Armed and Famous.”

Am I the only one that remembers “Larry’s Corner” or “Lord and Lady D&^%$bag” on SNL? Read here: http://snltranscripts.jt.org/79/79tdouchebag.phtml


Gratuitous shout-out: My father, for figuring out the acronym from last month. Decorum prevents me from saying anymore.

Famous Pizza: 508-877-0101

You’ve been a great audience. Enjoy Andy Kim…

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Can I have...?

As you know, I hate lines. Mostly because people tend to ignore line etiquette, if there is such a thing. Between talking on their cell phones, getting out of line and thinking they can step back in the same place after they’ve checked out the tchakees on some shelf, and forgetting to bathe, lines, and the people in them, kill me. Also, quite frankly, time is a precious commodity in my life. I barely have enough time to do anything, let alone just languish in a line. I wish I could watch “60 Minutes” in a half hour.

But, I had an epiphany the other day-lines aren’t always caused by the annoying people around me, but also by the employees and the stores themselves. After wondering why I needed a shave because I had been waiting so long at a local store, when it was my turn, I heard the words…those sweet words that gave me the answer to why when I came in, I had a full head of hair, only to be checking out looking more like Yul Brynner…

“Can I have your phone number for our mailing list?”
(Imagined response “IR”) No, but you can if you promise to call me and breathe heavy!
“Would you like to buy the extended warranty for only $3.99 which will replace it if anything ever happens?”
IR-No, because the item I am buying only cost $4.99!
“Would you like to save 10% on your purchase today?”
IR-No, but I just lost weight, ask me how!
“Do you need any batteries today?”
IR-No, but I will tomorrow, because the ones I’ll be using tonight will die from overuse!
“Would you like to donate a dollar to ‘Easter Seals’, ‘United Way’, UNICEF, Children’s Hospital, HFWJNA (you get extra points if you know this-email me privately and the first one to do so, get a special shout out), Dana Farber, Curt’s Pitch for ALS, Friends of Osama, Friends of the Critical Palate?
I’ll refrain from making jokes here-charities need our help, especially the last one.
“What’s your sign? Can you spare some change? Would you mind peeing in this cup? Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? Do you know the way to San Jose?”

By the time the clerk has gotten through the script, Josh has graduated Med School, and Tovah’s got 3 PhDs.

I don’t really blame the cashiers-they’re just following store policy. But, do the stores have any idea how aggravating it is to get the third degree from these clerks, trying to sell you things you don’t need and don’t want. But I think it all started with “do you want fries with that?”

When they trained you at McD’s, they told you a response for every order (this was looooooooong before the days of value meals). Someone order a drink, you asked “regular or large”. If they asked for fries, you asked “medium or large”. If they ordered McNuggets, you asked “would you like 9 or 12.” McDonald’s designed and refined the art of the upsell.

Funny, I didn’t get annoyed when we used to get upsold at McDonald’s, but maybe that’s because they never asked for a DNA swab…

You've been a great audience. Enjoy the World Series...

Monday, October 8, 2007

I'm Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack

First, let me apologize to all of you for the extended period of time without a post. Among computer crashes, vacations, High Holidays and cutting the tip of my left thumb off, it’s been a busy, and distracting time. But, with the thumb healing (I hope), and a new Apple MacBook (with Video Chat, if anyone is interested), I am ready to rumble…

Let me publicly thank Jordan Rich of WBZ 1030AM (50,000 Watts of power!!!) for having me on as a guest back in July. Great fun. 3 ½ hours of talk about food-it doesn’t get much better than that. I am currently working on linking an MP3 file of the show and will get it linked as soon as I can. I can think of no better way to kill time than listening to me…and Jordan could be one of the nicest, most gracious hosts on radio. Listen in to him Friday nights, midnight to 5:00 a.m., Saturday nights midnight to 5:00 a.m. and Sunday nights, ten to midnight, on the radio, or streaming live across the internet at www.wbz1030.com.

Second, please indulge me a gratuitous shout-out to Wusthof--their knives are damn sharp! My Dad was right-better to cut yourself with a clean, sharp knife than a dull one. It really doesn’t make me feel any better when people call me “Stubby”, but when it happened, I never felt it. That should be their new slogan: “Wusthof—you’ll never feel it, even when your limb is on the floor.”

Now, without further ado…

Dear Stacy (at least I think that’s your name):

I am writing this letter reflecting on the first moments we spent together yesterday. I walked in behind you, and from that moment, I couldn’t look away. That tattoo on the base of your spine (some people call it a “tramp stamp”) was mesmerizing, as were the ones on your neck, forearms and knuckles. Your melodious voice entranced me.

I didn’t say much, not because I didn’t want to, but because I just couldn’t interrupt you. I was so sorry to hear about cat, and all the gory details about the hairball it choked on. I was disturbed when you talked about how unsympathetic your boss was. I really cannot detail the things you said here, for fear of arrest. Carlin’s seven dirty words have nothing on you! You must be a real firecracker with a few beers in you and I’m glad the little kids sitting at the table nearby have learned what “WTF” and “Mo-Fo” mean. I’m sure their parents are pleased too.

Speaking of your boss, I was intrigued how you think he’s attracted to you. With that spike through your nose, I can see why. The way you explained what you wanted to do with him, especially with the choke ball and blindfold, it scared me…sort of.

Troubling, to say the least, was your story about the pharmacy and how they keep messing up your prescriptions. I hope that this gets rectified and the Tuberculosis clears up soon. Between that and the Chlamydia, I agree that the next prescription of Zithromax might do the trick. Getting rid of the pack of Lucky Strikes in the outer pocket of your purse might help too.

Lastly, while I think it’s a “look”, I’m not sure about the jet-black hair with the pink stripe running from ear to ear. Maybe it goes over well in other places. The story you told about the office and how they call you “the Mo-Fo Skunk” or “Pepe F-ing LePew” was classic, and was enjoyed by all of us.

I’m glad we had that time together but next time you’re in front of me in line at Starbucks, I might just ask you to stop talking on your phone while waiting to order.

Yours truly,
A Mo-Fo Starbucks Patron

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Going Live...!!!

For those of you clamoring for me to start producing a podcast, here's your chance to hear me: The Critical Palate will be going live in an appearance on the Jordan Rich Show on WBZ 1030AM on Saturday night, July 28, 2007 starting at midnight. Tune in, or listen to it on line at www.wbz1030.com.

A Malpaso production...

Thanks to you readers that have been contributing to this blog, by either posting comments, or emailing or talking to me about topics that drive you nuts. And yes, Michmash is correct-this blog isn’t entitled “Critical…” for nothing, so keep the complaints coming...

Just so you don’t think I only complain about restaurants, some of you have recently complained to me about the local movie theatres, from the prices, to the food (or lack thereof), quality of the film or temperature of the room. I’ve had some “great” movie experiences as well. As you all know, I like the movies, and have since I was young. The law of averages says that sooner or later, there’ll be some bad experiences. Its high time that the viewing public gets what they pay for. For the prices they charge, they should have someone view the movie for you.

Well, there are eight million stories in the naked city, this is one of them…

“Dear Sir or Madam: I am writing to express my extreme displeasure and dissatisfaction with my movie experience yesterday, November 13, 2005, at your location in Framingham, Massachusetts. I have never been met with as much rude behavior and poor attitude before, in this setting.

My wife and I took our two children (ages 5 and 9 1/2) to see the 2:30 pm showing of "Chicken Little" in theatre Number 9. When the previews began, there appeared to be a dark line running down the center of the screen; on occasion, there would appear two or three lines, but there was always at least the dark line running right down the center. I went out to the ticket taker to let him know, and he assured me he would have it taken care of. After all the previews, once the feature began, the line became even more noticeable. I again went out to the ticket taker (a different staff member this time), and was told that he would call someone to address it.

After another 15 minutes had passed, with the dark line becoming more annoying with each passing second, I again left and spoke to the ticket taker (a third time) and asked that this be addressed. Frankly, the outrageous cost of going to the movies with a family should be at least counter-balanced by showing a clean print on clean projection equipment, but apparently, that is not a concern of the management staff. After the third opportunity, with an apparent inability to address the situation, I went to the Guests Services desk; it was there that your company demonstrated its total disregard and disrespect for its customer base.

I approached the desk and two young women were sitting there. I told one of them the problem, and the other, who was not dealing with me, but another patron, said "we know about it. There's nothing we can do." I addressed both of them, asking if there was anything that could be done, to which the woman responded "I told you already, that's the way it is." I then addressed the woman I was talking to, and told her that was not acceptable; I wanted a better explanation. She responded by saying "I'm sorry-that's all I can do." I then asked to speak with the manager. The other young woman, having finished her business with the other patron (no doubt treating her rudely as well), picked up her walkie-talkie and called the manager. Not waiting for a response, she and the woman I was dealing with just walked away, leaving me standing there. Not once did they say "hold on, a manager will be right with you", or address me in any other way; they merely stood up, and walked away. Their behavior was rude, and disrespectful, to say the least.

Roger, the manager, spoke with me, but surprisingly, he did not apologize for their behavior. Apparently, rudeness and disrespect for the paying customers is a requirement to work at this theatre. Roger called the projection booth and was told that the print has a scratch and that it will likely run through the entire film, so there truly was nothing that could be done. While Roger was nice enough to give me passes in lieu of a refund for my tickets, I could not, and did not leave, though that was my preference, because by the time this resolved, we were 45 minutes into the movie, and taking my children out was not an option.

On a bi-weekly basis, I, and at least 5 of my friends, meet at this theatre to see a late movie (I usually invite over 30 people via email, and I assure you, I have sent a copy of this letter via email to that entire list, and then some). Given the dearth of quality films, we are extremely judicious in our movie choices. We go to your theatre because it is slightly more convenient than other theatres; however, within close proximity are Lowes, Regal and National Amusement theatres, in addition to a variety of independent ones. I see no reason, especially in today's economic climate, to spend money at your theatre, supporting a business that accepts such poor customer relations as part of their operating plan, when there are so many other choices readily available.

I hope that you will address these issues on a corporate level, as I believe that this is a systemic problem. If you feel the need to speak with me, or would like additional information, feel free to call me”

EPILOGUE--I assure you, they contacted me, and to their credit, they said all the right things and seemed to have cleaned up the act of the employees. The moral of the story: stand up for yourselves. As my Nana used to say-“You got a mouth, use it!”

You’ve been great. Enjoy POCO!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

OG...Ugh!

Sometimes a meal is just so bad, so utterly awful, from beginning to end, that you feel compelled to complain, at the highest level. Sometimes you have to go all the way up the “food chain.” What follows below, is just one of those occasions. While the name of the restaurant remains anonymous, I think you all can infer where this was. Why I ever ate there to begin with is still a mystery. We haven’t been back.

“Dear Sir or Madam: I feel compelled to write you about what could be the singularly worst meal I have ever had at one of your restaurants. In fact, I have never had a good meal at your Framingham location, and I have reached the end of my rope when it comes to giving this location any more chances.

My wife and I went to the Framingham location last evening and were seated promptly. Upon the arrival of our waitress, we gave her our drink order, which did not come out right; that was the beginning of a total breakdown of this meal.

My wife has a severe allergy to dairy products, shellfish and peanuts; when she orders, she carefully details her allergies. She ordered the Chicken Marsala after being told by the waitress, who was resolute, that it was dairy free. We also asked for breadsticks without butter, and salad without cheese, with oil and vinegar dressing; the waitress assured us that it would not be a problem. I ordered Chicken with Broccoli and pasta. Within two minutes, having now been in the restaurant no more than seven minutes, our meals were on the table in front of us; yet we still have not seen the salad or breadsticks! I told the server, who was not our waitress, that I would like to see our waitress and get the salad and breadsticks. I know that you need to turn over the tables, but can I have 15 minutes for dinner?

A moment later, a manager, "Rich", came over and asked if there was a problem. We merely explained that we wanted the salad and breadsticks prior to getting our meal, which we were not quite ready to eat. I told him that we merely wanted to speak with our waitress. He told us that our waitress was having a "personal moment" in the office and that things were not going well for her tonight; she would not be attending to our table-he would. So he took our meals away, and arranged for the proper salad and breadsticks to be brought over. When they arrived, he told us that they had run out of vinegar, and he only had oil, which he brought. What kind of restaurant runs out of a popular condiment? Alas, my wife enjoyed only a partial serving of salad, without dressing.

A few moments later, Rich came over and asked if my wife was "lactose intolerant." My wife responded that she has an extremely severe allergy to all dairy (she carries emergency medicine in her pocketbook), and he said that the Chicken Marsala had a lot of butter in the sauce already mixed in, so that she would have to order something else. In hindsight, it was a good thing that the manager intervened, since he probably prevented a trip to the hospital by telling us about the butter in the sauce, a fact to which the waitress seemed oblivious. That mistake could have had severe health ramifications for my wife, and the waitress would likely end up with a more severe “personal moment.”

While my wife was picking out something else, Rich decided to sit with us, and while doing so, the other wait staff brought over our meals. Rich sent them away, and had them "remake" mine and make my wife something different. Eventually, Rich left and brought over our food, and my wife's meal was fine, but mine at this point looked as if it had spent the past thirty minutes under a heat lamp, or in a microwave; it was certainly not "remade." The pasta was hardened and crusty at the edges, and the broccoli was shriveled and had darkened spots from overheating. When Rich asked if everything was okay, we told him no, but we were not asking for new food, because who knows what type of mess would come out of the kitchen. He apologized, and stressed that he hopes we will come back and give them another try. I assured him, and now you, that we will not.

After having cleared our table, Rich came back over, and told us that he wanted to offer us a free desert as an apology for our experience. I was shocked! Apparently, we not only had to suffer through this mishap, but now were going to have to pay for the privilege! He brought the desert, and presented the check, which although did not charge us for the desert, did charge us for the rest of the meal! I guess along with poor service, I should expect poor customer relations as well. After all my experiences with this XXX, I assure you I expect nothing more.

Your new ad campaign says “when you’re here, you’re family.” If this is how you treat family, I prefer to be a stranger.

The Framingham XXX is a disgrace to your chain; I hope you address their problems.” With so many family restaurants in Framingham, you give people little reason to patronize the XXX.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Stepford Food...

Back in 1989, Elayne and I were at EPCOT Center in Orlando, riding through “The Land” pavilion (I can still hear the song in my head, with this catchy little chorus: Let’s listen to the land we all love. Nature’s plan will shine above. Listen to the land, listen to the land…”). That is an interesting place, because it purports to show natural foods being grown in unnatural ways. Watching tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers grow upside down without soil, with tiny water drops falling on them reminds me of something out of “Sleeper”. Interesting, but creepy. Then again, that’s what everybody says about Woody Allen.

It got me thinking, that while it would be nice to have a easily sustainable food supply regardless of soil quality or water quantity, my experiences eating out lead me to conclude that most restaurants have moved to mass-produced, commissary-style food. In fact, we’re a half-step away from reaching into our refrigerators and grabbing a can marked “Food” and just digging in, like in “Repo Man.”

You know what I’m talking about: rolls that are exactly the same no matter what restaurant you go to, vegetables that are perfectly cut and cubed, food that gives you the sense that it was prepared a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…There isn’t a chain restaurant that doesn’t throw off that vibe to me. Whether it’s the salad bar at Ruby Tuesday (you know that the lettuce was in a bag in back or that the egg salad was cubed and mixed somewhere else, like Bayonne, New Jersey), or the vegetables at the Olive Garden that are always cut oh, so perfectly, where if they put enough dressing on the salad, it’ll wash away the smell of the rot. Some of those salads look like they were made before olive trees were discovered.

There is something very unsatisfying in eating pre-fabricated food. Unfortunately, most places seem to use partially prepared foods and I know that I can do better. While I might enjoy pre-fab homes and pre-fab concrete; pre-fab food, not so much.

This idea extends to the d├ęcor of restaurants too. I understand that massive chain restaurants rely on their familiarity so that all the outlets essentially have to look the same, whether in Framingham, Massachusetts or Cortland, New York. But whom does Applebee’s think it’s kidding? That goofy commercial where they have the coach hang the picture of himself on the wall-the only reason he has a tear in his eye is because he knows what food is coming. He’s thinking “For the love of Moses, can’t we go somewhere for real food, like Subway”!?

Speaking of Subway, how pathetic is their quality control? It appears as if they only allow the employees to put three thin slices of turkey on a sandwich, folded in half to make it look thicker. Then they load it up with lettuce and other vegetables that they shipped in a month ago. The icing on this cake is when they bag your food, and they slip in one napkin! G-d help you if you’re a sloppy eater and need 2! Finding a napkin in a Subway is harder than getting an audience with the Pope.

The long and short of it is, until we stop patronizing these places, until we stop buying into the propaganda machine that tells us that Ruby Tuesday is now making “steak burgers” and has a “fresh” salad bar, and that at the Olive Garden, we’re “family” (maybe so, if you’re the Mansons), we’ll be getting our food from a plastic bag, or a Styrofoam container, heated up in a microwave, or boiled in a bag, just like the Pilgrims and my Grandma used to make…

Now if you’ll excuse me, my Soylent green is ready.

You've been a great audience. Enjoy Shields and Yarnell...

Monday, July 2, 2007

To Insure Proper Service

Once again, a “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” to all my peeps who have been clamoring for most posts (or for me to kill this blog.) Sometimes, even with all good intentions and planning, life just gets in the way. But alas, I have returned, with my fingers intact and ready to roll across the keyboard…

One thing that hasn’t really troubled me until recently is the “tip jar.” However, like Bob Costas, they seem to be popping up everywhere and now I am getting irritated. My sister is really anti-tip jar, and I think I am starting to agree. I set before you two examples:

First, (dunkin donuts)…so I was at Dunkin Donuts a few weeks back, and I order a medium iced coffee, with cream and two “splenda” (for those of you thinking of bringing me a delightful beverage…I also take the “venti” iced coffee at Starbucks the same way); the total comes to $2.06. I give the girl three singles and she says “thank you”, puts the cash in the register and then puts MY change in the tip cup. Doesn’t offer it to me or even look at me, but just dumps the coinage into the tip cup and walks away. Is it me, or does pouring me an iced coffee for a $1.98 plus tax warrant a 94-cent tip? Never mind the audacity of just taking my money! It’s legalized larceny! A license to extort!

As an aside, I should say that I usually load a Starbucks card and use that to pay for my coffee. By doing so, there’s never really an opportunity to drop any change in the tip jars. Starbucks is a little different that Dunkin’ Donuts in my mind, and I refer you back to my earlier postings explaining why. Especially nice is that by the time I’m at the front of the line, my Venti Iced Coffee is waiting for me. That’s what happens when you spend as much time there as I do. These “baristas”, whom I know by name, and who know mine, are a little more focused on the “experience”, and deserve a little token now and then. So last week, I ordered my coffee, paid with three dollars, and dumped all the change into the jar.

But today, the Starbucks tip cup has reached a new low. Up in Haverhill, Massachusetts, there is a freestanding Starbucks, WITH a drive-through; I had to go and see this for myself. Like moth to flame, I sought out my personal grail, the siren song of the espresso machine serenading me right into the drive-through lane. I ordered, and commented to Elayne that I am unsure how I am going to like my Starbuck drive-through experience. When I pull up to the window, I pay, but I see, OUTSIDE the window, on a shelf…a tip cup!!!! For some reason, this just seems to be a bit brash. The tip jar concept has now reached an all-time low. They might as well have a guy standing there with his hand out!

This makes me wonder who’s next to whip out a tip cup; how far will this go? Given the way of the tip cup, I have to wonder if retail clerks at places like Barnes and Noble, or Wal-Mart, will start to put out tip cups. (Sure, let me shop for myself, load my cart, put it on the conveyor belt…but of course, you deserve a tip for checking me out). Do I tip the deli clerk, because he changed his gloves between slicing cheese and slicing the turkey? Do I tip the clerk at the Exxon station when I go pay inside? How about the checkout clerk at the take-out restaurant? They hand me the food, and I noticed a tip line on my charge slip-am I supposed to tip them too?

My friend Lynne mentioned that it irritates her when she sees tip cups with “college tuition” written on it-that’s why they’re working!

With all these tip jars popping up, maybe its time for me to put one out too.

Feel free to post your own thoughts on this.

Apropos of nothing: I was in line at Stop & Shop yesterday, and the person checking out in front of me has a huge cartfull of food. The total comes to over $200.00. The person hands her $60.00 (3-20s) in cash, and says “I’ll put the rest on my debit card.” So the clerk takes the cash, processes the debit, and says “hit ‘no’ on the ‘cash back’ screen” and the person says “but I want $20.00 back!” The clerk says “Are you serious?” The person was dead serious, and took the $20.00 back.

Now, he deserved a tip for that!!!

Gratuitous shout-out: For all your auto repairs, Japanese and domestic, try my buddies Dave and Bob at “Speen Street Automotive”. Good, honest opinions and work, at fair prices. (508) 620-0005. Tell them I sent you.

You’ve been great-and now…Gino Vanelli.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The word of the day...Jewbilation

Once again, a mea culpa to all my fans…you know who both of you are. Been caught up writing a brief to protect the rights of the unjustly accused and convicted. Will try and do better-no promises though, so stop with the hate mail…a big bag of twenties might convince me to write more.

I can’t help it, but when fans cheer for Kevin Youkilis, and chant “Yooooooooooook”, it sounds like “Jooooooooook”. Hey, who cares if the guy’s Greek (he’s not), or a stand-in for “Brother Hezekiah” in Kingpin. He’s one of my people, and boy, can he swing the kosher salami. I hear he’s leading a minyan with Adam Stern, Craig Breslow and Theo. Gabe comes to read Torah on Mondays and Thursdays…

So apparently Bobby Abreau and Jason Giambi are on Slim Fast or Jenny Craig. Or, maybe, and I’m not sure anyone has ever thought of this…THEY WERE ON STEROIDS!!!!!!!!

On a different note, today’s word is “Jewbilation”-the sensation we get when we find out someone famous is a tribesman. This has become a cottage industry to some degree, websites, magazines and the like. My former favorite site, “Jewhoo” has been down for some time, but there’s www.jewsinsports.org for all your Jewish sports figures needs. I bought the American Jewish Historical Society baseball card collection. Boy, we’ve come a long way since “Would you like a pamphlet on great Jewish athletes?” A special shout out to the first person to name that movie.

Back to a little jewbilation-love some of these discoveries. Go to the website, and right off: Oksana Baiul!!!! Sure, there are the usuals-Sandy Koufax, Shawn Green, the aforementioned Brother Hezekiah. But, Jason Marquis, Brad Ausmus, and Jose Bautista???!!! By the way, Rod Carew, not! Married one, raising their kids a MOTTs (Members Of The Tribe), but he’s just a friend to the Jews.

Wannabes abound in Hollywood-Madonna, Britney (she’s one I’d like to throw back), Whoopi Goldberg…but we got some real ones too. Besides the obvious from Adam Sandler’s song, these might be a few that will surprise you: Yasmine Bleeth, Paula Abdul, Nell Carter and Yaphet Kotto.

Just saw “Spiderman 3”—thought it was ok, but way too much computer generated stuff. Can’t Tobey McGuire really swing from a rope like that? Long, drawn out, complex story line…and speaking of steroids and HGH…Thomas Hayden Church. Holy sheep deep Batman…this guy was the village idiot on Wings! I give the whole experience 2 stars. Josh really liked it. He gives it 3 stars.

My prediction…Jordin Sparks, your next American Idol.

For information about why it’s important to wear a helmet while riding a bike, visit http://www.biama.org, the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts.

You’ve been a great audience, enjoy Rupert Holmes…

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Felt Tip Pens...

Emptying out the junk drawer of my mind…

Thanks to all you kind readers asking for more posts…I’ll try to do better. Other than family, work, the synagogue, more family and more work, and more synagogue, this blog is very high on my priority list.

One of my favorite things…randomly bumping into old classmates, with whom I was friendly, and catching up. Hunted down one of my old friends on the Internet, and that’s been a great email connection, but also, living in my hometown, I tend to bump into people I knew way back, even if it’s on rare occasion. A lot of my friends still have their family here, so they come back and being a man about town, I occasionally see people. Mostly these are great reunions—I’ve had a few this past year that I have really enjoyed, and one a few weeks back, at Bertucci’s of all places (since I only eat there when I’m in the mood for lousy food and really bad service). Its terrific catching up, and after, comparing in your own mind where you thought you’d be at this stage in your life. Two things about this, though…
1) I ran into the father of someone I knew way, way back. Apparently, he has remarried, and now has a daughter as young as I do (this guy would be close to 70…I’m not.) I was trying to figure out if he was my friend’s father, and so I say to him “Do you have a daughter about my age?” He looks at me as if I have 5 heads and a bad case of chronic halitosis and says “yes. I haven’t spoken to her in about 15 years!” Ooops. My buddy is performing oral surgery and taking my foot out of my mouth. 2) I was at a wedding last week, and the queen of all “A-List” girls from High School was a guest as well. She looks like she just walked off the pages of the yearbook, and apparently, her demeanor hasn’t changed. You’d think people would mellow with time, and mature gracefully with the passage of time. Not this one. Still wouldn’t give me the time of day. Not that I wanted the time from her…I wear a watch. But you know what I mean. Some reminisces were meant to be, others, thankfully not.

I participated in a panel discussion at the Rabbinical Assembly Biennial Conference this past in Cambridge. The great thing--with 400 attendees, there were only 650 opinions.

Felt tip pens--What’s the point? (Thanks David.)

So, Jennifer Anniston is all up in arms that there is a picture of her topless circulating around the Internet (for those that are interested, check out Google images.). She’s sort of lost on me (Lisa Kudrow was better), but given her career since “Friends”, maybe this is just what she needs to revive it. Look what it did for Jerri from Survivor, Debbie Gibson, and Tara Reid.

Speaking of being a human dog whistle…Tom Bergeron? The guy goes from “Everybody’s Talking” on WBZ4 here in Boston to being the host of Hollywood Squares and America’s Funniest Home Videos and Dancing with the Stars. He’s got teeth Mr. Ed would envy. If this guy can do it, I guess I can too, even if I’ve got a hairline like Telly Savalas.

Speaking of America’s Funniest Home Videos, why are crotch hits funny? Obviously, it’s the women in the audience laughing. And how many times do we need to see some kid crash his bicycle or run into a wall while the parents are taping it and yucking it up? People, give the kid a little help, or at least a warning.

For a good cause, check out this site: http://mysite.verizon.net/Holliston5k

I am beginning a new feature here on the Critical Palate—the random gratuitous shout-out. For those that are interested, please feel free to email me and start offering me things…

For all your intellectual property needs, contact Kriegsman & Kriegsman, Patent Attorneys in Southborough, Massachusetts.

You’ve been great. Enjoy The Tubes…

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Walk the line...

Many years ago, before pop-up ad blockers, I clicked on a solicitation for classmates.com. To complete registration, you needed to answer some questions, including “what is your pet peeve?” My answer then (over 10 years ago) is almost the same now-people that bring 10 items to an “8 item or less” express lane at the supermarket, but line etiquette is a close second.

There are just some people that don’t understand the concept of a line. There’s a fine “line” between being too far away from someone in line, and being too close, like Judge Reinhold being a “close talker” on “Seinfeld”. I have come to realize that nothing drives me more nuts (besides Celine Dion) than someone who doesn’t really move up in line as people in front of them move forward, and someone behind me that is practically in my pants because he won’t give me my space.

So, to the woman in front of me at Starbucks this afternoon, I say this: move up! Unless there’s some toxic substance coming out of the person in front of you, you don’t need to leave 10 feet between the two of you. Don’t give them a bear hug, but geez, move up a little, so the people behind you don’t have to use smoke signals to place their order. And, by the way, after making us wait a half-mile from the counter, please feel free to talk to the “barista” about feeding your cats vegetarian food that you make from scratch…while making us all wait. But, to the guy behind me, three things: brush your teeth, take a shower, and BACK UP!!! He was so close, I can still taste what he ate for lunch...something with onions, and garlic, I think. Elayne doesn’t get quite as close to me as this guy. After having this guy behind me, I think I need to be hosed off.

A few random thoughts:

American Idol--only two of the top 7 can sing with any real skill…Sanjaya and Uncle Fester.

Survivor…who cares anymore? Recycled. Boring. No eye candy.

“The Shooter” with Marky Mark Wahlberg, but no Funky Bunch or prosthetic appendage---pretty good, though Danny Glover is recycling his “Roger Murdoch” from the “Lethal Weapon” series, except in this movie, he’s just phoning it in as a bad guy with a bad lisp (btw, who’s the genius that decided to name it “lisp” so the people that have it can’t pronounce it. Nithe, real nithe) Ned Beatty too…I preferred him in “Deliverance.”

“The 300”—“We are…………..Spartans!”

Tiny bubbles/in the wine/make me happy/make me feel fine.
Aloha Don…loved you in the Brady Bunch (Hawaii episodes). Great cameo, along with Vincent Price.

Don’t forget to tip your hula dancers…enjoy the poi!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Musical Mystery Tour

While I am typing this, I am listening to “Going the Distance/Fanfare for Rocky” by Bill Conti, from the original “Rocky”. You all know the song; this is what they play when suddenly, after getting his ass whipped, Rocky regains his inner strength and charges forward in the ring with his comeback, and pummels the always larger, meaner, more skilled, but cocky and arrogant opponent (take your pick-Apollo, Clubber Lang, Drago, Tommy Gunn, Mason “The Line” Dixon). This has the ringing bell and the building crescendo that always gives you goose bumps. Listening to the “Rocky” soundtrack got me thinking…while the experts say that the olfactory sense is one that most stirs the memories deep in your soul, music has an equally powerful impact on me. The memory triggers from music can run the wide gamut of emotions. When I hear certain songs, my mind takes me places-some places better than others, some places not visited in years…

Listening to “Dick Clark’s ‘Live’” (the theme from his old variety show on Wednesday nights), I can see myself standing next to my buddy Hugh, our saxes hanging from our necks, in the high school auditorium, for our first jazz band concert as Freshmen; hearing the theme to “St. Elsewhere”, I am in the television lounge at Van Meter Hall, a sophomore in college, watching the show with friends; hearing “Niner Too”, I am in the auditorium of Breed Junior High, rehearsing with the 27th Lancers; hearing “We’ve Only Just Begun”, I’m on one of the first dates with Elayne.

So when I close my eyes and listen to Sanjaya sing “You really got me going”, I am transported to a place where I am getting rolled by Malcolm McDowell and his band of thugs from “A Clockwork Orange”, or serving time in a Turkish prison for smuggling heroin, sitting in a dentist chair while Lawrence Olivier asks me “Is it safe?”, or watching “The Wizard of Oz”, all of which are much more enjoyable that watching this train wreck make it into the Top 10 on American Idol. Johnny Most sounds better than him.

By the way, Haley has taken over Antonella’s voting contingent of teenage boys in darkened rooms…

Peter Noone should go back to being a Hermit.

Lulu-Oh me, oh my, I’m a fool for you baby!

The judges seem to have chosen the worst possible guys, all of whom have no chance of supplanting Melinda “Dr.” Doolittle or Jordin Sparks (LeKeisha will be gone sooner than later). Do they watch the performances the next day? In hindsight, maybe they realized that Chris R., Sanjaya, Beat Box Blake and “Fro Patro” Chris Sligh (the only thing “slight” about him is his singing ability) all sounded worse than Maya“3 Pack-a-day” Angelou. But you know, even Telly Savalas cut a cover of “If”, by Bread. Who loves you baby…?

Music soothes the savage breast, unless you’re listening to Sanjaya.

Until next time America…

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Click and clack...

Is there any business more rife with abuse and dishonesty than the auto sales industry? It’s all about lying, misrepresenting, fraud, inflated prices and more lies as they mistreat you when your car is serviced.

Speaking of customer service, at car dealers, it is anything but. I have a car under warranty, with a steering problem, and they tell me the best diagnostic tool is a 4-wheel alignment. But, I have to pay for it…? I don’t get it. My car is under warranty, the steering is failing, and they have a diagnostic tool that may help solve the problem, but they want to charge me for it? That’s like a doctor telling you that you might have lung cancer, but they can tell for sure if you have an X-ray, that you need to pay for, even though you have health insurance! GMFB!!! So I have to pick a fight…its always a fight. But of course, if you stand up to them, they back down. You see, the only point in telling me I had to pay for the alignment was so they could rip me off for $89,because they’re getting paid a lesser amount on all the warranty work, so why not try to rip me off so they can make a few bucks. Also, why not try to make more by telling me the only way to make the handling better is by selling me 4 tires at $140.00 each!!! Thieves!

Feel free to share your stories…I could go on forever.

Random thoughts…

I was reading my favorite blog, www.bykenlevine.com (see his link on the side column), and it got me thinking about TV theme songs. They really have gone downhill. To me, the theme song was helpful in establishing the story line, or at least the tone and tenor of a show. Some of these songs had a real impact, and I still know the lyrics to some of my childhood favorites. Now, it’s just a quick hit of a few bars of a song, and then to the commercial break. Come back, and the show is on, but with the credits rolling along the bottom for 5 minutes. Bring back the days of the set-up, the song, and the show. I miss the old songs; I have a few current favorites (like “The Sopranos”), but here’s my list of some of the all-time greats (in no particular order):

Brady Bunch, Partridge Family, Green Acres, The Andy Griffith Show, Chico and the Man, All in the Family, The Jeffersons, M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore, White Shadow, Lou Grant, Rockford Files, Gilligan’s Island, Love Boat (doing my Isaac Washington, “your bartender”, double finger point right at ya…), Cagney and Lacey, Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, F Troop, The Beverly Hillbillies, Cheers.

People who choose to be stand-up comedians HAVE to know the life isn’t unending adulation. Platypus Man, Richard Jeni, just never caught on and killed himself last week. The ultimate punch line, I guess. Sometimes, life isn’t funny.

The sound Mark Burnett is hearing is people turning off their televisions when either The Apprentice or Survivor is on. You know a show is being sent to the scrap heap when they put it on at 10:00pm Sunday night (The Apprentice), which will be up against “The Sopranos”, or when they don’t run the “bring you up to date” episode of Survivor on the Wednesday before the tournament. Those shows have a limited life span, and I am surprised Survivor has lasted this long. Some of the half-naked contestants might be a reason…they might want to incorporate that into The Apprentice somehow, as long as it isn’t The Donald.

Rocky VI is out on DVD now. If you watch it in HD, you can see some Botox leaking out of his face. Can’t wait for Rambo IV-Last Blood/VA Hospital!

You been a great audience…don’t forget to tip your waitresses…enjoy Supertramp.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Yo dog...a little pitchy, but you can sing!

Here it comes, song wenches, whether you like it or not…

Gina Glockson--Not bad, but there’s a lot of meat on that hoof…in a good way.
I like Heart.

Alaina Alexander-is she one of our peeps? Enough with the crying! Our people are strong…and she better be. She barely made it back this week, and after this, she may be on her way out. By the way, with that dress, one wrong move…there’ll be a full moon over the studio.

LeKeisha—It’s hard to follow up last week’s performance. This week, not as good, and Gladys Knight isn’t nearly as hard to do as Jennifer Holliday. I think Randy is sweet on her. But we’re in her corner. Rock on!!! I’m riding the LeKeisha train…Woo hoo.

Dr. Doolittle—“My Funny Valentine” was so two weeks ago…didn’t like this performance as much as I hoped. It was like she was talking to the animals…

Antonella—I think a career with Maxim or Playboy is more likely than with Idol…we’re all better for that.

Jordin—A little pitchy dog... But she hits some notes that indicate that she has the raw ability and power to take on any of the contenders…always like the little kids, except Chicken Little and Sanjaya (he scares me, in a Michael Jackson sort of way). She has the chops, and I hope she keeps going. Philippi Sparks, your girl can sing (I know he’s reading this)!

Stephanie—was she singing something different from the band and back-up singers? She is lost on me this week, but not lost on America. This remotely could be a farewell song. She can sing, but as Elayne put it—“what was she singing?” After hearing Simon and Paula, maybe I’m on “H”.

Leslie—Sterling is right-she’s a “two face.” One way, she’s hot, the other way, she’s a troglodytic half-wit. It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new location—back home. How did she make it this far? Out of her league.

Haley—Nice top. Did she sing?

Stephanie— She brought it, but I am with Simon. Looks good, close to the border with the big notes. Takes the LaKeisha gloves off, but that last note could scare starving dogs off a meat wagon.

The recap is always interesting—they only play the best moments from the performers.
Frankly, only the African-Americans can sing. Antonella is so out of her league. I am more likely to win than she is. I’m just what America needs: Ladies and Gentlemen, your next American Idol, George Costanza. Wooooooooo! Soul Patrol….

Monday, February 26, 2007

And the losers are...anyone that stayed up.

A few random thoughts while watching the Oscars…

How does Will Ferrell keep getting work?

Jack Black too. The only thing good about “Nacho Libre” were the ones I was eating.

I cannot believe “The Danish Poet” won best animated short! Damn, I had my money on “Its Inoperable, Charlie Brown.” There goes $50…

“West Bank Story” looks like my type of movie. Like “West Side Story”, but with falafel and tefillin…look for the upcoming soundtrack, featuring Bernstein classics "Hora Overture", “Shabbos is Coming” and “Mustafa”.

Rachel Weisz-my favorite presenter so far…I can give you 36 reasons…

Whoa, Jackie Earle Haley…Kelly Leak has come a long way…or maybe not. Useful trivia alert--According to IMDB.com, I am a full inch taller than he is.

Quick shot of Jack Nicholson…looks like his body is as bloated as his ego. Probably on the Jerry Lewis diet.

Ooooh, Anne Hathaway…

Ok, now blowing my moment, so to speak, Tom Cruise.

I guess Jennifer Hudson never heard the expression “Act like you’ve been here before.” C’mon, with all the hype, she couldn’t have prepared a better speech. Oh well, at least she threw a shout-out to my girl Jennifer Holliday. I would have preferred Eddie Murphy winning.

The Inventor of the Internet and an Academy Award winner!!!!! Justice, Justice, thou shalt pursue!

First Tom Cruise, now Celine...my worlds are colliding! I hate them both with the passion of a thousand burning suns! Nothing sucks the energy out of a room faster than Celine’s ego!

Do you think Chow Yun Fat understood that conductor?

With Michael Arndt winning, our people are really representing tonight!

Fresh from raiding Anne Baxter’s closet in her Ten Commandments dressing room…Jennifer Lopez.

Beyonce’ is doing a cheap imitation of Jennifer Holliday now.

Shalom Jodie Foster!!!! Go Yale!

Always sad to be reminded who died during the year. Don Knotts-one of the greatest supporting cast members of any show. 1961, 1962, 1963, 1966 and 1967 Emmys.

You really want to see Helen Mirren? Rent “Caligula”.

By all accounts, a nice guy, Forest Whittaker. Strange affect though.

Finally, Scorcese!

Interesting that Scorcese double-dips tonight. I don’t think it was his best movie…but, nice Boston feature.

You’ve been a great audience. Now, off to the movies.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Now starting a Guard, at 6’-4”, from Pepperdine University, Number Threeeeeeeeeeeeeee, D.J., Dennis Jooooooooooooooohnsoooooooooooooon…

My daughter (6 years old) throws out this comment while watching American Idol (regarding Fantasia, not knowing who she is): “I hope she gets sent home tonight.” I couldn’t agree more. How did she win? She’s the worst winner…She’s got the boob tattoo, and a big “tramp stamp” across her back. You can take the girl out of the trailer park…

I find myself checking the obituaries (the “Irish Sports Pages” according to my colleague Bill); unfortunately, I am starting to see people my age, or people that I associate with my youth, die, and if they’re going, who’s next?

This past week, a family friend/contemporary passed away, after a valiant 3-year battle with colon cancer. 40 years old, leaving two young children. Way too young. There’s never a good time to go, but this is way to young and close to home…

In the meantime, Britney Spears is still around and occupying a piece of my orbit…life is unfair.

Today, Dennis Johnson, basketball superstar from the 80s, from MY team, the Celtics (“Bird steals the inbounds…lays it over to DJ who lays it up and in, and the Celtics lead by 1…[you have to imagine Johnny Most screaming this at the top of his lungs…]), drops dead at 52 while coaching his basketball team in Austin, TX. Its depressing when sports figures from your youth start dropping. Of course, recently, it looked like DJ had eaten Rick Robey and Kevin McHale…

Watching American Idol is starting to make me feel old. When I hear Sundance sing “Knights in White Satin”, I know I love the song, but will anyone under the age of 40 connect with that? And I am not sure his look is working for him. He’s got a look—can’t really place it. Maybe “Psychotic Fat Amish Devil”? I’m gonna start calling him P-FAD for short. When Alaina sang the worst “Pretenders” song ever, I’m thinking that no one is connecting with this crap.

There was music, long before America Idol. So let me just send a reminder out to some people, like Ryan Seacrest, that before American Idol, there were a few other people that could sing:

1. Dr. Jennifer HOLIDAY--created the role of Effie, let it all out and won a Tony for her performance, THE performance of, “And I am Telling You…” Jennifer Hudson can’t wash Doc Holiday’s underwear…; LeKeisha was pretty damn good last night though. You gotta feel some personal pain to sing that, and she certainly appeared to;
This is the greatest performance of the song...sorry for the quality.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sq4uc9b2s1o

2. Shirley Bassey, Dinah Washington, 60’s Aretha, Lulu and Dusty Springfield;
3. Speaking of Lulu, I thought she was dead, but apparently, just her career, because she will be appearing on American Idol with Peter Noone, this season. I think Jasmine will whip out “To Sir, with Love”, and so will Randy (if you know what I mean)... Which guy will sing Henry the 8th and what will Paula whip out?
4. Personal favorite—Karen Carpenter. Tonal purity, and fun…probably would have lasted longer if she ate, but still created some great music;
5. So many more, such little Internet space…

In the past, Idol has brought out some heavyweights (in Stevie Wonder’s case, the Super Heavyweights, in more ways than one). This year, it’s a parade of losers and has-beens. Yes, Lulu, Peter Noone and Barry Gibb will be there, but the rest are totally forgettable. No Barry Manilow, no Rod Stewart?

By the way, Tony Bennett? He is like a dog-whistle to me. I can’t hear him?--totally lost on me. What’s the big deal about him? I see him, I want to run for the exits. “I left My Heart in San Francisco”? He left his voice there too, if he ever had one.

Until next time America, keep your feet on the ground but keep reaching for the stars…(now why can’t Ryan get a sign-off like that?)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Emptying the sock drawers of my mind….

Are the judges on American Idol deaf???!!! How did Rudy get this far? He sounds like a girl and dances like an albino monkey. “Free Ride”? You’ve gotten one so far. Simon is always right! Rudy…go home!

Speaking of Rudy, whatever happened to Keshia Knight Pulliam? Why not “That’s So Rudy”? She was nominated at 6 for an Emmy…c’mon, let’s give her a chance.

Why isn’t Dave Madden working anymore? Ruben Kincaid was THE “Jerry Maguire” of the entertainment industry in the early 70s. If he could get the Partridge Family booked, he could book anyone. Maybe Britney Spears could use a little of the Ruben Kincaid magic…

Sundance Head? What, was “B.J. Swallows” taken?

Went to Portsmouth NH over the weekend. Really enjoyed it there. Great, walkable city, coffee shops on every corner, nice restaurants. Shopped at a place called “Marco Polo” where they sell terrific plastic “turds” and a wind-up monkey doing something very off-color. Can’t wait to go back.

Elayne and I ate at the “Muddy River Smokehouse” on Friday night on Congress Street. It was really good, and for those that really know me, I am extremely critical of commercial BBQ-I can do usually do better. But, you can never go wrong at a place that serves beef ribs, even if they do sauce them. Big, meaty, messy ribs-it doesn’t get much better. Washed it down with a Smutty Nose IPA and some beans and cole slaw…a party in my mouth.

Paul Kim—next time choose a song in your range, and put your damn shoes on! You’ll need them to walk home, cause that’s where you’re headed…

Back to Portsmouth…ate at “The Blue Mermaid” on Saturday night. Featured on Rachel Ray’s tasty Travels. She says “Deeeeelishh”, Eric says “we wish”. Good, but not great.

As for our accommodations, we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn. Brand new, within a 2-minute walk of three coffee shops and a Starbucks. Nice place, enjoyed our time there…

Pricing at sporting events has gotten out of control. Lower seating level Celtics tickets cost $150 plus, $23 for parking, and who knows what else you get while you’re there, for a team that lost 18 in a row. I am glad I was there to see the streak broken, but how can a working family go to see a game at these prices? I guess the better question would be…why go at all?

I had great hopes for Nick Pedro from Taunton, Massachusetts. One wrong turn and he’s an extra on the Sopranos getting whacked and playing the role of “Johnny Cakes.” Given his performance tonight, maybe Silvio should take him for a ride into the Pine Barrens to meet with Adrianna…

Pitchers and catchers have reported, and position players are filing in. So long as Varitek hasn’t aged another five years this off-season, I think Dice-K may work out. Thankfully, there’s no World Baseball Classic, but I was ready to put my money on Israel.

I wish Sanjaya’s sister was still on Idol…but he sounds just like her…and she got cut!!!! Stevie Wonder is a musical genius…you’re not. Sanjaya—less and less, please!
Eddie Murphy goes from Dreamgirls and a potential Academy Award, to Norbitt. Someone speak to his agent, please! Bring back Hot Tub James Brown or Tyrone Green…the prison poet!

Jared Cotter stopped short of “%$ck In a Box” tonight. I’d like to stick all of him in a box and bury it.

Tom Brady…I guess it wasn’t just a good-bye hand-off in the backfield…

You’ve been a great audience…I’ll be here all week…try the veal.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Fondue...or Fon-don't?!

Some meals are made better by the company you keep…Exhibit A-The Melting Pot, a fondue experience.

And what an experience it was. Frankly, it wasn’t bad, so long as everyone in your party follows the rules. This place has more rules than prison. I guess when you’re cooking your own food, and they leave raw meat on the table, you’d better have rules…otherwise, they’ll be giving you the gift that keeps on giving---Giardia (I mean the parasite, not the hostess of the Food Network show).

Like I said, it wasn’t bad. Our food wench, Jen, was perfectly pleasant, and tolerant of our behavior, because while I was my typical understated self, my companions were raucous, and a little bawdy (you know who you are.) This was definitely a meal that was more fun to experience with several others, but you’d better know those others well, since you pretty much all boil your food in the same pots. If one person decides to eat from his fondue fork instead of putting the food on his plate and eating with his regular fork, then it’s a true double dip, and he might as well put him whole mouth in the bowl. Remember, just dip once and end it!

Thankfully, we were having some fun, with only a modicum of cross-contamination from a prisoner that didn’t follow the rules.

While there’s not much you can do with boiled meat (albeit boiled in flavored broth), the cheese course and the chocolate courses really round out the meal. After you’ve had your cheese, salad, meat and veggies, then you move on to the chocolate--there’s just so much a man can take. My friend told me she was in a chocolate coma today, the day after; I told her that I really didn’t feel full until an hour after I got home. By then, however, I felt I had eaten so much that I was gargling my dinner! Thankfully, it all stayed down.

I gotta say-those Swiss know how to make watches, and boy do they know how to drown you in fondue!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

I'd like a non-fat, sugar free decafe latte and a Big Mac

Consumer Reports is about to release a report in their March 2007 edition that McDonalds has bested Starbucks for coffee flavor and drinkability. Well, being a Starbucks patron, I say: Starbucks-lower your price for a cup of coffee or else…I’m only buying one cup a day and not two!

McDs has come a long way since I worked there in 1983 and 1984, back in the day, when I had to walk to school, uphill, both ways… . Back then, every middle-class kid from the north side of town worked there, or had a friend or family member that worked there. I was working there before they had a drive-thru, and before anyone ever grabbed a chicken McNugget (and believe me, you don’t want to know which part is the McNugget!!!) 83 and 84 were banner years for McDs—they rolled out the McNugget, and the ever-popular “sausage McMuffin with egg” (as if you would want it without the egg? Otherwise, it’s just a fatty sausage patty on a buttered English muffin—defibulator, main dining area please!) There were some losers that year too (if you can believe it)—the McRib went into the McTank, and they scoffed at my idea…the McSushi. Easy to prepare-just cook the filet of fish for half the time, and serve it over a bed of shredded lettuce from the Big Mac…for some reason, management scoffed at me and didn’t run with it. I thought it was like a party in your mouth. But I digress…

Having worked in my Dad’s diner for a couple of years, I knew how to make coffee. One of the secrets of good coffee is to have an industrial coffee maker that was built around the industrial age, and had 100 years of coffee residue built up inside. I suppose the quality of the coffee has to be at least average, but you can take crappy coffee and run it through old coffee sludge, and that’s good drinking. Diner coffee is usually the best-strong, hot, bottomless (you all wondered how long it would take me to go there…) I’ll tell you who doesn’t know how to make coffee—anyone at McDonalds. In the old days, they had a single burner Bunn brand brewer, and you had to search for the foil packages that had pre-ground coffee to dump into the filter basket. This coffee was old—the miller ground it after his shift at the Sudbury Grist Mill. I worked a lot of hours there, and let me tell you, I think I brewed coffee once. No one bought coffee there; I know the machine was right next to the heater holding the pies (delightfully fruity and delicious pockets of lard)…we had a name for people that ordered the coffee-“suicidal.”

Over the past couple of years, no doubt McDonalds has seen their breakfast sales spiral downward with the proliferation of Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Krispy Kreme and the like; to combat, they had to arm themselves, at least here in Massachusetts, by selling Newman’s Own blended coffee (and apparently, unlike when I worked there, the coffee isn’t as old as he is.) I hear its not bad, but there’s a method to their madness-you get people in for a cheap cup of decent coffee and the next thing you know, they’re buying an Egg McMuffin too. Of course, Starbucks has been sniffing this out—just last week, they rolled out their own version of a breakfast sandwich, at participating locations. Now, not only do you pay $1.94 for a large (20 oz.) cup, but also they give you the privilege of buying a breakfast sandwich for $2.95. At least the McMuffin is something like $1.09.

People often give me a hard time on the cost of Starbucks. My coffee costs $1.94, seven times a week. Some Dunkin Donuts charge $1.78 for the same size, some over $2.00, so its pretty much a wash. McDonalds is the “Walmart” of fast food, so they can leverage the coffee purveyors and only buy on the cheap, forcing coffee growers to send 5 year olds into the hills to pick coffee.

Consumer Reports doesn’t factor in the “experience”; that’s where Starbucks really shines. Starbucks wants you to savor your time with them. They provide comfy chairs, familiar music, “baristas” that know your name and your beverage choice. At McDonalds, you get hard plastic booths, dirty floors, Muzak and they can’t pronounce your name. Starbucks has a combination that cannot be beat; music, coffee, casual atmosphere…a quiet way to start your day.

Now, if only I could get fries with that…

Friday, February 2, 2007

Where's Mr. T When You Need Him?

Back when I was in between 5th and 6th grade, I took a summer school class called “Ghosts and Monsters, Comics and Clowns”. The teacher was “Mr. Franklin”, who was not just an English teacher, but also the advisor to my stamp club and the A/V teacher (as you can see, girls would be throwing themselves at me …). This class exposed us to classic movies and radio shows, both horror and comic. I really enjoyed the old time radio shows; I was a big fan of “The Shadow”, and the horror story “Leninger versus the Ants”. My favorite—“War of the Worlds” by Orson Welles (hereinafter “War” [what is it good for?]).

“War” was great theatre, albeit strictly auditory (this whole event even spawned a TV movie-“The Night that Panicked America” from 1975). Take the basic story of a Martian invasion, make it seem that you have “real” reporters out in the field throwing fits about the Martians, add all the sound effects and it’s a cocktail for success. “War” was designed to sound real, but came with a disclaimer at the very beginning; unfortunately, not a lot of people paid attention, to the beginning. The show, when broadcast, caused quite an uproar, with people thinking the Earth was actually being invaded. This was back on October 30, 1938, before we had space travel and could only imagine what Space would be like. The country was on the brink of a world war, mired in the Great Depression. Radio was the primary way people got their news, before Wolf Blitzer or CNN Headlines News could show some giant Martian ship blasting away the Celine Dion Theatre at Ceasar’s Palace (not that this would be a bad thing.) People really got sucked in, if they were stupid enough to believe it. Guerilla radio, no doubt.

What was not great theatre was the happenings here in Boston this past Wednesday, when Cartoon Network apparently hired a “guerilla marketing” company to surreptitiously mount suspicious items on buildings, bridges and major arteries leading in and around the city, to advertise some late night cartoon. I should note here that they were large, box-like items, with battery packs and wires attached to them. When an item was discovered, the police were deployed to investigate. Throughout the day, more and more of these suspicious items were discovered; some were destroyed, some were taken to be analyzed. The city responded to a growing panic by deploying their professional anti-terrorist units, expending tremendous resources to make sure this city, and its citizens were safe. What else do you expect from the city that was the front line for 9/11?

While society reacted in a puzzling fashion back in 1938 to the broadcast of “War”, is it any real surprise that Boston reacted with such purpose and alacrity when notified there were suspicious packages with wires and batteries attached? Wasn’t it a lack of attention that led to the tragic events of 2001? Isn’t this behavior now exactly what we expect, and in fact demand, of our police force? Aren’t we glad that they are there, doing this job, to make sure we can all sleep more safely at night?

What is shocking, however, is the cavalier attitude of the 2 clowns that mounted these devices for the advertising company. The two can’t spend enough time in jail thinking about the widespread panic caused by their thoughtless actions. They won’t spend much time there at all, but we can hope, can’t we? They get led into and out of Court, with Cheshire cat grins on their faces (where’s Mr. T when you need him?--“Wipe that look off your face fools, before I wipe it off for you!” or “I pity the white fool that wears dreadlocks to Court”) and hold press conferences surprised at everyone’s reaction. What planet are these guys from? These fools aren’t the standard bearers for the First Amendment-they are “Exhibit A” why tigers eat their young.

And what about Cartoon Network, and its owner, Turner Broadcasting? Word on the street is that they knew early in the day that Boston was treating the discovery of these items as a terror attack. So like any responsible company, they sit on it and stay quiet. For hours, and hours. It was not until a late afternoon press conference by the Boston mayor did the corporations behind this finally admit it was an advertising ploy. And then, wearing the “I’m with Stupid” shirts, begin pointing fingers.

One of my colleagues claims that it is a sad time for society, when “Yippie” and fun-spirited “guerilla” tactics are met with such derision. I’m all for fun and frivolity…you want to tell people to “steal this book” or you want to spray paint graffiti with political messages (or “Joanie Loves Chachi”), I’m okay with that. Those activities and statements won’t likely incite widespread panic and shut down a city. But, we’re a port city with a direct link to 9/11. People are on edge, and may be forevermore. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality. To play games like Turner Broadcasting, the Cartoon Network and their lackeys did is irresponsible.

The least they could have done is send over Underdog!

You’ve been a great audience…

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Not even Average...

One point of this blog, and the reason I gave it this name, The Critical Palate, was to discuss the extremely high number of bad dining experiences, from cheap places, to “high-end”. I make no secret to my disdain for restaurants. They expect us to come and freely spend money, but most couldn’t care less about the service, or quality of their food. I cannot comprehend the current reality of pre-fabricated food merely reheated on site, whether it’s boil-in-bag soup or “fresh” cut vegetables. It’s something disguised as food, but missing some essence of freshness. Friends of mine and I have begun referring to this phenomenon as “Stepford Food.”

What really kills me is restaurants that continue to recycle essentially the same concepts and essentially the same food. How many times do I need to read about a new bagel shop opening with an owner whose cutting edge concept is “bagel sandwiches using really fresh ingredients and high quality deli”? Oooh…I’ve gotta rush right over because that’s a concept I’ve never heard of before. When you live in area as I do, where there are several national chain restaurants, and a few local chains too, everything starts to look the same after a while. However, one local chain experience stands out as one of the all time worst.

This particular place opened about 6 years ago. It chose to use the phrase “not your average…” in their name; the inference you are supposed to draw is that they above the average on everything. The reality, to me, is that they are tremendously below average, if even that high, on every count. And so, without further ado…my tale of woe.

About a month after this place opened, we decided to go for a late lunch. I should note that I would never have chosen to go there, given its location. On a major road, but sort of removed from the beaten path and away from most of the commercial areas. My mother was with us, and we decided to give the new place a try, since we happened to be passing by. We pulled in at about 3:15pm on a quiet Sunday, unprepared for the experience.

We were a party of four (my mother, me, my wife, and four year old son). We were greeted by a hostess, who led us to a table near an open kitchen area, where they apparently prepare soups, salads and brick-oven pizza. There were very few people there at the time, given the off-hour, but the hostess handed us menus and told us that the lunch menu was still available until 4:00pm. We perused the menus, and perused, and perused some more. No service staff came by, at all. At one point, I wondered if I was going to need a shave before our server would come around. Finally, at 3:45pm, almost a half hour after we got there, I got up and found someone to bring us water; she went and found our waitress. I broke out my shaving kit—this was going to be a long meal.

The waitress came over, welcomed us, and took our drink order. When she came back, we gave her our lunch order. I should note that although they had kids’ meals, they did not have a separate menu; the kids’ meals were listed on the menu. While I don’t expect them to entertain my children, I would think someplace billing itself as a family restaurant would have a kid’s menu, and maybe a few crayons. Since they did not, we tried to keep him occupied, but he was very entertained by the Chef’n Ball pepper mill on the table. We got a lot of value out of that pepper ball, and the fresh ground pepper that had been in it.

Once that waitress took our order, I think someone pulled up behind the place, grabbed her and tossed her in the trunk of the car, and took her out to the desert to meet Joe Pesci, a-la “Casino.” She was never seen, nor heard from, again, during our meal. So, since she’s gone, literally, I took on the role of refilling our drinks, getting us water, and basically creating a fire to make a smoke signal for some new staff member to come and help us.

When a new server brought our food, everything seemed fine. I had the meat loaf, and it was passable. My son had a grilled cheese sandwich ($4.99, no drink) that came with fries that were inedible. Salt, pepper, spices…for a four year old, his mouth was on fire; even I could barely eat them. So now, we have a $4.99 grilled cheese and nothing else. When we mentioned this to the new server, who just got released from the methadone clinic, he scoffed at us and said “that’s how we make them.” Well, Mr. Courteous, how about we try to get some that are edible…?

While the meal was bad enough, the worst was yet to come.

So, we had to hunt down the server to get the check (I was hopeful that since I had worked so hard, it would be free), and it came to about $70.00. This was lunch for 4 people, one of whom was a kid!!! It turns out, they charged us dinner prices for all our meals. When I pointed out to the server that we ordered off the lunch menu, he said “well, you got 3 pieces of meatloaf, and that’s the dinner portion.” OK, buddy, but one piece was left on my plate, so I really only ate the lunch portion. WTH??? Now the manager had to come over to explain that the computers convert automatically at 4:00pm to the dinner prices. He still didn’t offer to adjust our bill, but I just stuck to my story, and finally he adjusted it to about $50.00. My mother paid with a $100.00 bill. The server had the audacity to ask if we needed change! We waited for him to come back with it. And waited, and waited. I think Joe Pesci came back for a second time…

While we were waiting, it really got interesting. As I said earlier, we were seated near that open kitchen area. Most of the kitchen was in back, but they had this small, limited open kitchen area where a couple of cooks were preparing small plates. So, we’re sitting there, waiting for them to print our change, and a guy wearing a chef’s coat that said “Executive Chef” on it comes out into the open kitchen, from the back. He comes out, apparently pissed about something. He walks up to a cook, grabs a ladle and starts spooning soup into a bowl. While he’s doing this, he says to the cook “Uno, Dos, Tres, CUARTRO”!!! (I’m assuming this is how you spell “four” in Spanish.) By the time he gets to “cuartro”, he is screaming at the guy, and everyone in the dining room is staring (it was now early dinner). The “Executive” chef then throws down the soup bowl, splashing everywhere, and yells “if you can’t count, or speak English, you’re not working here. Now clean that up!!!” and storms back into the kitchen. Apparently we get a floorshow with this awful meal. The manager comes back with the change, and we begin walking out the exit, when our original server suddenly reappears, hands us a comment card, and says “I hope you enjoyed yourselves. Please feel free to fill this out and send it back.” Oh yeah…that’s a great idea.

That comment card had an email address on it and I wrote detailing our experience. I do give the parent company some credit. The owner called me at work, and invited me to lunch with him to discuss things. He also called the restaurant and verified what I told him actually did happen. He also sent me some gift certificates to use in the future (like I really want these). I did take him up on his offer to come and meet him for lunch, and give him my feedback. He explained how service (with bad attitude and a scowl) is what differentiates his place from all the others (how many times have you heard that before?) and how ashamed he was of the experience (and well he should be). I ordered a hamburger for lunch that day, medium rare, and it came totally well done. I didn’t want to embarrass the owner by returning it because they were trying so hard. Later that day, I got an email follow-up from the owner, and he said that he was sorry my burger didn’t come out to my liking, and he appreciated my comments. He did incorporate my best idea-give the kids a drink or an activity sheet with crayons for that price. He acknowledged that they have a long way to go to get things right…I guess they never did—the place closed within 2 years of opening.

I have so many more…this is just the beginning.

How about you people?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

No Deal!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Does anyone really watch "Deal or No Deal"??? I'm telling you, this is no "Press Your Luck" or "Sale of the Centruy." Unlike Peter Tomarkin, only Howie Mandel's career was dead until this show. Last night, we turned it on for a few minutes, only to see Marty Feldman's long-lost sister from "Marty's Trailer Park Shangri La" rolling the dice and using her skills to try to win a million dollars.

I think the casting directors for these shows, including American Idol, pick people we can hold up for scorn and ridicule--so I must oblige. This woman's eyes were like those from the beginning credits of "The Twilight Zone" and her rube persona and affection for NASCAR made me recall "Deliverance" or ...Britney Spears.

How does anyone watch this show (including me). These people are such freaks, and so unlikable. And don't forget GREEDY and STUPID!!!!! That's a cocktail for disaster. Last night was classic: The woman's got $100K showing on the board, along with $1000, $500, $400 and $50. After a series of bad plays early in the game, her offer from the "banker" (I'd like to know what he's doing in the dark up there, while staring at all those case-holding models...) is $25K. She's already turned down $77K, so we know she's greedy, but now the smell of stupidity is wafting through the studio. Howie entices her a little: You have a 25% chance of having $100K. No kidding jerkweed!!!! But she has a 75% chance of holding garbage!!!! Of course, she says "No Deal" with a flourish, and then proceeds to pick the $100,000 box! Ha!!! Collectively, all of us do the fist pump and say "Yes!!!" Serves her right--pigs get slaughtered. What a surprise that she went in the tank. With her mad skills, there was no way she could lose...She should have listened to her husband Gomer, instead of her father, Floyd the Barber. What a country!

Random thought for my night: Now that Rosie is calling out Oprah, who's next? The Pope?

Who made Rosie O'Donut the guardian of my morality? Who died and left her Queen? Did they get permission from Helen Mirren, because frankly, no one plays a stiff queen better. Helen was at her best in Caligula, by the way.

Why does Rosie need to open her mouth? So what if Trump wants to give Miss USA a second chance? Isn't that what Rosie's stint on The View is? If Trump dumped Miss USA, I am sure Rosie would be screaming about how cruel he is and how the poor girl is doing everything she can to pull her life back together. Hey, I don't like Oprah one bit, but if Oprah didn't interview the kidnapping victim first, Rosie would have been pounding the family's door down offerring him a car and tickets to her "family cruise." Rosie is nothing if not a hypocrite. Move on Rosie, have another donut, and answer the phone: it's you career calling, saying "you're killing me!!!"

Until next time America...

Saturday, January 20, 2007

And the Winner Is...

I love the movies, or I should say: I loved the movies. In the words of Badfinger, "something's happenin' here, what it is, ain't exactly clear...".

What is going on in Hollywood? How can they put out the stuff they call film? Are all the movie critics across this country drinking some Jim Jones kool-aid? So few questions, so much time...oooh, strike that, reverse it.

I like to think of myself as a discerning movie-goer. I have a select group of people with whom I see movies every third week or so. We've seen movies that are Academy-award winners, and movies that should never have been printed to celluloid, but each time, I thought we knew what we were getting into and we made the choice. Our group would go in with its collective eyes open, but lately, a disturbing trend has revealed itself...movies, with rare exception, have become stale, but read some reviews, and you'd be convinced that Hollywood is churning out classics.

Case in point: Children of Men.
Critics say: Oscar worthy, cutting edge, moving, thought-provoking, 4 stars, two thumbs up...such great reviews, even Gene Siskel is giving it a thumb up.
Eric and his movie group say: Ishtar was better. Of the seven on us, 4 thought it was one of the worst movies ever, and three of us thought it was bad, but not horrible. Not a great endorsement.

I think that partly, Hollywood makes movies for themselves. With their bloated wallets and bloated egos, they celebrate themselves with elaborate parties and award ceremonies. They celebrate a director's "vision", but if "vision" is a plotless, colorless film without character backstories and development (I guess the director's creative consultant was Helen Keller), they love it even more.

Without beating this horse to death too much, I posit 5 films for your consideration. These are not my all time best, not my all time worst, nor my all time mediocre, just 5 films that I was thinking about during this post. Love them, hate them, don't even know them? Here they are:

1. Billy Jack (1971)--who doesn't love a story featuring a Vietnam era veteran single-handedly protecting the hippie Native American "Freedom School" from the oppressive Sheriff, his kid, and the other hick locals right out of Central Casting. Frankly, the closing theme, "One Tin Soldier" by Coven, rolling as Billy Jack is taken into custody and rides in the back of a cruiser while all the students raise their right fists in a show if "Native American" solidarity is chilling. LOVE this movie, independently made by the star Tom Loughlin and his wife Delores Taylor. I have the Billy Jack 4 DVD boxed set, which includes the classic "Born Losers" from 1968, a prequel where Billy Jack makes his debut, "Billy Jack", sequel "The Trial of Billy Jack" and its sequel "Billy Jack Goes to Washington." Unfortunately, Coven does not perform in the sequels. This movie should be required viewing for every highschooler, in an effort to teach tolerance and acceptance. "Listen children, to a story, that was written long ago..."

2. Massacre at Central High (1976)--This movie has to resonate with every "B" list kid in high school. New transfer student finds himself the victim of a high school bullies, kills each of them in extreme ways in order exact revenge and free the other "B"-listers from their oppression, only to find the "B"-listers opprssing those deemed to be below them. The film explores high school hierarchy, student uprising and rebellion, ill-fated love, corruption from power, social liberation, and extreme acts of violence. Couldn't be better!!!

3. Bless the Beasts & Children (1971)--A Stanley Kramer movie. He produced one of my all time favorites, "The Caine Mutiny" (for another post in the future). This poignant film focuses on "troubled" teens sent to a boys' camp. The campers discover buffalo being "hunted" in pens, and set out to save them. This movie is disturbing on many levels, and leaves you wondering who the troubled really are, the boys, or their parents and the hunters. You can't go wrong with the Academy Award nominated theme sung by the Carpenters. Will anyone be saying that about "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from 2006's "Crash." Not likely!

4. Over the Edge (1979)--a staple of afterschool, early afternoon HBO in the early 80s. These were the days when HBO didn't start broadcasting until 5:00pm, and just ran a test pattern the rest of the time. And, there was only 1 HBO channel. Can you believe that!!! Only one! This movie features a young Matt Dillon. Parents move to a planned community called "New Granada" that has nothing to offer teenagers: no mall, no movie theatre, no fast food joint, no crack den. While the parents all focus on attracting businesses and industry to their new community, their kids are getting bored. After an accidental shooting, the kids go monkey-house crazy and show the parents they are bored as hell, and aren't going to take it anymore (I've seen something like this somewhere before...). The soundtrack features a bunch of Cheap Trick tunes, some stuff by the Cars, and the classic "Oooh Child" by "The Five Stairsteps." Righteous!

5. The Warriors (1979)--I could write my doctoral thesis on this movie! Something like: "Reactionary Film Viewing: Social Responses to Depiction of Non-Realistic Fictional Recreations of Imaginary Situations", or some crap like that. The tagline from the movie says it all: These are the Armies of The Night. They are 100,000 strong. They outnumber cops five to one. They could rule New York. Tonight they're all out for the Warriors.
For those who grew up under a rock, the Warriors was a gang movie. THE gang movie to end all gang movies. Storyline: gang gets accused of killing an opposing gang's leader, gets chased through NY by every other gang, including the Sopranos, and tries to make it back to their home turf before they get their comuppance. Serious, violent, cutting edge. So violent (allegedly) that some theatres banned it after gang wars broke out after showings. Talk about movie hype and publicity. The producers of this movie could not have asked for better...this movie set the stage for the battle of "which movie can get worst press and great publicity" between "The Warriors" and "Caligula" (which, by the way, if finally out on DVD with a "director's cut", as if we needed a "director's cut"!) Anyways..."The Warriors" is what makes movies like "Escape from New York" and "New Jack City" possible, if that's a good thing. Having seen "The Warriors" many times, I assure you, it is! Warriors...come out and playaaaaayyyy...

Hollywood just doesn't make them like this anymore!

Intro

Well, I suppose it is all about the content, right? What good is a blog without content? But is my content any good??? Doubtful, but this blog was free...

I come from a family of people who think they have a lot to say. Mostly they do, but of course, not as much to say as me! Just ask the people who know me. Some of my "peeps" think I am funny, some others, not so much. Nonetheless, like most attorneys, and members of my family, I usually have something to say, whether you want to hear it, or not.

So....more to come, I promise.

Eric