Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hypermasculine Me

Somewhere in America, a restaurant is failing, and losing more money every month. It is failing because the food is crap, or rubbish, or looks and tastes like used diapers. This is so because the chef has Lost His/Her passion. The owners have no money left to send the children to college. Indeed, Dad is hoping, though it shames him to do so, that Elder Daughter will consent to a few months of call-girling just so the restaurant’s suppliers won’t stop supplying it.

The world-famous chef with a face that the English press has cruelly, accurately described as resembling a scrotum, but dazzling blue eyes, rides into town. He samples the restaurant’s food and pronounces it…crap. It is unmistakable to him that its chef has lost his/her passion. He tours the kitchen and is appalled by its filthiness. He wouldn’t let a rabid dog throw up in it. The restaurant’s owners want to kill him, and each other, and themselves. There is a commercial break.

WFC says the chef must regain his/her passion, the kitchen must be cleaned, and a new, simpler menu must be devised to replace the existing one, which offers 382 different dishes that the passionless chef either can’t cook very well or hasn’t even heard of. Everyone hates the WFC, whose umbrage at the restaurant is such that he actually bounces up and down as he spews profanity. One of the restaurant’s owners would rather quit the business then endure another moment of the WFC’s verbal abuse.

WFC stops spewing profanity long enough to devise a new, more streamlined menu featuring fresh local ingredients. The chef’s passion begins to come back. In the dead of night, WFC’s team of decorators comes in and makes the restaurant slightly less ugly, or ugly in a slightly more current way. Seeing this transformation, the restaurant’s staff is moved to tears.

The restaurant is relaunched. Local dignitaries and tastemakers are invited. But on this night of nights, this do-or-die night, the kitchen can’t cope. Diners are shown wondering what’s taking so long for their appetizers to arrive. Meals are returned to the kitchen, where the newly re-impassioned chef utters one of WFC's favorite words. WFC’s prodigiously furrowed brow grows even furroweder. It appears as though his heroic efforts are all for naught. This time, he has bitten off more than even he can chew!

But wait. His exhortations to the chef to Take Command finally sink in. The kitchen catches up. In the dining room, local dignitaries are observed enjoying the restaurant’s food more than they’d have dreamed possible. At night’s end, the restaurant’s staff baptizes WFC in grateful tears. At the end of the tunnel, they have glimpsed light. WFC rides off into the sunset, his blue eyes twinkling deep in the furrows.

Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares is ever thus. It is thus in the UK, where I saw it first, and where no bleeping takes place when the great man calls his would-be beneficiary a fucking disgrace with bollocks the size of fucking chick peas, and it is thus now in the USA, where, with the sublime, if no less predictable Friday Night Lights, GRKN has made Friday night a wonderful time to stay home in one’s home theatre.

In other news, I’m not the world’s most masculine guy. I grew up playing with Barbie rather than balls and bats. I’m not good with tools and have never driven a motorcycle; I couldn’t be less handy on a bet. I’m really good at divining what certain facial expressions connote. I have no qualms whatever about asking directions, and enjoy wearing women’s clothing. I am soft-spoken and sensitive. But commercials for the impending release of Sex in the City II have begun airing, and I am suddenly feeling hypermasculine and heterosexual, for I tremble with loathing at the mere sight of them.

I watched the first one because Claire was a big fan, and at the end pronounced it six hours (or so it seemed) of absolute torture. I can’t stand Bruce Willis. I would sooner watch twice every action film Bruce has ever made — plus the entire oeuvre of Steven Seagal — than 10 minutes of this.

Anyone up to some hunting, camping, or fishing?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Johnny Census Kicks It in the Head

Quitting my temporary job as a Census Bureau enumerator was a great deal more complicated than I’d expected. I’d imagined I’d just meet with my crew leader at the Main Street coffeehouse that she’d made her unofficial headquarters, hand over my badge, gun, bulletproof vest, walkie-talkie, and forms, manfully mumble, “We’ll meet again, kid…somewhere, some day,” and disappear into the sunset to the accompaniment of poignant soundtrack music.

I kicked it in the head (as the Brits, who have much more colorful ways of putting things, describe quitting (listen for it in "All the Young Dudes")) because I was told it simply wasn’t good enough to make three in-person visits to a particular address at which no one ever seemed to be home and then write it off as non-responsive. We needed to get a neighbor or other “proxy” to tell us how many people lived at the address in question, and, if possible, what their dates of birth were, and to what races they belonged. But what do you do when you encounter the like of [number withheld] [street withheld], where you’re supposed to get information from Apt. 2, but there’s no door marked No. 2, and none of the three doorbells seems to work, and there isn’t a soul around, and the nearest neighbor’s 50 yards away, and thinks, when asked about No. 2, that he’s being asked to grass (Britspeak again) out a neighbor.

My crew leader was in tears. I hadn’t dared imagine we’d established that much of a bond, but apparently her feelings for me had escalated in the weeks since we completed training. Then I had to meet with her boss, in Poughkeepsie, a gruff guy with a lot of tattoos, a shaved head, a major nicotine jones, and an intimidating manner. He kept accidentally on purpose blowing smoke in my face and saying, “Suppose you tell us why you’re really quitting.”

And then came the polygraph boys. When I told them the sole reason I was jumping ship was that the Census Bureau wasn’t paying me enough to be so bored and frustrated, the leader of the team smirked at me malevolently, revealing several gold incisors, and said, “I wonder if that’s really the case,” in a faint German accent. I was reminded of the dental torture scene in the Dustin Hoffman vehicle Marathon Man, though no one suggested I open my mouth except to speak.

It was a genuine thrill receiving a personal call after my polygraph test from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who said he wanted to thank me personally for my efforts on behalf of the Census. I’d expected that would be it, given how busy he probably is, but he graciously stayed on the phone with me for several minutes, just talking about this and that. He told me that if I’m ever in Colorado, he’d take me to a Mexican place he promised will make me forget all about Burrito King in LA, where I used to so enjoy stopping for a chile relleno to smuggle into Dodger Stadium. I wonder if the rest of President Obama’s cabinet are so nice.

Now I will devote myself to writing unusually literate pornography, and self-publishing it on Amazon. For the first few years, I don’t picture it being as lucrative as census enumerating, but it won’t involve anyone thinking I’m trying to get them to inform on their neighbors, and such quality-of-life considerations aren’t to be pooh-pooed.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Gay, Lesbian, and Transgendered Nite at the Old Ball Game

We’ve established here that it doesn’t usually make much sense to be devoted to a particular professional sports team. The players are mercenaries who in most cases come from somewhere else entirely, more and more from abroad. The owners are capitalists trying to maximize their own wealth, and are not above relocating their franchises in the dead of night if they think more riches await them in a different locale.

We shouldn’t be rooting for our “local” teams, but for teams that do something noble.
I’d have rooted in the late 1940s for the baseball teams that signed black players. And I’d root in 2010 for any team that facilitated a gay player’s coming out.

When Gareth Thomas, the celebrated Welsh rugby player, admitted his homosexuality, his teammates — and most fans — embraced him. I’d very much like to see something similar happen in my own country. We’ve become accustomed to such sights as major league baseball teams using pink bats and NBA teams playing in pink pinafores and even NFL teams wearing pink shoes to demonstrate their support of the fight against breast cancer. God forbid, though, that, for instance, a left fielder should give his teammate in center field a congratulatory peck on the cheek after a highlights-show catch, or that a quarterback should embrace for longer than the prescribed eight milliseconds a wide receiver who’s just turned a poorly thrown pass into a long gain or even touchdown.

Yes, I’m being a little flippant. But look: I’ve stopped now.

I applaud everyone’s being so interested in beating breast cancer, as it causes widespread suffering, but so does homophobia. I’d like to see my “local” New York Jets, for instance, have a special Gay Day during the upcoming season, on which same-sex couples holding hands would get a free bobblehead doll or program as they pass through the turnstiles. Naturally, a lot of straight fans would bite the bullet and pretend to be gay only as long as it took to bag the swag, but wouldn’t that still be a step in the right direction?

I know a lot of teams would say in response that they’re all for greater tolerance (especially when it means more tickets sold), but that they wouldn’t feel right compelling their players to appear to endorse something they found immoral. Baloney. I believe the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 should have told the Southerners on their team either to get with the program of supporting Jackie Robinson’s being their second basemen, or get lost, and I believe the professional sports teams of 2010 could and should do likewise. A player can on his own time be as much a redneck homophobe as he chooses, but when he puts on the uniform furnished by his employer, he must be seen to support the employer’s ideals.

On every MLB uniform’s left shoulder, a rainbow flag. I have a dream.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I Done Been on TV!

The really troubling thing isn’t that there are now officially more imitations of the Jerry Springer show than anyone could hope to count — shows on which the poor, illiterate, and/or obese scream at one another hysterically about suspected infidelities they’re ultimately shown, via DNA or lie detector tests, to have or not have committed, while a studio audience of cretins brays and hoots and wets itself in moral outrage. No, the most terrifying thing is that there’s an apparently endless supply of poor, illiterate, and obese persons eager to suffer such humiliation in exchange for the ability to say, “I done been on TV!”

These are unmistakably the same people who do most of the commenting on Facebook and YouTube. We knew before that they can’t spell, and are hopelessly confused by apostrophes, but now they reveal themselves to be lots better with apostrophes than with biology. While I was cooking the lasagna I will serve James and Naomi this evening, I was watching Maury, which I wish were called Maury!, the daily morning geek show hosted by the eminent journalist Maury Povich. In the time it took me just to boil the noodles, I think I must have seen no fewer than 15 ugly confrontations. My favorite pitted a balding, blue-eyed man against a fat white woman with cornrows he’d met on line. She claimed he was the father of her daughter, while he, accompanied by the mother of his two sons, explained no such thing was possible. Was it not obvious that he “shot out” only boys? And he and Cornrows had done it only once, and he’d pulled most of the way out!

Maury, who’s 70 now (as are not a few of your and my fave rock stars, and then some!) put on his reading glasses, smirked the smirk that the hosts of these shows are taught before they're allowed on the air, and revealed that a DNA test conducted by one of the show’s sponsors confirmed that Balding was indeed the little girl’s dad, at which the audience leapt to its feet squealing exultantly, going nyah-nyah-na-nyah-nyah, and thumbs-downing the poor devil.

They do exactly the same when what Maury announces the result of a lie detector test. I’ve yet to see a single person on one of these shows point out that in 1998’s United States v. Scheffer, the Supreme Court ruled that "there is simply no consensus that polygraph evidence is reliable". I suspect people are warned by the shows’ producers that their segments won’t be broadcast if they don’t play along.

After Balding’s exposure, there was a succession of fat black people, the most interesting of whom accused each another of sexual relations with their babydaddies’ stepsisters, and I was struck by the audience’s lofty morality. At the sound of the word cheating from Maury’s mouth, they absolutely howl. And should he utter threesome, for instance, they get absolutely apoplectic with outrage.

A blonde woman with a Tom Petty underbite came on next to accuse her fiancĂ©, a blue-eyed numbskull in a backward baseball cap, of having cheated on her with “a ho on rollerblades.” Both seemed to be products of intensive inbreeding. The numbskull, who is officially able to cast exactly as many votes for President, say, as the head of Harvard’s political science department, was revealed, by lie detector, to have done the ho, and the audience would have gnawed his fingers and nose if it could have. And tomorrow there will be countless dozens more like him.

Sometimes I get so a-scared living in what Sarah Palin calls this great nation of ours.

It's Getting Scary Out There

It appears now, because it’s so dangerous Out There, that the census is going to take a lot longer to compute than the Department of the Interior originally projected. We enumerators were recently advised that it simply wasn’t good enough to leave three Notices of Visit at a particular address and then admit defeat; we are now required to implore neighbors to inform on the residents of the addresses in question. If none was around, we were to ask passers-by, people walking their dogs, mowing their lawns, or reaping what they’d sowed. We were to remind anyone who balked at violating their neighbors' privacy that the law forbids the disclosure of informers’ identities — and that America doesn’t torture some prisoners and toss others into prison for years without trial, and that we invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein was about to unleash fearsome weapons of mass destruction, and that it’s imperative we ascertain exactly how many people are living where so every state will have exactly the number of highly principled, eminently competent congresspersons to which it’s entitled.

I will pause to reveal that my three favorite moments in any Miss USA competition are when the contestants stumble, when the contestants give spectacularly inane answers to questions designed to demonstrate how level-headed and well informed they are, and when they’re revealed to have behaved sluttishly in the recent past (this year’s winner, Rima Fakih, won a pole dancing competition in 2007). I always enjoy the sight of Donald Trump’s hair, though I regard him as tied with Gene Simmons for Most Obnoxious Living Americans Other Than Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, or Michele Bachmann.

Six days ago, the head of one of my fellow census enumerators was found mounted on a stake on the corner of [withheld] and [withheld] with a sign, written in blood, attached reading, “I told u I filled out you’re [misspelled expletive deleted] questionnaire.” Police are looking for someone who sends a lot of text messages, and who doesn’t understand the difference between your and you’re, though a few minutes on Facebook or YouTube makes clear that there are only a couple of dozen living Americans who do anymore.

In any event, after the discovery of [withheld’s] head, we were ordered to canvas in groups of at least three, of which at least one was to be a male with either large biceps or tattoos suggesting a taste for mayhem and pockmarks suggesting an adolescence that might dispose him to violence. That worked fine for a couple of days, until it was discovered that a whole trio of enumerators had been waylaid by one of the gangs of heterophobic lesbian folksingers that’s been terrorizing southern Dutchess County since Hilary Clinton was appointed Secretary of State.

So now we’re going out in groups of five, accompanied by a West Point cadet in dress uniform. There’ve been a couple of shootings by locals who mistakenly think we’re there to trample their Second Amendment rights and confiscate their firearms, but neither has been fatal. The problem is that the process has been considerably slowed. I don’t know if I’m supposed to reveal this, but completion of the 2010 Census is now expected no earlier than 2020. Blame it on people’s irrational fear of government.

Incidentally, I’m beginning to have my doubts about Glen Beck. What if he in fact is one of the most brilliant satirists of our age? If you were to insist on condemning him for the paranoiac rage his loony comparisons of Obama to Hitler, for instance, inspire in the very stupid and gullible, are you not morally compelled to condemn Sacha Baron Cohen with comparable fervor for getting roomfuls of rednecks to sing about throwing Jews down wells?

Monday, May 17, 2010

I Want My Country Back

I want to be able to order a vodka smoothie when I get parched without fear of anyone wondering if they ought to organize an intervention.

I want free agency for professional athletes to be rescinded so that a player stays for his whole career with the same team, even if that arrangement renders him a virtual indentured servant. If athletes don’t like it, they can get temporary jobs as census enumerators like the rest of us. I don’t want to live in a world in which no one isn’t talking about with whom LeBron James will now sign.

I want, in the words of Rodney King, for us all to get along. Back in my student days, we campus radicals may have passionately hated the administrators who invited Dow Chemical to recruit on campus, for instance, but that didn’t preclude our going out with them for a couple of cold ones after someone had bailed us out. (We’d been arrested for occupying their offices, and drawing portraits of Eldridge Cleaver on the walls with our own feces.)

I want to live in a country in which teenagers don’t wantonly injure their parents — one in which, however intense their antipathy, they dutifully mumble, “Yes, sir,” or, “No, ma’am,” as in early-‘60s sitcoms. When I was myself a teenager, I (very foolishly) disliked my parents, though I graciously allowed them to feed, shelter, clothe, and educate me. However fervent my disdain, though, I never stopped speaking to them, as my own daughter stopped speaking to me eight years ago.

I’m reminded of her “promotion” (the Santa Rosa Unified School District apparently frowned on the use of “graduation”) from elementary to middle school. The father one of her classmates, Javiera, an enormous, enormously shy chicana, attended, in a laborer’s clothing, but looking proud enough to burst at any second. He’d apparently stopped en route to the modest ceremony to buy one of those brightly colored inflatable balloons so popular in dollar stores. The one he’d picked inappropriately exulted, “Happy birthday!” I don’t suppose he spoke a lot of English, but you should have seen the looks on his and his daughter’s faces as, after the list of promoted students was solemnly intoned, he presented her with his small gift; they could have melted Iceland.

My daughter (and Javiera) started middle school. On her first day, my daughter held my hand as I helped her find her homeroom. I learned later that one of her classmates, who’d apparently become terribly worldly over the course of the preceding summer, had teased her about it, and that my daughter had told her, in different words, to take a hike; she held my hand because she loved me. It might have been the proudest moment of my life.

Within a few months, though, when I’d drive up to Santa Rosa (from San Francisco) on Friday afternoon to collect her, my daughter wouldn’t deign to greet me as she got into the car, wearing the expression of a condemned prisoner about to be marched before a firing squad. We’d be south of Petaluma before she could bring herself to converse with me.

I asked if she saw Javiera at school, and confessed how he spectacle of her dad proudly presenting her with the balloon several months before had nearly brought me to tears. She seemed to take particular delight in informing me that Javiera, she of the straight A’s in elementary school, had become a foul-mouthed little reprobate. I assumed Javiera had done so for self-protection — there’s no sadism like the sadism of middle schoolers — but I imagined her dad being no less hurt by it than I was by Brigitte’s seething surliness.

I want my country back.