Saturday, November 1, 2014

I Watch Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares So You Don't Have To

Somewhere in America (or in the UK, where there are separate series), a restaurant is failing. Once prospective diners lined up around the block. Now bored, lonely servers refill salt and pepper shakers that don’t need refilling and gaze forlornly into the empty parking lot while the chef/owner weeps quietly in the kitchen and contemplates suicide. But help is on its way, in the form of the television personality and restaurateur Gordon Ramsey, with his ravaged forehead, excess of nervous energy, and bullying manner. He greets the failing restaurant’s chef/owner and servers cordially, and asks to sample the former’s cooking. He finds it appalling, to the point of spitting out half-chewed mouthfuls of it. The chef/owner is of course mortified with embarrassment, the servers, who have come to regard the chef/owner as an asshole, quietly vindicated. They beam delightedly as Chef Ramsay spits out the chef/owner’s signature dish.

Chef Ramsay asks to see the kitchen and to watch the chef/owner at work. He notes that the chef/owner seems to lack…passion for cooking, and is horrified to discover that the restaurant’s refrigerator is full of malodorous spoiled foodstuffs that are likely to make ill anyone who eats them. Much of his commentary is bleeped out. After rubbing the chef/owner’s nose in the kitchen’s deplorable hygiene, he bellows, “Shut it down!” and there is another commercial break.

Chef Ramsay and the chef/owner, whom Chef Ramsay condescendingly now addresses as Bigboy, snarl at each other. Bigboy has never hated anyone or anything as much as he hates Chef Ramsay. But now Chef Ramsay’s unseen staff devises a wonderful streamlined new menu for the restaurant featuring Clean Flavors, or, in the UK, Flavours. The servers smirk with pleasure as Bigboy is unable to deny that Chef Ramsay’s underlings’ cooking is far superior to his own.

But Chef Ramsay has only just begun. He has brought his decorators in too, and they have transformed the failing restaurant’s interior, removing many of the ghastly dust-collecting doo-dads and memorabilia with which Bigboy had been unable to part over the years, replacing the cruddy old tables ‘n’ chairs. The interior was admittedly ugly before. It is ugly in a different, more modern, way now, Chef Ramsay’s decorators not being very good. At the sight of his transformed interior, Bigboy is nonetheless moved to tears, and is consoled by one of the softer-hearted of his servers, who’s similarly lachrymose. This might be exactly what is needed to rekindle Bigboy’s long-missing passion! Now if he can only master the array of new dishes Chef Ramsay’s minions have devised — before tomorrow night, when — oops! — Chef Ramsay has invited everyone who’s anyone in town to the failing restaurant’s relaunch!

The mayor comes, and the local food critic. The kitchen, which hasn’t begun to master the new dishes, and is used to feeding six people per evening, is of course overwhelmed. Blood-pressure-raising music is played at a high volume. Bigboy is shown cursing and sweating into one of the new dishes he’s cooking for the first time. “Work as a [bleep] team!” Chef Ramsay bellows. Various diners tell the camera that they have been waiting 22 hours for their appetizers. The look on the local food critic’s pinched little face suggests that she intends to write something uncomplimentary on her blog, which is read by her parents and 11 others.

But now, with Chef Ramsay sputtering and gasping incredulously at their incompetence, the kitchen hits it stride. The packed house gets fed. One of Chef Ramsay’s assistant’s cleanly flavorful new dishes has wiped the smirk off the local food critic's face. Various diners are seen nodding at each other in delight. Yum!

As the last of them leaves, Bigboy has little recourse but to admit that Chef Ramsay isn’t the raging asshole he earlier seemed. He was in fact being cruel to be kind, just as in the Nick Lowe song! Has he not, after all, saved the restaurant’s bacon?  Twitching hyperactively in that way he has, bouncing on the balls of his feet, Chef Ramsay now tells an unseen interviewer in the parking lot that the restaurant may not go under, leaving no money for Bigboy's daughter's life-saving surgery, if Bigboy can retain his newly recovered passion for cooking, and can get his staff to keep Working Together as a Team. 

He removes his chef’s jacket and strides off, all 6-2 of him, presumably in search of another restaurant to redeem, other lives to save.  

Friday, October 31, 2014

In Defense of Obnoxious Speech

A few months back, the distinguished British actress Somi Guha visited from London, and we had a spirited debate. She had shortly before made headlines in the land of her carefree girlhood by condemning on behalf of all persons of colo(u)r the controversial television personality Jeremy Clarkson, best known for Top Gear, on which he is one of three white British males who have zany adventures traveling by automobile in faroff lands. On seeing an Asian man on the bridge the show’s producers had thought it would be zany for our three heroes to build over the River Kwai, Clarkson had quipped, “This is a proud moment… but there’s a slope on it.” A slope is a derogatory term for an Asian, specifically Vietnamese, person.

I agreed fully that Clarkson had been obnoxious. I disagreed wholeheartedly that he should be driven off the air. I deplore all the right things — misogyny, homophobia, racism, xenophobia of all sorts. But I deplore no less fervently the idea of people mistaking their offendedness for license to dictate what others can and cannot say, and, by extension, what I can and cannot hear. I believe that what I regard as obnoxious speech needs to be protected as zealously as lovely noble speech for the simple reason that one man’s meat is another’s poison — not that I wish to appear sexist. The same holds true for women!

There are so very few absolutes, I think. I have had a number of very heated arguments with a very dear animal rights activist friend who believes that it’s his moral duty to break into factory farms, for instance, and set free the animals. I don’t for a moment question his sincerity, but I have very grave misgivings about living in a society in which those who are sure they’re on the side of the angels destroy others’ property, or threaten those others with violence. There is no doubt in my mind that those who’ve assassinated workers at abortion clinics believe themselves to be no less righteous than my animal-loving friend.

I’m a Jew. (In my old age, I’ve come to self-identify that way because the adjectival form has come to seem vaguely euphemistic.) I’m willing to walk the walk no less than talk the talk. If you wish to disparage kikes, I will think you a frightful jerk for having done so, just as I would if you’d spoken of chinks or beaners (or slopes!), but won’t demand that you be muzzled. Your being able to sound off about kikes seems crucial to my remaining able to sound off about teabaggers, for instance.

I suspect a great many Top Gear viewers didn’t even know what slope meant. Coming to this country, Brits would have to be forgiven for referring to someone as a Chinaman, as them’s fightin’ words here, but inoffensive over there, where one sees restaurants with that name. And don’t get me started on Negro (a designation that for Dr. King connoted respect) having been discredited, and replaced by African American — which my friend and mentee Arouna, from Burkina Faso, regards as ludicrous. “How many of these people, have ever set foot in Africa?” he marvels. And what is the actress Charlize Theron, from just outside Johannesberg, if not an African American?

"I’m glad I did what I did," Somi is reported to have said a few months after the original Clarkson brouhaha, after it was revealed that a great many ghastly, gutless sacks-o’-shit had written anonymously to revile and even threaten her. "If I hear Jeremy Clarkson make any more racist comments, I won’t hesitate to do the same thing."

I’ve got an even better idea. Why not avoid programmes featuring Jeremy Clarkson, much as those who are offended in this country by Ann Coulter’s hateful bitch schtick might wish to avoid programs on which she appears, and articles detailing her latest outrageous utterance?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Me and My Mullet

Last Friday, I was long overdue for a haircut. I asked the young woman on whose mercy I flung myself to leave intact the little tail I’ve asked the perpetrators of my last few haircuts not to cut. She left not only the tail, but a fair amount of hair to either side of it. In a couple of weeks, it’s apt to appear as though I’m attempting a mullet. I am planning to find perversely affirming the snickering this will surely inspire. 

Have you ever noticed that those who leap up screeching and fondling their own genitalia in excitement at the sight of someone in a mullet are usually those with no discernible sense of style of their own? Have you noticed that the British television comperes who derive the greatest delight from showing footage of Ronan Keating (trust me: he was very, very big) sporting a look that has come, over a couple of decades, to be regarded as ludicrous never show footage of themselves from the same period, when they were doing everything in their power to look like Ronan Keating? 

That which makes a style exciting is it's to blow raspberries at prevailing contemporary notions of good taste. For that reason, when the style is widely abandoned, it will of course appear silly, its silliness having been the reason it was such fun at the time. There are few cheaper shots in all the world than ridiculing discredited hairstyles and fashions.

Stand atop Facebook, throw a stone, and you’ve got a very good chance of hitting a woman who’s posted on her page a photograph of herself in padded shoulders, legwarmers, or big permed hair of the sort that was very fashionable in the 80s, inevitably with the caption, “What was I thinking?” Well, what you were thinking, madam, is almost certainly that you wanted to be viewed as chic, and asked your hairdresser to make you look like other fashionable women. If there’s any shame in that, it’s in being imitative, but how many of are sufficiently charismatic, self-confident, and rich to do what former idol Tom Wolfe does, get his unique wardrobe custom-made?

I used to write what was ostensibly a fashion column for Creem magazine. Therein, I asserted that the very worst idea for a musician hoping to attract notice was to dress as musicians he or she admired were already dressing. As though I hadn’t done exactly that myself! When I was 21, my mother, who in her high school yearbook had been described as “always looking like a page out of Vogue [magazine], and who’d unwittingly made my earlier life agonizing by insisting that I wear beige jeans and brown shoes while every other boy in sight toed the black-shoe-and-blue-jeans line, looked at a photograph of me with very long hair and a wispy moustache, sighed, and said, “Why would you want to make yourself look like that?” Easy, Mom. Because I hoped to be seen as hip, and possibly even a little bit dangerous, a fearsome foe of the status quo, yo.

I’m kind of proud of having no tattoos, and of never having owned a Ramones T-shirt intended to convey my hipness. My only piercing is in my left earlobe, and is from a million years ago, when a man would still be called a “faggot” and challenged to fights even for a tiny diamond stud, let alone the sort of rhinestone drop earrings I wore years later as an employee of San Francisco’s biggest fascist law firm, from which I yearned to be fired, but was not. I am proud never to have bought a stingy-brim fedora of the sort seen so often in hipster neighborhoods. When I see someone in such a hat, I always want to go up to him, point at the hat, and say, “Groovy!” But I suspect in most cases he wouldn’t get it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

20 Celebrities You Didn't Know Enjoy Anal Sex With Llamas

In the United Kingdom, where I hung my hat for nearly three-quarters of a decade, there exists a particular sort of magazine that appeals without apology to the basest instincts of the lowest common denominator. It will typically be dedicated to showing its readers the stretch marks and underarm sweat stains of female celebrities. It will reveal how ghastly said celebrities look without makeup, or at the end of a 16-hour vigil at the bedside of relatives recently grievously injured in what the Brits call car crashes. The photo captions are invariably mean-spirited. Cheryl Cole [formerly of Girls Aloud] looks rubbish as she uses the loo for the ninth time in a 90-minute span after eating in a dodgy Indian.

I used to dare imagine that we were better than that. Boy, are we not. America has discovered that Internet surfers have an insatiable appetite for clickbait, and TV viewers for snideness, and one is forever being tempted on line to click on, for instance, 20 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Enjoy Anal Sex With Llamas. Because Time Warner recently decided to reconfigure its channel lineup, I have no idea where anything is anymore, and because I have a dilapidated old man's memory, I commonly click through 200 channels trying to find the Scandinavian fetish porn channel. I’m aghast in the process of doing so to see a great many smirking little snarkbags expressing their disdain for, for instance, the actress Renee Zellwegger’s appearance having changed in the past 15 years — possibly owing to plastic surgery. 

If you don’t count politicians (Dick Cheney always leaps to mind at a moment like this), I think these commenters-on-celebrities might be the lowest form of American life. 

It strikes me that many who strongly support women being able to make decisions about their own uteruses are pretty iffy about their deciding what goes on with their own faces. If Renee Zellwegger’s going to feel better about herself, or more employable, after a bit of cosmetic surgery, how is it the place of's 26-year-old Shawn Smirkyface, whom time hasn't yet begun to ravage, to condemn her for it? 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Another World Series Update: The Sort of Thing Black People Did in Those Days

‘Twas actually the Dodgers I hoped would represent the National League in the World Series, as I live in Los Angeles, and as a little fellow used to believe that my listening to their games on my little red transistor radio improved their chances of winning. As I have never met a single member of the team, and recognize that it’s made up entirely of mercenaries who know next to nothing of my city, my allegiance to the Dodgers is of course entirely irrational.

My hoping for the Giants to win might make even less sense. I lived in the Bay Area for lotsa years, and rooted for the Giants even when Kevin Mitchell, a thug, and Will Clark, whose idea of a grand time was going out into nature and shooting something dead, were its principal stars. But I find, without ever having met either, that I enjoy rooting for both Tim Lincecum and Hunter Pence.

Formerly the dominant pitcher in the National League, Lincecum has lately been glimpsed in Siberia, or at least in a corner of the Giants bullpen reserved for the pitcher least likely to see action. I, who know what it’s like to have the world on a string one day and then have it not return your calls the next, feel for the guy, whom I always enjoyed watching work, as I’ve never seen anyone who seemed so consistently to throw the ball with all his might. He’s listed as being 5-11, which means (because baseball teams exaggerate their players’ sizes to intimidate their opponents, even though their opponents are doing exactly the same thing) he might be 5-8 — tiny. It’s fun to watch a little guy strike out a great big one. He’s been busted for pot. He dressed eccentrically and had long hair. His surname is wonderfully evocative of linoleum, a word I’ve loved since I first heard it.

I like Hunter Pence even more, for making everything he does look extremely difficult (as indeed it is!), and for wearing his knickers higher (actually above the knee!) than anyone in the modern game, and for always appearing just slightly frantic. He reminds me of Ginger Baker, except with less hideous teeth, but in a nice way.

When the very rotund Pablo Sandoval waddled over to the mound the other night to offer encouragement or insight to relief pitcher Jean Machi, even rotunder, I though it might be the cutest thing I’d ever seen. The obesity epidemic writ large! I love that the Giants invited the late Steve Jobs to sing the National Anthem before Game 5, and that he, in turn, invited to accompany him on guitar Joan Baez, whom he was known to have dated because he liked the idea of putting his procreative organ somewhere Bob Dylan had earlier put his own. I dare to hope that first baseman Brandon Belt will name his first daughter Garter.

As I prepare to publish this, I now remember that I actually have met a couple of Los Angeles Dodgers, a million years ago, at the Broadway department store in Westchester, though I can recall only second baseman Charlie Neal’s identity. I got his autograph. He was the first black person with whom I’d ever interacted, unless you count gorgeous Sandra Lucas from my class at nearby Loyola Village School, and she self-identified as…Spanish because that’s the sort of thing black people did in those days.

Kenny G's Crimes Against Humanity

At those rare moments when I have been exposed to the music of Kenny G, I have found it pretty inoffensive — unexciting, to be sure, and not terribly inspired, to be even surer, but not quite on a par with child molestation, homophobia, racism, or genocide. Such astute listeners as the guitarist Pat Metheny, on the other hand, have described his playing as "lame-ass, jive, pseudo-bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped out, [and] fucked up." My guess, though, is that most who hate Kenny G's music most passionately know only that it's terribly uncool to enjoy it, and wouldn’t be able to tell Ornette Coleman from a can of Aqua-Net.

I hate that sort of piling-on. Anyone whose Top 1000 Heartaches list includes the popularity of Kenny G is living a charmed life.

The other evening, I was exposed to the music of Phil Collins at greater length than I’d have preferred. I found it fairly bland, but very well sung, well played, and nicely produced. If just before parachuting onto a remote atoll with a boombox and however many CDs I was able to grab, I was given a choice between Phil Collins and Nirvana, say, or Pearl Jam, or Alice in Chains, or any of that bunch, I wouldn’t hesitate to grab for Phil, though I might first ask if there weren’t some audiobooks I could take instead. 

I see that a new movie starring the incalculably talentless Keanu Reeves is about to open. Those who vilify Kenny G for being mediocre while a thousand far better saxophonists play for spare change on street corners might wish to note that Kenny G isn't exactly unique in being both not very good and hugely successful. I have not seen soggy newspapers on sidewalks with expressive ranges wider than Keanu's, but that doesn't mean that some day I don't expect to do so.

I am now advised that a lot of people find Kenny G especially loathsome for having overdubbed himself on the one Louis Armstrong record everybody's heard. For jazz lovers, who revere Armstrong (in spite of his duets with Carol fucking Channing and embarrassing perspiration schtick (he was forever patting himself dry with a handkerchief), this is tantamount to some grotty little vandal in gigantic jeans whipping out a can of spray paint and…tagging the Mona Lisa

Perspective, my dears! I deplore any artist helping himself or herself to the work of any other artist, but maybe we can derive some small solace from the gifted Mr. G not having defiled John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, for instance, or another work of genuine note. Armstrong recorded "Wonderful World" barely two years after Bull Connor directed his racist police force to sic dogs and turn fire hoses on nonviolent black demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama. How very comforting for those intent on keeping black people in their place to hear that one of the best known of them, one who'd been allowed to grin his enormous grin and sweat prodigiously on The Ed Sullivan Show, nonetheless experienced the world as just peachy. Pay no attention to Dr. King, the record seemed to say. We happy as can be over here on the wrong side of the tracks. 

How do you desecrate a piece of shit?

Monday, October 27, 2014

[Famous Person] RIP

Much compassion is expressed on Facebook, and that’s a beautiful thing. I find very much less beautiful, and in fact sort of distasteful, how, whenever someone famous dies, many seem to rush to post something along the lines of, “[Famous Person] RIP,” as has just happened with Jack Bruce.

It is difficult for me to imagine that those who post, “[Famous Person] RIP,” picture the object of their beneficence pacing nervously back and forth in some celestial motel office, wondering if they might have to do so for the rest of eternity, and then bursting into tears of relief on discovering that those who enjoyed their music or movies or what have you all those decades ago have wished them eternal serenity instead.

In my darkest moods, all that rushing to post, “[Famous Person] RIP,” seems a form of showing off, and to be more about the poster’s craving for attention and praise (“Look at me! I’ve got information you don’t!”) than anything else. I’m reminded of how sometimes the most hopeless wallflowers at my elementary school (and here, of course, I speak of myself in the third person) would occasionally enjoy a moment of celebrity for having knowledge that the alpha kids did not.

Mr. Bruce was a freakishly talented musician, but I suspect a very large majority of those who rushed to proclaim their bereavedness had heard very little of the music he’s made in the past 30 years. I wonder if it might not have depressed him to discover (or, given his ever-smaller royalty cheques and performance fees, have confirmed the sad fact) that he’d substantially lost his audience by his 30th birthday.

Why, I’ve often wondered, does the typical artist’s audience make clear after only a very few years that all it wants to hear is the old stuff? If I were the Rolling Stones, for instance, I think it would drive me a little bit crazy to know that only a very few people would investigate any new music I recorded, and instead preferred to hear something I’d written and recorded 45 years ago — and become sick to death of playing 44 ago.

John Lennon is said to have observed that no one will ever love any music more than the music he or she loved at 19. Does the disinclination to hear anything new after a certain (very young age) serve a biological purpose?  Being thought of 40 years and more after the fact as The Man Who Wrote Those Kinks Liner Notes or The Critic Who Detested Led Zeppelin, when I have in the interim written more novels than I can count, and 100 songs of heartbreaking beauty and poignancy, is more than bad enough.      

For the record, I do like very much when one goes to the trouble of expressing what someone newly departed meant to him or her.