Thursday, April 9, 2015

This Town Wasn't Big Enough for the Three of Us

The three subjects nearly all new acquaintances most want to discuss with me are, in order, my not liking the Led Zeppelin, my once, many decades ago, having loved The Kinks, and my brief membership in the combo Spots, which, after years of getting nowhere in Los Angeles, relocated to the United Kingdom and had a big hit record, and have, in the subsequent 40 years, apparently made a living performing it at state fairs and what have you. I have of course written here at length about the Zeppelin and The Kinks, but only now will I spill the beans about Spots.

I first encountered the younger of the two brothers, the singer, in a beginning Italian class at the university we both seemed to be attending, I to avoid conscription into the armed forces, which at the time were fighting the North Vietnamese, he for reasons unknown to me. You’d have imagined that, by virtue of our being the only two long-haired males in the class (and two of maybe 20 on campus), we’d have bonded sharpish, but Rusty, as I divined his name to be, took no more notice of me than Susan Pursell had in junior high school. He seemed to have eyes only for another classmate, a sandy-haired rowing team type with blues eyes and a square jaw. By and by, it became clear that I would have to take the bull by the horns.

One afternoon I noticed that the rowing team type was absent, and approached Rusty after class. I said he looked stressed out, though that locution wouldn’t gain traction for another couple of decades, and wondered if he might enjoy a massage. He sighed, “Why not?” and we repaired to a shady, secluded spot behind the big research library. He took his shirt off, revealing himself to have the musculature of a former high school quarterback. I kneaded his lovely shoulders. He murmured, “That’s nice.” Somewhere not too far away, a bird sang. A gentle breeze ran invisible fingers through his auburn curls. One thing led to another, and then to a third.  It was a first for both of us. It felt a little bit wrong, but so very, very right.

We shared our hopes and dreams. He aspired to become a rock and roll star, as I did too, as did every young  man who had seen A Hard Day’s Night. We both aspired to remain non-combatants in Viet Nam. We had so much in common!

Later, I met his elder brother Rob, who would play the piano in Spots, and be celebrated both for his Charlie Chaplin/Adolf Hitler moustache and his implacably witty lyrics. He had had inscribed  Pinball Wizard in the rear side windows of his VW Bug, in the manner of local Latinos, though local Latinos commonly went with something more doo-woppy, like Pledging My Love. I found that sublimely droll. His moustache tickled when we kissed, but it was a small price to pay. I knew there would come a time when I would have to choose between the brothers, but that day would have to wait.  

They formed a musical combo with an engineering student who played the guitar. Rusty played the bass, minimally, and sang lead. They invited me to be their drummer, though at the time I barely knew which side of the kit on which to sit. We did some recording together. They mixed the drums so low that I might as well have stayed home. In accordance with their wishes — and of course my own too — I got a groovy “layered” haircut from their camp follower Diane Mallory-Jamieson. The sole "cover" in their repertoire was Jan & Dean's "Gas Money."

They seemed to be striving too hard for cute eccentricity. My suggesting that we aspire instead to the scariness of The Who visibly displeased Rob, who hadn’t yet had the idea of repurposing Chaplin. I was soon invited to find another group for whom to drum, and did so, though there was no keeping one of my inexorable sexual charisma behind a drum kit for long.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Someone Braver Than I

When I was a child, Mother — whose own father was commonly brought home semi-conscious after brawling in bars — and Pop always told me that it takes a bigger, braver man to walk away from a fight. This turned out to be perfectly awful advice. I knew, as I walked away a million times, that I wasn’t doing so because I was nobler or braver than my antagonist, but more cowardly. I came, much later in life, to wish their advice had been, “The physical pain you’re likely to suffer will be very much less awful than the psychic pain of thinking yourself a chickenshit, to use the playground vernacular.” The problem being that it wasn’t physical pain I dreaded so much as humiliation. What if, after decking me, my adversary didn’t graciously murmur, “Well contested, old sport,” as he helped me back to my feet, but peed on my ankles?

I thought of all this 48 hours ago when, after traipsing all the way up to Hollywood Blvd. to enjoy the glorious spring weather, and to pretend I wasn’t dying of boredom, I caught a southbound bus at the corner of Sunset and Fairfax. The mentally ill ridership of Los Angeles public transportation is very high, and this bus contained one of the craziest crazies in town, a black woman of around 45 who was stridently arguing with herself as I boarded, and who felt called upon to critique the appearances of several others who boarded after I did. She found especially objectionable the coiffure of a young black woman who boarded at Santa Monica Blvd. Heading for the back of the bus, the YBW said, “Fuck you, bitch,” over her shoulder, and BW45, shot out of her seat screeching, making no secret of her intention to tear YBW limb from limb. It fell to someone braver than I to keep the pair of them apart. I did what I usually do in such situations, and pretended it wasn’t happening.

It always falls to someone braver than I, and I hate that about myself.

At Griffith Observatory in mid-2014, a great many of us were queued up for one of their wonderful multimedia presentations in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, known for its Zeiss star projector, laser digital projection system, and state-of-the-art aluminum dome. A mountainous (maybe 6-8, 280 pounds) guy whose palpable arrogance reminded me of the Russians at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt when we holidayed there a couple of years ago pushed his (and his mortified-looking girlfriend’s) way into the middle of the long queue. Everybody let him. Eleven months later, I’m still kicking myself for being one of everybody, for worrying about one of my expensive contact lenses or even more expensive dental bridgework being knocked out if I did the right thing. Or maybe Igor would have been content just to snicker, “And what are you going to do about it, Foureyes?” though, as noted, I was wearing contact lenses, and not spectacles.

As everyone does, I sometimes encounter a parent being awful to his or her child in a supermarket, say, or at Target. I can pretend from now until Doomsday that what usually keeps me from intervening is the fear that, out of my sight, the parent, embarrassed, will really let the kid have it. The shameful fact of the matter, in many cases, is that it’s my fear of being punched in the kisser and then having my ankles peed on that keeps me from doing what I strongly feel I should.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Restaurateur Intolerable (Not Even 50)

As any reasonable person would, I sort of detest Gordon Ramsay, but I also love him a little bit. I love his bouncing manically on the balls of his feet and letting his many tics run wild when confronting someone.  I love that he came from nothing, survived working for Marco Pierre White, worked very, very hard, and Made Something of himself. Sure, it’s seemed, in the wake of last year’s revelations that many of his restaurants are doing dismally, that what that something is is the Dennis Hopper of the culinary world, everybody’s go-to bad guy. As Hopper did, though, he plays the role with verve, gusto, and irresistible energy, and I love that his forehead is even more prolifically creased than my own, even though he’s not even 50. (Not even 50. I just said that didn’t I?)

About Gordon’s best-known imitator, Restaurant Impossible’s Robert Irvine, I have no mixed feelings. I can’t stand the guy.

His show’s format is almost identical to that of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. He visits a struggling restaurant. Provided he’s able to get his gigantic muscles through the front door (Men's Fitness, the abs fetish magazine, once named him one of the 25 Fittest Guys in America), he samples the cuisine, and invariably pronounces it appalling, just like the place’s d├ęcor. The owner/chef curses him, whereupon Robert gives the owner/chef a look that says, “I could probably bench-press your freezer, pal. But if you really want to be embarrassed, do your worst.” There’s a commercial break. 

Irvine teaches the chef, who apparently stuffed himself with crow during the break, how to cook while his (Irvine’s) decorators are transforming the dining room physically for not a dime more than $10,000. He smirks self-satisfiedly while the restaurant’s owners weep with gratitude at how gorgeous and successful he and his team have made their restaurant, and rides off into the sunset.

My own favorite moment, present on every show, is that at which the great man frets into the camera, to build the sort of suspense that will inspire viewers to sit through commercials, about the impossibility of his decorators finishing their work on time. “How about, since you're the one who specified the deadline, you simply postpone the opening by 48 hours, then?” I commonly hear myself muttering.

As best as I can determine, this expert on running a successful restaurant has never actually run a successful restaurant, though at one point he fibbed sufficiently convincingly about his qualifications to inspire a couple of investors to offer to help him open a couple, in St. Petersburg, Florida.

In fairness, Irvine’s decorators are slightly more on the ball than Ramsay’s, who almost always make a hideous restaurant look hideous in a slightly different way. On the other hand, I can’t stand Irvine’s accent being unable to decide between British and American, his mouth reminds me of a cat’s anus, and I find his bullying pretty half-hearted.

I won’t fail to note that I like Jamie Oliver for having spearheaded a campaign a few years back to serve British schoolchildren reasonably nutritious food, rather than the unspeakable crap to which they were accustomed. Given a choice, the kiddies of course preferred the unspeakable crap. You can lead a horse to water…

Monday, April 6, 2015

Food Is the New Rock and Roll

As you know, all I watch on television anymore is The Food Network. Where I’m pretty sure I would find depressing speculation about why a German pilot killed himself an 150-or-so others by pointing his plane at the Alps, I am diverted and fascinated by the sight of four prolifically tattooed sous chefs and line cooks trying to make a credible appetizer out of, for instance, Chilean sea bass jowls, musang king durian, potato chips, and pomegranate vinegar, as they do on the glorious Chopped.

But I worry about TFN, which some nights seems to stand for The [Guy] Fieri Network, as in the Sammy Hagaresque everydude who now stars not only in Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, wherein he samples scandalously rich eats of the sort blue collar workers in red states love, but also Guy’s Grocery Games, of which I have not yet been able to endure 30 seconds. I can’t stand the guy’s moronic, brayed dudespeak, or that he’s never met a 4500-calorie deep-fried pork-encrusted deep dish pizza baconburger that hasn’t inspired him to shake his head and marvel, “This is off the hook!

Always with the pimply hyperbole! Just once —once! — can’t he take a bite of something, look horrified, and spit it out? “Oh, man, dude,” I’d love for him to say, as he surely would, “this sucks!” If chefs are the new rock stars — as no one has suggested that they are — Guy Fieri is Grand Funk Railroad.

On 30-Minute Meals, Rachael Ray is looking strangely subdued, and maybe a little bit sullen, like a 15-year-old girl whose father has told her that if she doesn’t stop brutalizing her little brother, she won’t get to use the car to go ridin’ next Sunday, which is of course an Eddie Cochran reference, as “pimply hyperbole” was a Hard Day’s Night one.

Ted Allen
Ted Allen, who was the food and wine specialist on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy — which I never watched because I’m very sorry, but I don’t subscribe to the idea that gays naturally have better taste is what a Jew of a certain age might call a lox, almost certainly the insipidest man in television history, if you don’t count Anderson Cooper. And now they’ve got him on All-Star Academy too? Can someone — anyone! — explain this to me?

If food is the new rock and roll, Ted Allen is James Taylor, except without the pulse-pounding excitement. 

Wee Willie is on duh right.
I’ve also been watching Food Fortunes, an imitation of various imitations of the British Dragons Den, on which entrepreneurs try to talk a panel of rich sourpusses into investing in their often  preposterous businesses. Food Fortunes has added a couple of zany wrinkles. When the prospective investors are interested enough to make an offer, they make it in a separate session, rather than after the pitch. Edge-of-the-seat suspense! And they don’t actually tell the entrepreneur what they’re offering, but write their offers down on pieces of paper that they then slide across a table toward them in little Food Fortunes-branded folders. One can almost imagine Ted Allen having come up with these ideas!

The purported titans of the food industry include the founder of Planet Hollywood, at which no sane person has ever eaten, and which I thought had gone backrupt many years ago, and wee Willie Degel, a dese-‘n’-dose type from one of the Outer Boroughs who imagines himself wry for saying, “I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.”

Which is, as so many so love to say these days, so wrong on so many levels. First, what made the idea funny when Marlon Brando first mumbled it in The Godfather was that him or her to whom the offer was tendered had a choice between accepting the offer and being murdered. Worse, there is nothing less witty than something borrowed intact from a movie or television program. Worst, even less witty than that is something borrowed intact from a movie or television program that’s been part of the national, uh, discourse for 40 years.

A person who imagines it witty to speak of offers that can’t be refused probably wouldn’t wash his or her hands after using the restroom. Heed dis well, Willie.