Friday, June 12, 2015

The Bloviating Ignoramus

Of the very few things on which we are able to agree halfway through 2015, I think the subject of today's essay as being among the three Most Obnoxious Living Americans (along with Gene Simmons of KISS, and your nomination) is one of them.

He isn’t just stupid, but loudly, brazenly, defiantly stupid, and an implacable braggart. Such is the beauty of the latest Eastern European beauty he was able to persuade to sign a pre-nuptial agreement, he tells us, that “grown men cry at the sight of her.” His wealth, he assures us, is inconceivably immense, as too are his business acumen and intellect. When, a few years ago, he was drawing attention to himself — his favorite recreation! — by pretending to be contemplating a run for the Presidency, he told interviewers that the principal reason voters should vote for him was that he “[would] do a really good job.”

He is of course Donald Trump, Ace Rhetorician!

Leading one to ask why, if he’s so rich and so savvy, he doesn’t have the sense to hire a writer to suggest rather less puerile and imbecilic responses to criticism. When Jon Stewart ridiculed him on The Daily Show, Trump tweeted, “I promise you that I’m much smarter than Jonathan Leibowitz – I mean Jon Stewart. Who, by the way, is totally overrated.” Nyah nyah nyah. Take that, overrated Jewboy!”

When ABC News’ resident stick-in-the-mud George Will, commenting on Trump’s participation in Mitt Romney presidential campaign, called Trump “a bloviating ignoramus,” Trump once again let fly a zingy accusation of overratedness, calling George “a totally overrated fool…with the little glasses and the hair slicked to the side.” Oh, Mr. Trump is a very fine one indeed for ridiculing the coiffures of others!

Don’t imagine the great man to be a one-trick pony, though. When the Salon writer Alex Pareene, who delights in taunting Trump in much the same way that some among us enjoy poking bears with pointed sticks, called him “America’s most famous fake mogul,” Trump left overrated uninvoked, and instead assured his Twitter followers that the writer “is known as a total joke in political circles. Hence, he writes for Loser Salon [capitalization his].”

Overrated! Totally overrated! Little glasses and slicked-hair! Loser! He’s Oscar Wilde reincarnate, with a large dollop of Dorothy Parker.

Perhaps the only time in recent memory he’s demonstrated even the most negligible graciousness was at the 2012 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, at which Barack Obama, who’d released his long-form birth certificate to appease the “birther” loonies Trump had managed to get frothing at the mouth, joked, “[Trump] can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter – like, did we fake the moon landing?” Pouting up a storm when the cameras found him, Trump later credited the president with “a fine presentation.”

Donald Trump, Graciousness Incarnate!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Awesomeness of His Dudeliness

According to University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh linguists, if one cent had been deposited in the US Treasury every time an American described as awesome something he or she sort of liked or simply approved of over the past 15 years, Obamacare wouldn’t have been necessary; we’d be able to assign a dedicated personal physician to every man, woman, and child in the country, and build her a well equipped clinic. And our principal benefactor would be the TV personality, restaurateur, paragon of dudeliness, and all-around irritant Guy Fieri.

It’s instructive that, having gotten his start as a schoolboy, selling (what else?) Awesome Pretzels, and then gone to France to learn cooking, Fieri’s first job after college wasn’t actually cooking, but developing Restaurant Concepts for Stouffer’s, the frozen prepared foods folks. Later, he and a partner opened the worst restaurant in Santa Rosa, California, Johnny Garlic. He won the second edition of Who Will Be the Next Food Network Star? and, unlike most of its winners, actually became the next Food Network star, hosting a succession of programs for them, and shilling for the TGI Friday chain — which, unlike Appleby’s, hasn’t been shown to be owned by a demonic cult, but give it time. He is best known as the star of Drive-Ins, Diners, and Dives, in which, to the accompaniment of rockabilly music that sounds as though developed by Stouffer’s — it’s that cheesy!— he drives around in an awesome retro muscle car sampling and learning to make the awesomest signature dishes of mostly out-of-the-way restaurants lacking both pretension and any sense of responsibility about the obesity epidemic; I’ve been watching the program for years — 90 seconds at a time, because I find Fieri’s dudeliness grating — and don’t think I’ve ever seen prepared a dish that would contains fewer than 5000 calories per serving.

In the fall of 2013, he unwittingly made a major contribution to American letters when he opened Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square, Pete Wells’s review of which — a series of rhetorical questions — in the New York Times has been widely anointed the scathingest scathing review of this century. “Did panic grip your soul as you stared into the whirling hypno wheel of the menu?” Wells snarked. “When you saw the burger described as ‘Guy’s Pat LaFrieda custom blend, all-natural Creekstone Farm Black Angus beef patty, LTOP (lettuce, tomato, onion + pickle), SMC (super-melty-cheese) and a slathering of Donkey Sauce [mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire and garlic —"so good you'd be an ass not to like it!"] on garlic-buttered brioche,’ did your mind touch the void for a minute? Were you struck by how very far from awesome the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders are?” 

American knuckle-draggers take care of their own, and a great many — very few of whom turned out actually to have eaten in the restaurant — rushed to Guy’s defense, some of them irate at the idea of a newspaper publishing restaurant reviews, by virtue of their not being, uh, news. Our hero himself accused Wells of xenophobia (Fieri’s from northern California, not Staten Island, though his de-anglicized surname, originally Ferry, might suggest otherwise) and whined about the unfairness of reviewing a restaurant that had been open only a couple of months (but which, presumably, was nonetheless charging open-for-years prices).

Bloodied but unbowed, Fieri opened the first location of Guy Fieri on Campus, at New Jersey’s Monclair State University, at which “everything [is] coated in a nauseating amount of the trademark Fieri donkey sauce,” and the chicken tacos are filled with “chunks of chicken so hard and dry they were practically choking hazards.” I was reminded of my lunch at Johnny Garlic’s!

Last year, Guy and Ariel Ramirez, who oversees Fieri’s trademark spiky bleached blond hair, got into a very loud fight, involving punching and the hurling of hurtful epithets, at San Francisco International Airport after apparently getting into the cooking sherry in a big way en route from wherever they’d come from. “It was just dudes being dudes,” someone assured the press, though many dudes would probably regard it as rather dudelier to mix it up with non-hairdressers, not in their employ, who are not weeping, as poor Ariel was.

I, for one, am not comfortable sharing the roads with persons who, at leisure in Manhattan, where glorious ethnic food abounds, and glorious old-fashioned American food too, would dine voluntarily at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

I Hate Fathers Day

The night my baby daughter came home from the hospital in which she’d been born 48 hours before, I held her in my arms and baptized her in my tears, tears born of the realization of how much I’d be unable to protect her from. In the arrogance that my fervent adoration engendered, I failed to anticipate that she’d need some protection from me, and that no matter how vigilantly I tried to avoid the mistakes my own parents had made, I was doomed to repeat some of them.

I was the best thing ever to happen to my mother, who’d grown up feeling worthless and powerless. She claimed to be able to remember her father having paid her exactly one compliment over the course of her early life, remarking casually on her beauty. I gave her life meaning and value. She protected our very close relationship too zealously, though, forever telling me that my dad didn’t — couldn’t! — love me as much as she, always eagerly pointing out his failures. As an adult, I came to hate her having done so.

And yet, there my daughter and I were one Friday evening shortly after her mother’s remarriage to Bruno, a Swiss electronics millionaire, walking together in the atmospheric gloom of San Francisco’s Sunset District, as we’d done months before in the environs of our former home, on Nob Hill. My daughter told me that she loved not only her mommy, but her maternal grandparents too. I felt that my former mother-in-law, on whose grave I’d promised myself one day to shit, had been instrumental in the dissolution of our marriage, but held my tongue. I was able to hold it no longer when my daughter said that she loved Bruno too. “You don’t have to love him!” I, suddenly crazed with jealousy and pain, snapped. I hated myself for it, but the words wouldn’t leap back whence they’d come, and Brigitte burst into tears of confusion and pain of her own.

For years, I didn’t meet him. When he and Ex-Wife and Brigitte would arrive home at SFO from one of their frequent visits to his parents’ in Lucerne, I didn’t do the right thing, and greet the three of them cordially, but instead waited for Brigitte to come to me unaccompanied. I hated Ex-Wife passionately, and had no interest whatever in exchanging pleasantries with Bruno, who was neither handsome nor witty, and whom I was pretty sure Ex-Wife had married almost entirely for his wealth. After a while, though, I realized that he was doing his best to accommodate me, and was grateful for it. I apologized for my earlier coldness, and thanked him for what he’d done. He was indeed a dullard — not an asshole, certainly, but neither wry nor charming.

A few years ago, Brigitte, who has refused all contact with me since March 2002, got married. Can you guess who accompanied her to the altar, and who hadn’t even been invited to the wedding?  I suppose on some level I deserved that, which realization proved a pretty pathetic shield against my anguish.

Brigitte might be a mother by now. If she is, Bruno almost certainly knows about it. I do not. I suspect that she sends Bruno a birthday card every year, and maybe even a gift on Fathers Day. She hasn’t acknowledged my own birthday since 2001, the year after the last Fathers Day on which she told me she loved me.

Fuck Fathers Day.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

What If Ann Coulter's Kidding?

Donald J. Trump and Madonna have to appear near the top of any list of the ‘Vilest Living Americans’, but maybe the Viley should go to someone likely to influence many more others to follow in their own accursed footsteps — someone like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, or Ann Coulter. 

Back when he used to be on TV as well as radio, Limbaugh pointed out, “Socks is the White House cat. But did you know there is also a White House dog?” He then displayed a picture of Chelsea Clinton, who at the time was 13; an age at which nearly everyone looks his or very, very best.

 “Holocaust?” he groused in 2009. “90 million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos, what’s to complain about?” More recently, he’s ridiculed Michael J. Fox for having Parkinson’s disease, and has been heard to observe, “I’m a huge supporter of women…I love the women’s movement, especially when walking behind it.” An unrepentant pig, our Rusty!

 To enliven a harangue during which he accused President Obama of demagoguery, Limbaugh’s fellow former-disk-jockey-with-substance-abuse-issues, Glenn Beck doused a colleague with gasoline that a superimposed caption assured the viewer was in fact water.

 He has expressed the view that that Cash for Clunkers is part of a government scheme to hack into Americans’ computers, and has likened Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler more times than Rush Limbaugh has offended women. Naming him ‘The Most Loathsome Person in America’ in 2010, The Buffalo Beast marveled, "It's like someone found a manic, doom-prophesying hobo in a sandwich board, shaved him, shot him full of Zoloft and gave him a show.”

More loathsome, Beast, than Ann Coulter, the Aryan from Darien (Connecticut)? One so doesn’t think so. Not in light of, for instance, her having responded to the assassination of Dr. George Tiller outside the Kansas abortion facility where he worked by saying, "I don't really like to think of it as a murder. It was terminating Tiller in the 203rd trimester…I am personally opposed to shooting abortionists, but I don't want to impose my moral values on others."

With your tacit assent, I shall call her ‘America’s Bitch’, and recall how she said of 9/11 widows who criticized the Bush administration, "These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband's deaths so much." The cake-taker possibly being "I think the government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East, and sending liberals to Guantanamo."

There is only one way to live in this cruel world, and that’s hopefully. Inveterate perceiver of half-full glasses as I am, I like to imagine that Limbaugh, Beck, and Coulter aren’t the monsters as which they so gleefully masquerade, but American counterparts to the brilliant UK satirist Sacha Baron Cohen. I have a dream that one day soon each of them will admit that what they’ve been doing all along is ridiculing intolerance, callousness and xenophobia by pretending to endorse them. “What,” they will gasp. “You honestly believe I meant any of that stuff?”

Even if they were in fact satirists, you’re thinking, do they not have to be held accountable for the ghastly behavior of the tens of millions of defiantly stupid Americans who don’t get the joke? I think not. The day that we demand that our artist not only create art, but also accept responsibility for what it inspires the most perverse or cretin-like member of its audience to do is the day art will perish. With “Piggies,” on the so-called White Album, George Harrison was guilty of writing an awful song, not of inspiring the Tate/La Bianca murders.