The Opposite of L’esprit de l’escalier

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*This story is literally true. I’m not exactly proud of it, but as the cliché goes, you had to be there.

Today, a woman unexpectedly lashed out at me. “Are you stupid? Can’t you read?” She half-shouted at me. She pointed at a sign written in a font so small that only Donald Trump’s hands could have scribbled it. For a second, I thought she might actually strike me – or worse, hand me some MLM brochures.

Instead of engaging, I pointed at my ear and made a signal that I couldn’t hear her and then faked a couple of words using sign language.

“Oh!” she said. Her face reddened.

“Sorry that you thought I was deaf? But not that you completely lost your temper over something inconsequential? Up the dosage, ma’am.” And I smiled, showing her my teeth.

It rained f-bombs, despite the forecast indicating it would be dry today.

“I can’t hear you, ma’am.”

The Day Begins

As I hurled several items into my outside trash collector, I looked across the street.

A little boy who is seldom seen outside was standing at the perimeter of his driveway, holding an action figure of some sort. I was very surprised to see him.

As I looked, he waved with gusto. “Hi! What’s your name?”

In a thundering voice, I replied, “X!” (For newcomers, I replied with the 24th letter of the alphabet only because that’s my name. It would have confused him had I replied, “Slartibartfast,” or “Susanna.”)

Before I could say anything else, the boy seemed to become confused and turned away, walking back into the shadowy garage.

I knew he’d turn to see if I was still looking his direction.

I waved as enthusiastically as I could, to let him know I wasn’t as crazy as I sounded.

He waved with joy as if attempting to wave down a passing boat after 6 months on an isolated island in the Pacific.

And so, the day begins.

Nothing Ventured

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I’m announcing that I’m giving away $25,000 worth of Walmart merchandise. Whether you can get through the door of the store with it is your problem.

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During the interminable meeting, I stood and threw a cup of buffalo sauce on my boss as he spoke. Before he could extricate himself from his chair I hurled a cup of ranch on him.

He stood, angrily wiping the running mixture from his face. “Have you lost your mind? What did you do that for?!” He shouted.

“Well if you’re going to wing it, I’m going to provide the sauce.”

Meeting adjourned.

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The unintended benefit of using Halloween as a pretext to startle and scare coworkers in the semi-dark parking garage is that several of them involuntarily reveal they have concealed carry permits.

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Proper Table Arrangement Is Just Grilled Octopus

 

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A friend wrote me, asking if I’d write an outline of a column for him. As I always do, I asked him if there was a word limit. I never get writer’s block, no matter how often my friends and family pray that I might experience a prolonged bout of it.

“Wouldn’t you rather know the topic?” he asked, evidently forgetting that decorum is a just a fancy Latin word denoting “silly things bored people do.”

I emailed back, saying, “No, I just want to be able to say a lot of extraneous things, and preferably with a smirk while I do.” Being this sort of Rainman with words is what makes me so competent when commenting on politics, even if I must interrupt the pastor’s sermon in order to do so.

My friend replied to let me know the topic: “How to Properly Set a Table.”

I took a day to consider my opinion. As you probably know, that’s not true. My fingers were typing before I even realized it.


The first thing you need to consider when properly setting a table is whether human beings will be dining there. Second, are said potential diners from states where terms such as ‘uncle-brother’ can be used without explanation? Fourth, it’s important to enumerate things correctly, as evidenced by this sentence.

It’s important that you read the correct etiquette books, or watch videos on one of the popular websites dedicated to the nuances of snobbery. Take notes regarding placemat orientation, utensil quantity and alignment, and spacing. Consult several sources and note the areas wherein they disagree.

Next, rip up the notes you took and snort derisively to yourself. Throw away your placemats, which are diabolically related to their evil cousin, the coaster. Your table isn’t constructed of compressed silk. The best expert is experience and usage, not someone blathering on even more than I do.

The best way to set a table properly is to do it in whatever arrangement you wish to, especially one geared to your individual table, chairs, dishes, and personal whim. If you prefer everything off-center, mismatched and placed, don’t look to someone who finds this sort of thing to be important. Simply give yourself permission to ignore all baseless social rules as you see fit.

All etiquette is imagined. It’s also geared toward the insistence of mastery and expertise. The type of person who cringes when the cutlery is misplaced needs to be forced to dig a ditch in Alaska. They’re the same people who erroneously think that grammar is ordained by direct order from the heavens to them. In short, they are joy vacuums. If a family member criticizes your table, take time to make their next visit cause them to have a seizure as they clutch their pearls.

“But a properly set table is so beautiful!” some will insist. It’s true, it might be a beautiful table. But it’s equally true being free of people who insist on this sort of correctness will make your life beautiful. Everyone should learn how to set a table more or less to general expectations. Like everything else, though, perfectionism in this realm is a symptom of a disease that’s difficult to diagnose but easy to recognize when it starts.

Social dining should always be geared toward the gathering of people sharing in food, presence, and conversation. All else is vanity and immaterial to enjoying life.

All of us are distinct spirits. Aesthetics is an arbitrary and subjective concept. If you want to place a pile of silverware in the middle of the table, surrounded by 13 different sets of dishes, revel in your choice.

You should take a moment and wonder how many times in my life I have deliberately rearranged a ‘properly’ placed table. It never fails to amuse, even if the Vatican frowned upon my efforts. I’ve been known to ADD utensils from my own collection, hoping that someone loses his or her mind over it once they notice. The cheap utensils from Dollar General yield the best screams. (Note: Dollar General isn’t paying me to mention them, although I will accept any reward they offer.)

I used a picture of grilled octopus as a counterpunch to my words. That we live in a world where deranged people think that serving grilled octopus is acceptable yet throw their silverware across the room when placed a millimeter out of reach is an argument in my favor.

In response to my friend’s request to answer the question, “How To Properly Set a Table”: It’s a trick question. Only your answer counts. You just didn’t know it. Until now. You’re welcome, friends.

Chef X and Spaghetti Squash Recipe

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Chef X and Spaghetti Squash Recipe

You’re probably heard of spaghetti squash and wondered what everyone was smoking. Let’s face it, the words ‘squash’ and ‘spaghetti’ share no common attributes. Thanks to people with nothing better to do, though, we owe a word of thanks to the people who thought it would be a great idea to make pasta from a gourd. I can’t explain the dark arts behind it – but it works.

Spaghetti Squash, contrary to popular misconception, doesn’t derive its name from the generic name for pasta. It actually was named after an Italian farmer named Guiseppi D’Spagetti. He created a hybrid plant from squash and cucumbers. His efforts were aided by the fact that he lived on the land adjacent to a winery. History has proven that the best cooks invariably drink a heck of a lot. The best people, too, but that’s another story.

As you might have guessed, the part about Guiseppi D’Spagetti’s name is not true. But it’s equally true that cooking spaghetti squash isn’t as complicated as the internet cooking experts would mislead you to believe. Experts make everything complicated in order to be able to maintain their mysterious claims of expertise. It’s also why nothing is spelled like a normal person would spell it. It’s a requirement that we add weird consonants and silent vowels to every food we enjoy. If bumbling fools like me can make this without any fuss, you won’t need to buy a cookbook in order to do the same.

Also, if you’re buying cookbooks, please feel free to do so. Thing new-fangled thing called the internet, however, can supply you with sufficient ideas and option without prying dollars from your purse or clutch.

Just because improper cooking technique can maim you or poison other people is no reason to not give it a try. Many of us drive each day even though everyone knows that we should be forbidden to be near moving machinery much less operating it.

First, go to your local grocer and ask, “Where do you keep the spaghetti squash?” They tend to either place them on glowing pedestals or hide them in obscure and shadowy corners in order to force you to goosestep around all the ridiculous things that adults don’t really need, like floss or air freshener. If your grocer doesn’t offer these squash, don’t ever return there; no one needs that kind of negativity in their lives.

These squash are supposed to be hard. If they’re soft, roll them like bowling balls in the dairy aisle, toward unsuspecting shoppers. They vary in size and weight. In my opinion, they should cost around one dollar a pound. Certainly, you can pay much more. They aren’t prone to shipping damage like so many other vegetables so if retailers gouge us for them, they do so in full recognition of the fact that we’ve lost our collective hipster-food minds.

Preheat your oven to 375-400. The temp is in Fahrenheit, not Kelvin. No need to cause an explosion – unless you’re into that. Don’t worry about precision temperatures. You’re not making a soufflé. Also, if you don’t have a convection oven, stop reading this and visit your local appliance store. Once you’ve installed your new convection oven, feel free to resume reading this. We’re not barbarians, after all. You can use a regular oven of course, but you can play tennis with a stiff armadillo carcass, too, with diminished but hilarious results.

Take a long baking sheet and put aluminum foil on it. (Don’t use a triangular baking sheet. These trigger anyone with OCD.) At risk of offending the parchment paper mafia, don’t fall for anyone recommending that you use a plain baking sheet or paper. Those are the kind of people who wipe off the seat of their restaurant chairs with their bare hands and then use those same fingers to eat. (Because they don’t want to put their derriere on a dirty seat.)

Wash your squash. In the sink. Not the washing machine. Yes, I know they should specify it to indicate “clothes washer.” If you worry a lot about this step, I know a great therapist to help you. You’ll see a lot of reminders about washing the squash. Not from me, though, because I know you’re making this dish with your cat lying directly next to the coffee pot or your kid’s sticky fingers touching every surface in the known universe while you cook.

Next, you need to cut the squash in half, lengthwise. A samurai sword will work, provided you don’t decapitate your spouse while swinging it overhead and downward. You should note that these squash are VERY hard, akin to the hearts of social conservatives. I wouldn’t blame you if you go buy a hacksaw and a new blade specifically to cut yours. If the cuts aren’t perfect, don’t worry too much about that, either. Unless you’ve got great health insurance, be careful cutting the squash. It’s the trickiest part.

Next, scoop out the seeds and loose stuff in the middle. I recommend using an 11″ French Scraping Dragon Spoon. Sorry, I’m kidding again. Use a large, boring tablespoon to scoop each half clean. Your fingers will get really slippery as you do so, reminding you of your elementary schooldays in the wintertime.

Rub a little olive oil on each half of the squash. (The inside, not the husk. This reminder is for anyone who might live in Arkansas or Oklahoma.) Don’t overdo it. As you know, olive oil is highly explosive. Again, I apologize: I need to ensure that you’re reading this carefully.

Place each half upside down on the baking sheet.

Put the pan in the oven for 40 minutes.

If you read other people’s recommendations, you’ll see that they all disagree about the specifics. It’s important to remember that we can’t even agree about the importance of oral hygiene, so don’t get sidetracked by cooking arguments either. You’ll figure out what consistency you like best after cooking these a couple of times.

No matter how big your squash halves are, 40 minutes will be almost perfect. At times, the husk of the squash will darken slightly. If you’re the type who believes in climate change or worries about your socks matching, you can leave the squash in the oven for 45 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Unless you have a walk-in oven.

Using wide tongs or a baking glove, turn the squash over. Some people recommend waiting a bit for them to cool. I disagree. Cooking is supposed to be dangerous. The worst that will happen is that you will accidentally fling the strands into your eyes, thus blinding you permanently. That’s what disability insurance is for so stop worrying so much.

Unless you enjoy screaming in pain, use a heat-resistant glove or tongs to hold each half firmly and while using a standard dinner fork, scrape the inside of the squash in long strokes. The squash fiber will release like long spaghetti. You’ll laugh the first time you see it because there’s something fundamentally wrong about the idea of spaghetti strands coming out of a squash. You can fork each half all the way to the husk. As annoying people are prone to say, “It’s all good.”

They tend to produce more strands than you anticipate. After cooking these a few times, you’ll get to be a good judge of how much each size squash will produce. Before I forget to mention it, spaghetti squash holds up well if you make more than you can eat in one sitting. This is especially true if you sauce it.

I’ve seen where some people make the strands and leave them in the husk, inside a similar-sized bowl to stabilize it. They simple season it or put the sauce and/or toppings directly on the squash halves.

Note: if you like marinara sauces, this is the best way to eat spaghetti squash the first time. If you don’t like marinara sauce, I’m not sure you should be allowed to walk around in polite society. It’s true that tastes are totally subjective, though, which explains why some people exit their respective houses wearing clothing that could best be described as “Cheap Halloween in Nebraska,” but still feel confident about it.

I forgot to mention that this food is very healthy unless you top it with 14 slices of cheese. It is very filling and the texture is reminiscent of vermicelli, another one of those invented words to confuse people who would otherwise simply ask for “very thin spaghetti.”

You can cook Spaghetti Squash in about 15 minutes in an Instant Pot if you are one of those incredible people who are smart enough to have one at home.

This is undoubtedly a craze, one which drives up the price of spaghetti squash. We’ll soon be trading it like bitcoin.

I love spaghetti in almost all forms. I love eating, too. I wouldn’t recommend you try this if it weren’t the effort. If you’ve read all this to this point, I also know that you are a glutton for both food and punishment.

Love, Chef X.

Attire Is a Method of Political Control

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Before I begin, I’m assuming you understand that I’m discussing normal, everyday people and the prevailing mode of dress. It’s important that I remove arguments toward the exception from the conversation before I elaborate.

Forgive my tone and insistence.

Though I might be wrong and you might not agree, the older I become the more I find this issue to be a problem for me.

If you are in a public governmental space and anyone demands that you dress formally, you can be certain that the forces behind it aren’t interested in democratic representation and equality; title and formality do nothing except to distance us from those who work for us. Beggar, plumber, and lawyer alike are equal where government is concerned.

All requirements of dress are artificial ways to insist that there are hierarchical distinctions between those served and those serving: servant and master, or at minimum, superior and inferior. In governance of a democracy, no such distinction should exist.

All government officials work for us, even judges and senators. They are our employees, appointed or chosen based on qualification of résumé rather than worth. In a democracy, we are all equal, even to those who would claim elevated status. While it tends to be a more conservative point, almost all government officials are our employees or representatives; hired, chosen or assigned to perform a job.

Observing so much of the process and methodology of our government, I’m always surprised that citizens grant illusory privilege to those we choose to govern or judge our disagreements. That we extend this privilege in such a manner that allows them to feel able to sanction us for our clothing is arrogance on their part and idiocy on ours. Whether it’s a judge who irately demands that you put on a tie or never wear open-toed shoes or a senator who won’t allow you to speak to your representatives because you’re wearing mechanic’s coveralls, it’s wrong and wrong-minded.

We owe our respect and allegiance to our collective agreement of justice and equity, not to the fallible men and women who often forget that they serve for us rather than over us. The title or robe do not bring reverence and if you demand it you are not worthy of either the robe or the title. I can think of no practical reason to demand that fellow citizens follow a dress code in the presence of the operation of any facet of governance or judicial determination.

Whether I wear a tie, slacks or dress shoes in no way determines my attitude regarding the service rendered. If the place holds no intrinsic honor and the title is assignable based on qualification, to whom then do we bow to when we acquiesce to the unreasonable and undemocratic demand that we conform our appearance to an arbitrary standard they choose.

Fashion and attire are subjective; they are not factors any reputable government servant should weigh, much less censure. It’s not your job to demand conformity in attire or ours to fear your displeasure.

Simply put, sir or madam, I’ve given up the pretense. If you insist that my attire doesn’t do justice to the place you were appointed or chosen to work, it is you who needs to be removed or sanctioned. We are human beings in the presence of government officials, seeking that you do your job as assigned. Our reverence is toward the law and our democracy, not those who imperfectly bend it to human caprice or avarice.

If you choose to elevate yourself through requirements of attire, please be aware that we as voters can and should pass laws to require you to wear common clothing of our choosing.

Those who fear the mob or accountability to the masses know that dress codes are almost always motivated by a misguided demand to be honored, whether deserved or not.

In the presence of the execution of any government duty, no one should take into consideration the garments on the citizen’s back. This is especially true where our individual interests can be harmed or infringed.

Beware: The Singing Robot

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Three weekends ago, Dawn and I opted to buy groceries at Walmart. It was a fortuitous trip, as several anecdotes arose from that day.

During our visit, we noticed a few instances of people gawking and talking, though we couldn’t see what the tumult might be. Walmart is one of those places where the mundane morphs into the unexpected at the drop of a mouse-filled hat.

After a few minutes, we watched as a 48″ tall robot rolled toward us. Since no cyborgs jumped out to follow it, we assumed the robot uprising hadn’t yet started. This turned out to be one of the robots doing image inventory as it rolled responsively among the startled shoppers and its directed laser counted and cataloged the million things on the shelves.

I could almost picture an elderly lady seeing it and rapidly fanning her face as she uttered, “Well, I do declare!” with a precariously high-pitched Southern drawl.

I went to another aisle and was inspecting the 573 different types of sauces when I saw the robot smoothly roll down my aisle. Behind it, 3 small Latino children were chasing it animatedly, their excited chatter like Spanish-speaking birds. They jumped in front of it to see if it would stop instead of plastering them on the cold floor, which it did. They were asking it questions as if it might answer them. It was adorable.

As they neared me, I had an inspiration.

In Spanish, I told them that it was a SINGING robot and that if they sang to it, it would reciprocate accordingly and perhaps even answer their questions through song.

Just as I said the words, I look up to see their papa approaching. Since it seemed reasonable to double-down on my lunacy, I told them again to sing to the robot.

The dad smiled from ear to ear and nodded. He said, “Yes, sing to it.”

As they started singing, I couldn’t help but laugh. The dad laughed too, even as he exhorted them to sing more loudly to ensure that the robot might hear their tiny, lovely voices united in the most unlikely place for joy.

I watched for a moment, noting the beauty of their enthusiasm. In that place of commerce and on that day, all of us shared one of those fleeting moments of blissful laughter.
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