Category Archives: Review / Critique

A Culinary Misadventure

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As we were driving out of town, we skipped several eateries along the way, ones which we knew would be great. Absent being sidetracked, we were holding out for a repeat experience in the town of our destination. We had eaten at the tex-mex in question once before and although it had some issues, we were very interested in giving it another try. We had hunger and enthusiastic anticipation to ensure our experience would be great.

And the universe noted our idiotic expectations and drove them headfirst into the rocks.

We stood at the door as various employees jockeyed toward the front register and seating chart. I said, “Yes, two please” at least 4 times. Finally, one of the people decided to seat us. This undoubtedly was part of their strategy to make us work up an appetite or perhaps wisely flee the building. After a long wait, a waiter appeared. He seemed very uncertain. He came back twice to ask about the drinks and appetizers. The salsa was tasteless, even though it felt like it might contain a numbing agent.  While Dawn went to wash her hands, I attempted to salvage the salsa by using a chip to pluck onion and cilantro from my pico de gallo bowls and mix it with the lifeless concoction.  Upon tasting it, she said, “This tastes like tomato sauce from a can.” I laughed. I poured all the juice from pico bowl and managed to get some flavor in the salsa.

I’ll forego most of the usual jokes about bathrooms and Tex/Mex eateries. I’ll say this, though. When I used the restroom and opted for toilet paper to blow my nose instead of the hand-activated sandpaper dispenser at the sink, I laughed when I discovered that all of the toilet paper holders were empty. The odds of all the holders being emptied were so slim that I defaulted to another of my theories: if the bathroom smells like a lakeside bathroom or there’s no toilet paper, it’s generally a bad idea to frequent the eatery unless one of your hobbies includes studying infectious diseases. I usually trust my instincts about these things. I knew we had made a critical error in our eating selection. The men’s bathroom had all the allure of a WWII latrine trench.

A few minutes later, I noted a man hurriedly scampering toward the restroom. Although I didn’t actually hear his reaction, I imagined that a shrill cry of “No!” followed by a tirade of profanity wafting through the air. Pardon my specificity, but I hope he discovered the absence of the necessary bathroom accessory prior to engaging.

Our waiter was inexperienced. I left my readers in the side door of the car, so I was attempting to find a safe selection on the menu. Dawn helped me read the menu as if I were already 80 years old. As I mentioned the number I wanted, the waiter began asking me a series of perplexing questions, some of which convinced me he might have killed the actual waiter and took his order book as a cover story. To add insult to injury he then asked me to read verbatim the combination I had asked for by number. Also, these don’t allow substitutions, so I was confused. After being polite, I told him to bring me whatever the cook thought belonged on #3 and that such a course of action would be fine with me. (He had visibly flinched when I asked about ‘tacos de alambre’ and similar items.) When my alarm bells begin to sound, I always opt for plates containing no meat. It’s a lesson Dawn is slowly learning, too.

My wife foolishly ordered a selection with grilled chicken fajita meat on it. When the plate arrived, she was surprised to discover that they had used what I now call “squirrel chitlins” instead of chicken fajita slices. I’ve come to learn that restaurants that use the chicken pieces which resemble small sections of curly french fries can’t be trusted. Using that type of chicken under the guise of grilled fajita chicken is a dead giveaway that cost has surpassed quality as the main guideline for inventory. In NWA, I stopped getting my favorite dish and then abandoned my favorite restaurant precisely because of this. Dawn initially ate with the enthusiasm that hunger demands but her enthusiasm quickly faded as the texture, flavor and strange aftertaste of her meal overwhelmed her hunger. The sour cream that had been added to her plate was runny and tasted like it had been left out for an hour. I won’t critique the guacamole in fear that the Avocado Mafia will kill me for my honesty.

Dawn found almost nothing savory to eat from her selection. She picked at her plate like a spoiled turkey buzzard might after discovering a whole pizza on the road. The waiter never returned to ask us about chip refills, salsa, or drinks. It might be a good thing, though. Dawn might have had commentary. She knows better than to return food except in emergencies or to ask for something else. He was around us, though. I watched as he moved around. I could tell that he was very concerned about his coworkers needing him to help them or to bus tables, even though there were 3 buspeople on duty. Dawn was showing a little frustration, something that’s unusual for her. I already knew the waiter wasn’t coming back absent a lassoo in my hands. I tried to get Dawn to accompany me to the front register to expedite the process. It took the waiter 4 or 5 times to actually have our ticket. For me, it was hilarious. Dawn wasn’t amused, especially at the part regarding me finding hilarity in the failed dining encounter. She just wanted out of there instead of being forced to look at the inedible carcass of her food selection on the plate in front of her. Even as Dawn attempted to pay at the register, she didn’t know how to answer the cashier who asked, “How was it?” I dared not turn around, lest I pantomimed sticking my index finger down my throat. Adding another insult to injury, the payment system didn’t allow her to customize her tip. Only 3 high-tip options were available. Instead of asking, she chose the lowest with a grimace. Dawn, like me, is normally a great tipper. We both found it appropriately hilarious that the one time we might have tipped badly, the restaurant’s payment system didn’t allow her to do so. We added this observation of our list of signs that a place might not deserve to survive.

As we left, I snapped a selfie of us, as I was riffing jokes about “What could go wrong?” Evidently, the universe had kept the tex-mex eatery in business to provide an answer for us. So, even though we had just survived the culinary equivalent of an equestrian kick in the crotch, we laughed as we walked away. The numbness faded from our tongues within an hour, even though our stomachs saluted us well into the night.

The good news is that Dawn now completely agrees with my rule regarding fajita chicken strips coming to the table disguised as squirrel chitlins.

I’m not calling out the restaurant by name. I want you to accidentally discover it one day. You’ll know if you have. Something primordial will trigger in your lizard brain. Your first instinct will be to call 9-1-1, if you’re still conscious. P.S. Fight or flight. I suggest you run if you remotely suspect you’ve entered the place in question.

 

 

 

 

 

“Teddy Perkins” & Atlanta

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I wouldn’t blame anyone for failing to heed entertainment recommendations from me. We all have bizarre friends who watch “The Bachelor,” live sports, or sitcoms with laugh tracks – all of whom insist they have just the show for us to enjoy. My tastes are as weird as a squirt of ketchup in a glass of lemonade.

So, instead of trying to get you to watch the entire run of “Atlanta,” I’m asking you to give Season 2, Episode 6 a try. It’s a stand-alone episode, independent of its season and character arcs.

“Atlanta” is one of those shows in which your preconceived notions about its content will interfere with your ability to fully enjoy it. It’s one of the best shows on television and one which I’m pleased to say I overcame my idiotic idea of preferences and taste. It’s been a joy to watch, as many of the moments Donald Glover has captured are tiny boxes of the sublime. Despite moments of involuntary laughter, the show isn’t supposed to be a comedy per se. Watching it reminded of the time I saw “No Country For Old Men.” During the infamous shower scene in which the killer pulls the shower curtain on his victim before blasting him with a shotgun, I alone laughed long and loud in the crowded theater. I just ‘knew’ it was supposed to be surreal and amusing. Apparently, no one else did.

Season 2, Episode 6, titled “Teddy Perkins” was one of the best single television episodes I’ve ever watched. It ranks near the series finale for “Six Feet Under,” although for completely different reasons. This particular episode can be watched without having seen any of the previous installments of “Atlanta,” although I recommend beginning with the first episode. This episode was originally shown without commercials. While watching, I dreaded that the episode would end. I knew while watching it that something special was afoot. Teddy Perkins is like a long bout of  loud maniacal laughter during a eulogy.

While I’m certainly not the main demographic for this show, I can’t imagine a more sublime story for the “Teddy Perkins” episode, one which delighted me with its strangeness and wit. The episode is packed with so many cultural references that it’s impossible to slow down sufficiently to note them all. It’s suspense and horror, but also a revelation.

Darius’ character has many of the best moments, in my opinion, and this episode allows him to revel in his reactions. Watching Darius observe Teddy Perkins as he eats an ostrich egg is somehow more unsettling than witnessing a murder. While he might have originally visited the mansion with the intent of retrieving a free piano, I’ll bet Darius would’ve traded anything to be somewhere else. Darius has a chance to flee the mansion more than once but stays in hopes of getting his piano. Nothing is free, even if the cost is an intricate dance with one’s sanity. (Even if the piano keys are elegantly painted in rainbow colors.)

While I didn’t know it at the time, it was Donald Glover himself who portrayed the enigmatic and horrific Teddy Perkins character. Everything about the show “Atlanta” is a reflection of his genius and this episode finalized my conclusion that the type of television he makes is something that I’d watch a lot of.

The episode is both horror and commentary, yet can be watched with an amazing sense of disbelief without concerning yourself with deeper meaning. For a moment, it seems as if the inevitable violent ending would be avoided. It wasn’t. We should have known better. On one level, the episode can be about the violence so many fathers show their sons. As in the case of angry fathers, someone will pay. It’s just a question of when.

We wouldn’t have wanted to turn off the television and imagine living in a world in which Teddy Perkins might end up in a dimly-lit room with us.

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.

“Smallfoot” Was My Bigfoot Legend

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It’s interesting that there’s a movie named “Smallfoot” in theaters.

It looks like that I missed a chance to capitalize on the name “Smallfoot” and the marketing revenue that would have accompanied it.

For years, I’ve told stories about the ‘real’ Bigfoot: Smallfoot. The main story I’ve told: that Bigfoot is real, except that he’s exceptionally tiny and evades detection through his diminutive status. Everyone’s running around in the dark, desperately seeking a large creature when, in fact, Bigfoot is a tiny animal hiding in plain sight.

About 5 years ago, I created a Facebook page for the “Smallfoot” community. I filled it with the legends and sightings of a really small Bigfoot.

I even created a website (which I never took live) and made t-shirts. I had a REALLY large size t-shirt made for my co-worker Joe Buss. I made fake publicity stills and even wrote studios such as A&E to generate either buzz or confusion in their minds. For a while, I had a lot of fun with it.

I let it go and never went live with the website. Joe still has his t-shirt, though.

There’s no point to this post other than to say that I misjudged how much I could have taken advantage of my really dumb idea. Whether the studio saw my original nonsense or came up with it independently, I was first. Some of my friends and social media friends probably recall my flirtation with notoriety.

It turns out that my dumb take on the old legend wasn’t dumb at all.

 

Older Blog Post About Smallfoot

“Casual” on Hulu

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When the show “Casual” started on Hulu, I thought it might be at least an interesting diversion. It turned out to be a delight at every turn. Even when everyone was being a literal pain in the ass on the show, it was engaging in ways that most shows aren’t. In so many ways, it evoked some of the same sentiments in me that “Six Feet Under” did. The show deserved all the praise it earned, even as it ignored the supposed line between comedy and drama. “Smart people behaving badly” has been done many times, but rarely with the contained breath of this show.

I expected the show to excel in its final season, even as I complained to myself, as all fans of a show meeting its demise so often do. Now that the curtain has closed and I’ve seen the finale, I can only wonder about how all these fictional characters are doing in their separate lives. The writers convinced me that all these people were indeed real and that I would no longer be a voyeur in their lives. It was an elegant dance to watch it wind down.

The antepenultimate scene was of Alex’s empty house, the center and crucible for so much of the show. As that scene faded, a door somewhere within slammed with finality. Oddly, I felt the door close. Alex was in the autonomous car with his daughter, heading for his new life. The selfish man we knew was looking forward and making choices he couldn’t have made several years earlier. As he teared up, he smiled and as this scene faded, he looked down and to the right, obviously seeking memories of those now gathering in his absence. In the last scene, we saw everyone else in a jovial room together.

It was a moment filled with inevitable nostalgia. I think many people joined me in thinking that this couldn’t be it and that Alex wasn’t really moving away.

Alex, never the sentimental type, hid a few precious photos inside the Ova box (a digital personal assistant) for Valerie to find. All of them were combinations of Valerie, Alex, and Laura, the essential heart of the show. Valerie wiped the tears from her face as Tom Petty’s “Time to Move On” began to fill the room. Much like “Parenthood” opened my heart a little for Bob Dylan, this final scene gave me an appreciation for this Petty song, one I always disregarded.

The scene blurred completely away, letting us know that life was going to continue for all of them, out of sight, but perhaps lingering in our heads instead of on our devices.

“Casual” is one of those shows whose name conflicts with the complicated joy of humor and pain being blended together.

I hate to see its departure. That’s a sign of how crafted it was. Many people forego television for their own reasons. “Casual” is one of those few shows which can make you feel that subtle immersion you experience when reading an exquisite book. When the last page passes, you look up at the room you’re in, wondering if the other world contained in the book still spins on its own axis.

Television can be magic. If you haven’t watched “Casual,” it’s your loss. It’s filled with old friends and people you’ll be fascinated by.
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“Casual” seasons 1-4 are available on Hulu, and some are available on DVD, for the few Amish among us who have DVD players.