Thursday, February 1, 2024


What they're saying about Jim's provocative blog:

--Gluten-free . . . and that's a  good thing!"--Maratha Stewart
--"I love how he says he doesn't always agree with everything he says!"--Joe Biden
--"He's from this country, Mexicans don't read him, so that's good enough for me."--Donald Trump
--"The one thing I didn't delete from my private server."--Hillary Clinton
--"Jimaschizzle!"--Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. (aka Snoop Dogg)
--"Acerbic comedy without the  annoying aftertaste.--Jimmy Kimmel

jimjustselling . . .

Actually, I'm not, but the good folks at HenschelHAUS are.

The book is also available at:


  By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations about the absurdities of contemporary life 


What they’re saying about Jim’s provocative blog

--"Gluten-free . . . and that’s a good thing!—Martha Stewart

--"I love it when he says he doesn’t always agree with everything he says.”—Joe Biden

--"He's from this country, Mexicans don't read him, so that's good enough for me."--Donald Trump

--"The one thing I didn't delete from my private server."--Hillary Clinton

--"Jimaschizzle!"--Calvin Broadus, Jr. (aka Snoop Dogg)

--“Acerbic comedy without the annoying aftertaste!”—Jimmy Kimmel


--I was a teenage crime-scene cleanup technician.

--Overheard: “Don’t ever work for someone you wouldn’t want to become.”

--I like to think of myself as couth, ept and combobulated.  Oh, and I’m gruntled, too!

--jimjustsaying’s New Weather Word: When snow flurries are so light that they’re barely visible, they almost look like airborne lint, don’t they? I call them “slint.” Tomorrow’s forecast: Mostly sunny, turning partly slinty by afternoon. Chance of slint: 60 percent.

--I hate to admit it, but my Christmas ornaments are still up. Not the tree--just the ornaments!

--Memo to people who wear windbreakers with the names of taverns on them:  How much are you being paid to advertise your lifestyle choices (such as they are)? (“Yeah, I hang out at the Slimy Skunk Saloon and want everyone to know it.”)

--Rumors that I've been selected for the lead role in "Deuce Bigalow, Geriatric Gigolo" are just that--rumors! (How do these things get started?)

--I’m trying to be more laid back this year. When something upsets me, I’m going to go into low dudgeon.  (Whatever the opposite of “going ballistic is,” that’s what I’ll be doing . . . whenever ballistic behavior would normally be warranted.)

--Some good news . . . finally! Within 10 years, about 95 percent of the world's top tech companies will be American thanks to the U.S. lead in artificial intelligence, Palantir CEO Alex Karp told Axios' Mike Allen in Davos.

Why it matters: Karp called the European startup scene "anemic," noting that tech's "real growth and providers are in America."

America's advantage will compound because of the lack of big tech companies in Europe today, he said--handing "almost all the value" of AI to the U.S.

--Does anyone really believe those restaurant ad claims (often seen in Where to Go Guide-type publications) such as “Voted best (pizza/ribs/fried chicken) in (Your Town Here)”? Eight pizza parlor ads in those pages . . . and all were voted No. 1? Incredible. I know I didn’t vote—did you? Has anyone ever asked for a recount?  Documentation would seem to be in order!

(“Hon, don’t forget; we gotta vote on Tuesday. You know, the Pizza Election. And, oh yes, a week from Thursday is the Primary for Chicken and Ribs.  Mark that down. Hmmm, I wonder if we can vote absentee?”)

--Redundancy patrol: "Pick and choose," "join together," "women’s panties."

--Tax documents are starting to arrive in my mailbox. (If you thought IRS regulations were tough, try figuring out your Body Mass Index!  I need an advisor for that, too!)

--Political speech I'd love to hear (but probably never will).  "Win or lose, I promise to have all of my campaign signs and posters taken down the day after the election."

(Funny, but I don’t recall ever seeing or hearing a candidate’s TV or radio ad after the election, have you?  But somewhere there’s probably a faded Romney poster stuck on a telephone pole somewhere.)

--Prediction:  Some people will be so disenchanted with the presidential candidates that they will write in The My Pillow Guy just out of frustration.  (Well, at least one person will . . . and it well may BE the My Pillow Guy!)

Speaking of politics: If queried by a pollster, ask whom the pollster is voting for.  And if he or she won’t tell you (which they won’t), return the favor.

--More words you seen in print but never hear an actual person ever use in real life: "Chortle," "sheaf" and "imbroglio."

--One wonders who is worse off in our current economic landscape:  The person with virtually no education to speak of and no job (or a McJob) . . . or the person with a master's degree and no job (or a McJob).

(At least Mr., Ms. or Mrs. No Education doesn't have $300,000 or more in student loans to worry about while he or she is worrying where their next meal is coming from!)

--All persons are presumed innocent until the surveillance video is broadcast on national television.

(Wouldn’t you think, given today’s technology, that the quality of those surveillance videos wouldn’t still look like the picture people got on a 1949-vintage TV set!)

--jimjustsaying’s Party Ice-Breaker of the Month:  “Say [actual partygoer’s name here], did you know that Woody Allen is afraid of elevators and lives on the first floor of his building?”  (Kind of hard to work into a conversation, but there you have it.)

--“Shoes made of alligator or crocodile leather should be cleaned in the same manure as regular shoes.”—Idaho Falls Eastern Idaho Farmer, via “Still More Press Boners,” by Earle Tempel.

--jimjustsaying’s Word That Doesn’t Exist But Should of the Month: “Gladhandling.” n.  To attempt, with frustrating results, to find and separate the ends of a plastic trash bag. —“Sniglets,” Rich Hall & Friends

--I’ve basically lived my life bass ackwards, as they say--totally against the grain. For example, I quit drinking when I turned 21!

--He said it: “Travel lets us leave behind our unrealistic prejudices about other places and the people who live there and develop new, more realistic prejudices based on their actual deficiencies.”--Dennis Miller

--She said it: “On a first date, I ask myself, ‘Is this the man I want my kids to spend every other weekend with?’ ”—Rita Rudner

--DRUDGING AROUND:  Minn. woman sues dentist after 4 root canals, 8 dental crowns and 20 fillings in a single visit that led to disfigurement . . . Exploding toilet at DUNKIN’ left customer filthy, injured . . . All Alone: LA has thousands of unclaimed dead . . . Woman will suffer diarrhea forever after Ozempic causes horrible bowel injury . . . Woman found with dog urine in court-ordered drug test . . . Underwear, socks latest item to be locked up in shoplifting crackdown . . . Cops:  Man tried to swap drugs for fried pickles at Buffalo Wild Wings . . . Religious “Nones” now largest single group in USA . . . Man dies while giving eulogy at funeral . . . Shock: Alzheimer’s can spread BETWEEN humans . . . MAGA maniac beheads dad live on YouTube. (As always, thanks to Matt Drudge and his merry band of aggregators.)

Another in jimjustsaying's series of Occupations No Child Has Ever Fantasized About or Aspired To:  Nail salon technician. (Still No. 1: Insurance-claims adjuster.)

--What’s old is new—again! Flip phones are having a moment as an alternative to smartphones. Consumers--especially younger people--are buying these older phones to cut down on their screen time, according to ZDNET.

U.S. flip phone sales reached about $3 million last year, according to Counterpoint Research. It might not seem like much, but these devices were nearly extinct.

(So if you never joined the cellphone generation, you no longer look like a wayward Mennonite.  And look at all the money you saved?)

--“The Detroit Quartet played Brahms last night.  Brahms lost.” — Anonymous critic

--Overheard: “The World’s Oldest Woman just died at 115.  Man, that title must be CURSED!”

TODAY’S LATIN LESSON:  Non habemus foetidus nives dies cum aetas tua eram! (“We didn't have no stinkin' snow days when I was your age!”)

 Special thanks to Dolly Lama, this month’s Popcorn intern. 



By Jim Szantor

Perhaps unwittingly, the most prominent of all of the many  true-crime programs/documentaries on TV nowanights—“Dateline” and “20-20”--have spawned a nearly staggering number of “viewalikes” (for lack of a better term).  Such as:

"Murder in the Heartland,”  “Signs of a Psychopath,” “48 Hours,” “Death By Fame,” “See No  Evil,” “Murder Under the Friday Night Lights,” “Betrayed,” “Disappeared,” “Evil Lives Here,” “Very Scary People,” “A Time to Kill,” “I Went Undercover,” “Murder in the Wicked West,” “Buried in the Backyard,” “Fear Thy Roommate,” “Devil in Suburbia,” “Body Cam,” “The Murder Tapes,” “Real Time Crime,” “Murder Comes to Town” and two recent entries, “The Playboy Murders” and “Feds.”

And of course there is an old standby, Fox TV’s "Cops” and its derivatives (“Cops, Jailhouse Las Vegas” etc.) and the well-remembered “America’s Most Wanted.”  And who can forget “Unsolved Mysteries,” starring Robert Stack, he of the “grim presence and ominous narration” (Wikipedia’s words), who was taken out of mothballs in 1987 by NBC long after his storied run as Eliot Ness on “The Untouchables” (1959-1963). “Unsolved” mostly dealt with the paranormal, but crime left its fingerprints and blood spatter on more than a few episodes.

As you undoubtedly know and are constantly reminded (via the obligatory disclaimer at the outset of “Cops”), “All persons are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.” Left unsaid: Unless they are seen by millions on TV, usually sweaty, grime-streaked, shirtless and cuffed while doing their perp walk or the equivalent. (Pity goes out to the valiant lawmen or women who have to put their hands on the heads of these miscreants, the better to propel them into the back seat of the voiture de police.

What separates these imitators from the originals is their sometimes almost comical use of “re-creation footage” (usually and maddeningly not labeled as such), using actors chosen because of their alleged resemblance to the crime victims/participants back in the dark day when the evil deeds occurred. This gambit, never used on “Dateline” or “20-20,” often promotes confusion as it is often hard enough to determine who did what to whom in some of these multiple twist-and-turn sagas without having to remember which actor is supposed to align with which real-life victim, family member or law-enforcement official.  Cold-case episodes invariably feature grizzled and usually portly retired detectives, police chiefs, prosecutors, defense attorneys and the like, all there to lend historical perspective, key details and, occasionally, gravitas.

Another seemingly de rigueur hallmark of these shows is the apparently obligatory opening aerial shot of the city, town or hamlet where the atrocity/atrocities occurred, as if that provides any edification to the viewer.  Stock aerial footage of any typical town would probably suffice (do you really know what Elbow, Alabama looks like from the air?), and no one would be the wiser.  Essentially, the aerial shot basically tells us nothing at all about the event(s) about to unfold.  But you can count on one being there, the copy-cat syndrome apparently as hard to stamp out as Covid and its many derivatives.

--And now there is another notable entry in the True Crime pantheon: “Crime Feed,” starring the Poster Person for Hanging-Judge-Mentality-TV Folks-With-a-Law-Degree, Nancy Grace.  Unlike her confrere of the airwaves, the ubiquitous Dan Abrams, Ms. NG makes no pretense of trying to hide her contempt for anyone remotely connected to the crime du jour.  She seethes, she sneers, she snarls and nearly hyperventilates as she engages in discourse with her colleagues, a male private investigator and Mara S. Campo, a journalist and commentator.

Some viewers with a long memory may recall Grace’s role in the Melinda Duckett case:

According to Wikipedia:

On Nov. 21, 2006, The Smoking Gun web site exposed pending litigation on behalf of the estate of Melinda Duckett, asserting a wrongful death claim against CNN and Grace. The attorney for the estate alleges that, even if Duckett did kill her own son, Grace's aggressive questioning traumatized Duckett so much that she committed suicide. She also argues that CNN's decision to air the interview after Duckett's suicide traumatized her family. Trenton, Duckett’s 2-year-old son, has never been found.

On Nov. 8, 2010, Grace reached a settlement with the estate of Melinda Duckett to create a $200,000 trust fund dedicated to locating Trenton. "We are pleased the lawsuit has been dismissed. The statement speaks for itself," a spokeswoman for CNN said.

--As mentioned in an earlier Popcorn column, another true-crime entry, “Calls from the Inside,” shows the Dumb Criminal Syndrome in full cry as the male or female inmate, though aware that all calls made or received In prison are recorded, make blatantly incriminating statements, often in totally transparent “code.”  Either that or discussing thinly veiled plans to eliminate someone, usually a witness or recently released jailhouse snitch. So those in search of comic relief and more than a few forehead slaps in the process of getting their True Crime fix would do well to check out “Calls From the Inside.”  It’s must-see TV for me.

--And, of course, no discourse on this phenomenon would be complete without mention of “Forensic Files,” a series (now including “Forensic Files II”) that is apparently nearly the sole raison d’etre of HLN, it on many days accounting for virtually 100 percent of the programming (save for a few of those all-important, revenue-raising infomercials).  The narration on all of the original series episodes was the redoubtable Peter Thomas, whose stentorian delivery was perfect for the “just the facts, ma’am” context of the proceedings. He was memorialized at the end of the first episode of Forensic Files II, which aired on February 23, 2020.

The guilt-or-innocence outcome is never in doubt on these “Files” shows as regular viewers know that these dedicated forensics experts and “scientists” always get their man, or in some rare cases, their woman, even if it involves a white-coated bent-to-the-task technician painstakingly sifting through a vacuum-cleaner bag with a tweezers in search of a suspected rapist’s pubic hair.  (Actual episode.)  I would not be surprised if said scientist, bent to this disgusting, tedious task, found himself saying, “I spent 7 years in college, and I’m going through a massive heap of trash looking for a rapist’s pubic hair? While my idiot brother-in-law with a GED is making almost as much money driving a damn beer truck?”

--And, of course, what genre wouldn’t be complete with a podcast equivalent, and true crime is well represented in that idiom. These often devolve more into conjecture and oddball theorizing and are less documentarian in nature.  Sort of macabre talk shows with titles like “True Crime Junkie,” “True Crime Garage,” “Someone Knows Something,” “Court Junkie,” “Scam Goddess,” “Case File,” “My Favorite Murder,” and many many more.

And now comes word from the Washington Post that—in the spirit of If You Can’t Beat ’Em, Join ’Em—“Dateline” has also joined the podcast parade, a gambit that has propelled its TV version to new heights.  See:

Is there such a thing as binge-listening? Probably, and for some folks it’s apparently a great way to--wait for it--kill time.

Friday, January 19, 2024


 By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations about the absurdities of contemporary life  

  • I was a teenage cobra-venom extractor.
  • Headline: “‘Barbie’ leads Golden Globes with nine nominations.” (Slap forehead here.)
  • I’m thinking if “Citizen Kane” came out today, it would probably be roundly ignored.  Such is the zeitgeist—the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of the era.
  • If a doll (Barbie) could become a movie, what about a column?  Yes, “Popcorn, the Movie,” starring Jim Szantor as himself and Anderson Cooper as one of his nerdy interns.  (I hope “Popcorn, The Movie” wouldn’t get a bad review in Rotten Tomatoes!)’
  • Green olives, bottles; black olives, cans. Discuss!
  • Finally, my favorite day of the year is imminent: Jan. 2!  Because from Black Friday on, for about six weeks, the default excuse for everything being delayed, mixed up or essentially in a stranglehold is  . . . “because of the holidays.” 
  • Thank God, this Bermuda Triangle-like period will be behind us.  It’s amazing how “the holidays” (which are in actuality just two days . . . and the first one a religious holiday with, alas, little if any religious activity or participation for most) can throw the world into a tizzy for about 30-40 days, depending on when Thanksgiving falls.  But we in America seemingly have an uncanny knack for bending and distorting everything out of shape—going over the top over one-day events like the Super Bowl and performers like Taylor Swift, the Poster Girl for Overrated Talent.
  • News item: “To help alleviate urgent scarcity in the drought-prone state, California will allow sewage waste to be recycled into drinking water.” (Looks like “The Hotel California” has become a flophouse!)
  • One of the best things you can say about a restaurant is: “Even their off days are pretty damned good!” (Kind of a lefthanded compliment, but, hey, in a day when fast-food workers are shot over a cold order of french fries, such a compliment would be lovingly embraced.)
  • All this talk about 2024 and straw polls! What do straws have to do with politics? Are people throwing straw hats into the ring now?  When did that start?
  • I'm nostalgic for the days when the magazines I subscribed to didn't come in plastic bags.
  • I’ve never seen a service animal that wasn’t doing an exemplary job. People? Not so much. But their devices are always working overtime.
  • There are no slacker service animals. They’re so skilled, gentle and dedicated that it can move you to tears. 
  • Headline: “UNLV gunman was a professor who had repeatedly applied for a job.”
  • Reaction: I think I’d be extremely nervous if I were in a position to hire or fire someone these days. It doesn’t have to be a “disgruntled ex-employee” who comes gunning for you, it could be the ne’er-do-well you chose not to hire who puts you in the grave.  An increasingly perilous position, for sure.
  • One of jimjustsaying’s favorite media euphemisms: “Indecent liberties.”  Favorite noun?  Debauchery.
  • Speaking of euphemisms: Prostitutes have now apparently been elevated to the ranks of “sex workers.”  (I doubt that the new nomenclature makes the VD and the omnipresent dangers disappear.) 
  • I’ve never been to Bangladesh, but my pants have.  And some of my shirts have been to Taiwan!  I’m a walking sartorial man of the world!
  • Memo to medical/dental receptionists: We don't need to be told "You can have a seat in the waiting room" after we've announced our presence and given you that most vital “date of birth and insurance card.” 
  • I think we know to do that!  What else are we going to do?  Glare down at you until our name is called?  Stand on our heads in the parking lot?  Twiddle our thumbs in the basement next to the water heater?  We know what those chairs are there for, so save your breath and stop insulting our intelligence! (And get some better magazines.)
  • jimjustsaying's Word That Doesn't Exist But Should of the Month—“Inelvitable.” n. The uncanny ability of a band in an old Elvis Presley movie to materialize out of nowhere whenever Elvis starts to sing.--"Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe," Rich Hall and Friends.
  • Does the White House have a West Room?  We're always hearing about the East Room, the Oval Office and the Rose Garden, so maybe the West Room is the . . . restroom? Which would explain why it doesn't get much press . . . and, I hope, never will.
  • I was born in Kenosha, Wis.  For those who don’t know, it’s in the far southeast corner of the state, on the Illinois border.  Or, as I call it, Baja Wisconsin.
  • Has anyone ever seen a sterling silver spork? I haven’t.  If they’re such a great idea, why do they only come in plastic? 
  • Any nutritionist will tell you that brown rice is far better for you than white rice, but try getting it in a Chinese restaurant!  They think you mean fried rice, which, of course, is simply white rice made even less nutritious with oil, soy sauce and whatever else. 
  • I’m also amazed that the number of restaurants that don’t have low-cal salad dressings.  How much would it cost them to have a bottle or two on hand?  (And they wonder why business isn’t very good. Hey, folks, it’s 2024.)
  • Hard to believe, but there are 38 ingredients in the salad croutons at McDonald’s.  And they’re just little pieces of toast!
  • Guys are lucky in many ways.  For one thing, we don’t have to have pap smears, probably because, through the grace of God, we don’t have any paps!
  • It would be interesting if a sports sideline reporter sought out a guy who didn't even play in the game and say:  "How did it feel to sit there and contribute exactly nothing today? Do you think you're going to be released?" How refreshing that would be instead of those gushy, cliched “interviews”!  (In bad taste but refreshing--sort of like the Popcorn column.  😊)
  • Who invents all those "As seen on TV" products," the majority of which get panned regularly in Consumer Reports and on many Internet sites?
  • Imagine seeing a headstone with your name on it saying, "Here lies the man who invented the RoboStir and the Ped Egg."
  • Speaking of inventors, George Devol was the inventor of the mechanical arm used as a prototype for assembly-line robots. Sounds fairly impressive. But he also invented a hot-dog cooker called the Speedy Weeny, which--I’m thinking—may well disqualify him for induction into the Inventors Hall of Fame.
  • When was the last time you saw a new funeral home being built?   With the population increase over the last decades, you'd think you would see a new construction occasionally.  Are the existing ones just busier or . . . . What am I missing here?
  • More cremations?  The funeral home process is still required in many if not most states. People living longer?  They still die eventually . . . and then there is the off-setting phenomenon of the growing number of young people dying of gang violence, drive-by shootings, drug overdoses and Covid. I’m sure fentanyl is probably becoming more and more of a major factor by the day.
  • DRUDGING AROUND: Sugar shortfall leaves candy-makers scrounging . . . 70-year-old woman gives birth to twins . . . Study: Bowl of yogurt a day keeps mood disorders away . . . Italy’s “most handsome man” quits modeling to become priest . . . Handcuffed and sent to ER for bad behavior:  Schools sending more students to hospital . . . With human brain, size isn’t everything . . . Cops putting trackers in packages to catch porch pirates . . . Woman shouts “Happy Holidays” while bear-spraying store employees . . . Self-checkout reversal growing . . . Plastic surgeons say more MEN requesting butt implants . . . Private members’ club for DOGS opens in LA . . . Half-male, half-female bird spotted by scientist . . . Baby “sucked up” in tornado miraculously found alive in a tree . . . Texas family awakens to find drunk driver passed out in bedroom  . . . and mangled SUV in front yard with dead passenger inside . . . Santa falls to his death during stunt gone wrong . . . Man assaulted for burping . . . Florida woman arrested after 309 animals seized from mobile home! . . . Season’s Beatings: Woman arrested for attacking man with Christmas tree.  (Thanks, as always, to Matt Drudge and his intrepid band of aggregators.)
  • jimjustsaying’s Party Ice-Breaker of the Month:  “Say [actual partygoer’s name here], did you know that ‘rizz’ (n.) is the Oxford University Word of the Year?  It means charm, attractiveness, the ability to attract a romantic or sexual partner.  (Kind of hard to work into a conversation, but there you have it.)
  • Where does “rizz” come from? It’s Gen Z slang that’s probably short for “charisma.”  It won out—thank God—over “Swiftie” and two other words: “situationship” (an informal romantic or sexual relationship) and “prompt” (an instruction given to an artificial intelligence program).
  • Key Notes, Vehicle Division (from Quora):
  •  -­-"My cousin went to pick up family members at the airport. He gives the key to one of the younger cousins he was picking up and tells him, “It's the blue Datsun in such and such lane”. The kid goes down to the parking lot and finds two identical cars parked next to each other. He figures the key would only fit the correct one. First try, it worked. He drives up to the baggage claim, and when the guy who sent him sees the car, he exclaims, “That's not my car.”
  • --“I had a ‘61 Pontiac, and my trunk key would start my father-in-law’s ‘62 Pontiac!”
  • --"In the early ‘80s I had a ‘74 Maverick. I had a locking gas cap. That key fit my brother-in-law’s locking gas cap on his ‘77 Ford pickup.”
  • --"I recall many years ago that one company in particular had all trucks keyed the same. That way, if one driver locked his key in the truck, he only had to find another company driver to unlock it for him.”
  • --“Many municipalities have vehicles keyed alike. In the days of the Ford Crown Victoria police cruisers, all of our cruisers were keyed alike. We replaced a certain percentage of cruisers each year, and even the new ones were keyed the same as the old ones so, any Crown Vic in the fleet could be opened by the same key.”
  • Montana State of Mind: “In Montana, fame only counts for the first few minutes, then after that, you have to hold your own; Montanans don’t judge you on whether or not you’re famous, but on who you actually are.”--Longtime resident  (Probably not the Hollywood State of Mind.)
  • “The medical study will employ 10,000 mice as guinea pigs.”—“Still More Press Boners,” by Earle Tempel
  • jimjustsaying’s Media Word of the Month (a word no normal person ever uses but is often encountered in newspaper headlines and stories): Travails.
  • Shouldn't public-service ads (or those tag lines at the end of beer commercials) say, "Please drive responsibly" instead of "Please drink responsibly"? If you're home alone, I don't much care if you drink irresponsibly (as long as you don't "drunk dial" me!).
  • Overheard: “The best way to truly surprise someone at a surprise party is to hold it a week late.”
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  Is est ferreus reor callidus editio ut reddo sulum mensis.  ("It's hard to think of a clever statement to translate every month.")

Special thanks to Al Jazeera, this month’s Popcorn intern


From the Summer/Fall issue of THE NOTE, a celebrated quarterly publication devoted to jazz.  I knew they were running my interview with Willie Maiden, a genius of a composer/arranger/saxophonist and longtime confidant of Maynard Ferguson, but I didn't expect this!  (They said they would add "a little blurb" about me.)

Scroll down to Page 7 (and also enjoy the interviews with two of my all-time favorites, alto sax legend Phil Woods and clarinet virtuoso Eddie Daniels).!&&p=6966ff0ee36d89b9JmltdHM9MTY4Njk2MDAwMCZpZ3VpZD0wNzAwMmUxNS1kNjE1LTYwOTctMTVmYi0zY2FlZDc4NjYxMGMmaW5zaWQ9NTE3MA&ptn=3&hsh=3&fclid=07002e15-d615-6097-15fb-3caed786610c&psq=The+Multi-faceted+Jim+Szantor&u=a1aHR0cHM6Ly9pbWcxLndzaW1nLmNvbS9ibG9iYnkvZ28vMzM5NjYyZmEtNzJkMi00ODI5LWE3MmItMzU0YWJmZjNkNWYwL1RIRSUyME5PVEUlMjBTVU1NRVIlMjBGQUxMJTIwMjAyMiUyMHdlYi1lMzJiOGM4LnBkZg&ntb=1




By Jim Szantor

Some people do not cry when onions are peeled, chopped sliced or diced.  Others cry when they are merely mentioned or even implied.  What is it about the allium cepa that causes it to be de rigueur in recipes, seemingly mandatory at McDonald’s and compulsory in casseroles?

What magical properties accrue to this vile vegetable of the hollow, tubular leaves and edible, rounded bulb? What culinary clout does it hold? Do onions cure cancer, prevent baldness or remove unsightly age spots? Are they a surefire Covid killer?

Were onions served at the Last Supper?  Does Taylor Swift eat them?

Some answers, assertions and affirmations in a moment. First, though, a position paper of sorts on the plight of one who must make his way as a consumer in an onion-obsessed world.

If the onion does to you all the things it does to someone who cannot stand, bear, countenance, abide or otherwise tolerate its taste, you know what it is:

--To sit down to a meal anywhere and find the main dish (not to mention the appetizer, soup or salad) loaded with the loathsome ingredient.  How to negotiate this culinary minefield politely if not furtively without offending the hostess?  How to suppress the whimpering and retching attendant to the ordeal?

--To wait endlessly—punitively—at fast-food establishments that package the item with other, more respectable and comestible condiments.  Kudos to the franchises that make the onion an option; a pox on those that operate under the assumption that those little white, chopped interlopers will be loved and consumed with relish by all.

--To grab eagerly for a new entrée in the supermarket’s frozen food section, only to recoil when it is discovered that onions--dehydrated, flaked, powdered or fuel-injected--are part of the bargain, take it or leave it. (In the finest of print, of course.)

It is a mystery why the onions are so omnipresent in the gustatory scheme of things, when to some they are slimy if boiled, repugnant if raw and palatable only if fried to a crisp—to such a crisp, that is, that only the crisp, and not the actual onion essence, is tasted.  (Full disclosure: I recall quite fondly the Onion Straws served by a New Orleans eatery, a close encounter I have yet to live down, there being is a living witness.)

The true enemy of the onion feels not only persecuted but also triumphant when able to detect the faintest evidence of its flavoring.  Cook a beef stew with boiled onions in a mesh bag and remove them prior to serving? The congenital onion-hater can tell.   That’s because the onion has little subtlety, is totally devoid of finesse.  It always lingers near the scene of the crime, fouling the breath and otherwise making its ingestion hard to forget.  But this seasoned onion adversary survives each close encounter, his palate and olfactory glands able to detect its unpleasant properties everywhere.

It could be argued that eating a hamburger with onions is—dare I say it?—an antisocial act.  My hamburger with tomato and pickles flies under the radar, even in close quarters.  Someone eating one loaded with onions in whatever form?  He or she is, in effect, broadcasting with appallingly broad bandwidth, callously indifferent to the consequences!

The onion’s raison d’etre?

According to noted chef Jean Banchet of Le Francaise in the Chicago suburb of Wheeling’s fabled Restaurant Row, “Onions add a lot of flavor, a unique flavor, to soups, sauces and salads.”  He prefers cooked over raw, though, and opts for the shallot, an onion cousin, for fish and bordelaise sauce.

The onion, in the allium giganteum genus, is a real attention-getter, both in the garden and in cut flower arrangements.  It is one, however, that even Mr. Anti-Onion can appreciate, for this flowery version is not to be eaten.

But the more common garden variety is one that a former colleague, Chicago Tribune food editor Joanne Will, says “is worth crying over.”

“Onions not only enrich other flavors but they make a statement of their own.  Just think of some of the things onionophiles would have to give up: deeply browned and caramelized sweet onion soup, boiled baby onions saturated with cream sauce (a must with Thanksgiving turkey), crisply delicious, battered onion rings.”

To a close and cherished associate (one who has prepared this author’s meals for 53-plus years), the onion is an ingredient both pleasurable and problematic.  To cater to her husband’s unfathomable oddity, meal preparation is fraught with strategies, dodges, reluctant omissions and, sometimes, downright deceit. In short, to keep peace in the family, she has to keep the onions out of the crock pot.

There are untold hardships for one who was born unequal in that his tase buds are out of step with the rest of humanity’s.  The onion, in its ubiquity, has made coping more cumbersome, ordering more odious and tasting more tentative for the afflicted.  Unquestionably, the onion is an affront, an imposition, equally detestable, whether served by gracious hostesses, celebrated chefs or sullen countermen.

But if you are among the majority who cannot live without onions, by all means indulge and enjoy.  This is only an open admission of an aberration, a venting of a lifelong loathing, not a produce section polemic.  Some of my best friends buy, cook eat and even grow them. But they’ve never grown on me.

Until the onion makes the headlines (remember the Great Potato Famine, the cranberry scare of 1959, Red Dye No. 2 and other periodic pantry-related panics), it will be the same old story for those who can’t stand them, those who dream of the day when restaurant signs and menus everywhere will contain these words:

No smoking, no substitutions, no onions.



The chili could be malicious and downright unforgiving.  The omelets sometimes look like yellow Play-Doh flecked with foreign bodies.  The coffee isn’t strong enough to defend itself, and the waitress puts the plates down with an offhand finality.  Breakfast served any time.  Eggs any style.  The soup? It’s navy bean.

 It’s easy to put down the greasy spoon, that ubiquitous testament to the tacky and the Tums.  But by whatever name—luncheonette, diner, café, grill, coffee shop, ptomaine parlor—it used to account for 40-50 percent of the eat-out dollar, according to industry sources.  Now?  Not so much, as changing tastes and the sweep of urban renewal have relegated it into a virtual museum piece--a slow-food square peg in a round hole of a fast-food, instant-everything, drive-through and highly hyphenated universe. Some things just sort of happen, with no grand design or Machiavellian malice aforethought.

 But the greasy spoon was a slice of Americana that clung to the fork with nary a nod to fad or fashion.  There were no vegetarian plates, as meat and potatoes carried the day and the night and the mortgage.  The Serv-Naps filed out of their countertop compartments as the daily duet of eat-and-runs and lingerers played their way through an unconducted arrangement.  The beef was “govt.-inspected”—but did it pass?  There was a counter-top jukebox selector, with some pop, some country, some rock but definitely no Rachmaninoff.

You know the place.  Everyone, whether through happenstance, resignation or momentary indifference has ended up at one of these Edward Hopper-esque establishments, clutching a greasy knife or fork. How the spoon, which generally just stirred the coffee, got left holding the bag is a mysteryforever lost in the mists of time.

Whatever their culinary merits, one could develop an irrational affection for the emporiums of this genre.  And they were more than eating places.  Sociologically they could be an over-the-counter salve for the tattered psyches of the urban disenfranchised, who hoped they wouldn’t close on Christmas and trap them in their cheap hotel rooms.  They were sort of halfway hash house social clubs, with no membership list but plenty of dues, where the help was as transient as the trade.

Some of these motley establishments were actually respectable—sometimes good—and do not deserve to be painted in such tawdry tones.  Almost always locally owned, they were probably more consistent at their level than some tonier “destination dining” spots and had a more devoted clientele, who prided themselves on being regulars, never had to state their orders and were probably as good as the National Guard should someone get surly with the waitress.  Perhaps the key to their fate is how many such places are opening these days, not how many are closing.

But while there’s time, the eyes above the menu survey the scene and laugh and marvel at a few things:

--The waitress always looks like she is glad they are out of whatever they are out of.

--The catsup bottle says “restaurant pack,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

--The busboy is a strong man--a bit too strong—but he didn’t shower up with Irish Spring.

--There’s a fill-up-the-sugar-container fetish that is hard to fathom.  Today’s two fingers’ worth on top of yesterday’s two fingers’ worth.  The sugar at the bottom was refined in 1952.

--The “chef” has more tattoos than specialties and thinks “Guide Michelin” plays for the Montreal Canadiens.

--The cream pies and such are kept at a tongue-numbing 33 degrees.

--The sandwich plates are larger than they need to be, but the dinner plates. . . .

--The cashier/owner always seems to be eating ice cream out of a coffee cup on a stool near the cash register.

--They honor the “law” that says coleslaw shall be served in flimsy paper or plastic cups and in minute amounts.

--The spaghetti always comes with “rich meat sauce.”

--The menu always has an item or two that no one has ever ordered.  Who orders Red Snapper in places like this?

--If you want something to go, you have to stand in a special place, probably so they won’t confuse you with people who prefer to eat standing up with their hands in their pockets.

--The floor is usually brown-and-yellow tile squares, in accordance with the Seedy Restaurant Color Scheme Act of 1942.

--Some old guy always comes in about 10 p.m. and orders a bowl of bran cereal.

---The menu is a Sargasso Sea of misspelled names and fanciful if not fraudulent descriptions.  From the Broiler.  From the Sea.  But never From the Freezer.

--The server never fills in all those bureaucratic squares at the top of the “guest check” and writes diagonally across the lined form.  What’s more, she has a Ph.D. in abbreviations.

--One of the customers always looks like he is doing his income tax at one of the tables.

--Somebody always walks by the window and waves in just before he disappears.

--You’re the only one at the counter, and some guy walks in and sits right next to you.

--The french-fried shrimp comes with enough cocktail sauce to cover about two pieces.

--The table’s wobble is always half-corrected with a dirty folded napkin or three.

--The clock is always stopped at something like 2:42.

--The Muzak is always playing something like “Never on Sunday” or “Nom Domenticar.”

--The cook flip-slides the plates across the high stainless-steel counter, and they always stop short, as if equipped with disk brakes.

--The cashier always puts your change down on a spikey rubber thing that looks like an oversized scalp massager.


In the early morning lull, after the midnight rush hour subsides, the buzz of the fluorescent now equals the sizzle of the grill as the beat cop walks in and sinks into the house booth.

 “Say, where’s Sally?  She off tonight?”

“Nah, she quit.  Went back with her old man.”

“Oh . . . . Say, you got any a that meat loaf left.  Haven’t eaten all day.”

“Nah, meat loaf’s out.  All’s I got left is thuringer.”

“Thuringer, huh.  Well . . . gimme a piece of that blueberry.”

(Illustration:  Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” 1942)

Forecast Follies (or . . . "Here's Jim with the Weather")

Mark Twain famously said, ”Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” 

And since reports of Mr. Twain’s death were not highly exaggerated, I’d like to fill in for him and address something we apparently can’t do anything about, either—the nonsensical, downright insulting barrage of verbiage issuing forth daily from what used to be called TV “weathermen” (and they were all of that gender back in the day) but are now known as “meteorologists,” as if space rocks were an omnipresent factor in our lives.  As in, “60 percent chance of precipitation by daybreak, with 0.000001 percent chance of meteor collision.”  (Meteor showers do occur, but usually are not perilous enough to cancel your picnic plans. They have yet to be seen in the Bus Stop Forecasts or the Car Wash Advisories that “humanize” these bloated segments.)

The weather portions (there are usually two—a fairly brief “teaser” early on and later, the Big Production) of most TV newscasts are, first of all, way too long (and coupled with all those time-wasting teasers about “what’s coming up,” leave precious little time for what we actually tune in for—news).  We don’t need to know where the Alberta Clipper fizzled, that an El Nino is in mid-formation or that a front in central Montana caused a “dusting” in northern Iowa.  And as for those “pockets of snow” we were supposed to get last night, I looked in mine and, blessedly, found none. But the station has paid serious coin for all of the glitzy graphics and radar capabilities, and by God, they are going to be used, if even just to show us what the rainfall looks like in downtown Racine “right at this very moment.”  Gripping.

And then there is the universal, comically contrived “personalization” factor, apparently de rigueur on all stations. It’s never “Thursday’s forecast,” it’s (ahem), “the forecast for your Thursday . . . .”  One can only envision the rapturous glow viewers must feel when luxuriating in the warmth of that gratuitous pronoun! (As if that forecast applies only to you, no one else. Ah, exclusivity.)

If one were to awaken from a 30-year coma, he or she would probably be mystified not only by cellphones, laptops and GPS devices but also by the existence of a curious phenomenon known as The Weather Channel: All weather, all the time--a nonstop barrage of jargon, gaudy graphics and arcane factoids.  How did we ever exist without it? When it’s a slow weather day (and in this day of acute climate change, there’s always a crisis on the front burner somewhere), footage of past calamities will fill the bill for weather junkies or the aficionados of disaster porn.

Those with (ahem) backgrounds as editors find the nightly weather segments to be cringefests in the extreme.  Temps don’t just drop into the 20s, they “drop down,” as if “dropping up” were a physical possibility.  Is snow or rain in the forecast? No, we’ll have “snow showers” or “rain showers.”  And it’s never just “sun”; it’s “sunshine,” as if that extra syllable ramps up the warmth.  These folks never pass up an opportunity to gild the lily, because we’re often told of the possibility of “rain events” or “snow events,” which leads me, at least, to wonder if I will need a ticket, if there will be guest speakers and if refreshments will be served.  (Spotty Showers?  That was my clown name back in the day, a story to be told when the Vernal Equinox rolls around.  Which this year, in the Northern Hemisphere, will be at 10:33 a.m. CST on March 20.  Mark your calendar.)

But my pique rises to fever pitch in winter, when we’re often told during our seven-month layered-look season to “bundle up,” as if we lifelong Midwesterners have no prior experience with winter weather--as if we had all just parachuted in from Jamaica in our underwear and had no idea on how to adorn ourselves in these brutal climes.  We don’t need to be told how to dress when icicles form—we’ve been there, done that—and resent the insinuation. One of the local weather wordsmiths hails from San Diego, and he’s telling us what to wear?  Outrageous.  I’d like to send him back to sunny California on his surfboard or his skateboard, preferably when the barometric pressure equals the dew point and, optimally, on a jet stream.

More and more women are seen these days holding forth during TV weather segments, and they have proven themselves every bit the equal of the men—long-winded and grammatically challenged. Positive role models apparently are non-existent; the often-parodied “weather bunnies” are blessedly a thing of the past (their anatomical attributes far outweighed their academic credentials), and the first exemplary female trailblazer with any gravitas has yet to be found. 

So please, Mr., Mrs. or Ms. Meteorologist, do us all a favor:  Stop behaving as if you are getting paid by the word, spare me the details about weather phenomena that have no bearing on our locale and, most of all, stop insulting our intelligence.  Chill out, stick to the weather and let us worry about our wardrobes.  Failing that, my fondest wish is that I could take all of you, get you all bundled up and sent to the Sahara.  There’s a 99.99 percent chance that you won’t need an umbrella or have to worry about a lake effect, a polar vortex or banal banter with the anchor desk. 

And now here’s Al with the Sports.

--Jim Szantor