Thursday, December 1, 2022

CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENTS

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

--"Джим - забавный парень, но он не Яков Смирнов!" (Jim's a funny guy, but he's no Yakov Smirnoff!  Nyet!")--Vladimir Putin
--"Я думаю, мы могли бы использовать такого парня, как Джим."  (I think we could use a guy like Jim!)--Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the United States.
--"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)
--"The one thing I DO read!"--Sarah Palin
--"The most fun you can have with your clothes on (but DO take a shower afterwards)."--Dick Cavett

jimjustselling . . .


Actually, I'm not, but the good folks at HenschelHAUS are.
https://henschelhausbooks.com/product/lol-i-gags/


The book is also available at:

POPCORN

                                                                  By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations

about the absurdities of contemporary life

  • jimjustsaying’s holly jolly jocular gift suggestion for that hard-to-shop-for person on your Christmas shopping list: A David Gruber Chia Pet.  “One gift, that’s all!”


(A Gag Gift for the Ages!  . . . "Ch-ch-ch-chia!")

  • Speaking of Christmas, I can’t wait to watch my favorite holiday special: “Christmas with the Gingriches.”  Comes on right before “Joey Buttafuoco’s First Incarcerated Christmas.” (That one falls into the “guilty pleasure” category.)
  • jimjustsaying’s “Just Shoot Me Now!” Headline of the Month: “Weed-infused seltzer catches on.”  Be the first person to give me a valid reason why the world needs this and win valuable prizes! 
  • jimjustsaying’s second “Just Shoot Me Now!” Headline of the Month: “Buzz over hemp-fed cows.”  Cows, too?  Is nothing sacred?
  • Remember when you had to go to a carnival sideshow and pay an extra quarter to see the tattooed lady?  Now? She’s your grandson’s 3rd Grade teacher!
  • Now that the baseball season is over, I’ll have more time to resume my other favorite pastime: Reading Homer in the original Greek. 
  • Remember our being told how so-called “modern conveniences” were going to simplify our lives?
  • Now it turns out that the so-called "toggling tax" is putting a damper on the benefits of remote work, Axios reports.  The smorgasbord of software needed to do any given task can make it feel as if people are working multiple jobs at once.
  • A Harvard Business Review study suggests workers are switching from app to app, website to website, nearly 1,200 times a day.
  • For example, a salesperson switches among as many as eight applications just to meet with a client: Email, calendar, enterprise chat software, a customer relationship management platform, a videoconference system, maybe a conference room system too, a note-taking application, and a presentation maker.
  • I queried my older daughter, an account executive at American Express, and she said she can attest to the accuracy of the foregoing because she is steeped in it daily. (Whew!  Makes one nostalgic for the bad old inconvenient days.)
  • I don’t know about you, but I tend to re-evaluate a person after I find out he (or she) has a pit bull, a Doberman, a python or a boa constrictor as a “pet.” 
  • Another perennial Christmas TV special I can’t wait to revisit: “Winnie the Pooh’s Holiday Pot Party.”  (And I try not to miss a somewhat darker holiday staple”: “Police Navidad.”)
  • Some have suggested that the poor performance of NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers is being blamed on his consumption of ayahuasca, some sort of psychedelic potion.  Rodgers, as you may know, plays for the Green Bay Packers.  You know, the team that represents the toilet-papermaking capital of the Free World. 
  • The team really should be renamed, seeing as how the Acme meatpacking company it was named for closed in—wait for it—1943.  Ditto for the Milwaukee Brewers, Milwaukee being as much a major-brand brewing capital these days as Riyadh!  Suggestion:  The Green Bay Cheeseheads (they could reshape their helmets!) and the Milwaukee Brats.  Much more appropriate factually and culturally.
  • Redundancy Patrol:  Postpone till later, written down, blend together.
  • Why our democracy is safe, despite all the MAGA-related rage and discontent now being observed and covered to a fare-thee-well by the media:  Too many distractions! 
  • The Original Colonists didn’t have 300 TV channels, DVDs, video games, You Tube, Facebook, Tik Tok and myriad other pastimes and diversions.  How can people get seriously involved in anything time-consuming and revolutionary when it might mean missing “Dancing with the Stars”?
  • jimjustsaying’s Law of Urban Survival:  All neighborhoods are safe at 6 o’clock in the morning.  (The late-night thugs have crashed, and the daytime hoodlums aren’t awake yet.  You could call it the sweet spot for safe walking--virtually anywhere.)
  • “She sounds like someone giving a book report on a book she hasn’t read!”—a critic of Kamala Harris on the vice president’s bizarre and meandering speech at an international conference--via George Will, Washington Post.
  • Speaking of politics, one strategist has quipped that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker would be an especially fascinating adversary for Donald Trump if he indeed did run again in 2024--“a real billionaire against a fake billionaire.”
  • Why do they keep naming hurricanes and tropical storms after perfectly innocent everyday people?  I knew a waitress in Door County named Katrina who had to use a fake name tag to put an end to the lame jokes in 2005.
  • Solution: Dip into our ample inventory of historical villains; there surely  are enough to go around.  (“This just in: Tropical Storm Dracula is gathering steam in the North Atlantic; meanwhile, residents of the Louisiana Gulf Coast are still reeling from the ravages of last week’s Hurricane Hitler. And forecasters are keeping a close eye on Subtropical Storm Dahmer.”)
  • The New York Post has long been one of the most flamboyant/sensationalistic and irreverent tabloids, making absolutely no pretense of objectivity. 
  • So it was a major revelation when this right-leaning paper threw one of its sacred cows under the bus with this classic cover:

  • Piers Morgan, a Post columnist, even went as far as to say that Trump has “a toxic stranglehold on the GOP.”  The Post, oddly, did not endorse Trump in 2016 but did in 2020.
  • Fast-forwarding through commercials has always been one of the best features of the high-tech era, but never more so than now, when many TV ads leave one wondering what the actual product is as you try to decipher the cryptic off-the-wall dialogue, bizarre graphics and noxious background music.
  • Then there are others, like this wordless one, set in what appears to be a liquor or convenience store, where the product (a brand of low-cal beer) is patently obvious but the two actors and their actions (nods and seductive-looking winks) leave one to wonder:  Who exactly is the target audience here? Ex-cons on the proverbial down low?  If you watch any sports on TV, you probably have seen it—many times.
  • Advertisers seem to be like generals fighting the proverbial last war:  They appear to be gearing their commercials to the demographic that used to be the big spenders but no longer are--the generation that isn’t getting married, is having far fewer children, isn’t buying houses and furniture and second cars, etc.  They’re also cord-cutters who are streaming movies and such that are devoid of commercials. 
  • Madison Avenue:  You’re out of touch.  Luckily, we older folks can fast-forward through the pitches that have little or no interest to us.
  • Whatever happened to Dennis Miller?
  • Perhaps Miller has done what most of the people who lost their TV shows have done:  Gotten a podcast. Wouldn’t be surprised if a prisoner or two at San Quentin has a podcast. 
  • If Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had never gotten married, and the Royal Family was a collection of model citizens, the National Enquirer would go out of business. (Especially now that Naomi Judd and Jerry Lee Lewis are dead.)
  • Headline: “Rush to cash fastest since pandemic.”
  • In my humble opinion, whatever rash actions “everybody” is rushing to do (sell holdings, buy crypto or toilet paper, fill up gas tanks) in times of crisis is inevitably wrongminded and counterproductive.  As H.L. Mencken famously said, “For every problem there is a solution that is neat, simple . . . and wrong.”
  • jimjustsaying’s Word That Doesn’t Exist But Should of the Month: “Kawashock.” n. Starting to pull into a parking spot only to discover a motorcycle already there.—“More Sniglets,” Rich Hall and Friends.
  • He said it: “Every great cause starts as a movement, becomes a business and eventually degenerates into a racket.”--Eric Hoffer
  • She said it: “History is what people are trying to hide from you, not what they’re trying to show you.”--Molly Ivins
  • Heads up, nose-pickers! Researchers at an Australian university say nose-picking can cause bacteria to travel through the nose and into the brain, where it creates markers that are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • The study, published in the journal Scientific Report, found that bacteria could travel through the olfactory nerve, which joins the nasal cavity and the brain, and that damage to the nasal epithelium (the thin tissue along the roof of the nasal cavity), made nerve infections even worse. (Kind of hard to work into a conversation, but it’s here if you need it!)
  • jimjustsaying's Media Word of the Week (a word you see only in print and never hear an actual person use in real life):  Plethora.  As in, "2022 has seen a plethora of mass shootings."
  • Each year, approximately 8,000 Americans are treated for toothpick-related injuries.  No figures yet on dental floss, Q-tips or collar stays.
  • jimjustsaying’s Favorite Edward Hopper Painting of the Month: 

  • “New York Movie” depicts a few scattered moviegoers and a pensive usherette lost in her thoughts. Praised for its brilliant portrayal of multiple light sources, “New York Movie” is one of Hopper's well-regarded works.  The moment, says Natasha Gural in Forbes, is both time-stamped and timeless, revealing the immortality of a certain kind of urban scene or experience.  We’re transported back to the grandeur and solitude of watching a film in plush red velvet seats in a nearly empty theater.

  • Web site you probably haven't heard of:  Nailthatfungus.com.
  • jimjustsaying’s Insider Movie Line Info of the Month: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!”-- Roy Scheider in "Jaws," 1975.
  • Scheider’s famously improvised line was actually an inside joke among the crew, who had been given a tugboat too small for the shoot and used the line among themselves, totally unaware that it would become part of cinematic history. (Kind of hard to work into a conversation, but again, it’s here if you need it.)
  • Why don't bottlecaps have that little piece of cork inside them anymore?
  • Interesting that newspaper astrology columnists will tell you that the day is unfavorable for travel but never unfavorable for reading about astrology or buying astrology-related books or merchandise. 
  • Is there German fast food in our future?  It would be perfect for Milwaukee. Suggestions: Schnitzel Hut.  Best Wurst. Special Spaetzle. Das Dumpling Den.
  • jimjustsaying’s Sign of the Year (seen in a Chicago store window on Irving Park Road): ''Smell coming from garbage. Garbage not from this store.''
  • Nov. 12 Headline: “Planes collide over Wings Over Dallas air show as spectators watch in horror.” 
  • Popcorn followers may remember my recent item about the idiocy of these displays and the many deaths they have caused (21 Little Leaguers in a celebrated Minnesota tragedy).  But these bravado exercises continue. Oh, and at least six were killed in the latest incident. 
  • jimjustsaying’s Second in a Series of Excerpts from Mad Magazine’s “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” book:
  • Woman entering coffee shop: “Is this a Starbucks?”
  • Worker: “You mean there’s more than one?”
  • T-shirt message spotted: “I don’t need Google; my wife knows everything!”
  • DRUDGING AROUND: King Charles says he was related to real-life Dracula . . . Doughnut shop hit with Molotov cocktail after drag-queen art show . . . Russian troops eat zoo animals to stay alive . . . Average person hits peak health at 34 . . . Feral chickens taking over Honolulu . . . “I’m selling my blood!”  Millions can’t make ends meet . . . Traveler tries to smuggle gun onto plane inside raw chicken .  . . Study: Rats move to musical beats like humans . . . Air Force to train new pilots without planes . . . Lab-grown meat cleared for human consumption . . . Man guilty of tattooing minor in McDonald’s dining room . . . Target blames shoplifting for lost profits; locks up toothpaste . . . Amazon driver steals previously delivered packages.  (Thanks as always to Matt Drudge and his merry band of aggregators.) 
  • jimjustsaying’s Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month: “Big Boy.”  As in, Mark A. “Big Boy” Koch, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov. 27, 2022.  R.I.P., Big Boy.
  • Our modern world: Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post writes of the jobs that the offspring of Boomers hold that mystify their parents as to what they really mean. Such as: Chief Inspiration Officer.  Executive Vice President for Executive Visibility.  Change Manager.   
  • As one woman put it, “[My son] is very busy and he works long hours, but I can’t tell you what he does.”
  • What do Irpin (Ukraine), Galway (Ireland), Zadar (Croatia), Daegu (South Korea), Tarime District (Tanzania) and Bomet County (Kenya) have in common?  All of them are “sister cities” of Milwaukee.
  • (What?  No sister city in Germany?  That honor goes to nearby Oconomowoc, which claims sisterhood with Dietzenbach, don’t-cha-know.)
  • A sister city (as long as we’ve gone this far, I might as well tell you!) is a form of legal or social agreement between two geographically and politically distinct localities for the purpose of promoting cultural and commercial ties. Watch this space next month for a list of Milwaukee’s brother cities--if such a relationship can be found. 
  • Today’s Latin Lesson: I wreszcie, parafrazując nieżyjącego już Karla Wallendę ze słynnej trupy powietrznej The Flying Wallendas: "Życie jst kolumną popcornu.  Reszta tylko czeka". (And finally, to paraphrase the late Karl Wallenda of the famed aerial troupe The Flying Wallendas, "Life is the Popcorn column.  The rest is just waiting."­)

    A quick shout-out to Myrtle Beach, this month’s Popcorn intern.

    Note to non-Milwaukee-area residents: David Gruber heads a local law firm that advertises heavily (very heavily) on local television with the slogan, "One call, that's all!"  

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

THE QUOTE RACK

Biden is no sure thing for 2024

The midterms were very good to President Biden. His party avoided the shellacking that it suffered halfway through President Obama’s first term and the drubbing that Republicans experienced after two years of President Trump.

After two years of Biden, voters gave Democrats a gentle slap on the wrist. That makes him look like a miracle worker and may well muffle chatter about whether he should run for a second term.

But the noise won’t go away entirely. There’s the matter of Biden’s age, and there’s the matter of Biden’s energy. He was already the oldest president in American history when he took office at 78. He’d be just shy of 82 on Election Day in 2024. It shows. He doesn’t project anything like the ebullience he once did. His flubs transcend malapropisms.

Last month, he erroneously claimed that student loan forgiveness--which he decreed by executive action--passed Congress by a few votes. That was the most glaring misstatement of his own record but hardly the only one. When Robert Costa of CBS News interviewed Rep. Jim Clyburn, the South Carolina Democrat, just before the midterm results came in and asked him whether Biden should seek re-election, Clyburn declined to answer. He said that the Democrats’ decisions going forward should take into account “who has what capacity to do what,” according to a tweet of Costa’s on Tuesday night.

 Does Biden have the grip and glow to make certain that Donald Trump or some other Republican doesn’t win the presidency in two years? Before the midterms, polling showed that a significant majority of Democrats craved the chance to pick somebody else. I’m not sure that this week’s results will change that sentiment much. It’s how I feel. But which somebody? Here’s an assessment (and rough ranking) of various Democrats who would be possible contenders in 2024 or who are poised to emerge as party leaders on the far side of Biden, whenever that is.

Many Democrats cringe at the thought of Kamala Harris as the party’s 2024 nominee. They regard that as party suicide, pointing to her persistently low approval ratings and her miserable 2020 presidential campaign, which ended before the Iowa caucuses began. But Biden chose her as a running mate because she has credentials and appeal, and her current perch would make her the ipso facto front-runner.

“I think she’s one of the reasons Biden won, and she never got credit for that,” Doug Sosnik, a veteran Democratic strategist, told me. “She energized the base. She was good on the stump, and she handled herself well in the debate.” She also made history--she’s the first woman and first Black woman in the vice presidency--and she’d be those same firsts in the presidency, an exhilarating prospect that could dissuade some would-be competitors. Harris would be in an especially strong position if Biden dallied before deciding against another presidential run; a compressed time frame could squash candidacies by politicians who still need to build name recognition, political networks and donor lists.

“There are only two or three people who can add water and go,” said Bakari Sellers, a former Democratic lawmaker in South Carolina, which has a pivotal Democratic primary. He named Harris, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. He left out Bernie Sanders, later saying that Sanders, 81, is “probably too old.” Buttigieg, 40, would be the second-youngest American president on Inauguration Day 2025, only a month and a half older than Theodore Roosevelt. He represents stark generational change. And most of the Democratic insiders I spoke with predicted that he’d be a formidable candidate, based on his breakout success in 202-- he essentially came in third, behind Biden and Sanders, in the Democratic primaries-- and his experience as transportation secretary.

 A gay man with a husband and two children, he, like Harris, represents progress toward equality. And he has proved to be one of the party’s gamest and nimblest messengers, his appearances on Fox News and MSNBC yielding snippets shared widely on social media. “You have to give credit to a guy who went from being a mediocre mayor of Indiana’s fourth-largest city to getting the most delegates in Iowa,” said Ari Rabin-Havt, who was Sanders’s deputy campaign manager in 2020, referring to Buttigieg’s time in South Bend. “I think he’s the most potent wine-track candidate who exists.”

Rabin-Havt likes to categorize Democratic candidates as “wine track” (Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats favored by voters with more education and money) or “beer track” (politicians, like Sanders, who are most ardently backed by a less affluent group). Biden won the nomination because he was acceptable to both contingents. Can Buttigieg clear that bar? “He was an intellectual force in the Democratic primaries,” said Joel Benenson, who was Barack Obama’s chief pollster in 2008 and 2012 and whose firm did polling for Buttigieg in 2020. “He may have been a little too intellectual.” And he didn’t generate excitement among Black voters, who are critical to Democrats’ fortunes. “Serious candidates and strategists know that you must show up early and consistently with Black voters because they rightly see showing up late as checking a box rather than a serious commitment,” Benenson told me.

 Additionally, Buttigieg wouldn’t be the “new kid on the block” in the 2024 cycle, one longtime Democratic strategist said. “He’d be treated differently.”

Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who just won re-election by an impressive margin in the key presidential battleground of Michigan, is Pabst Blue Ribbon with just the right measure of merlot. She “thinks like a general, looks like a ’40s film star and talks like she’s ice fishing for muskie,” Sarah Vowell wrote in The Times in August 2020. Vowell grouped Whitmer with Biden and several other nationally prominent politicians who, unlike every president since Jimmy Carter, graduated from public universities (in Whitmer’s case, Michigan State, both college and law school). She’s also the subject of an adoring song by the Detroit rapper GmacCash, “Big Gretch.” The nickname took, and it’s gold. Many prominent Democrats urged Biden to run with Whitmer in 2020--that’s how potent they felt her pull could be. There’s no reason to think that it has weakened with more experience. And it’s arguably the right kind of experience. Governors have an easier time separating themselves from Washington--and from voters’ cynicism about it--than politicians who’ve been working in the capital for many years.

There will no doubt be some governor in any post-Biden mix. I don’t spot another with more potential than Whitmer. “Big Gretch is going to be very formidable,” Sellers said. Nicole Hemmer, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University and the author of the recently published book “Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1900s,” noted that Whitmer “has been targeted by the far right, so it fits into the narrative of dangers to democracy.” “On paper,” Hemmer continued, “it makes a lot of sense. I just don’t know if she has that punch to break through in terms of national media.”

Indeed, Whitmer, 51, hasn’t spent much time in the national spotlight, so it’s unclear how commanding she’d be on a larger stage. In a recent debate against her Republican opponent for governor, Tudor Dixon, she was solid but unspectacular

Amy Klobuchar lasted much longer in the 2020 primaries than Harris did, and with each passing week, the Minnesota senator, now 62, honed her message and voice. She could build from there. And at least in Minnesota, she has shown the ability to win support among Democratic progressives and moderates alike. But she’s certainly no progressive darling, and just as a 2024 Democratic field would almost certainly have a governor in the foreground, it would have a progressive there, too

 If Sanders doesn’t run, does Elizabeth Warren--who, at 73, is eight years his junior--become their standard bearer? She has undoubtedly learned from her 2020 campaign, which trailed off after an early surge but revealed her to be not only thoroughly prepared but also dynamic in debates and on the stump.

I mentioned governors. Roy Cooper, the Democrat at the helm of North Carolina, has twice been elected in years (2016, 2020) when Trump won North Carolina and when North Carolina Republicans prevailed in fiercely contested Senate races, too. That amounts to at least some promise of crossover appeal in rigidly and toxically partisan times.

Cooper, 65, could be a tonic--affable, sensible, with no whiff of ideologue in him. I may be biased; he’s my governor, and I think he has done an admirable, balanced job of alternately stymying and working with the Republicans who control both chambers of the state legislature. He praises and models the qualities of competence and pragmatism. Additionally, his current stint as chair of the Democratic Governors Association means that he has made or strengthened connections beyond his state, collecting I.O.U.s.

“There’s a charisma issue,” one Democratic insider, echoing others, confided in me. But, she added, “I do think his name will be floated, and he’d be an interesting candidate.”

Although Tim Ryan’s loss to J.D. Vance in the Senate race in Ohio made that state look redder than ever, its voters just four years ago awarded Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, a third term--and they did so by a margin of almost seven percentage points. That’s a testament to the breadth of his appeal. “If you ask me who in the Democratic Party has the trust of the progressive community and the pulse of working-class Americans, that’s Sherrod Brown,” Sosnik told me. “He bridges the wings of the party.”

But Brown, 70, passed on the 2020 presidential race despite considerable interest in him. Several Democratic insiders told me that he’s simply too equivocal about his intentions and ambition to mount a winning presidential campaign.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois has won fans for his fiery moments of refreshing bluntness. “There’s a kind of strange internet sparkle around Gov. Pritzker,” Hemmer said. The mix of urban and rural areas in Illinois provides an instructive lesson for a national campaign. And several Democratic strategists pointed out that if Biden leaves his would-be successors with little time to raise the money they need, Pritzker, 57, could fund his own campaign. One strategist quipped that he’d be an especially fascinating adversary for Trump, “a real billionaire against a fake billionaire.”

 But is a billionaire the right Democratic fit? The leap from House member to presidential nominee is a big and unlikely one--just ask Tim Ryan and Eric Swalwell, who failed to make it in 2020--but that might not prevent Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat, from trying. A strong communicator who represents Silicon Valley but talks with passion about the concerns of workers at a lower economic altitude, Khanna is well regarded by progressives, especially those interested in a changing of the guard.

“I think there is getting to be a certain wariness among the Democratic base with having the entire leadership of their party being people with a 1990s mentality about politics,” Rabin-Havt said, adding that Khanna, a 46-year-old Indian American, departs from that mentality.

Hemmer concurred that he’s not part of the Democratic establishment and, if he played his cards right, could wring that for extra excitement, a particular buzz, “introducing himself to the American people as a candidate who has not been defined by others and has a little more breathing room.”

There’s inevitable curiosity about Bernie Sanders. He has been the Democratic runner-up twice in a row, and he’s still in the mix, still in the Senate, still revered by many progressives. But if Biden essentially ages out, can he be succeeded by someone older who had a heart attack in 2019? I don’t see it. What, then, about a young progressive like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Her name gets bandied about. But there’s young, and then there’s 33 years old. She’d reach the minimum age for the presidency, 35, less than a month before Election Day 2024. And she’d bring just six years of experience in the House to the job. These are wild days in which old rules fly out the window, but probably not this fast and far.

 The eagerness with which Gavin Newsom, 55, has stepped forward as a voluble defender of liberal values and pugilistic critic of Ron DeSantis has predictably fed speculation about a presidential candidacy. And he has the precious credential of big-state governor. But that state is California, once a harbinger and now more a partisan Rorschach test. And there’s a preening quality and slickness to Newsom that give many observers pause and make others--including the writer Josh Barro, who used his Very Serious newsletter for a savage delineation of the easy case against Newsom-- cringe. And both specifically and metaphorically, can a Newsom candidacy survive the widely circulated photo of him and his former wife, Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is now engaged to Donald Trump Jr., stretched out on an ostentatious rug in a gilded room?

One way to think about Newsom’s shortcomings versus those of other Democratic presidential prospects: When he arguably violated his own Covid counsel against large gatherings in California, it was for a sumptuous feast at the fabled French Laundry in the Napa Valley. When Whitmer violated hers in Michigan, it was for dinner at a bar and grill with mozzarella sticks and chili cheese fries on the menu.

Many Democrats still gush about the 2017 speech that Mitch Landrieu, then the mayor of New Orleans, gave about Confederate monuments and racial reconciliation. It was sublime. And his current role as a senior adviser and infrastructure coordinator for the Biden administration has him crisscrossing the country in advantageous ways. But a Landrieu candidacy elicits the most discussion and excitement from Democratic intelligentsia. That’s as much curse as blessing.

The next supposedly sentient acquaintance of mine who suggests that Michelle Obama would or should run for president is getting deleted from my contacts. The former First Lady is a profoundly admirable person who has never signaled a scintilla of amenability to this idea and whose favorability ratings would plummet the minute she was in the fray rather than above it.

--Frank Bruni, New York Times

How dining out has changed

Restaurants are crowded again, but customers complain of high prices and spotty service. Is this a new normal?

Here's everything you need to know: What's causing the change? The pandemic and its continuing economic consequences have made eating out a costlier and often less pleasant experience. COVID was an unprecedented disaster for restaurants: Between 2020 and 2021, the industry laid off or furloughed 8 million workers and lost $280 billion in sales. At least 90,000 eateries shuttered. Those that survived had to adapt with outdoor dining and a greater reliance on takeout and delivery, which accounted for 90 percent of all restaurant meals sold in 2020.

Vaccination, a reduction in health risks, and the lifting of some pandemic restrictions have sent a flood of diners back — even more than in the pre- 2/5 COVID era, according to data from reservation platform OpenTable. But though the $898 billion in sales restaurants projected for this year represents a $34 billion increase over 2019, 85 percent of owners say their business remains less profitable now than before 2020. In a May survey, 41 percent said they couldn't make rent. The average price of commercially prepared meals rose 8.5 percent between September 2021 and September 2022. The price of a McDonald's Big Mac broke $6 earlier this year, and for high-end burgers in major cities such as New York, diners are paying upwards of $30 (without fries or a drink) before tax and tip.

Diners have also complained about shorter business hours, longer wait times, and less attentive service. "The industry is unlikely to ever completely return to its pre-pandemic state," said Hudson Riehle of the National Restaurant Association.

Why are so many restaurants struggling? The costs of doing business have soared. Overall food prices have risen about 11 percent over the past year, and factors such as high energy prices, drought, the war in Ukraine, and an ongoing outbreak of avian influenza are pushing the costs of some staples much higher. The USDA estimates the price of cooking oil, butter, and other fats will rise as much as 24 percent this year, and egg prices are expected to double.

Availability of supplies and labor has also grown unpredictable. Supply chain snarls delayed or created shortages of needed ingredients for 96 percent of restaurant owners last year, forcing 6 in 10 full-service establishments to reduce menu options. And while the nation regained 1.7 million food service jobs in 2021, 7 in 10 restaurants do not have enough workers.

Why not? Many frustrated, burned-out employees have handed in their aprons. The quit rate in the accommodation and food services sector surpassed 10 percent last December and remains over 6 percent, Labor Department data show. The restaurant industry is still short about 500,000 workers, including waiters, cooks, and dishwashers. Restaurant work often entails physically demanding labor for long, irregular hours and low pay in crowded spaces where COVID can easily spread.

When their co-workers quit, those who remain face a vicious cycle: heavier workloads, pressure to take on more hours, and even more irate customers grousing about longer wait times. But workers also have more leverage to demand a more livable wage, benefits and a more generous sick leave policy. While those improvements increase costs for restaurant owners, some acknowledge it has been an overdue industry-wide reckoning.

"Should we be so surprised that people are quitting," former Chipotle co-CEO Monty Moran said last year, "when mostly what we're trying to do is manipulate them?"

How have restaurants coped? Sixty percent have cut hours of operation, and 93 percent have raised or plan to raise menu prices. They're offering smaller and fewer dishes, often sticking to those made with ingredients less likely to be affected by supply chain interruptions. More than half of restaurant owners have employed cost-cutting tech, such as automated self-service kiosks and digital kitchen displays that take the place of physical order tickets. Digital QR code menus, popularized during the pandemic to reduce touching of  surfaces, are likely here to stay, mostly because they let restaurants easily change the price of menu options or delete them altogether.

What else can diners expect? Customers who prefer take-out or delivery from fast-food and budget restaurants may find themselves increasingly served by "ghost kitchens" without dining areas or storefronts. High-end restaurants, meanwhile, are seeking new revenue by charging for reservations and launching subscription services. Dame, a celebrated New York City seafood restaurant, asks diners to pay $1,000 a year for the privilege of being able to book a table once a week. Robotics startups are developing AI chefs, cleaners, and servers, though steep up-front price tags and worries about scaring off customers have made restaurant owners slow to embrace them.

Higher prices, reduced portions, and spottier service appear to be here for the foreseeable future. Diners "want to get back to the old days," said Pittsburgh-area restaurant owner Ronald Sofranko. "They want to go out, they want to enjoy themselves. [But] they're not smiling as much as they were."

American restaurant customers are becoming more miserly tippers. Nearly one-third in an August LendingTree survey said that inflation has caused them to tip less when they dine out. In effect, they are punishing the waitstaff for the increase in meal prices. That's in sharp contrast to the sympathy diners felt for restaurant workers at the height of the pandemic, when they were widely seen as "essential workers" who risked their health to make and deliver meals. The average  tip at a quick-service restaurant rose from 19.6 percent to 23.5 percent between March and April 2020. But now tips have fallen to pre-pandemic levels, and with all but eight states allowing a "subminimum" wage for tipped workers, they're feeling the pain.

Chicago bartender Stacy Donohue has made less in tips from two jobs this year than she used to earn in one. If things don't change by January, she plans to leave the restaurant business. "I'm not making the money that I was making," she said. "I have to find another avenue."

--The Week

Americans have ‘tip fatigue’

Tipping 20% at a sit-down restaurant is still the standard however, consumers are less inclined to give as much for a carry-out coffee or take-away snack.

“Part of it is tip fatigue,” says Eric Plam, founder and CEO of Uptip. At the Sweetly Bakery & Cafe in Battle Ground, Washington, near Portland, Oregon, customers seem to be feeling a little less generous lately. With inflation near record highs and consumers increasingly cashstrapped, a gratuity isn’t what it used to be.

“Since everything got more expensive, we’ve seen a decline in tipping,” said Sweetly’s owner, Irina Sirotkina. Like many other business, the bakery uses a contactless and digital payment method, which prompts you to leave a tip when you pay. There are predetermined options ranging from 15% to 25% for each transaction. “We encourage people to tip but it’s not mandatory, obviously,” Sirotkina said.

 Although the average transaction at Sweetly is less than $20, which means a gratuity would be a few dollars at most, fewer people leave anything at all. “Only around 1 in 5 people tip,” Sirotkina estimated. Even though many Americans said they would tip more than usual once business activities resumed after the Covid pandemic, consumer habits haven’t changed much in the end. Tipping 20% at a sit-down restaurant is still the standard, etiquette experts say. But there’s less consensus when it comes to a carry-out coffee or take-away snack.

Overall, tipping has remained largely flat at quick-service restaurants, according to Toast’s most recent restaurant trends report. Tips average 17%, nearly unchanged from a year ago. But when it comes to takeout, customers are tipping less--now down to 14.5%, on average, after climbing earlier in the pandemic, the restaurant software vendor found. Other payment software providers have also reported that these types of tips have fallen over the last year.

For example, Toast’s rival, Square, found that the average tip at quick-service restaurants, which includes cafes and coffee shops, fell from 17.2% to 15.2% from March 2021 to the end of February, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

“Part of it is tip fatigue,” said Eric Plam, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based startup Uptip, which aims to facilitate cashless tipping.

 “During Covid, everyone was shell-shocked and feeling generous,” Plam said. Now, “you are starting to see people pull back a little bit,” he noted, particularly when it comes to point-of-sale tipping, which prompts customers to tip even before they’ve received the product or service. “This point-of-sale tipping is what people resist the most,” he said, “compelling you to tip right there on the spot.”

 However, transactions are increasingly cashless and workers in the service industry are earning minimum or less than minimum wage so having a method to tip is critical, Plam added. In fact, the average wage for fast-food and counter workers is $14.34 an hour for full-time staff and $12.14 for part-time employees-- including tips--according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 A landmark bill in California aims to raise the minimum wage to up to $22 an hour for fast-food and quick-service workers at chains with more than 100 locations nationally. California’s current wage floor is $15.50 an hour. President Joe Biden and many Democratic lawmakers have pushed for a $15 hourly wage floor across the U.S. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and has remained unchanged since 2009.

“We are sympathetic but it doesn’t feel good,” Plam said of point-of-sale tipping. “Now that the pandemic is essentially over, its starting to shake out now,” he added. “The good news is we’re rethinking it.

--Jessica Dickler, CNBC

Brain fog:  Most misunderstood Long Covid symptom

On March 25, 2020, Hannah Davis was texting with two friends when she realized that she couldn’t understand one of their messages. In hindsight, that was the first sign that she had COVID-19. It was also her first experience with the phenomenon known as “brain fog,” and the moment when her old life contracted into her current one.

She once worked in artificial intelligence and analyzed complex systems without hesitation, but now “runs into a mental wall” when faced with tasks as simple as filling out forms. Her memory, once vivid, feels frayed and fleeting. Former mundanities— buying food, making meals, cleaning up—can be agonizingly difficult. Her inner world —what she calls “the extras of thinking, like daydreaming, making plans, imagining”—is gone.

 The fog “is so encompassing,” she told me, “it affects every area of my life.”

For more than 900 days, while other long-COVID symptoms have waxed and waned, her brain fog has never really lifted. Of long COVID’s many possible symptoms, brain fog “is by far one of the most disabling and destructive,” Emma Ladds, a primary-care specialist from the University of Oxford, told me. It’s also among the most misunderstood. It wasn’t even included in the list of possible COVID symptoms when the coronavirus pandemic first began.

But 20 to 30 percent of patients report brain fog three months after their initial infection, as do 65 to 85 percent of the long-haulers who stay sick for much longer. It can afflict people who were never ill enough to need a ventilator—or any hospital care. And it can affect young people in the prime of their mental lives.

Long-haulers with brain fog say that it’s like none of the things that people—including many medical professionals—jeeringly compare it to. It is more profound than the clouded thinking that accompanies hangovers, stress, or fatigue.

For Davis, it has been distinct from and worse than her experience with ADHD. It is not psychosomatic, and involves real changes to the structure and chemistry of the brain. It is not a mood disorder: “If anyone is saying that this is due to depression and anxiety, they have no basis for that, and data suggest it might be the other direction,” Joanna Hellmuth, a neurologist at UC San Francisco, told me.

And despite its nebulous name, brain fog is not an umbrella term for every possible mental problem. At its core, Hellmuth said, it is almost always a disorder of “executive function”—the set of mental abilities that includes focusing attention, holding information in mind, and blocking out distractions. These skills are so foundational that when they crumble, much of a person’s cognitive edifice collapses. Anything involving concentration, multitasking, and planning—that is, almost everything important—becomes absurdly arduous.

 “It raises what are unconscious processes for healthy people to the level of conscious decision making,” Fiona Robertson, a writer based in Aberdeen, Scotland, told me. For example, Robertson’s brain often loses focus mid-sentence, leading to what she jokingly calls “so-yeah syndrome”: “I forget what I’m saying, tail off, and go, ‘So, yeah …’” she said. Brain fog stopped Kristen Tjaden from driving, because she’d forget her destination en route. For more than a year, she couldn’t read, either, because making sense of a series of words had become too difficult. Angela Meriquez Vázquez told me it once took her two hours to schedule a meeting over email: She’d check her calendar, but the information would slip in the second it took to bring up her inbox. At her worst, she couldn’t unload a dishwasher, because identifying an object, remembering where it should go, and putting it there was too complicated.

Memory suffers, too, but in a different way from degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s. The memories are there, but with executive function malfunctioning, the brain neither chooses the important things to store nor retrieves that information efficiently.

Davis, who is part of the Patient-Led Research Collaborative, can remember facts from scientific papers, but not events. When she thinks of her loved ones, or her old life, they feel distant. “Moments that affected me don’t feel like they’re part of me anymore,” she said. “It feels like I am a void and I’m living in a void.”

Most people with brain fog are not so severely affected, and gradually improve with time. But even when people recover enough to work, they can struggle with minds that are less nimble than before. “We’re used to driving a sports car, and now we are left with a jalopy,” Vázquez said. In some professions, a jalopy won’t cut it. “I’ve had surgeons who can’t go back to surgery, because they need their executive function,” Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, a rehabilitation specialist at UT Health San Antonio, told me.

Robertson, meanwhile, was studying theoretical physics in college when she first got sick, and her fog occluded a career path that was once brightly lit. “I used to sparkle, like I could pull these things together and start to see how the universe works,” she told me. “I’ve never been able to access that sensation again, and I miss it, every day, like an ache.”

That loss of identity was as disruptive as the physical aspects of the disease, which “I always thought I could deal with … if I could just think properly,” Robertson said. “This is the thing that’s destabilized me most.”

 Robertson predicted that the pandemic would trigger a wave of cognitive impairment in March 2020. Her brain fog began two decades earlier, likely with a different viral illness, but she developed the same executive-function impairments that long-haulers experience, which then worsened when she got COVID last year. That specific constellation of problems also befalls many people living with HIV, epileptics after seizures, cancer patients experiencing so-called chemo brain, and people with several complex chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia. It’s part of the diagnostic criteria for myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME/CFS—a condition that Davis and many other long-haulers now have.

Brain fog existed well before COVID, affecting many people whose conditions were stigmatized, dismissed, or neglected. “For all of those years, people just treated it like it’s not worth researching,” Robertson told me. “So many of us were told, Oh, it’s just a bit of a depression.” Several clinicians I spoke with argued that the term brain fog makes the condition sound like a temporary inconvenience and deprives patients of the legitimacy that more medicalized language like cognitive impairment would bestow.

 But Aparna Nair, a historian of disability at the University of Oklahoma, noted that disability communities have used the term for decades, and there are many other reasons behind brain fog’s dismissal beyond terminology. (A surfeit of syllables didn’t stop fibromyalgia and myalgic encephalomyelitis from being trivialized.) For example, Hellmuth noted that in her field of cognitive neurology, “virtually all the infrastructure and teaching” centers on degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, in which rogue proteins afflict elderly brains.

 Few researchers know that viruses can cause cognitive disorders in younger people, so few study their effects. “As a result, no one learns about it in medical school,” Hellmuth said. And because “there’s not a lot of humility in medicine, people end up blaming patients instead of looking for answers,” she said. People with brain fog also excel at hiding it: None of the long-haulers I’ve interviewed sounded cognitively impaired. But at times when her speech is obviously sluggish, “nobody except my husband and mother see me,” Robertson said.

The stigma that long-haulers experience also motivates them to present as normal in social situations or doctor appointments, which compounds the mistaken sense that they’re less impaired than they claim—and can be debilitatingly draining. “They’ll do what is asked of them when you’re testing them, and your results will say they were normal,” David Putrino, who leads a long-COVID rehabilitation clinic at Mount Sinai, told me. “It’s only if you check in on them two days later that you’ll see you’ve wrecked them for a week.”

“We also don’t have the right tools for measuring brain fog,” Putrino said. Doctors often use the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, which was designed to uncover extreme mental problems in elderly people with dementia, and “isn’t validated for anyone under age 55,” Hellmuth told me. Even a person with severe brain fog can ace it. More sophisticated tests exist, but they still compare people with the population average rather than their previous baseline. “A high-functioning person with a decline in their abilities who falls within the normal range is told they don’t have a problem,” Hellmuth said. This pattern exists for many long-COVID symptoms: Doctors order inappropriate or overly simplistic tests, whose negative results are used to discredit patients’ genuine symptoms.

 It doesn’t help that brain fog (and long COVID more generally) disproportionately affects women, who have a long history of being labeled as emotional or hysterical by the medical establishment. But every patient with brain fog “tells me the exact same story of executive-function symptoms,” Hellmuth said. “If people were making this up, the clinical narrative wouldn’t be the same.”

--Ed Yong, The Atlantic

THE LINK TANK

Much room for improvement in electric vehicles

Manufacturer flaws, customer behavior are defeating the purpose

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjQr7PU7Nv7AhUchIkEHQCoD6gQFnoECBIQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bloomberg.com%2Fnews%2Farticles%2F2022-11-29%2Felectric-cars-need-sex-appeal-and-better-quality-and-charging-in-2023&usg=AOvVaw26YGjzvblgkRByWCqECTA8

That feeling when the magic stops working

For Trump, Pelosi, Biden and Musk, not everything is going according to plan

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwj2j8KV8r_7AhV_jIkEHfvIAC0QFnoECAkQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2022%2F11%2F21%2Fopinion%2Ftrump-biden-midterms-announcement.html&usg=AOvVaw0hvR5Q48pK2pnxgSiY_a0U

Why voters so often steer government toward gridlock

Through the magical mechanism of mass voting, the electorate's invisible hand seeks balance, always balance

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiB4djNnaf7AhWFnokEHTCqDl8QFnoECBAQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.washingtonpost.com%2Fopinions%2F2022%2F11%2F11%2Fvoters-gridlock-midterm-elections%2F&usg=AOvVaw3UnzlxlzGjGCGIzPxlbt5r

On second thought, just throw plastic away

New report calls recycling “a dead-end street”

https://www.city-journal.org/greenpeace-admits-recycling-doesnt-work

Inside German’s legalized prostitution

Taking a new look at the country’s ‘pimp trade

https://unherd.com/2022/11/germany-europes-bordello/


LAGNIAPPE

 


THE ONION MANIFESTO

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.


ODE TO THE GREASY SPOON

BY JIM SZANTOR

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 sre 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 thueringer.”

“Thueringer, 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