Monday, July 1, 2024


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

--I'd pay anything to make this go away!"—Donald Trumpd Pecker

--“If you like stuff written by a man who has to read the instructions on a toothpaste tube, go right ahead!”Stephen Colbert

--"The only column that should come with a warning label.”Steve Martin

--"I wish I had half of his popularity!"--Taylor Swift

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

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

--I swear, he’s the real deal!”George Santos

--"Jimaschizzle!"--Calvin 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:



Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric 

and whimsical observations about the absurdities of contemporary life 

--I was a teenage bounty hunter.

(Just as grocery checkout clerks and stockboys are now known as “associates” or “team members,” bounty hunters are now known as "bail enforcement agents" or "fugitive recovery agents.” But not in my day!)

--Planned obsolescence will never go out of style.

--He said it: “It’s not what people say about you, it’s what they whisper.”--Errol Flynn

--She said it: “We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.”--Anaïs Nin

--Present Shock: Microsoft was forced to delay the release of an artificial intelligence tool called Recall following a wave of backlash. The feature was introduced last month, billed as "your everyday AI companion."

It takes screen captures of your device every few seconds to create a library of searchable content. This includes passwords, conversations, and private photos. (Slap forehead HERE!)

Its release was delayed indefinitely following an outpouring of criticism from data privacy experts, including the Information Commissioner's Office in the UK.

--jimjustsaying’s Word That Doesn’t Exist But Should of the Month: “Tupperwarp.” n. The condition of Tupperware left in the dishwasher too long.—Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe,” Rich Hall and Friends

--My favorite T-shirt messages from the new “What on Earth” catalog:

Another day gone by, and I didn’t use algebra once!

90 percent of being married is yelling “What?” from other rooms.

My favorite childhood memory is my back not hurting.

I only do what the voices in my wife's head tell her to tell me to do.

--Sometimes I feel like a Polaroid in the Instagram of Life. 

--My dietitian is extremely knowledgeable.  She graduated Phi Beta Carotene!

--The National Pastime meets the real national pastime: advertising. Because I have seen baseball progress from commercials between innings to commercials between batters and now—wait for it—commercials between pitches!

There is no angle too minute or obscure to occasion a tie-in. Heard recently during a Cubs game on the Marquee Network. After a batter got a second chance when he barely made contact with a 3-2 pitch and hit a foul tip, I heard, “You, too, can get a second chance at life with an exam at Northwestern Hospital.”

--I understand that Walloon was a Romance language spoken in a region of Belgium.  Unfortunately for me, the bookstore was out of English to Walloon/Walloon to English dictionaries. (On “back order,” no doubt.)

--You're an old-timer if you remember Powerhouse candy bars, Herbert Tareyton cigarettes and Old Dutch Cleanser.

--Consumer Imponderable No. 538: Toothbrushes keep getting bigger and bigger . . . and plastic toothbrush travel holders keep staying the same size!  Who will be the first to act on this discrepancy?  Is there a Nobel Prize for Overdue Product Improvement?

--Headline: “7-foot-9 player to make college basketball history.” 

Somebody please explain to me why the hoop is still at 10 feet, the same height it was when Dr. James Naismith invented the game in 1891, when a 6-footer was almost considered “tall”?

--Headline II: “Southwest Boeing 737 inexplicably dives, flies below 500 feet over neighborhood: ‘Thought it was gonna hit my house.’ “  (June 20 news story.)

Herewith a story I posted a year or so on the Link Tank section of

"Near misses, fires, severe turbulence . . . What’s happening to flying?"

 A recent scientific study in the journal Thorax made headlines after finding that cabin pressure at cruising altitude appears to lower blood pressure and increase heart rate, even among young, healthy passengers. This is particularly exacerbated by in-flight alcohol consumption.

Humans never evolved to be transported through the skies in a long metal tube at more than 500 miles per hour, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that air travel has some pretty unusual effects on our body.

DRUDGING AROUND:  Cops:  Funeral home worker planned to smuggle sex doll from dead man’s home in body bag . . . Idaho bar celebrating “Heterosexual Awesomeness Month” creates stir . . . Nursing home ruled her dead. Two hours later she was found breathing . . . Gen Z’ers bringing parents to job interviews . . . Republican lawmaker arrested after chasing adult dancer down road while waving gun at 2:45 a.m. . . . Cockroach interrupts State Dept. briefing . . . Heat day is the new snow day . . . Abe Lincoln wax sculpture melts In brutal  DC heat . . . Why pet’s death can hurt worse than losing a human . . . Mexico may legalize magic mushrooms . . . Gamer accused of flying cross country to try to kill online rival. (Thanks, as always to Matt Drudge and his merry band of aggregators.)

--Pampered pooches (etc.): Pet ownership as well as love for pets surged during the pandemic, Axios reports.

Vet prices have jumped 60% in the last decade, The New York Times reports. Modern vet clinics look like human hospitals, equipped with state-of-the-art MRI machines and ICUs and staffed by oncology and cardiology specialists.

If this isn’t nutty enough, people are picking homes based on their proximity to parks and vets, and some are even designing bedrooms for their animals. And owners are opting for highly specialized--and pricey--fresh, human-grade food options from a slew of startups, Barron's reports.

There’s more: And some owners are trading in kennels for luxury dog hotels when they need to travel without their pets. These facilities are expensive, but they offer perks like bedtime tuck-ins, swimming pools, blueberry facials and queen-size beds for dogs, the Times says. 

--What price progress? Today's car may be safer for drivers, but they pose tough challenges for first responders, such as trying to avoid cutting a high-voltage cable in a hybrid-electric vehicle or being able to slice through strong steel, according to news reports

There's more: Air bags mean more explosive propellant tanks and fewer safe places to cut, and even usual practices like disconnecting the battery and removing the key upon arrival are made more complicated by things like keyless ignitions and plugged-in electronic devices that can contain enough stored power to trigger an air bag deployment.

--Redundancy patrol:  "Sudden urge,'' "soothing balm," "specific example."

--I'm trying to get rid of most of the superfluous, "bloatware" apps on my iPhone.   In other words, I've got app-oplexy.

--Who invented podcasts?  You know something is of marginal value when no one has ever taken credit for it.

--Why do people always badmouth neighboring states?  Are the people in them really that different?  Don't people make exceptions for friends or relatives living there?  You'd think there were ambushes, bombings and beheadings at the state lines the way some people talk.

--Faded phrases:  When was the last time you put on your best bib and tucker, cut a mean rug and then peeled out in your jalopy?

--You've probably heard about a dating service called It's Just Lunch. Well, in today's hyperactive, short-attention-span world, even lunch is too long an encounter or commitment for some people.

So herewith jimjustsaying's new dating service:  It's Just Water Cooler. Because, let's face it, you can usually tell in the first minute or two if you want to spend a third minute with that person.

--The Brave New World of Cheating, Thai division:  A top medical school voided the results of an entrance exam after prospective students were caught cheating with hidden cameras and smartwatches, The Week reported. 

The rector of Rangsit University said three students used glasses with cameras embedded in the frames to send test questions to people outside the exam room, who then transmitted answers to the students’ smartwatches. 

The reaction?  On social media, some Thais expressed admiration for the cheaters’ ingenuity. “Like Hollywood or Mission Impossible,” wrote one.   

(Is anyone surprised by that reaction, given that the cheating is pretty tame compared to the sex slavery that Thailand is infamous for?)

--Overheard: "I'm sure wherever my dad is, he's looking down on us.  He's not dead.  Just very condescending."--Jack Whitehall

Today’s Latin Lesson: Estne haec optima haec terra facere potest pro candidatis praesidis?  (“Is this the best this country can do for presidential candidates?”)

 Many thanks to Vernon Hills, this month’s Popcorn intern.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024


  By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric 

and whimsical observations about the absurdities of contemporary life 

--I was a teenage acupuncturist.

--I wish TV stations would tighten up their definition of BREAKING NEWS and restrict it to explosions, plane crashes, terrorist attacks, earthquakes and other cataclysmic acts of God, assassinations of key political figures, etc.  "Donald Trump is about to take the stage at the VFW in Numnutz, Nebraska" does not, in my estimation, qualify in any sense of the term.

--Overheard:  "He was dressed to the fives!"

--I keep hearing about all these "surrogates" campaigning for their favored candidates.  Yet another example of politics going off the rails. Did FDR, Ike or Barack Obama have to rely on stand-ins to get their message across?

--Gardeners, don't be distressed if your yield doesn't look like the stuff in the seed catalogs.  Those pictures were posed by professional vegetables!

--Book Title of the Week (spotted in a pet tore): "Dachshunds for Dummies."  (There Is order in the universe after all!)

--Someone asked me the other day if something I had done was on my "bucket list."  I was somewhat taken aback, because I don't really have one.  What I do have, however, is a reverse bucket list, a word that rhymes with "bucket" but is, in fact, another word and refers to an activity I conceivably might consider for a nanosecond but would immediately reject.  

(“Jim, wanna ride from Chicago to New York and back in a hot-air balloon?”  “Ah, I suppose I could, but  . . . ah,  ---- it.”)

--Judging from the media these days--print, electronic, digital or whatever--the suffixes "ageddon" and "pocalypse" have replaced "gate" as the new, trendy rhetorical crutches to describe any crisis, scandal or weather woe that tries our communal souls.   (I know "media" isn't the root of the word "mediocrity," but at times it seems that way.)

--jimjustsaying's Word That Don't Exist But Should of the Month: Malibugaloo: n. A dance that affects barefoot beachgoers on hot summer days.--"More Sniglets" by Rich Hall & Friends

--She said it: “You look ridiculous if you dance. You look ridiculous if you don't dance. So you might as well dance.”—Gertrude Stein in “Three Lives.”

--He said it: “I’m not afraid of dying.  I just don’t want to be there when it happens!”--Woody Allen

--jimjustsaying’s Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month: “Spike.” As in, Dr. Richard “Spike” Herz, Kenosha (Wis.) News, May 12, 2024.

--"What a nice day" some folks said to me recently when it reached 75.  My reply: "Not really."  (The wind, you see, was blowing at about 35 mph, with an air-quality alert to boot!)

Weather, to me, is like a pizza.  You wouldn't eat raw pizza dough, no matter what else was on it, so why does one factor--a balmy temperature--automatically make it "a nice day"? 

If you have a nice temperature (the dough) along with a gentle breeze, low humidity, bearable barometric pressure and decent air quality (the cheese, the sauce, the toppings, if you will), then you have a nice day.  But damp air, high winds and an ozone alert can make for a dismal day--whatever the temperature.  But for some folks, temperature is the whole ballgame.

--Overheard: “I was married by a judge.  I should have asked for a jury.”

--Closed Caption Gaffe of the Week, courtesy of CNN: “New Finland” (instead of Newfoundland).

--Why do auctioneers have to talk that fast?  Are they double parked? That's one reason I don’t go to auctions--I can’t hear that fast.

--I thought that "No Outlet" and "Dead End" were two ways of saying the same thing.  But according to "No Outlet can mean that though other streets may branch off of the road ahead, they don't lead anywhere either." 

--People who say "asterick" instead of "asterisk" should be jabbed repeatedly with colored hors d'oeuvre toothpicks.  (And what’s so hard about the word “ask” that leads to you hearing it as “axe” by certain people?  I’mjustsayin’.)

--Why is the badger the Wisconsin state animal?  No one I know has ever seen one; 90-year-old hunters and game wardens have never seen one. These beasts could be extinct for all we know!

(Wisconsin--the Extinct Animal State should replace America’s Dairyland on the state’s license plates; unfortunately, it wouldn’t fit. And most notably, California, not Wisconsin, is the leading product of said products.)

--Product-choice explosion: I counted 10 different varieties of Crest Toothpaste at a Target store the other day.

--I wonder what the demise (or scarcity) of phone books has done to the printing industry?  Or the cellphone for the phone booth manufacturers? Therefore, jimjustsaying’s Law of Progress:  Every new product or practice sounds the death knell for someone or someplace else.  (One man’s invention is another man’s insolvency?)

It’s biblical.  There are probably IT people who think they are in the hot new profession . . . but may find out otherwise sooner than they expected.

--“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”—Plato

--Three “s” words that sound exactly like their meaning:  Suave, smut and spoof.

--Last year my car had a recall for the thingamajig, and this year my wife’s car has a recall for the whatchamacallit!  Who do I blame, what’shisname?

--Redundancy patrol:  "Arson fire," "enter into," "inner core."

--You know you have a serious problem if your cholesterol count has a comma in it.

--Rite of passage for Saudi Arabia teenagers” “Hey, Dad, can I have the camel tonight?”

--Wise words from Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times:

"Whenever I hear that America has never been such a mess or so divided, I think not just of the Civil War but of my own childhood: the assassinations of the 1960s; the riots; the murders of civil rights workers; the curses directed at returning Vietnam veterans; the families torn apart at generational seams; the shooting of students at Kent State; the leftists in America and abroad who quoted Mao and turned to violence because they thought society could never evolve.

"If we got through that, we can get through this."

DRUDGING AROUND: Demise of Red Lobster case study in how to kill business . . . Supercomputer predicts humans will face “triple-whammy” extinction event . . . VEGAS SHOCK: “Possessed” murder suspect ate man’s face, eyeball and ear . . . Rising number of men DON’T want jobs . . .  LA’s dirtiest cop: Mild-mannered traffic officer who moonlighted as hit man . . . NYPD to use drones as “first responders” on 911 calls . . . Celeb therapist accused of abusing client with “laser beam” penis . . . Homes of billionaires in Nantucket falling into ocean at alarming rate . . . World’s most busted  man dies at 74; had more than 1,500 arrests . . . San Diego cop resigns after alleged backseat sex with suspect . . . Denver cops say drones will respond to 911 calls instead of cops . . . Judge stunned as man with suspended license joins Zoom meeting while driving.  (Thanks, as always, to Matt Drudge and his merry band of aggregators.)

jimjustsaying’s favorite baseball oddities:

Eye guy: Pitcher Max Scherzer (Texas Rangers) has one blue and one brown, a condition called heterochromia.

"Ship outta luck": The great-grandmother of Dodgers backup catcher A.J. Ellis had a ticket to travel from Hungary to England on the Titanic but was late and missed the boat..

Smoke 'em inside: The press box in Cincinnati was evacuated on Opening Day when mop heads caught fire in a dryer.

Strategy Gaffe of the Year:  The Yankees throw the first pitch of an intentional walk to Kendrys Morales of the Angels, change their mind and pitch to him and suffer the consequences—a three-run homer.

Good break, bad break:  The same Kendrys Morales has his season ended by a fractured leg suffered during the mob celebration at home plate following his walk-off grand slam.

Time Out:  Rockies catcher Miguel Olivo passes a kidney stone while batting in the 8th inning against Arizona, then returns in the ninth to line a single.

Matchup throwback:  Brian Bannister, son of ex-White Sox hurler Floyd Bannister, wins a Gavin Floyd-Brian Bannister starting pitcher duel.

Footloose Cardinals rookie David Freese, on the Disabled List with a sprained right ankle, then drops a weight that fractures his left big toe.

Food fluke:  Garrett Jones of the Pirates misses a game when a piece of meat lodged in his esophagus must be surgically removed.

Food Fluke II:  A player suffers a major injury during a postgame celebration for the second time in the season as Florida's Chris Coghlan tears a meniscus delivering a shaving-cream pie to the face of Wes Helms.

So close but so far:  After 1,571 minor-league games, 33-year-old John Lindsey makes his Major League debut by pinch-hitting for the Dodgers, but when a pitching change is made, is removed for another pinch hitter before he sees a single pitch.

Payroll Schmayroll:  Javier Vazquez, at $11.4 million, is the highest-salaried healthy player ever to be left off his team's post-season roster.

Last Man Standing:  With the team out of options, Phillies ace pitcher Roy Oswalt plays two innings in left field (the team's first pitcher in 39 years to play another position), catches a flyball and then makes the last out of the game as a batter in a 16-inning loss to Houston, his former team.

(Thanks to Athlon Sports.Com.)

--And finally, as if being a minor-league baseball player isn’t bad enough (low pay, long rides on crummy buses), some now must suffer the indignity of playing for teams with goofy, demeaning names, the New York Times reports:  Such as (and these are NOT made up), the Danville Dairy Daddies.

Former rookie-league teams like the Burlington (N.C.) Royals and Pulaski (Va.) Yankees in the Appalachian League re-emerged as the Sock Puppets and River Turtles.

Teams that maintained their MLB affiliations have also jumped on the funky name train with hopes of invigorating their brands. Pick nearly any league, at any level, and there’s a nickname or logo that will make you stop and gawk. The Carolina Disco Turkeys. The Montgomery (Ala.) Biscuits (formerly the Orlando Rays). The Minot (N.D.) Hot Tots. The Rocket City (Ala.) Trash Pandas (formerly the Mobile Bay Bears). The Wichita Chili Buns (an alternate identity of the Wichita Wind Surge). And there’s also a Double A affiliate of the San Diego Padres called the Amarillo Sod Poodles.

Today’s Latin Lesson: Quomodo dicturus sum nepotibus meis olim
lusi Sock automata? (“How am I going to tell my grandchildren
I once played for a team called the Sock Puppets?”)

Many thanks to Joe Hannesberg, this month’s Popcorn intern.



As Socrates famously wrote, "The unexamined life is not worth living." One would well posit  that the unchallenged life is not worth living.  Or, if it is,  not as satisfying.

Most of my music-related activity since leaving the Air Force Band in late 1969 has been as an author and critic, my playing restricted solely to playing along with records at home.

Soloist Jim Szantor as lead alto David Bixler gives the cutoff on the final chord.

But that changed on Aug. 11 when I performed as a guest soloist on clarinet with the fabled Birch Creek Jazz Orchestra, a big band made up of some of the best jazz players in the country, comprising as they do the faculty that teaches the students who come to Egg Harbor in Door County for two-week sessions of intensive training and performance opportunities.  It's sort of a musical boot camp but with kindly but highly decorated instructors.  

My feature spot was "Ballad for Benny" a tune written by the late, great jazz composer and saxophonist Oliver Nelson, who was commissioned by Benny Goodman to write new material for the band's historic 1962 tour of the Soviet Union.   It was such a  significant cultural/political event back then that Walter Cronkite often led the CBS Nightly News with the band's latest exploits.

The 17-piece Birch Creek Jazz Orchestra prior to my introduction.

This tune was recorded by the Oliver Nelson Orchestra (with the great Phil Woods in a rare outing on clarinet instead of his usual lustrous alto sax) but never performed publicly in this country--till now.  If you do an internet search on some of the illustrious players in the band behind me --Dennis Mackrel, Clay Jenkins, Doug Stone, David Bixler, Tanya Darby, to name a few--you'll see why I'm so proud to have been selected to perform with them.

Part of the evening's program.
It was an oppressively muggy night (close to 100 percent humidity) in the un-air-conditioned hall, making intonation more of a challenge than usual. It took some months of chipping away at the rust that had accumulated over the years on my woodwind chops, but I was determined to have one last dance, so to speak, with the idiom that I have loved for a lifetime.  To paraphrase the late Karl Wallenda of the famed aerial troupe The Flying Wallendas, "Life is the bandstand.  The rest is just waiting."  

Luckily for me, the wait is over.


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