Avoiding Barside Embarrassment

When you go up to a bar to order a drink, you want to project a certain nonchalant yet decisive elegance with the bartender that shows her that you’ve been here before and you know what you’re doing.

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The goal is steely-eyed, white-jacketed, Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca-like cool certainty, as opposed to waffling or floundering or acting like goofy Clarence the Angel ordering a flaming rum punch at Nick’s, the hard-drinking bar in the alternative, George Bailey-free universe.

Knowing how to correctly pronounce the drink you’re ordering sure helps.

Would you know how to order a caipirinha, which the national drink of Brazil?  Made with sugarcane distilled spirits called Cachaca, lime, and sugar, it packs a lethal punch and is pronounced kai-pee-reen-ya.  Or let’s suppose you were up in Sweden during its endless, dark winter and wanted to warm yourself with a glass of traditional mulled wine, called glogg (with an umlaut over the o, too).  Appropriately, it’s pronounced glug, which should be easy to remember after you’ve swilled down two or three of them, because Swedish mulled wine tends to have a lot more alcohol than the American version.  Or let’s say you’re in a somewhat daintier mood, and feel like having a sgroppino to top off your meal.  That’s an Italian concoction of Prosecco, vodka, and lemon sorbet that’s pronounced sro-pee-no.  (You wouldn’t want to order that one at Nick’s, by the way.)

Hospitality Training Solutions has provided a guide to the correct pronunciation of these and other cocktails, to ensure that you project an image more like Bogie and less like Clarence the next time you belly up to the bar.  And remember, too — people rarely mispronounce beer.

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The Birds, Redux

Suppose, for a moment, that you are in a strange town on a business trip.  Suppose that, in the eerie twilight, you are walking back to your generic motel room after having consumed a forgettable meal served by a forgettable franchise restaurant, along a busy commercial thoroughfare with telephone wires overhead.  Suppose you hear an odd fluttering noise, like a random displacement of air, when suddenly you look up and see that every square inch of telephone pole and wire is covered by a roiling mass of indistinguishable black birds that don’t seem to be doing anything except creepily perching in this spot for reasons known only to their tiny, alien, nictating bird brains.

Oh, yeah — and suppose when you were a kid you stupidly watched Alfred Hitchcock’s  The Birds on late-night TV and ever since you’ve been secretly terrified by the possibility that your eyes will be pecked out by evil birds in a strange town — probably after you have to put up with tiresome lectures by some bird know-it-all woman wearing a beret.

Yes, you’ll sleep well tonight, experiencing the wonders of business travel.  At least you haven’t seen anybody in a beret . . . yet.

Neighborly Sentiments

Recently, signs like this one have been cropping up around German Village.  In these troubled times, they express a worthy and noble sentiment that I wholeheartedly endorse.  Yet I feel that the message is somehow . . . incomplete.

I’m perfectly happy to live next door to anybody, no matter where they are from, what they look like, where they work, their religion, national origin, or sexual orientation, or for that matter what they do with their lives.  If they’re willing to live next to the likes of me, I’m willing to live next to them.  My focus, instead, is much more narrow and admittedly self-interested.  I only want to know whether they will perform very basic property maintenance — mow the grass, weed from time to time, not put a crappy couch on the front porch, slap some paint where it’s needed — keep their dogs from barking and biting, and not be obnoxious, intrusive, or noisy at 3 a.m. when I’m trying to sleep..In my view, these are the acid tests of neighborliness — the straightforward, but crucial, measuring points on the good neighbor scale of behavior.

So I think I would amend the sign as follows:  No matter where you are from, so long as you keep your place up and keep the noise down we’re glad you’re our neighbors.

Remodeling A Starbucks 

They’re remodeling a Starbucks near our house.  There’s a dumpster out front filled with a bunch of debris that’s been removed from the store, and a trailer that apparently houses tools and remodeling accoutrements, and the baristas and loyal Starbucks patrons are jockeying for position amidst the ongoing work and materials — because coffee consumption obviously can’t be sidetracked by mere remodeling efforts.

It got me to wondering, though:  how, exactly, do you “remodel” a Starbucks location?

I mean, really remodel.  Because every Starbucks I’ve ever been in — and for that matter, every coffee house I’ve ever been in — has pretty much the same kind of decor.  The layout might differ, but in terms of look and feel they’re incredibly generic, no matter whether you’re in New York City or Podunk Gap.  Along with the odor and sound of ground coffee, you can expect to find basic lighting, some overstuffed armchairs occupied by people checking their smartphones as they sip their cold brews, a few table and chair sets where somebody is tapping on a laptop while listening to music, and utterly forgettable wall art that typically consists of large black-and-white photographs of coffee beans or coffee bean bags or growing coffee plants or coffee warehouses.  Starbucks and coffee houses aren’t exactly triumphs of bold interior decorating.

So what are they going to do in this “remodeling”?  Move the comfortable chairs to different positions or change their colors?  Reconfigure the tables?  Replace the old bland coffee-themed art with new bland coffee-themed art?  I’m not sure that Starbucks patrons would welcome bright colors or radical furnishings or “accent pieces” that they might stumble into during that early morning, bleary-eyed run for the first cup of Joe.  But then again, they might not even notice the changes, because coffee house customers tend to be pretty self-absorbed when they’re retrieving their lattes.

 

Creepy Playgrounds

The London Daily Mail has an interesting article about creepy sculptures that appear to haunt some of the playgrounds built during the Soviet era in Russia.  There’s no doubt that there is a profoundly disturbing, nightmarish quality about some of the figures that could haunt little kids and cause them to avoid the playgrounds altogether.

7055939An evil, grinning chimp with fangs?  A crying woman in a blue dress?  A goateed, wide-eyed doctor in a lab coat ready to plunge some unknown instrument into your skull?  A hollow-eyed, distraught boy kneeling on the ground?  A bizarre fight between an emaciated bull and a reptilian creature?  Who came with this stuff, the psychological warfare section of the KGB?

But maybe we’re being too hard on the Soviets.  Let’s face it, American playgrounds aren’t exactly free from disturbing stuff, either.  Any playground that has a jungle gym, an old-fashioned merry-go-ground, and “monkey bars” is bound to present its share of childhood horror.  And the decorations at some playgrounds are unsettling, too.  We used to live a block away from a park we called “Yogi Bear Park” because it had a teeter-totter where the fulcrum was a covered by a cheap plastic depiction of the head of Yogi Bear.  The adults recognized the figure as Smarter than the Average Bear, but to little kids it was an unknown, apparently grimacing figure wearing a bad hat and a tie.  What the parents saw as Yogi, the kids perceived as a weird, lurking presence.  Not surprisingly, the tykes tended to steer clear of old Yogi.

For that matter, childhood is filled with intentionally scary stuff that suggests that adults get a kick out of frightening youngsters.  “Fairy tales” aren’t happy stories about fairies, but horror shows of child-eating witches, child-eating wolves, and other evil creatures ready to devour any wayward kid.  Hey, kids!  How about a bedtime story?

We apparently delight in terrifying children.  The Russian playgrounds just bring it out into the open.

Who Owns Monkey Selfies?

The law addresses some pretty strange issues at times.  The case of the “monkey selfies” is a good example.

monkeyselfieIn 2011, during a visit to a wildlife reserve in Sulawesi, Indonesia, photographer David Slater left his camera in an area where it was found by a crested macaque named Naruto.  When Slater later retrieved the camera, he learned that Naruto apparently had used the camera to take a series of “selfie” photos. Whether the monkey’s action was deliberate or unintentional, no one knows for sure — but as selfies go, Naruto’s handiwork is pretty good.  The selfies are well-framed, Naruto flashes a wide apparent grin, and there’s none of the squinting and self-consciousness that typically make human selfies less than satisfying.  People thought the photos were pretty funny, and Slater published them in a book called Wildlife Personalities.

That’s where the law stepped in.  People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a lawsuit, claiming that the publication of the book violated the copyright laws and that the proceeds of the sale of the book should be administered by PETA and used to Naruto’s benefit.  PETA’s lawsuit was dismissed by the district court, which concluded that there was no evidence that Congress intended the copyright laws to apply to and protect animals.

After the case was appealed and argued to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, the parties reached an agreement that was announced yesterday.  Under the agreement, PETA dismisses its lawsuit, Slater agrees to donate 25 percent of future revenue from the monkey selfies to charities dedicated to protecting Naruto’s habitat, and the parties released a joint statement.  The statement reads:  “PETA and David Slater agree that this case raises important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for non-human animals, a goal that they both support, and they will continue their respective work to achieve this goal. As we learn more about Naruto, his community of macaques, and all other animals, we must recognize appropriate fundamental legal rights for them as our fellow global occupants and members of their own nations who want only to live their lives and be with their families. ”

Because the case was resolved by a voluntary settlement, we’ll have to wait to determine whether monkeys in fact are protected by the copyright laws — and at some point, as more of these lawsuits get filed, we’ll undoubtedly learn whether monkeys have a right of publicity, and a right of privacy, and for that matter a right to contest whether they should be represented in court by groups like PETA.  Once you start down the road of animal legal rights, the list of potential claims is close to endless.

But for me, the fundamental question is whether Naruto actually intended to take a series of selfies.  If he did, it indicates a significant degree of technological understanding — but it also makes me lose a little respect for him.  Monkeys also are obsessed with selfies?  I thought they were better than that.

Prodigious Purses On Planes

The other day I was waiting at a gate area for my flight when the gate agent made the familiar announcement about how passengers would only be permitted to board with one piece of carry-on luggage and “a small, personal item, such as a purse.”

mary-poppins-bag-600x345And I thought:  a purse is a “small, personal item”?  Since when?

As I looked around at the women waiting to board, I saw nothing “small” about the prodigious purses they were lugging around.  The gate agent, and the airlines, clearly have missed the explosive growth of purses into storage devices of colossal proportions and have never sat next to a fellow passenger who is struggling to jam her sprawling, bulging “small, personal item” — i.e., her purse — into the available space under the seat in the row ahead.

The days of “clutches” and dainty “handbags” that could house a tube of lipstick and compact mirror and be placed on a restaurant table next to the glass of wine are gone.  Now “purses” tend to be capacious, multi-compartment sacks carried over the shoulder and used to store laptops, wallets, cell phones, pens, appointment books, food, bottled water, articles of clothing, make-up items, toys and snacks to keep young children quiet, and other assorted paraphernalia, besides.  They’re like Mary Poppins’ magic bag, capable of carrying just about anything.  And forget about expressing wonder at the notion of “purse dogs” — you could probably fit a Great Dane into some of the stupendous purses of the modern era.

I don’t begrudge modern women their enormous purses; when I go on the road, I always carry an over-the-shoulder bag because it’s handy.  But can we please stop with the reference to “small, personal items”?  The “purses” of the modern world really aren’t purses, they’re luggage.