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.

Box Office Bombs

This summer of 2017 has been one of the worst ever for Hollywood.  According to the Hollywood Reporter, the number of tickets sold is likely to hit a 25-year low, and summer box-office revenue in America is down about 16 percent.  If it weren’t for international ticket sales, which increased slightly, the movie industry would be looking at a summer of complete, catastrophic, virtually across-the-board failure.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALESWhy did the summer of ’17 suck for Hollywood?  If you read the Hollywood Reporter story linked above, a theme quickly becomes apparent:  almost every would-be blockbuster seems to be a remake or the latest installment of a tired “franchise.”  Pirates of the Caribbean 5.  The latest Transformers CGI-fest.  The Mummy and Baywatch.  And some of the new efforts, like King Arthur:  Legend of the Sword, were colossal bombs.

It’s not hard to draw the conclusion that the film industry has run out of creative gas. When every big commercial film is a remake of a TV show, a comic book, or another remake, you’re not exactly giving moviegoers lots of new, interesting fare that might lure them to the box office.  You’re not finding the next Jaws or Close Encounters of the Third Kind at your local theater.  Kish and I were totally unmotivated by this summer’s fare. Whenever we checked what was at the local megaplex our reaction was always . . . meh.  We were far more interested in what was playing at the local art film houses, or what was on Netflix.  The only big movie I saw this summer was The Dark Tower, which was an excuse for a bunch of guys to go have a beer and watch an action film.  I would never have gone to see it otherwise.

Will Hollywood learn a lesson from the dismal summer of ’17, and start looking for some new, fresh, original ideas for films that will get people out of their houses and off to the theater?  Maybe — but don’t count on it.  There were some franchise and remake successes this summer, with the new Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, Despicable Me 3, and Wonder Woman films performing well.  Hollywood likes franchises and remakes because they seem safe and conservative, with built-in audiences and no need to come up with original story ideas, so Hollywood will probably point to the successes, disregard the duds, continue with remakes, and comic book stories, and “franchise” flicks.

And if that happens, the rest of us will continue to stay home.

Don’t Send In The Clowns

A major motion picture adaptation of Stephen King’s horror thriller It is getting ready to hit theaters, and a venue in Austin, Texas has come up with an unusual idea that is sure to thrill, petrify, and torment a significant segment of the local population.  The Alamo Drafthouse has decided to have a “clowns-only” screening of It.

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Many people are scared to death of clowns and hate the sight of them.  In the case of Pennywise, the murderous clown who terrorizes the children of a small town in It, a strong case of clown fear is justified, but many people have a deep dread of all clowns, whether or not the clowns have a habit of dragging little kids into ancient sewer systems.  They think they are creepy, with all that white face paint and weird eye makeup and unnatural hair and silly hats and bulging costumes, and they probably don’t much care for the twisting motions and squealing sounds when clowns make balloon animals, either.

Clown fear — the word for it is coulrophobia — seems to be an innate part of some people’s psychological makeup and starts at an early age.  You can spend a few hilarious minutes on the internet checking out videos of panicked, crying little kids fleeing from the clown who Dad hired to entertain the kids at a birthday party.  They intuitively hate clowns, just like baby birds intuitively hate snakes.

Clowns don’t scare me or creep me out.  I’ve got a different problem with them — I don’t think they’re funny.  Ever since going to my first circus, I’ve been mystified by why some people think clown acts are hilarious.  There’s not much subtlety to clown acts, either.  And don’t even get me started about those serious, sad-faced, pantomiming clown acts that are supposed to leave you with a tear in your eye and a strong sense of pathos.

We’d all be well advised to give Austin a wide berth on September 9.

 

Enduring Celebrityhood 

This morning I stopped at the grocery store on my way back from my morning walk and there, on the magazine rack in the check-out lane, was a Time-Life tribute to Marilyn Monroe.  It’s pretty amazing when you think of it:  More than 50 years after her death, she still commands precious impulse-buying space in America’s retail establishments and remains capable of knocking the currently famous off the racks.  And, as the magazine cover shows, she’s one of the few “one-word” celebrities, too — just “Marilyn.”

Marilyn Monroe has to be the most durable celebrity in American history — and given America’s longstanding obsession with celebrities, that’s saying something.  

What is it about Marilyn Monroe that causes magazine publishers to roll out new editions about her, when most of the current magazine-buying public wasn’t even born at the time of her death?  She was a beauty and sexual icon, of course, who was a gifted comic actress and likable personality on the big screen.  She married famous men and divorced them, reportedly had dalliances with politicians and jet-setters, and died a mysterious death.  It’s an interesting story, to be sure, but it has long since been told, over and over.  And yet, here she is in the summer of 2017, once more in the public eye.

Will the fascination with Marilyn Monroe ever end?  Is any other American celebrity even close to her in terms of staying power?

“The First Chicken That Tastes Like Chicken”

The other day I was on my morning walk when a commercial truck rumbled past.  It was a truck for the Gerber Poultry Company, advertising its “Amish Farms” brand chicken with the slogan:  “The first chicken that tastes like chicken.”

Intriguing slogan, isn’t it?  It’s a bold claim, as many commercial taglines are, but it’s far more subtle and nuanced than “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet” or “M-m-m good!” or “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.”

After all, at a certain level, everything — from frog legs to rabbit to squab to alligator — tastes like “chicken.”  At least, that’s what people will tell you.  If it’s the flesh of a creature that has mild, soft white meat that isn’t particularly gamey in flavor, the inevitable culinary reference point is “chicken.”  So, obviously, you’d expect any brand of chicken to taste like . . . chicken.

chicken-surprisedBut the Gerber Amish Farms slogan goes deeper than that.  By claiming to be the first chicken that tastes like chicken, it’s really saying that those of us who haven’t had Gerber poultry don’t really know what chicken tastes like.  Fans of The Matrix will remember the scene at the mess table on the Nebuchadnezzar where Mouse raises the profound question of whether anyone really knows what chicken actually tastes like.  After all, the computers that designed the Matrix presumably would have no idea what chicken truly tasted like — they would simply create a taste, plug it into the Matrix program, and all of the humans linked into the Matrix would accept it as “chicken,” just as they accepted everything else in the simulation as true reality.

So the Gerber Farms slogan presents a jarring concept.  Knowing what “chicken” tastes like is a foundational building block for modern Americans.  If you don’t know what chicken tastes like, what do you know, really?  It would be like learning that the sky actually isn’t blue, or that space aliens live among us, or that Donald Trump is secretly one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists.  Suddenly, your perception of reality is shifted forever, and there’s no going back.

So I’m not quite sure I want to try that Amish Farms poultry and learn what chicken actually tastes like.  It might be like Morpheus offering the red pill . . . or the blue pill.

Bucket List

When Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman filmed The Bucket List, their characters had very lofty goals in mind — like climbing the Himalayas, racing Mustangs, or eating at the finest restaurants in France.  

Me? My “bucket list” items are simpler and more straightforward — like, what would it be like to be A 01 on a Southwest flight?  It turns out that is isn’t so much different from being A 35, because so many pre-boards go in first that you don’t get that “the plane is my oyster” feel.

Still, I got to sit in an exit row on a Southwest flight.  Not bad!  

Next stop . . . the Himalayas.