Friday, July 30, 2010


SO TO CONTINUE the trend of unrelent-ingly eating stuff people have warned us about for years, today's lunch eventually became chili dogs.

"You know how you feel when you've been out all weekend, drinking cheap whiskey and eating chili dogs?" one considerably ill character asks another in one of the more dire later episodes of the series M*A*S*H; "I wish I felt that good."

The weird thing about that statement always seemed, to me, that if you felt bad from drinking whiskey and eating chili dogs all weekend long, at least you could do so remembering how good you felt while you were drinking whiskey and eating chili dogs. It's the sort of thing a writer thinks up in the confines of the writers' room which, in that specific vacuum, sounds not only witty, but wise.

But I digress.

These were awesome.

The chili is plain, flat, out-of-a-can Patterson's Hot Dog Chili Sauce. I had never had it before, and I highly recommend it. It is a pretty basic down-the-middle chili sauce, mildly spicy and nice and sloppy, the way it has to be for the chili dog application. Beneath it, if you can't make out by the picture, is a layer of cole slaw. I don't get why people don't put cole slaw on hot dogs. Underneath that is a generous caulk of yellow mustard-- Plochman's, of course-- and under the dogs themselves is a layer of cheese, because, really, why not? The Saras are part of what's left from a mixed 12 pack, but chosen pretty deliberately, and they went along well. The lager came across as a natural companion to this kind of fare, while the brown ale brought out some extra spiciness and exotic notes in the chili and mustard. Excellent. (Also, I didn't really want to leap off the ledge and go to having chili dogs with an IPA, although that is something which, in retrospect, I am anxious to try. )

The film of the day is soemthing I completely stumbled onto right around lunch time. I had been out provisioning for the better part of the mid-morning, and when I got back and settled in, shortly after noon, this was playing on the station that I had been tuned into previously. I saw this on DVD shortly after it was released in that format, and I have been able to catch it once or twice a year on cable since then. American Splendor is like a chili dog . . .

No. I don't mean that at all.

American Splendor is a movie that I find both easily watchable and maddeningly frustrating by turns, depending on what kind of mood I am in. Today it was both. On the one hand, it's easy to watch Paul Giamatti dig into the role, which he does with vigor and, I think, pretty obvious glee. (It would be just as easy, if not more than a little crass and tasteless, to suggest that the character he is playing in this film is not a far cry from the one he played in John Adams, or to suggest that Pekar is the kind of guy Adams would have been had he been born and grown up in middle century Cleveland, but that is a muddle for another time.) Also, there's enough of Pekar himself (as well as other characters in the living drama) in the flick to lend it a strong air of authenticity.

On the other hand, speaking as one who has only once or twice surveyed (found, not bought) any volume of American Splendor, and didn't find it to be terribly enlightening. Or even very interesting. Indeed, I can only imagine that the world is filled with legions of people who watched this movie but were not strongly moved to seek out and read the works that supposedly inspired it. So does that make me a hypocrite? Should I, on some level, feel a little cowed, a little guilty about enjoying this depiction of a man whose works I have not given a fair hearing and judged as wanting anyways? (It is at this juncture that the Wifey would declare "He's got his money." To which I would probably add "He's dead." Pekar passed away just shy of three weeks ago. A cause of death still has not been announced, so far as I know.) Or can I just watch and enjoy this attempt to portray and, to some degree, sum up what was, apparently, a quirky, interesting, and, eventually, relatively satisfying life?

Do I recommend it? I think you should always question life. Interrogate it, challenge it, examine it from any and every angle you can catch. Ask yourself how much you know about it, wonder what you might be missing. When presented with the facts of someone else's life, why shouldn't you do the same? Try and figure what's the case and what's been made up, painted in, tacked on with epoxy, buffed clean, blended along the edges. As for the chili dogs,* just eat them. Never question a chili dog or a Chinese dumpling. It's better for your sanity.

*I am very tempted to change the title to "Ceci N'est Pas Un Chiene de Chile," for my pal Doc Nagel, who's a big fan of the Matisse gag, but this'll do just as well.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

See Also: Duane Hopwood

THE MAIN REASON for posting today's lunch is not so much for the content as the form, as I managed a near perfect slice job on the perfectly grilled item. Is that pretty, or what?

The sandwich itself is close to something I was going to start calling The Item, after a discussion with Lauren the Hippie Chippie on how it was both like and dissimilar to a classic Monte Cristo. The item in question there was on white bread, where this is in rye, and didn't include sandwich sliced dill pickles (not visible in this shot), and while the chief difference between that concoction and an actual Monte Cristo would have been that the bread had not been French toasted, the big similarity, there as here, is that the sandwich contains both ham and turkey, with the result that, in the final analysis, I don't know that even I actually give a final rat's ass, even if it were a spiral sliced rat's ass.

The movie of the day is this. I'm not sure how to feel about it. This is probably the third time I have tried to watch it, with the key being that this was the first time I had managed to catch it at the beginning. I knew I was going to see it eventually-- Patton Oswalt, after all-- but I also knew I wasn't going to like it entirely-- Robert Seigel, after all, who I am convinced is basically a hack, despite his great success and the fact that I have it on pretty good authority that he's a hell of a nice guy and a good friend. For the record, I have not yet seen The Wrestler, but the five to seven minutes I have seen so far seemed authentic yet cobbled together, or perhaps authentically cobbled together, not altogether believable despite having the taste of gritty reality. But perhaps that's just me.
Big Fan is unrelentingly ugly. It reminds me of the kind of terrible granola bars my mother would foist off on us during her health food phase, large chunks of sawdust held together by soy gluten which we would eat on the grounds that sooner or later we would encounter a fragment of rasin or carob chip.
Let the spoilers begin.
I think Seigel really does thing this is something we should eat because it's good for us. I think he wants us to realize that modern life is poor and full of cheap thrills we only appreciate because our mothers don't love us and all success is plastic and based on who can be most easily ripped off for the most money. Patton's character is the epitome of Hunter Thompson's worst nightmare: all he has left is TV and relentless masturbation, despite the fact that he has not ostensibly been convinced that rain is poison and sex is death. The premise is that hate is really joy, and only sports matter. (Even for the players, for whom a casual and unintentional professional slight is enough to distract one from the halcyon joys of hookers and blow and drive one into a homocidal rage.) If you can manage to laugh three times in the course of any given ninety minutes of your grim existence, Siegle seems to be saying, then your life is rich and full, and you, my friend, are a worthwhile human being.
There are, frankly, worse messages being sent these days. Most of them being sent by the kind of people who think all Americans are sports obsessed whackos who will believe anything so long as they think you're rooting for their team.
By the time it turns out that Michael Rapaport is the rival sports nut who is really responsible for all of Our Hero's woes (not his terrible moron of a mother, not his worthless shyster and corporate shill brothers, not the cop who won't stop pressing him for the details on the beating he got from his favoritest football player ever, whom he won't testify against because there is no way his team can manage a winning record until the guy's suspension is revoked), well, that's satisfying enough. Rapaport plays a very convincing jerk, to the point that, were they to happen upon him in a gentlman's club, his own fans would likely turn away from their own strippers and blow long enough to beat the living shit out of him. And I was going to accuse Speigel of stealing the paint-ball gag from Boston Legal-- which I am not convinced he didn't-- until he played the team colors gag, which I found laugh-out-loud hysterical despite the fact that I saw it coming a half a mile away.* But still, in the final analysis, I am not entirely sure three evenly spaced laughs was worth an hour and a half of fairly sheer ugliness.
*Hey! I think I managed to be esoteric and opaque enough that nothing I revealed there can really be considered a spoiler! Which means that I am a either good person or an obtuse moron. It's a theme.

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Monday, July 12, 2010


AGAIN WITH THE Jamaican patty, again with the eggs and the tater tots, which, in case I have not pointd this out before, are actually Ore Ida Crispy Crowns, so they're like tot pellets, which I have come to prefer as my potato option. The Wifey is fond of saying that she prefers her potatoes in tot form. I guess this is yet another way in which I am a slightly more pronounced snob than most.

As it is with the beer, as well. Last time I got all chompy about getting to the movie review, and neglected to note that while the IPA seemed a bit on the dissapointing side in the context of the cheeseburger, the Kona Longbaord Lager was absolutely stunning, bringing out all kinds of nuances in the burger, very likely as a result of the contrast with the IPA. This time the IPA did just fine, standing right up against the spicy, creamy, tangy, salty combination, and the Kona seemed a little tired by comparison. Although it did more than fine with dessert, which was a Snicker's ice cream mini. Yum.

And I guess I'd be somewhat remiss if I didn't do this. The movie of the night this past Friday was Night of the Living Meh.

This is the kind of movie that reduces Rotten Tomatoes' otherwise reliable rating system to almost pure gibberish. As near as I can tell, and I didn't make a life's study of it, this didn't really get good reviews or bad reviews. So despite it's 71% fresh rating, pretty much all the reviews, whether dubbed good or bad by the fine folks at RT, amounted to "Eh, it's good enough for what it is, but nothing to write home about." A good many critics devoted a fair amount of column inch to dotting out the ways in which the remake and the original differ, but to be completely honest, all they really share is a premise: government something-or-other leaks into the ground water and drives people crazy. This doesn't really have anything near the level of paranoia, or, actually, crazy, the original had. In fact, one of the biggest deficits can be directly related to one of the ways they threw money at it: they came up with a special Crazies make-up scheme. Which had the effect that you stopped really caring who was going crazy and who wasn't. Where in the original, you couldn't tell who was being effected by the bio-weapon or who was just losing it under the strain or who was just a crazy asshole who figured any slight excuse to gun people down was good enough, in this one, the ones going crazy from the toxin would eventually be sporting a fancy new paintjob. If it had been a comedy sketch, they all would have been wearing hand-lettered signs reading "VILLAN."

Yeah. That's enough.

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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Discomfort Foods

I DO NOT mean to suggest that today's lunch has caused me any kind of distress or discom-fort, which it has not, although God knows, I have been told all my life that this is precisely the kind of thing no one should ever eat. (Although everyone does.) This is the double cheeseburger, which this time, just out of chance, comes equipped with two extra thick slices of American cheese, and by design, two almost disparate seasonings: Celtic sea salt and cracked green pepercorn on one patty, and pre-packaged Lowry's Garlic Pepper on the other. The IPA is from the Bridgeport Brewing Co., and frankly I was expecting a great deal more from it. It was properly hoppy, but didn't really live up to the "Five Floral Hops!" hype on the bottleneck tag. Also, the body was a little thin for an IPA, which is to say that if this were coming from another microbrewery, it would probably have been touted as "Refreshing!" and "Perfect for the hot days of summer to come!" Not that it was in any way bad, or even inadequate, just not as extreme as I usually like my IPAs.

(I was tempted to say something along the lines of "If Budweiser made an IPA, this is what it would be like," and then take it back, but that's a hell of a thing to say, even if taken back, so I'd rather just not say it to begin with.)

The film of the day, well, I was nuts even to think about it.

This is something that I remember hearing about way back when, but never knew too much more about than what legend brought: famous film nobody's ever seen, which never ever shows up on TV, directed by the Great George Romero, whom many serious film critics considered then, and still consider today, a hack. It was also said to be a rip-off of the film based on the Michael Crichton novel The Andromeda Strain, which it both is and isn't. We almost went to see the remake last year when it was in theaters after they Democratized it-- "Hey, we know it's not a GREAT idea, but what if we thow alot of money at it?"-- but eventually didn't, I think mainly because we were busy with roller derby stuff. When news came out that it had been released to DVD, I sprinted to stick it in the Netflix queue, and then decided that, in order to really do it right, I needed to get the original and watch it, whether before the remeake or after. (Neither would matter too terribly, since I already know how it ends-- and if you are reading this site and need to be told that SPOILERS are coming, you're either new here, or simply not very ALERT.) So I did. With the result that the original 1973 film version of The Crazies is way, way better than it has any right to be.

First and foremost, it has that flat kind of 1970's directorial style that I never understood, which almost always has the effect of putting the characters at a remove. Now, I always thought, and to a degree still believe, that this was a way for directors making movies on the cheap with the understanding that the finished product would be delivered into the distribution pachinko machine with no guarantee that it would ever be judged for its quality to hide the fact that some of the actors were just no fucking good at all, and were hired as much for a great body, willing libido, or ready access to drugs as for whatever talent they might posess. In this case, the posit is almost uniformly disproven: all of the actors aquitted themselves marvelously, and absolutely shone through, despite the flat directorial style. (Or maybe that's just the nature of the cinematography of the era, I don't know.) The script was also marvelously done, with huge chunks of dialogue that go from "I SAID GET IT DONE NOW!" straight to "Look, I know you don't understand this, neither do I, but we're trying to save lives here." Basically, this ensures that pretty much every character gets a chance to come off as sympathetic. Up to an including the military types. With that, it's off to do a little plot synopsizing.

A plane carrying a military grade bio-weapon crashes in the hills near a remote rural town and the ground water gets contaminated with the agent, which is a virus designed to turn the enemy murderously insane, so that they would kill each other and, eventually, themselves. (This is something our government did, in fact, try to do; no dice.) (Make the weapon, not poison a town. Hold your horses there, conspiracy theorists.) The army shows up to try and contain the contamination and stem the infection using antibiotics-- and the containment crew is initially told what they are trying to stem is an accidental release of an inocculant, which totally is not the word I am looking for, and only learn that what they're fighting is a bio weapon about a third of the way in. The people go slowly insane, a handful try to escape the quarantine, the soldiers go around acting like soldiers, and eventually almost everybody is dead. Then the head military guy on the ground gets a peevish message that he's aaaaaa . . . needed in anoooother town . . . He he! You sure did a fine job there, but, well, there's a developing situation, and since you did ssssssoooooooooooooo well there, we, well, we'd like you to take over the next operation.

Antibody! THAT's the word!

Anyways, this was probably more gripping than the 1990 film Crazy People, which starred Dudley Moore as an ad exec who goes crazy Spring Break style and starts telling The Truth-- and, how crrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaaaaazzy is this? IT WORKS! And people start buying Metamucil so they won't get cancer and die! I remember watching it and hating it on HBO back in the day, and then about a week and a half ago stumbled across it as I was having the morning coffee and decided I would give it another try. The point is that no film will ever be more cynical, negative, caustic, or difficult to watch than Crazy People. I couldn't be bothered to dig up a copy of the poster.

And although The Crazies does crib some basic points from The Andromeda Strain, it's way scarier. The accident that leads to the infection releases something dastardly that was to be released on purpose. As the film goes on, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell who is going insane due to the infection, who is going insane from the stress, or who was just kind of a crazy asshole to begin with. And, in the end, it turns out that the big brains running the machine aren't really all that on top of things anyways. Heckuva job, Brownie.

This will not be the movie of the night, or tomorrow night, or this weekend. After I stuck it in the queue and it made its way to the number one slot, next to be mailed out, its status changed from AVAILABE NOW to LONG WAIT to VERY LONG WAIT. Usually when a disc gets there, it just never ever ever ever ever comes. Oh, well.

PS: Guess what just came in the mail? Crrraay-zeeee . . .

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Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Heroism Of The Embedded Pickle

IF YOU HAVE BEEN PAYING ANY ATTEN-TION, you've seen this trick before. Or at least I think you must have. It's basically a take on what gets called a Cuban sandwich, which essentially boils down to some kind of pork on some kind of bread with pickles, grilled. (I know, I may be being disingenous, but if I could count the many different kinds of "Cuban" bread I've had over the years . . . Oh, and while I'm at it? While I'm disparaging trends? RYE BREAD IS NOT MULTI-GRAIN BREAD. And MULTI-GRAIN BREADS IS NOT RYE BREAD. And that GADDAMNED SANDWICH PRESS is NOT the solution to every sandwich question.) So I am calling this the Cuba Tarde, which I have just now decided means "The Cuban who missed the boat." For no good reason, but that's what I've decided. It's Black Forest ham with two kinds of mustard-- more on that in a bit-- with dill pickle slices grilled on rye bread, which is decidedly non-Cuban. The Saranac is what I picked up earlier in the week as a fall-back position, when the promised on-sale 12 pack of specialty beers-- $13.99!!-- failed to materialize at my Harris Teeter, as did my threat to go visit another nearby location.

The mustards are my beloved Plochman's yellow and a generic store brand brown "spicy" mustard, also known as "deli" mustard.

The film of the day is not Papilon, although it kind of could have been. Last Monday night I managed to get the Wifey to watch that one. To be fair, she was the one who put it in the queue, but I was the one who decisively put in in the player and made it go. She watched it while reading the second Stieg Larsson book, while I watched it while revisiting the previous two times I watched the whole thing end to end. In the final analysis, this is the movie equivalent of spicy brown deli mustard. It's good, but it's kind of generic.

Which brings us to this.

This is also not the film of the day, but it was the film of the day after we watched Papilon. I watched this alone-- and on purpose!-- day before yesterday over lunch. The lunch that day was the double cheeseburger, which was oddly appropriate. The whole film I expected the three surfer dudes at the center of the story to have cheeseburgers, but I don't recall any of them actually doing so. In fact, one of the key scenes late in the film, meant to show how much Southern California had diverged from being the Great American Youth Paradise and Home For Wayward Squares, one of the principle characters is rebuked for ordering cheeseburgers, as the local joint where, he SWEARS, he was just there YESTERDAY, miraculously no longer serves dead animal flesh. (So informed by a hippie-dippy waiter embearded and just a decade and an orange skin away from shoting AN-I-MAL! AN-I-MAL!) (Muppet joke, anybody here not get muppet jokes?) And that was kind of the key tenor of the movie: the real stuff is kind of left out. No cheesburgers. All of the hijinks with only a kind of a nod to the truly assholish behavior demonstrated by the pioneer surfers of the mid-sixties. The local boys dodge the draft by pretending to be, by turns, deaf, dumb, blind, queer, and crazy-- all of this smiled upon by the local-boy-makes-good character, which I still maintain is preferrable to the local-boy-makes-on-carpet character, who enlists and serves and comes back an Officer And A Gentleman (although NOT, presumably, because he got no place else to gooooooo!!!!). Prior to this they trash the house (and lawn) of the local mother who tolerates their outrageous behavior because, oh well! Boys will be boys! The Local Hero Surfer God gets to spend a fair spread of time being the local drunk, and then later disparage the Local Hero Surf Board Shaper Entrepeneur for turning into the local drunk, but then redeem him by riding his custom longboard through The Big Swell Of 1974. (Tonight the role of the Big Swell will be played by Maui. We apologize, but Surfrider's Beach is unable to appear tonight, due to laryngitis.) The serial beat-downs, the "Get off this beach we don't actually own!" arrogance, the shit-behind-the-dunes nastiness of the era is all washed away by a sepia-toned wave. Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints.
The surfing footage, of course, is gorgeous. But the central flaw there still remains: while sitting on your board outside the last set, waiting out the swell, it is not possible to look over the top of the last wave and admire the surfmanship of another surfer, dude. ("Alright, cue Gerry Lopez!* Aaaaaand SMILE!!!)
So what is a poor boy to do? This isn't a Po Boy, silly, it's a Cuba Tarde!! The secret to any fake Cuban sandwich is the embedded pickle. And while you might think the embedded pickle in Papilon is Dustin Hoffman, it's actually Steve McQueen. (I have no idea whether he'd agree with that assessment or not.) The embedded pickle in Big Wednesday is William Katt, who went on to play the Greatest American Hero after he played a fake Vietnam vet, whatever that says about Hollywood. Jan Michael Vincent, who you might have thought was the embedded pickle, was actually the embedded passive-agressive alcoholic former child genius, which either makes this a chillingly prescient performance or the dirtiest cruel joke in the universe. Enough to make you believe there is a God. A cruel, vicious God.
*Gerry Lopez is a genius surfer who got the semi-thankless job of playing the new-school hotshot usurping the former glory of the local hot-dog surfers-- huh. Come to think of it, there were no cheeseburgers AND no actual hot dogs in this movie. Don't seem right.

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