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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

You can help by leaving comments on posts and by becoming a follower. I'd really like to know who you are and what your thoughts are on what I'm doing. To date, more than a quarter million people have viewed the blog and that's great. But every great leader needs followers and if I am ever to achieve my goal of becoming the next great leader of the Italian culinary world :-) I need followers!

Grazie mille!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Total Morons On Yelp Who Are Guiding Your Decisions

Don't Whine, Don't Whimper, Don't Cry. And, Above All, Don't Yelp
Anybody who drops by here knows I don't have a lot of use for Yelp and other social media outlets of the sort.  The reason is simple: too much democracy. It's the same reason the Founding Fathers chose a democratic republic for our form of government. In theory, at least, under a republic, ordinary people choose educated and qualified individuals from among their ranks to represent them in the decisions that will affect them. In a true democracy, it's every man for himself. Just throw it all out there and see what sticks. Social media “review” sites operate the same way. Rather than allow qualified, educated critics, reviewers, and guides to provide information on where to go, what to eat, what to see, etc., many people opt, instead, to “Yelp,” thus putting themselves at the mercy of legions of absolute idiots.

I mean, before you go calling me an elitist snob, think about it: how many ordinary people do you know whose advice you would trust implicitly in making an important decision? Oh, sure, some of your trusted friends and maybe a few family members are pretty hip and cool, and they'd be alright to ask. But among the people you meet in the store or pass on the street, how many? The spiky-haired dude on the subway who has so many piercings he looks like he fell face first in a tackle box? The girl with the tattoo of a snake coming up out of her cleavage and wrapping around her neck? How about the redneck biker who lives down the street and blows you out of bed revving up his Harley on Saturday morning? Or the airhead you got behind in line at the supermarket who had to pull out the calculator on her phone to total up the two items in her cart? Are any of these total strangers – emphasis on “strange” – folks you would want giving you opinions on matters of taste? If you're a Yelper, they already are.

CNN recently compiled a bunch of Yelp “reviews” that perfectly illustrate my point. Here are a few of the more mind-numbing ones for your consideration.

A Yelper visiting the Louvre: "Each to their own I guess, but paintings and sculptures just hold little or no interest for me." Then why did you go to........oh, never mind. Same question for the brain trust who went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and commented, “I refuse to pay any amount of money to see antiques collecting dust.” O-o-o-o-k-a-a-ayyyy!

Speaking of experts in antiquities, I really appreciate the opinion of the learned gentleman from Florida who went to see the Colosseum in Rome and came away with this brilliant observation: "Yes, it looks great at night but put some lights up on that abandoned GM Assembly Plant in Detroit and you'd have about the same thing without any long visitor lines.” He's obviously been to a few of Florida's main cultural icons.

While we're in Rome, there's this highly educated “review” of some minor artist named Michelangelo: “After seeing so many other free churches' beautiful ceilings, I was disappointed with the Sistine Chapel's ceiling.” Thanks for the tip, pal. I'll definitely avoid this blatant tourist trap.

You see where I'm going here? These people are amazing!

Boredom is everywhere for these jaded sophisticates. Especially drop-dead dull places like Yellowstone, as described by a Maryland Yelper: "I want to tell you that I am not some nature hating guy. I take my kids hiking. I rock climb. The problem with the place is that it is dull. [But] If you are in the area for some reason it is worth dropping by.” Three million visitors a year and this guy says “it is worth dropping by” if you happen to be in the area with nothing more exciting to do. He's right up there with the guy from Colorado who had a great suggestion for improving the “wow” factor at the Grand Canyon: “As amazing as the views are it is really kind of boring. Every 500 ft a new vantage point of the same thing: a really big hole in the ground...What would [be] nice is segway rentals.” Yeah, that would perk it up for me. People on segways trying to do Evel Knievel. The boredom these jaded reviewers feel even extends to war memorials. Witness this witless wonder from Philadelphia's opinion of the Vietnam War Memorial: “It's a wall with a bunch of names on it. I mean NO disrespect but spice it up a bit. It's kinda boring.” How can it be boring? There are segway tours around there, after all.

I feel like a proctologist. Assholes everywhere I look.

I guess I'm just being unfair because my standards aren't high enough. Obviously, aristocratic people from elite Alpharetta, Georgia who say the Eiffel Tower is "crowded, overrated, and ugly from up close” operate on a totally different plane from the rest of us lower beings. That would be the same plane upon which the San Francisco Yelper lives who offers this sage comment about another Frenchman's work, this one standing in New York Harbor: “As a proud American I wanted to love this, but was grossly underwhelmed... Old Lady Liberty is just that... old.”

And then we come to my favorite Yelpers; the restaurant “reviewers.” The ones who bring their elevated palates all the way from Arcadia, California to Copenhagen to dine at Noma. Of a place with two Michelin stars that has been ranked as the best restaurant in the world four times by Restaurant magazine, our California critic had this to say: “One of the courses literally made me gag but in NOMA, spitting into your napkin would be a like crime so I swallowed it like a bitter pill.” OMG! Somebody tell René Redzepi, International Chef of the Year in 2008 and one of TIME magazine's “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2012. He'll be devastated.

There's the California girl who one-starred a restaurant after a five word “review:” “Could use some vegan options.” My GOD! How shortsighted! How dare this restaurant not anticipate her personal dietary preferences? I'll bet they didn't offer “gluten-free” options either, the swine. This place should be forced out of business and the owners covered in tofu and ridden out of town on a rail. It's obvious that one star was generous.

I'm inordinately fond of “reviews” like the one put up by somebody who looked at the menu posted in the establishment's window and opted not to eat there because “the food didn't look good.” Or the ones that trash an eatery because the “reviewer” didn't like the décor.

And I liked the one slamming a Kosher place in Boca Raton. The Yelper got all exercised over the fact that the “bacon” wasn't really bacon and the “American cheese” wasn't really cheese. They accused the owners of dishonesty and when the traditional Jewish nature of the place was explained to them, they huffed and puffed about going to a restaurant, not a synagogue and finished their one-star “review” with an asinine comment: “Since when is it a sin to go to a restaurant, be a Christian, and expect to get the food you ordered? I WILL NEVER RETURN. FOR GODSAKE PASS THIS ON TO THE FOLKS YOU CARE ABOUT!!!”

And then there was the brilliant Yelper who one-starred a Jewish restaurant for being closed on a Jewish holiday.

I've written my fair share of negativity regarding Olive Garden, but the “review” posted by a Yelper from Cerritos, California truly humbles my best effort: “A while back, our little family went with our $50 gift card to the Cerritos Olive Garden, had some piss-poor salad, some pasta that tasted like ass, some meat that tasted like ass, and some bread that was probably good when it was baked, but had gone tough in the last billion years and now tasted like ass. The service was actually really good, and I felt bad for the young man who had to carry that shit around and pretend it was anything but ass. 'Excuse me, sir, how was your serving of ass? Did you enjoy the ass tonight? Would you like me to box the leftover ass to take home?' Poor guy. Don't nobody give us another Olive Garden gift card. I'll fucking kill you.” Definitively proving that the only ass involved here was the one writing the “review.”

And Yelpers often write helpful “reviews” aimed at assisting the common folk who eat at fast-food places. Like this one for Wendy's: “This place is BAWLIN' yo. Chicken nuggitz be crispy like you never SEEN. I tasted one and I was like 'WHAAAAT! Are you serious Wendy?' Mean girls workin the friers, tho. This one chick wouldn't even let me holla. I was like 'please you ugly anyway.'” That just says it all, right?

Coffee shops get “reviewed,” too. “Hmm… Where to start. The joint’s cool until I got banned for making a pass at one of their barista. Apparently asking their co-worker if she (the intended) was gay, was a big no-no in their java world. Oh, and I asked their Asian-looking chick, if she was Asian. That too; was a violation. Yawn !!”

Yelp gets millions of such submissions a month. These educated, erudite, intellectual paragons of taste are the people to whom you are turning for guidance and advice. I can't wrap my head around it. It's like giving millions of children boxes of crayons and telling them to create fine art. A few might get close, but the vast majority will turn out stuff of a quality you won't even want to display on your refrigerator much less in a gallery or a museum. Substitute a computer keyboard for the crayons and you are essentially allowing the same group of people to dictate where you're going to go, where you're going to stay, what you're going to eat, and what you're going to see.

I recently stayed at a nice hotel where I enjoyed a long weekend. The only negative came from a couple of selfish idiots ensconced across the hall with their duo of yapping little mutts. The hotel staff was practically apoplectic with apology and did their very best to ameliorate the inconvenience, which only lasted until the selfish miscreants checked out after one night. The little critters were quiet during the overnight hours and the time I was subjected to their yodeling and yapping was brief because I didn't spend a lot of time in my room other than overnight. No harm, no foul. The management offered to relocate me to another room. They tendered generous discounts. They apologized incessantly and were extremely grateful that I had brought the matter to their attention. All because they feared I was going to be one of “those people” who would take to the Internet and trash the entire hotel because of an isolated act of ignorance on the part of a pair of fellow travelers. Hey. The management called their cellphone. They knocked on the door of the room. And when they finally caught up with the cretins, they told them to control their dogs. What else could they do? Call in the local animal shelter's SWAT team with tranquilizers and cages? So, no, I'm not going to go on Yelp and trash the hotel. There was nothing wrong with the hotel. Just with some of the idiots in one of the rooms. But unfortunately, Yelp brings out the worst in petty whiners and empowers them to express their footling concerns to the detriment of businesses already struggling in an uphill battle to please an increasingly demanding public. The results are often higher prices and scaled back services as owners and managers strive to provide the least risky options directed at the lowest common denominator. Thanks a lot, Yelp.

Bottom line, as everybody in the service industry will tell you, if you've got a problem with a hotel, a restaurant, or an attraction, bring it directly to the attention of management. Don't whine, don't whimper, don't cry. And, above all, don't Yelp.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Portland Diner Owner Yells At Screaming Tot “This Needs To Stop”

And All I Can Say Is “Brava!”

Next time I'm in Portland, Maine I am going to make it a point to eat at at Marcy's Diner. And if owner Darla Neugebauer is around, I plan to shake her hand.

Marcy's is a relatively small place over on Oak Street that seats around eighty people and only takes cash payment for typical diner fare – a breakfast of two eggs, bacon or sausage, toast, and hashbrowns for six bucks. Soups and sandwiches for lunch. Nothing extraordinary.

What is extraordinary is all the virtual fur flying about the Internet over a recent interaction between Darla and a customer. A two year-old customer. Okay, technically the toddler was not the “customer;” the parents were. But the toddler was the problem. Or was the problem the parents?

John and Tara Carson were vacationing in the Portland area and, with toddler in tow, decided to drop in at Marcy's. They ordered pancakes for the little girl and then inexplicably refused to feed them to her, opting instead to place them in the center of the table out of the child's reach. Well, guess what? The kid started screaming. The problem developed when the kid kept on screaming for the better part of an hour. The owner, Darla, was working the grill, heard the noise and dropped a subtle hint that is sometimes employed in restaurants to hasten the departure of certain customers. She called out loudly, “Has that table gotten their ticket yet?” This is restaurant shorthand for “don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.” But, alas, such subtlety was wasted.

A more direct approach was tried next. Ms. Neugebauer took “to go” boxes over to the table and asked the Carsons to pack up and leave or to at least take the child outside. That got no more reaction than did the subtle hint.

So in a final act of frustration, Ms. Neugebauer, after enduring the unendurable for forty minutes or so, turned from her station, slammed her hands down on the counter, pointed at the red-faced screaming child and shouted, “this needs to stop!” At which point the kid abruptly shut up.

Ah, but now the outraged parents enter the fray. They indignantly demand, “Are you screaming at a child?” To which the put through the mill owner replies, “Yes. I am.” And the battle is on. Oh, nobody came to blows, of course, but the parents immediately established the front line on Facebook, citing the whole brouhaha as “the worst experience” and going on to taunt Neugebauer with the comment, “who in their right mind would behave like this unless you are deranged?” I won't comment on the grammar of that statement. And Ms. Neugebauer replied with an expletive laden response, and on and on it went until the press got wind of the whole thing and battle lines were drawn and sides were taken.

But you know what? The sides are weighted almost three-to-one in favor of the beleaguered owner. A poll conducted on one website following the story had 72% of respondents saying “someone should thank her.” The same poll cited 25% who thought Neugebauer “should have gone about it in a different way,” while a mere 3% thought the response was “totally inappropriate.”

All I can say is “brava!” Can diner owners be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize?

You can call me a curmudgeon – and I'd be pleased if you would – but I've had it up to my eyebrows with brats in public places. Not the little ones, mind you. They don't know any better. It's the big brats, the thoughtless, ill-mannered, ignorant, self-centered, self-important, overly-indulgent, enormously entitled so-called adults who spawn the little ones and then steadfastly refuse to discipline them or try to integrate them into the realities of polite society.  They are the ones at fault in every case. The only thing I'd have done differently had I been Ms. Neugebauer would have been to have directed my anger and ire where it belonged. The child was merely a product of her lack of upbringing. Darla should have screamed “this needs to stop” directly at the benighted parents. In case you need clarification on the term “benighted,” it means “in a state of pitiful or contemptible intellectual or moral ignorance.”

You want to talk about pitiful or contemptible intellectual or moral ignorance? Try this; Mommy was later heard whining to the press, “I turned to my daughter and I was like ‘Listen, this is how I’m raising you not to be as an adult. Like, you will never be like this when you get older.' I felt helpless as a mom that, you know, I couldn’t do anything to help her, because I can’t explain why there’s crazy people in this world that behave like that.”

Excuse me while I swallow my gorge. Was there even a coherent thought in all that stumbling, immature rubbish?

In an orderly, civilized society, your right to be a thoughtless, ignorant, disruptive boor ends where my right to the reasonable expectation of a peaceful, quiet dining experience begins. Especially when there are more of me than there are of you. As eloquently expressed by Mr. Spock, it's the whole “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – or the one” concept. In a room where seventy or eighty people are gathered to fulfill their need for peace and quiet, by what possible authority can you demand your singular right to be an undisciplined, disorderly idiot? Or to sanction disorderly behavior in those under your alleged control?

And before you ask, yes, dammit, I've been a parent. Two boys about two years apart. And they never, ever, ever misbehaved in restaurants or other public places. In fact, I used to get compliments on their behavior from relieved diners who surely thought, as I often do today, “there goes the neighborhood” when I walked in with my two potential meal disruptors. It. Never. Happened. And it's not because I beat them to within an inch of their lives, because I didn't. I taught them cause and effect, action, reaction, and consequences at home before they ever ventured out into the wider world. They understood that screaming and demanding would not be rewarded and that misbehavior would not be tolerated. And as a result, they didn't do it.

I'm a baby boomer and perhaps “boom” is the operative word. I was never afraid to lower it. Unlike the wishy-washy, touchy-feely, “timeout” and “let children express themselves” hip pocket child psychiatrists masquerading as parents of the “me” generation, I was not averse to enforcing discipline. My kids learned to respect a stern look or a firm tone of voice. Beating them simply wasn't necessary. And both of them are fine men today with fine families of their own, so apparently their mom and I did something right. Hope the “parents” of the screamer can say the same thing in thirty years.

Okay. Off the soapbox and back to the issue. Was the restaurant owner correct in defending the rights of her other patrons? Without question. Could she have handled it less dramatically and less confrontationally? Probably. But if you read her Facebook posts you'll quickly figure out that restraint is not one of her personality traits. Should she have been placed in such a position in the first place? Never. It's a restaurant, not a day-care. She's a cook, not a babysitter. The parents were on vacation. Were they supposed to leave their 2-year-old at the hotel? Of course not. Should they have allowed her to scream incessantly in a public place while they selfishly filtered it out and reduced it to background noise? You know the answer as well as I do.

So, again, brava, Darla Neugebauer. Don't worry about the three percent idiot faction. Or even the twenty-five percent who think you could have done things differently. The seventy-two percent of us who back you to the hilt thank you for your actions on our behalf. And if I do get the opportunity to visit Marcy's Diner in person, I'll bring my granddaughter. I guarantee you won't have to yell at her.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Recipe: A Decadent Croque Madame

I Know It's French; It's Still Delicious

I am breaking new ground here. The “View From My Italian Kitchen” is going to veer toward France and bring you a recipe for a decadent sandwich, the Croque Madame. (I am part French, after all.) I suppose I could try to Italianize it by calling it a “croccante signora” or a “tostata signora,” but that would translate to either “crispy lady” or “toasted lady,” neither of which would be too appropriate.

My wife got one of these classic French delights at a place called La Farm Bakery in Cary, North Carolina, where it is a signature item on their breakfast, brunch, and lunch/dinner menus. She fell head over heels in love with the dish and I have been making it for her regularly ever since. I know it's French, but it's still delicious. You can find my review of La Farm here: http://ronjamesitaliankitchen.blogspot.com/2015/04/review-la-farm-bakery-and-cafe-cary.html

The Croque Madame is a variation of another French classic, the Croque Monsieur. Basically a fancied up grilled ham and cheese sandwich, the Croque Monsieur traces its origins to French cafés and bars in the early 20th century, first appearing on a Parisian café menu in 1910. The name derives from the French croquer (“to bite”) and monsieur, French for “mister.” The Croque Madame variation came along later, supposedly inspired by the addition of a fried egg, fancifully resembling a woman's hat, to the top of the sandwich.

One thing you should know: it's pronounced "croke mah-DAHM," not "crock MAD-am." Yes, I actually heard somebody say it that way. A "chef," no less.

It's a super simple dish that you can knock together in minutes. Here's what you'll need for two sandwiches:

2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
¾ cup coarsely grated Gruyere cheese, divided
salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup shredded mozzarella (optional)
4 slices hearty white bread
¼ pound thinly sliced sliced deli ham (Black Forest ham works well)
2 lg eggs

The only complicated part, if you can call it that, is the mornay sauce. So let's start there and get it over with.

To make a mornay, you have to start with a béchamel. Or as I prefer, a besciamella. It's really not that hard. It's all about ratios and proportions. You need three basic ingredients: flour, unsalted butter, and milk, plus salt and pepper for seasoning. The ratio for a simple béchamel is 2:2:1 – 2 tablespoons of flour, 2 tablespoons of butter, and 1 cup of milk. Scale up or down as required.

Begin by warming the milk. It's not strictly necessary, but some chefs swear by warm milk. Others don't. Personally, I just pop the milk in the microwave for a minute.

While the milk is warming, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook it in the melted butter for a minute or two, stirring constantly, until a paste forms and the raw flour flavor is cooked out. Stir in the milk, briefly bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook, stirring frequently, until a thick, bubbly sauce forms, about five minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Some people like a little nutmeg. Your choice. Now you have a béchamel.

Turn your béchamel into a mornay by adding cheese. Gruyere is most common, but Emmental, white cheddar, or Parmesan work well. You can mix and match for extra flavor, or just go with Gruyere. Whisk about half of the grated cheese into the sauce until it thoroughly melts in and becomes smooth.

You can make the sauce a little in advance and either remove it from the heat and put a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the sauce to keep a skin from forming, or you can hold it over very low heat, giving it a frequent stir to keep it smooth and to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. You can hold it this way for about a half hour without having to worry about the sauce hardening, lumping, or overreducing.

Next, lay out your sandwich. Use a good, hearty country bread. Gummy white sandwich bread will be totally overwhelmed. Place as much ham as you like on two slices of the bread and top it with the remaining grated Gruyere and maybe a little shredded mozzarella. Spoon on enough of the mornay sauce to cover the ham and cheese and then complete your sandwiches, covering with the other slices of bread. This is where your kitchen equipment will play a role. I have a sandwich press in my kitchen, so I can throw my completed sandwich on there, close it up for a minute, and I've got a perfectly toasted sandwich. You might have to use a broiler, a grill pan, or some other toasting medium to get the same effect. In any case, toast the sandwiches.

Now you need to get a couple of sunny-side up eggs going. Spray a nonstick skillet with a little cooking spray and heat it over medium heat. Alternately, you can melt a pat of butter, if you prefer. Working low over the pan, so the yolk doesn't break, crack an egg into the heated pan. If you're afraid of breaking the yolk or of getting shell fragments in the pan, simply break the eggs into cups or small bowls and gently pour them into the pan. I have 4-inch egg rings; nice if you've got 'em, but not essential. The pan shouldn't be too hot. You don’t want the whites to start solidifying the second you drop the eggs in. The whites should stay clear for several seconds before they start to really turn white. If a drop of water sizzles when it hits the pan, you're at about the right temperature. Let the eggs sit there and happily cook slowly until the whites are completely set and the yolks begin to thicken but don't get hard. You want the yolk very runny. Takes about 4 or 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and they're done.

Time to bring it all together. Put your toasted sandwiches on plates, spoon a generous quantity of the mornay sauce over each, and top them with the fried eggs. At La Farm, they serve this with brunch potatoes, a mini scone and fresh fruit, but the sandwich is wonderful all by itself.

There you have it. A wonderful French dish that is easy to prepare, but will still impress your family and friends. And I don't really mind that it's French because everybody knows that the Italians taught the French how to cook in the first place, so........enjoy!

Buon appetito! 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Cellphones In Theaters: “Arrogance and Defiance”

Patty LuPone Is My New Hero

I have a cellphone. It's a bright, shiny iPhone and I never go anywhere without it. That said, I also have a brain, common sense, and good manners, all of which put me one up on a lot of cellphone users and abusers.

Okay, in the first place, I'm old. So old, in fact, that I remember the days before cellphones existed. Wow. A real dinosaur, huh? Back when I was a radio guy, I actually carried one of the first portable cellular phones. It was the mid-'80s and the device was essentially a telephone handset attached by a curly cord to a huge battery pack. The whole apparatus weighed ten or fifteen pounds, but, by golly, it was portable. Its major feature was that it enabled you to make phone calls. And that was its only feature. It didn't light up and play loud annoying music. And when you pushed the buttons, you were dialing a phone number not sending a “text message” because there was no such thing. Since the Internet did not yet exist – at least not for the masses – there was no 'net surfing to be done. All you could do was call somebody. And at a dollar a minute you were pretty discriminating about making those calls. All in all, cellphones were rather difficult things to become addicted to.

Enter the “smartphone.” Whoa! It does everything and it fits in the palm of your hand. Well, yeah, you have to have pretty big palms for some of the new ones, but you know what I mean. It's more than just a telephone, it's a wireless connection to life. Unfortunately, it's also a social crutch for people who don't have a life. The real problem is not with the “smart” phone but rather with the stupid user. Nowhere is this more evident than in the theater. Movie theater or live theater, take your pick. 'Net surfing, game-playing, text messaging morons inhabit both. They are like alcoholics or drug addicts; they have to get a “fix” or they start to tremble and shake.

As I said, I carry my phone with me everywhere. It's on my hip or in my pocket eighteen hours a day and on a bedside charger the other six. But just because my phone is constantly attached to me does not mean I am constantly attached to it. Believe it or not, I can function without my phone for two or three hours at a time. The idiots who light the damn things up in darkened theaters apparently can't function without theirs for two or three minutes.

“I'm bored.” I'm sorry, but there are worse things in life than being bored. Being a thoughtless, self-centered, discourteous, entitled twit, for example. Just because you are self-important enough to believe that you have to share every moment of your exalted existence with everyone else on the planet doesn't mean that I have to watch you do it.

I admit it: when it comes to theaters, I am an avowed phone Nazi. You light that sucker up anywhere I can see it......and in a dark room, that's pretty much everywhere except directly behind me.....and I'm gonna call you out about it. And I won't be quiet and I won't be polite. Hell, if you're stupid and rude enough to be flashing your phone around in a room full of people would couldn't care less about your “right” to do so, I'm stupid and rude enough to make sure you and everybody else knows it. After all, you've already disrupted everybody's enjoyment with your stupidity so my yelling, “Put that damn thing away” isn't likely to disturb anybody any more than they've already been disturbed, right?

Most of my bad phone experiences lately have been in movie theaters, but live theater gets its share of the boorish, ignorant, loutish behavior as well. And that's where I'd like to introduce you to my newest hero, Patti LuPone. To begin with, the multi-talented, multi-award-winning actress is Italian. Score one. And she's got a definite handle on how to deal with inconsiderate boobs who think they are the alpha and the omega of all things in life.

A couple of years ago, during a Broadway performance of “Gypsy,” she stopped the show......literally.....to take down an idiot snapping pictures. What part of the standard pre-show announcement “the taking of photographs and use of recording devices is forbidden by law” don't these goobers get? Or is it that they are so important that the rules don't apply to them. They paid for their tickets, dammit, so they can do anything they want. Or so their pea-brained logic dictates.

Recently, Patti was performing in “Show of Days” at New York's Lincoln Center. And there's this clueless airhead sitting in full view of both the audience and the stage texting blithely away throughout the entire first act. And when she started up again after intermission, Patti handled it. She simply stepped through the actor's imaginary “fourth wall” and snatched the phone right out of the miscreant's hand. Yaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy, Patti! Way to go, girl!! (Unfortunately, the fool got her phone back after the show. If I'd have been Patti, I'd have done my best Peter Frampton imitation and hurled the thing into the rafters.)

"There's an arrogance and defiance to these people," Patti said. "I think it's gone too far. Audiences are as upset as actors. It's only between two and four people a night, but the minute [a phone] goes off or a screen turns on, your attention is shattered."

Shattering an audience member's attention in a play is annoying. Shattering an actor's attention can be dangerous. Been there, done that. You might be up there doing something tricky or intricate that demands your full attention and here comes some clod with a camera or a blazingly bright cellphone screen exercising his “right” to ignore whatever rules don't suit him. You lose focus and somebody loses an eye or something. And “Miss Entitled To The Full Experience” is right there to record it and/or text it to all her Facebook “friends.”

And it ain't real safe to piss off an audience member in a movie theater, either. Hey, I'll just yell at you. Remember the fella in Florida awhile back who pulled a gun and put an abrupt and final end to some guy's texting? You never know. You may be ignorant and rude, but somebody else could be just plain nuts and possessed of a really short fuse. Personally, even though it's probably in bad taste, I think that instead of putting up polite “reminders” on the screen or showing funny clips of a camel saying, “It's movie d-a-a-a-a-y!,” theaters ought to consider just posting that dude's mug shot up there. Might get the point across.

I don't get it. A person shells out between ten and twenty bucks for a movie ticket or an average of about a hundred bucks for a Broadway show, and then they sit there and “entertain” themselves by playing games or texting friends for two hours? What's the point? Why not just stay home? Does everybody born in the Information Age have ADHD that they can't sit for two minutes without checking their frickin' phone? And if the show is that bad, get up and leave. You can probably get your money back and the rest of us will be glad you're gone.

Of course, the real problem is there's no enforcement of the rules, so rule benders don't take them seriously. I've been in movie houses where they actually sent in an employee before the show to make a deadly serious announcement about cellphone use. Then the employee left, the movie screen lit up....and so did the cellphones. These cretinous clowns know that theaters can't afford to station “phone police” in every auditorium, and since they don't really give a flying flip about anybody's “rights” other than their own right of self-entertainment, they don't care. They just light up and go about their business. If you don't like it, well, bad on you.

The problem's not going to go away until the industry gets serious about it. In live theater, Patti LuPone says it's not fair that performers have to play the bad guy when it comes to cellphone abuse. "I'm a hired actor – it's not my job.” She says the actors complain to the stage managers, then the stage managers go to the house managers and the house mangers go to the ushers, who may or may not be able to effectively deal with the issue. “It falls on us to be the police," Patti says.

Same thing applies in movie theaters. Aggrieved patrons can get up and go out to the lobby – missing half the movie they paid ridiculous amounts to see – and try to find a manager. That manager will then likely instruct some teenage usher to go in and take care of the problem. Riiiiiight. If that works at all, it will only work until about sixteen seconds after the usher has left the vicinity. Patti has the ultimate solution: "They should just eject you with no refund." Then you can stand outside the theater and text all your “friends” about how badly you were treated.

Let me try to give you clueless nitwits a clue. Sure, you paid big bucks for a ticket. But guess what? So did a couple hundred other people. People who aren't just hanging out in your living room, you know? People who actually want to see what they paid their big bucks for. And that doesn't include being distracted by the strobe-like flashing of your phone every ten seconds, something that happens because you don't have the brains, the manners, or the self-control to think about the other people with whom you share living space on this planet.

Get a life, spoiled simpleton. Or at least get some sense of perspective. Unless you're a doctor on call or some sort of emergency responder, you're just not so important that you can't afford to be “out of touch” for a couple of hours. And if by some legitimate chance you are expecting an important call or message, take a seat on the back row where the luminescence of your phone screen won't provide a blinding distraction to everybody seated behind you. Surely nobody is so oblivious as to think that sitting in the front or middle rows of a dark theater auditorium and then effectively turning on a flashlight is not going to bother the people sitting in the seats behind them. If you've got to be on your phone, whether for reasons legitimate or narcissistic, for cryin' out loud, sit in the back where you'll only piss off the people on either side of you. And hope that none of them has a short fuse and a gun.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Seven Words and Phrases People Badly Misuse

I Do So Miss William F. Buckley, Jr.

I could care less about going mano y mano with people who say “verse.” They are just looking for an
escape goat and even though it's a mute point, it wrecks havoc, irregardless.

Did that all sound okay to you? If it did, you're one of the people toward whom this article is directed. The entire statement is made up of commonly misused words and phrases.

Normally I go off on people for bad Italian usage and pronunciation, but improper English grinds my gears just as quickly. And lately there's been a lot of gear grinding going on because I have been subjected to this semantic slaughter either by real life people I know or by individuals on TV. Although there are a ton of malapropian gaffes and strange pseudo-idioms floating around out there, let's look at a few of the more egregious ones.

I could care less.

I was watching something where a woman spouted, “I could care less about that.” Given the context of the statement, I assume she intended to convey the fact that she, indeed, could not have cared less about it. But that's not what she said. Saying that you could “care less” about something implies that you do care about whatever it is, at least to some extent. What people who say this usually mean to say is that they don’t care at all about whatever it is they are not caring about, hence “I couldn’t care less about that” would have been the correct way to phrase the statement. What the woman said indicated that she was capable of having less concern rather than implying that it would have been impossible for her to do so. Saying what she actually meant would have required her to think about what she was saying and that was apparently too much of a task for her infinitesimal intellect.

Mano y mano, or mano a mano.

There was this guy on TV who said to another guy, "Okay. Let's go. Just you and me, mano y mano.” And I thought to myself, “They're going to hold hands? How nice.”

“Mano y mano” is supposed to be a manly phrase used by manly men who apparently think that saying something in Spanish is going to make them sound even more manly. I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere in the fairly recent past, some English-speaking idiot or other got the idea that adding an “o” to the English word “man” turned it into the Spanish word for man and they started saying “mano y mano” when they wanted to sound tough and say “man to man.” “I'm gonna take you on man to man.” Sounds tough, right? But when you say it in a foreign language, it sounds even tougher, right? Even though it's the wrong phrase for the action intended.

The Spanish word for “man” is “hombre.” (I hope I don't have to mention the silent “h” there.) “Mano” is Spanish for “hand.” “Y” (pronounced “ee”) is Spanish for “and.” Therefore, “mano y mano” is not Spanish for the manly “man to man.” It is Spanish for “hand and hand.” The image of these two tough guys skipping along hand and hand is kinda funny. Funnier still would be “mano en mano,” which translates to “hand in hand,” but I haven't heard that one yet.

Now, some tough guys say, “mano a mano.” That's much more manly. That means “hand to hand,” and it traces its origins back to the bullfighting ring. “Hand to hand” is a much more aggressive way to duke it out than “hand and hand,” don't you agree? “Mano a mano” implies the desired spirit of single combat. Makes my testosterone level go up just thinking about it. But it still doesn't mean, “man to man.” That would actually be “hombre a hombre,” which doesn't flow nearly as nicely. When you mean “man to man” why not just say “man to man” and forget about sounding all macho?

Versus” versus “verse.”

Another thing that gets my linguistic goat is hearing people say “verse” when they mean “versus.” Usually abbreviated “vs” or just “v,” especially in legal usage, “versus” means “in contrast to” or “as opposed to.” “White versus black.” “On versus off.” “Roe versus Wade.” Going back to the fifteenth century, the word originates in Middle English taken from Medieval Latin. It means “so as to face,” taken from the past participle of “vertere,” meaning “to turn.” And it most definitely has two distinct syllables – VER-sus – with the accent falling on the first syllable. Now, I don't know if the current trend of shortening it to “verse” is an attempt at expressing a vocal abbreviation, if it's lexical laziness, or if it's just a matter of people's tongues getting wrapped around their eyeteeth so they can't see what they're saying, but it drives me nuts! It is, for example, “right ver-sus wrong,” not “right verse wrong,” you bunch of witless illiterates!

An “escape goat.”

The common English term “scapegoat” has biblical origins, derived from a Hebrew word used in Leviticus, in which a goat was sent out into the desert after the sins of the people had been symbolically laid upon it. In modern usage, the term “scapegoat” refers to a person who is singled out, usually without merit, for blame or negative treatment.

An “escape goat,” however, is merely an animal that got away.

It's a “mute point.”

I know a couple of people who use (misuse) this one all the time. A point or matter that is moot is one that is subject to debate, dispute, or interpretation. It goes back to Medieval England wherein a “moot” was an assembly of people who exercised administrative or judicial authority. You brought your case, or your point of law, before a moot for discussion and interpretation, hence making it “a moot point.” As moots became obsolete, moot points came to refer to irrelevant or obsolete discussions.

“Mute,” on the other hand, denotes an inability to speak or articulate. Another variant of “mute,” one which has fallen out of favor in the uber-PC present, is “dumb.” And I think people who go around making “mute points” certainly qualify as dumb.

Wreck havoc.

There is a difference between “wreck” (rek) and “wreak” (reek). The verb “wreak” means to inflict, to unleash, to carry out. “Havoc,” of course, is synonymous with devastation and destruction. Which is also what “wreck” basically means. You may, therefore, properly wreak or inflict devastation upon something, but is it even possible to “destroy” devastation, as you would be doing if you “wrecked” it?

Irregardless.

A lot of people say it. A lot of people are wrong. Well......maybe not entirely, unfortunately. While most sources claim that “irregardless” is a made-up word, possibly made up of combining “irrespective” and “regardless,” Merriam-Webster vows there is such a word. However, the dictionary barely recognizes it, stating, “It is still used primarily in speech, although it can be found from time to time in edited prose. Its reputation has not risen over the years, and it is still a long way from general acceptance.” And most well-spoken people do not accept it. For one thing, it's redundant. The prefix “ir” means “not.” As in “irrelevant,” meaning “not relevant.” Well, the word “regardless” already means “without regard” or “not regarding.” So does adding a prefix that means “not” to a word that means “not” make any sense to any reasonable person? I think not. Regardless of whether “irregardless” is a real word or not, just stick with “regardless.”

(Sigh) I do so miss William F. Buckley, Jr.