Wednesday, July 31, 2002


I'm sure I have nothing particularly fresh to say about restaurants, but I want to, so I'm gonna.
Let me just start by saying that I like throwing peanut shells on the floor. It makes me feel better about my own much less messy apartment. For that reason, Logan's Roadhouse will always hold a special place in my heart. It delights my Inner Child.
Restaurants, for me, will always be a treat and a pleasure, except for those rare occasions when I've been to one for every meal in the space of a few days. It's like eating Godiva Chocolates incessantly - they're still fabulous, but after a while you get tired of them if you have them every day. Restaurants are my Godiva Chocolates. Then again, Godiva Chocolates are my Godiva Chocolates. You'd have to be a soulless heathen not to like them.
I went to restaurants so rarely as a child that the few occasions we did go tend to stand out in my mind as holidays; Special Events to mark a Special Day, or the simple fact that Mom had put her foot down and was sick and tired of cooking pinto beans and biscuits, which Dad required every night for supper. (I don't personally remember growing tired of them myself; they don't hold any negative associations for me and I still like them.) But we ate so many meals at home; even the traditional Nashville Sunday Lunch at a Restaurant after Church was denied us. How my sisters and I envied our lucky peers who always went out after Church. We were far more likely to go home to leftovers and Yard Work. Talk about your negative connotations!
A Snow Day story: we had driven back to Nashville from Christmas in Batesville, Arkansas with my mother's relatives, and we had driven all night to beat a snowstorm (driving east from Memphis; remember, weather always comes from Memphis if you live in Nashville) and arrived home around 3 am. When we got up later that morning, the snow had hit and we had a few inches on the ground. I don't know why we didn't just eat breakfast at home, but instead we drove to Green Hills to a restaurant that was practically empty except for us; I recollect pancakes, and a big screen TV showing old Lone Ranger serials. It was the most delicious feeling; of snow falling that we would play in that afternoon, of pancakes that were not served in our house but in a restaurant, with the added kicker of continual Westerns. We girls didn't particularly care for Westerns, but we knew our Dad loved them, and so it was a guaranteed mood-lifter. Like watching the football game with him - he was so easily angered, that anything that made him happy, however briefly, was a blessing to us as well.
A restaurant is not just a place that serves food; it's an encapsulated moment in time with several important elements: Food, conversation, and novelty. I can eat alone, and do on occasion, but that's so I can read a book or a magazine, which is almost another sort of conversation, isn't it? My most meaningful discussions come over a meal. Why else do you think Jesus had the Last Supper? Or ate in the home of a tax collector in the company of prostitutes? Because He knew it was the best way to talk to people. There's something about food and the way it loosens up our emotional and intellectual tongues, and I'm sure some scientist could make a very interesting study about the correlation between brain functions, emotional response, and the act of eating.
The novelty comes from having choices. If I go home to eat, I can almost guarantee that I will be eating one of three things: pasta, rice, or stew. I rarely buy vegetables because I never want to prepare them and they go bad before I can use them, and so the only way I can count on occasional roughage is by going to a restaurant and getting a salad or a veggie platter. Given a choice between vermicelli with sauce from a jar in my fridge and a Caesar Salad with Cajun-grilled chicken on top, my response is predictable, particularly when you take into account that the pasta would be eaten in front of the TV, while the salad would be accompanied by an interesting conversation.
And my family wonders why I can't seem to save any money. Let's see: I'm not dating anyone, so my chief socialization comes from going to restaurants with friends. I'll spend $10 on the average in a restaurant, compared to $2 for a meal at home. At least it's only lunch and dinner - I never eat breakfast in a restaurant except 3-5 times a year, tops. Even when I'm on a business trip with an expense account, I still tend to go to a guy on the corner and get a bagel and cream cheese for $1.25.
I'm not a dining snob; I'm perfectly happy in any average fern bar. I wouldn't be comfortable in a really fancy-shmantzy restaurant. But I will not eat a salad constructed entirely of iceberg lettuce. I want mixed greens or romaine, and even spinach is starting to become pedestrian to me.

Thursday, July 18, 2002


I've been reading a great deal of James Lileks lately - namely, his web log, called The Daily Bleat. I have just recently been elucidated on what "Blogging" is: a consistently maintained online journal. No way I will ever achieve that myself. I have too many dead spells where I haven't any interest or ideas of what to write about. Which makes James Lileks' site all the more inspiring and discouraging at the same time - the guy updates his every single weekday with apparently effortless ease. And writes several newspaper columns, and books on arcane aspects of 20th C. American architecture and pop culture.
And it's always interesting, or funny, or apt. One minute he's telling a story about his adored 2 year-old daughter (known to regular readers as Gnat), and the next he's analyzing certain ridiculous aspects of the war on terrorism, and the next he's talking about the latest Star Wars movie. The most wonderful jumble of well-reasoned, well-informed thought on serious matters combined with mundane (but enjoyable) personal revelations on family life.
And he is so well-informed. At one point he referred to some local politicians as "Panglossian" which sounded familiar but I couldn't place the reference. Then Google reminded me - Dr. Pangloss in Candide. Now THAT'S a literary allusion. And he tucks them in like truffles throughout - the most delightful little nuggets of intelligent analogy and classical reference. I literally sit there and bounce up and down in my chair sometimes, I'm just so tickled to see a reference to a historical character or event that I haven't heard since college and my more literary days.
I forgot what it was like to have that sort of context to life - to reference arcane aspects of the French Revolution, or Greek and Roman Mythology, or the 18th C. novel. I miss it a lot. I know it sounds conceited to say that, and I wish it didn't. It's like taking delight in something that you do pretty well, like golf or crossword puzzles. In my line of work a classical allusion is as likely as... as Tantalus getting a drink of water. That's why they are so delightful when they do appear.
I honestly thought I would stay in academia. I read so much, just tons of books growing up, sometimes 1-2 a day. I never enjoyed studying, and was in fact appallingly bad at math, but I did like cultural history and good stories, and I wrote decent papers. I think I knew that I wasn't going on to a higher degree when a history prof told us one day about grad school and the "Book of the Day" club we would be joining if we continued on in history. The stuff I was reading at this point, though chock-full of goodness and exhaustive scholarly fact, was excessively dull and did nothing to endear me to history from the academic sense. 
I did discover soon after the crucial difference between what I liked in history, and what was taught in classes - what I call "cultural" history. What people ate, read, wore, and did. Academia only rarely strayed into those areas, and when it did it was always with a rather surprised sense that this was rather enjoyable, wasn't it? I had read too much historical fiction growing up - I was used to learning historical facts embedded in a narrative.
But I have completely strayed away from the point I wanted to make when I started, which is this: I have no gift for puns. I wanted to set a foundation of how I consider myself to be a semi-intellectual, good at Trivial Pursuit and knowledgeable of obscure vocabulary words... but that I can't make a pun to save my life.
It's like I have pun dyslexia - I rarely recognize them when they appear, and I most certainly could never come up with them on my own. I have managed to squeeze out 1 or 2 with a very great effort, like a small child laboriously writing his name for the very first time and proudly displaying see what I did? In the improv comedy group I belong to now, there are people who can reel them off like a factory conveyor belt, and I just stand there, as confused as if they were speaking to me in Chinese. The only time I truly feel at a loss in conversation is when pun-swapping is taking place. The chunk of the brain that handles the pun-making process is dead, and has been as long as I've been conscious.
I think it is God's way of keeping me humble. If I am thinking that I am particularly clever, then a pun comes along, and when I realize it (a good 60 seconds later, when everyone has already moved on) the sense of self-disgust and "oh how very stupid I am" is quite enervating.