Sunday, February 24, 2008

I didn't know

Well, Saturday was one of those days in which the wisdom of the old axiom "You never can tell" came true. On Friday, our entire metro area was supposed to be plunged into a New Ice Age, replete with snow, sleet, sleety snow, freezing rain, rainy freeze, and sniffles. Even the normally nonemotional National Weather Service got all nervous - on Thursday, before I left work, the NWS sent a bulletin advising that travel would be "difficult if not impossible" on Friday. That turned out to be "wrong if not wrongest" when we had a little freezing rain that was easily vanquished by the guys and gals from the Highways department and their vast salt domes, and life somehow went on.

So on Saturday, after the usual breakfast-nap-trip-to-the-Food King triumvirate of fun, we took Mom's groceries over to her house, did a few chores over there at the site of my upbringing (see my autobiography FRONTIER DAYS: Boy in Buckskin for more details) and then Peggy and I looked forward to our culinary pleasure, my weekly break from
dieting, that hebdomadal hedonistic Valhalla, the Old Country Buffet.

As I do with Willis Carrier, the inventor of air conditioning, I revere the Frenchman Jean-Claude Buffet, the first man to realize that the best choice for dinner is EVERY choice. This is, of course, completely fake information. There was no Jean-Claude Buffet, just as, yesterday, there was no Old Country Buffet.

I thought at first it was because we approached Satyr Hill Shopping Center from the west, having just come from Mom's, and maybe the sun was playing tricks on me. At first, I noticed there was no price listed for gasoline at the Texaco right across the parking lot from the OCB, and I figured it was because finally the oil industry had finally achieved a measure of modesty and no longer saw fit to emblazon in the sky just how badly they are ripping off an entire nation -yea, all mankind - for their hi-test. But no, it turned out that they were installing new pumps. I figured,"fine; we'll fill up the car somewhere else after we fill ourselves." But no!

I thought, wow, this is great - there are so many parking spots on the lot! Yeah, buddy, that would be because the Old County Buffet was closed. I mean, shut down for good, Katie bar the door, 126 pages Dear John. Except, the doors weren't barred; they simply had the blinds drawn, and the Dear John letter was an inelegantly phrased Word Document advising that the Old Country Buffet had closed for business at this location, but we were welcome to drive 30 miles to Catonsville to visit their one remaining Baltimore location. I bet they didn't even save that consarned document after they printed out three copies, taped them up and locked the doors.

I reacted as would any fully-realized adult when his dinner has suddenly disappeared. I wept and wailed, and I'm fairly sure there was gnashing of teeth. We wound up going to the Towson Diner, which is quite great in its own way, but unlike buffets, diners have that one little difference. At the Old Country Buffet, it's all you can eat. At the Towson Diner, what they place in front of you is all you can eat. Owing to some sort of oddball policy, you're not allowed to go roam among the huge steaming tureens (I hereby offer that phrase as a band name for any musical aggravation willing to assume it) and giant beef roasts and ribs of the sort favored by Dino Flintstone
at the Bedrock Drive-In. And then there was the Taco Bar, the Salad Bar, the Soup Buckets, the Shrimp Boat and the Make-Your-Own-Damn-Dessert area, featuring soft-serve ice cream, carrot cake, oatmeal cookies, incredible peach or cherry "gobblers" and the whole American concept of come on in, sit down and spell, we're just fixin' to eat. You'd see people there every time - the same people, the same groups and families and couples. There was one man who used to read to his wife while they ate, a widower-looking guy going around greeting his friends, a woman who used to get her hair "did" at the same place we used to before our tonsorial expert chose a lifestyle of avid drug consumption, and buses of high-school and college kids, usually on their way back from something thrilling they had done here, just having a little dinner, a little of that and a lot of this, and some fun.

Old Country Buffet,
Nos quisnam iam epulor alibi tutus vos! That's Latin for "we who now dine elsewhere salute you!" (I think the Romans are hinting that we should try Quizno's...) But I remember another use of the word "buffet" that we hear on the radio and TV during hurricane season (Jan 1 - Dec 31) around here. "Strong winds buffeted the Caroline Coast today as Hurricane Duane made landfall at 3 AM..." is something we hear all the time, when the electricity is on. In this case, buffet means, well, let's go to Merriam-Webster to see for sure:
13th century
transitive verb
1 : to strike sharply especially with the hand : cuff 2 : to strike repeatedly : batter buffeted the shore> 3 : to drive, force, move, or attack by or as if by repeated blows intransitive verb : to make one's way especially under difficult conditions

(transitive) To strike or blow with a buffet or buffets.

I bow my head once again at the wisdom and foresight of the framers of our language. John Milton, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in their wisdom, knew that our language needed a word for a great place to eat, and how it felt when that place closed down suddenly. I've been buffeted! See you at the diner.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sticks and Stones

With the Maryland primary election coming up on Tuesday (and here's a big shout-out to everyone who tried to vote this past Tuesday, only to find out that our Tuesday was just a Tuesday, nothing Super about it) the campaign ads are proliferating in just a couple of races. Maryland's 1st Congressional District - the entire Eastern Shore, and parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford Counties - has a real barnburner going on in their Republican primary, as two candidates seek to oust the incumbent. They would want me to mention their names. The amusing thing about all this is the ads they are running on TV and radio. The entire focus of the ads of both would-be congressmen is "The incumbent is LIBERAL!" And as if to prove the point, they show pictures of the man that were snapped right after he sneezed or something, and juxtapose the photos next to images of Nancy Pelosi looking like something smells bad and she's wrinkling her nose. Very subtle stuff.

But when did it become such a sin to be a liberal? What is the definition of a liberal? Why don't we do what millions of truth-seekers have done over the years, and check it out in the good old Roget's Thesaurus:


NOUN: A person with liberal political opinions: liberalist, progressive. See POLITICS.
ADJECTIVE: 1. Not narrow or conservative in thought, expression, or conduct: broad, broad-minded, open-minded, progressive, tolerant. See ATTITUDE, WIDE. 2. Characterized by bounteous giving: free, freehanded, generous, handsome, lavish, munificent, openhanded, unsparing, unstinting. See GIVE. 3. Favoring civil liberties and social progress: liberalistic, progressive. See POLITICS.


NOUN: One who strongly favors retention of the existing order: orthodox, rightist, right-winger, Tory, traditionalist. See KEEP.
ADJECTIVE: 1. Kept within sensible limits: discreet, moderate, reasonable, restrained, temperate. See PLAIN, RESTRAINT. 2. Strongly favoring retention of the existing order: orthodox, right, rightist, right-wing, Tory, traditionalist, traditionalistic. See KEEP. 3. Able to preserve: preservative, protective. See HELP. 4. Clinging to obsolete ideas: backward, reactionary, unprogressive. See POLITICS.

Here's my point: I would much rather be thought of as not narrow in thought, bounteous in giving, and in favor of civil liberties and social progress than have people describe me as clinging to obsolete ideas or favoring retention of the existing order. I know that will likely cost me a treasured invitation to the Bushdaughter wedding in May, but I don't like obsolete ideas.

And, "kept within sensible limits"? Like, Dick Cheney only shot one guy in the face so that a sensible limit on how many people can be shot by the vice-president? Bush only got us into one war so far. So what if it costs a little money or a few thousand lives...

Consider the costs...

  • $275 million per day
  • $4,100 per household
  • Almost 4,000 U.S. soldiers killed and more than 60,000 wounded
  • 700,000 Iraqis killed and 4 million refugees
Yeah man. Very sensible.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Easy does it

First of all today, I have to ask why so many people are walking around wearing those Bluetooth earpieces. I mean, it would be one thing if the people we saw with these blinking devices stuck on their melons were at work, expecting an important message about the Harrigan account, or from the kidnappers holding their family for ransom, or urgent instructions for reporting to the hospital to donate a vital organ or a pint of O-negative. But no. I don't see them on people at work; I see them on people waiting for a table at Carrabba's, or filling the tank of the Biscayne at the Pump 'n' Pay, or running to the bakery for a dozen bagels.

And, you might think that people who feel they can't leave the house and simply plan to get their cell phone out of their pocket or purse in case it rings would have some supercilious smirk on their mugs, or that whole techie show-off aspect. Again -but no! I really feel that most of these people are just scared to death that it might take an extra second to hoist that cell faceward to take the call from Aunt Mildred about how much spice to add to the chili.

But I'll bet if people's employers told them they had to wear this teardrop-shaped earplug to the restaurant, the gas station or the bakery so as not to miss a call, people would balk and holler. Hey - maybe between calls, they are hearing important inter-galactic transmissions to which the rest of us are not privy!

Speaking of transmissions, there's a local radio show on the air here in B'more on which the host asks for your "list of 4" - favorite pies, worst highways, best reasons to eat more noodles, whatever. As far as I know, this is a list that has not been asked for yet, but herewith, my list of the Four Easiest Jobs in the World:

1. Jockey.
Be small, get on a horse, hang on, get off a mile and a half later.
2. Photographer.
Get a camera, turn it on, look at the viewfinder, push a button.
3. High-school cross-country coach. Get some skinny kids in sneakers, tank tops and shorts, and tell them to run like hell!
4. Director of movies featuring Jack Nicholson.
Tell your star "Just act like Mr Udall from As Good As It Gets again."

There are other jobs - president of the United States comes to mind - that seem to be easy enough for the average George to do, but can you top these?