Monday, December 9, 2013

Ten Ways Your Dog is Telling You You're A Compulsive Neat Freak

Sometimes you can tell a lot about a human by the behavior of his or her dog. My wife and I have been married 39 years. Ours is a mixed marriage.  She's a compulsive clean freak. I am NOT. We've compromised on the deal. I'm now a compulsive hand-washer. I keep my street shoes in a rack by the front door and do NOT wear them in the house and I've developed an allergy to chlorine bleach. Once, I was sitting at my desk while she was cleaning the living room.  She dusted me! I've also been vacuumed, polished and sent back to rewash my hands. I'm 59 years old.

I'm now noticing signs in our dog that may indicate there's more to the theoretical symbiotic relationship between woman and beast than I first thought. Here are 10 dog behaviors I have noticed in canines who live with people who I suspect might be clinical neat freaks, if there were such a diagnosis in the APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Here are the diagnostic criteria I've come up with. If your dog shows three or more of the following behaviors, YOU might be a neat freak.

YOU MIGHT BE A COMPULSIVE NEAT FREAK IF:

1.  When the dog enters your house she throws herself over on her back and sticks her feet up to be washed.

2.  When you turn on the vacuum cleaner, the dog comes and sits in front of it until you vacuum her down with the upholstery hose and likes it.

3.  When you leave your shoes on the floor, the dog puts them on the shoe rack by the front door.

4.  The dog enjoys taking a bath.

5.  The dog wears more cologne than you do and has her own fragrance.

6.  The dog has a dog bed in every room with washable slipcovers that are washed more often than weekly.

7.  The dog's food costs more than yours and/or she's vegan, has her own toothbrush and a favorite brand of special doggie toothpaste.

8.  The dog has at some time or other worn underpants around the house.

9.  The dog doesn't like for its feet to touch grass or dirt.

10. The dog expects you to wipe her butt after she goes poop (after you pick the poop up with the special plastic gloves and properly dispose of it, of course - and she sits and watches you to make sure you do it).


My dog is beginning to develop a few of these traits, but fortunately, she has me to take her for a walk and show her how the other half lives occasionally. We both know, however, that the rules go back into effect at the front door where our shoes come off and our feet get washed!

© 2013 by Tom King

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Top Ten Reasons American Culture is Dying

© 2013 by Tom King

If you want to take the temperature of American Culture, go spool through top ten lists - top ten worst movies, top ten funniest movies, top ten reasons you're stupid and I'm not.  You'll get a taste of what passes for cutting edge cultural awareness and good taste in the world of 20 to 30 somethings, who are apparently the only human beings worthy of the attention of advertisers. Either that or you'll take an overdose of something handy and die.

Should you survive with your brain relatively intact, here are ten things that, according to our society's youthful critical class, which are the essential criteria for coolness, at least according to today's most "important" demographic.

1. Drugs - I waded through several "top ten funniest movies of all time" expecting to find stuff like "Some Like it Hot", "Philadelphia Story", "Bringing Up Baby" and "The Odd Couple".  Instead it was usually ten movies about teenagers using drugs, having sex and committing mayhem. The criteria for funny these days is apparently directly proportional to the the quantity of drugs consumed while taking your pants off.

2. Meaninglessness - When looking at the best overlooked films, most under-rated films, best movies of all time, the lists lean strongly toward the dystopian, post-modernist, violent and obscure. The more depressing the ending, the more likely to win the Oscar. Apparently being militantly hopeless is the new cool.

3. Self-Centeredness - The kinds of things that make the top ten lists these days tend to be films, music and television about characters who are not just anti-heroes, but about characters that are anti-human almost. Slashers now have cult followings and any character who acts selflessly in these types of films is quickly revealed to be a self-centered fraud in disguise. Moral of the story?  Everybody is a self-centered prat and no one is to be trusted, not even yourself.  I blame Freud.

4. Immodest Dress - The most admirably decked out in our modern world are those who show lots of cleavage, thigh and nipple, roughly in that order and without regard to gender. Skin tight, liposuction chiseled abs are standard as are enhanced bosoms and buttocks, whether by surgery or steroid treatments. Black is still cool. While I'm growing tired of strategically placed rags, apparently the culture has decided to run with it. Fashion designers are still managing to sell dishcloths as high fashion, however.

5. Attitude - Attitude is important in the modern urban dystopia. It seems that you cannot be cool unless you are totally self-interested, chronically negative and pretty danged arrogant about it. Giant egos and abusive manners are hereby all the rage.  Women have, in this attitudinous culture, been freed from their shackles only to submit meekly to being called b%^#$ and wh#@%$. I fail to see how feminists have improved their lot at all, but hey. I admit to being uncool.

6. Disdainfulness - It is particularly important in your search for coolness in today's edgy culture, that you look down on the things your peers all look down upon. You must have nothing good to say about religion, mom, apple pie and country and speak dismissively to anyone who is not approved of by your fellow disdainfuls in the same manner that a superior speaks to a menial (and less face it, anyone who is not you or part of the cool group is a menial).

7. Criticality - Thanks to the Internet, we can not only share our most private thoughts, talk back to celebrities and be spied on by our mothers, but because we have this free information cornucopia of opportunity, everybody's a bloody critic. You have to watch out though. If you criticize the wrong thing (as I am doing now) and anyone finds out, you may be swarmed by your fellow critics and worse, be dismissed as a cultural dinosaur by the arbiters of what's gangsta, whoever they are.

8. Thugitude - Something about being a thug that brings romance into our lives these days. The sort of music you listen to should support all the above personality traits in addition to helping you to project a vaguely (and, when necessary, not so vaguely) threatening aspect to any of wankers who attempt get in your face.

9. Illiteracy - We are apparently sliding back to the medieval in terms of spelling and word usage. Evidently, those who are really a part of the special group of cutting edge intellects these days have forgone spelling and spell words or use grammar in any fashion that occurs to them. It's a combination of urban street slang, text message shortcuts and creative attempts to indicate to others that you are somehow superior to everyone else. Kind of like pig Latin for thugs. "Wad up, br? Fo Shizzle my dizzle, what a bizzo meet me up the gizzo when you get a clizzo, and yo bro wuz the problemo? ROTFLMAO"

10. Obama Worshipfulness - Finally, you must believe that President Obama represents the only hope for the future of mankind and you must be believe in him no matter what he says or in spite of any evidence that he's an egomaniacal marxist tyrant to the contrary. Just repeat this mantra, "Obama good, Tea Party baaaad!" over and over until your eyes glaze and you are develop an overwhelming urge to eat human brains. Once you have achieved this state, the only thing to remember is to avoid people with shotguns and you are officially off the heezie fo' sheezie.

I'm just sayin'

Tom



Sunday, October 27, 2013

My Top Ten Favorite Funny Songs

When you sing like I do, you go for funny. No one wants to hear a love song from a voice that sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard.  I therefore borrowed the Richard Harris talk-singing technique, the only thing that worked for people with raggedy voices before we got those sound systems that automatically correct your pitch if you get lost along the way.  I just love those things, but it does seem like cheating somehow.  So I've always kept an assortment of funny songs in my song bag, though, just in case I was playing guitar and someone mistook me for a singer. 

So, here, in no particular order, are my top ten favorite funny or novelty songs (with links to examples of redentions of same) designed to make you a wildly popular entertainer with children and drunks.

  1. The Boa Constrictor Song - Shel Silverstein's masterful combination of horror, humor and general grossitude. Extremely popular at summer camps, day care centers and old folks homes. Shel also wrote two other popular novelty tunes - "A Boy Named Sue" and "Cover of the Rolling Stone" - as well as a string of popular childrens' poem books beginning with "Where the Sidewalk Ends" which won an award or two. The version here is by Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary fame.
  2. Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road - Loudan Wainright III's paean to noxious road kill always gets a sing-along started. I'm not sure why, but children and drunks seem to like singing the world stinkin' very loudly for some reason. Here the inimitable Mr. Wainright sings his classic song live in concert.
  3. That's How the Yodel was Born - Riders in the Sky's Ranger Doug demonstrates the high and lonesome sound made by an unfortunate cowboy who landed a bit far forward on the saddle of his bucking bronc on this painful song. In this instance, yodeling will really make you cringe once you hear how it came about.
  4. Apeman - The Kinks did some really interesting and fun songs during their erratic career. This one was my favorite. It's not screamingly hilarious, but it is a lot of fun to sing. This version is an in-concert recording.
  5. Boomer Johnson - I first heard this cowboy poem about a murderous range cook on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion radio show. I have a tape around here somewhere and got the words and music from that. I found mostly recitations. This version uses a slightly different tune than I do, but you get the idea. Stick around through all the verses for the most satisfying ending I ever heard for a song about a bad man.
  6. When I Was a Dinosaur - This fun song is by the duo, Trout Fishing in America. Keith Grimwood the short and substantial standup bass player and Ezra Idlet, the tall lanky guitar player play eclectic folk/rock hits to audiences of all ages. They're one of the few night club acts that can get away with playing Teddy Bear's Picnic at 2am to a bunch of drunks and get a wild round of applause. This song is always a hit with 5 year olds. 
  7. Waltzing With Bears - My daughter and I used to sing this song together. It's a classic kids song and went immediately to folk status and collected several dozen new verses along the way and the beauty is that there is always room for new and ever more scurrilous verses if you care to add some.
  8. Mad Dogs and Englishmen - This classic bit of parlor humor was written by the inimitable Noel Coward. The faster you sing it the more effective this tongue tangler is.  The link shows Noel singing a lightning round version that takes the breath away.
  9. All I Want is a Proper Cup of Coffee - This version is by my favorite duo, Eric and Keith of Trout Fishing in America. This is another one of those that gets faster and faster and challenges you to keep your tongue untangled.
  10. I'm My Own Grandpa - This horrible old song is the chronicle of backwoods marriage run amuck. It's appropriate to end this list with a version of this song performed in riotous fashion by the Muppets.  Keep in mind that circumstances laid out in this song could actually happen all quite legally and given the current run of May/December weddings out there, it could happen again.
 There are a whole lot of other songs out there that could be added to this list. This is just my personal top ten - the ones I've learned how to play. If you have some favorites of your own, please add them to the comments section below.

© 2013 by Tom King

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ten Best Pies and Cobblers(IMHO)

I can resist most desserts. Ice Cream, even homemade vanilla with peaches doesn't make my knees week. Chocolate, I can do without. I can skip all manner of puddings, parfaits and bon bons. What I cannot pass by however is a well-made pie.

By "well-made" I mean one that has a crisp, flaky crust and some manner of fruit inside it. I'm partial to fruit, although there is one non-fruit entry in my list and only one woman in the world who can make it. The list herewith is personal and by no means exhaustive. I've made no attempt to rank my favorite pies in order of goodness. Instead I have included only pies which would be the best in the world at the time I happen to be in the mood for just that one special pie.

The List:

Marie Callendar Razzleberry Pie - This is one of the few store bought pies I include on this list. I include it because it is so danged good. It's a combination of blackberry, raspberry and apples. I can't always find it down at the grocery store, but when I spot one, I grab it along with a tub of Bluebell Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream - the only proper ice cream for eating with pie (unless you hand crank up my grandmother's special recipe vanilla ice cream).



Sam's/Wal-Mart's giant bakery lattice apple pie - Wal-Mart makes a huge lattice top apple pie that rivals anybody's anywhere. You can get them at Sam's almost any time and for the price you can't beat it. It's not too sweet and the filling is more fruity than most store-bought pies. It can take days to eat one, they're so huge.





Mama's Homemade Peach Cobbler - Okay it's not exactly a pie. It's better. The recipe is superb, it's more peachy. She goes easy on the spices so that great flavor comes through and the pie filling isn't so juicy that you forget there's peaches in there. This is the way a proper cobbler is made in the south.  Just follow that recipe and you'll be unhappy with any other peach pie or cobbler you ever eat again.  I promise. 




Aunt Sheila's Homemade Chocolate Meringue Pie - This pie can only be made from scratch. The recipe starts from cocoa and is all about timing. My Sweet Baboo doesn't like meringue most of the time, but for this pie, she makes an exception. It's also good with Cool Whip or Whip Cream on it, but it's absolutely magnificent with meringue. This thing is hard to resist and I don't even like chocolate pie!



Uncle Tom's Lemon Meringue Pie - This isn't one of those fancy lemon cream pies or icebox lemon pies. Those things are way too sweet.  This lemon pie is a simple Jello Lemon Pudding and Pie filling pie. The secret is Mrs. King's pie crust which I cannot now duplicate and despair of ever being able to reproduce. I'm working on the recipe and will include a link later if you want to give it a try. I love this kind of pie.  I get one of these for my birthday every year instead of a cake (another dessert I can easily resist).

Tart Cherry Pie - Most cherry pies are far too sweet and syrupy. I like mine fruity and with a lot less sugar than most folk use. I like a cherry pie that contrasts with the ice cream, not one that overpowers it. With this one, I like a little evaporated milk instead of ice cream so I can taste the cherries properly. I've never eaten a store-made cherry pie that quite makes the grade.





Wild Blackberry Cobbler -  A proper wild blackberry cobbler is one where you went out and gathered the blackberries yourself. This recipe can also be made as a pie or a nice lattice cobbler. Either way it's tart, not too sweet and a perfect framework for a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream. It's not nearly as good if you bought the berries. To fully enjoy this you have to be picking thorns out of your fingers as you eat it.
Quick Peach Cobbler - This unique little recipe is one of my guiltier pleasures and, in my opinion, the only thing cake mix is truly useful for. It's made by mixing up cake batter, pouring it into a casserole disk with a thick layer of melted butter in the bottom and then pouring in some peaches. The cake batter crisps on the bottom and side from the hot butter and wraps itself around the peaches to make a nice buttery/peachy cobbler that you can whip up in a few minutes. This recipe offers a from-scratch cake batter, but you can use the kind in the box quite as well. The trick is to make the outside of the crust crispy so you get the nice contrast between the butter and the peaches.

Pumpkin Pie - I love pumpkin pie because it is the only proper pie to serve for breakfast. It's much better after it's spent the night in the fridge and you take it out and eat it chilled with maybe a little whipped cream. It really needs nothing. The kind you make with canned pumpkin is just fine. The only thing is not to overdue the spices. The spices should set off the flavor of the pumpkin, not overwhelm it.  This is a nice recipe. Just adjust the spice to suit your taste.



Southern Pecan Pie -  Pecan pies are rather sweeter than any of the other pies I've included in this list, but, made properly, they absolutely make my favorite pie list. Pecan pie is all about the crust and the nuts. The crust has to be flaky and delicious to offset the sweet filling. I like my pecan pies long on the pecans and short on the filling. I find that 99% of store-bought pecan pie is only faux pecan pie. They put some pecans on top with some cracker filling around them so it looks like more pecans than there are.  In the south, we just drive around till we find a pecan tree hanging over the grader ditch, knock enough off for a couple of pies and take 'em home to shell. There is no excuse for skimping on a pecan pie in the south except that you just don't have any self-respect. If you don't have enough for a proper top coat of pecans on your pie, make brownies instead. I mean really people.....

The secret to a good pie is the crust. Any decent cook will tell you that. Everybody has their own way of doing it.  My wife's recipe is the best I've seen.  I'll add the link as soon as I torture her to get the recipe.
Dang! Now I'm gonna have to go make a pie. And my diet was coming along so well.

Tom King

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Top 12 Famous People with Bad Hair

For some reason, there are a lot of famous people who do not care what their hair looks like.  Well, today is National Bad Hair Day and to celebrate we present this rogues of famous people with bad hair. These are in no particular order of badness. They all have bad hair in their own way.  Some are loveable. Some dispicable. There's no accounting for who has bad hair.

Albert Einstein - Einstein wild and wooly mane of white hair set the trend for fashionable physicists for the rest of the 20th century. His singular hairstyle is now known to my barber as "Einstein hair" and apparently I've got it. Oh, well you could look like someone much worse. 

Abraham Lincoln -  Honest Abe honestly had a most unruly head of hair. It looked much of the time as though Mary Todd put a bowl on his head and went after the loose ends with a hatchet. Still under that ragged hair of his beat the heart of a wise and gentle man.  Lincoln actually made bad hair look good.

Carrot Top - Carrot Top, with his arresting shock of wild red hair has been making people laugh for close to three decades with a sense of humor as wild and unruly as that head of hair. Bad hair can be funny and profitable as Mr. Top has proved.
Daniel Webster - Nineteenth century American politician Daniel Webster was known for his gift as a speech-maker.  Legend has it that he could out negotiate the devil and given some of the characters in the US Senate with which he had to wrangle, he probably could have.  The hair must have been a little intimidating. Later pictures of him show an increasingly angry head of hair framing his face. Knowing Daniel he fixed it that way on purpose to mess with people's heads.

Don King - The wrestling promoter that gave us so many fights of the century that he ran out of century had hair that looked like it was something alive sitting on top of his head.  People didn't like to stand too close. There were rumors that his hair would bite off your fingers if you got too close. People always stood back when they were negotiating with Don. His hair struck fear into the hearts of sportscasters, boxers and arena owners.

Donald Trump - What can we say about the Trumpster?  The man is the king of the ugly comb-over. For someone with enough money to buy the Hair Club for Men, a man who could have all the beautiful women he wanted even if he were absolutely bald, the man who is the financial wunderkind of New York City is somehow absolutely clueless about how bad his hair looks. Go figure!

Adolph Hitler - This guy was so scary that no one dared tell him he wasn't fooling anyone with the comb-over, nor that the moustache looked like overgrown nose hair. 
Mark Twain - American humorist Mark Twain was the champion of the witty remark. His gifts as a writer and speech-maker very likely gave rise to the idea that people with weird hair were highly intelligent, something Albert Einstein would go on to reinforce.

John Adams - Our second president had the dual problem of massive frontal hair loss and massive crown of wild hair in the back. Adams really wanted the office of president to have more regal trappings but George Washington set the precedent for a less ostentatious presentation for later chief executives.  Adams could have used a crown, though, to cover the bald forehead and mash down all that hair.


Colonel Muamar Ghaddafi (or however you spell it) was the very nasty dictator of Libya. Nobody could figure out how to really spell his name. We're not even sure he knew how it was spelled. The Colonel as he was known to his friends and everyone he terrorized during his heyday in the late 70s and early 80s was in danger of becoming as wild and crazy as his hair until Ronald Reagan blew up his house to get his attention. After that he was much calmer, though he did try to develop nukes until George Bush invaded Iraq and hung his buddy, Saddam Hussein. Took a little more of the fluff out of his hair, that did.


Henry David Thoreau - Nineteenth century essayist, poet, hermit and general intellectual guy was author of "On Walden Pond" (not the movie with Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda - the long dull essay they make you read in high school lit class).  Apparently weird hair was deemed sexy, at least by the languid Mr. Thoreau.

Martin Van Buren - Last, but not least, the dull as a post US president with the flamboyant hairdo, Martin Van Buren made whiskers fashionable again. Not a wild success as president, but given the hairdo, one suspects he really didn't give a hoot.

Me - I figure if this collection of guys can get away with having hair that looks like they slept with their heads in a Cuisinart, why do I ever want to spend $15 on a barber? What's the use when you can do the Einstein hair and look smarter to boot. 

I tease therefore I am....

© 2013 by Tom King








Sunday, January 20, 2013

Top Ten Reason We Don’t Want to Be Great Britain

(Or any other European, Asian, African or South American Country for that matter)
© 2013 by Tom King


British cop rushes to the rescue....
 
It matters not what topic a feeble-minded old conservative like me wants to bring up, it never fails but that some liberal jumps up to tell me how much better it’s done in England or France or anywhere not the United States.  I’m beginning to think these folk don’t like it here in America.  So in order to save myself time in looking up stuff for use in future arguments with leftists, I wish to respond categorically as to why I don’t even want to live in Great Britain, much less any of the less civilized countries of the world.  Here goes:
Reason # 10:  There’s too much bloody history in the place.  I’d never get any work done.  Something historical’s happened on just about every square foot of ground in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  I couldn’t drive ten feet in that place without there being some statue or memorial where Prince Humperdink fought the Saxon hordes or the Viking hordes or the French hordes or some horde or other and got his head chopped off for his troubles.  I’m one of those people that need a break in my historical sites so I can stop reading for a bit and rest my eyes.  In Texas you can drive for hundreds of miles over ground where nothing has ever happened of any significance.  It’s kind of peaceful.
Reason # 9:  You don’t have to carry a passport to get decent food.  In America, we’ve brought fine cuisine from all over the world here where we can eat it without having to drive to Europe .  It’s too far to fly across an ocean from here to get decent Italian food, so we have set up Italian restaurants just down the street.  We also have French, German, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Indian, Ethiopian, Vietnamese and Tex-Mex lined up cheek by jowl along the boulevard.  Notice, if you will how hard it is to find an English, Scots or Irish restaurant in an American city.   There’s a good reason for that I suspect.  I’ve seen pictures of bangers and mash and I wasn’t impressed.
Reason # 8:  In England you have Magna Carta.  In the United States we have the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.  The difference between these documents is the difference between our countries.   Magna Carta is a list of rights that are granted by the King, mostly to the other nobles with a few scraps they threw to the peasants that were standing around pointing swords and pitchforks at his highness at the time.  In England, your rights devolve from the Crown.  In the United States we start out with the people having certain inalienable rights to start with and we dribble out a very limited amount of power to the town, then the county, state and national governments in smaller and smaller bits.  The direction from which power comes is the whole point of the thing.
Reason # 7:  We don’t want to hear about how Great Britain is “Great” because it had an empire and we didn’t.  How’s that empire thing working out for you by the way?  The reason America never got itself an empire is because we didn’t want one.  We didn’t colonize anything after we filled up the empty spaces in North America, though we picked up a couple of nice land deals along the way.  We got some islands and stuff as dependents when we liberated them in wars and stuff, we let them move into our basement and couldn’t get them to leave.  We were able to nudge Cuba and the Philippines out on their own, but some of the little ones wanted to join our gang for protection.  We decided NOT to grab everything in sight and make ourselves an empire.  Cuts way down on the number of insurrections we have to handle.
Reason # 6:  Spanish is easier to learn than Welsh and Gaelic and even a Cajun is easier to understand than a Yorkshire farmer.  Spanish will eventually become so intermeshed with American English that pretty soon we’ll all be speaking the same language anyway.  In Great Britain, you’re never going to get the Welsh to use some vowels for crying out loud and the Scots and Irish are just making up weird ways to spell stuff that bears no relationship to the sound of the words and nobody will tell you how to say “No comprende’, senor,” in Welsh.
Reason # 5:  British cops don’t carry guns.  If you’re being robbed, you might get a Bobby with a truncheon to wander by after he finishes his tea and today’s episode of Emmerdale on the telly.  If I’m being robbed, I want Chuck Norris with a bazooka coming to my rescue in a helicopter, not some stuffy prig in a Mini-Cooper who’s going to rap on the door and ask the bad guys, “What’s going on here, Sport?”
Reason # 4:  You cannot have a gun.  Since the 1996 school shooting at Dunblane, Scotland, Britain has pretty much eliminated personal gun ownership.  The Crown believes only the government should have guns, therefore only the government, terrorists, drug lords and hardened criminals carry guns.  The rate of gun deaths has dropped below that of the United States while the rate of violent assaults, robberies and murders by stabbing, strangulation, clubbing and explosions have soared far above the US rates for those sorts of arguably more painful deaths; this despite the fact that Britain has more cops per capita than the US. 
Reason # 3:  In Britain, criminals are protected from citizens.  In the United States, criminals do not know which homeowners own guns and which will shoot them which discourages robbery.  It is legal in many states to shoot anyone who tries to break into your house or attack you in any way.  In Britain, the police believe it isn’t cricket for a homeowner or crime victim to respond with greater force than that being used by the criminal to commit his crime against you.  In other words, you are expected to put down the butcher knife you picked up off the kitchen cabinet and ask the burglar if you might pop off to the garage to get your cricket bat so as not to have a more deadly weapon to defend yourself with than the tire iron he’s carrying. 
Reason # 2:  If you did have a gun, you could not use it to defend yourself in Britain.   The government believes that law enforcement is their job even though it takes them forever to get there when you call.  They expect you to ask the home invader to sit down for a spot of tea while you wait for the Bobbies.    Don’t believe me?  A Norfolk farmer is now serving a life sentence in England for shooting a knife-wielding youth who broke into his house intent on robbing him.  In Texas he’d have been given a medal by the sheriff’s department and a box of replacement ammo.
 Reason # 1:  You cannot escape crime by moving away from it in Britain.  In the United States, you can move out of “bad” neighborhoods or crime-ridden cities, go to a nice place out in the country where everyone pretty much owns a gun and pretty much have a reasonable expectation that nothing really bad will happen to you in the way of a crime.  In Britain it doesn’t do any good to move.  Criminals know you are all unarmed and that you aren’t allowed to shoot them if you were.  Therefore, they can go anywhere to commit a crime.  Rural areas and small towns make perfect targets because the police tend to be far away, not terribly motivated to hurry and don’t like their sleep disturbed. It’s safer, the likelihood of being caught is far less (remember citizens are not allowed to hurt them) and neighbors aren’t allowed to interfere.  If you attack and rape a woman, and her neighbor comes to her rescue and beats the crap out of you, he’s the one who will go to jail.  The police rationale is that the criminal wasn’t attacking the neighbor so he doesn’t have a legitimate horse in the race.   He is therefore guilty of assault.

Not only that, but more violent burglaries happen when people are at home than when they are not.  In Britain, insurance companies require security systems.  The security system is most likely turned off when the homeowner is at home, so that’s the safest time for home invaders and burglars to strike. They aren’t afraid of the homeowners (remember – no guns allowed).

Summary:  Most houses in Britain are older than most of our most ancient historical landmarks here in the States and I am allergic to mildew.  Criminals are not afraid of me and if they come in MY house, I’m most likely going to jail for at least attempted murder not to mention having to pay for British Health to install their new kneecaps.  I also didn’t mention British universal healthcare which is really more like British Universal Health Neglect since most Britishers die waiting in a que. Mostly I like it that in America we have rights.  In England, they grant you rights at the whim of the Crown.  That's why we left England in the first place.  We didn't trust the government there and we don't much trust it here.  Excuse me now while I go clean my shotgun, in case we get very late company out here in the woods.  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

My Top Ten Purveyors of Middle Class Haute Cuisine

My favorite food critic - Antone from Ratatouille
The hoity-toity make jokes about them. Food critics regularly look down their lengthy noses at them. Sitcoms occasionally remind us that they are not as good as "real" Italian or Mexican or Ethiopian or Thai restaurants where they drizzle some unidentifiable sauce over a bit of meat, two asparagus spears and a slice of some kind of squash.  But restaurants like these so-called "casual dining" restaurants  are essential to the mental health of the middle class.  They help us keep our tuxedos and evening gowns clean for weddings and funerals and deer hunting. There are several good reasons why these places are popular with the less snooty crowd:

  1. We know where they are. They have big lighted signs and they put them in places we can find them like next to a mall or Wal-Mart. Middle class people don't have the time or energy left after a hard day of real work to run all over town looking for snobby restaurants.  We want something good, something nice and something we can find.
  2. We can afford them.  Most of these cost a few bucks more, but the service and the tastiness of the food makes us feel special.  
  3. We know what we're getting.  If you're going our to eat and going a little over budget to boot, you want to know what to expect.  The lack of nasty surprises is part of the charm in going out to a "nice" restaurant in the first place.
  4. They give us a safe place to celebrate the special events of our lives. Middle class people like to go out to eat on birthdays, Mother's day, Father's day, anniversaries and the like. We'd rather go someplace nicer than McDonald's or the Sonic Drive-In to mark these occasion.  We'd rather not risk spending a lot of money and then not enjoying it, so we tend to stick to places we know and can trust.
This list is in no particular order and it's my list not yours so if you disagree, please post your own list in the comments section. I always like to know about good restaurants. Also note, I left off places like Hooter's, not only because I've never been there, but because it's not the sort of place you could take your hardshell Baptist grandmother. For most of these you could take her, even those with a bar, so long as you sat at the far end of the dining area and didn't order a beer.

The Olive Garden:  When both my wife and I were working in the same day care center, she as nurse and I as director, we went to the OG the same night every week after we shut down the center. They got to where they expected us, had our drinks ready for us and let us sit in the bar area while we waited. Sometimes, if the place was crowded, they'd bring our meal to the little table in the bar area so we wouldn't have to wait an hour for a regular table.  We had our favorite meals, but eventually settled on Ravioli de Portabello as our favorite. Great place for anniversaries, birthdays and such. Nice relaxing atmosphere. Nice people. Food you can count on even if it is a more expensive than McDonald's. 


Red Robin:  I hadn't tried out RR until a few years ago when I came up to Washington to visit my sister and brother-in-law. RR is a sort of cafe' on steroids - nice atmosphere with all sorts of interesting stuff on the walls like most of these places.  If you're looking for a fancy hamburger, this place has 'em.  They also do some nice dinner kinds of things too. 




IHop:  IHop is middle class breakfast haute cuisine. IHop is where you gather the grownup siblings when you want to talk about "what to do about Dad". They do have some nice dinners, but it's not the sort of place you go to celebrate birthdays and special occasions. They do maintain a booming business on Sundays before and after and during church (You find a lot of heathen Dads in there between 10 and 12 after they've dropped Mom and the kids off at Sunday School. 


Red Lobster:  Red Lobster holds title to probably the most popular semi-uppity seafood place. They rank about third in the nation for restaurant chains so they must be doing something right.  While, I've never been there, but my son loved the place and took his girl there whenever he wanted to part with some money in exchange for looking like one of the swells. If Micah liked the food, I could always trust his good rating. He was a manager at several restaurants while he was going to college and had his mother's eye for cleanliness. If they got past his inspection and he thought the food tasted good, you could count on his recommendation. Since I don't eat crab, shrimp, lobster or other shellfish, their reputation with me would depend on their fish dishes which I have promised myself I would try.

Cheddar's:  Cheddar's is basically a slightly higher priced cafe with atmosphere. The food is consistently good, but the menu can be limited if you don't eat bacon. They do put bacon in a lot of things, so if you're Jewish, Muslim or Seventh-day Adventist, you may have a limited, though tasty selection. The Cheddar's we used to go to tended to be a bit noisy, but they made a good steak and had a nice variety of homey American foods. 
Chili's, Applebee's and TGI Friday's:  Applebees has some really good food and their prices are reasonable.  It is a bar and grill, so expect some noise from the bar area on Friday and Saturday nights. Our favorites are the steak (my wife is a closet carnivore) and the oriental chicken bowl. Very nice. I combined Chili's and Applebee's in one entry because they are a lot alike in atmosphere and menu. One thing Chili's does that I appreciate is offer a vegetarian version of any of their burgers. Just ask for the Swiss Mushroom Burger with the black bean burger.  It's what I always have at Chili's. TGI Fridays has pretty good food of about the same bar/grill style cuisine as the others.  Any one of them are good for after the ball game on the weekend and for miscellaneous celebratory gatherings.











Chuys:  Chuy's only has about 4 or 5 locations in Texas, but if you're ever there it's well worth a visit. There are other great Mexican places like On the Border, El Chico and such, but Chuy's is special. First, it's distinctly Tex-Mex. It's an odd place, usually in some weird part of town and you often have to park six blocks away because their parking is always very limited. I think they do that to keep the traffic down. There's almost always a line to get in, though it moves pretty quickly. The prices are very very reasonable. The food is amazing and the decor is weird. They have this Elvis/50s thing going that gets a little crazy with hubcaps on the ceiling and such.  They started out in Austin. Lance Armstrong and other Austin celebrities are regulars there, but the management never got snobbish about it or jacked up their prices, just carefully added new locations around Texas. The Dallas restaurant has a statue of Elvis standing in a fountain in the semi-outdoors part of the restaurant.  The food at the new one in Tyler was beyond incredible and the service for the big group I went with was unbelievable.  We were swarmed by staff determined to make sure we were happy with everything. They have their own private pepper supply some place in New Mexico and their chefs personally inspect the crop each year I'm told.  I don't know what secret ingredients are in their recipes, but their chefs are geniuses. And you will be pleasantly surprised by the bill and the quality of the guacamole.  

Golden Corral - As family buffet steakhouses go, GC is one of the best. They even do breakfast.  Golden Corral is where you go after church on Sunday or whenever you're really hungry and want to stuff yourself to the eyes. The food is consistently good and the service is quick and efficient.Their salad bar is fantastic and the chocolate waterfall that you can dip fruit into has earned them the undying love of overweight Americans everywhere.


Texas Roadhouse - There are probably a lot of different restaurants with some variant of this name. The one in Tyler where my granddaughter worked is a really good steakhouse with a Texas flavor to it. They have those big barrels of unshelled peanuts sitting around where you sit to wait for a table and bowls of them on the table when you get there. It's fun because everybody throws the shells on the floor, so the place is crunchy when you walk around.  The baked potatoes are lovely and steak is their specialty.  The prices are higher than Golden Corral, but less than The Outback.


Outback Steakhouse - If you know somebody who loves steak and want to make them feel special, The Outback is place.  It will cost you more than most of the places here, but still manages not to break the bank.  My wife loves the place. I don't really see that it's any better than the less expensive places, but she assures me it is.  Being raised almost vegetarian, I don't have a lot of opinion on the value of meat.  Now if we were talking salads.....




I do have to mention a couple of places that didn't make the list because they either aren't chains or aren't semi-uppity enough to qualify for this list.  You'll notice I didn't put any pizza places up there.  Pizza tends to fall into the fast food category. If I were to choose my favorite pizza chain with a dining room it would probably be Pizza Hut or Pizza Inn depending on the quality of the local outlet's salad bar. I lean toward Pizza Hut because my boys worked there while they were in school.

Very honorable mention goes to my favorite Mom and Pop Pizza/Italian place, a place in Tyler, Texas called "Little Italy".  It's in an old KFC location (still has the steeple on top). They make a dish called Chicken Murphy that I've never seen anyone duplicate anywhere. I always say I'm going to try something else, but I seldom do. It's just too hard to resist.  It's spaghetti with chicken breast and this amazing sauce with peppers and onions and mushrooms and a scattering of jalapenos to give it some flair.  Sometimes the chef gives it a little extra flair so if you are sensitive to jalapenos, you can just remove the jalapenos with a fork and enjoy the lingering spicy flavor without burning your tongue if, like me, you like your peppers milder than most East Texans.

If one of your favorite casual dining restaurants is missing from this list, feel free to add it in the comments section. I probably just haven't been there yet or this would be a top 20 or top 50.  Hmmm. I may have to expand my list someday soon. 

Tom King