David Brooks and The Case of the Confusing Sandwich

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

– David Brooks, The New York Times, July 11, 2017

I don’t have a college degree, and I’ll never forget the time I went to a sandwich shop in my neighborhood and didn’t know any of the words and I completely freaked out. I started eating the mustard packets and punching people. Why did they give these meats and cheeses such confusing names?

I’ve always liked David Brooks. Even when I don’t agree with him I’ve found him to be a good writer and a smart and thoughtful person. And his latest column isn’t terrible – he makes some good points – but how can a thoughtful person write a paragraph like the one above?

If this friend exists – the paragraph has a whiff of “I was talking to a cab driver….” about it, but I’ll believe him – it’s a weird scenario. People – even mediocre ones that don’t have college degrees! – can usually figure out what cold cuts are, especially if they’re standing in a sandwich shop. And if they can’t, would they really ask Brooks to take them someplace else, like a Mexican place, which, apparently, is where people with “only” high school degrees eat (even though Spanish is probably used on the menu)?

(Also, what the hell is a “high school degree?”)

The line that sticks out to me is “Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop.” Insensitively? What an odd line, showing that Brooks’s default position seems to be elitist, where he separates his friends into people who can “handle” fancy sandwich places and friends he should only take to other types of places. And if this friend was so confused by sandwich meats (there’s no quote from her just confused head-nodding), why would Brooks get her out of there like she was being hounded by the paparazzi, rushing her off to safety (a Mexican restaurant)? Couldn’t Brooks have just explained to her what they are? Couldn’t she ask the person behind the counter?

Recently I took David Brooks to lunch. Insensitively, I led him into a Pizza Hut. Suddenly I saw his face freeze up and his glasses fog as he was confronted with pizzas named “Supreme” and words like “mozzarella” and “pepperoni.” I quickly asked him if he wanted to go some place else and he nodded yes so we went to Le Bernardin and ate some organic kale.

Here, now

On an airless July night:

A Honeywell fan two feet away. A MacBook and pen and paper on the coffee table, next to two boxes of tissues because allergies have attacked me this summer. A Boston magazine and a page ripped from The Boston Globe Magazine. A novel by Megan Abbott and a biography of E.B. White, the Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 1 set (Murder, My Sweet in the DVD player), and an empty Popsicle wrapper. The sound of my neighbor coming up the front steps. Remembering that I have to send out thank you notes, jotting down a reminder to reschedule that doctor’s appointment, and the realization that sometimes, when I look up at the sky, I think of my childhood.

Bride Of Five Things About Media and Technology Right Now

(I don’t know why I started giving these posts classic sci-fi/monster movie titles, but here we are. Here’s Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8Part 9. and Part 10.)

1. I never like to hear about people in media being laid off, but it’s quite ironic that video killed MTV news staff.

2. Several journalists, tech people, and celebrities quitting social media lately. The latest is Bret Stephens at The New York Times, who has quit Twitter. But he says his assistant will tweet for him. Which is sort of like making a decision to stop driving your car because you don’t want to pollute the air but you have your chauffeur drive you around.

I’ll have you know that I was quitting social media long before it was hip.

3. I’m excited to see that Ron Howard is the new director of the Han Solo prequel movie, but I’ll be really disappointed if there isn’t a character named Opie-Wan-Kenobi.

4. I don’t know if this would make people trust the media more, but it couldn’t hurt: stop labeling everything “BREAKING NEWS.”

5. The Yahoo name will still be around in some form, but its days as an independent company are over. I still have fond memories of using the site 20 years ago and getting my first web e-mail address with them. And back when they had actual human beings doing search results and reviews, they said some nice things about Professor Barnhardt’s Journal.

Them!

For reasons I don’t quite understand (it has to do with science), summer begins tonight in the Central, Mountain, and Pacific time zones but tomorrow at 12:24 am for people in the Eastern time zone.

Longtime readers will remember how much I dislike summer. I won’t go into another rant but you can read why here and here. I was thinking today that it seems I spend most of my summers doing two things: sweating and killing ants.

Ants. I hate ’em.

I can’t wait for Labor Day.

My First Word Was Batman

Adam West died Friday.

My mom once told me that my very first word wasn’t “mom” or “dad” or even “binky,” it was “Batman.” I was obsessed with the show even at the rather early age of 1 or 2, and I would sit on the floor in front of our gigantic Magnavox (TVs really were more like furniture back then) and raise my hands in the air and exclaim “Batman!” when they said it in the theme song (and they said it a lot).

I’ve been hot and cold on the big-screen movies. Keaton was fun in the first two, Clooney was OK but he was stuck in one of the worst movies ever made (it’s funny how Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies try to be more like the original show than Tim Burton’s darker/weirder movies, but they just don’t work), and while I can appreciate Christopher Nolan’s movies and their “quality,” he still doesn’t know how to shoot a fight scene (none of the directors of the movies do, actually) and I don’t think they’re “fun” enough. And yes, fun is still an important element in a comic book movie (I’d still like to see a black and white, set-in-the-’40s, B-movie noir Batman, but that’s a whole other post).

So Adam West will always be the “real” Batman to me. I was too young to get the in-jokes and satire and overdone plots. I watched the show unironically for the fights and colorful villains and that fantastic hidden pole behind the library bookcase and my early love for Julie Newmar. I watched the show again recently, and while I remember thinking “this is so ridiculous!,” I thought it with a smile on my face. The show knew what it was doing and it did it well. I can still remember the feeling when I saw the feature film based on the show. I was too young to see in the theater but when I saw it on TV later it was a big event for me. My God, it’s going to be like the TV show, only longer and with all the villains? Yes!

I’ve always found it fascinating how some stars of old TV shows completely fade away while others reinvent themselves in some way, taking off on their old roles/personas but still doing something fresh. West played similar characters in movies and in many animated shows. Who could have guessed that West would go on to be loved by a whole new generation of fans by voicing the mayor (named Mayor West) in a cartoon like Family Guy? Though I guess a lot of those fans are adults who get it. There was something not just about the tone of his voice but the speed of it and how he structured his words. There was nobody that sounded quite like him.

We all have the things beyond family and friends and geography that have shaped us. Everything I am is because of Raymond Chandler novels and Dean Martin songs and Quisp cereal and TV shows like The Dick Van Dyke ShowLeave it to Beaver, Warner Brothers cartoons and Letterman. I would add Batman to that list too, even if I don’t think of it that much when I make those mental lists we all make. I don’t know if I would put it on any list of the “best” TV shows (I never have), but “best” is a very different thing than “favorite” or “most important” when it comes to lists, or at least it should be. Batman was very important to me.

Godspeed old chum.

Crimson and Clover

Readers of The Letter (next issue is coming next week) will recall that I had an odd thing happen to me several months ago, involving an actor on The Twilight Zone and someone who knocked on my door. Well, this is just as weird, and it involves another classic TV show.

I was driving back from the supermarket Tuesday, playing around with the Sirius XM radio dial, when I came across the 60’s song “Crimson and Clover.” I don’t know why I thought of this, but I was imagining that it was make for a great Jeopardy! answer. It could be one of those answers where they give you one half of the question and you have to give the other half. Maybe give the “Clover” part and the contestant would have to give the other part.

Later that night, this was an answer on Jeopardy!:

This deep red is paired with clover in a 1960s song title.

I really should play the lottery more often.