This blog covers everything except sports and gardening, unless we find a really good link about using dead professional bowlers for mulch. The author is a StarTribune columnist, has been passing off fiction and hyperbole as insight since 1997, has run his own website since the Jurassic era of AOL, and was online when today’s college sophomores were a year away from being born. So get off his lawn.

Posts about Restaurants

What you learn from a bygone donut ad.

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: February 9, 2015 - 12:08 PM

There’s a bit more history to this picture than you might think. An ad from a 1933 church recipe book:

Who was Langford? Googling around yields this:

L. C. Langford, 79, who invented the frozen malted milk shake 40 years ago, died Thursday after a long illness. Langford, a native of Clarksville, Tenn., expanded a sandwich shop in Mason City, Iowa, into a chain of 129 restaurants before he retired in 1965. Langford devised the frozen malt in the 1930’s, when he had an ice cream shop in downtown Nashville and another on the highway to Gallatin, Tenn.

Langford was 11 when he started his career as a soda jerk after his mother died. Through various jobs he saved $500, and borrowed another $500 to open Langford’s Sandwich Shop in Mason City.

He prospered there before selling out and starting again at Minneapolis in 1921. 

Those stores led to a multi-state chain. As for the claim about the malted milk shake -  I suppose there are some who’ll insist he did, but Wikipedia says:

The use of malted milk powder in milkshakes was popularized in the USA by the Chicago drugstore chain Walgreens. In 1922, Walgreens' employee Ivar "Pop" Coulson made a milkshake by adding two scoops of vanilla ice cream to the standard malted milk drink recipe (milk, chocolate syrup, and malt powder).[ This item, under the name "Horlick's Malted Milk", was featured by the Walgreen drugstore chain as part of a chocolate milk shake, which itself became known as a "malted" or "malt" and became one of the most popular soda-fountain drinks.

That seems to be the consensus, although whether it’s WALGREENS PROPAGANDA or not you decide. In any case, no one remembers Langford's around here. Just as few people seem to recall Mr. Donut. 

ART Why did “Jupiter Ascending” fail? It’s your fault for not trusting imaginative fresh material that’s not a sequel. Here’s a quote in Variety:

“Audiences are kind of reticent to take a chance on something they don’t know or understand,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “They marketed the heck out of this movie, and it was still tough to bring people through the door.”

First of all, reticent does not mean hesitant. It means unwilling to unload what you're thinking. Second, as far as the audience’s unwillingness to see something they don’t know: “Guardians of the Galaxy” wasn’t exactly full of time-tested characters. It just looked fun. “Jupiter” looked stupid, and saying that something is from the directors of the “Matrix” is like saying it’s “From the Mind of George Lucas.” It’s a warning label. He goes on:

Where are the fresh visions of distant worlds and futuristic conflicts to inspire the next George Lucas or Steven Spielberg? Younger audiences are already abandoning the theater in favor of videogames and mobile devices. Nostalgia for an era of popcorn films they didn’t grow up with is unlikely to lure them back.

Except that “Guardians” was a fine example of a popcorn movie with humor and intelligence. And the reason they’re abandoning theater in favor of games is because the storytelling and situations are often more immersive than movies.

“Jupiter Ascending” may have crashed and burned, but at least it tried to soar on the strength of its own originality and daring. Its failure makes it harder for other filmmakers to get a chance to take similar risks. In this climate, would “The Matrix” ever have gotten made?

I don’t know. But the lesson isn’t support visionaries who manage to convince studies to gives them millions of dollars even though their last four films have been noisy soulless disappointments. The lesson isn’t support movies because the marketing budget are big. The lesson is make better movies. This just looks like a guy with elf ears trying to save a woman whose entire face has been novacained.

WOOF Meet the Turnspit Dogs - canines especially bred to walk on a treadmill and turn a spit over a fire. In case you’re curious:

The Latin name for the Turnspit Dog is the Vernepator Cur; the scientific name is Canis vertigus, which means “dizzy dog”.

VotD Coming through.

Fleegle, Drooper, Snorky and Bingo

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: January 27, 2015 - 12:17 PM

It is not a law firm. Flashbak takes a look at six bad TV-show comic book adaptations. Only six? Here are two more. Oh, this horrid thing:

Hanna-Barbera gets admiration in some quarters for keeping animation going during a dry spell, but nearly everything they did after the classic Tom & Jerry cartoons was awful, unimaginative, witless dreck. Yes, that includes most of the Flintstones. Maybe most of the Jetsons too; aside from the credits, the "Jet Screamer" and "Uniblab" episodes, it was tiresome.

This isn't exactly a TV-show adaptation, but notable for its wincing attempt to insert Bob Hope into the groovy generation demographic:

Has it all, doesn't it? Groovy kids AND monsters. Why, when kids learned that BOB HOPE was part of the fun they couldn't slam their 12 cents down on the counter fast enough.

PUFFERY To add to my series of utterly arresting opening lines, I was googling around for information on Duncan OK hotel. It led to Ron Howard’s Twitter account where someone asked him if he knew the name of the mynah bird in the lobby. This led to Googling Ron Howard, as well as a Vanity Fair story about a murder in Duncan. (He grew there, and his grandparents ran the hotel.) The story looked good, but since I was doing other things the offer of an audio version seemed appealing. If I bookmarked it or sent it to Instapaper or Pocket or Reading List or any of the other bins into which you drop scraps, I’d never read it. Alas, it was five dollars. Here’s the reason I bring it up: Vanity Fair’s audible.com page contains the most chest-puffing description attempted by any magazine in the history of the medium.

Vanity Fair is a cultural filter, sparking the global conversation about the people and ideas that matter most. With a dedication to journalistic excellence and powerful storytelling, Vanity Fair is the first choice—often the only choice—for the world’s most influential and important audience. From print to social media, the big screen to the smartphone and now on audio, Vanity Fair is the arbiter of our era.

Hah! No. You have to love the assertion that the planet’s most Influential and important audience will not accept a story if it’s not in Vanity Fair.

And no, I didn't find out the name of the bird in the lobby of Ron Howard's grandparent's hotel.

WHAT A COINCIDENCE Here’s the comparison between the Sam Smith and Tom Petty songs. The court says Smith was sufficiently influenced; Petty gets 25% of the royalties.

I recommend listening and not looking at that picture; it's disturbing. 

The money, I suspect, will also go to the song's co-writer, whose style is all over that track. The opening notes and beat and the sort of space it inhabits, to be a bad pretentious rock critic, is all Jeff Lynne.

CHECK PLEASE Bad customer stories from restaurant servers are always a tonic, if you’ve been a waiter or waitress yourself. Here’s another batch from Kitchenette; judging from the title, Richard Lewis is editing the site now.They're all entertaining in their own mortifying way. It's like YouTube commenters come to life.

In defense of dinner

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: October 6, 2014 - 12:11 PM

Not this stuff again. First, the author sets the table:

. . . the superpower that I really want – the one I actually daydream about, wasting time that I don’t have – is the ability to create an extra day or two for myself each week. As the clock strikes midnight between Monday and Tuesday, a private portal would open up: an extra day, just for me. While everyone else sleeps, I write, read, send emails, and maybe even clean the oven, before going to bed and waking up on Tuesday, rested and refreshed just like everyone else, but with everything done.

If you could manipulate time and space at will, that’s a superpower, but creating a day just for one’s self between Monday and Tuesday isn’t useful for humanity at large. You’re not going to get an invite for the Avengers over that one. They might call you if they need you to run an errand on that extra private day, but at most you’d be temporarily deputized.

Anyway, it’s another article about how much time people spend on food - procuring, producing, prepartng,

consuming. What could we do with all that time if we just drank Soylent?

Yes, it’s that stuff again. We have to pretend to care that some people who have little interest in food are drinking Ensure for Nerds. Why, what will they do with all that time?

Will we see a new Renaissance: a Soylent-fuelled flowering of novels, art or, at the very least, apps? It is perhaps too early to tell, but early signs are mixed. Rhinehart has ploughed his 90 minutes a day into launching his company, and says he still has ‘a long reading list, a long online course list, a lot of personal projects I’d like to do’. He is not against using the time for relaxation, of course, and tells me that he’s heard from other early adopters that they spend an extra hour and a half watching TV, hanging out with friends and family, or just catching up on our pervasive national sleep deficit.

It is nice to know that the inventor of the goop that satisfies your base nutritional needs does not mind if you use the extra time to watch television. Thank you. Thank you very much. But doesn’t the end of the meal mean less time together as a family? DO NOT CONCERN YOURSELF HUMAN

The end of the meal is not a source of concern for Rhinehart at all – and perhaps rightly so. After all, as he pointed out to me, regular meals ‘were an invention in the first place’. As the historian Abigail Carroll wrote in her book Three Squares (2013), the US family dinner, despite its sacred role in contemporary culture, is only 150 years old.

Ah, this old syllogism. Here’s a social construct that’s been in place for a while, and is taken for granted. I am bored and like to pick apart cultural traditions like wings off flies, and since it’s interesting and fun to dismantle traditions, confident something new and better will take its place because Progress!,  then let’s point out that the tradition’s acceptance in our culture has false or misleading narratives. Why, we’ve only had family dinners for 150 years. Ergo we were doing something else before, and humanity survived. Why privilege the family dinner?

She notes that, like Rhinehart, the majority of 17th-century Virginia households had no table. Bowls and utensils were also in short supply before the 19th century, meaning that family members often ate in sequence rather than together.

So really, Soylent enables a return to the carefree days of the 1600s, with a little bit of the madcap bowl-and-spoon-free 1700s tossed in.

Meanwhile, Carroll ascribes the rise of the family dinner to the Industrial Revolution. Once the urban 9-to-5 replaced the agricultural schedule, she explains, ‘evening became the only significant portion of the workday when siblings and parents could reconnect, dinner became special, and it still is’.

If you’re still wondering why anyone should even have to make the case for the family dinner, you’re not alone, but let’s push on.

With Carroll’s context in mind, it is hard not to side with Rhinehart on this one: the tradition of three meals a day is a relatively recent one, enforced by the changing demands of work rather than essential to our humanity, and seemingly on its way out anyway, according to headlines such as ‘Snacking Could Be the Future of Eating’ (2012) in Food Processing.

No doubt an unbiased source.

The author later confesses that real food is better, but the descriptions of eating seem quite solitary. The pleasures and importance of the family meal might seem mysterious to someone who fetishizes food to the point where it’s necessary to note that the salt is sea salt and has a special brand name, but doesn’t seem to be sharing the experience with anyone except the remote and incorporeal internet audience.

Letting Strangers Wake You Up

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 8, 2014 - 12:29 PM

And I don't mean being kicked as you slump in a doorway, sleeping off a binge. Meet Wakie, the app that lets strangers call you and tell you it's time to get out of bed. NextWeb:

To use Wakie, you have to be prepared to sign in using your phone number. Wakie promises that your number will remain ‘safe and anonymous’.

Wakie’s community consists of Wakies (callers) and Sleepyheads (yup). If you want an alarm call, you just set an alarm time through the app, and when the wake-up time arrives, you’ll be connected to a Wakie of a similar age and the opposite gender. With that condition enforced, Wakie suddenly meanders on a slightly different trajectory, but we digress.

No, can’t see any opportunity for mischief there. Screenshot from The Next Web:

It got $1 million in the latest fundraising round. As one of the comments notes, apps are turning into concept art.

LITERATURE This Guardian piece is . . . beautiful. 

Seemingly unembarrassed by the incongruity of mounting a vehement defence of a detective story in which all the characters are teddy bears, Harper initially penned a series of comments (many of them over a single night between 1am and 4am) in which he quoted passages from the book, hoping to persuade Cohen that his criticisms of its "workmanlike" prose or "juvenile" plot were unjustified.

The author, in his defense, quotes his book extensively, insisting it has the lyricism of Keats and Fitzgerald. The thread - which is seven miles long - ends with the site’s editor closing comments because he said the author drew in details about people in (the critic’s) personal life.” Over an ebook. About detectives. Who are stuffed animals.

YOU HOGS You should not go to Food Festivals and you are a boorish drunk glutton if you do. Slate

Looking down from the relative safety of a balcony at the L.A. House of Blues, where I was researching a blog post for L.A. Weekly last year, I was reminded of the end of Nathanael West’s short 1939 novel The Day of the Locust, in which a horde of spiritually famished L.A. grotesques, urged on by a gleeful barker, turns violent and destructive at a movie premiere. A celebration of eating turns strange and a little horrific when the overeaters-next-door are so caught up in their pursuit of porky goodness that they eschew manners and propriety, stirred by a barker’s exhortations and emboldened by their anonymity.

Except that there wasn’t a riot at the food festival, and the “Locust” riot was caused when a character stomps on a child, and then everyone turns on the killer, but on the other hand, the character was named Homer Simpson, and Homer liked pork, so it almost fits.

Related fit of disapproval: NYT reports that a town turned into itself a setting for an ad.

Workers have been busy in this bucolic, out-of-the-way ski town: The streets have been painted blue, as have the light poles. Blue props and fencing have been hauled in, rendering the place almost unrecognizable. And as final preparations take place for a three-day party, many residents are fuming, cursing the town for approving a clandestine deal to let a giant beer company turn it into a living advertisement in exchange for $500,000.

“This is a mistake,” said David Rothman, 55, who moved to Crested Butte 20 years ago, of the decision to let Anheuser-Busch take over the town to film a beer commercial. “Frankly, it’s vulgar and it’s cheap.”

Probably. It’s also temporary. A half-million dollars to be a backdrop for an ad seems like a lot of money. The situation was described thus in the Paris Review:

If you’re looking to become productively, righteously, vindictively angry, read this piece in the Times about Crested Butte, Colorado, a town that will become, this weekend, an advertisement for Bud Light.

Oh, for heaven’s sake. Save your productive righteous vindictive anger for something that contains actual harm.

One can react only with scorn, and then one must trot out that shopworn but ever more vital statement of Philip Roth’s, from 1961:

No, one mustn’t. One might, and one probably will.

“The American writer … has his hands full in trying to understand, describe and then make credible much of American reality … It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination. The actuality is continually outdoing our talents.”

They painted a town for a commercial and then they cleaned it up and went away. If it had been for something other than a beer ad - say, if the town had been gussied up to look like a Library, or sold for a festival whose objectives and philosophy matched or flattered the town’s self-image - there would be no hysterics. No Roth quotes.

NO SIGNAL Here’s a novel idea.

While being glued to a mobile device has become a dangerously common part of 2014 life, a couple in Vermont has reaped financial rewards by rejecting 21st-century technology at their bakery, August First.

Wife-and-husband team Jodi Whalen and Phil Merrick banned laptops and tablets from their Burlington-based bakery earlier this year, after determining that laptop patrons spent much more time, and much less money, at the eatery than the average customer.

The fun begins in the comments, where some people believe that they have a claim on a restaurant’s table that exceeds the needs of the owner to cover the costs of doing business.

HISTORY If you’re unfamiliar with the nomenclature or history of the Danish Kings of England, this is a good places to start: ancient Ring Fort discovered.

. . . some historians contend the fortresses were constructed by his son Sweyn Forkbeard, the first Danish King of England, as a military training camp or barracks from which to launch his invasions of England. Sweyn Forkbeard seized London in 1013 and was declared King of England on Christmas Day of that year.

Didn’t last long, alas. Forkbeard is an interesting name, but his father had one that was more enduring. Yes, it’s named after him. But what did it mean?

Wikipedia has this:

Harald's nickname "Bluetooth" first documented appearance is in the Chronicon Roskildense from 1140.[13] The usual explanation is that Harold must have had a conspicuous bad tooth that has been "blue" (i.e. black, as "blue" meant dark).

Another explanation, is that he was called Thegn in England (corrupted to "tan" when the name came back into Old Norse) — in England, Thane meant chief. Since blue meant "dark", his nickname was really "dark chieftain.”

A third theory, according to curator at the Royal Jelling Hans Ole Mathiesen, was that Harald went about clothed in blue. The blue color was in fact the most expensive, so by walking in blue Harald underlined his royal dignity.

The icon for Bluetooth, by the way, are the runes for HB. And now you know. 

What do dogs really want from you?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 5, 2014 - 12:23 PM

The Far Side cartoon is correct; blahblahblah is pretty much all they hear, and they couldn’t care less. Here’s what they want, says i09.. Besides steak.

MOVIES Behind the scenes of Fritz Lang’s “M”, which is better for its visuals than anything else, if you ask me. It’s a great early talkie that would have made a finer silent movie. (Imagine “Metropolis” as a talkie: it would be ruined.) The weakest part of the movie is also its most harrowing; Lorre’s performance is so frightening that his protestation about his helplessness over his urges is almost sympathetic, but it’s self-serving. Of course he could help it, or he would have kidnapped children in front of a cop.

TV Here’s an argument for removing “the stigma that follows Ken Burns.” To which one asks: there’s a stigma?

HISTORY Ancient Roman jewelry found in Britain; it was stuffed under the floorboards during the siege of Colchester, led by Queen Boudicca. The Romans took a pasting, but came back and then some.

DESIGN A place to waste hours and hours: a huge collection of restaurant menus at the New York Public Library, including many from Minneapolis. From the Hotel Nicollet:

1949. I'm just beginning to raid the collection - the stuff from the 40s and 50s is incredible. 

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