The long (for some) Independence Day weekend is approaching its waning hours. Independence Day and the long weekend (for some) that goes with it is our yearly observance of all that is perceived as good in America and is supposed to honor what has long been called the great governmental experiment. Characterized by picnics, parades, barbecues, concerts and fireworks (both legal and not so much) we’re encouraged every year to take a moment and put down the hot dog and beer and reflect on The Declaration of Independence, that groundbreaking document that started it all.
We hold these truths to be self-evident…begins the second paragraph of the American Declaration of Independence. Two hundred and forty-three years ago this weekend that document defined those truths; men (and women since at some later point in the continuum we decided that women are people also) are created equal and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The whole notion of self-evident should assume that these truths are the low hanging fruit of rights. But it seems that we’re struggling, can’t seem to snatch the apples right in front of the national face. I could turn this into an elaborate treatise about how we’ve been buggering that part of the Declaration for two and a half centuries….but I won’t. I’m leaving that to the pundits and bloggers who like to get their hands (or any other parts) dirty.
Instead I’ve taken a more tongue in cheek route and challenged myself to come up with some other truths that should be self-evident to any reasonable person with manners and taste.
1 – A proper burger must be messy. Oily, dripping, oozing with greasy delight. A proper burger must be so saturated that you have to hold it out over your plate to eat it; crane your neck and reach out to it as if you were it’s supplicant. This so that the world doesn’t look at that spot on your pants and recognize that you don’t know how to properly eat a proper burger.
There is a strict code that must be adhered to when it comes to burger sloppiness though and that is that the ooze has to come from the meat. Mustard, ketchup, mayo and any sauce secret or not don’t count. Any runoff from tomatoes and pickles don’t register on the messy gauge. Have whatever you want on your burger; onions, lettuce, bacon, cheese, fried egg, caviar or peanut butter cups (if that’s what you REALLY want), if the meat doesn’t leak it isn’t a proper burger.
We have a local burger joint called The Red Onion and they serve proper burgers. I know that because when I get one to go, I set the bag on a paper towel, on the floor mat. I do that because I know that by the time I get home the grease will have permeated the bag.
2 – Can you please help me to understand if the plant you want to sell me might kill my dog. Garden centers and home improvement stores that sell plants for the garden should give you some clue as to which plants will kill Muffy or Fluffy. Recently I was shopping for plants at Home Depot and I spent most of the time on my phone just looking up any potential toxicity of the plants that caught my eye.
It turns out that there are a lot of plants that will, at the very least, give little Misty a belly ache and at worst will place her ashes on the household mantle. I warned one woman with her dog in tow (see below for people who don’t follow rules) that the plant she was just about to buy would kill her companion.
A simple tag on the plant, or a catalog in the garden department would not only be a great convenience but could also be a selling point. After mulling the idea over for a while I realized what a naive fool I can sometimes be. Why? Because somewhere in the corporate shadows of Home Depot is a lawyer whispering, “We could be held liable.”
3 – Shit rolls down hill. Lately I’ve been witnessing the trials of someone suffering from managerial shenanigans. She was a great employee for years and could do nothing wrong until one of the corporate big giant heads developed a grudge. Now this employee apparently can’t do anything right, even if nothing ever changed.
Remember and never forget that if you’re a member of the rank and file, a common working stiff, that your personal golden rule should be, “Never, EVER, trust management.” Oh sure your boss might seem to be a reincarnation of George Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life, but always be aware that lurking somewhere inside is Mr. Potter.
At the last place I worked at I was amazed at the discipline of the reigning CEO’s who managed to keep a straight face while proclaiming, “Our most valuable asset is you, the employees.” It takes a special talent to be able to spread such putrid manure without a gag reflex.
By and large I’ve found that the guiding principle of managers seems to be to cover their own asses even if it means throwing staff under the bus. I mean, what good is that underling if you can’t drop a dime on him? Remember you’re only as good as your last screw up.
4 – If you’re perfectly able bodied then your mantra should always be, “I don’t belong in any space reserved for the disabled.” Yes and that even covers, “But I’m only going to be a minute.” Often times I sit outside the local Starbucks’ and in the space of an hour I can see a dozen or more cars pull into the disabled spot and the driver jogging in for coffee. Ah but wait, the most amazing that I’ve seen are the physical specimens in the gym who use the ONLY shower stall reserved for the disabled even when the other nine stalls are unoccupied. Why could they possibly need a stall that big with a seat and what are they doing in there? Never mind.
5 – Your dog might be exceptional but he’s not an exception. If the sign on the front door of the business says no pets allowed then that includes YOURS. There are no exclusions for dogs that can be carried under an arm or stuffed in a bag, a purse, a trench coat pocket or stashed under a ten gallon hat.
I recall the time that I asked the cashier, in a grocery store no less, if exceptions were made for people like the one who preceded me who was carrying little “Muffy” under her arm. “If I carry her under my arm can I bring in my 60 pound Gordon Setter?” She simply looked at me as if I was speaking in tongues.
A kissing cousin to this are the people whose dogs are apparently of a special breed that is exempted from leash laws. There are plenty of off leash areas to let your dog run free and most of the time the local recreation path is not one of them. When I go running with Lexi, who is on leash, I don’t feel like stopping my workout because your unleashed dog bolted to say howdy to Lexi and you’ve lost control. “Brutus, here. Here Brutus. Brutus, what have I told you about not minding? Brutus you’re going to get in big trouble if you don’t come. Brutus, what did I say? RIGHT NOW!”
I just love watching people try to have a dialog with their dog.
But worse than inconveniencing my workout is the disdain that some dog owners have for people who are genuinely afraid of dogs and are terrified when an unleashed dog approaches.
I love dogs. We have two canine members of the household. My problem with dog owners who think the rules don’t apply to them is that they eventually make things harder for all dog owners. Let your dog loose on a beach with a leash law and pretty soon enough people will complain that dogs will be banned completely.
Oh and don’t get me started on dog poop.
6 – Holidays should really be holidays. As America’s Independence Day holiday weekend winds down we’re still engulfed in promotions and advertisements for sales on, well, just about everything. Because what better way to commemorate the beginnings of the great American experiment of democracy and what it’s sadly all being boiled down than to use that great moment in 1776 as a shill to boost sales and make money.
I figure that since I’m 65, I’ve earned the right to come off like a grumpy old geezer so here goes. I remember when holidays were family days, days of relaxation and recreation; for just about everyone. Businesses closed up shop for the day and much of the bourgeoisie actually got a paid holiday.
If the tank in the family sled was getting low you gassed up on the day before the holiday because many gas stations observed the holiday. If you needed anything besides the basics you bought it before the holiday because the grocery stores were closed. If you needed the basics on the holiday, you went to the local mom and pop store. Retail stores were closed. Holidays were actually – holidays. What a concept.
But at some point the retail big giant heads got together in a meeting room and decided to green light the notion that a holiday isn’t really a holiday, it’s a sale day. Mark it down 10% and they’ll beat a path to the mall. And to add insult to having to work the holiday many of those big giant heads who put the proletariat to work on the holiday are probably enjoying a cold one at their Independence Day soiree.
What Americans should do is give the big giant heads a big giant finger and not go shopping so that the big giant heads and the shareholders all take a financial spanking. But Americans aren’t like that. Give them a chance to save a buck and they’ll toss principle to the curb as if it’s an unruly drunk.
7 – Hey Corporate America, stay outta my shit. Today I received a notice from American Honda Financial Services informing me what it does with my personal information; what sharing I can prohibit and when I’m just plain out of luck. It seems that in most cases I’m out of luck. My Social Security number is fair game and Honda’s marketing department has carte blanche to bug me whenever it suits them, whether I want to hear from them or not.
I recall a recent telemarketing call from somebody giving me a hard sell on something that I didn’t want and I asked the caller how he got my number. He responded by telling me that my number was on a list that he had purchased. He refused however to tell me who sold him the list or who leaked my information. I may be naive but I know that it does no good to complain about my information being up for sale. Hell, if you’re going to sell it can I at least get a small cut? I mean it’s my information – right? Yeah, wrong.
I get, on average, about 5 robocalls a day and try as I might, whether it’s ignoring the calls, blocking the numbers or getting on the phone and telling the caller that he’s a scurvy crook who’s going to go to hell for trying to steal my money or information I keep getting calls from the same entities.
I have two email addresses, one is on Yahoo, which I give to businesses when necessary and the other one reserved for personal communication is Gmail. My Yahoo inbox is devastated. It’s awash in sewage, from cruise lines that want to sail me, to hotels that want to house me to roofers who want to cover me to trivia games that want to amuse me.
I’ve started to limit my visits to Starbucks’ shops because a change in their policy has hacked me off. It used to be that I could use the Starbucks’ wifi with no questions asked. Now if I try to log into the Starbucks wifi I’m asked to surrender my email address; no doubt so that it can solicit me with “deals” and promotions. Here is my suggestion to Starbucks’. Since the dawn of doing business there’s been a tried and true recipe for business success. Provide me with a good quality product, good service and a clean place to drink my coffee (The latter has been problematic with Starbucks’. Geeze don’t you think you could take a wet rag to those outdoor tables once in a while?) then I will continue to be your customer. I don’t need a come on for a free coffee on my birthday or the daily email describing the latte of the day.
Not surprisingly there has been push back on attempts to regulate both spam and robocalls and that push back has come from….wait for it…..business lobbyists. In 2003 the CAN-SPAM Act was opposed by the Data and Marketing Association because data collectors and marketers want to be able to bother you with impunity. The CAN-SPAM Act was passed, but since I’m still getting offers to improve my “size and performance,” (has the wife been telling tales?) among other things, I’m guessing it’s pretty toothless.
As for regulating robocalls, it seems that there are a number of businesses that oppose that whole notion.
8- Pizza and ranch dressing are a marriage made in hell. I’m acquainted with one or two people who order a side of ranch dressing with their pizza. The dressing comes in a little bowl on the side and its either spooned on a slice or the slice is dipped in the dressing.
Okay, I’m prejudiced about this because I’m not a fan of ranch dressing, either for dipping or for salads. That said, if the pizza that you’re buying needs to be groomed with the addition of ranch dressing then you should probably find another pizza joint.
A good quality pie from a superior pizzeria should be able to stand on its own merits just as a 60 dollar steak should never touch A-1 sauce and a shiny Corvette should never be defiled by a bumper sticker. Some things are just not done.
There are however some important exceptions. If you’ve been invited to a kid’s party at Chuck E Cheeses or your employer ordered in Little Caesars then that’s a horse of a different color. Slather on whatever gets you through the ordeal.
9 – Some foods just demand to be fried. It’s come to my attention that in a feeble attempt at health consciousness, certain people (one of them in my very own household), are baking foods that insist on being fried. This sort of activity threatens to throw the universe off kilter. The two foods that come most readily to mind are lumpia and catfish.
To those who have never heard of, or tried lumpia I offer you my heartfelt condolences. Wikipedia describes lumpia as “a savoury snack made of thin crepe pastry skin enveloping a mixture of savoury fillings, consisting of chopped vegetables or minced meat.” That’s gross understatement, sort of like calling a rose a woody perennial that smells nice or a 1965 GTO an old car.
Lumpia is a wondrous little spring roll that hails from the Philippines. It could be the last full platter put out at a party but it’s guaranteed to be the first one to be empty. The little tubes of goodness called lumpia Shanghai absolutely must go into a fryer and come out glistening with a sheen of grease with maybe the slightest hint of char on the ends. To cook them any way other than frying is an outrageous indignity.
Likewise, catfish fillets or nuggets must be properly battered and fried to a glistening golden goodness. To complete the proper catfish protocol it should sit on a plate nestled with a few hush puppies (also fried) a scoop of coleslaw and if you wish some tartar sauce and a dash of hot sauce.
Lumpia and catfish are by their very nature destined by the celestial powers to be cooked in an unhealthy manner. It’s against all that’s good and decent in the world to try to make certain foods “healthy.” It makes as much sense as trying to distill non-alcoholic bourbon.
10 – James Bond was wrong. A proper martini should be stirred not shaken.
No less than the President of the United States proclaimed, “Shaken, not stirred, will get you cold water with a dash of gin and dry vermouth. The reason you stir it with a special spoon is so not to chip the ice. James is ordering a weak martini and being snooty about it.” Okay, so the president I’m referring to is Jed Bartlet, who is actually an ersatz president; a character in the TV drama The West Wing. Now there are some who might say that since we’re talking ersatz presidents let’s talk about the current….but I’m not going there.
Back to the martini. In the old days, I would order a martini and the barkeep would seem to shake it forever; she would hike back and forth behind the bar, out to the front register to have a chat with the hostess and through two outs in the baseball game on the TV before splashing it into a martini glass. The resulting drink had bits of ice floating all over the top. It looked like a miniature of the Bering Sea and tasted like ice water mixed with essence of gin.
I learned about the shaken versus stirred rumpus from an episode of Alton Brown’s, Good Eats, on the Food Network. This was before the Food Network became the insipid food contest network. Alton Brown explained that the process of shaking gin dilutes the aromatics that makes gin, gin. Gin is NOT PBR (and I’ve got nothing against a cold PBR). It is a delicate spirit that is enhanced by the addition of aromatics.
Right after watching the Good Eats episode I ordered my next martini stirred. What a difference. It was like discovering that a steak at Sizzler is an affront to beef.
Over the years I’ve found that a martini requires strict instructions to the uncultured and uninformed mixologist. The martini glass should first receive a splash of dry vermouth which is swirled around and then dumped. The gin is then added to a shaker with ice, gently stirred to chill the gin and then reverently poured into the glass. Blasphemies like too much vermouth, sweet vermouth and the atrocity called a dirty martini should be treated like e coli.
I’ve also noted that some taverns use olives that are only slightly smaller than a regulation NBA basketball and thus displace what you went to the bar for in the first place – a drink. At bars that dispense cannonball sized olives I defer to ordering a Gibson, which is the same libation only it comes with a cocktail onion instead of an olive. A worst case scenario requires a twist although there was that time when the bartender dropped a giant slab of lemon in my drink and blamed it on the knife. I searched under the lemon chunk to make sure I wasn’t given a digit as well.
And so there are my ten self-evident truths for this Fourth of July weekend. I stopped at ten because, well, it’s a nice round number but make no mistake I could’ve gone on and on. The list of self-evident truths is almost endless. For instance:
Sports are just games that we take far too seriously.
Talk show hosts are paid to shout hyperbolic bullshit as if the nation was in danger of perishing before show’s end. If they introduced their shows calmly without screaming hysterically and instead presented a logical point of view nobody would call. Their stock in trade is to piss people off.
Okay, look, I can’t help myself. I can’t keep my tongue in cheek and ignore those self-evident truths. The undeniable truth is that the 243 year old self-evident truths are the truths that really matter – and that’s the truth. They’re the truths that hold that every single individual on this planet, whatever his/her color, creed, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation has a god given, or if you prefer, a natural right to a fair shake – regardless of whether or not they like ranch with their pizza.
It should be so – damned – simple, but we seem to trip all over ourselves trying to get there (or avoiding getting there). Most of the time its because we just can’t, or more likely, refuse, to stay out of people’s personal shit.
Maybe the simplicity of it all is found in the words of an African-American construction worker named Rodney King who gained fame by being on the business end of some police billy clubs, “Can we all just get along?” God, how simple is that? CAN – WE – ALL – GET – ALONG? Let it go. Give it a rest. Leave him/her be.
If we adopt as a modern self-evident truth the notion of all getting along and then to take it a little further, to live and let live, then maybe those self-evident truths of 243 years ago can have a better chance of becoming reality.