Friday, February 27, 2009

Deep-Fried Thoughts

Which is more depressing? Having two bars in your neighborhood, Chili's and Applebee's? Or having just one bar in your neighborhood, Applebee's?

Here in Terra Linda (developed before builders were required to know Spanish) we're now stuck with just Applebee's. The other apostrophe restaurant, Chili's, closed. Such is the recession.

Even when I'm going through an alcohol-free phase, I do enjoy bars, just as I enjoy coffeehouses. Both offer observational and conversational opportunities, and bars offer more of the latter. And here's my theory: If you've never been to an Applebee's, you cannot claim to understand America.

Who was the conservative pundit who said Obama didn't seem "like the type of guy who would fit in at Applebee's salad bar"? It was David Brooks who wasn't aware that Applebee's doesn't have a salad bar. Just a bar. If he'd hang out there, he might get a little closer to his nation's pulse, even though the pulse is slightly occluded by cholesterol.

Not long ago, during happy hour (23-ounce beers for $3), a burly guy looked around Applebee's horseshoe-shaped bar and said, "I'll bet none of you have been to work today."

One guy ventured that he had. Another guy said he had been engaged in child care. Five other people, and the burly questioner, an electrician, admitted they were out of work. A couple of the people had worked in stores in the half-shuttered mall and couldn't stop returning to Applebee's for happy hour, even though they were unhappy.

The electrician said that naturally he knew I hadn't been to work. Five years of retirement can do that to you.

Since then all the happy-hour conversations seem to come back to lack of work, shrinking prospects for retirement, closing businesses and failing newspapers. As a former newspaperman I am pleased to report that working-class Americans, the Applebee's clientele, are connoisseurs of daily newspapers and will miss them.

No, they may not be connoisseurs of food. But the chips and salsa aren't bad and go well with three-buck Bud.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Red All Over

Two bad-news newspaper stories were in the New York Times this morning:

"Hearst Threatens to End San Francisco Paper."

"Post to Drop Liz Smith Column."

That would be the New York Post, and guess which story was promoted on the front page of the Times? That's right, the loss of a Post gossip columnist was more important to the gentlemen who run the Times than the possible loss of San Francisco's daily paper and its excellent coverage of Oakland.

Of course, that's predictable, because the only bigger jokes than the Post in the Times' newsroom are San Francisco and, unintentionally funnier, the San Francisco Chronicle. To be fair, there may be little news here. Dog bites man, poops on man's paper. It's been predictable for years that the Chronicle will fold, be sold or lay off half its staff.

Unfortunately, it's been getting rid of half its staff for years, to no avail.

Does anyone mourn the possible loss of a major city's daily newspaper? Will anyone hear the tree fall in the forest? Well, at least trees won't be converted into ink-spotted white space.

At least now we know why the Chronicle is celebrating its 144th anniversary with such pomp. It did seem a curious number.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mirror, Mirror ... Never Mind

Gradually going blind has its advantages. You get to go to Lenscrafters, pick out new glasses and change your image. Maybe you'll even see it in the mirror.

I've never minded wearing glasses. A visit to the optometrist has always been an opportunity for painless plastic or wire rim surgery. Look at that rack of glasses, and all those choices of looking like John Lennon, Elvis Costello, a Blues Brother or a professor in a department of something postmodern.

Sadly, Lenscrafters has more in the way of accountant rimless and absolutely nothing in Mickey Rourke tinted.

So there I was last week, trying on dark, clear and reading glasses, imagining my new ominous, responsible and scholarly selves, and what do I see? A guy who qualifies for the AARP discount and just got back from the dermatologist. Underneath the new specs were specks where potential growths had just been removed. They dramatically spelled out, in scab cursive, my wife's previous warning: "Just get age-appropriate glasses."

I'll bet nobody ever said that to Mickey Rourke. Damn you, unfair vanity.