Yes, there’s a new Diner today; almost forgot about that. A lesser effort, but it appears I set up the plot for all of 07. Onward:
Mommy had dinner at a company retreat, so I took Gnat to Wendy’s. They sell “Old-Fashioned Hamburgers.” I don’t know what they meant by that. Old-fashioned, as I recall, meant a tiny circular patty laden with onions under a soft steamed bun, not a slab the size of a floor tile covered with “southwest pepper sauce.” As is my wont, I embarrassed her by singing along to the music trickling from the speakers above. DAD DON’T. Which of course meant I had to put on my Rock Face and use a spoon for the guitar solo in “Whacha Gonna Do (When She Says Goodbye)” by Pablo Cruise. DAAD. I asked her: if you see a kid whose dad is doing something stupid, do you think the kid’s to blame? Do you think the kid is stupid too?
Stupid isn’t a nice thing to say.
No. No, it’s not, but you know what I mean. You don’t blame the kid. So why worry what anyone thinks if I’m acting like a dork?
Because you’re acting like a dork.
WHATCHA GONNA DO WHEN SHE SAYS
Dad! Stop it!
Sorry. It’s my job.
Some horrible singing in that song, incidentally. But like many 70s songs, some exquisite production. What we used to call “tasty.” When I was working the Pizza Hut in Fargo in the summer of 77, we had a cook who fancied himself a great expert on all things musical, and as is often the case his confident assessment of his judgment was accompanied by a completely different taste in music. He loved “Smoke From a Distant Fire” solely for its production values. I thought of him today in the car while driving to Gnat’s school (forgot to send along boots for recess) and the radio was playing, God help me, “My Music,” by Loggins and Messina. It’s a wretched song, insincere and phony in every way, but you’re struck by the fact that actual humans are playing all the instruments, and doing so quite well.
That’s the thing about seventies pop: soulless professionalism. The 60s had verve and spirit and some horrid musical assemblages. In the airport a few weeks ago the speakers played “Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas, and it was like having needle shoved repeatedly into my ear canal – the Vandellas are off key and shrieky and mixed all wrong, Martha’s all over the map and the band sounds like they’re raping seals in a small bathroom. The Linda Ronstadt version is better, but its heart is buried under layers of lacquer.
Anyway. On one hand Gnat is impressed that I know every song they play at Wendy’s. On the other hand, she wishes I didn’t.
She was appalled by the idea of bacon on a hamburger, too.
You’re the one who used to dip French fries in caramel, I said.
Maybe, but it’s peculiar.
Mock outrage look. Are you saying I’m weird?
No. I would never say that. I hate that word. People called me weird in high school. Even when it was a compliment I hated it. Let’s just say your tastes are unique.
Good point, she said.
A few tables away a little girl, maybe four, was discussing Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus with a woman. I could tell it wasn’t her mother, because mothers would have known the answers to all the questions she asked the child. The Pegasus’s name? Hello, it’s Brietta. I know that. I wanted to walk over and say “don’t buy the Pegasus doll. The wings fall off.” But like I said, it wasn’t her mother.
Other patrons: a 70 year old man in jeans and white tennis shoes, those spotless puffy varieties favored by old men. He had a U. S. Army cap and a thin windbreaker and wire-rimmed glasses. Generic American Senior. When I get old I’m getting facial tattoos. A Spiderman mask. Something. He was replaced by a younger version, a fellow in his 40s with the same glasses and the same shade of jeans and the same white shoes, except that this fellow had a New Republic magazine. I sympathized. O the meals I’ve eaten alone with magazines for company. Did I ever mind? Once, twice, perhaps a few times over the years, particularly in the great Lonely Times of the 20s, but in general, no: a fresh cup of coffee, a table to myself, a hamburger on the way, a fresh-struck smoke in the clean square ashtray, a stack of newspapers and magazines: the best of friends. I’ve never pitied anyone who eats alone in restaurants – only those who don’t come prepared.
When we entered there were two old ladies picking over sundaes, and we left they were still working on them.
Home for piano practice. Gnat read me a book: Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” which was quite lovely, and had an element of sadness you don’t find in modern kid-lit. Makes you realize your job as a parent: leave them with a stump, somehow.
I’d do something about the author photo, though. FEE! FIE! FO! FUM! I SMELL THE ROYALTIES FROM MY LATEST ALBUM! You can even see where he chipped a tooth on a kid's skull.
He’s deed, capin. Stune deed. Nae pulse or nuttin.
Never mind how this illustrates the comforting persistence of Trek, even as a joke – it’s a fine example of how comedy often stops at the water’s edge. I have no idea how many jokes I’m not getting. Layers and layers of allusions to things I don’t know. But on the other hand, I get it. Are there equivalents in other parts of the world? Is there a Kuwaiti parody of multi-generational Saudi TV drama? Is there a 40-year-old Peruvian soap opera that can be parodied in El Salvador to instant recognition?
So: what was I going to write yesterday? Give me a day to fine-tune it, because it’s about a soldier who died in Iraq, and I have no claim to lay ideas of my own on his grave. I just gave it another look, and it needs to be sanded down a bit more.
Anyway: Diner! Go HERE for the supercool art-embedded version; here’s the dull old MP3. The new theme is actually the old theme – for the Diner’s 10th year, I’ve gone back to the Benny Goodman “Let’s Dance” tune that opened the original shows. This episode features an introduction that prowls through my various radio-show theme songs over the years, a self-indulgence I will shorten for the next episode.
Have a grand weekend, and thanks again for the patronage & the many kind words. See you Monday.