Monday, June 30, 2014

"Judging Strangers"

I love it when the system works.

Wait, I thought you were “The Complainy Guy.”

It’s coming. 

But first – as an unusual change of pace – the Good News.

I get a “Summons for Jury Service.”  (It’s like receiving a “Go Directly To Jail” card in in the mail.)  They are sending me to the Superior courthouse downtown, which is about twenty miles from my house.  There is also a Superior Court six blocks from where I live in Santa Monica.  But they are not sending me there.

There is a protocol, allowing you to apply for a courthouse “Transfer of Service.”  Which is what I want because – you probably don’t know Los Angeles, but it’s crazy down there.  It takes three freeway changes to get downtown, and when you get off the freeway, you run into “No Left Turn” streets where you want to turn left, followed alternately by “One Way Street” signs in the direction you do not want to go. 

“No Left Turn” – “One Way Street” – “No Left Turn” – “One Way Street.”  I am telling you, there have been times when it appeared that there was no way I could possibly get to where I wanted to go, and I just pulled the car over to the curb, and cried.  And then got out of the car, and I walked there.

My eye limitations recommend neither freeway driving nor driving at night.  (This is not me talking.  A former eye doctor of mine told me I shouldn’t.)   This gives me, I feel, legitimate justification for a “Transfer of Service” to a closer courthouse.  (And there is one.  I can virtually see it from this desk.)  So I apply for one.

I receive a letter back informing me that they cannot approve my application for a “Transfer of Service” without a confirming letter from my ophthalmologist.  I contact my ophthalmologist and he replies, through his secretary – “No letter.”

It occurs to me that my ophthalmologist might mistakenly assume that I am trying to get out of jury duty, to which the appropriate response would indeed be – “No letter.”  I decide to call back, to explain that all I am looking for is a letter that will make me eligible, not to get out of jury duty, but for a “Transfer of Service.”

As a result of this clarification, I receive the letter from my opthalmologist.  I resubmit my application for a “Transfer of Service”…

And I get it!

Thus proving two things.  One:  Sometimes the system works.  And Two:  When you chronicle an experience that goes happily as it should, you end up with an excruciatingly boring story.

Sorry for requiring you to read four hundred and thirty-nine words resulting in everything going as it should.  Fortunately, that’s just the setup.  It gets identifiably complainier from here on in.  Which should enliven things considerably.

Generally, people dislike jury duty because it disrupts their lives, and requires them participate in an activity they would unlikely volunteer to engage in. 

Let it herein be stipulated:  I have virtually no life whatsoever.  So there is little to nothing to disrupt.

Still, I am less than enthusiastic about Jury Duty. 


Primarily because I do not believe in the “Adversarial System” as a credible recipe for achieving justice.  The “Adversarial System” isn’t a “Search for Truth”; it’s an extraneous “skills competition.”  The opposing lawyers may just as well engage in a long-distance “spitting contest”, where whoever spits the farthest wins the case.

Somebody once said, “A trial is a procedure proving which side has the better lawyer.”  (A barely adequate paraphrasing of the actual quote.  You really deserve better, but I am too lazy to look it up.)

I am aware how highly impressionable I am.  And knowing this, I am certain that the more persuasive of the two attorneys will inevitably swing my support in their client’s direction, even if their client is evidentiarily guilty, or their arrest was a palpable mistake.  And I do not wish to be a part of that, “that” being the more than even chance of my making a egregiously wrong decision, sending an innocent person to prison, or releasing a guilty one onto the streets. 

I know I will succumb to style over substance, and that viscerally upsets me.  (Not that I won’t battle ferociously for my quite possibly erroneous position, because that is simply the way I am.  Which only makes things worse.  Or at least more a situation I’d prefer not to be required to participate in.)


The jury system may have worked once, in a more homogenous society where similar experience led to (at least the possibility of a) reasonable adjudication, but we no longer live in a homogenous society. 

The concept “Jury of Your Peers” makes virtually no sense anymore, unless by “peers” you mean any human being who breathes in and breathes out.  No house pets or vegetation allowed!

What do I know about corporate tax fraud?  What do I know about street gang protocol?  What do I know about child abuse?  (Beyond what I witnessed on SVU, and that may be strictly “show business.”)  What do I know about anything, except writing comedy for television in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s?  (And a little bit of the 00’s.)

In the old days, when the majority of people lived in rural communities, the members of the jury knew the people involved, they knew the specific situation, they knew the circumstances surrounding the alleged criminal behavior.  Their collective experience provided a clearer understanding of the facts, resulting in a more reliable possibility of achieving justice.

Nowadays… okay, I’ll give you an example.

The closest I ever came to Jury Duty – and this was an amazing coincidence – involved a case I was already aware of because the plaintiff was the uncle of a acquaintance of mine, and that acquaintance had informed me about it ahead of time.  This association alone would have excluded me from jury service.  (I was actually excluded for other reasons.)

My point is that when knowing the participant, with its illuminating insights and understandings once increased the likelihood of a just and reasonable decision, now even a tangential association suggests the possibility of partiality, which will consequently get you eliminated from the jury.

And don’t get me started on “jury consultants.”  “Peremptory challenges”, devised originally to deliver a less potentially prejudiced jury panel – Think:  Twelve white jurors and a black murder defendant in the Deep South – that process little by little evolved into paid professionals snooping into the jury pool members’ backgrounds, searching for the tiniest indication that would provide their side with an edge.  Talk about the best intentions subverted for personal advantage.  (Which I just did.) 

Also, completing the picture although not necessarily tastefully, when I get really nervous, I have to go to the bathroom a lot.  I can imagine myself, with somebody’s destiny hanging in the balance, incessantly raising my hand, asking for one short recess after another.

If they allowed me to, I would request “Alternate Service” (if it wasn’t too disgusting.)  But that is not an available option.  My only hope is that they ultimately don’t need me, or that I inadvertently say something that will excuse me from Jury Duty.

Something like,

LAWYER:  “Do you believe in the Death Penalty?”

ME:  “Yes, but I believe it is administered unfairly.  I believe that all criminals should receive the Death Penalty.  It seems prejudicial to restrict it to just murderers.”
That should do it, don’t you think?

My final though hardly least troubling concern about Jury Duty is that while checking my “criminal background” as I sign in, they might chillingly go, “Oh, Mr. Pomerantz, as long as you’re down here, we would like to arrest you for something.”

In which case, I shall be henceforth blogging from prison. 

If my cellmate will share the computer. 

Without asking for anything in return.

Friday, June 27, 2014

"Behaviorally Descriptive Surnames That Have Entered Our Common Parlance"

I have written earlier incarnations of this post on two previous occasions, and on both those occasions, my title for those posts was enormously more interesting than this one.  The reason this isn’t “Those Previous Posts – Part Three” is that I can no longer remember what I called the other two posts, and, like a word you cannot look up in the dictionary without being able to spell it – in which case you would not have to look it up in the dictionary – I cannot access the previous titles without remembering what they were. 

There is something wrong with that system. 

Anyway, apologies for the ponderous title – which I am also sure not to remember, though it will be no great loss – and away we go.
Here’s what I’m talking about.

The word “mesmerize” derives originally from the surname of an actual person, Franz Anton Mesmer, who developed the principle of “animal magnetism”, a principle later applied to hypnosis. 

You get the concept?  You feel “mesmerized”, because the process in question was developed by Mesmer.  If it had been developed by me, you’d feel “Pomerized.” 

There are hundreds of these examples, names of people, as my ponderous title proclaims, becoming words used in everyday common parlance – the word standing for the name, the name reflecting a certain specifically associated behavior. 

Some well known examples:

Civil War Ambrose Burnside, who favored the “Muttonchops” facial decorations, has left us the word “sideburns.”  (Evidence suggesting that Burnside may have been dyslexic.)

Not to be outdone, another Civil War general, “Fightin’ Joe Hooker”, although he may not have originated the term, “Fightin’ Joe” was famous for his army camp soirees, at which what they called then “fallen doves” were conspicuously featured.  So now we have “hookers.”  (And thankfully not sex-for-money-providing “Earlers.”)

The thing is, with the passage of time, an inevitable “disconnect” has arisen between these now commonly used words and their original surnamal derivations.  We use the words, but we no longer recall where they came from.

Fortunately, there’s me.

My painstaking research has uncovered yet a third round of these forgotten connections – evocative surnames that have become words that we now use every day.  Maybe not every day, but at least we know them.  Although not where they came from.  Which I shall momentarily correct.

Prepare to be both illuminated and delighted.

Starting now.

Tom Squash

Sat on a puppy, and that’s all it took.  Admitted Squash, famously hungry for immortality, “I am sorry about the puppy.  But if I had sat on a pillow, I would never have been remembered.”

Cornelia Kerfuffle

Was continually embroiled in contentious disputes, inevitably worsened when she was joined by her partner in controversy, Aloysius Hullaballoo.  (See Also:  Frank Squabble.)

Lifelong friends,

Anabelle Dribble and Stephanie Drool,

Tired of hearing, “You’ve got something running down your chin”, consorted exclusively with each other.  Incredibly, the two women grew up in the seaside community of Spittlefield, England.  (Though that may possibly be a joke.)   

(See Also Re: Anatomical Embarrassments – Adrian Booger and Samantha Snot.)

Herbert Stickler

Never met a nit that was too small to pick.  (I am certain he would have trouble with that sentence.)

Elmer Thud

Made an identifiable sound whenever he fell out of a window, which he did more often than one might reasonably predict.  Hence, the well-known the descriptive, “He landed with a Thud.”  Now you know. 

For more than a quarter of a century, Richard Heckler was banned from every comedy club in Germany.  His unwelcome interruptions were finally curtailed when he was forced to come up on stage and “See how you like it!”, after which he restricted his outings to jazz clubs, where he heckled the musicians.

Lorenzo Happenstance turned up at many momentous historical events, claiming always that he was simply passing by.

Larry Hobo

Lived at no specifically known address.

In her day, you could not go to a party without running into

Alexandra Hobnob.

As far as we know,

William Hackney

Never made a single interesting speech.

(Ditto:  Theodora Drivel.)

Real estate values plummeted whenever Cornelius Ramshackle moved nearby.

Albert Hunker

Claimed he preferred the low crouch to actually sitting on a chair.

Women learned to forget about marriage around

Gustaf Philander.

(See Also:  Giacomo Casanova and {First Name: Unknown) Lothario {unless Lothario was his first name, in which case, Last Name:  Unknown.)  Apparently, we have always had these scalawags.)

Sir Francis Hoodwink

Fooled people into believing that he had actually been knighted.

Are there any further such examples?  I always think I’m done, and then I inevitably find more.

How about you? 

Got any surnames that became words?

As the Headmaster of the English school I once taught in used to say:

“A bucket of tar for the winner.”

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Nouriture - Parte Deux"

It is not entirely pleasant swimming deliberately against the tide.  This effort becomes particularly problematic when it concerns an issue that in the final analysis does not really matter.

Food does not really matter. 

Which is the message of the previous blog post and this one.  So thank you, and good night. 

I shall now continue.  Although, possibly, alone.

It is the definition of curmudgeonliness to make a fuss about what, in the grand scheme of things, is a relative irrelevance.  Celebrity chefs, accorded disproportionate adulation?  Hardly an earthshaking consideration.  They are unlikely to have heard about it in Pakistan.

Somebody’s got to make me feel terrible about myself.  Why shouldn’t it be chefs?  Not just chefs, of course.  But they are now added to the list.

The same level of “Who cares-edness” applies equally to this follow-up as well, concerning, this time, not the preparers of food but the actual food itself.

Let’s begin with the basics.

“What is food?”

You see the title for this post – “Nouriture”?  That’s French for “food.”  From the look of it , “nouritureappears to derive from the same “word family” as the word “nourishment.” 

To me, the French have it right, because that is fundamentally what food is.


And that’s it. 

The rest is window dressing.  Gustatorial gift-wrapping for the nourishment.   

And nothing more. 

It is only recently that comestibility has been converted into something high-falutin’ly fancier.  For it was not always thus.

In prehistoric times, for example, the most exciting thing about food was,

“We found some!”

Finding food meant you wouldn’t die.  For a while.  After that, to maintain that lucky streak,

You had to find food again!

And again.  And again.  And again. 

Your entire life was just food shopping with spears.

How did it taste?  It tasted wonderful.  Especially compared to the alternative, which if you did not find food, was wood.  And when you ran out of wood, was “dead.”

After the “availability issue” was taken care of, the next stage in the operation might be called  “Food 2.0”.   The “procurement problem” having been covered, it was now a question of making distinctions. 

Once, the “beginning and end” of the “dining experience” could be fully delineated by the words,

“We ate.” 

As you’ll recall from Oliver, there were no complaints about the quality of the gruel.  Little Oliver never said, “Can you put some salt in this?”  He said, “Please, sir, I want some more.”

Compared with those easygoing standards, our microscopic attention to food would appear to be the height of ingratitude and snobbery.  For those urchins, it was,

“‘as it got any bugs in it?  Then it’s good.”

Today’s diners expect better.

Having jumped to a more sophisticated level, we find two areas of concern about food:  Its healthiness and its delectability.


We now know which foods are good for us.  Though not precisely, as the rules appear to continually fluctuate.  Upon waking up, a cryogenetically frozen Woody Allen in Sleeper (1973) returned to discover that pastrami sandwiches were now good for you.  The “rights and wrongs” in these matters have turned out to be precariously fickle.

Lemme go out on a limb here:  Nobody wants to die.  (I didn’t say it was a long limb.)  Throughout history, living as long as you can has been a continuing aspiration.  From the earliest of times, people of means, by whom I mean people who had food options beyond the alternative of “food” or “no food” have made concerted efforts to eat things that would prolong their lives rather than shorten them.  (With the exception of barbecue.)

Our nutritional knowhow may have advanced in these matters, but the primary objective remains remarkably consistent. 

“Death:  Not so fast.  I’m taking fish oil and eating gluten-free hamburger buns.” 

Today, the goal remains to eat the right things so you will not only live, you will alive longer and healthier.  The only qualifying proviso in this regard is that we may not know what we’re talking about.  (They may never have.)  But at least we’re trying.  (And so did they.)

Moving from the health-conscious to the epicurean…


We are now in the “Quintessential Dining Experience” department.  Call it “Food 3.0”.  An exponential step up.  (Some might say.  Though not everybody.) 

There is enough food.  You have determined what’s good for you.  Enter: 

The palate and the taste buds.

This is not necessarily a dollars issue.  It is not merely the “Best Gourmet Meal At Unreasonable Prices.”  What has happened is that, in dining categories across the board, we have become more knowledgeable and more demanding.  “Good enough” is no longer good enough.  It has to be “The Best.”

“The Best Bagel.”  “The Best Greasy Hamburger.”  “The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich.”  “The Best Spicy Green Stuff You Put On A Burrito.”     

Everybody’s an expert.  And they are not only proclaiming their expertise.  If you are missing “The Best”, they assert, you may not know it, but your life is bereft of significant meaning.

My wife and daughter Anna are at least “borderline foodies.”  Usually on the upscale side of things, although they also extol Tacos Por Favor.  Being around them has immeasurably upgraded my palate.  Which, it turns out, is an unexpected mixed blessing. 

They have introduced me to “finer dining.”  But since most prepared food is all right but rarely spectacular, I have now joined them in being regularly disappointed. 

Meaning I can no longer enjoy restaurants that I once thought were all right.  Is that better for me, or worse?

It is in this context – and this context alone – that I identify with conservatives’ frustration with our sexualized society.  When bombarded by fads and fashions, especially those favoring increased visceral pleasure, whether you want it or not, it’s everywhere.  And there is nothing you can do but complain about it.

Which is helpful, of course, because complaining about things turns things immediately back to to the way they once were.

Did you hear me just sigh? 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Let it herein be stipulated - and I say this with substantial embarrassment - that I have always experienced an unconscious though occasionally overt animosity towards anybody who is richer, more famous or more successful than I am.  (I would throw in "people who are better looking than I am" but that raises it to the level of "Now it's getting silly.")

Why don’t I like these people?  The short version:  They get better treatment than I do, and I’m jealous.  What can I tell you?  There is an immeasurable depth to my shallowness.   A unique turn of phrase masking an unflattering character flaw.

Imagine, then, my discomfort, dismay and disconcertion when a new group is lifted out of obscurity into the limelight, reaping the attention and priority treatment that made me originally dislike the crowd they have just recently been lifted into. 

The contingent I’m not crazy about has just gotten bigger.

The latest “Toasts of the Town”?  Well, maybe not the latest, but the one that has today drawn my curmudgeonly attention?

Celebrity chefs. 

Chefs have leapt into magazine cover prominence.  And what do they do to attain this high profile position?

They make food.

That’s it.  They take raw stuff that they bought someplace and they cook it.   

My mother did that!

And nobody thought that was noteworthy.  Including her children.

I know.  I know.  I know.  I don’t like it.  But I get it.

Like with any other ability, some people are better at it than others, a handful of them so much better, they turn their gift for…whatever… into a moneymaking activity, and whoosh! – they’re flying private jets and cavorting with supermodels.

For what, in this case?

For going into a kitchen and preparing some food.

How in the world did that happen?

How did cooking, a proclivity possibly picked up in “Home Ec.”, turn into a steppingstone to international acclaim?  There are people who put out forest fires, and nobody knows who they are.  These guys stand near a grease fire and suddenly they’re the King of the Castle!

Or Queen.

The job “Chef” is now an iconic touchstone.  It’s like “cowboy hero” used to be.  A distant pinnacle to imaginatorially aspire to.  The line of work has become cultural folklore.  There is a movie out now called Chef.  Adam Sandler played a chef in Spanglish (2004).  In the animated feature Ratatouille (2007), a precocious rat played a gourmet chef. 

It’s like it’s their turn in the spotlight.  “Chef” is the new “rock star”, with organic vegetables replacing hard drugs.

Some careers have always attracted the public eye.  I am used to athletes being famous.  And, of course, show business celebrities.  (Which now, reflecting a significantly lowered bar, includes cable news anchors and Internet sex tape participants.)  

And it’s not like there were never famous chefs in the past.  Back then, however, they worked in exclusive restaurants, and only people who could afford to eat in them knew who they were.  Today, it’s gone mainstream.  Food news is everywhere!

Today, the L.A. Times “op-ed” page featured an extended interview with an L.A. chef who had won a major cooking award.  You have to wonder about their priorities.  The war in Afghanistan?  Trouble in the Ukraine?  Terminal gridlock in Washington?  All of them bumped from the public debate for a woman specializing in gourmet pizzas.  

Somebody explain it to me.  What is so irresistibly hot about a person in tall hat and a smock that buttons up the side?

I do not understand it.

Which really means, “I do understand it but I do not agree with it.”

You treat somebody special, and inevitably they feel special.  Whether they deserve to or not.  You remember, “I think, therefore I am”?  Now it’s “They make movies about me, therefore I AM!!!” And, as Chevy Chase once unpleasantly lorded over us…

“You’re not.”

Meaning, I’m not. 

It has come to that.  I do not exist because I am not a chef.

This is actually a two-parter, the first part concerning the statification of food preparers, the second about the idealization of food itself.

Which I also don’t understand.  (See: Translation above.)

By the way, I was recently introduced to a famous Los Angeles chef.  He was soft-spoken, approachable, a man, quietly comfortable in his calling, who would have happily pursued it with or without celebritorial hoopla. 

I hate it when contradictory examples interfere with my harangue.

Don’t you?