Tuesday, July 20, 2010

On the New Jersey Turnpike, No One Can Hear You Scream

That was the excellent tagline for one of Richard Pryor's minor hit films, Moving. Playing off the infamous "In space, no one can hear you scream" of Alien, this absurd comedy pits middle-class Dad Pryor versus the indignities of every day life as he attempts to move his family to a nice house in the suburbs. I'm packing up and moving soon, so I wanted to review this enjoyable '80s flick, but it is criminally out of print. Now, it's not one of Pryor's best, like my favorites- The Toy, Blue Collar, and Silver Streak- but it's better than most late '80s fare. It hits a lot of the same notes as Joe Dante's The 'Burbs, but never gets quite bizarre enough to reach that pinnacle.

Randy Quaid plays his jerk neighbor in both states, and Dana Carvey has an early role as a wacky guy he hires to drive his car to Idaho, where they are moving. It plays on familiar fantasies to escape the cramped, crazy life in New Jersey's older suburbs where congestion reigns, and substitutes new annoyances in his new state. Like many Jerseyans who fled to Pennsylvania to be baffled by their Puritan liquor laws and a paucity of civilized conveniences, which make Jersey so crowded in the first place. The grass is always greener, even if it's asphalt covered in cigarette butts.

The most memorable scene is the ending, when Pryor's mild-mannered Dad finally gets fed up, dresses like a ninja, and starts kicking the ass of the movers who arrived weeks late with their belongings. One of them is played by wrestler King Kong Bundy, and it makes for an amusing bit of craziness that needed to be amped up throughout the film to bring things up a peg. As it is, it's similar to several late '80s comedies like Chevy Chase's Funny Farm, where things sound a lot funnier than they actually play out. Moving, however, has Richard Pryor and his one of a kind physical comedy. Has anyone expressed utter apoplectic rage and terror like his wide-eyed, lip-biting visage, as if his head were about to explode?

My friend Jay over at The Sexy Armpit wrote a much more in-depth review on his blog, and I send you there for great screen shots of this Jersey classic.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Friday, July 9, 2010

How to be a Patriotic Porker

Thanks to my twitter pal Holly Moore, legendary greasy spoon connoisseur and author of Holly Eats, I found this list of the 50 Fattiest Foods in America. The list was meant to be one of ignominy, one of shame, but to grease hounds like us, it's a bucket list. So what if consuming the foods therein might make us kick that bucket a tad earlier?

From the elusive Alaska's Eskimo Ice Cream- seal fat and berries- to the infamous Fat Darrel sandwich at the Rutgers U food trucks- it gives the "worst" food in each of the 50 states. I've eaten 18 of these- some are a bit silly and not particularly local only to the state they attribute it to- and some of the choices are a bit Puritan. Do chocolate chip cookies belong on the same list as the Quadruple Bypass burger? Is fried catfish really THAT bad? I'm sure there's plenty of sushi rolls with more fat than LAMB CHOPS, for crying out loud. I think Health.com ran out of steam on their list and started picking things out of thin air, or their ass, whichever was closer.
Fried Catfish, Abita strawberry, clam strips, greens and yams... on Twitpic

Arkansas: Fried catfish. Okay, I had mine at Crockett's Fish Fry in Montclair, and it was quite tasty. Grilled catfish is rubbery.

California: The In-N-Out Double Double gets kudos for fresh ingredients, but slammed for having more fat than a McDonald's double cheeseburger. Of course it does. A McTurdburger is tiny now, so they can still put them on the dollar menu. I'd have picked Dynamite or Spicy Tuna Volcano Rolls, which are loaded with mayo, yet get a pass because "sushi is healthy." Not when it's packed with fried tempura bits...

Florida: Empenadas. I most recently had these in Morristown, at Raul's Empanada Town. They have dozens of varieties. Some were obviously frozen, but most were very tasty, and of course, jam packed full of meat, cheese, and/or chocolate. We had these after hiking at Jockey Hollow National Park, to "earn it." Of course, empenadas are deep fried meat pies and not meant to be eaten daily. But they're a great treat and excellent street food.

Hawaii: The Moco Loco. Yep, had it for breakfast. Reviewed here.It was quite tasty, like meat loaf and eggs. Didn't kill  me.

Illinois gets rightfully slammed for Deep Dish Pizza, which really should be called something other than pizza. It's delicious, but its more like pizza casserole. I had Giordano's, when I visited Chicago. It was incredibly decadent and filling. Anyone visiting Chicago should have some, just share it with 4-6 friends. And then go have a Vienna Beef, their version of a hot dog. It's a great food town. Also head underground to The Billy Goat Tavern, where the "cheeburger cheeburger, no pepsi, coke" SNL skit came from. They still make a good griddle burger on par with NYC's "The Burger Joint," and it's like walking back in time.

Louisiana's beignets get slammed for having a mere 11 grams of fat. Which is better than most donuts, so what the hell? If you visit New Orleans and don't go to Cafe du Monde for chicory coffee and beignets, God will smite you in your nethers and make you barren. If you don't burn enough calories to eat a beignet by walking up and down the French Quarter, you haven't enjoyed the area. Get walkin'.

Maine's delicious Lobster Rolls get singled out for having mayo. Health.com is doling out outdated information, since fatty foods haven't been directly linked to anything. Eat enough sugar-laden foods and you'll get just as fat. By demonizing fat, you risk avoiding healthy fats like olive, coconut and other oils. Sure, a steamed lobster has fewer calories than one chopped up with mayo and slapped in a hot dog bun, but you're eating lobster. Splurge a little. Processed junk that masquerades as health food is much more insidious than something as honest as Georgia's Luther Burger- a cheeseburger with a Krispy Kreme donut as bun- which even Forrest Gump knows is bad to eat every day.

Nevada casinos get a vague slam for buffets. Of course, you can eat healthy at a buffet if you really want to. You're more likely to overeat at a buffet, but you can fill up on cocktail shrimp and raw vegetables if you really want to. Buffets in the South are dangerous, where even the vegetables are cooked in bacon fat with chunky bits of pork butt. I made the mistake of going to a Shoney's and thinking I could eat healthy. I gave up and had fried catfish and green beans cooked with pork. Yum.

New Hampshire's New England clam chowder gets the kibosh. I've always preferred Manhattan style, probably because of my Italian roots liking the tomato base. But a good New England chowder is great comfort food. If you go easy on the cream, it's not that unhealthy either. Canned? For shame. Find a recipe!

New Jersey's Fat Darrel is rightfully shamed- it's drunk food after all. I still haven't had one of these, so a pilgrimage is in order.

New Mexico's Frito Pie is something only Americans would make- open a bag of Fritos, and put chili and cheese in it. It's awesome. The chips are perfect for scooping up gooey cheesy chili. We got ours at Fat Annie's Truck Stop in NYC, and if you share a bag it's not gonna kill you. I'm certain to make this as a dish for the next potluck I'm invited to. It's easy, tasty, and amusing. Anyone who orders it as a meal deserves what's coming to them.

New York's famous Garbage Plates are excoriated- apparently they have between 90 and 200 grams of fat, which explains why Firecracker had the green apple splatters after we ate these on our Niagara trip. I regret nothing. It was very tasty, and if I lived up Rochester way, I'd have these about as often as I get Rutt's Hutt's deep fried hot dogs here- every 6 to 12 months or so.

Oklahoma gets singled out for the Southern standard, the Chicken Fried Steak. Now, whenever you want to honor Elvis, you eat one of these and a peanut butter nanner sammich. Just don't honor the King too often, lest you die on the crapper as he did. This dish is well worth trying. Bob Evans is your best bet, though Cracker Barrel might be easier to find. Or find a classic "meat and three" place in the South. It's a decadent treat after a hard day's work. America's problem is that our favorite dishes were made for when we worked on farms and coal mines and lumberjack teams all day, instead of farting in an office chair or a car seat. This dish exemplifies that dichotomy, and ... oh who am I kidding with that thesis crap?

Philly Cheese Steaks are Pennsylvania's "fattiest," which means health.com hasn't had scrapple. Scrapple is stuff deemed unfit for sausage making, ground with cornmeal and flour, formed into a loaf, then sliced and fried for breakfast, as God's punishment for being a lowly sinner. It's like fat made of cardboard. Cheese Steaks are heavenly by comparison. I've had Geno's, but a pilgrimage to Pat's King of Steaks is planned this year. A Philly cheese steak is a thing of beauty- greasy thin sliced meat, Cheez Whiz, peppers and onions on a hoagie roll- everything a growing boy needs. Except twinkies.

Virginia Ham gets the slam. Sure, ham is fattier than pork loin, but it's not like bacon. I had a marvelous heritage Berkshire ham from Newman Farms for Easter. It tasted so good that world peace seemed possible, if only everyone had a bite at the same time. Unfortunately there aren't enough humanely raised Berkshire pigs to go around, so we live in a world of war and pestilence, where Smithfield pigs create lakes of manure that flood into our drinking water.

West Virginia's Hillbilly Hot Dogs gets singled out for their ten pound burger. Now, no one can eat that, not even Adam Richman of Man vs. Food. I visited Hillbilly Hot Dogs last summer with Milky, and their dogs are top notch. One of my favorites. No, we didn't even try the 15 inch, 3 pound Homewrecker. 2 dogs and fries were more than enough to fuel us for the road trip. I actually lost weight on that trip.

Wisconsin's deep fried cheese curds- a State Fair staple turned ubiquitous fast food side- are a super-salty, squeaky cheese fried snack. Yes, they squeak. I don't like them that much compared to fried cheese sticks, but they love them in Wisconsin, Minnesota and thereabouts.

Some of the ones I haven't tried are intriguing, expect perhaps Indiana's fried brain sandwich. I find Rocky Mountain Oysters less disgusting, somehow. Brains and balls- and kidneys- are about all I find distasteful. Livermush? Serve it up. Bacon-wrapped meat loaf? Bring it on.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Step Right Up

It gives you a job
It IS a job!

So goes the Tom Waits song of this post's title, describing "the only product you will ever need." We've waited thirty years for the product, and now we have it: the smartphone. I recently purchased a Motorola Droid, after watching my boss waste countless hours fiddling with it. I love it. There are many like it, but this one is mine. I don't know what I ever did without it. But what does it do?

To borrow a quote of mysterious origin, "that's the beauty of it- it doesn't DO anything!" Now of course that's not true. It has GPS, a fast internet connection, games, and like the iPhone, sometimes it even makes calls. But what does it do for me? Occupy me, mostly. It makes me check facebook, twitter, tumblr, gmail, and my RSS feeds every three minutes, and that's if I'm driving. Just kidding. I took Oprah's pledge not to phone and drive. Web browsing doesn't count, right?

The smartphone is an excuse for itself, turning us all into Data from The Goonies, except instead of being festooned with gadgets, we only have one, our iPrecious. I spend more time searching for ingenious apps, configuring them and showing them off than I ever do using them productively. I'll admit that my pocket precious is indispensable when I need to find sushi in suburbia, or I'm too impatient to fire up the laptop. But in the end, it reminds me of the robotic overlords in Fritz Leiber's story "The Creature from the Cleveland Depths, which began as personal assistants.

It's a great story, both hilariously dated and eerily prescient. Here's a link, so you can read it on your phone later. And yes, I wrote this post from my droid.

Last night's Futuruma was perfect.

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