The Hoofers’ Guide to Passion, Ambition, Success and Love

Poster of La La Land movie
Click poster for studio’s page on movie

It wasn’t work-of-genius good. In fact La La Land shouldn’t be rated on a four-star system because three and a half stars is ambiguous, but the movie was definitely four stars out of five ****o.

Other write-ups say, often flatteringly, that the stars’ dancing was good, very good even, but not great. That’s the wrong angle. Leads Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone would have given any level of slick grace if that’s what they were supposed to do. But they weren’t. Even if dancing’s not their first performance skill.

The choreography likely was deliberate, maybe the dancing was designed to not be too memorable. However, I recall the dance scenes clearly, expect that the plan was they were a few steps beyond what you or I could handle, not the spectacle of the mid-20th-century hoofers.

The movie’s opening dance number, which includes but does not feature the two leads, was clever but frankly nothing compared to the opening of the movie adaptation of Hair — longish at 5:43 as it starts seconds before the music and a long moment before the dance.

That’s pretty much the same problem with La La Land’s music. The melodic “City of Stars” theme is memorable and hardy enough to do the work the plot requires of it. But otherwise, we get just pleasant tunes and pleasant wordcraft.

Also, the Gosling character is a 2016-ish jazz musician, a classicist meaning perhaps anything but now (before the ’80s?). The score generally is musical theater style with jazz-swing influence. Continue reading

Canopy Cassoulet

Logo of Canopy Northwest Arkansas, a refugee resettlement serviceAs a volunteer with the refugee resettlement group Canopy Northwest Arkansas, I made a family’s first meal in their new home.

The mom and dad, ages 30 and 28, have been living in camps since fleeing Democratic Republic of  Congo in 2003. Their son just turned 6. Who knows what they’ve been eating all this time. A recipe, a north African-style tajine stew that my wife and I enjoyed a couple of times in recent months, made the most sense.

Did they like it? The adults were nearly beyond exhaustion, and there was a language barrier. They ate silently but heartily. The volunteers who brought them to the apartment from the airport wanted the recipe, it smelled and looked so good.

The boy? For a long time, his folks couldn’t tear him away from the toy trucks the group had waiting for him. Continue reading

Cloakroom Talk

Endorsing Conner Eldridge for U.S. Senate

Let’s leave the 2016 presidential race a moment. It’ll continue without us. Let’s consider Congress. From an Arkansas view.

Conner Eldridge
Conner Eldridge
Source: Wikipedia

The Republican Party has had majorities in the House and Senate the last two years. The party has worked hard to oppose most of the Democratic president’s agenda for both of his terms. Yet, these bodies for legislation (to pass new laws and fix old ones), have failed to put forward much of their own agenda. What’s the problem? They have over 50 percent representation.

In the nearly eight years of the Obama administration, Congress has overridden a presidential veto once, only weeks ago. Oddly, GOP leaders regret doing so, according to USA Today Sept. 30, “White House: Congress Has ‘Buyer’s Remorse’ after Overriding Obama Veto.

Our federal government runs on checks and balances. The judicial branch needs all nine justices. Every time the Senate advises and consents on a president’s choice, opposition makes its voice heard and sometimes quashes a nominee. Reasonably astute judges always have been approved to fill the Supreme Court bench within few months.

The GOP leadership promises, however, it will continue to blockade even the most respected, middle-of-the-road candidates if a Democratic president nominates them. The Grand Old Party plans similar tactics elsewhere.

Obstruction of the judiciary is irresponsible. Especially if the legislative branch isn’t working on laws itself.

Steve Womack first was elected to represent the Third District (Northwest Arkansas) in 2010. He faces no Democratic opposition, just a Libertarian. Womack likely will keep his House seat, but let’s send him a message, “We are watching you.”

We warn him, not by skipping the marking of this ballot, but voting for the other guy, Steve Isaacson. We must do this even though Isaacson does not care for his party’s Johnson-Weld presidential ticket but supports Donald Trump.

Representative democracy isn’t checkers but more chess.

Continue reading

Will Rogers. For President?

Bookmarks showing Will Rogers for President buttons
Bookmarks showing Will Rogers for President buttons. (Source: Will Rogers Memorial Museum online store)

TULSA — Somewhere in the mist of the beginnings of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists arose two icons, Ernie Pyle and Will Rogers. NSNC has other now-ghostly mentors, including Erma and Molly and Art, but these two men from the first half of the 20th century are the modern mentors of columns.

It’s taken me years to understand why.

I loved Ernie Pyle’s World War II columns, classics of our genre and also of overall journalism. Did those send him to the top? Not to me. When, however, I pored through the collections On a Wing and a Prayer: The Aviation Columns of Ernie Pyle, co-edited by our friend the late Mike Harden, and Home Country, American travel stories edited by Lee G. Miller, it became obvious: Pyle observed, then he wrote it true.

What of Will Rogers? He started out a vaudeville solo act of spinning rope and spinning quips and stories. He turned those into movies then into newspaper columns, among other outlets.

Those one-liners of Will’s haven’t gone stale nearly a century later, repeated especially in election years. Worthy of hero-worship? By the end of our Labor Day weekend to Rogers’ hometown of Claremore then to Tulsa for its museum of another gifted performer, the answer came out yes and the reason became obvious.

Continue reading

Fingerholds on a Slippery Slope

It’s a business meeting with two 30-something women I’ve never met, the wrong place to bring up anything personal. I know that.

The hour is nearing an end. Nearly all the serious stuff is done. This is actually a delicate moment. Things can be screwed up moments before all is said and done.

One of the women praises the fresh nails of the other.

What am I to say? Small office, we’re sitting around a desk.

“Both of yours look great,” I say. “But the craftsmanship is so interesting I have to ask, why is one nail different on your four hands?”

“What do you mean?” one says.

The woman in charge has eight nails a slate blue but the ring finger on each hand is moss green. The other woman has eight bright red nails and her ring fingers a bright yellow.

“Your third fingers are different from the others. That’s cool. Do you go to the same salon?”

No. Maybe their smiles at me are shifting very slightly.

“Does it signify something, a group you both belong to?”

No. Now they’ve glanced at each other.

“It’s just the latest trend, Ben,” says one. “There used to be a lot of flash, now the fashion seems to have moved to this.”

“Oh, OK. I guess my wife hasn’t picked this style when she goes in. It’s new to me. Entirely new. I like it!”

The meeting ends with handshakes and glad-to-meet-yous all around. The second woman walks me out, as she had escorted me in — this is at a secure office building. And our talk then is about the business and full of good cheer.

My hoped-for outcome did not happen. This is likely because the project changed between the appointment being made and my showing up, and we went over that in the meeting.

But what if I said the wrong thing?

• • •

Growing up, people’s living rooms had knick-knacks on coffee tables, perhaps an elaborate table lighter for cigarettes, or a figurine bought on an exotic trip. In the 20th century at least, they were called “conversation pieces.”

As a boy, I was taught that those are for when the talk is lagging. “Say, that is one unique snow globe. Where did you find it?”

We tend to wear our conversation pieces. Casually, it’s our logo T-shirts. “Where did you catch Neil Young on that tour?” “We saw him in Tulsa. It was awesome!”

All too quickly, though, with appearances gender issues come up, and they have to be respected. They should be.

Which matters are off-limits or open for comment has come to be pretty clear, but fuzzy edges do remain, don’t they. Men apparently see the borders as vague, while women generally maintain they’re are as clear as a lacquer finish.

If it’s especially flagrant, isn’t one expected to ask about it, to remark upon it? Some folks are hurt if you don’t notice, for example after a makeover.

A shoulder tattoo on someone given to wearing sleeveless garments, an ankle tatt on the sockless. It’s OK to ask, “Who’s Pearl?” I get that.

There’s Jill Abramson’s New York Times logo Gothic “T” on her back. Few have seen that outside the swimming pool, but she’s talked about it several times in the press. It came up again since she was fired as executive editor a few weeks ago. Her daughter quickly posted a photo of Abramson in gym clothes hammering an old-fashioned punching bag, for the symbolism, no doubt. No T, but there’s another one on her right shoulder.

Fair game, then.

On the other hand, I never ask about piercings, ever, women or men. Why? For me, those are just decorative. The earrings, studs or hoops sometimes are not be to my liking, all the better to shut up about them.

So, how about digits? Before, when a woman has has exceptional work done on fingers or toes, they don’t mind the praise, especially when there’s some bling to them, such as glitter or tiny paintings.

Which now, I’ve learned is passe.

• • •

"Accent Nail Ideas" from 2014 Nail Designs Ideas
“Accent Nail Ideas” from 2014 Nail Designs Ideas

Thanks to Google, today I’ve learned this manicure set-up is called “accent nails.”

The Italian edition of Vogue magazine notes that the ring finger is the one outstanding, perhaps to indicate romantic status, much as a ring on the ring finger does — “Ring Finger Nail Polish.”

However, the outlandish Jezebel website calls the practice “finger-flagging,” to indicate sexual preference in its story, “The Finger-Flagging Manicure for Ladies Who Are into Ladies.”

Uh-oh.

How’s this for a new trend. Where now it’s high courtesy to silence smart phones for important meals and meetings, let’s allow them. I want to “search” phrases and topics before uttering a thing.

A new etiquette.

Copyright 2014 Ben S. Pollock Jr.

An Omnivore’s Manifesto

We’re trying veganism, My Beloved and I, now in our 11th week of cutting the ovo-lacto from our comfortable vegetarianism of over two decades.

The Power Plate diet diagram of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
An alternative to the ol’ food pyramid, designed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine — the Power Plate.

Look Out For That Bus!

It’d been a year since my last fasting cholesterol blood test. The results so floored my doctor a week ago — total dropped from 244 to 159 with triglycerides and LDL roughly halved, 161 to 78, 147 to 85, respectively — that he ended my 12-year prescription to cholesterol-lowering drugs.

The online program www.21daykickstart.org begins the first of every month, and we started April 1. I went ovo-lacto veg about Election Day 1990, so included dairy and eggs. MB dropped meat after we began dating in summer 1991, but she got me to have salmon monthly.

We chose 21-Day Kickstart because it’s run by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and its founder Dr. Neal Barnard, because they’re not faddish and cite only solid, independent science.

Ask anyone who’s dieted. You can do most anything for a very few weeks.

While gloating over my numbers and self-discipline — or what passes for gloating, listing these counts on Facebook — I kept thinking how useful good health is … until it’s cut short by an unsuspected defect in some vital organ. Or that with my half-working ears, and head in the clouds, I step into the path of an electric car. I’m pretty sure I’d sense a bus and hop back.

‘Cooking Is a Political Act’

I’ve lost a lot of weight, too. More on that, anon.

Eating better has been for me as much an intellectual challenge as an emotional one. I’d say physical also, but picking out food comes from the brain and the heart. Thirst and hunger are real, but delineating them further employs mental and emotional judgment. Our sources for such judgments have gotten us into the health mess we’re in.

“Cooking is a political act,” says Michael Pollan. This is the thesis of the UC-Berkeley journalism professor’s latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. He explains it in an interview:

All we do is we take the one thing that we do for a living, we sell that into the market, we take that money and use that to outsource everything in our lives. That leads to a dependence that is almost infantilizing.”

Why didn’t he use “economic” instead of “political” in the five-word throw-down? Cooking is political more than economic for him because it’s more about power than mere money, extending beyond the marketplace.

This is not my favorite Pollan book. It’s fun, but the depth comes from the introduction and a few paragraphs among hundreds of pages on how this middle-aged urban guy finally learned — after becoming an expert on the food industry — to cook. He chose to pick up traditional, universal methods: roasting meat, baking bread, stews and pickling.

(My pick is Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. This manifesto’s title is an homage to his The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.)

That’s right, Michael Pollan is not a vegetarian. Nor is my other favorite food journalist, Mark Bittman. Neither follows hype. They follow facts. Both eat meat and dairy carefully.

We’re all omnivores, right? Biologically for 10,000 years, give or take a couple million. Peoples worldwide have thrived on whatever their surroundings provided them to eat. For example, we Americans think of Buddhists being on the plant end of diets — rice and tofu. Yet Tibetans, whose spiritual leader is the Dalai Lama, are on the carnivore end of foods — after all, few plants grow in the Himalayas. Yak steaks, goat burgers.

The fact I can thrive on a healthy diet from any traditional culture is a clue. Solid science blames modern Western society’s industrialized food choices for many ailments. If that’s so, why are we as a society living longer? Answer: We have incredible health care.

When ‘They’ Cook, It’s Become a Con

Statistically, though, I am much more likely than my bacon-on-Wonder-bread-loving friends to make it to age 90. Vegan means, besides now quelling a family history of blood pressure, heart trouble and diabetes II (my fasting glucose was 86), less chance of cancers and even dementia.

Yet statistics measure populations not individuals. The odds are fully 100 percent whether I will float atop that bell curve of longevity. Hello, bus.

What’s to account for longer lives? The vegetarianism of George Bernard Shaw? More likely, Ignaz Semmelweis getting the world to wash its hands, only in 1847.

Our American culture, both the good and the bad, propels us toward overindulging in foods that historically have been enjoyed in moderation.

Besides Pollan’s books, documentaries like Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me highlight the big-business machinations to con us to ordering more food of questionable nutrition in restaurants. Other books like Michael Moss’ Sugar Salt Fat detail how Big Food gets us to buy not food but food products from markets.

I haven’t quit such processed foods, but I’ve become far better at evaluating them. One irony is they infect the vegan world — ads for ready-to-eat plant-based products underwrite the glossy veg magazines I drool through at the local natural food store.

It was so damned hard to cut cheese from my palette that I’m staying vegan for the near future partly out of spite. The other reason is control.

‘Their’ Food Doesn’t Taste Good

Before 1990 I ate like everyone else. After college graduation a decade earlier I learned in that first summer of independence that burger and chicken joints, even Arby’s roast beef, soon came to taste alike, of musty oil and salt. At home, both Hamburger Helper and the twinned cans of La Choy got old by fall. So I began teaching myself to cook.

Mom had given me the Joy of Cooking, but it never resonated. PBS cooking shows did; I did chores on weekend afternoons with them — never Julia Child, though — stopping to take notes. In 1985, Jane Brody‘s Good Food Book struck a nerve. It was my first journalism-based nutrition bible. As she’s still with The New York Times, she’s a godmother to Bittman, Pollan and Moss.

Moving toward Mollie Katzen in the ’90s, then last September to India’s traditional Ayurveda regimen and in April to PCRM’s plant-based low-fat diet, now seems to have been inevitable.

If only I could follow Max Perkins’ “Always leave the table a little bit hungry.” My impulse control is lousy.

In June 2012, the doctor’s scale had me at 155 pounds, this past June 7,  I weighed 135. The Ayurveda months cut the first 15 of 20 pounds.

What helps is that PCRM’s veganism uses no portion control. These past weeks I have often stuffed myself, just gorged if I wanted, on plant-based, whole-grain, low-fat items. I allow refined flour when we’re out — there’s little choice.

MB and I recently went to the local Mellow Mushroom, because I heard the pizza chain offers vegan cheese (a substitute, or analog, of mushed-up flours, oils and flavorings). I liked the Daiya cheese OK, but MB didn’t at all.

The server said because we’re vegan she’d tell the kitchen to skip spreading butter on the edges of the pie after it’s baked. Olive oil, sure, but not butter. The menu said the dough had sugar, boasting it was unrefined, but still, why? Makes me angry.

When I scraped away the veggies and fake cheese to taste just the tomato sauce, I found lots of cumin. Why, Italian food doesn’t use cumin. How did the chain restaurant’s master lab come up with that?

Do I have to cook all my own meals? My own pizza now longer seems vain.

A local Tex-Mex place boasts of being vegan-friendly and of using only fresh vegetables. We tried it. MB’s spinach was canned, and my sauteed zucchini and cauliflower had that once-frozen texture and tasted of vinegar. Vinegar? We grew angry.

Twice since then, I’ve spread fat-free refried beans (my latest pantry staple) on corn or whole-wheat tortillas, heaped on freshly cooked, seasoned vegetables and spooned on either of two jarred salsas. Folded to make quesadillas or rolled for enchiladas, then browned in a nonstick skillet. Craving a sauce? Keep packets of Wholly Guacamole (or the house-brand equivalent) in the freezer. Tasty, healthy and filling, with only one skillet to clean.

Anger drives me into the kitchen. Fortunately, I love to cook, and I’m making time for it more often.

Eating also is a political act

In the West, in the 20th and now 21st centuries, we can choose to eat anything. The economy has been set up to make foods cheap and easy to find, compared to previous centuries and other lands.

What we eat is a choice.

My veganism puts me in league with my bacon-loving brothers. I have lots of professional colleagues who boast of junk food diets and laugh admiringly about the latest bacon concoction of chain eateries.

These friends don’t want to be lectured to by the likes of me. I am the enemy here.

Understood. Eating these days is both acting and reacting, both exercising control and admitting such control is limited. Eating certainly has become a political act.

Over a dozen years I’d carelessly gained around 20 pounds. Outside my control, last August I was laid off from a long-held position. Now I run around with three part-time gigs so low-paying I still qualify for unemployment. But work’s great for morale, gives me some power over circumstances.

Why not go further? Only organic (whose definition?), only locally grown (hypocrisy outside of California), only old-fashioned family farms (how far back for authenticity) and so on?

First, foodies, who by definition rave about those, reek of elitism, and I want no part of that. You must have a very good income to even approach ideal food choices. Second, if you’re going the fresh-always-is-better route, you can’t allow for exceptions: Are you really going to interrogate your friends over every item on their party platters?

I am a Wal-Mart vegan. Both it and area supermarket chains make it easy, despite their infinitely more yards of shelf space for junk food.

My body got clogged with common, cheap choices, even the more nutritious ones. My anger directs me to good decisions. Self-control now has become satisfying.

Last, my goal is not to live to 90, be some wizened, shuffling, forgetful crank. Since the layoff I’ve decided to plan only in five-year increments. Four-plus years is all I can stomach thinking about.

Will I have cheese pizza and creamy brownies for the next five-or-zero birthday? I have no interest in planning or promising past this summer.

Zorba the Greek‘s wisdom, to live fully, is no contradiction when applied to the mundane act of eating.

I am in control so that I can be free.

“Teach me to dance.”

Copyright 2013 Ben S.Pollock (not the clip, of course)