Exhibit AJ: Welcome to Middlebury, have a beer and a rubber.

Home, Sweet Home

At last, I have arrived. I have been caught in a sort of limbo since last May; no longer a high school student, not yet at college, not really a productive member of either the professional or the social world of adulthood, I have been the ultimate child bachelor. My needs have been provided for by my parents, I have worked to keep myself busy, and for the most part I've spent my time vacillating between being lonely and being really happy to be left alone. And now I'm finally here. I've broken out of the bizarre sort of Purgatory that came of my forced leave of absence from the academic world, and I've finally made it to college.

I did my best to come into college without preconceived notions or prejudices, but I couldn't help but pick up a few. Just kidding. I had, from listening to and visiting my friends already at college (and a few people at Middlebury in particular), developed a pretty clear picture of college as a sort of intellectual Utopia. I believed quite firmly that colleges were populated exclusively by groovy and intelligent people who love nothing more than a good meaty conversation about politics or history or the subtle nuances of language. I knew that there would be alcohol, drugs and sex being enjoyed in extreme quantities all around me, but I was assured that there would be plenty of social opportunity for a straight-laced boy like me. Oh, how I wish the first sentence of this paragraph were true.

Let me give you a quick run-down of what I learned about my new home during orientation:

I can get free condoms from my RA, CRA, JCRA, MOAB and SUV, or from my dean, or from the health center. Any one of these places can offer me a wide selection of colors, sizes, styles and even flavors. That's right, my college will give me free flavored condoms. And, on the off chance that somebody is overcome by the desire to "make the pointy meet the mushy" and can't stand to find a free condom before they jump one another's bones, the female can just go to the health center afterwards and get a free morning-after pill.

The new Atwater Dining Hall on campus boasts the largest window in the state of Vermont. Don't even pretend that you're not jealous.

The college buys alcohol for the students. The college buys booze for the host of the party, you tell the host of the party that you are underage, and the host puts a black "X" ON your hand and a cup of beer IN your hand.

The only way an underage drinker can get in trouble for, well, being an underage drinker, is if Public Safety catches him or her with an open container in his or her hand. That means that I, as a hypothetical (and, I assure you, ONLY hypothetical) underage drinker, could be caught sitting in front of a table strewn with empty and half-empty alcohol containers with my name written on them, obviously inebriated and drenched in beer, with a sealed bottle of Hennessy in one hand and a sealed bottle of Absinthe in the other?.and I would get off Scot-free. I could fill every remaining space in my room, with full, sealed bottles of grain alcohol?.and the school wouldn't be able to do a darn thing to me. They wouldn't even be able to make me get rid of the stuff.

What happens if I manage to get caught by public safety in the act of pounding a bottle of Jagermeister? Well, I would get a citation and have a meeting with my dean, at which nothing at all would happen. It would take THREE citations before my parents even found out about my boozification, and a whopping five before any sort of disciplinary action more serious than a meeting was taken.

I have no objection to such freedoms. People should live as they want to live, as long as it doesn't infringe upon my basic human rights to be able to pretend that everybody around me is sober and virginal and to have friends that do something other than drink, smoke or screw. Sadly, however, such individuals don't seem to exist. Or rather, the people that share my interests are all either drinkers or smokers-just about everybody on campus is a fornicator, but such misbehavior is usually easier to ignore than habitual self-medication.

I am now going to give up on this submission, for it is not funny and too long already. I shall put up more funny?..sometime.

Required Reading (because I know you missed it)
Scary-Go-Round Oh webcomics, what would I do without ye?

StumbleUpon Toolbar Posted on February 21st, 2005 | Comments

Exhibit AI: False Advertising

False advertising laws only work if the public knows that it's being duped. In the case of high-class, expensive restaurants, the average consumer has no way of knowing whether or not what they are getting is what they think they paid for. For instance, if you or I were to go out and buy a low-yield nuclear weapon, we would have no choice but to swallow whatever the salesman said about special features and net devastation, because you and I don't know a darn thing about nuclear weapons and the salesman is probably better armed than we are.

Restaurant owners are not generally well-armed, but the same general principle applies: Beyond being able to identify a hamburger and recognize at what point it becomes a cheeseburger, there are very few people who don't make a living cooking or critiquing food that can tell an heirloom tomato from a beefstake tomato or can identify the difference between black truffle oil, white truffle oil, olive oil and blended salad oil. The writers of menus, therefore, are pretty much free to make promises they have no intention of keeping, without any need to fear a reprimand from the Better Business Bureau or even a complaint from a cheated customer.

Make no mistake about it: the people that write the menus want to make the food sound both exquisite and unbearably expensive. The theory is that if something sounds sufficiently expensive, you won't feel too bad about paying way too much for it. If you go out to eat, you're probably not getting what you think you're paying for. As part of my constant and tireless battle to stick it to The Man, I present the following examples from those hilarious works of fiction called 'menus' at The Shaker Table:

While the dinner menu is significantly more relaxed in its approach to the truth, the lunch menu does feature at least one flat-out lie:
-Baked Polenta, served with a roasted, organically grown heirloom tomato, local goat cheese and wild mushroom gravy
('Polenta', first of all, is an important-sounding word for corn meal mush mixed with about eighteen different types of milkfat. The end result is like grits swimming in oil. More importantly, by the end of the season our 'organically grown heirloom tomato' is actually a regular beefstake tomato from Sysco Foodservice Corp. Our 'local' goat cheese is imported from Norway, and the 'wild' mushrooms in the gravy are regular button mushrooms bought through Sysco from indoor greenhouses.)

-Sauté of Locally Harvested Forest Mushrooms
(our 'locally harvested forest mushrooms', depending on the season, either come from the basement of some fungus nut here in New Hampshire or by air mail from vast mushroom farms in Japan. A better name would be 'imported basement mushrooms'.)

-Fresh oysters of the day
(Where by 'fresh' we mean 'frozen'. 'Fresh' and 'frozen' are similar in that they both have an 'fr' at the beginning, but there the resemblance ends. But you, as the average consumer, would not be very inclined to plunk down thirteen bucks for 'thawed raw oysters of the day', would you?)

-The Shaker Table Salad: Mixed organically-grown baby greens from our garden, house-made herbed croustini, pear mayonnaise dressing
(Again, 'our garden' only lasts so long. Our greens now come from huge factory farms where they are raised with herbicides and pesticides and chemical fertilizers galore. Our 'herbed croustini' is actually a peasant bread, made by chopping up old bread scraps and adding them to the flour of a regular wheat bread. This salad would be better described as 'less than a cup of poison-sprayed lettuce, a piece of dry toast, served with salty mayonnaise that might taste a little bit like pear if you're lucky.' I feel indescribably dirty whenever I sell one of these culinary falsehoods.)

-Grilled Portobello mushroom caps with mushroom duxelle, truffled oil and melted truffle cheese.
(This is an excellent example to illustrate a couple of very important guidelines. First: if you see a word that you don't understand, ask about it. A 'mushroom duxelle' is nothing more than a puree of onions and cheap button mushrooms with some red wine. It's mighty tasty, but not quite as impressive as it sounds when you call it a 'duxelle'. Second: be wary of the word 'truffle' and especially the word 'truffled'. Truffles themselves, when they are not made of chocolate, are insanely expensive subterranean mushrooms with a heavenly taste and texture (where by 'heavenly' I mean 'barely noticeable, except in large quantities'. They cannot be cultivated and can only be found by specially-trained pigs or dogs. The word 'truffle', however, is often used as an adjective to indicate an ingredient with a smooth texture and an insufficiently impressive name. The 'truffle cheese' in this case is normal gruyere cheese, aged a meager sixty days and available through Sysco. It has never even seen an actual truffle. The 'truffled oil' in question varies depending on what we have on hand. In my brief tenure at The Shaker Table, this oil has been served as regular vegetable oil with shaved black truffles mixed in, a mixture of eight parts olive oil and one part white truffle oil with shaved lobster mushrooms mixed in, and a whole lot of vegetable oil with about a capful of black truffle oil and some cheap button mushrooms mixed in. If you see the word 'truffle' anywhere in the description, and the price is under forty dollars, you're not going to see, taste or experience a truffle in any way.)

Do the world a favor and be a cautious consumer when you order out at fancy restaurants. And if you think there's any chance that you might not be getting exactly what you read on the menu, call the bluff. Ask to see the manager, give him an earful, and then tip your server well on your way out, because they don't get paid enough and it's not their fault that the menu writers and kitchen staff are out to screw you senseless.

Required Reading
I'm going to break from tradition for this post and assign required reading that is not available on the intarweb. You all need to go out and read something other than Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, because the man is a genius and his other works are sorely under-appreciated. Suggested titles include, but may not be limited to: Hells's Angels, Generation of Swine, and any of the Gonzo Papers volumes.

StumbleUpon Toolbar Posted on October 27th, 2004 | Comments

Exhibit AH: Culinary Compensation

Men are stupid, and even the mere existence of women make us stupider. This statement cannot be supported any more unequivocally than by the apparently common belief among men that sending your food back in restaurant is a good way to impress a woman. As your faithful and unbiased reporter from the inside of the restaurant business, gentleman, let me tell you that unless the food is really terrible, you’re probably not making yourself any more attractive by complaining about your meal. In fact, you’re probably just showing your date that you have neither a brain nor a penis. I mean, honestly-if you feel the need to prove your manhood to your date by harassing people that are paid to serve your every whim anyways, you must be compensating for something (or the lack of something).

This may seem harsh to the uninitiated, but let me show you what I mean. A week or so ago, a funny-looking gentleman brought his wife or girlfriend or mistress or whatever into The Shaker Table for a nice candlelit dinner. This gentleman ordered a steak (medium), and the poor female unlucky enough to accompany him ordered a roasted chicken half. We cooked their meals, plated them up nicely, and sent them out. The waiter brought their food, and had hardly put the man’s plate down in front of him when the man seized his steak, cut it open, and declared it to be too pink. It’s as if he knew ahead of time that his meat would be insufficiently cooked for his tastes; I can imagine two reasons for his premonition: he either had ordered the steak less well-done than he wanted it, so he could send it back and impress this poor woman with his strength of character and lack of genitalia, or he always ordered his steak medium-rare and was consistently disappointed to find that his steak wasn’t cooked enough. Let me share a secret with you, dear readers: If you always order your steak medium-rare, and it always comes out more pink than you would like it….you don’t actually like your steak medium-rare. You like it medium. Please use this handy guide when choosing how to order your meat:

Choose “Rare” if you want your steak to have a dark red, chilled middle.

Choose “Medium-rare” if you want your steak to have a red, hot middle.

Choose “Medium” if you want your steak to be hot and pink all the way through

Choose “Medium-well” if you want your steak to be hot, grey and juicy all the way through, with a small, faint circle of pink in the middle.

Choose “Well” if you want your steak to be thoroughly disgusting. Er….if you want your steak to be grey all the way through, with no pink juicy goodness left in it. To be honest: if you want a steak, you don’t want it well done.

This is the standard used by fine establishments around the world, where by “fine establishments” I mean “anywhere the meat doesn’t arrive at the restaurant partially cooked to begin with”.

Anyways, back to our story: We got the steak back, looked at it where he had cut it, and found it to be a perfect medium. “Oh well,” we said. “The customer is always right, Even if the customer happens to be wrong.” The steak went back into the oven until it was cooked to a perfect medium-well. Steak, feeling far too much like a boomerang, goes back to customer, customer takes two bites and sends steak back. Steak, beginning to feel a bit rejected, gets cooked until it is well done, customer eats a couple more bites and then decides that we’re never going to get it right. Customer goes home hungry and angry. Cooks go home bitter and tired. Woman goes home frustrated because not only is her date a jerk, but her date is now in a bad mood, and she had to keep sending her chicken back to be kept warm while the poor steak was being re-cooked, since it would have been impolite of her to continue eating while Sir Whingealot was waiting.

The moral of the story? Don’t send your food back to be re-cooked just to impress your date, because you will probably just end up ruining the evening for all involved. And if your date complains about his or her food, check it. If the food is cooked the way your date ordered it, stand up and walk away, because your date is either a fool or a poorly-endowed jerk…probably both. But I’m not bitter, I swear. I honestly hope that the gentleman enjoyed his steak, which he apparently meant to order “well done”. I also hope that it gave him gas bad enough to drive his date away forever, especially if she was his wife.

Required Reading:
With the election upon us and the Grand Choice just around the corner, it’s about time you checked out Political Animals for a “fair and balanced” (read: “funny, and liberal-leaning”) look at the two candidates, as presented by a pair of cloven-hoofed ruminants of the ovine family.

StumbleUpon Toolbar Posted on October 18th, 2004 | Comments

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