Saturday, March 17, 2007

Gas Station American Flags

And now, let's talk about flags at gas stations. Huge, ginormous American Flags. Really big flags. Flags so large you need powerful, gale force winds to actually see them stream. The new home of the enormous American flag has become, for whatever reason, the suburban gas station. The Alamo never had flags this big. Tranquility Base on the moon didn't have a flag this big. Even George C. Scott would say, "Damn, that's one big gas station flag."

I have no problem with enormous gas station American flags; in fact they're nice to see. Plus, they sometimes offer urgent news bulletins. When Ronald Reagan died, how I did I find out? Word of mouth? A TV interruption? Nope, it was a gigantic gas station American flag, flying at half mast, alerting all that something was amiss. It's too bad we have to rely on something like a Chevron to uphold our civic traditions, but there you have it.

But friends, all is not well in the suburban gas station community. Was I the only one that noticed that the death of Gerald Ford threw them all into confusion? Did anyone notice (in whatever part of America you live in) that no one seemed to know when to return the flag to full staff? Ford died the morning of December 26th, and the flag is lowered for 30 days for the death of a president. But no one seemed quite sure when the 30 days were up. Was it 30 days to the minute of the death? 30 days from the presidential order to lower the flag? Or one month from the day of death? (Real answer: the flag could return to full staff after sundown on the 25th)

On the 25th, some flags were back up. Others stayed at half staff for days too long. My feeling is, if you're going to fly the largest American flags on earth as part of some who's-more-patriotic gas station arms race, you at least owe it to the people to obey the rules.

So my question is: who at Shell or Mobil headquarters is in charge of sending out flag bulletins? Does Exxon have a "Director of Enormous-Flag Affairs"? Does AM/PM have a Dead President Flag Coordination department? Does the slurpee guy actually do the raising and lowering? Does he fold a retired flag into the proper triangle.

I visited a local Terribles gas station (it's a Nevada chain) to get the answers. The clerk blinked a few times and referred me to the manager. The manager, for her part, seemed deeply suspicious that someone was asking about the flag. That particular flag is this one, although the picture doesn't really do justice to its size.

"We got a crew that takes care of that." she said. A crew?

"They do all the Terribles."

I wanted to know the name of the company, but I couldn't get any more information from the suspicious manager. Maybe if I get the chance I'll do a little more digging. For now though, lets just be thankful that we get to see businesses flying flags at all, even if it is just a transparent marketing ploy to try to erase the old public perception that gas stations are run by foreigners, and to somehow tie gas-buying with a feeling of patriotism. Despite all that, a giant flag is a welcome addition to our neighborhood skyline. Just learn the rules for raising and lowering it. That's all.

Celebrity Chefs

Continuing on, since I haven't posted in a while, I'd like to blow the whistle on the wild abuse of the term Celebrity Chef. You can't just go around claiming that your restaurant features a Celebrity Chef. You see, without any kind of controlling, regulatory body to assign people official Celebrity Chef status, just about anyone can claim to be a CC, based on nothing more than publishing a cookbook or making one or two TV appearances. That's a load of crap.

Emeril is a Celebrity Chef. Julia Childs was a Celebrity Chef. Paul Prudhomme. Maybe Wolfgang Puck. That's it. Chefs that manage to cross that boundary into the public consciousness. Everyone knows Emeril. BAM! But come on - being on the Food Netowrk a couple of times doesn't qualify you. It's the Food Network. It's a niche channel with a niche audience buried among hundreds of little cable channels. And being generally well known or well respected within the insular chef community - someone like Joel Robuchon - that doesn't cut it either. Publishing some books? Nope. Having a mildly well known restaurant that bears your name? Nope. That's a rich and successful chef, not a celebrity.

David Hasselhoff is a celebrity. Bobby Flay is not. Ohhhh, poor Bobby Flay. Go make me a steak, chef. That's right, put on a ridiculous hat and make my dinner. You're a food cooker. You prepare meals so that others can spend that time on other, more important matters. Oh, you're going to make some little artistic design with the onions on top? You're going to swirl the raspberry sauce around the cheesecake in some wild, crazy way? Oh yeah, that's art. You're a real celebrity. Please.

These Footnotes in the "Barnes & Nobles Classics" Books.

This requires a little explanation. Barnes and Noble publishes a series of "Classic" books - basically the more accessible classics like Huck Finn and Dracula - for reduced prices. It's a good deal all around: they've got relatively attractive covers, some new interviews or commentary, and you can't argue with the price. And if the goal is to introduce a new generation to the joy of great literature through some of the more readable books, who can object?

Well I do, damnit!

I was browsing through B&N, and when I saw the complete Sherlock Holmes in the Classics series for only $14.95, I couldn't pass it up. I love Holmes stories, and I had never read the novels. So I get home with these two fat volumes, I put on a pot of English breakfast, I get a crackling fire going in the hearth, and I settle in to read some Holmes. (all true except for the tea and the fire)

The first story, A Study in Scarlet, is a thrilling mystery with all of the anti-Mormon prejudice that you could possibly want. (and I like a lot) But on almost every page... there is a footnote. A big ol' asterisk with a note from the editor down at the bottom. Now, I didn't buy an annotated Sherlock Holmes, I wouldn't have wanted to. But according to Barnes and Nobles, these footnotes are simply:

"Designed to inform, and never to intrude. The elegant superscripts are clearly visible within the text, and the corresponding notes appear on the foot of the page for ease of reference. With a glance, footnotes briefly identify historical figures, gloss obsolete terms, and translate foreign words and phrases."

Yeah, except, these are the most asinine and unnecessary footnotes I've ever seen. How retarded does Barnes and Nobles Classics think its readers are? Check some of these out:

Sentence in the text: "With hardly a word spoken, but with a kindly eye, he waved me to an armchair, threw across his case of cigars, and indicated a spirit case* in the corner."

*Locked stand in which decanters of liquor and wine are displayed

Really? Wow, thanks Barnes & Nobles! Thanks for the interruption!

"There was a parallel instance in Aberdeen some years back, and something on very much the same lines at Munich the year after the Franco-Prussian war*."

*Conflict between France and Prussia, from 1870 through early 1871.

Ohhhhhhhhh, so it was a waaaaaar between France and Prussia! I thought it was a Franco-Prussian dance, or maybe a Franco-Prussian soup.

"I was standing at the Criterion Bar, when someone tapped me on the shoulder, and turning round I recognized young Stamford, who had been a dresser* under me at Bart's."

*Medical assistant whose duties include bandaging, or "dressing," wounds.

I still don't understand. You mean someone who puts on the band-aid?

Some other terms that are helpfully footnoted:

And, worst of all, every single literary allusion or reference is footnoted. Every time Holmes tosses out a phrase from the bible, or Shakespeare, or any other great work of literature we get the asterisk. Imagine for a moment how annoying that is. When Holmes says "There is nothing new under the sun." do you, the reader, really need to know at that moment what verse of the bible that's from? Does every French word require a translation? Isn't part of the richness of the reading experience either a) catching these allusions naturally and letting them sweep you further into the story or b) knowing you didn't understand something and following up on it later on your own time? I don't know what's worse: being spoon fed like this, or having your ignorance presumed on what the London Underground is.

Go away, footnotes! Stop adding value to my purchase!

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