What Ronald McDonald Taught Me About Emotional Depth

It was 1979. I was six. Mom said we were going somewhere special.

I settled into the passenger seat and pulled out my portable video game. On the screen were a series of red lights that represented football players. There were no “men.” No graphics. Video games were different back then. We didn’t have a 3-D vigilante with a five o’clock shadow whose mission was to steal cars, squire prostitutes and systematically urinate on the Ten Commandments. Kids these days have it good.

Three minutes later, Mom pulled into a parking lot of McDonald’s. No different from any other day. We would enter the line of sedans. We would shout our order into the metal box, as if talking to an elderly person whose ears were merely ornamental at this point. We would leave adequately McMuffinned.

Only that day McDonald’s was chaos. A majority of the parking lot was cordoned off with flags and cones. A massive red stage was equipped with 10-foot golden arches. A horde of children ran around like crazy people who’d been denied meds.

Half-eaten burgers were scattered on the asphalt — yet this occasion was such a joyous riot that not one kid was crying over the loss. A boy had a pickle in his hair. Every child had an orange mustache, a sign that McDonalds’ legendary party drink — an aperitif made of sugar, water, sugar and orange stuff — was somewhere nearby. That “orange drink” was black market McDonald’s gold, only brought out at soccer league kickoffs and papal coronations.

Then I spotted him. You couldn’t miss the Sasquatch. Ronald McDonald was what happened when an NBA power forward made an honest woman out of a circus clown. His crimson hairpiece was both Black Panther and Jackie O, male and female. He was part African American, Northern European and whatever ethnicity red-haired people are.

His face was painted white, and below each eye was a triangular, black droplet (it means you killed someone in clown school). His eyebrows had migrated to the far northern climes of his forehead. As a result, he looked permanently, unequivocally amused.

After some hugs and hoots and hollers, I started enumerating Ronald’s many character strengths. I went on and on and mom just nodded and laughed.

Then, I said, “Plus… he’s ALWAYS happy! Can you imagine? How great would that be?”

“True,” she countered. “But we need to be sad sometimes.”

I looked at her stunned. What a downer. But, my god, I thought. The woman is right.

Let’s say Ronald’s buddy Grimace finally lost a limb to gout. He’s laid up in the hospital trying to come to terms with this new development in his life. On the one hand, he hadn’t seen his legs in years on account of being morbidly obese. On the other hand, it had to be a blow to his acting career. Sure, Jabba the Hutt was getting great work with this new Spielberg character. But Jabba had that supple Mediterranean skin tone.

“I’m purple, Ronnie!” Grimace would yell tenderly at his old friend in the hospital. “I’m purple and my main talent is eating burgers, man! A walking hematoma with one trick and… oh, criminy… now one leg to match.”

Ron would be dealing with his own demons, of course, since it was he who convinced Grimace to audition for the McDonald’s gig years ago.

“Look, I was born the shape of an inflamed nostril. I get it. I coped with that. When I grew into a six-foot nostril, I coped with that, too. But all of it together? It’s too much, man. Too much. If H.R. Pufnstuf was still around, maybe… maybe I’d have some options.

“What, exactly, does THIS say to the kids, RON?” he’d ask, pretending to knock on his phantom limb. “‘Hey, have a burger, little buddy! But don’t go ape shit like your Uncle Grimace and eat so many that you lose a leg! Ha ha ha ha ha HA!’

“Speaking of. Where’s Hamburglar? Don’t tell me… rehab again. And where is that nurse with my pain candy?! Am I a nobody already???!”

Grimace would then try to wipe the tears from his terrycloth eyes, but his comically short arms would not be able to reach that far. Ron would have no other option than to sit bedside, listen to his old pal, and look highly amused.

So, yes, mom. I guess eternal happiness is not as cool as it sounds.

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A Man Entered Me From Behind And I’m OK I’m OK I’m OK I’m…

Nothing prepares you for it. Sure, I had a girlfriend with a curious finger. Every grad from a mediocre college has. And I’m aware that by the time men turn 50, it’s a good idea to let the man your mother-in-law wished her daughter would’ve married put a couple fingers in your pleasegodno. Thing is, I’m not 50. And that part of my anatomy has run a dependable export business its entire life. It has steadfastly ignored the import market.

I noticed it about a year ago. It wasn’t much. Just a trace of blood. It was as if my sphincter had begun manscaping on its own and was experiencing minor technical difficulties with its miraculous endeavor. I immediately did what most men in this situation would do. I researched potential trades in my fantasy football league. After about an hour, I Googled “anal bleeding.”

The feedback from internet experts was unsettling.

“Call the doctor instantly!”

“Never ignore anal bleeding!”

“You’re screwed!”

They sounded so certain and authoritative on the chat board. I realize every human body is different. Maybe their duff was uniquely unlike my own. But, really, there can be only so many reasons backsides bleed.

I did what any normal man would do after reading all this. Continue reading

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I Got Canceled by Food Network for Threatening to Kill Duff Goldman’s Cat

“Why did Food Network cancel your show?”

“I threatened to shoot Duff Goldman‘s cat.”

That’s my response and I’m sticking to it.

Six episodes of Crave had already aired. The ratings started strong. Then Dancing With the Stars, Monday Night Football, Neil Patrick Harris and Two and a Half Men all returned to the airwaves during our time slot, rendering us Nielson non grata. Still, the feedback was cool:

“A whole new way of talking about food!”

“The funniest show on Food Network!”

“Someone please tell Bobby Flay to punch Troy Johnson in the throat!”

I was working three jobs as the senior editor for Riviera Magazine, writer-host of Crave and new dad to my daughter. At 1AM I was on the couch solo con boxer briefs, as the Spanish don’t say. I’d just mainlined another coffee. I had to finish writing our episode on SPICY FOOD. The production company was rightly screaming at me. I also had to finish a restaurant review for the magazine.

Over-caffeinated and needing a distraction, I saw this Tweet from Food Network biggie Duff Goldman:

A LEOPARD? BENGAL CAT? I’m not a cat person. So I read this as, “While small, a jungle predator with sharp teeth can and will disembowel some unsuspecting bro in Venice Beach tonight. If you see it, Tweet me.”

I responded thusly:

I expected he and I would share a ROFL and bond over my feline confusion. He’d naturally want to cameo in my SPICY FOOD episode. Then we would ride motorcycles together, with cupcakes and beer in our saddlebags.

Hilarity did not ensue. This did:

Then, silence. Duff went looking for his cat.

The next morning, I received a call from The Network. They were moving the show to a less conspicuous time slot. And canceling it thereafter.

The timing was impeccable. My unintentional cat-whacking threat had been made no less than eight hours prior. Coincidence?

I imagine Duff sitting across from the executive, having just minutes ago stormed into his office yelling, “This psycho threatened to pop a cap in my kitty!”

Late-night dementia notwithstanding, I can’t say I didn’t.

RIP
Crave
2011-2011 1/2
“A cap was popped in its ass before it could do the same to Duff’s cat.”

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The Greatest Cereal Mascots: A Psychological Eval, Part V

FRANKEN BERRY: NOT TERRIBLY BRIGHT

Frank was a sweet boy.

Nothing says, “Eat up!” quite like a bloated corpse pulled from the river. Frank obviously had issues, dental hygiene among them. It didn’t help that his name was childhood slang for male private parts. Judging by his eyeglasses made of roller-skate wheels, Frank was very industrious after eating children. Air Supply is playing in those headphones, which says a lot about Frank’s inappropriate emotional responses. He had the IQ of a frightened rodent. But don’t worry—the cranial tumor was benign.

COUNT CHOCULA: THE LONELIEST VAMPIRE

Immortality can be cruel.

Granted immortality, this guy chose to sell cereal. Ambition wasn’t a strong suit. Life was hard for Count from the start. Doctors described his mother’s birth canal “like a thin straw,” which resulted in his uniquely elongated head. His buck teeth told a special family secret: Someone mated with jackrabbits. As for that shnoz? Well it seems vampires are like humans in that their ears and noses never stop growing. After 300 years, things get awkward. Severely ADHD, the Count never could finish the famous vampire motto. It was always just “I want to suck.”

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The Greatest Cereal Mascots: A Psychological Eval (Part IV)

HONEY NUT BEE: INSECT WITH A HAIR PIECE

Bee-pattern baldness.

Realizing regular Cheerios tasted like moths, General Mills slummed their signature cereal with Honey Nut. The Bee was a trailblazer in the cheek implants trend. His hiring marks a first in the industry: a mascot that makes sense for the product. Unfortunately, cereal consumers consider narrative veracity “lame.” As proven many times over, a successful mascot is one who looks deformed into a permanent state of ultra-joy. Hoping to connect with a more mature audience, General Mills cast a bee with a comb-over. These days the bee lives in a retirement hive where he horrifies residents with tales of his “magic honey stick.”

TONY THE TIGER: HOUSE MUSIC ENTHUSIAST

All thumbs, this guy.

Tony was obviously Italian. His talent for hand gestures was unmistakably regional. His vocabulary, however, never surpassed two words: “They’re grrrrreeat.” Tony spent his off-time at Venice Beach, leaning casually against SUVs and sending blood flow to various muscle groups. The gym industry refers to his torso as the “Viscious V.” But his blue nose told a dirty little secret: Circulatory issues. Since the market for gondoliers is limited, we have to believe the sashay around his neck was mere flair. Though technically a tiger, people often mistake him for a bear. Tony has denied his yellow eyeballs have anything to do with bladder issues.

Tomorrow… nothing says “eat up” quite like a bloated corpse.

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A Psychological Eval of Cereal Mascots, Part III

You can read the first two installments here and here.

SUGAR BEAR: FUZZY WAS A KEROUAC

“Never let ‘em see you shed.”—Sugar Bear

No one is this cool. Even “The Fonz” was eventually outed as a tender self-doubter named Henry Winkler. Sugar Bear was obviously not Anglo Saxon, because no white man except Rick Astley sounds like a real man. When not “hipping up” cereal that liquefies dental work, Sugar Bear read beat poetry to rhythmic coeds. I know what you’re thinking—the turtleneck sweater was a fad. But who was gonna tell Sugar Bear? Certainly not me. Years later, he would embrace his love of high school musical theater as the executive producer of Glee.

TRIX: BUNNY’S GOT ISSUES

Sure, he’s sane.

Body dysmorphia is not restricted to humans. The silly rabbit’s weight obsession eventually drove him to stimulants, as evidenced by the bat-shit crazy look on his face. Troubled by his antics early on, General Mills summoned Trix to corporate HQ to fire him. But the sniffly mammal launched into a series of extraordinarily expressive gestures so zany that the executives couldn’t help but laugh. Today, he’s the self-appointed “house entertainer” at Furry Futures, a live-in rehabilitation center in some field somewhere. The fact that his eyebrows hover above his cranium is not helping his grip on reality.

Tomorrow… A juiced-up Tiger and an insect with a comb-over.

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The Greatest Cereal Mascots of All Time (Part 2)

I write. Seriously in some places, where I have to consider word counts and whether my writing is suitable for human consumption. Here is not that place. This place is free associations from my AA-battery brain.

And so my psychological evals of 1970s sugar cereal mascots continues…

SUGAR SMACKS: PSST… OVER HERE

This guy didn’t live in my neighborhood. Sugar Smack was the hippest of the cereal mascots. He grew up on the mean streets, where he first learned to sell smack. He wore his baseball cap stylishly askew, and confidently bastardized the English language at every turn. A savvy entrepreneur, Smack used star power to promote his line of screen-printed tees. He and Kellogg’s relationship has always been mercurial, at best. Some cereal executives have gone on record to say, “Frogs are kinda nasty.” He’d eventually change his name to “Honey Smack” when America decided they’d rather be lied to than feel like they’re eating a giant bowl of granulated cankle-maker. In dire financial need, Smack will eventually sell his legs to a French chef.

LUCKY CHARMS: THE WEE LITTLE HALLUCINATION

Don’t do drugs.

General Mills was forthcoming about the appeal of this product: It’s for people who are high. Only someone who’d inhaled an eighth of weed could grasp the culinary genius of Styrofoam marshmallows in milk. The toasted oats were included merely for the challenge. True connoisseurs systematically eliminated them until all that remained was a slimy, wet mass of Technicolor mallow. At photo shoots the celebrity spokes-leprechaun stat atop a giant mushroom, appearing to eat a bowl of Lucky Charms. Production assistants confirm that he never ate the cereal. He’d simply eat enough of the mushroom until believed in leprechauns. Lucky Charms’ slogan was “Magically delicious.” It’s street slang for felony possession.

Tomorrow… the coolest metrosexual jazz-bear ever.

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The Greatest Cereal Mascots of All Time (a psychological eval)

I was raised on sugar cereal. If you see me twitch, this is why.

My day started with the company of an amiable toucan flying over a bowl of multicolored rings. Fruit Loops looked like a child’s candy necklace had snapped. Resilient, that child gathered the scattered rings into a bowl. Then the child added milk, because children are psychotic. Bowls of diabetes are fun. Over 15 years of eating sugar cereal, I had plenty of time to psychoanalyze my friends. Here’s what I’ve concluded:

CAP’ CRUNCH: MR. HANGOVER

The Cap’n, in need of electrolytes.

What a mouth-breathing drunk. After an illustrious career at sea, the good Cap’n went the route of Kenny Rogers and used his star power to shill for consumer products. No one achieves a nose as bulbous as his without treating a bottle of whiskey like a teddy bear. His eyes were crossed, suggesting temporary seasickness or long-term mental illness. He treasured his facial hair, and wept when he lost his eyebrows trying to light a cigar with a kerosene lamp. To cope, the Cap’n glued fake ones to his amusing hat. Judging by his yellow floral epaulettes, he was no four-star general. He will always be remembered by preppies as a trailblazer in the “popped collar” movement.

SNAP, CRACKLE AND POP: BOY BAND

They resent the hell out of Justin Timberlake.

Snap, Crackle and Pop started as a boy band until their ears got in the way. Out of options, the do-gooders knocked on strangers’ doors to discuss the nutritional value of bloated rice. A good rule of thumb with these guys is: Let ‘em date your daughter, and never listen to their bullshit. Their cereal sucked so bad that its main selling point was the sound—like bacon sizzling in a pan, only without a little thing called flavor. They drank black coffee and chain-smoked. Snap was the chef, with a talent for puffing rice without losing its delicate mediocrity. Crackle was a semi-pro snowboarder with a genetic disease that only allowed his hair to grow in the form of an asterisk. Pop tried to atone for his marching band involvement by always standing just barely more front-and-center than his pals.
Tomorrow… The Toad that pitched oats; and illicit offers from an wee Irishman.

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6th Annual Beer vs. Wine Dinner @ El Bizcocho (G’night, El Biz)

Wine is wet food. It’s the private school Starsky to food’s Hutch. The refined Funkel to food’s Gar. As such, the wine industry owns mealtime. Their challenge is happy hour, boat drink status, bipolar boss de-stressor. There’s non-chewing market share to be gained.

Beer, meanwhile, is still trying to disengage the tailgate from its image. No matter how far the craft beer scene has brought suds, it’s hard to undo the centuries-long association with half-cocked monks, half-shirted river people, and bong-toting collegians.

To that end, the marketing masterminds at Stone Brewing Co. started the “Beer vs. Wine Dinner” at El Bizcocho in 2007. It’s an elaborate grudge match meant to catapult craft beer upmarket.

San Diego is the Octomom of craft beer. Every Thursday the mayor administers Pitocin into the municipal abdomen, and the city squats out a new brewery. Milwaukee is jealous of our yeasty scent. Our beards have beards.

“Beer vs. Wine” is a hell of a tradition. Scruffy beer types find a clean shirt that hasn’t been screen-printed with a softball team logo or an ironic slag on Republicans. They then pile into the formal, old-world Spanish dining room at El Biz—one of SD’s oldest temples of haute cuisine, a country club annex that only recently eased its “formal wear-only” dress code.

The concept of BvW simple. El Biz chefs (Gavin Kaysen and Patrick Ponsaty then, Nicolaus Bour now) create a feast worth more than the collected souls of all attendees. Then a wine guru (Steve Frederick of R&R Wine Marketing this year) and a beer guru (Dr. Bill Sysak of Stone) duel to the death by trying to pair the perfect beverage for each dish. Beers with floral notes pick up the sneeze of lavender in a salad. A Pinot’s thrush of black fruit makes a duck taste like a slow-cooked phoenix. Diners sniff, swirl, analyze the harmonious marriage of food and drink in their mouths. Or the awkward first-date moment between the cheeks.

After each course, they write down the winner on a scorecard.

By dessert, everyone in the room is fattened and wobbly and wondering what each other looks like naked. That’s when the winner is announced and a giant brawl breaks out, with wine lovers slapping the koozie-people with tux gloves.

Continue reading

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Eater Comes to San Diego, Discovers 1984-2008 Dining Scene

In its search for “HOT, NEW!” restaurants in San Diego, Eater turned to food blogger Bownjwing Lee. Lee lives somewhere, I’m sure. But not in San Diego. Eater is a national website with many millions of readers. Going by Bonjwing’s list, those readers are now officially onto what was hot in San Diego two-to-18 years ago. Bownjwing turned them onto:

1. George’s: Awesome chef and restaurant, obviously. They opened in 1984. Would’ve been better for a “Titans Still Pushing the Boundaries” list. It would’ve been great on a “Hot, New” list when parachute pants were big.

2. Tiger! Tiger! and Blind Lady Ale House: Two neighborhood restaurants owned by the same people. Both very cool joints. But BOTH of them make a TOP-8 HOT, NEW SPOTS! list for the entire city? Especially considering Blind Lady opened nearly four years ago? I sure hope Bonjwing got some free pizza out of this one.

3. Cucina Urbana: Another great resto. Bonjwing proves he has an operable palate. Or that he can read—like, say, the hundreds of articles about Cucina that started four years ago, when it opened.

4. Urban Solace: Winner! Matt Gordon rocks. Has since he opened the joint five years ago. He does have a new joint Bonjwing may have pointed to (see below).

5. Spicy City: A mainstay on Convoy since its 2002 opening.

6. Herringbone: Bonjwing got this one right. The only one on his list that opened in 2012.

7. Yakitori Yakyudori: Mmmm, tsukune and beef tongue on a stick. They’ve been a favorite for years, including this location which opened two years ago.

Admission. Eater actually asked me to give them this list. It was an unpaid thing, but I wanted to help out of professional courtesy. Then I got busy working on a huge cover story for San Diego Magazine. So maybe it’s my fault. But with me busy, Eater could have turned to Erin Jackson, Keli Dailey, Amy T. Granite, Mmm-yoso, Kirbie’s Cravings, Darlene Eats, or any of the other hungry people who actually live here and know what’s going on.

Having an out-of-town blogger who visits a few times a year tell them the hottest, newest restaurants—well, you end up with a list like this. Which reads like an outdated guide book withering on a Barnes & Noble shelf. It’s lazy, and a bit insulting.

I’m glad they’re taking an interest in San Diego. I’ve heard they’re eyeing an SD outpost. Hopefully they’ll get it right when they have a home here.

Other suggestions for Eater:

Carnitas Snack Shack: Hannis the pig-loving man-chef is killing it over there.

Craft & Commerce: Where cocktails meet design. At least it opened in 2011, which would have been the second-newest entry on Bonjwing’s list.

Prepkitchen Little Italy: The biggest Prepkitchen yet, with a killer cotechino-stuffed sausage.

Blue Ribbon: Wade’s killed it with his little pizza venture.

Solace & the Moonlight Lounge: Matt Gordon’s newest version of his killer comfort gourmet.

TJ Oyster Bar: Been around for years. But just opened a big, new location. Best pulpo tacos in SD.

Herringbone: Good work, Eater. Batting .125. What a killer room that is.

100 Wines: The gorgeous new spot from the collaboration between The Cohns and Philippe Beltran, which previously yielded the sexy little number in OB, Bo Beau.

Snooze: Sure, it’s a concept from Denver. But there’s a line that starts with the crack of dawn for those cakes.

Manna: Another chain. But a good one. Korean BBQ spot on Convoy has a line out the door every night. They’re slated to open another location in San Marcos in a couple months.

Delicias. Renovated, with new chef-partner Paul McCabe creating a little culinary uprising in Rancho Santa Fe.

I’m sure I forgot a few. I’m spitballing here. But it’s a start.

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