Monthly Archives: August 2013

Remember When You Could Twerk and Not Cause a Worldwide Scandal?

I was setting the table, trying to decide whether to fold the napkins in the shape of a rectangle or a triangle, when my wife came home from work.

“Hi honey!” I said.  “What do you think?  Rectangle or triangle?” I asked, holding up an example of each.

“Did you hear about Miley Cyrus’s performance at the MTV Video Music Awards?”

“No, I didn’t.  What happened?”

“You didn’t hear about it!  Do you live under a rock?  All over the news, all over the internet, all over Facebook, it’s all anyone is talking about.”

“Really?  There wasn’t anything in the Times about it.”

She rolled her eyes, and I made a mental note to never again come to dinner unprepared.  There is certainly no lack of coverage of the event.  Here are just some of the recent headlines:

“Miley Cyrus’s twerking routine was cultural appropriation at its worst” (The Guardian)

“Miley Cyrus, twerking, and the ‘sexual hazing’ of American pop stars” (Christian Science Monitor)

“Justin Timberlake Is Cool With Miley Cyrus Twerking” (Vibe)

“Miley Cyrus to Lead US Attack on Iran” (Bayard & Holmes)

Young people have always used dancing to meet other young people.  I remember the dance scene from the 1987 film Can’t Buy Me Love, where Patrick Dempsey thinks he’s doing the latest dance from American Bandstand.  He doesn’t know that he was watching some educational program instead of American Bandstand, and that it was the African Anteater ritual he was learning, and when he performs the ritual at his high school, all the other students think it’s just the latest dance that all the cool kids are doing, and soon they are all doing the African Anteater ritual.  Miley Cyrus should have done that at the Video Music Awards.

When I was in middle school I learned something called the Chicken Dance.  First you held your hands out in front of you and clapped your fingers and thumb together, like you had lobster claws.  Next you tucked each fist into the adjacent armpit and flapped your elbows, like you had chicken wings and were trying to fly.  Then you crouched down a little while simultaneously moving your rear end from side to side.  Finally, you stood straight up and clapped your hands four times.  There was a song that went with it so that you knew when to do the moves.

The venerable Oxford English Dictionary is apparently going to add “twerk” to its list, defining it as a verb meaning to “dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.”  Based on my years of experience, I am comfortable saying that the third movement of the Chicken Dance qualifies as a kind of proto-twerk.

But when I think of dances that involve hip movements and squatting stances, the kind of dances that, pretty much, anyone can do, I think most fondly of the Macarena, which rocked the world around the year 1996.  Like the Chicken Dance, the Macarena also involved a repetitive series of dance moves that progressed from putting the hands out, to placing the hands on the body, to rotating the hips with twerk-like elements, and then ending with a clap.  But the Macarena, which was named after the song that inspired the well-structured, was far more complex than the Chicken Dance, and represented a great leap forward in the evolution of dignified group-dancing.

Like scientists seeking a purer form of a metal, the twerkers have stripped dancing of the unnecessary hand and arm movements and unduly formalistic sequences, and distilled what was really its essence all along.  So when you watch Miley Cyrus again, squatting and thrusting and unfurling her tongue, know that you are not watching a garish display of celebrity sexuality in cable television’s race to the bottom, but natural selection at its finest.

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Filed under Current Events, Television and Movies

Remember When Restaurant Service in France Was Gruff?

Paris is apparently making an effort to make its restaurant staff more polite.  It reminded me of the trip my wife and I took to Paris last year.  For those of you contemplating a similar trip and who want the inside story from an experienced traveler who was there for nearly five days, here are a few tips for dining in the City of Light:

1.     “Cheval” means horse.

2.     Every member of the waitstaff I met was very polite and spoke fluent English.  I didn’t even try to speak French.  One restaurant even had an American server that was assigned to any American patrons that walked in the door.  She reminded me of one of my classmates from high school.

3.     Despite the pervasive English fluency, if you ask for grog, and you don’t pronounce the “r” with a proper guttural roll, they won’t know what you’re talking about.  Practice in front of a mirror before you leave, maybe while you’re waiting in the airport.

4.     Believe the hype about the croissants.  No matter how lost you get or what other frustrations you meet along the way, the croissants in Paris will take you to another dimension.

5.     There were many cafes but nothing that had what I would count as coffee.  I’m not talking about espresso or some other smidgen of brown liquid shoved into a cup from a dollhouse tea set, but a coffee that can bring me back to life every morning.  The kind of coffee I drink every day before work, and as soon as I get to work, and after lunch so that I don’t pass out at my desk.  They have something called “Cafe Americain” but it must be an inside joke.  There was even a Starbucks across the street from our hotel.  From the length of the line and the price of the coffee and the kilos of cardboard and plastic that clothed each serving, I said to myself, “Well, this must be authentic American coffee!”  But I drank it and I still fell asleep on the train to Versailles.  What the croissants giveth, the coffee taketh away.

And those are my tips for dining in Paris.  Bon appetit!

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Filed under Travel

The Private Universe of Shopping Carts

Did you ever notice how a shopping cart in any place other than a supermarket or a supermarket parking lot looks extremely out of place and even a little disturbing?  I saw one during my morning commute a few weeks ago.  It was so near the road that I almost clipped it.  It was there the next morning.  And the next.  And the next.

The evening commute takes me on a slightly different path that did not go past the shopping cart, and so I only saw the shopping cart in the morning.  I did not the shopping at all until I passed it, and when I did, I would be reminded of all previous encounters.  At first I was disturbed just by the sight of the shopping cart, but after a few days I became disturbed more by the fact that I only thought about the shopping cart when I passed it in the morning, and wouldn’t think about it again until the next encounter the following morning.  It was like the shopping cart and I shared a universe for a few brief seconds and then separated into distinct realities.

Did the shopping cart feel the same way about me?  “Every morning a car with Mark Kaplowitz inside drives by,” the shopping cart says to itself, “but I don’t see the car in the afternoon, and I don’t think about it until the next morning when it passes by again.”  Did the shopping cart find the routine as unsettling as I did?  I began think the shopping cart was looking at me when I passed it.  I began to feel self-conscious during that stretch of road.

Then, a few mornings ago, as I approached the shopping cart spot and started anticipating its presence and steely gaze, I saw that the shopping cart was gone.  Then I saw that it wasn’t gone, but merely pushed over on its side.  Someone must have had the same feeling I had, and finally could no longer stand the stare of the shopping cart.  It must have been dangerous to stop a car in the middle of a road to push over a shopping cart.  Maybe it was done late at night when traffic was light.

Whatever the circumstances, the spell was broken.  I can now think about the shopping cart at any time of the day.  And I do.  I picture it lying there, among the tall grass, enjoying the precious last days of summer.

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Filed under Commerce and Marketing