Sunday, October 25, 2009

Going to a Dinner Party Where Formal Attire and a Single Utensil Are Required?

Here's what you do.  For dress, women should wear a knee length strapless number (if a late fall or winter event, something calf- but not quite ankle-length will do well) that is muted in tone but not too dark.  A colour appropriate for the season, but forgiving enough in case some of the sauce from the entree drips off your utensil en rout to your face (it seems like ALL entrees nowadays have a sauce, best to err on the side of caution).
For men, DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT wear a formal white dinner jacket.  I don't care what its called, its just not practical (for one, see the above sauce warning)!  And besides, its out of place unless you're attending a dinner party on a yacht (like P Diddy does here in 2008 for Roberto Cavalli's annual Cannes Yacht Party - he's pictured with the host because he knows the rules);

attending a dinner party at the home of someone in the original Rat Pack; attending a dinner party in some European consulate; attending a dinner party in the White House; attending a dinner party on the set of the AMC show Mad Men (these people followed that rule - but then again, they're the actors);

attending a dinner party in the 1950s; attending a dinner party and you are LITERALLY James Bond (the British spy, not some chump who just lucked into that name - as Sean Connery and Roger Moore, respectively, did when they were themselves that man).

Now, for the single utensil, there are four aspects which need to be taken into consideration.  Because of the (probable) occasion and level of formality called for, you first have to consider the potential elegance of the object (30% of equation).  Portability (22%), practicality (22%), and versatility (26%) are the other necessary considerations.

Now, depending on your age, dexterity, origin, favorite foods and place of residence, your thoughts might first jump to taking Choplery (as pictured below).
I mean, sure, a set of chopsticks is technically a single utensil no matter whether they're married with the amenities of 'Western' cutlery.  They can be considered highly portable if they're not too big to fit the inside breast pocket of a men's jacket or a woman's clutch/handbag.  They can be elegant if of a high quality, non-toxic-coated wood product or done in a stainless steel mirror finish.  And if you chose the cutting Choplery, you can takle the issue of larger-than-bite-size food items.  But its not completely practicle.  What if there is a soup corse (no doubt there will be)?  What if the desert is a custard or a mousse, perhaps a sorbet or an ice cream (this is a formal dinner, not a 7-year old's birthday party).  So, the Choplery loses partially on practicality and almost wholly on versatility.

The best multiple-capability utensil must be uni-, not bi-directional to truly be formal-party-appropriate.  The importance of keeping food off your person cannot be understated - a bi-directional utensil always presents the danger of having an end with messy foodstuff too close to a diner's person and certainly too close to a gentleman's cuff.  So this brings us to the mealtime multi-tasker so many of us were introduced to as children - the spork.

Now, there's two prominent versions of the spork.  There's the utility (or camping) spork:

This version is preferred by those hardcore backpacking types whose meals are likely to be taken sitting on a stump or boulder at the edge of a camp fire and will most like consist of some type of (most likely, lumpy) gruel or the flesh of a caught and/or killed wild animal.

And common spork incarnation #2 is the flimsy piece of plasticware so many of us know so well:

I remember getting these in bagged lunches at the Boys and Girls Club back home.  They came in packets just like the one pictured here.  Except I remember ours having little salt and pepper.  Hopefully Im remembering wrong because those lunches consisted of a fruit punch/juice, a (usually soggy) bologna or ham sandwich, a bag of chips,  and a (usually frozen) fruit cup.  Sometimes we'd put the chips in the sandwich just so it would have some mouthfeel and non-wet bread texture.  The thing about these sporks, though, was that they SUCKED.  You'd use their spikey end to pop through the plastic seal of the fruit cup.  But if you didnt utilize it at the right angle, the handle portion would bend or the spikes would simply not penetrate the thin plastic seal and just bounce off.

As I think I've illustrated, a spork simply cannot be elegant enough for this fancy dinner party.  Besides, there's no good way to cut with a spork, making it weak in the categories of practicality and versatility.

To tackle this conundrum I did a bit of trans-continental research and (from a sampling**) found that (statistically speaking) a staggering one out of two Englishmen - when asked what they would chose were they only allowed use of a single utensil - would use a soup spoon.  A soup spoon!  For a whole meal!  Really, no wonder they [1] lost The Revolution to a bunch of ragtag, but ultimately heroic, settlers; [2] still revere their royalty and pay for their extravagances even though said royalty has no real political power; and [3] democratically elected the now derided Gordon Brown to be their leader (retrospectively speaking, maybe they aren't so ready to be without a ruling monarch).  Here is the documentation of the sampling**:
Get this widget | Track details | eSnips Social DNA

The other half of the sampling had an answer that bellied the grit and intelligence of what made Britain so good at Empire (when it was en vogue).  This half knew you needed the basic abilities and ideas that make the spork, but you need a utensil with more class and more cojones.  This half chose THE SPLAYD!
As you can see, the Splayd is effortlessly elegant.  And if you understood its history, you'd understand why the Brits would know so much about this eating device.  It was made in the mid- to late-60s and comes from Australia - making it one of the coolest things to come from the land down under along with pre-Wolverine Hugh Jackman, boomerangs, and Outback Steakhouse.  It takes the idea of a spork (as illustrated in the below diagram from this blog post),

but makes it more practical by giving the ability to cut.

Since this is obviously a gorgeous piece of design and is just as portable as any fork or spoon, the Splayd receives perfect marks in the categories of elegance and portability.  But just as there are inevitable shortcomings in the design and building of multi-use spaces, there are slight shortcomings in this multi-use utensil.  As they say, it can be designed perfectly for a single use or imperfectly for multiple uses.  And according a review of the Splayd (the outcomes are graphically resented here)

it receives pretty good marks for versatility, but gets a not quite stellar mark for practicality.  Though its good for many things, the Splayd is not quite great for enough to make this world single-utensiled (thoug it is your best choice for this dinner party).  You might have to ask your table neighboor if you could use their Choplery or soup spoons when they're done with them.  But a man in a tuxedo or a woman in a dinner dress can often get anything they ask for (just watch the previously mentioned James Bond movie series).

To sum up this essay-length blog post (you're welcome, person who told me I should write longer posts), the Splayd might be good enough to be the only utensil most people need for most of their meals, there's just some foods that a Splayd can't handle.  I have, however, been inspired to want to host a Splayd dinner party one day.  It may or may not be a (semi-)formal event and the menu is a work in progress.  At least that'll ensure another blog post!


**Source of Sampling:
The Bugle: Audio Newspaper for a Visual World
Issue 93 - Oil is Running Out, Bring on the New Stone Age!
By Andy Zaltzman, John Oliver, Tom Wright
From Times Online, October 16, 2009
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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sand Art? You’re Damned Right.

In this year’s Ukraine’s Got Talent reality TV competition, a young woman by the name of Kseniya Simonova killed the competition. Her act brought wonder and awe through a hybrid of performance art and an unconventional visual arts technique using her hands, a light box, and sand.

The Guardian, a UK news source, did a write-up about it. But that write-up used a reporting method which is becoming more the norm, but which really gets my goat. Now, how do you know that news sources are relying too heavily on the so-called ‘new social media’ for their content and less on respectable and proven journalistic techniques? When one of them puts out a piece about an artist and her work, and along with a barely passable regular review publishes comments saying that “sand is her bitch” from noted authority Jgoo24, and “I just jizzed in my pants” from art-world luminary deaddevil6. Nice.

But, before we criticize both the sources and content of these critiques, let's at least determine what the subject was of the art they were commenting on (maybe it was Warhol-esque, pop art styling, music and movie diva lips – which might make the comments more appropriate and acceptable). Here’s an excerpt from that Guardian piece:
”Here, she recounts Germany conquering Ukraine in the Second World War … a weeping widow …an obelisk for an unknown soldier ... with deft strokes … she moves the judges to tears as she subtitles the final scene ‘you are always near.’”

Oh, ok, there you go. Well done, The Guardian.

Here’s the full write-up.

And in case their embedded video didn’t load up (which happened with me the first time I went to that page), its right here:

As you can see, that Kseniya Simonova lady really does got talent. I wonder, could something so artsy get so far in the American version of that show? Or do we just appreciate dirty joke telling grandmothers a little but more?

Monday, October 19, 2009

It Could Go Either Way...

Last month (September), I was wandering around downtown DC with one of my very good friends.  We walked into one of those 'souvenir shops' that is really just a giant President Obama themed t-shirt outlet.  Seriously, this place was huge (that's a hard 'h' sound, but I'll address that in a future post)!  There's a Safeway Grocery Store in DC (and in this case I apply that label quite liberally) that is smaller than this t-shirt and nick-knack emporium. [see Link: DC Locals' Grocery Feelings ]

Anyway, while perusing their wares, I stumbled across this little diddy:

I'm having a hard time deciding if its a good or bad joke; of it its accidentally, blatantly, or not actually racist.  Does it depend on the wear-er?  On the place and/or situation worn in?  I don't even think I laughed when I first saw this.  I think I just thought, 'Wow, Really?'  Then I whipped out my phone and took a picture.

Any thoughts?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Setting the Table - Rule 1: No Sporks

Hello Everyone!  Welcome to my blog ‘Bringing the HaHa.’

There’s been a number of moments in my recent past where I thought to myself, and even verbalized to a few people ‘I should really start a blog.’  Usually this occurred after a particularly quirky and/or entertaining dialog, or after an especially impassioned diatribe about/against something (sometimes to someone who didn’t care quite as much as I did but still found my rant enjoyable because sometimes I say things that are funny, though in context), or as I sat alone in my apartment and read/saw/heard something that almost knocked me out of my chair.

People say, the first date will determine the tone for the rest of the relationship, or your first day at work sets the tone for the rest of your career in that office environment, but I don’t buy that.  My first post will not set the tone for the rest of my blog.  To me, its more to metaphorically set the table (thus the title of the post).  As long as its not terrible, I think it will be a successful first post.

I’m 25 a year old resident of the District of Columbia.  I live alone in a none-bedroom studio apartment in view of the Capitol dome.  I’m currently a laid off architect who spends the bulk of his day searching for jobs, gardening, watching C-SPAN, listening to NPR, reading various papers, books, and blogs, exercising, and cooking.  Its an interesting existence that allows surprising happiness.

When I’m not in my apartment, I’m usually out exercising.  Therefore, most of my days are spent in pajama pants, comfy shorts, and t-shirts.  So whenever I go somewhere socially or on errands I get excited and overdress.  I mean, I wear khakis and a sports coat to the grocery store (but I shop in the middle of the day on weekdays because there’s not so much of a crowd).  I feel like the character Marshall in the TV show How I Met Your Mother (awesome show, watch it) when he takes a not ideal job because he wanted “a reason to put pants on in the morning.”  Good times. 

Welcome to the blog.  Let me leave you with belated Holiday wishes in the form of a video (sorry about the ad that is part of the video link - I can speak neither for nor against it).