Tacit Endorsement #6

Week of 12.29.13

A critic by training and by temperament, I am quick to find faults. In everything. Eeyore the Donkey may well be my spirit animal. I like to think of mine as a lovable sort of pessimism, the kind that helps us more fully appreciate those very few things in life that aren’t completely the worst. The Tacit Endorsement series is an attempt to turn my frown upside down. Here I work to identify a few things this week that I — what’s the word? — enjoyed.


1. The Southwest Airlines Boarding Process

Ah, holiday flying. Aside from the fundamentally miraculous nature of the thing — you know, that whole getting to your destination in hours rather than days via the sky bit — air travel is awful. The experience is a parade of small indignities, from curbside scoldings (Loading only! Keep moving!) to $14 plastic-wrapped sandwiches.

The highlight is always the security screening line, where we wait and watch grown men remove their belts as if they’re all preparing to violently discipline a busload of naughty children. The perverse scene, in which no actual beating takes place, only serves to remind us that we’re all already so effectively policing ourselves in that space, trembling at the possibility of our own disobedience, hoping not to irritate the ominous machine there to inspect us, that bad behavior is simply not an option. On this most recent trip, a TSA guy actually chided me for “looking so serious” while going through the procedure. Apparently it’s better if we look like we're having fun.

The only thing I like about traveling is getting to have a beer at any airport at absolutely any time of day, often for the same price as water. That, and Southwest Airlines, which succeeds in consistently contributing a slight whiff of tolerability to the whole experience. Their boarding process, for example, in which everyone lines up in a somewhat orderly fashion, completely eliminates the terrifying flashmob of rolling carry-ons that is other airlines’ “zone boarding” ordeal. Southwest passengers line up neatly in the order in which they have checked in to the flight, which in-the-know fliers understand should be done online exactly 24 hours prior to scheduled departure.

The result is that everyone recognizes everyone else to be lined up in order of savvy, a stratification system well suited to resonate with the democratic ideals of American travelers on both ends of our narrow political spectrum. Because there is an order here, neither random nor predestined, the conservatives don’t begrudge those boarding before them and the liberals don’t feel guilty about those boarding behind them.

(It’s true that that system is not entirely free of plutocratic elements, as you can pay extra to get a better boarding position. But since paying such a fee only reveals to those who don’t pay it a lack of savvy on the part of those who do, the people further back in line get to feel that they remain the cleverest.)

In the curious world that is the post-9/11 airport, where many otherwise nice people feel comfortable behaving like complete jackasses to one another while shoring up their sense of security with appeals to outright racism, the Southwest boarding process is the closest thing to justice one is likely to find. And of course there’s an in-flight snack, too.

2. Mujadara 

I heard somewhere that it is good luck to eat lentils on New Year’s Day because lentils are shaped like coins and will bring prosperity. Lentils are quite inexpensive, so perhaps there’s something to the idea. Still, I would prefer to think that lentils will bring not wealth but rather clarity of vision, as they are shaped like lenses. This superstition would at least have etymological association there to back it up.

It was with none of these thoughts in mind that I happened to make lentils this week. I used this recipe for Mujadara, or Lebanese Lentils, Rice and Caramelized Onions. I’ve made this a zillion times and it is always delicious, even though I can never get the onions to crisp. 


3. Anderson + Kathy

Watching Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin’s New Year’s Eve countdown on CNN has been a highlight of my holiday for as long as I can remember. Well, actually just for the past few years, but holiday traditions ought always to be given the dignity of immemorial origin, even if it is a lie. You know, for the children. Or something.

Anderson & Kathy’s banter strikes an inimitable balance of awkward, adorable, banal, and suspenseful. Always looking for new ways to make Anderson giggle uncomfortably without violating the terms of her contract, this year Kathy managed to handcuff herself to the Silver Fox, much to his charming dismay. Kathy’s move was bold, brilliant, and sort of, just, you know, weird.

I had the added pleasure this year of watching this Eastern Time broadcast from the comfort of my Central Time home, making an 11pm champagne toast practically required. This premature popping felt at the time a little like a dress rehearsal, as if the real magic was yet to come at midnight Central. But then midnight came and that round of bubbly felt fizzled, like an afterthought. Even with all eyes on the clock, it felt as though we still in some sense missed the big moment, not once but twice. How quickly New Year’s revelry turns into some kind of metaphysical downer, some testament to our inability to live in the present. Nevertheless…

4. Champagne.

5. Snow Prancing

I may not look like a gladiator, but when I start the New Year with an early morning run through the falling and fallen snow, prancing over frozen pukecicles from the night before, pushing against not only wind and flakes but also my own hangover, I damn well feel like one. I showed 2014 a thing or two about how it’s gonna be. Watch out.

6. Her

At first glance, the new Spike Jonze movie, in which a guy falls in love with what can most easily be described as his Siri, would appear to be wrestling with some real contemporary anxieties about our reliance on, and relationship to, technology. And of course Her is that. But after watching this smart little film, I believe that the technology that’s really causing all the anxiety is not the fancy operating systems and pocket-sized do-it-all devices, but rather language itself. The word. The voice. Go watch it and let me know if you agree.

I’m also curious if anyone else thinks the opening scene is a nod to the library bit in Wings of Desire. This would make a lot of sense, given the question of embodiment at the heart of both films.

7. Honeycrisp Apples 

“Honeycrisp cells are twice the size of those of other apples, which accounts for their unique, pleasing texture,” or so I learned while reading about Honeycrisps. Which I did while eating Honeycrisps. Which, in case you haven’t heard, are delicious. Because of cells!

8. Zoo Lights

There is something magical about seeing Lincoln Park Zoo all covered in twinkling Christmas lights, flashing on and off in time to the festive sounds of Mannheim Steamroller and Mariah Carey. There is also something incredibly cheesy about it. But throw in a hot cup of spiced wine (available at the Zoo Cafe) along with a dusting of snow, and I’m totally into it. My heart broke a little bit at the end of December as I was heading out of town for the holidays and it hit me that I hadn’t made it to Zoo Lights this year, but I had my own little Miracle-on-34th moment when I raced to the website and learned the lights would be shining through the first week of January. I believe in Zoo Lights.