Jan 222009

Over on Project Runway, Michael Kors is my favorite of the judges, because he is able to sum up any outfit with a needle-sharp metaphor of no more than three or four words: “Southern waitress” or “iguana with chicken pox” or whatever. Kors is almost always dead-on-the-bullseye with his assessment of what we see on the runway.

Meanwhile, on Top Chef, we are faced with a new judge named Toby Young. We are told that he is a much-feared food writer over in Europe. Judging by how he speaks, I, too, would be afraid to read him. Like Michael Kors, Young likes to use metaphor. But where Kors is incisive and on target, Young is… well, embarrassing and ridiculous. I can’t taste the food he’s eating, so maybe a particular dessert really was like “Elvis late in his career.” But it’s hard to see how. And in previous episodes, we were informed that…

…a particular dish was like “Tom Cruise’s role in Tropic Thunder.”

…pesto was like “the Big Bad Wolf” compared to “the three little pigs” of the ravioli underneath it.

…Young wants to have “full-on unprotected sex” with a piece of pork.

On these shows, shouldn’t the contestants make you wince, not the judges? That sex-with-pork thing in particular made me wish that when you rewind a VCR tape, the show also rewinds from your brain, as if you never saw it.

Only seven more weeks with this guy. Hopefully the bland but knowledgable Gail Simmons will be back next season.

Jan 102009

It’s been one heck of a while, but I’ve got the second Sunday puzzle in this weekend’s New York Times.

(While we’re on the subject of crosswords, congrats to Peter Gordon on his new gig for The Week. It was definitely a pleasant surprise to flip to the last page and see a puzzle awaiting me.)

Jan 072009

Two months ago, I was watching the news. Our incoming president was on the television screen standing next to another fellow, who I think might have been the vice-president-elect. I said to Lea, “That’s Barack Obama. He’s going to be the President of the United States soon.”

There was a little pause, and then Lea asked me, “Is Barack Obama wearing the blue tie or the red tie?”

And that sums up the importance of race in the mindset of certain six-year-old girls: It’s a total non-factor. She is friends with the white kids in her classroom; she is friends with the black kids in her classroom. She is aware that some of her classmates have different skin colors — but they also have varying hair colors, and eye colors. Who cares?

When she asked the question about Obama’s tie, I grabbed her into a hug, and said a silent prayer that somehow she would prove to be a member of an utterly post-racial generation. Couldn’t it be so? Children today are watching a black man become president, and no one is saying that shouldn’t be. Why can’t Lea’s generation take all that ugly social, political, and cultural baggage that comes with skin color and sweep it off the table?

I know, ridiculous. But in that one moment it actually seemed possible.

That was then. Today I had the following conversation with my daughter:

Me: So what did you learn in school today?

Lea: We learned about Martin Luther King, Jr.

Me: Oh? Who’s he?

Lea: Somebody shot him and he died. And nobody liked him because he had black skin.

Me: (pause) Uh.

Lea: And all the stores and water fountains were only for people with white skin. Like me! I’m glad I have white skin!

Great. Thanks, educational system, for making sure our six-year-olds understand that skin color is, in fact, a matter of huge importance. I’m not saying kids shouldn’t learn about Martin Luther King, but maybe that little slice of history can wait until after the first grade, when the kids might be able to comprehend something a little more meaningful than, “Hey! Now that you mention it, those kids over there do look different than me!”