Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Life imitates Larry David

The first time I saw “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the HBO sitcom starring and written by Larry David, the creator of Seinfeld, I thought it was a shriveled and unfunny version of Seinfeld. Another show about nothing, but this time with an obnoxious, gray/white-haired bald guy at the center of it instead of the charming and funny Jerry Seinfeld. Put another way, I thought it the equivalent of a Seinfeld spinoff about Jerry’s sidekick George Costanza. Which I suppose it is.

A couple of years later, I saw “Curb” again – I rented the first season DVD on a dare from a friend, and wouldn’t you know it, I was drawn in and then hooked. The show not only has a sneaky, wicked funniness, but Larry David, in the process of mercilessly laughing at himself, creates a persona that you can’t help growing fond of. Archie Bunker became a sort of pre-po-mo icon because culture-pundits mistakenly pigeonholded him as “the man you love to hate,” whereas in reality Archie was “the man you hate to love,” or “the man you kind of dislike yourself for loving.” Larry David is, in his unique way, like that. He gets himself into things because he’s almost always wrong, except that on some level he’s sort of right.

I found myself in my own personal Larry David World last Friday night. Please bear with me, because this story is hilarious. Well, mildly amusing. It nicely ties together my recent food themes.

Friday night involved dinner with my friend CT, me and our respective partners – a couple first date. Having dissed (in these very pages!) the restaurant recommendation CT forwarded to me from a friend of hers, and then having exercised the poor judgment of forwarding the blog post to CT, I was on a kind of probation. This is a new friendship that has not been cemented, and I had now raised a warning flag of “unbearable food snob and prig.” So to be agreeable, I raised no objection to CT’s restaurant proposal for our evening out: an Ethiopian place.

I have two dim memories of Ethopian restaurants. One was, on the whole, negative. It seemed to me like Indian food, but eaten with the fingers, with the aid of a massive spongy, tepid and slightly sour-tasting crepe that seems to have been sitting too long at room temperature and then drizzled liberally with lemon juice. My second, slightly-better memory was of eating a chicken-curryesque dish with a knife and fork.

The utensil memory is key, because I really cannot get my head (or hands) around the idea of eating with your fingers when the food is served family style, as it customarily is in Indian, Ethiopian and Chinese restaurants (at least in this country). It’s like going to a Mexican restaurant with your friends and saying, “hey, let’s all agree to double-dip our tortilla chips!” Think about it: grab a morsel of food from the community plate – food with a saucy r stew consistency – and put food and fingertips in mouth. Return fingertips to saucy pile of food.

Now hold on there, you might be saying, you don’t grab the morsels of stew-stuff with your fingers, but rather with the Injera (the spongy crepe thingy). But let’s be real. No one handles the Injera as though it were a surgical glove – there is plenty of mouth-finger-food action.

But I figured I could handle the Ethiopian place simply by ordering the knife-and-fork curry, or whatever it was I had those many years ago. So I responded with a gracious and open-minded, “Ethiopian? Why certainly. Yum!”

In the next couple of days, our couple-first-date was subjected to some social maneuvering. I must admit that it began with, again, my own exercise of bad judgment. I pulled a verison of “LA” rules on our friends -- LA rules modified by middle-of-country politeness. In LA, it is generally understood that any social commitment is conditional, subject to being cancelled up to the last minute in favor of a superseding invitation. I think LA rules are designed to give Angelinos the flexibility to blow people off in order to suck up to celebrities and movie producers, which doesn’t really apply here in the flyover states. In this case, the invitation was to a party which was to be attended by some mutual friends of CT and me as well as some friends of mine I really wanted to introduce to CT and her partner J, so I proposed that we have dinner earlier, and then all go over to the party. CT replied, “A party with your friends? Why certainly. Yum!”

But Friday afternoon, CT came back with an advisory that her partner J had double booked them for Friday night. They would have to have drinks with an old buddy of his after dinner, and so would skip the party. As it happens, CT grew up in the LA area. Check and mate!

By Friday evening, my partner B had developed some gastrointestinal issues – from the leftover Indian food I had brought home the night before, no less! The very thought of Ethiopian food made B want to lock herself away in the bathroom, not to mention the moral quandary of double-finger-dipping with others when you have some sort of stomach bug. I wanted to keep the date, so we agreed that I would go to dinner, but then blow off the party.

The Ethiopian restaurant was much nicer than I had expected, with newish, fancy decor, and a warm, inviting ambience. But I didn’t find “knife and fork curry” anywhere on the menu. At each place was a smartly folded cloth napkin, but no cutlery. I looked around the room, and didn’t see a knife, fork or spoon anywhere. The movement at our table was clearly for family style dining. I might have been able to bring myself to mount a separatist movement if I had a knife and fork in front of me, but somehow the extra effort to ask for silverware -- the uncertainty about whether they even had any, and the ... the uncoolness -- was too much to bear.

I ate the food placed in front of us. I double dipped. It was not half bad – if you like Ethiopian restaurants, my sense is that this is a good one – but I made a show of eating more than I really did by playing with my food. I mean using slightly exaggerated finger gestures. CT and J were too polite to notice, and seemed to believe me when I said I thought the food was "really good." They kindly asked if I wanted to join them for a drink – and live music – with their friend after dinner. “Thanks, but I should get home to B,” I said.

When I got home, B was feeling better – hungry, in fact. For pizza. “I could use a couple of slices myself,” I thought, and I picked up the phone to call the Serenity Bar and Grill, a neighborhood bar that makes a fabulous pizza and has a thriving live music scene on weekend nights. Then I put everything together and realized that this was timed perfectly so that CT and J would arrive at the Serenity to meet their friend just as I would be leaving with a box of pizza.

Larry David would have gone. He would have bumped into CT and J, and would have stammered as CT said sarcastically, "Like the Ethopian food huh? Or is this for B? She feeling better?" and his tuba theme music started up.

I called the other pizza place that delivered.

Comments: Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]