A Life of Literacy

Several of my friends have recently moved to Los Angeles to become actors and waiters and hobos, leaving me with fewer options for lunch partners. As a result, I have taken to eating lunch alone and reading a book while I do. My lack of nearby friends has forced me into a life of literacy. Surely you weep with me over this tragic turn of events.

Lunch, to me, is a social thing. I love eating, but I hardly care where it takes place. It’s all about the companionship, the camaraderie, the being picky about menu terminology. (How can anyone use “encrusted” in a positive sense?) The other night I was eating with one of my remaining friends and telling him stories about another friend. Each of those stories, I realized, had taken place at a restaurant. And now I was sitting at another restaurant, retelling them. The movie about my life will have a lot of characters called “WAITER,” that’s for sure.

When I eat alone, I generally avoid sit-down restaurants. The look of pity in hostesses’ eyes when you say, “One, please” has driven lesser men than me to suicide. So on a recent afternoon, I found myself at Arby’s, enjoying a hearty turkey sandwich and reading a pleasant novel.

Over the sound system, I heard old rock ‘n’ roll playing. How did Arby’s decide to play oldies as opposed to some other genre of music? I didn’t see any connection. Since Arby’s is a roast beef establishment with Western roots, I could have understood country music. I couldn’t have forgiven it, of course, as I cannot forgive playing country music anywhere, under any circumstances, except possibly at a hanging. But at least I could have understood the connection. Oldies, though? It didn’t make sense.

I heard the Beatles sing “I Saw Her Standing There,” which begins this way: “She was just 17/You know what I mean.”

Yes, Paul, I know what you mean. You mean that she was not of legal age, and yet you were leering at her when you saw her standing there. Charming.

I continued to enjoy my lunch as I sat in a booth next to the window, through which a multitude of sunlight was streaming. It was a nice day, and I was having a quiet, contemplative lunch away from anyone I knew, several hundred miles away from my best friends, and a few miles away from my second-tier friends who couldn’t go to lunch today.

And then, without warning, I reached my breaking point. I heard a song called “Vacation,” whose chorus went: “V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N in the summer sun.” Subsequent searches on the Internet revealed that the artist was Connie Francis and that the song peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard charts in 1962. This song, 40 years old and growing older by the minute, had reached forward through time to irritate me beyond all comprehension.

The song enraged me. It was frivolous, light and stupid, with lyrics about “doing the mashed potato to a jukebox tune” and making out at a drive-in movie. We don’t have jukeboxes any more, nor the mashed potato, nor drive-ins. We still have making out, but I think it’s dirtier now than it was then. This song, a crumbling fossil from a bygone era, might as well have been in a museum, perhaps the same one where they keep Connie Francis.

Why did the song anger me so? Was it because it featured spelling, which I have great disdain for in any song because it suggests we wouldn’t know which word was meant otherwise? (“Oh, ‘vacation’! I thought she was saying ‘Vacate! Shun!'”) Was it because I’m not a student anymore and songs about summer vacation have no meaning for me? Or was I just upset that the people in the song, surrounded by friends and merriment, seemed to be having a better time than I was, eating alone at Arby’s? Whatever the reason, I figure it was the book’s fault, so I’ve stopped reading.

In publication, the part about "I Saw Her Standing There" had to be omitted for space purposes. This is a shame, because had it been included, I would have mentioned here that it was my friend Mike the Sound Guy who confirmed that Paul (not John) was the singer. But since it got cut, I'm not going to say anything about it.

With this column, "Snide Remarks" moved from page A-2 in the Daily Herald to the front page of the Lifestyles section. This necessitated writing to a specific length, because the column was running down the left-hand column of the page, which obviously is going to be the same length each time. In honor of the move, I had a new mugshot taken. The one we'd been running with the column was four years old, and it looked like it.