Just like the character of Frasier moved to Seattle after “Cheers” ended and the character of Joey moved to L.A. after “Friends” ended, the character of me moved to Salt Lake City after my sitcom ended. The new show, “Eric and the City,” finds me in a new apartment with a new roommate who is NOT a psychotic Argentine. Market research determined viewers found the old roommate, Raoul, too unsettling, so we’ve attempted to replace him with a normal person, or at least one who doesn’t leave raw meat sitting uncovered in the refrigerator.
The new guy is named Greg. Since he had never been to Utah before moving here a few weeks ago, it has been my duty to help him get used to local customs, which provides ample opportunity for wackiness. We often have conversations where he says things like “So … people here just MAKE UP names for their babies?,” or “So … you just mix ketchup and mayonnaise together?”
The latter refers to fry sauce, of course, Utah’s one major contribution to the culinary arts. Greg is from Boston, where fry sauce has not yet made major inroads. In fact, it would seem fry sauce has barely spread beyond the borders of Utah, either figuratively or literally.
I don’t know why this is. It’s the perfect dipping sauce, creamy like mayonnaise but zesty like ketchup. People who visit Utah and find it in various dining establishments always rave about it — yet they apparently don’t take word of it back to their homelands. Far be it from me to give suggestions to the LDS Church, but would it hurt to have its enormous and efficient world-wide missionary force start mentioning the good news of fry sauce in its discussions? It was invented in Utah, so it must have been a Mormon who did it. I’m just sayin’.
So I introduced Greg to the wonders of fry sauce in one episode of “Eric and the City,” and I tried to explain Salt Lake’s grid system (where all the streets have numbers and geographic directions rather than, you know, names) in another. And meanwhile, he has tried to help me understand the culture of an East Coast non-Mormon.
For example, Greg does not have the word “stuff” in his vocabulary. Instead, he has the word “s***.” He tosses “s***” around very casually, in sentences such as, “I’ve been here two weeks, and I’m still unpacking my s***,” and “No, this seat’s not taken, let me just move my s***.” Normally, I dislike that word a lot, but I’ve discovered it doesn’t bother me so much when it’s used non-swearingly. The best usage came when I told him about Josh Hartnett’s unsettling unibrow in “Wicker Park,” and Greg said, “Geez, someone should have told him to pluck that s***.”
(Note: I assume Greg does have “stuff” in his vocabulary when used as a verb. That is, I’m pretty sure he would say, “We need to stuff the turkey for Thanksgiving” rather than “We need to s*** the turkey for Thanksgiving.” But I’ll let you know for sure in November.)
Why would someone leave a perfectly good girlfriend in Boston and move alone to Salt Lake City? Greg has done it because he’s working with Utah Opera’s outreach program, wherein he and a troupe of singers go around to schools and make kids listen to opera, possibly as punishment.
(You’d think, now that I’m 30 years old and have actually had several positive opera experiences, that I would stop making jokes about opera being unenjoyable. But you’d be wrong.)
Some episodes of “Eric and the City” will probably focus on Greg and his opera troupe. For example, there was the incident last week when they told the kids they could ask questions after the performance, and a third-grader raised his hand and asked, “I like stoplights.” I foresee that appearing on T-shirts and fan-based Web sites.
Does Greg practice his singing in the apartment? Because that would definitely make for some comedy, especially if I were trying to sleep, or trying to read, or trying to not hear opera. Unfortunately for the purposes of humor, Greg does not practice in the apartment, though I have occasionally heard bursts of it as he putters around the house, the way Raoul used to randomly mutter Spanish swear words. I wonder sometimes what became of Raoul after he moved out. I’ll have to watch his spin-off, “Don’t Cry for Me Because I’m Dumb and Crazy, Argentina,” to find out.
When you watch too much TV, it is only natural that you begin to think of your own life in terms of TV shows. Last May, my friends and I discussed what was happening in our season finales -- someone was pregnant, someone was about to move, etc. -- and now we're talking about where our season premieres find us. Sad, really, in its way.
The centerpiece of this column -- the "stuff" paragraph -- is a prime example of something I absolutely could not have written if I were writing for a reputable newspaper (or even a semi-reputable one, like I used to work for). It's the late-night version of "Snide Remarks"! Woo-hoo!
Notice the sly reference to Greg's girlfriend, to subtly let you know that even though he's an opera singer, he's straight.