I really didn’t expect the kind phone calls and e-mails that followed my reappearance on these pages. In fact, I didn’t even know the article had been posted until I received a phone message to call a “Detective Bacon of the FBI” at a strangely familiar phone number. Another reader mentioned that my return caused him to laugh so hard he came close to an excretory accident. All I can say in reply is “June Allyson” and “Depends.” A third wrote:
“Filling up this morning $40.
A cup of coffee $1.92.
A Howard Rodenberg article priceless!”
As much as I value this opinion, it turns out this isn’t exactly true. It turns out that things are priceless not only if they re valued beyond money, but also when they have no monetary value (or moral, ethical or socially redeeming value, for that matter) at all. But for those who do want to place some kind of price on my words, I’ve been able to specify the exact cost of reading my column:
Mean value of human life (40 years of age, gross monthly income $5,000/month, www.72t.net/Calculators/HumanLifeValue.aspx): $790,299
Mean time spent reading column (1,300 words; average reading speed of 200 words per minute, www.readingsoft.com): 6.5 minutes
Mean U.S. life expectancy in minutes (78.2 years, www.wikipedia.com): 41,101,920 minutes
Number of minutes left for a 40-year-old American: 20,077,920
Fraction of remaining life spent reading column: 0.0000003
Cost of reading column: 23.7 cents
Now you can make a more informed judgment. (I fully expect readership to rise given the obvious cost-efficiency demonstrated by this awesome actuarial analysis. And just for the record, the value of your life falls as you age. So for maximal benefit, I’d strongly suggest that you print out these columns and store them to be read when you’re 78.1 years old, in which case I may actually owe you.)
I should also note that all titles for these columns come from the fertile mind of the Great Editor in the Sky. I rarely put titles on anything anymore, even in my real job. I stopped doing so when in 12th-grade AP biology class I titled my report about the rat dissection project, “The Creature That Destroyed Western Europe, or Our Friend, the Rat.” I lost a whole grade for sarcasm. Lesson learned.
So the phrase, “Baby, I’m Back” has never crossed my lips nor been pounded into my keyboard. The closest I have come to saying this phrase is to chant the chorus of “Baby Come Back,” a marginally memorable one-hit wonder by the band Player that stays in my brain only because it was one of the handful of 45s that served as the soundtrack for the radio station at Camp Timberline in the bicentennial year. (This is also why I know the complete lyrics to “Sky High,” “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero” and “The Night Chicago Died,” similarly forgettable tunes). In my home, the plaintive cry of “Baby Come Back” has morphed into the greeting of “Baby The Cat!” (same tune), uttered when coming into the house and spying the orange-colored feline with an attitude. Baby the Cat, in turn, has his own unrelated song concerning his choice of locations for biological functions, with music and lyrics by my then eight-year-old son. Given the general themes which eight-year-old boys find amusing, you can understand why I’m not sharing the lyrics with you.
Reality Shows & EMS
Personally, I’ve never been a reality show kind of guy. I wish I could remember where I read it so I could give credit where it’s due, but I always liked the comment that “in television, reality consists of taking preselected racially, ethnically, and gender balanced groups of North Americans, putting them in a controlled setting, and following them around with television cameras while they play organized games.”
Nonetheless, I think I’ve finally fallen for the reality show bug. This is courtesy of the Food Channel, which first lured me in several years ago with Iron Chef. If you’re not familiar with that one, you should be. It’s the Japanese import cooking contest, complete with flying knives, steaming woks, samurai ethics and lip-synching that puts Brittney Spears to shame. The show begins with a very strange man (“The Chairman”) clad in black leather with windblown hair (sort of like Barbie‘s new friend, Metrosexual Ken). At the end of a rambling soliloquy about well, I never knew what he unveils the secret ingredient for the evening like PORK! One contestant has to cook against one of the champion “Iron Chefs” in “Kitchen Stadium” to the nonstop commentary of an announcer and a color man.
What makes it so brilliant is that these guys are serious about it. This is not about winning a contest or an appearance on Letterman. This is all about family honor. It’s not uncommon to see the chefs put photos of deceased relatives, especially those in WW II Japanese military uniforms, in their work area. These guys cook their hearts out, making real food fit for the Emperor s table, then accepting the judgment of C-list celebrities (technically the shi-list, for those scholars of the Japanese script called romaji), bowing in thanks even in defeat as tears not kitchen sweat, but real tears stream down their faces. There should be some way to tie this to the old introduction to ABC’s Wide World of Sports “The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition .” These guys hurt more than that ski jumper, and they’ve already got their seppuku knives at hand.
(Iron Chef should not be confused with “Iron Chef America,” where the basic concept was adapted to American audiences and predictably ruined. All you need to know about it is that I actually heard the words, “Holy Mother of God! Is he really making ice cream out of that?” uttered on the air. And no, you don’t know want to know what that was.)
However, times change, and the Food Channel has moved on to more original programming. “Top Chef” is now in its’ third season, and is more of your typically angst-ridden, back-biting, let s take ourselves waaaay too seriously show that most of America unfortunately seems to crave. I do watch “Top Chef,” mostly because I’m more puzzled by it than anything. For example, I m still trying to figure out what an “amuse-bouche” really is. I have figured out that it means something that “amuses the mouth,” but I don’t see why you couldn’t just proffer a Twinkie.
Watching these shows has promoted me to wonder if EMS should have a reality show of its own. Clearly, it can’t be the same kind of process as on Top Chef; unlike shows where the judges get to eat good food, it would seem difficult to find enough volunteers for judging purposes. (“I was pleased with the midazolam it had a fine lift to it but the post-paralytic muscle aches were little overdone. The intubation was harsh, and the cuff needed something more. Conceptually it was good, but the execution was faulty. Please fold your laryngoscope and go.”)
So in my First and Perhaps Only Periodic Reader Event, I’ll be asking volunteers to respond to a Top Chef-like challenge. Over the next few months we ll gradually eliminate them to a single winner who will receive the opportunity to write a guest column in my space (the things I’ll do for a break) and a real live computer-generated certificate if they’re foolish enough to give me their address. Mind you, these won’t be easy issues. For example, a warm up might be “You and your partner are coming off shift. There is one donut left. Who gets it?” (The answer, “It doesn’t matter, because the cop has already taken it,” will be disqualified on account that I thought of it first)
So let me hear why you should be one of the lucky contestants. Entries will be judged on neatness, originality, and the degree to which they make me and Duchess the Purebred Mutt either laugh, pant, or bark, whichever comes first. I’d also appreciate suggestions of what kind of puzzles we might pose to our erstwhile volunteers.Looking forward to hearing from you!