In PJ O'Rourke's seminal essay, "How to drive fast on drugs while getting your wing-wang squeezed and not spill your drink" he imagined, aged 32, what it might be like to avoid the obvious temptations of a James-Dean-style exit ("no ulcers, no haemorrhoids, no bulging waistlines, no soft dicks or false teeth"), and get old.
He imagined, that is, falling for the mythical teenage lovely in the passenger seat of the mythical Pontiac Trans Am of fleeting youth and, before you even knew it, being "married and having teenage lovelies of your own, plus a six-figure mortgage, a liver the size of the Bronx and a Country Squire station wagon that's never seen the sweet side of sixty". And he imagined, when old, having to face this particular truth: "that if you'd had just a little more courage, just a little more strength of character, you could have been dead by now. No such luck."
O'Rourke is now 66. He is married with three children, the elder two in their teens. He has survived cancer (which began, six years ago, with some irony, in a malignant haemorrhoid – "what colour of bracelet should one wear for that?" he wondered "And what slogan is apropos?") as well as more than a few brushes with mortality as a roving war correspondent. He has, in the years since he wrote that essay, published 17 books and accumulated more entries in the Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations than any other living writer.
I have no news to report on the size of his liver, other than that the first thing he says, when we meet in the upstairs dining room of the Newman St Tavern, an ambitious gastropub in Fitzrovia, London, is that he is, strictly, drinking only mineral water. He has a heavy afternoon ahead, an on-air date with Adam Boulton of Sky TV (for which, I argue, strong liquor might prove a necessity), but he is also travelling with his 13-year-old daughter, on a tour to promote his new book, The Baby Boom: How it got that way … And it wasn't my fault … And I'll never do it again and on his best behaviour.
He wouldn't say he has mellowed exactly though the second thing he tells me, in some interested detail, is that these days he keeps chickens. The prompt for this admission is the presence on the menu of a single gull's egg as an appetiser, a challenge O'Rourke finds it hard to resist. "I have often wondered what seagulls were good for," he suggests. "Maybe this will provide the answer."
He hopes the delicacy may also further a particular scientific inquiry he has pursued in recent years with his Rhode Island Red hens, at his home in New Hampshire. "I have been trying to determine if you can change the taste of the egg depending on what you feed them," he says. Sometimes he gives his brood a whole bunch of onions or whatever; he is, in the manner of Heston Blumenthal, hoping to work up to a full in-egg English breakfast. So far, however, he has detected no difference in taste whatsoever.
He studies the menu with glum amusement. "I come from Toledo, Ohio," he reminds me. "We didn't often see 'ajo blanco' there, or 'lava toast, lardo', whatever that might be. Restaurant menus have become another intelligence test at which I fail."
If O'Rourke has a default position as a writer, it is the natural conservative one of things now not being quite as much fun as they recently were. His new book, in which he adopts the "we" of the baby boomers, spokesman for the 72 million lucky Americans born between 1946 and 1964, too late for the Depression and the war, early enough for revolutions both sexual and digital, gives him plenty of scope for such reflection. It is perhaps the closest he will come to an autobiography, albeit one in which he peddles the boomers' greatest achievement, "which has been in the field of bullshit".
One of the luckiest things about his generation, he observes, was that the double bind he identified in his "live fast die young" reverie no longer applied: boomers arranged things so you didn't have to get old, you could be a perpetual adolescent. This was particularly the case if you avoided, as he and most of his friends did, the Vietnam draft. "I didn't serve," he says. "There were seven kids who I knew from high school and college who were killed. But I have never had any veteran say anything to me other than, 'you were well out of it'. It is not one of those things where anyone will ask: 'What did you do in the war Daddy?'"
In some ways, O'Rourke made up for it later. Though he'd never admit it, his life since his 20s, when he gave up on being a hippy and his parents died, has been one of pretty indefatigable service to his profession. For a couple of decades, there was no "trouble spot" in the world to which he could not be dispatched in search of absurdity.
That chapter of his life came to an end after the Iraq war when he was working with Mike Kelly, his friend and editor at Atlantic Monthly. They divided up duties and Kelly, embedded with an advanced battalion, was killed in fighting near Baghdad. "I had a phone call to make that I never want to have to make again," O'Rourke recalls. "I had to phone my wife to say not only that our close friend was dead, but also that I was going into Baghdad to replace him. My wife is the daughter of a career FBI agent, she says that until she was 13 she thought all men carried a gun to work. She said: 'If you feel it is important …' And I did, but that was about the end of it."
The older one gets, he suggests, the gladder one gets that one doesn't have to make decisions. Any decisions. "That is the really great thing about being an adult male, once you get married and have children the whole decision-making process is taken out of your hands, and I for one am extremely grateful."
He eyes his gull's egg in its little cup suspiciously. "One isn't quite sure how to approach this thing …" Perhaps you have to sit on it for a couple of weeks, I suggest.
O'Rourke is glad to have got out of war reporting when he did. "Now you are out there competing with every wannabe journalist with an iPhone and a blog," he says. He is relieved, too, that he has avoided the journalistic era in which the only question that matters is "how does it feel?" to have had your home/life/world destroyed. "I mean," he says, "how the fuck do you think it feels?"
On cue, I ask how it has felt to have come to parenting relatively late in life.
He tucks into his main-course cottage pie, one of the few incontrovertible items on the menu. "I was 50," he says. "The good thing about being an older parent is that you don't feel like your life is interrupted. You are not trying to take the baby out to cocktail parties; rather it is great to have an excuse not to got to cocktail parties. On the downside, retirement doesn't look like an option."
Among the things I enjoyed about his book, I suggest, was the way it conveyed that sense of how as teenagers we have hardly any curiosity at all about the lives of our parents. I wonder what his daughter is making of her trip to London with her old man? "I think she is sort of excited by the idea that Dad is in front of microphone or a camera. But of course what I am actually banging on about she properly has not the vaguest interest …"
Some things don't change down the years. The awkwardness of 16-year-old boys, say. His eldest daughter brought one home recently to meet the parents. "It was rather touching, that fear," he says. "I mean I have never had that effect on anyone. It's like: 'Should Dad pick this moment to be cleaning his shotgun?'"
O'Rourke has made a fine career out of being a scourge of the politically correct, without many of the usual trappings of that position. Bitterness or outrage, for example. He's getting ready to get off to the Sky studios when I ask him how he has managed to avoid becoming a curmudgeon.
"I have always had a sense that both angry and humorous is a trial to the reader," he says. "I have tried to keep in mind the example of Mark Twain. If you love Mark Twain you are best advised to avoid the later essays: he had lost his wife, his money, his beloved daughter, and it all came out in the writing and it just doesn't read well. The trick is," he says, of getting old, "you just have to keep finding things funny."
The Baby Boom by PJ O'Rourke (Grove Press/Atlantic Books, £16.99) is out now
Essay about Menu Analysis
1940 WordsNov 17th, 20118 Pages
Menu Analysis Report | Hellenika Restaurant | By Rachael PrattSouthern Cross University, 2011 | |
The purpose of this report is to evaluate the effectiveness of an establishments menu in relation to what it communicates and its overall appeal. Hellenika restaurant is a Greek restaurant which services traditional home style dishes in a friendly and rustic atmosphere. With a casual formal dress code and thorough table service the restaurant caters to the higher end of the market with options of both table d’hôte and an a la cart menus. Menus are printed in a basic black font on a white page offering both table d’hote and a la cart banquet options. Item are listed in Greek and briefly described in English…show more content…
Hellenika offers traditional banquet style dishes which are designed to be shared. These dishes are offered on two types of menu options; table d’hôte and an a la cart, as defined by Davis, Lockwood, Alcott and Pantelidis (2008). Several set table, d’hôte (banquets) menus are available depending specifically on the number of patrons attending and the money they are willing to pay. Whilst on the a la carte menu, dishes are served with a banquet or tapist style service, although choices are fully at the customer discretion. Menu items are listed by their Greek titles followed by a brief English description/translation. Dishes are categorized under bolded headings which groups them under there equivalents nature; starters, entrees, main and sides. Additional daily special are also offered separately on a hand written page. With an average of seven wait staff on duty and sections consisting of four tables, the restaurant aims to provide a casual fine dining experience with professional and thorough table service.
The restaurant is not presented as a cheap dining experience; which is evident in the banquet prices presented in appendix 2. As evidenced by the lack of a kids menu, the restaurant clearly doesn’t specifically target the young family segment. Thus the menu is designed and focuses on the higher end of the market, including those aged in their late twenties through to their early sixties with high