The Critic’s Choice

My 2-for1 Muppet avatar, according to friends

One early summer evening in the Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles, some friends and I found ourselves sitting around the living room of the apartment I shared with my roommate Craig. The shades of the curved bank of Streamline Moderne windows were pulled down to keep the heat outside in check, but a bottle of tequila was passed around which seemed to stoke our inner fires, causing us all to examine our lives in the deep, meaningful ways that only those just old enough to legally drink can do.

“If you were a muppet,” our friend Halle asked, ” Which muppet would you be?” She then clarified, for some unspecified, fermented agave-driven reason, that said muppets must be chosen from The Muppet Show and not from Sesame Street or Fraggle Rock which, I assume were considered too juvenile an idea to be entertained by such newly-minted adults as ourselves.

Halle chose Scooter, Kermit the Frog’s gofer-cum-stage manager; Craig went for Fozzie Bear, which was appropriate at the time because he was entirely lovable and told corny jokes. Our friend Doug, I believe, was the serious-looking Sam the Eagle; Craig’s girlfriend Shannon, who was not present, was branded Miss Piggy for no discernible porcine reason. When the time finally came for me to choose my muppet avatar, I came up blank.

I thought I might make a good Kermit because I was accustomed to emceeing events, avoided the attention of pursuing females, and was rather inclined to moody self-reflection. However, before I could announce my decision, Craig did the choosing for me:

“Oh, you’re definitely those two old guys who sit up in the balcony criticizing everything.”

Totally!” Everyone present agreed. We were all from Southern California, so the choice of affirmation was fitting.

Was this what my friends really thought of me? Did I come across as some prematurely-aged curmudgeon, sitting apart from the action– above it all– hailing down criticism? Apparently so.

There was no use getting defensive about it, because I knew Craig had nailed it– and me. Of course, he didn’t even know their names. None of us did at that moment.

Statler and Waldorf– those were the names.  Two for the price of one. And I knew why they were right for me.

Having many friends in the theatre department, I quickly developed a reputation for giving honest appraisals of the acting ability of anyone who dared to asked. And they all asked because actors are, by necessity, masochists. None of them, it should be noted, are acting today. Perhaps if Jack Black, who was starring in a number of one-act plays on campus had come to me, the world of cinema might have been a safer, funnier place without him. But he didn’t, because I did not know him.

Making enemies in the audience.

I had also shared with them an anecdote about the time I had written a short play in high school about two retired theatre critics who described in graphic detail the ways in which they would like to torture bad playwrights. This very much upset everyone present, including Edward Albee, who with barely concealed anger called me up to explain my work. When he realized I wasn’t mocking him, but rather everyone else in the room, he laughed and chatted me up, much to the continued horror of the audience.

It is one of my most cherished memories, however much it branded me for life. But I didn’t much enjoy seeing myself as the guy who could rip anyone or anything apart, just because he could. Or, more correctly, because he needed to posture himself as superior whenever he felt threatened or inferior.

Oh, the joys of adolescence.

Given the fact that Statler and Waldorf reserved some of their most withering heckles for Fozzie Bear, I am now doing a mental search of my years living with Craig and wonder if I was somehow unduly harsh to one the the kindest people on the face of the planet. If I did, he probably wouldn’t tell me– he’s much too nice a guy.

It’s interesting to see how people change over the years. Craig is just as kind as he was twenty years ago, but his humor is deeper and richer than anything Mr. Bear would ever come up with. And– get this– Halle is Executive Vice President of Children’s Entertainment at The Jim Henson Company. True story.

Scooter, indeed.

As for me, I’d like to think that the man I am today is much more diplomatic and secure than the man-boy I was twenty years ago. Though I’ll never totally rid myself of my Statleresque/Waldorfian nature, I have high hopes of greening myself with a dash of Kermit. Or maybe I could add a whiff of Animal, just to keep things exciting.

Just never, ever refer to me as The Swedish Chef or I will rip you to shreds.

The Statler and Waldorf Salad

This is, of course, essentially a classic Waldorf salad. The major difference is that the sweetness of the apple and grapes is counter-attacked by a delightful dose of bitterness from frisée lettuce. If this doesn’t appeal to you, feel free to criticize. I know I would, if I were you.

I had considered adding rotten tomatoes to be thrown directly at the salad, à la messers. S & W but, since this salad is named for them, it hardly made sense, since they would never dream of doing such a thing to themselves.

Serves two prickly people.

Ingredients:

• 1/2 cup red seedless grapes, halved as though one were about to feed them to a baby one does not wish to make choke.
• 1 sweet-tart apple, cored and chopped, but not peeled. I’m a Northern Californian, so I like Gravenstein.
• 1/2 cup celery, thinly sliced
• 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, sliced in half as if performing a radical, emergency lobotomy.
• 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise. I live west of the Rockies, so I cannot use Hellman’s.
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon honey, if there are still enough bees alive to produce it.
• Frisée lettuce for garnish
• Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

In a medium sized bowl, whisk mayonnaise, lemon juice, and honey until well incorporated. Add salt and pepper to your own heart’s desire and personal sense of taste. Toss in grapes, apple, celery, and walnuts. Toss well, then heap upon a bed of frisée.

Serve cold, naturally.

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About Michael Procopio

I write about food and am very fond of Edward Gorey. And gin.
This entry was posted in Celebrities, Salad, Stage, Film, and Television and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to The Critic’s Choice

  1. EllenFitz says:

    What a hoot. Thanks for making me smile (again).

  2. If it makes you feel any better, Statler and Waldorf are my favorite Muppets (although the entire Electric Mayhem is a close second).

  3. Jay Floyd says:

    I was just about to tell you which muppet I think of you as, then realized it could be taken as an insult.

    I’m entirely too middle aged to insult someone by Muppet, however accidentally.

    Yours —

    Animal

  4. Craig says:

    Michael – what a wonderful post, I’m honored to get a mention. I had almost forgotten which Muppet you were, thanks for bringing that back to me. 🙂

    And as always, your recipes crack me up. “1 teaspoon honey, if there are still enough bees alive to produce it” ? Genius.

  5. Bravo! Another fabulous dip into the mind of MP. I don’t know how I didn’t know you lived in my neighborhood a number of years ago. Perhaps I blocked out the thought–the idea that I didn’t know you all those years ago being too horrible to contemplate–or wasn’t listening closely enough. Either way, I love this story and am so glad you shared it. I, myself, think I would be Gonzo. Because I am a both a lover of strange things and a bit of an odd ball.

    • Gonzo? Really? Okay, I suppose I can see that. I feel a bit Gonzo myself sometimes. And, yes, Craig and I lived on the corner of 6th and Cochran for two years in what we referred to as “The Love Boat” building, because it was all Stremline Modern-y and looked like a boat. I miss that place. Apparently, Nancy Silverton lived in our apartment right before we did. Perhaps it will one day receive a food history plaque.

  6. AdriBarr says:

    Bravo and love it – I just discovered your blog. Thanks for bringing memories of the (pretty much) late great Waldorf. And you will get no criticism from me on the frisee. Smart addition if I do say so myself. I wish I had come up with it. Just don’t tell me if somebody starts making Waldorf ice cream. I couldn’t take it.

  7. Richard says:

    Though I do not know him personally, I have found my muppet based on Wiki lore: Mr. Poodlepants.
    “Mr. Poodlepants is an oddball character who first appeared on Muppets Tonight. He is a jolly fellow, with an eccentric fashion style and an off-the wall sensibility.”
    I mean, it’s like they KNOW me.

    My father worked in the kitchen at the Waldorf-Astoria around the time I was born, so I have always felt a connection to that understated salad. (I’m pretty sure the salad feels it, too.)

    Thanks for the story, the recipe, and the reminder,
    Mr. Poodlepants

  8. I love how good friends bring out these sorts of discussions, whereas with others we can’t think of a single thing to say.

    • I can assure you my friends never seem to run out of things to say. That’s usually a very good thing.

      I happen to think they’re a fascinating group of people. Then again, I am completely biased.

  9. Sis Boom says:

    I am clearly Dr. Bunsen Honeydew most of the time but I have my moments of Janice when I am not at work.

  10. I’d have to be Mr. Snuffleupagus, who, according to the muppet wiki, is is eternally 4-years-old!!!

    • There is a certain attraction to being eternally 4 years old: no responsibility, imaginary friends, a mastery over one’s bowel movements. However, there are just too many things about adulthood I could never give up willingly, none of which I feel I can mention here on this blog comment.

  11. Halle says:

    Mike! What a wonderful article! Thanks for bringing back such a fun memory! And having worked for the frog I will tell you that you too have many similar qualities: a fierce loyalty to friends, a dreamer, and a swell guy! Sheesh!

    I still feel like Scooter with a big dash of Gonzo and a whole lotta Pepe!

    • I love that you work for “the frog”. Tell me, isn’t this frog working for “the mouse” these days? Thanks for providing the fodder for this post!

      And I think we could all use a little more Pepe in our lives. I think we can agree on that.

      xom

  12. Lana says:

    When I read the question, I knew that I was definitely the two old dudes sitting in the back and criticizing. And it was before I read that they were chosen to “represent” you:)
    Thank you for teaching me their names!
    A wonderful reverie:)

  13. Susan says:

    Hi Michael,

    I try so hard not to be perceived as being Miss Piggy.
    But the fact that I have to try so hard is revealing.
    Actually, I can relate to a part of all the characters .

  14. Best Foods mayo is the same as Hellmans. I moved from California to Texas and the jingle on the commercials is the same. I’m Miss Piggy, because I know karate. “HiiiiYa!”

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