The other day I found myself engaged in a lively discussion on a subject that I know very little about. Having no idea what I’m talking about has never kept me — or, for that matter, anyone else in my family — from expressing an opinion. I come from a long line of
My grandmother, Eileen, when confronted with indisputable facts contrary to one of her many long held and —sorry Eileen — often misguided opinions, would, when she was backed into a corner, invoke something that we’ve come to think of as “The Metropolitan Area Rule”. Basically, she would respond to well-reasoned arguments and facts by saying, “We live in ‘THE Metropolitan Area’! We know a thing or two about THAT!”
“THAT” could be the proper way to trap a bear, which, let’s face it, folks in “metropolitan” areas likely know little to nothing about. No matter the subject, if you weren’t one of us — a fellow denizen of “the metropolitan area” — and you disagreed with Eileen, you were wrong. You could be a twenty-year veteran of the National Parks Service and an accredited forest ranger, but if your methods of bear trapping were not in keeping with Eileen’s idea of what bear-trapping entailed, you were in for a fight. In the end, you were going to throw your hands up in surrender, which to some might indicate a draw, but not to my grandmother. To my grandmother, surrender was a win.
For the record, and in my grandmother’s intractable opinion, THE metropolitan area was New York City and its adjacent communities. Nowhere else on Earth counted. Not London. Not Paris. Not Chicago. And certainly NOT L.A. My grandmother held The City of Los Angeles AND all of its inhabitants directly responsible for the defection of The Brooklyn Dodgers. To her way of thinking, they’d also “stolen” Sinatra. God help the Los Angeleno that crossed HER path.
I remember her engaging in a lively debate with an ITALIAN on the proper way to make spaghetti sauce. The fact that my grandmother made the world’s worst spaghetti sauce, made this particular exchange more than just mildly entertaining. The ridiculousness of it wasn’t lost on her, either, but, God love her, she soldiered on — invoking, in the end, not only her long history of rubbing elbows with Italian-Americans — a history that was news to anyone who truly knew her — but also reminding this person — a person who may or may not have hailed from the metropolitan area of Rome or Naples or Genoa — that she was from “THE metropolitan area” and, therefore, could not possibly be wrong about, well, pretty much anything.
Her spaghetti sauce — and really I’m playing fast and loose by calling it that — but it was a viscous liquid that she served over spaghetti, so I don’t know what else to call it — was terrible. It is difficult to describe, but I’ll try to give you some idea of what it looked like — I’d prefer not to discuss what it tasted like. It looked more like brown gravy with some tomato flavoring and specks of what I assume were dried oregano flakes floating on the top. In addition to the smattering of something tomato-y (I suspect it was ketchup), this culinary masterpiece also contained a very healthy amount of oil. She must have added the oil because the sauce did not contain anything — like sausage or ground beef — that would have generated any fat in the cooking process. It literally ran over the pasta — leaving a pool of brownish-red stuff around the edges — the only part of this sauce that was left clinging to the macaroni were the little beads of oil.
Eating it was an adventure in and of itself — one that required some careful planning and no small amount of skill. Over the years I discovered that the best method was to stab at the vermicelli, twist it around my fork, and steady it with another utensil (or my finger) so that I could dip it around the edges of my dish — where the sauce had migrated — and then, eventually, bring it up to my mouth. Some of us — the ones with damaged palettes, but intrepid natures — abandoned the double utensil method altogether. He or she (and usually it was my grandfather who employed this method) would just grab a slice of Wonder bread from the stack (Wonder bread was served as an accompaniment to almost every meal back in the ’70s), load it up with spaghetti, fold it over, mop up some sauce with the makeshift sandwich, and eat it that way — disgusting, yet brilliant. And, I daresay, far less messy than my method.
You just could not manage to eat this stuff without splattering bits of oil all over your peasant blouse. It was almost impossible, strategic napkin placement notwithstanding, to get through a plate of it without at least one forkful landing on your dungarees. You’d have needed to eat covered in a butcher’s apron to avoid at least one oil stain on your clothing. We were lucky we had paper napkins, let alone a butcher’s apron.
I tell you all of this not to defame her character, but so that you might have a better understanding of how ridiculous it was for my grandmother to enter into any discussion with anyone — ever — on the topic of spaghetti sauce preparation. But, she did. Of course she did. I’m just as ridiculous sometimes. This penchant we have — me and my family members — for talking out of our asses is genetic. Like being brown-eyed or blue-eyed, blonde or brunette — we have little to no control over what comes out of our mouths.
It’s a gift, really, this ability to remain true to our convictions — even when those convictions fly in the face of little things called facts — facts that may well be presented to us by those with far more expertise in one area or another — bear-trapping and spaghetti sauce preparation, for example. Also, there is really no better way to put an end to an argument that you are clearly losing than by invoking Eileen’s “Metropolitan Area Rule”. People are, and rightly so, completely dumbfounded by it. Completely. Dumbfounded.
I think you’d have to agree that uttering such a ludicrous statement really is the best way to put people off of their game and to end any conversation —ever. There is no doubt in my mind that I’m right about this. How could I possibly be wrong? After all, I’m from THE metropolitan area.
photo credit: someone else’s grandmother