Reviewing the Reviewer
I was happy to read the opinion of the Local's newest columnist, Len Lear, on the Valley Swim Club Incident. Happy because, up 'til now, I had held my tongue about his work, out of pity. Len has been kicking around the lower levels of Philly journalism since I was a kid, and once came within hailing distance of what might have been called "promise." But that was some years ago. That past , and his innocuous position on the Local, lead me away from some pretty obvious observations.
Another reason is more delicate.
But since Len has now written what is probably the most overt expression of Racial Insensitivity I have ever read in the Local, I get to open him up a little.
Here is where the betting line is set on whether any Hiller contradicts Lens' "Walk a Mile in my shoes, Colored People" tale of the discrimination he has personally observed and experienced.
The morning line is 8 to 5 against. In the Hill tradition, which Len violated, I'll guess complete silence on the subject.
I let Len alone. He has his own little office. He writes what are supposed to be restaurant reviews for a neighborhood newspaper. When I read restaurant reviews in a neighborhood newspaper in which I am (was) a resident, I have two reasonable expectations. One, that the review, being in a newspaper whose readership outside the neighborhood was minimal, would attempt to review restaurants within that neighborhood. And two, that the reviews would try to describe the food being served in that restaurant.
But Len, perhaps hewing to the Hill tradition of thinking that its (his) influence is somewhat larger than it actually is, left the sampling and critique of Hill establishments to some other, imaginary paper. In the last twenty-three Local issues, one Hill restaurant has been reviewed.
Another unorthodox feature of Lens' reviews is the amount of words he actually devotes to the description of the food itself. He typically uses his inches to back story the life and struggles of the owner, usually getting to the food around paragraph twelve, calling the dish delicious, and then finishing off these distracting details in two or three paragraphs. Check the archives. I did. Lens' percentage of column space devoted to the description of the dishes sampled tops out at sixteen percent. The words most often used to describe the food are "delicious" and "tasty."
I always thought I knew why, and Lens latest work convinced me.
Len assumes his writing ability is above the Roget-hunting-for-flavor descriptions that he never seemed to tackle. His talent was in those compelling backstories that we all cared about so much more than finding out if someone served food we wanted to eat.
Lately, Len has jumped into the recession-news-you-can-use- business, taking special care to describe price busting offers at the establishments he writes about. The key point of going to a restaurant for the food, rather than the cost, or the compelling story of its owners has apparently been lost in his haze of two for one specials.
A few weeks ago, he reviewed Applebee's. I can't really add anything to that statement. Yes, I can. Anyone who reviews Applebee's for any reason other than as a case in point for the decline of Western Civilization should have his W-2 changed from food critic to Teenage Hillbilly Asshole.
That he described the food as "Yummy" and the unlimited salad and breadsticks as "quite tasty" makes me want to purge RIGHT NOW.
But now we see Len's ambition. Social Critic and advice giver. To Parents. Black Parents. Take your children to Libraries, museums, and lectures. Because, I guess, Len thinks that they don't do that already. Because Len, as a White Man who has never had children, feels comfortable in telling a Black Parent how to raise children. And that his experience in observing discrimination in 1963 is enough to counter a lifetime as a Black person in America.
It's the Sociological version of telling us that Applebees is "Yummy."
Len might have an issue with self identification, and that's understandable. For if ever he looked in the mirror long enough to know that his color precludes his understanding of this situation in the most profound way, he might notice that the thing on the top of his head resembles no human physical attribute, and that it is a symbol of denial as equally profound as his ignorance on the subject he has addressed.
So my advice to you Len, is to get rid of the bad wig, and devote yourself to writing about local restaurants and figure out how to work the food onto the articles before the twelfth paragraph. As for your taste, I can't help, so here's a tip - Review the Chestnut Hill Grill - It's so close to Applebees, you'll feel right at home. As for the baldness - Get over it.