The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Saturday, February 28, 2004  

A Brunch Gone Horribly Wrong

I gratefully received a timely gift yesterday. Two books: Why I am a Catholic by Gary Wills, and The Funny Thing Is by Ellen DeGeneres. (Thanks, P.S., a reader from Iowa!)

It being Friday, or more specifically, Friday night, and not really having anything else to do, I went first for the DeGeneres book, ignoring, at least for the evening, the two dozen volumes that had staked claim to my nightstands long before she came along.

Besides, like all good cafeteria Catholics, and we are legion, I save my devotional reading -- a category in which I include Wills, if only because it really ticks off my friend Bill Buckley (and I can say that, because I still have two letters he wrote me years ago) -- for Sundays.

That’s not a hard and fast rule, of course, because on some Sundays I write. On others I watch football or Lifetime TV. On still others I might go to a museum or just take a long nap, or worse, from the whole seven-deadly-sins perspective, engage in gluttonous behavior (see, by way of parallel, “Pizza: Because I Ran Out of Xanax Again,” by Meghan Cox Gurdon).

I’m glad I did, choose the DeGeneres book, I mean, because I needed it.

Like all humor books, The Funny Thing Is is a little uneven, but just a little. It comes with the territory. Even funny people can’t be perfectly funny all the time, not even me. Not even Professor Pinkerton. And she’s really funny. And for a professor, she’s like insanely, almost inappropriately, funny.

But when DeGeneres is funny, as she is throughout this book, she is very funny. And when she’s very funny, she’s hilarious.

My favorite chapter is chapter two, “The Brunch Bunch,” in which DeGeneres relates her customary Sunday tradition of devotional reading. No, not really, I’m just kidding, it’s about her weekly brunches.

At this particular brunch, DeGeneres’s guests included her regulars, Paula Abdul, Diane Sawyer, Gloria Steinem, Donatella Versace, Ed Begley Jr., and Eminem.

But Sawyer brought a guest, “Siegfried or Roy (I’m not sure which one),” DeGeneres writes. And so did Abdul: her dry cleaner. As did Begley Jr.: Tara Lipinski, dressed for skating.

It was too many people for Ellen’s table, raising the dreaded prospect, which so many of us remember from our childhoods, of “the kids’ table.” And it only got worse from there.

A brief excerpt, just to tempt you:

For the first twenty minutes we ate in silence, with the exception of the dry cleaner remarking, “The gazpacho is heavenly.” He pronounced “gazpacho” with a soft “g,” (“jazpacho”), not a hard “g,” the way it should be pronounced. I don’t care where you’re from (and I’m pretty sure he was from Canada), there’s no reason you can’t get it right.

Every time he said it (I think nine times in twenty minutes), I thought Eminem was going to explode. It was almost as if the dry cleaner was mocking Em’s gazpacho -- and it’s his special recipe! He brings it every week. After the third or fourth time the dry cleaner said “jazpacho,” I said, “It’s good gazpacho” saying it correctly with the hard “g,” hoping he’d realize his stupid mistake, but he just kept on as if I was saying it wrong. Even Donatella Versace says it right and she says everything wrong.

Well, when conversation finally began to flow, it was not pleasant. It started harmlessly enough with Siegfried or Roy asking why Paula hangs out with her dry cleaner. Were they friends beforehand and now he just happens to dry-clean her clothes? Did they start chatting when she went to pick up her “outfits,” as he called them? And if so, why wouldn’t her assistant pick up her “outfits”? Paula just stared at Siegfried or Roy with this kind of knowing smile, like she was “onto him” -- you know, the way Paula does. Well, this unnerved everyone and I think the dry cleaner got a little defensive on Paula’s behalf. He started questioning Siegfried or Roy on his own “outfits” and from there it led to why Tara Lipinski was wearing her “outfit.” Tara didn’t understand what he was talking about. It’s all she ever wears.

Okay, just one more:

Tara Lipinski called this morning to see if she had left her purse. I told her she hadn’t come with a purse, and she argued she had indeed come with a purse. I said, “No, you didn’t. We all commented on your skating attire like you were getting ready to perform or something, remember?” […]

A few minutes later I found a purse in my kitchen and felt so bad that I had been so adamant about her not having brought one. I opened it, hoping to find a phone number for her but when I found the driver’s license it was Gloria Steinem’s -- only her real name is Debbie! Oh, the secrets we keep. . . .”

Fair’s fair, now you have to go buy the book. Don’t just go to Barnes & Noble and read chapter two in the aisle. (I know how you think.) After all, the laborer, even if merely a writer, or, lesser still, a comic, is worthy of his or her hire, right?

(The previous sentence paraphrases a verse from the Bible, but you knew that. Surely Susan Sanford did. Before you unpack your concordance, Susie, it’s Luke 10:7.)

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