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T&A Boot Camp

Photo by Christine Pelisek

“Who was the first Hooters Girl?” asks trainer Michelle. “Lynne Austin,” bellows the bevy of all-American collegiate types at the training class for Hooters’ newest restaurant, in Old Town Pasadena. “When was the first Hooters opened?” she continues. “1983,” pipes up a 20-something surfer-girl type.

Trainer Tracy, a tiny bleached blond, jumps up on a chair and twirls around, showing off her Hooters Girl outfit: eensy-weensy orange shorts, tight tank top, shiny beige nylon stockings, white sneakers and socks. “Can I have your attention?” asks her partner, Sofia. “This is Tracy and she is 45.” With no further ado, the girls shout in unison: “Hooters has a birthday song! Ain’t too short, it ain’t too long! Sing it right, you get your wishes! Sing it wrong, you do the dishes! Sound off, happy. Sound off, birthday!”

The Old Town store, which opened Wednesday, brings to more than 230 the number of restaurants in the 17-year-old, double-entendre-named casual food chain, which has spread across the U.S. and abroad, including Singapore and Taiwan. The company has successfully weathered a number of challenges to its T&A theme, which is pretty much unchanged from the first Hooters, in Clearwater, Florida.

“The element of female sex appeal is prevalent in the restaurants, and the company believes the Hooters Girl is as socially acceptable as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model or Radio City Rockette,” the Hooters Web site proudly proclaims.

But being a Hooters Girl is not all sex and sass, as OffBeat found during our brief sojourn in the land of F-A-T (“Fun-Attitude-Teamwork”) training. Classroom instruction, role-playing, uniform fitting, testing — it was all quite exhausting. And OffBeat didn’t even try to master the Hooters songbook — “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” okay, but all 23 verses to “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”?

Back to the training: “Visualize the food without seeing it,” Michelle explains how to talk up the menu. “Think of words you can use to make the food sound appetizing.” Turning her gaze on Natasha, she points to a page in the Hooters Girl Manual. “Make a sentence using one of these words.” Natasha rises to the challenge. “Would you like thick bubbly melted cheese on your burger?” she queries. OffBeat slinks off before anyone can ask her to use legendary and buffalo wings in the same sentence.

Trainer Sofia is drilling the girls on the Hooters rules. “What is the first commandment?” she asks. “Thou shalt always smile,” beams Alicia. “Number two?” Sofia raps out. “Thou shalt always greet arriving and departing guests and never place back towards front door,” chirps a young blond. “We like to be loud and obnoxious here,” says trainer Tracy, who immediately provides an example to the girls. “It’s like when you start dating, after a while you get to know him, then you start to act like a moron. That is what we want you to do here.”

“What do you do if you make a woman feel insecure with her boyfriend?” asks 20-year-old aspiring model/dancer Suliette Baez. “Greet the girls first,” trainer Tracy advises. “Men will usually have to drag her in there. She is insecure and thinks someone is going to take away her boyfriend . . . Feel free to compliment her. It will make her feel less insecure. But don’t overdo it so she thinks it is fake.”

On that cue, we decide to beat a hasty retreat, but not before we find out what moved Baez to become a Hooters Girl. “It will put me more in touch with my femininity,” she explains.

—Christine Pelisek

Grinchy Election Poetry

Every Chad
Down in Chad-ville
Liked voting a lot . . .
But the Grinch,
Who lived just north of Chad-ville,
Did NOT!

This spoof, titled “How the Grinch Stole Election Day,” launched a holiday onslaught of poetry parodying the Florida election fiasco. Like so many virtual fruitcakes, leaden verses have been thudding into the Inbox on almost a daily basis, verses such as the badly metered “AlGore I Am!”:

Let’s count them upside down this time
Let’s count until the state is mine!

“The Palm Beach Pokey”:

You bring your lawyers in
You drag the whole thing out
You bring your lawyers in
And you put it all in doubt.
You do the Palm Beach Pokey
And you turn the count around
That’s what it’s all about!

And the Sam Cooke–ian “Bush’s Inaugural Address Song”:

Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much foreign policy.
Don’t remember how I got through school
I’m sure I didn’t break the rules
But what’s it matter ’cause my granny says
“Boy, if you want to you can be the prez
And what a wonderful world this will be.”

 

Other media folderols, such as O.J. Simpson and Monica Lewinsky, triggered weeks of spammed jokes, satires, etc., but the Florida fracas appears to be unique in the sheer volume of poetry it has inspired. Who reads this stuff? More to the point, who writes it? Most of the spoofs were anonymous, but Hart Seely and Frank Cammuso — authors of “Grinch,” the class act of the bunch — turned out to be real people, and writers at that. We reached Seely Friday evening after he returned home from his day job at the Syracuse Post-Standard. Seely, 48, has been a reporter at the paper for 20 years, give or take a few years off to work as a welder and at other odd jobs. Cammuso, 35, is the paper’s political cartoonist. Comedy is their sideline; they have been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times and Slate. They also released a book, called 2007-Eleven: And Other American Comedies, on Villard this year.

Seely said he’d been “sort of bummed” that their book wasn’t selling, and suggested the Grinch spoof to Cammuso as the pair drove in to work one morning. It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Cammuso said no. He’d seen a Grinch editorial cartoon down in Florida, and “he said everybody would be doing the Grinch,” Seely recalled. “Also, he was in a bad mood, ornery.”

Later that day, Cammuso changed his mind. The pair worked on “Grinch” for two nights. Slate posted the poem on Monday, November 20, at 4 p.m. The reaction was almost immediate. “Slate has a billboard called the Fray . . . Most times we wrote for Slate before, we got savaged on the Fray,” Seely said. “Within 15 to 20 minutes of the posting, there were these incredible accolades up there. We knew we had finally gotten in their good graces.”

The next night, Seely fielded a call from his contact at the New York Times op-ed page, asking why he hadn’t shopped the piece to him. Cammuso received a copy of “Grinch” in his e-mail; the sender didn’t realize he was the co-author. A week later, they heard that the piece had been read on Canadian Broadcasting Corp. radio (Syracuse is far enough north that people listen to Canadian radio). “That was really neat,” Seely said. “Just today, I got a call from a lady I know at NPR, who said it had been bouncing around the e-mail there and wanting to know if they could use it. I told her it had been on CBC, and that pretty much scuttled that.” The parody also was reprinted from Slate in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Seely and Cammuso were paid for their Slate submission, but are still waiting for payment on the other reprintings or broadcasts. It’s not the first time their writing has been spammed. One of the spoofs included in 2007 is “The Xmas-Files,” a piece that first appeared in The New Yorker four years ago featuring agents Mulder and Scully’s investigation of an otherworldly nocturnal visitor.

“If you were to do a Google search on Seely and Cammuso, you would find 50 or 60 files with ‘Xmas-Files’ on it,” Seely said. “Believe me, we thought we were hot shit the first time we got in The New Yorker. But it’s a long haul. If you become famous, you can sell comedy and make a living at it, but it’s like a spill effect. If you’re famous, everybody will pick up your stuff, but until you’re famous enough, nobody will pick up your stuff . . . I’ve been in The New Yorker eight to 10 times, The New York Times, Slate, and I have three books out, but none of them have done anything, that’s the honest truth.

“But we’re not like the record companies bitching about Napster, it’s exactly the opposite. With hundreds of these things bouncing around out there, from a comedy perspective, sooner or later somebody is going to know you. That’s all you can really expect . . . Long story short, with comedy you just keep putting it out because you want to do it.”

At the Post-Standard, Seely currently is working on a follow-up to a seven-part series he wrote about beatings at a local child-care center. “I was looking over my shoulder on that one for a while,” he said. “Long story short, with three kids, I’m at Syracuse for the duration.” He is enjoying the deluge of election parodies that followed his own. “They just keep bouncing around . . . Did you get the one from England declaring that the U.S. is no longer a sovereign state because they can’t do a legitimate election? No? That one was funny . . . I just got another verse, a takeoff on some Shakespearean sonnet.

 

“These elections have spawned the worst poetry since Allan Sherman.”


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