Sunday, October 31, 2004

A KINDER, GENTLER BUMPER STICKER

Tired of staring at those vulgar bumper stickers while you stew in the afternoon stop-and-go on the BQE? Do the political and/or social sentiments plastered all over that honkin’ big SUV - the one that just cut you off on the West Loop - scream “Low Rent!”?

Blog D’Elisson can help!


Messages even Miss Manners can approve. Posted by Hello

Here are some polite bumper stickers that restate those popular (but vulgar) sentiments in a form that even Miss Manners approves. Enjoy!

IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN

Hey! A minute ago it was an hour from now!

Saturday, October 30, 2004

TRICK OR TREAT, KID


The Mistress of Deviltry at age five. Posted by Hello

Just for Hallowe’en, a little nostalgia, Elisson style.

Here’s the Mistress of Sarcasm her ownself, at age five. Hasn’t changed all that much in the last seventeen years...

FILMIC SCHIZOPHRENIA

Wow, two movies in one week! And could they be more different?

Let’s take the second one first. Last night, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I joined another couple for a Night at the Weepies. The movie: “The Notebook,” starring Gena Rowlands and a superannuated-looking James Garner, and directed by Rowlands’s son Nick Cassavetes. The venue: the local Cheap-Ass Movie Theatre, where admission for two cost the lordly sum of $3.50. [One time, SWMBO and I went there on a Tuesday evening and were astonished to find that tickets that day are a half-buck each. Holy crap, when was the last time you saw any movie for four bits? How do these guys make any money? Eighty-dollar popcorn?] The verdict: Predictable but remarkably effective sniveler that had all four of us feeling verklempt despite the obvious story line. Garner and Rowlands were excellent, and the image of love in the face of aging and Alzheimer’s was conveyed quite touchingly.

As the film was getting underway, there was a considerable amount of tittering and audible conversation going on amongst a contingent of teenagers on the right side of the auditorium. I leaned over to SWMBO and said, sotto voce, “These damned kids! How do they expect us to get our money’s worth of enjoyment out of this movie?”

That’s the problem with the Cheap-Ass Movie Theatre: you really can’t complain about too much, short of someone setting off a tactical nuclear weapon. It’s not as if you’re paying real money, is it?

Sometimes you don’t mind paying real money to see a flick. Earlier in the week, I took advantage of SWMBO’s being at her Wednesday night class by going to see a completely different kind of movie: “Team America – World Police.” The kind of movie she likely would not enjoy as much as I would. You betcha.


Keeping the world safe from terror - when freedom hangs by a thread! Posted by Hello

I actually paid full price to see this one, and I don’t regret it. You need a crude sense of humor to enjoy Matt Parker and Trey Stone’s vision, but I’m well-equipped in that area. This savage satire lampoons just about everything: America’s right-wing save-the-world vision; the cadre of Hollywood left wing celebrities; action movies in general; and Kim Il Jong and Alec Baldwin (my homie!) in particular. All with marionettes, in an updated version of Gerry Anderson’s 1960’s vintage Supermarionation shows. Anyone who remembers “Supercar,” ”Fireball XL-5,” and “Thunderbirds” is familiar with the basic style, but Parker and Stone have brought it into the 21st century by improving the facial expressiveness of the characters…and throwing in liberal amounts of pungent expletives. And let’s not forget nearly two minutes of hot puppet-on-puppet action [which was trimmed so that the movie could avoid the dreaded NC-17 rating]!

Sex - with strings attached. Lotsa shit blowing up. Heaps o’ Vulgar Language. Political incorrectness. I laughed ’til I peed. This one gets the BdE “Thumbs Up.”

America! Fuck, yeah!

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT GEORGIA (PART TWO)


Fall in Dahlonega, October 2004. Posted by Hello


The Dahlonega Mint, now a museum. Posted by Hello

Some pictures from our trip to Ellijay and Dahlonega last week.

Nice thing about Atlanta is that you’re less than two hours by car from the North Georgia mountains. And October is the best time of year up here, as the leaves are starting to show off their fall colors.

All right, so it ain’t New England - but can you find boiled peanuts in New England?

Friday, October 29, 2004

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING, YET AGAIN


Eleven pounds of crap in a five pound sack. Posted by Hello

Wh-what the hell is the hairy mess in this bag? Why, it’s Miss Matata!

You can run, O Fuzzy One, but you can’t hide. Not very effectively, anyway.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

CAPTAIN, BEAM ME UP - AND PULL MY FINGER

NASA has managed to send the Cassini-Huygens probe to within 750 miles of the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. A truly remarkable feat of engineering!


Titan, second largest moon in the Solar System. Posted by Hello

Very little is known about Titan, owing to its remoteness. It’s extremely cold, about minus 289 degrees F, the kind of place about which most astronomers bandy the term “inhospitable to life.” The latest images, plus observations from previous missions, suggest that the small planet has a substantial atmosphere, but it is unclear whether the surface is liquid or solid.

One thing does appear to be certain: there is plenty of methane on Titan, probably mixed with significant traces of sulfur compounds. If indeed there are oceans on Titan, they, too, are likely to consist largely of liquid methane.

Picture it. A planet-wide ocean of liquefied farts.

Exploring such a place would present heretofore unimaginable challenges. Assigning blame, for instance...
“Prepare to initiate landing sequence! On my mark, 5, 4, 3…whew, who let one? Was that you, Commander Jones? No? Well, it wasn’t me!
“Someone open a window, dammit!”
“No! No! Aaaaaaaggggghhhhhhh…
Perhaps humankind was not meant to walk astride the shores of these alien seas. Nevertheless, we have images and data that we can study... from a safe distance. Pooty amazing, huh?

CATBLOGGING WITH THE GREY LADY

Looks like this whole business of Friday Cat Blogging has attracted the attention of the mainstream press, as evidenced by this article in the New York Times:
In the vitriolic world of political Web logs, two polar extremes are Eschaton (atrios.blogspot.com), a liberal, often anti-Bush site with a passionate following, and Instapundit (www.instapundit.com), where an equally fervent readership goes for hearty praise of the Administration.

It would seem unlikely that the two blogs’ authors could see eye-to-eye about anything. Yet Eschaton’s Duncan Black (known as Atrios) and Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds have both taken part in a growing practice: turning over a blog on Friday to cat photographs.

[...]

Some participants take Friday catblogging very seriously. Laurence Simon, a 35-year-old Houston technical support engineer, decided a while back that with so many people catblogging, it would be good to have a weekly compendium of the best of each week’s entries.

So he began to post what he called the “Carnival of the Cats,” a roundup (www.carnivalofthecats.com) of that week’s Friday catblogging, available the following Sunday.

“The reason why I do it on Sunday evening is that most people aren’t online,” Mr. Simon said, “so on Monday morning, when people get into the office and are facing their first horrible cup of coffee, they can look at pictures of cats until they get screamed at for the first time of the day.”

For a while, Mr. Simon was the host of Carnival of the Cats, but he decided to pass along the honor. Now, a different person handles the Carnival of the Cats each Sunday, compiling a healthy group of Friday postings for that groggy Monday morning audience.
Laurence Simon, for those who don’t know him, writes a blog called “This Blog Is Full Of Crap.” It’s on my blogroll, and I make frequent visits. Laurence is on the conservative side politically, but his take on the Mideast is mostly right up my alley: Yasser Arafat Is Full Of Crap. [And, for that matter, so is Dear Abby.] Laurence lives in Houston, so I can appreciate the occasional local reference while at the same time thinking “better him than me.”

And I will confess to being a regular catblogger, thanks to Laurence...and to Hakuna and Matata, who provide plenty of photo ops. I have started participating in the Carnival of the Cats, mainly because I like the idea of my catposts reaching a broader audience. Plus, it annoys Acidman, which is a bonus. Acidman hates cats.

Unless they’re properly cooked...

HELL FREEZES OVER

Last night, a flock of airborne pigs narrowly avoided a collision with the monkeys that flew out of my butt. At the same time, Hell froze over as demons and imps chanted, “All we are saying, is give snowballs a chance.” The moon was blood-red, thanks to a lunar eclipse, but it might just as well have been blue.

And the Bosox won the World Series.

Those bad boys not only laid the legendary Curse of the Bambino to rest, they hammered a stake through its heart with a 4-0 sweep of the Series. This, after the unprecedented come-from-behind victory in the ALCS over the dreaded Men in Stripes. That’s eight postseason wins in a row, folks.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen again.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

HALLOWE’EN IN HOUSTON

October is winding down, and in keeping with the American passion for Ridiculous Seasonal Obsessions, it’s time to start thinking of Hallowe’en.

I used to love Hallowe’en as a kid. What was not to like? You walked around the neighborhood, collecting sugarrific swag. Then you went home, dumped out the contents of your sack, made a cursory check for hidden razor blades, and ate until you retched. Not to mention those great costumes...

I recall that there was one house at which children were invited inside for hot apple cider and donuts. An elderly couple lived there, a couple who evidently had not gotten the memo. Donuts? Cider? Pfaugh! Where the hell are the Zagnut bars?

Nowadays, anyone who invited kids into their home on Hallowe’en for cider and donuts would most likely be arrested. Or sued. Possibly murdered. Or all three. But as an adult, I miss those simpler times when that kind of hospitality wasn’t flat-out creepy.

Now, I look forward to Hallowe’en like most people look forward to a high colonic. [I mean normal people. I’m aware that there are plenty of people who enjoy that sort of thing. Perverts.] This is mainly because we live in a neighborhood that has plenty of little kids. And that means getting up and answering the Gawd-damned doorbell every 3.2 seconds. Gets in the way of my TV watching and general ass-sitting activities.

OK, some of the little rug-rats are cute, I’ll give ’em that much. But once they’re over (say) six years old, they shouldn’t need prodding as to the Basic Elements of the Ritual:

1. Ring doorbell.
2. Say “Trick or treat!” This part - the Announcement of Purpose - is important. Gratuitous comments about smelling one’s feet and/or giving one something good to eat are permissible but not required.
3. Hold out sack or other container.
4. Receive candy.
5. Say “Thank you.” This part is also important, lest you grow up to be a Big Honkin’ Ass-Hole™.

It ain’t complicated, folks.

Oh, yeah. One other rule at Chez Elisson: Do not ask for UNICEF money. A formerly worthy organization, UNICEF is part and parcel of The International Alliance of Thieving Whores ’n’ Hypocrites the UN, so I no longer give them my money. Ask for UNICEF money and I will tell you to peddle your papers elsewhere, and I may just shove that collection box up your snoot.

And after you turn thirteen, it’s time to knock off the trick-or-treating activities. Hordes of teenagers wandering the ’hood on Hallowe’en night make me a little nervous. That’s because I was once a teenager, and I remember the kind of hell we used to raise. Once your voice changes and you start to grow hair on your face (guys, this means you, too), you can go bag groceries at the local Publix to earn your candy.

With all this said, there’s really only one thing I miss about the H-days of old. Having grown up in the Northeast, I like the fall weather. Cold. Crisp. Leaves turning their fall colors. And Hallowe’en is just not the same down South when it’s like as not over 70 degrees. At least here in Georgia, the evenings are cool, but in the 1990’s we lived in Houston - Sweat City - where it conceivably could be over 80 degrees on Hallowe’en. To me, the combination of Hallowe’en and the Texas heat never really worked...and that’s what inspired me to write this poem, which I trot out like clockwork this time of year:

Hallowe’en in Houston
or
Yes, Climate Does Make a Difference

It’s Hallowe’en in Houston: the sweat is on the pumpkin
And children dress as monsters in the heat.
They stalk the stifling streets and visit every city bumpkin
Ringing doorbells, shouting “Trick or treat!”

The torrid Texas towns are filled with tiny ghouls and ghosts
With Fahrenheit approaching 93 -
They look much less like children, and more like little roasts
Extorting molten Hershey bars from me.

I remember in New England, where the temperatures were frigid,
A chilly Hallowe’en would mark the season.
You’d go collecting candy and come home all icy rigid -
It just ain’t spooky if you aren’t freezin’!

A DISTURBING LITTLE STORY

One time, Dad (the Eli in “Elisson” in case you were curious) and Toni were out to dinner in New York City at some reasonably swanky restaurant. At some point during the meal, Toni excused herself to go to the Ladies’ Room. She came back a few minutes later, a bit shaken.

It seems that when she went in there, there was an enema bag, complete with rubber hose, hanging up in one of the stalls. A real “What the f&%#ck” moment, to be sure.

Now, I know some folks just dote on those Upper Colonics, but just how twisted do you have to be in order to give yourself an enema in a public restroom?

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

I GUESS I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE

who knows about the “Pull-Through Maneuver.” From today’s McSweeney’s:
The parking-spot pull-through

You see the spot, you pull your car in. Then you see the pull-through opportunity. The spot in front of you, usually already occupied by someone who parked facing you, is open. It’s not just sensible logistically to go right through and park facing out. It’s plain good karma. A sign of good things to come.
As an employee of The Great Corporate Salt Mine who frequently drives a car for business purposes, I am required to take a defensive driving course every three years. Policy, you know.

This can sometimes be entertaining, in an offhanded way. Over the years, I’ve taken all sorts of defensive driving courses:

The Comedy Defensive Driving Course. Usually taught by someone who is incapable of making a living doing honorable standup, the principle behind Comedy Defensive Driving is that you need constant injections of humor to keep people from flatlining out of sheer boredom during the eight classroom hours that most state-mandated DD courses require. And you know what? It doesn’t help.

The Defensive Driving Course In Which I Am The Only Participant Who Was Not Sent There To Work Off A DUI Conviction. These courses can provide some perverse amusement...or horror, depending on how you choose to view the fact that your classmates-for-a-day actually share the public roads with you. My Gawd, I’ve never heard stories like the ones I’ve heard in these classes. Keep in mind that I’ve been driving for over 34 years now and I have gotten, in all that time (kinahora), a grand total of four tickets for moving violations. That’s two speeding tickets, plus one for rolling through a stop sign and one for following too closely (this last one because I whacked into some guy after getting distracted fiddling with the radio. Dumbass me.) But these people pile up moving violations like they eat potato chips. Betcha can’t eat just one!
“Honey, I’m going to the store. You want me to pick anything up for you?”
“Sure - quart of milk, loaf of whole wheat, and a 55 in a 30 MPH zone. Oh, yeah, and some Twinkies.”

The Real, No-Shit, Honest-to-God Defensive Driving Course. This is the one I took two years ago, and it was just like being back in high school. I mean that in a good way. The instruction consisted of four hours in a classroom and four hours behind the wheel, and the guiding concepts were the same ones we learned back in the day. Get the Big Picture. Leave Yourself an Out. Keep Your Eyes Moving. All of that good, basic stuff that we tend to forget or get sloppy about in our day-to-day driving, until something Gets Our Attention. Like a wreck or a summons.

And the instructor was a big believer in the Pull-Through. Any time you can avoid backing up, you cut your risks substantially. The only caveat was that you need to be alert to other traffic that might not be aware that you are planning to Pull Through. You can give someone a rude surprise if they swing into what they thought was an empty spot if they didn't see you slip into it from the other side. But with that warning in place, it’s still a Good Idea.

I became a Pull-Through convert on the spot. Now I drive She Who Must Be Obeyed nuts every time we’re in a parking lot, seeking out Pull-Through opportunities.

And now it’s got the McSweeney’s Seal of Approval to boot. Sweet, sweet validation!

THE OFFICIAL BLOG D’ELISSON DICTIONARY,
Volume 4.

Yet more stuff that should be in the dictionary but isn’t.

[See Volumes 1, 2, and 3 in the Archives.]

Poopier mâché [poop-yay mah-shay] (n) – The material of which are composed those little wads of toilet paper that get buried in your asscrack, often not to be discovered until the next day when showering.

A big shout out to Morris William for helping me with this fine word-coinage.

Monday, October 25, 2004

MASTER OF THE EVIL EYE

Or better: Master of Avoiding the Evil Eye.

I just discovered that if you do a Google search on the term “kayn ayin hora,” the first thing that pops up is Blog D’Elisson. Weird.

Kayn ayin hora, variously rendered as kein ayin hara, kinahora, kennahorra, or kennanhora, is one of those useful Yiddish expressions that is used to ward off the Evil Eye. The Hebrew version is “b’li ayin ha-ra,” literally “without [the] evil eye.” Superstitious people will use this expression after saying anything good about someone or something, as though a compliment would cause God to change his mind and throw some bad luck at you.
How was your physical? No problem, kayn ayin hora. [If you don’t tack on the “kayn ayin hora,” the doctor will call to say he forgot to tell you about a little spot on the X-ray.]

My son Charlie just got into Yale, kennahorra. [Omit “kennahorra” and a letter may show up in the mail telling you that they just discovered a problem with Charlie’s SAT scores, and his admission letter is rescinded.]

How are you today? Fine, thanks, kinahora. [Leave off the “kinahora” and you might get hit by a runaway bus.]
It’s almost a verbal tic. Hang around old Jewish people and you’ll hear it a lot. Or its more revolting equivalent, the “tuh, tuh, tuh” sound that mimics expectoration:
My niece Sheila is getting married to a nice doctor next Sunday. Tuh,tuh,tuh.
Yep: ward off that evil eye by pretending to spit in it.

One of our favorite scenes in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was when the happy couple walks down the aisle and gets showered in saliva, to the horror of the groom’s WASP parents. It was the Greek version of “tuh, tuh, tuh.” Hey, are you sure them people is Greeks? Maybe this evil eye paranoia is a Mediterranean thing, like souvlaki or falafel.

My Irish friend Sean Ferguson (AKA Shayn Fargessen) always used to say:
How are things in Glocca Morra?
“Fine, denks, kennahorra.”
But whatever you do, don’t confuse “kennahorra” with that, er, ahhh, social disease.

You know. Gonna Horra. Which I never got, kennahorra.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

AH, WRETCHED EXCESS

A whole weekend of it, in fact.

I guess I should be glad that we’ve arrived at that point in our lives where celebrating those “big” birthdays gets to be a really big deal. You know what I mean by “big” birthdays – those are the ones with a zero at the end. And they’re a big deal because we don’t any of us know how many of them we have left.

Two of our friends celebrated these “majors” this weekend, and so we had plenty of celebrating to deal with.

First up, on Friday, was Number Fifty for a lovely lady to whom I will refer as Mrs. “After-Dinner” Mintz. “After-Dinner” himself had contrived to surprise his missus by inviting about fifty close relatives and good friends to a top-tier steak house. Somehow, despite the Brady Bunch magnitude of their combined families, sons-in-law to be, and miscellaneous hangers-on, the secret managed to stay bottled up until Mrs. M. arrived at the restaurant for what she thought was going to be an intimate family dinner. Hah.

This was an evening at which the good feelings were out in force and were reinforced by the good food. As we entered the private room at the restaurant, we were offered adult beverages (my choice: 12-year-old Macallan single malt Scotch whisky) and confronted an imposing array of serious cheeses. And what cheeses! Constant Bliss. Gabriel-Coulet. Piedmon Sheep. St. Mauré. And a nice, runny Epoisses Berhaut that put me in mind of a classic Gahan Wilson cartoon in which a frantic diner is about to be engulfed by a majorly overripe chunk of fromage: “Waiter! This Brie is totally out of control!”

I wasn’t about to gripe about the cheese course preceding the dinner instead of following it, no, no. And what a dinner. A nice New York strip, done Pittsburgh style, medium-rare. Charred on the outside, pink shading to deep red on the inside, a good 1½ inches thick, sizzling in garlic butter. The sides – buttery mashed potatoes, monstrously thick onion rings, creamed spinach aromatic with nutmeg – as good as they were, they were just so much lily-gilding. I managed to eat only half my steak, washed down by lashings of Merlot. You know, Merlot: the finest cholesterol solvent in the world. I hope.

Dessert consisted of strong coffee made in a filter press, accompanied by something called a “Chocolate Sin Cake.” And, baby, this sin was mortal.

I don’t know what it is about chocolate that impels people to grasp for metaphors of evil and death when describing it. “Chocolate Decadence.” “Chocolate Sin.” “The Great Chocolate Flood of 1886.” Maybe it’s that Puritanical streak most Americans grew up with, in which anything that is too pleasurable carries the whiff of damnation or debauchery with it. Whatever. I suspect the French, cheese-eating surrender monkeys they may be, are unfamiliar with this affliction. With them, it’s “Chocolate Dessert That Is So Good That After You Eat It, You No Longer Desire To Make Love With The Lady Next Door Who Undresses With The Window Open.”

This cake was like that. I allowed myself two forkfuls before pushing it away. For once, a restaurant dessert that lived up to the promise of its glossy ganache covering.

That was Friday. On Saturday, our good friend G.F. celebrated his sixtieth birthday. Twenty for the third time. He and wife JoAnn hosted the party – no surprise this time – at our house.

We’ve known G.F. and JoAnn for a long time, and so this celebration was a real treat. G’s three daughters all showed up (including the one from Philly), along with one son-in-law, two grandkids (including the one from Philly), a couple of brothers, some cousins – hell, even his Mom showed up. JoAnn’s daughter was there, as well as JoAnn’s first husband and his wife. [Amazing: exes who actually get along with one another. It can happen!] A small army of G’s golf buddies, co-workers, and synagogue powers-that-be. Almost everyone who was invited showed up, and everyone had a blast.

A select consortium of us, along with G’s three daughters, chipped in to buy G a hot air balloon ride, something She Who Must Be Obeyed had determined from many conversations was high on his list of Things I Want To Do Before I Take The Big Dirt Nap. And G was extremely pleased with his gift... but the biggest pleasure in his eyes that whole evening was from seeing his kids and grandkids. Especially little Josh, his two-year-old grandson. Grandpa was grinning so much, his face must’ve hurt.

A mob of people. More excellent food and drink. Beef tenderloin. Hot crab and shrimp dip. Two slabs of salmon. And more. And more. Grubbalicious!

This morning, digestive tracts still packed, we all piled into our cars for a drive to the North Georgia mountains for some antiquing (suitable activity for us... er, ahh, antiques) and apple-festivaling. Turns out we missed the apple festival proper by at least a week (thanks, Mr. Internet!). But all was not lost, as our trip was punctuated by one of those family-style lunches at The Smith House (Dahlonega) in which the food is carted in by the trough. Fried chicken. Pot roast. Creamed corn. Fried okra. Sweet potatoes. Green beans. Collards. Corn bread. Sweet tea. Somebody stop me!

And as if all that were not enough, upon our return from the mountains we met some out-of-town friends for an early dinner at one of our local dining spots. Yet more food. By now, soup and salad was all She Who Must Be Obeyed and I could handle.

After a whole weekend of wretched excess, all I can say is this:

Do not – I repeat, do not – order the Cream of Brussels Sprout Soup. Because “repeat” is exactly what you’ll get.

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING IS ON SUNDAY TODAY


Hakuna and Matata enjoy a restful moment. Posted by Hello

Any minute now, Matata (right) will chase Hakuna away: punishment for the Crime of Getting Too Friendly with the Humans Who Are the Property of Matata. Such is the cruel law in the Kitty Kingdom!

Friday, October 22, 2004

HEY, BILL -


 Posted by Hello
Where’s my Gawd-damned flu shot?
Some Congressmen Get Shots

Despite a national shortage of vaccine, some members of Congress, including the top-ranking member of the Senate, have gotten their flu shots.

The Capitol physician advised the lawmakers to get their shots even with a shortage in place. In part, that’s because many Congressmen are over 65 and fall into the range most at risk from the flu.

But others, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, don’t fall into that category. Frist, 52, was one of the Congressmen vaccinated. His spokesman said Frist got his shot before new guidelines were issued.
I, for one, am glad to know that our nation’s leaders will not lose precious governing time by being laid up with that snivelling, sneezing, coughing, aching, give me some freakin’ ComaQuil™ so I can rest affliction.

ON MOBS AND BLOGS

I’m not sure what really got me started blogging, but I have some ideas as to what planted the seed in my fertile brain.

I signed up for this Blogger account two years ago when I first started hearing about the concept of weblogs, but promptly forgot all about it. So Blog D’Elisson sat dormant for the first two years of its existence with nary a single post.

And then, someone - a blogger - made a rude comment about Elder Daughter.

It seems that, back in August 2003, Elder Daughter was quoted in an AP wire service article on flash mobs. You remember flash mobs, that (I guess) short-lived phenomenon in which a whole mess of people would suddenly materialize out of nowhere for no apparent reason, do some sort of meaningless stunt, and then evaporate.

Larry Niven, the popular science fiction writer, saw this coming a long time ago. In his 1971 novella “Flash Crowd,” Niven envisioned a future in which thousands of people would show up at the same place at once in order to witness a social or political event. In his story, the enabling technology was cheap, easily available teleportation, but today’s flash mobs are supposedly made possible by modern communication technologies: IM’s, text messaging, et alia.

The phenomenon has been around longer than you think. Some of us are old enough to remember the original flash mobs. Jean Shepherd, the late radio raconteur and humorist (perhaps best known for writing the short stories that were cobbled together to create the popular movie “A Christmas Story”) used to have a late night radio show in New York. Occasionally, he would tell his listeners (whom he called the “Night People”) to assemble at various random locations and times...just for the hell of it. And they would. So the “flash mob” phenomenon is at least 35 years old.

But back to our story. One Sunday morning, while having my usual breakfast at Ye Olde Neighborhood Bagel Emporium, someone asked me whether I had seen Elder Daughter’s name in the paper. No, I had not, but sure enough, buried in the business section was the AP wire service article. And, being a wire service article, the story was picked up by papers across the known universe - including McPaper.

My “’satiable curtiosity” got the better of me one day and I did an egogoogle - a Google search on my own name. Imagine my surprise when I saw that AP article on flash mobs popping up. And not just in newspaper websites.

On blogs.

And now I realized what a blog really was. Not just a diary, for many people it was a place to snip and clip news items of interest. And for some, a chance to comment.

One comment in particular got my attention. It was from a expat Westerner living in Korea, who had clipped and snipped the AP article and made numerous observations. He took a very dim view of the flash mob phenomenon, believing it to be disruptive, economically damaging, potentially dangerous, and basically a colossal waste of time engaged in by idiots. As I read further into his blog, I could see that he was a vitriolic, opinionated bastard.

And I enjoyed his writing. Despite his dissing Elder Daughter, his take on Asian politics and society, and on Korea in particular, was intelligent and well-expressed. It’s too bad he has since stopped blogging, because I was a regular reader.

That was my first real exposure to Bloggity World. Still not enough to start me on my own Road to Blogness, but it got me looking - and reading.

Mobs ’n’ Blogs. The seed was planted...

Thursday, October 21, 2004

LIFE IS SWEET...

...even if you’re on the road in some Gawdforsaken hotel room.

The fall foliage in the Northeast is even prettier than it was two weeks ago - no surprise.

I’m drinking a split of Merlot and scarfing a nice chunk of Danish “Brie.” Yummy.

And the Yankees are having their collective asses handed to them by the Bosox. Not that I really give a rat’s ass, but it’s so nice when the cursed underdogs have a rare day in the sun. Six to one, bottom of the third, in the seventh game of the ALCS. Holy crap, who would’ve imagined the Sox winning three in a row?

Yeah, life is sweet. And full of surprises.

[Update: Top of the fourth, 8-1 Sox. Hoo-hah!]

[Update: Th-th-th-that’s all, folks! Bosox take the ALCS in seven! Someone scare up a minyan so Steinbrenner and the boys can say Kaddish...]

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

THE TRIUMPH OF MARKETING

There was an article in today’s WSJ about the success of Grey Goose vodka - made in France, in the Cognac region, from fine grapes and the excellent local water. It competes in the superpremium vodka category with other fine products such as Belvedere, Van Gogh, and Chopin, where a single bottle will set you back over $30.

It’s just vodka, folks. Put all the flavor subtlety into it you want, but it’s still basically tasteless and odorless.

I’ll acknowledge that I try not to be a vodka cheapskate. I’ll pay for Stoly in lieu of Smirnoff or (gag) Wolfschmidt. But this is ridiculous.

Superpremium rum? OK. Superpremium tequila? Sure. Small-batch bourbon? Fine. Single-malt Scotch? Super. And, of course, XO Cognac... all of these are costly to produce, mainly because they’re made in small volumes (relatively) and are aged.

Vodka, however, goes right from the tank into the bottle.

Well, I guess you do get a cool-looking bottle. But isn’t this nothing more than a galloping case of conspicuous consumption? Spending money for the sake of spending money?

Hell, even the French don’t drink Grey Goose. It’s mostly not even sold in France. They drink wine - or sometimes Cognac and its brother Armagnac. Vodka? Foo.

Screw that. Pass me the Stoly and let’s drink to the triumph of marketing... over common sense.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

I’LL BE SO GLAD WHEN THIS IS OVER

Only two weeks to go in our National Micturition Competition - a couple of fifty-cent words that mean “pissing contest.”

And all it seems to be doing is pissing me off.

Cheney is up in arms because John Kerry made reference to his lesbian daughter. My impression was that Kerry was complimenting Cheney for being a mensch by being a supportive father...to a daughter who is what she is, not by choice, but because that’s the way she is. Mary Cheney’s sexual orientation is not a secret (hasn’t been for years) and it’s not something to be ashamed of. So why are the Cheneys suddenly puffing up the crests on their lizard-like necks? What’s the problem here?

Could it be that they sense the inherent conflict between being loving, supportive parents and supporting a flawed social agenda that has been dictated by the Religious Right?

Enough, already.

Elections are the best feature of living in a democratic representative republic. But, my, how they do bring out the worst in people. Both sides are guilty of excessive bullshit slinging, but I think the Republicans have shown themselves to be the past masters of pandering. The Marriage Amendment is maybe the most egregious example. But there are others.

I saw an interesting statistic the other day - abortions are up during W’s first term. That’s no surprise. The single-minded Religious Right-driven jihad against abortion is a classic illustration of the Law of Unintended Consequences. It would be one thing if the pressure were directed against abortion only. I don’t think anyone thinks abortion is a “good thing,” even those of us who believe it should be a decision solely between a woman and her physician. But the BushCo agenda says abstinence is the only acceptable form of birth control for young, unmarried people, and so funds are withheld from any organization that teaches responsible birth control. Especially if said organization also offers abortion services or counseling.

The result: more unplanned pregnancies. More abortions. Not just in the US, but in third-world countries where our administration has withheld population planning funds, because they don’t toe the abstinence-only line. How stupid is that?

If our leaders would take a more pragmatic view, they would say that offering birth control counseling to teenagers is an unfortunate acknowledgement that people sometimes don’t behave in their best interests...but since they are human, we must accept reality and mitigate the consequences of that non-optimum behavior. And legal abortion, as distasteful as it may be for many people, is better than the alternative of illegal abortion - because people will get abortions, one way or another. Even if it kills them.

Instead, we tell our kids, “Just say no to sex.” Very effective.

A realistic president would focus on pragmatism, not dogmatism. Unfortunately, our country’s present leaders are less concerned with pragma than with dogma.

Well, my karma just ran over your dogma.

Two more weeks, friends.

A BIG SHOUT OUT TO DA OFFSPRING MASSIVE


 Posted by Hello

The Mistress of Sarcasm (left) and Elder Daughter (right) enjoy a Restaurant Moment together.

I decided to post this just so it would be the first thing I would see when I looked at the blog today. Proud daddy, me!

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

The Blowback Phenomenon: when you attempt to hock a major loogie out of the car window and, whether because of aerodynamic miscalculation or just plain ineptness, the damn thing does not quite make it out the window entirely... has this ever happened to you?

Yeah, I thought so.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

WHICH TEN COMMANDMENTS ARE THESE?

All of you Religious Right jackasses, listen up. You too, Roy Moore. (And pay attention, Dubs!)

You want to put nice big granite monuments with the Ten Commandments in every courthouse, do you?

Let’s just put aside those niggling little concerns about the separation of church and state. The Founding Fathers of this country were smart enough to know that when you let religion get into the government, sooner or later the government is going to get into your religion. And that is not a Good Thing. Just ask the people who lived with the Taliban.

No: for now, let’s put all that aside. Let’s just consider the practical question: which Ten Commandments?

Because there are two versions: the one in Exodus, and the one in Deuteronomy. And they’re not identical. The first tells us to “remember the Sabbath day” and the second to “observe the Sabbath day.” The first admonishes us “Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife…” But the second says, “Do not covet your neighbor’s wife. Do not covet your neighbor’s house…” [My rabbi suggested that it sounds like Mrs. Moses must have had a few words with Moses about the relative priority of wife versus real estate.]

There are plenty of minor differences beside these, but these will do to make the point: Which version?

Oh, and that’s just the Hebrew. When you add the issues of translating the words into English, you open up a whole new can of worms.

Like Commandment Number Six (or Five, by the Catholic reckoning. More about this later). The King James Bible famously mistranslates Exodus 20:13 as ”Thou shalt not kill.” And that’s one of the most popular translations around. But a better translation is “Thou shalt not commit murder.” Which version should be on that big granite slab?

And then you have to consider how the words are parsed. Jews, Catholics, and Protestants all group the words differently, leading to different lists of Commandments. Is the one about murder number six? Or five? More confusion.

And why stop at ten? Jews believe that there are 613 separate commandments, not just ten. It’s not possible to obey all of them today (since the sacrificial cult disappeared in 70 C.E. with the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem), but there are plenty of people who take the rest of them pretty seriously. Bacon cheeseburger, anyone? Not these dudes.

So let’s keep it simple. If you want to be reminded of the Ten Commandments, why not just put up a nice poster – or a granite slab, see if I care – in your family room? In your church?

Just keep it the hell out of my courtroom.

GRANDPA AND GRANDMA FOR A DAY

I don’t know what it is about women. The reproductive urge is so intense, so powerful, so all-pervasive, that women crave the presence of babies years after their own children cease to be babies. Maybe that’s what keeps ’em young. [The women, not the babies. Babies, by definition, are young. Duh.]

It must be this craving to be in the presence of little humans that impelled She Who Must Be Obeyed to agree to baby-sit a friend’s kids Friday night.

Not that there’s anything wrong with lending a helping hand. This friend is a young woman who has two lovely children – a four-year-old boy and a fifteen-month-old girl – but whose ex-husband is a member of the all-too-common species of Homo Americanus Sphinctericus. Yep – the guy that runs off with another woman and leaves his wife and kids in the lurch. To him, I offer a rousing, “Fuck You!”

Every so often, it’s not a bad thing for this now heavily overburdened young woman to get out of the house and have some time to herself. And that’s where we came in.

It’s been a loooong time since SWMBO and I have had little kids of our own. Ours are off on their own now, and Elder Daughter is even off the family payroll. The closest we have to a rugrat on our limb of the family tree is nephew William, who (inconveniently) lives 850 miles away in Texas.

So dealing with little Elijah and Ava was fun in a kind of “exercise them rusty parenting muscles” kind of way. Ava is now walking, so we had to keep a close eye on her constantly-changing whereabouts. And Elijah is at that age when he can be at once sweet and maddeningly stubborn.

We sat down to dinner and were pleased to see Ava eat a reasonable amount of food rather than throw it on the floor / in our faces / at the walls. Elijah was a little more recalcitrant, not deigning to eat the grilled salmon or candied carrots we placed in front of him. We did, however, manage to convince him to take a few bites of well-buttered baked potato. And we made it clear that, if he didn’t eat dinner, he would be one hungry little dude at breakfast. (Which he was.)

After a brief excursion to visit some friends at Chez de Zoog (which required our figuring out the intricacies of modern Car Seat Technology), we returned home, put Ava to bed, and slapped “Finding Nemo” into the DVD player. Elijah didn’t watch too much of the movie, but spent most of the time playing alphabet and number games with me. Hey, nothing wrong with a kid who wants to show off his growing knowledge base. Next year, calculus!

And bedtime went surprisingly well. The little guy was reluctant at first, but I reasoned with him. “You’re a big guy now – almost five! Way too big to argue about going to bed. And, beside, I’m going to sleep, so you’re going to be awfully lonely down here by yourself.” There wasn’t too much dawdling after that…and no crying. A few minutes of bedtime story, then right to sleep. Ahhh, sweet nostalgia...it reminded me so much of reading to our girls when they were little. I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I can read the National Review to a kid and make it sound interesting.

The little one started making noise after a while, but SWMBO took her into our bedroom until she quieted down. And that, friends, is where it becomes obvious to even the most casual observer: women just love them babies. Babies make women light up like the sunrise.

Must be all them hormones.

The night passed uneventfully - thank God! - and I got to play Grandpa In The Kitchen the next morning. And, bubba, I can toast an Eggo waffle with the best of ’em. Elijah gobbled up two of them bad boys with the full treatment – butter and syrup. Told you he was hungry in the morning.

Yeah, it was fun to be Grandpa...for a night. And SWMBO sure did like playing Grandma. And, just like with real grandkids, the best part is, you get to give ’em back to Mom.

’Cause we’ve been there and done that.

POLITICS - ALWAYS IN THE BEST OF TASTE


 Posted by Hello

We saw this bumper sticker for sale in Savannah.

I thought of making some kind of wisecrack like, “A political message even Mary Cheney can agree with” but then I thought better of it. Whoops.

Friday, October 15, 2004

A LONG TIME AGO, IN A GORGONZOLA FAR, FAR AWAY...

...there was this nutcase who liked to submit stuff to Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency in the hopes of getting it published.

And once in a while he got lucky, and they would publish his stuff, no matter how bizarre or stupid it was.

Of course, there were plenty of times they would respond with a polite “No, thank you.” And at that, they were nice enough not to say that “your stuff is a steaming heap of shite,” or some similar sentiment.

But today, the nutcase got lucky again. On the other end of that link, you’ll find this:
Names of Cheeses Inspired by Star Wars Characters.

Queso-Gon Jinn
Jar Jar Brie
Darth Gouda
Bib Fontina
Lando Camembrissian
Princess Leiakranz
Grand Moff Tilsit
Jabba the Hutvarti
Boba Feta
Yeah, I know. It made them groan, too - but they published it anyway.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

MORE OF THAT STUPID FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING


Matata models the new Fall lineup in kittywear. Posted by Hello

I decided the main reason I like to post these catblogging pictures is to piss Acidman off. And besides, Matata actually puts up with it.

If she ever knew how ridiculous she looked in this outfit, she’d probably rip our lungs out. But cats don’t know from ridiculous.

And, yeah, I know it’s still Thursday. Don’t be a putz.

DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO

We like to go on and on about how women are oppressed in the Muslim world. And it’s true. Latest news out of Saudi Arabia is that women will not be allowed to vote in their upcoming elections (Wow! Elections in Saudi Arabia!??! For what, dogcatcher?) Big surprise. This is a country where women can be beaten if they show their faces out of doors. Where they cannot drive. Or where they may be kept from fleeing a burning school because they are not dressed “modestly enough” to be seen outside the school.

Reading about oppressed women in Dar el-Islam is a little like reading “Dog Bites Man.”

But it appears that a little oppression is OK by us.

According to this AP article, the US has “refused to join 85 other heads of state and government in signing a statement that endorsed a 10-year-old UN plan to ensure every woman’s right to education, health care, and choice about having children.”

The story notes that the Bush administration withheld its signature because the statement included a reference to “sexual rights.” [US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kelly Ryan] did not elaborate on the Bush administration’s specific objections to the phrase, but at past UN meetings US representatives have spoken out against abortion, gay rights and what they see as the promotion of promiscuity by giving condoms to young people to prevent AIDS.

What’s interesting to me is that, at the 1995 UN women’s conference in Beijing, the US took a leading role in drafting the conference document, which stated that “The human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.” Oh, wait - that was in 1995. During the Clinton administration.

I don’t particularly care for the UN these days. Any organization that allows the Sudan to have a seat on its Commission on Human Rights has its collective head seriously wedged up its collective ass. Not to mention its egregious discrimination against Israel. It’s gotten to the point where kids at Hallowe’en know not to ask me for UNICEF money. They’re likely to get a lecture instead of a handful of coins.

But a statement endorsing women’s rights? Health care, education, personal reproductive freedom? What the hell is wrong with that? Even the stupid-ass UN is entitled to get something right once in a while. I thought these were things we, as a nation, supported. Freedom!

But not BushCo. Because they don’t want those rights to possibly include abortion. Or birth control, for that matter. Or gay rights. Just in case any of those formerly oppressed women started getting any ideas.

Might as well start puttin’ on them burqas, girls!

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT GEORGIA


North Georgia in the fall. Posted by Hello

How can you not love a place that looks like this? OK, it ain’t Atlanta, but you can get to the mountains of Northeast Georgia in less than two hours.

What are you waiting for?

REST, FLUIDS, AND A HONKIN’ THICK STEAK

I was a bit under the weather today. I can usually tell when that ol’ Upper Respiratory Thing is coming on, and I’ve had ample warning over the last few days. Today it was bad enough for me to blow off both going to minyan and going to the office. At least this gave me a chance to spend a few minutes with the Mistress of Sarcasm, who had driven up from Savannah to catch a concert in town. She was planning to head back before noon, so if I had followed my usual routine, I’d have missed her.

When I get like this, there are a few preventative / palliative measures I can take. First, I’ll load up on ComaQuil™ before going to bed. That shit’s guaranteed to render me pleasantly unconscious, at least enough so I can sleep though the night. It has just enough decongestant effect to keep me from sending She Who Must Be Obeyed screaming out of the bedroom from my snoring. And I wake up with a little bit o’ buzz on.

Measure number two: drink plenty of fluids. I had about 3-4 cups of strong coffee, plus a glass of red wine with dinner. Does that count?

Measure number three: Ensure adequate nutrition. I did this by fixing myself a pleasant little meal this evening while She Who Must Be Obeyed attended her evening class across town.

No chicken soup for this boy. Not today, anyway.

I started with a nice handful of white asparagus. Hacked off the lower half-inch, then peeled each thick stalk. I steamed these bad boys in about four inches of boiling water in a slender vertical pot with a mesh basket. Five minutes is all they needed, then out. A little sweet butter (EVOO would have done just fine) and some fleur de sel and bingo: Veggies.

Meanwhile, I had chopped up a shallot and threw it in a small saucepan with a thumb-size chunk of butter. After about five minutes, the shallot was translucent. In went a tablespoon or two of flour. Stir, scrape, stir, scrape. Then, I dumped in a cup of beef stock (normally I have some of my own in the freezer, but I cheated this time and had bought one of those juice boxes of stock). Stirred it up good, then brought it to a gentle boil to reduce.

Meanwhile, I took a pan and shpritzed in a little olive oil spray. The meat, a thick-ass eight-ounce chunk of beef tenderloin, got a coating of fresh pepper on each side. Then, into the hot pan. Sizzle, sizzle, aaahhh.

By now, the stock-and-roux mixture had cooked down to a good, healthy sauce-like consistency. Turned the heat down to low. In went about a tablespoon of cracked peppercorns and a healthy splash of Cognac. Whoa, looks like the meat’s done. Brown, seared crust on the outside, nice and red in the center. Dead solid perfect.

Meat on plate. Sauce on meat. Asparagus on side. Red Merlot in glass. Ass in chair. Knife and fork in hand.

Me in heaven.

For a little while, anyway. Ah-choo! Where’s that freakin’ ComaQuil?

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

THE BOYS OF SUMMER, BUT EVIDENTLY NOT FALL

Well, so much for the late, great Atlanta Braves, the Astros having put the quietus to them in five games. The Astros, fer cryin’ out loud! The Astros, who’ve never won any kind of postseason playoffs!

Oh, well. This is where I could play Mr. Divided Loyalty and revel in my status as a former Houston resident. But I won’t do that. I will just lament the fact that there will be no World Series here in Atlanta this year. No more trips to the Ted until springtime.

As if that was gonna happen anyway. St. Louis has a strong team this year and they would no doubt have crushed the Braves’ nuts to butter had we made it to the NL playoffs.

Tomorrow’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution will run an editorial cartoon showing the inert bodies of Braves players being raked up from a lawn like so many fallen leaves. [I’m writing this at 11:00 pm on Tuesday, October 12. I only know about the cartoon because I attended a class at which Mike Luckovich, the cartoonist, was the guest speaker.] Good analogy…and when I was a kid, we used to burn the dead leaves.

The Boys of Summer, indeed. But they sure as hell ain’t the Boys of Fall.

NO CHICKEN SOUP FOR ME, THANKS

For some strange reason, I have lost my appetite for chickeny foods. Perhaps this story has something to do with it...
Man Mistakenly Cuts Off Penis, Dog Eats It

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - A elderly Romanian man mistook his penis for a chicken’s neck, cut it off and his dog rushed up and ate it, the state Rompres news agency said Monday.

It said 67 year-old Constantin Mocanu, from a village near the southeastern town of Galati, rushed out into his yard in his underwear to kill a noisy chicken keeping him awake at night.

“I confused it with the chicken’s neck,” Mocanu, who was admitted to the emergency hospital in Galati, was quoted as saying. “I cut it ... and the dog rushed and ate it.”
Really doesn’t say a lot for either this guy’s vision, hand-eye coordination, decision-making capabilities, or personal equipment, does it now?

This little nugget comes to us courtesy of Mr. Poon. Mmm, mmm, good!

Monday, October 11, 2004

WHERE DID ALL THIS CRAP COME FROM?

A good chunk of the day yesterday was spent in a task that I try to do as seldom as possible. And I would just as soon have put it off for a few more years, but She Who Must Be Obeyed would have none of that.

Yes, it was time to Clean Out My Closet.

And I guess SWMBO was right. It was getting to where I couldn’t really get into my closet anymore, what with all the boxes and shoes and miscellaneous junk piled up in there. Does the name Fibber McGee strike a familiar note?

Now, I should point out that we have two closets: His and Hers. And anyone out there with more than two brain cells to rub together knows who has the bigger of the two. Hint - it ain’t me. So right off the bat, I’m operating at a disadvantage.

But disadvantage or not, it was getting ridiculous, I had to admit. So we waded in and started tossing stuff out.

Clothes. My big problem (and it’s actually a good problem to have) is that I’ve lost a few pounds over the last seven months, after years of slowly watching my waistline expand. After a couple of months, I had had to run out and buy new pants because the old ones were looking ridiculous. At the same time, there were lots of things I hadn’t been able to cram my ass into for years that suddenly looked good on me again. Except, of course, that the fabric was yellow with age. Or the style was a bit...dated. And now, a few more months down the road, all that stuff was hanging off me.

I think I have about three pairs of pants left that actually fit me.

And then there are the shirts. I hate to throw out a shirt if there is the remotest chance I will ever wear it again. But SWMBO and I, we were merciless.

Suits were not a problem, as I had already done triage on my suits a few months ago. And in any event, it’s rare for me to wear a suit in the course of daily business. Unless I visit the Headquarters of the Great Corporate Salt Mine, that is. Otherwise, it's khakis and golf shirts here.

Let’s not even talk about all of the other crap in that closet. Old photographs, long-lost videotapes of the girls’ high school theatre productions, travel souvenirs, enough shoes to outfit an army. AC adapters from electronic gew-gaws long discarded. My collection of Shoe Mitts and Shoehorns from the Great Hotels of the World. I cannot understand why SWMBO would want me to get rid of that.

Out, out, out.

Now I can get into my closet again. I can’t walk around too well in the bedroom, but that’ll be fixed as soon as I finish schlepping all of the leftover junk to the basement.

Thank God for the basement.

All that empty closet space! But Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do I. Next stop: Dawsonville!

Sunday, October 10, 2004

A LONG-AWAITED SMILE

Several years ago, I read an excellent book about the Beatles and the process by which their music took shape. The book was The Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn, and what made the book so fascinating was that it was a chronology of what took place in every single Beatles recording session between 1962 and 1970.

Every session. Every single, every album.

What was especially intriguing to me at the time was that there was a lot of material that was never used, never released. You’d expect that, of course. Plenty of alternate takes, false starts... stuff that really is of no interest except to the most rabid fanatic or music historian.

But one thing stood out in my mind. Lewisohn provided a very detailed chronology of the creation of the song “Strawberry Fields Forever,” which he described as “known for being among the most complicated and difficult to record.” He later describes the single (“Strawberry Fields Forever” b/w “Penny Lane,” issued February 17, 1967) as “arguably the greatest pop single to be issued by anyone at anytime.” Strong praise, that, but I don’t take objection to it. These songs were so different from the Beatles’ earlier work, so different from anything else anybody had ever heard, that it put one in mind of an iceberg splitting off from a glacier and sailing off to an unknown sea. We would sit, listen, jaws slack in amazement. And we weren’t even stoned at the time!

But there was more to the story. As Lewisohn relates, the song that was eventually released was in fact cobbled together out of two completely different versions of the song: one, more-or-less the “original” lightly instrumented mix; and two, a “more intense” scored version. John Lennon liked both and suggested to George Martin, the producer, that the two takes be spliced together. This was not a simple process, as they were half a tone different in pitch and at two different tempos – but Martin, with the help of engineer Geoff Emerick, managed to do it. [The splice, if you care to listen for it, is at exactly 60 seconds into the final song.]

That “original” version, though...

The very first take of “Strawberry Fields Forever” was recorded on November 24, 1966. To quote Mark Lewisohn,
Any lingering doubt about whether the Beatles had changed would have crumbled into a thousand pieces had this version of the song been released. But it wasn’t. It remains in the vaults today, a reel of magnetic tape which captured a magic night.
This paragraph haunted me for years, until the release of the Beatles Anthology II CD set in March 1996. The vault that contained that “magic night” was finally thrown open…and the magic was still there. That early version – Take 1 - of “Strawberry Fields Forever” was absolutely magnificent. On its own, it would have been a landmark recording. Now, it was not only beautiful in its own right, it was a precious piece of history.

This is an amazingly long-winded way of saying that Brian Wilson has pulled off the same trick with the release of “Smile,” the long-lost musical project that disappeared into a black hole after the release of “Pet Sounds” in 1966.

“Pet Sounds” was, in a sense, the Beach Boys’ breakaway album, the one that sent a bold, clear message to the world that something fundamental had changed. This was no longer a stupid-ass surf music band. “Pet Sounds” was enough of an attention-getter that it directly influenced the Beatles as they began the process of creating “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Oh, yes – and “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

But “Smile” would have taken the changes of “Pet Sounds” a step further. Much more than “Pet Sounds,” it was truly an album, not merely a collection of songs hung together. It was an organic whole, and as far from those old surfin’ safari days as the Beatles’ new music was soon to take them from their hand holding days of 1962.

It never happened. “Smile” never made its originally scheduled release date, and eventually bits and pieces of it started showing up on other recordings (most notably, “Smiley Smile,” released in 1967) in the form of weaker alternative versions. It was the great Beach Boys Album That Never Was.

And now, 37 years later, it is.

Brian Wilson has somehow managed to pull himself together enough to recreate (virtually perfectly!) the sound of the mid-1960’s Beach Boys at a watershed moment in their career. It’s a little like discovering “Sergeant Pepper” for the first time. In 2004. In a sense, it is “Sergeant Pepper” - American style. Or in Wilson’s words, a “teenage symphony to God.”

The vault has been thrown open, and the magic is there. After all these years, a long-awaited reason to smile.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

AN ENDING, AND A BEGINNING

After watching the debates last night, I had to decide what kind of post to write. Political? Naw, everyone will be doing that today. Cats? Nope, did that this week already. Well, there’s always religion or poetry. Both are likely to bore some people, but religion may actually enlighten you... if it doesn’t piss you off first.

Religion it is.

This Friday morning we completed the annual cycle of Torah readings, finishing the last portion of D’varim (Deuteronomy) and immediately starting with the Creation story of B’reishit (Genesis). It’s a special occasion, this holiday of Simchat Torah, and it’s a time of genuine merriment. It is, for example, one of the few occasions on which drinking (by responsible adults, naturally) during the service is actually encouraged. And, since it is a Jewish holiday, there are a couple of bittersweet aspects to it as well.

Bittersweet aspect number one is that, after a month that is packed with holidays - Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and finally Simchat Torah - we hit a sort of dry spell, with nothing on the calendar until the minor holiday of Chanukah begins the evening of December 7. Bittersweet aspect number two is the scriptural reading itself, which includes the story of the death of Moses atop Mount Nebo.

There are few passages in the Torah that affect me as do these last lines of D’varim. The image of Moses ascending Mount Nebo to look out over a Promised Land that he will never live to enter always brings a catch to my throat. Who among us doesn’t know the pain of having a dream and knowing it will never be realized? Who among us cannot empathize with Moses and understand his joy at knowing that his people would finally enter the Promised Land... but without him? Bittersweet? You betcha.

And the Lord said to him, “This is the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross over to there.”
[...]
So Moses, servant of the Lord, died there, in the land of Moab... and no one knows his burial place to this day... Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord had known face-to-face…
It’s just words on a screen here. To appreciate its beauty and power, you have to hear it chanted in the original Hebrew.

The mood changes dramatically as we finish reading Deuteronomy from the first scroll and switch to a second scroll for the beginning of Genesis. [Using two scrolls is simply a matter of practicality. It eliminates the need to wind a single scroll from the very end to the very beginning, a lengthy and tedious process.] Now, as we read the story of Creation, beginning “in the beginning” and continuing through the seventh day – the day on which God rested - the mood is considerably lighter.

And well it should be, by now. During a typical Sabbath service, seven or more people are honored by being called up to recite blessings as each portion of the day’s reading is chanted. There’s no special fanfare – you just go up and do it. But on this day, everyone who wishes to come up for an aliyah (literally, “going up”) is given the opportunity. To accommodate all these extra honors, we read the first few portions over and over again. And we celebrate each one with a shot of strong drink. And I don’t mean Manischewitz, bub.

The trick is to celebrate without getting too sloppy. Not always easy for those of us who are trying to run the service, since we tend to get roped into having a few more shots than absolutely necessary. Somehow, though, we manage. Hic.

But that Creation story is familiar to us all, and its theme of renewal is so appropriate for this time of year. We’ve just finished turning over our new leaves, so to speak, on the Day of Atonement less than two weeks ago... and now it’s fall, and the leaves are turning.

OK, that’s enough philosophizing. I have a nice tumbler with a couple fingers of Chartreuse waiting for me in the bedroom and it’s calling my name.

[Or is that She Who Must Be Obeyed?]

Thursday, October 07, 2004

THE BIG BOW-WOW

My post the other day about making a quick visit to my old hometown reminded Bakerina of one of our local institutions: the Busy Bee Mall.

The Busy Bee was not so much a mall as it was an indoor flea market. It was an assemblage of miscellaneous stalls and concessions that had been crammed into a space vacated by the defunct Mays Department Store. I remember it well. When the kids were little and we'd come up to New York for a visit, we would go there and my mother would buy all kinds of crap for the girls. Clothing, toys, pizza, you name it, you could find it at the Busy Bee.

I used to think that the Bee was the future of American retailing. That is, if Pakistan somehow were to take over the country. Part Asian bazaar, Mid-Eastern souk, and complete shithouse, it was a raucous, marginally organized mess. All it lacked was its own funeral parlor.

But Pakistan didn’t take over, did it? Instead, we have Wal-Mart. I was horrified to see that Wal-Mart is now one of the anchor stores at the nearby Sunrise Mall (the others being Macy’s and Sears). This tells me that the Sunrise Mall, and perhaps the whole town, is now in mid-flush, circling the drain. Oy.

When I drove past that intersection of Unqua Road and Sunrise Highway, I noticed that the ol' Busy Bee is gone now, replaced by a giant economy-sized Kohl's. Time marches on.

But I remember the pre-Bee days, when that spot was occupied by the Mays Department Store - a low-end retailer, kind of on the level of E. J. Korvette (another long-defunct New York chain). I used to hang out there after school and buy - gasp! - vinyl records! Which used to cost about $3.50 each. Still have a load of ’em in the basement. Jeezus, that must mean I’m old.

Before Mays came along, the space where the store and parking lot would eventually sit was occupied by a driving range, a miniature golf course, and the Big Bow-Wow.

Yes, the Big Bow-Wow. Possibly the filthiest hot dog stand on the planet.

At the Big Bow-Wow, the flies used to swarm thickly enough to form a crust on almost anything organic, such as food or people. The tables and benches were appalling, rough wood covered with what seemed to be a centuries-old accumulation of dried ketchup, mustard, meat drippings, unmentionable bodily fluids, hair, and just plain crud. We would sit on these benches, knowing that to get a single splinter would mean a slow, agonizing Death by Horrendous Infection. My folks hated to take us there on account of the extreme filth, but once in a while we would go nevertheless. So the hot dogs must have been really good - otherwise, why risk it?

I’m sure when they razed the place to build Mays, they carted off the debris in biohazard drums and buried it in a lead-lined crypt, deep in the heart of a mountain in Wyoming. It was just that nasty.

Can you imagine if al-Qaeda got their mitts on that stuff?

“WMD’s? We got yer WMD’s right here...Big Bow-Wow residue! Die, infidels!”

But you can recreate the BBW experience for yourself. Get yourself a really old picnic table, nice and weathered so it’s full of splinters. Coat liberally with beef suet, dried ketchup, and old mustard. Next, go get a Nathan’s Famous hot dog.

Now take a crap on the table and eat the hot dog. Memories are made of this!

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING IS ON THURSDAY TODAY


What? You were expecting maybe Manolo Blahnik? Posted by Hello

Cats and cockroaches have one thing in common: they can fit into the damndest small places. If I were to leave a CD jewel box open, Matata would probably try to flatten herself out and shove herself right in.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

NOSTALGIA IS A DISH BEST SERVED OLD

On the way out to my Dad’s Long Island lair, I decided to indulge my bent for The Good Old Days by making a pass through my old home town.

It has been a long time since I’ve seen the old stomping grounds. Nowadays, when we visit Dad and Toni, we head farther east without any stops on the way. But I had a little time to spare, and I’d been wanting to see what the old place looked like.

The town is Massapequa. This is where Jerry Seinfeld grew up (his father Kal was a well-known sign painter who called his business “Kal Signfeld Signs” and who was a regular presence at our synagogue). Also the base of operations for Jessica Hahn, who famously brought Jim Bakker’s little evangelical empire to its knees when he was caught with his dick hand in the ncookie jar. Also the home of Alec Baldwin and his Band o’ Brothers, who lived one block away from us, hard by the nine-hole Peninsula Golf Course.

And let’s not forget Joey Buttafuoco. Another local boy made good.

On the way into town, I drove past my old elementary school. The school, which had been expanded since I was a student there, nevertheless looked... shriveled. Had everything been that small back then? Distances that once had seemed immense to a walking ten-year-old had diminished, thanks to Adult-O-Vision. And being in a car.

Moments later, I was looking at the house where I had spent my teenage years. The new owners – how many people had owned it since Dad sold it in 1991? – appeared to have maintained it well, with nice landscaping and a slightly remodeled exterior. The lawn was a pretty emerald green. There was the gently sloping 1960’s-contemporary roof – the one Danny Baldwin (yes, that Danny Baldwin) used to climb on at night so he could run around and drive my parents nuts. Lots of cars in the driveway and on the street. Funny…except for parental visits, I had not lived in that house for 30 years, but in a strange way it still seemed like home.

Then down the block. Left turn at the golf course. On the next block, on my left, was what had once been the Baldwin house, still an eyesore. Right turn at Nassau Road, then around Unqua Circle, now nicely decorated with plantings. The goldfish pond that was originally there in the 1950’s was long gone – I’m amazed that I remember it. Now north on Unqua Road.

And there, on the right, is our old house.

Our first one, the one my folks built in 1953, when I was still fillin’ diapers. I’ve bought used cars for more than what they paid for that house.

It doesn’t look much like what it did back then, the exterior having been remodeled. But the makeovers have never been those major-league ones that completely obscure what the original house looked like. No, it still is familiar, this house where I spent most of my first fifteen years.

I can summon up memories of its interior without trying too hard, and I have pictures to help me. The dim basement with the mysterious fuel oil tank that lurked on the west side wall. The one (one!!!) bathroom, with the trap door that led to the basement where the washing machine sat. Hampers? We didn’t need no steenkeen’ hampers! We had the trap door!

The hardwood floors, where Dad would put down newspaper to catch the drips from his trumpet’s spit valve. The kitchen, with its speckled linoleum. The back yard, with the concrete patio and the Spot That Kept Sinking For No Apparent Reason.

There’s a new family there now, and most, if not all, of the old neighbors have either moved or died off. We moved out of that house 37 years ago, and things change.

The street looks different after all these years. A lot of the big, old trees are long gone, victims of the occasional hurricane. Or disease. There’s plenty of sunlight, and new saplings are filling in well. The houses (most of which came along after ours) are mostly in good shape. And my childhood home is no exception.

But that tree stump in the front yard? I remember when it was a tree. A wild cherry tree. We ended up getting rid of it – you haven’t seen (or smelled) anything as disgusting as fifty million pea-size squashed wild cherries, tracked in onto the house’s carpets, along with the tons of guano deposited by the birds that were attracted by the fermenting cherries.

Well, it wasn’t all peaches and cream, eh? Why the hell do you think we moved?

Oh, yeah. One bathroom.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

On Tuesday morning, I stepped out of my hotel in Westchester County, New York to a crisp, cool, sunny October morning – the kind of day that actually makes me miss the Northeast. The leaves are beginning to turn their autumn colors up here – we have about a month to go before Atlanta catches up.

Two customer visits today. The first, conveniently located across the parking lot from my hotel, was with a purchasing manager I used to call on back in the 1980’s. We had a good time getting reacquainted before proceeding to the business at hand. The second visit was in Long Island City, which is a part of Queens that is more “City” than “Long Island.”

Getting there was a treat – and I mean that both sincerely and ironically. The first part of the drive was along the Sprain River Parkway, a scenic road on which there was virtually no traffic. There are several roads like that in New York – beautiful little wonders – the existence of which most out-of-towners are completely unaware. It’s probably a real horrorshow during rush hour, but I caught it just right.

But, of course, once I got over the Triboro Bridge and onto the surface streets, it was a whole ’nother world.

My advice to anyone who has never driven a car in New York: don’t. For me, it’s not that big a deal, because I learned to drive not too far from here. Even so, there’s a whole lotta shit happening at once. City driving anywhere is a challenge, but in New York, the sheer insanity of navigating the chaos gets ratcheted up to an amazing degree.

As I drove through Astoria, I threw a mental tip of the hat to Bakerina. Then, into the maelstrom that is L.I.C. Even more fun, I was following my colleague, Mr. New York Sales Rep, who did a reasonably good job of making sure he didn’t lose me at random red lights.

After our customer call, it was (conveniently) time to have a spot of lunch. And we had the perfect place for it: the Water’s Edge restaurant, which sits hard by the East River not too far from where the Queens Midtown Tunnel dives beneath the bedrock of the city. Mr. NYSR and I sat by the window, right across the river from the spires of Manhattan.

The food was worthy of the view. I started with an orange and red beet salad with a chunk of goat cheese in phyllo, then moved on to a plate of salmon gravlax garnished with onion confit, salmon caviar, and a cute little potato pancake. For a main course, a braised lamb shank that melted off the bone, sitting on a cushion of buttery garlic mashed potatoes. Dessert was a delightful platter of various cheeses and fruit, with the cheeses ranging in taste from mild to (ahem) somewhat assertive. Assertive works for me ’most every time, Mister Cheesemonger.

All of this was washed down with sparkling mineral water and coffee. Yum.

Then, on to the next stop on my day’s journey: the Parental Homestead.

Monday, October 04, 2004

RIDING THE GREAT SILVER BUS AGAIN

I’m writing this from my perch on the Great Silver Bus, shuttling at 35,000 feet on my way to New York. Once I get to my hotel room, I’ll hook myself up and slap this mess onto the blog, but in the meantime I get to juggle my computer (truly a laptop at the moment) and my traditional Aircraft Beverage - a hot coffee with a Bailey’s Irish Cream dumped in it.

The day began pleasantly enough. Morning minyan ran a little longer than usual, as it is Chol ha-Moed Sukkot. This means that it’s the middle of the week-long Feast of Tabernacles: not a holiday proper, with all of the holiday restrictions on work and what-not, but more involved than a regular old weekday. In addition to a Torah reading (normal for a Monday), the service includes Hallel (a series of psalms) and Musaf - the additional prayers that are tacked on during (most) holidays and new moons.

And, since it’s Sukkot, we have other rituals that are a wee bit strange to the casual observer. Waving around a palm frond and a piece of fruit, for example. Or marching around the chapel waving the aforementioned frond ’n’ fruit, saying “Hosha-na!” (Hosanna) Oh, those wacky, wacky Jews...

Hey, look it up. It’s in the Bible.

Anyhow, once our service was complete, the other daily ritual commenced. Breakfast at Ye Olde Bagel Emporium. And since today was my birthday, it was my treat.

We have a local custom in which anyone who is celebrating a birthday or who is observing a Yahrzeit (the anniversary of a loved one’s death) buys breakfast for whoever attends Minyan that day. It makes sense, especially for someone observing a Yahrzeit. It’s a way to thank the people who showed up at services that day, thus allowing that individual to recite Kaddish for his or her loved one. Kaddish is only recited if a quorum of ten adults is present.

But what about birthdays? Well, to me, it’s a way of expressing thanks for one’s continuing presence on Planet Earth. There are no guarantees, brother, and the accumulation of birthdays is a tenuous enterprise, especially when you have a lot of them under your belt.

Anyway, that’s our custom, and it was a pleasant breakfast indeed. Some eggs (over hard, thank you very much), some nice smoked fish, and some of that creosotish swill that passes for “coffee” at the ol’ Bagel Emporium. And then, head buzzing and bladder full, off to the Great Corporate Salt Mine.

And that’s where I found out that all of the out-of-town appointments that I’d been pressing for had fallen into place. Starting early tomorrow morning.

Oh, well. I salvaged what I could of the day. She Who Must Be Obeyed was released from her jury duty early, so we were able to sneak in a hurried luncheon in my building’s newly-reopened Cafe Ptomaine. And I was able to spend a few more minutes with her when I ran home to pack... after first printing off several presentations from the Computer From Hell with the Mickey-Mouse Malfunctioning Mouse™.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a letter in my box that informed me that I had won some sort of Mysterious Corporate Award - specifically for what, I have no idea - but the award includes a nice dinner for me and SWMBO, so I decided to consider it my Corporate Birthday Present. Sweet.

But dinner with my true love will have to wait. Tonight it’s cheez ’n’ crackers in the Sterile Yet Pleasant Hotel Room.

And thus do I mark the completion of my fifty-second trip around the sun.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

RESISTANCE IS FUTILE

It was only a matter of time...


Quoth My Little Pony: Resistance is Futile. Posted by Hello

This little piece of weirdness was created by Aikarin at deviantART. Thanks to Asparagirl for sharing it with us.

DAMN, THIS GUY IS CUTE

Our nephew William turned two years old today. His parents will be needing a nice-sized Louisville Slugger in a few years to keep the crowd of little Texas wimmin from getting too thick on the doorstep...


Our two-year-old nephew William. Posted by Hello

Hey, none of my pictures looked that good when I was that age! Must’ve been that crappy film back then. Yeah.

A VISIT WITH THE MISTRESS

This weekend She Who Must Be Obeyed and I ran down to Savannah to spend the weekend with the Mistress of Sarcasm. As dutiful and loving parents, we take seriously our obligations to Wave the Familial Flag, Feed the Daughter at the Local Eateries, and Stock the Daughter’s Pantry. All of these we accomplished.

The more time we spend in Savannah, the more appreciation we have for John Berendt, who was fascinated enough with the place to write a best-selling book about it. It’s the little things we enjoy discovering:

The Falafel Place with the Vile-Tempered Fishwife in the Kitchen

We grabbed lunch Saurday with the Mistress and a couple of her friends at a little, unassuming hole-in-the-wall Middle Eastern restaurant. The waiter-cum-proprietor, a pleasant enough fellow who reminded me of Borat, took our orders. SWMBO ordered chicken souvlaki, and the waiter thoughtfully took the time to establish whether she wanted the sandwich or platter version. We were therefore surprised when a gyros plate arrived.

Now, SWMBO won’t eat gyros, mainly because the meat May Possibly Contain a Molecule or More of Lamb. And, besides, she had ordered the chcken souvlaki. The waiter seemed to have forgotten this, but just about the time he started getting argumentative, I reminded him about the discussion we had had around the souvlaki: sandwich or plate? This must have convinced him, because he said, “OK” and went back to the kitchen.

Whereupon the most amazing stream of invective came from the woman who had heretofore been hiding in the kitchen. We can only speculate as to what she was shouting. Possibly the Farsi or Arabic equivalent of
“Dammittohellyoustupidsonofabitch
Can’tyouevergetanorderstraight
Ishouldchopyourspleenintopieces
andserveittotheseAmericanrubes
withsomepitabreadscrewthemandyou
bothtogethershitcrapdammit.”

Okay, then.

Crabbyland

Most pet stores offer a fairly run-of-the-mill assortment of companion animals: dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, fish, etc. etc. And for most people, that’s just fine. But Crabbyland (yes, that’s the real name of this place) is for all those people for whom Amazing Sea-Monkeys were just…not enough. Imagine, then, a horde of Sea-Monkeys on steroids, and you’d have Crabbyland, whose stock-in-trade consists of hermit crabs.

I know what you’re thinking. “Hermit crabs! The perfect pet! Cuddly, sweet, affectionate, and mild of disposition! Can I have one? Please please please?” Get a grip, folks. They’re just a bunch of fucking crabs.

What’s worse, the proprietors of Crabbyland (And what do you do for a living, sir? Why, I am the proprietor of Crabbyland, Savannah’s finest purveyor of reclusive aquatic arthropods!) have seen fit to provide these pitiful creatures with decorative shells. Shells adorned with everything from the Flag of Brazil to the Hairy Dawgs of UGA. Sheesh.

If I had to live in one of those things, I’d be a hermit, too.

Copsicles

Savannah is one of those places where the police patrol, not on foot, not in squad cars, but on bicycles. Thus: copsicles. Sounds a lot like a science-fictional term invented by Larry Niven to describe people whose bodies are frozen in the hope of future resurrection – corpsicles. And these cops did look kinda science-fictiony in their Kevlar vests and impact resistant helmets.

Copsicles.

Anyway, we had a short but enjoyable visit. A late dinner Friday at a Thai-Vietnamese place in the Historic District. Killer pho. Saturday lunch with the Venomous Fishwife (see above). Dinner Saturday night at a little Cuban place with wonderful tropical fruit juices and a churrazco steak that I would be perfectly happy to eat every night for a month. And Sunday brunch - granola and coffee - at The Sentient Bean, accompanied by the Mistress’s roommate.

[How Jewish is that, to use meals as milestones to mark our progress through the weekend! Jackie Mason would be proud.]

Now SWMBO and I are back home, getting ready to watch the Presidential debate, which we had thoughtfully TiVo’ed (now there’s a 21st century verb for you.)

Oh, boy, is this gonna be fun.