Saturday, October 31, 2009

ON THE ROAD

The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions,
And also-rans, and Honorable Mentions;
The back-pats that puff up our self-esteem,
The MVP’s for ev’ry member of the team,
The “atta boy” for mediocrity,
The trophy that is purchased for a fee.

When men no longer care if they excel,
They’re rolling down the Boulevard to Hell.

BABY’S FIRST HALLOWE’EN

Halloween 1982
Hallowe’en, 1982.

“Baby,” in this case, refers to the Mistress of Sarcasm, here enjoying - or, more probably, putting up with - her very first Hallowe’en, twenty-seven years ago today. The photograph was taken less than five miles from here, in our old neighborhood... during our first sojourn in the Atlanta area.

There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then, and she has outgrown that bunny costume. Lookee:

Flapper Mistress
Hallowe’en, 2009.

Now a full-fledged Grown-Up, this year she’s dressed as a Jazz-Age Flapper. [A glass of Bathtub Gin would make this outfit complete, but the Mistress does not care for Hooch.]

And yet, some things don’t change. She may be twenty-seven years older, but she still loves her Hallowe’en candy... thanks to the sweet tooth she inherited from her Daddy!

Friday, October 30, 2009

IT PAYS TO PLAN AHEAD

It was sometime Wednesday that I noticed an item in my electronic in-box: a coupon that invited us to Houlihan’s - one of those popular American restaurant chains, in case you live outside of the U.S., or in a cardboard box in a swamp - where we could enjoy any burger or sandwich for a mere five simoleons.

That offer sounded attractive enough. There’s a Houlihan’s close by, and the food there is reasonably good. I don’t usually order their burgers or sammitches, but I’d be willing to do so given the price incentive they were dangling in front of me. And all I had to do was bring my iPhone and show our waiter the e-mail - I didn’t even have to print it out! Gotta love that Modrin Technology.

And thus we headed over to Houlihan’s in the evening... only to be greeted by a mob of people and a forty-five minute projected wait. For everyone else on the planet had received the same e-mail offer.

We normally don’t wait excessive amounts of time for a restaurant table, especially at a chain operation... but a lot of people were bailing, which meant our wait turned out to be not nearly so long. And, by coincidence, our friends Barry and Malka showed up, so we decided to join forces and dine together.

When we were seated, we saw plenty of empty tables. But with a long wait on what normally is a quiet night, what was going on? Well, it seemed that the place had not laid on extra waitstaff in anticipation of the rush of business the e-mail campaign would generate. Either Corporate was not communicating with the local operations... or the local shop’s manager did not have his shit in one sock.

We ordered our meals... and, some fifteen minutes later (!) were informed that they had run out of burgers.

Run out of burgers... on the day of a major Burger Promo. Genius, I tells ya!
Corporate: “We’re going to have a special e-mail promo that will double your store’s traffic. Be sure to order in plenty of hamburgers.”

Local Management: “Naaah.”
The waiter was polite (albeit harried) and energetic. We suggested that it would be a good idea if we could order an alternative dish - and not necessarily a sandwich - at the five-buck price. We thought this was a reasonable request, given the length of time it took for them to figure out that they couldn’t give us what we had ordered. The waiter agreed... and the manager did, too.

And thus it was that we dined like kings for mere pennies. I had a an iceberg wedge salad and a steak... the Mistress a huge pile of pot roast... the Missus an ahi tuna salad... and each one, only five bucks.

Dined like kings? Well, maybe very patient kings... for our dishes were long in arriving. I’m figuring the crew, from waitstaff to kitchen, was overwhelmed. Completely in the weeds. And then, at the end, our check was miscalculated and had to be redone.

The meal took about an hour longer than it should have. Oy!

All in all, if the objective of Houlihan’s burger promo was to get people into the house, they succeeded. Partially. But if it was to make a good impression, it was a dismal failure. Only our knowledge that it’s not always like that will keep us coming back. (Plus, the food is pretty good.)

Message to Corporate... and to the Local Management, too: It pays to plan ahead!

FRIDAY RANDOM TEN - HALLOWE’EN EDITION

Scary Nails 2009
SWMBO’s Scary Nails: this year’s edition. Check out them hand-painted thumbnails!

Not only is it Friday today, it’s the day before Hallowe’en, that most sacred of days to people in the party supplies, costumery, and candy businesses.

Eunoia, AKA Old Phat Stu, left a comment with a Hallowe’en-related question: “Elisson, you often blog about various Jewish holidays, so I was just wondering what’s your equivalent of Halloween?”

There’s a two-pronged answer to that. If you’re referring to the semi-pagan, semi-Christian holiday that is a vague amalgam of Samhain and All Hallow’s Eve - a holiday that is involved with witchcraft, demons, sorcery, the Spirits of the Dead, and all that goyische narrischkeit (non-Jewish foolishness), the answer is “no” - we Jews have no equivalent. I remember my Hebrew School teachers telling us that we shouldn’t go out trick-or-treating because Hallowe’en was a Christian holiday at best, a pagan, superstitious celebration at worst, certainly nothing any self-respecting Jewish kid should have anything to do with. Nevertheless, given the completely secular nature of Hallowe’en in the U.S., we just ignored our teachers, costumed ourselves, and cadged candy from our neighbors just like everyone else.

But if you’re referring to a holiday on which people dress up in costumes and exchange gifts of food, the answer is “yes.” Our version is called Purim, a holiday that celebrates the deliverance of the Jews of Persia from a plot to annihilate them - a story that is related in the Book of Esther. It has nothing to do with ghosts and Evil Beasties, however.

Now that we’ve answered that question, it’s time to check out the assorted musical randomosity of the Little White Choon-Box. What’s playing today?
  1. Barbara’s House - Philip Glass, Notes on a Scandal

  2. Alice Childress (iTunes Originals Version) - Ben Folds

  3. Sand Mandala - Philip Glass, Kundun

  4. Gun Street Girl - Tom Waits

    Fallin’ James in the Tahoe mud
    Stick around to tell us all the tale
    Well, he fell in love with a Gun Street girl
    Now he’s dancin’ in the Birmingham jail
    Dancin’ in the Birmingham jail

    Well, he took a hundred dollars off a Slaughterhouse Joe
    Bought a brand new Michigan twenty gauge
    He got all liquored up on that roadhouse corn
    Blew a hole in the hood of a yellow Corvette
    A hole in the hood of a yellow Corvette

    He bought a second hand Nova from a Cuban Chinese
    And dyed his hair in the bathroom of a Texaco
    With a pawnshop radio quarter past four
    He left Waukegan at the slammin’ of the door
    Left Waukegan at the slammin’ of the door

    I said, John, John, he’s long gone
    Gone to Indiana, ain’t never comin’ home
    I said, John, John, he’s long gone
    Gone to Indiana, ain’t never comin’ home

    He’s sittin’ in a sycamore in St. John’s Wood
    Soakin’ day old bread in kerosene
    Well, he was blue as a robin’s egg and brown as a hog
    He’s stayin’ out of circulation till the dogs get tired
    Out of circulation till the dogs get tired

    Shadow fixed the toilet with an old trombone
    He never get up in the morning on a Saturday
    Sittin’ by the Erie with a bull-whipped dog
    Tellin’ everyone he saw, “They went that-a-way, boys”
    Tellin’ everyone he saw, “They went that-a-way”

    Now the rain like gravel on an old tin roof
    The Burlington Northern pullin’ out of the world
    Now a head full of bourbon and a dream in the straw
    And a Gun Street girl was the cause of it all
    A Gun Street girl was the cause of it all

    Get ridin’ in the shadow by the Saint Joe Ridge
    And the click clack tappin’ of a blind man’s cane
    And he was pullin’ into Baker on a New Year’s Eve
    With one eye on the pistol and the other on the door
    One eye on the pistol and the other on the door

    Miss Charlotte took her satchel down to King Fish Row
    Smuggled in a brand new pair of alligator shoes
    With her fireman’s raincoat and her long yellow hair
    Well, they tied her to a tree with a skinny millionaire
    Tied her to a tree with a skinny millionaire

    I said, John, John, he’s long gone
    Gone to Indiana, ain’t never comin’ home
    I said, John, John, he’s long gone
    Gone to Indiana, ain’t never comin’ home

    Bangin’ on a table with an old tin cup
    I sing, I’ll never kiss a Gun Street girl again
    I’ll never kiss a Gun Street girl again
    I’ll never kiss a Gun Street girl again

    I said, John, John, he’s long gone
    Gone to Indiana, ain’t never comin’ home
    I said, John, John, he’s long gone
    Gone to Indiana, ain’t never comin’ home


  5. Big Bang Baby - Stone Temple Pilots

  6. Damn Bugs Whacked Him, Johnny - Minus the Bear

  7. Back In The U.S.S.R. - The Beatles

    This is the version from the White Album, the one with which most of us Old Goats are familiar.

  8. Heroin - Velvet Underground

  9. Too Much Too Young (Live) - The Specials

  10. Act III: I Can Keep Still - John Adams, Nixon in China

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

LITTLE ADVENTURES

I’m sure many of my Esteemed Readers are waiting with the clichéd Bated Breath, waiting for me to post some sort of Epic Piece o’ Doggerel based on last weekend’s Hysterics at Eric’s...

...alas, you will have to wait a bit longer, as I have been preoccupied with other weighty matters... but I will not disappoint you...

[after a weekend at Eric’s, I apparently still need to brush the ellipses off my pants]

Today had all kinds of little adventures. Morning minyan, followed by breakfast with Da Boyz... nothing too unusual there. Then, off to the dentist, there to repair a filling that went AWOL a couple of weeks ago, leaving a strange notch at the base of my right mandibular second premolar.

Novocain? Eet ees for pooseez.

Upon leaving the dentist’s lair, I discovered to my dismay that the Elissonmobile would not start. I suspected a dead battery - mine was over four years old and living on borrowed time - a diagnosis that was confirmed (and quickly remedied) by Triple-A. That enabled me to get back home in time to meet She Who Must Be Obeyed, who had taken time off school to accompany me to the cardiologist.

Yes, the Heart-Doc. Not that I was having any problems, mind you... but SWMBO is notably testy about these matters, given that her daddy suffered a fatal infarct at the tender age of fifty-seven. My age. And so we were going to get me a baseline stress test... and find out the results of the calcium scoring cardiac CT scan I had had two weeks prior.

The stress test is no big deal. They wire you up and put you on a treadmill, taking your blood pressure and running EKG’s periodically as you take what amounts to a brisk uphill walk. As they speed up the belt and jack up the incline, your heart rate and BP head north. I guess if you don’t keel over, you pass.

I got a clean bill of health - hooray! - along with the expected Supplemental Instructions: lose a few pounds, get more exercise, etc. Believe me, it’s a relief to know that your heart is happily functional.

A bit of shopping - SWMBO is making breakfast for a hundred of her closest Work-Buddies - and dinner, and here I am.

Oy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

FRED, ABED

One of the small pleasures of a weekend at the Straight White Compound is the opportunity to visit with Eric’s cats. There’s the grey, gregarious Fred, shown here curled up in a couple of his beds...

Fred in Bed 1

Fred in Bed 2

...and there’s Bob, who showed up on the doorstep one day and never left. Bob keeps to himself a bit more, but will wander around the celebrating multitudes now and again and give out with his plaintive, screechy miaow.

Bob

I noticed that both of the cats divided their time between hunting varmints in Eric’s big, woodsy back yard (“Hey, Fred - why is that snake steaming?”) and observing the Horde o’ Visiting Blodgers with a wary, bemused eye. They’ve been to these affairs before, clearly.

Update: Friday Ark #267 is afloat, per its custom, at the Modulator. More kitty bloggery is avalable at Carnival of the Cats, the 293rd edition of which is up right now at Elms in the Yard. Number 294 should be posted at Three Tabby Cats in Vienna Sunday evening.

Update 2: CotC #294 is up.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

PLEASING TO THE EYE,
PLEASING TO THE PALATE

Yesterday evening, before dashing off to my weekly poker game, I put together a dinner that was worthy of a magazine cover.

A science fiction magazine cover.

I have a thing, you see, for Weird Food. The exotic always appeals to me... provided, of course, that it tastes good.

We had a couple of flatiron steaks. The Mistress of Sarcasm and I had taken a spin by Harry’s Farmers Market to pick up a few odds and ends, and among those I had hoped to score a hanger steak. Alas, none were to be had, and so I went with an acceptably beefy-flavored substitute. A little kosher salt, a little black pepper, and a sprinkle of ground thyme (on my steak only - the Missus is not a fan of Herby Flavors), and these babies were ready for a quick turn on the grill. (A hot skillet is a perfectly good alternative.)

For the veg, I steamed some asparagus and garnished it with a few slices of Australian blood orange. Unusual, maybe, but not outright weird. I saved “outright weird” for the starch: Mashed purple sweet potatoes.

Yes - purple sweet potatoes.

These are locally grown and have a dark purple flesh in lieu of the familiar yellow-orange of your everyday sweet spud. But the taste isn’t too different. We’ve had ’em before, chopped up and roasted... and the idea of mashing them up to make a pile of purple paste somehow appealed to the Bizarro-Child within me.

It was a simple matter of peeling the tubers, hacking them into chunks, boiling them until tender - about twenty minutes - and then running them through a ricer. Whisk in some milk, salt, and butter, and Bob’s yer uncle: mashed sweet potatoes, but with a truly oddball appearance. Delicious. (A dash of cinnamon and nutmeg would be welcome additions next time.)

What? You don’t have a ricer? If you like mashed potatoes, a ricer is an indispensable tool. It forces the food through a perforated plate, creating the perfect airy texture in mashed potatoes... and it works brilliantly with other root vegetables like carrots and parsnips. A food mill does the trick nicely as well.

Bottom line: a tasty repast, prepared from scratch in less than 45 minutes. Pleasing to the eye, pleasing to the palate. (Well, one out of two ain’t bad, Mister Science Fiction.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

PIE GUY DIES

Soupy Sales
Soupy Sales, 1926-2009. Requiescat in pie-face.

Milton Supman, better known to the public as Soupy Sales, died yesterday at the age of 83.

Soupy Sales was the past master of pie-in-the-face comedy. I remember with fondness his afternoon show on WNEW-TV in New York, a show that ran for two years while I was of middle-school age. The show was funny, all right... but it was only as an adult that I began to appreciate just how funny. Sales was an improvisational genius who could combine puns, arcane references, and plain old slapstick to create Works o’ Comedic Genius on a daily basis... all this on a children’s show with a minuscule budget. To say that you could never do it today is beyond obvious.

A small private memorial service is planned, during which mourners will be encouraged to pelt the casket with pies. Dirt pies.

Ah, Soupy... we’ll miss you. The world needs its funnymen these days more than ever, and now we’re one short. Ave atque vale.

FRIDAY RANDOM TEN

It’s Friday, time for the weekly collection of Random Musical Selections as belched out by the iPod d’Elisson.

What’s playing today? Check it out:
  1. The Wind - Cat Stevens

  2. Pepperland Laid Waste - The Beatles

  3. Maze - Phish

    The overhead view is of me in a maze
    And you see what I’m hunting a few steps away
    Well, I take a wrong turn and I’m on the wrong path
    And the people all watching enjoy a good laugh
    Embarrassed with failure, I try to reverse
    The course that my tread had already traversed

    So doing the trauma engulfing my dream
    Invaded through what was an unguarded seam
    The torrent of helplessness swept me away
    To the cavern of shame and the hall of dismay

    Inside me a voice was repeating this phrase:
    You’ve lost it, you’ll never get out of this maze
    You’ll never get out of this maze
    You’ll never get out of this maze
    You’ll never get out of this maze
    You’ll never get out of this maze
    You’ll never get out of this maze
    You’ll never get out of this maze
    You’ll never get out of this maze
    You’ll never get out of this maze


  4. It’s All About Money - Bobby Slayton

  5. Mountains o’ Mourne - Don McLean

  6. Eloi - Klaus Badelt, The Time Machine (2002)

  7. So What - Miles Davis

  8. Brandenburg Concerto #3 in G major - III. Allegro - Wendy Carlos

  9. 3rd Planet - Modest Mouse

  10. Slip Away - Clarence Carter

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

GIMME A SKRITCH

Skritchable Hakuna

That’s what Hakuna is saying here, using her most eloquent body language.

She’s sitting on the sofa with She Who Must Be Obeyed, watching as Dr. Phil dispenses TeeVee Advice to the usual assortment of losers. Today’s special: The husband who refuses to nail his horny wife.

Hakuna says, “Where the hell do they find these people, anyway? Good Lord.”

And then she cranes her neck, croaking out a guttural meow, as if to say, “What are you waiting for? There’s a kitty here that is in desperate need of a good head-scratching!”

Update: Friday Ark #266 is afloat at the Modulator, who also informs us that Carnival of the Cats #293 will be posted this Sunday evening at When Cats Attack!

Update 2: CotC #293 is up... but not at When Cats Attack! Go, instead, to visit my old friend Rahel at Elms in the Yard, where the pinch-hitter has smacked one right out of the park!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

FLATFOOT FREESCHTICK*

*[“Freeschtick” being the Yiddish word for “breakfast.”]

Yesterday morning, as we were sitting at our usual table at the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium, three uniformed police officers walked in and sat down at an adjacent table.

This is nothing unusual. Many of Cobb County’s Finest may be seen enjoying the excellent Toroidal Provender at the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium on any given day of the week.

I couldn’t resist the impulse. I walked over to their table and, using my thumb to indicate the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts shop on the other side of the parking lot, said, “Guys, the donut place is over there. These things here are bagels. I know they look kinda like donuts, but they’re not donuts.”

That’s when they all grabbed their nightsticks. It wasn’t the pummeling that bothered me, though... it was being tasered. Twitching like one of Galvani’s frogs in front of the Minyan Boyz was not amusing. To me, anyway.

[I actually made alla this shit up. At least, the part that takes place after the cops walk in and sit down...]

TASTE SENSATION

There’s a new taste sensation... and it’s soon gonna be sweeping the nation.

I’ve often heard it said - hell, I’ve said it myself - that everything tastes better fried. Think about it: Have you ever had anything fried that didn’t taste good? Or at least better than its unfried counterpart?

Southern fried chicken versus broiled chicken? Southern fried wins.

Doughnut versus slice of pound cake? Doughnut wins.

Fried filet of flounder versus broiled fish? Fried wins.

Hell, the Mexicans fry their ice cream... and the Scots will fry damn near anything. Deep-fried candy bars? Aw, hell yes. Deep-fried pizza? Of course.

The only reason we don’t fry every damn thing we eat - like breakfast cereal - is because everything would taste so good, we’d never leave the table to accomplish any meaningful work. Plus, we’d all weigh half a metric ton and would have to hire people with wet mops to clean us after we crapped our living room-sized beds... which would be located as close as possible to the kitchen. No: that way lies madness.

But I digress. We were talking about a new taste sensation, weren’t we?

It was only a matter of time before somebody figured out that gefilte fish - that classic staple of the Ashkenazic Jewish table - would also taste better fried.

It’s a simple dish, really. Just take slices or loaves of gefilte fish, dip in egg wash, and coat with a suitable breading. Panko is fine, but for real authenticity, why not use matzoh meal? Season it with salt and pepper, blend well, and you’re ready to coat your fish. Then drop it into a deep fryer until golden brown.

What type of gefilte fish you use is up to you. That crap in the jars? Fine. Better yet, use the frozen loaves available in many supermarkets. Poach or bake the fish so it’s in ready-to eat form before frying, and you’re good to go.

Don’t forget to serve plenty of horseradish along with your fish. Or, given how well tartar sauce goes with other kinds of fried fish, why not make up a horseradish tartar sauce? Blend some mayo with a spoonful or two of pickle relish, then add white prepared horseradish (drained and pressed dry, preferably) to taste.

What do I call this wonderful new dish?

Hush Guppies, of course.

[Tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora to Nancy Isenberg, who has actually experienced the glory of Fried Gefilte Fish. Yowza!]

OCTOBER GUILD EVENT

Come all without, come all within
You’ll not taste nothing like the Mighty Zin
Come all without, come all within
You’ll not taste nothing like the Mighty Zin

Everybody’s here with their hats and coats
Some are opening bottles, others write tasting notes
Everybody’s thirsty, every girl and boy
But when the Zinfandel gets here
Everybody’s gonna jump for joy

Come all without, come all within
You’ll not drink nothing like the Mighty Zin


[Apologies to Bob Dylan]

Ahhh, me.

Time for another Sommelier Guild event. This one’s at Violette Restaurant tonight, and it will feature Zinfandel. California red Zinfandel, that is, with each flight focused on a specific subregion.

I expect Denny will be there, as will Houston Steve. Alas, I will not.

The dishes, all of which use wine in their preparation, look like they were carefully selected to pair up well with the Mighty Zin. Mighty appetizing, that’s for sure. Here da menu:

Speaker’s Wine
(TBD)

First Flight
Norman “Monster Zin” Paso Robles 2006
Ridge “Dusi” Paso Robles 2007
Turley “Dusi” Paso Robles 2007

Coq au Vin: Dark chicken meat cooked in red wine sauce

Second Flight
Rosenblum “Planchon” Contra Costa 2005
Cline “Big Break” Contra Costa 2007
Turley “Duarte” Contra Costa 2007

Boeuf Bourguignon: Tender beef marinated in burgundy wine

Third Flight
Klinker Brick Old Vine Lodi 2006
Mettler “Epicenter” Old Vine Lodi 2006
Turley “Dogtown” Lodi 2006

Steak Forestière: New York strip served with mushrooms and port wine sauce

Usually, this is where I insert a bit of Winey Whining, but I’ll spare you the faux misery and griping over what “torture” it is to attend these events. This time I’ll just whine because I’m not gonna be there. Crap.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

GETTING ORGANIZED

We love Chez Elisson, we really do - but one thing the people who built this house skimped on was Closet Space.

We were spoiled in Houston, with a good-sized pantry and a nice walk-in closet in the master bedroom, one that was big enough to accommodate the storage needs of both me and the Missus. But since moving here eleven years ago, we’ve had to deal with smaller-than-optimum closetry and crappy cabinets.

It’s almost as if the people who built this house (we’re the second owners) wanted as much unreachable dead space as possible. Bozos.

Actually, it’s not so much the size of the storage spaces that’s annoying. There’s enough square footage, really. It’s just oddly shaped, in the case of my bedroom closet... and in all cases, the racks and bars are that nasty plastic-coated metal grating. It looks like shit, and it makes pantry storage a major pain in the ass: Narrow boxes will not stand up straight.

Well, that’s over and done with. We replaced that wire crap with real honest-to-Gawd custom-fitted shelving. Now my bedroom closet looks almost civilized, and the pantry no longer resembles a mare’s nest. Now I can actually find all the Weird Food I keep in there!

Yeah, I know this topic might be a little Fluffy-Sounding to some, but trust me: Keeping your shit organized is a true Manly Endeavor. Me, I keep it in hundreds of little piles throughout the house... but now I have more usable space in which to shove alla them piles.

SHAKY GROUND

Nimitz Freeway, 1989

Last Saturday marked the twentieth anniversary of the Loma Prieto Earthquake - AKA the Quake of ’89, AKA the World Series Earthquake - that struck the San Francisco area on October 17, 1989.

This was no rattle-the-dishes temblor. It was a major quake, 7.0 on the Richter scale, that resulted in the deaths of 63 people. Many of those people were killed in Oakland when a 1.25 mile long section of the Nimitz Freeway’s Cypress Street Viaduct collapsed, the upper part of the double-decker roadway pancaking down onto the lower deck. It was a scenario right out of a Disaster-Porn movie, the ultimate Bad Commuting Day for 42 hapless drivers.

We get the occasional earthquake here in Georgia, believe it or not, the most recent being just last Saturday - a 2.3 magnitude baby centered just 45 miles southeast of Atlanta. But here, about the only clue there’s a quake going on is the rattling of our glass shower doors in their frame. There are no dramatic scenes of the earth splitting open and swallowing up whole neighborhoods, no houses collapsing or roads with weird kinks.

San Francisco didn’t get off quite that easily, alas.

The thousands of Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants fans who congregated at Candlestick Park to see the third game of the World Series - the quake occurred as the teams were warming up and was broadcast live on national TV - may have been disappointed that the game was postponed... but nobody at the stadium was hurt.

I didn’t find out about the disaster until the next morning, owing to the fact that I was in Switzerland drinking massive quantities of wine and snarfing up plateloads of Lake Geneva perch with various Bidnis Associates. And it was a fortnight later, as I flew into San Francisco enroute home from China - the penultimate leg of a grueling, three-week around-the-world trip - that I could see with my own eyes the darkened hulk of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, shut down due to the collapse of one of the sections of the upper deck. It was more than just a little scary.

Listen: Everyone blathers about “The Big One,” the giant quake that will split western California away from the rest of the continental U.S. and sent it sliding out across the Pacific (or to the bottom thereof) - but the next really humongous quake may very well be one that strikes the Southeast. There’s this little thing called the New Madrid Seismic Zone, and it has a demonstrated ability to pooch out temblors measuring 8.0 magnitude and higher... which would screw us all up to a fare-thee-well. I’m trying to picture a tsunami on Lake Lanier.

Monday, October 19, 2009

ACE: A 100-WORD STORY

Duff was worn out. Bored.

His bakery was world-famous, thanks to his Food Network show. Everyone went to him when they wanted the most whimsical, unusual, or just plain impressive creations. But the constant stress of having to outdo himself day after day was beginning to pall.

He needed a new career. But what?

Suddenly, a flush of inspiration struck. He would take his creative talents and turn them in a new, unexpected direction that would allow him to impress a completely different audience.

Decorating ideas began to flow. He set to work...

...as the new Ace of Urinal Cakes.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

ON THE HEADGEAR OF RED SEA PEDESTRIANS

As most people know, it is a tradition among Jews to keep the head covered.

Whether one covers the head at all times or only when engaging in religious activity is one of those matters that distinguishes between the various denominations. Orthodox (and some Conservative) Jews always keep their heads covered; Conservative Jews typically while at synagogue or at other religious functions; Reform Jews not at all.

Wearing a headcovering is a way of acknowledging God’s presence. While the Talmud states that one should cover the head “in order that the fear of heaven be upon you,” there is no formal requirement that one do so: it is neither a Torah commandment nor one of rabbinic origin. It is, rather, a custom (minhag) that through long and widespread practice has acquired the force of law.

The archetypical Jewish headcovering is the skullcap, AKA the yarmulke (in Yiddish) or kippah (in Hebrew). Another Yiddish term, kappel, comes to us through the old Gothic and is related to the word “chapel,” the distinctive architectural feature of which is the skullcap-like dome.

Kippot come in all styles and varieties, from the velvet hemispheres favored by ultra-religious Haredi Jews (who will also wear a black fedora atop their kippot), to the half-dollar-size knitted versions used by Modern Orthodox. Amongst Conservative Jews, you’ll see everything from the classic sateen “beanie” (with or without a button at the apex, lined or unlined) to medium-sized leather versions.

It’s common practice to hand out customized kippot at special events such as weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, et al. Usually these are inscribed with the names of (say) the bride and groom, the location, and the date of the event, and make dandy keepsakes. Over the years, I have amassed a considerable pile of these giveaway yarmulkes... in no small measure because of my regular Sabbath attendance at synagogue.

I have yarmulkes in every style and color. I have yarmulkes that range in age from over sixty years old to brand spanking new. And, in an effort to curb my natural Pack-Rat Tendencies, it’s gotten to where I am very picky about the kippot I keep. These days I favor the leather models, although cloth versions may pique my interest if they have a suitable design.

Yes, design. Kippot can be had with all kinds of nutty motifs: music, baseball, you name it Some people wear personalized kippot with their names embroidered or stitched in; some have their favorite sports teams’ logos appliquéd... the varieties are mind-boggling.

But last Saturday, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I were present at a Bat Mitzvah where the Giveaway Kippot were... strangely inappropriate.

No, it’s not like they had crucifixes or crescents imprinted upon them. (Man, that’d be weird.) No, there were cream-colored leather, with various Designer Logos imprinted thereon in silver. Dior. Dolce & Gabbana. Fendi. Chanel. You get the picture.

A kippah is supposed to remind you that God is always above you. These seemed to be intended to remind people that the Shopping Mall is just down the street. Feh.

SWMBO and I looked at each other, thinking the same thing. Blogpost!

Did I keep one? Of course I did. For evidence. Plus, it was leather.

My motto: “Finders, kippahs... losers, weepahs.”

ANOTHER GUEST SHOT

Zippy, America’s favorite pinhead, makes a guest appearance in today’s Mutts.

Mutts 101709
Mutts, October 17, 2009. ©2009 Patrick McDonnell.

It’s not the first time the Zipster has popped up in another strip.

But back to Mutts. Patrick McDonnell is a true genius. Not only is his strip funny and sweet-tempered, but McDonnell is a playful fellow who loves slipping in sly references to other artists in his Sunday strips.

Here are a couple of his “tribute panels.” Can you recognize the source material?

Mutts 101709
Mutts tribute panels. ©2009 Patrick McDonnell.

Friday, October 16, 2009

FRIDAY RANDOM TEN

Yes, indeedy: It’s Friday, which means it’s time for the weekly pile of Randomly Selected Tuneage, coming to you straight from the mysterious electronical innards of the Elisson’s Little White Choon-Box.

Let’s give a listen, shall we?
  1. Cour d’Amours - Dies, Nox, et Omnia - Christian Thielemann: Orff, Carmina Burana

  2. Beverly Hills Candidate - The Capitol Steps

  3. IV. Scena e Canto gitano - L. Stokowski: Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherezade

  4. The Boston Rag - Steely Dan

    Any news was good news
    And the feeling was bad at home
    I was out of mind and you
    Were on the phone
    Lonnie was the kingpin
    Back in nineteen sixty-five
    I was singing this song
    When Lonnie came alive

    Chorus:
    Bring back the Boston Rag
    Tell all your buddies
    That it ain’t no drag
    Bring back the Boston Rag

    You were Lady Bayside
    There was nothing that I could do
    So I pointed my car down
    Seventh Avenue
    Lonnie swept the playroom
    And he swallowed up all he found
    It was forty-eight hours ’til
    Lonnie came around


  5. Toy - Miles Davis

  6. Shemonmane - Maritu Legesse

  7. Not The Same - Ben Folds

  8. No One Mourns The Wicked - Wicked, Original Cast Recording

  9. You Never Give Me Your Money - The Beatles

  10. The Rye or the Kaiser - Weird Al Yankovic

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

WHAT AM I...

...chopped liver?

Meatloaf Hakuna

No, Hakuna. In this pose, you are meatloaf.

Update: Check out more meatloaves (and other beasties) at the Modulator, where floats Friday Ark #265. And come Sunday evening, Carnival of the Meatloaves Cats comes around to Artsy Catsy for its 292nd incarnation... be sure to pay a visit!

Update 2: CotC #292 is up.

A SIMPLE REQUEST

O, give me a life filled with joie de vivre
And a woman with plenty of joie de bivre.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

OFFICIAL ENTRANCE

Today marks the Straight White Guy’s official entrance into the late thirties. As opposed to the early or mid-thirties.

There will be a great big Official Celebration sometime in the near term... but in the meantime, it’s not a bad time to think of gifts that are suitable for the occasion.

Hmmm.

Eric has always been partial to the fine distilled beverages of Scotland, but I’ve got to believe that he has pretty much tasted every kind of uisge beatha ever made. So that one’s a dead end.

Maybe it’s time to think outside the box. How about:

Movie tickets?

A nice book?

Or a coffee mug?

Whadda ya think?

In the meantime, please join me in wishing Eric a long, healthy, happy life. As we Red Sea Pedestrians like to say, “Ad meah v’esrim... v’yom.” Until one hundred twenty... and a day.

Why the day?

Well, why would you want someone to croak on his own birthday?

ON PRONUNCIATION

A recent post by the lovely and talented Boudicca on a question of pronunciation has generated a veritabobble firestorm of commentary... and so I may as well pile on.

The question had to do with the pronunciation of the word “wheat,” and, by extension, other words with the “wh” phoneme: whisky, whether, while, where, & cetera. Do you pronounce the “h” or not? And if so, how?

I was taught phonics in grade school, which distinguishes me from an entire generation that was taught “whole word” reading. And one of the things I was taught was that when a word begins with “wh,” the “wh” is pronounced “hw” - with the “h” a barely aspirated sound. So “wheat” would be pronounced “hweet,” and “whisky” “hwisky.”

She Who Must Be Obeyed, who teaches Language Arts, agrees. The letter “W” does not actually represent a sound in and of itself, but rather a mouth position in which the lips form an “O.” Any sound will come from the vowel or diphthong that follows it. But if it is followed by an “H,” the H is lightly aspirated as though it came before the W.

This is how you can distinguish between, say, “whether” and “weather.” The former has the aspirated H; the latter does not.

[One notable exception: the word “whore,” which is not pronounced “hwore,” but rather, “hore.” Unless you’re from New Jersey, in which case it’s “hoo-ah.”]

Of course, being the lazy and/or ignorant slobs we all are, few people bother with these niceties during the course of everyday conversation. After all, saying “weet” instead of “hweet” gets the point across... and you are less likely to get the shit kicked out of you by people who resent your putting on airs.

But I am curious: Do you pronounce the “H”? Whether you do or not, where did you grow up? And were you taught phonics or whole-word reading? My suspicion is that people who learned by the “whole word” method will not pronounce the aitch... but that’s just a suspicion.

There are a few other words that will separate the Pronunciation Pedants from the rest of us slobs. Jewelry. February. And, trickiest of all, Wednesday. I am convinced that only the Brits really know how to say the name of that dreaded weekday properly (WED-n’s-day) - we Americans haven’t a clue.

Of course, that should be no surprise. We’ve had Presidents (George W. Bush being only the most recent example) who could not pronounce the word “nuclear” - although if you have the Football o’ Thermonuclear Death at your side, it doesn’t much matter how you pronounce it. [I pronounce it “We’re all fucked.”]

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

THE VISIONARY: A 100-WORD STORY

Milton was a visionary.

As his fledgling confectionery business grew beyond his wildest imaginings, he envisioned constructing an entire town, a home in which his enterprise could flourish. But he wanted no grimy factory burg populated by grey-faced wage slaves. No: His would be an archetypical American village with tree-lined streets, complete with schools, public transportation, a park... and an educated, happy workforce.

And he made it so.

But how would people get there? Milton’s town was, put charitably, in the sticks. And so he built a road... and his enterprise succeeded brilliantly.

Today, millions travel the famous Hershey Highway.

Monday, October 12, 2009

GUSH ’EM

It’s a little phrase, really.

Beginning with a special prayer for rain during the musaf service of Shemini Atzeret (a service which I had the honor of leading this past Saturday morning), we add a short insertion to the daily liturgy during the Amidah, the standing prayer:

Mashiv ha-ruach u-morid ha-gashem - [You] Who causeth the wind to blow and the rain to fall.

We’ll continue to stick that phrase in our daily prayers until the Passover holiday in spring. It heralds the rainy season in the Land of Israel; the insertion is simply a gentle reminder to the Big Guy that, since it is the rainy season and all, to please, ahhhh, make sure it rains.

Given the exceptionally moist weather here in the Ay-Tee-Ell these past few weeks, when our rabbi asked me to lead the musaf service and recite the Geshem prayer, I asked him - jokingly, of course - whether that was really a good idea. And he gave the expected response: It’s for the Land of Israel, not us.

But this morning, after awakening to a deluge of Noahide proportions, I could not help but wonder...

...’cause whatever I said Saturday, it worked. Big time.

WELCOME TO STUPIDVILLE

That’s the sign you see when you enter Newark, Delaware. Or at least, it should be.

The Grey Lady reports on yet another incident in which a well-intentioned but stupidly-written Zero Tolerance Policy resulted in a six-year-old getting suspended from school for 45 days. Young Zachary Christie’s crime? Bringing
...a camping utensil that can serve as a knife, fork and spoon to school. He was so excited about recently joining the Cub Scouts that he wanted to use it at lunch. School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons, and Zachary was suspended and now faces 45 days in the district’s reform school.
Brilliant, just fucking brilliant.

Zero tolerance policies sound good. Administrators like ’em because they purportedly reduce opportunities for discrimination in the enforcement of school rules and policies... and they require exactly zero brains to administer. None of that strenuous “thinking” or “judgment” need come into play. Just enforce the policy, is all ya gotta do. Easy peasy!

I sure am happy these harebrained policies didn’t exist when I was a young Snot-Nose. I would have been thoroughly fucked.

As for little Zachary, my only advice at this point? Don’t drop the soap, kid.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

FAREWELL TO A COUPLE OF OLD FRIENDS

Old Friends
A dizzying view from a “look-down window” at the Tokyo Tower... but my shoes don’t mind it a bit.

Today I said farewell to a couple of old friends... and welcomed a couple of new ones.

I’m talking about my Pikolinos walking shoes, the ones in the picture above.

I know that to some people, excessive interest in shoes smacks of outright Loafer-Lightness... or gender confusion at best. And that may be true. But I also think that it is a very male thing to become attached to one or two pairs of shoes, wearing them until they become rags upon the feet.

Women will accumulate an entire closet... nay, an entire warehouse full of shoes. And they will wear many of them on a regular basis, all depending on how well they match the Outfit du Jour. Comfort is a secondary consideration: Women will wear shoes that make their feet bleed, as long as they look good (and as long as the blood doesn’t clash with their clothing).

Men, on the other hand, will typically have a more modest inventory of footwear... and they will focus their daily selections on a mere handful. Fashion may count, on rare occasions... but comfort rules supreme. And when they find a pair that’s easy on the feet, they will hang onto them like Cass Elliot hanging on to a ham sandwich.

Years ago, I had a pair of Johnston & Murphy loafers that were so comfortable, I couldn’t bear to throw them out. I kept replacing the soles until the uppers started to fall apart and the front of the sole would flap like Nancy Pelosi’s mouth. Even so, I continued to wear them around the house... until SWMBO finally put her foot down and insisted I toss ’em.

Last year when Elder Daughter and I were preparing to go on our ten-day Japan trek, I decided that I wanted to take only one pair of shoes. They would need to be extremely comfortable - we’d be doing a lot of walking - and, at the same time, be presentable enough to pass for dress shoes if the occasion or location demanded it. I found a pair of Pikolinos moccasins, and they fit the bill perfectly.

When they fit you for these suckers, they stand you on a piezoelectric pad that senses the pressure points on your feet. Based on that information, they fit you with special insole inserts. Not quite as precise as custom-molded orthotics, but way less costly - and almost as good. With those inserts in place, those shoes felt so natural it was almost like going barefoot... except without the discomfort of dealing with wet pavement, filth, broken glass, and pointy stones.

Once we got back from Japan, I continued to wear those Pikolinos every chance I got, giving them a rest only when I needed to put on dress shoes. Over the last 18 months, I wore those bad boys so much, I wore ’em out. Holes... and not even in the sole.

Yesterday while out Supporting the Economy with the Missus, we got another pair almost exactly like the old ones. This morning I observed the Ritual of Swapping Out the Insole Inserts, pulling them out of the old pair and sticking them in the new. It was a bittersweet moment, to be sure.

But my feet make new friends easily. I’m sure they’ll get along with their new buddies just fine.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Friday, October 09, 2009

BUNWAD REPORT

People who have been reading this stupid-ass site for years know that Yours Truly fancies himself a bit of an expert in the matter of Abstergent Paper. You know: Tee Pee. Bunwad.

It’s a product with which we all are all too familiar.

I’ll admit right up front that both She Who Must Be Obeyed and I are creatures of habit when it comes to Matters Toiletpaperical. We tend to rely on the same brand day after day, year after year, only rarely straying from the path of the Tried and True.

Let’s face it: once you have found a product that you like, there’s not much upside for making a switch... and there’s plenty of downside. Every product represents a tradeoff between the opposing qualities of comfort and strength. And let us not forget effectiveness. Wax paper, for example, may be both comfortable and strong, but it will not be effective.

Too soft? You may be comfortable, but you may be growing a crop of dingleberries with every swipe, while at the same time being vulnerable to the Dreaded Poke-Through. On the other hand, too strong and harsh, and your Delicate Rosebud may pay a heavy price.

Our favorite brand seems to strike the perfect balance between these competing characteristics. So, you might well ask, why change?

Well, we’ve observed that what at first was seemingly a one-off phenomenon - the narrowing roll - has become an industry trend. Last trip we made to the Bunwad Shoppe, we saw that only one brand - the contemptible single-ply Scott’s - still retains its old 4½-inch width. All the others have shrunk to four inches. If this trend continues, in a few years we’ll be wiping ourselves with reels of Rectal Floss. Yeef.

Our mild resentment at this development led us to throw caution to the wind and try a test run of a different brand. We settled on Charmin Ultra Strong. My issue with Charmin in the past - aside from their former mascot, the execrable Mr. Whipple - is that it is well on the soft-and-comfy side of the spectrum. Sounds good, but unless you’re trying to start a ’berry farm, it’s not the way to go. “Ultra Strong” seemed to promise a different experience.

And it is, indeed, different.

Let me tell you, this stuff is tough. The Dreaded Poke-Through is not ever gonna be an issue with this tissue... unless you learned your wiping technique from wildcat oil drillers. Or in the rare event that a poke-through is desirable.

But what about comfort? you ask.

Surprisingly, it’s plenty comfortable. Not nearly like that 10-grit garnet paper they used to give us in grade school. It’s not Fluffy McFluffypants, but it’s workable, if you don’t mind the disconcerting sensation that you’re wiping yourself with a (soft) paper towel.

And better yet: No ’Berry Patch.

I’m not prepared, at this point, to commit to a wholesale conversion. Nevertheless, we’ve identified a product that, at the very least, may be used in the event of an emergency or in case of difficulty obtaining our Usual. (After a nuclear war, however, all bets are off and anything becomes fair game. Newsprint, broken bottles, oyster shells...)

The only extant question, I suppose, is whether you hang the roll so that the paper is dispensed from the top or from the bottom of the roll. I know the right answer, of course, as does SWMBO. But I will not be so uncivil as to mention it here, for entire empires have foundered as a result of disputes on matters of far less importance.

FRIDAY RANDOM TEN - WHOMPING WILLOW EDITION

No, it’s not a Harry Potter reference despite the sound.

Today is Hoshana Rabah - the Great Hosanna - the final day of the Sukkot festival, more about which here. It’s a day that, on the Sanctity Meter, falls somewhere between a Yom Tov (holiday) and the weekdays in the middle of a festival.

But enough with all the weird Jewish arcana. It’s Friday, which means it’s time for the weekly collection of Random Musical Selections as coughed up by the iPod d’Elisson.

What’s playing today? Lessee:
  1. Every Mother’s Son - Traffic

  2. No One Else - Weezer

  3. I Wanna Be Like You - Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

  4. Don’t Let Me Down - The Beatles

  5. Samwise the Brave - Howard Shore, The Two Towers

  6. Opening Title - Bernard Herrmann, North by Northwest

    One of the most exciting and dramatic opening titles ever, from the master of Filmic Music.

  7. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony - Jethro Tull

  8. Little Green - Joni Mitchell

  9. SWLABR - Cream

    The mysterious title of this song is simply an acronym for “She Was Like A Bearded Rainbow,” a phrase that probably makes more sense with a head full of brown acid. It’s from Disraeli Gears, Cream’s sophomore effort. As for how Disraeli Gears got its bizarre name, here’s the explanation from Wikipedia:
    The title of the album was taken from an inside joke. Eric Clapton had been thinking of buying a racing bicycle and was discussing it with Ginger Baker, when a roadie named Mick Turner commented, “it’s got them Disraeli Gears,” meaning to say “derailleur gears” but instead alluding to 19th Century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. The band thought this was hilarious, and decided that it should be the title of their next album. Had it not been for Mick, the album would simply have been entitled Cream.

    Coming to me in the morning, leaving me at night.
    Coming to me in the morning, leaving me alone.
    You’ve got that rainbow feel but the rainbow has a beard.

    Running to me a-cryin’ when he throws you out.
    Running to me a-cryin’, on your own again.
    You’ve got that pure feel, such good responses,
    But the picture has a mustache.

    You’re coming to me with that soulful look on your face,
    Coming looking like you’ve never ever done one wrong thing.

    You’re coming to me with that soulful look on your face.
    You’re coming looking like you’ve never ever done one wrong thing.

    So many fantastic colors; I feel in a wonderland.
    Many fantastic colors makes me feel so good.
    You’ve got that pure feel, such good responses.
    You’ve got that rainbow feel but the rainbow has a beard.


  10. I Want Love - Elton John

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

ART IS WHERE YOU FIND IT

They (whoever “they” are) say that Art Is Where You Find It. All I can say is, whenever we are with Uncle Phil and Aunt Marge, we manage to find plenty of Art. For at their pied-à-terre in Hollywood, Florida, it’s all around us. Their house is a veritabobble treasure trove of Gorgeous Stuff. I won’t even try to be snarky and call it “Gorgeous Crap,” because none of it is crap.

The only other person I know with the same kind of gift for discovering Found Art is the Mistress of Sarcasm. It must run in the family.

Here, for example, is a terra-cotta statue. I call him “Pre-Columbian Dude,” although I strongly suspect he is post-Columbian.

Pre-Columbian Dude
Pre-Columbian Dude.

Next up we have a Portrait in Relief, a fellow I like to refer to as “Cracked Caesar.”

Cracked Caesar
Cracked Caesar.

So many philosophical metaphors you can build with this as inspiration... and so little time.

There’s lots more. Some of it is left over from Phil’s career as purveyor of miscellaneous scientific equipment:

Antique Microscopes
A brace of antique microscopes.

These babies are solid brass, and they are gorgeous. I can almost imagine Louis Pasteur using a ’scope like this.

How about these? Every one a work of Modern-Age Art... but what are they? I’ll provide the answer in the extended entry.

Ars Panis Ustilos
Mystery Art. WTF are these things, anyway?

Maybe a better title for this post is “Home Is Where The Art Is.” As long as we’re talking about Phil and Marge’s home, that is.

Not all the art in Broward County resides with Phil and Marge, though. There’s this fellow we caught up with at the Fort Lauderdale Airport, parked contentedly in a waiting lounge all by himself:

Airport Dude
Airport Dude.

I can only guess that his name should be Art... for that is what he is. He’s either a very realistic sculpture or an amazingly immobile ascetic, because he was in the exact same position in the exact same place on two separate days...

Toasters
Toasters!

Yes, indeedy - they’re all toasters. Aunt Marge has a formidable collection of antique toasters, all of which (I believe) are in working condition. Toaster aficionados - yes, there are such people - will recognize the copper number above as a Model 1B14 Toastmaster, a highly popular style that was introduced in 1947 and lasted for seventeen years. (Most people are familiar with the chrome-plated version, the classic image of the pop-up toaster.)

How ’bout that? Utilitarian Art!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

HAPPY BEEFDAY

Maki-Zushi
A jewel-like collation of sushi: a perfect way to kick off a Birthday Dinner.

Hordes of my Esteemed Readers with inquiring minds want to know: Just how did Elisson celebrate his birthday this past weekend?

[OK, so it was just one Esteemed Reader. Big fat hairy deal. But far be it from me to miss out on a chance to talk about Face-Feedage.]

She Who Must Be Obeyed had asked me some time back what I wanted to do on my Big Day. Night out? Big feed at restaurant? Disney World? Spa weekend? The possibilities were endless. But my desires being simple, all I wanted was Red Meat.

Steak. That’s the ticket. Nice prime rib-eye steaks. We’d throw a few on the grill and invite a few friends over. That’s way more congenial than sitting at a big table in some commercial eatery.

OK, agreed the Missus. But she insisted on doing all the cooking and making all the preparations herself, reluctantly conceding to me only those matters pertaining to the Beefy Entrée.

Let me tell you something: When my Better Half decides to do something, she is unstoppable. A force of nature. I stayed the hell out of the way and let her work her magic... and magic it was.

For beverages, our friend Laura Belle was in charge of the Margarita Machine, cranking out frozen ’ritas by the bucketful. Houston Steve and I chose an alternative beverage, just to be difficult different...

Houston Steve and the Pomegranate Pile Driver
Houston Steve enjoys a Pomegranate Pile Driver.

Yes - the infamous Pomegranate Pile Driver, the drink that gets you loaded and unloaded at the same time!™

By way of appetizers, SWMBO had ordered in a tray of sushi. Delightful.

There was a fine salad of mixed lettuces, artichoke hearts, asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, toasted pine nuts, and dried currants in a honey-balsamic vinaigrette.

There were steamed haricots verts - skinny-ass French green beans.

There was a platter of roasted potatoes - sweet, red bliss, and Yukon Gold - done up in Tennessee ’Tater style. Yummy.

And there was the Red Meat. Prime rib-eye steaks, hand-carved and grilled by Yours Truly. Heartattackalicious!

Prime Ribeyes
Richly marbled red meat. Freshly carved, seasoned with pepper and kosher salt - and after a visit to the grill.

The festivities continued after we had eaten our fill. There was still the Ceremonial Birthday Cake to be dealt with. Fortunately or otherwise, I’m now at the stage in life at which it is impractical to festoon a cake with one candle for each year of my age. It’s simply too difficult to light ’em all - the intensity of the flame from all those candles tends to melt the cake, set off the fire alarm, overtax the air conditioner, and make the NSA nervous when orbiting monitors see the heat signature and mistakenly identify it as a nuclear detonation. So I got four candles, the flames of which were easy enough to dispatch in a single wheeze.

And then it was time to check out SWMBO’s gift, a gift that will make me the envy of every pimply adolescent in the neighborhood - along with quite a few Baby Boomers.

The Beatles Rock Band.

Now I can pretend to be one of the Beatles, banging away at the Fake Drums, shrieking vocals into a USB mike, or getting blisters on my fingers from playing the Fake Guitar. It’s big fun, and a great hit at our get-together as everyone sang along with the familiar tunes.

I guess I need to decide which Beatle I want to emulate.

Ringo? Meh.

George Harrison? Maybe, except he’s dead now.

John? Dead, too - and if he were still around, he’d have Yoko Ono to put up with. Yeef.

McCartney? Hmmm. The most successful songwriter of all time? Cool. And yet... vegetarian and animal rights activist, Linda Eastman, Heather Mills, Wings... Oy.

I guess I’ll just settle for being me. OK, having the Beatles’ money wouldn’t be too bad, but I’d rather have my friends, my children, and my beloved SWMBO. It’s getting better all the time!

Monday, October 05, 2009

SHAKY


Lulav and etrog, the symbols of Sukkot.

Shake, shake, shake de lulav, all around each time
Shake, shake, shake de lulav, shake it all the time
Wave, wave, wave de lulav, all around each time
Schlep, schlep, schlep de lulav, it’s hosanna time

I got dis t’ing called a lulav
It’s made with palm (not with agave)
And also myrtle and willow
It’s pretty but it makes a lousy pillow

(Jump in de line, ’cause it’s hosanna time) OK, I believe you!
(Jump in de line, ’cause it’s hosanna time) OK, I believe you!
(Jump in de line, ’cause it’s hosanna time) OK, I believe you!
(Jump in de line, ’cause it’s hosanna time) Oy!

Shake, shake, shake de lulav, all around each time
Shake, shake, shake de lulav, shake it all the time
Wave, wave, wave de lulav, all around each time
Schlep, schlep, schlep de lulav, it’s hosanna time

Oh, yes - we got de Kol Nidre
And other t’ings dat de Jews say
But dis week we sit in de Sukkah
Read de Good Book-a
Dat’s how we cook-a!

(Jump in de line, ’cause it’s hosanna time) OK, I believe you!
(Jump in de line, ’cause it’s hosanna time) OK, I believe you!
(Jump in de line, ’cause it’s hosanna time) OK, I believe you!
(Jump in de line, ’cause it’s hosanna time) Oy!

[Sung to the tune of “Jump in the line”]

Sukkot - the Feast of Tabernacles - began Friday evening at sundown.

I tend to think of Sukkot as “my” holiday, not least because I was born on the first day of Sukkot - the fifteenth of Tishrei - 57 years ago. The holiday also carries the sobriquet z’man simchateinu - the season of our happiness - and since my Hebrew name is Simcha, I feel as though it’s my season as well.

This year the first day of Sukkot fell on Saturday, just as it did 57 years ago. Which only makes sense, if you’re familiar with the Jewish calendar’s nineteen-year cycle. I’ve now lived through exactly three of those calendrical cycles, and so naturally this year the Ides of Tishrei fell on the same day of the week as in my birth year. And to top it off, the very next day was my birthday according to the civil calendar. Hoo-hah!

I enjoy the holiday not for any imagined proprietary relationship, but for the fact that it takes place as the heat of the summer is giving way to the cool, crisp mornings of fall... for the beautiful (if arcane) rituals, throwbacks to the festival’s ancient agricultural origins... for the melodies of Hallel, the selection of psalms that we recite and sing every morning... and for the chance to sit and look at the stars overhead, seen through the gaps in the sukkah’s intentionally rustic roofing material.

And if a wee bit of birthday cake should happen to show up, why, so much the better!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

TODAY’S PITH AND VINEGAR

She Who Must Be Obeyed and I were watching “Ace of Cakes” on the Food Network this afternoon. Both of us observed - almost at the exact same moment - that most of the people on the show appeared to be stoned out of their minds.

“I guess the cakes aren’t the only thing on this show that are getting baked,” I said.

It makes sense, I suppose. If I had to make a living creating cakes in miscellaneous oddball shapes - a submachine gun-toting rubber ducky, an Italian mastiff, a cruise ship being just a small sampling - I’d probably spend my entire day stoned, too.

Friday, October 02, 2009

LATTE E CIOCCOLATTO

Study in Beige
Signorina Hakuna.

Questo gatta mi fa pensare di latte e cioccolato. E tu?

Update: Friday Ark #263 is afloat at the Modulator - as always. Also, be sure to stop by CatSynth Sunday evening for Carnival of the Cats #290.

Update 2: CotC #290 is up.

FRIDAY RANDOM TEN - HOLIDAY SEASON EDITION

Well, it’s the Jewish holiday season, anyway.

Having just gotten Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - the High Holidays - out of the way, we still have a few more to get through before things settle down. Sukkot, the Festival of Tabernacles, begins this evening at sundown, followed by Shemini Atzeret next Friday at sundown, and then Simchat Torah Saturday evening through Sunday. Plenty of opportunities for Foodly Face-Stuffage... and, in the case of Simchat Torah, Ethanolic Drinkage as well. Oh, boy!

As if that were not enough, I’ll be celebrating the conclusion of yet another Trip Around the Sun this weekend. Yet more food and drink.

But right now it’s Friday, so we have the small matter of the Friday Random Ten to deal with first. Let’s see what the Little White Choon-Box has coughed up this morning:
  1. Perikunta - Alamaailman Vasarat

  2. Vaseline Machine Gun - Leo Kottke

  3. L’enfant - Vangelis

    This haunting melody was an unforgettable part of the soundtrack from The Year of Living Dangerously.

  4. Low Yo Yo Stuff - Captain Beefheart

  5. While My Guitar Gently Weeps - The Beatles

    This is the version from the “Love” mashup - very different from the White Album original.

  6. Put A Lid On It - Squirrel Nut Zippers

    Put a lid on it
    What’s that you say?
    Put a lid on it
    Oh man, no way
    Put a lid down on it, and everything will be all right.
    Put a lid on it
    Don’t hand me that
    Put a lid on it
    I’m all right, Jack
    Put a lid down on it, before somebody starts a fight.

    Say, every time I turn it loose
    You cats come down and cook my goose
    When I start I just can’t stop
    But if you keep this up you’re gonna blow your top!
    Put a lid on it
    Too late this time
    Put a lid on it
    I’ve got to get what’s mine
    Put a lid down on it, and everything will be all right.

    Well, grab your drink and clear a space
    I think it’s time to torch this place
    Now the girl’s in overdrive
    But some of your pals want to stay alive!
    I’ll put a lid on it
    I’ll put a lid down on it
    Save it for another night


  7. Act II, Scene 2: I Am The Wife Of Mao Tse-Tung - John Adams, Nixon in China

  8. Satumaa (Finnish Tango) - Frank Zappa

  9. Farewell and End Title - Bernard Herrmann, The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

  10. Tupelo Honey - Van Morrison

    I bought this album within a few months of its October 1971 release, sometime during my sophomore year in college. It was the first of many Van Morrison discs I would buy, and it’s still one of my favorites.

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

DOO DOO DOO DOO

No, this is not a Crapblogging Post.

If the name Marius Constant - the guy who made the above title a part of our popular culture - does not ring a bell, how ’bout this one? Rod Serling.

“Ah!” you say as the recognition dawns. That all-too-familiar theme music...

“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance; of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into... The Twilight Zone.”

It was fifty years ago today that “The Twilight Zone” made its debut on CBS. The network suits were nervous: selling them on the idea of an anthology show grounded in science fiction, fantasy, and the supernatural was a difficult undertaking, but somehow Rod Serling succeeded. The rest, as they say, is history.

Twilight Zone
Still photo from “The After Hours,” a first-season TZ episode starring Anne Francis.

The show’s original run was five years. The familiar Marius Constant guitar-and bongo “doo doo doo doo” musical intro didn’t appear until Season Two, replacing the first year’s eerie Bernard Herrmann theme.

I’m pretty sure my first exposure to the show was during its fourth season, the one season in which the episodes were a full hour long. And I remember how I felt that little frisson of terror from time to time, as the scarier episodes bumped up against my tender fifth-grade sensibilities.*

I loved it.

Plenty of now-recognizable names were in the credits. Some were relative unknowns when they were on the show; others were popular character actors. Burgess Meredith. Agnes Moorhead. William Shatner. Robert Redford. Ed Wynn. Jack Klugman. Jonathan Winters. Fritz Weaver. Martin Balsam. Charles Bronson. Martin Landau. Buster Keaton. Dick York. George Takei. Nehemiah Persoff. David Opatoshu.

Many of the original episodes - there were 156 in all - seem dated now, even the stuff of parody. That’s to be expected when a show has infiltrated the popular culture as deeply as has TZ. But many still hold up well... even some that have an all-too-well-known trick ending. And there has never been anything else quite like it, not even the brief two-and-a-half season revival in the mid-1980’s.

So tip a glass in salute to Rod Serling’s fifty-year-old brainchild. Somehow or other, I don't expect “Lost” to be celebrated - or even remembered - in like wise half a century from now, do you? And I’ll bet you can think of a few favorite ’sodes - tell us about ’em in the comments!

And now for that Twilight Zone moment: Rod Serling was born on Christmas Day in 1924, almost 85 years ago. He died in 1975 at age 50... the same age reached today by his famous creation. Doo doo doo doo!

*Note: SWMBO avoids watching The Twilight Zone to this day, mainly on account of one episode that scared the crap out of her when she was a little girl.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

PRACTICAL MATTERS: A 100-WORD STORY

Being Superman sounds exciting, but believe me, there are practical matters that most people never consider.

The costume, for example.

Wearing a Super-Suit under your street clothes is a pain. It’s hot. And then there was that time I found out that Korean food was like kryptonite to my bowels. I ate a pile of kimchi and bulgogi once, and it was horrendous. Getting out of my khakis was one thing, but those tights? And the cape? Fuhgeddaboudit. It took a week to get the Stool-Gogi stains out.

And after that infamous Lois Lane incident, forget about ever getting laid.