Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Time flies when you’re having fun, they say, and even when you’re not. And the year 2008 has flown by, all except a mere handful of hours. I suspect many of us will be glad to see it go.

“May you live in interesting times.” It’s an old Chinese curse, and it seems that all of us have had plenty of interesting times to deal with this year. The subprime mortgage industry had a crisis; Wall Street and the investment banking industry had a meltdown; Bernie “Made Off With Everybody’s Money” Madoff’s multi-decade Ponzi scheme unraveled; gasoline prices skyrocketed in the wake of Hurricane Ike and then dropped like a stone; and the economy, in general, has become a Scary Place.

We in the United States made history by electing our first black President, proving that race is no longer the insurmountable barrier it once was. Neither, apparently, is the desirability of having a curriculum vitae that fills up more than a 3½ x 5" index card. But like all Presidents before him, Barack Obama will have his chance to succeed or fail. For the sake of our nation, I wish him Godspeed.

This was the year we said goodbye to our precious Matata. Thanks to the Internet, our little grey kitty had admirers around the world; their kind expressions of sympathy helped us mightily to deal with our loss. Our hearts still feel a twinge every time her image pops up on the computer monitor as our screensaver cycles through our vast inventory of digital photographs.

This was also the year of the Wonderful Japan Adventure I was able to share with Elder Daughter. Ten days in the Land of the Rising Sun was more than a mere vacation - it was a Father-Daughter Bonding Experience. I’ll always remember it fondly.

This was the year the Mistress of Sarcasm pulled out her Savannah roots and transplanted herself to Franklin, Tennessee...a full hour closer. Yay!

This was the year Yours Truly decided to get off the Corporate Merry-Go-Round. My retirement formally begins in mid-February...but not before I chew up my six weeks of paid vacation. What next? I have a few irons in the fire, and you’ll be hearing about them in the fullness of time.

And today - this very day - marks the thirty-third anniversary of the day I met She Who Must Be Obeyed for the very first time. Yes: our 33rd Meet-a-Versary! Could either of us have imagined, in our wildest fever dreams, that we would still be apartment and seven houses later...with two grown daughters who daily give us reasons to beam with Parental Pride?

Da Gurlz at the Renaissance Waverly
The Mistress of Sarcasm, She Who Must Be Obeyed, and Elder Daughter.

We will celebrate the evening with good friends, good food, and a few good glasses of Fizzy Wine. And, as interesting as the times may be, we still have much to celebrate.

To my Esteemed Readers, my friends, my family...and most of all, to my beloved SWMBO and our daughters...may you have a healthy, happy, and safe 2009, without limit to any good thing.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Proud Swan
Photo by Tanty (Stavanger Daily Photo)

At Oxford, on pastoral lawns,
Fergus wanted to bugger the swans.
Said the loyal hall porter,
O, please, take my daughter!
Them swans is reserved for the dons.

At our recent Aubrey/Maturin dinner (which featured, as an entrée, a fine roast goose), the topic of Waterfowl as Food was discussed at length.

Our goose was capital. Capital, as in “excellent,” not as in “a capital offense.” Although, considering what it was likely doing to our arteries, we may indeed have been flirting with the “short, sharp shock” of the executioner’s axe. Goose is a rich, dark-fleshed bird, much like a giant economy-size duck. Our bird started out as an eleven-pounder, out of which I was able to extract a pure liter of golden, glistening schmaltz. But the meat was tender and delicious, especially when buried in lashings of hot giblet gravy.

As I described it to Houston Steve, it was the kind of meat that “confited” itself, confit being a dish of bird legs (usually duck), cured, cooked slowly, and preserved in Bird-Schmaltz. Pretty much the whole goose is confit after you roast it in a moderate oven.

We’re also quite familiar with duck, an item of poultry much beloved by the Momma d’Elisson. The story I had heard was that my mother had been enjoying a duck dinner when the contractions that announced my imminent arrival began to kick in. She never finished that duck, but the event may, in utero, have instilled in me a desire to finish as many duck dinners as possible on her behalf.

But what about swan, I asked? Sure, they’re beautiful (albeit famously evil-tempered) - but are they edible? Something to serve, perhaps, at a future Aubrey/Maturin event?

People used to eat swans. At least, you would think so, based on the existence of a verse in Orff’s opera “Carmina Burana”: Olim Lacus Colueram, AKA The Ballad of the Roasted Swan. It is perhaps the funniest part of the opera - a dead swan complaining about the Current State of Affairs as he roasts on a spit.

Olim lacus colueram,
Olim pulcher exstiteram,
Dum cygnus ego fueram.
Miser, miser!
Modo niger
Et ustus fortiter!

Girat, regirat garcifer;
Me rogus urit fortiter;
Propinat me nunc dapifer.
Miser, miser!
Modo niger
Et ustus fortiter!

Nunc in scutella iaceo,
Et volitare nequeo;
Dentes frendentes video.
Miser, miser!
Modo niger
Et ustus fortiter!

[Once I had dwelt on lakes, once I had been beautiful, when I was a swan.
Poor wretch! Now black and well roasted!
The cook turns me back and forth; I am roasted to a turn on my pyre; now the waiter serves me.
Poor wretch! Now black and well roasted!
Now I lie on the dish, and I cannot fly; I see the gnashing teeth.
Poor wretch! Now black and well roasted!]

But that’s opera, Doc, and it’s about Europeans, who will, evidently, eat any damn thing.

A bit of instant Online Research, courtesy of Houston Steve and Gee, helped answer the question. According to a post at The Old Foodie, swan, while impressive-looking enough to be a banquet centerpiece and carrying a certain amount of prestige, also carries a flavor “said to be like ‘fishy mutton.’”

Hmmm. Fishy mutton. I could maybe work with that, but I suspect most other folks would not. Other writers describe it as “tough and stringy” or “tough and fishy” - even less appetizing (if that’s possible).

There are a few logistical and legal hurdles as well. In Great Britain, for example, all mute swans are property of the Crown, thanks to a law dating back to the 12th-century that is still zealously enforced.

But let’s assume you can score a swan legally. It’s a big bird. Probably bigger than a peacock, once you defeather it. How the hell do you go about cooking it?

Can you grind the meat up and make a toroidal sausage out of it? A Cygnet Ring?

Well, on the advice of The Old Foodie, let’s look at Le Ménagier de Paris, a late-14th-century manuscript that includes a chapter on food and cooking that includes 197 pages of recipes. [You can read it in the original here; an English translation is here.]

SWAN. Pluck like a chicken or goose, scald, or boil; spit, skewer in four places, and roast with all its feet and beak, and leave the head unplucked; and eat with yellow pepper.

Item, if you wish, it may be gilded.

Item, when you kill it, you should split its head down to the shoulders.

Item, sometimes they are skinned and reclothed.

RECLOTHED SWAN in its skin with all the feathers. Take it and split it between the shoulders, and cut it along the stomach: then take off the skin from the neck cut at the shoulders, holding the body by the feet; then put it on the spit, and skewer it and gild it. And when it is cooked, it must be reclothed in its skin, and let the neck be nice and straight or flat; and let it be eaten with yellow pepper.

Sounds like a perfect centerpiece for a wedding or Bar Mitzvah! Maybe brining it would solve the “tough and fishy” issues. Hmmm...


“Did everything come out all right?”
“Oh, yeah. Everything came out, all right.”

This morning, I underwent my little once-every-five-year procedure, and I am pleased to report that I passed with flying cacas colors.

Any medical work that involves (1) heavy sedation, and (2) no actual cutting, is A-OK in my book. Heavy sedation ensures that you have no idea what they’re sticking and where...and just how far up. The advance preparation is the only unpleasant part, and even that was much more tolerable than it was the last time I did this. No vile-tasting concoctions. Just a handful of Dulcolax tablets, and an eight-ounce bottle of Miralax powder dissolved in a half-gallon of Gatorade, gulped down one glass at a time. [Useful tip from my friend Gary: Prepare the Miralax solution one glass at a time; otherwise, the stuff thickens as it stands, becoming unpalatably viscous.]

It’s amazing how a few easily-obtainable OTC pharmaceuticals can help abort a monster Aubrey/Maturin dinner-spawned Food-Baby in the space of a single day.

Perhaps the most enjoyable (if I may use the word) part of the experience was in the waiting room, where an elderly woman and her brother-in-law waited as her (intellectually disabled) middle-aged son was recovering from his sedation. In a place where most people speak in hushed tones, they carried on an amazing conversation in normal voices:

“He has a... what is that? A fissure? A fistula?”

“They gave me a prescription for some medicine I have to put in the anus. What is that? Is that the hole? Why don’t they just say ‘the hole’?”

Now, that’s entertainment.

Best yet: I get to do it again in five years. <IRONY>Oh, boy - I can’t wait.</IRONY>

[I’d put up a couple of pictures, but the Missus has threatened to strangle me with my own colon if I do. Be thankful.]


Ornate glass punchbowl and cups. What’s missing?

Among the saddest things
Of which I’ve ever heard,
Is that there exists a Punchbowl
That is missing a Turd.

This, by the bye, is the very sort of punchbowl that might have been used to serve Chatham Artillery Punch back in the day.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Long-time Esteemed Readers - and fans of gluttony gourmandise in general - will remember the infamous Aubrey/Maturin Dinner Houston Steve and I put on last year about this time.

Or its sequel in mid-March, in which lighter Gunroom Fare (if you can consider a Steak, Kidney, and Oyster Pie “light”) was substituted for the massive meats of the Captain’s Table.

Whether you recall these Major Events or not, however, Houston Steve and I share the belief that “nothing exceeds like excess” - and so we decided to put on Yet Another Big Feed this past Saturday evening in celebration of the collected novels of Patrick O’Brian...and (more or less) in the style of the British Royal Navy, circa 1800.

2008 Menu
The menu. Click to embiggen.

The menu once again featured last year’s Roast Beef of Olde England, along with a sumptuous Roast Goose...but this time we imagined a Baltic Sea jaunt for the good Captain, offering appetizers of gravlax and Swedish crispbread (with akvavit libations) and blini with crème fraîche and caviar in lieu of last year’s Strasburg Pie. Toasted Cheese, too. You cannot begin to envision a meal involving the good Captain Jack Aubrey without Toasted Cheese. (“Killick! Killick, there!” “Which I’m bringing the toasted cheese, ain’t I?”)

Toasted Cheese
Toasted cheese.

This year, we were joined by our friends Barry and Malka, as well as Stefan P. and Denny, the Grouchy Old Cripple hizzownself. Stefan and Denny brought out a brace of fine old bottles from their respective cellars, and Barry contributed a bottle of Jackson-Trigg icewine...all of which meant that we had plenty with which to wash down the immense quantities of food.

Before we even sat down to the Main Event, we attacked the bottles Stefan had brought, all venerable old wines. The oldest, a 1970 Cos d’Estournel Saint-Estèphe, is from a harvest that took place during my freshman year in college, and it has held up at least as well as I have since then. You can’t make out the price sticker in the photograph, but I can tell you that Stefan paid less than $9 for that bottle. If you can find a 1970 today, you’ll pay about $150 for it...and the 2005’s are going for north of $240.

Serious Wines
The wines (L to R): Château Cos d’Estournel Saint-Estèphe 1970, Château Montrose Saint-Estèphe 1978, Jackson-Trigg Vidal Icewine 2006, Schloss Johannisberger Riesling Spätlese 2005, Domaine La Soumade Rasteau Côtes du Rhône Villages 2000, Château d’Angludet Margaux 2000, Alvear’s Fino Sherry, Beaulieu Vineyard “Beau Tour” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1978.

Steve and I divided the entrées between us, with him preparing the huge Roast of Beef - a four-bone prime rib with a porcini mushroom crust - and with me cooking the goose. One of the side benefits of roasting a goose (aside from coating the interior of the oven with a thick layer of grease) is the byproduct: a full quart or more of rich, unctuous goose schmaltz. Mmmmm, yum!

The Main Event
The Main Event. Roast Beef of Olde England in the background; roast goose in the center. Surrounding the goose (clockwise from left) we have steamed kale, roasted parsnips and Brussels sprouts, Yorkshire puddings, carrots, and new potatoes.

One of the reasons Houston Steve so enjoys our Aubrey/Maturin festivities, I suspect, is that it allows him free play for his English-born Food Imagination, especially in the area of Puddings. For Pudding, to the English, is not some chocolaty crap that comes from a box labeled Jell-O™ or My-T-Fine™. In most cases, pudding is dessert; and dessert is Pudding, by definition. But puddings are simply concoctions of starch (usually flour) and some kind of grease, usually beef suet. They may be savory or sweet.

On the savory side, we had individual Yorkshire puddings baked in muffin tins, flavored with the molten drippings from the humongous roast. Yorkshire pudding is no dessert; it is, however, the finest Gravy Conveyance Device known to modern man.

By way of dessert, Steve made two (count ’em) traditional puddings: one, a Christmas pudding from his grandmother’s recipe; the other, a Treacle Roly-Poly. The former is steamed whilst the latter, a cylindrical jelly-roll-style affair, is rolled up in a towel and boiled for several hours.

Christmas Pudding Recipe
Grandma’s Christmas Pudding, a 1949-vintage recipe. Click to embiggen.

The Christmas pudding was superb, in my non-humble opinion - even better than last year’s version. The Roly-Poly, meanwhile, made Steve’s eyes light up with memories of childhood meals in London. A real, old-school British pudding, it was.

[You want to make your own Treacle Roly-Poly? Instructions are below the fold...along with more photos.]

Coffee, ratafia biscuits (AKA amaretti), some excellent dessert wines (including a marvelous Jackson-Trigg icewine), Cognac, and a spot of Poire William, and it was time to make sail for our Home Port, bellies fully distended.

Leftovers? There were leftovers aplenty. That’s what we had for dinner the next night. Gaaaah.

Some more photos:

Not-So-Grouchy Denny
Denny, the Not-So-Grouchy Cripple.

Stefan the Sommelier
Stefan tastes a wine that was laid down during the Nixon administration.

Gravlax with Swedish knakkebröd (crispbread) and akvavit chasers. The silver implements belonged to Houston Steve’s great-great-grandmother.

Blini and Caviary
Blini - yeast-raised buckwheat pancakes - with crême fraîche and three kinds of caviar (salmon, whitefish, and bowfin).

For those who crave a taste of a dessert so authentically British, even most Brits are afraid of it, try this:

Treacle Roly-Poly

Treacle Roly-Poly
Treacle Roly-Poly, ready to slice and serve with lashings of Custard Sauce.

½ pound suet, finely grated
4 cups flour
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
Ice water

¼ cup treacle
¼ cup sugar
Juice and grated zest of ½ lemon
1 large knob fresh ginger (about 1½ inches long), peeled and grated

Mix the suet, flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Work in 1-2 tbsp ice water. Continue gradually adding ice water until you have a stiff paste...this may take as much as a cup of water...and work it with your hands until it forms a ball. Turn it out onto a well-floured board. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest for five minutes.

Now, knead the dough 6-8 minutes, until it is shiny and elastic. Cover again, let rest again for five minutes, then knead for 1-2 minutes. Roll out the dough, making a rectangle about ¼ inch thick.

Combine the ingredients for the filling in a bowl; mix well. (Steve used a blend of Lyle’s Golden Syrup with a touch of molasses to approximate the flavor of real treacle, which is rather thin on the ground in our neighborhood). Spread the filling over the dough rectangle, leaving a one-inch border around the edges to allow for oozing. Moisten three of the edges of the dough with water; then starting with the fourth edge, roll up the pudding, sealing the edges as you go. Seal the final edge by pinching the dough together to form a seam.

Wrap the pudding-cylinder in a well-floured cloth. Tie securely at both ends and in the middle. Immerse the pudding in a pot of rapidly-boiling water (Steve used a fish poacher, in which the cylinder fit perfectly) and cook for 2½ hours, adding more boiling water as needed.

Treacle Roly-PolyBoiling
The Roly-Poly in its cloth, boiling happily away.

To serve, remove the pudding from the boiling water, untie and unroll the cloth, and turn out (seam-side down) onto a platter. Serve hot with custard sauce alongside.


Chanukiyah 2008

The lights of the Chanukiyah - the eight-branched menorah designed especially for the Festival of Rededication - cast a warm glow, as if to say farewell to the eight-day celebration.

This year we used lamps filled with solidified olive oil. Call me a traditionalist, but there is nothing that compares to the soft light that shines forth from an olive oil-fueled flame.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


It’s almost time for my procedure.

Once you get to be my age, it’s something you gotta do. Every five years, like clockwork.

I hate it. Loathe it. So demeaning.

The prep? Nasty, sure, but it’s no big deal. You drink the goop, you shit all day. No fun, but I can deal with it. Hell, I did deal with it. Yesterday.

But this is today. Here comes the doctor, now, with his polka-dotted lab coat, his size 26 shoes, his painted face, his red rubber nose... and that six-foot length of fiber-optic hose.

Gawd, I hate getting a Clownoscopy.


Haveil Havalim - the Jewish Carnival of the Vanities - is up at Material Maidel. It’s edition number 198 of this venerable collection of Jewish-themed posts. You should go pay a visit, already.


What with the recent succession of economic crises - collapses in subprime mortgage lending, investment banking, and the stock market; the Madoff Ponzi scheme fraud; the impending bankruptcy of the Big Three automakers - you may be asking yourself, “Just how bad are things, anyway, Elisson? And how much worse can they get?”

My patented Quick ’n’ Dirty Answer is: Things are pretty bad...but they can get a whole hell of a lot worse. So far, they have not.

There was an old adage that defined a “recession” as an economic slowdown in which your neighbor lost his job, and a “depression” as one in which you lost yours. But I think I have a better way to measure the economy’s performance.

It’s the Elisson Dog-Food Index.

Go to the supermarket. You’ll see a whole section devoted to Pet Food. Whole aisles of dog food.

The economy may be bad, but it’s not disastrously bad as long as people have enough money to buy special food for their dogs.

When people can no longer afford to buy dog, that’s a recession. We’re not there yet.

When the economy gets really bad, not only do we no longer buy food for dogs, we start buying dogs for food. That’s a depression. [Warning: Link is not for the squeamish.]

The way I see it, when there is no longer a dog food section in the local Stoopid-Market, and when Korean gaejang-guk restaurants start springing up in the ’burbs in lieu of Arbeef’s, Chuck-fil-A, and McDungheap’s - that’s when it’s time to panic.

Saturday, December 27, 2008



Sad news from Sissy Willis: Baby has entered the realm of the Light Fantastic.

I never got to see the Babe in person - alas - but he will live on in the hundreds of stunningly beautiful photographs Sissy has taken of him...and in the hearts of the thousands of readers and admirers who got to know him through Sissy’s online journal.

Matata got there ahead of the Babe: She’s been on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge almost ten months. I wonder how they’ll get along if and when they meet.


Yesterday, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I had a few errands to run in midtown Atlanta.

We had to make a stop at Star Provisions, a fancy-pants provender shoppe, in order to score the English Cheddar for this evening’s Aubrey-Maturin Dinner. Toasted Cheese is on the Bill of Fare, of course, in keeping with the traditions established in the Patrick O’Brian novels.

I love going to Star Provisions, even though I can’t afford most of the stuff they sell there. That’s where you go if you want prime Allen Brothers dry-aged strip steaks (at $33/pound) or Kobe Wagyu beef (north of $100). Or exotic meats whole duck foie gras! But you can get a fine hanger steak for only $9.50/pound, and it is well worth it. Seriously.

The cheese selection there is the most comprehensive in the city. My only caveat would be to avoid arriving there right after a shipment comes in, because it perfumes the air of the entire store with a fecal pong that is not to be believed. Happily, that was not the case yesterday, and we were able to purchase a couple of fine Cheddars - one from Somerset, the other from Tasmania (!) - and be on our way.

As I was perusing the cheese selection, SWMBO was looking at the voluminous Tchotchke Collection offered by the fine folks at the Star. And she found something that we could not resist: Heroes of the Torah juice glasses! Coasters, too! We got the whole set of four.

[Folks, you really cannot make this shit up.]

Our next stop was at a little place close by Star Provisions, a new joint that calls itself “Flip Burger Boutique.” It’s the latest brainchild of Top Chef finalist Richard Blais, creator of the foie gras milkshake (really!), and it appears to be an attempt to reinvent that most classic of classic American dishes, the hamburger.

With that frou-frou name, you expect something a little beyond sliders, and Blais delivers. We started with Caesar salads, which came with a smoky vinaigrette dressing and were topped with batter-fried white anchovies and chile threads. On to a plate of crisp onion rings served with a house-made honey mustard dressing on the side. The honey was from locally-raised bees; the mustard was grown in a hothouse behind the restaurant, fertilized with the chef’s own personal dung. Superb.

I had a lamburger, freshly ground from a lamb slaughtered by anal electrocution, and served with house-made raisin ketchup and mint. SWMBO does not eat lamb of course, no matter how humanely it is dispatched; thus, she ordered a felafel burger, made with free-range chickpeas, batter-fried, and served over red pepper tahini sauce on its own hand-baked low-carbon-footprint bun.

Because the burgers are modestly sized, we elected to order a third to share: a Philly cheesesteak burger made with Cheez Whiz that had been foamed with liquid nitrogen. It was surprisingly tasty.

We decided to forgo having a milkshake. Flip offers several interesting milkshakes, all utilizing ingredients that are flash frozen in liquid nitrogen and ground into powder. The Krispy Kreme doughnut milkshake sounded good, but we didn’t need the extra calories...not while we were staring down the barrel of tonight’s Aubrey-Maturin dinner.

Our next stop was The Big Blue Box (AKA IKEA), where we picked up a few economy-sized bookcases to accommodate the overflow from our upper floor. I love IKEA because it affords me the opportunity to act ridiculous, talking in my outrageous Swedish Chef accent and poking fun at the (mostly) Nordic-style names of the products while we shop for our FUKNKRÅPP.

And for once, with those Bizarro-Burgers banging around in my kishkes, I did not hear the siren call of the Swedish Meatball. We arrived, bought our stuff, and left without me picking up an armload of strange Swedish comestibles. And it’s just as well. Who really needs lingonberry bread mix...or blueberry soup...or fish balls? Mnyeh.

Friday, December 26, 2008


It’s Friday. Not just any Friday, but the last Friday of 2008...which makes this the last Friday Random Ten post of the year. Whoop-de-do.

It’s quiet at Chez Elisson. Almost too quiet. After having our nephew William and niece Madison here for the greater part of a week, the house seems empty and desolate after their departure an hour ago.

Perhaps some Randomly Selected Tunage will help fill the void. Let’s see what the iPod d’Elisson is pooping out this week:
  1. Three Is A Green Crown - The Incredible String Band

    It’s hard to explain The Incredible String Band to anyone who wasn’t around in the late 1960’s...and even to those who were.

    Not with the lips of skin
    Nor yet with the lips of dark snow
    But let the white dove sing
    Of the body of life
    Of the lover whose love is complete
    Hold hands out to greet, ah
    Let not the swan be brought low

    For all that is moving is moved by her hands
    She is mirrored forever in the life of the lands
    In the building of thoughts in the shifting sands

    Life life remembering

    Well here you are now, O now you are here
    Well how has it been so far
    The hair and the fur
    Lemons, frankincense, and myrrh

    For all that is moving is moved by her hands
    She is mirrored for ever in the life of the lands
    In the building of thoughts in the shifting sands

    Let the cracked crystal raindrop be merged in the sea
    Silent shining thoughtless free
    But close your eyes to find the golden flower
    And open them to see the sunshine shower
    Where the flowers are free and the fishes ask
    Ah what can water be

    She beareth thought, she beareth visions
    Speaking truth in contradictions
    Dreams of pain, dreams of laughter
    And every action follows after

    O second self, O gate of the soft mystery
    I’ll love you if you’ll love me; O guide me
    With the gold of Gabriel’s wing. Grant me the tongue
    That all the earth does sing
    Vibrating light forever one the sun
    The book of life is open to us
    There’ll be no secrets left between us

  2. Uf Dem Anger - Chramer, Gip Die Varwe Mir - Christian Thielemann, Orff: Carmina Burana

  3. Buy, Buy American Pie - The Capitol Steps

  4. Levine Mit Zayn Flying Machine - Charles Cohan

    The story of the other guy that crossed the Atlantic.

  5. Bukharester Bulgar - The Klezmer Conservatory Band

  6. Holy Ground - The Klezmatics

  7. Chop ’Em Down - Matisyahu

    Matisyahu: a most appropriate artist for the season.

  8. Us and Them - Frankie Paul

    From “Dub Side of the Moon,” a reggae tribute to the similarly-named Pink Floyd album.

  9. There Is Life Outside Your Apartment - Avenue Q, Original Broadway Cast

  10. Fugue #7 in E flat major (from The Well-Tempered Clavier) - Wendy Carlos

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Hakuna shares rug space with the Computer d’Elisson.

What with all the work on our floors this past week, many of our possessions have been temporarily relocated from their accustomed places. Depending on one’s point of view, this either creates exciting new landscapes to explore, or terrifyingly unfamiliar surroundings.

Here, Hakuna parks herself near a familiar object in an unfamiliar place: the CPU in the sunroom.

Update: Friday Ark #223 is afloat at the Modulator.

This Sunday, be sure to stop by Cat Blogosphere and visit the 250th edition - that’s a quarter of a thousand! - of Carnival of the Cats, the final CotC of 2008.

Update 2: CotC #250 is up.


Not for us, Lord, not for us
But for Yourself win praise through Your love and faithfulness.

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”
Our God is in heaven, doing whatever He wills.

Their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men.
They have mouths and cannot speak; they have eyes and cannot see.

They have ears and cannot hear; they have noses and cannot smell.
They have hands and cannot feel; they have feet and cannot walk;
Their throats are silent.

They who make them become like them - all those that trust in them.

Let Israel trust in the Lord;
He is their help and their shield.

Let the House of Aaron trust in the Lord;
He is their help and their shield.

Let those who revere God trust in the Lord;
He is their help and their shield.

- Psalm 115: 1-11, recited daily during the eight days of Chanukah.

Christians are also familiar with this Psalm; it is part of their Holy Writ. Old-school Catholics, in particular, know it as “Non Nobis Domine”:

Non nobis, Domine, Domine
Non nobis, Domine
Sed nomini, sed nomini
Tuo da gloriam

All of this is a long-winded way of saying Merry Christmas to my Christian friends! May your day be happy; may it bring peace, health, family warmth and love, and good fellowship.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


One of my personal frustrations during the Holiday Season is what I call asymmetrical musical juxtaposition. That’s a lot of fifty-cent words, but they describe the feeling I have when I’m walking around the local Shopping Mall and I hear “O Holy Night” - a beautiful hymn to the birth of the Christian Savior:

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.

And then, immediately afterwards, thanks to modern cultural sensitivity and ecumenism, what do we hear? The Dreidel Song.

The fucking Dreidel Song.

Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel
I made it out of clay,
And when it’s dry and ready,
Then dreidel I shall play!

Lightweight stuff. Of course, so is “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” but where is the heavyweight material? What do we have that corresponds in gravitas to “Adeste Fidelis”?

Look, comparing Christmas (a major-league Christian holiday, one of the Big Two) with Chanukah (a minor, post-biblical Jewish observance) is like comparing apples and oranges. Better: like comparing elephants and mice. Despite the fact that Chanukah commemorates an historically significant event with implications for the cultural development of the entire Western world, its music - at least, the music with which most people are familiar - comes off as strictly trivial.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. For there is a beautiful Chanukah melody that has nothing to do with the holiday’s external trappings - no latkes and dreidels - and everything to do with its fundamental meaning, which is the victory of the Jewish rebels led by Matisyahu and his son Judah Maccabee over the Seleucid Greco-Persians - a victory in which the Eternal delivered “the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the corrupt into the hands of the pure in heart, the guilty into the hands of the innocent.”

Ma-oz Tzur (Rock of Ages)

Ma-oz tzur yeshuati,
L’kha na-eh l’shabei-ach.
Tikon beit t’filati
V’sham todah n’zabei-ach.
L’eit takhin matbei-ach
Mitzar hamnabei-ach
Az egmor b’shir mizmor
Chanukat ha-mizbei-ach.

The music? Stirring and powerful, able to hold its own against the most Christmassy of Christmas music. The popular English translation fits the meter of the original:

Rock of ages, let our song
Praise Your saving power;
You, amid the raging foes,
Were our sheltering tower.
Furious they assailed us,
But Your arm availed us,
And Your word
Broke their sword
When our own strength failed us.

The literal translation is a little more violent, but it gets the point across. Let’s not forget that the holiday celebrates a military victory:

O mighty stronghold of my salvation,
To praise You is a delight.
Restore my House of Prayer and there
We will bring a thanksgiving offering.
When You will have prepared the
Slaughter for the blaspheming foe,
Then I shall complete with a song of hymn
The dedication of the Altar.

Dreidel, schmeidel! Jingle bells, schmingle bells! Let’s hear more “Ma-oz Tzur”!


...can sometimes reside in a single personality.

Witness our niece Madison, who at the ripe age of two embodies both the most angelic and the most devilish: the two extreme ends of the Spectrum o’ Goodness and Evil.

And I have photographic evidence. Lookee:

Butterfly Madison
The angel. Check out them wings!

Piratical Maddy
The devil. Check out that shirt!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Before the Carpet Installers yanked the carpet out of our bedroom last week, we had to remove all of the books, knick-knacks, bric-a-brac, paddy-whacks, and related crap, so that the large items could be schlepped out easily.

“Easily” is a relative term, of course, given that our dresser is made from a wood so dense that, like Aretha Franklin, it has its own measurable gravitational field.

When you move Big Furniture - especially Big Furniture that you do not move often - you find all kinds of surprises. Items that have fallen behind the dresser or under the bed. Horrifying amounts of dirt.

Hey, if you don’t see it, then it isn’t there, right?

When we dismantled our bed, however, we were unprepared for the sheer volume of schmutz we found. And a lot of that schmutz was hair. Cat hair.

Matata hair.

It was unmistakeable, that all-too-familiar grey with hints of tan. And both of us had to choke back a tear. It wasn’t the stirred-up dust that was making our eyes water.

“Should I add it to the ‘Kitty-To-Go™’?” asked She Who Must Be Obeyed.

“I don’t think so,” I replied. For what we were looking at was not pristine Kitty-Hair, freshly brushed our of our kitty’s pelt, but an amalgam of hair, dust, and miscellaneous under-bed filth. Ecch.

A carpet is naught but a Plush Reliquary. It gathers up all of the lost hairs, misplaced toenail trimmings, desiccated boogers [Did you know that boogers turn into powder after about three days? Don’t ask me how I know this], scabs, and sloughed-off skin cells, holding them in its rugose matrix for safekeeping.

Now, the collecting begins anew...and we bid adieu to the last relics of our beloved Matata. Now all that remains of her are our memories - assisted by a pile of photographs and blogposts - and a small canister of ashes residing on our bookshelf. And that is as it should be.

Monday, December 22, 2008


William and Morris William
William and daddy Morris William.

Yesterday, in preparation for the annual Momma d’Elisson Memorial Chanukah Dinner, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I went to the Food-Store to assemble the requisite provisions, among which were a huge sack of Idaho russet potatoes and a drum of peanut oil.

Accompanying us was our nephew William, who, along with his kid sister Madison and daddy Morris William (SWMBO’s brother), arrived at 2:30 am after a 14-hour drive from Denton, Texas.

William is a typical six-year-old, full of energy and curiosity...and a talent for Kidly Duplicity.

As we worked our way through the store’s aisles, William would find various Food Items and bring them to SWMBO’s attention.

Pringles potato chips, Cheddar Cheese flavor.

“Those are really good. We get those all the time.”

Entenmann’s mini-muffins.

“We have those at home.”

Entenmann’s chocolate-covered mini donuts.

“Those are made with oil. We should get those for Chanukah.”

Oscar Mayer bologna.

“That’s what Mommy uses to make my sandwiches.”

Of course, I knew he was bullshitting us - except, possibly, for the bologna - and I suspect SWMBO knew, too. But we were playing the roles of Indulgent Aunt and Uncle, so we let him throw all that crap in the basket. When we got it all home, Morris William was simultaneously horrified and amused. Pringles?

The dinner - with 35 guests, possibly the biggest of its kind - was a lot of fun for everyone. SWMBO cranked out her world-class quality potato latkes, frying them up in two huge skillets, and I kept the Chinese food coming, making not one but two (count ’em!) trips to the local Asian eatery.

SWMBO the Latke Lady
SWMBO (“Aunt Jew-Mima”) with the makings for a passel o’ fresh, hot latkes.

As things began winding down, we broke out the No-Limit Texas Dreidel kit and a pile of chocolate coins. Waaaay more fun than traditional dreidel (which is about as exciting as watching paint dry), No-Limit Texas Dreidel is, as you might expect, a mash-up of dreidel and Texas Hold ’Em poker. The money quote: “I got a full boat, gimels over nuns.”

Mom would have been proud. And she would have gotten a laugh from the Littlest Gonif, conning us into buying his Illicit Goodies. Chocolate donuts, anyone?

Sunday, December 21, 2008


[If Dear Abby can get away with reprinting the same frickin’ Holiday Columns every stinking year, why not Blog d’Elisson? We are therefore pleased to offer this previously published Editorial Response, one that is both timely and appropriate to the season. Chanukah begins at sundown on December 21 this year.]

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the electronic-mail communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of Blog d’Elisson:
“I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there was no Judah Maccabee and that Chanukah is a load of crap. Papa says, ‘If you see it in Blog d’Elisson, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth, was there a Judah Maccabee?” - Patty O’Furniture
Patty, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All they care about is that fat red-suited guy who schleps presents to Yenemvelt and back. All minds, Patty, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, goornisht, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Patty, there was a Judah Maccabee.

He existed as certainly as dedication and courage and devotion exist. He kicked some serious ass back in the day, Judah did, throwing the Greco-Syrians out of Judea and reclaiming the holy Temple. His struggle was a struggle against assimilation, against those who would be seduced by the pop culture of the day. He fought his battles so that we Jews would retain our cultural identity and not be swallowed up in the prevailing pagan mainstream. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there had been no Judah Maccabee! It would be as dreary as if there were no Pattys. (Or furniture.) There would be no candle-lighting then, no singing Ma-oz Tzur (or even those stupid dreidel songs), no commemoration of the miraculous rededication of the Temple. No Judah? We would even today be schmearing ourselves with olive oil and burning pig hearts as sacrifices to Zeus. And our Christian friends would have no Christmas - for the culture that gave rise to Jesus would have been wiped out. The eternal light - the ner tamid - with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Judah? You might as well not believe in fairies. Or the Matzohball That Does Not Sink. Or Eliyahu ha-Navi. You might get your papa to hire men to watch all the seder tables of the world to catch a glimpse of Eliyahu, but even if you did not see him, what would that prove? Nobody ever sees Eliyahu ha-Navi drink his wine at the Seder table, but that is no sign that there is no Eliyahu ha-Navi. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. (Although those footprints in the grass were more likely made by your Papa as he tried to sneak back into the house with a snootful of booze after the office Xmas party.) Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You can tear apart the knish and see the tasty filling inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Patty, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Judah Maccabee? Thank G-d he lived - and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Patty, nay, 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to chase the Greco-Syrians out of Judea and combat the forces of cultural assimilation, making glad the heart of childhood.

Happy Chanukah!

[Originally posted on December 25, 2004.]

Friday, December 19, 2008


This time of year, many of us spend inordinate amounts of time shopping for gifts, impelled by both the spirit of the Christmas season (and for us Jews, the unfortunate conflation of the Big Christian Holiday with the minor-league postbiblical celebration that is Chanukah), and the lashing of the merchants’ Advertising Whip.

For many of us, the most difficult part of the whole process is not the expense, nor is it the hours spent schlepping packages through a crowded shopping mall, nor is it wrapping everything up in nice shiny paper that will be shredded immediately upon opening.

It’s finding the Perfect Gift.

Any slob can give someone a present. At the very least, it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to pick up a gift card at Crate and Barrel...or any other retail establishment. I’ve often wondered at the appeal of gift cards. Instead of writing a check - a gift that says, “I want to show you I care about you, but I have absolutely no imagination and/or desire to spend time actually shopping for a gift for you” - you buy a gift card, locking the recipient into spending money at a specific retailer before the card expires. The gift card announces that you cared incrementally more than the person who simply stuffed some bills in an envelope...but cash, at least, is good everywhere.

For those who actually want to buy something, there are plenty of items on the shelves that seem to show up during the Christmas season...or just before Father’s Day. Stupid-ass gifts, like golf-ball polishers. Decorative items, such as plastic reindeer with electric noses. If you like tchotchkes, this is the time to go wild.

But the best gifts are those that come from the heart, the gifts that you instinctively know are right. They may be costly, but they need not be in order to be precious to the recipient. The bottle of Château Lafite 1945 for that wine connoisseur...the symphony tickets for that couple who are always humming operatic arias...the box of matches and can of unleaded for the unshaven arsonist who lives under the freeway.

To be able to give the perfect gift, you must know someone well enough to know what is in his or her heart. Their deepest passions, their most closely-held secrets, their emotional cores. It is the mark of true friendship.

I think, for example, of the thin volume of Robert W. Service poems that Eric pressed upon me several months ago, a vintage copy of The Spell of the Yukon. Eric knew of our shared interest in poetry, sure - but what impressed me the most was not only that he knew I would take pleasure in the gift, but that it was something he himself loved...and yet, he was willing to part with it for the sake of giving a friend the Perfect Gift.

There is no more sincere gift, I believe, than the one you would want someone to give to you.

In that spirit, in the event you are casting about for a gift for Eric this Christmas season, you can take the easy route and simply buy a bottle of fine Single Malt...or you can select something more personal, something that speaks unto the very soul.

The choice is yours.

[Tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora to Houston Steve for the link.]


It’s Friday, time once again for this week’s Random Selection o’ Choons as pooped out - randomly, of course - by my Little White Choon Box.

That random element results in some jarring musical juxtapositions, but every so often I discover that two songs that have little in common segue nicely into one another. Like life, the Random Ten is fulla surprises.

The past couple of days have been busy here, what with all the carpet installation activity and all. Of course, anything that forces you to move everything around will have the side benefit of stimulating the Spousal Brain Cells...resulting in all kinds of repositionings and reimaginings. Which means a lot of Moving Yet More Shit Around.

But all of that Shit-Movage will need to be accomplished on a short time line, for Sunday marks the start of Chanukah. And that, in turn, means that we will have a houseful of friends over to enjoy our traditional first night activity: The Momma d’Elisson Memorial Chanukah Dinner.

The menu, as always, will consist of potato latkes and Chinese food.

But before I start schlepping books, boxes, and furniture...and reconnecting all of those pesky electronics (a job I dread), let’s go see what’s on the box:
  1. Spanish Key - Miles Davis

  2. Speed Racer - Devo

    I’m speed racer and I drive real fast
    He’s speed racer and he drives real fast
    I drive real fast I'm gonna last

    I’m a big pirate and I like to steal
    He’s a big pirate and he likes to steal
    I like to steal and I like to kill

    Go go go speed racer

    I’m a Barbie doll but I got brains
    She’s a Barbie doll but she’s got brains
    I’ve got brains and I like sex
    Lots of brains and she likes sex

    I’m your doctor and here’s the bill
    He’s your doctor and here’s the bill
    Doctor steal and here’s the bill
    He likes to steal so here's your bill
    I’m speed racer and I drive real fast
    I’m a big pirate and I like to steal
    I’m a barbie doll but I got brains
    I’m your doctor and here’s the bill
    I drive real fast I’m gonna last
    I like to drink and I like to kill
    Lots of brains and I like sex
    Like to steal here’s your bill

  3. If You Fall - Azure Ray

  4. Tales Of Brave Ulysses - Cream

  5. Maggie Mae - The Beatles

    A throwaway track, not to be confused with the similarly-titled song by Rod Stewart.

  6. Drink To Me Babe, Then - A. C. Newman

  7. The Money Song - Original Broadway Cast, Avenue Q

  8. Inner Mounting Flame - Mahavishnu Orchestra

  9. Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got - The Four Tops

    Levi Stubbs’s recent passing marked the end of an era. “Feed me, Seymour!”

  10. Anyday - Derek and the Dominos

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?


Come sail the Bloggy-Sea with me,
Keep company with Bird and Bee
And Platypus, and Snake, and Bat
And (last, not least) the purring Cat.

Friday Ark #222 is up at the Modulator.

Sunday, Carnival of the Cats wends its way over to Nikita’s Place, AKA Musings of a Mad Macedonian...just in time for the start of Chanukah. Latkes and kittehs!

Update: CotC #249 is up.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


News from the world of medicine has become increasingly bizarre lately. Why, just this morning I read about a woman who is having a face transplant...not in order to look like Paris Hilton or any such crass purpose, but to be able to live a reasonably normal life. This is a Good Thing, as Martha Fucking Stewart might put it.

But what really grabbed my attention was this article about a baby with an unusual brain tumor. Unusual? that ’s putting it mildly, for the tumor consisted of a fully-formed foot. Yeef!
[Dr. Paul] Grabb said that while removing the growth, he discovered it contained a nearly perfect foot and the formation of another foot, a hand and a thigh.
Bedam! A partial homunculus! Perhaps even a baby brother, engulfed and digested! It has happened before, as long-time Esteemed Readers will attest. Fetus in Fetu!

Happily, little Sam Esquibel should be able to go on to live a normal life. And I have a sneaking suspicion as to what his eventual career is likely to be.

He’ll be a podiatrist, of course! Who better suited to the task than a child born with feet on - nay, in - the brain?


Hakuna in Bed
Hakuna curls up in her very own bed.

As expected, Hakuna has made herself scarce while the thudding and banging of carpet installation proceeds apace. My guess is that she’s in Elder Daughter’s room, holed up inside the bed’s box spring...her favorite hidey hole for periods of Extreme Kitty-Angst.

I am sure that angst started when we started moving boxes and furniture around, creating an alien landscape of partially empty rooms. It could only have gotten worse when the installers came in, moved out the rest of the furniture, and ripped out the existing carpet and padding.

When it is all over and done with, will she recognize her new surroundings? The new, plusher feeling underfoot - will it throw her for a loop?

I doubt it. After all, this is a cat that, we’re convinced, has a mental Reset Button. As with the Drew Barrymore character in 50 First Dates, her memory seems to get erased every night so that she needs must reacquaint herself with us anew every morning.


Phase II of the Chez Elisson Floor Renewal Project is underway.

Yesterday, we schlepped furniture, books, and fifty billion miscellaneous tchotchkes out of their accustomed locations, in order to clear the way for the carpet installers. It’s like moving, except without quite as much paperwork or aggravation.

All this...and in three days, we’ll have a house full of people to entertain on the first night of Chanukah. Which means we will have to put everything back. Oy.

But I will say this: Nothing will make your existing carpet look as shabby as the knowledge that a brand-spanking-new replacement is imminent. And this will be Quality Stuff with good padding, not the builder-grade crap we’ve lived with for the past ten years.

I’ve already warned Hakuna, whose excessive affection for the existing broadloom has resulted in a lot of shredded corners and margins. I love her to death, but I’d better not catch her chewing at the carpet edges ever again...or it will be permanent exile to the sunroom.

Meanwhile, our DSL modem and router have been temporarily located. At least we still have a connection!

One of the things I dreaded about this whole thing was the need to dismantle our TV/DVD/surround sound/VCR/CD/turntable/cassette deck/receiver setup.

I did not photograph the massive tangle of wires and cables, but I found a pretty accurate depiction, courtesy of Erica.

Figuring out how to put it back together will require a lot of patience, Scotch, and the kind of engineering knowledge I haven’t bothered to maintain in over 35 years.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Turkey Leg Confit
Turkey leg confit.

You see here a pan of turkey leg confit: turkey legs cured for a day in a dry rub of salt and spices, then slow-cooked for several hours in an ocean of schmaltz. [You can find the recipe here.] Conveniently enough, I had a whole mess of duck and goose schmaltz sitting in the freezer for just such an occasion.

Turkey, duck, and goose. Kind of like a turducken, but without the necessity of jamming one bird inside the next to create a poultrified Matruschka doll. Instead, you have turkey legs buried in solidified Bird-Grease like some woolly mammoth in the La Brea Tar Pits.

Mmmmm, Bird-Grease.

When it comes time to eat this stuff, I’ll warm it up enough to melt the legs out of the sea of congealed fat in which they are embedded, then roast ’em at 500°F for about 20 minutes. They’ll get nice and crispy, yet they’ll still be succulent owing to that long, schmaltz-ridden visit to Mr. Oven. The flesh, carefully dissected from the bones and cartilage, makes a great addition to Boston baked beans - a kind of Yankee Cassoulet. It can give a meaty punch to a salad...and I’ll bet it kicks ass rolled up in a taco.

Don’t even think about how many calories are in each one of those legs.

Best yet: I get to save the schmaltz and use it again! Pommes sarladaise, anyone?

Update: I just removed one of those legs from its bed o’ Ducky-Goose Grease in a maneuver reminiscent of when Han Solo was extracted from that slab of carbonite in Return of the Jedi. Return of the Turki?

The shredded meat made a fine Turkey Leg Confit Salad when placed atop a pile of mixed lettuces and dressed with a hazelnut-shallot vinaigrette...almost obscenely tasty.


Sound the trumpet; blow the bugle -
SWMBO’s gone and made a kugel.
Bereft of magic like a Muggle?
There’re charms aplenty in SWMBO’s kugel.

[Actually, “kugel” rhymes with neither “bugle” or “Muggle.” Depending on the regional variation you choose, you can pronounce it koo-g’l (with the oo pronounced as in book), or ki-g’l (to rhyme with “wiggle”).]

Apricot Kugel
SWMBO’s apricot kugel, hot out of the oven.

Those who attended the Hysterics at Eric’s this year had a chance to sample the Missus’s apricot exotic, never-before-experienced Eastern European treat to almost all, with one notable exception.

No, I won’t post the recipe. When She Who Must Be Obeyed received it, she was sworn to secrecy. What I can tell you is that it contains egg noodles, sugar, eggs, apricot preserves, cream cheese, cottage cheese, and sour cream - with dried apricots for decoration. The proportions...and the secret spices? You’ll have to guess.

Perverse as I am, I can’t help but imagine a Bizarro World version of this delicious dish, a version made with prune jam (AKA lekvar) and pitted prunes in lieu of the apricot preserves and dried apricots. SWMBO is both horrified and repulsed by this idea...but what do you think? Does a Prune Kugel sound appetizing? Or would it make you run for the hills? Or toilet?

One thing is for certain. If I ever do make it, the Missus will kick my ass for desecrating her recipe. And I wouldn’t blame her. But it’s a risk I may have to take as I go in search of Pruney, Kugelly Goodness...possibly inventing the ideal brunch dish for the maturing Baby Boom generation.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Any reasonably intelligent parent will tell you: Children are not born with a fully-functioning set of social skills. As parents, our Prime Directive is to instill those social skills...the necessary tools that allow people to live together happily in a civilized society.

David Bogner understands this, as is evident from this post in which he tells a story of teaching his five-year-old son Yonah a few basic telephone manners. Is five too tender an age for such a lesson? David and I both agree: No.

When I read David’s post, I thought back to a little incident this past Friday morning as Houston Steve and I were taking our leave from breakfast at the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium.

As we headed for the door, we saw an acquaintance sitting at a table with his thirteen-year-old son. Said acquaintance - let’s call him Bubba - proceeded to introduce us to his son - let’s call him Danny - as any father might do.

That’s when I saw the iPod Nano in the young man’s lap...and the earbuds jammed firmly in his ears.

I reached over and gently yanked the earbuds out. “Here’s how this works,” I said. “Your dad is going to say, ‘Say hello to Mr. Elisson.’ You’re going to shake my hand, and I’m going to say, ‘Nice to meet you, Danny.’ Then you’re going to repeat the procedure for Houston Steve, here. And after that, you can stick those earbuds back in. But for right now, you’re going to pay attention to the people around you. It’s a valuable social skill - one day, you’ll thank me.”

And that’s pretty much what happened. Bubba didn’t say a whole lot, but his eyes called out a silent message of appreciation. And Houston Steve and I had a good chuckle as we headed out into the parking lot.

Folks, kids don’t learn by osmosis. They learn by example, and by instruction. Make sure you provide both.

My friend David Bogner surely would agree.


One of my old Blog-Buddies, happily returned from a nine-month hiatus several weeks ago, has come up with an invention so wondrous... so perfectly suited to our times... so necessary... that I am gobsmacked with awe and delight. Spittleflecked, if you will, with profound amazement and amusement.

Esteemed Readers, may I present Charlie Hatton and his Cliché-O-Matic™.

No longer must you use tired, worn-out old expressions and catchphrases. Be the first one on your block to use sparkly new expressions and catchphrases!

Fame may elude you - after all, who remembers the person who first uttered “All Your Base Are Belong to Us” or “Klaatu Barada Nikto”? But you will feel the pride of Electronically Assisted Creativity. Try it today!


This morning at minyan, Lou, who has led Tuesday shacharit services since time immemorial, yielded the bimah to another: It was clearly a Special Occasion.

Afterwards, I congratulated the gentleman on his fine davening skills. “You seem to know what you’re doing up there. If you’re looking for a full-time gig, perhaps I could hook you up,” I told him.

I was, of course, being a Smart-Ass. For the gentleman in question was our very own Rabbi Loomis [note: not his real name], who was celebrating his sixtieth birthday.

After services - and a small tot of Chivas - we headed off to the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium, where the Rabbi treated us all to breakfast, as dictated by local custom. Houston Steve and I enjoyed a bit of sable and kippered salmon with our Toroidal Breadstuffs as we watched our host blow out the candles on his cake whilst wearing a silly hat. Not as silly as a colander, perhaps, but it got the job done.

Rabbi Loomis
Our Rabbi celebrates. The sign reads, “CAUTION! 60 year old having a senior moment.” And check out that fancy yarmulke!
[Photo credit: Houston Steve]

With his moderately portly build and with his snow-white hair and beard, Rabbi Loomis could conceivably be mistaken for a popular Seasonal Personage. Who knows? If the economy gets really rocky, imagine the possibilities for a side income...

Monday, December 15, 2008


The Elisson Bookshelf

Being yet another installment in a series entitled “What I’ve Been Reading Lately.”

My last Bookshelf Post was, appropriately enough, on April Fool’s Day, over eight months ago. And now, what with all of the holiday gift shopping going on in these short weeks before the year-end frenzied confluence of Christmakwanzakah, it’s an excellent time for me to stand here in my Bully Electronic Pulpit and pontificate about what I have been reading. Who knows? Perhaps you may be influenced by my impeccable Literary Selections unto the point of purchasing them for yourself...or giving them as gifts. Or picking ’em up at the library, the most economical alternative.

Here’s what I have read since early April:

  • The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America - David Hadju

    A look at the world of pre-Code comics and the paranoid cultural struggle that led to their replacement by the sanitized tripe with which we are all too familiar. Carefully researched and entertainingly written.

  • Lost Horizon - James Hilton

    The book that gave us the term “Shangri-La,” this was the first novel ever to be published in paperback.

  • Fail-Safe - Eugene Burdick, Harvey Wheeler

    Another golden oldie, I remember this being an extremely popular and topical novel during the height of Cold War paranoia. It was released in October 1962, the same month as that monumental exercise in brinksmanship, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Even as a mere ten-year-old, I was fully aware that my world was on the verge of going up in nuclear flames. What I didn’t know was just how close a call we had...and that there were nuclear warheads sitting in Amityville, just one town to the east, which made us a primary target.

  • Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse

    Practically everyone I knew read this book while in college. I waited. But I read it in Japan, in a traditional Japanese ryokan in Kyoto, the perfect setting for a story about a man’s lifelong search for enligtenment.

  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals - Michael Pollan

    The story of where our food comes from...and why, if we are what we eat, we Americans are really nothing so much as giant ambulatory corn chips. Fascinating, entertaining, depressing, and enlightening.

  • Kindred - Octavia Butler

    A masterful novel from the late writer, one of the rare People of Color writing in the SF field.

  • The Shell Game - Steve Alten

    Oil industry thriller, rife with spelling and usage errors to the point of being unintentionally humorous.

  • Duma Key - Stephen King

    King’s best novel in years. Boogitty boogitty!

    Rant - Chuck Pahlaniuk

    This guy’s novels are in a bizarre class by themselves.

  • Who Stole The Funny? - Robby Benson

    A story set in the world of television, hysterically funny despite being peopled exclusively with one-dimensional characters.

  • In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto - Michael Pollan

    A follow-up to The Omnivore’s Dilemma, this book is more prescriptive and less entertaining, with a message that can be condensed into seven short words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Words to live by.

  • Disguised As Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, And the Creation of the Superhero - Danny Fingeroth

    Fascinating topic; alas, the writing is repetitious and dull.

  • The Kill Artist - Daniel Silva

    The first of Silva’s Gabriel Allon series. Taut, fast-paced thriller, perfect beach reading. My friend Gary got me hooked on Silva’s books, and I started devouring them (as you will see). I can polish one of these off in a day or two.

  • The English Assassin - Daniel Silva

  • The Confessor - Daniel Silva

  • 211 Things a Bright Boy Can Do - Tom Cutler

    A lot like The Dangerous Book for Boys, but much edgier. A somewhat abashed recommendation from David Bogner (Treppenwitz).

  • A Death in Vienna - Daniel Silva

  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames - David Sedaris

    More nutty essays. The title comes from hotel room instructions Sedaris saw while staying in Hiroshima. Imagine that: Entertaining Translations in Japan.

  • Little Brother - Cory Doctorow

    A cautionary SF tale with political overtones, examining the consequences of having an overzealous Homeland Security organization.

  • I Was Told There’d Be Cake - Crosley Sloane

    David Sedaris with a vagina.

  • The McSweeney’s Joke Book of Book Jokes - McSweeney’s

  • Prince of Fire - Daniel Silva

  • Liberal Fascism - Jonah Goldberg

  • The Messenger - Daniel Silva

  • The Secret Servant - Daniel Silva

  • The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection - Gardner Dozois (editor)

    Crammed full of excellent short fiction, it took me a full month to work my way through this tome.

  • Final Theory - Mark Alpert

  • The Man with the Iron Heart - Harry Turtledove

    In which Turtledove posits an alternative world where the Nazis prosecute an effective resistance post-WWII, echoing the real-world experience in Iraq.

  • Ender in Exile - Orson Scott Card

    Card revisits his Ender series, this time writing a genuine sequel to the brilliant Ender’s Game

  • Moscow Rules - Daniel Silva

Whew. Thirty books. Eight months.

Right now I’m in the midst of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (much darker than the stage musical version). Lots more books to read...and if I don’t figure out what to do with the old ones, the Missus may have me sleeping in the basement...

So: What have you been reading lately?

Sunday, December 14, 2008


I imagine that a medieval peasant, upon returning to the smoking ruins of his village after Tamerlane and his hordes came through, raping and pillaging, would have felt much as I did early this afternoon.

The house was a shambles.

Ashtrays were piled high, overflowing with smoldering, lipstick-stained butts. The kitchen trash can was crammed with empty liquor bottles. Every horizontal surface bore drink rings. Puddles of vomit splotched the carpet; fortunately, it was almost impossible to see them thanks to the drifts of used condoms littering the floors.

Brassieres, most with unidentifiable stains, were draped over chair backs. One, notably, was stuffed into the downstairs toilet.

The Chalet Kristy after a three-day blogmeet was as clean as a freshly-fallen blanket of snow in the Canadian Rockies compared to this horror show.

Residual estrogen fumes lingered in the air, the natural consequence of having a gaggle of Vagino-Americans packed into a small space. I could feel the ol’ Twig-and-Berries shriveling under their concentrated hormonal assault. If I stayed much longer, the consequences could be serious. Man-boobs! A desire to watch “Dancing with the Stars”!

A guy like Eric may get the heebie-jeebies from thoughts of zombies, but you can take this to the bank: There is no horror to compare with the aftermath of a Baby Shower.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


The man may foam at the mouth when he writes...but boy, does he write. His take on the Blagojevich scandal, f’rinstance.

More fitty-cent words than you can shake a stick at, including the infrequently-encountered (yet oh, so evocative) “marthambles.” And I am always a sucker for the odd kidney stone reference.

Go thou and read.

Friday, December 12, 2008

FRIDAY RANDOM TEN it Friday already? Why, so it is.

This promises to be an interesting weekend. She Who Must Be Obeyed is hosting a baby shower this Sunday, which means there will be all sorts of frantic cookage and cleanage disrupting my peaceful Saturday. The cookage I understand; when you have a horde of chattering wimmin in the house, you have to give them something to eat, lest they begin devouring the sofa cushions. But the cleanage? The house will be far filthier after they all what is the point, exactly, of cleaning it before they show up?

There are the kinds of questions only a Feckin’ Eejit would dare ask on a blog that his spousal unit reads.

And so, before the hammer comes down, let’s brighten things by taking a peek at this week’s Musical Miscellany, barfed out at random by the iPod d’Elisson. What’s playing today?
  1. Tell Me Why - The Beatles

  2. Canned Music - Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks

    Canned music, canned music
    Playing on the radio
    Canned music, canned music
    Without a doubt it doesn’t go
    Favorites on the jukebox
    Are only half the show, when it’s
    Canned music, canned music

    A little before she left me
    I asked her what it’s all about
    She said I feel like dancin’
    I feel like stepping out
    I took her with the van
    Where the band was on the stand, playin’
    Live music live music

    She got us on the dance floor
    To me it was a sight
    I never seen my baby movin’
    Like the moves she made on me that night
    I did not have a chance
    The way that music made me dance
    It was some
    Live music, live music
    (It ain’t canned)

    Canned music, canned music
    Playing on the radio
    (It ain’t canned)
    Canned music, canned music
    Without a doubt it doesn’t go
    Favorites on the jukebox
    Are only half the show, when it’s
    Canned music, canned music

    The rhythm was all around us
    We was really steppin’ out
    My baby said I'm livin’ for this music
    I asked her what it’s all about
    She said I’m such a silly girl
    This stuff has got me in a whirl, ain’t it
    Live music, live music

    And that was the night she left me
    Danced herself into my memory
    My baby had to leave me for the drummer
    I guess I’ll never solve that mystery
    I think I’ve learned my lesson
    Just don’t get too near the band, when it’s
    Live music, live music

    A little before she left me
    I asked her what it’s all about
    She said she feel like dancin’
    She feel like stepping out

  3. The Grotto - Bernard Herrmann, Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

  4. The Mikado, Act II: Brightly Dawns Our Wedding Day - D’Oyly Carte Opera Company

  5. Luna - Smashing Pumpkins

  6. Samson and Delilah - The Barry Sisters and Jan Bart with Sam Medoff and the Yiddish Swingtet

  7. King Kong: Suite - Charles Gerhardt / National Philharmonic Orchestra

    From the 1932 version of King Kong, the only one that matters. Max Steiner’s atmospheric score is such a perfect counterpoint to the action on the screen, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job of putting music on film...even the legendary Bernard Herrmann.

  8. Animal Zoo - Spirit

  9. Women and Men - They Might Be Giants

  10. I Am The Walrus - The Beatles

    The first and last songs on today’s Random Ten list are from The Beatles. It is a continual source of astonishment (to me) that the same group could produce two songs so dissimilar, a mere three years apart...

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?


Winter is icumen in
Yet animals won’t freeze,
Thanks to good insulation in
The Ark that plies the seas.

Friday Ark #221 is afloat, with our very own Hakuna in the Crow’s Nest.

This Sunday, be sure to stop by Artsy Catsy for the 248th edition of Carnival of the Cats. It’s Perfectly Catrocious™!

Update: CotC #248 is up.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


No matter what form your celebration may take,
Remember one rule, for your sanity’s sake:
A rule that you never – nay, never - may break.
Don’t stick birthday candles in a Urinal Cake!


The Missus and I were just watching the news only to find out that it has snowed in Houston.

In equally likely news, Hamas has agreed to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and to cease all terrorist activities; NBC, ABC, and CBS have announced an immediate moratorium on the creation of new reality television shows; and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright has apologized for being a Big Fucking Idiot.

[Well, it really did snow in Houston, anyway And it may do so here, too.]


I am a long-time denizen of the American South, my adopted home...but once there was a time when I was unfamiliar with this part of the world. Hard to imagine, eh?

Aside from our annual trips to South Florida, I grew up with little exposure to Southern Culture. Not that South Florida was southern in any way - it was not, being packed with Yankees - but to get to and from it by car, we had to traverse great swaths of Southland. It was my chance to marvel at exotica like segregated water fountains and to enjoy my annual bottle of Dr Pepper.

That changed when I went off to college. Princeton University, that is, AKA “The Duke University of the North.” For in my freshman year, one of my roommates was an authentic Southern Gentleman.

He was tall, with a ruddy complexion and flaxen hair, David was, and he drove a Fiat Spyder sports car. Unlike many of us, David did not dress like some sort of fucking hippie. He wore Oxford shirts and tweed sport jackets. The effect was not quite professorial; I soon learned that it was vintage Good Ol’ Prep-School Boy.

David eschewed the popular Recreational Medicaments of the time, preferring the drug of choice of the Southern Gentleman: Bourbon whiskey. This he would consume in vast quantities on the weekends as he made his rounds of the eating clubs on Prospect Street.

In the first few days of freshman year, David joined the rugby team. Getting banged up did not seem to bother him, and after a few weeks he was working on a nice cauliflower ear. I’m pretty sure he got through that first year with his teeth intact, but only because he made a strategic investment in a mouth guard. Wimp.

It was David who taught me about the Southern way of life. How to drink; how to party; how to talk to women; in short, how to be a Southern Gentleman. His lessons fell (mostly) on deaf ears back then, but I quietly took them to heart. They have served me well ever since.

We knew that he came from a moneyed family, but we did not know the extent of that wealth until we started visiting him in his native surroundings - a sprawling ranch house in Arlington, Virginia - over various vacations. During one of those visits made a side trip to Horsey Country: Middleburg, Virginia, a tony little village out in Loudoun County that (it turns out) attracts visitors from around the country and has the reputation of being “the Nation’s Horse and Hunt capital.” Fox hunting and steeplechasing! Tailgating! You can well imagine that I felt right at home. (A Gefilte Fish Out of Water was more like it.)

David was the second youngest of five children. There was a big age gap between the eldest three siblings and Dave; his brother Dick - a doctor, as were both Mom and Dad - was over two decades older than him. Next in line were two sisters, Jane and Sally. Then came Dave, followed by his kid brother Paul.

Dick, Jane, and Sally. Hmmm. Those names sounded familiar. But when I found out that the dog’s name was Spot and the cat’s was Puff, I made some sort of snide remark to Hal, our other roommate.

“It’s no coincidence,” Hal responded.

The original Dick and Jane readers had been written (so Hal said) by a family friend beginning in the early 1930’s. When he was casting about for names for his characters, he thought of Dick, Jane, and Sally...inspired by our roomie’s much-older sibs - who were old enough to have been the right age at the time.

Of course, the original Spot and Puff were long gone...but the names lingered on in their replacements.

“Bullshit!” you may cry. There’s no fucking way you went to school with Dick Jane, and Sally’s kid brother!

Believe it, Esteemed Readers. As much as I do, anyway...for that is how the tale was told to me, back in the spring of 1971.

And David? He’s still alive and well. Last time I saw him, it was by sheer coincidence, running into each other at the airport in Greenville, South Carolina about 25 years ago. Since then he has spent a good chunk of his career in the insurance business - at one point he was an executive veep at Aetna, and now he’s a director of an offshore holding company. I keep hoping to bump into him at Reunions...maybe 2009 (our 35th) will be the year.