Eight Things There Are To Say About Mealtimes


Mealtime. It’s a great-sounding word. It pairs together two great syllables. Well, the first syllable is great. The second syllable is that thing that reminds us we should have got this all done before. Still, “mealtime” together? That’s some nice stuff. Even better if the stuff includes, like, a gravy of some kind. Less good if the mealtime includes one of those Very Internet Persons who wants to argue about whether chili is a sandwich or hot dogs are soup.

How much do we really know about mealtimes? Not as much as we could, surely. The average person knows only about 95% of everything they might care to know about mealtimes. This could be improved, one way or another.

Mealtimes may seem like traditions fixed since time immemorial. It turns out that “time immemorial” usually means something a lot closer to 1956 than people admit. Also it’s not so much “fixed” as it is “it would make someone else’s life easier if we tried a little harder”. That person also deserves a lunch sometime they could predict.

Still, meals have been a lot more flexible in their scheduling and content than we realize. This until we notice that we’ve been “a couple minutes late” on dinner every day for the last six years. Also that by “a couple minutes” we mean 95 minutes. Also that by dinner we mean “two items taken, at random, from the freezer and heated up”. This most recently included a chunk of orange juice concentrate dating to the 2008 Financial Crisis. That usually makes people aware of what they’re doing with mealtimes, momentarily.

Still, there are common patterns in the times of meals. Dinner, for example, used to be a midday meal, had somewhere around noon. This shifted in the early 19th century, when the busy residents of New York City found it was too much bother to get home at that hour. Dinner moved first to 2 pm, then to about 8 pm, then back to 6 pm. In 1934 it moved back to 11:30 am the next day. This had the neat side effect of ending the half-day of work on Saturdays, since otherwise Saturday dinner would interrupt Sunday brunch. And thus the modern weekend was born.

Dinner kept moving later and later, though, and people reasonably got fed up having to wait so long. Oh, that exciting day in 1955, though, when the whole population started to say, “you know, I am fed up with waiting for dinner” and then heard themselves say that out loud. So they started having a quick, supper-like meal, eaten at dinnertime. Dinner as we originally knew it faded away, except for historical reenactments. It’s currently estimated to be around 3:35 pm, two days after.

Lunch has often been around noon. The trick is when noon happens. Yes, we think of noon as being at that 12:00 that has a morning just before it. But that’s just the chance result of the French Revolutionary Calendar. What noon is supposed to be is “nine”. This is not necessarily nine in the morning, nor in the evening. It’s supposed to be nine hours past the moment that’s nine hours before noon. How that ended up at 12:00 remains a mystery. Anyway I usually eat lunch late myself.

Breakfast is an interesting meal to time. In the old days, sure, people were fasting all the time. It added some panache to the famine going on. But even when food was plentiful there were problems. You could see, for example, religious prohibitions against eating meat on Fridays or Tuesdays. Or against eating milk on unseasonably warm days. Against eating eggs that haven’t been kept in a pot of water. Against eating things with the letter “r” in them before the Apocalypse. The trouble with finding a thing to eat was resolved in the 13th century, when a series of church councils came around to the idea that when the letter “r” appears in “breakfast” it is serving as a kind of devotional bread. Happily these councils got the matters settled first thing in the morning, first day of the meeting. And so we have breakfast right at the start of the day.

Will there be new mealtimes yet invented? It’s hard to say. Most of us have settled into a modern pattern where we kind of keep grabbing small things and ingesting them. And we don’t have any time to do anything properly anymore. But what if research projects to inject new hours into the day, such as the experimental R o’clock, works? We might get something good yet.

Statistics Saturday: Reasons To Believe The Person in Charge Of Quaker Oats’s Cereal Mascots In 1996 Had Already Taken A New Job


Characters introduced to the Quaker Oats lineup in 1996:

  • For Marshmallow Safari: “Rhinocular is a pink-colored Rhino. He wears a pith helmet, and looks ready for safari.”
  • For Sweet Crunch: “Schnoz is a pink-colored shark. He wears a yellow sun hat and glasses. He surfs standing up on a surfboard.”
  • For Sweet Puffs: “Cat-Man-Do is a cool brown cat (who looks a lot like a fox). This cool cat wears sunglasses, a green suit and hat, and a red tie with white polka-dots. He plays a mean sax.”
  • For Apple Zaps: “Duckbert is a red-haired duck who loves soccer. He’s wears a red soccer uniform complete with soccer cleats. He’s shown kicking a soccer ball.”
  • For Frosted Flakers: “Brewster MacIvory is a walrus. He wears a ski cap and sunglasses. He surfs belly down on his surfboard.”
  • For Fruitangy Oh!s: “Koolio is a brown swinging monkey. He wears a backwards red baseball cap, untied red sneakers, and sunglasses.”
  • For Cocoa Blasts: “Kamicowzi is a brown and white flying cow with horns and wings. She wears an old-style brown aviators cap and sunglasses.”

All of these texts, and mascots, are as quoted from Topher’s Castle’s magnificent, and genuinely delightful old-school-Internet compilation of breakfast cereal characters.

Also, reasons to believe that Topher’s Castle is making up some breakfast cereal mascots in order to prove copyright infringement by disreputable web sites like mine:

  • For Apple Zaps: “Duckbert is a red-haired duck who loves soccer. He’s wears a red soccer uniform complete with soccer cleats. He’s shown kicking a soccer ball.”

But to be sincere, the site has a heartening number of characters tracked down and described, with pictures for a lot of them. It really makes you appreciate how many breakfast cereals have tried to make a kangaroo mascot and how somehow it just never takes. I am so happy this person put this work into this project.

Box front for Meijer's Cinnamon Swirl Crunch, which features an overjoyed, big-eyed raccoon thrilled at the cereal.
Rory Raccoon says that yeah, mascotting for store-brand cereal isn’t as glamorous as his 1960s work for Post Sugar Sparkled Flakes, but it’s much lower-stress and honestly more enjoyable. The low stakes mean he’s able to put more of himself into the performance. But he would like to work with Claudius Crow again, if the project presented itself.

How I Spent The Snowstorm


The backyard, with a light frosting of snow on one side of the trees so you can see the edges of them very well against the bark.
Snowstorms look so cute and innocent when they’re at this age, don’t they?
  • Like 11:30 (am). The snow started already, like four hours ahead of projections. Exciting start. It’s light, energetic snow considering some of the flakes are the size of nuthatches. I don’t mind. Cheery snowstorms like these are the results of frolicking ice phoenixes. These are majestic and magical birds, quite like their more famous fire-based counterparts except these ones never go in for stealing Baby New Year. Also they spend more of the summer sweating and wondering why it has to be this muggy and who even had the idea of letting a magic bird sweat, anyway. I toss some garlic croutons, from the bag we use to make salad less boring, out as a treat.
  • 1:00 (pm). We go out to lunch. I know, the mayor, the governor, and the county Commissioner of Drains, who just happened to be nearby, all asked everybody to do only essential travel. But it’s only like two blocks, and we had to mail a letter anyway. And it’s to this restaurant that’s trying to use the Subway build-your-own sandwich model for Middle Eastern food. There may not technically be an emergency need to get falafel and baba ghanoush over rice at any particular time but I stand by the decision. Three-quarters of an inch of snow gathers on the car while we eat. We forgot the letter.
  • 2:15. Checking the animal feeders in the back yard. I fill up the bird feeder, so that the squirrels have something to eat. I fill up the squirrel feeder, so that the raccoons have something to eat. Also since we should totally have a fire I take a big tote bag full of lumber off the pile in the garage. The mice living far underneath the pile complain that this is “totally bogus” and they paid their rent, why are we taking the tenth storeys off their woodpile now. I leave a handful of sunflower seeds and fill up the water dish so they don’t have to venture out to the raccoon feeder.
  • 2:25. I stare out the kitchen window at my car. I tried doing that thing where you leave the windshield wipers up, instead of against the car, this storm. I’m not sure why people do that and I wanted to see what difference it makes. Mostly I feel anxious about it. Are people walking past the house looking at my Scion tC and laughing at the wipers? Or are they just laughing that I have yet another car from a marque that’s been discontinued? In my life I’ve had two Mercuries, a Saturn, and now a Scion. I don’t go looking for car marques to drive to extinction. They follow me. Maybe I should put the windshield wipers back down.
  • 4:45. There’s way too much snow to put the windshield wipers back down.
  • 5:20. The snow is doing that thing where it’s a perfect field of white out the front window. Out the back window there’s a couple scattered flurries and an ice phoenix taking a drink from the pond heater. It’s eerily tranquil. I think about tossing out some leftover chow mein noodles but don’t want to risk it.
  • 7:00. The remote control’s batteries have gone dead, foiling our plans to catch up a backlog of Stephen Colbert episodes dating back to when he was a bright twelve-year-old reporting the 2004 Republican Convention for Comedy Central. We leave the TV on the station it was last on, hoping to see school closing reports.
  • 8:15. In the pantry. We’ve got a half-eaten box of Peanut Butter Bumpers. That would be a great breakfast tomorrow except who wants to eat cold cereal on a snow day? I am a genius: what we need is something that’s as good as milk for pouring onto cereal but that’s warm and hearty, like … um … warm milk, or maybe miso soup or something? This could revolutionize eating and in the good ways.
  • 8:17. Experiment over. I am an idiot. The raccoons examine a bowl of Peanut Butter Bumpers mixed with warm almond milk and miso powder and just shake their heads sadly, then shuffle away into the snow, pausing only to be berated by a red squirrel.
  • 9:20 Maybe I could clear off enough of my car to put the windshield wipers back down only what would I tell my love I was doing out there?
  • 10:50. But couldn’t something else serve to replace the warm milk in the snow day cereal experiment? Maybe history will vindicate me after all.
  • 11:45. We forgot to have a fire.

Cheese, Spam, Poetry


I’ve only ever committed a few acts of poetry. Mostly they’ve been things written part-jokingly. This way I could run them in the unread left-wing student newspaper back at college in the “Ebb and Flow” literary section but could fall back in a bit of cowardice and claim I meant it for the Humor section (“about herring…”) instead. But my spammers are not so inhibited. Here’s one of their recent masterpieces:

Now I am ready to do my breakfast,

once having my breakfast coming yet

again to read additional news.

But maybe I’m just a sucker for any suggestion that events that are about to happen already happened and might just be happening again if I don’t miss them.

Also, I see in my notes the phrase “time cheese”. I do not remember at this point if it was a spam or funny search term, or if it was notes from a dream, or if I had ambitions of writing something particular about it. All I know is the idea is there, and some cheese-eating organism might be attempting to disrupt the normal flow of time from past to future. I’ll let you know if any cheese is had for breakfast in the past.

(Those were the actual section names for the creative-writing/photography section and the humor section, though the humor section’s name changed with each new editor. So now you know exactly how earnest a newspaper The Rutgers Review was in my day. When I finally was made editor of the humor section I named it “Humor”, because I felt like trying to be funny about the section name encouraged the reader to challenge whether this was in fact funny even before our blistering jokes about the campus bus system or the broken computers in the Roost. So now you know exactly what kind of person I am. Also I never actually got anything into “about herring…”, though I did better under other editors.)

Momma demands I take back everything bad I ever said about Comic Sans


Over on my mathematics blog I had like a kerspillion comic strips to describe as having mathematics-related themes, so I got that taken care of. None of them involves really deep mathematical concepts, which is kind of a relief, although it does mean I was trying to find if there is anything interesting to say about punning “acute” and “a cute” angle. There isn’t. Sorry.

So let me chat a bit about the ongoing collapse of the very concept of artwork in comic strips. Mell Lazarus’s Momma I’ve mentioned before as shuffling its way toward madness, but lately it’s started intermittently running strips with computer-typeset letters. It’s always sad when a comic strip falls prey to this. The best-off strips are able to get typefaces based on the cartoonist’s lettering, and include some variants of each letter so that the result looks plausibly handwritten again. Lesser strips make do with more generic comic strip typefaces or, if all else fails, Comic Sans, which is not as bad as people make it out to be (admittedly, “Earth being swallowed by a black hole” is not as bad as people make Comic Sans out to be) but which is dull. Momma had fallen prey to Dread Helvetica several times, but here it’s fallen even farther into what I remember as Geneva, back in the early 90s when we thought PageMaker 4 was a pretty slick piece of newspaper-composition software. It’s stunning how a simple choice like typeface can make a wall of text a visually repulsive mass.

Momma reads off an awful lot of text presented in a horribly ugly way.
Mell Lazarus’s Momma for the 25th of January, 2015.

But if you can hack your way through the visual terror you can at least appreciate the dialogue, written in the charming “Ransom note hastily translated into English” dialect, and as you let the syllables wash over you can hear the deranged omnipotent-terror computer of a 1950s movie or a lesser episode of Star Trek getting ready to demand you explain to it what logic there is in a “kiss”.

Margo pauses at a cafe which appears to be unenclosed and to have no counters, tables, seats, or menus, and orders breakfast.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 26th of January, 2015.

Meanwhile in Apartment 3-G the apparent ongoing war between artist Frank Bolle and writer Margaret Shulock continues, since the text is really sure that Margo is at a Manhattan cafe, while the art seems pretty confident that she’s just whirling around on the sidewalk barking out breakfast orders at random passers-by who kind of look like everybody else in Apartment 3-G only made of slightly dumpier putty. Who is right? Not, I think, the random passer-by who seems to think that wanting to have a Grand Slam Breakfast constitutes a “healthy appetite”.

Robert Benchley: Mid-Winter Sports


[ In this piece, taken from Love Conquers All, Robert Benchley writes of a problem largely in our past: the way there just isn’t sports news available this time of year. It’s a bit of an adjustment to think that there was a time not so far gone when there wasn’t sporting news worthy of the name for several months of the year. ]

These are melancholy days for the newspaper sporting-writers. The complaints are all in from old grads of Miami who feel that there weren’t enough Miami men on the All-American football team, and it is too early to begin writing about the baseball training camps. Once in a while some lady swimmer goes around a tank three hundred times, or the holder of the Class B squash championship “meets all-comers in court tilt,” but aside from that, the sporting world is buried with the nuts for the winter.

Since sporting-writers must live, why not introduce a few items of general interest into their columns, accounts of the numerous contests of speed and endurance which take place during the winter months in the homes of our citizenry? For instance:

The nightly races between Mr. and Mrs. Theodore M. Twamly, to see who can get into bed first, leaving the opening of the windows and putting out of the light for the loser, was won last night for the first time this winter by Mr. Twamly. Strategy entered largely into the victory, Mr. Twamly getting into bed with most of his clothes on.

An interesting exhibition of endurance was given by Martin W. Lasbert at his home last evening when he covered the distance between the cold-water tap in his bath-room to the bedside of his young daughter, Mertice, eighteen times in three hours, this being the number of her demands for water to drink. When interviewed after the eighteenth lap, Mr. Lasbert said: “I wouldn’t do it another time, not if the child were parching.” Shortly after that he made his nineteenth trip.

As was exclusively predicted in these columns yesterday and in accordance with all the dope, Chester H. Flerlie suffered his sixtieth consecutive defeat last evening at the hands of the American Radiator Company, the builders of his furnace. With all respect for Mr. Flerlie’s pluck in attempting, night after night, to dislodge clinkers caught in the grate, it must be admitted, even by his host of friends, that he might much better be engaged in some gainful occupation. The grate tackled by the doughty challenger last night was one of the fine-tooth comb variety (the “Non-Sifto” No. 114863), in which the clinker is caught by a patent clutch and held securely until the wrecking-crew arrives. At the end of the bout Mr. Flerlie was led away to his dressing room, suffering from lacerated hands and internal injuries. “I’m through,” was his only comment.

This morning’s winners in the Lymedale commuters’ contest for seats on the shady side of the car on the 8:28 were L.Y. Irman, Sydney M. Gissith, John F. Nothman and Louis Leque. All the other seats were won by commuters from Loose Valley, the next station above Lymedale. In trying to scramble up the car-steps in advance of lady passengers, Merton Steef had his right shin badly skinned and hit his jaw on the bottom step. Time was not called while his injuries were being looked after.

Before an enthusiastic and notable gathering, young Lester J. Dimmik, age three, put to rout his younger brother, Carl Withney Dimmik, Jr., age two, in their matutinal contest to see which can dispose of his Wheatena first. In the early stages of the match, it began to look as if the bantamweight would win in a walk, owing to his trick of throwing spoonfuls of the breakfast food over his shoulder and under the tray of his high-chair. The referees soon put a stop to this, however, and specified that the Wheatena must be placed in the mouth. This cramped Dimmick Junior’s form and it soon became impossible for him to locate his mouth at all. At this point, young Lester took the lead, which he maintained until he crossed the line an easy winner. As a reward he was relieved of the necessity of eating another dish of Wheatena.

Stephen L. Agnew was the lucky guest in the home of Orrin F. McNeal this week-end, beating out Lee Stable for first chance at the bath-tub on Sunday morning. Both contestants came out of their bed rooms at the same time, but Agnew’s room being nearer the bath-room, he made the distance down the hall in two seconds quicker time than his somewhat heavier opponent, and was further aided by the breaks of the game when Stable dropped his sponge half-way down the straightaway. Agnew’s time in the bath-room was 1 hr. and 25 minutes.

Approved


I don’t object per se to corporations spending their money foolishly. A corporation spending money on something pointless and useless is one that isn’t spending money figuring out morally outrageous they can be before they start getting protestors from the respectable classes of society or figuring out how little service they can actually provide before too many customers end their transactions with the use of cudgels.

So, every credit card company in the world has concluded they need to spend their time sending me applications for their cards. That’s foolish on their parts, since I’ve got as many credit cards as I need, plus an extra one to use in case of emergency, plus one that I could use if I felt like digging behind the nightstand where it fell and it’s just too hard to get back there. That would be fine by itself but now they’ve stepped up the sending, to the point that over seven-quarters of the mail every day is appeals to me to get more credit cards.

I’ve done the obvious with the offers; when there were too many to throw out, I used them to build a new breakfast nook, and then a little nook on the side of the nook that I guess could be used for English muffins, and then a little nook on the side of the nook on the side of the nook (I’m seeing those little jam packets from diners in its future), but that obviously can’t go on forever. I don’t even eat English muffins more than like once a year. I’ve got to get this stopped. Things are too nook-heavy as they are.