- August 22. everyone who had a part in this day, give yourselves a fresh round of applause without being unseemly about it.
- Cheddar II: Cheddiest. From out of Nowhere, Connecticut, 06269, this new flavor, appearing in ouch-y sharp, dangerous in its pointedness, somewhat polyhedral, and mint, has taken over the world of cheese and opened up new avenues in being so much more than the inspirational cheddar that it’s not hard to see why old-fashioned cheddar is expected within the next two years to go the way of the original, almost forgotten ched.
- once-in-shakespeare.com Where else but this scrappy new start-up can one get a convenient listing of all the words that appear in the canonical plays of William Shakespeare one time? Anyone can produce a list of all the words, just by shaking a collected edition on its side until the pieces fall out, but who’s going to take out the duplicates and grow new authors with them?
- Raised Flooring. After years of drop-down ceilings being the cliche and overused answer to ways to make a room seem more claustrophobic we have this alternative. Unexpected bonuses include having more things to count while bored, and the improved sense of balance as people try to walk on those bar things from which the floor panels are hung. This will inspire grace in our walking like Groucho Marx if nothing else will.
- How the English language has no solitary word for the feeling of uncertainty that accompanies thinking that one’s socks are damp when there’s no chance for taking one’s shoes off to check or to change them no matter how much we need a word for exactly this sensation. This single loss has saved millions of dollars and dozens of lines of newspaper type in just the past month. And think of all the people it’s inspired to try to buy less painful shoes. Yes, yes, you can put together a bunch of words to get the same sense across. It’s not the same.
- Flatware. There is nothing which soothes the desperate need to buy flatware quite like flatware, and we should all be glad the flatware industry exists to satisfy this need. Be warned: much so-called flatware these days is not in fact flat, but extends into a third or even a fourth spatial dimension. If you have no choice but to purchase this imitation flatware do speak to the steamroller operator with whom you’re on good terms — you are on good terms with at least one steamroller operator, aren’t you? — to arrange for the appropriate enflattening.
- March 10. Nobody’s saying it’s a patch on August 22, but it’s still really good all around and everybody deserves to take a bow for that too.
- Adverbs. These sentence-stuffers had a great run and it’s a shame that we’re scheduled to lose them if the conversion to Modifiers.6 ever happens. Still, anyone who’s ever had to write to a specified word count has relied on their ability to be added to or removed from sentences and they will be missed, like when someone notices the `a’ or `an’ doesn’t match with the next word anymore.
- Sriracha Automobiles. For the past fifteen years sriracha has been slipping almost unnoticed into everything, starting with sandwiches, then cooking shows, then books, then consumer electronics, and now into the important industries of Navy ships and personal automobiles. No one may know where sriracha comes from or what it intends, but we can be sure that it’s here and it’s unavoidable, and that with the proper setup it can be used for good or at least to not be so frightening, and that earns it a place on this list.
- Simple Thermometers. Despite fears no important features of the weather developed into the imaginary and then the complex number plane. So despite the shortages in Complex Thermometers none were needed, except for that stretch in fall where the temperature became one of the principal roots of a heptic polynomial. But for the most part we got along just fine with the old-fashioned thermometers and isn’t that one of the ten things about the decade just finished?
So please here take a moment to point and snicker at a pepper plant that, despite having ALL SUMMER LONG to work on it, never managed to grow more than about four inches tall. And then used that chance to spit out like fourteen green peppers, most of them taller than it is.
So to sum up, plants: what’s the deal, huh? Seriously, what the heck? You know? Right?
- Lady Middle Fingers
- Quicksandwich cookies
- Bleak-and-white cookies
- Laser biscotti
- Oatmeal/rusty-nail cookies
- Antimatter macaroons
- Southern Pecan Mouth-Sealer
- Anhydrous pfeffernüsse
- Mega-Shrapnel Oreo
- Linzer Taipan
- Dynamite-and-custard cream
Reference: Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps, Peter Galison
It’s still a lot of fun reading the names of the streets off the overpasses. “Fangboner Road” alone threatens to keep the gang giggling for hours. “Preventorium Road” inspires everyone to toss out out their ideas of what this could even mean. This goes on for so long and for such a merry time that by the time anyone can think to look it up they can’t remember what exactly the road name was. They know it wasn’t Vomitorium Road, but that’s as far as the consensus will reach. Amanda’s claim of knowing a “Squankum” are shaken off. It feels like a bad laugh although they’re not sure exactly why.
The fourth great field of sheep is not so much fun as the first. Dan insists the problem is the sheep aren’t trying to be interesting. Sophia asserts that few things would be worse than sheep that compel your interest. The menace of the hypnosheep masters keeps the group’s spirits up for the next two fields of sheep before they sink beneath all possible commentary.
Is that a strip mall with two yoga centers? Josh says it’s three, but he’s definitely mis-reading tea room as a yoga center. Right? We mean it’s one of those tea rooms too fancy to be comfortable. Well, there’s definitely at least two. Maybe this is just the yoga center district of town?
Well, this is a restaurant. All right, it’s not a vegetarian-friendly restaurant. It seems determined to put meat into things that don’t even need it. There’s a high-pressure gun in the kitchen. It injects chicken and processed lobster food product into everything. “We just want some garlic toast,” beg Josh and Amanda. “We don’t need animals to have died for the cause!” The restaurant tries to cope with the concept of someone who wants the tomato soup that hasn’t had a fist-sized chunk of pig flesh ripped off and unked into it. But the effort fails. There’s a mishap in the kitchen, and it sprays chicken cutlets, which are dug out even of the glove box up to three months later. At least that’s how the story goes. Really it’s more that the waitstaff has to come back to apologize that they don’t have a second black-bean burger patty, would a portobello mushroom be all right? And it really wouldn’t, but Josh would take it to not cause trouble for people who have to deal with much worse customers. It’s all right, since it turns out they don’t have portobello either. He gets a plate of melted butter with a scoop of mashed potatoes. Later he tries to insist that mashed potatoes would be a good substitute for the burger patty, earning him so much grief.
That’s a weird bunch of sheep but nobody wants to reopen the subject.
All right but serious talk. Or anyway, comparing the bathroom stuff that different hotels give you. Everyone takes turns asserting they’ve seen the most preposterous blend of things. Sophia claims to have been at a long-term hotel once that had a single tube which claimed to be soap, skin lotion, shampoo, hair conditioner, toothpaste, mouthwash, energy drink, makeup remover, transparent nail polish, shoe polish, stain remover, windshield fluid, transmission fluid, and fish ick treatment. Two miles later she says she thinks she went on too long for the laugh she could possibly get. Dan says that a combination mouthwash and energy drink is a great idea and she should patent that. Amanda questions whether you could patent … what, coffee with way too much mint? This allows everyone to learn a little bit more about each other, as they say what kinds of things they can or can’t eat right after brushing their teeth. This causes everyone to realize their friends are daft. This is worse than when they learned what podcasts everyone else listened to.
All right but is that a two-story strip mall? Is it possible to be a strip mall if it has got a second story? Yeah, we know about that strip mall with the two-story Borders that used to be there, but that was just the one place. If the mall has a second floor with different shops upstairs isn’t that … well, we clearly don’t have the words for this concept. What is it and how many yoga centers can it have?
The gang agrees a road trip would be great. It’s been so long since the last one. There’s not going to be many more good chances this year. The weather’s getting to be more of itself. Work is getting busier. There’s the chance the state might discontinue roads for the rest of the year. No telling. If we don’t get to it soon we might never start at all.
Which car to use? There’s the obvious choice. That’s the one that would reach its scheduled service mileage about one-third of the way through the trip. That’s … something we could handle? … Right? … Daniel insists he can handle it. Nobody believes it. The cashier at Pita Pit asks Daniel if he’s all right, or if he’s lying about something powerfully important to him. The guy at the car wash just leans in and hugs him, saying, “I don’t know why but, man, something about you says you need this. Whatever it is, it’ll get better.” Amanda’s the first to admit this won’t work, though, even after finding car dealerships roughly along the planned path.
It’ll be Josh’s car instead. It’s less comfortable. But Josh insists he’s glad to host the trip. “It’ll be great! I can finally get updates to all my state maps!” Nobody’s sure whether this is serious. But in that little cubbyhole in his car doors are a lot of maps. So many maps. Gas station maps. Maps from Esso gas stations. A map of the Washington, D.C. area that still shows “Lee Family Estate” where Arlington National Cemetery should be. A map showing the Colonie of Nieuw-Nederland. It’s pristine. His car is three years old. There have always been things about Josh nobody understood. Now, knowing a little more, everyone knows him less.
Road snack purchases are a hot debate. There’s the faction that wants things bought ahead of time, so the gang can set off without false starts. There’s the faction that sees the false start as tradition. There’s the faction that insists there’s rest areas on the highway for a reason. Amanda tries to be the sensible one and insists road snacks aren’t necessary if everyone just eats good meals. There seem to be more factions than people going.
Fourteen hours of heated debate spread over three chat groups, none of which have all the participants in it, agrees at least to go to the same convenience store and stock up. This after ninety minutes of argument about the supermarket being cheaper. Or the neighborhood grocery store being better for the long term economic health of small business all right THANK YOU we get it. It’s twenty-five bucks’ worth of Fritos, economic justice doesn’t enter into it.
The cooler issue will not settle. There’s good economic reasons to get bottles of soda, even small bottles, and keep them in cooler. This crashes into the faction that fresh-poured fountain drinks taste better. A hard-shell cooler works better but bangs the knees of everyone in back. A soft-shell cooler fits between people but Sophia’s read things about breeding bacteria? Somehow? It’s all very tiring.
The day before the trip the low-tire-pressure light comes on. Josh has a pressure gauge for just this problem. It’s not the front driver’s side tire. It’s not the rear driver’s side tire. It’s not the front passenger’s side tire. It’s not the rear passenger’s side tire. Two hours of increasingly cross words follow in three of the now-five group chats. Fourteen separate web searches for symptoms follow. Eight of them end up on Yahoo Answers. Despair sets in. Sophia has the breakthrough insight: could it be the spare tire? Yes, it could, but it is not. Thirty minutes later the low-tire-pressure light stops lighting. Daniel offers it was his suggestion to put electrical tape over the dashboard that did it. The real explanation remains unknown. Perhaps the tires just wanted some attention.
“Fritos are not a matter of economic justice” becomes the newest in-joke for the group. Three and a half years later it switches to being Cheetos not being a matter of economic justice. No one is able to explain this phenomenon. It becomes a matter of great angry debate when anyone tries to insist that it was originally Fritos.
I’ve realized there must be a fan theory that the fondly-yet-dimly-remembered summer camp movie series Meatballs shares a continuity with the beloved-I-assume series of Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs movies. This would be the dullest fan theory not to include the phrase “dying hallucination of”.
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.
- Salad isn’t food! Salad is what food eats!
- You know, chickens are really mean to other chickens.
- I’d love to be vegetarian but then I couldn’t put bacon on everything.
- You know, the Indian word for ‘vegetarian’ is ‘bad hunter’.
- Yeah, that’s cool but some of us have to be the carnivores.
- You know, the Humane Society of the United States is a lobbying group, not an animal shelter.
- Oh, yeah, this is a vegetarian-friendly restaurant. They make a great tuna steak.
- So when you go for fast food are you, like, just there to be all smug about everyone getting their chicken nuggets or stuff?
- I couldn’t possibly keep up with all the measurements and supplements and stuff you have to do to be a vegetarian. I’m impressed.
- You know, you get E coli from lettuce.
- You know, almost nobody actually has a problem digesting gluten, you can just eat whatever you want if you haven’t actually been to an allergy specialist.
- That’s all right, I’ll eat enough sausage for both of us!
- Wait, that’s got cheese on it, you can’t eat cheese, right?
- It’s so weird you want, like, burgers that taste like meat but that nobody has to kill a cow for, instead of something really vegetarian.
- You know, hamsters will eat their own babies if you let them.
- So when you go for fast food do they, like, just throw a handful of yard clippings in your face?
Reference: The New York Public Library Desk Reference, Paul Fargis, Sheree Bykofsky.
Boy, do you ever look at a box of machine-extruded rotini and think about all the generations of pasta-carvers plying their trade? Rotating this thick noodle base and chiseling away a long and deep enough groove to make that spiral? Learning how to have a steady enough hand as to not chop the rotini up into too-short a length, or making the spiral tread too shallow or the vanes too thick? And doing it fast enough that they could carve away a whole dinner’s worth of pasta in the time it takes to make a meal? And then all those centuries of accumulated experience being wiped away in favor of pasta-making machines that don’t need any humanity to them.
Hey, totally unrelated yet fun fact: my sister-in-law won’t let me tell her kids anything without a responsible grownup supervising.
I wasn’t listening very closely to the teaser for the Mister Food segment on the noon news Friday. I thought the guy said he was going to show off a “dessert that would be worthy of the Renaissance”. So that kept me hanging on for the whole commercial break. What would this be? My best guess: a slab of honeycomb on top of marzipan, covered in nut-megg and tobacco leaves, bludgeoned the one tymme with a sugar-cayne.
Anyway it turns out they were doing a Kentucky Derby tie in. They had said a “dessert that would be worthy of the Winner’s Circle”. You can see how “Winner’s Circle” and “Renaissance” sound similar, what with both things being made up of words composed of syllables and all. Anyway I’m annoyed because I wanted Mister Food to tell me I was right.
Hey, are they going to have a Kentucky Derby this year? I should look that up. They hold those in prime-numbered years, and also some of the others.
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.
Before I get warmed up you might ask how I know anything about grinding coffee beans. I’m glad you don’t ask the equivalent about every one of these essays. That would hurt my feelings. I affect a quiet, almost stoic pose. But I do have, and use, six feelings. I admit one of them is that feeling of nuisance that my sock is not quite wet enough to justify changing.
But it does not hurt my feelings if you doubt my knowledge of grinding coffee beans. I’m not a coffee drinker. I don’t much like it. I usually get coffee because I’ve misunderstood the question. I prefer tea, which could also use some work but which I’ve been kind of used to for longer. The only time I get coffee on purpose is when I go vegetable-shopping at the farmer’s market on the westside of town. They have this complementary coffee bar with a rotation of eight different flavors. And then what am I going to do, not get coffee because I don’t like it? It’s complementary.
And yes, I could get a complementary tea instead, but they use the same tea bags we already have at home. I’ve paid for those already, out of the household budget. This is a real chain of logic I really follow in reality, for real. Also they always have flavored coffees. And coffee might not be anything much, but coffee-cake flavor coffee? That’s great. I should get something to eat with my cup of coffee-cake flavor coffee, but what?
Nevertheless I do make coffee at home for my love, and for guests we have. And people agree I make good coffee. So I have standing.
Coffee comes in the form of beans. This is great because they make this satisfying rattle when you accidentally spill them on the kitchen floor. It’s a noise like pouring some particularly sugar-glazed cereal into an empty bowl and a good reminder to clean the kitchen floor more often. But to turn this into coffee you need to grind the beans. This creates “grounds”. The name comes from when the Coffee Makers Association heard the naming session was right now, not next week like their calendars said. You can get the coffee ground for you by somebody … somewhere … and buy it like that. But then people who are really, really, really into coffee will stare at you. Again, I only drink coffee when I’m feeling proud for snagging a good-looking bunch of turnips for our pet rabbit. But I know if I were making a cup first thing in the morning, I wouldn’t want the dolorous gaze of coffee enthusiasts coming through the kitchen window.
Anywhere you can buy coffee beans has a machine to ground then on the spot. It’s this terrifying machine with at least four hand-written signs warning about settings you must not used taped to it. There’s a layer of coffee dust on it deep enough to grow half-caff bananas. Best to hide from that scene. You can get a coffee blender for home from any shop that sells coffee-making supplies, or “coffeterium” as they say in the trades. (“Coffeteria” is the plural, for if you need more than one blender.) These are great, though. You take the lid off, pour beans in, plug the machine in, press the button, get a spray of beans in your face, and learn to put the lid back on again next time. It makes a fun sound on the kitchen floor.
If blending fails you can go try other ways. One good way is to set a cupful of beans in a strong plastic bag, tape it to the outside wall, and then summon the Kool-Aid Man. He not only crushes the beans into a fine powder but gets you something you like drinking right away while you’re waiting for coffee. That’s all great, but you can only do it up to four times, plus the landlord gets all tense.
So you have to stop using the Kool-Aid man. But that might not be a bad thing. Grinding beans is when they start to lose flavor, and we didn’t spend years getting kind of used to the flavor of coffee to have less flavorful coffee. But the logical conclusion is there: don’t grind the beans before drinking the coffee. Give in to the sound and eat the beans, like cereal, in a bowl full of chocolate milk instead. You can swallow a modest number of gizzard stones, like birds do, to crush the beans inside your crop and enjoy the perfect coffee experience.
It is possible guests are just being nice when they say I make coffee well.
Legitimately thought the tabloid was telling me about Angelina’s Cruel Revenge on Bread, and I think it would have sold many more issues if it were.
As there are possibilities I didn’t cover yesterday.
Six more non-consecutive weeks of winter. This is foretold by the groundhog either seeing or not seeing its shadow (research department please clear this up) but being so distracted in the process there’s nothing jumbled thoughts incomplete returned to. While spring may arrive right about on time, there’ll be sudden bursts of winter throughout the whole year. It’s a bit inconvenient, because of the rush to put snow tires on and off again. But it’s pretty great to get, like, eight inches of snow in the middle of June when it’s warm enough to enjoy it. Plus it adds some realism to Christmas in July, if you’re lucky or if you have Christmas in July in June.
Six more leeks of winter. Predicted when the groundhog emerges and sees (or does not see) the shadow of a potato. Yes, I know, you’d think it would be the shadow of an onion or maybe chives. But that’s just how the folklore settled down. We suspect there’s some weird Cockney rhyming slang behind it.
Six more beats of winter. The groundhog is a dj and he’s got some vinyl rarities that are going to make this the best night ever.
Six door-weeks of winter. The groundhog emerges with either a doorknob or the knocker for an ISO standard front door. In this case winter will be longer by approximately the same amount of time you spend opening doors in an average six-week span. This isn’t all that much, really, considering the time spent closing these doors is not charged to the winter account.
I was hoping there’d be more than a 20% chance of noodles today.
I’m happy to report the Meijer’s cash register computers are now giving out gift receipts for anything. So they figure, eh, I might not be giving a carton of rock salt, two jars of discount peanut butter, or a pack of Morningstar Farms vegetarian sausages to someone as a gift, they want to be ready in case I do, and in case that person would rather have something else instead. I’m going ahead and guessing they imagine someone’s feeling more like getting a transparent vinyl shower curtain or a box of club crackers instead. Except what good are the club crackers without peanut butter to put on them? I suppose there’s cheese, cream or otherwise. Hm. Must think about this sometime.
A thing to understand about my area of mid-Michigan is that there are sandwich shop chains. Particularly there are two sandwich shop chains with a New Jersey theme. There are good reasons for this. If you know them please submit them in writing care of an office. These events happened while I was eating lunch in one of them.
There was a kid sitting at the table next to mine. Well, sitting in the way that a young kid does, which is, hovering around the table and hopping onto and off of the chairs and putting her chin on the back of a chair and then calling out to an adult who existed somewhere about the prospect of having a cookie. She didn’t talk about the “prospect” of a cookie. That’s me putting words into her mouth, as she only had the promise of a future cookie. I’m not sure how old she was. Once they’re old enough to stand up reliably all kids look to me like they’re either four, ten, or sixteen. This kid was at the four-year-old level.
I wasn’t worried about the kid. Whatever she was up to, it wasn’t my fault, and the worst that you can really do at that age in a sandwich shop is spill your soda. She didn’t have a soda, so she must have got around to spilling it before I even got in. And then suddenly she asked me, “What’s that?”
I would have been happy to know what what she wanted the that to. I’m sorry, I feel seasick and have to lie down a bit. Okay, I’m back. I guessed she was pointing to the picture on the wall and tried to explain it was a woman sunbathing. This seemed to satisfy the kid so I thought, great! I’ve had my unplanned interaction with a stranger for the week. Now I don’t have to talk to anybody anymore. On later examination it turns out to be a picture of a woman on a sailboat.
“What’s that?” asked the kid again, pointing at about the same spot. I tried to follow her finger and guessed maybe she meant what the woman who was not sunbathing was part of. It’s a replica of one of those “Welcome To ____” postcards. This seemed like a vast conceptual universe to get across to a kid. I did my best: “It’s a picture of Point Pleasant. That’s a town on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a neat place. They used to have a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster and a beautiful merry-go-round there.” I was bluffing. But, like, it’s a Jersey Shore town. If they didn’t have a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, and a merry-go-round they weren’t even trying. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: Jenkinson’s Boardwalk! No, that’s in Point Pleasant Beach, a technically different borough in the same part of the Barnegat Peninsula. The kid was very interested in all this right up until I started answering. Still, she seemed satisfied so the world was all in order.
“What’s that?” the kid then asked again and I was running out of things to that about. My book? “It’s a book about Popeye,” I said and hoped that the kid would not be at all interested. I mean, I’d love for someone not-old to be interested in Popeye. But the book had a collection of strips from the 30s and 40s. And in those days comic strips had about eighteen panels each weekday, none of them with fewer than 600 words per panel. If the kid had any idea I was looking at comics she might want to read along and I won’t live long enough for that. But I could at least give an answer and hope that satisfied.
“What’s that?” she asked again. And I gave up. And now I must face knowing that, for all I think of myself as a self-confident and self-assured person, any four-year-old kid can break me with one question repeated four times. Maybe five if I wasn’t quite listening to start with. “What’s what?” I asked back and the kid wasn’t intersted in whatever I had to say.
She perhaps felt she had triumphed. She did not ask me “What’s that?” again. Instead she sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. When she reached the end, I told her, “That’s a very nice song. Did you make it up?” She didn’t dignify me with an answer. Fair enough although I’m like 85% sure my niece would have let me get away with asking that when she was four years old. I was honestly intending to give her the chance to call me silly for thinking she had made that up, or let her get away with saying she had. She’s the one who out-thought me entirely.
So I have to credit the sandwich shop kid for handily winning whatever social game she was playing with me. I’m completely defeated and I might never be allowed to buy a sandwich from anyone ever again.
I hope to help in preparing things for Thanksgiving. I have reason to think I can. I cook most dinners. I don’t do advanced cooking. I mostly use the cooking trick of “warm up a food thing”. Make sure it’s a food thing (very important.) Warming it up is also important. You can try having, say, an un-warmed baked potato. The results are sad to taste, plus then you have a conversation afterwards about how you reached this point in life.
Still, warming is pretty much the one trick I’m good at. Thanksgiving dinners need two or even four tricks. So its cooking is a challenge. The first challenge is getting over my offense that we find recipes on the Internet. The thing is in the early 80s computer magazines would tell us three things. That we should learn BASIC to program computers. That we could use computers to store recipes. That we needed to know what “modem” was short for. This was all nonsense and I’m annoyed we’re letting computers give us recipes. I don’t care if it’s the only way to find out what a blanched tomato might even be. We don’t need to know that much. “Modem” is short for “modulator/demonstrator”.
So I take a recipe and step into action. I check first that it is a recipe for a thing we want to have at or around Thanksgiving. This isn’t my first rodeo. I confirm the ingredients:
- 1 (one) loaf, adumbrated
- 3 cloves
- 2 5/8 cups water (rotational cut)
- 4 tbsp cream cheese
- 14-18 crackers, club
- pinch allspice
- two eggs (British-style)
- pinch somespice
- 1 can, peas or what have you, 8-12 oz (troy weight)
- cheek-rub nutmeg
- yellow squash (at least two parts yellow to one part squash)
- 1 and 7/9th cups scuppered niblicks
- some mushrooms of the “usual kynde” (Ref: Chaucer, c 1387)
- 2/5th cup sugar (mixed white and dark, or as it is known to professional cooks, “chiarosucrose”)
I spread the cream cheese onto the crackers, interrupted by the two crackers that break in half mid-spread. Placing the smaller half on top allows these to become tiny pyramidal cream cheese snacks. It fortifies me for the work of making food. I’m lucky not to need a snack to get the fortification crackers ready. I discard 2/7 cups of water as surplus to requirements.
There’s sure to be a need for some milk product. I look over the cans: evaporated milk. Condensed milk. Sweetened condensed milk. Unsweetened unevaporated milk. Powdered half-and-half. Half-and-unpowdered-half. Instant yoghurt [sic]. Partially assembled yogurt [sic]. Whipping cream. Whipped cream. Lightweight whipped cream. Summer-weight whipping cream. Pitted milk. Unpitted milk. De-unpitted milk. Re-pitted milk. Lots of pulp milk. Pitied milk. I take out a can of cheese soup stock and pretend to be dusting the cabinet shelf when challenged.
Anticipating a serving-spoon shortage I select some spoons, “fiiyne and trew” (Ref: Pepys, 1667), and set them in a secure spot, thereby causing the shortage.
Preheating the oven to 395 I start telling anyone who’ll listen of how I replaced the heating element in the old electric oven. The only one willing to listen is the new electric oven. I trust this story rallies it to new heights of oven skills, as like four months after I put the new element in we got rid of the old oven. Well, we had a new one. So with the old we looked through Craigslist. We found someone named Craig who wasn’t going to check their lawn any too often to see if someone abandoned an electric oven there. It has a good home now with a Craig who’s entertaining fantasies about some home-based food-making service, so far as we know.
There are instructions on one of the recipe pages printed out about fluting a pie. This is a prank and I pay it no attention.
I open the carton of bread crumbs. It’s a cherished carton, handed down in the family for decades now. The box’s design betrays its age. The lettering is in that check-numbers typeface they used for future-y stuff in computer magazines of the early 80s. Its UPC number is 4. I take a clean handful of crumbs and rub them against the loaf until the crumbs, themselves dryer than my hands if such a thing is possible, crumble. The cloud of bread crumb crumbles spreads in a vaporous movement off the counter. It settles on the floor, where it becomes a patch of the tile that never feels comfortable to walk on again, even in socks.
I set the microwave timer to 1:99, and switch it to 20 percent power, before turning it off.
The butter needs clarifying, as far as we know. We’ve been getting these “butter rolls” from the hipster farmer’s market. They’re cylinders about four inches in diameter and upwards up twenty feet long. I begin the clarification process by connecting it to our lie detector. It’s actually the old iPod Nano, with a broken pair of earbuds used as the sensors. Don’t tell it. We discuss its past and whether it feels any trauma from having once been milk. And then its feelings on converting from milk to butter. What is it to endure the process the dairy industry professionals know as milk-into-butter-converterization-processificationizing? We can only hope to know. Its alibi checks out and it is released from custody.
In a moment of whelming curiosity I look up what it is to “parbroil” a thing. It is to boil a food until it is partially cooked. This makes me rant about how “part boiled” is exactly the joke I would make about what it means. And it’s irresponsible of actual food-related people to pull a stunt like that. I start to ask whether it is a “pound” cake because of the many steps in which one punches the cake. Furthermore, I show with logic everyone agrees to be supremely correct and right and everyone else was wronggity wrong wrong wrong that the word “demonstrator” must imply the existence of a word “monstrator” which would be an explanation which makes the workings of a thing completely obscure.
I am excused from the kitchen.
Yes, I am still feeling the sting of terrible betrayal about how Diet Faygo Arctic Sun is, despite the bottle, actually slightly less blue than a bucket of orange paint would be. Even as we speak, if we get together the minute I’m writing this, I’m consoling myself with a can of Fresca, where the relevant soda pop is “I have no idea what color. It’s in a can”. However, we do have this exciting development. It came about from my love stopping in the cider mill to get … well, go ahead and guess. But also eggs because we were, so far as my love was aware, out of eggs. I also got eggs, because so far as I was aware I was the only person in a position to get eggs. The important thing in our state of being temporarily flush with eggs is that the cider mill eggs are a mix, not all a bunch of uniformly Same Color White Or Brown. In fact, we’ve got this:
So yes, that second egg from the right, top row. It’s a pale color, yes, and it photographs as pretty darned grey. But we got the tests back from the Pantone Laboratories just hours ago and it does fit within the technical standards to pass as a “green egg”. I can’t tell you exactly what we’re going to do with this wonder of nature, except that it’s probably going to be eaten.
Gang I’m sorry to interrupt but this is urgent. It turns out if you go to a store and give them some money for an embossed-tape label-maker, then they have to give you one right then and there. It’s the rules. Plus they can’t go and take it back then. That’s also the rules. I mean the right kind of store, yes. You have to go to one that sells label-makers of some kind I think that’s fair enough. It would be a bit rough on the sales clerks if you went to, say, a bead-selling shop (or as it is known in the industry, a “beadatorium”) and demanded a label-maker. I mean, they might loan you one, if they didn’t need to put a label on some of their beads just then. (The label would read ‘BEADS’.) Beadatorium workers seem like a pretty nice kind of person. But you couldn’t expect them to give you one for keeps. They would need label-making equipment for their own use, in case they got in some more beads. (That label would read ‘MORE BEADS’.) But the important thing is if you went to the right store and bought one, then you have an embossed-tape label-maker and you can make labels that read anything you want. Please reblog to raise awareness. This could be bigger than how it turns out you could just make something in the slow cooker any time you wanted, even right now.
- Oh, all right, it was “Chi-Chi-mangas” shut up I wasn’t even ten years old.
- Mmm. No.
- You don’t need to know this one either.
- “Bisement” but understand I had this weird kind of half-burp while I was trying to talk about the basement and that’s just how it turned out.
- Yeah no I’m not telling you that either.
- Confidently telling a friend that — hold up, you know what? You don’t need to hear this one either.
Reference: Harpo Speaks!, Harpo Marx and Rowland Barber.
Me: vividly remembers precisely the way the then-younger he mispronounced “chimichangas” for like three weeks after first being introduced to them at Chi-Chi’s, which obviously must have invented this wonder food of tomorrow of 1982 and no you may not ask what it was and expect an answer.
Also me: could not convince myself, either by memory or appeal to reason, that I had washed my hair in the shower, a mere thirty minutes after taking it this morning and so there was nothing to do but repeat the whole process. Spoiler: it turns out I had washed my hair, as I had for every shower since 1982.
So I called the City Clerk back, and told him I thought I had an answer. We just got a new microwave oven and there’s this great timer feature for it. Turns out to go up pretty high, and I set it for 305,056,800 seconds, which is about nine years and eight months and should give plenty of warning for checking that Lansing doesn’t accidentally let all its laws expire again. So I was feeling really good about that. But then last night we were making Morningstar-brand spicy red-bean vegetarian-hamburger patties and White Castle French Fries in the oven, and I needed to set the timer for ten minutes to turn them over, and re-set the microwave timer without even thinking. Woke up at like 4:30 am realizing what I had done. And I realized, like, we have power failures a couple times a year too. So I’m going to have to either check that we can get a really big egg timer at the store or maybe just call the Clerk back and say I was just wrong and can’t help.
When I speak of the buffet having an all-cheese table I should be more precise. I mean that the offerings on top of the table are all cheese. Many kinds of cheese, of many cheese genres. But the table itself is not made of cheese. The table is made of table. Oh, there are also some small plates, which are made out of the same stuff as large plates, just not so much of them. I apologize for any confusion on this point up through now.
I’m very sorry, but I’ve been staring hard at The Food Timeline and I’m trying to process the information that stromboli can’t be proven to have existed any earlier than the 1990s. I mean, think of all the things that were invented before strombolis: calzones, well, that’s natural enough. But also, like, eight-track cassette tapes, the Hubble Space Telescope, and fajitas. Wait, fajitas were only invented in the early 70s? Well, so you can see why I’ve just been a mess all day.
Since the year is still not out of its probationary period I should review my own resolutions. It’s always a good chance to encourage that one friend you know to say it’s 1080i. This person has most recently been me. I don’t know that 1080i is a resolution but it seems like the sort of thing that used to turn up a lot when you talk about television sets. Now I think they’ve gone over to 4K, which means we are all sending more televisions to people whose name starts with ‘K’. They liked this when it started, but they’re getting tired of finding something to do with all those televisions now.
1. Eat Less. I’ve always been very fond of taking food-based things and putting them into my mouth. I spent many years as, I’ll admit, an expert eater. At one point, and not a word of this is made up, I took the rubbery waffles being handed out outside a microbus that was set up on the street in Singapore’s Orchard Road shopping district. The microbus was a tiny exhibit about the life of runner Steve Prefontaine. It is barely plausible that any part of this event happened at all and nevertheless, given the chance to eat a thing, I took it. I’ve since lost a great deal of weight (I hid it in the ventilation system of my parents’ old house and they never looked! Oh, and sorry about that mess in the vent system when you tried to sell the house, Dad), so I no longer move around mostly by being rolled by Oompa-Loompas. But my weight is creeping up again and I should do something about that. This resolution might possibly be “eat fewer” instead.
2. Help take some of those unwanted TVs off of Kay’s hands. I should meet someone named Kay first, in order to avoid legal complications. I know at least two people named ‘Kevin’ and they’ve probably got as much television as they can store. I don’t really need more televisions around myself. But I’ve always had a slight interest in setting up those long falling-domino trains, and if we did that with flatscreen TVs instead it would be a bit more interesting. Maybe that would be interesting enough to get me to try doing it.
3. Stenning less thorough the jerfling nagorn except when strumwel imeleer. Will admit I’m not exactly sure what I resolved to here. It was very important when I woke at 5:30 am and scribbled the notes down on the receipt for two Wendy’s sour-cream-and-chives baked potatoes from a lunch in November 2015 for some reason. I admit I’m not sure whether this is something I should be doing more of or less of. But I appreciate the moral support you’ve all shown in my effort to sten more appropriately in these strumwel times. Possibly related to this, if I somehow used a second pen while jotting this down: “polka bear”.
4. To keep my hands adequately moisturized. It’s been dry here. I should explain that I live in mid-Michigan, which is geologically classified as a marshland with olive burgers. For example, our basement is normally extremely wet, sheets of water running down the walls like we’re a setting for some jellyfish horror movie. But this season? Nothing. The dehumidifier in the basement estimates the atmosphere down there at something like 30 molecules of water in the whole space. In some more words that are not made up, the bathroom mirror has not steamed up during my morning shower since before Christmas. So my hands have been hyperbolically dry. I don’t just have to shove my fists into tubs of hand lotion in the morning and leave them there until bedtime. I have to change out the tubs twice a day because my skin is absorbing all the moisture from it. And do you know what it’s like getting hand lotion moisturizer? It’s a freaking Zeno Paradox is that that is. Achilles and the tortoise and the aloe vera. Also if someone has a resolution about getting some moisture back in the air please write in.
Hm. It seemed like more when I was trying to get started this morning. All right, then.
So you know how that nice high-quality organic peanut butter tastes great, but if you leave it alone for a couple days it separates into a layer of oil and a lump of clay? And then you have to spend twenty minutes mashing them back together when you just want to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich now that you’re a little hungry and rediscovered what happens if you put regular butter on the jelly side so it’s a PB-and-JB? Well, if you just close the peanut butter lid securely and store the jar upside-down then you’ll find the peanut butter still separates into a layer of oil and a lump of clay. But now the lid will also be all greasy and you’ll leave a smear of stuff on the shelving paper too! And, hey, at least you’ve tried taking positive action about the problem, and isn’t that itself progress?
I was looking through the free weekly advertisement-carrying special edition of the Lansing State Journal that they give away free at convenience stores and laundromats and stuff. Here was the headline, sitting there on page 8A of the single-section thing:
Plan to eat 100 McChickens in a day is a failure
And it goes on for 21 paragraphs. The official version in the actual newspaper that people would choose to pay for titles it differently. This Michigan State student tried to eat 100 McChicken sandwiches in 24 hours, it says, in a headline that’s less punchy but is at least as good if you suffix “for some reason” to it.
But the plan was simple enough. He was going to go back to the McDonald’s near campus over the day and get a couple McChickens at a time, eat them while going about his business, and return to the McDonald’s when he needed more, while keeping SnapChat informed of the whole affair. The most startling thing to me about this is the discovery that apparently McDonald’s will just sell you ten McChicken sandwiches even if you go there before 9 am. Also that he picked a class day to do this even though it meant bringing McChicken sandwiches in to a 9 am class.
The whole affair ended in failure, like the better headline said, with the guy topping out at 24 McChickens. Also one of his friends is quoted as saying, “I had him at 16 or 17. He definitely surpassed what I thought he could do.” So I have no idea what we’ve learned from this, other than that I guess there’s a chemical engineering major who can eat seven more McChicken sandwiches in a day than one of his friends imagined he could.
Still, this does mean I’m gathering material for my Vic and Sade reboot.
1433. Birth of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, died 1477 before anybody could make font jokes at him, which is just as well, because after forty years of those he’d probably throw boiling serifs over the ramparts before anyone even got near him.
1551. Wait, is that just someone wandering through the background of the ‘Mister Food’s Test Kitchen’ segment on the noon news? She can’t just be wandering up to the fridge there for no reason, right? No, wait, she is. The heck? And there she goes again and Mister Food doesn’t acknowledge her at all? Oh, I guess she’s come in at the end to sample the macaroni-and-cheese he suggests people try cooking. Is it, like, her job to wander around in the TV kitchen and then eat macaroni and cheese at the end? How do I not have that job myself? Sorry, TV distracted me there.
1662. A daring attempt by that Old English letter that looks like an o with a tiny x dangling precariously on top of it to sneak back into the alphabet is foiled. An alert guard at the Tower of London notices something “funny” about the tic-tac-toe game the letter was trying to use as camouflage. But since it was the 17th century he explained his suspicions in a sentence that ran on for over 850 pages of court testimony. The letter was able to escape to Flanders and lead similar attempts to get back into the alphabet in 1717, 1896, and whenever it was they made up Unicode.
1774. Benjamin Franklin’s first, primitive, USB cable is connected to one of his stoves. Nothing much happens, causing the inventor and statesman to admit that he “didn’t know what I expected, really”. Sometimes you just get “a case of the giggles” and have to run with the idea.
1871. Henry Morton Stanley locates Dr David Livingstone, near lage Tanganyika, after a long process that I had always figured amounted to Stanley going into Africa and asking, “Hey, anybody seen any other white guys poking around?” and then following wherever they pointed. And then I heard that yeah, that’s pretty much what he actually did. And I’ve never gone to look up just how he did go searching for Livingstone because I don’t know if I’d be more annoyed if it turned out my joke actually happened or if I’d be heartbroken to learn it didn’t.
1929. Toontown’s so-called “Valentine’s Day Massacre” happens when a truckload of rapid-fire erasers falls into the hand of calendar reformers who think that we don’t have enough February in our lives.
1956. Aberdeen, Scotland, and the Malay state of Negeri Sembilan agree to end their technically never-resolved state of war dating to the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. When spoilsports note that neither Aberdeen nor Negeri Sembilan had anything to do with the Austro-Prussian War to start with they were helpfully shoved into the Old North Creek. Organizers then put up a memorial there to remind everyone what happens when you go knowing actual history in front of people.
1983. After a furious round of rewrites and arguments Dan Aykroyd agrees to shift the focus of his years-in-development labor-of-love project from a quirky comedy about animal control officials over to some guys who shoot special effects at ghosts. While the new project is successful the pre-revision script kicks around Hollywood for several more years before being finally kicked out again. It’s finally picked up and made as an indie project in 2014. Goosebusters goes on to win the East Lansing Film Festival’s coveted “… The Heck Am I Even Watching” Medallion With Dabs Of Cooking Oil Grease On The Ribbon.
2001. Stern Pinball signs a license to make the popular video game Roller Coaster Tycoon into a pinball machine. This is one of the early triumphs of the game company’s “license stuff picked at random from the US Trademark Office database” program. Other successfully licensed games include: CSI, Uneeda Biscuits, the Wendy’s Where’s The Beef Multiball Frenzy Arcade Experience, Cinerama, and Bally Pinball Games: The Pinball Game.
2008. The day’s Slylock Fox mystery doesn’t draw any complaints from anyone about the solution being contrived or requiring we make assumptions like, yeah, while dogs in this world can talk and wear clothes and hold down actuarial jobs they’re nevertheless still red-green color-blind.
I’m not saying I’m not still wondering about that pretend football game’s scoreboard. This is the one at the Cherry Republic store in Traverse City, Michigan. Fun place, lots of cherry-based food things you can put in your mouth if you so desire.
Anyway besides the football scoreboard and a bunch of mocked up movie posters with bear or cherry stuff inserted into it, they’ve got a pretend old-timey baseball scoreboard and it looks like this, because this is a picture of it:
So. Yes, I am incredibly disturbed that the home-team Cherries are put on the top of the scoreboard there. I’ve seen this sort of thing done in like high school ballparks and football … parks … and stuff and it always looks unsetting and wrong. Never mind that. Here’s my question.
After eight innings the visiting Apples had nine runs, and the home-team Cherries had 11. That’s a plausible enough score and it sure looks like it was a fun game to that point. But then, and this has been bothering me for four months now, is: why did the Cherries play their ninth inning?
Yes, yes, I know. Up until the 1950 revisions of the rules of baseball the home team could choose whether to bat first or second. And maybe this scoreboard’s just been up there since that time in 1946 when the Cherries manager figured going first would be a great way to throw the Apples’ manager off. Of course I thought of that. But even I don’t buy it. What is going on?