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?
I’ve had this sitting around a while but it’s still making me think. It’s at the Cherry Republic store in Traverse City. The store is great, a fine spot if you’re in Traverse City, Michigan, and need somewhere to stop in to get a quick snack, because they have chips and samples of several hundred thousand cherry-based jams and jellies and salsas and … consumable food products. It’s great. The place is decorated in an aesthetic style of “Americana, only it’s all about cherries and bears and stuff”. And they’ve got a couple of mock sports scoreboards, and there’s this one I’ve been thinking about.
So. Cherries just smashing the Bananas, that’s fine. I expect the cherry people to be enthusiastic about a game like that. The thing is, the score is Cherries 86, Bananas 3. There have been, at minimum, twelve scoring events in this game so far. And now look at the time. They’re four minutes, 42 seconds into the first quarter. And the Bananas have given up, no less than ten touchdowns with two-point conversions each and one more without? And if they gave up one-point conversions, or field goals, instead, then they’ve let even crazily more scoring chances go during this game. What has their ball possession time got to look at? And given that, I’m amazed the Bananas have at least put up three points. They’ve got to have had the ball in their control for at most, I figure, 0.4 seconds to allow the Cherries to get a score like that.
So all I mean to say is, wow but the Bananas coach is going to have an unpleasant telephone call from the head office come Monday, or possibly Sunday, or possibly at halftime. Or possibly the team owner is going to run down there and kick him in the shin right now.
And it was just sitting there ready to be noticed.
Yes, it’s my fault for trying to read a local newspaper article about something instead of doing what they want, which is buying a subscription to the local USA Today franchise for Clementon, New Jersey, or whatever just so I can see one piece about an amusingly shaped pumpkin or whatever it was. And I realize that many people have no trouble forming or giving opinions about stuff. But then they wanted my opinion on this to let me read on.
And this is after I had said what the phrase “C’est la vie” suggests to me. Well, as best I could approximate. What the phrase really makes me think is someone who accepts that yeah, this sucks, but it’s the way the game is played and if you get through this you can move on to some other phase of the doom. They wouldn’t let me write that down so I had to select ‘Neutral’ instead.
Anyway I feel like I have the chance to mess up somebody’s hummus marketing campaign here. Wish me luck.
So I was in Meijer’s, remembering to buy sandwich bags and forgetting to buy trash bags, because we’re in one of those occasional phases of life where we don’t have the right number of bags. I came upon a big pile of boxed consumer goods: a Michigan State University Spartans Crock-Pot.
I’m aware, Crock-Pot is an official licensed kitchen-appliance-themed product. We pretend that the non-trademarked name for them is “slow cookers”. And I’m aware that the Spartans are an official licensed university-themed product.
So there I stood, in front of a pile of Spartan Crock-Pots, pondering the box’s promise that this is “Officially Licensed”. Licensed by who? To who? Did someone at Spartan Master Command want the real Crock-Pot, trusting that nobody would buy a Spartan Slow Cooker? Did someone at Crock-Pot Master Command insist that, hey, this is the Lansing/East Lansing Market. We can’t make do with a University of Michigan/Flint Lansing Campus Crock-Pot?
Did they license to each other? Is this the future of capitalism, companies just looking for other companies they can swap licenses with, all in the cause of creating piles of small yet durable consumer goods between the aisles of discount department stores? I could use some help having a reaction to all this. Please come over. I’m by the Surprisingly Many Women’s Soaps aisle, curled up and weeping.
So we’ve only got a couple days left before the eclipse. I think we’re basically set. But we should go over some last-minute arrangements before we do.
First. I’ve talked with about two-thirds of all the dragons I know and they’ve agreed they aren’t going to go eating the sun while everything’s happening. They also agree not to eat the Moon. They’re making no promises about not eating Saturn, though. I know, I know, I kept pointing out how much we like the rings. This one silver dragon asked when’s the last time I looked at them and that’s just not fair. I’m not on Saturn-ring-watching duty. That’s, like, I want to say Eric? I think Eric signed up for that.
Second. We don’t need paper plates or plastic silverware. We have Jakebe signed up to bring them, and we’ve even got someone who’s going to tell him. Don’t worry. I’ve known him for years and I’m pretty sure he’s got this. Or will. Ooh, do you think he has those little wicker baskets you put the paper plates in? They make picnics just so much better.
Third. Egg salad. Here we do need help. We need someone who’ll whip up enough egg salad for everybody who’s on the path between 80 percent and totality. We’ve got enough egg salad for the 40 percent through 80 percent bands, and we’ve found that most of the people in the 40 percent and less bands are figuring to get their own lunches so we’re not worrying about them. They’re missing out, though. Should say, we want the egg salad with a little bit of dill picked from the yard just as if it were all right to grow plants in your yard and pick them and eat them. I know, we’ve been doing this for years but it still feels like we’re getting away with something. Please check the sign-up sheets and it’s all right if we have extra left over.
Fourth. As the sun passes behind the mountains of the lunar horizon we may see Baily’s Beads. We need about four more people to get up and polish them to a good shine so they’re really presentable. We’ve got the polishing rags, since we somehow have twelve camera-lens-cleaning cloths and we don’t know why we needed more than, like, two.
Fifth. Cloud cover. After the Transit of Venus we’re all rightly fed up with clouds obscuring stuff like this. We’ve got enough volunteers to go up in the sky and eat as many clouds as they can. That’s not going to be able to cover all the eclipse path, so we also need people who can go up and wave fans around to blow any clouds out of the way, then get out of the way before totality sets in. Please bring your own fans! We can’t arrange everything. Pro Tip: write your name or e-mail address on the fan’s handle so if it gets separated from you we know how to get it back.
Sixth. People to handle leftover egg salad. Yes, I said it’s all right if we have extra left over. That’s because we are going to have people to handle this left-over stuff. Look, it’s hard enough getting a big event like this organized. I’m not going to waste my time trying to make sure we exactly match up egg salad needs with egg salad availability. I say, make all the egg salad we can and we’ll work out what to do with the extra. I’m thinking spare lunches, but am open-minded.
Seventh. Oh, this is important. The music. Our band backed out because the guy who plays guitar has some impossibly complicated problem going on. You know the sort, where everything is caused by like four other causes and they’re all cross-feeding each other. So. I know how great it was back during the Annular Eclipse of 1994 when we just grabbed whatever CDs we had in our cars and did a jam of that. It’s temping to do that again but there’s a shocking number of you have cars that can’t even play CDs. I think we’re just going to have to stick to everybody listening to whatever podcasts they’re already behind on. Disappointing, but these are the times we live in. But if you do know a good band that’s got guitarists who aren’t caught up in crazypants drama please let us know. No, we’re not doing Pink Floyd covers again.
So I think we’re all set. If you want to do any last-minute sign-ups do it by 11 am Sunday. We are not pushing things to the last second and this time we mean it. And let’s try to get this right; this is our last full rehearsal before April 2024. Good luck and enjoy!
I don’t remember why I was reading Wikipedia’s article about turnips, but it was justified by running across this sentence and its parenthetical diversion:
The Macomber turnip (actually a rutabaga) dating from the late 19th century features in one of the very few historic markers for a vegetable, on Main Road in Westport, Massachusetts.
Yes, they have a photograph of the historical marker (“Legend of the Turnips”) and no, I’m lying. I know why I was reading Wikipedia’s article about turnips. I just don’t want to admit what it was.
So the Salisbury steak was invented by the physician James Salisbury. He was of the opinion that people should eat Salisbury steak three times a day, if possible. All of this is as true as something attested on Wikipedia could be. And I’m annoyed because this sounds exactly like what I’d produce in the first two sentences if you gave me the topic ‘Salisbury steaks’ to riff on. It’s an injustice of some kind.
|Friday||A Pillow Full Of Bunny Kisses|
|Saturday||Take-Out From The Chinese Place With The Fake Vegetarian Chicken So Good You Kind Of Don’t Want To Check If It’s Real Chicken And They’re Just Lying|
So the shop is called Muffler Man and, OK, that’s not a bad start. It lets you know clearly that at this shop you’ll be dealing with a man of some kind, and that he asserts to have some experience dealing with mufflers. That’s all very good stuff because you can trust a company whose name tells you what it does. The only thing that would improve it is if the name also included a location, like, “Lansing Muffler Man” or “Michigan Avenue Muffler Man”, because companies that tell you where they are usually know what they’re trying to do. When a company removes their geographic designator from the name that’s the first sign they’re going into providing services of some kind instead of doing anything useful. And if the name doesn’t mean anything it means they don’t want to do anything either, and if they are good at anything anymore it’s just inertia. They’ll screw it up as soon as they want to improve analysts’ ideas of their stock value. “Muffler Man”? Safe company to deal with. If if were, say, “Asperience”? Will never do anything that leaves you happy.
Thing is, you hear “Muffler Man”, you can’t help thinking that jingle about “Muffin Man”. So: why don’t they embrace that and start having muffins too? I haven’t had any real problems with my mufflers since I stopped buying $1,000 used cars from guys my dad knows. But if Muffler Man were a place to go and hang out and get something like muffins to eat — and I’m open to things in the greater muffin metropolitan area to eat too, such as cake-type brownies — I’d sure hang out there more than I do now. I bet I could find marginal excuses to have my muffler … looked at or whatever it is car repair people do with mufflers. The possibility is right there; what’s wrong with society that we’re not taking it?
Like I warn, though, this is just about making what’s already perfectly fine a little bit better. Muffler Man is not at all screwed up, as it is. I just think there’s more eating could be naturally associated with the experience is all.
The comic strips that don’t have stories to over-explain but do have someone say “algebra” in them I talk about over on my other blog.
No, I am not engaged in the lazy form of comedy in which someone notices a sign has a mistake in it. “Slidders” are a specialty of the restaurant, where they make extremely thin hamburger patties fried on an incredibly hot metal sheet. To keep the burgers from overcooking they’re literally slid down the heavily greased sheet. They’re then smothered under almost a soup of boiled onions and mushrooms, but that’s incidental. If this seems strange, is it really odder than planked shad? Anyway, I just want you to know they’re the tastestoostiest.
Because people were wondering after the spinach discovery:
|An Arrogant Vegetable||Its Enabler|
|Watercress||Less watered cress|
|Sea lettuce||Sea grapes|
So sometime back I bought a pack of kaiser rolls. I’m not sure how far back, except I’m almost sure it was summer when I got them. We use them for (vegetarian) burgers, except I keep thinking they’re pretzel rolls when I’m not looking at them. That might seem like a curious mistake to make repeatedly but then remember I keep them in the fridge so they’ll last longer in the summer weather.
Thing is, we have four of them left in the pack. And we had four of them left in the pack last time we had burgers. I’m not sure when’s the last time we didn’t have four of them left in the pack, which is part of why I can’t really swear to just when we got the bag. It’s been a long while considering our veggie burger consumption.
Anyway, I just want to say I’m going to be cross if I’ve finally come across a magic endlessly-regenerating never-empty bag of something for my life, and it’s kaiser rolls instead of Boyer peanut-butter Smoothie cups. Or, I guess, pretzel rolls. Not that Mallo Cups are bad, just the Smoothie cups are harder to get in good shape.
Singapore’s Former President S R Nathan died this week. So this is a fitting time to record for posterity my understanding of our relationship. It’s also the last time I can share this story without my being inhumanly dull. That’s all right. I’ve been using this story to be a bit dull for twelve years and that’s not bad for a standard-grade anecdote. It doesn’t measure up to the styrofoam peanut computer monitor incident of 1999, but not everything is.
Back in the day (2004) I was working at the National University of Singapore, in the Department of Computational Science. This was a department that did physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics from a computer science perspective. “Wait,” you ask, “how is that different from ordinary physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and computer science, what with it being literally the 21st Century and everything being done on computers?” Our department would say that LOOK THERE’S A BIG DISTRACTING THING OVER THERE and run out to the Science Canteen to regroup. We were disbanded the next year.
It was the start of the school year. It was time for the Commencement ceremonies. Last year’s graduates officially received their diplomas and I realized all the time I had spent in United States academia had been a lie. “Commencement”! The word is right there in the name of the thing. WHY DO WE PUT IT AT THE END OF THE YEAR? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? This was enough to send me to the Science Canteen and drown my sorrow in tuna buns. These are a Singaporean food thing where you take a bun and put tuna in it. Well, they put tuna in it. You just eat it. Someday this is going to hit the United States big. Corn buns ought to too, but that’s probably not enough meat for the typical American. Chocolate buns may be just a little too weird. Too bad.
The department needed someone to be on stage for Commencement, one of those professory types in dignified robes watching the proceedings without nodding off. I’d volunteered for one of the school Commencements. The University ran two or three commencements for the various schools over the course of like two weeks because maybe they had too many subdivisions. He thought, from the doomed department. That led to the whole “Dubiously Wanted Pants” Affair but that’s another story. Then I got an invite to attend the main commencement, if I responded before the actual letter was sent to me. I checked and they told me that sure, they’d have a chair for me if I got there for 9:20 am. That’s like my third-best 9:20 of the day, but all right. I wore the pair of dubiously wanted pants and everything.
My participation got me marked for VIP treatment. This ran hard against my general level of self-esteem. I won’t brag about my low self-esteem because I couldn’t possibly bring myself to do it. But to have actually well-dressed ushers ushing me off past velvet barriers and stuff encourages the feeling of accidentally stumbling into a Nikolai Gogol play I never actually read or saw or anything. Also somehow all us faculty misunderstood something the first time we went out on stage so they had to call us back and send us out again. That’s just reinforcing so many stereotypes.
The ceremony was different from United States university commencements in that they only played like eight bars of Pomp and Circumstance at the start. They had to save time at some point. There were like twelve more school commencement ceremonies later that day. At this one they just blasted through the doctoral and master-degree candidates and presented them all to the University Chancellor, President Nathan. (Remember him?)
At the reception afterwards they still wanted me around and among the VIP section even though honestly. And our department didn’t have any doctoral or masters-degree candidates. So all I had to do was wander around the packed hallway, filling my plate with kueh (any of hundreds of desserts made by compressing sugar into Singaporean Hyper-Sugar) and bee hoon (the tastiest part of the bee) and then emptying it. And then I sneezed. I wasn’t yet skilled at sneezing into my elbow and I just managed to sneeze into my right hand instead. Not too messy but still, sneeze.
I saw a little clearing of people, off in the general direction of the bathroom, and I charged directly into it. It was a little open gap of people in front of President Nathan. He smiled at this fat, tall person who had just sneezed into his hand in front of him. I had always assumed President of Singapore to be a pretty easy gig. The country’s got a Westminster parliament scheme but with only one really organized political party. So there’s not even the occasional bit of choosing to approve a coalition government or proroguing parliament or anything for the Head of State to do. But he proved me wrong about the job’s easiness. He reached out and shook my booger-laden hand. I could never do something like that.
And then we had a conversation that, to the best of my recollection, was exactly this majestic:
“Good day,” he said.
“Good day … I’m honoured to meet you, sir.” (I would do my best to approach the Singaporean accent without sounding like I’m making fun of myself.)
“Where do you come from?”
“New Jersey. Um. The United States.”
“Ah. Are you a graduate?”
“Faculty, actually. I’m a teaching fellow.”
“Ah.” And he nodded and moved on to people not threatening to smear nasal goop over him.
This would prove to be our final conversation, for which I don’t blame him.
Hands. They’re fine things to have. Without them, where would the glove and mitten industries be? Certainly not curled up and tossed in the corner of the shelf in the hall closet. How would we curl them up? With my toes? Maybe. I’ve got surprisingly dextrous toes. But I couldn’t curl up and toss everybody’s gloves and mittens in a world without hands. There’d be too many things to take care of even if we pretend gloves and mittens are the same as the glove and mitten industries. For example there’s finding out whether I could open a jar of peanut butter with my feet. Probably not, because there’s no way I could get my feet clean enough to dream of touching the thing food is in with them. I have a hard enough time walking into the pantry in bare feet.
Which brings me to my topic and you to relief that I have a topic. A critical part of caring for your hands is washing them. And yet what do we really know about hand washing? Almost everything, if we’re paying attention. It isn’t all that difficult to work out. Washing of hands should be done under many conditions, among them:
When handling food. Especially if you’re handling hot soup, even if you’re doing so very quickly for fear of scalding.
After handling food. Unless you were handling it by purely psychological means guiding it to do what you wish by clever suggestion. That’s your choice, but why are you pulling these passive-aggressive head games on your bowl of Museli? Keep on like this and you’re going to be pulling pick-up artist stunts on a bag of Fritos. That’s making the world a more needlessly miserable place. Stop it. Just stop.
Before eating food. Don’t go thinking you’ve found a loophole if you didn’t handle food and just got it delivered to you by some outside agent. We’re paying attention. We aren’t going to let you get away with any argument that wouldn’t work on your mom when you were seven. And even if you did go directly from handling your food as part of preparing it to eating don’t think you can skip the in-between washing step either. In fact, just for that we’re going to say you should wash between your post-handling washing and your eating. And maybe in-between the post-handling washing and the pre-eating washing. And if you think of complaining about that then we’ll give you something to complain about.
After coughing or sneezing into your hand. Also after blowing your nose into your hand. We could avoid this easily if people didn’t make the mistake of coughing or sneezing or boogering into their hands but so many of us do. It’s natural. What else are we supposed to do but put the body parts we use to interpret and manipulate the world directly in the midst of an unpleasant eruption of secreted body fluids? You could lift your arm and cough, sneeze, or whatever into the inside of your elbow, according to a panel of American Medical Association doctors who were kidding but are sticking with that advice now because they’re delighted to see how many people are actually doing it. They want to know how far this will go. You would too.
When you are coping poorly with regret for past mistakes. Not sure when that is? You can set some time and trust it’s about the right amount of your life spent coping poorly. Use this simple guideline. Add 15 to your age and spend that percentage of the day in futile self-recrimination. So for example a 37-year-old would spend 52 percent of his or her waking day trying to wash off the guilt. Add five more percent if absolutely everyone agrees something was not by any reasonable measure your fault.
You know what? Between each bite of food too. We warned you.
After using the bathroom, but before leaving it. We agree there’s the obvious problem here of how you’re supposed to get out of the bathroom without touching something that’s been spending all its day, every day, in the bathroom. Recommended is to find a clean enough section of the bathroom and make gentle whimpering noises until someone comes in and checks on you. Race through the open door, tackling your rescuer so they don’t get stuck in the bathroom too. You absolutely don’t want to get stuck with yourself on the outside and your rescuer on the inside of the bathroom because then there’s no way out except getting yourself stuck in there again, all the while that your soup is getting cold and well-handled.
Before handling food. We saw you skimping earlier. Go back and do it again.
Note: washing can be done by yourself. There is no need to pay for specialist services or to have your hands sent out for custom care. It’s nothing but profit for the dealers.
|Trait Father’s Day Cards Say My Father Has||Are They Correct?|
|Sports-obsessed||If “thinks there is a best professional sports venue, and that it is Fenway Park, and probably could name a New York Yankee if pressed” (we’re from New Jersey) then yes, otherwise, not really.|
|Beer-obsessed||Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha no.|
|Cranky||Not since he stopped working rotating shifts in like 1984.|
|Full of really good ignored advice||Other than that one about starting a retirement account when I was still in college not really.|
|Mechanically inept||Only if you hold against him that the dishwasher in the old house would not stop leaking even after he replaced it and everything connected to it maybe five times.|
|The Human ATM||No.|
|Barbecue-obsessed||If “can barbecue fine, thanks, but is really happier making broiled chicken and other grown-up meals like that” counts.|
|Napping||Yeah, although usually the cat climbs onto his chest and naps first. But I understand they have an agreement about this.|
|Fishing||I cannot imagine my father enjoying anything less than a day out fishing, and that includes “watching the televised Congressional impeachment hearings against my brother on Fox News while waiting at the car dealership for an emergency transmission overhaul to get finished”.|
|Long-suffering||Well, that’s fair enough.|
Also, why are there no cards for father-in-laws? Or a month back, for mother-in-laws? I haven’t done a rigorous survey about this, but I’m going to bet there are more people who actually like their spouse’s parents than there are people needing birthday cards for someone turning 100.