What is it like to be a Beatle?

Sorry to be distracted like this. I just got to wondering, like, how often does Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr, like, just freeze up in the kitchen and think, “I was in the Beatles! And now here I am, peeling an orange! How does something like that happen?” I’m assuming that they occasionally peel oranges. The only reason I can imagine they wouldn’t is if they don’t like oranges. I realize that no life can be all transcendant experiences, but, you know,every now and then Buzz Aldrin must think, “I walked on the Moon and here I am peeling a banana. How?”

I guess it’s a good thing that the biggest thing that ever happened to me was sneezing on the President of Singapore or I’d never be able to handle the small stuff.

By the way, over on my other blog I looked at the Pi Day comic strips. How many of them were about serious mathematics and how many were about pie? The answer may surprise you!

The Cranberry Riders

Apparently for its sesquicentennial Rider University in New Jersey got people organized to set the Guinness World Record for the “longest line of fruits”, by stringing together 10,036 cranberries. I don’t question the wisdom of this, naturally. I don’t know a better way to celebrate a sesquicentennial than setting a fruit-string record. I’m reminded of how Piscataway, New Jersey, celebrated its sesquicentennial by placing in a line an estimated twelve tomatos. (It was founded in 1666, so its sesquicentennial was in 1816, so it was harder to get fresh fruits back then, so lay off. Also it was only Piscataway.)

And I don’t argue with the choice of cranberries. If you want to set a record that’s going to stand you’re going to need a lot of fruits, and cranberries are pretty good because you get a lot of them from wherever it is cranberries come from and they’re all small, so you’re not going to have to up all your storage space for cranberry depository needs. If you were trying to string together over ten thousand watermelons you might well have a line that runs out of New Jersey, through Pennsylvania, and into a little bit of Kentucky before someone checks the map and says that’s not possible.

Plus, and I don’t want to sound too enthusiastic about the state of my birth, but New Jersey is a great place to get cranberries. It’s not obvious from the toll roads, but nearly three-quarters of the land area that isn’t toll roads, outlet malls, or that little bitty mountain range in the upper left corner are cranberry bogs. There’s so many cranberries in New Jersey that you can’t toss an otter into a cranberry bog without getting a lot of cranberries tossed back at you by otter-defending cranberry beasts. Compare this to the in-state availability of, say, durian and you can see why cranberries are almost inevitable.

It’s the number that’s got me: why did they stop at 10,036, instead of the obvious round number of 10,030? Why not go on to a clearly more attractive 10,044? It’s not that the previous record was 10,035; the article I read about it said they broke the old fruit string record by over four thousand pieces of fruit. Possibly they ran out of cranberries, although I’d imagine for the cause of getting to a lofty number like 10,054 someone could have run to the store and got another can, or taunt a nearby otter. Maybe they ran out of string. I could see that stopping the whole project dead. They could resort to twine for the end, although that might get them in trouble, and besides any ball of twine anyone thinks they have is always, always, purely notional. Nobody has had the twine they thought they had since 1942, which wasn’t any particular anniversary for Rider University.

Rider’s director of media relations, Kristine Brown, pointed out that Guinness requires that food used for records be “used in some way”, so apparently when all the record-certifying is done, and someone goes home knowing that their career has caused them to take a trip for the purpose of verifying a string of cranberries, “we’re gonna string them on the trees around campus so all the birds and the squirrels and everybody can enjoy them”. And this offers another clue why cranberries were used, because you can see obvious problems in trying to decorate a university campus with strings of some other fruit, such as squash: I don’t think squash is a fruit.

I’m not sure the exact biology of it but I’m pretty sure fruits are defined as “the plants that people eat because they like eating them, as long as candy bars aren’t available”, while vegetables are “the plants people eat because they feel they should be eating vegetables or because it’s winter and they retain oven heat like crazy”, and then there’s big leafy stuff like lettuce and spinach that people eat because they hold salad dressing. You couldn’t put even world-record-setting strands of squash around campus, not without getting caught or the string breaking.

Also, I had never before thought to frock a university campus in strands of cranberries for the fall, but now, I have a new prank to play.

S J Perelman: Avocado, or the Future of Eating

I’d like to present another item from the inimitable S J Perelman, whose writing here, as it often does, starts from a simple enough premise of being all curmudgeonly about getting lunch and then goes off in strange directions. I don’t know when the article was first published but I have to imagine it dates to the early 20s. Perelman, famously, wrote scripts for several of the Marx Brothers movies and it’s quite easy (for me, anyway) to imagine Groucho, particularly, reeling off some of the linguistic flights here. So here’s something from The Best Of S J Perelman; enjoy, please.


(Note found in an empty stomach off Santa Barbara)

One day not long ago in Los Angeles I found myself, banderillas in hand, facing the horns of a dilemma. I had gone into a Corn Exchange bank to exchange some corn and had fallen into conversation with the manager. He was very affable and insisted I inspect the assets of the branch, which included, among other things, the teeth Bryant Washburn had used in his film career. Issuing into the hot sunlight of the street, I was dismayed to find that it was time for lunch, and since I had forgotten to bring along a bag of pemmican, I would have to eat in Los Angeles –— a fairly exact definition of the term “the kiss of death”. I looked around me. On my left I could obtain a duplexburger and a Giant Malted Milk Too Thick For a Straw; on my right the feature was barbecued pork fritters and orangeade. Unnerved, I stopped a passing street Arab and courteously inquired where I might find a cheap but clean eating house. Phil the Fiddler (for it was he) directed my steps to a pharmacy bearing the legend “Best Drug Stores, Inc.” Merely for the record, I dined off an avocado sandwich on whole wheat and a lime rickey, and flunked my basal-metabolism test later that afternoon. I don’t pretend to blame the management for my physical shortcomings; all I want them to do is laugh off their menu, a copy of which I seem to have before me.

In general, “Soda Fountain Suggestions” (Best Drug Stores, Inc.) is an attractively printed job in two colors (three if you count the gravy), and though it can hardly hope to rival the success of Gone with the Wind, I suppose there is an audience which will welcome it. The salads and three-decker sandwiches are treated with a certain gaiety and quaint charm which recall Alice of Old Vincennes. The banana splits and hot-and-cold Ovaltines are handled with a glib humor in the text, which is more than I can say for the way they are handled behind the fountain. The day I was there, a simply appalling oath escaped the lips of one of the dispensers when he dropped some fudge on his shoe. The authors have included a very disarming foreword short enough to quote in its entirety: “It is our earnest desire to fulfill the name that we have chosen for our chain, THE BEST. We can only accomplish this by serving you best. Any criticisms or suggestions will be appreciated by the management.” Only a churl would decline so graceful a gambit. Messieurs, en garde!

Specifically, gentlemen, my criticism concerns that cocky little summary of yours at the bottom of the menu. “BEST Soda Fountains” you proclaim flatly, “are BEST because: the ice creams contain no `fillers’ (starch, albumen, etc.); the syrups are made from cane sugar and real fruits; the coffee is a special blend made the modern Silex way with a specially filtered water,” and so forth. Lest some of the younger boys in the troop think the millennium has come to the City of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels, what are the facts?

In the first place, you needn’t think you can woo me with any such tinsel as “the ice creams contain no `fillers’ (starch, albumen, etc.).” One thing I’ll have in my ice cream or it’s no dice –— and that’s fillers. I don’t even insist on ice cream as long as I can stuff myself with fillers. You heap my plate with albumen and starch (any kind, even laundry starch) and stand clear. Call me a piggy if you want to, but I just can’t get enough of that starch.

Quite honestly, your statement that the syrups “are made from cane sugar and real fruits” surprised me. If that’s a boast, I must say it’s a pretty hollow one. It might interest you to know that back in 1917 the Allied High Command specified beet sugar and false fruits in all syrups purchased by its commissary department. Didn’t know that, did you? Probably too busy evading the draft at the time. Well, you just ask any biochemist his recommendation on sugars, as I did recently; you’ll get the same terse answer: beet sugar and false fruits. I have this cousin of mine who is a perfect wiz at chemistry –— really astonishing marks for a boy of nineteen in high school –— and no matter what you ask him, he’ll give you the same answer: beet sugar and false fruits. Frankly, the family’s getting a little worried about it; they have to keep Benny chained to a ring in the floor most of the time.

Furthermore, it’s useless to try to creep into my heart with any blandishments like “the coffee is a special blend made the modern Silex way with a specially filtered water.” Filtering Los Angeles water robs it of its many nourishing ingredients, not the least of which is chow mein. It is an interesting fact, known to anybody who has ever been interned in that city or its suburbs, that the water possesses a rich content of subgum almond chow mein, Cantonese style, and one or two cases have even been reported where traces of peanut candy and lichee nuts were found. The assertion of a friend of mine that he once saw an Irish houseboy come out of a water faucet, of course, must be regarded as apocryphal. The Irish are a wiry little people, but they are not as wiry as all that. Nor are they ready as yet for the self-government which my distinguished opponents, the gentlemen of the affirmative, claim they should have. And so, honorable judges and ladies and gentlemen, we of the negative conclude that the Irish should not be given their independence because (1) we need them for a coaling station, (2) there is a high percentage of illiteracy, and (3) if we do, Ireland will soon be snatching up Guam -—- or “chewing Guam,” so to speak. I thank you.