Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

SIA, WOULDN’T WANNA BIA, or
SEPARATED AT BIRTH?

Having recently remarked upon the astonishing resemblance between Ted Cruz and Hungry Chuck Biscuits, I couldn’t help but notice that there was another Face in the News that reminded me of a similar one from back in the day.

Sia, the pop star who famously likes to avoid showing her face while performing (perhaps she should redub herself “Nope, Can’t Sia”), has appeared on shows as diverse as SNL, the Tonight Show, and the Ellen Degeneres Show in the past few weeks. Up until her performance on SNL, I couldn’t have told you who Sia was even if she had bitten me on the ass, but now she seems to be everywhere. She is prodigiously talented, but I cannot bear to watch her perform, given that she is usually accompanied by some sort of performance artist cum dancer who writhes around on the stage while Sia sings. Even our own Elder Daughter, herself a performance artist, considers Sia’s stage act gagworthy. Just listen and don’t look, and she’s actually quite good.

The enormous black-and-white wig she has been sporting lately reminded me of an old Star Trek episode that featured Frank Gorshin, well known at the time for playing the Riddler on the Batman TV series. Lookee:


Sia (image ©2016 World Entertainment News Network) and Frank Gorshin (image ©1969 CBS Pictures/Photofest).

The ridiculous black-and-white makeup was for an episode entitled “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield,” which featured two aliens at each other’s throats in what could be considered a mash-up between the Javert-Valjean conflict from Les Miserables and a good old-fashioned race riot. Each alien, you see, was half black and half white... but one was black on the left, the other on the right.

If you think the writers of the episode were trying to convey a message of racial tolerance and opposition to bigotry in the most stupidly obvious and heavy-handed way possible, you’d be right. Not even Rod Serling at his most preachy was this bad. (Of course, it was the third and final season of the original Star Trek series, by which time any of the reasonable good SF ideas that made it to the screen in the first season were a distant memory.)

The difference between this “Separated at Birth” exercise and the one involving Ted Cruz and Hungry Chuck Biscuits? Here, it’s obvious that Sia and Frank Gorshin are not twins separated at birth. They just have the B&W theme going on. But I’m beginning to be convinced that Senator Cruz and Hungry Chuck Biscuits are not merely twins separated at birth - I think there’s a good chance they’re the same person.

Friday, February 5, 2016

AHA!

Ever since Ted Cruz achieved national prominence, there has been something gnawing at the back of my brain. He looked... all too familiar, as if I had seen him before. But where?

Could it have been at Princeton? After all, he is a fellow alumnus. Might we have run into him at Reunions? Highly unlikely: it’s doubtful we would show up at Reunions the same year, since our graduating classes (1974 and 1992) are eighteen years apart. (It would be a different story had he been in the ’89 or ’94 classes, since our major reunion years would coincide.)

So, not at Princeton. But where had I seen that face before?

Just a few minutes ago, I had that “Aha!” moment. The moment where the pieces of the puzzle all lock into place. When the tumblers of the safe go click, clickety click and the door swings open. When that little imaginary light bulb above your head - the one you see in all the cartoons - sets itself to shining with the glare of a thousand suns.

And that was the key: cartoons.

Years ago, there was a distinctive-looking character in the underground comix. A feckless idiot in a western shirt who sported an oily pompadour... and, coincidentally, who made his first appearance in 1970, the year Ted Cruz was born.

Coincidence? You decide...


Ted Cruz and Hungry Chuck Biscuits: Separated at birth? [Hungry Chuck Biscuits ©1971 Dan Clyne]

The real question is whether they were separated at birth or whether Ted Cruz is actually Hungry Chuck Biscuits. I really can’t decide.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

REMEMBERING THE HIGH PRIEST


Reading table cover made by Paula Coplon in memory of “Gravel-Voice” Larry Travis.

Today we observed Gravel-Voice Larry’s tenth Yahrzeit.

It’s hard to believe that it has been ten years. A whole decade.

A whole decade in which Larry has not presided over post-Minyan breakfast, selecting the smoked fish of the day with the care and expertise of a sommelier selecting a fine wine.

A whole decade of not hearing Larry’s throat-rattling voice knocking the morning liturgy around like so many tenpins.

A whole decade of not having Larry sit beside me in the front row of the chapel.

Things just haven’t been the same without our Kohen Gadol - our High Priest - walking the planet with us. And Larry, indeed, was descended from the High Priests of old. When it came to the Law, that gravelly voice of his conveyed authority and knowledge. It didn’t hurt that he had also served as a Miami cop in his younger days.

We remembered Larry this morning, reciting the Eil Malei Rachamim (“Father of Compassion”) prayer for the departed as well as the Mourner’s Kaddish. And I had a vision of our beloved Kohen Gadol sitting at breakfast in the World to Come, helping the Most High to pick out the tastiest sable and whitefish...

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

’TIS THE SEASON

Groundhog Day
©2006 King Features Syndicate.

Today is Groundhog Day. The excitement on people’s faces is almost palpable.

I don’t know about you, but I’m almost relieved when it’s finally over.

First of all, the relentless hype has really killed a lot of the joy for me. It used to be, you didn’t hear Groundhog Day music in every frickin’ retail establishment in the world - at least, not until right after New Year’s Day, when the holiday season “officially” begins. Not any more. Now, Groundhog Carols are the order of the day, 24/7, starting right after Thanksgiving. It’s relentless.

The malls are packed with people doing their last-minute shopping for Groundhog Day gifts, and post offices burn the midnight oil to keep up with the volume of packages and Groundhog Greeting cards. And it’s almost a given in the retail business that 60% of their business is done in the weeks leading up to Christmas; most of the remaining 40% comes from Groundhog Day. A successful ’Hog Season often means the difference between success and failure for small businesses.

That, of course, means hype. Advertising. A constant barrage of TV ads. Postal workers straining under mailbags laden with massive Groundhog Day catalogs.

And then there are the decorations. It seems that everybody is constantly trying to outdo the Joneses, putting up ever-more-elaborate displays. Lights by the megawatt, inflatable groundhog lairs... sometimes it makes me yearn for a simpler time, a time when every family dug a simple hole in the front yard, and Dad was content with a handmade cardboard top hat.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m hardly a Groundhog-Scrooge. I love this time of year as much as anybody. Holiday parties, the special seasonal foods, Hog Nog - it’s all good. But sometimes I worry that the real meaning of the day has gotten lost amidst all the hoopla.

After all, isn’t the holiday supposed to be about Phil?

Not Phil as we see him today, surrounded by handlers and media flacks. Just Phil, the simple woodland creature, on a mission from God to predict the weather. His message is one of peace and dignity, one that is immune from the cares of the everyday world. Politics? Global warming? Kyoto? Photo ops? News reporters? Pfaugh. Punxsutawney Phil cares not for these things.

They are merely temporal - and temporary. But the light of Phil’s love is eternal.

Put the Ground back in Groundhog Day! And may your Groundhog Day be sweet.

[Adapted from a post originally published at Blog d’Elisson on January 31, 2008.]

Thursday, January 21, 2016

BASKET CASE



“What the hell are you looking at?”

Monday, January 18, 2016

MACBETH AND ME

“Out, damned spot!” - Lady Macbeth (Macbeth, Act V, Scene 1)

“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.” - Macbeth (Macbeth, Act II, Scene 2)

* * *

Every once in a while, I indulge my love of the Beet-Root.

Whole Paycheck Foods generally offers a fine selection of beets - red, golden, and, occasionally, the pink-and-white chioggia - and it is there that I will pick up a few softball-sized specimens when the Beet-Urge strikes. A softball-sized beet, we should note, is reasonably humongous.

Most often, I will rinse said beet to remove surface dirt, wrap it in aluminum foil, and then roast it at 350ºF for 75-90 minutes. Once it cools enough to be handled, I remove the skin by rubbing it off with paper towels - way easier than using a potato peeler on a raw beet. Then it is a simple matter of hacking the root into large dice and seasoning to taste. (I like to douse beets in sherry vinegar, give them a liberal sprinkle of orange zest and tarragon, a pinch or two of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and then a drizzle of olive oil. Add some goat cheese and/or a few orange segments if you want to get fancy.)


Beets with suprêmes of blood orange, AKA “Murder in the Produce Section.”

As I was skinning one especially large root the other day, I could not help but notice the incredible amount of reddish-purple juice that was schpritzing all over the kitchen. Good Gawd, it resembled nothing so much as a vegan murder scene... and that made me think of The Scottish Play, for it takes a certain amount of obsessive hand-scrubbing à la Lady Macbeth to remove the persistent Beet-Root Stain.

Ahhh, the things I endure to enjoy my tasty treats.

Postscriptum: The following evening, I was reminded about yet another property of the Ruby Root, having been momentarily horrified at the reddish color appearing in the porcelain bowl. “Holy crap!” I thought. “Am I passing another kidney stone?” And then I remembered the beets.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

DETAILS

You must pay attention
To your micturition
If a proper life you’d choose:
Everything will be great
If you keep your lines straight
Thus minding your pees and queues.

Monday, January 11, 2016

ZIGGY, NOW STARDUST


David Bowie, 1947-2016... a man of many talents. (Note the dilated left eye, a condition with which I have become very familiar in the last five years. Mine is intermittent; his was permanent.)

We were shocked and saddened to hear of David Bowie’s passing yesterday after a protracted struggle with liver cancer. He had just celebrated his sixty-ninth birthday.

Bowie first came to our attention in 1969 with “Space Oddity,” released just prior to the Apollo 11 launch... but it was in his glam-rock persona Ziggy Stardust that he catapulted himself to international pop stardom in the early 1970’s. Over and over again, he would, chameleonlike, reinvent and reinvigorate his music as the decades wore on, simultaneously expanding his career to include outlets for his prodigious acting talents.

Bowie’s output included that rara avis - dance music that I not only could tolerate, but actually liked. It was the soundtrack for the early 1980’s for Dee and me.
 
His first major hit serves as a fitting epitaph for a unique man.

Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on
Ground Control to Major Tom (Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six)
Commencing countdown, engines on (Five, Four, Three)
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (Two, One, Liftoff)

This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare
This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do

Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much - She knows
Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you...
Here am I floating round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.


Ave atque vale, David. You will be sorely missed.

Friday, January 8, 2016

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ROY


Screen grab from Blade Runner (1982).

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain.” - Roy Batty

If you walk the planet long enough, temporal milestones that were once enshrined in various bits and pieces of pop culture ephemera start showing up in our rear-view mirror.

When I was a young Snot-Nose, a Looney Tunes cartoon short entitled The Old Grey Hare envisioned Bugs Bunny as a grizzled oldster in the year 2000. That seemed awfully far off back then - even 1950 was six years in the future when that film was made - but now it’s a sweet sixteen years in the past.

The Twilight Zone, in its brief fourth-season flirtation with an hour-long format, had an episode that starred Jack Klugman, who parenthetically shared with Burgess Meredith the record for most appearances on that classic anthology show (four). “Death Ship” took place in the far future year of 1997, by which time (the episode’s creators assumed) humans would be exploring distant stars in flying saucer-like spaceships. Oopsie.

2001: A Space Odyssey took place well in the future, at least when it was released in 1968. Now it looks just a bit quaint. No, we’re not building permanent bases on the Moon, and we’re not quite ready to send ships off to the orbits of Jupiter or Saturn, but we have better videophone technology. (Also, no more Pan American and precious little in the way of Howard Johnson’s).

You don’t have to go off trolling in the 1960’s and prior for these sorts of anachronisms. To me, it’s perfectly bizarre that the entire Back to the Future film trilogy now takes place entirely in our past.

Today, however, we’re starting to bump up against some really serious dystopian futurprediktnis. Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s 1982 film based on Philip K. Dick’s classic novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? takes place in 2019... just around the temporal corner.

And today is Roy Batty’s birthday.

Roy Batty is the leader of a squad of artificial humans - replicants, in the film’s lingo - who have illegally infiltrated the earth. As such, they are marked for execution (so-called “retirement”), despite their having a built-in shortened lifespan. Batty is played by a young Rutger Hauer, in what is possibly the finest performance of his career.

Blade Runner takes place in a fictional world, but the idea that some of its characters might even now coexist with us is positively chilling. And fascinating.

Friday, January 1, 2016

CAESURA


Julius Caesar. [Image: “César (13667960455)” by Gautier Poupeau from Paris, France - César. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.]

They prophesied to Caesar thus: “In March, beware the Ides,
When Senators you thought were Friends will perforate your Sides.”

And sure enough, that fateful Day, right in the Roman Senate,
They poked Holes in Caesar’s Body until not much Blood was in it.

He looked less like a Dictator and much more like a Sieve,
And Caesar came to realize he’d not much Time to live.

He saw that Brutus was among the Members of the Plot,
And whispered softly, “Et tu, Brute? I think you missed a Spot.”

Then as Brutus thrust his Dagger with a sharp and sudden Thwack,
He smiled and said, “No Worries, Mate - because I’ve got your Back.”

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 - AVE ATQUE VALE


A good year is like a good cocktail - containing the right balance of sweet, sour, and bitter. Pictured: the Aviation.

Today is the last day of 2015.

Forty years ago, on this very day, I met Dee - and less than two years later, we would be husband and wife. The story of our first meeting is entertaining enough in its own right that it merits its own post, but that it took place has led to our mutual histories being what they are today. Despite - or perhaps because of - all the water that has gone under the bridge since then, I cannot imagine not having met her. Our two daughters would probably agree.  

Every year leaves a slightly different impression when one looks at it in the rear-view mirror - rolls it around on the tongue, so to speak - and as each calendar year surges to its inexorable close I always pause to savor its aftertaste, its peculiar blend of tastes and aromas. Years are like cocktails, I suppose: The best ones always have multiple layers of flavor. Months of sweetness are punctuated by dark, sour times, and once in a while an intense attention-grabbing moment of bitter grief comes along.

Leave it to Mister Debonair to work through his year-end maudlin moments by using bartending analogies. But, hey, it works. Let’s go with it...

We sit at the Great Cosmic Bar every year, and we order up our Tipple o’Life. Give us a sweet year, we say... but we don’t really mean it. (Would you order a simple syrup and soda on the rocks at a real-world cocktail bar?) It doesn’t matter what we ask for, though, because what we are served is what we’d get if we said, “Ohhh, the hell with it. Surprise me.” It’s always a surprise.

So let’s pick apart the waning year’s recipe, shall we? A warm base liquor of family and friends to provide a mellow and yet mildly intoxicating backdrop. Happy moments for sweetness. Throw in a disappointment here and a miscommunication there to provide acid notes: Unalloyed sweetness can be cloying. Then there are the bitters, the ingredient without which no cocktail is truly complete. Illness. Death. Pain. Loss. Without them, the sweetness becomes sameness. It loses its savor.

Most of us think we would be perfectly happy doing without all of that grief and suffering. Just give me a Kool-Aid, please! (Without the extra Jonestown touch.) So what if it’s a kid’s drink?

Cocktails, though - drinks for grown-ups - have bitters.

Proportions matter. You use a jigger for most cocktail ingredients. You use a dropper for bitters.

That’s because bitters are tricky. Strong. Too much, and what should be subtlety becomes intolerably in-your-face. And yet, without them, a cocktail is lifeless. Dull.

May your 2016 be the perfect draught for you, Esteemed Reader - the ideal proportion of base, sweetener, acid, and bitter. And may the Big Guy who mixeth your Cosmic Cocktail refrain from squeezing that bitters dropper too hard.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A SHOUT-OUT FOR THE SPROUT


Balsamic Brussels sprouts with onions and bacon... courtesy of Houston Steve. 

Brussels sprouts for breakfast
Brussels sprouts for lunch
I like ’em when they’re soggy
I love ’em when they crunch

I roast ’em and sautée ’em
And I shove ’em in my belly
But the Missus doesn’t like ’em
’Cause they make my toots all smelly

Brussels sprouts for supper
Eat ’em every night
Those wizened little cabbages
They are a real delight

Saturday, December 26, 2015

DOES THIS HURT?

“Pain is weakness leaving the body.” - USMC

Does this hurt?

How would you describe your pain on a scale from one to ten?

That’s a routine hospital question used to assess the need for analgesic medicaments. Since pain is nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong, you don’t want to tamp it down completely... and you don’t want to get too comfortable with pain meds, the most effective of which are notoriously addictive (and constipating). But you crave relief. You would sell your soul for the balm of Gilead that taketh away thine discomfiture.

So you are asked to rate your pain on a scale from one to ten, from minor annoyance to full-on shit-your-liver-out screamfest. It's not an easy exercise.

I think of pain as a point on a two-dimensional surface, a sheet mapped on coordinates of quality and intensity. There are dull, throbbing aches and there are intense ice-pick-like stabs. There’s the sudden zetz of a dentist hitting a sensitive spot, and there’s the intense burn of a hard-working muscle... all different pins on the Map o’ Agony.

Put a simple scalar number to it if you must. Does it make you grumble and grimace? Does it cause you to involuntarily squeeze out a string of fuckbombs? Or is it that shock so sharp that it causes a sudden intake of breath? I give those a 3, 6, and 8. You don’t want a ten. That’s Hurty Hurterson country, and you do not wish to be resident therein.

I call those scary twinges The Bear, and I hate his occasional visits. I fear that Dee will be getting to know The Bear all too well as she recovers from her wrist and hip fractures... and I am hoping that when he does come, he is a meek two or three, not a ferocious nine.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

STARWARSBUCKS


Chewbaccaccino. [Photo: Jenna Robinson.]

With his coffiee
Would a Wookiee
Want some toffiee
Or a cookiee?

A LITTLE BIT OF SEASONAL PERSPECTIVE

[Originally posted as “A Matter of Perspective” at Blog d’Elisson, January 25, 2005.]

Religion.

Balm for the afflicted. Opiate of the masses. Fairy tales. Myth. The deepest truths.

Religion is a lot of things.

In today’s various wars - the War on Terrorism, the Culture Wars, the Jihad Against the Great Satan and the Little Satan, religion is a key element, if not the key element. Religion inspires us to do and be our best - but through so much of history, religion also has inspired us to kill and hate one another.

The Crusades were just one example. Western Christians think of knights in shining armor on a holy mission, but Muslims and Jews remember that slice of history differently: women and children raped, disemboweled; whole families, whole villages murdered. Not that the Muslims were that much more pleasant to live with, if you were not a believer.

And it’s no different today. Islamic fundamentalism. Suicide bombers. The 9/11 atrocities. Madrid. Bali. Executing teenage rape victims for “indecency” in Iran.

Not that the Christian fundies have given up. You have right-wing religious zealots bombing abortion clinics, shooting doctors. They even have us hatin’ on SpongeBob! The bastards!

The Jews have their own issues. Some Jews throw rocks at other Jews because they do outrageous things...like reading Torah. Outrageous, that is, if you’re a woman - at least, so the ultra right-wing Haredim say, even if you are in a women-only prayer group.

Sometimes, a little perspective is in order.

Twenty-seven years ago, I was working on a project with several technologists from one of our affiliated companies in Japan. These guys got to spend a month in Texas, learning about an alien culture and eating bizarre food. Barbecue! Chicken-fried steak!

The work required round-the-clock coverage, and so it was that one cold Sunday morning in mid-December I found myself wandering around the process area with Yamada-san, one of the Japanese technology guys. And he turned to me and asked, “Elisson-san, what will your family be doing for Christmas?”

[Actually, this sounded more like “Erisson-san, what wirr your famiry be doing for Kurisumasu?” But the meaning was plenty clear enough.]

And I answered, “Not a whole lot, Yamada-san. We are Jewish, and we do not celebrate Christmas.”

Yamada-san considered this for a moment. Then he said, “Oh, that’s OK. All you Western religions are the same to us.

* * *

Christian or Muslim, Muslim or Jew -
The difference depends upon your point of view.
Step far enough back, and that alien “other”
Starts in to lookin’ more like your brother.
When the little green men come from outer space,
They won’t ask to whom you pray or note the color of your face.
To them we’ll just be Humans - prey to be destroyed,
By the Bug-Eyed Monsters from the Outer Void.
And will God shed a tear? Will He say “Boo-Hoo”?
Well, the bug-eyed dudes are His children, too.
So we’d better stick together in our Earthly stew,
’Cause the difference depends upon your point of view.