Thursday, December 28, 2006

#429 Building

They said that the smoking ban was going to devastate our economy. Who would have thought it would spawn a mini-construction industry boom? It was funny to watch the progression. It was kind of like a toddler testing a rule. How much can I get away with before you slap me down. First, the taverns built a little lean-to arrangement. It was the designated 25 feet from the entrance to the tavern and it was not enclosed. Okay so far. The letter of the law was honored. But like many things in this country the spirit of the law was totally ignored. Situational ethics took over and the law, like always, was ever so ineffective when it came to personal decisions, proving once again that you can’t legislate morality. Smoking in an enclosed area joined casual marijuana use and moonshining as a great American illegal pastime. The buildings continue to get more and more enclosed. I drove by one tavern the other day. It used to be a fenced yard with a lean-to. Then they put up one of those metal garage things. Kind of like you see over RVs in the country, only without the blue tarp. The tavern’s fence has been filled in too. It’s a pretty darn solid wood fence now. A little sheetrock and texture and it would make the leap from fence to wall in less time than it takes to hack out a puff. And now it looks like the tavern has put up a metal windscreen of the same material as the shed. To keep out those high swirling 60 mile-an-hour gusts. Of course it goes without saying the place is loaded with those propane standup heaters you see at all the outdoor restaurants down by the bay in the summer. It just goes to show, where there’s a will there’s a way. And the will to poison yourself till you die an excruciating death from lung cancer or emphysema is a strong will indeed. But at least the non-smokers don’t have to be punished by going out to the shed. Only the people who voluntarily want to punish themselves. Hey Dad, can I cut my own willow switch, can I, huh, huh, can I? We’ve come a long way from four out of five doctors recommend Camels. Now the one doctor that survived is treating the widows of all the rest. And they’re still smoking too. Somehow they got the chance-in-a-million gene that makes them into the one anecdotal person smokers are always pointing out: Well my Aunt Millie smoked three packs a day and she lived to be a hundred. Didn’t even cough. The really bad thing is the bureaucratic building departments are going to have to be expanded to cover the enforcement of what is and what isn’t a building. Does four walls a building make? A roof and wind screen? An enclosed heating source? Or is it like a church? Is the thing that defines it not the building but the congregation itself? A common spirit. Yeah. That’s the new Native American cigarette isn’t it? Spirit. You know, four out of five shamans recommend Spirits.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

#428 Bugs

This is the season for parties. I find it interesting. It’s the time of year when people are most inclined to be getting social diseases. You know, like the flu, and colds, and typhoid and stuff, and yet, this is the season when society demands we spend the most time together. The commitments of our work and friends and family require that we lock ourselves up in warm rooms together. The weather dictates that we prevent those rooms from recharging with fresh air. Then we turn those rooms into the perfect bacterial medium by making them moist with the steam of cooking and hot toddies. We lower our resistance with mass consumption of alcohol and the shortening of our sleep periods as the stress of the holidays has us burning the candle at three ends. And then we go to other parties. Cause heck, if you catch a bug, it’s only part of the giving season to spread it to someone else. Some say it’s nature’s way of tuning up humanity to face the next wave of superbugs. But it’s not working. A new bug will rage through a party a lot quicker than any one family member can develop a resistance to it. And if you do develop a resistance, it doesn’t help you friends and relatives anyhow. It just insures you survive with minimal discomfort. It’s not like you can cough disease resistance on your party buddy. But ‘tis the season to make it easy to cough the disease itself. So anyhow, I’m at this party, doing my best to not breathe my fellow partygoers air and the waiter who was waiting on us does a great job. Afterwards I told him I thought his tip was included in the bill that was being sent to my company. He said, it better be or his company would be getting a memo. Oh no! Not a memo. A fate worse than death. Nothing I hate worse than being in the heat of battle, bullets flying all around, people dying at my feet and suddenly I get a MEMO! It’s a sad commentary on the state of our decadent society when the threat of a memo looms larger than, say, the threat of an invasion or the onslaught of the black plague. Oh yeah, a scathing memo. I think that was the fourth horseman of the apocalypse. Pestilence, war, famine and memo writers. Run everyone, take cover, make peace with your god, here comes the fourth horseman of the apocalypse¾and he’s got a memo! Actually, memos can be a good thing, sometimes it’s the absence thereof that can cause a problem. I once went to a housewarming party, didn’t get the memo that the costume theme had been changed from “famous divas” to “football greats” and found out it’s no fun to be dressed like a woman when everyone else is dressed like an NFL linebacker. Funny too, because I had been feeling a little sick and almost didn’t go to the party. But as long as I was there feeling like an idiot I figured what the heck. So I went up to the host and hostess and gave them the flu. A raging fever warms a house doesn’t it?
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

#426 Big Chat

So yesterday, I ordered something on line. It seems like in the old days when you would ordered something over the phone, things happened fairly quickly. Then they cut back on labor and the phonetree choice menu things developed and you found yourself spending a lot of time punching numbers for options, many times hitting the wrong number and ending up in phone tree limbo. All that space in phone tree limbo, all that time and emptiness? That’s what they used for the internet. Then they perfected that a little. Now when you receive a bankcard in the mail and want to activate it you can actually phone in and do so with little or no human intervention. Of course, it involves punching in a lot of numbers again, like your social security and your address and your home phone and etc. But still, except at that part at the end when they say they are activating and you have to listen to that long phone message about the other products that are available from your fine bankcard company like, say, insurance for the unpaid balance on your card, it’s not too bad. One time I hung up during that message, and guess what? My card got activated anyhow. Funny, I’ve never balked at punching in my social security number over the phone but when Comcast asked for it in a chatroom, I felt a little apprehensive. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s what happened. I decide I wanted to sign up for a Comcast service. I fill out a questionnaire over various online pages, and finally get to the end when a screen comes on telling me my order will be finalized in a live chat with a Comcast representative. And I must say this is where it got bizarre. If I were talking to a live rep all my questions could have been answered quickly. Instead I had to act like I was in a teenage chatroom and type in all my communications. So even though Chat was less efficient, when you answered something you had it nailed down in print. The efficiency for Comcast was at the two delay points, waiting for my new number and waiting for my scheduling date. And during those two delays I could tell my chatroom partner was at another chat. You know. You can just tell. She comes back with her words in disarray and her emoticons a little disheveled. But the weirdest thing was when we came to a big contractual commitment section and she said after the chat she would send me an important confirmation email. It was formal, serious and contractual and she said after our chat. Hmm. Chat used to mean light and casual. I’m having a chat with a young lady. Lawyers don’t chat in the courtroom. Doctors don’t chat when they get you to sign the malpractice release. Homeland security doesn’t chat. Couldn’t they call it a discussion page or an order room? Chat just seems so, well, frivolous. Bundy, your execution is in 3 hours. Tell us your request for your last meal. Then we can chat...
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

#427 Buy This

As we near the end of the year it behooves many of us to find a time for quiet contemplation where we can review the events of the last twelve months and reflect on all we have to be thankful for. And then there’s me. I have to say, as we turn the corner of the first decade of the 21st century, things are as weird as ever. Like we have more spam than you can shake a stick at. Too bad. Spam, a once honorable mélange of discarded pork parts, has degenerated into my most persistent morning annoyance. Yesterday I got 20 emails. 19 of them were spam. I’m a little ahead of the curve. Those in the know now estimate that 9 out of 10 emails are spam. And they seem to be two kinds. Picture image spam, which slips through spam filters by fooling them into thinking it’s an image without writing, and text spam, which comes from high-jacked mailing lists from other computer users. In order to block this spam I would have to block all my mail from friends and relatives. My picture spams usually are for Viagra and suchlike. Prescription drugs from less from reputable sources. Always a good risk. Let’s see, I think I’ll swallow a completely unregulated, untaxed, unlicensed, and untraceable-as-to-its-origin pill. I’m sure there won’t be any ill effects. It’s not like just cause I can’t sue them I shouldn’t trust in the basic honesty I expect from someone who solicits me in illicit ways on the internet. That’s a lot to swallow. But boy, that differently spelled Viagra sure looks cheap. Hate to pass up a too-good-to-be-true bargain from a complete stranger. The other spam, the highjacked mailing list spam, comes from people posing as investment opportunity purveyors. These guys start the spam with Hi I’m so and so, then hype a specific penny stock that you just can’t miss on. When I first started to get these, I wondered who would be dumb enough to buy something suggested by an advisor you don’t know, who pretends that you do know them, and then uses that pretense to ask you to lay down money for stock in a company you know absolutely nothing about. And you can’t reply to the email to order this stock. You have to actually buy it yourself on the stock market. So you have to at least be savvy enough to have a broker or an e-trade account. And dumb enough to do the deal. The spammer makes his money by sending out all these free suggestions to buy stock to jillions of complete strangers. Enough gullible strangers respond to drive up the price of the penny stock. The spammer then sells the illusionary investment and makes up to a 5 to 6 percent return in a two-day period. All for starting a rumor. With the engine of spam commerce that costs him nothing. It’s nice to know in this culturally sensitive 21st century, PT Barnum’s “There’s a sucker born every minute” is still true. So is it kosher to fleece sheep with pork products?
America, ya gotta love it.

#424 Body of Work

So when I was at this party the other night I reflected that the biggest challenge we face at holiday times is the threat of cross contamination. No, I’m not talking about accidentally becoming a Christian with all the commercial nativity exposure; I’m talking about food born illness. Food born illness is second only to the flu in debilitating diseases of the holiday season. Forget about peace on earth and lines at the supermall. Pieces of toxic chicken wings and lines at the lavatory are more to the point. During the holidays many people are exposed to the anatomical reality that their bodies are like the post office at Christmas. They have an input function and an output function and both of them are being co-opted to do the outputting. I don’t know about you but there is nothing more festive after a great Christmas party than going home and warmly embracing the thundermug all night. Red and green are Christmas colors, perhaps because of the mucus-laced chunks one hurls after tainted shrimp cocktail and mint eggnogs. Holiday eating increases your risk: There’s the number of parties that feature sneeze-guard free grazing on rented banquet tables of food; The number of overwhelmed guest bathrooms that feature one tiny guest towel and a bar of untouched expensively-sculpted guest soap. It’s no wonder you have a recipe for gastric disaster. Forget about the baked salmon, it’s the baking at Sam and Ella’s you have to worry about. I don’t trust my own self all the time in the cross-contaminatory kitchen, why I would subject myself to the possibility of ptomaine shows what a powerful hankering I must have for tiny crockpot meatballs. It’s funny. Hell, when I tried to sell my fudge commercially I had to go through amazing regulatory hoops. Commercial equipment that couldn’t be contaminated with any—God forbid—commingled home cooking. Extensive test in three languages about the ins and outs of food preparation and handling. Hot temperature optimums, cold temperature optimums, how to bring something from hot to cold safely to keep it out of the toxic danger zone. But some ambitious unlicensed semi-cook can have a holiday party, invite more people in one night than the average home kitchen sees in a year, rent a couple of tired old chafing dishes from the party rental place, then skimp on sterno so the hot dishes quickly plummet to ptomaine tepid. Voila, suddenly the county’s sewer systems are taxed to capacity by a chain of porcelain-packing events featuring the three horsemen of the gut-pocalypse, Ralph, Wolf, and that toilet-mouthed rapper, Upchuck-a-lot. Hors d’ oeuvre, by the way, is a French word that means outside of work. Hors means outside, oeuvre, in this case, work. You know, kind of like when you go to a party and are outside of work the next day¾ when you call in sick.
America, ya gotta love it.

#423 Bells of Coli

It’s always a surprise when I read about a restaurant getting in the E coli contamination news again. E coli always sounds like some kind of internet virus doesn’t it? I mean, you’d think they’d have this stuff under control by now. This time it was Taco Bell. Now first off, let me say that a Mexican restaurant that uses the slogan “Run for the Border” is already pushing the envelope. Invoking border crossings is bad enough considering our illegal immigrant issue, but using any permutation of the word “run” in conjunction with food legendary for causing gas, bloating, and, yes, loosened fecal matter, is probably not the smartest of marketing decisions. That and using a talking ratdog as a corporate spokes-animal and you can tell they’re thinking out of the box, or thinking “outside the bun,” as they put it. Does someone thinking inside the bun have their head up their, um, hamburger? In any event, the E coli bug was inside the Taco Bells. I thought I heard one news story say one of the afflicted Taco Bells was in Bellevue. Hmm, Taco Bellevue—do you have to eat burritos with a cloth napkin? And tacos with your pinky finger extended? The Taco Bells with the problem have traced it to the green onions they got. Perfect institutional American cooking irony. Probably the only fresh, uncooked, healthy ingredient in Taco Bell is the green onion. And that’s what caused the E coli outbreak. Worse, the onions came from the same place that caused the recent spinach scare, an industrial plant-processing plant in New Jersey. Who got, they think, the onions and spinach from the same farms in California. Industrial sabotage? Disgruntled migrant worker with an asinine ax to grind? More likely inadequate porta-potties in the field. When I was a teenager, I worked in the fields with migrant laborers. You had to hike a mile to take a load off. And since you were paid piecework that meant a load off your wallet as well. And the handwashing facilities were nowhere close to that lean-to over a hole in the ground. Close being defined as within a 5-mile radius. Let’s just say the incentive to just squat and go was high. Green onions are hard to clean because they grow in layers and any layer can be contaminated at any stage of the growing period. The E coli will just lurk there until the next unsuspecting taco. What’s really weird to me though, is that produce from California, the real garden state, gets shipped all the way to New Jersey, the pretend garden state, to get processed and is then shipped out to fast food restaurant in every other state. A whole shipload of shipping if you ask me. And yet, that still makes things economical enough to put out a burrito for 99 cents. Is this a great country or what? Kinda makes you not want to run for the border. Quiero Montezuma’s Value Meal?
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

#422 Balls of Jolly

So I was at a party the other night. Pretty swank affair, anyone who was anyone was there. The great thing about the party was room after room of hors d’oeuvres. Now let me say, I’m a sucker for hors d’oeuvres. The idea of grazing from dish to dish really satisfies both the hunter and the gatherer in me. One should always be sensitive to one’s gatherer side. Game may be high in protein, but it’s also quick, while berries are high in both energy-packed carbohydrates and vitamins and, um, slow. Even many of today’s clinically obese un-exercised children could outrun a berry. The many tables of hors d’oeuvres were just the ticket. You could graze in enough different places it didn’t look like you were snack loitering. Usually when you go to an event and they feature a variety of snacks they provide a little plate at the beginning of the snack table. Finger food follows: Little quiches maybe. A cocktail sausage. If you’re lucky a crock-pot of meatballs. And if you’re really lucky a tureen of iced shrimp. Occasionally, and this seems to be an hors d’oeuvre trend lately, they’ll have a little spanakopita pastry. It makes for a truly international table. Italian pizza-flavored French quiches. Shrimp with Asian cocktail sauce, and Greek style spanakopita. I especially like the filling. Nothing says Greek like a stuffed spanakopita. The challenge comes at the end. Usually these parties also have nowhere to sit. Or nowhere that the stupid early birds haven’t already wormed their way into. And the big problem is on your way to the hors d’ buffet you gathered up your second complimentary glass of hosted wine. It’s been okay as long as you can move it with you along the table while you figure out how to geometrically balance your tiny floppy plate to hold as many hors d’ offerings as possible. Now, however, you’re at the end of the table, wine in one hand, plate of food in the other and voila, no third hand to actually eat with. Grazing is only fine if you do it politely, with your hands, no one expects you to bend your head down and actually bite your food off the plate. So here’s my solution. Forget the plate and take multiple trips through the hors d’ line. Use the opportunity to chat up people as they go through. Schmooze while you cruise. Then you have one hand free for your beverage and one hand free to pluck and eat the morsels of goodness, hot, chilled, or room temperature cheese, right off the serving dish. With any luck, no stupid girl will bring a stewing dog to the event and shed dog hair into the meatballs. One did to the party the other night. All I could do was imagine the little yapper on a spit at Costco. Still, it wasn’t the dog’s fault, it was its oblivious codependent canine coddler. But I’ll cut her a little peace-on-earth season slack. Dogs were human’s original hunting companions. Maybe she brought it to sniff out the best holiday cheeseballs.
America, ya gotta love it.

#421 Brick and Mortal

So what’s the big deal about brick oven pizza? That’s what I asked myself the other day, and then it occurred to me. Lately America seems to have this obsession with reclaiming primitive cooking methods. From barbeque, to cooking pigs in the ground, to the latest craze, wood-fired pizza. Now I hate to be the kid telling the emperor that not only don’t his new clothes fit, they lack something in the coverage department, but really, has anyone ever had a wood-fire pizza that wasn’t burnt somewhere? Some part of it that wasn’t a little too crispy, and some part that wasn’t a little too raw? Admit it, I don’t care how sophisticated the oven, how good the chef, or how kiln-dried the freaking wood, wood-fired cooking is a primitive cooking method. That’s why grandma was happy to switch to an even-burning gas stove. Apple pies are hard enough without one side flaming up and then reduced to a pile of ash. And gas, for all its environmental problems when we harvest it from the ground, is certainly no worse than burning trees when it comes to greenhouse emissions. The CO2 generated from burning a couple of hunks of forest, just to make a pizza for god’s sake, is enough to make Northface-clad eco-nuts get heavy metal poisoning from the irony. By the way, polar fleece is made from polyester, and polyester comes from oil. Just a little heads up fellow lovers of the forest. Wool is a lot more eco-friendly. Except for that part about clearing the land so the sheep have a place to feed. Damn. It’s so hard to cut a low eco-damage profile. But back to the main point, primitive cooking methods are just that—primitive. It would be like skipping that flu shot and asking for a shaman rattle wave instead. Or eating mercury to stave off a cold. I mean really, there was a reason we progressed to methods of cooking that conveyed a more even level of heat—not the least of which was salmonella, ptomaine and gastroenteritis. Note to all wood-fired food lovers. The average life expectancy in the years when wood-fired cooking was popular was about 35. It’s true not many folks got cancer and heart disease back then, but it’s not because the cooking was better, it’s because the food poisoning was worse. Next time you go to Costco and see those dozens of chickens twisting on the rotisserie, reflect on the fact that if you were trying to do the same thing over an open cookfire in the forest, chances are good you’d be hiking home with your sphincters clenched on both ends. And that’s not the kind of crampons anyone wants in the snow. So the next time you see a restaurant advertising primitive cooking, beware. Rabbit on a stick may have been a connoisseur’s delight back in the days of Og and Grog, but tularemia is a painful and debilitating disease. So tell me, when they’re cooking a rotisserie rabbit on a spit inside that brick oven, is it then called a brick spithouse?
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

#425 Bahai on Life

It’s Christmastime again and that means one thing—War on Earth. Every year, even when people try to do what’s right, the talk show idiots do their best to blow everything out of reconcilable proportion and pit the adversaries against each other in a scorched earth policy of whatever gets ratings. The flap this time was over a bunch of Christmas trees at SeaTac airport. A Jewish Rabbi suggested to SeaTac that they put up an 8-foot menorah to include Jewish people in the SeaTac holiday expenditures. Expenditures, by the way, that are subsidized by public funding. He kind of threatened to sue if they didn’t. They decided that if they did the menorah they would have to do every other religious icon as well, and having finally been successful in banning the Moonies for homeland security reasons, they decided just to remove the trees. Those pine needles are such a mess anyhow. The press picked the whole thing up and soon there was that whole war-on-earth thing happening. It’s funny because both the Port and the rabbi behaved in a reasonable fashion. In fact, soon after the story broke, the rabbi came forward expressing dismay that the trees were removed. Everybody should be able to share in the giving season he said. The Port once again expressed that it wanted to come up with a thoughtful response to honoring everyone but in the meantime, it was probably best to just remove the trees. Also because they couldn’t afford to buy a bunch of decorations depicting all other religious celebrations. I mean, an 8-foot menorah is hard enough. A giant Buddha and a many-armed statue of Shiva may come a little steep. Not to mention that whole houseful of Shinto gods the Japanese like to honor. And Kwanzaa. I’m always at a quandary with Kwanzaa. The rabbi said he was worried everyone would think Jews were the Grinch. Hah, everyone who’s read Dr Seuss knows grinches are from Uzbekistan. Once again everyone missed the point. The Christmas tree is not a Christian symbol. It’s pure pagan. The Christmas tree predates Christ himself by centuries. Heck the three wise men didn’t even bring pine scent as one of their air freshener gifts to the nativity stable. And myrrh and frankincense aren’t in that little tree you can hang from your rear view mirror. So for years and years Christians have been erecting a pagan tree at Christmas. And calling the pagan old man winter Santa Claus. But he’s still a pagan and the trees are still pagan. Just because you have a Christian wedding in the middle of Stonehenge doesn’t change its historical origin. So here’s my solution: Spiritual unity for all, like the Bahai faith. Bring back the trees. And put little inexpensive decorations on the trees from every religion and sect. Encourage the diverse public to bring in those decorations. Make the tree bring cultures together. And shut up talk show hosts. So we can have peace and quiet.
America, ya gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

#420 Bone Chilling

I’m glad that cold spell is over. I confess, it got so cold I wanted a warm embrace from anything, even the whole concept of global warming. Personally, I stand to benefit, as the total melting of the ice caps in Antarctica and Greenland will make the ocean rise to such an extent that my home will be beachfront property. And the homeless problem downtown will be solved. Of course there won’t be a downtown, except in an extended Venice-like sense. I can see it now— Gondolas plying the waters of Fourth Avenue between the State Theatre and the Security Building. Talk about cultural appeal. And voila, the parking problem is solved once and for all. No cars.
In any event, the cold was too cold for my un-insulated bones. I mean, at one point it was so cold my nipples were hard enough to scratch glass. And driving down the icy freeway was murder. I was talking to my girlfriend on my phone and all of a sudden—jack-knifed semi. I’m here to tell you, jack-knifed semis make it hard to drive. It gets us every time. Light snow and then freeze. I heard a few out-of-staters, mid-westerners, chiding us about closing schools and whatnot just because we had an inch of snow. But this was one of those times that an inch does make a big difference. Because that inch got compacted quickly and unlike fifteen inches, when you know what you’re in for and can adjust accordingly, with studs, chains, or whatever, 1 inch puts you in the danger zone of slight melting next to the surface, which creates a super-frictionless interface. Add to that four-wheel drive but not four-wheel stop slippage, bald tires and crazy yahoos who think they can broadie their way to work caroming off the sides of school busses, and really, it is more dangerous. So it was a good idea to delay schools opening a couple of hours to let the idiots sort themselves out in the ditch. But it was cold. That northern wind would kick up and blow across the 3-inch drifts and man, my hands would freeze their Western Washington webs together. You know it’s cold when you use the tiny LCD screen on your cellphone to warm up your hands. Just that teensy bit of electronic nano-warmth is a blessing. And you pray for a call, so you can get the vibrator thingy to shake a little bit of blood back into your far extremities. And when you take the call you can put the slighter warmer phone to your frostbitten ear. It’s a shame long hair isn’t in fashion this winter. Although with my middle-aged wispiness there’s not much in the way of insulating capabilities left. And worse, if I were to wear a knit cap, instant hat hair. But still, there’s nothing like the look of everything after the first snowfall. So clean and white and new. You fall in love with the world all over again. Even if, after dealing with a jack-knifed semi, then slipping and sliding, and a bone-chilling brush with a little death, you see it from the bottom of a ditch.
America, ya gotta love it.

#419 Big Day

On the first shopping day of the holiday season Christmas crashed. No, dear old Saint Nick didn’t swerve the sled into a concrete abutment. Not like Rudolph’s red nose wouldn’t have got him pulled over for a little field sobriety test by the Xmas emphasis patrol. No, like most things this century, it was all about the computers. You may remember that last year there was footage of crazed people trampling one another on their way to a Wal-Mart doorbuster. Well apparently, some of the big retailers decided that was negative publicity they didn’t need. So, seeing the success of Ebay, some of the big box stores went little box. CPU-type box. They promoted cyber-Christmas in a big way. But they screwed up, because they did cyber-Christmas doorbusters. And it turns out electronic doors are easier to bust. Now first off, the “get up at the crack of dawn and wait for a store to open” phenomenon is a social tradition in itself. Seems like our society says the big reward for ma and the girls is to slave all day making turkey, stuffing, and the whole tryptophan sedative pharmocopia, encourage the menfolk to fall asleep to the football game and then the next morning, get up at the crack of dawn and shop like a maniac. Personally, if I got up early and worked all day slaving over a hot meal, the last thing I’d do the next day would be to get up even earlier and wait in the cold with a crowd of people whose chief motivator in life is greed. But that’s just me. I don’t like falling asleep to a football game either. Still, maybe this ancient tradition derives from the necessity for mom to drug dad so while he’s sprawled in a snorefest on the porko-lounger recliner she can sneak his bacon-earning wallet out of his pocket. Then get all that painful shopping done as budget conscious as possible before Ward Cleaver and Jim Anderson know best. But part of the post-thanksgiving experience is the social aspect of all the bargain hens gathering. So it’s hard to conceive of folks getting up early to shop in their own home. Maybe that’s why corporate America wasn’t prepared. Forget for a moment the challenge of having a “first 50 shoppers get a free ginsu knife set” doorbuster when you live in a country with 4 time zones. You also got the whole international aspect of the internet. What’s to stop shoppers on the other side of the dateline from getting stuff yesterday? It’s also the fact that crowds suffer from physical limitation. You can only fit a few people through a door at a time. Translated to cyberspace that means you can only have so many shoppers in your data pipe at a time. Unfortunately, at the physical store that means you may get an occasional trampling but at least the store itself stays intact. In cyberspace too many in the pipe means the people survive but the whole store is destroyed. And Christmas crashes like a trainset assembled after too many eggnogs.
America, ya gotta love it.

#418 City Slickin

As you know by now, I’m a connoisseur of language, perhaps because language is often another type of sewer. It seems the words that are the worst get tossed out there and float down to the cesspool of slang which is the permanent repository of our linguistic and cultural heritage. I wonder that as many terms as do make it into our common parlance and to where the elegance of the past disappeared. I mean, fast-food words like spam and phat with a p-h-? Compared to the last century epicurean elegance of words like meat mélange and paramount? She is phat or her beauty is paramount? For shizzle. So occasionally, when I hear a new descriptor I roll it on my tongue like a new wine. Savoring its bouquet and letting the heat of my mouth release its delicate undertones. That’s how it was when I heard the phrase “Seattle is Metro-natural.” I kind of liked it. After the state’s aborted tourism slogan “Say Wa” and the whole WAMU thing with Washington Mutual and its new WAMU Theatre, Metro-natural sounded kind of kooky. Just so you know, Washington Mutual, when I hear the term WAMU theatre I always, and I mean always, expect to see Keiko playing there. Because really, it sounds like some kind of Seattle Seaworld thing, with killer whales balancing on human noses and beachballs flying everywhere. Metro-Natural has far more possibilities. First off, it kind of trades on that new gender/lifestyle designation, metro-sexual. Which I assume has something to do with urban tastes in the sexual arena as opposed, I guess, to suburban tastes. Sort of pitting the excesses of Suburban Housewives against the excesses of Sex and the City. By the way, I’m thinking something is definitely wrong with the quest for meaning of today’s women, when the two most popular shows on TV are about women in their mysterious pursuit of physical and psychological fulfillment. Add Dr Phil and Oprah and you can wring your hands all week long. Anyhow, Metro-sexual describes an anything goes personal posture that calls the shots as it sees them, shoots from the hip and struts its stuff to the sound of a driving retro-techno-disco beat. Move over rap, the Scissor Sisters say that disco’s back. Is it just me, or does this new group Scissors Sisters sound like some kind of roman church castrato thing? A la Bee Gees. So, on the face of it, using the term “metro” gives a certain energy to the proceedings. And using the term “natural” invokes our Seattle hippy heritage. A disco ball with macramé beadwork hanging from it. Polyester hiphuggers, big bells and a bong of colored glass blown by Chihouly himself. Lowered suspension, big tailpipes, and spinners—on a hybrid. Pot laced with ecstasy. A Nordstrom gift, wrapped in biodegradable unbleached craft paper. Sushi on a bed of brown rice and lentils. Soy lattes and—soy lattes.
America, ya gotta love it.

Monday, December 11, 2006

#417 Cough Please

I had another encounter with officialdom lately. And it was in the form of the health department. When I wrote about flu shots recently I minimized the importance of them. Those at risk stand to gain a lot by getting a weak form of the possible virus and having their immune system tool up. And really, it can help regular folk too. And not only help them, but help the workforce and economy as a whole. A massive hit from the flu disables countless workers and more than spoils holiday gatherings with hacking, wheezing, and phlegm-flinging relatives. So by all means, get your flu shot. Even if the shot you get may not be for the flu that arises, it’ll probably help a little. I was surprised when the lady from the health department cited statistics that indicate how strongly a pandemic would affect our workforce and how many small businesses will be not just decimated but 20, 30, and 40 percent-amated as well. Most small business have less than 5 employees. A healthy flu epidemic means that business is gonna be running on a skeleton crew. How’d you like your local dry cleaner to have even slower service? Or no one to chew gum behind the counter at the video store? It could get serious. But the cool thing about the health lecture, was the speaker told us all how to cough. What is it about coughing and medical practitioners? Is it because the word cough is based on some obscure Latin derivation? I mean, why else is cough spelled with a G-H- and pronounced with an F-? I suppose I’m used to doctors telling me when to cough. And for some reason having me look to my left or right while I’m doing so. And I guess I’m used to cold latex-gloved fingers touching me in sensitive areas at the same time. I’ve never really understood that part of an exam. I mean, I’m no anatomy expert, but I don’t have to go to the “Bodies” exhibition to know that coughing comes from the lungs, and knee-bone-connected-to-the-thigh-bone to the contrary, ain’t nothing connecting the lungs to the gonads. So why the doctor has to tell me to clear the air ducts while he’s weighing the family jewels seems like taking a house call a little too far if you catch my meaning. In any event, the health person talking about the flu told us all we shouldn’t cough or sneeze into our hands but should instead turn to the side and smother all our projectile mucus in the crook of our elbow. Which makes a lot of sense. People shake hands all the time. Then they touch their noses or eyes or other moist tissues on which bacteria and viruses love to grow and thrive. No one shakes elbows. I can’t remember when I actually touched the inside of another person’s elbow in polite company. But what’s cool is, now I can instantly find people who are polite company and care about others. When I want to find social responsible people with a cold or flu, I’ll just look for the caked-on shiny stuff on their sleeves.
America, ya gotta love it.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

#416 Confirmation

Greetings from 0fficialdom, that world where less is more and less is even less. Except when it comes to gobbledygook and bureau-speak. I was watching a federal official on the tube the other night and he actually used the word gobbledygook. And it is gobbledygook, by the way, not the more wussy gobbledygoop. It’s not something you put on your hamburger, it’s a way of confusing the meaning of words. Like the word official itself. I got an “official” notice from the US Postal Service, formerly known as the US Mail. It didn’t change its name to engage in gender correctness, it changed its name to reflect its semi-private mission. And let me tell you, private is right. Recently, I changed residences, and in the process of doing so, I put in a change of address notice to the postal service. After about a week of bureaucratic slovenliness I finally got mail at my new address. The first piece I received was an official “change of address confirmation.” Wow, I thought, a confirmation, I hope I don’t have to wear a little white dress. It was an official-looking envelope from the postal service that had in bold letters on the front: “Verification Required, Do Not Discard.” As this was an official communication from a quasi-governmental organization, you can bet I hastened to not discard it. Interestingly though, the upper stamp corner said “pre-sorted first class mail,” which is usually the cheaper designation preferred by mass mailers. The mystery was soon revealed. When I opened the envelope to look for the official verification that I figured I was supposed to send back, all I found was an envelope full of coupons. They were coupons from local stores and chains, welcoming me to my new residence and introducing themselves with great offers, which I was sure to need in my new plane of existence. It reminded me of all the offers from private publishers and writing accessory companies I got when I filed my official copyright notice for my book. This privatization stuff means you can’t even send mail to the post office without getting on someone’s mailing list. In this case the mailing list of the postal service as well. I mean, holy cornhole Batman, I just wanted to change my address, not get an envelope fill of coupons. The envelope may as well have been blue and had Val-pak on the outside, it was those kind of coupons and that many. I finally found the verification notice that made me not discard the darn thing in the first place. It showed my new address, asked if this was my new address, then said if this is correct, no action is required. Well one action. I pitched the whole thing in the recycling. Used to be one of the best things about moving was it took a while for your junkmail to follow you. Not anymore. It’s the first piece you get, and it comes straight from the postal service. And that’s official.
America, ya gotta love it.

#415 Catch a Cold

So I came down with a little bug. It was inevitable. I mean, chances are good I would be susceptible to at least one of the many possible jillions of viruses that evolution throws at us slow-moving humans every day. And since it’s likely I had something relatively like it before, and since I keep my immune system at peak condition with exercise, the right foods, and staying up too late at night, I only got a small touch of it. But I’m sure it will pass quickly cause I watch my health and eat plenty of pizza. Yep, pizza. I read something interesting the other day. It was about the chemical lycopene. Lycopene, as you may remember, is much trumpeted as a valuable ingredient in ketchup. It’s always nice in the health-conscious marketing niche that a condiment can actually make such a claim. Ketchup, the much-maligned red cousin in the French fries infarction family, has got too much bad press. Especially when the lax government started trying to tell people that it counted as a vegetable in poor kids’ school lunches. Oh yeah, I remember that menu, Ketchup was a vegetable and turkey gravy counted as the meat on Thanksgiving. In any event, lycopene is a very powerful anti-oxidant, and, as everyone knows, anti-oxidants are against oxygen, which although it appears to be a good thing to have in your lungs is not good when hooked up with other molecules and floating around your well-governed bloodstream acting all free and radical. If you’re like me, you seek out natural sources for dietary things so you’ll be happy to know that you can get lycopene from tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, pink guava, papaya, and rosehip. However, the odd thing about lycopene is it actually gets better and more available to your body if you get it in processed food. That’s right, bucking the trend of all that’s natural and holistic, lycopene is better for you if you actually do get it in ketchup. Or canned tomatoes. And even better, your body can get even more of it if that processed tomato is added to oil-rich dishes like spaghetti and pizza. Is this not cool or what? You get a lot of free radicals from eating processed foods. But processed foods can help you get rid of free radicals. But not just any processed food. Hamburgers don’t qualify, unless you drench them in ketchup like a potsmoking preschooler. But pizza. Pizza the divine food. The food that is perfect anytime, hot, cold, or indifferent. The food you can carve out of the hairy mold in your crisper and still savor. The food you can dig out of the back of the couch cushions and still munch. Pizza is healthy. At far more tomato per pie squared, pizza is damn near a freaking health food. I haven’t felt this good since they found out red wine fights heart disease. Now will somebody please discover an anti-carcinogen in beer?
America, ya gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

#414 Callender Boy

Recently I’ve been trying come up with quicker meals, that don’t require a lot of preparation but are also healthy. That’s hard to do. Healthy usually means relatively fresh, not too many additives, and with lean meat and vegetables. Unfortunately, most prepared entrees are loaded with the preservatives that increase the shelf life of all American packaged meals. Funny, since a lot of those entrees are frozen. You’d think the freezing part would do all the preserving you’d need. So recently, I was at the grocery store and I saw a sign for Marie Callender pot pies. I thought hey, I bet that’s healthy, and grabbed two or three. I mean, if you’re like me, you grew up with those little Swanson chicken pot pies. They were the great fallback meal for my mom when she had some evening engagement and she wanted to feed our brood quickly. They were cheap too, like a quarter a piece of something back then. Well the Marie pie looked a little bigger but what the hey, I’m bigger, so I forked over the three-and-a-half bucks a piece and headed home. A couple of nights later I pull one out and find that it has this neat high tech special microwave reflector inside the top of the box and you have to cook the pie inside the box. Techno-meals are cool. I throw the box away afterwards, make a quick salad, toast a bagel and eat the entire meal. I feel strangely full. Too full. The pie, it turns out, has less vegetables than the picture on the box, and contains a lot of fairly salty sauce. It reminded me of a trip to the beach. I don’t add salt to my food so prepackaged food always seems a little like getting rolled in a wave and accidentally gulping a mouthful of seawater. A few nights later, I have another one and I’m really full again so I decide to look at the nutritional information of the microwave-mutilated box. At first glance, it’s only a little worse than I expected. Turns out one serving of Marie Callender’s Chicken Parmesan Pie has 530 calories and includes 32 grams of total fat. 12 grams of that is saturated fat. Which by the way is 60% of my recommended daily allowance. Total fat is 49% of my daily allowance. The salt? 720 mg of sodium, a mere 30% of RDA. And in the classic American sweet-salt blend the pie also contains 43 grams of carbs, 14% of RDA. Well okay, I thought. It is my big meal of the day and it is dinner. I can splurge a little. That’s when I looked closer at the “per serving.” The serving size is one cup. The servings per container are two. Uh oh. Each pie is two servings. That means 98% of my fat for the day, 60% of my sodium, 28% of my carbs and a whopping 120% of my saturated fat. So much for that healthy feeling of home cooking. The line on the box should have given me a clue. It said Marie Callenders, Inspired by Grandma. Oh yeah, that was the grandma that died of obesity, high blood pressure, and hardening of the arteries…
America, ya gotta love it.

#413 Concentrated Orange

There’s a couple that wants to reinvent the G.O.P and make love not war its credo. Actually, they might be using the acronym GOP—as in gop. Cause gop is the sound some people make when they arrive at the conclusion of their, um, personal encounters. I’m not comfortable using the word that these people are using to describe their upcoming event so I’ll just use a substitute. Hmm, organism is too long although it sounds similar. I remember trying to check out the book “The Myth of the Female Organism” one time and having the librarian look at me funny. That’s one good thing about Even though it’s named after a mythical Greek tribe of terrifying formidable women, it sure cuts down on something far more fearsome, prissy librarians. In any event, talking about people having long and pleasurable organisms would get too confusing. So I’ll just call them oranges. Everybody likes an orange. And sometimes, when they get to the sweetest part of the orange, they say gop. Sometimes, according to the organizers of this event, they reach a meditative, religious, and peaceful state. So the organizers want people to make love on the winter solstice and use that love to bring about world peace. Donna Sheehan, age 76, and Paul Reffell, age 55, want everyone to have an, um, orange on December 22, but do it while focusing on world peace, and if necessary baseball statistics. Sheehan was the lady who was behind getting fifty women to strip naked in 2002 and spell out the word “peace” which spawned a mini-movement called Baring Witness. Which, I guess, seeks to em-bare-ass people into doing things. Even in this day of bedroom webcams, nudity is an attention getter. So they call their event Global, um, Orange for Peace. Or GOP. Move over Ralph Reed, I think this kind of evangelism could catch on in more than a charismatic way. This would make even Karl’s thoughts rove to a different type of liberation. Interest appears strong in the Global Orange for Peace event with over 26,000 hits a day to their website at you guessed it, globalorange dot org. What else? (I knew that’s what org stood for.) But think of the spam you’re gonna get after visiting that website—Global investments, Global Viagra, Global lose 30 pounds. Add three Global inches. These people say they have studied evolutionary psychology and that war is a manifestation of males trying to impress potential mates. If everyone scores no one wars. What a pipe dream. It’s not about just mates. There are more than enough people in the world to pair up mathematically. It’s about competition over a limited resource of optimal mates. Check any bar at 1:45 AM. Event or no, the sad truth is the winter solstice is still gonna have lots of well-meaning, horny, and lonely peaceniks looking for someone to share an orange with. I can hear em now: “All I am saying, is give me a chance…”
America, ya gotta love it.

Friday, December 01, 2006

#412 Caution Stupidity

So I’m thinking at some point our educational system must have failed us. Everybody likes to blame the lawyers but someone has to be responsible for the stupid people that cause the accidents that attract the lawyers to begin with. And end up subjecting the rest of us to an endless parade of warning labels, warning brochures, and warning instruction pamphlets.
You know the ones I mean. Every time you buy a new appliance or tool the whole first few pages of the instruction manual are dedicated to how to plug the damn thing in, and riddled with warnings about how you shouldn’t use you new appliance while you’re in the shower or while you are sleeping. I literally had a warning notice with a handheld hair dryer that I bought, that cautioned me to not use it while I was sleeping. Man. I hope my subconscious got the message, cause if I’m sleep-walking sometime and I decide take a shower, I sure hope I don’t use that hair dryer.
So as I said, I’m thinking that in order to save paper, and in order to save trees, and perhaps save our planet when those tress suck all the greenhouse CO2 out of the atmosphere, maybe we could encourage the schools to offer a required course on basic appliance management. You know, safety tips. Elementary things, like don’t put your radio in the bathtub, try not to operate a chainsaw when you’re drunk, don’t fly a kite in a thunderstorm. Basic commonsense things that every kid should not advance to the next grade not knowing. Kind of a practical WASL—Washington Anti-Stupidity Learning.
Students could be given basic, practical, lessons in appliance management. Along with a list of who to call for questions and assistance. How to call a plumber instead of twist that nut. What to do when your hair drier starts sparking. Stuff like that. Students could watch horror films and see graphically and vividly how Freddy Kruger and others use unsafe electrical appliances to effect murder and gruesome mayhem.
It would sure save a lot of ink and paper. And it would possibly mean that I wouldn’t get the warning label I got the other day when I bought a lamp. That’s right, things have come to a sad pass in this country when you get a safety label on a lamp. I think I know how to operate a goshdarn lamp. But no. It turns out this lamp had a polarized plug. You know, where one side of the plug is wider than the other and it only fits into a plughole when you match up the wide plug to the wide hole. Duh. If I can’t figure out something as simple a plug in a hole is it going to do me any good to print out a 200-word warning label? Aren’t the chances good that a greater challenge than hole matching would be reading a whole sentence?
America, ya gotta love it.