Friday, November 30, 2007

#653 Vomit Roast

I need to talk about something I’m not even sure how to pronounce. Kopi Luwak.
It’s an Indonesian delicacy. “Kopi” stands for coffee, and “Luwak” is the local name for the Asian palm civet cat. It’s not really a cat, and not really a weasel either, but shares qualities of both.
What it also shares, apparently, is the ability to use its natural functions to render a really fine cup of coffee.
I originally heard about this phenomenon on the radio, but a brief Google query makes it apparent aficionados have long known of this bizarre coffee berry processing method. So much so that the coffee beans from an Asian civet cat sell for over $450 a pound.
More even than beans from monkeys. In Taiwan, coffee farmers harvest beans from Formosan rock monkeys.
The monkeys eat the coffee berries, but find the seeds give them indigestion, so they spit them up.
As in urp.
So harvesters pick through the puke to get the partially digested seeds, which they then lightly roast, and make into coffee beans worth a mere $56 a pound. The coffee is said to be a sweet, vanilla-scented brew.
Bottom line, we humans, apparently undaunted by things that cause monkeys indigestion, gather up the gooey seeds and make them into coffee.
So I wonder, who was the first person crazy enough to do this?
Let’s see. There’s some monkey puke. Hmm... Wonder if that would make a good latte?
Yeah I’ll have a monkey mocha please, with room for extra vomit.
But talk about bottom line, the civet cat thing is even worse. The civet cat berries are harvested from civet cat poop.
That’s right, upchuck ain’t good enough, these beans gotta travel all the way through. And because their trip was longer we’re going to charge even more.
Again, what individual first thought picking through cat poop for edible treats was a good idea?
Not the kind of parent I want on my kid’s Halloween route.
And that’s where I draw the line, bottom or otherwise.
No Java the Butt for me.
America, ya gotta love it

#652 Vegetation Misconduct

So the other day, I was reminded twice in one day of vegetables. And not the plant type either.
Well, actually it started with the plant type. A power company person was addressing an assembled body about the challenges faced by his team of power purveyors when it came to vegetation management.
Vegetation management.
It sounded so bureaucrat-eze, so gov-speak, that for a moment I forgot that the guy talking worked for a privately-held, for-profit company. Which supports my previous conviction that the larger an entity—public OR private—the more bureaucracy increases.
In any event, the term “vegetation management” had my twisted brain going two ways. In one Gary Larson section of my brain, I had a bunch of plants gathered around a conference table, each of them discussing various aspects of vegetile governance.
A committee of plants if you will.
A stately fir at the head of the table, dispensing conifer-like caution. A carrot posturing at one end, representing the tuber interests. A couple of flowers; an annual looking for short-term profit solutions and a perennial willing to reinvest for a further cycle of growth.
You get it, vegetation management.
The other half of my brain went to the brain dead—unfortunate individuals with no cerebral function needing long-term care and all the associate challenges.
Having the power company guy talking about emergency power to hospitals in one breath and vegetation management in the next led my brain down a dangerous path indeed.
Then, later that day, a news story sent me back down that same path. An individual was charged with abusing his caregiver privileges with helpless patients in a sordid way.
The newscaster said the guy was going to be charged with custodial misconduct.
Another bureaucratic phrase. It, of course, meant he used bad conduct with the people who were in his custody.
But “custodial misconduct”?
It sounds like he has a perverted fetish for a broom or something.
Or was caught red-handed, bleary-eyed and wrung out, after an unspeakable act with a mop.
America, ya gotta love it

#651 Vibrate

So I read an article the other day about lap dances. The scientific discussion purported to demonstrate that the movement of women who were ovulating was enhanced in such a way as to make them more attractive.
Like some vibrating dance of the bees thing that men responded to on some subconscious level.
Researchers kept track of lap dancers and the tips they made. Lap dancers who were ovulating and more fertile made more tips than lap dancers who weren’t. Those actually menstruating earned least of all. Women using birth control pills did lower across the board.
The highest tips earned by ovulating lap dancers were about $70 an hour—more than a teacher but less than a lawyer. From this the scientist involved concluded that attraction is based on movement not pheromones.
It’s not chemistry, it’s dance fever.
Okay, a couple of things.
How did this guy get this grant? This seems like one of those things conservative congressman are always holding up about the misuse of public funds for bizarre research.
Perhaps it was something concocted on the spur of the moment by a science professor caught running up too many topless bar bills on the university credit card.
Um, I’m, yeah... doing research... research on, um, how ovulation enhances procreative attractants by the facilitation of rhythmic and undulating motion through reproductive endocrine cycling. That’s it.
Sure Professor Lounge Lizard, works for me.
I suppose the tough part was getting lap dancers to give up valuable tip time to submit to expensive ovulation testing.
Maybe they just picked up a cheap thermometer.
The other thing is, I don’t get that dancing had anything to do with it. I mean, if it was dancing up on stage 12 feet away maybe the guy would have a couple of points to look at.
But these women were lap dancing. If there’s any place that pheromones would have an effect it would be in the up close and personal environment of a lap dance.
And finally, what’s the point? Returning to the Elvis-inspired admonitions of fifties’ hysterical preachers, thundering to young people that dancing leads to pregnancy?
Maybe those congressman could justify approving this research after all. Does it come with pictures?
America, ya gotta love it

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

#650 Verbose

I wrote recently about people who use meaningless phrases to describe things.
A corollary to that are people who use unconscious redundancies to fill space. I’m pretty sure the people have no idea they are doing what they’re doing. It’s as if they have a mental meter that tells them what they are about to say isn’t long enough and they have to throw in some filler to make the sentence look impressive.
Kind of like the produce section manager does with fruit—puts a box underneath to make the bin look full.
Or like when there’s not enough lips and sphincters for a sausage and they add sawdust.
Anyhow, I was at a meeting yesterday and three different people stood up and filled out their sentences with meaningless verbose sawdust.
One person stood up and was announcing her company and she said that they offered services to all commercial businesses.
Pardon me, but what other kinds of businesses are there?
Do not all business engage in commerce of some sort? Are not business and commerce virtually the same thing?
Or, as this lady might have put it, identically the same thing?
The next sawdust saying was from an individual who was praising another individual before he introduced him. The first individual went on for a while about the other guy’s good qualities and then said he would like to introduce his “fellow colleague.”
His fellow businessman perhaps, or his colleague in business. But not his fellow colleague.
Yes, I’d like to introduce a co-worker associate. He’s a real male man.
And the last one was less a redundancy than an over-the-top exaggerated hyperbole. This guy was describing how hard some group had worked and he said they put in “many countless hours.”
Oh yeah.
Many countless hours. Not just many. Not just countless. Many countless. Cause if they’re already countless why they’re that much more, right?
Like, um, double infinity.
Dude, we spent some time on this job, it was like eternity and half.
America, ya gotta love it

Monday, November 26, 2007

#649 Vapid

You gotta wonder why people say certain things. I sometimes think it’s just to fill empty space. Maybe because we’re afraid of silence. So we utter vapid meaningless phrases as if they meant something.
A favorite of the sports crowd when a team is winning is to say, “This team really showed up ready to play.” As in, the Seahawks showed up ready to play.
Well I would hope so.
At about a million a piece a year, I’m just praying that’s enough incentive for a player to show up ready to play. I mean, you know, they play like 20 games or so. Don’t want to show up any other way.
Sorry coach, I’m not ready to play today. Could you call up Monday Night Football and tell them I’m not in the mood. Feeling a little punky you know, my girlfriends broke up with me.
Or this one. Stores use it. Inventory reduction sale. Woohoo. That’s descriptive as hell. Every sale is an inventory reduction sale. Every sale of every item reduces your inventory of items, therefore every sale is an inventory reduction sale.
You might as well say you’re having a “being in business” day. Hey everyone, we’re having an open for business sale and we’re ready to play.
Or this one. I saw it on a book jacket the other day. You know, those little blurbs they put on the cover to entice you to buy and read.
They are always partial quotes lifted from reviewers you never heard of: “Great!” “Awesome!” “A page turner.”
Yep, a page turner.
And what book isn’t? It’s a book for gosh sake—you have to turn the pages. What would these lazy linguists call it if it was a book on tape—a real tape spinner? Or if it was on CD, would it be a real laser tracker?
Tell me something meaningful. Go ahead and say it’s filled with so much suspense you can’t put it down.
If it’s a movie tell me I’ll be on the edge of my seat.
Don’t tell me it’s a real frame advancer.
America, ya gotta love it

Saturday, November 24, 2007

#648 Vent and Dust

A couple of breakthroughs from the world of psychology: Persnickety people don’t get Alzheimer’s, and dwelling on your feelings makes them worse.
First, the Felix and Oscar test. In a study done with 997 priests and nuns, those who originally scored higher on tests for “conscientiousness” were 89% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their less-meticulous peers. These are the people who control impulses, the study said.
Interestingly, autopsies done on those that died during the period of the study showed no decreased incidence of the brain plaque associated with Alzheimer’s in the Felix types.
The lead scientist proposes that the difference may be in the way persnickety people use their brains, relying more on the frontal areas, which deal with decision-making and planning. This makes them less vulnerable than people who use the lesion-prone more primitive parts of their brains.
Great, as if anal-retentive people weren’t already insufferable enough. Now we have to put up with the fastidious Felixs longer than the more likable befuddled Oscars.
The second science breakthrough involves a study that determined that discussing problems over and over can actually make them worse.
When the psychologist Amanda Rose studied various group-venting sessions of teenage girls, she found that the hours-long conversations were reinforcing depressing feelings, not eliminating them. “The more they talk about it, the more anxious and depressed they feel. Too much talk is too much of a good thing,” she said.
On the face of it, it makes sense. If I trip when I’m running and get some super road rash, it makes sense to go to a doctor to have him clean out the wound of all the gunk and rocks and bacteria and stuff.
It doesn’t make sense to go back every other day and have him reopen the wound and start rummaging around with his swab and scalpel and gouge me out all over again.
Before tomorrow’s research totally contradicts today’s, the lesson here seems to be pretty simple. Vent, and then get over it, possibly by conscientiously and fastidiously keeping your apartment as neat as a pin.
Or, talk less, dust more.
America, ya gotta love it

#647 Vaga-bond

I once wrote that a sure sign something was going out of fashion was that bums were wearing it.
I’d seen a freeway panhandler holding up a sign at an off-ramp who was wearing one of those eight-ball multicolored leather coats. It just screamed for a mullet to top it off.
How depressing, for a designer to see last season’s hit hitting the skids—on skid row.
Well I’m afraid the end has come for another popular chic accessory, because I saw a bum holding one at a freeway off-ramp the other day. It was a stewing dog. Yep, a bum and stewing dog, and really, it was a perfect fit.
A beautiful bond between vagrant and man’s best friend—a vaga-bond.
Just cute enough to evoke feelings of compassion—and hopefully a spare buck or two—and just small enough to be eminently portable. Perched in the top of a knapsack or rucksack, what the Australians call a matilda, the little dog would be a great companion at the billabong or hobo camp.
And in a pinch, well, you know, they don’t call them stewing dogs for nothing.
The term stewing dog, while descriptive, is often replaced with the term “dropkick dog” or even “ratdog” by those larger dog owners who scorn the whole miniature cutesy thing.
But I think it’s more accurate to refer to them as catdog. Because really, the niche they occupy is closer to that of the domestic house cat—without all the attitude.
They are small, they are cheaper to feed, they are carryable and, most importantly, they are cuddly. Something that can’t be said for willful felines who only seem to cuddle when they want too.
Like when they jump up on the kitchen counter and do the catwalk through the food you are preparing, tail held high, airing out their last trip to the litter box.
By far the best thing to be said about stewing dogs is they can’t jump high enough to get up on the kitchen counter and air out their bums.
America, ya gotta love it

#646 Voting Safety

So in the recent elections, our county did pretty well as far as voter turnout, thanks to our great Auditors office. 46% of the registered voters voted. Impressive.
Still, we must remember registered voters are not necessarily all of the potential voters. The number of registered voters in Thurston County is about 134,000. So the number of people that voted and decided on what you and me are going to put up with in the way of crime prevention and school levies and stuff was only about 62,000.
And since most measures and officials were decided with a slight margin that means about 32,000 folks were victorious with their point of view. Therefore, out of a population of 234,000 about 13.5 % made the decision.
Such is voluntary democracy. It’s a lot like a lot of volunteer organizations I’ve been a part of, where 20% of the people do 80% of the work.
There are shepherds and there are sheep. It’s nature’s way.
But as I was perusing the election results on the excellent Thurston County elections website—google Thurston County elections—I noticed one or two interesting things.
First, there are actually elections for Commissioners of Cemetery Districts. I’ve been a voter for years and I don’t remember ever voting for a Commissioner of a Cemetery District.
It must be one of those towards the bottom of the ballot where everyone always seems to run uncontested.
Can’t imagine a heated and contentious race for Cemetery Commissioner, can you? What are the issues? Hole depth? What to use for mole and gopher removal. Giving the staff a ghouls night out?
The ironic thing though, is Cemetery District One—it’s in Grand Mound.
Where else?
The other ironic thing about the election was the measure to reduce the supermajority requirement of school levies. In a levy election, the poor schools have to get 60% of the voter turnout in the last general election to raise a levy.
It’s tough. Almost nothing passes by 60% in our contentious society.
Anyhow, it looks like statewide the measure may be either accepted or rejected. By 51 to 49 percent.
A simple majority.
America, ya gotta love it

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

#645 Vocation Time

So I was at this vocational job fair the other day. And I found out in no uncertain terms one of nature’s truths.
The young keep getting younger.
Man, young people are young these days.
But I got to hand it to them, they asked some hard questions. And some fun ones. A couple of them asked if I’d ever met anyone famous. I told them I’d met the Shipwreck Beads Pirate and they were pretty impressed.
Then I said I’d met Bob Hope and they said, who’s Bob Hope? Um, I stammered, suddenly befuddled, he was this old comedian that, um, died.
In advertising, we call it top of mind recognition. The Shipwreck Beads Pirate is yarring everyday. Bob Hope was crowded out by Ronald McDonald long ago.
The world has turned.
Like when I met Bob Hope, he was in Los Angeles International Airport. And he was in the loading gate waiting area swinging his trademark golf club.
You can’t bring golf clubs past the security screening area any more. Terrorists you know.
They’re devils with the ancient martial art of golf club swinging, Tai-stick, which involves lots of hooking and slicing with your club.
I’m sure you remember the character Casey, in Teenage Ninja Turtles, who first revealed the art to America.
Back to the job fair and the “have you ever met anybody famous” question. I answered to one polite young lady that I knew the guy who did America Ya Gotta Love It. She was thrilled.
When I revealed that he was also me she was beside herself, then proceeded to ask me if I really did only give out one piece of candy corn on Halloween. Just a joke, I said. I thought so, she replied knowingly.
Truth be told, I was the one who was nearly speechless. I was quite flattered; I had an image you, my target listener, and somehow it didn’t involve high school.
So thanks, in the end there’s only one job at the job fair that mattered. Making it your job to keep asking those hard questions.
Cause when you do, you’re making the world a better place.
America, ya gotta love it

#644 Vinyl Demise

I both love and hate the digital revolution. I love the fact that you can download a whole movie’s worth of data with a single keystroke.
I hate the way it’s degraded music quality.
The record companies are suffering because of illegal downloads but they’re also suffering because many folks just don’t plain care about sound quality.
Face it. An Mp3 is not a complete song. It’s like eating a grape peel. Some of the flavor remains but the juicy pulp is gone.
All the richness, all the variation, all the hours producers put into creating delicate tonal nuance. Gone and compressed, the living breathing body of the music gutted into a soulless corpse of beat and melody.
Yesterday I was at a rehearsal for a gig I’m emceeing with an 18-piece Big Band. The music I was listening to came from the 30s and the 40s but what really struck me was how complex and enjoyable an 18-piece band could be.
How rich and variable and satisfying to the ear. The subtle differences between clarinet and saxophone. How even when the various instruments played the same note the notes had a different texture.
And most importantly, how the ear can pick up those subtle differences.
Then my cellphone rang. And I was reminded of an article I read about digital music, the music industry, and the ubiquity of Mp3s.
As even further proof that most people don’t care about sound quality, one interesting side note in the article was that the biggest growth in music industry revenue is from ringtones.
One executive, when he’s suggesting a record deal, first asks himself if it can sell as a ringtone.
Wow... No wonder the LP has met its vinyl demise.
From Vinyl Album to CD to Mp3 to ringtone. From a fresh homemade burger to a super-sized flavorless value meal.
The tune we dance to in the 21st Century is: We’ll all accept less if we can get more of it.
Why fill your Ipod with rich, textured, full versions of your music?
A pod is, after all, an empty husk.
America, ya gotta love it

Monday, November 19, 2007

#643 Very Warm

So a couple of new stories made me think maybe I can save everyone a lot of money with a simple idea.
The first story had to do with the City of Olympia’s response to global warming. Now before you get all anti-Olympia, hear me out. The City of Lacey has just gone 100% green power. The City of Bellingham won an award for green power restructuring, and people everywhere are putting in compact florescent bulbs to lower their carbon footprint.
Even if there’s no global warming, we all save power and are less dependent on foreign oil. Sounds win win to me.
Not that I don’t believe there’s global warming—there is—and the proof is popping up in my backyard. It’s called the California Golden Poppy.
When I moved here in 1971, there was no such thing. It was a flower of the semi-desert country where I grew up—in Southern California.
You know, where they now have massive wildfires from unusually dry conditions.
My backyard has poppies so thick they’re crowding out the thistle and the yarrow.
Okay, I need to do some weeding.
Suffice to say the Golden Poppy has found a new warmer home here in the great Northwest.
Anyhow, the City of Olympia had a “warming summit” to plan what to do with certain facilities when sea level rises here on the Sound.
Or I guess you could say when the Sound level rises.
I wonder if they’ll measure it in decibels.
Certain buildings, like the new Hands On Children’s Museum, would be at risk.
And then I read a news story that the Port of Olympia is about to dredge and widen the channel for big ships. Hasn’t been dredged in years, they say, and it’s due.
Certain people are up in arms about raking up the muck and destroying habitat and stuff.
That’s when I got my idea to save lots of money.
Here it is¾just wait. In another ten years the channel’s gonna be deeper anyhow.
The rise in Sound level, remember?
You can hear the writing on the wall.
America, ya gotta love it

Friday, November 16, 2007

#642 Variety of Propriety

It’s funny how a little difference in perspective can change everything.
Take eating.
It is now considered appropriate by Emily Post for one to eat chicken with one’s hands at a social gathering. Emily Post, of course, is long dead, but some corporate entity—or possibly Abigail Van Buren’s daughter, is now carrying on her post mortem pronouncements.
Actually, it depends on the chicken. If one were to grab a portion of chicken cordon-bleu and stuff it into one’s mouth, or better yet, rip off a hunk with one’s exposed teeth, many in the etiquette business would quail visibly, go white as a starched sheet, and write a scathing letter in perfect cursive to Martha Stewart.
Cursive is the handwriting one uses when repressing a desire to use swear words. A variation on the frustration geeks felt in the earlier crash-prone days of computers, which ended up in the pointy thing that locked up and indicated a screen freeze being called a cursor.
In any event, manually handling food is not an option beyond certain types of bone-in chicken, like barbecued or fried.
However, the bone itself is not a license to gobble. Turkey legs are etiquettually forbidden, and tearing into a T-Bone it with one’s teeth is discouraged with an upturned nose as well.
Exposed teeth are generally frowned upon in the eating process, while smiling good-naturedly with them when the hostess plops corn-on-the-cob on your plate is okay.
Perhaps the tooth conundrum is at the heart of table manners. It is perfectly appropriate to stick a fork in one’s mouth—if one loads it with food and jams it completely inside. But it is not okay to use a fork to pick one’s teeth.
Arguably, your teeth are in your mouth and any cooties you are getting on your host’s fork are already present, so why you can’t wrestle some gristle loose from your teeth with that same fork is a mystery.
Perhaps I’ll jot a query to Miss Manners. Or perhaps ask my dentist when he has his entire hand in my mouth.
A difference in perspective can change everything.
America, ya gotta love it

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

#641 Valuable Air

So I was at this meeting where they were talking about trade opportunities with China. One of the opportunities was tourism.
There are like some 50 million people that are expected to tourize the US from China in upcoming years.
One of the big appeals of our country is apparently that we have like, um, clean air. Whoda thunk it? All those tree huggers actually contributed a saleable commodity to our economy—fresh air.
Ecotourism in the US based on something we take for granted and breathe every day. So we need a tourist slogan to market Washington in China. We need a word that captures a clean and pleasing intake of breath.
There is none, so when I say ahhhh, picture taking in a deep and satisfying breath. Now you got it.
So we could say “Washington, Say Ahhhh.”
Or how about, “Washington, Come Breathe with us.”
Or we could highlight our relative emptiness compared to their crowded cities as well. “Washington, Room to Breathe.” I like it.
The other trade opportunity the delegation talked about was manufacturing assembly. In which they make the parts and we put them together.
This helps both economies, as they get the benefit of the money from the parts, it’s cheaper to ship the pieces and we get the benefit of our labor force putting stuff together while we get the parts cheaper than we would have normally.
Which I then left the meeting and put into immediate practice, as I am assembling these toy boxes for my radio station that each have about fifty pieces, with screws and cams and little wooden dowels and allen wrenches and stuff. Very mind numbing, very time consuming, but very cheap.
So I’m doing my little part to encourage world trade and assemble world peace—one piece at a time.
I felt like a college student putting together his first Ikea furniture suite. No sense of accomplishment because I wasn’t really building anything after all, just assembling.
And the biggest thing to show for it a bunch of allen wrench blisters.
But hey, at least we can breathe easier when it’s all done.
America, ya gotta love it

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

#640 Verbal Threesome

Three separate things today.
First, I have to tell this story, even though Halloween is long gone. October 31st, about 6 o’clock Halloween morning, the front doorbell rings. I answer it and there’s this kid on the porch. He has some funky looking beak strapped to his face and what look like wings.
“Who are you supposed to be?” I asked.
“The early bird!” he replies.
Isn’t that a great story? Too bad I made it up. I wish I had thought of it 18 years ago. I would have dressed up my son and sent him around the neighborhood.
Okay, new thought. I was listening to some birthday list on the radio the other day and they said it was Slash’s birthday. You’ve heard of Slash, from the group Guns and Roses.
I’m always a little impressed by the semi-nonsensical stage names our performers come up with—Sting, Bono, Slash, Cher...
I’m curious if they do that to absolutely preclude their ever running for a political office.
Ladies and Gentleman, may I present President,um, Sting.
Anyhow, I had to wonder about Slash. I’m sure people see the name as a menacing and dark sort of choice. Like slasher flicks and slashing action with a sword. Or slashing the air with a blistering cascade of guitar notes.
What if it really is his name? And his parents were like nerds that named their children after rarely-used characters on the keyboard? There would be Slash and his punctual brother Colon and their friendly older sister Ampersand who always brought people together. And their little sister Tilde with the wavy hair.
I figured it was a pretty fanciful notion and then I looked up some legal documents and it turns out Slash’s last name is Qwerty.
New thought. I don’t know where to go with this but it struck me the other day that those lonely fellows in the coffee shops spend an awful lot of time with their computers.
Touching them and doing key strokes and really embracing their companionship to the exclusion of all others.
And the word Wifi sounds uncomfortably close to the word wife...
America, ya gotta love it

Monday, November 12, 2007

#639 Juxtaposer

So I pose questions to myself about some things.
Like spiders.
This is the time of year when everywhere you turn you run into a spider web. Is it just the fog that makes us see them better? Or are there really more spiders out there?
If there are, why do they proliferate so much now? Seems to me most of the spider prey insects—mosquitoes and gnats and fruit flies— are really abundant in the spring.
Why, by the way, does gnat have a silent “g” and knot a silent “k”? And if you add a silent k to the word for young headlice “nit” you get something for old people to do, knit.
I once had a house that had a sound-muting ceiling covered with the popcorn stuff some worry may contain asbestos. All I really know is it contained a lot of opportunity for dust and cobwebs, that those tiny cob spiders build.
There is such a thing as a cob spider. It’s related to the black widow, actually, in case you ever want to win a bar bet on crannies of your house that need to be vacuumed.
And how come I never see cobwebs under my corn husk?
I also pose questions to myself about instruments like tongs. Does that make me a juxtaposer?
When they are in a buffet line, we call them tongs. When we are in a medical facility, we call them forceps. Sometimes we just call them pincers.
I’m not sure if the distinction emerges from the power with which the jaws of the pincer/tong/forceps close or what.
Maybe, in fact, it’s just a name based on use thing. If I need to pluck a grape from the fruit bowl or retrieve a stringless teabag I don’t suspect I’d like to ask someone to pass me the forceps.
And when I mount a dead spider in my insect collection box, forceps are far more delicate than tongs.
So why is it for-ceps when there are only two pincers on it?
America, ya gotta love it

Friday, November 09, 2007

#638 Jillion Germs

So the other day I was in a buffet line. I spend more time than I’d like to in buffet lines.
And not the all-you-can-eat places either; I do it in the service of community and the ultimate god of all things powerful and successful, networking.
In any event, I took some harsh looks from a prissy lady when I plucked a cherry tomato directly from the salad bowl. I replied to her look by gently and forcefully plucking a bunch of grapes from the fruit bowl next to it.
Everyone always seems to ignore the grapes in favor of the melon and pineapple in buffet fruit bowls but hey, I feel they’re more than garnish and wine precursors, they should be appreciated as fruit in their own right.
The woman snuffed huffily after I had plucked the grapes and directed her withering glance at the tongs lying unused on the platter.
“Did you know,” I said, “that snuffers and snifflers who have diseases often sneeze into their hands and then use buffet tongs?” I raised my eyebrows mercilessly in what I hoped was a conversation-ending facial punctuation point.
It worked.
It was fun when we reached the end of the line and the coughing guy in front of her, who she was now suddenly aware of, grabbed the big tongs to lift out the barbecued chicken.
Think about it. Isn’t it a lot easier and a lot more hygienic to just grab a roll, than to grab a tong someone else has grabbed to grab a roll? We are dumb with politeness sometimes.
Why would we go to a place and use tongs to save us from catching diseases only to pass the tongs—and jillions of germs—from hand to dirty hand? In the meantime, shaking hands with I don’t know how many people as they come up and network through the line.
I’m surprised every businessperson in town isn’t chronically sick.
Then again, maybe all that germ passing makes them stronger than ever.
And I should be praising the buffet tong as the ultimate immune booster.
America, ya gotta love it

#637 Jumbo Kernel

The other day when I wrote about candy corn. I couldn’t help but wonder if they came from a candy cob of some sort.
I like the word cob. Starts in the throat and ends on the lips with no tonguing in between.
On the cob. Kind of a single use phrase. You don’t say something like, well he’s certainly feeling on the cob today.
But corn cobs themselves have a variety of uses. They once made great pipes when no clay or meerschaum was handy. Granny and her corncob pipe is an American icon.
Cobs were also used as feed for the pigs. Nowadays they use it to enhance ethanol.
And who could forget those tales from our grandparents about using corncobs in the outhouse. Whenever my grandma would see a commercial about “softer” toilet paper, she would huff in derision. All toilet paper was soft to her, compared to using a corncob as a hygiene device. Paper and loofa and brillo pad rolled into one convenient tool of nature.
Kind of turned the call of nature into a “youch.”
I wonder if they used those little corncob holders like they have at thanksgiving tables.
Those two-pronged dealies you poke into either end of the cob so you don’t burn your delicate fingers. We’ve softened a bit since medieval folk grabbed flaming haunches of meat and gulped them down.
Corn on the cob holders. Talk about a single use tool. Although I have employed them as toothpicks if I got a particularly gristly turkey leg.
Corn is great in other ways. It has a husk. Not a lot of our foods have a husk.
I like saying the word husk almost as much as I like saying cob. And you husk the corn of its husk. What a versatile word, that can be both verb and noun in the same sentence.
After you husk the husk and before you lay bare the cob, you must first remove the kernel.
Kernel, another wonderful word.
Husk, kernel, cob. A throaty threesome of rich language.
All from a slightly large piece of grass.
America, ya gotta love it

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

#636 Joyful Giving

Halloween is the time of year when we institutionalize begging. Or at least give it our cultural complicit consent.
Running the risk of training future bums.
And when some of the big kids come to my door actually dressed as bums, the irony sets my shoe magnets spinning.
I’m always torn as to what to give the little beggars. Especially since some of them appear to be in high school. Candy ain’t cheap. And besides, today’s youth is struggling with an even greater obesity problem than their parents—so is it right to feed this Halloween festival of gluttony?
So I’ve decided to take a stand.
I give out Candy Corn.
Candy Corn has a number of things to recommend it. The individual pieces are small. It’s pure sugar and corn syrup, so its glycemic index is easy to compute for any children whose parents may have them on the Atkins Diet.
And it’s the closest thing to a vegetable offering the candy food family has. It’s always important to have a vegetable. Vegetarian candy eaters can appreciate what I’m saying.
Arguably, Candy Corn would qualify as a candy grain, but as I was growing up, my family always viewed corn as an acceptable vegetable. Especially on the cob.
The other thing I do is to help teach children about moderation and restraint. Lessons often forgotten in the helter-skelter greedy grab for booty most kids surrender to on Halloween.
The opposite of gluttony needs to be presented, so children can embrace its austere beauty.
So I not only give out Candy Corn. I give out one piece of Candy Corn per child. I believe it’s important for someone to take a firm stand in this wild and crazy time.
And I have found, much to my delight, that the children appreciate it. And when it doesn’t rain on Halloween, come All Saint’s Day morning I find they’ve donated acres of fresh toilet paper for me to harvest from my trees and shrubbery.
Last year, after I re-rolled it, I had enough to last me to Mardi Gras.
America, ya gotta love it

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

#635 Jazzed

I lay awake last night concerned about an article I read.
It was about insomnia.
I once had insomnia so bad I dreamed about it. Nothing worse than dreaming you have insomnia. Dreaming that you’re lying awake really cuts into your rest.
And there is nothing for Freud to interpret. No trains or tunnels or stuff. Just awakeness.
Which wasn’t as bad as this weird dream I had. I didn’t know how to interpret it. I dreamed someone was putting teabags on my eyelids. Very strange, since as far as I know I’ve always been a confirmed coffee drinker.
I must have been asleep during the earlier part of the dream where I got the black eyes that necessitated the application of the teabags.
Maybe it was a dream about aging. Don’t teabags have something to do with wrinkles? Or is that cucumbers?
In any event, this article I read said insomnia doubles your chances of dying of a heart attack. A British scientist determined from a study of 10,000 civil servants that those who sleep five hours a night or less were much more likely to develop cardiovascular problems and die prematurely.
No word whether the midnight oil burners were also smoking cigarettes and dunkin’ donuts in their late night after-the-bars-close 24-restaurant coffee.
Seven to eight hours seems to be the optimum time for the brain and body to go about the process of physiological restitution and recovery.
But too much is too much too.
The study found that people who sleep more than eight hours also die at twice the normal rate.
So the recommendations appear to be: Don’t watch late night TV, it gets your brain all jazzed up. Similarly, unplug all your wires. Electronica inhibits drowsiness, except in my case where staring at the computer mid-afternoon sends me into a complete stupor.
Avoid stimulants. Don’t drink coffee after 3:00 pm. And one teabag is the stimulant equivalent of a half cup of coffee.
One comforting thing about the study; insomnia may double your chance of dying of a heart attack—
But at least you won’t die in your sleep...
America, ya gotta love it

#634 Jeremiad

Here’s my tale of woe. I don’t go to church because of my nose.
I know that seems like a weird reason, but when has reason had anything to do with church.
I don’t go because I can’t stand the smell. Oh, empty churches are moderately tolerable. Quite a few times I’ve gone into them to vote.
That’s one of the things I miss most about the new Washington vote entirely by mail experience. I don’t get to go into empty churches.
Empty churches have the musty smell you get from parishioners exuding the sweat of damnation and then having it dry out. And they have the smell that isn’t there, unlike most public places, where someone at one time or another has—there’s no easy way to say it—passed gas.
Passing gas leaves a residual “human” smell. Churches never seem to have it.
Although you would figure the great creator, since he fashioned all manner of human orifices and expulsions, would find the flatulence experience not particular blasphemous.
No more, I would say, than the matronly women that slather on the perfume before their visits to the house of the Lord. That’s another thing I’m not really sure of. Why they think God would be the least bit impressed with the latest eau-de-whatever.
I’m sure not.
I, for one, think there ought to be “perfume free” sections in restaurants. The whiff of some of these lady’s perfumes totally puts my nose and taste buds out of whack and destroys my dining experience.
And the cloud these women leave behind seems to linger for hours. A lady came into the station the other day and it about bowled me over. When she left, this floral miasma seemed to cling to every crack and cranny in the furniture.
The lady, I’m sure, hadn’t a clue. People adjust to things and, unless someone tells them, have no idea when they’re pouring it on too thick.
But when I walk into a church, it’s there like a poisonous fog.
To paraphrase a great and troubled songwriter, smells like middle-age spirit.
America, ya gotta love it

Friday, November 02, 2007

#633 Jaunty Exec

Oh, the law of unintended consequences. What an interesting time it is when the world catches up to the best of intentions.
Recently I was glad when it was more or less decided that the City of Olympia was going to put its new city hall downtown. There was talk for a while that the new facility would be on Port property, pretty much right next to the sewage treatment plant.
Sorry, it’s not a good idea to put a governmental organization next to a sewage treatment plant.
If only because we’d never hear the end of jokes about excrementally bad judgment and hot air and every lower bodily function you can come up with to refer to government.
But like most things it seemed like a good idea at the time.
I still remember the corporate sigh of despair from the diet candy maker whose product for losing weight rapidly was called Ayds.
Talk about a downer.
One minute you have products in every drugstore and a great ad campaign and the next moment the public decides it doesn’t like spelling out H.I.V. all the time and the term “Aids” settles into the language as the way to refer to a devastating disease.
And then there were all the executive types. Used to be you could be called a Manager and you felt pretty special. Then you had to be called a President, or possibly an Executive Vice President. After that, you really weren’t anybody until you were called a CEO, a Chief Executive Officer.
Then people became Directors. Next step, Executive Director.
Finally, you had arrived. Your climb to the top of the top was rewarded with the title of Executive Director. The abbreviation ED fairly glistened on the brass plaque on your desk.
You had personalized license plates put on your Corvette convertible and your new $40,000 Harley, with the letters ED proclaiming to one and all your status in life.
And then the law of unintended consequences kicked in. The letters ED suddenly took on a whole new meaning.
Viagra came out.
Now, for some reason, whenever you ride your Harley, people snicker...
America, ya gotta love it

#632 Just Desserts

I worry sometimes that we are starting to neglect the basics in education. Maybe those hours youngsters used to sit parked in front of Sesame Street didn’t give them the cautionary morality of the classics.
A lot of the old fables and stories had a moral. A point, if you will, to instill in young folks the idea that something was either good or bad behavior and would likely have a consequence.
The three little pigs story is a good example. The pig that made his house of sticks had it blown down, the pig that made his house of brick is still pigging away, hoove-ing his snout at the big bad wolf.
I know, I know, wolves got a bad rap. Just cause they didn’t kowtow to that whole domestic thing like their piggy contemporaries, they have to be the bad guy in the story. The pigs, fattened up and destined for slaughter at the hands of the moral makers, are the “good” guys.
Anyhow, what brought this to mind was an event I took part in by a local chamber recently that was themed “The Midas Touch.” Everyone was supposed to wear gold and it was a big festive event. But it got me thinking.
The Midas touch was actually a bad thing.
These days we say it’s good. That Bill Gates, he’s got the Midas touch. Midas touch with stocks? That would be Warren Buffett. But the fable had ol’ Midas coming to a bad end.
He loved gold; he did everything in his power to acquire gold. He craved it so much he made some deal with the devil or a river sprite or something so that everything he touched turned to gold. He was delirious with pleasure.
And then he realized—his food turned to gold, his wine turned to gold and... You get the picture. Pretty soon he starved to death. His solid gold Devil’s-food cake inedible. What you would call just desserts.
So why am I thinking a certain muffler company founder didn’t read his Aesop’s tales...
America, ya gotta love it