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

Saturday, November 14, 2015


One of our dear friends is a lady of Mature Years who never fails to astonish me with her (occasional) salacious observations.

After a ten-minute struggle to put her earrings on, she observed, “You men have it easy.”

“How so?” I replied.

“You never have any trouble finding the hole.”

Friday, November 13, 2015


Churchy Panic
Churchy LaFemme, famous triskadeikaphobe.

Quoth Churchy LaFemme in Walt Kelly’s beloved comic strip Pogo, “Gyack! Friday the 13th come on a Friday this month!”

It’s probably a good day to stay indoors and self-medicate.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


As of two days ago, Dee and I are now proud owners of a little bit of real estate just up the road in Sandy Springs.

It’s not a whole lot of acreage, but it suffices for the purpose. And as for the old real estate mantra - location, location, location! - it’s in a quiet neighborhood and a popular development... so popular, people are dying to get in.

We have no immediate plans for the property, but you never know. There’s an old Yiddish saying: “Men tracht, und Gott lacht,” which can be lyrically translated as “Man proposes, but God disposes.” Which leads me to conclude that...

Everyone knowses
That when God disposes,
It’s good to have a place for you to reposes
As you decomposes.


Webcor, webcor. Houston Steve’s vintage reel-to-reel tape deck, times two.

A few days ago I stopped by to visit Houston Steve, who had just returned from several days in the Northeast.

Unlike Yours Truly, whose audio library is scattered throughout the house in the form of caches of LP’s, CD’s, and digital files, Steve seems to have his musical things fairly well organized. At the very least, he has managed to concentrate them in a single location - a closet adjacent to his wet bar. It’s jam-packed with various discs, both vinyl and shinyl, and also contains a treasure trove of semi-antique equipment.

There’s a reel-to-reel tape deck in there - not the cassette kind with which many of us oldsters were familiar, but the kind that used reels of quarter-inch magnetic tape, a product that I understand is no longer manufactured. Back in the ancient days of analog sound reproduction, audiophiles loved their reel-to-reel tape decks, devices capable of delivering the highest quality stereo sound.

Steve’s tape deck always makes me think of Don Van Vliet, the gentleman you might know as the Captain Beefheart of blessèd memory. And why would that be? It’s because of the song (really more of a poem with musical backing) entitled “Golden Birdies” with which Beefheart concluded Clear Spot, possibly his most accessible album. Here are the lyrics (video here):

Those little golden birdies - look at them

And the mystic Egypt tassel dangling down
Old sleeper-man - shhh, don’t wake him

Up wand hand broom star was an obi-man
Revered throughout the bone-knob land
His magic black purse slit creeped open,
Let go flocks of them

Shhh, sookie singabus
Snored like a red merry-go-round horse
And an acid gold bar swirled up and down
Up and down, in back of the singabus

And the panataloon duck white goose neck quacked
Webcor, webcor

Webcor, indeed. Don Van Vliet is, alas, gone these past five years, leaving behind his artwork (he was an inveterate painter) and his strange, yet fascinating music. Gone, too, are the devices on which he recorded that music - consigned to the dustbin of history with other products of obsolescent technology. Ave atque vale!

Sunday, November 8, 2015


We missed the first one in 2005... and we somehow managed to be absent for the one in 2007. But other than those two times, we’ve been making the trek to the little hamlet of Englewood, Tennessee every fall for Eric’s epic weekend-long birthday parties, the ones that have become known as The Hysterics at Eric’s.

The Hysterics have become a bit less hysterical over the years, most likely because all the participants are ten years older than when it began. It’s much less a drunken debauch and much more a collegial get-together with old friends. And that’s just fine.

Every year’s affair is memorable for a different reason... and sometimes more than one reason. We’ve fired off model rockets, gone shooting, had inflatable sheep in attendance, tested our archery skills, dressed up as soldiers. We’ve dined on country-style ribs, steaks, barbecue, ziti, carry-out Mexican food, and gumbo. And there’s always some kind of music, and some form of Poetic Recitation.

Oh, and did I mention the single-malt Scotch? There’s always some of that, too.

This year was memorable for at least two reasons... at least, memorable for Dee and me. Reason One was that this year, Elder Daughter was present for at least part of the festivities. And Reason Two was that this was the year of the food that shall hereafter be referred to as TMTONTBCBRSP - The Meat That Ought Not To Be Consumed By Red Sea Pedestrians, which was served up in its classic country form.

It should be understood that real country TMTONTBCBRSP is entirely outside the experience of many people who did not grow up in the American Southeast. It is vastly different from most people’s idea of TMTONTBCBRSP, which is either a lump of pink flesh that comes out of a huge tin labeled “Plumrose” or some such; thin slices of luncheon meat from the supermarket deli counter, designed to be combined with one’s choice of cheese to form a sandwich; or a spiral-sliced chunk of meat that comes from a storefront bearing the legend “HoneyBaked.” This is not those things.

Emphatically not HoneyBaked TMTONTBCBRSP.

What country TMTONTBCBRSP is, is an entire leg of a beast that does not chew the cud, yet has a split hoof. That leg is rubbed down with a cure, a combination of salt, sugar, and sodium nitrite. Then it is smoked, wrapped in cloth, and left to hang on a hook for several months, during which time it develops a coating of moldy grachitz and the deep salty funk that is its major characteristic. It’s a process for preserving meat that is as old as the hills, one that is solidly embedded in American folkways.

It should also be understood that just a few miles up the road from Eric and Fiona’s cozy abode lies a smokehouse - a purveyor of products made from TMTONTBCBRSP using the old-fashioned, time-consuming method described above. This particular smokehouse’s products are of an unusually high quality, so much so that they have attracted the attention of well known food writers and chefs, especially those who have associated themselves with the farm-to-table movement. You could say this place is the Mecca of country TMTONTBCBRSP, a cliché that is both valid and amusing for obvious reasons. It is hardly a surprise, therefore, that Eric would decide that a nice big chunk of Benton’s Country TMTONTBCBRSP would be just the thing to feed a small army of (mostly) former online journalists and hangers-on.

Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams. The Mecca of Tennessee country ham, so to speak.

Now, the thing one must keep in mind when dealing with country TMTONTBCBRSP is that it is intensely salty. To prepare it for service, you must first scrape the layer of mold and other detritus off the exterior, then soak it in several changes of water over a period of days. Then, simply slice it up, heat and serve. But it isn’t quite that simple. People who are used to the more conventional preparations of this meat are rarely prepared for the intensely funky aroma it gives off.

At one point during the proceedings, I received a somewhat panicked phone call from Eric, who, after several days of advance preparation, was having second thoughts about his meal program.

“When you guys get back to the house, we need to talk. I think we have a problem.”

“What’s the problem?”

“I think the TMTONTBCBRSP is tainted.”

Upon closer inspection, it appears that Eric had been put off by the intense Poke-Stank with which the, ahhh, Meaty Product had been perfuming the refrigerator - indeed, the entire house - a lusty combination of smoke and grease with a gentle touch of human cadaver. But Yours Truly - by no means an expert in matters relating to TMTONTBCBRSP - reassured him. It’s supposed to smell like this, I said.

And I was serious. I had, over the years, sampled the countrified version of TMTONTBCBRSP on numerous occasions. The first time had been at a now long-defunct place in Smyrna, Georgia called Aunt Fannie’s Cabin, an embarrassingly un-PC restaurant that recaptured the antebellum vibe with appalling success. My main course, a hearty slab of meat, had been intensely flavorful and smoky... and I was up the entire night afterwards, drinking glass after glass of water to knock the salt concentration in my bloodstream back to something resembling normalcy. So I knew what to expect.

I also knew that most of Eric’s guests would be satisfied with small portions, since a little goes a long way with powerfully flavored foods. We would have enough to feed the multitudes... especially since the TMTONTBCBRSP would be supplemented by mashed potatoes, Bou’s amazing cheese grits soufflé, and green beans simmered with a hock from the TMTONTBCBRSP. (Eric - the consummate host - also had put up a few filets mignon for the handful of folks who do not partake of TMTONTBCBRSP.)

Bottom line: Our Tennessee Country Supper was amazing, with the creamy, savory cheese grits offering the perfect counterpoint for the intensity of the TMTONTBCBRSP. Far from being tainted, it was dead solid perfect. Like fine Scotch whisky, it may be an acquired taste for some... but for me it was delightful as well as being somewhat off our beaten food-path.

For those who had the foresight to leave a corner of their bellies unstuffed, there was also an amazing chocolate espresso cake, courtesy of first-timer Rosie. Huge enough to have its own gravitational field, it was a cake that could have nestled comfortably amongst its enormous brethren at the Marietta Diner, where they sell their baked goods by the cubic yard.

All in all a fine weekend, one that was capped off by a Sunday morning breakfast that included Benton’s fine extra-smoky bacon (another Meat That Ought Not To Be Consumed By Red Sea Pedestrians), scrambled eggs, and leftover cheese grits... and Eric’s valedictory recitation of a few of William Topaz McGonagall’s execrable (and unintentionally hilarious) poetic works.

Too bad we only do this once a year, huh?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


O, if I ever owned a sheep, I’d name him Mutton Jeff
And feed him oats and barley malt, and spelt and rye and teff
And then, when he grew large enough, yet still a tender lamb
I’d hack him into little bits and eat him up, by damn!

Friday, October 30, 2015


Yours Truly at age thirteen, posing next to the sign announcing my impending Bar Mitzvah. (And yes, it’s that Amityville.)

Today is a minor anniversary of sorts, it being fifty years ago that I became a Bar Mitzvah - literally  “Son of the Commandment” - an adult in the eyes of the Red Sea Pedestrian community, at least in the religious sense. You could call it our version of passing the Bar Exam.

Popular opinion notwithstanding, it’s easy to become a Bar Mitzvah (or Bat Mitzvah, if you’re female), provided you’re Jewish. All you have to do is turn thirteen - twelve in the case of females. All of the foofarah - the ceremonies, the parties, and the accompanying narrischkeit - is just gilding on the lily. But it’s a significant enough occasion that - in our tradition - one is called to recite the blessings over the Torah for the first time. If you’re a minimalist, that’s pretty much all you have to do.

Most b’nai mitzvah will, additionally, chant the final Torah reading and will then read the appropriate complementary selection from the Prophets (the haftarah), this last a tradition that arose some 1,850 years ago when the Roman occupiers of Judea prohibited the study of Torah under penalty of death. (“Honest, Officer Centurion - we weren’t reading the Torah - just a different part of our scriptures!”) And in some congregations, the young man or lady will lead part or all of the day’s services... a task I was not expected to perform back in the day.

[It’s a testament to our parents’ belief in their Jewish identity - a belief that far outweighed their belief in Judaism as a religion per se - that my brother and I received the Hebrew education that allowed us to get through the ceremonial aspects of our respective b’nai mitzvah. Speaking for myself, I had a reasonable aptitude for chanting both Torah and haftarah, but Hebrew school bored me to tears. The spring after my Bar Mitzvah, I declared that I was dropping out, and thenceforth my religious activity was minimal for the next two decades. The moral of which is, there’s hope for all of us.]

After a full half-century, my memories of the Big Event are necessarily vague. I remember reciting Kiddush - the blessing over the wine - Friday evening, after which I proceeded to drain the goblet. (Halfway through, the cantor quietly told me, “You don’t have to drink the whole thing!”) I remember standing at the reader’s table as I began my Torah reading, feeling my knees knocking together and watching the silver pointer bouncing up and down on the scroll like a seismograph needle as I held it. (Whether my voice betrayed my nervousness, I can only guess.) I remember reading the second half of the haftarah, the first half having been read by the other young fellow who shared my Bar Mitzvah date. And I remember the reception my parents hosted afterwards, complete with sit-down luncheon, live band (Dad and his old musician friends sat in for a few numbers), and the requisite cake shaped like an open book.

We still have the photo album from that occasion, and it’s fun to take it out once in a while to see who is still alive. Alas, all too many are not. Rabbi Spielman now sleeps in his Forever Home, just a few feet away from where my mother rests... and even Beth Sholom Center is no more, having been superseded by some sort of Science of Spirituality Meditation Center. Ave atque vale.

Fifty years later, nephew William reads the same passage (Genesis 9:29-32): “And Abram and Nahor took themselves wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and father of Iscah. And Sarai was barren; she had borne no child. And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot, the son of Haran, his son’s son, and Sarai, his son Abram’s wife; and along with them they left Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan, and they came into Charan and dwelt there. And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Charan.” [Click to embiggenate.] 

Meanwhile, fifty years later, we celebrated the occasion in the best way possible - by joining our family in Texas as our nephew William became a Bar Mitzvah. By the Gregorian calendar, his was a few weeks earlier than mine, but he read the same Torah portion I had read all those years ago, the conclusion of the famous story of Noah. As he chanted, I silently mouthed the words - there are some things you remember even after fifty years - and I smiled, tasting the sweetness of new memories being made.

Monday, October 26, 2015


When Rabbi Jacob was hired to fill the pulpit in a small Southern community, what he saw surprised him to say the least.

It wasn’t that they ate grits, greens, and cornbread. That was fine; it was expected. But he was shocked to see them eating pork in all its varied forms. Even more bizarre, they avoided all kinds of waterfowl. The very idea of consuming duck and goose was regarded with contempt and loathing.

He asked how this could be, and they drawled their answer...

“According to the Torah, we are prohibited from eating the flesh of the swan!”

Friday, October 23, 2015


Flay Bobby Flay
Flay is a kick-ass Iron Chef
Flay Bobby Flay
Flay is a kick-ass Iron Chef

Whatever cooking you have in your mind
Ribs or chicken, they’ll taste mighty fine

Flay Bobby Flay
Flay is a kick-ass Iron Chef
Stay, Bobby Flay
Stay and cook us some dinner
Until they clear the plates away
Let ’em know your dinner is a winner

His apron’s dirty but his hands are clean
And that’s the best food that we’ve ever seen

Stay, Bobby Flay
Stay and cook us some dinner

Why wait any longer for the meal to begin
You can have your ribs and eat ’em, too
Why wait any longer for that Flay-vor you love
When he’s standing at the barbecue

Flay Bobby Flay
Flay is a kick-ass Iron Chef
Stay, Bobby Flay
Stay while our meal is still ahead

I’ll wash the dishes in the morning light
And I will belch and fart all through the night

Stay, Bobby Flay
Stay while our meal is still ahead

[Inspired by our having watched three consecutive episodes of “Beat Bobby Flay” on the Food Network, in which Mr. Flay (unsurprisingly) vanquished all competitors.]

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Last week, as we were on our way to a happy family event in Texas (our nephew William’s Bar Mitzvah!), we stopped, as is our usual practice, at the Waffle House to grab a quick breakfast.

Dee and I were accompanied by Elder Daughter and the Mistress of Sarcasm: an Elissonian Full House. And I am pleased to report that neither of our daughters committed the dastardly sin of trying to order pancakes at a Waffle House. We raised them girls right.

As we sat, consuming our Breakfasty Comestibles, my eyes were drawn to a device that sat near the entrance to the restaurant. It was evident that this was a jukebox - or at least what passes for a jukebox these days.

A jukebox, I should point out, is a partially automated music-playing device - usually a coin-operated machine - that will play a patron’s selection from self-contained media. (Wikipedia). The proliferation of portable music-playing devices, beginning with the transistor radio and culminating in electronic gewgaws such as the iPod and smartphones, made jukeboxes obsolete... but nevertheless, they are still seen in places like diners and bars, where they are present as much to create a nostalgic atmosphere as they are for providing audio entertainment.

Jukeboxes were the first outlet for new music, and because they were simple play-for-pay devices with no advertising, they provided excellent data on what songs were popular: they were the ones people would part with their hard-earned nickels to hear.

I’m old enough to remember the days when jukeboxes had a self-contained inventory of perhaps fifty 45-RPM records, equating to one hundred individual songs. You would drop in your coins, push the selector buttons, and then watch as the automatic machinery inside the box would grab the proper record from its carousel, flip it horizontally, and place it on the turntable. The tonearm would drop onto it and - presto! - music would issue from the speakers. It was almost as entertaining to watch the jukebox operate as it was to listen to the music.

The jukebox gave you an opportunity to share whatever music you cared to hear (Beatles! Rolling Stones! Mantovani! Bing Crosby!) with a room full of uninterested strangers... provided you got to the slot with your hoard of nickels ahead of the asshole with a roll of quarters and a Captain & Tennille fetish.

Of course, with music now available through digital media, it was inevitable that what few jukeboxes remain would evolve to take advantage of newer technologies. At first, the old vinyl records gave way to digital compact discs, which in turn were replaced by more advanced digital storage, with a single hard drive being able to hold tens of thousands of tunes. A great big box fulla choons, that’s what the newfangled jukebox is. Efficient... and soulless.

As for me, I miss seeing those little 45-RPM discs and all that machinery. That was entertainment!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Oopsie. I meant Back to the Future Part II.

Those of us who are familiar with the 1989 time-travel comedy (the centerpiece of a trilogy that began in 1985 with Back to the Future and concluded with Back to the Future Part III in 1990) will recollect that today is the date of Marty McFly’s arrival in what was then the somewhat distant future.

Somehow, 2015 used to seem so... futurey.

The future isn’t exactly like the folks back in the late 1980’s imagined it. Hoverboards and home fusion reactors haven’t quite made it yet, nor have flying cars... but then again, filmmakers have been using flying cars as a trope for Futuristic Shit since before the days of the Trylon and Perisphere. (Go look that one up, kiddies.)

Of course, nobody ever predicts the real world-changing technologies. Personal computing was still in its infancy when BTTF was made; smartphones and social media weren’t even on most people’s mental horizon. It makes you wonder what technologies will be commonplace in, say, 2045 that we have no idea of today. (Bet they don’t include flying cars.)

I wonder what’s more depressing - the dystopian Biff Tannenworld of BTTF2 or today’s real world, inhabited by zombies whose souls have been sucked out of them by their ever-present mobile devices.

Universal Studios apparently has a sense of humor about all this... coupled with a sharp business sense. Here’s their trailer for the movie that - by now - should be playing in Hill Valley at the local cinemultimegaplex:

Now, if they could only invent a “Mr. Fusion” that runs on cat turds. I could light up New York with what Stella produces.

Well, the Cubbies lost the NLCS to the New York Mets, so we’re one step farther away from the fictional future of BTTF2. But that’s hardly a surprise. There’s a difference between science fiction and fantasy, after all...

Friday, October 9, 2015


John Lennon turns 75 today. Too bad he’s not around to celebrate.

Lennon was a musical genius of the first water... but like many geniuses, Lennon could occasionally be full of himself. Satirist Tony Hendra, on the Radio Dinner album he co-created with fellow National Lampoon writer Michael O’Donoghue, used Lennon’s own words - culled from a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone’s publisher Jann Wenner - to skewer him in a delightful little piece entitled “Magical Misery Tour.”

Here’s a YouTube version (NSFW!) for your delectation:

Hendra, along with Sean Kelly, also wrote Lemmings, the Lampoon’s off-Broadway show, notable for being the first show to star Chevy Chase, John Belushi, and Christopher Guest. After his stint with the Lampoon ended in 1978, he eventually went on to become editor-in-chief of the late, lamented Spy magazine. He also played band manager Ian Faith in the film This Is Spinal Tap, which also featured Christopher Guest, his old friend from Lemmings.

Happy birthday, John!

Thursday, October 1, 2015


I wished to make a Pumpkin-Ox:
I piled them like so many rocks
And made from them a bovine shape
More like an aurochs than an ape.
I carved the horns; I carved the snout,
Machete waving all about.
My neighbor came, admired my work,
And said, like an uncultured jerk,
“Why pumpkins? Why not stone or clay?
Why build your bovine beast this way?”

“I sculpt with what I can afford -
Depends upon whose Ox is Gourd.”


Death Star Jack o’ Lantern by Noel Dickover. Go here for more interesting pumpkin art.

“The only Office the good Pumpkin serveth is that of submitting itself unto the Carving-Knife, thereby to be converted into a Jack o’ Lantern. The Flesh of the Pumpkin may nonetheless be made into Pyes that are considered by most rational Beings to be Delicacies to be endured at the holiday Table more for the Sake of Tradition than for their Palatability.”

- the Bard of Affliction

Monday, September 21, 2015


You’ve heard the song if you’ve seen that one television advertisement for Sleep Number beds.

While you were sleeping your babies grew
The stars shined and the shadows moved

It’s a song from Elvis Perkins’s Ash Wednesday album, titled (appropriately enough) “While You Were Sleeping” - a logical choice by the advertising folks who are trying to sell expensive high-tech bed gear to families with children.

It’s been a few years since I first heard that song. At the time I had been enroute from the wilds of the Northeast, headed towards Atlanta along with Elder Daughter, both of us passengers in the Mistress of Sarcasm’s car. It was coming on evening, grey and drizzly, as we cruised down Interstate 81 near Roanoke, Virginia, when “While You Were Sleeping” came on the radio. The lyrics grabbed me by the throat on the very first listen. Before we had gone ten miles down the road, I had already added the song to the growing library of tunes piled up in the electronic bowels of my smartphone.

While you were sleeping you tossed you turned
You rolled your eyes as the world burned
The heavens fell the earth quaked
I thought you must be but you weren’t awake, no
You were dreaming...

Those lyrics afflicted me with a powerful, sweet melancholy, magnified by my being in the presence of our own babies. They were no longer babies, of course. They had grown while we were sleeping, while the stars shined and the shadows moved.

While you were sleeping I tossed and I turned too
I closed my eyes but the future burned through
The planet turned a hair grey as I relived the day

Dee first heard the song when it appeared in that advertisement, and she had the same visceral, gut-punched reaction to it that I had... to the extent that she immediately grabbed the rest of the Ash Wednesday album.

Why does that song resonate so strongly for both of us? Why can’t I listen to it without getting a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye? Is it the image of fleeting time, big events, and life speeding past us in the seeming blink of an eye?


Some by local
Some by express
Those wheels will leave you in quite a mess
Some by diesel
Some by steam
In the tunnel nobody hears you scream
Some in the station
Some on the trestle
The rail’s the mortar; the train’s the pestle
Some by subway
Some by El
Neither will leave you feeling well
Some by turnstile
Some by gap
Choo-chooed up to the old Dirt Nap

The train’s the vehicle for me
But I hope to avert the Severe Decree

Saturday, September 19, 2015


He had spent a lengthy career on the high seas, accumulating a lifetime’s worth of plunder. Countless were the ships he had scuttled after having stripped them of their valuables; countless were the screaming sailors he had sent to Davy Jones.

But as Pete grew older, his taste for the violent life diminished. He came to treasure not gold and jewels, but the paintings of the Old Masters… and so he left Jolly Rogering for a more refined line of work.

Smiling, standing athwart the entrance to his new business, he greeted his customers. “Welcome to Pegleg Pete’s Arrrrht Gallery!”

[Today, September 19, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.]