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

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


If you want to cook out, you’ve gotta take it out - propane
Take that tank on down, set it down on the ground - propane
It’s a fine fossil fuel, that’s no lie -

If you want to smoke a brisket and you don’t want to risk it - propane
Let me tell you, Son, it makes your grillin’ fun - propane
It’s a fine fossil fuel, that’s no lie -

When the cookin’s done, and you want to ride on - propane
Don’t forget this fact, bring your empty tanks back - propane
It’s a fine fossil fuel, that’s no lie -

It’s a fine fossil fuel, that’s no lie -

Thursday, June 25, 2015


If you ever want to luxuriate in the shower for a looooong time, get yourself a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Castile Soap - I prefer the peppermint version - and relax.

It’s not that the soap itself is so wonderful. It is a fine liquid soap, and the peppermint does provide an invigorating tingle, but that is not what will keep you in the shower. It’s trying to read all of the tiny print on the bottle.

Dr. Emanuel Bronner, you see, was no mere soapmaker. He was a religious philosopher who firmly believed in the Unity of Mankind, taking his key philosophical points from a mishmash of Jewish and early Christian sources. For instance, he parsed the first line of the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 6:4, the text that serves as the Jewish declaration of faith and which is commonly rendered in English as “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one”) as “LISTEN CHILDREN ETERNAL FATHER ETERNALLY ONE!” And Bronner would always append his own comment: “Exceptions eternally? Absolute none!!!”

There’s oh, so much more. Reading a Dr. Bronner’s soap label in the shower is a little like reading War and Peace with a magnifying glass... while you’re covered in soap and trying to keep from (a) getting that soap in your eyes, and (b) slipping and falling on your ass. It’s a novel-length screed printed mostly in a teeny-tiny typeface that would scare a boilerplate-writing attorney, and in an idiosyncratic style - lots of caps, hyphens, and exclamation marks - that puts me in mind of a manifesto written in microscopic handwriting by a mental patient. (Which, by the bye, Dr. Bronner was, for a while.)

But one thing struck me as I was washing up the other day, and it had to do with one of my favorite topics: connections.

Buried in amongst all that tiny print on the Bronner bottle, there are mentioned the names of all manner of philosophers, scientists, and influential people. Abraham. Israel. Moses. Hillel. Jesus. Buddha. Mohammed. Einstein. Cleopatra. Buddha. Confucius. Lao Tse. Zoroaster. Socrates. Hippocrates. Cicero. Chaucer. Spinoza. Sagan.

Yes, Sagan. Carl Sagan.

Of the people on that list, only two of them had lifetimes that intersected with mine: Einstein and Sagan. Einstein died when I was a toddler, but Sagan walked the planet until 1996... and I actually met him once as we were both checking in for our flights at Washington National Airport.

Thus, at least owing to the mystical thought processes of the now-defunct Dr. Emanuel Bronner, I can claim a vague six-degrees-of-separation connection to all of those luminaries.

And if you really believe in such connections, I have some soap I can sell you.

Monday, June 22, 2015


If I am not for myself, who is for me?
And if I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?
- Hillel the Elder

If I cannot laugh at myself, everyone will laugh at me anyway.
- the Bard of Affliction

Every once in a while, Yours Truly will do something so boneheaded that I have to tell people about it... even if I am, so to speak, the butt of the joke.

So this morning I’m in the garage, screwing the refrigerator’s light bulbs back in. (Yes, we have an extra refrigerator in the garage. We also have one in the basement. Weird, but useful for storing all the crap that won’t fit in the main fridge.)

“Why are you monkeying with refrigerator light bulbs, Elisson?” Inquiring minds want to know, I am sure. Simple: I had unscrewed the bulbs so that Dee’s brother Aaron, who had been visiting us, would not violate the Sabbath.

Turning lights on and off is considered by observant Jews to be an unacceptable form of work on the Sabbath... and Aaron is observant. So unscrewing the bulbs would allow Aaron to raid the fridge between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday without causing the refrigerator lights to come on. (While not particularly observant myself, I nevertheless try to be knowledgeable about the Law so that I am at least aware of all the rules I may be breaking at any given time.)

But now it was time to put the bulbs back in operating mode, and there were a couple of bulbs that were located such that I had to back the car out of the garage to get to them. (They were tucked behind a drawer that cannot be removed unless the fridge door can be opened all the way, and when the car is parked in the garage it obstructs the door.)

So, with car backed out, I crouched down and removed the drawer. But as I reached for the bulbs, I was startled by the sound of the car horn in full alarm mode.


Startled is perhaps an understatement. I jumped three feet in the air, and in doing so dislodged one of the shelves from the refrigerator door. BANG. SMASH.

It was immediately obvious what had happened. No, nobody was trying to break into the car. When I had crouched down, I had somehow managed to activate the key fob’s panic button. A real Feckin’ Eejit move.

Alas, the shelf I had knocked down was loaded with various bottles of This ’n’ That. There were mason jars of moonshine and of various pickles - pickled garlic cloves, pickled Fresno peppers, et al.
There were various syrups and preserves. And they all survived... except for one bottle of Vietnamese fish sauce.

If you are not familiar with nước mắm, you should be. It’s a staple ingredient of Southeast Asian cuisine, similar to its Thai cousin nam pla, and is made by fermenting anchovies in brine in the fierce Southeast Asian sun. To call it fragrant is an understatement.

Dee and I spent a goodly amount of time sweeping up the broken glass, mopping the garage floor, and anointing it with bleach in an effort to eradicate the vile fishy stench. We have not, as of this writing, succeeded.

Our garage now smells - as Dee put it - like an Asian grocery store. I’m sure any number of other analogies will occur to my Esteemed Readers and Commenters. Have at it.


It’s once again time for the Sommelier Guild’s annual banquet, and once again we will be celebrating the event at the Chops Lobster Bar.

Guild events, like pretty much everything else in life, vary in quality. Some are uniformly excellent; others are marred by substandard wines or food. The annual banquet tends to have a higher batting average, perhaps because the Guild administration likes to be sure everyone enjoys the event that immediately precedes Board elections. I’ve never been disappointed by the June dinner, and the Lobster Bar has proven itself to be a fine venue in the past. Call me an optimist if you will, despite the fact that my glass is usually less than half full in accordance with standard tasting practice.

Here’s the menu. Feast your eyes:

Charles de Casanove Brut Tradition Tête de Cuvée Avize – Champagne, France***

First Flight
2004 Kistler Chardonnay, Kistler Vineyard - Sonoma North Coast, California***
2010 Mount Eden Chardonnay Estate - Santa Cruz Mountains Central Coast, California**
Signature flash-fried lobster tail, honey mustard aioli, drawn butter

Second Flight
2008 Tenuta Monteti Monteti -Tuscany, Italy**
2007 Tenuta Monteti Monteti - Tuscany, Italy*
1999 Château Monbousquet Saint-Émilion – Bordeaux, France*
Lamb rib chop, Brussels sprout leaves with wild mushrooms

Third Flight
2011 Anderson’s Conn Valley Eloge Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa North Coast, California***
2010 Liparita Yountville V Block Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa North Coast, California****
2010 Anakota Cabernet Sauvignon Helena Dakota Vineyard - Sonoma North Coast, California***
Filet mignon, sauce Béarnaise, Parmesan crusted jumbo asparagus

2003 Château La Gravière Tirecul Monbazillac – Bergerac, France***
Roquefort and figs

1990 Anderson’s Conn Valley Eloge Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa North Coast, California*
2012 Arkenstone Estate Syrah - Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, California***
2008 Rivers-Marie Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley, California****
2012 Myriad Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain Vineyard - St. Helena, California***
1999 Château d’Yquem****

[Editor’s Note: Tirecul is French for “pulls asshole,” which makes me wonder what effects this sweet Sauternes-like wine may have on the digestive system.]  

Per my usual practice, I will post a post-event update in order to share my worthless opinions on the potations and provender.

Not much winely excitement in the first two flights, but things started to get interesting in the third round. And the extra bottles people brought to pass around (see “Lagniappe” above) were mostly very nice, including a real Sweet Sixteen: a 16-year-old Château d’Yquem. Hoo-HAH.

Friday, June 19, 2015


A mother-daughter conversation, here reproduced verbatim. (Mother is 87 years old and has just moved to an independent living facility, where she has been told “guys will hit on you.”)

Mother: I’m all dried up down there. I think I need to get myself a doodle.

Daughter: You mean a dildo, Mom... and you don’t need one.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


I whistled past the graveyard
Whilst coming home from school
The zombies came
And ate my brain
Now I’m a whistlin’ fool

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Of all the foods I sometimes eats,
The scariest, I think, is beets.
The Missus says, “They taste like dirt!”
But that’s not why this dish can hurt.

The problem comes but one day late,
When I’ve forgotten what I ate,
And drop a deuce that oozes red:
My first thought is, “I’ll soon be dead!

“My guts are full of little holes -
How else explain this crimson bowl?”
But recollection then kicks in;
Across my face there spreads a grin.

What’s that I dined upon last night?
If it was beets, I’ll be all right!

Thursday, June 11, 2015


He has been dust for well over a century, but his image still shines in the ephemeral reflection from a silver-plated sheet of copper.

This is a daguerreotype, an image captured by the first commercially successful photographic process. The technical details were made public in 1839, and daguerreotypy became a craze. For the first time in history, average people could afford to have their portraits made.

But by the time of the American Civil War (AKA “The Late Unpleasantness”), the process had largely been displaced by newer, less costly technologies. We can be reasonably certain, therefore, that this photograph was made sometime in the span between 1840-1860.

The subject is unknown. Who was he? What was he like? We can only speculate. Yet there is, at least, more than a weathered, semi-illegible tombstone to mark his brief passage on Earth. There is a photograph.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


A few days ago, as Dee, the Mistress of Sarcasm, and I were enjoying a spot of lunch in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, I could not but help noticing an elderly couple tootling away on their smartphones.

Except for the wrinkles, bent postures, and slow, shuffling gaits, one could have easily mistaken them for a couple of teenagers. I almost expected them to take a selfie, complete with semi-obligatory duckface.

“You want duckface? I gotcher duckface right here. Now fuck off.” [Photo: Buzzfeed]

There is no reason why technology should be something reserved solely for the young. I know a ninety-one year old gentleman who is a regular morning minyan attendee at our synagogue (he divides his time roughly evenly between our shul and the local Chabad), who still drives a car quite skillfully, and who has no problem navigating the ins and outs of the Internet and his various e-mail accounts on his smartphone.

And then I think of my late Daddy, the estimable Eli, hizzownself, who was old-school all the way... at least when it came to Ars Electronica.

He had no trouble adapting to digital technology when CD’s (remember those?) began, slowly and inexorably, to displace long-playing vinyl audio discs. But in the office, he still dictated letters to a secretary, and used a shoulder rest in order to allow him to perch a phone next to his head. I’m surprised he didn’t develop the habit of walking in circles. (I’m also surprised that he didn’t use Dixie cups and threads in lieu of telephones.)

It was difficult enough to convince him to get a cellphone for emergencies. He and his wife would make the round-trip drive to Florida every year, and eventually they allowed that yes, it would be prudent to be able to get in touch with someone just in case THEIR CAR, GAWD FORBID, WERE TO BREAK DOWN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING OKEFENOKEE SWAMP. So there was that.

But a smartphone? You know, like all the Kool Kidz are carrying around these days?

No Frickin’ Way.

Strange, innit? I mean, my grandparents all were perfectly happy to use newfangled contraptions like telephones and television sets... and automobiles, for that matter. None of them would have said “Get a horse!” to the guy on the next street who just bought a beastless carriage. But Dad was different. What was it that made smartphones and computers such objects of Fear and Loathing?

I mean, aside from the fact that they suck all the data out of your house and bank account and feed it into giant enterprises run by the government, the Russian Mafia, and Amazon?


Some people like to carry a touch of home with them when they travel.

Stories abound of seasoned businesspeople who never pack a suitcase - whether for a quick one- or two-day jaunt or for an extended overseas trip - without taking along some family memento. It could be a framed portrait of the spouse and children, or even a favorite pillowcase. The specifics do not matter overmuch: It is just a way for the Road Warrior to be able to adjust strange surroundings, even if ever so slightly, to bring a touch of comfort.

During my years of toil for the Great Corporate Salt Mine, I logged my share of time away from home, but schlepalong touchstones never filled the little void in my life that came along with being away. Maybe I didn’t want to make myself too comfortable in my random hotel rooms. My discomfort - the lack of the familiar - made me eager to get home at the end of my trips all the more.

What made me think of this was glimpsing the assortment of shampoos and soaps on a shelf in our hotel room’s tub a few days ago. There was a good-sized bar of yellow-orange Dial soap. There was an array of bottles containing Neutrogena T-Gel shampoo (extra strength!), Rainbath shower gel, and a few others I recognized from our own bathroom at home.

It’s not that the hotel provided these things. Sure, a well-equipped hostelry will set out a bar or two of soap - facial! bath! - and a few thumb-size bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, and body lotion. And sometimes the stuff the hotel provides is of reasonably good quality. As a Traveling Man, I always looked forward to using the various hotel toiletries - it was a way of reminding myself that I was away from home in an exotic locale. Like Akron, Ohio. Or Tomah, Wisconsin.

Exotic. Right.

Hey, there were a few truly interesting locations I traveled to, back in the day. And I will even confess to amassing a collection of the sundry incidentals that decorated the bathroom counter. It’s a sickness, I know.

But when I saw that oh-so-recognizable chunk of Dial soap and its accompanying fluids and unguents, I immediately felt right at home. Here is was in a distant (albeit not too distant) part of the country, and yet I could luxuriate in the shower-bath as though I were in my very own Zone of Personal Comfort at Chez Elisson.

It is, of course, Dee who brings all of this crap along. It matters not whether we are a three-hour drive away or on the far side of the planet. There must be yellow-orange Dial soap and its various fellow-travelers. Not for her the game of Hotel Soap Russian Roulette. Oh, no.

Does she do it to create a familiar atmosphere in alien circumstances? Is it a reminder of home, much like a framed portrait of the family dog or a spouse’s T-shirt?

No, not at all. She brings this stuff because that’s what she likes to have in the shower... and it’s worth the minor inconvenience of  carrying around her favorite toiletries. It’s simply where the needle falls on her personal Comfort versus Convenience scale... and who would be foolish enough to argue with that?

Monday, June 8, 2015

HUSH or,

Shhhhh... don’t say it. [Click to embiggenate.]

(Sung to the tune of “I Whistle a Happy Tune”)

The elephant in the room
We dare not speak his name
For fear that he’ll run amok
It’s such a happy game all the same

The elephant in the room
Pretend that he isn’t there
You don’t want him running wild
And sitting in your chair everywhere

The result of this deception
Is very plain to tell
You know that he’s there
Because of his hair
And his pachydermous smell

The elephant in the room
He just might crush us all
Because he is so damn big
And we are very small (we’re so small)

[Apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein]

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


WTF is this? You may well ask. Keep reading...

My long-time bloggy friend Leslie - she who drives the Omnibus - posted a piece on Farcebook about coloring pages for adults, which (along with the comments appended thereto) reminded me of the ancient and estimable art of Coloring by Numbers.

Painting by Numbers, with its sibling Coloring by Numbers, were massively popular amusements a half-century ago. You had a piece of cheesy artwork - a jumping fish! a tribe of Native Americans! a sunset in the mountains! a horse race! - deconstructed into its component colors, the various segments and slivers delineated by light blue lines. Each segment would be marked with a number to indicate which little cup of paint or which pencil you would use to fill it in with the appropriate color. And when you were done, voilà! You had a piece of artwork on heavy paper or - in the case of the paint-by-numbers sets, a thin canvas-covered board - suitable for framing.

A typical Venus Paradise color-by-numbers set. [Photo credit: The Fancy Tail.]

I loved those damned things. I cared not whether they involved paint or colored pencils (although I strongly suspect my parents had a strong preference for the far less messy pencils). All I knew is, coloring by numbers provided hours of semi-idle amusement, a fine way to pass the time during warm afternoons in Florida while visiting the grandfolks. You couldn’t stay at the beach 24/7, after all.

There was another way to waste pass the time, and that was with a kit that bore the delightfully spelled moniker “Kopeefun.” The principle behind Kopeefun - a product that dates back to the mid-1930’s - was simple: You took a page of newspaper comics (or the specially provided cartoons that came with the Kopeefun kit - see above), laid a sheet of specially treated Kopeefun paper on top of it, and rubbed the paper with a popsicle stick, thus transferring the images to it. You then would use the same method to transfer your images from the Kopeefun paper to a blank sheet. Those with a perverse turn of mind could put Dick Tracy’s head on Nancy’s body, or have Charlie Brown duking it out with Snuffy Smith. Hours of hilarity, I tells ya.

Kopeefun. This package design (circa 1952) mashes up the crappy typography of the early 1950’s with charming artwork from the late 1930’s.

For all of the wonderful electronic amusements today’s kids have at their disposal, I wonder whether they’re really any better off. Nowadays you could get the same results using Photoshop, but you’d be missing out on the tactile pleasure of holding a pencil in your hands or scraping a damned popsicle stick over that glorified piece of wax paper.

Ahhh, those were the days.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Do not provoke the kangaroos
And do not try to give them booze
Do not invite one on a cruise
For if you do, you lose. You lose!

[Poem inspired by a news story concerning the above-pictured giant specimen recently seen wandering the streets of Brisbane, Australia. At over six feet in height and massing close to 210 pounds, “Dave” is not the sort of beast one wants to encounter whilst taking a neighborhood stroll.]

Monday, May 25, 2015


There are sights, sounds, and smells that instantaneously transport me back in time some fifty-odd years, back to my childhood. And for some reason, so many of these mental touchstones are associated with spring or early summer, the days when Nature has completed its awakening.

Some days ago - it was a warm, pleasant Sunday morning - Dee and I had taken a walk to the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium and back, a round trip of some two and a half miles. On the way we passed a few patches of fragrant honeysuckle, the combined sight and smell of which brought me back to the days when, as free-range kids, we would walk past hedges festooned with honeysuckle blossoms. We would pluck the flowers and, gently tugging at their bases, would extract their pistils, a drop or two of sweet, delicately perfumed nectar clinging to their tips.

Yesterday evening, after supper, we took a stroll around the neighborhood. (When I was growing up, our neighborhood’s streets all ran at right angles, so one could walk “around the block.” In our Atlanta suburb, however, there are no orderly, rectangular blocks. The streets go every which way, with loops and culs de sac. So I suppose we took a walk around the loop.)

As the sun began to dip below the horizon, we began seeing the intermittent flashes of fireflies. First one... then another, then another, until the Morse code of yellow glows became almost continuous static. And suddenly I was a ten-year-old again, seeing the world through curious, wondering eyes.

* * *

This year, Memorial Day coincided with the second day of Shavuot, the Jewish Festival of Weeks, AKA the Festival of First Fruits, AKA the Season of the Giving of the Law. It’s not entirely commonplace, this particular superposition of holidays. The last time it took place was a mere three years ago, on a day that also happened to be my father’s eighty-seventh birthday. But the time before that was back in 1985, and before that, 1971.

Nevertheless, it is a felicitous combination. In the United States, as elsewhere in the Diaspora, the second day of Shavuot is one of the four days during the year that the Yizkor service is held, a service of remembrance for departed loved ones. It is a service that fits hand-in-glove with the overarching theme of Memorial Day, the day on which Americans remember those who died while serving their country in the military.

Although several of our relatives served in the United States armed forces - my father, my uncle Phil, Dee’s father Bill and stepfather Dave - none of them died while active members of the military. That painful honor fell to Dee’s cousin Donnie, after whom she was named - the first resident of Tarrant County, Texas to be killed in the Korean conflict. Neither Dee nor I ever had an opportunity to meet Donnie, but we honored his memory twicefold this day.

And I thought of those fireflies.

I thought of those flashing, glowing lights, small and evanescent, fluttering over a lawn on a warm spring evening. In my mind’s eye, I could see that each one was the soul of a loved one - a mother, a father, a relative, a friend - or perhaps someone unknown to us, someone who had died while defending our country. Like fireflies, those souls surround us always, whether or not we know they are there... and sometimes, as the dusk comes on and the shadows deepen, they send us a little flash, a little glow, to remind us that they are forever with us.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Houston Steve demonstrates the head-cracking technology employed at a local business center. I smell lawsuit!

There’s a retail center/office complex a few of us have been frequenting these last several weeks, one which boasts a minor architectural design error. You can spot it in the photograph above if you have a sharp eye... or even if you do not.

A decorative concrete cornice runs along the outside of the building between the ground-level floor and what we here in the States would call the second story. Normally, that would not be a problem... except that there is a business on that second story, the access to which is through a door that is reached by way of an outside staircase.

That staircase - a rattletrap construction of metal risers and concrete treads that had no doubt been added as an afterthought - had been deteriorating for some time. Rust had begun eating holes in the risers; it was only a matter of time before the entire thing collapsed. So the management acted preemptively and brought in a squad of construction jocks to rebuild the stairs.

They approached the task in stages, working on the rightmost sections of the stairway while leaving the left side open to those who wished to brave the ascent. (For those too fearful or lazy to do so, an elevator was conveniently accessible.) Finally, after several weeks of seemingly slow progress, the right side was reopened for business while the left side was sealed off to be rebuilt.

Alas, there was a flaw... probably one that had been there but that we had not previously noticed. An architectural boo-boo of the sort that sometimes happens when you add a feature - an exterior staircase, say - that was not envisioned in the building’s original design. The cornice, you see, overhangs roughly a quarter of the right side of the staircase... a rude surprise to anyone who keeps to the right as they walk upstairs. I suspect that whoever designed that decorative cornice never thought that it could be decorated with splatters of blood and bits of cracked skull.

Not to worry, though. There’s a nice flat area along the outside of the cornice where the local Ambulance Chasers can affix their business cards.

Friday, May 15, 2015


Hanger steak with green peppercorn sauce. [Click to embiggen.]

Earlier this week, I had an evening to myself as Dee ran some errands across town.

More often than not, I won’t pay much attention to what I eat when I’m on my own for the night, but Alone Time does allow me to monkey around in the kitchen to my heart’s content.

You’d think I would use the time to prepare the kinds of foods that Dee prefers not to eat. Things like duck, venison, lamb, liver and onions, that sort of stuff. And, yes, on occasion, that is exactly what I will do. But not this time.

Hanger steak - a cut the French call l’onglet, whatever the hell that means - is one of my favorite kinds of beefsteak. It’s not widely available here, but the local Whole Paycheck Foods generally has a few sitting in the meat case on any given day. When I saw them there last Sunday, they had to compete for my attention with a huge beef shank - the kind that looks like it could serve as a Neanderthal’s club, complete with six inches of bare protruding bone. But the shank, glorious as it was, would have to wait, I decided. Hanger steak... that’d be Just The Thing.

You don’t really have to do much to these babies. Salt and pepper ’em, give ’em a light dusting with ground thyme, and then sear ’em in a hot skillet until medium-rare. Then slice ’em up. A twelve-inch slicing knife is my preference, but a straight razor or a Gerber mini-magnum would work just fine.

For extra decoration, I just defrosted some leftover green peppercorn sauce... homemade veal demi-glace, green peppercorns, shallots, red wine reduction... and supplemented it with the wine I used to deglaze the pan. And for the vegetabobble, I roasted some sliced Brussels sprouts along with capers, dried barberries, and diced-up preserved lemon. As Shockheaded Guy might say, those sprouts were taking a ride to Flavortown.

I suppose that to make this a completely Manly Meal, I should have preceded it with a Martini... or at least polished off a bottle of wine with it. But I did not. Instead, I had some soda water, which permitted me the luxury of a manly, yet discreet, postprandial belch.