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

Friday, November 30, 2012

YOU DON’T KNOW JACK... BUT YOU SHOULD

Jack Rose
Pretty in pink: the Jack Rose Cocktail. Don’t let that Cosmo-like exterior fool you. This is a Serious Drink.

In my constant quest for Obscure Tipples, I came upon a real forgotten classic: the Jack Rose cocktail.

It’s a tasty enough drink, the Jack Rose, but it is hard to find these days: Except for serious mixologists and Bar-Nerds, most people have never heard of it, owing to a peculiar double whammy. Its base liquor, applejack, is no longer a staple of most people’s little Lacquer Liquor Lockers, and its flavoring component, grenadine, has been largely replaced by crappy faux-grenadines that bear little or no resemblance to the real thing.

When people talk about Pioneer Spirit (in the alcoholic sense), applejack tops the list. It was one of the most popular forms of hooch in colonial America, no surprise given the bounteous supply of apples in the New World. You didn’t even need a still to make it. All you had to do was let your apple cider ferment naturally, yielding a mildly alcoholic “hard” cider of about 7-8% ABV. (Back in the day, hard cider was a healthier alternative to the not especially potable water to which most people had access.) You would then leave your barrel of cider out in the bitter cold New England night, allowing it to partially freeze in order to concentrate the alcohol in the unfrozen liquid.  If the weather was cold enough, you could get your ABV up to a respectable 35-40%.

My buddy Walter and I tried doing this back when we were in high school. It did not work out so well.

The more efficient technology, of course, is good old distillation.  If you take that hard cider and cook it off, you end up with apple brandy, which, after barrel-aging, can be used as-is or blended with grain neutral spirits to make applejack.  Laird’s, the preeminent supplier of applejack in the United States, has been at it since 1780, despite the ebbs and flows of the market, historical events (Prohibition!), and the displacement of apple-based spirits by whiskeys (made from grain) and rums (made from sugar cane molasses).  Alas, these days most people don’t know jack about applejack...but they should.  It’s a really interesting spirit, a powerful dram with a lovely fruit nose.

For my version of the Jack Rose, I went with Laird’s bonded apple brandy, which is 100% apple eau-de-vie (no grain neutral spirits) and thus is probably much closer in character to old-school applejack.

The next dilemma was what to use for the grenadine.  Rose’s, best known for their sweetened West Indian lime juice, makes a grenadine that can be found in pretty much any supermarket and liquor store.  Alas, it is crap: nothing but high-fructose corn syrup, red dye, and artificial flavoring, bearing no resemblance to the lovely red pomegranate from which it takes its name.

There are a few commercial grenadines out there that contain real pomegranate juice, but having found a perfectly workable recipe online at Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s site, I figured I would make my own.  It’s easy enough, and it’s the best-tasting grenadine I have ever tried:

Get two or three big-ass pomegranates at your grocery store.  Slice ’em in half and use your citrus juicer to extract the juice.  This is Morgenthaler’s recommendation and it works just fine (although it can get a bit messy... pomegranate juice, like beet juice, stains everything it touches).  If you don’t want to deal with that, just get a bottle of POM pomegranate juice out of your grocery’s refrigerated case.

You should have about two cups of juice.  Stick it in the microwave and nuke it for one or two minutes - just enough to warm it up and make it easy to dissolve the sugar in it.  Now add an amount of granulated sugar equal to the amount of juice: two cups juice gets two cups of sugar.  Stir slowly and carefully (you do NOT want to splash this stuff around the kitchen) until the sugar is fully dissolved.  Now, for the finishing touch, add about two ounces of pomegranate molasses (available in your local Mideast grocery) and a teaspoon of orange flower water (AKA orange blossom water, also available in the Mideast grocery).  Don’t overdo the orange flower water: you just want a hint of its distinctive flavor.  Add an ounce or so of vodka by way of a preservative, then stir the whole mess and strain into a bottle.  Keep it in the fridge.

Now that you have the grenadine and your bottle of apple jack (or apple brandy), it’s time to make your Jack Rose.

Jack Rose

1½ oz applejack
Juice of ½ lemon or lime, freshly squeezed (I used lemon)
¾ oz grenadine

Place ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.  Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass.

Some people like to garnish their Jack Rose with a slice of citrus (lemon or lime, depending on what you used to make the drink); I prefer mine au naturel.

This is not a girly-drink, especially if you use Laird’s apple brandy to make it.  The stuff packs a 100-proof wallop... and yet it is smooth as Halle Berry’s left ass-cheek.  (Don’t ask me how I know that.)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

DANGEROUS TOYS

When George’s Grandmamma was told
That George had been as good as gold,
She promised in the afternoon
To buy him an Immense BALLOON.
And so she did; but when it came,
It got into the candle flame,
And being of a dangerous sort
Exploded with a loud report!
The lights went out! The windows broke!
The room was filled with reeking smoke.
And in the darkness shrieks and yells
Were mingled with electric bells,
And falling masonry and groans,
And crunching, as of broken bones,
And dreadful shrieks, when, worst of all,
The house itself began to fall!
It tottered, shuddering to and fro,
Then crashed into the street below-
Which happened to be Savile Row.

When help arrived, among the dead
Were Cousin Mary, Little Fred,
The Footmen (both of them), the Groom,
The man that cleaned the Billiard-Room,
The Chaplain, and the Still-Room Maid.
And I am dreadfully afraid
That Monsieur Champignon, the Chef,
Will now be permanently deaf-
And both his aides are much the same;
While George, who was in part to blame,
Received, you will regret to hear,
A nasty lump behind the ear.

Moral:
The moral is that little boys
Should not be given dangerous toys.

(“George, Who played with a Dangerous Toy, and suffered a Catastrophe of considerable Dimensions” by Hilaire Belloc)

* * *

Say what you will about us Baby Boomers - we did not lead boring lives in our Snot-Nose Days.  Growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s meant that, unlike today, we had much more interesting playthings.

Beyond the fact that my parents were past masters at giving me completely inappropriate things with which to amuse myself, the shelves of toy stores were packed with goodies that would make the eyeballs of most modern parents bug out in the manner of a Tex Avery cartoon.

There was, for example, the Gilbert Chemistry Set.

Chemistry sets, as far as I know, still exist, but nowadays they don’t include any chemicals more interesting than distilled white vinegar, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide.  Certainly, there’s nothing that will blow up, burn the house down, or give you anything more than a minor stomach ache if you were to eat the entire jar.  Booooooring.

Old-school chemistry sets used to have all kinds of cool stuff.  There was sulfur, which you could heat in a test tube (using the handy alcohol lamp provided) so as to watch it melt and change colors from yellow to orange to red to black, all the while making the entire house reek of brimstone as though Satan himself had taken a dump on the kitchen table.  There was potassium ferrocyanide, which - aside from having real cyanide in it - could be used to make Prussian blue, an indelible dye that could fuck up your Mom’s best tablecloth from ten paces.

If they sold a chemistry set like that today, they’d have to require prospective purchasers to sign a disclaimer as thick as a Gawd-damned phone book.  (Do they still make phone books?)  Can you imagine modern parents giving little Johnny and Susie a bunch of weird chemicals, a handful of test tubes, and a frickin’ source of open flame and telling them, “Now go and play - try not to burn the house down”?

But there was more.

Mattel, beloved manufacturer of Barbie dolls and a myriad other childhood delights, used to be big into the Cap Pistol, a favorite of boys since, ahhh, I dunno, the invention of gunpowder, probably.

Cap pistols used a roll of caps - little blobs of pressure-sensitive explosive encapsulated between two layers of paper - to simulate the BANG! sound of an actual pistol, a sound that would add a veneer of authenticity to the daily grind of playing Cowboys and Native Americans.  But Mattel, innovators that they were, took the Cap Pistol to the next level with their Shootin’ Shells, which were little spring-loaded cartridges with plastic bullets, and their Greenie Stik-M Caps.

Greenie Stik-M Caps were little round self-adhesive caps sold in sheets.  No doubt the distinctive green color - pretty much all caps at the time were sold in perforated rolls and were a bright red - was an attempt at establishing a unique market identity. You would peel off a cap and apply it to the back end of a Shootin’ Shell cartridge, then stick the cartridge (and five of its brethren, similarly prepared) into your Mattel cap pistol.  When you pulled the trigger, the cap would make a respectably loud BANG! and the spring would propel the little plastic bullet across the room, right into the waiting eyeball of your kid brother or sister.  (You could also buy Greenie caps in the conventional roll form for use in your other cap pistols, but what would have been the point?)

Mattel Shootin’ Shell toy pistols were about as close as you could get to a real projectile weapon short of actually owning a BB gun or making a zip gun in shop class.  Certainly it was as close as I ever got, and even that was surprising, given the generally liberal sensibilities in my home growing up.  Good Gawd, can you imagine kids in today’s hyper-litigious times being given toy guns that actually make noise (hearing loss!), fire little projectiles (you'll shoot your eye out!  choking hazard!), and even smell of actual gunpowder (toxic fumes!)?  I think not.

This is not to say that there are no Playtime Hazards out there today.  You can still do some serious damage with model rockets, especially if you have a destructive bent... but those aren’t so much toys as Little Science Projects, the use and operation of which is typically highly controlled.  But back in the day, chemistry sets and cap pistols were honest-to-Gawd toys, the kind of things that little kids were turned loose to play with all day with little or no supervision.

How ever did we manage to survive our childhoods?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

COCKTAIL DU JOUR

Yellowtail
The Yellowtail. Not to be confused with the fish of the same name; there’s nothing fishy about this drink.

When I was in Philadelphia several weeks ago, I stopped in at The Mildred, a new restaurant that, in addition to a fine American menu, features a bar with a fine repertoire of classic cocktails.

As soon as I saw the real maraschino cherry in my Old Fashioned  - not one of those radioactive Red Dye #2-infused horrors - I knew I was in the right place.

The mixologist, one Dominic by name, not only made an excellent Old Fashioned, but also a superb Sazerac, seasoning the glass with heinously powerful Abyss absinthe.  And he also made me one of these bittersweet beauties:

The Yellowtail

1¾ oz rye whiskey
½ - ¾ oz Averna
½ oz Luxardo maraschino
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir in cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

The ingredient that distinguishes this baby from its cousins is the Averna, one of a class of bittersweet Italian herbal concoctions known as amari (singular: amaro).  It’s a medium amaro, not quite as bitter as fernet, but with a lot more punch than its juvenile German cousin J√§germeister.  A shot of Averna is a perfect digestif after a big meal... better than Bromo-Seltzer any day. 

Like any cocktail in which bitters are not merely a bit player, this is not anything like those kiddie faux-Martinis that have recently overpopulated the Tipple-Circuit.  If your taste runs to appletinis and Cosmopolitans, perhaps you’d better look elsewhere - this drink will scrape the fuzz off a Fuzzy Navel and set fire to it.

When I think “yellowtail,” I’m usually ordering sushi.  But I have a suspicion that I will be ordering a few more of these bad boys down the road.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

BEFOGGED

The fog comes on little cat feet
And then it kicks your ass
With sounds of twisted metal
Human screams and broken glass

Thanksgiving morning brought dense fog to Beaumont, Texas, setting up the conditions for an horrific chain-reaction pileup on eastbound Interstate 10 that involved at least 100 vehicles.  Amidst dozens of injuries, two people died when their SUV was crushed by an 18-wheeler.

All the ingredients for a disaster were in place.  The speed limit on that stretch of I-10 is 75 MPH, perfectly reasonable on a dry, sunny day.  Throw in some poor visibility, along with the tendency of too many drivers to follow way too damn close - one car length seems to be commonplace at 70-75 MPH - and you’ve got Big Problems.

Fortunately, our drives to and from Texas for Thanksgiving week did not involve I-10.  We traveled the northern axis, that stretch of I-20 that runs from Atlanta to Foat Wuth... and we did not drive on Thanksgiving Day, yet one more thing for which we could be thankful.

No road condition scares the shit out of me quite like driving in fog.  Ice, snow, blinding rain - they’re all cakewalks compared to fog... especially at night.

Many years ago, I worked on a project for the Great Corporate Salt Mine that required me to cover the night shift at a contract chemical operation in Bayport, Texas, southeast of Houston.  I would leave our house in southwest Houston around 11 p.m., arriving at the plant after a 45- to 50-minute drive, part of which was on dimly lit two-lane roads.  It was December, and the combination of cold air, warm ground, and Houston’s naturally high humidity created ideal conditions for fog to form in low-lying areas... and pretty much all of  the area south of Houston is low-lying.  On any given night, it was almost a dead certainty that I would encounter several patches of pea-soup fog in which forward visibility would drop to about zero.  It was terrifying... because there was a real possibility of (1) running up someone’s ass because you couldn’t see his car right in front of you, or (2) having someone else flatten you for the same reason.  If that someone else were a tractor-trailer, things could have gotten very ugly in a big hurry.

I was glad when that project was over with.

When we used to make regular road trips between Atlanta and Houston during the holidays - either we were living in Houston and SWMBO’s clan was in Atlanta, or vice-versa - we would inevitably encounter heavy fog at night on certain stretches of I-65 between Montgomery and Mobile, Alabama.  It got to where we would break the journey in Mobile to avoid passing through certain fog-prone areas at night.  (Fog during the day could also be problematic, but it was generally denser at night and much more dangerous owing to the darkness.)

Thirteen months ago, when I drove a U-Haul truck filled with the Mistress of Sarcasm’s possessions to her new home in northwestern Connecticut, we encountered drizzle and fog in central Pennsylvania on a particularly hilly and winding portion of I-81.  What would normally have been a beautiful scenic drive through autumn colors turned into a jaw-clenching, wheel-gripping exercise in terror... at least for a couple of hours.  It was especially nerve-wracking when the truck’s windshield wipers started to show signs of giving out; fortunately, they kept working, or I might not be here writing this post.

When I got out of that truck at the next rest stop, my sphincter had clenched up so tight, my ass pulled about ten pounds of cotton batting right out of the seat.  Man, there’s nothing scarier than driving in the fog!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

MIXED MARRIAGE

Mixed marriages are somewhat more challenging than those in which the partners share identical backgrounds... yet they can be successful despite the odds against them.  This I know from personal experience: She Who Must Be Obeyed and I have been happily hitched for over thirty-five years despite a fundamental difference in our upbringing.

What is that fundamental difference?  Glad you asked.

It is not a difference of a religious nature: both the Missus and I are Jewish.  We have never had to grapple with the issues related to raising children in a household in which two belief systems coexisted.  There was never a seasonal battle between Chanukah and Christmas factions, nor any problems with accommodating the disparate holiday observances of two different families.

It is not a difference of regional culture, despite the fact that I am a damnyankee from New York and the Missus hails from the Lone Star State, part of the old Confederacy.  The fact is, back during the Late Unpleasantness, our progenitors were too busy being chased around by pitchfork packing, pogrom plying peasants in eastern Europe to be concerned about matters Union and Confederate.  Our accents may be a bit different, but that’s about as far as our regional divide separates us.  (Well, that and SWMBO’s unexplainable desire to drink iced tea in the dead of winter.)

No: it is a difference much more fundamental than region or religion, a difference that even transcends politics.  It is a difference that is brought into sharp focus this time of year, when the Missus and I are with her family at the onset of the holidays.

She Who Must Be Obeyed, you see, grew up in a family of Unders.  I, on the other hand, was raised to be an Over from my earliest days.

I refer, of course, to the direction of the Toilet Paper Roll.  Some people adopt the benighted and backward practice of arranging the roll so that the paper hangs down under the roll; others, far more enlightened, hang the paper over the roll.

It is a tribute to SWMBO’s high intelligence and adaptability that she and I have never had any disagreements on this issue.  Since before we established our household together, she has, along with me, been a member of the Over camp.

My in-laws (save for Morris William), however, still live in the outer darkness of the Under tribe.  And I needs must grit my teeth with restrained rage whenever I take a crap in their house.

HELLO, KITTY

Levon profile
“Whaddaya wanna call the cat?” <eltonjohn>“He shall be... Levon!”</eltonjohn>

After a brief period of catlessness, it appears that we will be returning to Atlanta with a new Animal Companion.

Meet Levon, our practically brand-new ragdoll kitty, who hails from the same place whence came Brando.  He is insufferably cute, as befits a cat in the early stages of kittenhood.

Levon Bonds with SWMBO
SWMBO and Levon get in a little Bonding Time.

Bestowing a name on a cat is a tricky business. We considered numerous options, including Nigel, Frunobulax, Ruggedly Andy, Brenrick, and Felix Hisownscrotum before settling on Levon. It’s a name that works on more than one level. It’s an anagram for “novel,” i.e., “new.” And if you stress the second syllable - luh-VON instead of LEE-von - you have the word for “white” in Hebrew. So his name is not only a hat-tip to Sir Elton John, it’s descriptive!

Levon’s full name, in case you’re curious, is Levon Chelm - pronounced not with the ch of “cheese,” but with the guttural ch sound of “loch.”  His moniker thus functions not only as a tribute to Levon Helm, the legendary drummer of The Band (and the inspiration for Elton John’s song), but also to Chelm, the legendary village of fools from Yiddish literature.

When we return home after Thanksgiving, the house will no longer be quite so empty and quiet.  Hello, Kitty!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

CRANBERRY

This Thanksgiving, we’ll be jacking up our cocktails with some homemade cranberry liqueur.

The serious eats food blog has a drinks section in which there is a regular feature entitled DIY vs. Buy, showcasing do-it-yourself recipes for various Drinky Ingredients.  I’ve made their Ginger Liqueur, a really good elixir with a multidimensional flavor profile.  Cheap as borscht to make, too - way less costly than comparable products available in the local Booze Shoppe.

With the annual Day of Turkification and Expressions of Gratitude looming, what better homemade tipple to essay than cranberry liqueur?

The recipe is simplicity itself.  As I write this, the cooked cranberry pur√©e is macerating with an appropriate quantity of Russian Standard vodka; we’ll strain out the solids on Thanksgiving Day and our liqueur should be good to go.

I do not generally imbibe the Cosmopolitan, but I would suspect that using nice, flavorsome cranberry liqueur in lieu of the usual watery, obnoxious bottled cranberry juice could not help but improve it.

There are plenty of other fascinating DIY recipes over there at serious eats - anyone for Swedish Punsch?  Akvavit? - and I will be sure to try a few more.  Each recipe is prefaced by a short piece which explains the rationale for Doing It Yourself.  Check it out!

Monday, November 19, 2012

CUPPA

Teh BOH
BOH, the largest producer of black tea in Malaysia, operates this tea plantation in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia.  Photograph courtesy of our friend Sid M.

When I am not swilling down mug after mug of coffee, I will occasionally mix things up a bit and have a nice cuppa tea.

Tea, as defined by Wikipedia (“It’s on the Internet, so it must be true”) is “an aromatic beverage commonly prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured leaves of the tea plant, camellia sinensis.”  That definition covers an awful lot of ground, since there are a myriad of ways those leaves may be prepared as well as a myriad of ways the drink may be doctored up for consumption.

When I’m in a Japanese-y frame of mind, I’ll drink green tea - tea brewed from the (mostly) unoxidized and unfermented leaves of the tea plant.  Following the Asian model, I generally take this kind of tea au naturel: no sweeteners or other additives.  But if I am suffering from a cold, I will sometimes dump in a little ginger in the form of raw ginger slices, crystallized ginger, or even ginger liqueur.  No snot-nose can withstand the double punch of ginger-laced green tea and SWMBO’s chicken soup.

Most of the rest of the time, though, I will go for one form or another of oolong or black tea - tea brewed from fermented leaves.  A little sweetener is all I need.  I will rarely dose my hot tea with lemon, saving that additive for iced tea... and not being British, I typically do not doctor up my tea with milk.  (This is not to say I don’t like milk tea - I drank plenty of it in Japan, where it’s a popular canned drink.)

Nobody who lives in the Southern United States can possibly write about tea without mentioning iced tea, one of the best summer thirst-quenchers on the planet.  Southerners drink it year-round, generally laced with liberal amounts of sugar or simple syrup - the ubiquitous Sweet Tea.  I avoid the caloric wallop by specifying unsweetened tea, to which I add my choice of Fake Sweetener.  (If that brands me as a damnyankee, so be it.)

Tea is also a dandy ice cream flavoring agent.  I loves me some tea-flavored ice cream, as long-time Esteemed Readers already know.

Tisanes - tea-like infusions made with non-camellia sinensis materials - are generally not on my menu.  But if you like your chamomile “tea,” feel free to enjoy it.  Just don’t tell Professor Elemental: “When I say ‘herbal,’ you say, ‘No, thanks!’”



Friday, November 16, 2012

FRIDAY RANDOM TEN

The iPod d’Elisson
The iPod d’Elisson, AKA the Little White Choon Box.

I have been unconscionably sloppy about posting my Friday Random Ten lists in the last year or so. As I mentioned last time, that’s because (1) I am lazy, and (2) I am pretty sure you, Esteemed Reader, do not give Shit One about the music I am listening to at any given moment. And that’s perfectly OK.

Nevertheless, every so often I will do it anyway, even if only for the annoyance factor.

By way of a refresher, the Friday Random Ten is a list of songs generated at random (duh!) by the iPod d’Elisson when set on shuffle mode.  The actual iPod - the first-generation example of the device pictured above - has also been joined in this endeavor by a few newer devices: the iPhone and the iPad d’Elisson.  Think of it as a window that allows you a look into my ridiculous taste in music.

Let’s see what the Little White Choon Box has for us today:
  1. Swordfishtrombones - Tom Waits

    Tom Waits for no one. Heh.

  2. Flight of the Passing Fancy - Squirrel Nut Zippers

  3. Act I, Scene 1: Soldiers of Heaven Hold the Sky - John Adams, Nixon in China

  4. Stairway to Heaven - Tiny Tim

    Yes, that Tiny Tim.  Strangely enough, his cover of “Hey Jude” is pretty good.  This one is just... weird.

  5. Mozart: Requiem in D Minor, Communio - Lux Aeterna - Herbert von Karajan

  6. How Do You Do? - Radiohead

  7. I’ll Be Back - The Beatles

  8. Where’s Summer B? - Ben Folds Five

  9. Dream Gerrard - Traffic

  10. Particle Wave - Sticklips

    Tread lightly
    So as not to startle
    The shadow
    Whose particles gather nightly
    To feed on the gallows

    Don’t stand here

    In that squalid dungeon
    Whose silence
    Harbors thund’rous squalls that leave me
    Shaken from their violence

    We believe in something

    But it doesn’t have a name
    Our skulls are the cages built for
    Beasts we cannot tame

    Don’t leave me

    In those dirty trenches
    Spoon-feed me
    Whispered words to quench my thirst
    And quell the hell that stillness breeds

    I believe in the chemicals

    Coursing through my veins
    And in the electric signals
    Firing in my brains

    But how much can you take

    How much can you take
    Our skulls are the cages built for
    Beasts we cannot tame
    But some forces are too strong
    For cages to contain


    Sticklips, the brainchild of one Johanna Warren, is hard to describe - Electro-Folk doesn’t quite do it, but it is as good a category as I can think of.  This tune is from their second album, Zemi, which I highly recommend.  You can find it here.

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

COCKTAIL DU JOUR

Sometimes less is more,
And sometimes less is less.
And knowing which is apropos
Is tricky, I confess!


 I loves me my complicated cocktails, but there’s a lot to be said for the virtues of simplicity.

Scotch whisky, f’r instance.  A good single malt doesn’t need much beyond a few drops of water and a glass for to contain it.  And any respectable bourbon is perfect with just a little branch water (ice optional).

Gin is a little different.  Most gin drinkers - including myself - will use that spirit as the base for a mixed drink, rather than just icing it down au naturel.   Even the driest Martini should have at least a whiff of vermouth.

This one - Pink Gin - is pretty straightforward, though.  It’s just three ounces of Plymouth gin and six dashes of Angostura bitters, shaken with ice and strained into a cocktail glass, sans garnish.

Pink Gin
Pink Gin.  It’d look a lot pinker with Peychaud’s bitters, but, well, there you are.

Talk about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts!

ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE

Just in case you ever wondered whether angels exist, here’s a story about an experience our friend Barry had back in 1979 that may provide some evidence.  (It’s the kind of story you’re more likely to see on David Bogner’s site, but, well, I heard it first!)

Barry and his wife Malka lived in Tel Aviv back then, and they were on their way to Haifa to spend Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement - with family there.  Back then, it was about a 90-minute drive... no big deal.  No big deal, that is, until they got near Netanya, where the car started sputtering and blowing out huge clouds of steam.  Barry pulled over to the shoulder of the road and waited for someone to come along and offer assistance.

The problem, of course, was that it was erev Yom Kippur, the eve of the most sacred day of the Jewish year.  The road was deserted - in over an hour, the only car that passed by was a single taxicab, already laden to the gills with people trying to get to their destination before sundown.  Barry and Malka were facing a long, hungry walk...

...when a lone car pulled over.  The driver hopped out and asked what the problem was, then proceeded to look under the hood.

“It’s the fan belt.  You got a spare fan belt?”

Barry looked at the man as though he had sprouted a second head.  Who carries a spare fan belt around with them?

“Never mind.  I’ve got an extra one.”

A few minutes later, the man poked his head out from under the hood and announced that the new fan belt was installed.

“It’s a little loose, but it ought to be OK as long as you keep it under 60.  That should hold you until you can get it fixed after the holiday.”

With that, the man drove off.

Think about it, Esteemed Readers: Just before the onset of a major holiday, about the only car on the road stops to render assistance and the driver just happens to have the right part!

If you ask Barry whether angels exist, you know what answer he’s likely to give you.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

KNOT, AGAIN

I tie my pumpkins up together
To keep them fresh in nasty weather.
And if perchance a few should rot,
I’ll have to cut the Gourdian Knot.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

YET ANOTHER NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE

We’ve all had ’em, you know... those scary moments when you realize that, but for a brief hesitation, or owing to the happy randomness of events, you narrowly escaped becoming a grease spot.

My Uncle Phil and Aunt Marge had one of those moments back in July 1996, when they took a flight from Athens, Greece to New York. They landed and got off (they were on their way home to south Florida), and their plane took off on the next leg of its journey, headed to Paris. It never made it. TWA flight 800 blew up off the south shore of Long Island, killing all souls aboard.

SWMBO and I had one a few months ago, when only the Missus’s good peripheral vision (along with the ingrained habit of looking both ways even when going through a greenlit intersection) saved us from being T-boned by a car that blithely cruised through a red light at 60 MPH.

And I had one yesterday.

It was at an intersection in Roswell, just a few miles from here. My light had turned green, and I was about to proceed across the intersection... but I hesitated long enough to look for any surprises. And a damn good thing, too, for an assclown with a serious case of the stupid blew through that crossroads at about 45 MPH, enough to have put a major dent in my day.

It’s not as though he was trying to get through a stale green light, either. Cross traffic in the direction opposite me had had the green before I did, which meant that this doofus’s light had been red for some time.

Color me unsurprised when I saw the silhouette of a cellphone clamped to his ear as he whizzed past.

May the Lord protect us all from Random Moronitude...

BEFORE & AFTER

I don’t watch a lot of teevee these days, aside from the morning news and the Food Network and the occasional movie or series on HBO. Nevertheless, the local NBC affiliate is gracious enough to broadcast a couple of classic game shows in the evenings, right about the time the Missus and I are taking our supper.

“Jeopardy” is always fun to watch, given that the questions usually require that the contestants have a fairly good breadth of knowledge: It’s not a game for clowns and idiots. Who among us does not like to play along, shouting out answers at the screen? I would almost feel cocky about my chances of winning were I to be a contestant, except I have firsthand experience being on a quiz show. There is no overestimating the “Sweaty Nutsack Factor,” i.e., the knowledge that a metric assload of people are going to be watching you, so GOOD GAWD, DON’T SCREW IT UP! I hate to think of how I would humiliate myself on national teevee were I to be on “Jeopardy.”

Vanna White and Pat Sajak on the set of “Wheel of Fortune.” Based on Vanna White having her original skin, the photo was most likely taken circa 1963.  Image credit: TV Guide.

“Wheel of Fortune,” a tricked-up video version of Hangman, airs right around the same time. Now, there is a show that allows you to feel superior to (most of) the contestants, especially the ones who insist on buying EVERY FUCKING VOWEL.  And in addition to allowing the viewer a bit of ego-massage, WoF offers the spectacle of the amazingly well preserved Vanna White gesturing to the bank of touch screen monitors wherein the Magickal Letters are contained.  No wonder it is the longest running syndicated game show in U.S. television history.

There are several different categories of puzzles in WoF, such as Name, Place, Phrase, Quotation, Food & Drink, et alia.  There’s one called Same Name, which combines two people who share first or last names, e.g., Aretha & Benjamin Franklin or Elvis Presley & Costello.  But my personal favorite - possibly because of the wordplay involved - is the Before & After category, which concatenates two well-known phrases that share a common word.  An example: Wheel of Fortune Cookie (= Wheel of Fortune + Fortune Cookie, in case this isn’t obvious.)

Years ago, I found myself wondering about those Before & Afters.  Who writes ’em?  And what happens to the ones that never make it onto the show, for whatever reason?  For it occurred to me that there are all kinds of B&A’s that are unlikely to ever see the light of day or the gentle touch of Vanna White’s wrinkled claw.

Submitted for your delectation, here’s a (partial) list of Before & After puzzles most likely to be deemed unsuitable for use by the producers of “Wheel of Fortune.”  (Asterisked items have appeared previously in the Lists feature at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.)
    Nuclear Winter Wonderland*

    Olympic Village Idiot*

    Banana Nut Sack*

    Plumber’s Crack Whore*

    Vanna White Supremacist*

    Wurlitzer Organ Meat

    Gaza Strip Poker

    Butt Crack of Dawn

    Baseball Bat out of Hell

    Chow Mein Kampf

    Victory Lap Dance

Got any of your own? Stick ’em in the Comments!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

SANDY

With windblown hair and fierce wide hips
She kissed the Northeast with her apoca lips.