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

Monday, August 21, 2017

THE UNFORTUNATE AND SHORT-LIVED ROMANCE OF MR.CHARLES BEVIS

Charles Bevis was a Man of Means, and of exceeding Taste;
And when it came to Courtship, he refused to act in Haste.

He would interview all Prospects, making all Requirements known,
Because he was particular about she whom he’d take Home.

One Day a Lady caught his Eye who answered all his Questions,
And winked at him with just the slightest Hint of warm Suggestion.

On bended Knee his Troth he pled; she happily accepted.
The Nuptials followed: Off to bed, but not there to be slepted.

For full three Nights and full three Days, with Passion quite romantic,
They made Love every Minute with a Pace exceeding frantic.

Then Nature called (as Nature must) unto good Mr. Bevis,
Who told his bride, “We must confide, it’s time that we relieve us.”

And going to the “Little Room” where stood the white-glazed Throne,
Our Mr. Bevis sat right down and made himself at Home.

But when for Paper-Roll he reached, his Fundament for dabbing,
’Twas then with pain-wracked Voice he screeched, as though he’d felt a Stabbing!

“Vile Wench!” he shrieked, “Avaunt! Away! I’ll sue you for Divorce!
And if you do not leave at once, I’ll throw you out by Force!”

A Scene ensued. His weeping Bride took neither Hat nor Pin,
A swift and shocking Consequence for her most heinous Sin -

For ev’ryone of Quality knows one essential Fact:
The Paper on the Toilet-Roll goes Front, and never Back!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A STORY, SAD BUT NEVERTHELESS TRUE

Here’s a story that, in some respects, hearkens back to the Good Old Days of crapblogging.

Crapblogging has fallen on hard times, methinks. For that matter, blogging has fallen on hard times. Rather than having to maintain a blog and earn a readership in the wilds of the open Internet, people waste spend most of their time on Farcebook, where their communications are visible to a self-selected audience. Since - in theory, at least - your Farcebook friends (”ffriends“) know who you are, nobody wants to describe details of personal excretory experiences quite the way they did on the semi-anonymous platform of a blog.

Hell, the word “blog” sounds like an excretory experience.

On Farcebook, one tends to be more circumspect. Which is why I’m writing this on my blog. Which I will most likely link to my Farcebook page, so who am I kidding, anyway?

Anyway, this is a true story, and it is more an observation on just how damned inconsiderate people can be in the Age of Portable Electronica than it is a crapblogging post...

We begin in one of the local eateries, where Dee and I are meeting a friend of long standing - technically, the daughter of a friend of long standing - for lunch. And as we wait for said friend to arrive, I hear the Call of Nature. It is not a subtle whisper: rather, it is a clarion call of the sort that requires immediate attention.

I carefully make my way to an all-too-distant restroom, only to discover that the sole stall is occupied. OK, I can handle this. I’ve got muscles in all the right places.

A few minutes go by, and I am becoming, ah, err, a bit impatient. And that’s when I hear the bippity-boop of a smartphone coming from the stall.

Son of a bitch!

I wait another minute. Bippity-boop!

And now I do something I have never had to do in all the years I have walked the planet. I knock on the stall door. Once. Twice.

“Oh, sorry!” And now the stall’s occupant scrambles to, as they say, finish the job.

My comment? “Thanks - another minute and I might have had to shit in the urinal.”

These fucking kids and their smartphones, am I right?

A COSMIC GET-TOGETHER


Moon and Sun.

These two Cosmic Objects are due to have a rendezvous in less than two weeks, an event I’ve been looking forward to for over a decade.

It is a rendezvous that depends mightily on your point of view. The Sun is about 93 million miles from the Earth - just the right distance to allow water to exist in its three most useful phases. The Moon is roughly 238,900 miles away, so it is nowhere near the Sun. But by a happy coincidence, the Moon, thanks to its closer distance and smaller size, occupies almost exactly the same angle of view from our Earthbound perspective... just enough to cover the solar disc without obscuring its corona.

It means that total solar eclipses are fleeting and rare phenomena. You have to be in the exact right place to see one, and its duration will usually be less than two minutes as the Moon’s seventy mile-wide shadow speeds across the Earth’s surface at hundreds of miles per hour like a dark finger tracing a path along a map.

We’re hoping to be right in the middle of that shadow.

Eclipses can be predicted with absolute certainty; the motions of the celestial spheres follow immutable laws. The weather, however, is another matter. Let’s hope and pray for a sunny day!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

THIS IS A TEST


Here comes the Sun.

This is just a test... of my ND100000 filter, which allows me to photograph the Sun’s disk. (Even with this much neutral density, I’m still using 1/4000 second at f22, ISO 100.)

Twenty days from today, I’m hoping to see that disk dwindle down to a crescent... and then to disappear, as the Moon’s shadow sweeps across Tennessee.

Pray for good weather, Esteemed Readers.

WHEN POP GOT DROPPED: A 100-WORD STORY

Eric “Pop” Tartz was a fixture in his small town, where he was especially loved by the local children.

He was a man of regular habits, not all of them respectable. Mornings, you could catch him getting toasted at Ernie’s Breakfast Bar.

Pop was a crusty fellow, but people who knew him would say that beneath his dry exterior lay a sweet, melty heart. Detractors, on the other hand, called him tasteless.

Tasteless? Maybe… but he must have had dark secrets. One day his body was discovered at the Breakfast Bar, bitten nearly in half.

Someone had had him iced.

Monday, July 31, 2017

HONK IF YOU LOVE...

There was a man down Cleveland way
His name was Parma John
His sins were many, men would say
For he knew not right from wrong

But heavenward his soul will go
When his last breath he wheezes
Because the Goud’ Lord told him so
And that’s when he found Cheeses.

IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN

Happy Tisha b’Av!
A completely inappropriate holiday greeting, courtesy of the infamous (and now defunct) Church Sign Generator.

There is no balm in Gilead
Doo dah
Doo dah
The fact of which, it makes me sad
Oh, doo dah day

Time again for that most mournful of days on the Jewish calendar: Tisha b’Av, the day that commemorates the destruction of two (count ’em!) Holy Temples in Jerusalem, along with various other historical calamities that have, over the millennia, befallen us Red Sea Pedestrians.

Most people are aware that Jews fast - abstaining from both food and drink from before sundown to after sundown the following day - on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. That, however, is a fast born of solemnity, not misery. The fasting of observant Jews on Tisha b’Av, though of equal duration, is a fast of grief.

There are several other traditions in addition to fasting: abstaining from marital relations; not wearing leather shoes, not studying Scripture, not greeting one another. As night falls, we gather in synagogues to hear the Book of Lamentations chanted in an ages-old, dirgelike melody, the only illumination a few flickering candles.

One can only speculate what history would have been like had the second Temple not been destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 C.E. It may seem heretical to say it, but the destruction of the Temple, painful as it was, was the historical event that forced Judaism to become a religion of prayer and study rather than one of pilgrimage and animal sacrifice. Without a focus in a single city - Jerusalem - it became a portable religion. It had to be portable, as Jews were chivvied and chased from one place to another... but with its redirection, it has survived to become the Judaism we know today. Most religions of the time, on the other hand, have disappeared. How many Mithraists do you know?

That’s the silver lining behind the terrible events that we remember on Tisha b’Av.

It’s now almost 2,000 years later. We Jews no longer have priests. We no longer have an altar where sacrifices are brought. (For that matter, we no longer have sacrifices, although we recall them in our liturgy.) But those traditions are still alive... amongst the Roman Catholic, Eastern and Greek Orthodox, and Anglican (Episcopalian) Churches.

Tisha b’Av begins at sundown. If you are a Red Sea Pedestrian of the observant stripe, have a meaningful fast, and may you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. If you are a Red Sea Pedestrian of the less observant stripe, give a momentary thought to our painful history. And if you’re not Jewish, have a nice day.

Friday, July 28, 2017

HEY, ROCKY

“Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!”
...
“Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!”
....
“C’mon, Rocky! Look at me do the rabbit trick!”
.....
“Rocky! Rock!”
..............
“Rock?”  



June Foray, 1917-2017. Ave atque vale.

The legendary June Foray, the human behind hundreds of cartoon characters - most notably Rocket J. Squirrel of “Rocky and Bullwinkle” fame - passed away Wednesday at the age of 99.

People often compared her to Mel Blanc, the “Man of a Thousand Voices,” the artist who brought Bugs Bunny to life. There were those who would call her “the female Mel Blanc,” to which animator Chuck Jones was said to have retorted, “Mel Blanc was the male June Foray.”

My childhood was brightened in so many spots by Miss Foray’s remarkable talent. The world of animation - nay, the world - is poorer without her in it.

Rockyescat in pace, June.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

OVERCOMING A CHILDHOOD FEAR

Many of us remember the things that terrified us as children, whether it was a dark room, a gaggle of monstrous beings that resided - we were sure of it! - under our bed, or scary movies.

There was a long time when I, as my pre-teen years were coming to a close, could barely watch shows like The Outer Limits or Twilight Zone: the angst was just that great. (Dee still can’t bring herself to watch Twilight Zone, owing to one episode that scared the living crap out of her when she was barely into double digits.)

Even before that, I had a number of weird phobias. Well, phobia is maybe too strong a word for my reaction to objects that didn’t quite send me running off screaming, but for which I had a peculiar dread: mushrooms and chimneys. The idea of actually touching a mushroom filled me with loathing; and certain chimney shapes just... bothered me in a way that is hard to describe. (Strangely, I never feared eating mushrooms, only being in close proximity to them.)

Eventually, these sources of angst faded into the background and disappeared, being outpaced by the real grownup phobias: poverty, failure, disease, harm to loved ones, aging. One stupid-ass mushroom can’t keep up with those - plus, mushrooms are tasty.

As long as we’ve gotten on to the subject of Frightening Foods, I suppose we can all of us admit to having certain powerful food aversions. Some food items are loathsome to us because of our acculturation - while they may be perfectly delectable in some places, there’d be No Fucking Way one of these would cross my lips, f’r example - and others are simply outside our experience. My mother (of blessèd memory) would eat things like brains in black butter, calf’s foot jelly (AKA pt’cha, an Ashkenazic Jewish classic beloved by almost nobody), and sweetbreads. Unto this day I cannot abide the idea of eating brains (zombie food!), but having had sweetbreads at Alice Waters’s legendary Chez Panisse some 34 years ago, I pronounce them excellent.

But the greatest bugaboo, for me, has been buttermilk. Rich, creamy buttermilk. Nasty, gloppy buttermilk. Is it liquefied sour cream, or just regular Grade A that’s gone off?

I use buttermilk whenever I make cornbread or pancakes, but the idea of picking up a glass of the stuff and drinking it has horrified me since little-kid days, when I was handed a tumbler of what I expected was cold, refreshing sweet milk. Buttermilk, it was, and the sour, saline shock of it, combined with that weird creamy/gloppy consistency, convinced me on the spot that I should never let that stuff near my face again. It has been close to sixty years, and I’ve kept that promise.

Until now.

A true Southerner - and maybe even an adopted one like me - should have an appreciation of local folkways, especially where food is concerned. I like grits enough, and have even adapted them for those who want a more Ashkenazic version. I make cornbread from time to time. Why not enjoy it the way old-school Sutheners will do: crumbled into a big ol’ glass of cold buttermilk?

I had to put aside my childhood revulsion of buttermilk in order to do it, but here it is:


Home-made cornbread and buttermilk.

It was a pleasant surprise, with the mild lactic acid notes of sour cream and the crumbly texture of the cornbread that soaked up the liquid, resulting in something that was more reminiscent of a pudding than anything else. Ah, that’s it! Indian pudding meets mamaligeh, that quintessentially Ashkenazic/Romanian combination of corn meal mush (i.e., polenta), cottage cheese, and sour cream. A meal in itself, or even a grown-up dessert.

And now I need fear buttermilk no more.

[But there’s still no fucking way I’m eating a balut.]

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

THE MAN OF MANY LAYERS

I have a friend - a member of our Morning Minyan crowd - who grew up in the sunny little burg of Vidalia, Georgia.

Vidalia, as any food aficionado will tell you, is the home of the eponymous Vidalia onion, the sweetest, mildest allium cepa that you will ever put teeth to. And Richard, well, he knows his onions.

When Richard sits down to breakfast, he will occasionally get a wistful look in his eyes... especially if someone else at the table has ordered a LEO (lox, eggs, and onions, cooked up omelette style). With the slightest prodding, he’ll embark on a reverie, a recounting of the onion-based dishes with which he grew up. It almost puts one in mind of Bubba, Forrest Gump’s shrimp-obsessed Army buddy.

“Anyway, like I was sayin’, onions are the fruit of the earth. You can barbecue ’em, boil ’em, broil ’em, bake ’em, sauté ’em, grill ’em. You can slice ’em and dice ’em. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s your straight-up onions - yellow, red, white, Spanish, pearl. There’s your scallions, your green onions. You got your leeks, shallots, and garlic. There’s onion pie, onion and cabbage pie, onion tarts, onion soup; crispy onions, onion rings, caramelized onions...”

It’s enough to make your eyes glaze over. But one thing they won’t do is water. Vidalias are too mild to make you cry.

You’d think that Richard, coming from a small town as he does, would be a simple man. One-dimensional. But he is actually quite complicated. Got a lot of layers, he does...

Sunday, June 18, 2017

MIRACLES

This is a story about miracles.

When some people think of miracles, they think of dramatic events. They think of Moses standing at the edge of the Sea of Reeds as God splits the waters. They think of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana, or feeding the mulititudes with a handful of loaves and fishes. They think of Muhammad ascending to Heaven from the Rock in Jerusalem where Ibrahim was restrained by Allah from sacrificing Ishmael. Whether these events really happened matters not. These are our foundational fables. These are the Great Miracles, articles of faith.

I am a skeptic when it comes to big miracles, the wonderful stories beloved of those who share our Abrahamic faiths: I tend to see myth rather than historical truth. Nevertheless, I see the miracles of our daily lives all around me. The impossibly complex machines - our bodies - that allow our brains to function. The myriad pipes and tubes, the strands of nerves that allow us to awaken every morning. These are the everyday miracles, and they are numberless.

This is a story about miracles.

This is the story of Houston Steve, who - along with his wife Debby - purchased a house in southwest Houston in early 1979. Unbeknownst to any of us at the time, the house they bought had been ours - in fact, our very first house, the house we had purchased as soon as we had gotten engaged. But Dee and I had never sat at a closing table with them, it having been a corporate transfer... and so we had no idea who the purchasers were, nor did we care. It was sheer coincidence on an astronomic scale when Steve and I sat next to each other at post-Minyan breakfast one morning in 2002 and discovered the connection between us. After all, what were the odds?

We became good friends with Steve and Debby after that. Our friendship was, we felt, predestined... and yet it grew naturally our of our common values and interests. Besides, how many couples can claim that they each have children conceived in the same bedroom?

This is a story about miracles.

This is the story of Bonnie and Harris, with whom we became close friends in late 1987. Soon after we became acquainted with the couple, we moved to another town in Connecticut... and then, two years after that, to Houston. Dee and I were the godparents of their only son, and we were devastated a few years later when they announced - seemingly out of the blue - their intention to divorce.

The divorce created an unfortunate estrangement between us and Bonnie. We were no longer close when she remarried... and we were not there to comfort her when Bruce, her second husband, passed away after only a few short years.

Some time afterward, Bonnie moved to a different house on the other side of town. As she was describing it to a friend one day, the friend gave her a funny look. “You know you bought Elisson and Dee’s house, don’t you?” She had not known. What were the odds?

This is a story about miracles.

In 2010, Houston Steve’s beloved Debby got a bad diagnosis. She soldiered on, allowing the doctors to take out pieces of her, one at a time. What she never allowed them to take was the quality of her life.

Meanwhile, in late 2013, Dee had reestablished contact with Bonnie, who was still living in Connecticut, albeit in a different town now. They wept over all the time lost together, and their friendship was rekindled. After a visit with us in early 2014, Bonnie made plans to move to Atlanta. By Thanksgiving, she was settling in. It did not take long before she was solidly ensconced in our circle of friends and had gotten to know Houston Steve and Debby.

These are the miracles of our technological age, the Ars Electronica that facilitate reconnections and allow unlikely new friendships to blossom. (Ask any blogger... or ask The Younger Elisson.)

This is a story about miracles.

Debby passed away in August of 2015. During her five-year-long struggle with the Emperor of Maladies - throughout all the surgeries, years of chemotherapy, and, as the end neared, the Gamma Knife - she had never allowed herself to be ill. Two weeks before her demise, Debby and I had been at Party City, buying supplies for a Shabbat dinner she knew would be the last she would host. When things suddenly became dire, she retired to a room on the ground floor of her home and passed within thirty-six hours... and as was her wish, she left her house feet first.

Houston Steve grieved for Debby. Our faith prescribes a seven-day period of deep mourning (shiva) followed by a thirty-day time of partial grieving (sh’loshim) during which certain normal activities are resumed. But in his heart Steve had been grieving for years... ever since the day Debby received the Bad Diagnosis.

As Steve resumed social activities - some within our circle of friends, some not - we knew that there would inevitably be situations in which Steve and Bonnie would be together. We made sure that other friends would be around at such times. We were not going to be playing Yenta the Matchmaker.

And yet... this is a story about miracles.

One day last fall, Steve and Bonnie informed us that they were going to start seeing each other. And, some months afterwards, they announced their engagement. We were ecstatic.

This past Thursday, they were married in the little chapel in which we conduct our daily morning services. It was an intimate affair, with just a handful of Houston Steve’s relatives and a small group of friends. Despite my being skeptic in matters having to do with the Afterlife, I could almost swear that Bruce and Debby were both looking on, smiling approvingly.



One of the Great Miracles? No, this one was not quite Scripture-worthy. An everyday miracle? Absolutely not: what were the odds? But that this was a miracle, I did not doubt for one second. And we were there from the beginning.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

SMOKIN’: A 100-WORD STORY

Steampunk Kid

The Steampunk E-Cigarette Emporium was failing. Built with a massive amount of Charlie’s personal capital, the Emporium was a financial disaster, and Charlie could not understand why. 

Having procured the finest supplies, he offered an extensive selection of aromatic vapors. Madagascar vanilla, Vietnamese cinnamon, pure menthol, even good old-fashioned Virginny terbacky... all awaited his customers, who could inhale their selections while seated on plush banquettes. He had spent a fortune on rich Corinthian leather. And the steampunk theme was a natural.

Was it the sign above the entrance? “Welcome, Vapists!”

Perhaps it needed to be bigger, he thought.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

WONDER WOMAN: A 100-WORD ORIGIN STORY

According to one version of Wonder Woman’s origin story, Queen Hippolyta desperately wanted a child... so much so that she resorted to sculpting one from clay. Given the religious proclivities of the Greeks of the time, one can assume that prayers and sacrifices to the Olympian gods were employed as well.

Hippolyta’s prayers were answered. With uncharacteristic compassion, the goddesses living atop Mount Olympus brought the clay child to life.

The child, who would be known as Diana, was subsequently raised to adulthood by the Amazons on the mysterious isle of Themyscira.

Thus was born the Legend of the Girlem.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

WHAT WAS THAT, AGAIN?

In my memory, there’s something missing;
I’m not too good at reminiscing.
Pulling random factoids out of my brain
Used to be easy. Now it’s a strain.
Just like an old man is slow taking piscences,
I must remonstrate with my reminiscences.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

MOTHER’S DAY


In a 2007-vintage photo, Dee and our daughters relax on a rainy afternoon in Washington, D.C. 

Today is when we remember our mothers, without whom we would have a devilishly difficult time existing on Planet Earth. They are the ones who not only contributed half of our genetic material - the stuff that makes us us - but they’re the ones who had to schlep us around for something on the order of nine months, enduring (in some cases) nausea; bloat; enlarged abdomens (coupled with bladders squished down to the size of raisins); sleepless nights, and swollen extremities. They are the ones who cleaned us up after we crapped our diapers; the ones who wiped our noses, applied bandages to our scraped knees and - later - our scraped egos. They were the first ones we would run to for help when help was needed... because Mom!

We are fortunate to still have Dee’s Mom walking the planet with us. Mine is long gone - twenty-nine years - but she remains in my heart, always.

We have our precious Mamacita, our adoptive 89-year-old mommy, who loves her brood of “framily” children as her own.

And then there’s Dee, herself, who was, is, and continues to be a role model in the mothering business. She has many talents and capabilities, and she has given me many gifts over the years, but the gift of our daughters is one that daily brings a smile to my face and warmth to my heart.

Happy Mother’s Day, sweetheart! And happy Mother’s Day to all moms - family, friends, and members of the great human family... because Mom!

Friday, May 12, 2017

THE WISDOM OF RAV KATSCHKE: A 100-WORD MIDRASH


“They’re gonna do what?!”

The little village of Katzenellenbogen-affen-Yam was barely more than a speck on the map, but its minuscule size belied the extreme piety of its inhabitants. Yet now, as the Day of Atonement approached, they were faced with a most serious religious problem.

For reasons known only unto the Eternal One, a plague had descended upon the shtetl’s chickens, wiping them all out. Not a single pullet was left with which the villagers could purge their sins by performing the ancient ritual of sh’logn kapoyres.

The village rabbi consulted his dusty tomes and found a solution. “Use a duck,” he announced.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

ON NEIGHBORS

A couple of Words to Live By from today’s Torah reading:

“...you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” - Leviticus 19:18

“The stranger that sojourns among you shall be to you as the home-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” - Leviticus 19:34

[For those of my Esteemed Readers of the Christian persuasion, I will note that in Mark 12:30-31, Jesus refers to Leviticus 19:18 as the second most important commandment, the first being the words familiar at all Jews as the Sh’ma (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”)]

I conclude from all this that any serious Christian or Jew who gets his or her bowels in a twist about immigrants... or about people different from them in their own communities... maybe needs to go back to religious school. 

Dee and I are especially sensitive to these matters: My grandparents - and most of hers - were immigrants who came to this country in the early years of the twentieth century. Had they stayed in Europe, they would almost certainly have perished at the hands of the Nazis or their co-conspirators.

Moreover, thanks to my employment at the Great Corporate Salt Mine, we were frequent relocators. There were numerous times that we were the strangers that sojourned in strange lands, and it is owing to the communities that welcomed us and treated us as the home-born among them, and who loved us as themselves, that our family was able to thrive throughout the years.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

SUPPER AT STARBUCKS



Let’s have supper at Starbucks
We’ll stay awake all night
We can drink caffeine
’Til our teeth are green
O, won’t it be a delight

Let’s have supper at Starbucks
Bring your laptop along
The WiFi is free
And there’s a place you can pee
’Cause, man, that coffee’s strong

There are muffins and cakes and protein bars
But there’s no valet to park your cars

Let’s have supper at Starbucks
We’ll be up the whole damn night
And when we get to our house
My beloved spouse
You know I’ll treat you right
You know I’ll treat you right

ADVENTURES IN DEMENTIA

Dee and I were driving around, running a few errands, when she turned to me and asked, “Where were we coming back from Monday night when they had Johnson Ferry Road blocked off?”

My Ivy League-educated brain shifted immediately into overdrive. I knew this. I had this.

We had been out to dinner with friends at a popular Italian place... one with which we had been very familiar when we lived in Sweat City. It had gotten its start there, beginning with a single restaurant downtown and later adding a second location outside the I-610 loop on the west side. And then came the deluge: a deal with Outback that resulted in massive expansion across the country.

Now, what the fuck was the name?

Me: “Carraboogio’s?” (Ohhh, so close!)

Dee: “Carrababba’s.”

We looked at each other. Of course, it was Carrabba’s.

Derp!

HAPPY STAR WARS DAY



“May the Fourth be with you.”

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

CARS ON THE FENCE: A MEDITATION ON HUMAN BEHAVIOR

Albert Einstein once famously said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

It could also be said that it is the definition of how a four-year-old plays with toys. Call it discovery rather than insanity, the latter of which is a condition more descriptive of full-grown adults.

Consider the case of a small child playing with toy cars. “If I put these toys on the top of the fence where they often fall on the other side and become unreachable, should I (1) continue putting the toys on top of the fence, or (2) stop putting the toys on top of the fence?”

Ahhh, the tenuous connection between action and consequence: That connection is the great undiscovered country for a four-year-old, and learning how it operates is a Critical Life Skill. Some little ones figure it out pretty quickly, while others take a bit longer.

And some of us adults never quite get it. Being human dooms many of us to living on the slack side of the learning curve.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

BLACK BEAR


“Did someone just try to poke me? I hate it when someone pokes me.”

Black bear growling in the dead of night
Eat a moose in one big honkin’ bite
O, the fright
You are always prowling in the middle of the night

Black bear growling in the dead of night
Take my pen, but you can’t learn to write
Yeah, that’s right
Stick to what you know and take a great big honkin’ bite

Black bear bite
Black bear bite
Eatin’ that moose in the cold dark night

Black bear growling in the dead of night
Eat a moose in one big honkin’ bite
O, the fright
You are always prowling in the middle of the night
You are always prowling in the middle of the night
You are always prowling in the middle of the night

[Semi-sincere apologies to John Lennon and Paul McCartney]

Friday, April 14, 2017

from BREI


Houston Steve prepares a whole mess of matzoh brei on the flat top.

But hark! A sound is stealing on my ear—
A soft and silvery sound—I know it well
Its tinkling tells me that a time is near
Precious to me—It is the Breakfast Bell.
O, blessèd Bell! Thou bringest Matzoh Brei,
Thou bringest good things more than tongue can tell:
Seared is, of course, my heart—but unsubdued
Is, and shall be, my appetite for food.

I go. Untaught and feeble is my pen:
But on one statement I may safely venture:
That few of our most highly gifted men
Have more appreciation for the trencher.
I go. One plate of Matzoh Brei and then
A recitation from my food-stained bentcher;
That, shulward-going, I may safely say,
Kein ayin hora, I have dined today.”

(Apologies to C. S. Calverley)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

MATZOH BREI MORNING

We’re three days into Passover, a festival that runs for eight days here in the Diaspora. (It’s only seven days long in Israel, for reasons that I will not waste your time explaining right now. If you’re that curious, drop me a comment.)

The salient feature of Passover is its especially stringent dietary laws. Jews are forbidden to eat anything containing leaven - fermented or fermentable products of wheat, spelt, rye, oats, or barley. Those grains may only be consumed in the form of matzoh, a cracker-like concoction made with the addition of water only, and which must be baked within eighteen minutes of being moistened lest the tiniest trace of fermentation occur.

It is not a bread-lover’s holiday. Nor is it a whisky- or beer-lover’s holiday.

One is only obligated to eat matzoh twice: during the Passover Seder meals on the first two evenings of the holiday. The rest of the time it is optional. Actually, though, matzoh isn’t too bad. It is crisp and tasty in its own way, and it’s an excellent butter conveyance device. I don’t go out of my way to consume it during the rest of the year, but I enjoy it for the duration of the Festival of Unleavened Bread despite its legendary constipating effects. (Pro tip: eat plenty of fruit compote or prunes.)

A popular breakfast dish that makes excellent use of matzoh is matzoh brei. (That’s “brei,” which rhymes with “fry.” People who spell it “matzoh brie” have forgotten their English phonics lessons.) Think of it as French toast with matzoh in lieu of bread... or, as the French might say, pain perdu dans le désert pendant quarante ans. It’s versatile, as it can be served up sweet or savory as one wishes.

This morning I cooked up some MB, a dish for which there are as many recipes as there are Jewish grandmothers... and this is how I did it:

Take a couple of boards of matzoh, Over a bowl, crumble those bad boys up into nice little shards. Big chunks, little bits, your choice. Feeling lazy? Use matzoh farfel, which has already been crumbled for you. Pour over it a little boiling water and let it sit for a few minutes to soften up. Let cool. If you’ve overdone it with the hot water, squeeze the excess out.

Drop in a couple of eggs. I used one egg per matzoh-board, but you can adjust this based on how eggy you like your matzoh brei. Mix well, add salt and pepper, and then drop it into a preheated skillet that has been greased up with a little butter, ghee, olive oil, whatever. Scramble it or cook it pancake-style - however you like it. (This ain’t Julia Child, you know.) When it starts to get nice and brown, you are good to go. Serve it forth.

I like my brei savory, so I jack up the salt and pepper content. You can add a dollop of sour cream, or you can take the sweet route with sugar, jam, or syrup.

Now eat, bubeleh!

Monday, April 10, 2017

THE RITE OF SPRING

When Igor Stravinsky wrote The Rite of Spring, he was doubtless not thinking about the Passover festival, but our seasonal holiday - our Rite of Spring - creates its own musical masterpiece every year, in smell instead of sound.

I’m upstairs while Dee is beginning the lengthy labor of preparing for our Passover Seder tomorrow. There’s a humongous slab of beef brisket in the oven braising merrily away, while a massive skillet of matzoh farfel with onions and mushrooms adds to the symphony of cooking aromas.

They’re the aromas of the season... the distinctive (and beloved) Pongs o’Pesach.

Soon we will introduce other aromatic grace notes. The sweet medley of fruit compote as it simmers. The apple, cinnamon, and wine of the charoset. The sprightly fragrance of asparagus, the vegetable that - more than almost any other - connotes springtime.

The lower register of our symphony will be composed of the deep, mellow aroma of onions caramelizing in goose schmaltz, a key ingredient in the chopped liver I’ll be making later this evening.

Matzoh
Handmade shmura matzoh. The snap of breaking matzoh provides a crisp percussion element.

There’ll be other additions to the program. Dee has already prepared the gefilte fish, which will (when served) provide the overture to the festive meal, with its sting of horseradish. Houston Steve has a vat of chicken soup (with caramelized onion matzoh balls) that will likely require a tanker truck to transport it here. And there will be a mountain of sweet stuff as well, provided by our friend Debbie.

I’ve heard variations of this symphony all my life... and I look forward to it every year.

Regardless of your religious or family traditions, this time of year is one that is filled with taste memories. Why not share yours in the Comments?

Friday, April 7, 2017

GOLF SEASON... AGAIN

Bernice 1943
The Momma d’Elisson of blessèd memory, in her college yearbook photo.

We Red Sea Pedestrians are a strange lot.

Birthdays don’t matter all that much to us.  Sure, we celebrate ’em... but that’s a secular activity that is driven mainly by our participation in the American popular culture.  There’s no religious observance that attaches to birthdays, save for the recognition of a child as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah at the age of thirteen (for boys, and as early as twelve for girls).

We pay more attention to the date on which a person moves on to Olam ha-Ba, the World to Come.

The anniversary of a person’s death - the Yahrzeit - is observed by the people who mourned that person in life, a permanent ritual of remembrance.  Traditionally, one lights a candle that burns for a full twenty-four hours. It is also customary to attend services so that one may, in the presence of the required quorum of ten worshipers, recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer which, despite its name, is not an expression of grief but rather a call-and-response expression of praise.

It was explained to me once that birthdays are less meaningful than Yahrzeits because a person is, at birth, a mass of unrealized potential.  Upon his or her passing, however, that person has (it is to be hoped) affected other lives and brought some measurable change to the world.  He or she is, at least to the extent possible, has become a sort of Known Quantity.  You can take that explanation or leave it, but it does - at least, to me - make some sense.

If you translated Yahrzeit literally, you’d get “year-time” - anniversary.  But the term has a further implication, that of “season,” rendered Jahreszeit in German.  It’s not just that a year has passed; it’s that a particular time of year connects us to our long-gone loved ones in a unique, powerful way.

With my mother, that season is the springtime, the days leading up to the Passover holiday.  It’s a time when the days get longer and warmer, when trees are in bloom, when the yellow blossoms of forsythia (one of her favorites) paint the neighborhood.  (Yes, I know we throw a memorial dinner for her every year on the first night of Chanukah, but there’s another story behind that peculiar observance.)

I suspect that this time of year, she would have mostly been thinking, “Golf Season is here!”  She was, after all, an inveterate golfer, playing two or more times a week at a time when most of the neighborhood’s housewives were deciding whether to fix a meatloaf or hot dogs for the family supper, or what kind of pie to bring to the school’s bake sale. Always athletic, she also played tennis and bowled, covering both the white-collar and blue-collar sides of the sports spectrum.

We can only speculate upon what she would have been like in her Golden Years, had she lived to enjoy them.  Would she have slowly grown cranky and obstreperous like her own mother had done, or would she have continued to be the fun-loving Doting Grandma to her beloved granddaughters?  We can only wonder... but I like to think that she would have avoided the trap of Excessive Cantakerousness.

Tomorrow is Mom’s twenty-ninth Yahrzeit.  For almost three decades now, she has been playing her heavenly Golf Game from the side of the fairway where the pointy part of the tee goes, and we who have been left behind to mourn her have had to do without her warmth, humor, and common sense.

This evening I’ll light that candle, and I’ll be at shul tomorrow to say Kaddish.  Perhaps I will toast her memory with a perfect Rob Roy - her favorite cocktail - and ponder the bittersweet realization that I have even now walked the Earth over four years longer than she had the opportunity to do.  Alas.

[Adapted from my original post dated March 22, 2013.]

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

ECCLESIASTICAL EMPLOYMENT

Every religious institution has a cadre of employees and functionaries without whom it could not function. For example, a Roman Catholic church would be in big trouble without its priest, its altar boys, and whoever gets to swing that incense censer.

The synagogue, of course, is no exception.

Most people, when asked to name the essential personnel at the Jew-Church, will put the rabbi at the top of the list. Not so! It’s nice to have a rabbi, of course - having someone who holds ordination papers lends a certain amount of gravitas to the proceedings and is also handy if you want to conduct a wedding - but he or she is not necessary. Same goes for the chazzan (cantor), whose voice is as superfluous as it is mellifluous. Lay people can perform these roles.

The real essential personnel are the ones who work behind the scenes: the custodial staff. These are the folks that see to all the daily operations of the building without which there would be disorder, filth, and discomfort. These functions overlap to an extent with those of the “Shabbes goy,” a function that really deserves its own category.

“Shabbes goy” is a term that literally means Sabbath Gentile: a non-Jew who performs functions on the Sabbath that are not permitted to the observant Red Sea Pedestrian. It is, of course, not that simple: anything having to do with Jewish law never is. A Jew cannot simply hire a non-Jew to stoke the fireplace on the Sabbath in his stead, for that is equally forbidden. But he might say, “Gee, it’s awfully cold in here (wink wink, nudge nudge),” and the implicit assumption is that the non-Jew, unconstrained by the rules of Sabbath observance, might take it upon himself to throw a log on the fire. The same rationale allows lights to be switched on or off, thermostats to be adjusted, and so on.

Being a Shabbes goy is a respectable profession is its own way, and there are several people who served in that role before achieving fame and fortune in other fields. Perhaps you’ve heard of them: Elvis Presley, Harry Truman, Al Gore, Barack Obama, Colin Powell, Thurgood Marshall, and Mario Cuomo.


“I wanna hunka hunka hunka burnin’ chopped liver.”

There are other jobs as well. The shammes (AKA beadle or sexton) may perform minor functions such as ushering and assisting with religious functions. In our congregation, we call these folks the “go-getters,” and their job is to ensure that religious honors are distributed properly and that the service flows smoothly. You would be surprised how much subtle choreography is involved in a religious service.

The gabbaim (singular: gabbai) officiate during the ceremonial reading from the Torah scroll, ensuring that any errors in the reading or cantillation are corrected, and announcing page and verse numbers so that the congregation can follow along in their printed books. Because the scroll contains nothing but consonants - no vowels or musical notes, which must be memorized by the reader - the function of the gabbaim is essential.

And yet perhaps the most unsung (and critical) role in the synagogue is that of the Haisse Dondeh. It’s hard to imagine any Jewish house of worship functioning without at least one Haisse Dondeh, and I suspect that many of our Christian friends may have a person (or persons) with a similar job in their congregations as well. What does he do? When someone is standing at an inappropriate moment, he shouts, “Hey! Siddown there!”

[H/T: Joe Saruk z''l]

THE PERIPATETIC SOCK

Waldo and Carmen Sandiego have nothing on Edith’s big blue stocking.

Waldo. Remember him? He was that douchenozzle in the round spectacles, wearing a stripèd shirt and matching stocking cap, always lurking in the midst of a crowd in various bizarre places. The kind of guy who gets around despite having no visible means of support. These days, he’d probably be on the terrorist watch lists of twelve different countries just for showing up.

And then there’s Carmen, a five-year-old kid with the travel budget of the entire Belgian parliament and the kind of precocious geographical knowledge that only an autistic savant - or a highly educated dwarf - could muster.

What they have in common is their seemingly miraculous abilities to move from one place to another... like Sean Spicer sensing a truth-molecule in an enclosed space and frantically attempting to dodge it.

Which brings us to Edith’s sock. Stocking. Whatever.

The stocking itself was a long-ago gift from our friends Laura Belle and Donnie Joe. They had gotten our girls a matched set of fuzzy blue Christmas stockings for the express purpose of packing them full of holiday tchotchkes. Blue, of course, because of Chanukah. Both stockings are still in use for their original purpose, but Edith has apparently discovered the one that the Mistress of Sarcasm had buried deep in her bedroom closet.

Stella has never been a cat that evinced any interest in schlepping stuff around. She’s more involved in typical Ragdoll behavior: grooming herself, leaving steamers atop the litter in her box while making no attempt to bury them, looking gorgeous, harfing up the occasional hairball, and napping frequently. For that matter, none of our Kitty-Companions have been schleppers. Stripes, Hakuna, Matata, and Levon were all content to leave stuff where it lay.

Edith is different. Edith moves things around. Edith modifies her world to suit her own desires.

Yesterday evening, for example, the Blue Sock had been downstairs. But as I arose this morning, Edith greeted me with an unusually loud series of miaows. Was she alerting me to Stella’s presence? No, she was informing me that she had delivered unto me a gift: the Blue Sock, which now lay atop our bed, placed neatly in Edith’s sleeping-pad.

By mid-day, it had worked its way to the Mistress of Sarcasm’s room on the other side of the house’s upper level. It’s anyone’s guess how long it will stay there before migrating back downstairs.

We’ve caught her in transporte delicto, so to speak... with the sock hanging from her mouth as she trots from room to room. It’s hysterical.



I suppose I can’t complain. Outdoor kitties bring all sorts of presents to their human parents, some not particularly welcome. And as Kitty-Gifts go, I’ll gladly take a migrating sock over the occasional eviscerated mouse or decapitated bird.

Postscriptum: The sock continues its journeys. Bedroom, breakfast room, entry hall... who knows where it will appear next? 

Monday, March 27, 2017

DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY



Edith and the Mistress of Sarcasm enjoy a Tranquil Moment together. It’s the picture of poifect contentment, I tells ya!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

FUNNY VALENTINE


Eli (hizzownself) in the Army Air Force...all of twenty years old. [Photo: Ansalone’s Studio, Brooklyn, NY]

This evening marks the onset of Dad’s third Yahrzeit... the anniversary of his passing according to the Hebrew calendar.

I am a skeptic in matters supernatural - I am my father’s child, after all - but I still believe that there are mysteries having to do with the World to Come. Those mysteries might explain the peculiar earworm I have been dealing with these last few days: a piano rendition of “My Funny Valentine.”

He played the piano, as many of you know. And out of all his repertoire, “My Funny Valentine” is the song that most stood out to me. Whether the piano was in tune or not (“Desafinado,” the Antonio Carlos Jobim classic, was another favorite), it would drift through the house whenever he sat down to play.

I miss hearing my Daddy play the piano. I miss his convoluted jokes, many of them told in equally convoluted Yiddish. I miss his incisive mind, his menschlichkeit, his willingness to do what he believed was right even at personal cost. I wish he were here to see his granddaughters again, and I wish he could see how happy my brother - The Other Elisson - is these days. Alas, he is at an impenetrable remove: so much for wishes.

But when I hear that earworm, I know he is not far away. Perhaps he will hear me chant the Memorial Prayer and recite the Kaddish... and he will know that we remember him.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

SUPERTASTER


“Hey, I canna taste that whisky - it’s frozen!” [Photo of Eric at his 2010 birthday party courtesy of Erica Sherman.]

The Mistress of Sarcasm - our younger daughter - is a woman with many talents, but the one most people are not aware of is her prodigious ability to detect the subtlest nuances of aroma and flavor. She is a supertaster.

It’s an ability she most likely inherited from her mother, who is also blessed with a remarkably capable palate. Dee can detect certain flavors with the same precision as a 200-inch telescope peering into a field of distant galaxies. Woe be unto the butcher who grinds up a pile of beef hamburger without thoroughly removing all traces of the batch of ground lamb immediately preceding it: Dee can sniff that lamb out at concentrations of mere parts per billion. I’ve seen her do it. Liver, lamb, onion - any of the Foods that Dee Will Not Consume can and will be detected and rejected in minute concentrations that normally require a mass spectrometer to measure.

In this regard, The Mistress is an apple that fell very close to the tree. She could have made a career out of being a cognac or whiskey blender... or a wine expert.

Recently, as I was sipping an Islay malt, she complained that my drink smelled like a Band-Aid. And it’s not a bad characterization, in its own way. She had managed to sniff out the trace aroma of iodine in my whisky... from several feet away. It was a masterful catch: peaty Islay malts typically have a noticeable iodine pong, probably owing to the amount of seaweed that finds its way into the peat used to dry the malted barley.

I’m telling you - the kid could’ve been a master distiller. Too bad she doesn't drink.

MODUS CACARANDI

You’ve no doubt heard of tag-team wrestling. Here at Chez Elisson, we have tag-team boxing. Specifically, we have tag-team catboxing.

I’m not referring to the occasional times that Stella will try to swat Edith... or vice-versa. That happens from time to time, especially if both of them are on our bed simultaneously. Proximity amongst kitties is a bit like a chunk of plutonium: Too much, and it becomes a bit tetchy.

No, I’m talking about the remarkable spirit of caca-cooperation that has manifested itself in recent weeks.

Caca-cooperation? Whuddat?

Well, it has to do with the different toilet styles exhibited by Stella and Edith.

I’ve written about this before. Stella will make, at most, a token effort to cover up her, ahhh, by-products, either not trying at all or scratching ineffectually at the edges of her box. Is she merely being prissy (as befits a Ragdoll), or is she just clueless? Ragdolls, after all, are known for weird catbox habits. It’s not that they’re the Irish Setters of the cat world, but the box seems to be the one area where they’re intellectually challenged... and save for the box, Stella is a pretty bright kitty.

Edith, meanwhile, will bury her sculptural works to depths just north of the Mohorovičić discontinuity, which is a mixed blessing: It keeps unwelcome aromas down, but maintaining the box requires the discipline of an archaeologist
or a West Virginia coal miner.

Amazingly, though, the cats have developed what I can only call a Modus Cacarandi.

When Edith hears Stella in the box, she comes running. As Stella finishes up her work, Edith will give her the stink-eye (so to speak) and will inspect the scene after chasing Stella out of the way. If the Cat-Product has not been interred to her satisfaction - which is most of the time - she will promptly jump in and bury it herself.


“What the hell is the matter with you?”

It’s pretty amusing to watch - amusing enough to be worth putting up on You-Tube save for the repulsive fact that it involves Kitty-Dookie.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

BEWARE THE IDES


Julius Caesar. [Image courtesy Ohio State University.]

Today being the Ides of March, I thought it would be appropriate to resurrect this little gem from last year. Perhaps a Caesar salad with dinner would also be an appropriate comemmoration.

Caesura

They prophesied to Caesar thus: “In March, beware the Ides,
When Senators you thought were Friends will perforate your Sides.”

And sure enough, that fateful Day, right in the Roman Senate,
They poked Holes in Caesar’s Body until not much Blood was in it.

He looked less like a Dictator and much more like a Sieve,
And Caesar came to realize he’d not much Time to live.

He saw that Brutus was among the Members of the Plot,
And whispered softly, “Et tu, Brute? I think you missed a Spot.”

Then as Brutus thrust his Dagger with a sharp and sudden Thwack,
He smiled and said, “No Worries, Mate - because I’ve got your Back.”

[Originally published January 1, 2016.]

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

THREE POINT ONE FOUR

Summer Berry Pie
Tarte Tatin, the celebrated French apple-caramel upside-down pie... not to be confused with its Irish brother, ’Tater Tatin.

Today is Pi Day, March 14, so named because the date is traditionally rendered as 3.14 in American English. By sheer coincidence, it’s also the day on which Albert Einstein’s birthday is celebrated in his adopted home of Princeton, New Jersey.

Pi Day is not quite a holiday. Rather, it’s one of those days that come from the same people who bring you those incessant dopey Internet memes, such as Star Wars Day (celebrated on May 4, as in “May the Fourth Be With You.”) There is, however, a theory that Pi Day is the brainchild of the famous Greek mathematician and philosopher, the great Pi-thagoras.

Tomorrow, we should note, is another minor holiday: EATAPETA (Eat A Tasty Animal for PETA) Day, observed by consuming animal protein at every opportunity. Meat pies would allow you to kill two birds (more animal protein!) with one stone.

Monday, March 13, 2017

SHOE STORE OF THE GODS

The first thing you notice when you open the door at Tops for Shoes is the aroma.

It’s an intoxicating pong, consisting mostly of Kiwi shoe polish with a soft undertone of leather. It whispers, “Come on in. We will be selling you a few pairs of shoes today, won’t we?”

Yes. Yes, they will.

Tops, for those who have never visited Asheville, North Carolina, is an enormous Shoe Emporium. It is not a discount store, simply a shoe store that has grown like a testosterone-laden high-school football player into what may be the largest such enterprise on the eastern seaboard. They claim to serve a six-state area, and I have no trouble whatsoever believing them. 

By far, most of the store’s square footage is taken up with merchandise for women. This only makes sense, because on that little extra snippet of X-chromosome that distinguishes ladies from gentlemen there must be a gene that creates an irresistible desire to own as many handbags and pairs of shoes as possible. And thus it is that at Tops for Shoes, roughly two city blocks are completely devoted to women’s footwear... with the mass of the merchandise contained therein actually sufficient to warp spacetime itself, creating a gender-specific gravitational attraction capable of drawing women from a thousand-mile radius right to the beating, bumptious heart of Asheville.

Lest you think Tops is sexist, I should also point out that they are also considerate enough to provide a (closet-sized) space devoted to men’s shoes. I refer to it as the Island of Lost Soles, where husbands and boyfriends congregate while their Significant Others convert any available liquid assets into Pedal Extremity Clothing.

To the store’s credit, the men’s offerings are reasonable in extent and depth, leaning mostly toward hiking models, peppered with the occasional dressy style. And (ahem) they offer my favorite walking shoe, the redoubtable Pikolinos.

In case you are wondering, I ended up getting a pair of those Pikolinos. It was the least I could do, considering the enormous pile of shooey swag Dee had purchased.

Tops for Shoes is for mortals who aspire to the status of Olympians. Well shod Olympians. It is the Shoe Store of the Gods.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

THE PRIMATE AND THE AIRLINER: A FABLE WITH NO MORAL

“Allowing a monkey to drive a race car sounds like an amusing idea, but only to those who have never tried it.” - The Bard of Affliction

The great Airship of State had been flying for 241 years now.

It wasn’t always an airliner, of course. Back when it began to function, a hot-air balloon was sufficient to hoist its machinery. As the years flew by, however, and new technologies became available, it eventually transferred itself into ever more efficient aerial transports, the better to float high above the hostile environment below. Propellers, in time, gave way to propjets, then to high-bypass turbojets, and the Airship moved faster and faster over the land and sea below it.

The Ship was an expensive proposition, cost-wise. More passengers joined it every year, some born on the craft and others from every land in the world boarding it. There were even a few stowaways, desperate people who were happy to perform the most menial tasks in order to stay on the Airship. Surprisingly, most of the new passengers contributed to the Ship in unexpected ways, creating improvements in fuel efficiency, or entertaining the other passengers with their literature or acting.

Remarkably, for an increasingly complex piece of machinery, the Airship had managed to stay aloft for well over two centuries thanks to its well designed mechanical systems. There were actually three linked, semi-independent control mechanisms, each designed to adjust and correct serious problems in one or both of the others. Over the years, a succession of (mostly) skilled pilots worked in concert with the control systems to navigate the Airship successfully.

Once in a rare while, a pilot would die unexpectedly while in the cockpit. In those cases, the copilot would immediately step in, sitting at the controls until the regular shift change came along. Except for such unusual situations, each pilot would work tirelessly for the duration of the shift, whereupon a replacement would be selected by the passengers. And many times, a pilot would pull a double shift if the passengers so willed.

There were some times when turbulence of one sort or another would sicken many of the passengers. There were also times when hostile forces threatened to shoot the Airship down. Fortunately, its skilled pilots - and its ability to cruise at an exceptionally high altitude - kept it safe.

Perhaps it was the length of the flight, or perhaps it was a growing diminution of the quality of the food in coach class (where steak had gradually given way to pretzels and peanuts), but eventually a significant number of the passengers grew dissatisfied with the course that the Airship traveled. They decided that dramatic change was necessary. Scraping the thin layer of stowaways off the Airship was one solution they proposed. The stowaways, of course, thought this was a bad idea. Most of them kept a low profile and paid their fares like everyone else, but now they were being accused of lurid crimes, such as farting in the galley. Rational discourse was becoming more difficult.

And then the shift change was upon them, whereupon the dissatisfied passengers proposed that an Orang-Utang be allowed to pilot the Airship. The proposal - no doubt a measure of its proponents’ disaffection - was derided by most of the passengers, but the selection process weighted votes by seat row, not simply by numbers.

It was a shock to almost everyone, not least the Orang-Utang, when the beast won and was immediately placed in the cockpit.

Entranced by the pretty lights and instruments, the russet-haired primate immediately began pushing buttons. The Ship began to lurch and whine, but the dissatisfied passengers figured the noises to be from the long-lost steaks being shifted around and moved into the galley. The triply redundant control system, meanwhile, kept things flying despite people on the ground becoming increasingly nervous about the unusual noises coming from the craft soaring above them.

Goaded by his trainer, the Orang-Utang kept pressing more buttons and banging on the dials. Many were delighted: Things were going to change, by God! Others, perhaps less sanguine, began to wonder. Would the triply redundant control system hold? Would the instrumentation continue to function? Would the great Airship keep airborne until the next shift change, or would it come crashing down? They had been unhappy with the pilot that had been chosen, but now they were in the peculiar position of having to pray for his success.

[Cross-posted at Like the Dew.]

KILMER WEPT. THEN HE ATE

I think that I shall never know
A treat quite like a CheddarBo.

With golden crust and gooey cheese,
Its flavor brings me to my knees;

With gooey cheese and golden crust,
O, must I eat it? Yes, I must;

A biscuit like a fluffy cloud,
That makes my taste-buds shout aloud;

The perfect blend of grease and salt;
With which we mortals find no fault.

Poems are made by fools, I know:
Bojangles makes the CheddarBo.

Monday, February 27, 2017

THE DAY THEY FOLDED UP THE BIG TOP: A 100-WORD STORY


“Hey, funny boy. You’re fired.”

The circus was on its way out.

The legendary Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus, the Greatest Show on Earth, was on its last legs. PETA activists had maimed it by arousing public ire against animal acts, but the coup de gràce had been delivered by millions of portable devices. Nobody cared about acrobats and clowns when they had Angry Birds, Pokémon, and the soul-sucking Facebook, so the elephants had been sold off, cooked down into dog food.

Tucking his .45 into his belt next to the cyanide-filled syringe, the Ringmaster prepared to give the clowns their exit interviews.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

SANCTUS VALENTINIUS IN ABSENTIBUS

Antique Valentine
Valentine, circa 1938, from collection of Dee’s late Dad.

As occasionally happens, Dee and I are observing Saint Valentine’s Day in different locations: me at our homestead in Atlanta, she in Texas. It happens now and again.

We miss each other when we’re apart - at least I do - but after being together for over four decades, a little vacation from each other is not, as they say, fatal. Besides, I am somewhat of a skeptic as concerns the Valentine Thing, particularly since it has been dragooned by the greeting card, restaurant, and chocolate businesses.

Love is a 365 day per year business... 366 every fourth year. It has its rhythms, its ebbs, its flows. It requires constant attention to keep it healthy, no matter how sturdy it may be... a bit like keeping an exotic house plant, except more fulfilling. And so boiling it down to a single day is a mite ridiculous.

Hey, I’d give Dee chocolates every day of the year... except she would resent it on account of the calories and the unsalubrious effects it would have on her blood sugar and her weight. But you get the point. I hope she does, too.

Monday, February 6, 2017

EACH TO HIS OWN

Caesar has a pair of tweezers
And Ebenezer, an orange squeezer

Should Caesar get Ebenezer’s orange squeezer
And Ebenezer, Caesar’s tweezers
Then both of them might have a seizure

Thus, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s
And unto Ebenezer what’s Ebenezer’s

Thursday, February 2, 2017

THE DAY OF THE WHISTLE-PIG

Groundhog Day
©2006 King Features Syndicate.

Marmota Monax, raise your Head -
By your Example we are led.
When you inhale the wint’ry Air,
Will you retreat into your Lair
Affrighted by a Shadow Fell,
Or (much more likely), human Smell?
If by the Sun a Shadow’s cast,
Might you predict a frosty Blast?
Perchance a Cloud obscures the Sky,
An Omen that warm Weather’s nigh.
Compared to you, Science is “Blawney,”
O, Oracle of Punxsutawney.

Today is Groundhog Day, that peculiarly American institution in which the scientific underpinnings of modern meteorology are discarded in favor of the random meanderings of a large, confused, squirrel-like rodent. It’s a holiday that seems especially appropriate given recent political developments.

Today is also the Thursday before the so-called Big Game, the term “Super Bowl” having been copyrighted, trademarked, or whatever. For those of us resident in the Atlanta area, it will be an exceptionally exciting Big Game, because our local NFL franchise is involved for the first time in eighteen years. And yet Sunday’s festivities will be a letdown compared to the real action, which will be taking place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania this morning. It is then that Phil, the local Whistle-Pig, determines the weather conditions for the next three fortnights via the arcane art of Shadow Observation.
 
I gave up on trying to get tickets years ago. Scalpers have jacked the prices up to where they are more dear than Masters passes... or Super Bowl ducats, for that matter. And that’s unfortunate, because the parades and pageantry in Punxsutawney put Mardi Gras in New Orleans to shame. (Also, fewer trombones. Phil doesn’t like ’em.)

Have you purchased Groundhog Day cards for your friends and relatives? Sent Groundhog Day flowers and chocolates to that special someone? Why the fuck not? What are you waiting for? And if you have not already booked a table at your restaurant of choice, it’s probably too late - the place will be packed with Groundhog Day revelers. You’ll have to fall back on Plan B, the ever-popular Groundhog Day Backyard Barbecue.

Enjoy the day... and may the shadows be few!

Monday, January 30, 2017

TANDOORI CHICKEN, or
LASSI, COME HOME

[Sung to the tune of “Dixie Chicken”]

I’ve seen the bright lights of Mumbai
And the Bannerjee Hotel
And underneath a street lamp, I met a Gujarati girl
Oh, she took me to the Ganges where she cast her spell
And in that Mumbai moonlight, she sang this song so well:

Can I be your Mango Lassi
You can be my Pappa Dum
And we can be together
And make num num num
And make num num num

We made all the hotspots,
My rupees flowed like wine
Then that low-down hemp from Hyderabad began to fog my mind
And I don’t remember incense, or the money I put down
On the corrugated tin roof on the house at the end of town
Oh, but boy do I remember the strain of her refrain
And the nights we spent together
And the way she called my name

Can I be your Mango Lassi
You can be my Pappa Dum
And we can be together
And make num num num
And make num num num
 
Many years since she ran away
Yes that sitar player sure could play
She always liked to sing along
She always handy with a song
But then one night in the lobby of the Bannerjee Hotel
I chanced to meet a bartender who said he knew her well
As he handed me a bev’rage he began to hum a song,
And all the boys there at the bar began to sing along:

Can I be your Mango Lassi
You can be my Pappa Dum
And we can be together
And make num num num
And make num num num
And make num num num

[Apologies to Little Feat]

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

MARY BITES THE DUST


Mary Tyler Moore (1936-2017) and her longtime acting foil Dick Van Dyke, in a 1961 CBS publicity still.

Q: Who can turn the word on with her smile?
A: Not Mary Tyler Moore.
                                                   - Houston Steve

I, along with millions of others, was saddened to hear of the passing of Mary Tyler Moore today due to complications of pneumonia. She was 80 years old.

My first awareness of Ms. Moore was when she played Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, an exceptionally witty household sitcom, a show that also introduced me to Carl Reiner. But her greatest impact on the American consciousness was as Mary Richards, the spunky career woman of the eponymous Mary Tyler Moore Show. Even more remarkable was the fact that she stood out in a cast that included Ted Knight, Gavin McLeod, Betty White, Cloris Leachman, and Valerie Harper.

One of the most memorable episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show was one from the sixth season. In “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” Mary and her coworkers attend the funeral of one Chuckles the Clown, who suffers a death that can only be described as befitting as clown: While dressed as Peter Peanut during the Circus Day parade, he is killed by a rogue elephant that attempts to shell him. Mary is appalled as her colleagues respond to the tragedy by cracking an endless stream of jokes before the funeral. But when the funeral begins, it’s Mary who cannot keep a straight face - until the minister urges everyone to follow Mary’s example and laugh. Of course, Mary then bursts into tears.

When I heard the news about Ms. Moore, I wondered whether anyone would laugh at her funeral. I think she’d like that.

Monday, January 16, 2017

AVE ATQUE VALE, CIRCENSES

’Twas tea-time at the circus: King Jimi, he was there
Through hoops he skipped, high wires he tripped, and all the while the glare
Of the aching, baking spotlight beat down upon his cloak
And though the crowd clapped furiously they could not see the joke

’Twas tea-time at the circus, though some might not agree
As jugglers danced, and horses pranced, and clowns clowned endlessly
But trunk to tail the elephants, quite silent, never spoke
And though the crowd clapped desperately they could not see the joke

- Procol Harum, from “In Held ’Twas In I”

“The people who have conquered the world have only two interests – bread and circuses” - Decimus Junius Juvenalis

“Heffalump is better than none.” - Winnie the Pooh

It’s getting harder and harder to take tea at the circus, especially so now that the famous Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus plans to fold its tents in May of this year after 146 years in operation.


Who’s laughing now?

The circus - at least, in the form we’ve all come to know it - is a most peculiar and somewhat archaic form of entertainment. The Romans had circuses, of course, but they were typically bloody affairs: gladiatorial combat, people facing off against wild animals, chariot races, and similar mostly violent amusements. And no Roman circus was complete without the beloved “clowns exiting a chariot” act.

Modern circuses typically have elements in common: trained elephants, wild beasts, acrobats, horse-and-rider acts, and clowns, with the action taking place in one or more circular arenas - thus, “circus.” Sometimes this is accompanied by a carnival-style midway with rides and games.

Circuses are, by nature, traveling shows: after entertaining the villagers in a given spot, they would literally pull up stakes and move to another town - sometimes in haste. “Running away and joining the circus” was a real thing, back when the occasional visit of the circus to a backwater town seemed to offer the promise of an exciting life of travel and adventure. In reality, what it mostly offered was abuse, low and very intermittent wages, physical danger, and mountains of elephant shit. Always elephant shit. And thus, Esteemed Readers, it offered a veritable Lesson in Life.

I still remember - with as much crystal clarity as can be mustered after close to sixty years - my first experience with a real, honest-to-goodness circus. A traveling show (Cole Brothers? Clyde Beatty? I cannot recall) came to our town and set up shop in a large field, back when such things as large fields still existed there. Copious amounts of hay were laid down; then the tents went up. Dad - Eli, hizzownself - took me and The Other Elisson there one evening, accompanied by our next-door neighbor and their two boys Jon and Chris, who were roughly the same ages as we were. There were elephants, wild animals, clowns, trapeze artists, and acrobats. There was a ringmaster just like Claude Kirchner on Terrytoon Circus, a TV show we watched religiously in the afternoons mostly owing to its time slot immediately following Mickey Mouse Club. And most clearly of all, I remember the guy getting shot out of a cannon.

Yes, that was a pretty standard circus act - The Human Cannonball. He would get catapulted out of a device that looked a whole lot like a real cannon (provided you didn’t look too closely), fly through the air and through a hoop to land on nice, cushy netting. Of course, gunpowder or other pyrotechnics were used only for sound effects, compressed air or a spring providing the real propulsive force - but we kids didn’t know the difference. The sound (“BOOM!”) was loud enough to send our little neighbor Chris into a fit or hysterical weeping, but all was well after a dose of cherry sno-cone (most of which ended up on his nice white shirt, as I recall.)

The reason hay had been laid down became immediately apparent when the elephants came out. There was always some clown walking behind the huge beasts, vainly trying to keep up with their Prodigious Output with a shovel and bucket, but the hay served as a (mostly ineffective) way to neutralize the barnyard pong. At one point we were permitted to ride atop an actual elephant, which provoked little Chris to yet another bout of hysteria.

After that long-ago adventure, I never felt the burning urge to see the circus again... until the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey show landed in Atlanta in the mid-1980’s. By this time, our daughters were both at prime Circus-Viewing age, so off we went to the huge downtown venue where the show was to be held, vacant fields being both thin on the ground and insufficient for the job at hand. And it was all there: the clowns, the elephants, the wild beasts, the trapeze artists, the motorcycles speeding around in a spherical cage (human cannonballs having been taken off the menu), and the acrobats.

Ahh, the acrobats... one of whom performed an act in which she was suspended by her hair by a long cord, rotating and spinning high over the ring. She was there in the spotlight, a sparkling human jewel... and then she disappeared. Her hair had slipped out of its bindings and she had flown out of the cone of the spotlight, landing hard on the ground. We saw none of this - all we saw was the army of clowns, presumably released from the Volkswagens in which they had been imprisoned, trying to get our attention away from whatever terrible thing had just happened. We discovered later that the young lady acrobat had broken her neck... and we have never gone to the circus again.

What killed Ringling Brothers? There are, no doubt, plenty of explanations for the decline in ticket sales that ultimately doomed the show. Last year the elephants were dismissed, mainly due to ongoing outcries from animal rights activists... but that alone doesn’t explain it. I think the Ringling Brothers circus was a victim of its own success.

The circus - as I experienced it as a young snot-nose, anyway - was a personal experience. You sat in hastily erected bleachers. You smelled the hay, the elephant shit, the greasepaint of the clowns, the sweat of your fellow attendees. But the modern circus was a huge affair, mounted in humongous arenas like Madison Square Garden, or the Georgia Dome. And in our device-driven ADHD world where most kids would rather chase Pokemon than crack a library book, what chance does such an old-fashioned amusement delivery device stand?

Today, professional sports, politics, and Facebook have become the circenses to go with our panem, alas. (But you can keep the elephant shit.)
  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

BAKER’S TWINS

Two loaves emerged from my bakery
Alike as twins, as I could see
But their aroma displeasèd me
So I pulled the handle and set them free

Friday, January 13, 2017

THE HOLIDAY AFTERMATH

The other day I found myself thinking about a certain seasonal matter: the removal of Christmas-related detritus.

It cannot be easy, this cleanup. After spending what must be weeks, putting up outdoor decorations, wreaths, and (of course) the Tree Itself with all its assorted ornaments and shiny gewgaws, breaking everything down and putting it all in its appropriate storage boxes cannot be a trivial process. And then there is the Tree Itself, which (if artificial) must be taken apart and stored, or which (if real) must be taken out and mulched.

No wonder people procrastinate.

With me not being a Christian, I observe all of this at a slight remove. When should you take your tree and decorations down? Is there an appropriate time window? Is Boxing Day too early? How about New Year’s Day? January 6? And when does it start looking like you are shirking your Christmasly Responsibility? Is January 31 too late? These are matters about which I have minimal knowledge.

What I do know is this: We Red Sea Pedestrians have the advantage here.

All we have to do is scrape the wax off of our Chanukiyot (Chanukah menorahs) and go on about our business. For me, it was a matter of some fifteen minutes with a blowtorch, a toothpick, some hot water, and a few paper towels. (Had we used oil lamps instead of candles, as we’ve done in prior years, there would have been no need to clean anything up at all.)

Waxy Buildup
This takes all of fifteen minutes to clean up.

Of course, you could legitimately ask me why it took me until yesterday to do this. But we’re not gonna go there, are we?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

FLATBREADS? WE GOT ’EM


Pletzel (not pretzel). [Image credit: Scratchin’ It.]

There is a lesser known breadstuff in the Red Sea Pedestrian lexicon, one that is generally unfamiliar to those who have come to know and love products like the bagel.

Ahh, yes, the bagel. It has become a genuine American product, another ethnic food sucked into the great maw of American cultural appropriation. This is not a bad thing, by the way. Cultural appropriation is how our society takes diverse ingredients and melds them together into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts: not a melting pot, as the old analogy would have it, but a stew pot in which individual ingredients retain their identities, yet work together to create a flavorful result. Think of some of the foods you can now find almost anywhere in America - pizza, spaghetti, falafel, eggrolls, and tacos. And then there’s the bagel, which now is available in places like McDonald’s, where you can purchase one festooned with bacon, egg, and cheese - a combination unthinkable to the people who first brought this unique toroidal treat to our shores.

But, as usual, I digress.

I wanted to talk about a lesser known breadstuff. I wanted to talk about the pletzel.

No, not the pretzel. Everyone knows about pretzels, those knotted little suckers available in all sizes and textures: crisp and crunchy or warm and soft (Philly style!), even with all kinds of flavorings and toppings thanks to Auntie Anne’s mall outlets. Not pretzel... pletzel. With an “l.”

The pletzel (also spelled pletz’l or pletsl) is a flattish affair looking something like a Jewish foccacia, generally festooned with dessicated caramelized onions and poppy seeds. It puts me in mind of the bastard child that would result from the union of a pizza and a bialy, one that was subsequently adopted by an Everything Bagel. Pletzels are usually round but not necessarily so, and their degree of both thickness and adornment by toppings varies.

Pletzels are siblings to the bialy, a breadstuff that is, in turn, a cousin to the bagel. To tell them apart, use this handy field identification guide:

1. If it is toroidal (i.e., doughnut-shaped - a ring with a hole in the middle) with a glossy, well browned crisp crust and a chewy interior, it is a bagel.

2. If there is merely a dent instead of a hole and the crust has a lightly browned matte finish, it is a bialy. (The dent is usually filled with caramelized onions and poppy seeds.)

3. If it is flattish, has no hole, and is topped with caramelized onions and poppy seeds, it is a pletzel. (If it is really large, flat, and topped with tomato sauce and cheese, it is a pizza.)

Bialys and pletzels are made from a slightly different dough than a bagel; in addition, they are not boiled before baking. This means they lack a bagel’s hard, glossy crust, which in turn means they need to be eaten while they’re fresh. If you can find a good bagel place that also offers bialys and pletzels, you should give them a try!

Speaking of bialys, the owner of the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium gave us a behind-the-scenes tour this morning. We got to see the whole works: the huge hundred-year-old dough blender, the new bagel-forming machine, the proofing racks loaded with slowly rising bagels, the enormous walk-in fridge where the bagels are left to rise overnight, the boiling tank, and the oven. But what really caught my eye was the bialy machine, a device that dated from before World War II and that bore an astonishing resemblance to a certain cinematic robot - enough make me wonder whether, at some time long ago in a galaxy far, far away, one of R2-D2’s cousins made a living in a bialy factory on Tatooine.

And it even had a name. Lookee:



Monday, January 9, 2017

I’VE BEEN SAYING THIS FOR YEARS


“Mutts” by Patrick McDonnell, January 8, 2017. ©2017. [Clicky for biggy.]

You want to know one reason I favor cats for household Animal Companions as opposed to dogs? This.

(Yes, I know dogs can be trained to use the loathsome “pee-pee pad.” Feh in extremis.)

Friday, January 6, 2017

OUR NEWEST DOODAD DE CUISINE


The OXO Spiralizer, our latest household gadget.

Dee, in her desire to drop a few excess holiday pounds - a desire shared by all too many of us in January, including Yours Truly - got it in her head to purchase a spiralizer. I agreed that it was a capital idea for pretty much the same reason. We found one at a local Household Goods and Kitchen Doodads Emporium and grabbed it immediately.

A spiralizer, in case you are unfamiliar with the concept, is a contraption that converts cylindrical vegetables into ribbon- or noodle-like spirals by passing said vegetables through a set of blades. It’s something akin to a mandoline slicer, except that it works by twisting the veg against the blade rather than using a reciprocating motion. (It’s also a bit harder to slice your fingertips off with it.)

You can shred zucchini with a box grater or with a food processor, or you can slice it into paper-thin discs with a mandoline, but with this gadget you can convert it into flat ribbons or long, spaghetti-like strands. Throw on some ragu bolognese, and bingo! You’ve got a Pasta Sauce Conveyance Device that is not only tasty and vaguely pasta-like, but that has a fraction of the calories of actual pasta. Winning!

Pretty much anything that is round or cylindrical can be spiralized. Potatoes (both sweet and white), squash, zucchini, beets, carrots, whatever. You can use it to make interesting looking salads or to hack up ingredients for fritters (this last being an application that defeats the “drop a few excess pounds” objective, alas.)

But I have my sights set on more perverse interesting goals. It is only a matter of time before I try to spiralize an entire salami. Hey, it’s cylindrical!