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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


There’s a somebody I’m longing to see
I hope that she turns out to be
Someone to watch over me...

- George Gershwin, Someone to Watch Over Me

Someone to Watch Over Her

Hakuna relaxes on the family room ottoman, with the late Matata appearing to keep watch over her through the magic of the Electronic Photo Frame.

Update: Friday Ark #341 is afloat at the Modulator... and Carnival of the Cats, in its 377th incarnation, has been posted at CatSynth. Great job!


I wish I were the kind of grandee
Who every day would drink some brandy
And when I’d get to feeling randy
Would ply the girls with booze and candy.


K-Nine Kolander
Alpha K-Nine sports an antique perforated hat. Now we know what the “K” in K-Nine stands for: Kolander!

...wants to get in on the act. Even the legendary K-Nine, who has (apparently) redirected his energies from chipmunks to colanders.

I feel as though I have accomplished something in life, albeit something completely useless. By my awesome example, I have legitimized the wearing of Perforated Headgear.

I am so proud.

Send me a photo of you with a colander on your head, and I’ll put it up right here on the Inter-Webby-Net for all to see.

Join the league of Perfect Perpetrators of Perforated Porkpies ’n’ Panamas!

Monday, May 30, 2011


Sensorium on NPR
National Public Radio does a piece on Sensorium... Elder Daughter’s recent project.

I wrote about our evening at Sensorium in this post. Now you can listen to NPR’s take on the event, as broadcast earlier today on Morning Edition... and watch their video, in which E.D. features prominently.


Regeneration is a powerful thing. The impulse to renew and regrow, to rise Phoenix-like from a heap of ashes, is not only a characteristic of life but of the Earth itself.

In August 1883, the Sunda Strait - between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra - was rocked by the most titanic explosion in recorded history, the eruption of the Krakatoa volcano. That eruption generated tsunamis and pyroclastic flows that killed over 36,000 people as well as a sound loud enough to be heard almost 3,000 miles away. The atmospheric pressure wave created by the explosion circled the planet seven times; the dust lofted into the stratosphere gave rise to several years of beautiful sunsets and noticeably cooler weather around the globe. A crater in the sea floor was all that was left to mark where a mighty mountain had once stood.

And yet...

Beginning in late 1927, subsequent eruptions in the very same spot caused a new volcanic mountain to rear its head above the waves of the Sunda Strait. That new mountain - born of the Earth’s self-renewing impulse - was named Anak Krakatau: Son of Krakatoa.

I thought of Anak Krakatau while driving in - of all places! - eastern Tennessee. We had been visiting Eric and had driven past the place where once stood the mighty Kaboom Tree.

Ah, the Kaboom Tree! Formerly the location of many a wayward driver’s demise (owing to its strategic placement right next to a sharp curve in a narrow country road), the Kaboom Tree had been grievously injured by tornado winds a few years back. All that remained was a stump.

And yet...

From that stump new life was a-sprouting, yet more evidence of life’s burning urge for self-renewal and regrowth.

Anak Kaboom
New growth sprouts from the stump of the infamous Kaboom Tree.

As I looked at that improbable young sapling, I thought of Atlanta, great parts of which were burned to the ground during the Civil War and which, nearly 150 years later, is a thriving American metropolis. It is not surprising that the city motto is Resurgens: rising again. And I thought of Anak Krakatau, heaving itself up from the ocean floor where its mighty predecessor once stood.

What else to call that sapling but Anak Kaboom?

And who knows but that, a century hence, Anak Kaboom will stand astride that country lane, grown tall and thick of trunk, there to terrify new generations of McMinn County drivers?

Friday, May 27, 2011


What a time to be alive!

Everybody watching reality TV. Everybody watching “The Biggest Loser” and “Celebrity Apprentice.” “Top Chef,” “Iron Chef,” “MasterChef.” Follow your favorite cook on Facebook! Everybody checking out The Situation and Snooki, hoping for a glimpse of nooki.

The economy’s in the shitter... but we have Twitter! We have social media. We have Expedia!

We’ve got Bics, Netflix, and drugs to stiffen our dicks.

We’ve got the Terminator Governator Sperminator.

What a time to be alive! We’ve got Hand Jive!

We’ve got surgeons that’ll suck the fat from your hips and inject it into your lips. We’ve got the Zombie Apocalypse!

We’ve got bebop, hip hop, chap hop, crap hop, and traffic cop.

We’ve got surfers, birthers, Earthers, and no-net-worthers.

Today, you can go from Wall Streeter to Wal-Mart greeter faster than you can put a quarter in the parking meter.

What a time to be alive!

(apologies, once again, to Russell Baker)

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Professor Elemental. And we do mean “mental.”

I love the demented shit I discover on the Inter-Webby-Net. How else would I ever have acquainted myself with Chap Hop, a musical genre that consists of hip-hop-style rhymes as filtered through the lens of the British upper crust?

Professor Elemental is a man after my own heart... pith helmet and all.

[Tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora pith helmet to LeeAnn for connecting me to both Professor Elemental and Mr. B, The Gentleman Rhymer. You can’t make this stuff up!]

“Fighting Trousers” - Professor Elemental
(video here)

Ah, Geoffrey!
What’s that you have in your hand, boy?
Pass it over.
A telegram? Oh, dear.
It seems someone has been “biting me..?”
Fetch me my trousers at once!
No, not those. Those are my time travel trousers.
Those are my tea trousers…
That’s it! Those ones. My fighting trousers!

Ah, yeah!

Dear Sir,
Regarding your recent foray
Into the rap business and the scene you portray,
See, I don’t normally approve of war games,
But, “He’s biting you” is what they all say.
And by Harry, they might be right!
This is hip hop, not an Elvis night.
Shelve this Professor impersonation,
Let it end now. It’s impertinent waiting!
You seem a reasonable chap;
What you need to do is rap and not parody chap hop,
’Cause that’s not proper, just not cricket!
Put away your ukulele, or I’ll tell you where to stick it!

I! - Don’t like your tweed, sir!
Will! - Teach you the professor’s ready!
Not! - Let’s see who strikes the loudest!
Lose! - Put on my fighting trousers!

I’ve got super producers, and fans that play me.
You’ve a granddad’s mustache and a ukulele.
Don’t look around, sir. I’m speaking to you!
Roll up your shirt sleeves. Queensbury rules.
Never test professors with the cleverest wits.
Let’s settle this like gentlemen: Armed with heavy sticks,
On a rotating plate, with spikes like Flash Gordon.
And you’re Peter Duncan, I gave you fair warning!
When this George Formby clone is performing
Audiences go home before he begins talking.
A new career might be more rewarding.
I’m a right Brighton peer; you’re rap’s Piers Morgan!

I! - Don’t like your tweed, sir!
Will! - Teach you the professor’s ready!
Not! - Let’s see who strikes the loudest!
Lose! - Put on my fighting trousers!

I’m not seeing you at ciphers or workshops with kids or gigs.
Dear Sir, you’re not worthy of this!
Sold out to Coca-Cola,
Used for a trend,
And that means you’re banned
From using a pen.
Hope it’s safe to assume you won’t do it again,
Set foot on my stage and get ruined again.
Be out, Mr. B, I set the egg timer.
There’s not room in town for two gentleman rhymers.
Leave town by the end of this instrumental!
Yours, et cetera, et cetera, sincerely, and so forth,
Professor Elemental.

I! - Don’t like your tweed, sir!
Will! - Teach you the professor’s ready!
Not! - Let’s see who strikes the loudest!
Lose! - Put on my fighting trousers!

Sorry. I’m sorry, Geoffrey, but it gets my goat. It gets my dander right up!
Bloody told ’im...
No, no jazz solo. This is supposed to be a diss song!
Geoffrey, get off the drums!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Kistler vs Mount Yonah
Kistler and Mount Yonah chardonnays square off against each other in a blind tasting. The Kistler fetches $85 the bottle, the Mount Yonah (from a vineyard adjacent to Helen, Georgia) $28. Which one was the Guild favorite? Read on...

Tonight’s Guild event is notable for several reasons.

First, it will be held at The Thorn Tree in Norcross, the second time we’ve dined there since January. That’s notable.

Second, it’s a May event that I will actually be able to attend. The past several years, out-of-town commitments have prevented me from showing up at the May tasting. Not this time. That’s notable.

Third, it’s a white wine tasting... and I’m going anyway. That’s notable, too!

I’m looking forward to a pleasant evening of fine wine, excellent food, and lively discussion. Denny and I can badmouth Obama’s feckless Middle East diplomacy to our hearts’ content.

Meanwhile, here’s what’s on the menu:

Speaker’s Wine:
Mumm Napa / Napa Valley Brut Rosé NV

First Flight:
Blind Tasting
Kistler Sonoma Coast Chardonnay “Stone Flat - Parmalee Hill” 2007 - California***
Yonah Mountain Georgia Chardonnay 2008**

Pan Seared Atlantic Skate Wing
Caper White Wine Butter, Mashed Potatoes, Steamed Asparagus

Second Flight:
Artesa Estate Reserve Carneros Chardonnay 2009 - California**
Franciscan Napa Valley Chardonnay (Cuvée Sauvage) 2008 - California
Far Niente Napa Valley Chardonnay 2009 - California

Grilled Gulf Red Snapper
Jasmine Rice, Sauteed Broccolini, Saffron Beurre Blanc

Third Flight:
Domaine Houchart Côtes de Provence Rosé 2010 - France**
Chateau de Trinquevedel Tavel Rosé 2010 - France
Crois de Susana Balbo Mendoza Malbec Rosé 2010 - Argentina

Ancho Chicken
Cilantro Gremolata, White Corn Torta

Standing Stone Finger Lakes Chardonnay Ice Wine 2007 - New York State***

Mango Panna Cotta
Fresh Vanilla Cream, Charred Mango Garnish

Paul Lalo Sierra Madre Vineyard Chardonnay 2007
Dönhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Auslese 2007**

It promises to be a Tasty Evening... with plenty of stuffed and mounted wildlife to gaze at while we dine.

Postscriptum: Alas, no Denny. It appears that he was suddenly taken ill... here’s hoping for a speedy recovery.

My preferences noted with asterisks.

In the blind tasting, the Mount Yonah was the overwhelming favorite, with a small minority (including Yours Truly) preferring the far costlier Kistler. But given the price difference, I’d be perfectly happy with the Mount Yonah!


Those of you who have been following my occasional Bikey Adventures know that I’ve been riding my resurrected 1975-vintage Gitane Tour de France road bike since sometime back in November.

Only problem with vintage bikes is that they have vintage components. In the case of my old Gitane, the derailleur - a Simplex Prestige - gave up the ghost after a month of hard use; finding another one that can be properly attached to the bike frame’s dropout has been problematic.

Ya gotta give it to the French. They make some of the best wines and cheeses in the world. Bike derailleurs, not so much.

Pending my locating a proper set of “Disraeli gears,” I converted the Gitane into a single-speed road bike. Not a problem on the flatter trails around here, but fraught with difficulties when dealing with hills. And hills, we got plenty of in Atlanta.

All of this provided incentive to get an updated ride, something with 21st century componentry and materials... and a working derailleur. Presenting... the New Ride!

The New Ride

It’s a Trek 7.5 FX performance hybrid... essentially a road bike without the dropped handlebars, perfect for an Old Goat like me. With a carbon-fiber front fork and 27 click-stop gears, it flies like the wind.

Now I can ride up and down the hilly local terrain without giving myself a hernia, at the same time keeping pace with the roadies. It’s like being a kid again!

Monday, May 23, 2011


Cheese Board

A Food that’s always sure to please:
A nice, big Hunk of Stinky Cheese.
Nought else makes me weak in the Knees
As does the Taste of Stinky Cheese.

Long time Esteemed Readers know that I loves me some Stinky Cheese. It’s one of the pleasures that arise from a lifetime of visits to the Cheese Aisle.

I have my limits, of course. There are plenty of cheeses out there with aromas that are far too turdly for my taste... and there are some that I (gourmand that I am) wouldn’t eat on a bet. Casu marzu? No fucking way.

But that leaves plenty of fine fromage that, on the Stink-Spectrum, falls well beyond that block of supermarket Colby.

Years ago, on a trip to Belgium and Holland, I was introduced to the pleasures of aged Gouda. Gouda is a pretty innocuous Dutch cheese, but if you age it anywhere from eighteen months to seven years, it develops some real character. As it ages, it gets saltier, harder, and drier, its flavor taking on a briny, caramelly intensity. Crystals of calcium lactate and/or tyrosine form in the older cheeses, almost giving them a bit of crunch. You might need a cold chisel to pry them off that wedge, but a few thin shavings of this stuff along with a powerful red wine, and I’m in Foody-Heaven.

Those who enjoy the salty tang of blue-veined cheeses are familiar with Roquefort, possibly the best-known of the genre. Surprisingly - as we discovered a few months ago while dining with Houston Steve - Roquefort also pairs well with sweet flavors. Imagine chunks of Roquefort alongside a treacle sponge pudding. Horrifying as that combination might sound, it pulls you into a world of intense flavor, the salt and umami of the cheese potentiating the sweetness of the treacle until the whole thing explodes on the taste buds.

What kind of stinky cheeses do you like?


Red Red Rose

O, my luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June.
O, my luve’s like the melodie,
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I,
And I will luve thee still, my Dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my Dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun!
O I will luve thee still, my Dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only Luve,
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile!

- Robert Burns

On those rare occasions when words fail me, I can always rely on the Bard of Ayrshire to say just the right thing.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


[Reposted from Blog d’Elisson. I thought this little story was particularly apropos given the predictions of the Rapture occurring this evening...]

They carried his broken, bleeding body to the cave, weeping with every step.

They laid him down, bade their farewells, and sealed the cave entrance with a massive rock.

Three days later, he arose, clad in pure white raiment. He leaped to the mouth of the cave, rolled the rock away, and stepped into the blinding sunlight. Almost as quickly, he retreated into the depths of the cave, shaken and fearful.

That terrible dark shape on the ground! He shivered in horror. Could it have been the Devil himself?

No matter. After six more weeks, Punxsutawney Jesus would try again.

Friday, May 20, 2011


“When the Rapture comes, somebody grab my steering wheel!” - Popular bumper sticker slogan

* * *

Saturday, May 21, 2011 dawned bright and clear.

That morning, most of the 6.9 billion souls inhabiting the Earth went about their business in the usual manner. A tiny fraction of that population - observant Jews - abstained from work and attended their Sabbath services, just as they would on any given Saturday. The others did what they normally would do: going to work, fighting wars, screwing their mates, shopping, traveling, healing the sick, burying the dead.

But there were those who knew that it would not be just any Saturday. They had studied their Scripture, read the hidden signs. They knew with a certainty born of absolute faith that this was to be the day of the Rapture.

The Rapture! When all of the heaven-bound souls would be swept up en masse, physical bodies and all, leaving behind a world populated with the damned, the unbelievers, the hell-bound... the ones that would have to deal with the years of Tribulation as set forth in the Book of Revelation.

Over the years, there had been the occasional prediction of an imminent Rapture, but these predictions had always been disappointing: The faithful were still walking the planet with the rest of humanity rather than being “caught up together... in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” And yet they were still faithful. This time would be it! Judgement Day! The beginning of the Apocalypse! The end of the world as we know it!

* * *

At 6:00 p.m. Jerusalem time, the ground shook, an earthquake felt simultaneously all over the world for a full minute. Believers everywhere stood stock-still... and then gasped and grabbed their groins in sudden agony.

Harold Camping, the evangelical preacher who had predicted the day’s events, had gotten the timing exactly right. But an unnoticed scribal error in his source documents - a mistake made almost two thousand years ago - was his undoing.

May 21, 2011 was to be the day of the Rupture.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


The Capitol
The setting sun casts its golden rays upon the U.S. Capitol, a short walk from our hotel.

She Who Must Be Obeyed and I spent Mother’s Day weekend in the nation’s capital. We were there primarily to visit Elder Daughter and to catch her latest show, at the same time celebrating her birthday (albeit a tad early). And, of course, it was a chance to enjoy a Mother’s Day with the very offspring who, thirty-two years ago, elevated SWMBO to the status of Mother.

We stayed on Capitol Hill in a hotel - a hipster-haven sort of affair called The Liaison - a short walk from Union Station. The rooms were nicely appointed - you could even order up a special pillow from their Special Pillow Collection. I picked the one that was stuffed with buckwheat hulls - it had a comforting texture akin to a bag of pebbles, reminiscent of a favorite childhood pillow - and that night visions of kasha varnishkes danced in my head.

Sensorium, Elder Daughter’s show, was not so much a show as a steampunk dinner party - a twelve-course meal interspersed with song, dance, and Performance Art. We caught what turned out to be the penultimate seating late that Saturday evening... and my brother - The Other Elisson - joined us for the occasion!

Elder Daughter performs at Sensorium.

To give you an idea of the level of whimsy, the first course, an amuse-bouche (a foo-foo term for “appetizer”), consisted of a blob of gelatin-encapsulated kir royale in a spoon, along with a folded paper containing mysterious crystalline chunks of... just what, exactly? The crystals were to be dumped on top of the blob before sticking the whole affair in one’s mouth. Rather than crack cocaine, the crystals turned out to be Pop Rocks, the notoriously effervescent candy, which combined with the kir-blob to tickle the palate.

Sensorium Food Collage
Dishes served at Sensorium. Top row (L to R): Pop Rocks and gelatin-encapsulated kir royale, fennel and tomato salad, gnocchi with English peas and gorgonzola sauce. Second row: Beet gazpacho with goat cheese ice, rabbit leg on caramelized onion, caramelized onion on parsnip purée (a vegetarian alternative to the rabbit). Third row: Fried eggplant with thyme, shrimp and clam with cucumber foam over polenta, fried artichokes with heirloom tomato and balsamic glaze. Bottom row: braised pork belly, sweet potato, and asparagus; zeppole with white chocolate ice cream and chocolate-ancho chile sauce; magic beans. Not pictured: oxtail ragoût.

To give you an idea of the culinary skill on display, some of the courses were jaw-droppingly delicious. A beet gazpacho with frozen goat cheese granules... a perfectly braised slab of pork belly (served atop a miniature table and chair)... a leg of rabbit on a buttery caramelized onion... miniature zeppole (Italian doughnuts) with white chocolate ice cream and chocolate-ancho chile sauce. Each dish was a tiny, jewel-like confection that left you wanting more... and yet, over the course of the evening, there was plenty enough to satisfy.

Pudding Pops

To give you an idea of the science involved, one of the dishes consisted of miniature ice-pops, frozen right on the spot with a device that dispensed a trickle of liquid nitrogen onto spoons that each held a squirt of lemon pudding. It was dramatic... and tasty, too!

All of this culinary and artistic awesomeness was offered up in temporary quarters, a geodesic dome built specifically for the occasion on the waterfront adjacent to the Navy Yard. With Sensorium now having completed its Washington run, Chef Bryon Brown plans to take his show on the road, with Miami as the likely next stop.

We had other tasty adventures in the District besides Sensorium. A Friday evening dinner at Art and Soul, conveniently located at our hotel. Kimchi ramen noodles and the legendary Toki Monster cocktail at Toki Underground in the H Corridor. A Belgian meal to die for at the Belga Café, hard by the Eastern Market - the most authentic Belgian food I’ve ever had outside of Belgium, washed down with draughts of excellent abbey beer and kriek lambic. And for Mother’s Day, a late breakfast at Granville Moore’s, where I enjoyed the best Bloody Mary ever to cross these jaded lips.

Alas, there was a bittersweet tinge to our visit. Even as we were discovering so many more of the little joys the District has to offer, we knew that we would not have occasion to visit the District as often in the future. Elder Daughter, you see, is moving on to new projects in other places.

I have a feeling that we’ll waste no time scoping out the good eating and drinking places in her (eventual) new home. And there’ll be plenty of ’em. Cheesesteaks! Soft pretzels with mustard! Gelato!


Monday, May 16, 2011


When good king Edward had to pee
He’d whip it out for all to see
The commoners would shriek and flee
And thus was born the Royal Wee.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Q: What’s red and white on the outside and grey and white on the inside?

A: Campbell’s Cream of Elephant Soup.

* * *

This was one of the jokes that circulated back around 1964-65 when I was in middle school... part of a general Elephant Joke craze that lasted several months and then quietly died out.

But Campbell’s Soup, with its distinctive red and white cans, lives on.

The Campbell Soup Company is a Past Master at the art of making condensed soups, the soups we all grew up with. Sure, we might have homemade chicken soup with noodles on those Sundays we’d visit the grandparents - add-ins like kreplach or matzohballs were holiday treats - but the weekday staple, soup wise, was, like as not, a can of Campbell’s, suitably diluted with a can of water.

There was a certain perverse delight I would experience upon seeing (and hearing) that cylindrical clot of soup slide out of the can into the waiting saucepan. Schlu-u-u-urp! I’m sure the Freudians would have had a lot to say about that.

These days, the Missus and I make our own soups from scratch, although we will occasionally allow ourselves the convenience of using a store-bought broth or stock as a base. And, being Food-Snots, we typically will not use condensed soup as an ingredient. All them recipes that use Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup? Feh. (King Ranch Chicken is a notable exception.)

But now that I’ve seen this, all that may change. Finally, a condensed soup I can really wrap my teeth around!

Bonus question: The title of this post comes from a soup advertisement. Whose? And when?

[Tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora to Zonker, who pointed me to this site... and the tasty and creative product suggestion in the comments. Yeef!]

Thursday, May 12, 2011


Figs in Brandy

As I sit in my office at the computer keyboard, I hear the snap of Ball jar lids clamping down, the sound of a tight vacuum seal being born. Snap! Pop!

I just finished putting up five pints of Calimyrna figs in brandy. After they’ve had a chance to sit in their alcoholic syrup for a few weeks to mellow, they’ll be ready to eat.

From a distance, they resemble smurf brains... or at least, what I imagine smurf brains would look like.

Figs in brandy. Yeah. The perfect food for someone my age. Lotsa fiber... and lotsa Vitamin E.

Ethanol, that is.


Billie Bob
Billie Bob, in a photograph taken circa 1946.

The phone call came on a Friday, two days before Elder Daughter’s seventh birthday: Billie Bob - SWMBO’s dad - had suffered a heart attack. The birthday festivities would continue, but without SWMBO, who got on the first available flight to Beaumont, Texas. There, she would sit vigil with the family at the hospital.

Over the course of the next two days, She Who Must Be Obeyed became familiar with the ebb and flow of life in the cardiac care unit. That’s where she learned about the Man in the Red Jacket. At odd intervals, a gentleman in a red blazer would show up and herd a random family into a special waiting room, a sort of sanctum sanctorum set off to the side of the regular waiting room. It didn’t take long to figure out that it was a place for the delivery of Bad News. That was where the doctor would come, saying things like “we did everything we could,” or “I’m sorry to tell you that your mother didn’t make it through surgery.”

It could not have been an easy job, to wear that red jacket: It served as both Awkward Fashion Statement and Warning. This business of preparing loved ones for life-changing tidings was an unenviable task, and the Man in the Red Jacket must have known that his appearance evoked a special sort of fear and loathing, even dread. But he had a job to do.

Elder Daughter’s birthday celebration was carried out dutifully that Sunday, albeit with muted jollity. And then, that evening, SWMBO called. She was worried, concerned about her dad’s prognosis. With talk of a possible transplant flying around, it was time for me to get out to Texas. My parents, in Atlanta for the birthday celebration, agreed to watch the girls while I booked myself on the first flight out Monday morning.

I made it in time to see Bill. He was frightened, breathless. Some sort of surgery would be required, but years of poorly-managed diabetes, coupled with cigarettes and an unenviable family history of heart problems, meant that there was not a whole lot to work with. Nevertheless, the doctors would do what they could.

They never got the chance.

That’s when I met the Man in the Red Jacket. It was our turn now. Our turn to hear the Bad News.

That was twenty-five years ago today.

Twenty-five years is a lot of time. Time enough for granddaughters to grow up, being graduated from high school and college. Time enough for children to get married and begin new families. But it’s not enough time for that sense of grief and desolation to ever go away completely.

Unto this day, the sight of a man - any man - in a red blazer causes SWMBO and me to break out into a cold sweat.

Bill’s yahrzeit - the anniversary of his passing according to the Jewish calendar - was last Saturday. Tradition dictates that on that day one lights a memorial candle and recites the Mourner’s Kaddish. But I will remember Bill this weekend yet again - in my own way.

I’ll be in Birmingham, Alabama, competing in a kosher barbecue cook-off. (Yes, there is such a thing, as my long-time Esteeemed Readers will attest.) And there, our team will prepare beef ribs and brisket, using secret recipes and techniques handed down to me by a master Smoker Stoker whose barbecue is unsurpassed unto this day... my late Daddy-in-Law, Billie Bob.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Sensorium 1
Elder Daughter being her usual entertaining self at Sensorium in Washington, DC. That’s not a colander on her head, BTW, but it might as well be.

Today marks the completion of Elder Daughter’s 32nd trip around the sun.

Alas, she is 650 miles away, and so we cannot be together on her birthday. But that is of little consequence, as we just spent the last three days together in Washington for a combination entertainment / Mother’s Day / birthday celebration that involved plenty of good times. And my brother - the other Elisson - was able to join us for some of the festivities.

E.D. had been performing in a show since mid-April and we were able to catch the penultimate performance Saturday night. “Show” is not really adequately descriptive: it was more of a steampunk dinner party, twelve courses punctuated by various vignettes and performance art. It was fun, fascinating, and tasty - worthy of its own separate post. That by itself would have been enough to draw us to the Nation’s Capital, but the calendrical confluence of Mother’s Day and E.D.’s birthday made it irresistible.

Birthdays are ever so much more enjoyable when they are celebrated with spirituous liquors. It’s one of the advantages of having grown-up children... and it’s even more fun when they introduce you to things you’ve never tried before. Toki Monster, anyone?

What can I say about Elder Daughter that I have not already said at one time or another? She is everything a daddy could want in a child: intelligent, industrious, independent-minded, with an amazing ability to understand people’s motivations and emotions. An old soul in a young body.

This is a time in her life when new opportunities beckon, when adventure and excitement call. There will be many changes, and it is my prayer that they all bring her to places of greater and greater joy. Knowing her as I do (after all, I did contribute 50 per centum of her DNA), it is a prayer uttered with no small degree of confidence.

Me and My Baby
Can you tell we’re closely related? Elder Daughter and her daddy.

Happy birthday, Elder Daughter! May this year bring you health, life, and prosperity, without limit to any good thing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


“Monkeys is the craziest people.” - Lew Lehr

With all due respect to the late Mr. Lehr, I beg to differ. Monkeys may be crazy people, but they’re not nearly as nutty as people people.

Submitted for your consideration, this bottle of Fiji Water from our hotel room in Washington, D.C.:

Fiji Water

Note the tag bearing the legend “Carbon negative. Globally positive.” And lookee: there’s a bit of bragging about being a “1% for the planet member.” There’s even a picture of ol’ Momma Gaia! It’d be easy enough to assume that, by purchasing that bottle of water - why, it’s only six bucks, Madge! - you’d be doing your bit to help the Earth’s environment. Save the whales. Collect them all; win valuable prizes.

You’d be wrong.

Put aside, for the moment, the idiocy of spending Six! Fucking! Dollars! on a 750 ml bottle of water. Water, not vodka. Water, not beer, gin, or Fine Wine. Water that, if one were sufficiently desperate, one could obtain virtually free of charge from any tap, spigot, or garden hose.

Put aside, for the moment, the environmental costs of manufacturing the plastic bottle in which this precious fluid is contained. I happen to believe that plastic packaging is, in many of its applications, a reasonably cost-effective and environmentally responsible option, provided there is an infrastructure that facilitates collecting empties for recycling and/or disposal for fuel value. Alas, most states lack the kind of deposit laws that help make that infrastructure effective.

No: let’s look at the monumental stupidity of taking water from Fiji, way off in the South Pacific; bottling it; and shipping it halfway around the planet, with the concomitant expenditure in bunker fuel and generation of carbon dioxide. I’m not overly concerned about the carbon dioxide - one major volcanic eruption can spew more CO2 than the entire output of the industrial West over the last century or two - but I don’t like precious petroleum pissed away for no good reason. And shipping water from the antipodes in order to satisfy the thirst of urban hipsters is - to me, anyway - no good reason.

I’m a believer in the free market and all of its various idiotic implications - reality TV, Pop-Tarts, and ads for litigators being only a few examples. If people want to spend their hard-earned money on bottled water, that’s their choice to make.  But don’t insult my intelligence by claiming that Fiji Water is somehow good for the environment. I call bullshit, Mr. Bottledwaterdrinkypants!

Friday, May 6, 2011


As I was wasting time on Facebook last night (is time spent on Facebook, ultimately, anything other than a colossal Time-Sink?), I saw that Suzie, one of my ffriends and a classmate from the “one and only University, situated and celebrated In New Jersee,” worked for the St. Francis.

The St. Francis! The noted hostelry in San Francisco! Holy crap!

Hmmm, I thought. She Who Must Be Obeyed and I actually stayed there once upon a time... a four-day weekend in San Francisco back in April of 1984. It was a memorable trip, not least because our luggage did not arrive in San Francisco until it was half over, having been mistakenly routed to Frankfurt. And I remembered something peculiar about the St. Francis.

I asked my classmate about it. “Do they still launder the money?”

Yes, they do... and her lunch buddy is the very guy who does it.

No, this is not some nefarious criminal scheme. At the St. Francis, they literally wash the loose change... a practice that began in the days when people got dressed up to go Into Town, and when fashionable ladies wore gloves. Gawd forbid they should soil their gloves by handling that filthy lucre: the St. Francis ensures that every nickel, dime, and one-cent piece that passes through their till gets a thorough washing.

Numismatists would be aghast, for the hotel’s process is not gentle. The coins are scrubbed with borax and birdshot for three hours, destroying the delicate features of the coins but rendering them nice and shiny. It’s said that in the old days, the cabbies could tell if a fare had stayed at the St. Francis... because they paid with shiny, shiny coins. (That was back when you could pay for a cab ride with a few coins.)

Nice to know some traditions - no matter how dopey - live on.


Jackie Cooper - School’s Out
“Gee, you're pretty, Miss Crabtree. You’re even prettier than Miss McGillicuddy.” Jackie Cooper in School’s Out (1930), one of the classic Hal Roach “Our Gang” shorts. Cooper passed away May 3, 2011 at the age of 88.

One by one, little bits of my childhood are fading away.

Family friends - the people who provided a backdrop for my childhood - grow older and pass on. And others, the ones not personally known to me but who formed the cultural matrix that shaped my early life, are drifting off into the Undiscovered Country.

What got me thinking about this was the recent death of Jackie Cooper. Jackie was a bit of a rarity in Hollywood, a child actor who somehow managed to (mostly) avoid the pitfalls of drugs and alcohol that too often swallow kid actors up after their star has faded.

Jackie began his career in 1929 and quickly found a niche as one of the kids in the Hal Roach Studios “Our Gang” shorts. After appearing in fourteen of Roach’s films, he got his big break when he was cast as the title character in Skippy, a 1931 role for which he was nominated for an Academy Award - at ripe old age of nine, the youngest Best Actor nominee unto this very day. Jackie made one more “Our Gang” appearance, but he was now moving into deeper waters, acting alongside the likes of Wallace Beery (The Champ, Treasure Island) and Lionel Barrymore (Treasure Island). He eventually moved into television roles, managing to maintain a reasonable semblance of a career throughout his adult life... and those of us who remember him in his younger days got a boot out of seeing him play editor Perry White in the four Christopher Reeve “Superman” movies.

I never saw Skippy, the movie that catapulted Cooper to major (early) stardom, but that’s OK. I’ll always love him for his “Our Gang” comedies, among the finest in the canon.

The “Our Gang” series - particularly the earlier ones that featured Jackie and his contemporaries - Allen “Farina” Hoskins, Norman “Chubby” Chaney, Mary Ann Jackson, Matthew “Stymie” Beard, Bobby “Wheezer” Hutchins, et alia - were already Ancient History when I was growing up. These movies were made in the early 1930’s, but managed to find a happy niche as afternoon television fodder, a standard ingredient of many popular kid’s shows. And they served as a window into a vanished world.

It was a world in which adults were peripheral characters - and, for the most part, either buffoons or authority figures. It was a world of simple pleasures, when kids built their own toy cars out of scraps and agonized over a day in school. It was the world of the Depression. And those kids, with their natural ability to act (and excellent scripts and direction), made it all real.

I have no idea whether anyone under the age of twelve even knows these films exist anymore, or if they would give a shit about them if they did know. These were comedies made for a simpler time, before precocious sexual knowledge and that cocked-eyebrow “’tude” became legitimate acting directions. I still find them completely charming... but then again, I’m an Old Goat.

So Jackie Cooper is gone, one of the last holdouts from those “Our Gang” days. I will miss him, but even more, I’ll miss the days when kids would laugh at Wheezer getting smeared with limburger cheese, or Jackie and his friends pulling pranks in Miss Crabtree’s classroom. Thank Gawd for video, where these films live on.

Jackie Cooper
Jackie Cooper, 1922-2011. Requiescat in pace.

Godspeed, Mr. Cooper. Ave atque vale!

Thursday, May 5, 2011


We spent Easter weekend in Charleston, attending a second-generation Old Neighborhood Gang wedding.

That gang, the distaff portion of which likes to refer to themselves as the Ya-Yas, has been together for something on the order of thirty years despite occasional geographic dislocations. We’ve buried two of our number... but we’ve also had the joy of watching the young ’uns grow up. Now they’re off building lives of their own, with our group’s Friendship of Long Standing to serve as a model.

The whole point of this post, however, is not to grow maudlin over life cycle events and the passage of time. The point is to talk about Charleston, South Carolina, a uniquely Southeastern city that manages, in its own way, to out-Savannah Savannah.

Ravenel Bridge
The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.

We spent a goodly chunk of that Saturday in the heart of the city, having driven in from Mount Pleasant over the impressive Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, the longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere. By “heart,” I of course mean “where the shoe stores are,” as defined in the Ya-Ya Handbook. That’d be King Street east of Calhoun, where the architecture of Old Charleston has been beautifully preserved.

King Street
King Street.

If you follow King Street all the way to the end, you end up at the Battery and Rainbow Row, so named for the bright Caribbean-style pastel colored houses along the waterfront. But to do that, you have to run a gauntlet of eighty four hundred shoe and clothing shops, each one serving as a sort of Shoppy-Flypaper to the ladies. We could have made it, I suppose, but that would have required our forgoing the wedding. Instead, we stopped for a pleasant lunch at the Charleston Place Hotel, after which the gents and ladies went their separate ways for a half-hour or so.

Art Deco Kress building, now a Williams-Sonoma store. S. H. Kress & Company, a venerable five-and-dime store chain defunct since 1981, was legendary for their exceptional architecture.

As we boys wandered farther down King Street, we stopped in at Ben Silver, a high-end haberdashery of the first water. This is where to go if you want, say, a British regimental tie - no matter how obscure the regiment or rare the stripe, Ben Silver carries it. You say you want blazer buttons and cufflinks? Ben has ’em, with the insignia of pretty much any college, university, service academy, prep school, or secret society. And Ben’s the guy to see if you’re looking for a hand-made pair of English white bucks to go with that seersucker suit.

Seersucker! Nothing says “Charleston” quite like a seersucker suit, unless it’s a pair of cream-white trousers and a blue blazer... the sort of clothing that one can wear in the sweaty months. For Charleston does get sweaty, despite the moderating effects of the nearby ocean waters. And, inexplicably, it is one of the few places where a bow-tie, normally a daffy sort of fashion statement, seems almost reasonable. Not that you’d ever catch me wearing one.

None of this stuff comes cheap, of course. I had been wandering around the store, developing a pantload of Clothing-Boner as I admired the peak-lapel white dinner jackets, the Borsalino Panama hats, the formal accessories, et alia. But I resisted the impulse to buy, for which my personal banker thanks me. Too bad: those gold-filled Princeton cufflinks looked pretty snazzy.

Fact is, I did need a new fedora - my head is a tad smaller these days. And I found one down at a hat shop adjacent to the old City Market, for way less coin than old Ben was asking. Right about then, the ladies rejoined us, having exhausted their desire to buy yet more shoes for the time being, and so we found our way back to our hotel to prepare for the wedding.

Ah, the wedding. It was held behind The Citadel’s beach house, where the gentle soughing of the Atlantic’s waves provided an aural backdrop for the ceremony. Afterwards, everyone repaired to the upper level, where we proceeded to drink and dance ourselves silly, Charleston style.

The young couple
David and Ariane cut the cake.

It was a beautiful occasion. Bittersweet, as the groom’s father no longer walked among us - but beautiful in the way young love is always beautiful; an affirmation of life. And we were there, we Friends of Long Standing, with the ocean behind us on a glorious spring evening.

Ya-Yas, 2011
The Ya-Yas, 2011 edition. From left: Catherine, Laura Belle, Carol, SWMBO, Patricia (mother of the groom!), Mary, and Margaret. Click here for the 2007 version.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


God of vengeance, Lord, God of vengeance appear!
Judge of the earth, give the arrogant their recompense.
How long, Lord, how long shall the wicked exult?
They speak with arrogance, lies, boasting, these workers of iniquity.

They crush Your nation, Lord, they afflict Your heritage.
Widows and strangers they slay; orphans they murder.
They say, “The Lord will not see,
Nor will the God of Jacob comprehend.”

Understand, you boors.
When will you fools be wise?

He who shapes the ear, shall He not hear?
He who forms the eye, shall He not see?
Surely He who disciplines nations will chastise -
He who teaches mortals knowledge.

The Lord knows human schemes, how futile they are.
Blessed the one whom He disciplines and teaches from the Torah,
To give him rest from the evil days
Until a pit is dug for the wicked.

The Lord will not abandon His people,
He will not forsake His very own.
Justice will return to the righteous;
All the upright in heart will follow it.

Who will stand up for me against the ungodly?
Who will take my part against evildoers?
Were it not for God’s help, I would be in my grave.

When my foot slipped, the Lord’s love supported me.
When I am filled with cares, His comfort soothes my soul.

Are you allied with the throne of wickedness,
Those who make evil a way of life?
They organize against the righteous,
They condemn the innocent to death.

The Lord is my refuge;
My God is my sheltering Rock.

He will turn their own violence back upon them,
Destroy them with their own evil.
The Lord our God will destroy them.

- Psalm 94

We recite a psalm every day as part of our morning service: Today being Wednesday, the psalm of the day is Psalm 94. As we convened for our usual post-minyan breakfast, one of our number pointed out that this psalm - easily the most dire of the daily selections - seemed to be especially apropos given the events of the past few days.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Memories cling to Mayer like barnacles. It’s the curse – and the blessing – of having attained long years.

The youngest of ten siblings, Mayer has outlived all of his brothers and sisters. His parents have been gone more than half a century. Throw a dart at a Jewish calendar and it’s even money you’ll hit a date on which Mayer observes a yahrzeit – the anniversary of someone’s passing.

On days when the Torah scroll is read, it is customary to offer a Mi Shebeirakh – a blessing for those who are ill. A handful of congregants will come forward with a name or two each; Mayer’s list reads like the New York telephone book. That’s what happens when you’ve outlasted your family and most of your friends.

Mayer’s mother passed away fifty-five years ago today. As our morning service entered its closing moments, he strode to the front of the chapel and opened the Aron Kodesh, drawing the curtain to reveal the Torah scroll within. Then, with a deep, resonant voice that trembled with emotion, he chanted the haunting Eil Maley Rachamim prayer: Exalted, compassionate God, grant perfect peace in Your sheltering Presence, among the holy and pure who shine with the splendor of the firmament, to the soul of my mother, who has gone to her eternal home...

Fifty-five years. It’s like the blink of an eye to the Eternal, but for me it is almost a lifetime. And Mayer, who has attained long years, continues to keep his mother’s memory alive.

Monday, May 2, 2011


Ding Dong! The Witch is dead.
Which old Witch? The Wicked Witch!
Ding Dong! The Wicked Witch is dead.

- “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” from The Wizard of Oz (1939). Lyrics by Harold Arlen.

Revenge is a dish that is best served cold.

- Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban), in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982).

The Missus and I were in the Old Fart-Sack when we heard the news about OBL’s obliteration. We had been watching “Celebrity Apprentice” - another one of SWMBO’s guilty pleasures - all the while enjoying the heady combination of contestant vitriol and viciousness coupled with The Donald’s heinous combover and botched tanning-booth glow. Then, at some point late in the proceedings, the news folks broke in to warn us of an impending Special Announcement from the President.

Whatever could that mean? I wondered. Sunday night is not a traditional time for dropping News-Bombs. And it was right about then that the talking heads informed us that the news had something to do with Osama bin Laden: Either he was captured or dead.

Moments later they said that the president would announce that bin Laden had been killed... and, almost as if in response, the sleep timer shut off our teevee. There was no need to turn it back on, I figured. We already knew what the Big News was and had no pressing need to hear it directly from our Fearless Leader.

As we became aware of more details this morning, I found a certain satisfaction in knowing that bin Laden had been slain on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Bin Laden was an enemy of Western civilization in general, but he harbored an especial hatred for Americans and for Jews, and so it was especially fitting that he should perish on a day when we remember not only the six million Jews murdered during the years of the Third Reich, but also the seven-odd million non-Jewish victims of the Nazi death machine.

I was also pleased to learn that the Great Bogeyman of 9/11 died, not in an attack by an unmanned drone or laser-guided missile, but in a hail of bullets as his secret redoubt was stormed by American forces that included Navy SEAL’s and CIA operatives. Boots on the ground.

I recalled some of the words of Psalm 30:
I extol you, O Lord. You raised me up.
You did not permit foes to rejoice over me.

Tears may linger for a night, but joy comes with the dawn.

While at ease I once thought:
Nothing can shake my security.
Favor me and I am a mountain of strength.
Hide Your face, Lord, and I am terrified.

You turned my mourning into dancing.
You changed my sackcloth into robes of joy.
Robes of joy? For some, maybe. For me, however, it’s not so much a cause for celebration, but an opportunity to remember those who died at a monster’s hands... and to be thankful for those brave ones who gave them some measure of vindication.

This guy
gets it exactly right. Bothered by the unseemliness of our dancing around like the Palestinians did on 9/11, he reminds us:
I don’t care how heinous the slain monster be, people who dance when blood is spilt have a little bit of their soul missing. Justice is grim stuff, and should be treated with respect.

Osama bin Laden’s death after a decade-long manhunt closes a chapter in history that began with the attempted destruction of the World Trade Center in 1993, reaching a horrible peak during the coordinated attacks of September 11, 2001. It is a bookend of sorts.

And as for The Donald? With this announcement having served as a postscriptum of sorts to Trump’s tchainik-hocking over l’affaire Obama birth certificate, he has now made himself look like a complete buffoon whilst polishing our Fearless Leader’s halo to a fare-thee-well. Way to go, Trumpster!