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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Some of my Esteemed Readers may recall that in the fall of 2012, when Superstorm Sandy was bearing down on the Northeast, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s emergency management news conferences included the presence of one Lydia Callis, whose highly animated and expressive signing effectively stole the show from Hizzoner.

Here it is just a little over two years later, and with another major Weather-Related Disaster bearing down on Gotham, we have another New York City Mayor - this time, it’s Bill de Blasio - who has found an ASL interpreter who is, if such a thing is possible, even more animated than Ms. Callis. Lookee:

I will be astonished - and maybe a bit disappointed - if SNL does not pick this one up and run with it just as they did last time.

[Tip o’ th’ Snow-Laden Fedora to The Other Elisson, who turned me on to this little nugget of newsly information.]

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Médecin, n’enquerez de sepmaine
Où elles sont, ne de cest an,
Qu’à ce refrain ne vous remaine:
Mais où sont les antiseptiques d’antan?

[mes excuses à François Villon]

Back in our collective Snot-Nose Days, no medicine chest or first-aid kit was complete without a little bottle of antiseptic, something that could be daubed on those all-too-frequent scrapes and bruises to prevent them from becoming little hotbeds of purulence.

Television ads touted two of the more popular items: Bactine and Unguentine, two completely different products despite the common -ine suffix. Bactine, originally developed in postwar Germany by the same nice folks at Bayer that gave us aspirin and heroin, was (and still is) a liquid antiseptic containing benzalkonium chloride as the active germ-fighting ingredient and lidocaine for topical pain relief. Unguentine, as its name suggests, was (and is) an ointment containing camphor, phenol, tannic acid, and zinc oxide. I’m guessing that the phenol was the main bug-killer while camphor provided the pleasant medicinal aroma. Maybe they stuck the zinc oxide in so you could also slather it on your nose by way of a sunscreen.

We didn’t use either of those fancy-pants medicaments. No, not us. The Elisson clan was Old-School.

First in our antiseptical armamentarium was good old Tincture of Iodine, a solution of elemental iodine and sodium iodide in alcohol. Owing mainly to the alcohol, iodine tincture stung like a bastard when it was applied to an open wound. For that reason alone, most kids hated it... but the powerful halogen pong - the very definition of “antiseptic smell” - was a bonus.

People still use iodine as an antiseptic. It’s extremely effective, and newer formulations like Betadine that contain iodophors like povidone iodine (a complex of elemental iodine with polyvinylpyrrolidone) are not nearly as sting-y or stinky.

The other Big Gun in our ancient first-aid kits was a fluorescent pink medication: Merthiolate. Merthiolate is a trade name for sodium ethyl mercury thiosalicylate, AKA thiomersal (frequently spelled thimerosal in the United States), still used as a preservative in some vaccines... but no longer sold as a topical antiseptic in this country owing to concerns over the fact that it is an organomercury compound and thus potentially toxic if misused. A sister compound, Mercurochrome (dibromohydroxymercurifluorescein, AKA merbromin), was equally popular - and is now equally unavailable here.

Purex Tincture Merthiolate
My ancient bottle of Purex Tincture Merthiolate, still useful for the occasional cut or scrape.

Back in the day, nobody was worried about potential mercury poisoning - never mind that you would literally have to take a bath in Merthiolate for it to be toxic. Every scraped knee or skinned elbow was decorated with that familiar pink fluorescent color. It stung just like iodine when it was applied, although it didn’t have that iodiney funk. No matter. We kids wore the pink badge of courage proudly: It meant that we were out playing and getting banged up, rather than living mushroom-lives indoors, watching TV.

Not for us, that wimpy Bactine or prissy Unguentine. We glowed in the dark with our Merthiolated and Mercurochromed wounds.

As noted above you can’t buy that stuff now, at least not in the United States. But I still have a little bottle of Purex Tincture of Merthiolate squirreled away in my medicine cabinet. It’s probably somewhat north of 40 years old now, but there’s still some of that fluorescent pink crap in there... and I still daub it on my boo-boos, just for Old Times’ Sake.

Monday, January 12, 2015


Romanesco. Is it broccoli? Is it cauliflower? Or just a mathematician’s wet dream?

The other day while I was browsing for some evening provender at Whole Paycheck Foods, a pile of Romanesco caught my eye.

It was a bizarre bit of synchronicity. I had only just the prior day read an article about that most mathematically fascinating vegetable, all the while bemoaning the fact that I had never seen it offered in the Atlanta food stores I frequent. And yet, there it was in all its fractal glory. I had to buy some.

Koch snowflake. [Courtesy Wikipedia.]
Romanesco, one of the many faces of Brassica oleracea (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, collard greens, kale, et al.), grows in a natural version of recursion, a self-similar repeating pattern that displays at every scale. The numbers people call this a fractal, and it can be seen in both mathematical sets and in natural phenomenae. Crystals will sometimes exhibit fractal behavior as they form.

As you zoom into a self-similar fractal image, you see the same thing regardless of scale. Of course, in a living organism like Romanesco, things begin to get a little “fuzzy” as you get closer and closer, but the same overall configuration is still visible.

Why the Romanesco DNA decided to code for such elegant beauty, I have no idea. The religious-minded can use it as an example of the power and subtle wisdom of the Creator: other folks may attribute it to millions of years of mutative randomness.

As for me, it works as both Art Form and as Dinner. I sliced up and roasted that sumbitch with olive oil, kosher salt, and capers. It was delicious.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


Flurries to the East
Snow flurries darken the skies to the east as we ascend Starr Mountain.

It’s colder than the ice cubes in a glass;
It’s colder than the hair on a polar bear’s ass;
It’s colder than the nipple on a witch’s left tit;
It’s colder than a box full of penguin shit.
Man, it’s cold!

- Eli, hizzownself

Many are cold, but few are frozen.

- Elisson

You know it’s cold when you pour a shot of Scotch whisky out of your metal flask and it flows with the viscosity of maple syrup. Water, when added to this ferociously chilly brew, doesn’t do much more than lay on top, seemingly as immiscible as oil and vinegar.

That’s how cold it was when Eric and I went camping last night, the night of a huge Polar Express system that chilled vast swaths of North America to ridiculous levels. The forecast called for it to drop down to 5°F atop Starr Mountain, with windy conditions that would bring the effective temperature to somewhere between -10 and -20°F... so of course that is the night we selected for our overnight camping trip. This is because we are Manly Men. Or fucking idiots. (Some would contend that that is a distinction without a difference.)

Home away from home
Our little home away from home.

We’ve gotten the Cold Weather Camping thing down to a science. Drive halfway up the mountain and park. Schlep our gear the remainder of the way to the top, then cast about for a suitable spot to pitch our tent. Set up the tent and start a campfire. At sunset, heat up two quarts of Eric’s tasty pot roast on the camp stove. Enjoy several wee drams of Scottish antifreeze. Crawl into the tent, get into our respective sleeping bags, and sleep. As necessary, get out of the tent to urinate. Wake up, heat water for coffee and oatmeal, build a new campfire. Clean up, pack up, break camp, and head down the mountain. Easy-peasy, right?

Sunset atop Starr Mountain
When the sun goes down, shit be gettin’ serious.

Well, that’s all well and good when you’re dealing with regular ol’ Cold Weather. Snow? Love it. Freezing conditions? No prob. But when the mercury drops into the single digits and below, it’s a whole different ball game. It’s hazardous to one’s health.

This time we drove farther up before parking the car, the better to facilitate a quick getaway should conditions prove to be too extreme in the dead of night. The fire had to be kept small, lest the windy conditions cause it to go out of control. Once the sun went down, a deep chill settled over the mountain. We would not be sipping single malt by the campfire as our dinner was warming, no. Eric made the wise decision to set up the camp stove in the vestibule of the tent, where it would be better protected from the elements... and so it was in the tent that we enjoyed our slabs of jalapeño cornbread and steaming hot bowls of Pot Roast à la mode de SWG.

It was sometime around 1:00 am that we both awakened, roused by a Call of Nature. The winds had died down by this time - the campfire long since had gone out - and in the silence of the deep night we could both feel the heat being sucked from our bodies through all our layers of clothing and sleeping baggage. Fortunately, we had a couple of extra layers with which to insulate ourselves: Eric’s Gore-Tex coat, which served to cover our feet, and a fleecy blanket huge enough to completely fill the tent. With these in place, we were protected enough to be safe, if not entirely comfortable.

As the eastern sky began brightening sometime around six - sunrise would not come for yet another hour - we awakened to the lowest temperatures of the past 24 hours. The tent’s interior and fly were encrusted with a thick coating of rime from our exhaled moisture, while our bottles of water had frozen solid. It took an effort of will to put on our frozen hiking boots and venture outside to build a new campfire, but it was worth it: A few cups of hot coffee did wonders to elevate our mood as Eric warmed his numb toes near the flames.

We broke camp and hiked the mile or so back to the car, whose thermometer registered a frigid 11°F despite its being mid-morning. Oof.

It’s hard to explain the allure of cold-weather camping to most people. Saddled with the veneer of civilized rationality with which most of us conduct our lives, they wonder why anyone in his right mind would voluntarily forsake the comforts of a cozy house, a warm bed, and indoor plumbing to bed down in a tent and sleeping bag on a frigid mountaintop. And perhaps it is completely nutty... but there is a quiet power in knowing that one is able to face adverse conditions, and that power fuels a fuller appreciation of one’s everyday life.


Let a hundred flowers bloom
Doo dah, doo dah
Spider-Man and Doctor Doom
Oh, doo dah day