Sunday, October 31, 2004

$15 Down the Toilet

B loves Halloween and always wants to “do something” in its honor. I like it; don’t love it. But B is a good guy who indulges me far oftener than I indulge him, so I always agree to observe Halloween in whatever way he should see fit.

This year the choices boiled down to visiting one of Portland's several haunted houses or going to see Toxic Avenger: The Musi-kill produced by a company called Troma Entertainment. B decided upon the latter.

I knew next to nothing about this “musi-kill” and kept my expectations at a minimum. Walking into the 90-seater space where the performance was to be, I was reminded of the venue where one of my favorite Chicago theater ensembles, the Factory Theater, performed. (Note that I provide a link to the Factory and not to Troma—this is a hint.)

The resemblance to the Factory’s space was pret’ near the best thing about the performance. As soon as the guy billed as the “brains” behind the “musical endeavor” strode on to the stage in an unflatteringly tight leather coat, I could see my $15 swirling down the crapper. I cringed as he invited the audience to ignore the fourth wall (a cardinal sin in my book) and practically begged on bended knee for approval. Oy.

The tissue-paper-thin plot can be summarized thus: Greasy bullies and trampy women who run over children for kicks terrorize a janitor in a mullet wig. Said janitor gets dunked in a barrel of toxic waste and is transformed into a Hulk-like superhero. He then falls in love with a blind woman and uses his superpowerful mop to vanquish the bully guys and the trampy women.

Actually, my synopsis makes it sound like the thing had promise, and in more talented hands it might have been funny. But it wasn’t. Not. At. All. And I am a person who delights in juvenile humor. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed Anchorman and will be first in line when the next Austin Powers comes out. Toxic Avenger would have worked if the writer had had the chops to make it a satire, but satire was totally absent from this play. To make up for the utter (or should I say "udder") lack of cleverness, the play relied very heavily on T & A. Whenever the narrative lagged (often), one of the scantily clad “actresses” whipped off her top. Fine. I don’t care. But it’s not theater. It’s locker room or strip joint. We were also treated--several times--to the hairy ass of one of the male actors.

Oh, and I shouldn’t hold this against the actors who were working so very hard, but we were sitting in the front row, i.e., about two feet from the actors, and I couldn't help but notice they were quite whiffy.

It did seem that other people in the audience enjoyed the performance, but as the leather-clad playwright himself pointed out at the very beginning, the musi-kill was apt to seem far funnier if you were drunk or stoned. (I was neither.) Nothing like admitting at the outset that you're aiming low.

It sucked and I want my $15 and my hour and a half back!


Thursday, October 28, 2004

Midnight Mass Malaise

I’m feeling totally groggy and stupified owing to imprudent consumption of caffeine yesterday that kept me up past 3:00 this morning. It’s the same feeling I remember from Midnight Mass as a little kid. My mom always insisted that we go to bed at, like, 8:30 PM, then she’d wrench us out of bed an hour and a half later--right in the midst of the deep, slow-wave stage of sleep.

You don’t recover from that, let me tell you. What I remember most about Midnight Mass was emitting a series of ungovernable, nonstop yawns and an overwhelming muzziness that never lifted--not even after Mass was over and we walked home in subzero temperatures. I don’t know quite how my mom figured this pre-Mass shut-eye benefited us, but she was, after all, the woman who established my bedtime as 6:00 PM when I was in first grade. Sunlight poured into my bedroom and I could hear all my friends playing outside. Most of them hadn’t even eaten dinner yet!

My mom had probably read a child-rearing book by some crackpot who declared that kids needed 16 hours of sleep a day. Or maybe, just maybe, with three kids (ages two, four, and six) my mom had had enough of us by the time 6:00 PM rolled around.


Shortcut to Nirvana: Kumbh Mela

This is the title of the movie B and I went to last night after the fish and chips extravaganza. Every word in the title appeals to me. No need to explain the appeal of shortcuts or Nirvana, but I should probably attempt to explain the Kumbh Mela. The Kumbh Mela is a religious festival that takes place in India every four years. In 2001, it was held at the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna, and Saraswati rivers—a very sacred place for Hindus. About 30 to 40 million people made pilgrimages to the festival to bathe in the rivers and bask in the presence of holy men and holy women. It is the largest gathering of humanity anywhere in the world.

I’m very interested in just about everything to do with India and Indian culture, but I must say that the filmmakers (a couple of Westerners with a video camera) filmed some very intriguing people but made almost no effort to provide any sort of useful explanation.

One of the first people they came upon in their shaky-camera wanderings was a holy man who had kept his arm raised straight over his head for decades. The muscles in his forearm were withered, and his hand was atrophied and permanently closed into a fist. What made him decide to do this in the first place--and why?

Several other holy men perform a type of devotion that involves wrapping their penises around a bamboo pole held parallel to the floor, stepping over the pole so that their “packages” are (I presume) sort of tucked between their buttocks. Then, while maintaining this behind-the-back pole/penis configuration, they invite onlookers to stand on the pole. Can you picture this? I don’t feel that I should pass judgment, but I can’t help wondering how doing something like this brings the men closer to Nirvana or God or whatever (unless it ends up killing them). Unaccountably, they didn’t seem to find this exercise painful, although we’ll never know for sure because it didn’t occur to the filmmakers to ask these guys any questions.

The naga sadhu are the holiest of the holy. These men travel in packs carrying tridents. They are naked (part of their vows) save for a coating of ashes and the occasional makeshift G-string. They look a bit like landlubber versions of King Neptune. The filmmakers did tell us this: These guys get to charge into the Ganges before anyone else, because they are so holy they have a purifying effect on the river.

Not all of the puzzling goings-on involved holy men. As you can imagine, wherever there are 30 to 40 million people there are bound to be merchants trying to make a quick rupee. One entrepreneur drew throngs of people by administering free samples of a concoction that was supposed to clean the eyes. People stepped right up to have this guy smudge an unidentified substance right onto each of their eyeballs with his thumb. And, no, the guy did not wash his hands between eyeball swipes nor was there any Purel™ (or similar) in evidence. This “cleansing” treatment had every single person wincing in pain and cupping their hands over their faces as if they’d just gotten an eyeful of sulfuric acid. Yet these same victims went ahead and enthusiastically bought this stuff anyway. Why?

Disclaimer: I do not pretend to be any sort of expert on the Kumbh Mela or on Hinduism, and again I don’t intend to pass judgment. However, if anyone can offer some explanations (or corrections, if necessary), they’d be most welcome, but for now all I can conclude is that much of what goes on at the Kumbh Mela, fascinating though it seems, is frustratingly beyond the scope of my Western culture upbringing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

One Last Unhealthy Meal

Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
I am promising myself that tonight was the grand finale of the blubber-building episodes that have played out over the past few days. Starting tomorrow, it's back to healthy food. But tonight, it was time to indulge my terrible weakness for fish and chips.

All summer I'd been thinking that B and I should get ourselves over to the Moon and Sixpence pub for a platter of Portland's best fish and chips. Being the absentminded and disorganized putter-offers that we are, we never managed to get there when it would have still been possible to eat on the patio and thus avoid emerging from the premises feeling as if we'd rolled through an ashtray. Still, my desire for fish and chips had escalated to such an extreme that it overshadowed my aversion to cigarette smoke. I did, however, put careful planning into what I would wear, making certain I wore no dryclean-only garments--only those that could be shed immediately upon our arrival home and quarantined in the washing machine.

So what's so great about the fish and chips at the Moon and Sixpence? I think, for me, it's that they come closest to approximating the fish and chips I've eaten in the U.K. Now, I know that for a lot of people that would be a very good reason to take their business elsewhere. Fair enough, but I'm enough of an Anglophile that I like my fish and chips authentic.

Tonight, however, I found out more than I really wanted/needed to know about the M&P's fish and chips. I learned that the fish (cod) is frozen but that they bread it there at the pub. I don't suppose that I really believed that I was getting ocean-fresh fish for $8.95, but it's pleasant to harbor that delusion. Also, cod. Let's hope it is Pacific cod and not the overfished Atlantic cod. I already feel guilty enough!

When the fish and chips arrived, it looked "different." The fish was weirdly smooth and cylindrical like an extra-long corn dog minus the stick. The portion of chips seemed drastically reduced from what it had been in the past. Fearing that what was sitting on my plate was little more than a glorified fish stick, I dug in anyway. Everything was fine--same as always, that is, extremely delicious, in a non-haute cuisine sort of way, of course.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Hostess in Reverse

How often do you have a party or gathering in which the larder is less bare after the party than it was before? Thanks to the generous members of my book group and their abandonment of sundry snacks and beverages at my house, I can put off grocery shopping for another day. Perhaps two.

  • 3/4 bottle of Hip Chicks Do Wine Vin Nombril
  • an apple
  • 2 lime-sugar cookies (homemade and totally awesome)
  • 1/3 of a chocolate cake
  • 2/3 of a box of Breton wheat crackers
  • substantial lump of Gouda

Rejoicing over these leavings casts a somewhat unflattering light on me, I know. But I grew up in a household where food was never thrown away, especially not perfectly good food like this whose origins are beyond reproach. In addition, it should be remembered that I am the Monarch of Sloth, so anything that allows me to reduce my daily allotment of drudgery is extremely welcome.

There is, however, a rather shameful feature concerning this windfall that will certainly leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that I deserve to rule supreme over the Land of Sloth (and possibly Lardistan as well). For breakfast, I had a slice of chocolate cake and some coffee. Lunch: I made inroads into the Gouda and the Bretons. Dinner is yet to come, but over the last few hours, I have polished off 10 or so itsy-bitsy cookies that I myself had contributed to the book group spread. It’s a wonder I don’t weigh eleventy million pounds!

Oh yeah. We talked some about the book. As it turns out, we all detested it so much that none of us read more than 20 pages of it and some people (like me) were physically incapable of getting past page 1. Had it not been for the fact that our fireplace lacks a grate and that the condition of our chimney is, well, uncertain, we would have built a fire and lobbed in all copies of the book. That would have been highly satisfying.


Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Case for Not Wearing Pants

Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
If you mention to a British person that you just bought a great new pair of pants, you can be sure that that person will politely suppress a snicker. He or she will think you are talking about these and may think you a trifle forward. Of course, this British person may well realize that you actually mean your new pair of, say, Sansabelt Slacks and not your underpants. However, that person's first reaction will still be amusement, because the first thing that comes to mind will be underpants. Think of it this way, if a British person told you that he could really go for a nice spotted dick, what would you think? Even if you know that spotted dick is suet and current pudding--come on. What American wouldn't have already played out some other sort of scenario in his or her mind after hearing the term "spotted dick"?

For the above reason, I prefer the word trousers--and not just because I want the good opinion of Brits (although I can't deny that that's part of it). Consider this. Pants is short for pantaloons, which is (are?) a garment frequently worn by buffoons. Additionally, the word pants conjures up images of overheated and/or tuckered out dogs, mouths hanging open and slobber a-dribbling. (To me, anyway, it does.) Trousers, on the other hand, were worn by the likes of Greta Garbo, Winston Churchill, Cary Grant, and Wallace. I rest my case.

Friday, October 22, 2004

One Duty Discharged, Another Shirked

Yesterday, I had to report for jury duty at the Multnomah County Courthouse.
Before things got going, we listened to a spiel from the courthouse’s director of Security. His lecture was quite startling and enlightening. For example, do not purchase the following items on lunch break and expect that you will be allowed to bring them back into the courthouse (these are all real examples):

  • a chainsaw (who knew you could purchase a chainsaw in downtown Portland?)
  • a baseball bat
  • a set of golf clubs
  • boxes of liquor

He also mentioned a few items that, though they would not get you jailed, were not allowed in the jury room, among them “straight-edged knitting needles.” Hmm. What could those be? I had a pair of aluminum knitting needles in my bag and they had successfully made it through the X-ray machine. Could I assume that my needles were not banned? Or should I assume that the X-ray machine and the security officers were not infallible? I surreptitiously checked to see just how lethal the tips of my needles looked. They were less pointy than two well-sharpened pencils. Nevertheless, we do live in the age of panic and paranoia, so I decided it would be best to leave the needles in the bag.

For me and most of the other jurors, lunch break never came. We were released at noon. Yay! Hunger overrode my better judgment, and I blew almost my entire jury “paycheck” ($10) on an overpriced Italian lunch. I then rationalized that since I had expected to spend the whole day on jury duty and not working, I could go over to Powell’s City of Books for a little while and then go home and work.

I could not extract myself from Powell’s. Everything I saw seemed riveting—even cat calendars. I ended up buying three books and paging through dozens more. Around 2:00 PM I finally made it to the MAX (light rail) and headed home, intending to put in three or four hours of work when I got home. When I got off the MAX, however, it seemed such a nice day that I decided to do a little leaf peeping and general dawdling, so I walked home instead of taking the bus. Once home, I did maybe half an hour of work before my new Canon Ink Hog™ printer ran out of black ink and dry-gulched any remaining hope that I might get some work done.

I needed a day off anyway.


Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Consolation Prizes That Fail to Console

About a week ago, B and I attended a game show party thrown by some friends. From what we could gather from the invitation, it seemed the evening’s agenda would be a sort of hybrid version of Jeopardy and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, but with a considerably more modest top prize of $50.

As soon as I crossed the threshold, I had to immediately dispense with a few preconceived notions.

  • No. It wasn’t going to be an intimate crowd of 10 easy-to-triumph-over contestants; it was going to be a raucous crowd of 35 potentially high-IQ contestants.
  • I was slated to be a contestant in the first game: Family Feud, a game show I have never in my life watched.
  • The bitterest blow. Not everyone was going to get the chance to play Who Wants to Win $50.

At 7:30 sharp, the feuding "families" were rounded up. Predictably, I contributed nothing to my family’s efforts to win the feud. We were handily crushed by the other family.

Next up was the weed-out for Who Wants to Win $50. As on the show, the person who qualifies is the person with the best manual dexterity, i.e., who can put items in sequence the fastest. Does that make sense? Since the actual game tests the breadth of a person’s knowledge base or, put another way, who has the largest fund of trivia clogging his or her brain, shouldn’t the qualifying test measure that? Come to think of it, I guess that would result in too many people becoming millionaires or, in our case, fiftyaires.

Needless to say, my lack of dexterity (and the glacial pace at which my brain sorts data) put me out of the running. I sat speechless in the audience and watched the contestant squander his lifeline to find out from which musical “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” comes from. Doesn't everyone know that? He failed to become a fiftyaire.

The grand finale and highlight of the evening was the Newlywed Game. All I remember about this fossil of a show from when it was on TV is that every other question was about “making whoopee.” (Hee, hee.) B and I were exempt from playing, as our relationship meets neither the “newly” nor the “wed” criteria. We just sat back and watched the other couples squirm and reveal an astonishingly high degree of prudery as they where interrogated about their whoopee-making habits, e.g., “Fill in the blank: Compare your making-whoopee sessions to a type of candy. A) Red Hots B) Snickers C) Good ‘n’ Plenty.” Various members of the audience shouted out additional entertaining, bawdy, and thought-provoking options: Zero, Big Hunk, Idaho Spud, Nerds, and Salted Nut Roll.

So B and I won no cash prizes, but I did walk away with the following:

  • a tomato slicer
  • a box of herb and butter Rice-a-Roni
  • a sticker proclaiming “Everyone’s an Artist”
  • a Collegiate Cheerleader Doll with a degree (you can get a degree in cheerleading?) The back of the box states that this knock-off Barbie doll has “not just beauty, brains, too!” The diploma is from the University of Michigan and is signed not by the president of U of M, but by Claudene Christian, President of the Collegiate Doll company, Class of 1992. Her photo in full cheerleader get-up appears on the back of the box. Totally bizarre.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Fifty-Four Green Tomatoes

I do realize that this blog has a higher-than-average number of entries focused on tomatoes. This is likely to be the last one for this year. (Are those sighs of relief or regret?) On Saturday, I cut down my tomato plants. Despite their less-than-stellar performance during July and August, in September they started setting tons of fruit. Thus, it pained me to have to do away with the plants now that they seemed poised to do great things. However, I had to face facts: a) there is no way the tomatoes would ever ripen on the vine, given the declining temperatures and shorter, gloomier days b) vile stinkbugs and horrid green worms were gaining a foothold c) the plants were all keeled over and sprawling and had become quite an eyesore.

Starting with a plant that had at one point been about as tall as I am, I hacked the vines into manageable pieces, but somehow could not bear to relegate any tomato that was free of wormholes to the yard waste bag, which is why 54 green tomatoes—most of them hard as a landlord’s heart—now occupy approximately one-quarter of our precious kitchen counter space.

Nothing much has happened on the ripening front yet, and I’m now wondering if my heroic efforts to rescue nearly five dozen tomatoes weren’t a bit short-sighted. What shall I do if they all ripen at the same time? Canning is not a skill in my repertoire, nor do I really enjoy canned tomatoes, having eaten enough for a lifetime when I was a kid. Suppose they don’t ripen at all? I don’t fancy fried green tomatoes. I tried making them last year and ended up with a platter of insipid grease-sodden disks that no amount of seasoning could make palatable. (Green tomatoes being, evidently, one of the few things that can’t be improved by deep frying.)

If I see no signs of ripening in a week, I’m afraid the tomatoes' fate will be the compost heap. Best case scenario would be that a handful of tomatoes ripens every day, providing B and I with fresh tomatoes until the end of October. Probably not too realistic, but I can hope.


Friday, October 15, 2004

Ten Things I Miss (Sort of) About Chicago

Last week I bought a plane ticket to Chicago. I’ll be flying there in November to appease family and friends. I don’t go back to Chicago much, because Portland is so infinitely better. However, in an effort to psych myself up for the trip I’ve been trying--for a week--to come up with ten good things about Chicago. I have had one heck of a time formulating this list. Granted, the evil DHL corporation has seen to it that I maintained a rather high level of anxiety for the past few days, which has no doubt prevented me from doing as much memory rummaging I might have otherwise been able to do. (See end of this entry for DHL update.)

So here’s the list. False advertising—I only managed to come up with seven things.

  • Devon Avenue AKA Gandhi Marg AKA India in Highly Concentrated Form. This street serves one of the largest Indian communities in the U.S. and is the place to go if you want to buy a sari, scarf down a few burfi, rent Bollywood musicals to your heart’s content, or dine at any one of several dozen Indian and Pakistani restaurants. There is nothing remotely like it in Portland.
  • Machechoux AKA fish-scrap soup. Sounds delightful, no? It really is my absolutely all-time favorite soup. It’s a fabulous, spicy blend of cream, dribs and drabs of fish, shrimp, sausage, corn, garlic, and I don’t know what other seasonings. Cajun, I guess. It is impossible to replicate (I’ve tried), and the only restaurant on Earth that has it is the Davis Street Fish Market in Evanston (OK, technically not Chicago).
  • Electrical Storms. Admittedly, electrical storms are not unique to Chicago, but Chicago had some good ones, and I do legitimately miss forked lightning and a good jump-out-of-your skin thunderclap.
  • Sargon’s Quick Copy Empire. Portland has copy shops, of course, but none that I can get to in 45 seconds on foot. And none that are owned and operated by Sargon. Check out his namesake, the ruler of the black-headed peoples. Impressive.
  • Theater. Portland’s theater offerings are expensive, predictable, and cobwebby. We’ve seen a few decent productions but nothing that matches the energy and inventiveness of Chicago’s many small, upstart theater companies. Tickets were always attractively priced, too.
  • Omar. Our Mennonite car mechanic. Omar hardly ever drove a car himself, but he sure knew how to fix ’em. He was honest, scrupulous, fair, educated, courteous, not sexist, and he embodied every other nonknuckle-dragging quality you can think of. I don’t know why I’m speaking of him in the past tense. He’s still very much alive and his shop is open for business. If you live in Chicago and have a car, abandon your current mechanic for Omar: O&J Auto on Ravenswood in the Rogers Park neighborhood.
  • Inexpensive Korean Restaurants. Korean is the only ethnic cuisine that is seriously underrepresented in Portland, but in Chicago there are streets that are practically wall-to-wall Korean restaurants. Korean isn’t my favorite cuisine, but I am very fond of kimchee and all those unidentifiable side dishes. I always try everything on offer even the macerated miniature fish.

Now if I were to compile a list of all the things that drove me mad about Chicago, I’d be able to come up with ten in ten seconds. Not in the mood. I have other things to be het up about. See below.

Final DHL update: The package has been tracked down by my client’s diligent post room staff in the UK. And guess where the package turned up? That toddlin’ town, Chicago. Why would it want to go to Chicago when there are only seven good things about it? Well, through no choice of its own the package’s airbill was removed by DHL and replaced with another airbill of inferior quality, which promptly fell off while the package was vacationing in Arlington, VA. Someone somewhere, presumably employed by DHL, opened the airbill-less package to look for an address. And here’s where I’m sort of guessing—they saw the name of the client on the page proofs, but didn’t look closely enough to see that the pages were from the UK office, so they sent the package to the client’s Chicago office.

Luckily, the Chicago and UK offices are on speaking terms so they sorted it out. The Chicago office has now sent the package on to the UK. Here’s the amusing part. DHL called me this afternoon to tell me that they’d found the detached airbill, but they were absolutely baffled in regard to where the actual package might be. So whoever it was at DHL who took it upon himself to send the package to Chicago didn’t bother to document his actions. And what was it doing in Arlington, VA, anyway? Bunglers. Am I relieved that the package has been found? Provisionally. I’ll breathe out when I get confirmation from the UK client that it is in her hands. Oh, and one last thing: DHL really is evil. It has affiliations with the SLORC, Myanmar’s military dictatorship--often cited as one of the most repressive and corrupt regimes in the world. Thought I’d mention that just in case I haven’t made a convincing enough case for not using DHL.


Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Wildflower Meadow Near Mt. Hood

Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
I'm too tired and shagged out to produce much of a blog entry today. Instead, here's a photo I took while hiking the McNeil Point trail near Mt. Hood in August (click for a larger view). I'd like to be there right now.

On the DHL front: One place the package isn't is Cincinnati. In two days that's all they've managed to find out? The person I talked to today speculated that the package might possibly be languishing in Brussels, being poked at and puzzled over by a bunch of Walloons.

I've nearly accepted the possibility that I might have to do all the work over again, but I'm trying to think about other things until I get a definitive answer. I'm off to a restorative yoga class now. I definitely need to be restored.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

DHL/Airborne: I’ll Have Its Guts for Garters

The niggling worry that I might be out $1000 has been interfering with my ability to concentrate today. Last week I sent off via DHL/Airborne a package of completed work to a client in the U.K. I spent at least an hour sorting out their Byzantine international shipping procedures and making sure I wouldn’t screw up my end of the transaction.

DHL collected the package and I thought no more about it. Yesterday, I went to their Web site to check that the package had been delivered and discovered to my horror that after the package left Portland the trail goes cold. I called DHL and asked them where they thought it might be. Hovering over the Atlantic Ocean somewhere north of the Azores? They offered to put a tracer on it and assured me that someone would get back to me.

When $1000 of my earnings are at stake, the squeaky-wheel approach is in order. I called them at 9:00 AM today. Long story short: They don’t know where the heck the package is, but they are “researching” it and will call me by tomorrow at 5 PM or sooner (yeah, right).

I should mention what’s in the package: a giant stack of edited documents that I marked-up by hand. If the client weren’t so retrograde, I would have done all my editing electronically and could resend and resend and resend ad nauseam until DHL finally managed to pinpoint the location of the United Kingdom. It could be (and probably will be) argued that I should have made photocopies of every single page in the giant stack. In other words, I should have expected that DHL would blunder. Following that logic, anyone who sends a digital camera or a computer via DHL should buy an extra one (at least) and have it waiting in the wings just in case DHL can’t be bothered to deliver.

Suppose the package is at the bottom of the sea (and it most likely is). What to do? Will DHL believe that the documents represented $1000 worth of editing services and be pleased to reimburse me by the end of the week? Of course. Expect payment the next time there is a cold day in hell. Will my client be willing to pay me twice if I end up having to do the work twice? Gosh. I don’t think so, but you can bet your boots they’ll want me to re-do the work, and, oh yeah, could I please turn it around instantly since it was actually due last Friday? Gaaaaaaaah. I don’t see how I can come out on top with this one.

Really, the last thing I should be doing right now is writing a ranty blog entry. I have another work deadline that is fast approaching and at least two dozen nonwork (but still important) tasks in various stages of incompletion and some still waiting idly on my To Do list.

I need a beer.


Monday, October 11, 2004

Fear of Chocolate

A few days ago the L.A. Burdick chocolate catalog arrived. Evidently, they are still cherishing the hope that B and I will order a tiny wooden crate of nine chocolate penguins ($27) from them, even though we haven’t done such a thing for approximately seven years. We are about as likely to order chocolate from them as we are to knit ourselves a new car. Reason 1: We have snobby chocolate right here in Portland, so why would we order it from New Hampshire and pay big bucks to have it shipped to us nestled in a pouch of dry ice? Reason 2: Lately I have not been able to eat chocolate without going into a jittery frenzy that keeps my ass pasted to my computer chair until about 1:00 AM.

For example, a couple of weeks ago, I ordered a chocolate pot de creme at a coffee house. It was served in a demitasse, and I ate less than half of it. I was nerved up for hours, whizzing upstairs and downstairs but accomplishing nothing. I finally had to self-medicate by eating half of a freakishly large acorn squash, which fortunately restored my equilibrium.

This is disturbing. I noted similar, although not quite so pronounced, effects when I ate a brownie a couple of days ago. I have to be afraid of eating chocolate now? It’s not like I’m a big-time chocoholic or anything. I don’t have a Katharine Hepburn-style habit that requires me to eat a pound of chocolates every day just to survive. But I would like to be able to eat the occasional chocolatey treat without feeling like I’ve been electrocuted.


Friday, October 08, 2004

While We Were Out

I just learned that while we were out last night, our next-door neighbor was touring the inside of our house with a loaded pistol, cocked and ready. (Do you “cock” a pistol?)

Apparently, we had left the back door ever so slightly ajar and a rogue air current nudged it just enough to set off the eardrum-shriveling claxon of our burglar alarm. A signal was sent to the Central Command Center, which called my cell phone (turned off and therefore useless and not on my person anyway), and then called several friends of ours who have keys (none of whom were home). Somewhere within this cascade of events, our heat-packing neighbor heard the alarm and called 911.

Once the cop showed up, there was a reunion of sorts, because as it turns out, our neighbor helped train this cop when he was a rookie. Yep. Our neighbor is a retired cop. Hopefully, not too much time was wasted fondly recalling the golden days of their youth before the two heavily armed men addressed the matter at hand. They walked right in because both the security door and the back door were unlocked. Are we careless or what?

As my neighbor was telling me all about it this afternoon, the only thing I could think of was that when he entered the house it was in a state of maximum randomness (especially my office). It wasn't until later that it occurred to me that my neighbor and the cop had potentially risked their lives to protect our paltry possessions. Sure, nothing but a harmless breeze had broken in, and yeah, burglars are not usually armed and dangerous, but still. I have to say I’m pretty glad we live next door to a cop and a retired one at that—one who can spend his idle hours keeping an eye on our house.

He’s a good guy, even if we probably don’t see eye to eye on everything. I, for example, would not walk down my driveway carrying a naked shotgun when packing for a hunting trip (they do make storage or carrying cases for shotguns, don’t they?) Nor could I see myself going on a hunting trip. Or carving up a three-foot-long salmon (albeit fairly discreetly) on the front lawn.

Lessons: A) Be thankful for and appreciative of good neighbors. B) Remember to keep working on accepting people for who they are. C) Double-check that all security doors, regular doors, and windows are locked before leaving the ding-dong house!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Going Lowbrow

I don’t really know what brain fever is, and I am too lazy to look it up, but I think I may have had a touch of it last week. I continue to feel its lingering effects.

On Monday evening, as I was driving to the Red & Black Cafe to meet up with fellow knitting fiend PF, I found myself turning off “All Things Considered” on NPR in favor of Van Halen on Portland’s Most Hideous Classic Rock Station. At the cafe, PF and I proceeded to intermittently eat, drink, knit, and talk, but as soon as it was announced that open mic poetry reading would be starting in 10 minutes, I insisted that we evacuate to the sidewalk tables immediately!

If further evidence is needed of my dwindling capacity for intellectual pursuits, I could mention that I’ve finally admitted to myself that I’ve been reading the same page of Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West for the past week and have not retained a single fact. I need to return it to the library and stop depriving anyone who might be eagery waiting to devour it. Perhaps I will replace it with Daughter of the Queen of Sheba, a memoir about Jacki Lyden’s crazy mom. Because Jacki Lyden is a senior correspondent for NPR, this would, of course, only qualify as semi-lowbrow, although just to make sure I don’t overtax myself, maybe I should get the audiobook version. Pass the tater tots!


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Word of the Day: Mucilaginous

While researching the baobab tree yesterday, one of my sources (none other than Encyclopaedia Britannica) noted that its “large, gourdlike, woody fruit contains a tasty mucilaginous pulp.” I dispute this. I do not think it is possible for something to be both “tasty” and “mucilaginous.” Mucilaginous means, “of, relating to, full of, or secreting mucilage.” Yum. According to my dictionary, mucilage derives from the Latin mucilago, which means “mucus, musty juice.” I’d say that’s very apt.

I’m familiar with the product mucilage; it’s a type of adhesive made of plant gums that was favored by my formidable grandfather with the glass eye. It is one of the ghastliest substances ever. It came in a brown glass, wasp-waisted bottle, and instead of having a lid, it had a slanted fleshy rubber nipple. The nipple had a slit in it, and to use the mucilage one would turn the bottle upside down and squash the nipple down on the item that needed to be bonded. The gelatinous brownish goo would leak unevenly out of the nipple. Upon turning the bottle upright, spittley threads of mucilage would remain suspended from the nipple, eventually to harden into a snotty-looking crust. As far as I know, the only thing mucilage ever did adequately was seal the nipple shut—a humane act, really, if it prevented people from using it again. Truly vile stuff!

So when I read that the baobab fruit is both tasty and mucilaginous, I know that that is most certainly untrue. But I am nonetheless thrilled to have reacquainted myself with the word and will be looking for opportunities to work it into conversations and future blog posts. To take ownership of the word, I will now use it in a sentence.

Rozanne burst into tears when she learned that her banana-nut bread had been denied the blue ribbon at the county fair; wrapping the bread before it had properly cooled rendered the crust mucilaginous and unworthy.


Monday, October 04, 2004

Last Thursday

I had hoped that this blog entry would be a first-hand account of the much-anticipated next eruption of Mt. St. Helens, as seen from our very own Burger Island Memorial Observatory. Alas, not even a wheeze yesterday. Rest assured, however, that we are monitoring the volcano closely and the digital camera is on the ready.

In lieu of actual snapshots of the eruption, I offer this impressionistic snapshot of a completely unrelated event--“Last Thursday,” a gallery walk/street fair sort of a thing that happens every last Thursday of the month on NE Alberta Street in Portland, Oregon.

Last Thursday was Last Thursday, and since this was likely to be the last Last Thursday before hats, mittens, and mufflers would be required, we walked over to check it out. Last Thursday appeals to all five (and possibly six) of the senses. In random order, here’s some of the things that interested and/or entertained me:

  • Standard poodle: white, with ears dyed pink
  • Jug band, or what I believe to be a jug band: banjo, guitar, and washtub bass
  • Contingent of costumed “protesters” parading down the street chanting, “Cordelia is a witch!” And carrying posters advertising a production of King Lear.
  • Male fire dancer
  • Lots of incense (thankfully not patchouli) wafting all over the place
  • Hemp-clad, dreadlocked dancer-painter guy dancing to a Bollywood musical soundtrack and simultaneously daubing at multiple canvases
  • Guy playing a concertina
  • Four young women in fairy costumes having difficulties navigating through the wing-crushing crowd
  • Handknit hats—beautiful and a real bargain at $10
  • Guy strumming a dulcimer
  • T-shirts with a pair of lips labeled “Good Hummer” and an actual Hummer (the kind Arnold Schwarzenegger owns five of) labeled “Bad Hummer”: $5. Should have bought one (a T-shirt, not a Hummer).
  • Bake sale to benefit the American Legion (Bingo every Tuesday!)
  • Bake sale to benefit the homeless
  • Guy promoting an upcoming bike event: “Get yer portrait painted with your bike.” “Eat bike food.” “Drink bike beverages.”
  • Five-minute sketch for a $1 donation
  • Seventies-style jazz fusion combo
  • Three-hour-old hot dogs cooked on a crusty hibachi: $1 each (bun and condiments not included)
  • Highly skilled drawings done on Etch-a-Sketches. Do not try to take them through Security at the airport or ship them FedEx (for obvious reasons).
  • Bongo boys bongo-ing
  • “Anyone But Bush” posters featuring drawings of either Martha Stewart, Michael Jackson, or a carton smiley face wearing a pointy hat
  • Quartz crystals with energy-balancing powers

I’ve not mentioned it, but there are actual art galleries containing bona fide art (paintings, photography, sculpture, etc.) on this art walk, and B and I did dip into some of them, but the street scene is much livelier. I also may have given the impression that if you get hungry, you’ll have to choke down a charred and desiccated bunless hot dog and a bike beverage. Not so. There’s a nice assortment of health-code compliant restaurants. B and I availed ourselves of one of them, topping off the evening with a slice of pizza and a pint of hefeweizen.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Mt. St. Helens Reconnaissance

Mt. St.Helens is sorta kinda visible from the playing fields behind the school kitty-corner from our house. When B heard that there had been an explosion of steam and ash early this PM, we dropped everything and traipsed over to the school. Today, though we couldn’t see the mountain. Bummer.

Not to be deterred, we jumped in the car and headed to the parking lot of the long-defunct Burger Island Drive-In. From there we had a fabulous, unimpeded view of the volcano--better than the vaunted view from Powell Butte! I should note, however, that our surroundings were unappealing bordering on unsavory, with a tittie bar to our left, the derelict drive-in to our right, and a rather unlovely stretch of Portland Blvd. in front of us.

Frick!!!! We were too late. Since most of what Mt. St. Helens coughed up was steam, it dissipated very quickly apparently. But vulcanologists are saying she may belch again. Next time we’ll be ready.