Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cooking with Gas

Hello. Yeah, it's been a while. Not much, how about you?

You've probably noticed I haven't been posting much lately. There are several reasons for that, the biggest being that in these socially and politically polarized times, it's easy to go into "if I ruled the world" overload; while such posts make for great venting they don't always make for inspiring reading. Over time the subjects of the posts become scattered in so many directions that the journal as a whole loses its focus. That's bad for the writer, and for the reader as well. (Ok, and there's also the problem of Sarah Palin remarks becoming so easy to make there's little challenge there anymore.)

In order to stay focused and energized, I'm stepping back from Better Left Unsaid and taking a new (and, I think, exciting) challenge into the blogosphere: "Kissing the Cook" is a new journal about shared adventures in cooking and food for regular people. (I'll keep Unsaid in existence, in case it seems appropriate at some point to post something there.)

http://kissthecook-ben.blogspot.com/

Visit! Comment! Subscribe! It's very much my hope for Kissing the Cook to be an interactive two-way forum. You gotta eat, after all.

I really hope I get to see you there!

And thanks.

Ben

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Modest Needs

It was either by accident or divine intervention that we came upon the fairly small but exquisitely beautiful Brewster Park while on vacation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Like any middle-aged, city-based technocrat, I was overwhelmed at the beauty and peace that this new thing...what was it called again? Nature? Yes, that was it...could provide. Like an arctic explorer who knows no one will believe he saw the Abominable Snowman without solid proof (or like the ape in "2001" who had to show the other apes the monolith, take your pick), I videoed the scene to bring home to the other middle-aged, city-based technocrats.

When you mix that, a long-time love for Emily Dickinson's poetry and overall personal oddness, and a propensity for completely abusing Windows Movie Maker, the result is the following video. (It's only about two minutes, so check it out during the next commercial break.)


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I Don't Mean to Sound Like I'm Preaching...

By now you would think that I'd know how a Jewish guy ends up preaching Sunday sermons at a Presbyterian church, but I don't. The original idea, years ago, was that I'd do some brief bible-based children's messages every so often. It didn't take long at all for that to morph into longer "family sermons" aimed at everyone. (They're more like extended Sunday School lessons than sermons, but sermons is easier to pronounce.)

The most recent of these I've gotten to do was delivered this past Sunday, Father's Day. On the video linked below, note please the following:

1. A rudimentary kind of sub-titling has been added; it's a beautiful old church, and its classic reverberation is great for organs, choirs, and Enya, but not so much for the spoken word. Besides, I think it gives the video kind of an art-house European movie feel, don't you?

2. I know I need to get better at standing still. This is due in part to the adrenaline rush of public speaking, and in part to a deep-seated fear that this is finally the day I no longer get away with preaching. (Besides, it makes me a harder target to hit.)

3. Ok, I have a Jersey accent. You got a problem wit dat, or what?

Now cue the organ music...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqOIBnYFN6A

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Give and Take


"Life is a tightrope, and at the other end is your coffin."
(Morticia Addams to son Puggsley in The Addams Family Musical)

Having had a Facebook page for quite some time now and using it for, well, nothing, I recently decided to step up the activity level and reach out to friends old and new. Heaven only knows what drives someone to make a decision like that - maybe it was seeing how Facebook got Betty White onto Saturday Night Live - but I did. For the past couple of weeks I've been actively making pithy comments on friends' "Status Updates" (which were called random thoughts before computers were invented). I also sought out some old friends.

One of the friends I sought out is a woman I haven't had contact with in 25 years. She responded to my "message" with a "friend request." (It's a Facebook thing.) It gave me a great feeling to reconnect with Maureen. I have a theory that every 16 year old boy meets a certain girl of about the same age and it gets him considering, for the first time, the possibility that baseball might be the second best thing ever invented. For me, this was Maureen. Let me emphasize that, despite my best puppy-dog efforts, nothing of a romantic nature ever came of this first crush (well, second, if you count Miss Wilson, my kindergarten teacher, and third if you count Annette Funicello in reruns). Even at 15 she was too smart for that. We did, happy to say, become friends and stayed in contact for a number of years before life does that thing where it sends people off to different destinies. Today the crush is long gone, and my respect for who Maureen is and what she has done with her life remains great. I am looking forward to getting to know her again. My first post to her "wall" (another Facebook thing) was a note welcoming her to Facebook, and providing a friendly warning not to get involved with Farmville, an abyss to which many go and from which few return.

At about the same time I reached out to another old friend, this one from my days on Prodigy in the early-to-mid 90's. (For younger readers, think of Prodigy as the internet version of 8-track tapes.) It had been about 15 years since I'd had contact with Anne. A paralegal and freelance writer, she was wickedly funny and totally delightful. Her life was not smooth but she never failed to impress with the upbeat energy and humorous, indomitable spirit with which she handled it all. As with Maureen, time and distance never kept Anne from remaining one of my favorite people. To this day, her picture - smiling with her eyes as much as with her mouth, and flanked by her two adorable then-toddler daughters - hangs on the wall in my home office. Over the years, I sometimes found myself wondering how she is. And so, armed with the Internet, I was now able to set out to find her Facebook page or e-mail address.

What I found was her obituary.

It was from about a year ago, and was accompanied by another, more recent picture at age 42. Her smile was still as room-illuminating as it was in the picture she'd sent me all those years ago. I read some blog entries she'd written in the months before her death. She'd fallen on seriously hard times of several types. I don't know the cause of her death, and there's a good chance I never will, but the lack of any reference to an illness even as recently as her last post a month before she died got me thinking. So I read more. Several months before, at a time when her own house was being foreclosed on, she'd written a blog post about a study she'd seen linking a rise in foreclosure rates to a rise in suicide rates. And I read comments posted to her blog after she died by people she was close to: one writer said he wished he'd listened more to what she had been trying to tell him; another expressed regret at not being there more for her; a third wishing Anne's soul the peace it never found on earth. There's no escaping the thought that these are not things people would typically say when someone's death was accidental or natural.

It's human nature - at least I think it is - to start thinking that had I only reached out a month before her death instead of a year afterward, I might have been able to say something, do something, suggest something, that would have made a difference for Anne and prevented this from happening. It's an ego-driven, fantasy-based notion that's complete nonsense, of course, something that is probably true of most things that can be ascribed purely to human nature. But I find I think it anyway.

And so, in a single, mighty cosmic sweep, one valued soul is returned to my life and another is taken from it forever. There's a lesson in there somewhere, and as soon as the irony stops shouting, maybe I'll figure out what it is.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Oh, So That's What That Part Does...

I learned a lot of really interesting things this weekend. On Saturday morning I took a seafood cooking class and learned out how to fillet a fish. That night I went to see "The Addams Family" on Broadway and watched the great Nathan Lane (a Jersey City guy, by the way) demonstrate how a comedic master's timing and patience-in-delivery turn a humorous line into a long, loud, sustained laugh. And on Sunday, as I was leaving my boys' college after dropping them off, I learned that when the engine belt in a car breaks, a succession of failures starts, each of which has its own graphically descriptive warning light on the dashboard. (This happened, by the way, in the same area and almost a year to the day from the last car-tow adventure. [http://ben-better-left-unsaid.blogspot.com/2009/05/best-laid-plans.html].)

In case you're wondering, here's what happens when the belt breaks:

  • First, the power steering goes out. When this happens, the car does not simply revert to the old fashioned manual steering. It goes to what might be called, gorilla-on-steroids steering.
  • Fortunately, I didn't have too long to worry about the first thing, because the second thing that happens is that the warning light for the battery-recharging system comes on. Pulling over and flipping frantically through the owner's manual, I found where it said whatever you do, don't turn the car off, because you may not be able to start it up again.
  • Next, having made the decision not to turn the car off, I looked at the dashboard and found the engine overheat light had now come on. Flipping frantically through the owner's manual, I found where it said whatever you do, turn the car off. I don't know much about that battery-charging stuff, but even I know engine overheating is not a positive development. In the ignition on-or-off contest, fear of engine exploding beats fear-of-charging-battery every time. Besides, had I kept the car running, who knows how many more warning lights would have lit?
Packing my wife, my mother and my sister into a cab for the ride up the turnpike to home - we'd all gone down to visit my sons at college and have dinner for Mother's Day - I rode back with the tow truck driver, grateful that both my wife and I have cel phones to keep control of the somewhat complicated logistics of the situation. Or I was grateful, until I reached into my pocket and found I'd forgotten to give my wife's cel back to her. Fortunately, my sister has a cel phone also. Unfortunately (not to mention inexplicably), she keeps it turned off. Along the way, their cab driver made polite conversation: the weather, songs on the radio, how he gave up driving for a while because of his fear of driving near trucks, etc. (As told to me by my wife, so help me I'm not making that up.)

The car is still at the mechanic's as I write this. It should be done soon. ("Soon" here being a euphemism for "was supposed to be done over two hours ago.) It's about seven years old. My hope has always been to have a car that lasts ten years. I haven't made it yet (my first two cars lasted eight and seven years, respectively) so I'm keeping my fingers crossed this one will work out. It's not that I like driving old cars. It's that I like not making car payments.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

From a Grateful Part-Time New Yorker

I thought this pretty much stands up on its own, with no further comment from me...



REMARKS BY POLICE COMMISSIONER RAYMOND W. KELLY

TUESDAY, MAY 4, 2010




NEW YORK CAN BREATHE A LITTLE EASIER TODAY.

THAT’S DUE IN LARGE MEASURE TO THE INVESTIGATIVE MUSCLE AND ALACRITY OF NYPD DETECTIVES AND FBI AGENTS, NOT TO MENTION THE EAGLE-EYED CUSTOMS PERSONNEL ON DUTY LAST NIGHT AT JFK.

I ALSO WANT TO COMMEND UNITED STATES ATTORNEY PREET BHARARA AND HIS ABLE ASSISTANTS, THEY WORKED CLOSELY WITH THE NYPD, NOT ONLY IN THIS CASE, BUT IN PROSECUTING MANY OTHERS TO MAKE CERTAIN THAT CRIMINALS IN THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK FACE JUSTICE.

THE PATHFINDER IN TIMES SQUARE HAD A LICENSE PLATE BELONGING TO ANOTHER CAR. THE DASHBOARD VEHICLE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER HAD BEEN REMOVED.

THE BIG BREAK IN THIS CASE CAME WHEN A DETECTIVE CLIMBED UNDERNEATH THE PATHFINDER AND LIFTED THE VEHICLE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER FROM THE BOTTOM OF ITS ENGINE BLOCK.

THAT LED TO THE REGISTERED OWNER OF THE VEHICLE, AND SOON THEREAFTER TO THE SUSPECT WHO PURCHASED THE VEHICLE AND WHO DROVE IT BOMB-LADEN INTO THE HEART OF TIMES SQUARE.

IT WAS DEJA VU.

AFTER THE FIRST ATTACK ON THE WORLD TRADE CENTER, A DETECTIVE LIFTED THE VEHICLE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER OFF THE ENGINE BLOCK OF THE RYDER TRUCK THAT EXPLODED THERE.

THAT LED TO THE ARREST OF THE BOMBERS WHEN THEY TRIED TO GET THEIR DEPOSIT BACK FROM THE TRUCK RENTAL AGENT.

WE COULDN’T HAVE GOTTEN TO THE PATHFINDER’S ENGINE BLOCK IN THE FIRST PLACE, HOWEVER, WERE IT NOT FOR THE HEROIC ACTIONS OF THE NYPD’S BOMB SQUAD.

THE BOMB SQUAD SUITED UP IN HOT WEATHER IN OPPRESSIVE PROTECTIVE GEAR AND WORKED PAINSTAKINGLY FROM 7:00 P.M. ON SATURDAY TO THREE THE FOLLOWING MORNING TO DISMANTLE ALL OF THE DANGEROUS PARTS OF THE CAR BOMB:

THE TIMERS, THE WIRES, THE M-88s, THE PROPANE TANKS, THE GASOLINE CONTAINERS AND THE GUN LOCKER FILLED WITH FERTILIZER.

THE WHOLE LETHAL ASSEMBLY TURNED THE PATHFINDER INTO ONE BIG HURT LOCKER.

ONLY AFTER ALL THE BOMB PARTS WERE RENDERED SAFE AND REMOVED FROM THE VEHICLE, COULD IT BE TOWED TO OUR FORENSIC GARAGE FOR AN EXHAUSTIVE EXAMINATION THAT INCLUDED THE ENGINE BLOCK.

BY MY CALCULATION, 53 HOURS AND 17 MINS ELAPSED FROM THE TIME FAISAL SHAHZAD CROSSED BROADWAY IN HIS PATHFINDER TO THE TIME HE WAS APPREHENDED AT KENNEDY AIRPORT.

JACK BAUER MAY HAVE CAUGHT HIM IN “24.” BUT IN THE REAL WORLD, 53’s NOT BAD.

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL WHO PLAYED A PART IN BRINGING THIS SUSPECT TO JUSTICE IN RECORD TIME.

TRUE, WE CAN ALL BREATHE A LITTLE EASIER. BUT WE HAVE TO STAY VIGILANT, NONETHELESS. THAT’S BECAUSE IN THE EYES OF TERRORISTS, NEW YORK IS AMERICA, AND THEY KEEP COMING BACK TO KILL US.



Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Let's Get Ready to Rumble, Comrade


In today's post we examine the upcoming Senatorial race

in Connecticut where Linda McMahon, who is the wife of World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon, is seeking the Republican nomination to replace retiring Democrat Chris Dodd. In keeping with our policy of sparing no effort or expense to give our readers the best information possible, we've arranged for a computer-generated artist's conception of a typical day in Congress if McMahon, seen in the photo on the right in a policy conference with famed intellectual "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, is elected.

video

Ok, so it's not really Congress. Dammit. It is, as you no doubt know by now, the Ukrainian parliament's idea of debate, in which the "filibuster" is replaced by the "head-buster". (Most people have probably watched this already, or at least heard about it, but since it's the funniest thing I've seen in a long time, I thought it was worth another mention.) Kind of makes the American Congress (which, for overseas readers, is divided into two houses, Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal), seem like high tea. As evidenced by the video, it didn't take long for debate and compromise to devolve into eggs and smoke bombs. (Accounts vary as to whether the projectile-debating included tomatoes, but you get the idea.) You could ask why the members of Parliament had eggs and smoke bombs with them in the first place, but then you'd miss the real fun that came after. It was a riot. Literally.

The news media, as usual, have presented all of this out of context. The real story is that Ukrainian officials, upon separating from the former Soviet Union, sought to model their new government after our American democracy, and so decided to watch C-Span. Cable stations being different in the Ukraine than in the U.S., they ended up watching the MSG network instead and saw Rangers hockey fans up in the blue seats just after beer sales were cut off. Not knowing very much English, the Ukrainians never reali zed the mistake, and an unfortunate misunderstanding - not to mention several viral videos - were the result. Can't we all just get along?

Semi-Related Item: Speaking of People in Mysterious Faraway Places Behaving Badly...

This week, the government of the sovereign nation of Ari
zona (which shares a somewhat porous border with Mexico) passed a law that, in effect, allows Arizona police to ask anyone they think could possibly be an illegal immigrant for proof of citizenship and, if they can't produce it on the spot, take them into custody. While that does sound a bit like some World War II B-movie where a jack-booted brownshirt demands to see "your papers!", I don't think civil libertarians here need to be too concerned. Arizona law enforcement has stated very clearly that they will not use the new law as an opportunity to profile Hispanics. You believe them, don't you? The law is no doubt intended to have them stopping people with blond hair and blue eyes, in an effort to prosecute illegal Swedes who are flooding the market with bootleg Abba cd's. (I can hear the drums, Fernando...)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How I Spent My Sunday

Just the usual. Went to church, then the supermarket. Later on a memorial service. And, oh yeah, I made my first foray into video blogging. What do you think?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADBxf5dBzv4

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Easy Rider

Just back from taking my new set of wheels for their first spin. It seemed like the right time to replace my old bike, considering a) I bought the old bike nearly thirty years ago and b) it was stolen last fall. After looking at several models I decided on a 7-speed Kent Glendale. (I was eying up a lovely 21-speed Schwinn for a bit more money, but since I'd never figured out what to do with three speeds back in the old days, it would have just seemed like a waste of good machinery.) I actually bought the new bike last week but today was my first opportunity to inflate the tires, adjust the brakes, attach the water bottle and the dorky reflector stickers and, most importantly, figure out if there really is anything to that expression about how something you never forget how to do is like riding a bike.

Happy to report it went great. I live near the bottom of a moderately steep hill and, as a young man, I was generally unable to bike to the top of the hill wi
thout stopping to rest. Having now advanced to the age when I have children who are older than I was in those "can't do the hill" days, it was no small triumph to make it to the top, slowly at times but without stopping. (I admit reading the manual about how to use speed settings helped some.) It ended up being a three and a half mile round trip along a main boulevard. I felt so good about my newly-restored healthy lifestyle I stopped along the way for a celebratory hot dog with mustard and sauerkraut. (The garlic in the sauerkraut is, after all, very good for you.)

Everything went so well that, upon my return, I felt compelled to pose for a photo. (It's amazing what yo
u can accomplish nowadays with some photo editing software and a camera-phone propped up on a trash can.) After taking it, though, I did start wondering if it was uncomfortably close to another "take a picture of me posing" photo...















Unrelated Topic: Like Shooting Fish in a Barrel from an Airplane

"No administration in America's history would, I think, ever have considered such a step that we just found out President Obama is supporting today. It's kinda like getting out there on a playground, a bunch of kids, getting ready to fight, and one of the kids saying, 'Go ahead, punch me in the face and I'm not going to retaliate. Go ahead and do what you want to with me.' (Sarah Palin on Sean Hannity's Fox "News" program, April 7, 2010)

What's the difference between Sarah Palin and Dan Quayle?

All together now: "Lipstick!"

As much as I don't want this journal to be reduced to a series of "Sarah Palin Says the Darnedest Things" essays, sometimes she just makes it too easy. (For my readers across the pond, Sarah Palin is something like our version of Prince Harry.) Palin, who still insists that interview debacle was Katie Couric's fault (as opposed to those hard-hitting questions people like Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and Fox's other Palin-lapdogs throw at her), and who is considered to have done well in her VP debate simply because she avoided saying anything too laughable, is now the republican party's elder-statesperson on nuclear proliferation as it relates to foreign policy.

I'll pause a moment while you finish laughing.

The treaty which, according to Palin, has us saying "go ahead and do what you want to with me" calls for both the US and Russia each to
reduce their nuclear arsenals from 2,200 deployed warheads to 1,550 over seven years, and their long-range missiles and launchers to 700. If she thinks those numbers leave us unarmed, it makes one wonder about a number of things, not the least of which is how large a weapons cache is stored her garage.

Perhaps my starting this by comparing Palin to Dan Quayle wasn't fair. At least Quayle eventually caught onto the fact that he was coming off like a fool and stopped issuing public statements.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

It's a Jungle Out There

As I write this, I'm holed up in my bedroom while a DAR meeting takes place downstairs. I just know if I venture downstairs to the living room, even if it's just for a moment to snare a rice-krispy treat, they'll tie me up with their sashes, gag me with their white gloves and eat me. Or maybe not, but why take the chance?

Leave the Sword, Take the General Tsao's Chicken

A group at my office selects and then meets periodically during lunch to discuss management-related books. Titles and authors we've read in the past include Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People," Rudolph Giuliani's "Leadership," and RFK's "Thirteen Days." Some of the selections have been very worthwhile, others less so, but all have been the kind of book you'd expect a management reading group to choose. We're currently voting on our next selection, and a book that seems to be getting a lot of support is Sun Tzu's classic, "The Art of War." (That word - classic - has become overused at times, but we're talking here about a book written in the 6th century BC - literally, Biblical times - that, in business circles, is still widely read and discussed today.)
If that book does get selected it will be interesting to see how some of its teaching - "Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is nothing they may not achieve," for example - will be applied to the office setting.

Who Will Guard the Guardians?

Want to have some fun? The next time you hear someone railing about how idiot socialists in Washington have broken every law known to man and passed a health care reform bill that will turn the White House into the Kremlin, ask him/her simply to describe to you what's in the bill and see how many of them actually know.

And Another Thing...

Some years back, a movie was made of Thom Wolfe's great book about the Mercury space program, "The Right Stuff." As a movie it had its shortcomings - the Mercury astronauts themselves derided it as "Laurel and Hardy Go To Space" - but there was a great line in it when someone asked the Von Braun-like lead scientist if the German experts now in America were going to be able to out-do the German experts who were working for the Russians. He reassured them by saying, "Our Germans are better than their Germans."

With this in mind, I don't know about you, but I'm having a grand old time watching the right wing on television trying to explain why it's good when Republicans use the parliamentary procedure known as reconciliation to pass a bill and a violation of every law and moral principle known to man when Democrats do the same thing.

These days it seems like the only thing Republicans and Democrats can get together on - aside from the fervent hope that Sarah Palin is the future of the Republican party - is putting partisanship and self-interest before leadership. We do it to ourselves, folks.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Shifting the Paradigm into Low Gear

Maybe it's just my crankified mood of late, but I've thought of a new personal motto: "Don't know. Wasn't there. Didn't see it. Have other things to think about." Maybe it's more like a Vision Statement. Covers a lot of ground, and puts a whole new perspective on many things, including reading the newspaper, which now more than ever reminds me of the Thurber cartoon caption from ages ago: "Sometimes the news from Washington makes me think your mother and brother Ed are in charge."

Think I'm kidding? Here are some of today's stories from my local what-passes-for-a-newspaper. So help me, I'm not making any of this up.

  • On Wednesday afternoon, a local charter school recently told by the state to shut down by June 30 held a rally in support of staying open. The next morning, police arrested a 16-year-old student there for having a loaded .32 caliber handgun in the cafeteria, and an 18-year-old student for punching out a security guard. (Although I'm second to none in my respect for the charter school's ability to fail miserably at half the cost-per-student of local district schools, this may be a sign it's time for the school in question to become a Starbuck's.)
  • A 70-year-old man was stabbed in his apartment by his 46-year-old girlfriend, whom he a) had a restraining order against and b) was living with. What was the restraining order for, to keep her from putting any of her things in his half of the medicine cabinet? Not to make light of what is obviously a serious matter, but I can just hear Bill Engvall saying, "Here's your sign..." (In stark contrast to his apparent IQ, the man's injuries turned out to be non-life-threatening.)
  • Major League Soccer players in the U.S. - and if that's not a contradiction in terms I don't know what would be - voted to strike if a new labor contract isn't agreed to before the season opens on March 25. Look at the bright side; this could be the opening into America's sports-heart that curling was waiting for.

Unrelated Item: Proof You Can Find Anything On You-Tube

While doing research recently for a youth-group slide presentation about the human spirit of exploration that connected Lewis and Clark with the U.S. Space Program 160 years later - yes, the day-to-day excitement of my life does become overwhelming at times - I came across something so good - and so unique - it demanded to be shared. In the hope rap master MC LaLa doesn't mind me sharing his marvelous creation, and with a dedication to faithful reader Alaina as one of my favorite stewards of young minds, I give you the "Lewis and Clark Educational Rap." Laugh if you want, by the time it's done I bet you'll be tapping your foot and singing, "Saca-sacagawea...Saca-sacagawea..."

video

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Sarah Palin was on Leno Tuesday night doing stand-up. No joke. For those who missed it, and for those who did see it and who enjoy things like placing their hands on a hot stove till the flesh sears, here it is. (Remember, you were warned.)

Although I haven't heard anyone else say it, I can't possibly be the only person who watched this and thought, "Don't quit your day job. Oh wait...YOU DID."


video

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I Thought Women's Curling Involved Blow Driers

These are tough days for anyone not very interested in the Olympics. I like sports, and even in unfamiliar ones a close match or a come-from-behind victory can be exciting, even inspirational. But the sheer obsessiveness of it all descends into fluff of the worst kind: endless/pointless human interest stories and the same athletes and their families being asked the same questions over and over during the broadcast, and then again on the morning shows. It's the sports equivalent of the American vice-presidency: we get all worked up about that every four years too as if nothing else mattered and, when we're done, we throw a coat or some spare linens over them and forget they're there for another four years. A few passing observations:
  • I don't know whose brilliant idea it was to require the ice dancers to do something based on some country's traditional dances, but I've got to believe anything that involves a white couple from Russia dressing up like Australian Aborigines is probably not going to end well.
  • Curling would be more interesting if small furry animals were used instead of flat stones.
  • It looks like we can now file Johnny Weir right along side Posh Spice and Adam Lambert in the "You Didn't Invent a Cure for Cancer - Get Over Yourself" folder. (It's amazing how people see themselves as having star power when it's really just the general public's fascination with twisted metal at the side of the road.)
Anyway, I'm just back tonight from Williamsburg, VA, where I attended a children's entertainer's conference. Readers with me this time last year may remember the "Back to the Future" theme and the photos of a full-scale DeLorean made from balloons. This year's theme was "South of the Border.") As always with hotels, there were the challenges of yet another set of shower controls - whatever happened to the standard hot water on the left, cold water on the right, and you just turn each until you get the amount of water you want at the temperature you want? - and another in-room coffee maker (coffee maker first, by the way), and of being reminded that able-bodied people, even well-intentioned ones, have no idea how to design an accessible hotel room. (Hotels please note: it requires a little more than attaching a set of randomly-placed grab bars on one of the walls in the bathroom.) We've learned to carry our own shower bench and toilet handle bars when traveling. It's a lesson taught to me years ago in bartending school, and that I may have mentioned here before: Who's better at protecting your butt than you are? Nobody.

This year, there was also a large children's soccer tournament in the area that had several teams staying at the hotel. A couple of hundred entertainers (mostly clowns) and a couple of hundred kids in the same hotel. You connect the dots.

People sometimes ask about what goes on at children's entertainer's conferences? There are competitions, of course - balloon sculpting, skits, face-painting - but mostly it's about lectures and vendors. Topics this year included making low-cost props; magic; storytelling; make-up development; business promotion and sales; working restaurants; and protecting yourself and your audiences from diseases, allergies and people who like to hurt clowns. (Did you know that the glue on stickers often contains peanut oil? There, I just saved you a potential lawsuit. Remember where you heard it.)

It was a weekend of seeing old friends, too. Close friends my wife went to college with, others we get to talk to less often but that it's still great to see. One more year of being struck by the irony of how many people at a "happy" conference are in, or have left, really bad marriages. In one small group, people were swapping divorce stories the way middle-aged guys trade anecdotes about colonoscopies. I felt so left out, though one old friend I'd not seen in years had heard from someone that I'd gotten divorced a couple of years ago. This is not true, of course, at least as far as I know, though I'll confirm this with my wife and probably should check the tax records too.

Perhaps most significantly, on the long drive home I had my first Red Bull. I'll write more about that in a couple of days after I finally get to sleep.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Mandolin, The Mocha-Choca-Frappa-Whatever, and Me

Saturday was productive.

Went to the mall to use the ATM. When I saw there was a long waiting line, my response was probably the same as anyone else's would be in that situation: "I can wait on the line with a cup of coffee, or without a cup of coffee. I choose with." Turns out the nearby coffee stand was featuring something they called an Irish Mist, consisting of Irish cream, cappucino, whipped cream, and heaven only knows what else. Despite my eastern-European ancestry (and total lack of so much as a corpuscle of Irish blood), I've long been inexplicably fascinated by anything Irish, so I got one. It tasted good. Then the shock hit me: Mr. black-no-sugar-New-York-City-deli-rotgut-and-damn-proud-of-it had, if only for a brief weak moment, become one of thooooooose people. Immediately raising my collar and pulling my hat down over my eyes so as not to be recognized, I finished my banking business as quickly as I could and drank the rest of my coffee beverage in the privacy of my car. Thank goodness for dirty windows.

Stopped at K-mart too. Earlier in the day I was watching Food Network and saw Anne Burrell, my favorite culinary mad-woman, make a wonderful looking parmesan-potato side dish she called Pomme Chef Anne. (An astute comment to her recipe on the Food Network site noted that a "pomme" is an apple; a potato is a "pomme de terre," but let's be forgiving.) As it happened, the recipe required a mandolin, which I didn't have. Found a reasonably priced one at K-mart. Made the dish, and it came out great. (I also made the broccoli rabe dish she showed on the program, and it came out perfectly except for one problem: it tasted like broccoli rabe. Who knew?) If you don't already have a mandolin, here's what I learned:

  • A mandolin can easily become one of the three or four most useful kitchen items you own. It's like those inventions advertised on television in the middle of the night, the ones for the exciting new product that dices, cuts and slices in seconds, cleans quickly, stores easily, and that will make you the envy of all your neighbors. Except this one really works.
  • If you don't learn to use it right immediately, before you know what hit you it can take your arms and legs clean off like The Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (The irony is that the safe way to use a mandolin is slowly which, of course, defeats the whole purpose of using one in the first place.)

So now the mandolin has been added to the list of items - stand mixer, immersion blender, and food mill being the others - that I would grab if I ever had to run out the door and could save only a few things from the kitchen. And as long as my journal entries don't st rt ooking ike th s, you'll know I've been careful when using it.


Great Scot

While the world tries to make up its mind whether to hate Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien or Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson simply continues to be funniest man in late night television. Just take my word for it.


The Memory is the Second Thing to Go

There was something else I wanted to post about and now that I'm finally sitting down writing I can't think of what it was. If anyone knows, please remind me. Thanks.


Quick Quiz

Ok, what's this:

a) George Bush putting an Italian hex on demonstrators.
b) George Bush getting ready to lean forward and put his hand behind Dick Cheney's head just as Cheney's picture gets taken.
c) George Bush ordering 4 beers after using a mandolin for the first time.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy Happy


Heartfelt greetings for a happy new year, dear readers. We're still recovering from last night's - well, a gentleman wouldn't use a word like debauchery, but you get the idea. Between watching You-Tube video clips (more on that in a moment), eating frozen cocktail franks, and staying up late into the night (nearly 12:30 am!), it was quite the time. Getting old? Ha! That's for less adventurous spirits
.


A couple of New Year's Eve observations:

  • I'm impressed that for all the success she's had as a solo, Fergie is still also performing as part of an ensemble with Black Eyed Peas. (Can you even imagine, for example, Diana Ross singing background for another member of the Supremes?)
  • Say what you want about Dick Clark; when I'm his age, I hope I'm half as tough as he is. In the past I was one of those people saying he shouldn't be appearing on the Rockin' Eve show anymore. Last night, finally, I started to get it. (Turning 50 a few weeks ago has absolutely nothing to do with my new paradigm.)

A few final statistics to welcome the beginning of the end of the holiday season:

  • Total Christmas cards sent: 97
  • Christmas cards sent to people I would not recognize on the street: 15
  • Christmas cards either sent to people I've met once and have absolutely no contact with except - you guessed it - Christmas cards, or that we're sending to people that I made a mush-face when I saw we're sending a card to again: 10
  • Christmas cards sent with White-Out applied to a jelly stain on the envelope: 1
  • Total Chanukah cards purchased out of habit: 18
  • Total Chanukah cards purchased and not needed because of the number of people who, it turns out, have died: 6
  • Total Chanukah cards purchased that will be reused next year and hopefully no one will notice it's the same card as this year: 6


Wardrobe Malfunction, Kennedy Center Honors Style

I wasn't home to see the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors when it was first broadcast a few days ago, but caught it on You-Tube last night.
It was a wonderful evening, and when it was all over no doubt everyone was left talking about the touching tributes, the funny insights and, most of all, what in the world Grace Bumbry could have been thinking with the collar on that dress.



The nearest I can figure is that either:

  • she lost a bet;
  • she was at a Star Trek fan convention earlier in the day; or
  • a local veterinarian took one of those collars they put on dogs to keep them from licking a healing wound and brought it to the clothing shop where Aretha Franklin got that hat she wore to Obama's inauguration.

Since Aretha was there as part of the tribute to Grace Bumbry, I'm betting on that last one. No hat this time, just a dress that left me wondering if she took it off the table after removing the plates and silverware, or just pulled it out like that trick magicians do. (Curse the luck, I couldn't find a picture, but if you use the links at the location noted below, you'll find Aretha's presentation in Part 8.)

In any event, check out the tributes to Springsteen (including Melissa Etheridge's standing-ovation-inducing "Born to Run"), Robert DeNiro, Mel Brooks, Dave Brubeck and Grace Bumbry's collar on You-Tube. It's really worth it. (The link below is for Part 1 of 12, but you'll also see links for the other parts.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKZAVGQ71hA

Sometimes You Just Need to go to a Wedding

I'm a big fan of Alaina's blog to begin with, and to have this front row seat to her wedding is an extra special treat.

http://abaleman666-boysaremean.blogspot.com/2009/12/happy-wedding-happy-husband-happy-wife.html#links

Please check out this wonderful entry and, if you do, prepare to feel your heart smile. Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Mischief!