Monday, September 14, 2009

Living in the Present

It occurred to me that this page had not been updated in a very long time, and I had been fairly active keeping it up. Indeed, it had been over three years since I'd written a word on these pages.

As far as I know, all the principle players still exist. And we've added a few more to write about, notably the Maven, a character worthy of her own book.

Black Friday

Last friday was the September 11th, eight years on. I found myself very reflective on the day, reflection that became a black depression.

I realized that when I saw pictures or film of the towers failing, the image I really saw in my mind was a country falling into the blackest eight years of its history.

Im With Stupid Poster.png We went mad in 2001. We were so mad that we let down our guard and let the pirates, the robber barons, and the strong men run the show. We thought we needed evil men to battle the men who did evil to us. What we didn't realize was that evil men aren't precise weapons. They will fight our enemies when it is convenient for them to do so, but mostly what they want is power. Power which we gave them.

We demurred, fearful of "The Terrorists", while our leaders wrecked the foundations of our country.

We let the stupid in. We reveled in it. It pervades our culture. The fabric of our nation is not easy to clean.

We're stuck with the stupid.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Five Not So Easy Pieces

Possessed either by the living ghost of Jack Nicholson or the imaginary ghost of obsessive-compulsive Adrian Monk, last night I walked away from a fast food stand in desperation.

I have a theory, it goes like this. Fast food sells because of two primary factors: predictability and limited choice. Both factors make the fast food transaction as fast and pleasant as possible for both the buyer and the seller. Fast food joints that haphazardly ignore these core business factors will cease to remain in business under a fast food model.

I was working online in a public space. One of our local malls, keenly aware of the growing "mobile office" trend, has set up quite pleasant work spaces scattered throughout the mall, usually near a store that sells coffee or chocolate. I spent the day in a comfortable chair with a small desk, WIFI, and power, sipping a iced chai latte from the nearby Starbucks stand. As a departure from my normal mobile office, the "Teashop Office" as I call it, it was nice.

El Cigarro Grande appeared in the late afternoon with his duo of Seussian spawnlings, adorable boys (Pix and Pox) pleasantly happy to see me and beg me to take them to the Apple Store (which was 20 paces away). I packed up my things and we visited the Apple Store, where I discovered Pix and Pox's fascination with Apple computers had more to do with the "child's table" and less with anything else. After a brief browse for new iPod earplugs (Shure, $299? You must be joking...) we made our way to the food court to find something resembling dinner.

The spawnlings gravitated towards the Sonic for burgers while I wandered the food court looking for something else. I found a little sandwich place, Which Wich, looked up at the menu, spied "#1 Turkey, Turkey Reuben" and made my choice.

I approached the "Order Here" sign and stood for many seconds, 30 inches in front of employee staring down at some kind of inventory report. After many seconds, the other employee who was manning the sandwich line, called out the order taker's name to alert her to the presence of a customer. She looked up at me glumly and the obligatory first question slithered out.

"May I help you?"

I was prepared. "Yes, please. I would like a turkey reuben."

"What would you like on that?" she responded.

"Well, just a turkey reuben, please."

"Do you have your sack?"

At this point, it dawns on me that her line of questioning did not coincide with my expectations. A turkey reuben, like a BLT or a grilled cheese, is one of those sandwiches that comes fait accompli in my realm of experience. And what was this sack she was asking about?

So, I asked. "My sack?"

"Yes," she said, jabbing her pencil at a row of numbered sacks off to one side of the counter. "You need a #1 sack for turkey."

The ground began to tilt beneath me.

"I need a #1 sack for turkey?" I repeated, trying to understand.

"Yes, you need a #1 sack for turkey. Then you write on it what you want on your sandwich."

"Ah, but I just want a turkey reuben." I pointed at the menu board. "Right there, it says '#1 turkey, turkey reuben'."

"Yes, it does," she agreed, "but we need to know what you want on it. You need a #1 sack for that."

"I just want a turkey reuben, though." I pleaded.

She sighed heavily and pulled out a sack from behind the counter. With her pencil, she scribbled a large "#1" on the sack. Then she asked, "What kind of bread do you want?"

I supplied the obvious, world-wide, need I say only, answer: "Rye, please."

She sighed again and pushed the sack towards me. She jabbed her pencil at a printed line on the sack which read "White" and "Wheat", which check boxes next to them.

"We only have white or wheat."

"But, I want a turkey reuben..." I retorted.

She stared at me.

I surrendered. "Alright, alright. Wheat, please."

"OK, what else do you want on it?"

Now, I am getting a little annoyed. "Well, traditionally, a turkey reuben has turkey on it."

"OK, turkey. " she said, "That's a #1. Is that it, just turkey, then?"

"No," I said, "in addition to turkey, a turkey reuben has three other things on it."

"We normally make it with saurkraut." she admitted.

"Yes, yes," I nodded vigorously, "a turkey reuben has saurkraut on it." Now I was breaking through!

"Do you want saurkraut on it?"

I stared at the girl for a long moment. Then, I slowly repeated "I just want a turkey reuben."

"OK, a #1 with saurkraut." she concluded, scribbling on the sack.

"See that board up there?" I asked, pointing behind her.

She didn't turn her head when she answered patronizingly, "Yes."

"Well," I continued, "it clearly lists 'turkey reuben' and next to 'turkey reuben' it also clearly lists three ingredients: swiss cheese, saurkraut, and thousand island dressing. Now, I won't quibble with the lack of rye bread or whether or not russian dressing is or isn't the same thing as thousand island, but you obviously already know what goes on a turkey reuben."

"Yes," she admitted, "but those are just suggestions."

"I was not suggesting I wanted a turkey reuben, though. Ordering a turkey reuben should not require me to fill out a questionaire on my personal turkey reuben preferences. This is a fast food restaurant in a mall food court. I did not come prepared with a #2 pencil or the appropriate mind-set for test taking. A turkey reuben is a sandwich with a well- known and rather rigid recipe of precisely five invariable ingredients, two of which you've choosen to vary and the other three you seem to want to pretend don't matter. I did not come here to order some kind of improvised sandwich jazz medley on the turkey reuben. I wanted a turkey reuben because I knew exactly what I would get with a turkey reuben. So, right now, I am going to walk away from you and not order a turkey reuben, or anything else. Have a good day."

I strolled across the food court to the Chik-Fil-A, where I ordered a chik-fil-a sandwich and an iced tea. The only question I was asked was "Sweet or Unsweet" (answer: unsweet). Within moments, I had given the helpful cashier a small sum of money in exchange for exactly what I ordered and expected. Kudos to Chik-Fil-A for understanding and meeting with such precision the nature of the fast food business transaction.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Fine Food

As I have stated before, I like to eat. One of my favorite past-times is discovering a great new place to eat with the Brain, and then sharing our discovery with our gaggle of friends. I love to cook, too, and I often try to cook dinner for friends as well. Just last Sunday, for example, I made up a batch of tomato and pea risotto for a small dinner party. Risotto is one of those "foot intensive" dishes - the cook (or some unlucky helper) must stand at the stove, stirring and slowly adding liquid to the rice continuously for about 30 minutes. However, the ingredients are almost always simple. Arborio rice, butter, onion, garlic, broth, and parmesan form the foundation, while the cook's improvisation floats above it. The adjuncts rarely involve more than a handful of additional ingredients -- you could add saffron and wild mushrooms or truffles, or just some lemon zest and lemon juice, or, as I did, some tomatoes and peas.

It's the ingredients, of course, that matter. Take my butter for example. Central Market has recently started carrying Reggiano butter. This is butter made with the same milk, from the same cows, as Parmesan Reggiano. It is absolutely fantastic, with a delicate parmesan aroma and tang. I've been serving it at room temperature, sprinkled with smoked Spanish sea salt and a hunk of bread. And I've been using it in my risottos.

Between the dining and feeding my friends, I derive some of the most intense happiness in my life. There is something so very primally pleasing about ensuring that a person gets not only nourishment of the body, but an experience that nourishes the mind and spirit as well.


Let's talk about the Chinese. I have always maintained - in fact, I've been told by Chinese friends - that the Chinese do not often eat something because it is good, but because it is expensive. I've been to two Chinese weddings, massive affairs of eating these, and this "fact" was borne out. The most awful things served - the things even the Chinese guests only nibbled politely at before turning to tastier stuffs - were, yes, the most expensive.

Of course, Europeans and their descendents spend inordinate amounts of money and time consuming rotted milk. Who am I to judge?

Well...for your enjoyment, I present the following AP wire snippet:

Chinese Eatery Sold Donkey in Tiger Urine

September 08,2005 | SHANGHAI, China -- A restaurant in northeastern China that advertised illegal tiger meat dishes was found instead to be selling donkey flesh -- marinated in tiger urine, a newspaper reported Thursday.

The Hufulou restaurant, located beside the Heidaohezi tiger reserve near the city of Hailin, had advertised stir-fried tiger meat with chilies for $98 as well as liquor flavored with tiger bone for $74 a bottle, the China Daily reported.

Isn't that delightful?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Ride: The Jacksboro Loop

On Saturday, I did a solo ride from Dallas to Fort Worth to Jacksboro. This was one of those "I'm bored" rides. I had originally only intended to go over to Lake Worth to discover if Vance Godbey's still existed (it does). Then I found myself on Jacksboro highway and I just sort of decided to see where it went. Well, Jacksboro, d'uh.

Here's the first leg (Dallas-Love Field to Downtown Ft. Worth). This is pretty boring flat-top.

At downtown Ft. Worth, at the Courthouse, I turned up Jacksboro Highway to find Vance Godbey's.

Once I found Vance Godbey's, I just sort of kept going, all the way to Jacksboro, where I stopped at Herd's Burgers (see this and this). Nummy!

After stopping at Herd's Burgers for a burger and a coke, I headed back to Dallas via Bridgeport and then Bridgeport to 114 back to Love Field.

All in all, a pretty nice ride. About 200 miles, just shy. The area around Jacksboro is lovely, I'll have to take ECG and TLB out there, maybe next week? And a trip to Vance Godbey's is certainly in order...

Monday, August 01, 2005

Hog? No, Rat!

I got rid of the Harley this weekend, happily trading it for a Triumph Rocket III. I am quite content with the switch. To quote what I said to ECG Saturday, I didn't realize how bad off I was until I rode the Rocket.

You can compare the two bikes here at PowerSports Network.

I had always intended to get a Rocket, but my timetable was accelerated by events last week. The Lord Bastard, who owned a first-model-year V-Rod, had decided to trade his bike in for a BMW K1200LT, a bike that both he and the missus could ride comfortably together. I'd like to point out that up to this point in his life, the thoughts Triumph and Rocket had never crossed his mind. However, after his visit to the BMW dealer on Thursday, which also happens to be our local Triumph dealer, he sends me an email on the order of:

Blu! I went to look at the BLW K1200LT today and I saw this amazing bike, the Triumph Rocket III. I am going to get me one!

My response was, having basically controlled my desire for almost a year with regard to the Rocket was, and I quote:

If you get a Rocket before me, I will kill you.

Not that I ever thought I would be playing keeping up with the Joneses with anybody. But, it became a matter of honor to me. TLB only had 700 miles on his three-year-old V-Rod and was now about to poach the bike I had been coveting, but denying myself, for months while I "did my ass time" on a Harley.

So on Friday, I took the Harley down to the dealer and made a deal for the graphite Rocket they had in stock. Then I made plans with TLB to show up on Saturday and look at the bikes with him, as he contemplated his purchase. I made no mention that I had, already, closed the deal on my own Rocket.

On Saturday, at the appointed hour, I rode into the dealership on my new Rocket. As it so happens, the Lord and Lady Bastard were standing in the parking lot, having just finished their own test ride of the beemer. The Lady Bastard saw me coming. The conversation was reported to me as follows:

Lady: Here comes somebody on a Rocket.

Lord (glancing up): Yup, that's a Rocket.


Lady: That sort of looks like Blu on that Rocket.

Lord: Nonsense. Blu has a Harley.


Lady: I think that's Blu on that Rocket.

Lord (paying attention now): Yeah, looks like it. I guess he test-rode it.

(TLB waves at Blu as Blu pulls up)

Lord: So, what do you think?

Blu: I like it. In fact, I think I'll keep it.

(Blu puts keys to Rocket in his pocket and smiles. The truth dawns on TLB.)

Lord: Why you gaddam-son-of-a-bitch!

(TLB proceeds to punch Blu, lovingly of course.)

Of course, the above scene, so carefully planned and explained to even the staff at the dealership, paled in comparison to what transpired when ECG showed up at the dealership, fully expecting TLB to have a new Rocket, but not expecting your humble narrator to also have one.

I believe, had I a video camera, I would have had documentary proof of what exactly a conniption is. This video, had I been able to make it, would have replaced all previous definitions, printed or otherwise, and then been enshrined in the Library of Congress for posterity. All future references to the word would have simply read:

Conniption, see El Cigarro Grande Learns the Truth, Saturday, July 30th, 2005, 3:03 PM, Library of Congress, Video by Blubrik

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I work with boobs every day

"Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is defending his cameo appearance in 'Wedding Crashers,' the sexy comedy the Drudge Report called a 'boob raunch fest.'

'In Washington, I work with boobs every day,' joked McCain during an appearance on NBC's 'Tonight Show with Jay Leno.'

McCain was responding to Leno, who noted Matt Drudge ran a headline last week screaming that the Republican was starring in a 'boob raunch fest."

Now the sycophantic, blow-hard gadflies like those at the Drudge Report are projecting their morals onto what films a Republican senator, veteran and prisoner of war should and shouldn't appear in? The man spent seven years in the Hanoi Hilton. He's earned all the boobs he can get.

I'd not lift a finger to save a single Republican currently in office except John McCain.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Big Mother

"The irony is that, although news reports paint a bleak picture, independent statistics show that life has become less dangerous for kids in recent years -- with violent crime in particular dropping by 38 percent since 1975. The short spin cycle of cable TV may anoint a new child victim every week, but the actual numbers are far less grim: of the 800,000 kids that go missing each year in America, only 150 cases involve what the Justice Department calls 'stereotypical kidnappings,' in which a child is taken by a stranger and either held for ransom, abused or killed. Scores more 'missing children' are teenage runaways or 'throwaways,' abandoned by their parents. 'Truly, the real news story of the last 10 years has been the astonishing decline in crime,' says Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, a New York City child psychologist. 'But we are assaulted by a media that is more interested in scaring people, so it is almost impossible for parents to assess the real level of risk. And of course, there is no shortage of people willing to sell products based on those fears.'"

It has been my contention for years, without any proof other than simple reason, that crimes against children have not grown in past years. There are not necessarily more murderers and pedophiles stalking our children than there were, oh, 25 years ago. What we do have more of, however, is the 24-hour cable news cycle, which didn't exist before. With nothing to report, CNN and its ilk will report whatever tragedy last occured, no matter how long ago, to fill airtime. Look at Fox News and its dubious fixation on the disappearance of this teenager in Aruba, what, eight weeks ago now? While tragic, it's not news anymore, and yet Fox is still dedicating plenty of airtime of talking, smirking heads to it.

Parents can lower their anxiety not by monitoring their children more, but by controlling their own consumption of the 24/7 news cycle. If you really want peace of mind, turn the TV off, or at least off of Fox and CNN.