Friday, December 23, 2011
Well, it's usually nice. But too many people have made a battleground over the whole damn thing. What prompted this post is that, around this time of year when I interact with people, I like to end conversations with a nice holiday greeting. I don't care what that greeting is. Happy Holidays is a nice catch-all because it's inclusive to people who don't celebrate Christmas AND it also covers both Christmas and New Years for the yes-Christmas crowd. Great. Merry Christmas is fine too, especially if I'm certain the person I'm speaking to does in fact celebrate Christmas. Other holiday-specific ones are fine too (Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, etc) if I know that's what the person celebrates.
But here's the thing. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas have been claimed by opposite camps. The "there's a war on Christmas!" crowd, whom I loathe, has made Merry Christmas from a nice gesture into a friggin' battle cry, or a secret password of their Christmas club. Meanwhile, Happy Holidays has been made to feel like the response battle cry of Team Atheism (don't get me wrong, I've got a fair amount in common with this team). But the dilemma is this: I am saying whatever I'm saying to be nice and spread cheer, not to get into a fucking fight over whose version of the holiday season is "correct." Anyone who uses these kindly greetings as an item of division instead of unity, of polarization instead of good cheer, seriously, fuck you. Everyone else, Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays. Much love!
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
1) Nutraloaf - A food amalgam that provides nutrition while effectively functioning as a punishment in prison. It is so bad that the legality of feeding it to inmates is regularly questioned as cruel and unusual punishment. Feeding it to people is tantamount to depriving them of food, even though it sustains life. It is probably the worst thing someone can be forced to eat that is still technically food. But it is, of course, "a food product, essentially."
2) Rock Salt - The stuff you use so you don't slip and break your neck on your outdoor stairs contains the stuff (sodium chloride) that you use with malt vinegar to make french fries extra awesome. This is the same stuff Budd uses as shotgun ammo in Kill Bill to incapacitate The Bride. But apparently this is just fine. I mean, "it's a food product, essentially."
3) Blowfish Toxin - In several Asian cuisines, knowledgeable chefs are able to prepare highly toxic fish for human consumption. For example, the puffer fish or fugu is considered a delicacy in Japan. Well, the parts that aren't fatal anyway. The parts that are fatal are really damn fatal. Puffer fish are some of the most poisonous animals on the planet. But, since they can be eaten, I guess we must consider their toxin "a food product, essentially."
4) Cyanide - Cyanide, a poison so well known for being poisonous it doesn't need to be explained when it kills people in shitty cop shows, can be found in trace amounts in almonds, apple pips, cherry, peach, and apricot pits, and the cassava root. In most of those, the amount is negligible, and easily dealt with by the digestive system, although the cassava, if prepared improperly, can be toxic. However, I'd say it easily meets Megyn Kelly's criteria for "a food product, essentially."
5) Human Entrails - Cannibalism is a thing, a thing that is done sometimes. Probably as long as there have been people, some of those people have opted to eat others of those people. Maybe due to starvation, maybe due to religious belief, maybe due to bizarre curiosity. It would be nice if we could believe that every instance of cannibalism was basically a Uruguayan rugby team in the Andes sort of incident, but we all know that's not true. Some people choose to eat other people even though other non-people foods are present. So I guess that makes chunks of human flesh food. Or at least, "a food product, essentially." If the cops start lobbing human heads at the protestors via catapult like it was Minas Tirith or some shit, it's nice to know we'll be able to count on Fox News to spin that damage.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Now that we've got all that out of the way, we can focus on apples, not 7th-grade-me Apples, nor Appleasses, but actual apples. One of the tricky things about this delicious treat is that there are many varieties to choose from. Some are awesome, others wish they were. Let's explore some of the options for the apple connoisseur.
1) Honeycrisp - Honeycrisps are the best apples on Earth. And I wouldn't be surprised if they were the best in the Universe (so far space has delivered zero apples for further consideration). They are deliciously juicy, sweet with just a hint of tartness, they tend to be of good size, and their coloration is pleasing to the eye. There is nothing bad about honeycrisp apples and if I ever ask you for an apple, this is what I want. I bet the apple the serpent tempted Eve with was a Honeycrisp, because that shit is irresistible. You know, if that story actually happened and wasn't just a creation myth that way more people believe than you'd ever think.
Apple Points: 11/10
2) Gala - Gala apples are the apples I eat when Honeycrisps aren't in season and aren't at the store. They are inferior to honeycrisps in every way, but not terribly so. The only complaint some may have with them would be their mild flavor, as some prefer a lot of tartness to their apples.
Apple Points: 8/10
3) Fuji - Fuji apples look neat, and I think I like them almost as much as Gala apples. I have no problem with these guys, but I don't get particularly excited about them either. Fully acceptable.
Apple Points: 7/10
4) McIntosh - McIntosh is like, the classic New England apple. It was named this by people who never ate a honeycrisp. For those who prefer tartness to sweetness, it is a good choice. It's not overwhelmingly tart, but the balance is swinging more towards tart than sweet at this point. Usually not my choice, but I've been known to appreciate a good McIntosh now and again, when in the mood. I used to like them even more when I was younger (before Honeycrisps).
Apple Points: 7/10
5) Granny Smith - Granny Smiths are the tart masters. For a while I really liked tart apples best, and these were my favorite. Not as much anymore. Still, I like that they're green, because green is a good color. This is a fact.
Apple Points: 5/10
6) Asian Pears - Asian Pears are like, half-apple, half-pear, all delicious. The best of both worlds. Seriously, quite good. They're so good that they made it onto the apple comparison list despite being not quite apples! I highly advise you check out this tasty treat!
Apple Points: 4/5, Pear Points: 5/5 - Total Fruit Points: 9/10
7) Red Delicious - What a pile of horseshit. Who named these pathetic apples-in-name-only? Yeah, OK, you got the red part right, congratulations. Delicious? Had you just licked a raccoon's butthole to compare against? Bland, worthless, ass-apples, possibly inspiring the term Appleass.
Apple Points: 1/10 (1 point given for spelling its name right)
8) Any apple that is mealy - Any and every apple is ruined by a mealy texture. Even Honeycrisps. A mealy Red Delicious? I'll just lick this handful of coins from a sweaty businessman's pocket instead, thanks.
Apple Points: -273.15/10 Celsius, aka Absolute Zero/10. Can't get worse.
Aptly, apple-y yours,
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
"Not every leader intends to be a leader. In fact, I sometimes get a little bit leery of anyone who seems just a bit too eager to lead. What are their motivations? Are they seeking power for power’s sake, fame, something to look nice on a résumé? Sure some people just have a knack and affinity for leading (possibly innate, possibly developed, probably both) and I don’t mean to malign anyone just for liking the power of leadership. After all, power isn’t “bad” by nature; it’s all about what you do with it. But this entry isn’t about people who were born to lead and who love to lead. No, some of us are thrust into leadership because there’s a need, not a desire. Today we’ll look at one of my favorite examples of this, Shaun from the film Shaun of the Dead.
Shaun (no last name is ever given) isn’t any paragon of leadership at the film’s beginning. He’s a lazy guy who can barely keep his life together. His best friend Ed is a jackass (a loveable jackass, don’t get me wrong, but a jackass), his roommate is pissed at him, his girlfriend Liz is ready to dump him, his step-father thinks he can’t be counted on to keep up a good relationship with his mum (British movie, British spelling), he hates his job, and all he wants to do is sit on the couch and play video games or go to the local pub, the Winchester. While he may technically be a “leader” at his job in an appliance store, he commands and receives no respect whatsoever from his teenage employees, who see him as a loser. Shaun doesn’t seem like much of anyone you’d want to emulate, even if he is a nice enough guy, and funny to boot. You like him, but you don’t want his life.
But then, zombies happen (oops, we’re not meant to use the “zed-word”!). Suddenly Shaun’s life is turned upside-down, even if it takes him a while to realize it. Under the pressure of this outbreak of the walking dead, Shaun doesn’t crack. Instead, he plans, he improvises, he rallies his friends and family, and he manages to keep everyone safe for a while. Now, it’s a safe bet that Shaun had never encountered animated corpses before. He certainly didn’t wish for them to arrive. At no point did Shaun try to name himself a leader in these circumstances. But in this new, frightening situation, Shaun stepped up and became a leader nonetheless.
How did he do it? Fairly simply, he stayed focused on the group mission. The mission was straightforward: survive. Nearly every action Shaun took from the moment he realized the state London was in was done in the service of this goal. But he wasn’t out to just survive alone; he also had the members of his group to consider. Commitment to this goal of shared survival allowed him to make peace with his step-father, confront his best friend about his inconsiderate behavior, and even earn back the respect of his (ex?)girlfriend. And while his best friend and girlfriend might’ve been people he really had a vested interest in saving, he even acted to keep people he didn’t particularly like alive, such as Liz’s dour and annoying friend David. He was committed to the group and the mission.
As a leader, Shaun’s biggest gift was probably his ability to adapt. Over and over his group faced new challenges and watched their situation go from bad to worse. Each time, Shaun was able to improvise a solution, or look within his group for a solution, such as relying on Dianne’s acting skills to help them imitate zombies through an infested area. Shaun used vinyl records, flatware, a cricket bat, and pool cues to fight off the undead, making use of whatever resources were available to help him and his group. At every step, he displayed ingenuity and an unwillingness to give up until things were absolutely hopeless (even then, they turned out not to be).
When it was all over, Shaun went back to pretty much the same life as before. He still enjoyed relaxing on the couch, eating snacks from the convenience store, and playing video games with his buddy. There were a few changes, but all in all, he enjoyed simple pleasures. But now he had a new confidence and satisfaction in the fact that when the going got tough, he got going. Like a modern, lazy, funny Cincinnatus, he stood up and led when he was needed, and then gave up that title to go back to a simpler life. So for all of you out there who haven’t really stepped up and taken leadership roles yet, take heart! Your chance may come once you find the cause you care about and the situation that needs your skills! And hey, you probably won’t even have to deal with zombies."
Thursday, August 04, 2011
They ordered their lunches from her, Jaja ordering his salad. He had a special instruction though. He wanted to make sure they "don't give me any goddamn toast with it." This was an odd request for our waitress. Maybe this old man didn't realize that the salad didn't come with a basket of bread. It would certainly be no trouble not to bring bread, and even less trouble not to toast said bread. Because that's what the word "toast" means, right? Bread, heated to the point of crispness. She knew the word toast. She would definitely not bring any toast.
"OK, sir, no toast."
"Good." And then to his daughter, "They always bring that god damn toast for the salad!" She too wrote it off as some bizarre idea he'd gotten in his head.
The meal came and Jaja almost blew a gasket. "God damn it, I said no toast! No toast! Look at all this god damn toast! I can't stand it when they put the god damn toast!"
"Dad, what are you talking about? Miss, I'm sorry for my father. Dad, there's no toast!"
"Look at all this god damn, shit toast!" he said, gesturing to the salad. Or rather, the croutons. Toast, apparently, means croutons. I guess I could see how he'd think that. I mean, croutons are made of bread, heated until crispy. But nobody calls them toast. Nobody but him, and while cursing at the poor waitress to boot. Sometimes I wonder if he's the one who doesn't quite speak English.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Luna was a funny animal, and frustrating in many ways. She wasn't particularly social, and especially loathed being held. Clipping her nails was always an awful ordeal for all involved, her included. I more than once likened caring for her to caring for an autistic child. She did need love and care, but had a lot of challenges understanding that fact and showing any sort of reciprocal affection. She was no dog, anyway. She also had the annoying habit of chewing on nearly anything she could get near. There's a hole in my rug thanks to her. And in my tool bag (not that tool bag, you pervert). And in the cardboard DVD case for Yojimbo/Sanjuro. Not my favorite habit of hers.
Those annoyances aside, there were plenty of things she did that were cute or funny. She used to have a cardboard box she would get underneath and hang out in, and periodically hop around with the box still on top of her. It looked as though the box had come to life. Scared the shit out of a cat named Hammurabi more than once. She was generally pretty fearless about other animals, more or less unfazed by the cats and dogs she met. She was neither friendly nor fearful of them, mostly indifferent. This confused other animals sometimes, as they were unsure if she was peer, prey, threat, or what.
She loved getting into small spaces, such as the aforementioned cardboard box, or any cardboard box that made it her way. She used to try to get behind couches and under chairs, and frequently enjoyed nestling in her little purple "igloo" in her cage. The cutest thing she would do was sit on her hind legs and use her forepaws to wash her face. This was friggin' adorable.
People sometimes asked about the origin of her name. In the West, we have the Man in the Moon, the facelike shape we see in the shadows on the moon. In Japan, they see the shadows from a slightly different angle, and see a Rabbit in the Moon. Luna, being black like shadows, was the little moon rabbit. Luna also doubled as a Harry Potter reference, much to the delight of her co-owner, Meredith Whisper.
Her new home, her forever home, is a spot in the corner of the backyard. Rabbits make their homes in the earth, even moon rabbits, and so to the earth she's returned. Her last few days, while surely uncomfortable due to her illness, were spent as comfortably as possible, cared for by not only me but my roommate Tim de Berewyse and my girlfriend Tracy Allvis as well. She got to enjoy her first and only bath, which I thought she would hate but she actually seemed to like. Her burial was witnessed by my other roommate, Addie Horsehead and her brother Parker.
Rest easy Luna. You were a good rabbit and when I leave for an overnight or weekend stay somewhere, I'm still in the back of my mind thinking about making sure you're cared for in my absence. I imagine this will pass in time, but I know memories of you will always be there in my mind to call up any time I want to.
On another note, I want to donate Luna's leftover supplies, food, treats, cage, etc. to someone or some organization that can make good use of them. I called the local animal rescue league but they don't handle rabbits. If you have any thoughts, please leave them as comments!
Thursday, June 23, 2011
About midway through our Orlando trip, Ben Stantz, Rich Cornhole, John Reaver, Greg Hammel and I got to meet up with Ben's, Rich's, and my fraternity brothers Mitch Cold, Josh Striker, and Mike Malaria, on their own Florida adventure. We had a good time, touring "Downtown Disney", hanging out, and some of the guys even went to Cirque du Soleil together (Ben, Greg, and I decided not to drop the stack of bills needed to do so). We also took the time to enjoy some mini golf at Disney's Fantasia Mini Golf course. It was actually two courses. One set of 18 holes was traditional obstacles and whatnot, Fantasia-themed. The second course, which we would not play until the next day, was like an actual miniaturized golf course. There were mocked up sand traps and water hazards and everything. Each hole was based on an actual golf hole from an actual golf course. Neat! It was also profoundly difficult, as we were to find out.
But before that, we had a night out in Orlando to kill. Most of us were underage. Mitch and Mike were not. We ran the gamut, interest-wise, from geeky to trendy, so we struggled to find a place that would accommodate everyone's tastes. We ended up finding a place called XS that was awesome. It was a hybrid bar/restaurant/dance club/video arcade. There was something for everyone. We had a blast. Mike Malaria in particular had a blast getting pretty drunk. When we left XS and were hanging out on some raised walkways, the 5 of us from Bulkie Hall were having a grand old time making the "shocker" gesture at each other. (Skip the next paragraph if you don't know what the shocker is and would like to keep it that way. It is sexual. You are warned.)
Most of you, no doubt, know of the shocker. This gesture spread like wildfire through adolescents and people with adolescent senses of humor (yo.). We were always making shocker jokes and references (a few years later, Ben and I, along with Jared Kasparov, would even dream of releasing a series of shocker themed t-shirts like the infamous Coed Naked shirts from the 90's). Alright, for the few of you unfamiliar, the shocker is a gesture made by tucking the ring finger in while extending the other three fingers (thumb optional). This is supposedly to be used to penetrate a female sex partner simultaneously vaginally (with the index and middle fingers) and anally (with the pinky). The thumb can provide optional clitoral stimulation. The rhyme that famously accompanies this gesture is "two in the pink, one in the stink!" Very mature, I know. But that's the truth. Check urbandictionary.com if you don't believe me.
So, anyway, there we were, goofing around flashing shocker gestures at each other. Mike Malaria, drunk off his ass, was staring at us blankly. Not certain if he merely didn't find it funny, didn't understand, or just was too drunk to react, we asked Mike, "you know what the shocker is, right?" Mike, quite seriously, replied, "yeah, I know it. One in the ass, and TWO IN THE SHIT!" The briefest of pauses ensued, followed by our dismayed but amused reactions. "What? No, Mike, that doesn't even make sense! What the fuck!?" Mike couldn't, for the life of him, figure out what was wrong about his answer. The dangers of alcohol.
The next night, the original 5 of the trip ventured to the Fantasia Mini Golf again, this time to play the more difficult actual-golf themed course. Frustration ensued. Especially for me. I'll admit it, I was a sulky baby about how poorly I was doing. I like to think I've matured since then, but I was acting like a pouty child. Greg, meanwhile, adapted to the challenge by breaking the "no chipping" rule. He actually, after very few attempts, became decent at chipping the ball over sidewalks and the like to get favorable shots. Way to go, Greg.
We reached the 10th(?) hole. This one was either easier, or we all just had particularly lucky putts, because all of us were within striking range of par as we neared the actual hole. John and Rich's balls (insert "balls" joke here [insert "insert" joke here]) were tied for closest to the hole (insert "hole" joke here [insert "this author is a jackass" joke here]). As such, they had equal right to take their shot first. Rich, ever a gentleman, deferred to John. John, you may recall from previous tales, is a big dude. He has immense power in his large body, but sometimes lacked the coordination to control his strength. But not this time. John lined up his shot, putted, and nailed it. Great success! Knowing that I was next after Rich, I looked down to line up my own shot (as Rich was already doing) as John gleefully exclaimed, "I got PAR!"
I then heard a sickening thud. As though someone had stored a chestnut inside an orange and then struck it with an aluminum bat. I looked up and saw Rich on the ground. Instinctively, I assumed he had just fallen over yet again. But then I noticed John, extremely distraught and apologizing profusely. It seems that John, as part of his celebratory gesture, had swung his putter back with one arm as he shouted "I got PAR!". He was unaware Rich was bent over behind him, lining up his shot. The putter struck Rich. In the face.
Not just in the face, he was hit right on the eyebrow, right on the edge of the eye socket. A millimeter lower and Rich probably would've been blind in one eye. As it was, he was disoriented and bleeding. Concerned for Rich, we decided to abandon our game and get him medical attention. We recalled seeing a walk-in clinic on International Avenue in our explorations of Orlando, and figured we'd get him there as quickly as we could. As we went to leave, however, Ben declared that since we couldn't finish our game, we should get our money back or something. The rest of us ready to say screw that, Rich needs medical attention, but then Rich spoke up. "Heck yes, get us some free vouchers!" (Rich did not swear at that time). So we waited while Ben negotiated with the manager, trying to apply pressure to Rich's wound to slow the bleeding. I'll be damned, we got the free vouchers, and would use them the next day (a spot of Rich's blood remained staining the 10th hole when we returned).
We piled into my car and took off for the clinic. We turned onto the proper street and began driving and looking for it. We realized we turned the wrong way and had to double back. We finally found the clinic and realized it was closed for the night. The door had directions to the Orlando Hospital on it. Into the car again and off we went, eventually arriving at the hospital and entering the ER.
Rich, in high school, was an EMT and also worked in a pharmacy. He was our resident expert on all things medical. So when we were given his triage form and he insisted he would take care of it himself, we trusted him. Rich knew hospitals. So he filled it out and we began to wait. And wait. And wait. For like 2-3 hours. People who had entered a full hour after Rich were being seen, but not him. Ben and I approached the nurses' station and asked what the hold up was. She responded by showing us his form. These triage forms used a system of faces to indicate the level of discomfort and urgency. Like so:
Rich, with a head wound, a likely concussion, and bleeding, you'd think would've at least circled face #2. The one that looks like "Hey, there's places I'd rather be than the hospital, but all things considered I guess I'm not in awful condition." Nope. That stupid jackass circled face #0. "I AM FUCKING DELIGHTED BY MY INJURY/ILLNESS AND HOPE I CAN STAY IN THE ER FOREVER!!!" Rich defended his choice by saying other people probably needed care more urgently than him. Rich was an idiot that night. His defense has since changed, and now he says it was OUR fault because we let the guy with the head injury fill out paperwork himself. He may have a point with that one.
Rich eventually did get seen and treated, but we between waiting with Rich and then waiting FOR Rich, we spent at least 4 hours in that waiting room. It brought out the worst in us. Ben and John became mean, and entertained themselves by saying whatever they could to upset me, mostly lewd comments about my sister (whom they had not even actually met at that point). Emotionally and mentally exhausted at that point, and ganged up on 2-to-1, I couldn't effectively defend myself and became upset to the point that, in an effort to just get the fuck away from human beings, hid in the snack room behind a vending machine. Greg played with and contemplated stealing a lamp. I love Greg.
Eventually we got to go home. The trip had other fun times, such as wait times of 0 minutes for rides at Universal Islands of Adventure due to off-season and rain, meeting Rich's grandmother and Uncle Tony, and John eating an entire second Headhunter sandwich because he ran out of money and needed to use his free Headhunter voucher to eat (as to why he FINISHED the second one, I guess he was just hungry). I also ran out of money. Rich bankrolled both of us and was paid back at a later date. All in all, a grand vacation.
Saturday, June 04, 2011
The first issue we had to tackle was transportation. Of those of us with cars, it seemed mine would be the most accommodating for 5 travelers: a maroon 4-door 1993 Mercury Sable sedan, originally owned by Mary "Nonnie" Lebowski. We would all take turns behind the wheel, with one exception. Rich couldn't drive. I mean, it's not that he was physically incapable, but legally, he was unable. He had no driver's license. This wasn't a big deal, four drivers was enough, but it did provide leverage when it came to seating. The four drivers rotated, and each was paired with another to sit shotgun, navigate, and not fall asleep during the night portions of the drive. Ben and John paired off, as did Greg and I. Rich, as his contribution to the driving, was relegated to the middle in the back (aka "sitting bitch") for the entirety of the trip. There and back. And frequently while traveling around Orlando once there. Rich was a good sport.
The trip down had its highlights. Just into New York, John pointed out the exit Ben was supposed to take onto a new highway out his window as we passed it. Ben pulled off at the next exit and, trying to find a way back to the proper ramp, took a few side streets. On one, he waited nearly a full minute behind a car at a stop sign only to realize we were sitting and waiting behind a parked car. Oops. While getting gas, I watched from the convenience store window as Greg pumped gas, kept company by Ben, when they began to look panicked and started squeegeeing the side of the car like mad. Greg, it seems, didn't believe that my gas tank could possibly be full yet when the automatic shut-off occurred and insisted on trying to pump more gas in. Predictable spillage occurred. We visited South of the Border, for which there are SO MANY SIGNS on the way, and found it both closed and unimpressive. During the middle of the night, I enjoyed the freedom of several lanes and miles of empty highway by opting to luxuriously drift between lanes (like when Kramer adopted the highway and made extra-wide lanes), an experience that woke the back seat passengers and filled them with concern for my driving ability. We did, however, arrive safely and earlier than planned.
Once we were able to check in to the hotel (following a time-killing trip to Wal-Mart for forgotten toiletries and an authentic Krispy Kreme experience), we were treated to pretty posh living arrangements. Our room was a full suite with a living room, kitchen, two bedrooms, washer/dryer, and balcony. Ben and Rich took the master bedroom, being the only two mature enough to share a bed. John and I took the other bedroom with two twin beds. Greg claimed the pull out couch. This was so much better than dorms.
Our first night (or was it second?), we just had to eat at a place called Jungle Jim's after an afternoon of Pirate mini golf (great fun, even though I sucked at it!). Jungle Jim's was a safari themed burgers & sandwiches sort of restaurant. Their specialty was an enormous sandwich called the Headhunter. The Headhunter was like 2 pounds of meat, loads of every topping, a bun (complete with olive "eyes" on toothpicks), and a bunch of fries. Anyone who could finish the Headhunter was entitled to a certificate for a free one. John, being a man of large size and appetite, decided he would take on the Headhunter.
Visually, it was an imposing sandwich. John's first task was to press down on it and squash it into a size that would actually fit into his mouth. He then began eating this compressed burger brick, pacing himself as we ate our more modestly sized (but still generous) meals. Around halfway, John felt full. By 3/4, the sandwich stopped being tasty and started being despair-inducing. But John kept going. Even as he complained that it wasn't fun anymore, he kept making slow and steady progress. And finally, with great pride, John finished the Headhunter. He received his complimentary gift certificate from our waitress, who also played Belle at Disney World. We journeyed back to the hotel with victory in our hearts and a plastic pirate flag from the mini golf course on the car antenna. And then we gave both our John and the john a wide berth.
That night, Rich, traumatized by a close loss at the earlier mini golf game, had a nightmare. In his nightmare, we returned to the pirate mini golf place to play again, and once again, Rich lost to Ben. Greg came in third, and John in last. When Rich described this dream to us, I asked where I placed. I didn't finish. A decorative cannon in a pond shot an actual cannonball, which struck me. I did not die. Unharmed, I instead became enraged and waded into the water to attack the cannon with my putter. I was escorted off the premises by the police. And my friends kept playing through. Thanks a lot, Dream Rich! But perhaps Rich's dream was premonitory of upcoming mini golf misfortune. Soon tragedy would strike one of our traveling party, and the trip would take an unexpected turn.
To be continued...
Monday, May 09, 2011
My relations with Trader Joe have been quite warm since our introduction, but recently Joe has done me a service worth its weight in gold. Now you may recall that, oh, probably a year or more back, I decided to try to restrict my intake of products which have their origin in the flesh of pigs. While this carries certain health benefits, the root reason was because of an ethical dilemma regarding their intelligence. However, I struggled and continue to struggle with the fact that many food items of a porcine nature are, to speak with even grander eloquence than you've been subject to thus far, fucking delicious. Particularly bacon. Especially bacon. Specifically bacon.
Bacon presents by far the most difficult aspect of trying to dine relatively pork-free. Pigs are something like the 4th smartest animal, possessed of intellect and personality. However, bacon is something like the 1st most delicious food, possessed of flavor, texture, addictiveness, and the capacity to be used either as food or condiment. Being a man as I am with a certain weakness towards appetites, it has been quite trying to forgo bacon, and indeed, if I neither ask for nor pay for it, I grant myself a certain loophole and indulge.
I have tried to find reasonable substitutes. Bacon Salt was a major find, allowing bacon flavor to be added to a number of other foods. However, a major part of bacon's appeal is its texture. I resigned myself to turkey bacon as a facsimile, but really, turkey bacon is not bacon. It doesn't taste quite like bacon. It doesn't feel quite like bacon. It's good, and I enjoy it, but it's not at all in the same league.
Or so I thought.
Trader Joe's sells an uncured, applewood smoked, peppered turkey bacon. I would provide a link to the product, but ol' Joe is apparently bashful about giving his products a proper web presence. Suit yourself, Joe. I bought it in hopes it would be a bit better than most turkey bacon. I discovered it is, in fact, better than most bacon.
Let me repeat that. It is better than most bacon.
How is that even possible? It doesn't seem like it should be. But, to ensure the first package wasn't merely a fluke, I bought a second. The flavor is excellent, with the peppered finish providing a mild spiciness. The texture is, in my opinion, superior to that of all but the finest thick-cut bacon, having thickness, firmness, and no fatty rubberiness. I've been cooking it using a cast iron skillet, to which it takes quite well. I have eaten it straight up and I've also crumbled it for use in a custom salad I threw together. The texture lends itself to this quite well actually, tearing into small bits easily without being dry and brittle. Compared to normal bacon, it tastes and feels more savory and less fatty. I think the nutritional info bears this out, but, again, to raise the eloquence, fuck if I know for sure.
And so, seven paragraphs on the subject (nine if you count the single line paragraphs). If you, like me, are a lover of bacon and if you, also like me, are interested in potential replacements, and if you, still further like me, are neither vegetarian nor vegan, then I believe you owe it to yourself to try Trader Joe's Uncured Applewood Smoked Peppered Turkey Bacon. Hell, even lovers of bacon with no particular compunctions about it should give it a spin. You may find it to exceed your wildest expectations, as it did mine, and earn a place in your bacon greatest hits. Without reservation, I award my friend Joe (who I hope will be your friend as well) with the recognition of the best turkey bacon I've ever encountered by an enormous margin, and with further honor for producing a top-quality bacon product by any measure.
Yo, my friend Joe should pay me for this effusive fucking advert. Oh, and I guess it's ten paragraphs now. Also, sorry 'bout the cussing, sensitive types.
Friday, April 01, 2011
My second leadership blog entry from my J-O-B. For the details on just what the hell is going on here, check the first one. Enjoy!
"The Lord of the Rings movies did a better job with the characters than the books.
They are more engaging, more human, more relatable, and all-around more likeable in Peter Jackson’s films than in Tolkien’s books. I’m not saying this to pick an internet fight with anyone. Having read the books and seen the films numerous times each, I find the characters as presented in the films far more engaging than in the book, in which they often seem more like cool, well-designed plot devices (ones of whom I am nonetheless fond!). I give you this extended preface to explain why, for the purposes of this entry, I will be focusing on the film version of a character, not the book version as much. That character, as you may have already guessed from the title, is Aragorn, the eponymous king.
Aragorn, in most fantasy fiction works, would be the primary protagonist. He is brave, strong, wise, ass-kicking, name-taking, and the son of a mystical noble bloodline. This IS your generic fantasy hero. Yet in The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn is not presented as the primary protagonist, Frodo Baggins is. The quest is Frodo’s quest, and it is through the eyes of Frodo and his hobbit friends that we are presented with much of the plot of the books. But while Frodo is the protagonist, the driving force, the bearer of the artifact that drives the entire story, Aragorn is most definitely the leader of the Fellowship, with only Gandalf as a potential alternative.
Aragorn has a lot of innate gifts and developed talents. For example, he is an almost supernaturally skilled swordfighter and an excellent archer. These skills prove quite useful in the dangerous quest to destroy the ring and save Middle Earth, and are no doubt excellent aids to his leadership ability. But they, in and of themselves, are NOT his leadership ability. Ass-kicking does not equal leadership, no matter how cool it looks and how effective a strategy it may be from time to time. So then what qualities DO make Aragorn a great leader?
One that comes to mind is consistency and integrity. Aragorn does what he says he’ll do, even when what he says he’ll do is difficult. Given the chance to take the ring from Frodo, despite considerable temptation, he refuses. It would be counter to the loyalty he has pledged to his companion. Upon Boromir’s death, Aragorn swears to him to not let Minas Tirith, Boromir’s home and the last remaining great seat of human power fall before the forces of evil. It takes him a while to get there, but he eventually does just that. He walks among the dead, recruits them to his cause, and steals a fleet of pirate ships to get there and do it. This is someone who keeps his word. Nothing builds trust in a leader more than the knowledge that what they tell you has meaning. Nothing destroys trust faster than empty promises.
Things don’t always go as planned though. Sometimes what we set out to do becomes impossible, at least in the way we had planned to do it. At the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, the fellowship breaks apart. Frodo and Sam cross the river Anduin and head off to destroy the ring on their own, Boromir dies, and Merry and Pippin are captured by the Uruk-Hai. Gandalf fell in battle with the Balrog several scenes prior. And I would argue that up until that point, Gandalf had actually been the leader of the fellowship, guiding the group through most of their decisions. With Gandalf gone, leadership now fell to Aragorn. This was the beginning of his growth into his eventual role as king. But, back to this moment of seeming failure, Aragorn was presented with a host of sub-optimal options. He could no longer keep the fellowship united in their quest to destroy the ring. So Aragorn did what leaders do: he improvised and kept going. He decided that the thing to do now was pursue the Uruks that kidnapped Merry and Pippin and save his allies from torture and death. It wasn’t the quest as written, but it was something. And it turned out to be important. As with more mundane leaders, when things don’t go our way, we must accept that fact, re-assess the situation, and strike out anew.
The group that Aragorn is tasked with leading, and the subsequent larger groups, are diverse in background, temperament, and opinion. Aragorn is deft at approaching those he leads in ways that appropriate to each. He interacts with Gimli differently than he does with Gandalf than he does with Sam. A leader is capable of doing this, of making his or her group stronger through diversity rather than divided. When the party is exhausted and discouraged at the thought of the next legs of their journey, and Gimli grimly, grumpily outlines the nasty road ahead (read: he’s whining), Aragorn’s response is, “That is our road. I suggest you take some rest and recover your strength.” Gimli is a proud character, and Aragorn knows this. He knows that a challenge to Gimli’s pride will reinvigorate him for the task ahead. He acts more gently with Frodo, with more understanding .With Sam he is more encouraging, helping build confidence. Aragorn tailors his leadership style to fit the needs of those he leads.
One last topic I’ll point out is that Aragorn does not start off capable or even fully willing to become the King of Arnor and Gondor (the great kingdoms of men). Aragorn, like all leaders, grows and learns. He is open to doing so. Aragorn grew up with elves, and at the beginning, identifies more with elves. He has less faith in other humans. His initial interactions with Boromir show a certain level of disdain (in part because Boromir makes some pretty bad suggestions). Over the course of the first part of the story, Aragorn learns to accept himself as a human man, in part through letting go of his disdain for Boromir and seeing what is good in him. Over the course of the second part of the story, Aragorn learns to be a king through interaction with Theoden, King of Rohan. It is fair to say they learn from each other. Aragorn helps Theoden recover his bravery and spirit, Theoden helps Aragorn learn what it means to think and care for an entire nation of people instead of just a small group of competent adventurers. And this all leaves out his most influential mentor, Gandalf. Aragorn learns volumes from Gandalf about the ways of the world and the nature of the quest. The point with all of these is that Aragorn, to become the king, had to be open to learning. He had to accept that there was more to know, more to understand, and room to grow. By doing so, he moved from being a gifted ranger to being a great king. Be open to learning, and you too can grow as a leader far beyond where you are currently, even if where you are is already pretty darn good!"
Sunday, March 06, 2011
For a time, my aunt Patty "Pappy" Rudedawg (née Lebowski) rented living space in the upstairs of her grandfather (Great Jaja)'s house. It was a good deal financially and it meant being with family without living with her mom and dad. We all know by now that Great Jaja had some weird eating habits. There seemed to be no rhyme nor reason to what he would and wouldn't eat. I still recall being repeatedly and firmly warned off the "candy drawer" which was a drawer in his hutch full of unwrapped hard candies that had long since hardened and congealed into one sticky mass of drawer-sugar. Yum. Pappy was no stranger to Great Jaja's eating habits and tended to steer clear of offered treats.
One day though, she came downstairs to see Jaja happily gobbling down a bowl of something orange. He looked up from his feast and addressed his granddaughter. "Pat!" he cried, "Do you like Jell-O?" Oh, is that what he was eating? OK. "Sure, I like Jell-O," she replied. "I made a bowl for you," he said, indicating another bowl, "you want some Jell-O?" She really didn't want any, and politely declined. "Aw, Jesus Christ, come on, have a bowl."
Not wanting to hurt her grandfather's feelings, and knowing it was just harmless orange Jell-O, Pappy relented. Taking the bowl of quivering translucent orange dessert, she dug in a spoon and took a bite.
And ran to the sink to wash out her mouth.
Furious, she shouted at Great Jaja, "THAT'S NOT JELL-O!" He replied, annoyed, "Oh horseshit it's not Jell-O. It's the Jell-O from the ham can!" Yes, that's right. The "Jell-O from the ham can". Great Jaja, having removed his ham lunch from the can, would make a second course of the salty orange gel left behind upon the ham's exit. This is disgusting. Patty Lebowski knew it was disgusting. You know it's disgusting. And I do too. But to Great Jaja, it was just a tasty treat that couldn't be beat. He ate her unfinished bowl of ham gel too.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
"For months now, I’ve tried to think of what I can contribute to the leadership blog. What do I have to say that’s relevant, interesting, and entertaining on the topic of leadership? They say you should write what you know, and I’m something of a pop culture junkie, especially geek culture. We are what we are. As such, I’ve decided to write a series of entries that look at notable leaders from pop culture and examine just why they make good leaders. There’s no one “best” way to lead, but it is my hope that through looking at these characters, we can gain insight into some of the qualities that contribute to good, or even great leadership.
So, to whom should the first entry be dedicated? After much though, I decided to award yet another “first” to a character with several. Ladies and gentlemen, today we’re going to look at the character of Storm from the X-Men. Not the boring, misplayed Storm from the X-Men films (sorry Halle, you’re a great actress, but this was not a gem of a role for you), but the Storm from the comic books and 90’s cartoon. Storm, for those not familiar, was introduced in the 70’s, a mutant superhero with the ability to control the weather. Raised in Africa and worshipped as a goddess, Storm arrived on the scene at a time when Black comic heroes were extremely rare, and female characters were largely relegated to supporting roles. She changed the face of comics by becoming not just a major character, but the leader of her team. But why was she fit to lead? What qualities did Storm possess that gave her the iconic place in the history of superheroes that she holds?
Leaders possess strength. In this case, I’m not talking about Storm’s weather powers, which are largely irrelevant to the remainder of this blog entry. I’m talking about inner strength, strength of will. Within the Marvel Universe, Storm is known, even amongst other superheroes, for her iron, indomitable will. Even such heavy-hitters as Dr. Doom and Count Dracula himself have been impressed by her unassailable confidence, even in the face of mortal danger and total uncertainty. Now, leaders are, of course, human. We all get pushed to the breaking point sometimes, but leaders know that they are setting an example for those who follow them. We cannot buckle, because there are people counting on us.
We get stronger from experience, of course. Leaders have to embrace their pasts and their experience, even if unpleasant. Storm spent time as an orphan in Cairo picking pockets for a crime boss (secretly a supervillain… hey, it’s comics, folks). At times when super powers were no help, she has been able to draw on her experience as a thief and use the wisdom and skills gleaned from that questionable time to achieve her goals. So it is with more mundane leaders. Sometimes we have to look back into our pasts and draw from the most unlikely or painful places in order to proceed forward. Great leaders are open to this process, drawing strength from their challenges, instead of being trapped by them.
Leaders frequently must face their fears. Being in charge is scary. And when fearful and stressful times arise, people look to leaders for guidance. Storm suffers from claustrophobia, traumatized by a building collapse in her childhood. Yet, when she needed to enter the sewers of New York City to save her teammate, she faced her fears and entered, going so far as to do battle for leadership of the Morlocks, a group of mutants living in the tunnels beneath the city. Not because she wanted to, solely because she had to. And, as a great leader, she faced her worst fear to do so.
Finally, leaders lead by values. If leadership meant solely doing whatever it takes to achieve goals, some of the worst monsters of history and fiction would be “great” leaders. But truly great leaders live by a code. They know when there are more important factors than just completing the mission. Storm, as an example, has sworn to herself to not take lives. The power of the entire atmosphere at her disposal, and she won’t kill (OK, one exception when she THOUGHT she did, but that character turned out to have a 2nd heart… again, hey, it’s comics). It’s not so much WHAT the code a leader lives by says (within reason), but that there is a code there.
So think for yourself, what are sources of strength for you? What experiences in your past have contributed to your ability and versatility as a leader? What fears are you willing to face for your team or your cause? And what do you stand for? I believe these are questions whose mere contemplation is valuable for a leader, and your answers don’t have to be the same as Storm’s. But she’s there as an example, a beacon in the sky, to remind us of what we can do, super powers or no, in the service of those who depend on us and the causes we care about."
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
Ice Cream - Ice cream is basically snow evolved. Temperature? Same. Texture? Similar. Flavor? + 1,000,000. Some people think it's not fun to eat ice cream in the winter. If you barbecue over an open flame in the summer, why not eat freezing cold ice cream in the winter?
Ice Planet Hoth - The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie. I know Star Wars and Return of the Jedi have their fans, and some blind idiot somewhere must be standing up for the prequel trilogy, but really, Empire is unassailable. Part of the charm of this movie is the opening sequence set on a frozen planet where the rebels have holed up. The battle with the Imperial Walkers, the Luke vs. Abominable Snowman sequence, the infamous Tauntaun makeshift sleeping bag (I make references to that ALL THE TIME)... it's just so memorable! And I'm not even particularly a Star Wars geek. A movie geek, yes, which is why I can geek out about Star Wars to some extent, but this isn't fanboy talk. Just sayin'.
Video Game Snow Levels - This is really a mixed bag of a category. Snow/Ice levels in video games tend to either be some of my absolute favorites or absolute hell. I find a direct correlation between how much "slidey" physics a game throws in and how much I want to throw a controller at the screen. My favorite snow level is the Ice Country area of Secret of Mana, which I've referenced before, in no small part thanks to the music which I find so soothing as to be near-therapeutic, as well as the crystal trees that gently change colors. I also like the Ice Cavern in Ocarina of Time despite the "slidey" floors. And I remember really liking the Snowfield area of Final Fantasy Adventure for Game Boy.
Skiing - I have not had the appropriate combination of time, money, and motivation to go skiing for several years now, but I used to love it. In theory, I still do. It's a sport where I don't have to feel like I'm constantly overheating, and it's a chance to move fast, really fast, when I'm more used to moving kinda slow. I used to go to a mountain in Canada every year during February break with my dad's mom's side of the family (The McDormand clan, which was my grandmother's maiden name before she became Lavinia Thirty, and later Lavinia Kodiak). I've got some very good memories of bombing down the slopes with my cousins, and hope to be able to get back into skiing again at some point.
That one shot from the first Lord of the Rings film - I love the Lord of the Rings films and books, and even the occasional video game. Within the film trilogy, there are numerous shots that are absolutely visually stunning, for any number of reasons. Sometimes it's because of the intricacy of the set work, or the expressions of the characters, or the excitement of the action. But my favorite shot in the entire trilogy is a very simple one. It's the shot, as the Fellowship approaches Caradhras the snowy mountain, of the ring on its chain, lying on the snow, having just been dropped by Frodo, who fell over. This is it, or close enough to it.
Woolly Mammoths - Or Mastodons. Either or. In any event, it has been a constant disappointment to me that they aren't around. I can distinctly remember times where I'd think about mammoths, then have the conscious thought, "and there aren't any of them." And then feel sad. BUT!!! Scientists are working on cloning them and having modern elephants carry them to term! In possibly as little as FOUR YEARS we may be a world that once again hosts my favorite ice age animal!!! SO. FREAKING. PUMPED.
Snow Days - They were awesome as a kid. Stay home, play in the snow, hang out... it was great. But as an adult... yep, still awesome.
Christmas - I know. I know I'm agnostic. I know I don't like most Christmas music. I know I don't like most Christmas movies, or Christmas television episodes. But I love Christmas. I really do. Just because I don't like much of what comes along with it doesn't mean I don't dig the holiday itself. And blame Irving Berlin (who I hope just liked snow and wasn't in fact a massive racist), but I associate the holiday with snow, which is one of the things that comes along with Christmas that I am A-OK with.
The Yeti - Probably not real. But would be cool.
One Particular Part of Driving in the Snow - In general, I hate driving in the snow. Even moreso sleet and other precipitation of the "Wintry Mix" variety. But I've always like the look of driving at night, when the snow is falling but not too heavily, of zooming into the snowflakes. It gives the feeling of flying into a starry night sky, and that's pretty damn cool.
The Sound - I really like the sound snow of moderate consistency makes when walked upon. The crunchy sound. Especially if it's otherwise quiet around.
Hostess Snowballs - I don't really like them that much, but they're OK I guess. I always liked Twinkies and Cupcakes better.
(Ant)Arctic Animal Species - Polar Bears, Snow Leopards, Walruses, Seals, Arctic Foxes, Penguins... some of the coolest animals are cold weather animals. As above, soon to be added to this list: WOOLLY FREAKING MAMMOTHS.
OK, that's enough for now. Stay warm, folks!