Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Who the hell is responsible for the way we package cauliflower? It's completely ludicrous! I mean, the carrot industry managed to figure out that they could use a bag shaped like...wait for it...carrots! Said bag can be opened and closed at will with the help of a twist tie or plastic clasp. Want a carrot? Open the bag! Realized that you actually wanted a pickle? Good for you! Earn one point for taste, then put the carrot back and close the bag. Easy as pie. But the nefarious minds over at Big Cauliflower twirled their waxy mustaches and delivered a truly cynical and offensive product. "I know," they said, "let's misshape the bag, take a couple random corners and roll them up haphazardly like a kindergarten art project, then cover the whole thing in industrial strength packing tape! Mu ha ha ha ha ha ha ha." There is literally no way to remove the cauliflower and still have a functioning container. Perhaps I am meant to leave it in the fridge or on the counter unwrapped? Do moldy edges on a cauliflower confer a soupcon of musty aroma that only refined palates can appreciate? Or perhaps I am always meant to eat an entire cauliflower in a single sitting, and no bag is necessary! My doctor told me that more vegetables might help a bit with the plumbing, but eating whole cauliflowers seems a bit excessive, and he is probably on the take from Big Veg anyway, so I'll stick to my gin and donut breakfast, thank you very much. In this book, Mr. Pollan makes important observations about how we obtain and eat food, and I am fully on board with his suggestions. I will no longer eat meat unless the animal has given informed consent to volunteer its life for my nutritional benefit and has been offered deep tissue massage at least thrice weekly in a free-range bovine spa. But Pollan neglects to address the cauliflower packaging issue, and that is a major omission. He scarcely even mentions those crinkly english muffin packages that virtually disintegrate on touch. Perhaps he will take on these vital concerns in a much-needed sequel.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

Well, I'm home. I have to say that this hospital stay was definitely more pleasant than my last. Tina snuck me in a pastrami sandwich, and that made all the difference. To be honest, I think she was feeling guilty about the whole Harry Potter debacle. I reassured her that it was mostly not her fault, and I think she felt better. And on the way out, I "borrowed" this book from the hospital library (actually just a cart, but that's what they call it), so at least I'll have something tangible to show for my ridiculously overinflated hospital bill. When Truss is done with her grammatical vigilantism, maybe we can set her loose on the health care system. Oh, and I also made off with a pair of those hospital pants they give you - perfect for lounging around the house with a book. Just put my trousers on right over them and walked out like I was in Shawshank Redemption. See ya, suckers! In any case, I appreciate someone who can get worked up in righteous anger over things most people think are silly (no, not you, Trump), and so I must admit to having a little punctuation crush on Ms. Truss. And of course, I imagine her rantings with a great British accent as well, because only a British person could write this book. There simply aren't people in America who care enough about English to do it! If we are a melting pot of culture, we are a Vitamix of language. We just dump it all in and destroy it! We make up ridiculous words like hangry, bromance, and chillax. We have literally destroyed the word 'literally'. And America is the land where grammar goes to die. It doesn't help that everyone has a cell phone, and "talking" now means texting, which people have no patience for, so all text conversations look like a bomb went off in an alphabet soup factory. But even when we are speaking, we have pretty much given up. No, Gerry, you don't shop at Kroger's. The store is called Kroger. There's no one in there named Kroger, and it is not his store. If you must know, Kroger is owned mostly by Cerebus Capital Management, who happen to bankroll a bunch of jackass politicians, but I understand that you need your discount cottage cheese, so no judgment. Meanwhile, it felt wholly satisfying to find someone as ready as I am to get pissed off about commas. Walking around these days is subjecting yourself to an assault of syntax no matter where you go. The examples are myriad, but I will summarize the inanity of the status quo with a sign I saw on a bathroom that read, "For disabled elderly pregnant children only." And as much as I was moved with sympathy for the poor kids who also happen to be disabled, old, and with child, I was even more sad for the irretrievable state of affairs of our language that made them that way. Maybe, just maybe, if everyone reads this book, we can salvage something. But I doubt it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

I hardly even know where to begin to describe the incredible recent series of events. I should start by saying that I had absolutely no interest in reading Harry Potter, for obvious reasons. But my granddaughter Tina, to whom I have a hard time saying no (despite her manners), came over with her complete set and insisted, tearfully (I may have made a pejorative comment about the fantasy genre as a whole), that I read one. So to make her happy, and because I felt a little guilty, I started the first one - not because I planned to read them in order, mind you, but just because it was the smallest. But then the strangest thing happened - the book was good! Really good. I read the whole thing in my La-z-Boy in one sitting, and I went right on to the next one. And that one was good too! I became immersed. I read at a frenetic pace and lost track of time. I felt...happy! However, about halfway through The Prisoner of Azkaban, I had a realization. It suddenly dawned on me that everything I had read as a child was complete and utter crap. All of it. All my favorites, so hollow and thin and simple. I was angry again. I lumbered up to the attic, found a dusty box full of books from my youth, and dumped the entire thing in the recycling bin. Maybe they'll make more Harry Potters out of them, I thought! I made a brief stop in the kitchen for a deviled egg, then went right back to reading. I read until I fell asleep. As it turns out, it was only 4:00 in the afternoon, but after a brief nap, I finished The Goblet of Fire before bed. I slept better than I have slept in years. I woke up refreshed and determined. I poured a large black coffee with only half my customary whiskey in it, and I sat down to read. It was incredible! What amazing combinations of humor, wonder, and drama. What deftness in dealing with death, dating, and destiny. What years of my youth wasted reading Doctor Doolittle and Mister Popper's Penguins! But there was no time to worry about that now. I read like the wind, like a man possessed, like I had nothing else in the world to do (in truth, I had nothing else to do). I read all day, skipped lunch, pissed in a bottle so I wouldn't have to get up (just kidding, but I thought about it), and turned the final pages of the Deathly Hallows in the early evening. You would think I was exhausted, but no! I felt exhilarated, inspired - all was well! I decided that it was time for me to go out for a walk and admire the sunset. I was thinking that I should be more appreciative of the world and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. But when I got out there, all I could hear was my neighbor Margaret's little schnauzer yipping away like crazy. God damn that dog! Oh, the many times I have imagined slipping some Xanax into a burger and chucking it over her fence. It would be completely justifiable. That little cur was ruining my bibliographic ecstasy, and I was not going to have it. I started walking over there, but in my agitated state, I missed the patch of ice on the sidewalk (Margaret - do you see a law suit coming?) and next thing I knew, I went ass over tea kettle and landed right on my back. It knocked the wind out of me to be sure, and I needed a few moments to catch my breath. After I did, though, came another realization. I could not move. My poor old body was rattled and just didn't have the strength. And it was cold. How stupid was I? What had gotten into me? A couple of minutes on the sidewalk were enough to realize that I had no hat, no gloves, and the sun was dipping. Is this to be my undignified end, I wondered? Will I not get to sue Margaret for negligent sidewalk care after all? What a terrible shame that would be! And if she notices and comes out to help, will being in her debt be better or worse than dying on the sidewalk? It was difficult to figure out. Luckily for me, the mail was miraculously late, and Red, my longtime mail carrier, found me on the ground and obtained help. I explained that I was just trying to get a different angle to see the sunset, but he called an ambulance anyway. And so here I am, writing this on my grandson's laptop in a recovery room at the University Hospital. Nothing broken, I am told, just some bruised ribs and a harsh reminder about reality. I should be able to get a lot of reading done in here, although after Harry Potter, why bother? I would consider reading the series over again, but it is clearly too dangerous.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks

Congratulations, you failed! It's January 4, and if you are reading this, you probably have already cast aside your once meaningful new year's resolutions. Wait - let me guess. You resolved to do one or more of the following: spend more time with family, work out more, eat less, write that book you've always dreamed of, spend less time on screens, be more active, blah blah blah. And what are you doing? Surfing twitter and reading book blogs again! And I have a dollar that says you have a cheeseburger in your hand too. Pathetic. Now take it from me, the first rule of resolutions is to pick things you know you can accomplish. My new year's resolutions are to eat more pickles and get angrier. And guess what, I already accomplished them! Two points for me. At this point in my life, I really don't have time for all this pie in the sky, romantic idealism. People like that (meaning you - you are not off the hook here) deserve to read books like this, books that reinforce the goodness of humanity, the power of dreams, the limitless possibilities of the human heart, and all that bullshit. Go read it in a field of poppies under heart-shaped clouds, or something like that. And one more thing, and I hate to point this out, but did you realize that your resolutions are the same ones you made last year? Did you really think it would be different this time? Well, welcome to reality, my friend. Now go eat some pickles and feel good about yourself.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

I can shovel my own damn sidewalk, thank you very much! You may wonder why every pre-teen in the neighborhood suddenly wants to ring my doorbell and offer me "help" with the snow. It's not the first snow of the year, and I've been out there plenty of times on my own already. And where were they then? Sending dirty pictures on the internet, no doubt! But I know what's going on here. Now it's winter break, and all these damn kids are driving their parents crazy. "What ever shall with do with our little hellians," they wonder... "I know! Let's foist them off on the old guy!" So here they come, one by one, looking to tick off the volunteering box on their college applications. Six years until they apply, but their expensive private tutors have told them they should start logging their hours now and prepping for the ACT. I wouldn't mind so much if I could just give them 5 bucks and send them on their way. But no, their parents have told them not to take my money. They just want to help and spend a little "quality time" with me. Which means that I have to invite them in, pretend to be grateful, give them cocoa, and regale them with made up stories about what the world was like "in my day." "Really, mister? I didn't know you had to eat bark off of trees to survive!" "Damn straight, Johnny! Now when does school start up again?" And if I don't, all those parents have their little passive aggressive ways of exacting revenge. They will park their SUV in front of my house for days at a time, let their schnauzer crap on my lawn (I'm watching you, Margaret!), or hammer those stupid little wooden faces into their trees at an angle that I can't avoid when looking out my front window. Anyway, it won't always be like this. As Kolbert clearly and elegantly describes, we are totally fucking up the world, and soon snow at this latitude will be a thing of the past. It will be a tropical paradise around here, and just imagine what that will do for my property value! We bought this house for 17,000 dollars, and thanks to climate change, it will be a gold mine. That's right - global warming can't come fast enough for me. And I mean that quite literally, because it can't possibly come fast enough for me to reap the benefits before I die. So some other schmo will inevitably get my house and cash in on the misfortune of the rest of the world, and it  really chaps my hide that it won't be me. Story of my life, I guess. The other great thing about this book is that I finally understand the scientific evidence behind the asteroid theory of dinosaur extinction. When I think about the number of dinner parties at which I could have used that information, it makes me want to weep into my gimlet.

Friday, December 28, 2018

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A timeless classic for the holidays. In my house, Christmas came and went, along with the whole extended family, and the whole time I was thinking, "Didn't I just have to do all this shit like a month ago?" There is absolutely no sense in putting Thanksgiving and Christmas so close to one another, especially with a family like mine. I mean, really, the photos of kids doing amazing things on the basketball court and their incredible grades have not changed enough to warrant me having to see and hear about them again so soon. True to form, all hell pretty much broke loose, and in the end, I'm sure I will be seen as the villain of the piece, but in truth, that honor should go to Cousin Jim. The crazy thing is - I shit you not - I do not even really know whose cousin Cousin Jim is. Usually adults don't go by Cousin Anything, so that's weird to start with, and I'm pretty sure he married into the family at some point, because I have no memory of him as a child. Although, based on the looks of him, it's hard to imagine him ever having been a child, so perhaps he is some kind of non-human cyborg or something that was created in adult form from the beginning. That would explain his social skills. In any case, he started it, which is important to remember. In fact, you might say he started it years ago, but on this particular occasion, he brought up politics in the first place, and he is the one who brought it to the next level by calling me "racist against white people." In MY house, no less! OK, technically it is my daughter's house and her husband's, but we helped them with the down payment, so that's pretty much the same. And don't forget it, Gerry! You'd still be renting that rat-infested duplex without me! Now then, I tend to be pretty tolerant of people of most political persuasions. I have always said that if you are not a Liberal at age 20, then you have no heart, and if you are still a Liberal at age 50, then you have no brain. At this point, I hardly even remember 50, and I don't know what to do with politics these days. I am certainly no bleeding heart, but Republicans in this country have lost their damn minds, so I'm not sure there's anyplace left for reasonable people like me, but that is not the point. The point is that Cousin Jim is an idiot, and it is possible that I hit him with a chicken wing. Not the wing shaped one, but the drummie one, if it matters.  And if I did, he certainly deserved it, and I would think I might get a compliment or two for my arm strength at this age, but no, everyone seemed to think that I had crossed a line somewhere, and I had to go into my fake senility act to escape the marauding hordes. And Jim, with all the righteous outrage of people who have had everything given to them their entire lives, played the victim in the whole affair. So Merry Christmas everyone! I guess it's like Tiny Tim says in the end, "God bless it, get out of my damn house! You should have been a decent human the whole time!"

Friday, December 21, 2018

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil Degrasse Tyson

What the hell is the deal with kombucha? Give me a minute here, and let me see if I've got this right. You start with some kind of disgusting mushroom thing called a scoby (which as far as I understand is not even a word), only guess what, it's not a mushroom (phew!), it's a bunch of bacteria and yeast living in a mega-colony preparing to take over the world (oh shit). Then you drop this thing that looks like it came out of the nose of a hippopotamus into an actually edible beverage like tea? While you're at it, it just so happens I have some old milk you can piss in and then take to that party Friday night if you want. Sure to blow the socks off of all those hippies. But here's what really gets me. I can get behind the general idea of fermenting things because then you can get drunk on them. But after choking down a glass of what is essentially homemade vinegar made by my grandson's friend (who I might point out could use a shower) out of pure charity, I was then clobbered with the revelation that there's hardly even any alcohol in this shit! The whole thing makes even less sense than this book. Now I have seen this guy on TV, and he is a funny dude, but this book had no jokes! How can I understand astrophysics with no jokes? I saw Tyson on Jon Stewart's show a couple of times. A short man, that Stewart, but pretty smart. I, on the other hand, must not be so smart, because even this dumbed down version of space science was beyond my vodka-addled brain. Or maybe I was not the intended audience, because I am certainly not in a hurry. Nothing to do today but sit around and puke up kombucha. I was with him for the big bang stuff, but it got away from me quickly. In the end, I was left with more questions than answers. Big questions, like where the hell do the scobies come from anyway? Is there some kind of scoby farm in a cave somewhere, tended to by mountain people who have never seen sunlight? Or goblins perhaps? And how were they discovered? And who the hell thought, when they discovered it, "I think that thing is probably edible." I think that a good rule of thumb is that if people have not been eating something regularly since before you were born, it's probably some made up pseudo-food at least partially responsible for the increase in cancer rates and autism. You want something with vinegar - eat a damn pickle!