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Thanksgiving 2018.

It’s Thanksgiving Day in the United States so I’m reposting this from last year with some changes. It could become a tradition.

It has been celebrated as a federal holiday every year since 1863, when, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

Wikipedia

November 25th, 1864

It was even worse than last year. I know every time my family gets together we fall into certain patterns, but that never makes it easier. This time it was even worse because just getting to my parents’ house was such a pain. I thought I’d carriagepool with my younger brother and his wife, but they went up early so that fell through. Then I thought I’d beat the traffic by setting out at dawn, which was such a great idea everybody else in Richmond had it at the same time and the horses were nose to tail, stop and trot, for miles. Finally I got there a little after ten in the morning and my older sister came out already holding a glass of blackberry wine and when she hugged me I could tell it wasn’t her first one. She asked me how things were going and then didn’t wait for an answer and ran back into the house to tell everyone I was there.

I should have known I’d be walking into an argument in the foyer, the way my family is. It’s just what it was about that threw me. My kid brother had this crazy idea for a new way to cook a turkey, leaving the feathers still on and roasting it in the coals of a fire. Well, it sounded pretty stupid to me, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that the neighbors tried the same thing last year and burned down their stable. But I didn’t want to side with my father either. So I said it had been a long trip and I needed to visit the outhouse and slipped out. Well, there was a line at the outhouse: two of my nieces, three cousins, all four of my brothers, and my sister was already in there getting rid of some of that blackberry wine. So I went back inside to see what was going on.

In the parlor my mother was putting together some kind of monstrosity with dead leaves and dried berries that she said she was going to put in the middle of the table.

“Where’s the food going to go?” I asked.

“Well, we’ll move it before we eat.”

I was going to ask why she’d bother to put it in the middle of the table if she was just going to move it again but decided against having that discussion, so instead I sat down and leafed through a broadsheet that was handy.

“The other men are organizing a game,” she said. “It’s some new sport called foot-ball. You should go and join them.”

Well, she knows I’ve never been athletic, but when I protested she got put out with me and said, “It’s your Uncle Wilkes’s idea. You know you’ve always been his favorite. You really should go and do it just to please him.”

FINE.

Well, when I came back in my sister just cackled and toasted me with another glass of blackberry wine. All my mother could say was “Don’t get any blood on the carpet,” and my older brother kept telling me to stop being a sissy and just put some salve on it. Then Aunt Gerda said pinch the back of my neck and tilt my head forward and Uncle Wilkes said no, put pressure between the eyes and lean back, and then my cousins got into it so there had to be a family brawl about that. A day later and I’m still bleeding. So much for the salve. Then Uncle Aloysius had to start in Daniel about supporting the Whigs and Elizabeth about Suffragettes, just trying to start an argument. Fortunately they didn’t rise to the bait.

Then I tried to head off another argument about who’d have to chaperone the kids’ table by volunteering, but my father cut that off.

“No, no, I want John seated here on my left. After I sent him to that fancy and very expensive school so he could waste his time studying the dramatic arts and oratory he should be well-equipped to deliver the traditional Booth family prayer of thanks.”

Traditional since last year, he means. Then my kid brother kicked me in the shins which I know was his way of saying “Don’t start anything”. I kicked him twice as hard in the shins which was my way of saying, “I wasn’t going to,” and then kicked him again to say, “Hurts, don’t it?”

All this might have been a little more bearable if my sister had let me have some of the blackberry wine.

I swear I’m going to get that Lincoln for making us do this.

Getting Around.

They sprang up like 13-year cicadas, all over the place, on corners, under trees, and all over sidewalks. At least they were quieter than cicadas, although they could be at least as annoying, zipping up behind me as I was walking somewhere or left lying on their side blocking the path. I was checking one out–I mean considering taking one for a spin, when an older couple came up to me and asked, “How do they work?” I was tempted to be a smartass and say, “Well, you straddle it with your legs and put your feet on the pedals…” but that would be rude, so I said, “It says you have to download an app…” The woman laughed and said, sarcastically, “Well of course! You can’t do anything these days without an app,” and I was glad she was the one who got to be a smartass because she made a much better point. The Ofo bikes seemed like a fun and easy way to get around, but I’m slightly paranoid when it comes to downloading weird apps, especially ones that are theoretically free but could track where I’m going and when. Not that where I’m going is any big secret, and I do see the advantages. I’ve never forgotten the time I got lost biking around St. Petersburg, Florida, which is easy to do because the houses there all look alike, but that’s another story.
Anyway the bikes disappeared as suddenly as 13-year cicadas. It turns out Ofo is scaling back its operations in North America thanks to a series of problems including theft and vandalism, which is why we can’t have nice things or bikes that clutter the sidewalks. They were replaced by Bird scooters which are cooler and because they’re motorized offer a faster way to get around, and they promise that it’s “Only $1 to get started” which I’m even more paranoid about because I’m pretty sure you still have to download an app and now it’s one you have to pay for. And they’ve been controversial because they clutter the sidewalks, gathering in groups. I was standing at a bus stop when I guy sped up on one–I thought I was going to have to get out of his way since quite a few people on them have forced me off the sidewalk as they zip by–and then he got off. So I talked to him a little bit about them. We talked about how the rules are that they’re supposed to only be used on the street and riders are always supposed to wear a helmet. And we agreed that the two things we’ve never seen are someone riding a scooter on the street and someone riding a scooter wearing a helmet. I can’t say whether these new transportation options are really cutting down on traffic which is supposed to be their big advantage–they don’t seem to be–but they’ve definitely prompted a rise in sarcasm.

We Can Be Heroes.

I have a complicated relationship with comic books. For some reason I never had any when I was a kid. It’s not that my parents had any objections to comic books, but I don’t remember going anywhere they were for sale. When I was, I think, in second grade there was some kind of school contest and I won a single issue of <i>The Fantastic Four</i>. I don’t remember what the contest was exactly–I wasn’t really paying attention, and maybe if I had I could have won more than just a single issue, but that’s another story. And I loved it. I could never figure out where to find more, though. I hear people talk about comic books racks at the drugstore or the grocery store, and eventually, when I was in my teens, the bookstores in the mall had racks with offerings from Marvel and DC, but at that point I’d moved on. I was making regular trips every Thursday–new comic day–to a local comic book store where I spent my money on mostly independent titles. I liked, if I could, to pick up a comic from issue one so I wouldn’t miss any of the backstory. I avoided the old classics because the size and depth of their universes intimidated me. My friends were all big X-Men fans and yet I avoided it because I felt I’d missed so much. I was fascinated by them–and several times seriously considered getting back into Spider-Man, my childhood hero–but kept my distance.

And yet there had been a glorious summer, maybe in between second and third grade–I don’t really remember because I wasn’t paying attention–when every afternoon the local UHF station ran a series of Marvel cartoons from 1966, and, starved for superhero action, I soaked up a good dose of Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, Iron Man, and Namor of Atlantis. The stories were great but at first the animation seemed a little shoddy and goofy to me–characters barely moved, and the design seemed, well, flat. Over time it grew on me, though, and I realized these were faithful interpretations of the originals. The quality of the animation may have been intended to save on costs, but it also captured the spirit of the comic books. I like to think the singular genius behind all of these characters, Stan Lee, had a hand in making the comic books characters he created and helped write the stories for, accessible. And that he got a kick out of the catchy theme songs. They opened me up to the worlds of comic book stories, and those comic books I collected in my teens–that included The Watchmen and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman–probably wouldn’t have existed without him.

Tom over at Tom Being Tom has a great tribute to the comic books of his youth and the profound influence Stan Lee had on him and, reading it, I realized that even before I started collecting comic books regularly Stan Lee had an influence on me too, and even that his influence reached beyond just giving us memorable comic book characters who’ve become part of our collective culture. He made it possible for us all to be part of the world of heroes.

Hail and farewell Stan Lee.

Here are some of the openings to those old cartoons. Enjoy the catchy theme songs.

Get Stuffed.

Every year when Thanksgiving is celebrated in the United States there are certain traditions, including turkey and its own special side dish which, depending on where you are, is known as either stuffing–because it’s sometimes stuffed into and cooked with the turkey–or dressing. Regardless of what you call it it’s an essential part of the Thanksgiving meal, but varies widely from state to state. Here are the most popular stuffing, or dressing, ingredients across the United States.

Alabama-corn bread

Alaska-moose

Arizona-sand

Arkansas-hot springs mud

California-walnuts, oranges, self-loathing

Colorado-granola

Connecticut-PEZ candy

Delaware-disc golf

Florida-alligator

Georgia-peanuts

Hawaii-pineapple

Idaho-potatoes, Napoleon Dynamite DVDs

Illinois-pizza (deep dish)

Indiana-waffles, basketballs

Iowa-formerly corn, now mostly ethanol

Kansas-wheat

Kentucky-bluegrass, white linen suits

Louisiana-crawfish

Maine-clams

Maryland-clam chowder

Massachusetts-oysters

Michigan-perch, pierogis

Minnesota-mosquitoes, hockey pucks, public radio programs

Mississippi-cactus, old issues of National Geographic

Missouri-barbecued ribs

Montana-a steak stuffed inside another steak

Nebraska-corn husks

Nevada-corn chips, casino chips

New Hampshire-grapes, pewter

New Jersey-Skee-Ball balls

New Mexico-lapis lazuli

New York-pizza (thin crust)

North Carolina-microbrewed beer

North Dakota-gravel

Ohio-cash registers

Oklahoma-acorns

Oregon-Flexiturducken (a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey stuffed inside a tofu loaf)

Pennsylvania-sports mascots

Rhode Island-macaroni, feathers

South Carolina-iodine

South Dakota-accordions

Tennessee-fried okra, dreams of making it in the country music industry

Texas-oil

Utah-bees

Vermont-artisanal ice cream

Virginia-overdue library books

Washington-octopus, silicon

West Virginia-coal

Wisconsin-cheese curds

Wyoming-prairie oysters

Flight Of The Kiwis.

I don’t fly much. This is mainly because I don’t travel much and also probably why I don’t do standup comedy because jokes about flying, airports, and airlines are pretty much a staple of standup comedy, although that may be because comedians travel a lot so maybe it’s a case of which came first: the joke about the chicken crossing the road or the evolution of reproduction by gametes? Anyway the last few times I’ve flown I was disappointed that the flight safety talk was a video and not performed by live flight attendants which used to be the standard. I remember the last time I flew and the safety talk was given by a live attendant. It was a Tuesday and the plane was mostly empty so maybe that’s why she decided to add some comedy to it, saying things like, “If the cabin should suddenly lose pressure stop screaming, let go of the person next to you, and place the oxygen mask over your face.” Or maybe she was just trying to keep her job interesting. I learned being a flight attendant can be really boring from a woman I worked with who quit her job to become a flight attendant because she thought it would be a chance to visit diverse and interesting places and instead it turned out to be a chance to visit diverse and not very interesting hotel rooms. Maybe I shouldn’t joke about it because I do feel bad whenever someone has a dream and it crashes and burns and it occurs to me that “crashes and burns” may not be the best way to describe the end of a flight attendant’s career. I should probably save that one for the guy I worked with who quit his job as a professional librarian to become a professional truck driver because he thought it would give him time to do a lot of reading and was surprised that instead it gave him time to do a lot of truck driving, so he went back to his old job even though he didn’t have any more time for reading while he was librarianing, but that’s another story.
Anyway what made me think of this is that some airlines are looking for ways to make their safety videos more interesting so people will actually watch instead of getting in a few more minutes of free wifi before the plane takes off. Not that I’m sure why we need a safety video since if anything goes wrong with a sealed tube traveling at hundreds of miles an hour chances are a plastic mask and a seatbelt probably aren’t going to help you. I know that statistically you’re safer traveling by plane than by car but if your car’s engine dies it’s a lot less statistically likely that you’re going to suddenly plummet thousands of feet unless you’re driving the Zoji La in India.
As for that flight attendant who made jokes during the safety talk, I wish I’d made a note of her name because I bet she eventually quit and now has a successful career in standup comedy.
Here’s New Zealand Air’s new safety video.

 

Out Of The Depths.

Source: National Geographic

The oldest known cave paintings have been discovered in Borneo, or rather rediscovered since somebody knew about them once, when they were being made, and no one knows for how long after that before the knowledge was lost. The art dates back at least 52,000 years. One of the interesting things about this is that previously the oldest cave paintings were thought to be in Europe, dating back 35,000 or 40,000 years. People didn’t arrive in Borneo until 60,000 to 70,000 years ago, steadily progressing across the planet after first migrating out of Africa around two million years ago, give or take a few millenia.
One of the biggest questions about cave paintings is, what do they mean? And if you think modern art is hard to understand try making sense of art from fifty-thousand years ago. In the book The Cave Painters Gregory Curtis examines multiple ideas–that they were markers of clan identity, that they served shamanistic or religious purposes, that pictures of animals or hunters pursuing them may have been meant to increase herds or aid in the hunt–and takes down the weaknesses of all of them. The fact is we just don’t know why people made cave paintings not just thousands of years ago but continued making them for thousands of years.
Researchers have also wondered why it took so long after they arrived in an area for people to start making cave paintings. And I have some thoughts of my own on that. Caves are remarkably good at preserving things but I think humans were creating art long before that. Cave paintings are maybe the most badass forms of early art: many remained unknown for so long because they were so deep in caves, in places that were difficult to reach, that were in total darkness. Cave painters had to work by firelight, often in cramped spaces. Their work wasn’t likely to be seen by most people at the time it was created. And then there’s the fact that cave paintings don’t just span across millenia but also continents, all speaking to two fundamental human needs: the need to move and explore, and the need to create art. And maybe those two needs aren’t unrelated. Travel is a way of exploring the world around us; art translates the explorations of the worlds within us.

 

 

Star Man.

Orion is rising west by southwest in the mornings now. It’s the second constellation I learned to identify after the Big Dipper, Ursa Major. It took some time before I could find the Big Dipper, before I even understood what constellations were. I was five when I overheard an older kid, some sunny summer day, say that he was going to look for the Big Dipper that night. I didn’t even know what a dipper was so I asked my mother and she took me out that night and pointed up at the stars. “There’s the spoon,” she said, “and there’s the handle.” I’m sure she explained that a constellation is a picture made up by connecting the stars like dots but I missed that part and thought, what is she talking about? All I see are stars. And I was terrible at connect-the-dots puzzles anyway. I’d get bored somewhere around three and skip ahead to nine so no matter what the picture was supposed to be it always looked like an amoeba, but that’s another story.
I finally learned how to find constellations from a planetarium show where pictures of stars were projected on the convex screen and bright lines drawn between them, and I thought it was pretty imaginative that someone had put together a trapezoid and a line and seen it as a great bear. Even more interesting was knowing that the constellations are three-dimensional constructions seen in only two, flattened out by space and distance so that from another world their shapes would be very different.
For a long time every time I looked at Orion I wondered why ancient astronomers—the constellation was named by the Greeks—had called it that. Why Orion? Almost from the time I could read I was fascinated by Greek and Roman mythology—any mythology, really, but Greek and Roman was the most available—and Orion always seemed like a pretty obscure figure. He doesn’t play a major role in any big myths; in fact Orion seems to have long since been constellated by the time Jason goes looking for the golden fleece, not to mention the fall of Troy and Odysseus’s epic voyage. Why does Orion get such a prominent place in the sky, rising in the mornings at the start of winter in the northern hemisphere, gradually moving to the evenings as Earth approaches perihelion? Who was Orion, anyway, besides a hunter?
And that’s when I understood. Orion’s rise doesn’t mark the beginning of winter. Orion’s rise marks the end of the harvest and the beginning of the hunt, an ancient tradition that’s still with us. Winter is when ancient hunters’s fancy lightly turned to thoughts of meat, and now, some will argue, they go out to thin the herd, to spare the deer and elk from winter’s privations. The same ancient astronomers who named Orion believed Sirius was his dog, his faithful companion, or, maybe, the wolf who culls the sick and the weak and strengthens the herd.
All this came to me while I looked at Orion, and then a meteor streaked through the constellation, its brief glow like human existence against the backdrop of time.

Hello Cleveland!

Source: Wikipedia

So a Greyhound bus driver who was supposed to carry passengers from Cleveland to New York got lost and drove around Cleveland for several hours. It was only then that the passengers expressed concern which makes me wonder whom to blame in this situation: the driver for getting lost or the passengers for not noticing that they’d never even made it to Parma. I think the biggest problem is the driver kept going and didn’t stop anywhere in Cleveland. My wife and I went to Cleveland back in 2000 and I had a great time. Most people, when I told them where we were going, said, “Why would you want to go to Cleveland?” They made it sound like they were saying, “Why would you want tuberculosis?” I can think of half a dozen reasons why I wouldn’t want tuberculosis and at least as many why I would want to go to Cleveland. I had only two days to explore and that wasn’t close to enough. The first day I went to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, and nearly didn’t make it. We were actually staying in a hotel in Strongsville, a suburb so far out on Cleveland’s outskirts its practically in Toledo. I was taking the bus to Cleveland and, like most outskirts, the gap between Strongsville buses was big enough to, well, drive a bus through. And it wasn’t until I was on the bus that I realized I’d left my directions back at the hotel. Needless to say at the time I didn’t have a smartphone. Or even a cell phone, although I did have great confidence in my ability to find my way around. I thought about asking the driver if we could go back, but instead just formulated a new plan. I knew the Hall Of Fame was on Lake Erie and I thought, hey, how big could that be? When we got to downtown Cleveland I got out and headed straight for the lake–and right into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, after a nice walk around downtown Cleveland. I even got to see the world’s largest rubber stamp.
The bus back was a little different. I didn’t have a schedule so I got what I thought was a bus going back to Strongsville, but the route ended somewhere in the middle of Middleburg Heights and I had to hoof it the rest of the way. The next day I made sure to bring along all my information so I had everything planned better, and that night I read a story about a delegation of Cleveland city officials who went to Paris to promote The Other City Of Light as a tourist destination but instead stayed in luxury hotels and went to expensive restaurants and left the taxpayers the bill. I thought, hey, if they’d offer me the job I’d be thrilled to go to Paris and promote Cleveland as a tourist destination and I’d be fine with staying in a cut-rate hostel. Or I could take Parisians around Cleveland. The Cleveland Museum Of Art is pretty amazing even if it’s not as big as the Louve and it has actual doors instead of an annoying pyramid thing serving as an entrance, but that’s another story.
Anyway I understand that bus drivers can’t usually spend a lot of time looking at their phones while they’re carrying around passengers, but after a couple of hours I think it would have been okay if this driver had made an exception.

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