Friday, October 31, 2014

HOLY-WEEN? Holy Cow!

Hand me the black jellybeans and hold the holy water.

Just in time for Halloween, the Vatican has hosted a conference of exorcists.  What's on the program? How to vomit-proof your exorcist suit? I don't even want to think about a trade-show type marketplace.

In addition, the spoilsports of the Vatican have sent out the word that, come the 31st, good Catholic kids should dress up like saints, because it is Holy-ween.  (Actually, dudes, hallow does mean holy.)

This is old hat to me and my sister who were raised in the good old days of the Catholic School Hegemony that was 1950's Urban America, Worcester (Mass.)  Division. We had Halloween parties at school, but they were All Hallow's Eve parties because the next day was All Saint's Day, a Holy Day of Obligation (No school. Yay! Had to get up early anyway to go to Mass! Boo!).  We had to dress up like saints. This is what we refer to as "compulsory fun."

I won't go into the details--this was back in the day when costumes were home-made, with perhaps a purchased mask--but one year I dressed as my patron saint, Saint Catherine of Alexandria who was tortured to death on a wheel.  The only wheel I could find was from an old baby buggy, but needs must;  there was no way an actual torture wheel was in the budget and my father was no handyman.

My costume had a much higher neckline.

Actually, as a patron saint, I preferred the more intellectual Saint Catherine of Siena, but she didn't meet such a colorful end.  She only ate Communion wafers for years so she, duh, starved to death.  Not much of a nutritional role model, but she was otherwise a smart cookie and a few years ago I got to visit her mummified head in Siena.

Do you sense a theme here? The lives of the saints usually ended in some sort of torture, and we were spared no details. Machines of individual destruction included wheels (St. C of A), racks, crucifixes both right side up and upside down, griddles (St. Lawrence, whose reported last words were "Turn me over, I'm done on this side), and arrows (St. Sebastian, the painter's favorite pincushion.)  Methods of dispatch included burning at the stake, dismemberment, drawing and quartering,  severing of breasts, gouging out of eyeballs and tongues.  And, we were told, this sort of thing was going on right now in other parts of the world,  and if Sister Says It You'd Better Believe It.

That this pornography of pain was considered suitable fare for elementary school children makes me shriek. And if you think pornography is too strong a word, go google "St. Sebastian images." No wonder I was a nervous wreck, worried as I was about whether I would renounce my faith (direct path to Hell)  or submit to disemboweling by a Communist (immediate stairway to Heaven). Things got much easier when I realized I had no faith to renounce.  It's possible I believed in Santa Claus longer than I believed in Baby Jesus.

St. Sebastian, mild version, only two arrows and no gushing blood.

Note to the boys in the black cassocks (which make nifty witch costumes, by the by):  Focusing on the sad, demented, tortured, and gruesome lives of the saints isn't such smart marketing.  Not many kiddos want to grow up to suck on lepers' sores, like St. Damien.  Then again, maybe that's the type of sheep you are trying to attract to the flock.

This year, as most years, we'll be joining family in Salem, Mass. for the Halloween festivities.  The closest to a saints'  costume we'll see will likely be on a grown man dressed as a priest accompanied by a naughty nurse or a pirate wench.  We'll sit on the stoop and watch the traditional parade of goblins, ghosts, princesses, witches and superheros. The only vigil we'll be keeping will be over the candy bowl, because at my sister's house, located in the heart of Witch City, and visited by hundreds of sugar hounds, it's one candy bar to a customer.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Oh, My Exploding Head!

A sure sign of aging:  the increasing frequency with which my head threatens to explode when I read the news.  (Another sign that I am really old is that I still read the news, sometimes in an actual paper printed on crinkly actual newsprint with smudgy actual ink.)

This morning the bearded ghost of Allen Ginsberg * stands on the breakfast table and HOWLS:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
     starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking 
     for an angry fix,

But that last bit sounded more like:

Uber-ing themselves through the Wi-Fi 
streets at dawn looking 
   for an awesome app

I was reading about a company which has 30 employees in 4 cities and what they do is provide app-based reservation services for a whopping 90 restaurants so far.  Who pays for the reservation?  Why, you do.  $5 bucks a pop.  You might even be able to make a reservation for a special meal only available to the cool kids who make their reservations through the app.  Sucker burgers with sap sauce?

You can include a picture in your in-app profile and the restaurant staff will greet you by name. Wow! Instant celebrity when the tattooed host at the Dude Food Blood and Bones Brewpub and Grill high-fives you at the entrance. That's probably worth the $5 right there.

I am sure these clever youngsters over at Reservatronics (or whatever they call themselves) have visions of buy-out sugarplums dancing in their heads as they apply their energy, technological savvy, and desire to solving the immense problem of getting a reservation in a restaurant.

I really like my red-clad pocket pal of a phone, and I probably use as many silly apps as anyone my age, (that is, someone who remembers dial-up on-line access), but it is really appalling that so many folks are spending so much energy to solve minuscule non-problems.

I guess the enormous problems are just too enormous to be solved by a nifty little app.  The hard and messy solutions are never going to be acquired for mega-bucks either. And the beat goes on.

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?
                                                Allen Ginsberg: Howl, Part 2

*Actually, it was my bearded husband, Rick Teller, who stood beside the breakfast table laughing his head off reciting the Ginsberg lines. Thanks for the inspiration.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Apologies To My Ancestors

Dear Folks,

We've never met, but I feel I owe you an apology.

I'm pretty sure that when you boarded the old tubs in the old countries you were hoping for a better life for you and yours,  one that didn't involve stoop labor in a mucky plot of land.  If you imagined the life that your grandchildren and great-grandchildren might one day live, it probably involved pens and paper, accounting books, and more than one pair of shoes.

I'm happy to report that my own quite privileged life has involved pens and paper, accounting books, and more shoes than anyone needs.  I hope you would be proud of me, even if the idea of the internet made your head explode.  I think you would like my house with all its indoor plumbing, central heating, and upholstered furniture, even if it isn't covered with transparent plastic dust covers at all times.

But I think you would be appalled at how I spent Saturday afternoon: on my haunches, grubbing through the dirt with my hands,  to harvest a crop of spuds.

Spuds that I had completely forgotten about. Spuds that I cultivated in the most haphazard manner imaginable.  I didn't water.  I didn't weed. I left the poor things to their own devices. And neglected though they were, they made it to the harvest, although as you can see from the photo some of them were fairly stunted.

So, my apologies, for reverting to the peasanthood you were only to happy to leave behind.  I hope your heads don't explode at my incompetence or the idea that I planted this garden for fun, not because I needed to eat.

Your humble and grateful descendant,


Friday, October 17, 2014

No-No Paleo! Yes-Yes Retreo!

Yes, boys and girls, when you get old you do start to fall apart.  In my case, the digestion faltered, and I was forced to change my diet.  This led me to Dr. Google's colleague, the great nutritionist in The Cloud, and my head began to spin.  Eventually,  I settled on a classic bland diet that seemed strangely familiar.

You've heard of the trendy Paleo "caveman" lifestyle with meat, meat, meat and no processed food on the menu? I found I was living the Retreo lifestyle, where the more processed the food is, the better.

As I overcooked my green beans and plopped them on a plate of naked chicken breast, with a side of white rice, I felt like I had been sucked into a wormhole and spit out into my mother's kitchen, circa 1957.  The gang was all there:  Little Miss Sunbeam, the Blue Bonnet Lady, Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima, Snap Crackle Pop. Welcome back, daughter!  Permission granted to eat white bread, white flour, Jell-o, and mushy carrots. Permission granted to turn up your nose at broccoli, cauliflower, and kale.

I hope that slice is slathered with Blue Bonnet Margarine because
"Everything's better with Blue Bonnet on it."

For a while the diet was good transgressive fun. The devil says eat the white bread, the angel says eat the multigrain.  I got to hang with the devil.  True, cooking in was boring and eating out was a challenge since "land that time forgot" restaurants--where the rolls are squishy and the lettuce is all iceberg, all the time--are few and far between in this part of the world.

But there are two versions of Retreo--Mom's Kitchen and Galivanting Gourmet--as I found when I consulted my favorite vintage cookbooks:  The Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places, Volumes 1 and 2.  Dating from the very early 1950's, and given out as inducements to test drive a new Ford, they were designed, no doubt, to elicit a Pavlovian drool as you ran to the garage, hopped in your new Ford and drove fifty miles for a swell meal.  Reading through I realized that the most dramatic revolution I've lived through has not been technological, but culinary.

What's on the menu?  How about an appetizer of Banana Meat Rolls (all you Paleo people, hold the roll), followed by an entree of Opossum, Roasted and Stuffed (with bread stuffing, not taxidermy fluff).  Don't forget  a side of Walpole Woodchuck Relish.  Alas, the relish contains no woodchucks, only cabbage, green peppers, sour pickles, a can of pimentos and some seasonings.

If those items don't appeal you can choose between five versions of Lobster Thermidor, three Sweetbreads presentations and six bowls of Clam Chowder, but why bother when you can order Roast Vermin.

You could opt for  a salad, but fair warning, the dressing will contain either tomato soup or its cousin ketchup/catsup or canned pineapple, possibly both.  If you like your pineapple without tomato sauce, you might choose the Holiday Salad, either the Jello-O mold version or the lettuce version: canned pineapple rings colored with red and green food coloring, cinnamon flavor for the red and peppermint for the green, laid out on crisp lettuce leaves and garnished with mayonnaise.  The only fresh pineapple in the book was used as a pincushion for toothpicked tidbits of shrimp and cheese. Oh, the glamour.

What's up with all that canned pineapple?  My first cookbook, which was a kid's cooking thing, included a recipe for Flagpole Salad, which featured a vertical banana jammed on a canned pineapple ring.  Maybe the folks at Dole were especially good at product placement, and dropped off crates of rings, chunks, and crushed bits on the doorstep of every eating place in the country.

"Fat" was not often specified, so anything went: bacon drippings, lard, butter, oleo, Crisco, Wesson Oil, or axle grease. For the Ancient Barbecue Sauce you need tallow (beef or mutton fat rendered from suet) and an otherwise modern sounding recipe for Guacamole calls for mayonnaise (not enough fat in the avocados?) and green food coloring (for St. Patrick's Day?)

Dessert will be cream pie: coconut, banana, chocolate, chocolate rum, coffee, lemon, mint, lime, pineapple and three versions of unspecified flavor "cream."  There are very few chocolate desserts, but there is a Tomato Soup Cake that I remember appeared regularly at Ma's Eating Place.

I had a hard time choosing which recipe to include here, but when I came across the following vegetable dish, I though immediately of my sister Maureen.

2 cans yellow wax beans
Brown sugar
White Sauce
1/2 cup grated cheese
1/2 cup aged cheese

I'm sure you can guess that it hails from Wisconsin, and I think you can guess how the ingredients get assembled and baked, but you probably didn't know how to make the aged cheese: dry cheese, grate it until very fine, and pack in glass jars.  It keeps indefinitely and has a fine tang. I'll just bet it does.

I know that I can't count on my sister to be in the same room as, let alone prepare, this tempting treat, so it won't be on the menu on the  Trouserville table this Thanksgiving.  While not traditional fare, the recipe for Upside-Down Fudge Cake in Volume Two does sound pretty good and that could make a guest appearance. So hop in the Ford and drive on up on the 27th of November to find out.

In the meantime, skip on over to read Maureen's blog post Gag Me with a Spoonful of Creamed Corn to understand her aversions to wax beans,  with a side of turnip and creamed spinach.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Saucy Bits

More hoo-hah every day as celebrity after celebrity, both major and minor, trashes the hackers who got into their phones, pulled out nude photos, and, gasp!, put them out on the internet.  More viral than ebola! More evil than Satan! Oh, the rhetoric!

Yes, these women have a right to feel violated.  Yes, these hackers are certainly "bad actors," which seems to be the  trendy term for miscreants, and are worthy of a bitch-slap or two.

But, here I am going to launch into full oldster crank mode:  Take all the nude photos you want, selfies or otherwise, but remember that if it's on your phone and you are famous,  it's just hacker-bait. If you're sending it along, it's hacker-bait on someone else's phone. Haven't you figured that out yet?  Even old wrinklies have heard about hackers and identity thieves, and since we were brought up in the olden days we learned the difference between public and private, a distinction that has gone the way of the daguerrotype.

Meanwhile, spare us the self-righteous anger and go back to your acting:  good, bad or otherwise.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

My Last Light Bulb

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour.

William Blake may have seen a world in a grain of sand, but I have seen my capital M mortality in a light bulb.  

They don't make them like they used to, which is a very good thing, since the last light bulb in that fixture had separated into two parts while I wasn't looking :  metal ring wedged into the socket and glass bulb dropped to the floor and rolled under the bed.  So, off to Home Depot, where we sprang for the LED bulb.  Since the eyesight, does in fact, grow dim with age, we figured the price was right for the brighter light and for the fact that it should last longer than its predecessor.

Turns out that sucker will last longer than its purchasers.

Some are Born to sweet delight,/Some are Born to Endless Night.
But not if you install an LED light.

According to the package, at a usage of a mere three hours a day, it should last 22.2 years.

Hmm-mm--mm.  I will probably have been carted off to my semi-final (and as yet undetermined) resting place by then.

But this light fixture is in use only half the year, so that brings its life span to 44.4 years.

I will definitely have been carted off to my final resting place (an ash plot in Mount Auburn cemetery) by January 2059.

It gets more dramatic.  This light is on no more than a half an hour a day, which brings it's life span to an astonishing, and sobering, 132.2 years.

The house may not be standing by then, although it was solidly built 133 years ago and has a new roof.  Even if the house is abandoned in the great flood of the next century, the light bulb will be worth salvaging, unless the grid has collapsed and the residents of my leafy suburb have regressed to a state of feral paleolithicity.

I have just had a birthday, and as the years pile up, I have more and more thoughts about lost possibilities, last-time events, and the disposition of valuables.  But I never expected those thoughts, bitter or sweet,  to be triggered by a light bulb. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Being a Grownup Isn't Scary. Hah!

For a moment, I was excited to see that the nearby Heartburn Pizza Cafe which had been shrouded in brown paper all summer appeared to be ready to re-open under a new name.  I had hoped for a nice little neighborhood bistro, preferably one which didn't serve kale chips and quinoa stew, but what the hell kind of tragically hip name for a restaurant is "Society of Grownups?" And who would want to eat there anyway?

Well, frowny-faces all around.  Society of Grown-Ups is not a bar and grill. It's a financial education center. It's a social network not-so-secret clubhouse. It's a place to find your "inner adult."  It's funded by local insurance company MassMutual and designed by uber-hip local firm Ideo.

Good idea, to provide financial education to recent college graduates and young adults, and probably a smart marketing initiative from a stodgy old insurance company who probably took a look at the demographic of their current clients and found they were all Trouserville cohorts, circling the drain with paid up life insurance policies grasped in their ancient claws. And who is going to start a storefront center for finding your inner geezer?  No future in that.

While the SOG website has many links to sensible financial tools and advice, the overall gestalt of the enterprise seems to be cloying cutesy-ness, which may go down well with the Instagram generation but seems downright patronizing to an old codger. A bit misleading, too, if their have your latte and drink it attitude is as pervasive as it seems to be in their tag lines and course descriptions (When Money Buys Happiness, No Cereal for Dinner, etc.).

Society of Grownups is a sort of masters program for adulthood. A place to learn how to deal with adult responsibility without losing your soul or sense of adventure along the way.

The subtext of the whole things seems to be: all those other old adults, like your parents and your teachers and the big, scary financial institutions with big, scary names, want to spoil your fun--but not us. We just want you to learn  how to spend money without giving up your daily latte, or find out what it means to cook like a grownup (hint: it probably involves kale and quinoa), or just have some fun with people just like you.  Actually, I suspect the graphics, the tone, the silliness are there to turn off potential gatecrashers of the elderly persuasion.  After all, you can't station a chipper young bouncer at the door to turn away those scary party-poopers over the age of 30.

Too bad.  I'm sure a lot of us would really love to attend their Halloween event (after all it has the old cheapsters favorite magic word in the description.)  Why, we wouldn't have to work too hard to be in costume what with all the hearing aids, walkers, moth-balled clothes and cranky faces we have at our disposal.

They haven't named the scary movie on offer but I'm betting it's a finance-themed flick.  Anyone for It's A Wonderful Life?  Or maybe the first Wall Street, because what could be scarier than Gordon Gekko's suspenders?

Here's your invitation.  Consider yourself warned about the sugar rush.  Just don't tell them I sent you.

Being a Grownup Isn't Scary
Join us on Halloween for free scary movie night! Food, drinks, candy.

Wear a costume - or not! But costumes are so fun, aren't they?

A general feeling of terror
A sugar rush

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What a Difference 50 Years Makes

Drop names, not bombs.  I'm looking at you Gi.

"Free Freedom" must make more sense in French.

"Everything looks worse in black & white..."  Or does it?

Just call me an old cranky-pants (bell-bottomed cranky-pants, of course), but the photos from the recent Chanel Spring 2015 fashion show made my head explode.  And not because of the Day-Glo colors.  I love the sassy prints and patterns, the shoes that look like you could actually walk a mile in them, and all that long straight hair.  All that effervescent estrogenic rich-grr-rr-rr-l power is kind of cute especially when you are an old, wizened crone such as myself.

But today is my birthday and I am in no mood for the commodification of protest, especially not when we are bombing them into yesterday in yet one more undeclared war.  

Here's a link to Simon & Garfunkel performing Kodachrome.  Unhappily, unfortunately.