Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

VALENTINE

Antique Valentine
Valentine, circa 1938, from collection of Dee’s late Dad.

This business of Valentine’s Day - as I have often reflected on these Electronickal Pages - has always been a source of amusement for me, as well as an opportunity to make social observations.

It has, in this country at least, become a celebration of the restaurant, chocolate, flower, and greeting card industries - one of the occasions on which they can, almost assuredly, make bank. (There are no holidays unsullied by commercial interests these days, with the possible exception of Shavuos, which gets no respect.)

But that’s OK. It’s a day on which to celebrate love in all its forms: childhood affection, preteen crushes, teenage romance with all of its hormonal components, the love of family, and the mature love that grows out of long years.

Dee and I have been together, one way or another, for over forty-two years. We’ve brought two daughters from infancy (even from their embryonic existence!) unto full-fledged adulthood, and we have ridden the roller-coaster of marriage through relocations, job changes, peaks and valleys, challenges, fears, and delights. And we are, still, each other’s Valentines.



May you and your Valentines - whoever they may be - enjoy the day.

Monday, February 5, 2018

OH! THE HUGE MANATEE!


Manatee. [Photo: Wikipedia.]

I think that I shall never see
A thing as weird’s a Manatee.

In form, much like a giant worm
With skin so like a pachyderm;

A beast that makes God laugh all day,
Created, as it were, in play;

A Manatee whose back is marked
By prop of boat or tooth of shark;

With barnacle-encrusted bum;
Who lives in ponds with algae scum.

Poems are made by fools like me,
For fun, God made the Manatee.

Oh, those crazy manatees. Floridians love those suckers: sluggish, slothful aquatic mammals that are the direct opposites of the playful porpoise. In appearance, a manatee looks like a sort of mashup of a walrus, a seal, and a hippopotamus, but with far more docility than any of those species possesses. Maybe that’s the attraction for Sunshine Staters - hell, Jimmy Buffett is like a Tasmanian Devil compared to your average Sea-Cow.

It is said that mariners of bygone days would espy manatees floating lazily by and fantasize that what they were seeing were mermaids. This tells us a lot about the lack of qualified ophthalmologists amongst a typical ship’s crew, as well as providing us with a testament to what months of sexual deprivation at sea can do to the male imagination. Yeef on a reef.  

This week, thanks to my cousin Diane and her hubby Charles, I had an opportunity to see all the manatees I ever need to see, all assembled in one place: the cooling water discharge canal at Tampa Electric Company’s Big Bend Unit 4 power station. In wintertime, when the temperature of Tampa Bay falls below ~68°F, manatees are attracted to the relatively warm water in the power station’s discharge canal. It’s a rare instance of a process that both adds to the human carbon footprint and yet is a direct benefit to wildlife.

Most human-manatee interaction doesn’t do the manatee much good. Motorboat propellers inflict a characteristic series of slashes on those unfortunate manatees that happen to get in the way, a problem compounded by the sluggishness of the beasts as well as their near invisibility when submerged just below the surface. But at Tampa Electric, it’s just dandy: the manatees obviously like the warm water and the company can put on a good face for the environmentalists. Yes, there are humongous stacks and all kinds of scary looking power plant equipment there, but to be fair, most of the stuff coming out of those stacks is just steam. And yet, there’s a sort of Distraction Vibe going on. (“Pay no attention to those giant smokestacks over there! Look! Another gentle creature of the deep!”)

And let me tell you: There are a lot of manatees in that canal.


Just a small sample... a manateaser, if you will.

The water was absolutely thick with the bastards. You could almost imagine walking clear across that canal by hopping on the backs of them, like aquatic stepping stones: That’s how many of them there were. I had seen maybe one or two in all my previous sixty-five years of existence and never imagined such numbers even existed. It was a veritabobble manatee mosh pit. The place was manateeming with ’em. The photo above doesn’t begin to convey how many there were - it’s just a tiny corner of an edge of a piece of the whole canal - but it gives an idea of the sheer density of their population.

But I learned a lot. Including a bunch of stupid manatee-related jokes. Enjoy.

Q: What does a manatee drink?
A: A Martanateeni. Salt water, gin, and a hint of vermouth. Garnish with a skein of algae and a barnacle shell.

Q: When do manatees go to the movies?
A: In the afternoon, of course.

Q: What do manatees wear in the summer?
A: Manatee shirts.

Q: What do manatees wear in the winter?
A: Cardigans.

Q: What do manatees use to chew their food?
A: Manateeth.

Q: What’s a manatee’s favorite color?
A: Manateal.

Q: Who do manatees root for in the Big Game?
A: The home manateam.

Feel free to contribute your own dopey jokes in the comments!

Friday, February 2, 2018

GROUNDHOG DAY... AGAIN

Groundhog Day
©2006 King Features Syndicate.

Marmota Monax, raise your Head -
By your Example we are led.
When you inhale the wint’ry Air,
Will you retreat into your Lair
Affrighted by a Shadow Fell,
Or (much more likely), human Smell?
If by the Sun a Shadow’s cast,
Might you predict a frosty Blast?
Perchance a Cloud obscures the Sky,
An Omen that warm Weather’s nigh.
Compared to you, Science is “Blawney,”
O, Oracle of Punxsutawney.

Today is Groundhog Day, that peculiarly American institution in which the scientific underpinnings of modern meteorology are discarded in favor of the random meanderings of a large, confused, squirrel-like rodent. It’s a holiday that seems especially appropriate given recent political developments.

Today is also the Friday before the so-called Big Game, the term “Super Bowl” having been copyrighted, trademarked, or whatever. And yet Sunday’s festivities will be a letdown compared to the real action, which took place in Punxsutawney, PA this morning. It is then that Phil, the local Whistle-Pig, determined the weather conditions for the next three fortnights via the arcane art of Shadow Observation. And thanks to Pennsylvania’s clear skies, the news is not good: six more weeks of wintry weather.
 
I gave up on trying to get tickets years ago. Scalpers have jacked the prices up to where they are more dear than Masters passes... or Super Bowl ducats, for that matter. And that’s unfortunate, because the parades and pageantry in Punxsutawney put Mardi Gras in New Orleans to shame. (Also, fewer trombones. Phil doesn’t like ’em.)

Have you purchased Groundhog Day cards for your friends and relatives? Sent Groundhog Day flowers and chocolates to that special someone? Why the fuck not? What are you waiting for? And if you have not already booked a table at your restaurant of choice, it’s probably too late - the place will be packed with Groundhog Day revelers. You’ll have to fall back on Plan B, the ever-popular Groundhog Day Backyard Barbecue, where porkburgers are the entrée of choice (ground hog, get it?)

Enjoy the day... and may your shadows be few!

[Recycled from any number of previous publications in this blog. Hey, it’s Groundhog Day! Recycling is the whole point, innit?]

Sunday, January 28, 2018

SØME ÅSSEMBLY REQUIRED: A 100-WORD EULOGY

He had written the instructions years ago, sealing them in a plastic wrapper so they would be in perfect condition when the day finally came when they would be necessary.

Now it was time.

A black-suited functionary slit the wrapper and withdrew the single sheet of paper. His task proceeded wordlessly. Moments later, he was ready for the final steps.

The carefully constructed container, contents now in place, was sealed permanently with four turns of the Allen wrench: one per corner. A brief eulogy was all that remained before Ingvar moved to his new home... only fourteen square feet!

[Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA, passed away yesterday at the age of 91. Thanks to Paul Cahlstadt for inspiring this story.]

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

STICKIN’ WITH YOU

It occurred to me recently that, of my two sets of grandparents, I can only recall hearing music in my paternal grandparents’ home.

Mom’s parents probably liked music as much as anyone, but I just don’t remember any evidence of it. Maybe after my mother decided not to be a piano prodigy, her folks gave up on music in frustration. Who knows?

On the other hand, Dad’s parents - or at least his mother - liked having a little melody in the house.

They had an actual record player - a turntable with a record changer! - and a tuner, in case they got bored listening to records. If my memory serves, the turntable/tuner assembly was housed in a cabinet with speakers, and it was on some kind of sliding drawer affair that enabled one to pull it out in order to load a stack of records.

I remember listening to “South Pacific” on that thing. It was a real old-school record album, a pile of 78 RPM shellac discs that were stored in - literally - an album. You would take them out of their sleeves and load them onto the changer. After the first sides all played, you’d flip the whole stack over at once and listen to the other sides. (The turntable could also be used to listen to those new-fangled vinyl LP’s.)

Grandma liked her music, she did. In the late 1960’s she became a Tom Jones aficionado, and whenever one of the local FM stations would play “Delilah,” she was entranced. Nice going, Grandma - a song about a romance-fueled murder. I suspect Frank Zappa and the Grateful Dead were a little too much for her.

But what I remembered from my little-kid days was a rockabilly number that she would listen to incessantly... hardly the kind of thing you’d expect to appeal to a little old Jewish lady in Brooklyn, but there you are. And the lyrics got engraved in my brain thanks to ceaseless repetition:

Be-bop - I love you, baby
Be-bop - I don’t mean maybe
Be-bop - I love you, baby
I’m stickin’ with you 
I’m stickin’ with you...

Thanks to the miracle of the Inter-Webby-Netz, I was finally able to track this little tune down - a song by one Jimmy Bowen with which he kicked of his recording career in 1957. The song charted at #14 - not bad for a flip side - but Bowen eventually decided to work on the other side of the mike. I’m happy to report that he’s still walking the planet.

Have a listen:



Wednesday, January 17, 2018

ON POPERY

The Pope had a big sack of potpourri
That would cheer him when he would feel motpourri.
He’d stay up all night long
Smoking it in a bong -
’Twas the closest he could come to dotpourri.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

THE ATIVAN MAN

Who can take your tension (who can take your tension)
And make it go away (make it go away)
Keep your angsty feelings and insomnia at bay
Oh, the Ativan Man (the Ativan Man)
The Ativan Man can (the Ativan Man can)
With his Ativan Van
‘Cause he drives his Ati-Van
And it’s filled with Ativan
To make your brain feel good
(to make your brain feel good)

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 - AVE ATQUE VALE


Composite photograph of the solar eclipse of 21 August 2017 as it progressed from partial to total... one of the highlights of the year just past.

Today is the last day of 2017.

Today is also the forty-second anniversary of my meeting Dee for the first time, a story I still don’t tire of telling. (By now, however, Dee may very well be tired of hearing me tell it.) 

There have been Goings On a-plenty in the wider world, but I shall leave it to those who are more expert and better remunerated to tell of all of the tragedies, horrors, and joys of life in the public sphere. Mass shootings, police brutality, public demonstrations, narrischkeit on the part of elected officials: This crap has become a feature of our collective lives in ever newer and more exciting ways in 2017. Natural disasters, of course, happen all the time, yet I am constantly amazed at the way we create our own.

Nevertheless, there have been moments of transcendent joy.

I will never forget the sense of anticipation with which we greeted one of the rarest and most beautiful astronomical phenomena this past August - the total solar eclipse that a small group of us witnessed from Eric’s front lawn. Being able to experience it was the fulfillment of a decades-long desire.

This was the year I learned that wanting to do something was not the same as being able to do something... a lesson brought home to us after several weeks of painful, sweaty labor resurfacing our deck resulted in a not-especially-pretty start, along with a broken thumb for Dee. I am reminded of an old poem by Hilaire Belloc:

Lord Finchley tried to mend the Electric Light
Himself. It struck him dead: And serve him right!
It is the business of the wealthy man
To give employment to the artisan.

We’ve learned, at considerable pain and expense, to give employment to the artisan. But for all that, we now have a nice newly bedecked deck as well as freshly painted rooms throughout our house.

Ah, the house. We’ve lived in it for nigh unto two decades, and it’s looking like time for a change. Chez Elisson is all clean and decluttered (relatively speaking) now, the better for potential suitors to fall in love with it. As for us, we hope to relocate to something a bit more cozy, yet not too far away. Having a master bedroom at ground level would be a helpful change: We have learned that there are some living space features that can become very important very quickly, most often without any warning. Thus, preemptive action is the order of the day.

Elder Daughter continues to perform and to devise theatrical work in numerous venues, most commonly her home base of Philadelphia. The Mistress of Sarcasm, meanwhile, remains in Kingston, NY, where she and her boyfriend have - in addition to working on their usual individual artistic endeavors and the refurbishment of their building - opened an Airbnb. This could be considered a logical extension of her previous work in the hospitality industry.

Edith and Stella are (keyn ayin hora) still doing well, alternating between periods of mutual peevishness and slowly budding friendship. They provide huge amounts of amusement, deposit generous quantities of Cat-Dookie in the litter box, and yank hair-floofs off each other as they engage in their games of Snarl ’n’ Chase.

Some time ago, I realized that I have been writing online over thirteen years, having started my bloggy adventures over at the Old Place in July of 2004. That’s old enough to be a Bar Mitzvah, but I’m not sure what that status means as applied to an Online Journal. Does it mean I’ve got to act like a grownup? Fuck that. Nobody reads blogs anymore anyway. That’s a shame, because that is where you used to meet new people strictly by the strength of your ideas... or, failing that, by how you expressed yourself. You didn’t have the self-selected audience of Farcebook - you were, so to speak, on your own.

Alas, Farcebook ate most of the blogs, and Twitter nibbled the crumbs... but I don’t care. I may not write much over here, but I still tack up a post every so often to keep the place alive. It also helps me clear the ever-accumulating pile of Brain-Shit out of my noggin. So there’s that. Somebody has to write sonnets about unspeakable bodily functions; it may as well be me.

For Dee and me, 2017 ended on a thoroughly delightful note: a week-long (plus) visit from both Elder Daughter and the Mistress of Sarcasm, together here with us for the first time in probably four years. We had expected the former to show up late last Saturday night, and so she did - but what we had not expected was that she had the latter in tow. Shrieks of joy abounded.

Life is inevitably imperfect, but it’s the tough spots that allow us to appreciate the tender. May your 2018 bring those tough spots in minimal amounts while providing tenderness and joy in their fullest measure... along with health, happiness, and fulfillment, without limit to any good thing.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

HAVE YOU BEEN GIFTED?

In my Snot-Nose Days, when someone was gifted, it meant that that person was exceptionally talented or intelligent. Now it means that someone gave you something.

Gift appears, now, to have become a verb... at least during Gifting Season.

As Dee points out, the English language is constantly evolving. We shouldn’t necessarily get our panties in a twist when usages change. As a Grammar Twerp, I recognize this truth and simultaneously accept it and loathe it... at least a little bit.

So please let me gift you, Esteemed Reader, an observation: There are still a few shibboleths out there.

As Jimmy Fallon points out, people who call Atlanta “Hot Lanta” are telling everyone that they are not from Atlanta.

Likewise - and I’m willing to be corrected on this one - nobody from San Francisco refers to their city as “San Fran” or “’Frisco.”

The only people who use the word “golf” as a verb (I‘m gonna go golfing this afternoon with Charlie, e.g.) are people who do not play golf.

And the only people who use the term “Sci-Fi” to refer to science fiction are people who do not actually read science fiction. (People who do read science fiction call the genre SF.)

Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves... and your thoughts on the matter, whether you agree or not, are welcome in the comments.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

ON EXCUSES, or
HEARING THE CALL


Le Penseur (“The Thinker”), thinking about how he has to go poop - what else?

I summited Ev’rest with my bold, hardy group
But I couldn’t stay long, because I had to poop.

Dining at Taillevent - had the white truffle soup
But I couldn’t stay long, because I had to poop.

I drove through LeMans in my lightning-fast coupe
But I couldn’t stay long, because I had to poop.

I sailed off New Zealand in my one-masted sloop
But I couldn’t stay long, because I had to poop.

As a seasoned reporter, I nailed down a scoop
But I couldn’t stay long, because I had to poop.

I was deep in a battle with my brave-hearted troop
But I couldn’t stay long, because I had to poop.

When I have to leave early, I’m ne’er thrown for a loop -
My incessant excuse is: I gotta go poop!

Monday, December 11, 2017

A CHANUKAH EDITORIAL



[If Dear Abby can get away with recycling the same Holiday Columns every stinking year, why not Elisson? We are therefore pleased to offer this thirteen-year-old Editorial Response previously published here and at Blog d’Elisson, one that is both timely and appropriate to the season. Chanukah begins at sundown Tuesday evening, December 12 this year.]

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the electronic-mail communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of Lost in the Cheese Aisle:
“I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there was no Judah Maccabee and that Chanukah is a load of crap. Papa says, ‘If you see it in Lost in the Cheese Aisle, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth, was there a Judah Maccabee?” - Patty O’Furniture
Patty, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All they care about is that fat red-suited guy who schleps presents to Yenemvelt and back. All minds, Patty, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, goornisht, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Patty, there was a Judah Maccabee.

He existed as certainly as dedication and courage and devotion exist. He kicked some serious ass back in the day, Judah did, throwing the Greco-Syrians out of Judea and reclaiming the holy Temple. His struggle was a struggle against assimilation, against those who would be seduced by the pop culture of the day. He fought his battles so that we Jews would retain our cultural identity and not be swallowed up in the prevailing pagan mainstream. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there had been no Judah Maccabee! It would be as dreary as if there were no Pattys. (Or furniture.) There would be no candle-lighting then, no singing Ma-oz Tzur (or even those stupid dreidel songs), no commemoration of the miraculous rededication of the Temple. No Judah? We would even today be schmearing ourselves with olive oil and burning pig hearts as sacrifices to Zeus. And our Christian friends would have no Christmas - for the culture that gave rise to Jesus would have been wiped out. The eternal light - the ner tamid - with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Judah? You might as well not believe in fairies. Or the Matzohball That Does Not Sink. Or Eliyahu ha-Navi. You might get your papa to hire men to watch all the seder tables of the world to catch a glimpse of Eliyahu, but even if you did not see him, what would that prove? Nobody ever sees Eliyahu ha-Navi drink his wine at the Seder table, but that is no sign that there is no Eliyahu ha-Navi. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. (Although those footprints in the grass were more likely made by your Papa as he tried to sneak back into the house with a snootful of booze after the office Xmas party.) Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You can tear apart the knish and see the tasty filling inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Patty, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Judah Maccabee? Thank G-d he lived - and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Patty, nay, 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to chase the Greco-Syrians out of Judea and combat the forces of cultural assimilation, making glad the heart of childhood.

Happy Chanukah!

[Originally posted on December 25, 2004.]

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

BIRTHDAY IN ABSENTIA

Earlier today, Dee and I were going through a small corner of the massive Archive d’Elisson, trying to decide what to hang on to and what to pitch. That’s especially challenging for us, given that every single household move we’ve made for the last thirty-nine years has been a corporate affair... which means that we’ve carted around Stupendous Amounts o’Crap simply because we could. Occasional decluttering notwithstanding, we are overdue for a massive inventory reduction.

Books are just one corner of the Archive, and getting them moved to the basement - a stage in their eventual onward travels - is an exercise in Letting Go. And some things, we’re just not ready to let go.

Case in point: a book of nursery rhymes that Mom gave the Mistress of Sarcasm for her fourth birthday. When we opened the book and found the inscription on the flyleaf - an inscription in my mother’s distinctive handwriting - I just about came unglued. It was just one tiny reminder of a hole in our lives. A Missing Person.

We all - most of us, anyway - have those Missing Persons. As we get older, their numbers increase, until eventually (but not too soon!) we join their ranks. And my mom went missing almost thirty years ago. You get used to that feeling of loss, because you have no other choice... but it’s always there. And once in a while, in addition to formal occasions of remembrance (for us Red Sea Pedestrians, five times a year), you get reminded informally.

A scrap of handwriting. A photo album. Perhaps an old video or even a home movie.

Or an inscription in a book. It’s so appropriate. She and my Dad devoured books like most people snarf up salty peanuts. I owe my love of books - especially SF books - to her. She could (and did) discuss Childhood’s End with a seven-year-old Elisson who had read it and was blown away by the ideas contained therein.

Damn, I miss her.

Today is her ninetieth birthday. It’s a perfect day to toast her memory with a Rob Roy - her favorite cocktail for Special Occasions.


Mom celebrates at Cousin Stef’s wedding, October 1987. This is how we remember her: an irrepressible spirit.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A DIFFERENT SORT OF THANKSGIVING


Arlo Guthrie performs his magnum opus - Alice’s Restaurant Massacree - at Georgia Tech’s Ferst Center in February 2007.

No smells of turkey roasting:
Instead, the pong of paint,
For in our humble household
This year, the turkey ain’t.

We’re going out to dinner -
Perhaps I’ll order steak
To substitute for all the dishes
Dee and I won’t make.

We’ll still be plenty thankful
For friends and all our fam’
But as for all that cookin’ toil?
The kitchen work be damned.

Q: Mommy, what did you make for Thanksgiving?
A: Reservations.


Yes, Esteemed Readers, it’s true. For the first time in my life (as far as I can recall), we’re dining out for Thanksgiving... a sensible option while the house is being painted.

Sure, we’ve enjoyed the holiday at other people’s domiciles: Not every year do we break our collective asses to feed a multitudinous array of friends and family. We have had momentous feasts with our children, a sure sign that they have not only flown the nest, but have soared. And of course, the normal state of affairs is for us to prepare - most often with a little help from our friends - a veritabobble groaning board.

But this year, it will be the pleasures of the Rented Table, the Purchased Meal, the Not-Having-To-Clean-Up-The-Fucking Dishes-Afterwards sort of affair. There will be no monster turkey set to brine in the five-gallon Home Depot bucket overnight, no rice and sausage dressing perfuming the house. It’s hard to enjoy the food aromas anyway when they must compete with the vaporous exhalations of alkyd semi-gloss enamel and interior latex.

No matter where the meal, we still have plenty for which to be thankful... and you, Esteemed Reader, are most certainly on the list. May this season bring you good things without measure, and may we all continue to have limitless reasons for gratitude.

Oh - and why the photo of Arlo Guthrie above? Simple:

“Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago, was on - two years ago on Thanksgiving, when my friend and I went up to visit Alice at the restaurant, but Alice doesn’t live in the restaurant, she lives in the church nearby the restaurant, in the bell-tower, with her husband Ray and Fasha the dog...”

Yes. Another Thanksgiving-Restaurant Connection.

Monday, November 20, 2017

ON PRODUCTIVITY


Le Penseur, the famous sculpture by Auguste Rodin.

Crouched in the posture of The Thinker
I try to squeeze me out a clinker
With little reason to exult:
So much work, so small result.

Thus it is with knowledge, too:
We strive to see the world anew
But our dark lens obscures the view
So much effort, so much poo.