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

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

SINFONIA MAGNETICA

Getting an MRI is unlike most people’s daily experiences... unless one’s day consists of lying uncomfortably supine while being shoved into a narrow tube and being subjected to an array of buzzing, clanging, and whanging sounds that would do Edgard Varèse proud.

It’s not much fun, but at least it doesn’t involve having objects inserted into various Bodily Orifices. So there’s that.

And it’s an opportunity to demonstrate one’s ability to take a nap under adverse conditions. If people can snooze on the New York subways, how hard can it be to sleep in what may be likened  to the bastard offspring of a casket and a giant metallic doughnut?

As for results, we’ll just have to wait, won’t we?

Saturday, April 14, 2018

ON PORRIDGE

Everyone has, buried deep in the crevices of his or her brain, a well of childhood Food-Memories... and for many of us, those memories involve some kind of hot cereal.

Whether you called it hot cereal, porridge, or mush - the latter having a decidedly negative connotation - it was (and is) a completely different experience than the typical cold cereal-with-milk breakfast. Cold cereal is quick and easy. Hot cereal is work-intensive - a morning meal more suited to lazy weekend mornings or snow days.

Oh, sure - there are plenty of “instant” hot cereals. Instant oatmeal. Instant grits. Tear open the packet and add hot water: Bingo! But those are beneath contempt. A proper bowl of porridge takes time.

So let’s take a look at some of these cerealic delights, shall we?

Grits. Grits are made from hominy, alkali-treated ground maize. I consider grits to be in their own category, more of a savory dish that can be served with breakfast than a breakfast by themselves. Grits can be doctored up with cheese and other tasty components, but sweetening a bowl of grits is an act that is committed only by Northerners who are inexperienced and ignorant of the Way of the Grit.

Farina. Farina is a form of milled wheat, popularly sold under the brand name Cream of Wheat. It has a mild, innocuous taste. In my Snot-Nose Days, I thought Cream of Wheat was pretty nondescript, but I actually learned to appreciate its mild, wheaty flavor as I grew older. Best augmented with a bit of butter and/or cream and your sweetener of choice.

Cream of Rice. This is a proprietary brand of coarsely ground rice. That’s it - just rice. It’s probably the only cereal I can think of that’s even more bland than Cream of Wheat... perfect for invalids. Add a little butter and milk and you have a hot breakfast even a toddler can appreciate. Throw in some scallions, a piece of fish, and maybe some chili oil, and you have a passable version of congee, AKA chuk, the ubiquitous Asian rice dish.

Oatmeal. Many of us in America grew up on rolled oats, which take all of fifteen minutes to cook. Quicker cooking versions are available, but the tradeoff is the loss of oatmeal’s characteristic texture. And - speaking of texture - steel-cut oats have a delightful nubbly mouthfeel, which comes at the expense of a longer cooking time. The Mistress of Sarcasm introduced me to the pleasure of steel-cut oats with a spoonful of peanut butter stirred in, and they’re also great when cooked with some Earl Grey tea.

Maltex. Now we head into the realm of the obscure, with this semi-superannuated cereal made of a blend of wheat and malted barley syrup. It’s still around, but not a common supermarket item. All I can say is that I liked it when I was a kid.

Maypo. Those of us of a certain age will remember the ads for this maple-flavored oat cereal, in which one Marky Maypo (voiced by an actual four-year-old) would insist, “I want my Maypo!” to the eternal consternation of his Dad. I was never a fan: The stuff was too sweet and mushy for my taste.

Wheatena. This one is also pretty obscure, but your local Superdupermarket might actually carry it. It’s a wheat-based cereal (as is obvious from the name) with an assertive flavor that is a million miles away from the bland Cream of Wheat style. A hot bowl of Wheatena transports me back sixty years in time like few other breakfasts can do.

So: What’s your favorite hot cereal?

Postscriptum: This morning I made myself a pot of Earl Grey steel-cut oats. First I steeped the tea in hot milk, then cooked the oats in the scented milk. A little Irish butter, some Demerara sugar, and Bob’s your uncle! Magnificent. Try it!

Monday, April 9, 2018

WILD WILD COUNTRY

I have written numerous times about my perverse ability to make up dopey songs - or dopey lyrics to actual songs - a talent that has, on occasion, caught my daughters flatfooted.

F’r example, there was the time Elder Daughter was attending a performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in Boston with a group of her college friends. It’s an outdoor performance on the Common, and ED and her buddies are all singing along:

Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ -
Who are you, what have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ, superstar -
Who in the hell do you think you are?

At this point all eyes swivel toward Elder Daughter. “Hey, those aren’t the right lyrics!” And she responds, “Yes, they are! I learned them from... (growing realization that she has been duped)... my Dad! Aaarrrrgggh!

And then there was the time Allison E., the daughter of family friends - roughly the same age as Elder Daughter - was playing French horn in a concert. The program included a selection from George Frederick Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabeus - “See, The Conqu’ring Hero Comes!” and as she began playing, she completely lost her shit. Wait, what?

Elder Daughter, back in her Snot-Nose Days, was learning Suzuki method violin, and when she began learning that particular little chunk of Judas Maccabeus, I made up some of my trademark Nutty Lyrics to go with the tune:

Zippy the Pinhead
Has a polka-dotted suit
And he thinks that he is cute
In his dotted suit.

Zippy has a friend named Shelf-Life
He’s got great big lips
Shelf-Life has a girlfriend, Vizeen
She’s got enormous hips...

I like to believe that my little tune kept ED interested in violin at least long enough to learn “See, The Conqu’ring Hero Comes!” - but who knows? She and her friends (including Allison E.) found it amusing enough. What I do know is that when Allison remembered it some twenty-odd years later, French horn in hand, mouthpiece to her lips, she lost both her composure and her embouchure.

Which brings me to today’s story.

Apparently, both Elder Daughter and the Mistress of Sarcasm have been watching a series on Netflix: Wild Wild Country, a documentary about one Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, an Indian guru, and the eponymous community he established in Oregon: Rajneeshpuram.

Both girls had the same reaction when the Bhagwan appeared on the small screen. Why is this dude’s name so strangely familiar?

And that, of course, is when they remembered... from early childhood, another of Daddy’s stupid songs:

Excuse me - I have to pish
Don’t you know I am a follower of

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

He’ll satisfy your ev’ry wish
Just as long as you’re a follower of
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh...

(sung to the tune of “Forty-Second Street”)

Until they started watching Wild Wild Country, they had never known that the Bhagwan was an actual person - but they had known his name for three decades. How ’bout dat?

[Why do I do this? I blame Mad Magazine.]

INNER SPACE

As I was driving around the back roads of North Cobb County a few days ago, I decided to listen to some music. Old music. Music from my Semi-Degenerate College Years. And I didn’t have to lift a finger: I simply said, “Hey, Siri - play Chick Corea.” And Siri complied, pulling up one of my favorite Chick Corea compositions: “Guijira,” from the Inner Space album.

Inner Space was my first introduction to Corea’s work. I first discovered it in the spring of my sophomore year of college, back in 1972, when it was a newly released vinyl double album. Most of the tracks had actually been recorded six years earlier.

It was fascinating. Real jazz - modern jazz, but nothing like the jazz-rock fusion that was becoming popular among my age cohort. And the personnel! Hubert Laws, Woody Shaw, Joe Farrell - each one hugely talented individually, but together in the ensemble directed by Corea, greater than the sum of their parts.

“Guijira” was a particular favorite of mine, a track that featured Hubert Laws’s flute, Chick Corea’s masterful piano, and a soaring trumpet solo by Woody Shaw, all with a subtle Latin foundation. Forty-six years later, and it still gives me the shivers.

All those years ago, I would gently pull the LP from its sleeve, place it on my turntable, and carefully drop the tonearm onto the spinning vinyl - and music would soar forth from my speakers. But no more. My copy of Inner Space is gone, having been deep-sixed along with all my other vinyl LP’s earlier this year... a casualty of the Great Purge.

And yet I still have my Inner Space. Now it resides on my computer’s hard drive and in my mobile devices in the form of a string of ones and zeroes. And I can call it forth with the touch of a button... or with the simple command, “Hey, Siri.”

Thursday, March 29, 2018

IN WHICH ELISSON CONFLATES GOLF AND ATOMIC PHYSICS

Today I took special care to get up early (never an easy task given the best of conditions) so I could be on time for the morning minyan. Now that we’re farther north, I have to allow about twelve more minutes for travel... and of course I had to be there, on account of it being Mom’s Yahrzeit.

After services, following our local custom, those of us observing Yahrzeit bought breakfast for the other attendees: our way of thanking them for showing up. And, also following our local custom, we had our usual Post-Minyan Bullshit Session while enjoying said breakfast.

Sometimes we talk of religious matters, sometimes of the mundane, and even (more often than one might think) of the vulgar and even profane. But today I managed something that surprised even me. I managed to conflate two very different topics: golf and quantum mechanics.

It all started with my talking about my Mom, who was a three-day-a-week golfer.

Mom was not your typical hausfrau. She didn’t stay home and bake pies. (I had a friend whose mother baked a pie a day, and often two. To me, that seemed surreal. Hell, it still seems surreal.)

No, she got out and about. She frequented the library and the golf course. She had, as described by my next-door neighbor fifty years later, outside interests. That made her different from all the other moms on the block.

I inherited my mother’s love of golf, but alas, little of her skill or perserverance. That is a story for another time, but the point is, I still love golf despite my ineptitude.

Not everyone is a golfer, though, and many people despise the game... including several of my friends at the breakfast table. What was it, they asked, that I liked about golf, aside from it being the game my mother tried to teach me?

My answer, strangely enough, involves quantum mechanics and the structure of the atom.

Most of us, when asked to describe an atom, think of those drawings of a nucleus (protons and neutrons) with electrons spinning around it like planets orbiting the Sun. But that’s not how things work in the domain of the teeny-tiny where the rules of quantum physics take over. We can’t know where a given electron is at any moment: all we can do is figure out the probability that it will be in a particular place. If we make a diagram of that probability, it looks like a fuzzy cloud... and different electrons inhabit differently shaped clouds. These clouds are (confusingly) called orbitals.

This is not the place, Esteemed Reader, for a chemistry lesson (if you want that, go to the link above), but suffice it to say that the p orbital, with its Indian club-shaped probability distribution, is a good way to model a golf game.

When I stand at the tee, I see a world of possibilities. There is the extremely unlikely prospect of the ball somehow ending up behind me. There is a much greater probability that it will end up somewhere in front of me, but the chance of it going 300 yards in a straight line is almost nil. And these probabilities can be represented by a map that looks a lot like a lopsided p orbital.

Someone like Phil Mickelson will have a “golfy orbital” that looks more like a pencil than a big fluffy cloud, because he hits the ball pretty close to where he intends for it to go. Mine, of course, is all over the damn place... yet there’s always that small chance that I will hit a shot worthy of the Teevee. Kinda like hitting a flush in Texas Hold ’em: improbable but possible. It’s what keeps gamblers in their seats at the tables in Vegas. Hey, it could happen!

That’s my story, anyway. Golf and quantum mechanics... who knew?

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

THIRTY YEARS BEYOND THE VEIL

Bernice 1943
The Momma d’Elisson, in her Brooklyn College yearbook photo.

Today is Mom’s Yahrzeit - the anniversary of her death as reckoned by the Hebrew calendar.

It has been thirty years since she slipped beyond the veil that hides the World to Come from we who live. Thirty years! And still my heart aches for her.

I mourn for all the days she missed with us... and especially with her granddaughters. I mourn for the family occasions at which she was no longer here in physical form.

And like many adults, there is that part of me that mourns for my lost childhood, the days when my cares were the simple cares of children and when my mother and father were there to love, care for, and nurture me. We grow out of those childhood days in the natural course of things. If we are fortunate enough, we survive middle age, we grow old, we eventually become elderly. Yet no matter how long our years, no matter how raddled with forgetfulness our minds, we never lose that little bit of longing to recapture those sweet times when we were loved, cared for, and nurtured.

I cannot bring her back. But I can light a candle for her and remember how wonderful life was when she was with us in the World That Is.


Mom at age fifty-eight. Looka dat smile!

Monday, March 26, 2018

THE POKÉ PHENOMENON

Not Pokémon. Just Poké, mon.

Poké bars are popping up in Atlanta’s ’burbs like those proverbial post-spring-rain fungi.

Dee and I first discovered the Poké Bar Phenomenon a few weeks ago while casting about for a place to grab a quick lunch in Sandy Springs. Looking at one of my iPhone apps for something nearby, I saw something with which I was unfamiliar: a close-by place calling itself “Poké Bar.” A straightforward, simple, descriptive name, like a calling a beer “Beer.”

We gave it a try. It was set up a little like the old-school cafeterias, where you’d proceed along a counter and pile stuff on your tray. But here, the piling up was done on the other side of the counter. Into a bowl, the server would layer a base (rice, greens, or both); various additives (soybeans, scallions, ginger, seaweed, jalapeños, et al.); sauces; proteins (mostly various kinds of raw fish); toppings; and various sprinkly stuff. The result is something resembling an elaborate version of chirashi-zushi, the Japanese dish in which several kinds of raw fish are served as toppings on a bowl of sushi rice.

It was delightful.

On the way home, we saw that another poké shoppe was soon to open right in our neighborhood. And since then, we’ve not only checked that one out, but gone to yet another one a few miles up the road in Alpharetta.

Poké is something that - if I’m not mistaken - is a Hawai‘ian dish that became immensely popular in California before metastatizing to points east. And if it’s made it to Atlanta, you can be sure that it will be in a neighborhood near you before too long.

Give it a try! I know a few people who treat raw fish as though it were radioactive, but most everyone else just might enjoy it.

IF BY MAGA

My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about MAGA. All right, here is how I feel about MAGA:

If when you say MAGA you mean returning to an America in which systematic racism - both de facto and de jure - is embedded in the nation’s culture; an America in which the oppression of people of color is so prevalent as to be invisible to the oppressors; an America in which anti-Semitic attitudes are normative; an America in which a simple glance suffices as justification for a brutal death sentence administered by hateful mobs; an America that reviles rather than welcomes the stranger; an America in which the air and rivers are dark with industrial poisons; an America in which religious minorities are treated with contempt rather than the respect enshrined in the nation’s Constitution; an America in which tens of thousands of our youth are sacrificed needlessly on the altar of geopolitics in an unwinnable war; an America in which our industries and the world’s economy are hobbled by protectivism; an America in which great medical advances are used to enrich the few rather than cure the many; an America in which the high offices of the nation are occupied by kleptocrats who seek to enrich themselves by virtue of their positions; an America in which politicians exhibit a flagrant disregard for the truth; an America in which self-serving propaganda is lauded while the free press is excoriated; then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say MAGA you mean an America in which members of all political persuasions value the Constitution and the nation’s interests over those of their own party; an America in which the spirit of compromise is alive and healthy; an America that speaks softly but carries a big stick; an America that is a steadfast friend to its allies and an implacable enemy to its foes; an America in which all citizens, regardless of color, national origin, religion, and sexual preference, are protected from discrimination; an America in which women control their own procreative capabilities; an America with clear air and clean water; an America that extends a helping hand to the poorest among us; an America in which all citizens possess equal opportunity to succeed to the best of their abilities; an America that is inclusive rather than exclusive; an America in which the press is valued as a guarantor of freedom; an America with an economy unfettered by trade restrictions and that stands astride the world as a Colossus; an America that inspires the globe by its values; an America that lifts its lamp beside the golden door; then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

[Inspired by the famous 1952 “If By Whiskey” speech by Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr., of Mississippi.]

Monday, March 12, 2018

ANOTHER YEAR WITHOUT HIM

Eli, 1950
Eli (1925-2014) in his college graduation photo.

Today, the twenty-fifth of the Hebrew month Adar, is my father’s Yahrzeit - the anniversary of his death.

There are traditions to be observed. When the day begins, we light a memorial candle, a candle that will burn at least 24 hours. Watching it flicker on the mantel in the darkened family room always makes me think of the transience of life while simultaneously reminding me of the soul’s eternal nature.

At sunrise I attend the morning service. I recite the ancient words of the Kaddish, a doxology that, despite its association with mourning and bereavement, makes no mention of death. And I intone the mournful litany of the Memorial Prayer.

After services, I treat the minyan crowd to breakfast - my way of thanking them for ensuring that enough people are present at services. It’s a peculiar local custom, but one I enjoy. (We observe birthdays the same way.) Today is a bit different because we have an appointment which requires that we postpone our group breakfast, but them’s the breaks.

All this rigmarole is intended to keep alive the memory of our Departed Ones, and I therefore cherish it... but, strictly speaking, it is unnecessary. For I keep Dad’s memory alive in so many little ways.

I see traces of his hand in my signature. Traces of his wit in my shaggy dog stories, poems, and horrible puns. Marks of his creativity in our daughters. And certain tunes - the ones he would play on the grand piano that graced his home for as long as I can remember - always bring a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat.


The Memorial Prayer

Eil maley rachamim, shokhein bam’romin, ham’tzei m’nuchah n’khonah tachat kanfei ha-sh’khinah, b’ma-alot k’doshim u-t’horim k’zohar ha-rakia maz-hirim, et nishmat avi v’morati Eliyahu ben Ya’akov she-halakh l’olamo, b’gan eiden t’hei m’nuchato. Ana, ba’al ha-rachamim hastireihu b’seiter k’nafekha l’olamim, utz’ror bitz’ror ha-chayyim et nishmato, Hashem hu nachalato, v’yanuach b’shalom al mishkavo, v’nomar amen.

Exalted, compassionate God, grant perfect peace in Your sheltering Presence, among the holy and pure who shine with the splendor of the firmament, to the soul of my my father and teacher Eli, son of Jacob, who has gone to his eternal home. Master of mercy, remember all his worthy deeds in the land of the living. May his soul be bound up in the bond of life. The Lord is his portion. May he rest in peace. And let us say: Amen.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

ON THE OPERATION OF COMPLEX SYSTEMS: A REPRISE

As I was sorting through the amazing pile of Olde Crappe in my home office, I saw all kinds of businessy stuff that I had tucked away for Gawd knows what reason, there to moulder unlooked-at for decades. Major account plans, customer presentations, all kinds of charts and graphs and ancient company literature... all of it destined, finally, for the bin.

Among this mountain of bin-fodder was the documentation for something even older: a design basis memorandum for one of my engineering projects. Its exact nature is unimportant now. Suffice it to say that it was a minor (but environmentally critical) part of a very large operation, one that has by now been replaced at least twice by completely new technology. Sic transit gloria Elissoni.

Seeing all of this triggered some memories of that time over four decades ago when I actually earned my bread by doing chemical engineering work. Serious work... for it’s not a trivial discipline, chemical engineering. At college, ChE’s had to declare their major a year earlier than everyone else, and our first year attrition rate was 50%. Those of us that survived that first year called ourselves the Dirty Dozen, and I am proud, forty-four years later, to have been numbered amongst them.

Yes, I was an engineer; and engineers learn many things, both by formal university-level schooling and by compulsory attendance at the School of Hard Knocks.

The following is a story of one such Learning Experience. Read it, and be both amused and appalled. Afterward, there will be a short quiz.


ON THE OPERATION OF COMPLEX SYSTEMS

Many years ago, in my very first assignment with the Great Corporate Salt Mine, I helped debottleneck a plastics plant.

Debottleneck? Is dat de neck of de bottle?

Well, yes, Mr. Dialect Comedian, but at the GCSM, we used the term as both noun and verb.

To debottleneck a manufacturing process is to remove (you guessed it) bottlenecks. Narrow spots in the line. It is a way of expanding capacity by making a few, relatively inexpensive changes to an existing operation, rather than by simply throwing money at the problem and constructing a second production train. Debottlenecking makes the operation more efficient. And a “debottleneck” is a project that expands a plant’s capacity by (you guessed it again) debottlenecking it.

Got it? Good.

The GCSM had a plant, back then, that produced a certain amount of polypropylene plastic. We installed a bunch of new equipment and were able to increase capacity dramatically... by over 50%, if my recollection serves. My job (in case you’re curious) was figuring out just what to install, how much it would cost, and how much capacity improvement we would get from it... in an age of slide rules. No personal computers, no electronic spreadsheets.

Once the new equipment had been installed, it was time to start up the newly-expanded plant and let it flex its new muscles. To make sure it actually worked and that those millions of dollars we spent actually accomplished something. And that meant spending a lot of time at the plant, both in the control room and running around on the unit. Catching samples, measuring temperatures, that sort of thing.

If you have never been in the control room of a chemical plant, it’s an imposing sort of place. These days it’s a lot like being on the bridge of the USS Enterprise, with a lot of computer terminals... but 35 years ago, computer-controlled processes were still in their earliest, most primitive stages. Back then, the myriad operating controls were all manual, with many of the parameters recorded graphically on continuous plotters. Every few hours, the operators would record key settings and process parameters on a huge “horse blanket” spreadsheet the size of a tabletop... using pen and ink.

Running the process meant knowing the right settings for hundreds of temperature controllers and valves. And the “butterfly effect” - where small changes sometimes have large, unexpected results - was in full force.

There was one part of the process - a fractionation tower - that was misbehaving one morning. And so, as the resident Contact Engineer, I made a minor adjustment to a critical flow rate. It seemed trivial at the time, but it had an effect that was... not desired.

Correcting that effect created its own cascading series of changes... all of which needed their own corrections. And compounding everything was the fact that any change to a given setting took a certain amount of time - anywhere from minutes to hours - to work its effects. You could see the impact on the chart recordings, which would oscillate like a struck gong when a tweak was made, gradually settling back down to a new steady state. “Lining out,” we called it.

Getting that part of the process back under control was like wrestling a bear. In a vat of Jell-O. Dangerous, messy, and unrewarding. Eventually, I managed... but only after developing a serious respect for the sensitivities of Complex Processes.

As we watch our legislators and our new administration struggle to bring the economy under control, keep in mind that they are also trying to operate a complex system, one with mysterious lag times, uncertain cause-and-effect pathways, and that is subject to the vagaries of human behavior. The tiniest of tweaks - not to mention wholesale changes - will have unpredictable effects, effects that will manifest themselves on unpredictable timetables. And add to that the overall brokenness of the system... and the fact that it is being run not by Economic Engineers, but by Political Bumblefucks.

It’s enough to keep me awake at night, it is.

* * *

And now for the quiz: When did I originally post this? (No fair looking it up on Google, ya doof.)

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.