Monday, July 29, 2013

Food, Glorious Food!

I am a junkie for free food. There, I’ve said it, and I don’t necessarily feel better for unloading, but it needed to be confessed.

As a kid growing up in post-war Europe, food was scarce. Not starvation scarce, but limited enough that nothing went to waste. I remember my mother candling eggs, holding them up to a bright light to see if there were twin yolks. Twin yolks in the frying pan became two eggs, not one. I remember bouilli and still shudder at the memory of the grainy, pasty dish made by boiling day old country bread in water and adding a dash of salt and pepper.  On many occasions, that was dinner. I don’t remember seeing oranges or bananas as a kid, though there were apples and pears. And potatoes--not the monstrous two-pound tuber found here, but small, dense and thick-skinned things that were cooked whole, as informed sources told us the peel held the vitamins.  

Many decades later, it’s almost impossible for me to pass up an offer of free food. If my local store offers free cheese sample, tiny cubes meant to be speared singly with a toothpick, I will skewer seven or eight of them and be proud of the skills I display.  Then I will hover about the fast-emptying platter. I remember when my neighborhood Whole Foods, an upscale store, put out samples of expensive Italian salami. I set what I am sure remains a store record by working with two toothpicks in each hand. A week later they had free stuffed green olives. I returned to the display five times.

Megastores like Costco will be the death of me. On any given day, there are free samples of pizza, sausage, cookies, little dabs of tuna fish on crackers, deviled eggs, dumplings, salsa, ice cream, chicken salad and, if you’re fortunate, brownies. There is such a thing as a free meal!

Free food becomes not mere sustenance but a true and harmful passion.

Recently, I’ve given up all-I-can-eat buffet restaurants. I came to realize that I was exorcising all sorts of demons by trying to get my money’s worth out of a meal. I feel I am only doing my job if, for $12, I eat a pound of bacon, and another pound of assorted pork products.  In fact, deep down, I really believe someone who spends twelve bucks and come back with two potato slices, a half-tomato and a scoop of scrambled eggs is a miscreant, sort of. “Eat!” I want to say. “Eat! Winter is coming! War and famine are just beyond the horizon.”

I also have to fight my impulse to hoard food. In one of my rare wise decision, I recently opted against the offer of a free freezer I could have put in my garage. My first reaction was an enthusiastic, “Yes, I’ll take it!”  By morning, I had decided it was a bad idea, since it would enable me to hoard additional--and unneeded--victuals.

A few years ago I gave up refined sugar. More recently, after a long and still current bout with bladder cancer, I gave up artificial sweeteners.  Last week, I abandoned chocolate. I’m trying and so far failing to give up bread. It’s been generally easier for me to let go of other things--tobacco, alcohol, unprescribed pharmaceuticals--than it has to say good-bye to my morning bagel, or baguette, or English muffin. There’s probably a reason bread is called the staff of life.

I have friends who are much better with food than I am. They leave half their meals untouched, or pass up opportunities to stuff themselves. I find that amazing, and I envy their determination. Me, it’s all I can do to pass up the free tidbits, but I am making headway. Yesterday I made an omelet.  I only ate half.  Progress, not perfection.




Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fashion Fatwa

The powers-that-be in Ocean City want to ban saggy shorts that allow colorful display of the wearers’ underwear.  This will lower crime, they assert, though with little proof. Personally, I agree that having to look at a young man’s undies could be viewed as unfortunate, if not entirely criminal, and I am sure there is enough misery in the world without adding sartorial illiteracy. This being said, I also believe Ocean City may be on to something worth exploring, a fatwa of sorts against some forms of fashion.  I suggest we ban:


v Tramp stamps.  The tattoos worn on the small of the back mostly by young women will degrade in time. The graceful pin-striping will become as thick--and unpalatable--as overcooked Ziti. In a decade, the Harley wings worn by many will begin to look like asymmetrical road kill. There’s no need for anyone to see that.


v Baseball caps worn sideways. Not only do they make the wearers look like unadulterated morons, they guarantee unemployment. No one--no one--will hire a kid with a sideways baseball cap. There’s a very real possibility that this unfortunate fad is a leading contributor to the nation’s financial woes.


v Lycra. Lycra is a privilege, and not a right, and far too many people have not considered this when in public. Abusing a privilege or a right is dangerous and can lead to even more asocial behavior. Personally, I find that the sight of Lycra on the wrong person can ruin my breakfast.


v Flip-flops. Particularly when color-coordinated to match pastel shorts. I think flip-flops and hazardous waste occupy the same realm. I suspect as well that flip-flop accidents cost us millions in emergency room care.


v Women’s bathing suits with little skirts on them. I’ll admit it’s been a while since I’ve seen one of these; perhaps the last time was on a Florida beach. In the water, such suits make the wearer look like a monstrous, pink or light blue man-of-war jellyfish. And they’re not that much more appealing on dry land, either.   


v Speedo suits for men. In the south of France where I used to vacation as a kid, topless beaches are the norm. Authorities there had deemed, and wisely so, that going topless is fine but wearing a Speedo is a crime against nature. It’s been my experience that this is mostly a Teutonic crime, and I don’t claim to understand why the folks from the northern climes find such things attractive. Unless it’s a subtle means of once again invading their neighbors.


v Hoodies. Need I say more? Hoodies lead to aggressive behavior among gun-toting nuts, as well as legal proceedings that could bankrupt a small nation. Plus, people wear them when it 110°F and get heat prostration,  leading to further abuse of emergency room care.


v T-shirts with logos. I wrote an entire blog about logos on clothing and think wearers of such items should be paid by the company or product they are advertising. T-shirts that claim to be humorous should be banned as well, as they are never humorous. Ever.


v Cowboy hats, when worn East of the Mississippi. Really.  Cowboy boots, too, when worn by people who are afraid of horses.  The Shame! The Horror!


If you have suggestions, send them in.


Monday, July 8, 2013

A Humble Notion Based on a Really, Really Bad Idea

OOh! Here's a cool notion! Need a few bucks for a night on the town? A brief vacation or new X-Box 360 console? Don’t get a second job or pull those inelegant overtime hours!  Instead, take your car to one of those places where nice folks with big toothy smiles give loans on your car title. You hand in your automobile title, they lend you money, though admittedly always less than what your car is worth. It’s like magic and, according to the ads such companies run on late-night TV, completely acceptable and even responsible!

Within weeks, after the money is spent and the loan still owing, said nice folks will send a tow truck to your home driven by a large unsmiling guy with tattoos. He will pick up your car and pull it to a lot that’s surrounded by a chain link fence and has Dobermans patrolling at night. In no time at all the same people with the big smiles will sell your former automobile to an out-of-state used car dealer. So now you have no money and no car, thereby making you largely unemployable and a good prospect for the welfare system. Of course, you'll still have the X-Box.

I have a better idea, based on Jonathan Swift's famous Modest Proposal of 1729. Swift, you'll remember, suggested the Irish eat their children during the famine, or sell them as foodstuff to wealthy families. Relax. I am endorsing neither cannibalism nor infanticide. I merely suggest you get a loan on your children.

Here's how it would work. Bucks for Babies and Kids for Kash, sister organizations chartered in all 50 states and Canada, open franchises in urban neighborhoods and launch a saturation television ad campaign promising quick cash for children. A potential borrower, armed with the child's birth certificate, is advanced a sum of cash based on the child's age, gender, educational level and health. In the interest of equal opportunity, neither race nor religion will be a factor, though Asian children--compliant and quick to learn--will unofficially fetch a premium. Female Jewish and Arabic children of either gender will not.

The infants and toddlers whose parents renege on their loans will be put up for adoption, thereby satisfying the demand by Third World rock ‘n’ roll and media stars for babies from developed nation. Children aged five to eight will be sent to India, where they will be taught to weave rugs while suspended from the ceiling of their workplaces in Karnataka. Children above eight will be taught field hand skills by migrant farmers or hired by New York sweatshops to assemble fashion label shirts, jeans and blouses, as well as stylishly retro belted trench coats.

The long-term advantages of such programs are many. We will make friends with rich Africans (think oil, bauxite, gemstones, copper, iron ore); we will enhance the textile industry in the Third World, and get cheaper name labels, thereby freeing us from shopping at TJ Max. Also, we will solve the education/school crisis by making classes smaller, enabling teacher to do what they were originally hired to do--teach--instead of being glorified babysitters teaching the lowest common denominator. With any amount of luck, Disney Films will realize that its customer base has shrunk and will decide not to produce High School Musical 18. In time, there will be fewer teen age drivers; the roads will be safer and our insurance premiums will go down. The trickle effect of this will be the purchase of more American-made automobiles and GM will introduce and electric version of the Hummer. All Chuck E. Cheese restaurants will close.

The last is reason enough to implement this plan.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Odds

Recently I wrote about lottery odds, which are abysmally bad. In fact, the odds of getting the grand prize in either Mega Million or Powerball hover around 175,000,000 to one.  This got me to thinking about other odds.

Here, according to a variety of sources, among them the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, the Red Cross, and the National Safety Council,  are some death-related odds for U.S. residents:

Cause of Death
Lifetime Odds
Heart Disease
Accidental Injury
Motor Vehicle Accident
Intentional Self-harm (suicide)
Falling Down
Assault by Firearm
Fire or Smoke
Natural Forces (heat, cold, storms, quakes, etc.)
Air Travel Accident
Flood (included also in Natural Forces above)
Legal Execution
Tornado (included also in Natural Forces above)
Lightning Strike (included also in Natural Forces above)
Snake, Bee or other Venomous Bite or Sting
Earthquake (included also in Natural Forces above)
Asteroid Impact
Fireworks Discharge

There are, of course, caveats.  Risks to infants are, for example, different from those to senior citizens. The statistics, according to, “are typically given for a person born in the year the numbers are crunched.” By the time this person reaches adulthood, “the outlook will have changed because of medical advances, diet shifts, changes to the environment, and so on.” tells us that we are more likely to be crushed by a vending machine (1 in 112 million) than we are of winning the Powerball jackpot (1 in 175 million). We might die of dog bites (1 in 144,899), in a train crash (1 in 156,169) or from a hospital infection (1 in 38). We also have a better chance of being elected President (1 in 10 million) or of being born with an extra finger or toe (1 in 500). Then of course there are the odds of becoming a movie star (1 in 1,505,000), getting attacked by a shark (1 in 11.5 million), or being killed by a mountain lion in California (1 in 36 million). There’s always the danger of death while using a right-handed product incorrectly if you are left-handed (1 in 4.4 million) and you have a much better chance of being canonized (1 in 20 million) than winning the biggie Mega Million.

Here, though, is a bit of good news: you are more likely to win the jackpot than you are of being killed by a falling coconut (1 in 250 million).

That’s reassuring. Go thee forth and play.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Here’s something I noticed absently but never really paid much attention to. Most people outside the developed country sphere don’t find it necessary to have brand names displayed on their clothing. Example: The head coverings worn in most of the Indian subcontinent do not boast NASCAR logos or INDIACAR, for that matter. No Tata  insignia on the turbans (pagri) or Coke insignia on the traditional Gandhi caps. The rumals--long strips of cloths wound around the heads of Karnataka farmers--are colorful and badge-free. And so, I might add, are the other items of Indian apparel: the gorgeous saris worn by woman or dhotis favored by men; the kurta, a long, loose shirt that falls below the knees and used to be worn only by men but now is considered unisex, none of these are enhanced--or defiled--by product signage. The same is true in most of Africa and in the traditional dress of the Middle East, Vietnam, Laos and a medley of other Asian countries. In the United States, it’s hard to find a T-shirt not advertising something or other. I went to a local Home Depot today and counted 35 T-shirts and 22 baseball caps, all with logos, in about 20 minutes.


Why, I wonder, do folks in the Western world feel the necessity to promote cars, sodas, teams, schools, professional affiliations and any number of lifestyles on their hats, shirts and pants?  What does having ‘Juicy’ stenciled on the butt of your sweats mean? Or a Porn Star watch cap? What does that say about us? Are we that insecure that we can’t be unaffiliated? Or is it that, well, we might be sort of dumb, since most of our logo-laden selves have no idea where these trademarks originate.


Take, for example, the beloved Starbucks siren. This twin-tailed woman with the green tail and starred crown originated in Greek mythology and is known for the songs it sings to lure sailors to their death. So basically, Starbucks has chosen as its emblematic creature a brutal sociopath whose attractiveness is designed to kill. Nice…


Another great mythical killer is Medusa, the snake-headed semi deity chosen by clothing manufacturer Versace to represent its brand.  Medusa, at one time a beautiful woman with aspirations, seduced the sea god Poseidon, thereby angering Athena, who cursed the young woman with a head full of snakes and some fangs.  Medusa lost her head--literally--which even when severed was so lethal it was used as a weapon. Oh, and Medusa’s blood turned into poisonous snakes that eventually would infest most of the world.


Trojans are synonymous with condoms. The Trojan horse is actually a container that housed a swarm of warriors who, when let loose, wreaked havoc. Do I need to go farther with this metaphor? 


Recently, I saw a man wearing a Cerberus Capital Management t-shirt, which struck me as strange.   Cerberus is, after all, nothing short of a three-headed man-eating dog guarding the gates of Hell.  This is where you want to invest your hard-earned savings?


And then of course there’s Apple, a company that chose as its symbol the fruit of the tree of knowledge.  There’s a bite taken out of the fruit, which is basically what led God to chuck the human race out of the Garden of Eden and into this harsh world. Why didn’t they choose an innocuous banana, or a coconut?


Last May, a petition at We The People requested members of Congress wear the logos of their corporate contributors.  Personally, I think that’s a brilliant idea. The vision of a bunch of Senators wearing suits festooned with symbols of the NRA, Bank of America, fast food and fried chicken franchises, logging companies, oil industry and weapons manufacturers, now that has splendid appeal. As a matter of fact, it seems to me these special interests should insist on the Congressmen displaying their company colors. After all, they surely pay them enough money.  In fact, I’d take it a step further.  I think anyone wearing a logoed item of clothing should be paid, say, a buck a day for a baseball cap or two bucks as day for a T-shirt, by the company he or she is promoting. It would create disposable income, lower unemployment,  and make us all proud to be in advertising.