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

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.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

BEETS FOR BREAKFAST

I’m having beets for breakfast
Though some might think it weird
They’re earthy and delicious
And they’ll maybe stain my beard

I’m having beets for breakfast
Pickled, roasted, or just raw
Much better than granola
They’re the best you ever saw

I’m having beets for breakfast
They fortify my spleen
Who cares if my kitchen counter
Looks like a murder scene

Move over, Cheerios and Lucky Charms
When I eat them beets, them lovely beets
I cannot come to harm

I’m having beets for breakfast
Deep purple, they are dyed
And when I go to drop a deuce
I might be horrified

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

REGARDING ODD JUXTAPOSITIONS

I saw a handsome fellow once
A-sitting at the bar
And sipping on a single-malt
While smoking a cigar

I was so bold to ask him
How he had achieved success
Perhaps in scientific fields
Or writing for the press

And then he told me, “I’m a man
Born of good Southern stock
The kind of wholesome yeoman
Whom the damned elitists mock

“I’ve served my country and can shoot
A squirrel from a tree
And yet I studied history
In University

“The people who don’t know me
Might assume that I am crude
Yet I quite admire the finer arts
Like poetry and food

“I’m comfortable with weighty tomes
Sometimes I’ll read all night
Yet I retain my combat skills
I don’t shy from a fight

“But knowledge, wealth, celebrity
Are things that do not last
As soon as you achieve them
They fly, they fly so fast

“The wisdom I will share is that
In Life you will go far
If you don’t forget the humble Spam
While eating caviar”



Monday, October 16, 2017

ON THE VIRTUES OF BIBLICAL BREAD

“Take also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and spelt, and put them in one vessel and make bread of it." - Ezekiel 4:9



Apparently, a lot of folks look at the Scriptures as more than nourishment for the soul: they’re a cookbook as well. At least, that seems to be the thinking behind Ezekiel Bread, which is made from a variety of sprouted grains that includes the above-mentioned wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt.

Sprouted grain bread is actually pretty nutritious, even though it contains millet, with which I first became familiar when we fed our parakeet. A sprouted grain contains less of the carbohydrate-rich endosperm than does its unsprouted comrades, while providing a higher proportion of protein. Good, and good for you!

I’ve eaten Ezekiel bread and breakfast cereal, and it’s reasonably tasty. The cereal bears a superficial resemblance to Grape-Nuts, with only minor differences in texture and flavor. Fortunately, it does not give me the kind of hallucinatory visions that are familiar to anyone who has spent a lot of time reading the Book of Ezekiel.

Basing your recipes on the Bible is tricky business, though. Just look at us Red Sea Pedestrians: we follow in the steps of our ancestors who were in so big a hurry to get out of Dodge that their dough had no time to rise. Thus, we eat the famously constipating unleavened bread known as matzoh.

And if you put the proper context around Ezekiel’s recipe, you find that it was intended as a punishment: a bread to be baked over burning human excrement.  This gives a whole new meaning to the time-worn expression “holy shit.” Perhaps it explains those hallucinatory visions, too.

Hey, we now know that Flavortown has been around for a loooong time. Take that, Guy Fieri!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

ARSE ELECTRONICA, or THE OUTSMARTUS PHONE

She lies in repose, with her face all aglow -
Aglow, but not with desire.
She is lit by the Super-Smart Handheld Device
With its world-containing screen’s fire.

A political rant? If you wish to indulge,
Just tap a few taps on the screen.
You can read any screed ’til your eyeballs will bulge
And you stand on your sofa to scream.

There’s a recipe there that is tasty, no doubt:
It uses some livers and leeks
That are free range, organic, and GMO-free,
And are grown by some real hippie freaks.

The pictures of cats, they are thick on the ground
(Or more properly, thick on the screen)
This one flushes toilets while riding a Roomba!
This video has to be seen!

O, look - here’s a quiz that’s purporting to tell
Me what famous personas I share;
Or who I most resemble, or how much I dissemble,
Or if I like Yogi the Bear. 

We go out for dinners with fam’ly and friends
And at some point (it’s hard to predict)
The smartphones come out and the talking all stops
And I think to myself, “We’re all licked.” 

“I contain multitudes” - so the glowing screen says.
O, how can we hope to compete?
We are only human - we’re not all that smart -
And constructed of fallible meat.

So she lies in repose, with her face all aglow -
Aglow, but not with desire.
She is lit by the Super-Smart Handheld Device
With its world-containing screen’s fire.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A REFLECTION UPON COMPLETING THIS LATEST SOLAR CIRCUMNAVIGATION

Time Marches On
or
It Sure Beats the Alternative

It’s hell, they say, when you get old.
Your toenails all are caked with mold,
Or maybe other kinds of fungus.
It’s hard to breathe with ancient lungus.
All bloodshot are your rheumy eyes,
All weak and stringy are your thighs.
Your pancreas is stiff and sore,
And buttocks droop towards the floor.
With exercise, your muscles ache,
It feels like all your bones will break.
You day by day get soft and flabby,
Your disposition loutish, crabby.
Digestion, once a simple task,
Becomes a chore (and please, don’t ask.)
Shoulder joints all get bursitis.
Your bladder wakes you up at nightis.
Your backbone gives you many pains.
Increasingly sieve-like grow your brains,
Until you cannot keep in mind
that “this is your elbow, that’s your behind”:
Getting old, it is not kind.

But whene’er these thoughts go thro’ my head,
I think: “It sure beats being dead.”

[Last posted about a decade ago, on a certain young lady’s birthday]

THE MEDICARE YEARS BEGIN


A sign of the times.

Why, yes - it’s my birthday. However did you know?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

HOME OF THE GRAVE

In America, we know how to have fun
From the ski slopes of Utah to Florida’s sun
You can gamble in Vegas with your girlfriend or wife
And if you lose the bet you can pay with your life

In the U S of A we know how to have fun
We’re all sitting ducks for a nut with a gun
For the sociopath fellow who’s living next door
Who looks at a concert and thinks “killing floor”

REFRAIN:
In the land of the free and the home of the brave
We can help you book space in a premature grave
Oh, you’ll get your repose in a box six feet deep
In the land of the free and the psychopath creep

Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook, Columbine
They massacre dozens, but we act like all’s fine
There’s a sickness that gnaws at our country’s inside
And no more safe places to go run and hide

In the land of the free and the home of the brave
We can help you book space in a premature grave
Oh, you’ll get your repose in a box six feet deep
In the land of the free and the psychopath creep

[This would make a dandy country song. Anyone wanna put it to music?]

Monday, October 2, 2017

BEHIND THE CURTAIN: A 100-WORD OBITUARY


Monty Hall (1921-2017). Requiescat in pace.

Monty was having the dream again, but it was different now.

The curtains were there, as always... but this time he was one of the contestants. Standing on his usual mark was a guy with glowing eyes, leaning on a scythe. And the curtains were black, so black they seemed to suck the light out of the room.

“What’ll it be, Monty? Curtain One, Two, or Three?”

“Curtain Two, please.”

Curtain One opened to reveal a shiny Cadillac hearse.

“Wanna change your mind?”

Monty knew the paradox that had been named for him. “Three,” he croaked.

Of course. The goat.

[Monty Hall, noted game show impresario, passed away Saturday at age 96. Now he gets to see what’s behind the Final Curtain. Ave atque vale.]

Friday, September 29, 2017

AFFLICTION, BENEDICTION

This evening at sunset Yom Kippur begins
The Day of Atonement to wipe clean our sins

We consume no water, and also no booze
We wear no leather on the soles of our shoes

Twenty-six hours without any rations
No shaving or hot baths or sexy relations

And the point of all of this lengthy affliction
Is to focus the mind for the day’s benediction

May the day bring clear conscience and a happy decree
May we enter our new year with hearts that sing free

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

THE GIRL WITH THE CHEESEBURGER TATTOO: A 100-WORD STORY

The world goes on, the world changes, thought Lisbeth.

Technological revolutions within her own lifetime had altered society beyond imagination. Smartphones. Social media. One tyranny after another.

In a twisted response to Trump’s brief administration, Joyce “Granola Granny” Munchisson had run for President on the PETA ticket and had won handily. Animal protein was now strictly forbidden; hot dogs and hamburgers had gone the way of the dodo.

Lisbeth was the hostess at Charlie’s. She loathed their vegan food, but it was good cover for her role as leader of the Veal-vet Underground... the girl with the Cheeseburger Tattoo.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

REGARDING ANTHROPOMORPHIC VEHICLES

Ever since the dawn of the Automotive Age, people have found ways to project human characteristics onto their automobiles. Animated cartoons a century old have shown cars as living, breathing, sentient beings. It’s hardly a surprise, when so much of our collective lives is suffused with our personal means of transport.

When visualizing cars as Cartoony Metal People, there are two divergent styles: the Chevron, in which the headlights serve as eyes and the grille as mouth; and the Pixar, where the windshield represents the eyes.


Chevron (top) vs Pixar (bottom).

If one were to rely solely on these examples, one would conclude that cars using headlights for eyes have personalities befitting normal, matter-of-fact suburban humans, whereas windshield-eyed vehicles are far more exaggerated. It's not clear whether this observation is borne out by reality, but how much reality can you ascribe to a sentient vehicle, anyway?

There is something comforting about the Chevron model. Me, I think it’s the eyelids. They seem to convey a certain relaxed - almost sleepy - air. The Chevron car is homey, nonthreatening. This is the kind of car you would take with you to run a few errands in the neighborhood. It’s the car next door. It needs a nap.

The Pixar car, though - is he happy? Is he insane? He looks like he’s up for adventure - an adventure of the sort Thelma and Louise might involve themselves with. He runs on Hi-Test, which he guzzles by the six-pack.

This business of anthropomorphizing our vehicles is nothing new, as I mentioned above, but I suspect it will really get a shot in the arm as we take our first tentative steps into the age of self-driving cars - automobiles in the truest sense of the word. Ascribing a persona to a car that drives itself is really nothing strange: in fact, it seems perfectly natural.

Meanwhile, what say ye? Are you a Chevron or a Pixar kind of person?

Postscriptum: I’ve been reminded of other anthropoid cars by commenters here (thanks, Kevin!) and on Farcebook - specifically, Herbie the Love Bug and My Mother, the Car.

“My Mother, the Car,” was a TV series that aired during the 1965-66 season with a total of thirty episodes. The mid-1960’s were notorious for their horrible sitcoms, and MMTC, which featured a superannuated jalopy ensouled with the protagonist’s dead mother, was one of the worst. Even die-hard TV nostalgia freaks throw up a little in their mouths when they think of this show.

Herbie was the star of six Disney live-action feature films between 1968 and 2005 as well as of a five-episode television series in 1982. You’d think Disney would avoid the concept of an animate vehicle after having seen how badly MMTC bombed, but that didn’t faze them... and Herbie, surprisingly, was a success. Of course, Volkswagen Beetles have a certain cuteness factor, and then there was that dead mother business.

But both Herbie and MMTC’s Gladys, despite being sentient, were cars in their outward appearance. They looked, respectively, like a Volkswagen Beetle and a 1928 Porter. No cartoonishness... but it’s appropriate to give them a passing mention. So there you are.