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

Monday, April 27, 2015


It has been several months since I’ve attended a Sommelier Guild event: This evening marks the first one since September. That’s an unprecedented streak of non-guildly behavior, alas, the result of either bad timing or restaurant selections that did not inspire me to part with my hard-earned simoleons.

But now we’re in familiar waters with an evening at Goldfish, over at Perimeter, and the (seasonally appropriate) theme of the evening is spring whites and reds.

Now, those Esteemed Readers who know me also know that whites are generally not my wines of choice. But I will put up with them in order to get to the reds that I crave. Now: what’s for dinner and drinkage?

2013 Mittelbach Rosé of Zweigelt - Austria

First Flight
NV Baron-Fuenté Brut Grande Réserve Champagne*

Fried oysters, tartar sauce

Second Flight
2012 Ancient Oak Chardonnay Russian River (Greg La Folliette, winemaker)
2011 Louis Michel Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre*
2012 Louis Michel Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre**
2009 Pegasus Bay Chardonnay New Zealand***

Crab cake, frisée, avocado, citrus salad, cilantro

Third Flight
2010 Produccions A Modino San Clodio
2000 Tardieu-Laurent Vacqueyras Vieilles Vignes**

Gulf shrimp and grits, andouille sausage, spinach, tomatoes, garlic cream

Fourth Flight
2012 Arietta Quartet**
2011 Woodward Canyon Artist Series***
2010 Buoncristiani OPC***

Filet mignon, gnocchi, broccoli, and mushrooms

2012 Chapoutier Banyuls*

Molten Center Chocolate Lava Cake

2007 Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc*

Per my usual practice, I’ll let you know what I think of the various wines and foodly items. You never know what you might discover!

The food was tasty enough, aside from the not-quite-molten center chocolate lava cake - and the wine offerings improved as the evening progressed. Strangely, the whites - with the sole exception of the Champagne - were served at room temperature. I’m guessing it was a restaurant screw-up, but it’s one that should have easily been corrected.

Most people like their white wines chilled. Serving them right out of the ice bucket isn’t ideal, since it mutes their flavors. Nevertheless, something a bit lower than the cellar temperature (62-68°F) that’s optimum for most reds is what to shoot for. 49-55°F is in the right ballpark.

Thank Gawd I prefer red wines. I’m just sayin’.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


How many of you can lay claim to swag this sweet?

“1829! In the midst of an ever-deepening sense of prosperity, Chester Alan Arthur climbed to the top of his bedroom wall, thrust his defiance at the Javanese, and shouted, ‘Give me Them, or I’m going Over There!’”

It’s... Presidential Pez!

I’m hoping to add Warren Harding, Richard Nixon, and Millard Fillmore to my collection. And eventually, perhaps, I will be able to score a William Henry Harrison, who died in office a mere thirty-two days after having been inaugurated. In recognition of its namesake’s short tenure, the William Henry Harrison Pez dispenser has room to hold only a single Pez candy.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


It sucks to be a kid today
You don’t have time to run and play
They teach you science and linguistics
And feed you “nuggets” ’stead of fish sticks
They’ll teach you calculus next week -
Nuclear physics, not hide-and-seek
Your intellect is daily measured
And playing ball is hardly treasured
You learn to surf the Internet
Instead of working up a sweat
For coloring outside the lines
They levy monetary fines
For thinking outside of the box
They force you to break heavy rocks
The difference ’twixt school and jail
Is that in prison you can’t fail
Just being here gives you a cramp
At daily Education Camp
I guess the grownups know what’s best
Today you’ll have another test
The future, it looks cold and gray
It sucks to be a kid today

It sucks to be a teacher, too
The parents tell you to go screw
Refuse to discipline their kid
Regardless of the things he did
The modern learning paradigm
Makes being young a mortal crime
To fit them for their future roles
We jam tots into pigeonholes
And try to build their “self-esteem”
With no thought of what it should mean
The work is hard, rewards are few
It sucks to be a teacher, too


In a nondescript building in Tel Aviv sixty-seven years ago today - by the Hebrew calendar, that is - Israel declared its independence, establishing a Jewish homeland for the first time in nearly two millennia.

Independence Hall, Tel Aviv. Originally the home of Meir and Zina Dizengoff and one of the first buildings to be constructed in what would become Tel Aviv, it housed the city’s art museum from 1932 to 1971.

The Israeli Declaration of Independence.

The plaque just outside of Independence Hall notes the date of the declaration in both Hebrew (5 Iyyar (5)708) and Gregorian (May 14, 1948) formats. As you’d expect, Israel celebrates the occasion according to the Hebrew calendar. 

Most national anthems talk of battles. Hatikvah, the national anthem of Israel, speaks of hope.

As long as in the heart, within
A Jewish soul still yearns,
And onward, towards the the ends of the East,
An eye still gazes toward Zion;

Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope of two thousand years,
To be a free nation in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Happy sixty-seventh birthday, Israel!

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Kazmaier Time Cover
The late Dick “Kaz” Kazmaier on the cover of the November 19, 1951 issue of Time magazine... probably the last great example of a true student-athlete.

A bronze statue stands in front of Jadwin Gymnasium at Princeton University. It’s a statue of All-American Dick “Kaz” Kazmaier, who won the Heisman trophy in 1951 - the last Ivy League player to do so - and who famously declined to pursue a career in professional football after being drafted by the Chicago Bears. Instead, he went on to Harvard Business School and proceeded to build an impressive professional resumé that included serving as
director of the American Red Cross; director of the Ladies Professional Golfers Association, trustee of Princeton University; director of the Knight Foundation on Intercollegiate Athletics; chairman of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush; and president of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame. [Wikipedia]
Kazmaier’s jersey number - 42 - was retired in 2008, five years before he passed away. Today that jersey hangs in a place of honor high on the wall in Jadwin Gymnasium.

* * *

Class reunions at Princeton are huge affairs, and we’ve attended every five years. Last June being my class’s fortieth reunion, we dutifully headed up to New Jersey, the first leg on a marathon trip that would take us to upstate New York, Boston, the Canadian Maritimes, Montréal, and then back home.

It was late Saturday night, after the class dinner and gargantuan fireworks show, and the various class reunions were all in full swing in their various locations around campus. Equipped with your wristband, you could wander the campus and visit as many parties as you had the stamina for. You could celebrate with the new graduates and the younger alumni clustered around the fifth-year reunion class, 2009. You could toss back a few brewskis with the tenth- and fifteenth-year classes and watch them trying to manage their growing families amidst the milling crowds. You could pay your respects to the more sedate (yet still raucous) oldsters - the Class of 1964 enjoying its fiftieth reunion, headquartered at Blair Courtyard, my home for two years. And you could bust a move with my class - 1974 - rocking out to the Fabulous Grease Band while wondering where the last forty years went.

After hanging out with various Friends of Long Standing for a while, Dee and I decided to call it a night and head back to our car, which was parked a goodly hike away on the far northern reaches of the campus. We made our way past the dorms, past the various Reunions parties, past the Frist Campus Center, eventually crossing Washington Street. Here it was quiet, with only an occasional distant sound from the parties at the eating clubs on Prospect Street drifting through the hush of the evening. As we walked past Princeton Stadium - about the halfway point in our Long March - we both came to the realization that we would need a rest stop. Neither of our aging bladders would withstand the wait until we got back to our hotel in Cranbury ten miles away. But where could we go? It was late at night and we were now in a part of the University territory where restrooms were thin on the ground.

There was only one option. Before us loomed the hulk of Jadwin Gymnasium, its entranceway illuminated by a few floodlights but otherwise dark, foreboding. As we approached, I mouthed a quiet prayer that we would be able to get in... and that prayer was answered, for one of the doors was standing open. In we went.

As we entered, our arrival evidently triggered a motion-sensitive lighting system: Suddenly, silently, the immense gym lobby seemed to come to life. In a strange way, it was almost welcoming. Signs directed us to our separate restroomy destinations, after which we joined each other in the lobby.

Here, we knew, was history. Look, there on the wall - there was Number 42! Dick Kazmaier’s jersey! And this was where Bill Bradley played basketball... also sporting number 42 on his jersey.

Dee and I stood there for a moment before resuming our trek to the car. Then we exited through the same door through which we had entered, the same door that, mercifully, had been open for us in our Moment of Need. In the dark, just outside the light cast by the entryway floods, I could just make out the shadowy shape of a statue. Who could it be but the one and only Dick Kazmaier ’51, All-American and Heisman Trophy winner, the selfsame Kaz whose old jersey we had just seen hanging high on the gym wall?

And then, suddenly, we were not alone.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a couple appeared, the man wearing the distinctive blazer that identified him as a member of the Class of 1967. He stuck out his hand and introduced himself, and then prepared to turn away. But something stopped him. He placed a firm but friendly hand on my shoulder.

It was immediately evident that he had enjoyed more than a few Adult Beverages that evening. Nevertheless, there was a striking intensity to his demeanor as he looked me in the eyes and asked me, “Do you see him?”

He could only be referring to our All-American boy. I answered, “I can’t see him... but I can feel him. He’s all around us here.”

“Exactly!” My interlocutor was trembling with excitement. I had gotten it, whatever it was.

“You can feel him... but you can’t see him! There are no lights! It needs lights!”

Aha! The statue! It was nearly invisible despite being so close to the gym’s entrance.

Partly to us, and partly to his wife, he quietly said, “Monday’s my last day, and I’m gonna see that it gets lights if it’s the last thing I do!” There was more than a hint of wistfulness in his voice as he spoke... and seemingly an undertone of pain as well.

Dee and I bade farewell to our mysterious new friend and his wife, who guided him gently away. And as we continued our walk to the car in the cool spring night, understanding dawned.

The mysterious man had been none other than Gary Walters, Class of 1967, the university’s Director of Athletics under whose tenure Princeton teams had won 214 Ivy League championships and 48 national championships. Once upon a time he had played basketball with Bill Bradley and had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And now he was retiring... effective on Monday, Graduation Day.

By some mystic twist of fate, we had stumbled upon Walters as he and his wife were saying their own personal farewell to Jadwin Gymnasium, a place of high significance in both his personal and professional history, the beating heart of Princeton’s athletic world. (I now suspect that, if not for their presence there, the building would have been locked, leaving us to our own devices.) And what was he thinking about as he walked that cavernous building one last time? What ghosts did he see among its girders and rafters? What memories came floating up to him?

We can tell you.

He was thinking about the late Dick Kazmaier and the statue erected to honor him, a statue that needed some nighttime illumination. He was thinking about the respect due a true student athlete of the sort that, quite possibly, has vanished from today’s world. And he was almost surely thinking about his impending - and, we surmise, not especially sought-after - retirement.

Eventually Dee and I found our car and drove back to our lodgings. And as we made ourselves ready for bed, both of us, I think, had tears in our eyes... for we had witnessed a most haunting valedictory. And - speaking for myself, at least - it has haunted me ever since.

Godspeed, Gary. May the next part of your life continue to be rewarding and productive.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


A couple of weeks ago, I was ruminating on technological advances and how they have affected our lives in ways both subtle and not-so-subtle. The example I had cited was the business of buying groceries, which is a very different sort of affair than it was, say, fifty (or even thirty) years ago. What with optical scanners, electronic cash registers, and high-tech plastic grocery bags, today’s supermarket is a whole different world than it was back when our mother would drag me and The Other Elisson to the local A&P or Bohack to cop a week’s provisions.

Over the span of decades, our lives necessarily change as invention proceeds at an ever-accelerating pace. It strikes me as odd, however, that even as we concoct neologisms or repurpose existing words to deal with the things that populate our daily reality (verbs like Facebooking, tweeting, Instagramming, e.g.), we continue to use terms that no longer have any actual connection with the items or activities they describe.

To revisit the example I wrote about two weeks ago, we talk about the cashier “ringing up” our purchases at the grocery store and elsewhere... but when was the last time you actually heard any ringing? Nowadays “booping up” might be a better descriptor, but I see no signs of it catching on.

Even in this age of the smartphone we still talk of dialing a number, a locution that dates back to the days of the rotary dial telephone. I don’t know about you, but I cannot remember how long it has been since I actually dialed a phone: it has probably been over thirty years.

With respect to recorded music, some of us still talk about “cuts,” “sides,” and “albums,” but none of those expressions really makes sense in the age of the digital download. They’re holdovers from the Age of Vinyl, and that last one (album) is actually a throwback to the days of 78 RPM analog disc recordings. Back then, an album was literally that: a book-like affair that held several thick shellac discs. You would stack them on a turntable, and the automatic record changer would drop the next disc onto the rotating platter when the previous one finished playing. When the pile was done, you’d flip the whole thing over and start again. When the long-playing 33⅓ RPM vinyl discs, AKA LP’s, appeared, that whole stack of 78’s was replaced by (usually) a single disc... yet the moniker “album” stuck and is with us to this day.

I still hear people - even young people - refer to recording a video on a smartphone as “videotaping.” That one is about as old as the Television Age, but it was mostly TV industry jargon until sometime in the mid-1980’s, when cassette videotapes and portable video camcorders became affordable and popular. (Prior to that, most home video was in the form of home movies shot in either 8 mm, Super-8, or (for the well-heeled) 16 mm film formats.) Videotape cassettes have now gone the way of the passenger pigeon, and even their successors, the DVD and Blu-Ray video discs, appear to be losing ground to digital streaming. It sure is a long way from the days of home movie projectors.

It provides me with no end of amusement that, when I take a photograph with my iPhone, the device makes a sound exactly like an old-school 35 mm SLR with a motor drive. That mechanical “kerchunk-whirr” is familiar to anyone who was a serious photographer back in pre-digital times, so I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense to use it as a way of saying “Hey, there - I’m taking a picture!” But the programmers could have selected any number of sounds instead, just as they have created new sounds that we associate with routine Digital Age activities like receiving e-mail or text messages.

I’m sure there are plenty of other linguistic and acoustic anachronisms... can you think of any? Share ’em in the comments, why don’tcha?

Saturday, April 11, 2015


The Red Sea Pedestrians’ ration
Has been long known to cause constipation.
Eating matzoh all week -
It just might make me shriek
But it binds me to my Jewish nation.

Passover ends this evening at sundown, and we already have plans to end our eight-day-long abstention from leavened grain products by going out for pizza. That makes sense. It’s delicious, it’s leavened, and yet it is somewhat flat, as if to pay homage to the matzoh we are no longer obligated to eat until next year. I’m looking forward to it - and also to a taste of what the hooch-merchants call Brown Goods. That’d be whisky, which has been out-of-bounds for the past week.

We love Pesach, but as with a visiting relative, we’re always happy to see it go after it’s stayed with us for over a week. And some will be happier than others.

A good friend (who shall remain nameless here) contacted me a couple of evenings ago to inform me that he would be unable to attend synagogue Friday morning, the penultimate day of the festival. This was a bit problematic, as he had been slated to lead a portion of the service: We would have to find a pinch hitter.

The problem? A case of “Matzoh-stomach.”

Later, when our friend was feeling better, one of our group inquired further about the ailment he had suffered:

“Red light or green light?”

“Green light, damn it.”

Thursday, April 9, 2015


’Twas mid-way through Pesach, and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse -
For even the vermin, from the bold to the meek,
Were stopped up from their diet of matzoh all week.

If I’d run marathons with the carbs I was loading,
My kishkes might not feel like they were exploding.
I had tried eating prunes to dislodge the foul mass,
But they were insufficient to unplug my ass.

So I just went and tucked myself into the bed
While visions of normal food danced in my head.
But as soon as my eyes closed, I heard a great clatter!
I arose with a thump to see what was the matter.

And what to my tired old eyes then appeared?
An Orthodox rabbi with a dark bristly beard.
And he said, “Don’t just stand there admiring my whiskers –
I came here to help you and your impacted kishkers!

He gave me a spoon and a bowl of compote,
Saying, “This stuff can help a snake crap out a goat.
It’s got plenty dried fruit and a drop of sweet wine,
Chase it with slivovitz, and soon you’ll be just fine!”

Then, laying a finger alongside his nose,
Saying, “Pesach Sameach!” up the chimney he rose,
Not staying for “thank you,” just like the Lone Ranger -
I owe my clean bowel to that rabbinical stranger!

Sunday, April 5, 2015


It was Easter morning, and the Radcliffe children awakened early.

Breakfasted and dressed in their holiday finery, the family went to church. The kids fidgeted in the pews, anxious for services to be over...for that’s when the fun would begin. Easter eggs!

Nothing, save Christmas morning, was anticipated as eagerly as the annual Egg Hunt.

But this year, something was amiss. Instead of dyed eggs, all the childrens’ searching turned up were gnarled, rock-like objects.

They brought their baskets to Dad, who looked appraisingly at the brightly painted bivalves.

“Looks like the Oyster Bunny paid us a visit this year.”

[Bunnies are famous for their reproductive abilities, and so are old blogposts. This one was originally published in April 2007 at the Old Place and has been resurrected (harrumph) for your reading pleasure. Happy Easter to all our Christian friends!]

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


A few days ago, Dee and I paid a visit to the local food market to pick up a few odds and ends by way of preparation for the upcoming Passover holiday.

You’d be amazed at how costly Passover can be. Much of our average, everyday grub is unsuitable for use during the eight-day duration of the festival, when the use of leavened or fermented products made from wheat, oats, rye, spelt, and/or barley is forbidden. Rice, corn, and legumes are also off-limits in accordance with Ashkenazic tradition. (Quinoa, at least, is permissible.) And so replacements must be found... and the supermarkets know that they have you, so to speak, over the barrel. If we were really observant, we’d use completely different dishes and serving pieces, and things would get completely out of hand.

But that was not what I was thinking as the cashier rang up our purchase. Perhaps “booped up” would be a more accurate turn of phrase, because there was nary a ring - just a series of electronic boops and beeps as she passed our items, one by one, over the laser scanner. No, what I was thinking was how things have changed since my Snot-Nose Days.


I slid my debit card into the reader and punched in my PIN code, and an invisible (and yet very real) C-note was instantaneously sucked out of our checking account. The cashier handed us our receipt and we hauled our groceries - packed into a small army of wispy plastic handle-bags - to the car.

When I was a mere sprat, I would occasionally accompany my mother to the grocery store, where we would roll our cart (a device referred to hereabouts as a “buggy”) to the cashier. As the items were propelled toward her by conveyor belt - technology we still use today - she would pick each one up and find the price, stamped (usually) in purple ink. She would then punch the price into her huge electromechanical cash register - chik, chik, chik, chik - and then hit a button that would add the item to the slowly growing total. Kerchunk. And when it came time to add up the purchase at the end, a lengthy series of kerchunks would culminate in a nice, attention-grabbing Ding! Ring up, indeed.

Ancient Jell-O with price stamp

Ancient (vintage-1974) box of Jell-O with price stamped directly on the package. Notice the cents sign: Back then, plenty of items actually sold for less than a dollar.

Old-School Cash Register
Old-school cash register.

Mom would hand the cashier a bill - good old paper money - and the cashier would count out the change, a task easy enough for anyone with a grade school education to perform without a calculator, abacus, or even a scrap of paper and a pencil. Then we would lug everything out to the car, filling the trunk with big kraft paper sacks of Food-Swag.

Today’s system is a lot faster and more efficient. No need to stamp every item with a price: Each product has a unique barcode to which a price can be assigned electronically. (It makes it a whole lot easier to jack up your prices when you can do everything all at once!) Every time an item is scanned, the store’s inventory log is adjusted. If change is needed (What? Cash?), the register does all the calculations. And the laser scanner “boops up” purchases far more rapidly than the most nimble-fingered cashier could ever ring them up on the old-style registers.

There’s a famous old bit of folklore about one John Henry, a “steel-drivin’ man” whose job it was to pound holes into solid rock so that explosives could be inserted... part of the work involved in building the railroads. But new technology came along in the form of a steam-powered hammer, and the days of the manual steel driver were numbered. In order to assess the practicality of the new device, John Henry’s steel-driving prowess was tested in a race with the steam hammer. According to legend, John Henry won, but at the cost of his life: Overcome with exhaustion, he dropped dead at the end of the contest, a latter-day Pheidippides.

Standing there in the supermarket checkout line, I imagined a contest between a modern John Henry armed with an electromechanical cash register. His fingers would fly over the keys as he raced against the new technology, a technology powered by laser light instead of steam. Yet even if he were to win, it would be a short-lived victory. Hey, that’s progress!


Mom in a pensive pose, in a vintage 1966 photo.

I snapped this photo of Mom some time in 1966 with my (then) new 35mm camera. It was nothing too fancy - a Miranda (a now defunct Japanese brand) model G -  but it represented my first foray into the SLR world, and I used it constantly.

From the wood paneling, the photograph appears to have been taken in our family room. What was she doing? Reading the newspaper, or one of her numerous mystery or SF novels? Doing the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle?  I cannot remember... for it has been forty-nine years since the photograph was taken. I’m now a quarter-century older than my mother was then.

Today is her Yahrzeit - the anniversary (as reckoned according to the Hebrew calendar) of her departure for Olam ha-Ba, the Undiscovered Country. It’s an easy date to remember: 12 Nisan, three days before the festival of Pesach begins. I suppose my brother (the Other Elisson) and I could call it Mother’s Day.

She has been gone for twenty-seven years now.

I sometimes wonder what she would make of today’s world. Computers, smartphones, social media, all of our nonsense. I suspect that she’d prefer to be swatting balls over at the tennis court and enjoying an occasional Rob Roy... at least, when she was not working her way through a stack of library books. She would take time out to teach Dee the fine points of shopping, assuming there were any left she had not imparted already. And she would love her granddaughters, rejoicing in their sparkling personalities and their artistic triumphs.

I sure do miss her.