Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What a Country!

Remember the Russian comic Yakov Smirnoff? I think he was big about 20 years ago...anyway, his big line was "America...what a country!" If I'm not mistaken, I think he has a daily show in Branson, Missouri, now with all the other not-so-recently-famous entertainers. I mean, when people come back and gush about the gold-plated fixtures in the bathrooms, you KNOW the entertainment was, well, second rate. Since I have not officially visited the Grand Ol' Opry of the Midwest, I can cast no aspersions in that directions, but I can attest to the fact that America is a fabulous country. The latest proof came the form of ice cream.
We all get many odd emails asking for this and that: indicating that I have won a million dollars from Zombonibia or some exotic place. All I have to do is send some money for the transfer, etc. etc. Recently, however, I hit the jackpot.
A local research firm was soliciting volunteers to test new products, be involved in market surveys, etc. Generally, these were aimed at a certain demographic, and if I qualified, I would be paid a certain amount of money for very little of my time.
"What the heck," I said to myself, and signed up. Today was the jackpot for which I had been waiting. I qualified to be a member of a panel testing new products made of ICE CREAM! Ice cream is a major food group for my money, so I jumped at the chance.
We met in a building which housed a thrift store, an apartment management company and a few other nondescript businesses. I was a bit nervous because we ahd to sit together in front of an elevator until the whole group arrived, whereupon we would be ushered upstairs for our taste testing. A few veterans of the business knew each other and chatted inanely while the others of us examined the tops of our shoes and our fingernails. I felt like I was waiting in a dentist's office without the months-old magazines. Anyway, we got called up, and it was amazing.
We were shown a picture of a new this case, two Oreo cookies with vanilla ice cream between them. We were asked to judge what we thought of the product by looking at the package. After eating a cracker and drinking some water, we were served our first test...and these things were HUGE. Normally, the package makes things look big, and they are not...well, these were really big. We were instructed to taste the treat then answer some questions about how we liked it. The person in charge said we could eat the whole thing or only part of it; and there actually were people who did not eat the whole thing! Are you kidding me?
Next, we had the requisite cracker and water, and we were served ANOTHER huge Oreo treat, this time with cookies and cream ice cream in the middle instead of vanilla. The response part was the same. With no more treats to taste, we were free to go, stopping to pick up $15 on the way out. SERIOUSLY! I spent fifteen minutes eating ice cream and got paid for it. I could hardly believe it.
Is America the greatest country, or what?
For the record, the Klondike/Oreo cookies and cream thing was not nearly as good as the Oreo thing with plain vanilla ice cream...but I ate the whole thing, anyway. Wasting ice cream with people going hungry around the world just didn't seem right.
Life just keeps getting better and better.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Pass the Gravy, Please

Norman Rockwell would have painted it this way: on Thanksgiving, the aging father hands the sacred carving utensils to a nervous but proud son who has been anxiously awaiting this moment all his life. The ritual of watching, jaw agape, as Dad carves away delectable bits of Butterball is a moment steeped in tradition. Maybe this was the one time a year (save for the Christmas goose) that Dad held top billing over the rest of the scrumptious food and Mom's pumpkin pie.
Yes, I know Thanksgiving has has Norman Rockwell. The eldest son in our family, a young stalwart named Ryun, was so anxious that the bird be dissected correctly this year that he volunteered his expertise. As a proud father, I was ready to hand over the sacred slicer...but that wasn't really what the GenY'er had in mind. He sent me a link to a video presentation from the New York Times on how the chopping should be done! The five-minute video starred an ill-fated turkey and Ray Venezia, a 3rd-generation butcher from New York's Fairway Market. (link to follow).
Ray is not into showboating so he suggests cutting the bird IN THE KITCHEN AWAY FROM THE TABLE! Who would be there to ooh! and ahh!? nobody. He postulated that it was simply easier and more effective on a cutting board. No use of a fork, either; Venezia refused to let juices flow until he cut the carcass so he held it in one hand and surgically denuded the turkey with the other. Other tips included cutting the white meat across the grain instead of with the grain (my high school shop teacher would scream at that!) and beginning only after the bird had cooled for at least 20 minutes. The thoery is that hot gravy is enough heat.
Anyway, to make a long story even longer, I took the time to watch the instructional video and carved our feast away from the table following all recommendations. I was amazed: it was easy, there were huge chunks of meat instead of all the little bits suitable only for turkey salad, and the presentation (which is everything) was even better!
Sad to say that the Norman Rockwell moment has been replaced by educational videos, but that's what happens in a 20th century family...uh, make that 21st century technological family.
Want to watch the video in preparation for the Christmas goose? Here's the link:

bon apetit!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Grandma's Got $4,687.50 Coming

I've never been one to avoid challenges or adventure: I've ridden elephants and rafted down rivers in Thailand, I've eaten bologna that was old enough to be green, and I even talked back to the nuns in grade school on occasion. I've wandered through El Salvador, Cambodia and Scandinavia (OK, so no real danger there), and I'm on the lookout for even more stimulation as we look ahead to vacations over the next couple of years. I draw the line, however, at agrotourism. I'd work on a cattle ranch like Billy Crystal did in "City Slickers," and I'd build houses for Habitat for Humanity, but I refuse to work on a farm, PAY to do so, and call it a vacation. Agrotourism has become the fashionable way to retreat. Honestly, it's been in all the city papers! Maverick Farms in North Carolina is a great example.
For $125 a night, back-to-nature freaks can go to North Carolina and work on a farm to their heart's content. They can shovel manure, plant and harvest crops, build greenhouses and outbuildings, and generally do everything I did for my grandmother as a kid. They can even COOK THEIR OWN FOOD and leave a donation at the end of the stay! Of course, there is the fact that they can also get paid for their effort: up to 25% of the cost can be defrayed by their hard work. Is it big business? In the state of Tennessee last year, such farms had more than 3 million visitors and added more than $17 million to the economy. This is another one of the European fads which has been exported to this country. Heck, my grandmother knew about this gig long ago.
Every summer, my mother would ship me out to the farm for two weeks, either to be rid of me or to teach me something about how hard life could be. I'm sure there was a lesson there somewhere, but all I remember was the hard work. I remember, specifically, picking corn one morning for, like, fifteen hours. At the break, I thought we were through for the day, but it was only time for BREAKFAST! My hopes for relief sank faster than an environmental tour ship in the Antarctic. I also remember my uncles, Al and John, making me do all the hateful jobs like picking cockleburrs (if you've never done it without gloves, don't ask) while they engaged in some easier pursuit. Painting the barn and milking cows by hand were also chores on the agenda, but I was so bad at both of them that I got something of a pass there.
All in all, I suspect I spent five vacations with my grandmother. Saying she let me off on Sunday, I worked six days a week at ten hours (easily) a day. At the $125 dollar rate minus my wage for working, I figure I owe her $4,687.50. I would probably try to devalue that figure because money has become inflated since the days of my youth, but it would still be a significant amount. My grandmother and I were definitely ahead of our time. It's too bad my own kids are too old to learn the lessons I got to learn.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Don't Get Bunched

Hey, Just in case you missed the nuance of "jonesing" yesterday, it was an incredibly erudite pun on the company name. Check out
Word out.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Jonesing Some Chocolate Coins

You know it's the holiday season when the Jones Soda Company from Seattle comes out with its promotional sodas. I LOVE THEM!(except the broccoli). Last year, my friends Mark and Patty gave me the Thanksgiving pack for my birthday. This gastronomical delight featured sodas flavored like turkey and dressing (ok), cranberry (good!), gravy (not so much), and the aforementioned broccoli (definitely Mr. Yuck). This year, all the good girls and boys on my list are getting either the Christmas Pack or the Channukah Pack in their stockings. Of course, I'll leave the caps on!
Just in case you've already turned up your nose, you nattering nabob of negativity (to quote Spiro Agnew), hear me out. Some of these are great! The Jones Soda Company offers soda made with all natural ingredients, pure cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup (which is REALLY bad for you!) as well as teas and a few other delectables. I really like most of them; especial favorites are Cherry Jones (popular in Dallas, I suspect), Strawberry Manilow (popular with the ladies!), Momegranate and Green Apple. Now to the hoilday packs, available online, I might add ($12.99 + shipping). I always get mine at Target, and I still have one Candy Corn-flavored soda from Halloween. Anyhoo, back to the holidays.
Christians can revel in Christmas Ham, Christmas Tree, Egg Nog and Sugar Plum flavors.
For those of the Jewish persuasion (are people persuaded to be Jewish? I thought you just WERE Jewish), all the flavors are kosher and contain no caffeine: Latke Soda, Apple Sauce, Chocolate Coins, and Jelly Doughnut (Mmmmm...jelly doughnuts!).
If I had any idea what Latke was, I think I'd prefer the kosher stuff. What the heck, I've already tried gravy and broccoli.
Rest assured, if you hate the taste of a Christmas tree or ham, you WON'T like the soda, but if you're an adventurous type, go get ' only live once...although once is enough if you try the broccoli, though!
The web site promises a savings of four dollars for those who purchase BOTH packs. I'm headed to Target myself.

I'm Jonesing a new taste in liquid refreshment for the holidays

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Penthouse to the Outhouse...Plop!

Poor Barry Bonds. The guy is jeered all season as a potential doper while setting the major league record for home runs. Only in San Francisco could he get any love at all...and this was history in the making. Now, word comes down that he's been indicted by a grad jury for potentially perjuring himself in the Balco investigation; and his personal trainer is still in jail, I think, for refusing to talk about it. Anyway, the drop is not-so-sudden, but a tough one to swallow for him. Maybe Johnny Cochran ("If it doesn't fit, you must acquit") is available...oh yeah, OJ is going to trial in Vegas so maybe Barry will have to get somebody else.
Why is any of this important to me, inspite of its historical significance? I, too, have recently been on the descending end of the "penthouse to the outhouse" theory.
I was asked recently to accompany a team on a road trip to continue working with students who had a big test coming up upon their return. The trip was a three-day deal so there was ample time for us to study. Anyway, I had a bench pass to sit on the bench with the team at a major college venue. I admit that it was a rush, but then word filtered down that there were not as many seats as promised, and I was asked to move. (OK, OK, not a major blow by any standards, but it did call to mind the Bible story of the invited guests who were seated too close to the head of the table and were asked to move down). I laughed at the irony, and now that Barry and OJ have fallen even further, I can commiserate a bit with them, though to be truthful, I, at least, have no need of a lawyer! As for me, the games were fun, the trip provided a rare insight into the world of college basketball, and my students scored an "A" and two "B's". Of course, they are leaving again this weekend, and there are two tests next week...I'm staying home to get ready for test prep on Monday and Tuesday. No need to worry about status this time.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mary Magdalen: Musician

I love the "conspiracy theory" idea that seems to crop us every now and then...usually when somebody is running for office or trying to sell a book. I don't think DaVinci would benefit from an box, but this is a cool item nonetheless. It seems as if DaVinci was a dyslexic painter/musician. Of course, you've all heard about it by the bread on the table as wll as the hands and faces of the folks at the Last Supper provide a musical clue to...well, something. Of course, the people who had nothing better to do than figure this out had to read the music from right to left in order for it to make any sense. They also make the claim that this is, of course, how DaVinci used to write anyway. Fortunate for him that he wasn't a novelist but a painter. I'd bet Dan Brown is somewhere behind all of this so in his next book Angels and Musicians he can further expound on this topic.
Here are some subplots I'd like to see:
1. In order for the music to make any sense, the dots on the musical scale have to include Mary Magdalen's breasts in addition to the head and hands of everyone else.

2. This painting is not the original DaVinci work. It was done to throw off the Nazis during WWII. This is actually a lesser-know DaVinci work entitled The Last Brunch.

3. When played left to right, the music is actually "Chopsticks," but when played right to left, it sounds a LOT like Beethoven's 9th Symphony (thus creating yet another book for Dan Brown Thieving From the Masters)

4. When connected with an unbroken line, the dots form the outline of the head of Nostradamus (thus creating yet another Dan Brown work I Knew This Would Happen)

BTW: if you want to listen to the music, follow this link:

Now, who says the arts can't be fun! I'm off to put together my 1,000-piece snoopy jigsaw puzzle.