Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dad.

I'm an unemployment statistic if my boss reads this, but I will not have access to a computer for a while and wanted to put this into the slipstream.

My father's birthday is approaching; though he is gone now, I still think of him. My father was a machinist, a gear cutter, back when gears used to be cut in America. He was a veteran of WWII, serving in the Army Air Force. He 'flew The Hump' in the CBI, amongst other things.I did not find that out until I was in college.I mentioned I might like to go to India. His reaction was immediate and surprising: a loud 'no' with a long and vivid list of reasons why I should stay away from there. I think the war killed any wanderlust Dad may have had, along with eating certain vegetables. Apparently once canned carrots was all there was to eat where he was stationed, and he made a Vow, I guess. When the machine trade dried up, he took a job as a custodian at a trucking company, the place that eventually killed him.

We had some great battles when I was growing up; he wanted me to go to college, and I wanted to be a machinist. He won that one. He was being like every other father who wants something better for their children. He was also not like the fathers of
people I knew. One pal of mine's Dad would stop at the local bar every night on the way home. Not Dad: he would have a drink or two at a party (single malt only), but I don't think I ever heard of him stopping at the Local. Seeing my brother and I were both interested in mechanical things and mechanically inclined, he took us to places like the American Precision Museum and my personal favorite, the Higgins Armory Museum. A machinist colleague had a part time job as a projectionist at The Cameo (back when it was just one screen, not two shoehorned in), the local movie theater , and gave Dad passes, and my brother and I reaped that benefit. What an education: we saw every Roger Corman Poe film in luscious Technicolor with Vincent Price chewing the scenery; all the 'surf' movies, things like "Jason and the Argonauts', Hercules movies, and strange horror flicks. Those experiences, fodder for another screed, inculcated my interest in sitting in the dark watching a story unfold.

When the plant closed down, Dad got a job at the trucking company I had worked at to pay for college. He seemed to like it; he was not as stressed as the precision jobs made him, and things were swell. My mother died, and Dad, lost, married a woman he met. One day, while backing a forklift out of a trailer, he did not realize the driver had not checked the box when he pulled the chocks away and pulled the trailer. The forklift crushed my father against the loading dock. It would have killed a smaller man, and probably should have killed him outright. It did not. He had to use a walker afterward, but there were circulatory issues and that was what killed him. When a new doctor interviews me and asks what he died of there is always a one measure hesitation when I tell them the first cause of death on his death certificate: gangrene. That is a long and terrible story, which I will not get into here.

Before he died, my father wrote a book, and he lived long enough to see it in print. He was an antique firearms dealer, and had a life long interest in Vermont gunmakers. Like so many authors, he had looked for a source and could not find one to satisfy him, so he wrote it.

Sometimes, when I am tinkering in the garage and come up against a problem, I think "O, I'll call Dad, he'll give me the business but he'll tell me how to do it right". Then I have to stop and remind myself I cannot do that anymore. Dammit.
Happy Birthday, Dad.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

AB: "Long time no viddy".

A Dispatch from the “Open mouth, disengage brain” department: spotting someone I had not seen in a while on the transfer from the 747 chicken-bus to the terminal, I blurted “Long time no viddy, old droog”. The man seated next to me spun his head so fast it should have hurt. “Anthony Burgess? Clockwork Orange”? You betcha, right in one.

I discovered AB through the film version of that novel. Even back then, I read the credits. Intrigued, I read his other works, and found an author who continued to please, to intrigue, and to make me laugh until the end of his life. A bit of biblio-trivia: the novel, when published in the US, was truncated by one chapter. It had 21 chapters (21: age of adulthood, gedditgeddit?) when published in England; AB’s American editors, to lighten the ending of the novel they said, lopped off the last chapter. AB was furious, and when Kubrick filmed the novel from the American edition, Burgess washed his hands of the project.

The early American edition, truncation notwithstanding, did a very sneaky thing. There was no glossary for the NADSAT slang (read: Russian) so those words (droog, tolchock, kal, grachny brachny, etc.) wormed their way into our vocabulary through context and a bit of slow going in the early stages. My droogs and I had a slang our parents had no clue about. For someone like me, at that age getting caught in the web of words, it was a frabjous day indeed. The modern editions seen do have the glossary, making it ‘easier’ for the reader. I know it is fiction and all, but gee, the reader has to do some sort of work beyond just reading the novel.

AB took pleasure in pointing out the absurdities of daily life (“All illiterates will report to Room 2 for reading instruction” read the note on the Company bulletin board at his duty station on Gibraltar, relayed in the first volume of his autobiography, Little Wilson and Big God), always a good feature in a novelist. I miss him.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

An omnivore's checklist: pass it on.

Torn from another blog, URL below. My comments accompany, where needed.

Here’s a chance for a little interactivity for all the bloggers out there. Below is a list of 100 things that I think every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life. The list includes fine food, strange food, everyday food and even some pretty bad food - but a good omnivore should really try it all. Don’t worry if you haven’t, mind you; neither have I, though I’ll be sure to work on it. Don’t worry if you don’t recognise everything in the hundred, either; Wikipedia has the answers.

Here’s what I want you to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison.And Elk, Wild Boar, and Moose; no cats,kangaroos, or lizards unless absolutely necessary.
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi. I don't like the sound of this, lemme get back to you.
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes. Mamere made wine out of the darndest things....her dandelion wine was smokin', right up there with 'shine.
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects . Chocolate covered bumblebees, actually.
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk. Goat cheese, and jerk goat, yes; milk, no.
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more.Dad drank only single malts,an expensive wire here in the States. Here's to you, Dad.
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (A delicacy here in Richmond, there is a flashing light posted on the outside of their building to notify people when The Line is about to yield it's bounty! I'm not big on them{I prefer a cake doughnut}; again, Dunkin' Donuts standard plain sinker will suffice.)
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal, sad to admit. But not since my heart attacks.
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini. I've had plenty of gin, though: G&T is my fav-o-rite summer drink.
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin. Oooooooo I just looked it up, I know I have to eat a peck of dirt before I shuffle off, but I think I will pass on this one, clay ain't food. I have eaten art paste, does that count?
64. Currywurst
65. Durian.Which smells worse, durian or epoisses (q.v.)?
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake.
68. Haggis Had it when I was in Scotland in '73, enjoyed it. Mind you, my mother used to serve tripe (and boudin noir), a rarity in S. Weymouth, MA. I draw the line at Fried Haggis, though, as it is fried.
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar (the good old stuff)and blini
73. Louche absinthe. It's on my personal List. Having acquired some in NH last summer, I want to do her right, the whole ritual."Absinthe makes the tart grow fonder".
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill. Half the wild raccoons and skunks have rabies: my question is, do you feel lucky, Bubba?
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie HAHAHA. How did this working class delicacy get on the list? I didn't know it was available in the UK. A vending machine fav-o-rite from the bad old days.It really ain't food if you can get it from the machines at APA Transport in Canton, MA, which is where I got mine.
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers (I stuffed zucchini blossoms with ricotta and herbs , yessss; found 'em at the Goochland Farmer's market one year. I was on 'em like a duck on a June-Bug.)
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish One cannot live in the South any number of years without eating this fresh(or not so, if they are wild) water delight.
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee . Wasted on me, really: Dunkin' Donuts suffices.
100. Snake

As you can see, there are not many that I would not try. I may be a bit quiet afterwards, but I will generally try anything before me. Especially if I was a guest."Food fussers" were quickly culled from the Phillips' herd.