Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Strike Syria? Let Portugal Do It! Or, Greece, Maybe?

With half the American public in paroxysms over Miley Cyrus and the other half still wondering what happened to Honey Boo Boo, the country is more polarized than ever. Then, there's Syria.

Syria who you say? Well, it's not a who, it's a country. It's that one that's kind of over there, sort of by Lebanon, kind of where your boat would land if you were bareboating in Cyprus (Cyprus is pretty much at the other end of the Mediterranean Sea from the French Riviera). It has cities with cool names such as Damascus and Aleppo. Just think of Aladdin riding a magic carpet with a Genie (not the garage door opener ones--the ones who are magic and Arabs call Djinn; the magic lamp kind).

So why, you say, does the American government want to bomb Syria? Well, rest assured that we're digging into that part, but it seems as though some Rebels vs. The Empire thingy is going on, and The Empire used poison gas on the Rebels and several hundred died.

It's against International Law to use poison gas, of course, so the Obama Administration has to "do" something. This imperative apparently arose from 1994, when just under 1 million Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda and America didn't "do" something. America did "do" something when Iraq's Saddam Hussein had the temerity to have no connection with the 9-11 terror attack in the U.S. nor have any A-bombs, so he had to be shown a lesson. 

Syria's Assad regime crossed President Obama's red line with the poison gas attack, unless it turns out that the Rebels launched the poison gas, in which case somebody crossed Obama's red line and must be stopped. American missiles are evidently precision-accurate enough to know who did it.

Anyway. The Plucky Observer is still trying to get to the bottom of this. So far, it sounds like an outtake of an Alice in Wonderland remake, with things getting curiouser and curiouser. Hmm. We shall see.

In the meantime, though, if it's so important to teach the Bad Syrians a lesson, why not let Portugal do it? Or Greece? Their economies are horrid, everyone's out of work and teaching Syria a lesson could be a win-win. Putting your country on a war footing is definitely good for business anyway.

What Your Correspondent can't get his head around, though, are the Occupy Movements. We've been hugely supportive, lately, of Turkey's Occupy Movement, and Turkey is right next door to Greece. In fact, people would be astounded if they knew the similarities between Southeast Turkish cuisine and Syrian cuisine, but that's another story.

Portugal has it's own Occupy Movement. So does Greece, and we Chapullers have to stand together. It's the 99 percent versus the one percent. Why does that matter, here?

If you look at who's not getting the guns--or missiles, or whatever--and who is, you'll soon note that it's not Obama and McCain and Assad and Cameron who are grabbing the AR-15's and gassing up the Humvees for the road to Damascus. Guess who is?

Here's what the One Percent wants: 

We need to be grateful to these actors for so ably portraying dead people

But the 99 percent are thinking more along these lines:

Again, we're working tirelessly to sort all this out. Meanwhile, if you would drop an email to our Fearless Leaders and tell them what you think, it might help. Maybe. 

Well, it could.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

How to Have a Lobsterfest in the Rocky Mountains

The following are required for your Lobsterpalooza:


4 live Maine lobsters
1 functioning gas grill ( a charcoal one might work, but you're on your own here, Pal)
1 adult kid having a birthday, plus one sibling and their Mom
1-2 side dishes, such as corn-on-the-cob, rice, pilaf, French (or Freedom) fries, etc. We fixed suboise. A green salad is kind of nice, too.
1 to 1-1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, melted and mixed with four crushed cloves of garlic. This is in line with the Food Network and Julia Child's axiom that more butter generally improves anything. The butter is for dipping.
1 recipe of original Trader Dick's Mai-tais for all (recipe on request)
Why don't you go where fashion sits?

1 recipe of something else for those who don't like Mai-tais all that much
1 decent white wine, such as an oaky Chardonnay or, better yet, an Oregon Pinot Gris or California Fume Blanc. Or Pinot Noir, I guess.
1 really good California Zinfandel, preferably from Mendocino, but Sonoma will do. Amador County works, by the way. Or a Pinot Noir, I guess.
Extra wine in case you run out.


1. Engage the diners in a riveting discussion over Mai-tais. Rag on your boss, lie about your sales figures, blame Obama for something or whatever. When ice at bottom of glass appears to displace Mai-tai (or whatever is in the glass), light the grill.

2. Kill and bifurcate the lobsters. Bifurcate means cut in half, lengthwise. Well, to be precise, "bifurcate" doesn't connote lengthwise or horizontal, but just do it lengthwise, okay? And smack a good gash into each claw so the meat inside will cook (See below for how to store, kill, and bifurcate lobsters)

3 .Let the grill heat for 10-15 minutes. It's okay, and even good, to have soaked wood chips for 10-20 minutes to add smokiness, but if you forgot, WTH. If you remembered to soak some wood chips, place the metal box with wet chips on the grill. 

4. Pour the remaining Mai-tais to the now-excited diners.

5. In completing Step 4, do not overlook the chef nor those who may prefer cranberry juice, which goes well with vodka and Triple Sec.

6. Cooking the lobster: Baste each meaty side with the melted garlic butter and place flesh side down on the grill for about two minutes. Lower the heat and flip each lobster half so that the shell side is on the bottom. Cook another seven minutes or so, covered, until the lobster is done. If your grill is crowded, which it probably is, it may take longer than seven minutes, so don't go all batshit. The meat will be all creamy and yummy-looking when done.You'll have to shift the critters around, because it's kind of tricky to get the claw meat completely cooked without overcooking the rest.

Here is how it will look: 

A couple of assurances and warnings, here. First, I'd like to assure everyone that the lobsters starring in this post are (a) sustainably raised, (b) line-caught and (c) local. It's a little-known fact that Live Maine lobsters grow and flourish in a protected corner of La Poudre Pass Lake, the headwaters of the Colorado River, although you can only buy them in a store. But we are proud of these ethics, so if they disturb those of you on the far Republican Right,  you'll have to go to, hmm, well, I don't know. Someplace nice, like Redmond, WA, or maybe Martha's Vineyard. Palm Springs, I suppose, or anywhere in Florida. The video below may be inspiring, especially if you can manage to Photoshop in an American flag.

Second, to the Democratic Left: You need to know that the things we eat were, at some point, alive before someone, often an undocumented alien, killed them. This fact will be more disturbing the higher up the food chain you go. Live French wheat killed for Gray Goose is one thing--which, parenthetically and ironically, more Republicans can afford, but still. Point made.Terminating the life of a creature is, well, terminating the life of a creature. It's possible the lobsters in question were none to happy about the turn of events. Be aware that phone calls for comments were not returned. 

How to Store, Kill, Prepare and Bifurcate Lobsters

To store: Buy them the same day you plan to eat them, if possible. Store them in the refrigerator with some wet Rocky Mountain seaweed on top. If no seaweed is available, wet some newspapers and put that on top of the critters. Refrigeration really slows their metabolism, but they stay alive.

To kill the lobster: The first thing to do is find someone willing to act as Grand Executioner. Your Correspondent was perfectly willing to assume this task, but, alas, had to light the barbecue. The other diners, save one, scattered so fast you could play cards on their coattails. That left the sous chef to do the deed, and though it was his birthday, he took on the task with gusto. 

The second part is to locate a little T where the head and neck, if it had a neck, would join. Do not remove the rubber band from the claws, yet, as by now, the lobster is awake and kind of pissed off. Facing the lobster, take a French Chef knife and plunge it into the T, and pull the knife toward you with the blade cutting through the head between the eyes. The video below may be disturbing to the death-unawares, so if you're squeamish, don't watch it and settle for a review from Kenneth Turan or someone.

To bifurcate the lobster: Flip it over onto its back and, using the same French Chef knife, cut it in half lengthwise. You may have to employ the use of kitchen shears, depending on your strength and the quality of the French Chef knife. Be aware that during the execution and bifurcation process, lobster spoo will explode all over the kitchen, the sous chef and the interested bystanders, flavoring their remaining Mai-tais and making their eyeglasses a bit less useful.

Remove the stomach, intestines and all that kind of gross stuff. You will note some greenish yuck near the head. This is called the tomalley, which is some foreign language word for liver and pancreas. New Englanders consider this to be a delicacy and will use it for sauces, dips and soup base. But these organs also act as a filter and could be replete with pollutants. If there's some red stuff by the tail, it's a female lobster and that's the roe. Sushi lovers should be orgasmic at this discovery, and it can be used along with the tomalley. In any event, remove these before grilling and do what you will (recipes abound on the internet). You an also remove the rubber bands from the claws.

Serve each person one lobster and a ramekin of melted butter for dipping. The side dishes will have to go on another plate and may go uneaten, to a degree.

Bon appetitt!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The World's Shortest Short Story is Everyone's Story

"For sale, baby's shoes, never worn," goes the full text of a story attributed (no doubt aprocrophally) to Ernest Hemingway. It's often trotted out as the world's shortest story.

I found one I like better. I wrote it, but I didn't. Someone I knew said she did, but no, she didn't, either. Not that she lied, because in fact, she did write it. So did I. In fact, I don't think I know anyone who didn't write it. Here it goes:

"If only." 

There. I said it. That's the world's shortest story and I think it's everyone's story, at least everyone I know reasonably well.

Say it aloud, right now, to yourself. Nestle back in whatever you're sitting in, close your eyes, smile slightly and say it again, this time to yourself, and your story starts to develop. You know the beginning and maybe the middle. And the end?

Unless you're dead, you can still write that part. Heck, there's still a chance for some of the middle part.

The predicates to your If Only story can be divided in a few ways. The first is your being something completely and totally different than you are now, e.g., "If only I were gay (or straight, as the case may be), or "If only I were born in 1847," or whatever. Like that.

Next is fantasizing about something you might have been, as in, "If only were good at sports," or somesuch. Sometimes, I think how much better I'd be if only I had more money. Money can't buy happiness, but it can sure buy a lot of fresh orange juice, which is good with tequila. Still, imagining a life as, say, a Broadway diva, or even a forest ranger, is another dimension of one's If Only story.

But that's the easy stuff. The hard part is facing the way you are. Then, your story would go, "If only I stood up for myself," or "If only I weren't so stubborn," or "If only I could stop worrying whether or not people like me."

People's personalities are a mysterious amalgam of the full monty of human emotions and motivations--search for affection and willingness to offer it, kindness, selfishness, sense of responsibility, people-pleaserness, assholeness, whatever. A big part of mine is a subset of people-pleasiosity: I'm anal about getting something right no matter the stakes, about executing tasks so well that it's often overkill.
Sheesh already!

A few nights ago at an HOA board meeting (stay with me, here), our property manager presented several blacktop repair bids. One of the bidders specified use of "hot mix asphalt," to which the property manager said, parenthetically, "whatever that is." I could never have done what she did--present a choice where one option contained a specification the others did not, and then, not know what the spec was.

 In the case of the blacktop repair, I would not only have found out what hot mix was, but I'd have stayed up past midnight, if necessary, to understand its quality and what the alternatives were, and then making sure every other bidder included all options before offering up the bids to the board.

For a minor repair? Most people would have blown that one off in three seconds. I can't do that. If Only I weren't so obsessive about issues of little consequence.

A very close friend, a Geologist/Palentogist PhD., Oxford fellow, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oregon who was working on the Mars lander last time I checked in, told me, once, that he was so nervous about lecturing even to undergraduates that he would sweat himself into a frenzy. He'd prepare two or three times as much material as he'd need. It's nice to be in such exalted company, I suppose. But still.

Over and over, like ripples on a sunrise lake overtaking one another as they touch the shore, I meditate on what good that particular quirk has gotten me. The fact is, not much. Most times, nobody cares about the extra effort. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they're even grateful. But even gratitude can be anticlimatic.

In the case of my personal If Only, the story, the novel, or the movie of my life (where I'm played by Jason Robards or Donald Sutherland), I wonder how things might have turned out without this perfectionist streak, how different my life's plot would have unfolded, if I'd have figured it all out, somehow--whatever "it" is. After all, an anal insistence on perfection can be more about fending off personal rejection than about being a nice guy.

Truth be told, it is often just avoiding not just failure, but the mere possibility of failure, and if you avoid the possibility of failure, you pass up opportunities. You always take the safe road. And at some point, you'll look back and suspect you're not where you could have been, as though you're in a foreign country with a strange alphabet on the street signs. And everyone else but you is getting along just fine.

And that's how an If Only story--mine, in this case--begins.

Or a chapter in an If Only novel, maybe, because really, no one is one thing, and one alone.  Everyone's persona is a tapestry, and every weft and weave is another chapter. "Often, when you think you're at the end of something, you're at the beginning of
You are too, Baby!
something else," said Mister Rogers.

And I delude myself, sometimes, into thinking I'll change, but the data indicates otherwise. Several weeks ago, a couple of board members and the Executive Director for a local housing nonprofit contacted me for ideas. It had a failing business model, and its woes had been exacerbated by the Great Recession. The brief email idea I'd intended to send turned into a fairly discursive proposal utilizing "green" construction and foreclosure-related issues--two areas near and dear to me and concurrent with the group's goals--as well as funding sources and achievable goals going forward. The whole thing made me kind of giddy.

Except I didn't hear back from anyone for weeks. Not even a receipt acknowledgement. Then, I got a thanks-but-no-thanks, we-got-an-unexpected-grant email. So it goes, c'est la vie, and goodbye to all that. Had I missed something? Was something in their original subtext that should have signaled me to stay simple?

Where do I wish I were? That's a topic for another post, but I'll let it go by saying I'm not there. And the fault is not in the stars. Well, not entirely, anyway. If Only...

Anyway. Enough of these margin scribbles in my If Only story. That's mine. What's yours? I'm very interested, and I'm totally serious about that.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Awesomeness of It All

"Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood"
Sometimes I wish I were older so I could look forward to dying sooner. Other times, I wish I were unborn. Most times, I wish I were much, much younger than I am (I'm 65). I guess it all balances out, but that's another story and maybe it belongs to someone else.

"May you live in interesting times" is the so-called "Chinese curse," probably apocryphally.

Anyway. I'm still at that point where I'm not sure what this post is about. It was supposed to be apropos of an earlier post. Maybe a sequel. Maybe a clarification.

Maybe it has to do with change. I just found out there were 38 synonyms for "regret" but only three antonyms, which says, really, quite a bit about change, or at least how I, and, I think, most others, view change, as in the existential life kind. Contemplate change, and 39 voices will whisper you into the bottom of a wine bottle before you catch your breath.

Or so it seems. From the time I could read, I knew I wanted to write, but I never did. I never made the decision not to, I just didn't do it. Why? Hmm. I'm pretty sure I thought I would tackle writing right after I finished whatever it was I was doing at the time. I never looked at any work I ever did as anything more than temporary, a way to fill in the spaces and be *responsible.*

It had to have been a midlife crisis in my late thirties that propelled me into San Francisco State's creative writing program and a degree at age forty. But I also rationalized the hell out of it to myself. The likelihood of making a living from writing was pretty remote, especially starting out at middle age. 

I told myself that no matter what, at some point I'd be old, and if the Grim Reaper were knocking at the door, I would much rather have tried and failed than to have given up altogether. And that choice has made all the difference. You can hear the 39 voices telling you "no," or you can hear the one that says, "Why not?"

And sometimes, it helps to read the whole Robert Frost poem:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.