Thursday, August 31, 2006

Summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime.

The tomato plants exploded just before Hurricane Tropical Storm Really Breezy Rainstorm Ernesto showed up. So, to use up the eleventy gazillion bushels of tomatoes I hereby bring you:

GAZPACHO

Soup:
1/3 - 1/2 baguette (depending how thick you like it), crusts removed and cubed
2 pounds vine-ripe medium tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 small "Kirby" OR 1 "seedless" cucumber (make sure they haven't been waxed whatever you use), seeded and roughly chopped
1 red poblano (or bell, if you're a coward) pepper, cored, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2-4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups tomato juice
1 tablespoon Spanish paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup sherry wine vinegar ("white" balsamic in a pinch)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1/2 lemon, juiced

Garnishes:
Diced tomato
Diced cucumber
Snipped chives
Diced onion
Diced hardboiled egg
Homemade croutons (Cubed toasted bread, rubbed with garlic & dribbled with EVOO)

Soak the bread in tomato juice for 5 minutes, and then squeeze out the excess juice (save the juice). Place the bread in a blender or food processor; add the tomatoes, cucumbers, poblano/bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Puree until almost smooth (You want a little texture, this isn't V-Ocho). Put the vegetableness in a large bowl add the tomato juice, paprika, salt, pepper, sherry vinegar, EVOO, parsley, and lemon juice until well combined. Refrigerate for at 2 hours minimum; the flavors will develop as it sits. Check and season the gazpacho again with salt and pepper before serving. Freeze bowls (serve in a tureen) and pass around the garnishes along with the chilled bowls.

You're welcome,

-J.

Posted by Joke at 6:31 PM 7 comments

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Much Ado About Nothing Much

Well, to those of you who saw Monday come and go without the following list: Sorry. I had to shutter up Chez Joke because of Hurricane Tropical Storm Summer Rainshower Ernesto. To top it all off, the shuttering tasks were hampered by the fact the roofing guys had started ripping out my roof and had to double-time it (thereby flinging dead roofing tiles upon mine head as I tried to secure the premises).

Tuesday was a no-go because I had to help my dad and also my FiL with THEIR Hurricane Tropical Storm Summer Rainshower prep, seeing as how they are of Advanced Years, and it would set a bad example for my sons to see me let their grandfathers get splattered by a steel storm panel.

Which brings us to today and today's list, subject to revision as my head clears.

As you will doubtless recall, the purpose of these lists is to inform the readership of the things which have informed our attitudes, outlooks, choices, etc. Therefore, here are the programs/films that have helped shape my way of looking at things.

How I Deal With The Women Folk (for better or worse)
Can't Buy Me Love
Sixteen Candles
His Girl Friday
Loverboy
Moonlighting
Kiss Me, Kate - "Just declaim a few lines from Othello, and they'll say yer a Hell of a fella!"

What it means to be a man
The Natural
Chariots of Fire
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Forrest Gump
The Quiet Man
Pulp Fiction - Just play along, OK?
The Thin Man series - Especially the first two. "Nonsense, they came nowhere near my tabloids."
Metropolitan - (Look Muffy, a film about us.)

Music
The Blues Brothers
High Society - Well, did you evah?
Kiss Me, Kate - (Where to start?!)
Top Hat
Royal Wedding
Where The Boys Are (1984)
Valley Girl (the last film to have a flawless soundtrack)

Work
Trading Places
Other People's Money
Wall Street

Lifestyle
Trading Places - "I had the most absurd nightmare. I was poor and no one liked me. I lost my job, I lost my house, Penelope hated me and it was all because of this terrible, awful Negro."
Wall Street - Just for the clothes.
Volunteers - Any movie which makes fun of the Peace Corps feels TOO right.
Making The Grade - "That comes from the heart, the left aorta...the vein that pumps love."
The Endless Summer
The Game of the Century
Jeeves & Wooster - Practically a primer for menswear AND interior decor.

Family
Leave It To Beaver - I have a strong Ward Cleaver streak.
Sitting Pretty - Those familiar with the Lynn Belvedere films will recognize much of li'l ol' me.
Mr. Mom - But only for 3.5 months per year.

Society in general
Barney Miller
News Radio
Firing Line
South Park
Beavis & Butthead

God & Country
The Right Stuff
Going My Way?
Patton - "Rommel! You magnificent bastard! I read your book!"

Worldview
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Volunteers

I reserve the right to revise and extend my remarks.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 9:27 AM 6 comments

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The times, they have a-changed.

These things happen. If you stick around long enough--and not everyone does--eventually your 25th Anniversary Class Reunion sneaks up on you and whaps you upside the head. Twenty-five years contain too much opportunity for people to drift away and slowly lose touch, and reestablishing and reconnecting last night was a very welcome thing.

As you might have remembered from my previous musings, I went to one of those kinds of all-boys Jesuit schools. It was the sort of place that took (and takes) careful note of the zeitgeist and proceeded to run in the opposite direction, full-tilt. The environment was a cross between Tales of St. Austin's and Lord of the Flies. This school had been founded in 1780something in Spain, kicked out in 1850something, packed up and went to Cuba in 1854 and got kicked out of there in 1961. In a great measure, this school is/was equivalent to Andover or Exeter. A lot of the guys who attended had names you'd associate (correctly, BTW) with the brand names of cigars or rum.

Academically rigorous, with a huge streak of the old to-whom-much-is-given-much-is-expected mindset with a dash of sink-or-swim for piquancy. My graduating class was made up of 56 guys. Of those, 20 went to Ivy League schools, another 20something went to pretty uppity sort of schools (Georgetown, in particular, with lots of Duke, Emory and Stanford, etc.), while some of us went to, um, party schools.

Part of the allure this place holds in my mind's eye is similar to that of basic training, where the bonds you forge in this sort of crucible last--even through protracted and multiple dormancies--for life. Henry V's famous speech at Agincourt would not have been out of place. For a number of reasons, not everyone goes to the 5th, 10th, etc. reunions so there is always a better than even chance that, at the 25th, you might see someone for the first time since you were at school together that quarter century ago.

Therefore, it would have been really swell if those who shaved their heads had warned the rest of us, especially if they had a topiary of a 'fro a quarter century ago and now sport a shaved melon. I spent half the night going "Whoa! DUDE! Didn't recognize you without the foliage." That's an even bigger shock than seeing those who evolved into something more closely resembling a member of the human species.

And don't think I've recovered from the fact our class has more dentists than my grandmother had teeth. I still think its funny a lot of the wives spent the night saying to each other things like "I didn't know they called him THAT." or "I wonder if my husband had anything to do with the ExamScam?" or "What is '[insert obscure school slang here]?" Explaining the whole nickname system* thing took the better part of the drive home.

The event was at a country club close to my house (which was nice) and decorated, as only an all-guy committee ever could: Sparsely. Mostly ancient photos, blown up to 3' x 5' size decked the hall. The highlight of the evening was a video dripping with nostalgia, interposing a lot of the "that was then, this is now." It gave me an amazing memory whiplash. There, on the screen, looking down at me and at us, were these...faces. Seventeen and eighteen year old faces, full of mischief and goodness and loyalty and adventure and friendship and promise. Faces which silently spoke of shared adventures and trial...of all-nighters trying to eke out a passing grade in Latin or Chemistry; of rescuing one of our own from being turned into a damp redness by some girl's narrow-minded boyfriend; of getting into--and less frequently, out of--trouble with Fr. Disciplinarian, SJ; of impromptu road trips; of SATs and admissions. These were faces who lived for the moment, because it would never be tomorrow.

These young faces, unclouded by the stresses of fatherhood, marriage, work, family looked down and smiled at the men who had once begotten those youthful smiles. Men whose faces were lined, hairlines greyed or receded or both. Men who as boys had passed bottles of rum between them, and now passed PDAs with pictures of their families. The men on whom these faces looked down are men who now live not for the moment, but for tomorrow, because tomorrow always lurks. The guy who almost got expelled for spiking the sacramental wine with vodka now is a bank president. The twins who went four years pretending to be each other so as to only have to study for half the tests are now hugely respected neurosurgeons. Guys went off to school, many met girls there and stayed gone and carved out whole lives in Washington DC, or St. Louis or Boston. Gradually most of us lost touch with each other. Twenty-five years affords many opportunities to do so.

But last night--and maybe this is only a phenomenon that happens for a night or a weekend every 5 or 10 years--we didn't see the receded hairlines and expanded waistlines. We saw the ghosts of the strenuously, if benevolently, trying boyhood we had shared. Circuits, long dormant, crackled with life and joy and shared pains and sorrow** and for a glittering, shimmering instant in time, we who have wives and children and houses and insurance payments, were boys again.

-J.

* Basically, you never called anyone by their first name unless you were an extremely close friend, and even then it was "Dave" and not "David." First names were reserved for family alone. Either the guy next to you was "Smith" or he was "Buzzy." There are guys--and I'm far from being alone in this--whom I only know by their nicknames.

** Seeing the video reminded us of the three guys from our class who have died, leaving friend-shaped gaps among our number. They were good guys to a man, and I miss them dearly.

Posted by Joke at 4:45 PM 13 comments

Friday, August 25, 2006

Be on guard.

Dear Internet,

On Monday, August 28th* I will publish a list and I'd like as many of you to play along with your own list. This list will be entitled:

REQUIRED VIEWING

Any number of films/programs between 3 (i.e., The Minimum) and 100 (i.e. The Maximum) will be listed along with a brief explanation of why it is required viewing. Photos welcomed and you may even use whatever "affiliate" link things you have. (I'm all about the Capitalism)

This is the eagerly waited followup to the Required Reading thing from last season.

OK, off you go.

-J.

P.S. Yes, it is a rather S-L-O-W day, why do you ask?

* This asterisk-footnote thing is just for Suse.

Posted by Joke at 9:45 AM 7 comments

Oh, to be in Paris. (Not that April is there.)


In 1970, French director Claude LeLouch put a gyro-stabilized camera on the bumper of his car (Italian something-or-other, rumor has it) and and had a friend (rumor has it a professional Formula 1 driver) drive at full-tilt through the heart of Paris.

The film's length was limited (because of the amount of film the camera could hold) to 10 minutes; the course went from Porte Dauphine, through the Louvre, to Sacre Coeur. No streets were closed, because LeLouch was unable to obtain a permit. (He should have gone on strike, as is the national custom.)

The driver went from start-to-finish in about 9 minutes, reaching nearly 240 KPH (about 150mph if my math is right) in some stretches. The film shows the driver running real red lights, almost splattering real pedestrians, and going the wrong way on real one-way streets. At the film's premiere, LeLouch was arrested (to add an even better splash of Cinema Verité to the thing). To this day nobody knows who the driver is/was.

The video, as seen on YouTube.com runs a bit slow-motion, but you still get the idea.

-J., car nut

Posted by Joke at 9:23 AM 7 comments

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Is it drafty in here?

For the new kids here (welcome!) I believe I should explain something which is more or less implicit about my everyday life. In the professional sense, my activities often take on a "hurry up and wait" sort of cast. That is, there are days when there is so very little to do, or very large gaps between the things which must be done. There are days when I need to fly out--sometimes just for a few hours--to other major American cities.

This means that I often have time to crank out bloggedy goodness. However, not every thing that climbs down from my brain to my index fingertips actually makes it to your screen. I can't speak for anyone else, but my draft pile is an impressive thing. Fully 15% of the things I've sat down to jot never see the light of day. Partly because some of these are screeds, bilious and invective, and (blog-personawise, anyway) I'm not about the argument. Everyone knows pretty well where I stand on the Big Issues of Life, so belaboring them is likely not much beyond cathartic for me. Yes, I think the Church of Elbonianism is stupid and so is their reworking the 10 Commandments into the 17 Suggestions and starting off the "Our Father" with "To Whom it may concern..." but someone out there might be an Elbonianist (Orthodox or Reformed, no matter) and I, frankly, don't want to get into the argument...or even see an argument.

So they stay in draft mode. I save my ideological snark for those can play along.

Other stuff is the stuff that has no proper ending. A few months back, on our 13th Weddin' Anniversary, I wrote something about why I married TFBIM. I mean, yeas, I love/loved her, but keen observation has amply proven to me that love ain't nearly enough to merit marriage, especially if you adhere to the Papist party line that a deal's a deal and you're stuck for life. The theme was that TFBIM managed not to trip across any of the dealbreakers I had established for myself at age 29 (I married lateish, sue me). Then I proceeded to enumerate same. But these weren't so numerous (or so interesting, or even cute-funny) as to merit wasting your time in reading, dear Internet. After the first three or four, the whole thing just wilted in a sad, pitiable way.

I had another post about the things which have been discontinued which I loved and now must learn to do without. I was all bent-outa-shape because a favorite short-cut timesavin' foodstuff had been discontinued. So off I wrote a rant about the way the world is these days, only to realize the discontinued products which have affected me (besides the aforentioned foodstuff, which I am hoarding now) are: Monogram* by Ralph Lifshitz Lauren, Klorane Walnut Leaves shampoo** and corresponding conditioner, and another one I just blanked on. Hardly the stuff to rivet public attention.

I wrote some stuff about my college days but other than showing what a calculatingly dissolute bounder I was, those just sputtered and coughed well ahead of the finish line. Which is a good thing as some day my grandchildren may stumble on it and they might begin to ask impertinently pointed questions.

I've also written stuff about my Day At Work, but that rates barely a paragraph...two if I have to fly into, say, Philadelphia at 7am and back out at 6pm. (The above happens with no little frequency.) My Day As A Stay At Home Dad usually comes across pretty dully in print, unless there's a particular excitement such as NOS doing something crazy and my having to hotfoot it to see the Chief Nun In Charge about whatever it was or my annual physical (which, having reached man's estate, involves the TMI test) or something which merits a blog entry on its own.

Lastly, I've written a few drafts on going to get a shirt made or something like that, but seeing as how I am one of the last twelve men in the USA (the chosen dozen) to don a pocket square I have a feeling such posts would land with a colossal thud.

So there.

-J.

* Which has been resurrected as Polo Blue, so never mind.
** I went grey as a consequence. No point in keeping my natural, luxuriant marron glacé color if the shampoo that made me the envy of my sex and the adoration of the other is MIA.

Posted by Joke at 10:22 AM 12 comments

All the cool kids are doing it.

I swiped this from BabBab & Gina who, in turn, took it from Suse.

1. A book that changed your life.
The Road To Serfdom by Friedrich von Hayek. One of those eye-opening sorts of things that makes you see stuff you've seen all along in a very different (and not altogether pleasing) light. Those who like their bitter truths less bitter (but no less truthful) and rather funny ought look up anything by Frédéric Bastiat.

2. A book you've read more than once.
ANY of PG Wodehouse's Bertie & Jeeves novels. The Harry Potter ouvre. Oh, and also Don Quijote. Books I reread are "comfort books," things to which I return to cleanse my palate when I have been reading too much of one type of book and need to start afresh. Whenever reading begins to look like drudgery, I return to them.

3. A book you'd want on a deserted island.
A boatmaking manual and Rand McNally's World Atlas.

4. A book that made you giddy.
I originally put down From Bauhaus To Our House by Tom Wolfe, but upon colder reflection Night Of The Avenging Blowfish by John Welter is the clear winner. EVERYONE must run out and read this book. (How can you NOT love a book with the subtitle of "A novel about covert operations, love and luncheon meat"? )

5. A book that you wish had been written.
My unauthorized autobiography. I'd just worry about my kids reading it one day and thinking me at best a lout, cad and bounder or, at worst, a raving Macchiavellian hypocrite. Absent that, I vote for Jeeves at Blandings.

6. A book that wracked you with sobs.
[blinks dumbly at screen] Sobs? The best I can do is a book that wracked me with a 2 day headache. Let me know if that one will do.

7. A book you wish had never been written.
3-way tie. Das Kapital, The Communist Manifesto & Mein Kampf. That little red Chairman Mao thing is right up there, too. (Notice the dearth of links; damned if I enable you to shower ducats at these bastards.)

8. A book you are currently reading.
Leave It To Psmith by PG Wodehouse.

9. A book you've been meaning to read.
Gentlemen & Players, because Gina suggested it and it because it seems something that would be right up my alley.

Posted by Joke at 8:06 AM 4 comments

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Breakin' da law! Breakin' da law!

Every night, right around dinnah time (7:30ish for us Iberic types, which is widely considered early among our tribe) we break the law.

We allow NOS a modest ounce of wine or two of beer. My sister and I were bought up thus, and so were my parents (we'll set aside the issue of TFBIM's ancestors, as there seems to be a strongish caveperson streak therein) and I guesstimate all previous generations of Jokes. At some point or another, we climb far up the family tree and we bump into a Centurion and/or a Celt (they also settled the North of Spain, along with Normandy and parts of the British Isles).

Beer and wine, right there, hardwired into the DNA.

So, because we believe that certain beverages are a natural and desirable and civilized* part of the meal, we let NOS (NTS won't go near the stuff) have a tiny sherry glass' worth of wine or a pony glass if we're talking beer.

One of the things that struck me most as a kid visiting the family in Spain was watching 1) American teenagers going bonkers with the relative freedom to drink--and puking by 11am--and also 2) Kids my age having wine and beer and coffee. Not gallons, sure, but being socialized to the whole thing. The idea being that some beverages contain alcohol and while sometimes they serve to take the edge off, you really don't drink them to get hammered.

So we give NOS a tipple.

Of course, being my kid, he does it all obnoxious-like. He takes his little wineglass by the stem, he swirls, he sniffs, he holds it up to the light, he sips it with his eyes shut. He then says things like "This wine goes with the spaghetti."

All of which is against the law.

I'm just old enough that I can remember the drinking age going back up to 21 from 18. I was just old enough to be grandfathered in and so I was, as they say, golden. But what changed? Nothing. High school kids still got drunk. Binge drinking went up. All the hallmarks of progress. (Before you get the wrong idea of me as some sort of young sommelier in my college years, let me remind you of this dumbass blue dot I have and shall have for the rest of my life.)

Mind you, I went a bit nuts in college, but t'was nothing to compare with other freshpersons who were away from home for the first time. I recall being out-of-my-skull maybe 5-6 times. There were other more, um, Macchiavellian reasons why I often erred on the side of sobriety, but I digress.

So, now you know. If one among you is a mandated reporter, you'll surely show up in time to see my body go limp--forcing 3-4 members of the local constabulary to move me--as I sing, in a ringing tenor, "We Shall Overcome."

-J.

* So are cocktails, but we have to draw the line somewhere. After all, there's a limit to everything.

Posted by Joke at 1:16 PM 14 comments

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Pajama Day

Today is a special sort of holiday, celebrated only by very few. In today's case, only me.

For you see, today is Pajama Day and it pretty much entails remaining in your slumberwear all day and treating the whole of the daylight hours as if it were breakfast time. I took a brief respite to attend Mass--after all, Pajama Days are clearly the product of Providence--but aside from that, it has been a relaxing sort of day.

Often participants in Pajama Day say "I didn't do anything, it was great!"

But that's never truly accurate.

I've fixed myself a pleasant breakfast (sourdough toast with strawberry preserves and butter, tea, OJ). I've made a serious dent in a book (in the spirit of charity towards Badger I'll refrain from mentioning the title). I tinkered with the humidor (adjusted the H2O levels and rotated the inventory), fixed a drink, fixed some lunch (steak sandwich) and looked through my favorite eBay auctions, answered a ton of emails, fixed an espresso, and plopped down here to scratch out a blog entry.

The nice thing about Pajama Day is that, when one's family is off at a kiddie birthday, the thing may be done properly. The threat of being interrupted by "Honey, could you..." or "Daddy! I need you to..." being removed makes it a far more relaxing process to look for airfare to Boston and hotels in San Jose.

It also helps the day looks beautiful and the rain has stopped. Shame I only have 3 hours left of this.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 1:30 PM 5 comments

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Things I miss.

One of the quirks/perks of not being a kid any more is being able to reminisce properly.

Today, dear Internet, I will reminisce about a restaurant. The first and last hamburger restaurant--in the full sense of the word--I've ever run across. The name of this place was L.B. Cagney's. And there really was an L.B. Cagney, he was the guy working the kitchen.

This restaurant was a temple to burger fanatics with deep-seated OCD. Everything...and I mean EVERYTHING...was made fresh from scratch. The breads, condiments, everything. We used to joke there was a potter's wheel where old man Cagney made his own plates.

You had an overload of choices and decisions to make before you put tooth to food. You had to decide on

1- What cut(s) of beef you wanted in your burger (chuck, sirloin, rump, round or "house special")
2- How you wanted it ground (coarse, medium or fine)
3- How many ounces (from 3 oz. to 16 oz.)
4- How you wanted it cooked (rare, medium, etc.) and by what method (griddle, grilled or--check this out!--roasted)
5- What cheese(s)(blue, smoked cheddar, sharp cheddar, mild cheddar, medium cheddar, pepper jack, fontina, mozzarella, smoked mozzarella, feta, swiss, munster and brie...NO american cheese)if any, you wanted atop the burger and whether you wanted the cheese "on the flip" (i.e. to melt as the other side cooked), inside (stuffed in the beef patty) or on the bun (to remain unmelted).
6- What type of bread you wanted (white, whole wheat, whole wheat with honey, parmesan white, rosemary and olive oil, challah-like egg bread, baguette-like bun-shaped "French", poppy seed, sesame seed, pumpernickel, rye and marble rye)
7- What sorts of condiments you wanted; there were three types of ketchup, four types of mustard, assorted "sauces" (such as homemade mayonnaise, BBQ, 1000 island), assorted pickles (garlic, dill, sweet 'n' sour) and other toppings such as sauerkraut, sauteed mushrooms, grilled onions.

My favorite:

Chuck, ground coarse, 5 oz., grilled rare, with smoked cheddar, garlic pickles, horseradish mustard, spicy ketchup, on French.

The place closed in 1982. I came back one Thanksgiving break and there it was...all shuttered. Dammit I miss that, place...

-J.

Posted by Joke at 1:14 PM 10 comments

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Every once in a while, I realize I am on a certain "kick" reading-wise. It could be, say, history stuff, or politics/economics/current events, or religious/spiritual, or travel stuff, or whatever. It is at that moment when I put whatever reading plans I may have had in the deep freeze.

I am hardly a reading snob--I read back issues of National Lampoon--but I always look worringly at people who read only the same sort of stuff, book in and book out. Only westerns, or only detective stuff or only sci-fi, etc. (Nobody's ever asked me, but I am of the opinion such people are doing nothing more than daydreaming, and passively at that.) That can't be good for your brain.

So, having caught myself in a bit of monotony, I returned, for the purposes of cleansing my reading soul, to The Master.

For my money, there is no greater writer in the history of the English language than P.G. Wodehouse. Not Shakespeare, not James ::shudder:: Joyce*, not Keats, Byron, Shelley, Pound, Eliot, Twain, Melville or even Douglas Adams. Wodehouse, in the parlance of Wolfe's The Right Stuff, sits alone atop the pyramid.

Part of the marvel about Wodehouse is how consistently funny he is, book after book after book. (The guy wrote for 70 years nonstop, and died just as he was about to complete his 92nd* book) But a bigger part is the sheer brilliance of his craftsmanship with the language. Anyone who is an avid reader (or, more dauntingly, an aspiring writer) can look at his prose and stand agape, stunned and stung by the monumental genius.

Just peruse this gem, plucked at random:

"Directly I managed to tear myself away that night and get home, I made up my mind that this was jolly well the last time that I went about with Motty. The only time I met him late at night after that was once when I passed the door of a fairly low-down sort of restaurant and had to step aside to dodge him as he sailed through the air en route for the opposite pavement, with a muscular sort of looking chap peering out after him with a kind of gloomy satisfaction.

In a way, I couldn't help sympathizing with the fellow. He had about four weeks to have the good time that ought to have been spread over about ten years, and I didn't wonder at his wanting to be pretty busy. I should have been just the same in his place. Still, there was no denying that it was a bit thick. If it hadn't been for the thought of Lady Malvern and Aunt Agatha in the background, I should have regarded Motty's rapid work with an indulgent smile. But I couldn't get rid of the feeling that, sooner or later, I was the lad who was scheduled to get it behind the ear. And what with brooding on this prospect, and sitting up in the old flat waiting for the familiar footstep, and putting it to bed when it got there, and stealing into the sick-chamber next morning to contemplate the wreckage, I was beginning to lose weight. Absolutely becoming the good old shadow, I give you my honest word. Starting at sudden noises and whatnot."


That was literally yanked at random. The books (novels and short stories) are sodden with this sort of luminous prose. Orotundity and jazz-age vernacular collide amiably, quotes (straight and mangled) marble and leaven the text, characters all have dimension and depth, implausibility is suspended gingerly.

I simply cannot recommend Wodehouse enough. It's good for what ails you.

Always.

-J.

* Who is, however, the single most overrated writer in the history of the English language. This is not subject for debate.
** In 1999 there was a a poll conducted about the 100 greatest books of the 20th Century. National Review said about this: "P.G. Wodehouse wrote 92 books. What we want to know is which books are the other 8."

Posted by Joke at 12:54 PM 8 comments

Monday, August 14, 2006

Ah, school.

Ovah heah, on the Fringe of Paradise, school starts around...right now. This means that all of us who have managed to send our genes forth one generation all sigh and mutter to ourselves:

1- "Wow, another year." or
2- "At LAST! Time to myself!" or
3- "Back to slave duty"

or some combination.

Since my indentured servitude doesn't really kick in until TFBIM starts her tax season, and because it's not quite my slow time, I'm in that #1 frame of mind. NOS is starting 4th grade and NTS is beginning 1st grade. New backpacks and lunchboxes and uniforms have been purchased along with all the chattels of elementary education. New teachers to meet (in NTS's case, his new teacher is someone who was an aide in his classroom when he was in Kindergarten, which is pleasantly weird) and new rhythms to assimilate. Watching them go off marks another tick in the clock of our lives as a nuclear family.

NOS has lived half the life he is going to live with us. NTS, well over a third. When I was a kid, I'd hear groups of moms and grandmoms looking at baby pictures or admiring each other's children and cooing "Oh, they grow up so fast..."

This is because they do. NOS has begun to notice that girls are not as invariably yucky as he had believed, and he's even begun to practice shaving with a toy razor (cheap Hot Wheels plastic thing that couldn't draw blood if it struck you at supersonic speed).

For a change, they are looking forward (sorta) to coming back to school and seeing old friends. All of a sudden, it jarred me to hear NOS calling his friends on the phone. "Dude, I got Miss Smith in Room 422...who'd you get? [PAUSE] Excellent! I think Larry's in our class also. This year will be outstanding." It's weird to see the boys poring silently over books...especially NOS who is absorbed in Tom Sawyer, the first grownup book he's had to tackle for school. "It has some complicated words...but it's not lame."

High praise indeed.

The stuff from the various summer camps is slowly vanishing into the recesses of the attic and the garage, the trips and vacations slowly transforming from recent experiences to lifelong memories, from "Stuff We Did" to "Stuff To Tell Our Children." It was weird because for the first time I was able to, in a serious way, sit down and say "This reminds me of when I was your age and your grandpa took me to..."

Pretty soon, Christmas will be here, and other things (trip to Chicago?) will slowly metamorphose from nebulously sketched plans into lifelong memories.

But for now, I have Back-To-School week.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 1:39 PM 10 comments

Saturday, August 12, 2006

...and so to the table.

One of the dilemmas of summer is that one of the ingredients that happens to be at its best (corn) is monumentally delicious in one of the last things you want to have when it's 183F (92C) outside with 288% humidity...corn chowder. [Picture goes here whenever the Hell blogger feels like letting me.]

But I love it so and, therefore, sometimes in the interests of what benefits my palate I crank the air conditioner to "meat locker" temperatures and I make this:

Corn Chowder

1 tablespoon butter
4 ounces bacon (I like Nueske's Applewood Smoked, you use whatever)
1 yellow onion, diced as small as your patience will allow
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only (should yield 2-3 teaspoons)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
8 cups water for making corn stock (canned stock if you ABSOLUTELY MUST)
2 cups whole milk/light or heavy cream/half-and-half (try to avoid the ultra-pasteurized stuff)
2 medium Yukon Gold (or other "waxy") potatoes, peeled and diced 1/4" or 1/2cm
6 ears corn (I like half yellow and half white corn, but that's just "for pretty") kernels cut off and cobs reserved.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper or Tabasco (OPTIONAL)

Heat water and add 2 teaspoons salt. Add the naked corn cobs to the water and bring to a fast simmer and reduce to 6 cups. Heat the butter and in a soup pot over medium heat. Add half the corn and cook until SLIGHTLY toasty and fragrant. You're not really worrying so much about cooking the corn as you are about getting a bit of toasty flavor. Remove and reserve.

To the same pot add the bacon and cook over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon and to the leftover drippings, add the onion, garlic, and thyme and cook until the vegetables are good and soft...say, 8 to 10 minutes. Dust the vegetables with flour (you might not use all the flour) and stir to coat everything well. Pour in the corn stock and bring to a boil. Add the milk/cream and the potatoes, bring to a boil and boil hard for about 7 minutes, until the potatoes break down into a pulp (this will thicken the soup and give it body).

Take both the corn kernels and add to the soup. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until the corn is soft, about 10 to 12 minutes. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve, sprinkling the reserved bacon as garnish.

VARIATIONS:

1- Throw in a bit of pureed chipotles-in-adobo (to taste, that can be pretty hot) and a small handful of coarsely chopped cilantro. Top with blue corn tortilla strips.
2- Replace bacon with dry-cured chorizo and the potatoes with leftover polenta cubes
3- Add shredded leftover chicken, or lobster (WTF ever has leftover lobster???) or crab meat or tiny li'l scallops...replacing the water in the "corn stock" phase with the corresponding stock.
4- Omit the bacon entirely and replace with leek, using chives as garnish
5- A red pepper puree (the level of spiciness is your choice) is a good garnish, swirled in.

Posted by Joke at 12:52 PM 5 comments

Friday, August 11, 2006

Tea Partay


This speaks to me in so many ways and on soooooo many levels...feel free to glance around nervously now.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 1:14 PM 11 comments

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Showing and telling and glitching.

OK.

Blogger doesn't wanna play nice. So this will be a telling more than a showing until it decides it wants to get along and be friends.

You'd think I accumulate a lot of stuff like, say, three racks worth of ties (this is after the purge). Or watches. Or fountain pens. Or suspenders. Or Shag stuff or fancy-schmancy Donald Duck lithographs or even DVDs.

What I really accumulate are shoes.

Here, until pics work, is the list:

3 pair driving shoes.
2 pair black wingtips
2 pair bucks
2 pair saddle shoes
1 pair black monkstraps
2 pair tassel loafers
4 pair "regular" loafers
1 pair black formal bluchers
3 pair black cap toes
4 pair boat mocs
2 pair chukker boots
2 pair oxfords
6 pair workout sneakers
7 pair canvas sneakers
1 pair LL Bean "hunting boots"

Oh, and these are the ones I'm jonesing:

http://www.alanflussercustom.com/_images//Flusser_Blk.jpg

I shudder in fear at what custom (off the rack can run into the mid three figures!) shoes go for. But I still want 'em.

Now you know.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 9:55 PM 13 comments

Summer reading

This is what I have on my plate, bookwise, these days. As many people--in particular the wonderful and lovely and gracious Poppy--will readily attest, I'm a sucker for books on etiquette, manners and protocol arcana. I'm just wired funny, I s'pose.

As a consequence, I am also something of a fan of Miss Manners...especially given her generally humorous tone and breezy writing style. Which brings us to this book. This book is NOT one of those "Miss Manners, my husband will only eat locusts and wild honey and shows up to parties wearing a hair shirt. What do I do?" sorts of books.

Instead, this book is about the development and current state of American manners, highlighting the differences between American manners and the European manners whence they sprang. She writes on how we differ and why and how that came to be. She highlights the good and bad of today's manners in teh USA.

That said, the subject being a weightier one than getting people to just @#$%ing R.s.v.p. fer crysakes! the writing (and therefore the reading) is not as tapas-like as her previous efforts. Her prose, as usual, sparkles but the subject matter conspires against her. If you think you will zip through this book, guess again. There is much food for thought here, but it's not the kind that will be silver-spoon fed to you.

I give it JJJj (3.5) out of JJJJJ (5.0) on the JokeMeter.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 11:00 AM 0 comments

A public issuance of thanks.

Thank you to the lovely and gracious BabBab. The assiduous reader will recall I had made a heartfelt plea for suggestions regarding PJ bottoms.

BabBab suggested Old Navy PJ bottoms, which retail for $14.50 (exclusive of gummint extortion) and they have been declare exquisite and a complete and utter bargain. The other suggestion I got were for Swiss voile bottoms from Zimmerli that clocked in at TEN TIMES the price.

An order was placed, one in each color.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 7:45 AM 5 comments

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Remain calm, all is well. (again)

NOS had an endocrinologist appointment today. The pediatrician had noticed that his height had slipped from the 50th percentile two years ago to 25th-ish or so. We were worried about whether he'd need some monkey gland transplants or those American Gigolo gravity boots or some sort of experimental shots.

No worries. Seems he's going to be a late bloomer, and ought hit 5'10" - 6'0" once puberty hits which, we have been warned, won't be until Rather Late. Which is genetically my fault since I didn't hit puberty myself until Tuesday last.

You may all exhale.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 9:05 PM 5 comments

Monday, August 07, 2006

I'm a sick, twisted man

The lovely and gracious BabelBabe wrote a very touching post on funerals and dying...previously, the lovely and gracious Badger had written sort of a "flipside" post concerning her Grandma, the legendary actress Joan Crawford. In his last days, I had conversed and e-chatted with the wonderful, lovely and gracious Poppy regarding her dad. This all sort of snowballs in my mind now that I look around and I realize my parents are Old People with not many new car purchases in their future. They are at the point where they are taking medications for every internal organ and one or two for unclaimed maladies. I know at some point they'll be among the absent. Yes, even my mom, whose shortest lived ancestor died at 96. At some point we hit our sell-by date.

While I'm not comfortable with their dying, I'm surprisingly at ease with mine. Of course, I'm not looking forward to checking out tomorrow or anything. But I'm OK with the fact I've got to get up and leave the room at some point.

But that, dear Internet, isn't about what I wish to write today. Both BabBab (indirectly) and Poppy (directly) have told me I must plan my own funeral. This is the part that upsets TFBIM who doesn't like to think of these things.

But hey, it's my funeral, right?

One the one hand, I want a full-on Grand Spectacle Catholic Funeral Mass. Latin, high church, incense...the complete yells/bells/smells. I also happen to like hymns like How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot...even if they don't "go" with that whole Anglican Rite-flavored Catholicism to which I groove mightily. I'll make it work somehow.

There will also be a dress code. I don't want anyone caught without proper attire, so people will be made aware of the details later. Suffice it to say, for once, men's black suits will be seen with approval. I mean, I will have a different vantage point from everyone else, but I'll approve. Details to ensue.

I also insist on writing my own obituary. I'm the only person who can get the details right and, besides, I may want to tell off someone for the last time. People have commented on my obsession for getting the last word in, and, well, one doesn't like to disapppoint one's public.

I want goodie bags at the burial (BabBab, ovah heah, Catholics lower you into the ground, but no dirt gets heaped with guests present) because it's rude to have people schlep from all over the place for you--and you not even greeting them--without a little something as a token of appreciation. Rest assured, I'm working on that.

At the wake, there will be hors d'ouvres passed out, and cocktails. All I ask is that people not overdo it at the open bar. First, I don't want whatever the inheritance is left (God knows I have fought the various levels of gummint to keep my money) to be adversely affected by mourning lushes, and second, I don't want people hungover at the burial. Sobbing's gotta be genuine, and not just because you have such a blinding throbber you can't see straight.

I also want a closed casket. Like bb, I'm all about privacy.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 7:46 AM 9 comments

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Welcome to Adultville

The lovely and gracious BabelBabe hath posted a very insightful thing on the matter of becoming an adult and realizing same. Her post is shaded rather girlishly because she is, y'know, a girl.

So, as not to discriminate against the boys, I offer my own version thereof.

To me, reminders of being an adult are...

1- Seeing young woman scantily clad and thinking "I'd never let my daughter go out dressed like that!"

2- Hearing the phone ring and realizing you no longer wish the call was for you.

3- Waking up and parts of you are aching...parts you didn't even know you had.

4- Drinks make you sleepy, not "wild."

5- The kids are gone for a sleepover and all you want to do with your wife is SLEEP.

6- Picking up and going anywhere out of pure spontaneity is a dim memory.

7- What's with all the vitamins (or worse, the prescriptions)?

8- When you realize that movie/that song/that ____ came out THIRTY YEARS AGO.

9- You think about consequences.

10- You know you don't know it all.

11- You remember to go to the bathroom before leaving the house.

12- You hear the greeting "Good morning Mr. _____." and realize it's YOU.

13- You let go of most grudges.

14- When your kid tells you how lucky you are because you don't have school.

15- When your worries no longer involve you, but rather, those about whom you care.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 1:23 PM 5 comments

Pelted to death with puffballs.

That's what things felt like from sundown Thursday to sundown Friday. Nothing, per se, particularly awful. Just lots of little things that demanded my attention with no gap between them.

One of my flaws (yes, even I have them) is that I need time to get all introspective (look inward, angel) and "digest" things in my brain. But you can't do that when clients call you in a panic, or when you need to go sign something 30 minutes away and you have 10 minutes in which to get there. That sorta thing.

But...I had wine. I had a dinner the sorts of which I scrupulously tend to avoid these days in the slim hopes I'll see my abdominals one last time before I assume room temperature. Tapas out the yin yang, grilled prawns, escalivada of summer vegetables and finger potatoes poached (poached!) in EVOO...and a crema catalana (think creme brulee in a much shallower vessel, so you get a greater crust: custard ratio). Then we came home, I flopped on my fave seat, fired up the laptop and was able to--serendipituously--do a good deed for one of my three favorite human beings on the Planet.

To round things off, I went to Confession early and THEN had a kick-arse workout. God has rewarded me by having TFBIM schlep off with the lads (it's a tax holiday here and school uniforms are included) for the while.

So, I'm good.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 11:16 AM 9 comments

Friday, August 04, 2006

Generic suckitude

Did you ever have one of those days?

I've had a couple of those.

As of yesterday afternoon, everything had been pretty much fine. Then little things started happening. Not cumulative little things (thank You very much, God)...but little things that demanded my emotional attention. If you think of your self as a dam, this would have been like little cracks that allow seepage...as opposed to massive breaches. But the mental energy expended in going back and forth and dealing with these has, frankly, left me drained.

Sometimes it's things that happen outside your control but, for a myriad reasons, it falls to you to grab the Swiffer and clean up. Sometimes you clean it up quickly, sometimes it takes a lot of time and strain to straighten up the mess.

Either way it's very taxing.

Sometimes it's stuff that happens outside your control and your attempts to be helpful, again for a host of reasons, fail to meet with success. And the hits just keep on coming and you have to just set your jaw and maintain an even strain as the challenges rain on you, because losing it and chasing people with a weedwhacker or throwing electronic equipment, while tempting, is ultimately counterproductive.

Like the saying goes "We didn't want to be here, but here we are."

So, basically, if I'm taciturn for a bit it's because I'm catching my emotional breath.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 2:35 PM 11 comments

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

...in the meantime, a meme

I think Badger started it...or maybe it was just someone in Austin.

1. Have you ever been searched by the cops? As in "frisked"? No.

2. What color are your eyes? On the hazel side of brown

3. When was the last time you went sledding? Feb. 1975. (I was born in Michigan, and didn't move to SoFla until Aug. '75)

4. Would you rather sleep with someone else, or alone? Sleep = slumber? On my side of the bed is fine, with no snuggling if the temperature is over 70F.

5. Do you believe in ghosts? In the classical sense of disembodied spirituous apparitions? Not in the very least.

6. Do you consider yourself creative? TOO.

7. Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie? If forced at gunpoint, JA...or maybe the bullet, if she won't stop making comments.

8. Who was your first crush? The first one I really remember was the student teacher for PE in the first grade. A girl named Priscilla Higgins in 3rd grade.

9. Do you have a secret that no one knows but you? One? ONE? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA...HAHAHAHAHAHAHA...HAHAHA...hahaha...haaaaa.

10. Have you ever been ice skating? Once, in 11th grade. Sucked.

11. How often do you remember your dreams? Half the time.

12. When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried? The time I visited www.shaveeverywhere.com.

13. Can you name 4 songs by The Beatles? Yeah.

14. What's the one thing always on your mind? Actually, it's two. The other one is food.

15. What talent do you wish you had? Play the piano.

16. Do you know anyone in jail? Um...no.

17. Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew? That's never come up.

18. Have you ever been punched in the face? Well, yeah. Boys-will-be-boys and all that.

19. Do you own any stuffed animals? Um...no.

20. Do you have a major crush on someone? Nah, not in this universe.

21. Do you miss someone right now? I miss hanging out with Poppy & Co. It's ridiculous to expect much quality face time with someone you met online who lives 87 states away, but still.

22. What are you listening to right now? The lawn guy mowing.

23. Has the death of a celebrity ever made you cry? Not cry-cry. But I still can't believe Madeline Kahn and Phil Hartman are dead.

24. What color underwear/boxers are you wearing? Tighty-whitey.

25. Where do you work? Right here!

26. What ended your last relationship? Realizing that interracial coupling is intrinsically doomed when one of you is Iberic and the other one is, say, a Klingon. An emotionally whacked Klingon.

27. What food do you crave right now? Fresh pasta with porcini.

28. What was the last TV show you watched? Good Eats.

29. What is the last thing you ate? Stoneyfield Farms Blueberry Yogurt.

30. Are you on any medication? I have a little patch thingy for a skin thing the Doctor zapped off...does that count?

31. What side of the bed do you sleep on? The top.

32. What color shirt are you wearing? Ecru.

33. What is your favorite frozen treat? For the moment, frozen creme brulee

34. How many tattoos/piercing do you have? Technically 1/0.

35. Can you imagine yourself ever getting married? What? Again? No thanks, I'm good.

36. Have you ever done something to instigate trouble? Trouble instigates me.

37. Do you like your nose? Yeah.

38. What color is your bedroom? Blue.

39. Where do you live? Hurricane Alley.

40. Are you an aggressive driver? No, just impatient.

41. What color is your car? One is ridiculously red, and the other jet black.

42. What do you smell like right now? Vetiver.

43. What is your favorite color? Midnight blue. Maybe pink.

44. What character from a movie/TV most reminds you of yourself? A cross between Farmer Ted in 16 Candles and Capt. Geoffrey Spaulding from Animal Crackers. [This is subject to amendment.]

45. Do you enjoy giving hugs? Yeah.

46. Do you own a digital camera? Yeah. (Where are you going with this?)

47. What books, if any, have made you cry? Intermediate Statistics for Business Majors, 5th Ed.

48. Are you a jealous person? Not in the least. Jealousy takes emotional energy and, frankly, I have things I'd rather be doing.

49. 69? I hardly know you! (And I am NOT bringing my digital camera.)

50. What shoes are you wearing right now? These.

51. What is your major weakness? The other one is food.

52. Do you suffer motion sickness? Not in the least.

53. What's the best pizza? Old Forge Pizza in Wilkes-Barre, PA if you like it "NY Style" or Pizzeria Vesuviana if you want the real Italian thing.

54. Longest relationship? Romance-wise? 16 years and counting.

55. Are you afraid of thunderstorms? Not after we get our roof replaced.

56. What do you want to be when you grow up? The man I have convinced myself I am.

57. Have you ever given or been given an engagement ring? Just twice. The 2nd one was a good one, as befits the 2nd person to whom I gave one.

58. What was the last gift someone gave you? A cool t-shirt from Hawaii.

59. Who would you call first if you won the lottery? Price Waterhouse Coopers. DUH.

60. Can you cook? Like a muhfuh.

61. What is your favorite jelly/jam? My homemade strawberry preserves. Now I'm jonesing.

62. Can you swim? Yeah.

63. What is your first memory? Sitting in the barren floor of the house my parents had just bought, looking out the window and seeing a Dairy Queen wa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ay off in the distance. Then we drove to Montreal for the Expo while we waited for the movers to show up.

64. What item would you like to have buried with you? All the stuff I swiped from people who chose to be cremated.

65. What are three things you're dying to have right now that would make everything just about perfect? A cure for Parkinson's, a cure for autism, a cure for cancer.

-J.

Posted by Joke at 3:55 PM 6 comments