Left-winger, irrational, and proud


Homer Simpson once said: “If you’re in a store and you see anything on a toothpick, it’s free.” He then stabbed a large ham with a toothpick and ate it like a drumstick.



I love free things. Partner despairs of me, because I grab free food like an animal. I like free periodicals too: “Senior Horizons,” “Approaches to Menopause,” “Survivalist Quarterly.” I learn all kinds of things from these, ahem, sources.



The other night, in our uppity local grocery store (with which we have made peace, because their produce is excellent, and we are tired of buying rotten Stop & Shop oranges), I picked up a copy of Natural Awakenings.



(Mostly because it had a picture of a cute jogger on the front cover, but – well, you know me.)



I read it with interest. Massage therapy. Shamanistic healing! (This turns out to be located directly next to my office building, so I made a note of it. I may want to put curses on some of the people I work with, and who better than a shaman for that?) Meditation. Organic food. Vegan food. Gluten-free food. Working out with your dog.



You know how right-wing people have this cluster of core beliefs that don’t seem to have anything to do with anything? They’re against gay marriage. Why? Well, it’s icky. They don’t believe in climate change. Why not? Well, it’s just silly. Big government? Awful. Christianity? Two helpings, please!






Well, we left-wingers do it too



Vegetarian? Please! I’m vegan! Medical care? Well, Western medicine is so restrictive and hyperrational – let’s have some reiki and acupuncture too! What could be more effective than someone waving his hands over your body without touching you? Or someone sticking pins into your body? Homeopathy? Two helpings, please!



Let’s face it. We’re as intolerant and irrational as they are.



But we’re much nicer and cuter about it.



And we don’t kill as much stuff.



Except for babies, of course.



North African food


When I first arrived in Morocco in 1984, the Peace Corps nurse spoke to us about health issues. “You won’t need to worry about the food,” she said. “Believe me. You will eat well.”



She wasn’t kidding. In Morocco and Tunisia, we ate spectacularly. Bread and cheese and fish from the corner store were always fresh and delicious. Fruit and vegetables were always local and beautiful. Local places always had roasted kebabs and fresh bread. Tajine, and couscous, and salade mechouia, and brik, and chakchouka. Harira, the magnificently thick aromatic soup with which one breaks one’s Ramadan fast.



There was also the wacky stuff. I have written elsewhere of my adventures with kamounia, a dish which can be made with just about any organ meat (usually liver or kidneys, but which, one memorable day, came with a sheep testicle riding on top). Ojja, the delicious Tunisian dish with tomatoes and hot peppers and eggs and sheep’s brains. Osbene, the North African version of haggis: guts and vegetables, stuffed into guts, then baked.



(There are gray areas, of course. There is a Tunisian dish called meloukhia, prepared with meat and olive oil and dried powdered jute leaves. It ends up looking like chunks of sponge rubber marinated in motor oil. It smells like death. And some people love it.)



One day in 1986, a friend with US Embassy commissary privileges bought us a whole bunch of food – American food! packaged and boxed and canned! – and we had a feast.



And we were all sick for three days. Utterly miserable.



After several years of pure food, we’d eaten (in a single meal) huge doses of preservatives, and additives, and pesticides, and hormones, and chemicals.



Kids: you think foreigners eat strange things? Read the side of your Cap’n Crunch box sometime. The entire periodic table is in there.



And now I’ve gone and made myself hungry for guts and brains.



Summer solstice blog: Sumer is icumen in

Summer is a-comin’ in. Loudly sing cuckoo!



Honey, I was all about the Medieval Studies when I was back at Gonzaga U.



Here is a song for you. It’s a round. It’s very catchy. Try it:




Here it is in MP3 format, for you lazy types who can’t be bothered to get together six or seven Middle English scholars to sing a simple little fourteenth-century canon:



Have a lovely summer.




Pantry moths


I have moths.



If I were a good and dutiful housewife, I would immediately transfer dry goods like flour and cereal and rice to plastic containers after I buy them.



I do not do this.



And now we have a houseful of moths.



Moths are not beautiful. They are drab and dingy. They fold their wings when they perch and hold very still, like little brown pup-tents. They flutter in front of the television. Every evening either Partner or I leaps up and begins to dance around the room chasing one of them, shrieking. And now and then there is a big WHAM from the next room, which is usually one or the other of us throwing a bowling ball or a dictionary at a brown speck on the wall.



So, the other day, I bought some nice SAFER PANTRY PEST moth traps.



They’re just some sticky paper and some moth pheromones. I put one on top of the fridge, and within half an hour, a litle brown/gray moth was stuck to the inside of it, struggling.



Poor thing.



When I see ’em, I smack ’em without a moment’s hesitation. All you see is a little brown smudge on your hand.



But it’s another thing when you actually see them struggling, fixed on the sticky paper, dying.



Poor things.



Moths are not beautiful. If they were beautiful, like butterflies, or even cute, like ladybugs. . .



But they are not.



And neither am I.



And I don’t like moths in our kitchen!




Sunday blog: Wang Chung sings “Let’s Go”


Here’s why I love 1980s music videos: they take simple little songs and dress them up, with things like:


  • Dancing skeletons!

  • Origami hats!

  • A New Orleans funeral!

  • Cheerleaders!

  • Pyramids!

  • Sumo wrestlers!



Put on your origami hat and repeat after me: Let’s go, baby, let’s go, baby, come on!”






Woody Allen


Ike Barinholtz, the very cute comedian who used to be on Mad TV, recently tweeted: “’Midnight in Paris’ is Woody Allen’s 15th best movie.”



I haven’t seen the movie, but I have no reason to doubt him.



I came of age during the Golden Age of Woody Allen. He’d emerged from his early experimental period – “Bananas,” “Take The Money and Run,” “Sleeper” – to create one of the most perfect comedies of all time: “Annie Hall.”



If you don’t agree with me on this point one hundred percent, watch it again. And then again.



Back in the 1990s, a friend of mine would call me, and instead of saying “Hello,” she’d give me a line of “Annie Hall” dialogue. I was expected to respond with the following line. I don’t think I can do it anymore, but I could do it instantly back then. “I don’t get a period! I’m a cartoon character!” “We use a large vibrating egg.” “Love fades.”



After “Annie Hall,” Woody made “Manhattan,” which I liked, but which felt – artsy. Artificial. And it still does.



Then he made “Interiors,” his first drama. I have seen it dozens of times. I love it, but I cannot recommend it to you, unless you like beige décor and Mary Beth Hurt. It is not a comedy. It is full of angst and stiff dialogue and homages to Ingmar Bergman. Unfortunately, it is also full of uncomfortable echoes of Woody’s own (very funny) Bergman parody, “Love and Death.” Sometimes I think “Interiors” is one of Woody’s funniest comedies. I’d never say it to his face, though.



I am fond of “Stardust Memories,” which came next, but I’ll tell you why later.



After “Stardust Memories,” he made many duds. Many, many, many duds. “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.” “Mighty Aphrodite.” “Hollywood Ending.” “Celebrity.” Some were supposed to be serious, or at least tragicomic. Oh, dear god, “September”!



But there were still moments of glory. “Broadway Danny Rose” is a thing of beauty, and go see it please, it is too funny. The first time I saw it, I did not realize it was Mia Farrow behind those big dark glasses. Woody and Mia were still together then, and (the story goes) they were in a restaurant, and Woody said, “What do you want your next role to be?”, and Mia pointed at an Italian woman in the next booth, with dark glasses and a floppy hat, and said: “I want to play her.”



And she does. And she is wonderful.



Oh, that’s right, I need to tell you about why I love “Stardust Memories” so much.



In it, Woody fantasizes that he’s talking to aliens, about how he wants to communicate something important – something lasting – to the human race. And all he can do is make these stupid comedies.



And the alien says: “But we like your movies. Especially the earlier funnier ones.”




The Woonsocket mill fire


One evening last week, a very odd smell pervaded our apartment. Chemicals, and burning rubber, and wood smoke, and – who knows?



It turned out that a huge old mill was burning down in Woonsocket, about thirty miles north of Providence. Arson? Accident? No one knew.



Although, in Rhode Island, arson is always the first assumption.



Partner told me around 10:00 pm to look at the live radar feed on Accuweather.com: you could actually see the smoke cloud around Woonsocket.



And then I realized I’d seen something strange earlier that evening, when I was coming home from the health club: a huge cloud, like a cumulonimbus, hanging in the northern sky. I’d though this was strange, as no storms were predicted for that day or the next.



The smell of the fire was really nauseating here, so many miles away. Can you imagine what it was like in Woonsocket, close by? (The WPRI newsman on the scene, Walt Buteau, was many blocks away from the fire, but said he could still feel the heat. Regard the above picture. I believe him.)



This kind of thing has happened many times in Rhode Island. When a building is inconvenient, it burns down. There used to be a huge department store in downtown Providence; it went out of business; whammo! it burned down.



I came back from the Peace Corps in 1987. Friends were showing me around town, to show me what I’d missed in three and a half years. As we turned down Congdon Street, I saw smoke rising from the old train station. “Ah,” I said. “Nothing has changed.”



I’m not pointin’ my finger at anybody.



I’m not sayin’ that people in Rhode Island set fires for the insurance money, and to clear property.



I’m just sayin’.



(Postscript: the Valley Breeze later reported that the fire was started by a spark from a welder’s torch. Of course! What else could it have been?)





%d bloggers like this: