Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Cherry Blossoms

I can’t be in Tokyo, or Washington DC, or even Prospect Park this week. But White Plains has some pretty good cherry blossom (”sakura”) action!

I hate filters and post-processing, i.e. the daft supposition that reality’s insufficient. The whole IG aesthetic stems from a profound misconstrual. Reality can’t be surpassed (it’s all a matter of framing!).

Anyhoo, cherry blossoms (including a photo bombing by one cheeky little tulip):

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Hemingway's Alcoholism and Depression

I've been watching Ken Burn's series about Ernest Hemingway on PBS, and this quote from Ernie stuck out:
When you work hard all day with your head and you must work again the next day, what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whiskey?
"Change your ideas". "Make them run on a different plane". He's talking, of course, about perceptual framing; about shifts of perspective. It's not some mysterious woo-joo. We all viscerally realize, at some bleary, blurry, unconscious level, that shifting/reframing is the underlying truth of the human experience. Some people (most often accomplished people) get a little closer to this recognition than others, and Hemingway came damned close.

What he missed, alas, is that we don't need alcohol, or any other external thing, to reframe. We're the framers. We internally frame the world, despite our demented and persistent efforts to coax the world into framing us. That ass-backwardness leads to amnesia. We forget that we possess the ability to reframe at will, and so we get stuck. And frozen perspective accounts for nearly all human darkness, most notably depression. Depression is the clinical term for "frozen perspective".

If your perspective grows stuck and you're desperately evading depression (as Hemingway eternally was), and you've tried lots of hearty world action (as Hemingway certainly did), but you can't keep muscling the world into actively changing your perspective for you - misconstruing yourself as the passive receiver of perspective - until eventually you ruminate/marinate yourself into a state where you're good and entranced/frozen/stuck, then, as I wrote here,
We may grow quite desperate for liberation - for an escape from the monotonous world we've framed via a monotonous perspective. To rouse ourselves from depression, or to attempt, in our desperation, to stay ahead of the stuckedness, we clutch at straws. Things like booze, drugs, gambling, casual sex, and the other addictions serve as blunt instruments for forcing cheap momentary wisps of relief; of freedom. It's a last resort for those who've lost all interest in re-tuning their own perspective, and find themselves burdened and bored by a burdened, bored existence in an apparently burdensome, boring world.

A violent kick to the head is hardly an apt substitute for real liberation. It's not subtle, nor entirely pleasant, and you must contend with repercussions, rebounds, and a build-up of tolerance. But at least you’re temporarily jarred out of the monotony of a frozen perspective. If this is your sole avenue of relief, it will come to feel like salvation.

In the long run, dependence on kicks to the head just heightens the monotony; the freezing. You're imprisoned more and more tightly as you distract yourself from your innate facility for swapping in a different perspective. Reliance on a head kick reinforces the wrong-headed assumption that perspective is dictated by conditions "out there", rather than by your own choices "in here". So your entire life comes to center on some chosen kick (which becomes, itself, a monotonous freeze). You cling to this means of momentarily shaking things up to glean pitifully faint sniffs of the full freedom you’ve chosen to spurn.
It didn't work out so well for Hemingway, whose dependence on kicks to the head just heightened the monotony; the freezing. With all that said, let's do one more pass through his surprisingly self-aware quote:
When you work hard all day with your head and you must work again the next day, what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whiskey?
Just reframe, Papa. It’s your move. You have free latitude to write your story from any angle. You, of all people, should have known that. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

LEFFtovers: Breakfast Hash

Please please touch to expand.

I sautéed onions, then added cut-up chunks of leftover gyro meat and cut-up French fry chunks, and served over an egg white omelet.

Small touches count (understatement of the century):
  • I did not salt the onions because the gyro is salty. And I under-salted the egg.
  • Those tomatoes were small, so I could have served them whole. But when I envisioned myself eating them, I realized I'd be happier if they were quartered. Cooks can go very far by pampering their predilections.
  • I had a vision in my head of really crunchy/chewy gyro meat, almost like Issan jerky. I also wanted to fully crisp up those fat steak fries, which were mushy from overnighting in the fridge. So I timed it appropriately (the more I make everything like toast - i.e. subjected to micro-concern via vast attentive patience - the more delicious my food turns out).

Friday, April 9, 2021

LEFFtovers: Scallop Thing

Particularly intricate LEFFtover treatment.

Raw materials in fridge:

Less than a full serving of Guatemalan take-out seafood soup
Small amount of leftover soba noodles
Small amount of basmati rice
Sautéed asparagus
Tiny takeout container of Ecuadoran hot sauce
Four raw scallops

Heat seafood soup. When bubbling, stir in soba noodles AND rice. Kill heat.

Sautee scallops with garlic in olive oil, cook 2-3 mins per side.

Upon flipping scallops, add asparagus to pan to reheat. Quarter the scallops after cooking.

Add noodle/rice mixture to a bowl. Top with asparagus. Top with scallops. Top with garlic. Dab each scallop segment with hot sauce. Walla.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Latino Support for Trump

So the big story right now is how Trump picked up way more Latino support in 2020 than you'd ever have imagined possible. Pundits are straining to understand.

I saw it coming. It's a matter of socio-economic peer groups. July, 2016, I wrote about a local Mexican immigrant I know who felt perfectly comfortable with Trump and his supporters, and explained why I thought that was:
I know a grimy pizzeria, in a scrubby blue collar nabe, serving cheap pizza but also, very quietly, a short list of quite good Mexican items on the down-low. I never see other customers opting for sopes or quesadillas. It's all dry wall guys and FEDEX drivers scarfing cheap slices for lunch. Oversized working class white dudes whose car bumpers all seem to have "volunteer fireman" stickers. And, naturally, Trump stickers.

While I awaited my sopes, I watched the scene. Arriving customers warmly greeted the Mexican owner (a big, garrulous guy who, himself, wouldn't look out of place on a fire truck). Ordering was no-nonsense, but wives and children were tersely asked after in both directions, by name. I heard Donald Trump mentioned a couple times, but the Mexican dude didn't tense a muscle. He wasn't just shucking and jiving; he really relates to these guys. I bet he'd vote Trump, too, if it weren't for the virulent racism. Maybe he manages to overlook that part, just as they do.

The burly customers finish their pizza and wave goodbye with warm eyes, like with family. I, from another world, nibbling my sopes de al pastor, received more distant/polite treatment from the staff. I was "sir". The owner was with those other guys. And they were with him. And as Trump brashly blasted on CNN, none of the Mexican workers behind the counter ground their teeth. They're bought in. They like America. And they sympathize and identify with these guys. And here's the thing: I think they absolutely understand all about hijo de puta politicians who talk a lot of shit. They've seen that before, and would never blame the followers for being conned. Same as it ever was.

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Plain-Sight Secret About Investing

99% of investors have no idea what the bet is that they're making. It's shocking.
"Elon Musk seems super smart, and he's had so much success in the past, and his future plans sound exciting. Tesla seems like an awfully good bet!"
No. Don't do that. The purchase of Tesla stock is not a bet on the company, like betting on a horse in a race. It's one level more sophisticated and abstract: you are betting on the underestimation of Tesla by other investors. That's the bet; the only bet. You're never betting on a company, you're betting against other investors' sentiment about that company. And those people are all aware of Musk's history, too. That's not privileged information.
Have you ever noticed that many people imagine that when they say the same old shit we've all heard a zillion times it has a special ring? "Now it's me saying it!" In everyday life, this daffy mental miscalculation is annoying. In the stock market, it pays for the 1%'s Lear jets.
This is, oddly, terrifically difficult for nearly everyone to grok. Small time "retail" investors misunderstand because they're naive (naïveté is the single greatest impediment to clarity). Day traders, who grok this in theory, lose touch with it amid the bustle of their manic and complicated trading (complexity is the second greatest impediment to clarity). And professional financiers, who understand this better than any of us, are distracted by their smug self-confidence (ego is the third greatest impediment to clarity).

Most of all, it's a framing problem. If you're an addicted gambler (as most investors are, at all three levels), you do not possess a lithe perspective (see this for how addiction is a framing problem). You are rigid and stuck. You are compelled to see things like a horse track, and can't find the calm latitude to reframe to a more sophisticated, subtle, abstract perspective. Your attention remains riveted to "GO TEAM,” in all-caps. 

We all have an opinion as to whether Amazon still has room to grow, or if Tesla can maintain profits with big automakers getting into electric. Opinions are like assholes; we all have one. And yours may even be correct. But that's not enough. Because your bet is not on Amazon or Tesla, but against titans infinitely smarter and better informed than you. They effectively set the price, and that price already reflects their (smart) consensus opinion. And there's not a single thought in your head that's ahead of them. So you will not only not win against them; they will, over time, eat your lunch.

So don't read annual reports. Don't try to be a smarty. All info is already baked in to the price by people way smarter than you (if you assume no one's smarter than you, then I have good news: your impending poverty will divest you of that delusion). Again: You're not betting on a company, you're betting against the market's estimation of that company. It's not a proposition of predicting business success.

So why would anyone bet against billionaire geniuses and their office towers stocked full of MIT educated analysts? Wouldn't that be crazy?

Yes. Yes it would. Which is why people should invest in index mutual funds, which rise (and, alas, sink) with the market, often bringing even better success than the outcomes for individual twitchy billionaire geniuses (because the latter are limited by ego and an addict’s perspective).

The only exception is if you have some sort of an edge. Which 99.9999% of the time you won't.

Patience is a potent edge. The billionaire geniuses need to be constantly hitting home runs. They can't patiently wait stuff out. They're twitchy. That's why my strategy of buying Apple in its downturns has worked. I can park my money for a year, and those guys can't. Neither can day traders, who are equally twitchy. So, often, it's only sad little me buying on downturns and selling on peaks, while everyone else spazzes out, flocks irrationally, and goes foolishly the wrong way. They’re pursuing bazooka home runs this quarter while I’m content with 25% gains next year. I gobble up discarded crumbs.

Specialized knowledge can also be an edge. A friend runs a genetics lab, and told me TXG's technology would one day be ubiquitous. He could hardly wait to have it, himself. I bought at $54, and it's now $188. Of course, it might just as easily have crashed. Maybe the CEO is a dork. An edge is not a superpower, it's just a way to marginally de-shmuck oneself. Billionaire geniuses also know people running genetics labs. Mostly, I got lucky. But a little luckier than if I'd flown blind, trusting my own puny acumen.

Years ago, I wrote breathlessly about SIGA, a company with an entirely effective (and no side-effects) smallpox cure. It’s a bio-terror countermeasure (it works on weaponized versions), and it also works on cowpox and monkey pox, which are both still out there. I'm still hanging on to half my shares, and at $7 I've made out decently with my $2 investment, though it's sat listlessly for so many years that it's no jackpot. This year I expect at least one big foreign government sale, and/or a sale to US gov with a different formulation, which should hopefully pop the stock back to $12-15. At that point, I'll sell (there's time pressure: their patent on the drug actually runs out in a few years - insert bug-eyed/astonished emoji - and soon I'll be so old that I'd only enjoy a jackpot by gold-plating my walker), and it will amount to good profit despite the ridiculous time lag. In this case, my patience was my edge, then my stubbornness was my edge, then my religious faith was my edge, and, at this point, my stupidity is my edge. All these things are unavailable to billionaire geniuses. I stay in my lane.

It’s hard to understand this maxim, and harder still to live by it. And it’s almost impossible to find an edge for yourself, and harder still to maximize that edge without being clouded by ego or by addictive glee over successes. 

I seem to be at that latter stage. I’ve been beating the market (I bought in low to CRIS, PRKR, BCRX, and the aforementioned TXG and SIGA, in addition to cultivating Apple’s periodic lulls). But it’s more than likely a blip, like flipping “heads” a few times more than likely. So I’m keeping my outlay prudently low. 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Craziness Codicil

I left something important out of my previous posting, "The Craziness of Encountering Crazy People Who Don't Exist" (alt titles: "Opting Out of Fetishizing Malicious Stupidity", "Anti-Stigmatization", or "The One With the Five N-Words").

By the time I'm done pre-mumbling, mumbling, and post-mumbling, I sometimes discover, too late, that I've forgotten to drive home my actual point. "Too late" because the posting's been so worked, and is so embarrassingly lengthy, that there's little hope of cramming in any new chunk.

So while I often deliberately bury ledes (one of my snickering delights), I appear to have plunged to a new low of ditzy incompetence so extreme that (in keeping with the theme) it has no name. I hereby coin the term "Lost Lede", and offer it to you below. It's nothing not already implicit in the post, but I never quite got around to firmly summing it up and putting it in wider perspective.

When you sanitize and euphemize your language and your thinking about a thing, you deliberately detach yourself from truthful conception of the thing. You shun and reject truth. And that's not good, because if/when that thing and that truth is encountered, it will stun you. Having methodically bleached some truth nugget previously lodged in your consciousness, you're left in a bind when reality pops up...which it does with some frequency.

This is, in fact, why we think. It's so that reality doesn't knock our teeth out or leave us yammering like idiots. Thinking is our pre-production prep for reality. It's useful work, even if it's not all sparkly nice and a smooth fit with cultural trends. Ideally, we think to understand, not to conform. You need to really watch out for the latter.

This issue is far more timeless than some stupid argument about political correctness or whatever. Thought bleaching leads to debilitating results in all instances of political re-education/brainwashing. It can work for a while, in a limited, blinkered way, but it inevitably leaves you estranged from reality. My examples are relatively light ones, leaving us lightly estranged. But I'm a big fan of reality, of truth (it's not a popular stand, but I'm such a contrarian). The very last thing I want is to deliberately estrange myself from it.

It's particularly corrosive for those whom this whole artifice has been contrived to protect. It shames and erases their reality. However positive your intentions, that's a hack that should never be pursued.

The Craziness of Encountering Crazy People Who Don't Exist

I had lunch a while back with a mentally ill guy. And I was completely taken aback when he started spouting craziness.

We've really boxed ourselves in with our language meshugas here in Euphemism World. Who'd expect a "mentally ill" person, facing certain "challenges", to spew outright craziness? One doesn't expect craziness from the mentally ill. One expects neatly compartmentalized, non-stigmatizable mental illness. Because that's what we call it.
Hi there, I'm Canadian, brunette, Pisces, mildly athletic, and mentally ill! So tell me a little about yourself!
You don't expect craziness because there's no such thing. Crazy people don't exist. So when a crazy person sat before me at lunch, it seemed unexpectedly....ugly. Much as the word "crazy" is ugly. "Crazy" truthfully describes the ugly prattle coming out of his mouth. And if you can't say so, or even think it, you'll feel shocked when something very much fitting that non-existent and totally not-okay word materializes before your lying eyes. The disjoint, in fact, makes the encounter much more jarring. It's, well, crazy...and that's just, well, crazy!

As a society we may nobly strive to sweep stigma under the cognitive/linguistic rug, but then one day you'll encounter some bona fide crazy shit, and find it as hard as I did to maintain composure while insouciantly swirling Sauvignon blanc and daintily tooth-scraping artichoke scuzz. It all grinds to a halt. We're lost without the availability of the word we're never supposed to utter upon encountering the thing we're never supposed to acknowledge. Reality startles the dreamer.

This is a horridly poor outcome for crazy (ouch) people. Because if the reality of how they behave is so awful as to be excluded from polite conversation, where, exactly, does that leave them? What's it like when the very thing you are can't be spoken without euphemism? One gets a taste of that predicament from eggshell-walking, painfully meticulous prog-speech (I'm sick of the term "PC", which the piqued canned hams of Fox News have ruined for me):
"So! Jim, I understand, is of the, um, Hebraic persuasion. By which, I mean to say, he's a Jew-American, oh dear, so sorry, my denture must have slipped, a Jewish-American, and those wonderful, uh, beings are so splendidly intellectual and sarcastic! I hasten to note that every individual Jew - sorry, er, Jewish-American - is of COURSE unique, so I'm not attempting to generalize here, but...."
Even this relatively mild form of word mincing leaves me wanting to book de-circumcision surgery and rhinoplasty, and to eat nothing but pork chops dunked in mayonnaise for the rest of my life. I'm driven to self-denial, if not self-obliteration, by vaguely insulting faux-tolerant (STOP ‘TOLERATING’ ME ALREADY!!!) gesturing. As I wrote here, "As a member of five or six minority groups, myself, I find myself cringing whenever I see groups to which I belong depicted or discussed with anxious care and glossy patina. What awful thing, after all, are they so carefully dancing around?!?"

It must be far worse for those whose actuality has been de-worded. What does it feel like when those enduring your crazy ravings are left struggling to recompose their tidy worldview that all's swell and you are absolutely not as crazy as you just clearly demonstrated yourself to be? Isn't that the most exclusionary possible exclusion? And isn't it also a false feedback loop? If I'm acting crazy, please, for heaven's sake, tell me! Bluntly! Don't just stare straight through me, mentally self-denying your assessment of the unthinkable thing you've totally decided I am.

If it's so imperative to create a minty fresh landscape in our collective imagination, stocked exclusively with above-average bright and untarnished souls, some of whom might face certain "challenges" (euphemizing their uncomfortable truth off the table) then what becomes of such people? Aren't they essentially purged along with their unmentionable trait? Aren't we making them, themselves, unthinkable?

It's perfectly ok to point out tallness. But shortness? YOU SHUT YOUR MOUTH RIGHT NOW. Sympathetic people deem such characterization taboo; so irredeemably awful that we must expunge the very concept. But, sweet Jesus, where does that leave short people? Personally, I don't think size is any big deal (me, I'm tall, so I hit my head a lot, and wouldn't mind shaving off half a foot and being 5'6"). It reminds me of Basil Fawlty, proprietor of a fictional provincial British hotel, desperately trying to NOT TO MENTION THE WAR to his German guests. Is shortness really so horrid that we can't mention it? What does this reveal about our actual feelings about short people? Doth we protest too much?

What kind of freaky funhouse ride do we force upon the anti-stigmatized? Is this a nice thing to do to, for example, crazy people? If no one can be crazy - because it's too awful to say so - then how can crazy people even go on living?

In fact, how can any of us go on living in minty-fresh Euphemism World without it taking a toll on our mental health? And if it did, how would you even know? Craziness is easily spotted, but "mental health challenges" sound like something you'd need to wait in line for a very long time at a community wellness center to assess, before primly adding the term to your bright, colorful punchcard of turn-ons, turn-offs, and charming personal peccadillos.

I'm not poorly informed. My intellectual grasp of mental illness is rather sophisticated, thanks. But language is not a purely intellectual function (if it were, writers could predetermine reader reaction like code compels computers). Language is equally an emotional channel, and every one of us has a visceral understanding of "Crazy", whether we use the word or repress it, and that deep understanding is not - by very design! - triggered by the term "mental illness".

Prohibiting vivid words only heightens their power. For example, "nigger", which had largely dissolved into corny anachronism by the early 1980s, now has been given the immense power to flip much of the nation into frothed madness via one single utterance. Why would we willingly stoke such words with such heightened power? Me, I'd rather type it over and over - nigger nigger nigger - until it decays into a meaningless musical sound with less juice, not more. See how puny and nothing it is. Let's opt out of fetishizing malicious stupidity. Nigger corn chips gall bladder prune juice hairspray! Unceremoniously grind out the stupid cigarette butt beneath your heel. It's barely worth snuffing; certainly not to be mistaken for the infernal blaze of Hell; and, for god's sake, let's not keep, like, honoring it.

Also: I've suffered from depression, OCD, and PTSD, all in long remission after lengthy regimens of yoga and exercise, followed by years of rigorous meditation (unclenching the myriad micro-contractions with which we purposefully bind ourselves). I've also had schizophrenic, paranoid, addicted, alcoholic, psychopathic, narcissistic, megalomaniac, and suicided loved ones. So its not that I lack sympathy, bokay? I'm all for sympathy, but I do not find our current modes of performative pseudo-sympathy the least bit sympathetic. I've acted crazy, you've probably acted crazy, and it's fine, we can call it what it is...if only to ensure that we don't keep stigmatizing via heavy-handed anti-stigmatization (will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?).

Woops, I forgot to actually get to the point...but corrected that here.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Today I Turned Old

I'm 58. This, it seems, is the age where you actually start to get old.

For 25 or 30 years, I've asked myself whether some new propensity or degradation or screw-up was the result of "old age". But as I've often written, a speculative mind offers no bell of truth. Truth doesn't come from the stories you tell yourself; from your frothy worries or emotions. Amid the idle breezes of the mind there will appear no transcendently good one to latch onto. It's not like that. The wandering, speculative, story-attaching mind is pure indulgence, and coughs up gems only serendipitously. If you've been worrying about your friend and the phone rings and your mind screams "That's her and she's dead!!!", that's not intuition. That's just your neurosis.

Real intuition doesn't feel cinematic. It's nothing like a flight of fancy, and it doesn't surface out of dramatic, visceral emotion. Real intuition is indistinguishable from knowing. It's just like any other knowing. You actually need to take time and effort to reverse engineer it all and recognize that the conviction appeared from nowhere; that a bit of knowledge has no real basis for feeling known.

When we learn in biology class about instinct in animals, we imagine we're above that sort of thing. We can persist in thinking so because we have little time to reverse engineer all our seemingly solid convictions. What sort of obstinate dweeb (besides me) actually invests time in trying to sort out which knowledge comes from knowing, and which knowledge just sort of materialized into place?
It's like brushes with angels. I wrote about them once, starting off with the observation that "Angels are real but they're not what you think."

Angels are so ordinary, banal, and unsparkly that people rarely notice they've received help impossible to reasonably account for. An upturned bug doesn't recognize some kid named Herbie just did it a solid and turned it right side up. The bug just obliviously wriggles away. A door appeared to have opened, and the bug lacks cognitive horsepower to draw the very subtle distinction between doors simply opening before you and doors improbably opened for you. Many human beings, especially these days, are similarly unable to draw this distinction. It all just happens. 
Intuition - real intuition, with truth value - isn't some touchy/feely/spooky Something Else, covered in magic pixie dust. It's rock-solid, and baked squarely into our lives. When I drive my car past some random eatery and my heart rate suddenly jumps and I slam on the brakes, it doesn't feel like Jesus whispered to me from the cloud tops. Frankly, my first instinct is usually to roll my eyes, because I'm trying to get somewhere, am usually late, and, even worse, I've most often already eaten. Yet every cell in my body is exuberantly hollering "We're Here!!!!!!!" and it's awfully tough to simply drive away. I feel compelled to go in and eat, blandly aware that it'll unfailingly be great. And it's not a heavenly compulsion. It can be a bit of a drag. It took long experience and normalization to appreciate the kooky weirdness of the whole scenario, but it sure doesn't feel "magical". It's indistinguishable from any other arrival point.

What intrigues me is this: what was the state of my internal landscape one pico-second before the brakes pumped? Here's the answer: I knew, then, too. But it was still unconscious ("Unconsciousness" is still a little-understood term, even at this late date; this short post offers some visceral feeling for what it refers to). At some shadowy level, I felt it all coming, because the foot doesn't pump brakes without some sort of instruction. I had to orchestrate that result. The knowing (which had no way of being known, which means it was pure intuition) was lurking in my peripheral vision, and at some point it bloomed into the main stage of my consciousness. Eureka.

Let's pursue that "moment-before" aspect a bit more, because it's juicy. Consider this: whenever you've been sick, there's been a period where you suspected maybe you were sick (but often turned out not to be), but then, finally, there arrived a moment of knowing; of conscious declaration. Logic dictates that, if you were sick, there had to be a single moment when you realized it (obvious exception: weird "silent" diseases like hypertension operating beyond awareness). So...what made you know it? And how did you know what you knew?

Was it scientific - some precise scanning of vital signs suddenly exceeded a threshold and set off an alarm? Unlikely. We don't declare we're sick because the seventh sneeze strains credulity ("Six? Maybe! Seven? Ok, that's it!"). Rather, speculation - story-telling about how, geez, you might be coming down with something - is replaced by a deeper, vague, unconscious feeling, which finally blooms into a conscious knowing with no solid basis for knowing, aka intuition. The evidence hasn't radically changed. You'd noticed your dripping nose well before. But ongoing suspicion was briskly replaced, with a thunderous clap (though nothing had materially changed), by a firm sense of certainty. Suddenly, you simply knew, with the knowing knowing of knowing....though, if you'd thought about it (which is something bugs and humans alike rarely do), you'd have realized that there was no trigger, no threshold, no solid basis. Were you not equally sick a minute earlier?

Getting back to where this digression-within-a-digression-within-an-introduction started, at age 58, I know - with a feeling not of speculation but of actual knowledge - that I'm getting old. Which means I was probably old at 57-1/2, as well, and knew it subconsciously, but it continued to manifest as idle speculation and ditzy neurosis. Today marked the arrival from nowhere - like a firmware update - of hard knowledge. Thunderclap!

And now, finally, the posting.

My favorite aunt had a favorite story. Her mother's mother was a piece of work; a hard-assed, uncompromising, raging bucket of unreasonable impossibleness. My aunt's besieged, haggard mom had pleaded with her, as a child, "If I ever become anything like my mother when I'm old, please let me know!". When the day finally arrived and my aunt let her mother know, her feisty, pugnacious response was "She was right!!!"

That's old age.

Today I sat down to try to write a Slog posting which essentially restated a previous one. Not building upon it, or coming at it from a different angle. Just flat out restating the point.

When I started this Slog, 12 years ago, I resolved to never do such a thing. A writer friend had warned me that after a few months I would run out of things to say. So I figured I'd floor the accelerator, and when the dust settled and the tank went dry, I'd suspend operations. It didn't turn out that way, and while I can't say I never repeated myself (again, excluding postings that deliberately built upon, reframed, or polished previous thoughts), it didn't happen often. I was 46 when I started this. Young!

When I'd notice repetition, I'd think "Hey, I must be getting old, hahahaha!", and would add wry footers linking, self-deprecatingly, back to the previous statement. This is surely how Simpson's creator (and Chowhound user) Matt Groening feels. At a certain point after long iteration, your field starts to really fill up and collisions become inevitable (South Park did a whole episode, titled "Simpsons Already Did It", about the struggles of entering that crowded field).

But this morning, I was prepared to sit down and pound out something I well knew I'd previously written. And I didn't give a damn, because I just wanted to, gob nabbit. And that's when I realized I'm old. I'm exhibiting the same slightly unhinged, embarrassingly headstrong, yeah-I've-dropped-my-standards-a-solid-notch-and-fuck-you-if-you-don't-like-it mindframe that's capable of conjuring up "She was right!!!"

It's not speculation, neurotic fear, or some story I'm telling myself. This is the moment when sneezy bleary nose-drippiness congealed into knowing. I'm old. Hokay.

Remember when it was the hippest time to be 48? Hahahahaha. Yeah, I remember that. Now I look like hell, Jon Stewart looks like hell, Steven Colbert looks like hell, and even Barack Obama looks like hell. And Jonathan Winters and Ed McMahon, in retrospect, seemed like perfectly cool dudes to hang out with.

Friday, April 2, 2021

A Little Better

My dad lost a few decades to depression. Somehow, via a herculean feat of will, he managed to relocate and reinvent himself in the desert southwest; I'm still unsure how he managed it at his advanced age and in his lethargic condition. And he felt better once he was there. A little better.

One day while I was visiting, I returned from shopping to find him in a chair staring glassily in the late afternoon gloom. As I engaged him in conversation, he perked up a bit and declared how relieved he was to have kicked depression!

I figured this was stark raving bonkers. But I've come to realize an essential truth people don't much notice or discuss: when something's super bad, and gets better - even a lot better - it can still be pretty bad. Even if you feel fully restored.

I've had severe foot pain for a solid year. I haven't really been able to walk, aside from a giddy brief respite in the fall. After bergs of ice and wads of money spent on special invalid shoes, custom orthotics, greasy anti-inflammatory ointments, and no fewer than four MRIs, I finally feel no pain whatsoever. This absence of pain feels like pure pleasure. My feet feel like happy frolicking puppies. They're like a field of daisies. They live in a feminine hygiene commercial.

But there's something I understand - intellectually if not experientially - from my father's example. I may actually still be in fairly bad pain. I honestly have no idea. There is really no way to know.

It's not that I'm cuckoo-pants bananas. It's that human perceptions are infinitely pliant. Lightness doesn't register as lightness without a baseline of darkness to judge against. There are no absolutes. Among other things, this accounts for how very gradual degradations - the proverbial frog boils - are so tough to notice. We can be lulled into losing touch with our baselines. My baseline right now is agony, which leaves me easily pleased!

If you walk around in a miasma of bitter negativity and depression, and a single ray of light errantly penetrates, you'll feel unequivocally certain that all problems have been solved, that all burdens dropped, and that the heavens have left you minty fresh (this posting provides a visceral impression of such transformation). Three drops of rain in a parched desert feel like Niagra. Slightly cracking open a window in a stifling car wooshes in a seemingly lush torrent of life-giving oxygen. We simply cannot gauge. It's quite impossible.

And it's not just external perceptions. Internal framings are relative as well. When we lose our baseline, our mooring, perspectives can seem stark raving bonkers. This is how, for example, a nation of wealthy, supremely coddled and comfortable aristocrats can manage to feel universally deprived and aggrieved.

I have a long-standing fantasy of buying a Tesla. I'm not normally tempted by luxury consumer goods, but I do like cars and gadgets - especially gadgets that continuously update themselves over time in delightful ways. And while I can't afford a Tesla, I do hang out in Tesla forums, where I pretend to be in the market and ask lots of eager questions.

A while ago, I mentioned there, in-passing, that, of course, all Tesla owners are rich. And you would not have believed the hue and cry among forum participants, all owners of >$60,000 vehicles. They wished to inform me, often with considerable pique, that they are certainly not wealthy. Truly wealthy people, I suppose, own jets. And to jet-owners, truly wealthy people own football teams.

Further readings on Depression:
A Unique Perspective on Depression
The Main Cause of Major Depression
Depression Resuscitation Kit
A Surprisingly Uplifting Examination of Suicide
The Evolution of a Perspective
Framing as Hilarious or as Catastrophe
All writings on depression in reverse chronological order

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Prevent Sore Arm from Vaccination

After my first vaccination shot, a friend urged me to move and flex my arm. But that left me in an intellectual bind. What does "move your arm" mean? Do I watch the news, sipping tea with one arm while doing arcane David Byrne tribal movements with the other one? I did some haphazard arm waves and my arm was sore as hell for 2-3 days.

This time, I took it seriously. I went the full Byrne, right in the waiting room post-shot (half the room watched CNN, the other half watched me, but fuck 'em). I continued en route to my car. And I gave myself some booster arm movement before and after supper. Nothing obsessive, maybe 5-7 mins in total. Next day, my arm hardly hurts at all.

Do every sort of move you can think of. Pete Townsend wind-ups, extensions, bend at elbow while pushing back of head forward with your hand. Thermometer-reset-style shakes. Pet the full body of an imaginary very very large dog. Do all these moves with your hand/wrist/arm rotated left, then right, then centered. Do them fairly vigorously. The moves that hurt a little (in the shot area), do more.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Christianity Contradictions

Two terrible, awful, no-good contradictions in Christianity (I've covered this ground before - see postings tagged "Christianity" - but it's my Slog so I'll flog if I wanna).

1. There is only one God...and don't you dare worship any other!

If they'd taken a sec to rectify this flagrant contradiction, two thousand years of crusades, inquisitions, and general brutality and intolerance wouldn't have happened. Frowny face.

If there's only one God (and you did insist there's only one!) then we all - regardless of the hat we're wearing; and the day we pray; and the nametag we stick on you - are brothers and sisters. So it's all love and tolerance, just like that Jesus dude said, after all.

2. Surrender! Surrender! Surrender! Surrender! But, of course, you won't....

A distinguished and wizened old Indian swami I knew who otherwise despised western culture and theology adored the evangelical Christian credo "Let go, let God". He considered it as good as anything in the Vedas (and to a smugly intolerant old prick like him, that was the supreme compliment).

Surrender is a theme throughout Christianity, and this delicious credo points to the essence of that. Yet there's virtually no guidance. There's this thing you must do, but we won't tell you how to do it. Nor will we offer a glimmer of what to expect once you've done it ("The Lives of the Saints", et al, describe outer phenomena, not inner experience). It seems un-Christian (i.e. overly prideful) to seek to emulate the complete surrender of Jesus. A couple millennia in, this appears to be the boil-down: "Adore the guy who did the thing we're all enjoined to do but surely can't/won't." Ah, sigh, if only 'twere possible....[eyes turn heavenward as harp music swells].

Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, Shaivism, Jainism, and even sclerotic old Judaism offer some technology for surrender, while Christianity just hands you a single word: the tissue-light concept of "prayer", which seems like a placeholder someone threw into the book, intending further development, but, Gutenberg had a strict publication schedule and needed to go to press, pronto.

There were a few stillborn efforts over the centuries to fill it out. None ever reached anything close to mainstream recognition...with one odd and indirect exception. Some of us jumped down the rabbit hole opened in Salinger's "Franny and Zooey" by reading "The Way of a Pilgrim", and following its references to "The Philokalia" and other mystical works of the early Eastern Orthodox fathers. It came as no surprise (because I, too, am a smug yogi prick) that it's mostly reinvention of the ancient practice of mantra meditation. But kudos to those truculent bearded fathers for striving to actually practice the preaching!

If this stuff, from this framing, holds interest for you, you might enjoy the classic "The Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta". Also, the vaguely Zen-oriented spiritual teacher Adyashanti has a couple of excellent books on Christianity through the mystic's perspective.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Quick TV Catch-Up

Three TV shows with a very high ratio of quality to obscurity:

Patriot on Amazon Prime. This one's awfully hard to explain; the title gives you nothing; it's much more about tone than genre, and you'll know while watching the pilot if it's for you. Give it a try, there's a lot to love and it hits the ground running at full speed in the pilot. Not unmissably, world-stoppingly great, but you probably haven't heard of it and probably will really like it.

The Taco Chronicles on Netflix is perhaps the most chowhoundish of the survey-a-food-genre genre. It was produced by actual Mexicans, which helps. It taught me a thing or two (and I really know my tacos), and nearly all their venue selections are admirably super-obscure and great-looking.

Per a previous posting, The Bureau (French title Le Bureau des Légendes), a terrific French spy series which you can pretty much only watch via $6.99/month subscription to Sundance NOW - but you'll easily watch all four seasons in a couple months.

Two un-missable series from the non-distant past which were never super popular but have faded even from there:

Party Down, a comedy about cater waiters featuring a cast that would cost billions to reassemble now; free on Hulu. You need to be patient for the show to hit its magnificent stride (give it until "Celebrate Ricky Sargulesh", episode 8 of season 1, which I think was its peak) and...

Rectify (free on DirecTV, and reasonable enough on iTunes or Amazon Prime), one of the earliest, best, and slowest of the super-slow cable dramas. Such great acting, writing, directing, film-making.

Above all, I love Succession (HBO) so much. It really is unmissably, world-stoppingly great. I think it rivals Shakespeare. I loved it way more the second time. And I recently viewed it a third time and realized I'd only previously caught like 40% of the plot and off-cuff remarks and nuance. This is the Infinity Show, it just gets better as you rewatch it.

The only two series close to Succession in terms of breathtaking-classic-for-the-ages grandeur are Atlanta (free on Amazon Prime and Hulu) and The Leftovers (HBO). First season's a slog re: Leftovers, but intentionally so. "International Assassin", in Season 2, is the best single episode of television ever produced; it's actually Kubrick-good.

Some random notables. For All Mankind is pretty good. It's a counterfactual where Russia landed on the moon first, spurring an extended cold war in space, all the way to Mars. The Expanse is the only sci-fi that gets close to the Battlestar Galactica reboot in quality. Rick & Morty continues to be a whole other thing; the smartest, funniest, densest entertainment ever committed to videotape, though I believe it's been cancelled (they're still making it, it's just not ok for civilized people to talk about it). Stanley Tucci's Searching for Italy on CNN is terrific if you don't need it to be super super chowhoundish. All Creatures Great and Small from Masterpiece on PBS is an unapologetically sentimental bit of lovable fluff from UK about a 1920s country veterinarian (perfect for lockdown soothing, but I prefered Doc Martin for the genre). NOVA, which I watched as a kid, is actually still very good. Super inconsistent (the shows with David Pogue are un-watchable), but when they're good they're very good and it's a good way to keep up with science stuff. Lincoln: Divided We Stand on CNN is watchable and interesting, probably of little interest if you're already well-informed about Lincoln. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Easy Comfort and Inevitable Rigidity of Ethos

I had an embarrassing flaw as a jazz musician which very few people ever noticed: I wasn't particularly inventive as an improvisor.

This is surprising because I'm very creative. Likely to a fault, even. So you'd think invention would stream out of me. But I had a very bad day back in the early 90s when I for some reason thought to merge three consecutive recorded choruses of the same tune into one lump. And, gulp, I was playing essentially the same thing each time.

Well, maybe not quite that bad. But there was way more synchrony than there ought to have been. To make things worse, shortly after, I did something trombonists don't often get to do: I led two consecutive weeks of nightly small group jazz gigs. Trombonists are normally the character actors of the music world, playing the sidekick role, but this time I was protagonist. The gigs were all about me; I carried it all. And coming after my flaw had been revealed to me, I was listening for monotony, and, after eight or nine gigs, I found that I was boring myself. Horribly. By the end of the run, I was ready to chuck my horn into a garbage can.

I soon recovered. Amnesia set in, and I was once again impressed with my own repetitive shtick. You must be forced (ala Clockwork Orange) to hear yourself night after night to maintain appropriate self-loathing, and, as a musician who wasn't playing the same genre night after night, and who was rarely occupying the spotlight, I was shielded from my own limitations. When your job is to serve as a contrasting color, you needn't stretch to cover the whole spectrum.

I never solved this problem. I'd marvel at the playing of a Joe Henderson, who'd tear through song structures with rich inventiveness, milking fresh-ripened goodness out of each and every go-round:

But I never learned to do it, myself. I offered an excellent contrast color. And, at a broader level, was the ultimate chameleon, able to fit in, at a nearly cellular level, with just about anyone anywhere. Also: my narrowness was at least my own unique narrowness. I didn't imitate anyone else; my playing was highly original. Just not as stretchy as I'd have liked. But if I'd ever become a headline jazz star, carrying gigs on my own weight, a few listeners (mostly my own sidemen) would have noticed this weakness. And, most of all, me. I'd be an alcoholic for sure.

I was too distracted in those days to really ponder the mystery - why someone so exuberantly creative would wind up so imprisoned. But the answer just flashed into my mind, a few decades too late:

It's hard being a musician. There's a lot going on, in terms of music, audiences, business, maintaining technique, not starving to death, etc. Your mind gets distracted. So I sensed, early on, that I needed an overriding ethos to help get me through the chaos. Here's what I settled upon:
Just choose the most beautiful possible note to come after whatever just happened.
It seemed foolproof, and I got a lot of mileage out of it. While others tried to prove themselves or battle colleagues, or make a certain impression, or simply not mess up, I was in another universe, cherishing notes one by one. This excluded me from opportunities where a bandleader or producer was looking for some certain this or that (I didn't match anyone's canned expectation), but audiences loved me, as did my social circle of 80 to 90 year old semi-forgotten jazz OGs. This is how I built a career for myself (along with my tenacious sense of commitment).

But it dawns on me - right now, today, all these years later - that if an improviser sticks to choosing the most beautiful possible note to succeed whatever just happened, he will inevitably be imprisoned by his static sense of beauty. Aesthetic preference is a constant; a gravity well. I'll always tend to hanker for a dissonant rub at some certain juncture, and a bold ballsy proclamation at another. A mouse run through a laboratory maze umpteen times, trained not to tactically seek cheese but to follow its visceral inclination, will tend to follow the same route every damned time.

While an ethos serves a helpful clarifying purpose, its inherent rigidity will always be limiting. Though it's blissfully simplifying to cling to an organizing ethos, real artists must reject such comfort. You just gotta reframe. 

Two new trombone snippets I've unearthed (neither of which reveal my dirty horrible secret):

Funky solo on a recording for some long-gone group
From a German film soundtrack (I get extra points for difficulty: heat was broken in the recording studio this February morning, so we were all playing in parkas).

Previous trombone stuff:
A flamenco/carnatic/jazz trio in Madrid with Indian tabla drums and Spanish acoustic guitar. (R.I.P. Xavier Turull)
Good Clip of My Trombone Playing Back in the Day
All trombone-related postings in reverse chronological order
All music-related postings in reverse chronological order

Saturday, March 20, 2021



If I were unsure about how I felt about lots of Asian women being murdered by a deranged maniac, nothing you could broadcast would likely help. In fact, I wouldn't be watching MSNBC at all.

It's safe to say all your viewers find it horrendous, and understand the factors that brought us here.

When your broadcast day is endless outrage about outrage over outrage, with nothing new or insightful to add, it gives the impression that your cynical aim is to whip up your viewers, addicting them to a heightened emotional flow leaving them dependent on your product. That's the Fox business model, which is not good for America, as you frequently note.

I'm not saying outrage is not appropriate. It is. It's the ceaseless whipping I'm against. I'm pretty sure my initial shock and outrage were sufficient. So if you have nothing fresh to add, or new angles to consider, how's about you get back to being a news source, rather than a mind control device to squeeze millions of people's amygdalae, keeping them angry and scared so they stay glued to your channel? Goose or gander, that's not best for the country. Thanks in advance.

BTW, belated thanks for the 80,000 hours exploring the question of whether Donald was a racist. I'm guessing the consensus was a solid "yes", amIright? Me, I got that from "rapists/murderers" at his campaign launch, but kudos for the extra depth and analysis.

Friday, March 19, 2021

COVID Amnesty

You've been vaccinated...or soon will be (or else you're too shmucky to matter). Congratulations! You've survived the scenario most feared for decades by the smartest people. You're here. You made it!

May I offer a suggestion?

Take a solid minute to mentally survey your relationships. There is (I'd bet good money) at least one person you stopped being friends with over the past year. Stress does this. We're all a little loopy.

When you think of this person, your first thought will be "No, no, that had nothing to do with COVID, s/he's just an asshole and we're through." Expect this reaction. It's inevitable.

Shoot them a text or email and ask if they've been vaccinated. Express relief in their survival. Even though that person - like me and like you - truly is a bit of an asshole.

That's all. If the conversation continues, oblige it. If it doesn't, no need to push it. Just leave it there.

Please spread the word: we all need to establish COVID Amnesty for relationships harmed by the stress of the past year. Seriously, take a minute to do this (and, if you agree, pass it on or share this post). It's the best celebration for having survived this massive public menace.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Coming Singularity of Facial Discomposure

In a posting titled "Mask Laxness", I wrote:
I worry that once we finally cast off our masks I may be unable to stop the mouth-breathing, brazen smirking, silent mumbling, old-mannish lip-licking, and shoddy face-shaving.
Hope you enjoyed the clammy imagery. But that's not all. There's also the part I've carried with me from the before times: startling, off-putting discomposure.

I'm not a composed person. I don't practice in front of mirrors. I don't mask myself, metaphorically (only literally!). Much like Aretha, I want to feel like a natural woman. Well, "want" is the wrong term. I've backed myself into a corner. Having chosen not to pose or prevaricate, and to concentrate entirely on being rather than seeming, my affect is that of someone who's stepped in from a whole other movie.

"Excuse me, sir; can you tell me how to get to Rigel 04-1170?"

With regards to my face, while my features are all more or less where they ought to be, aside from a very slight asymmetry which forever excludes me from "10 Hottest" lists (even "10 Hottest Trombonist/Food Writers"), I don't wear my features with any composure whatsoever. It all flops around. I'm like a walking Picasso painting. Wait; is that his left eye?

Mostly, it's because I'm just not trying to sell anybody anything. You might not think you are, either, but, hahaha, oh, you are. You are. This is Planet Glengarry Glen Ross, and, believe me, you always be closing. Since I'm not using my face to constantly convince people who I am, it all just sort of flaps around. It's a little eerie. Sometimes I plant a befuddled grin, which reassures no one.

But widespread discomposure is imminent, and I can hardly wait. In a few months, when the COVID masks come off, and everyone's temporarily out of practice on the facial composure front, I'll enjoy a brief glorious moment of fitting in. I will dash from bar to bar, chatting up women who'd normally be deemed "out of my league." I will pass people who don't cough (I've previously noted that usually when people walk by, they cough. "Always the same short, dry, phony cough, releasing some of the tension. God, how I loathe that cough."). I will amiably shake strangers' hands, introducing myself and randomly offering food tips.

There will be a brief respite. Sex-occupied people won't interpret my discordant affect as lechery or perversion. Homophobes won't suspect gayness. Paranoids won't spot threat. The insecure won't read sneering superiority, and conformists won't see Tasmanian devil chaos. For a blessed day or two, I'll be just another human with no recognizable marketing agenda writ large on his face.

Back when I was more normal - more sales-minded - I had a terrifying glimpse of my future.

At age 26, I was strolling through the market in Tangiers, Morocco a couple of hours before my avante-jazz concert in the local cultural center. I found myself walking behind two women wearing formless abaya over-garments plus head-covering hijabs. Maybe I was intrigued by the exoticness of the full Muslim monty right before my eyes, or perhaps the abaya had inadvertently passed on a few bytes of topographical contour data sufficient to seize my attention. Who knows. But I found myself daydreaming about the very different lives of these women. Simple, pure, devout. Like nuns, only more so!

Suddenly, in mid rumination, I was startled out of my wits. The women had been conversing with animation and lots of hand movement, and one of them, sensing something behind her, partially swiveled her head in mid-conversation to peer back through the corner of her eye. I didn't expect her face to be bare, nor did I expect a level of disorienting, soul-bursting beauty that had never occurred to me as possible. What's worse, our .75 seconds of eye contact downloaded a few yottabytes of information, which I instantly parsed as far deeper, richer aliveness than I'd ever imagined this world to be capable of offering. She lived in vibrant technicolor, me in drab black and white.

Simple nuns my ass.

It was nothing as corny as "love at first sight", or spotting a particularly cute chick. This was graduation day, to a level of existence entirely unknown to me in my suburban shopping mall upbringing of foosball and slice pizza. A window had opened to reveal an infinite, enticing landscape and I could never again feel content in the airless little box I'd called a life.

That's what unfolded inside my head during those .75 seconds. Outside, my normally reasonably well-composed face at the time (ABC! Always be closing!) flapped around like a startled flounder. It was my first instance of facial Picasso. I wasn't even composed enough to express "disoriented confusion" or "bashfulness". This was what a face looks one-ninth of the way into forming an expression of bashful confusion. Neurons twitching and muscles lurching. This was what a mouth does as it struggles to form the initial "w" in "WTF".

The Pinnacle of Human Experience effortlessly pivoted her head back to conversation with her friend, and, in the blink of an eye, they turned right onto an adjoining street and vanished into the crowd.

I didn't follow, because I couldn't imagine what I, a mere ant, could possibly say or do to merit the attention of such higher life forms. My opportunity had passed, and my face had just waved around like bonito flakes.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Honey, it's Wonderful

At the height of Chowhound's popularity, my niece asked me to look at the web page she was building for herself. Despite the humungous squeeze I was under - working nine or ten fulltime jobs for Chowhound, unpaid - one doesn't refuse a niece. So I dropped everything and gave it a careful look, shooting her a few pages of suggestions.

There was no response, and none of my suggestions were implemented. I eventually came to realize I'd bungled my line. This had been, I failed to realize, a movie scene, and in that scene, the uncle is supposed to say "Honey, it's wonderful."

I hadn't realized I was playing the role of the blandly adoring uncle. I was living in a slightly more filled-in reality of a nationally-known (at the time) Internet entrepreneur kindly sharing his expertise.

If, god forbid, this posting were to go viral, a majority of commenters would sagely observe that "people don't appreciate criticism!" To most people, everything's a shallow dramatic arc, so one deviates from the standard script at one's peril. Just say your damned line! What sort of nasty prick hands back a mansplained list of criticisms when someone's obviously looking for supportive adoration?

I wouldn't even quarrel with this framing. Hell, I'd have spoken that exact line if you ever sent photos of your flower arrangements, or your new gaming headphones or motorcycle exhaust pipe, or your Ukrainian haiku, or your clog dancing, or your Instagram feed of crowd-sourced photos of pets that happen to be named "Clyde". You'll get some version of "Honey, it's wonderful", because what the hell do I know?

But if your uncle plays with the Knicks and you send him video of your bounce pass, asking what he thinks, and he takes time to write you four pages....well, that seems reasonable to me (or even fantastic good fortune). But framings are like that. Everyone's framing feels sensible. If your thing is to watch yourself starring in a movie in your head, you naturally expect the other characters to speak their correct lines. It's their job!

As with the toddler and the steering wheel, the "I'm-in-a-movie!" perspective - the most popular framing in the rich First world (where there's enough headroom for the optional narcissistic loopback) - ensures nagging unease (the Buddhist's term Duḥkha is usually mistranslated as "suffering", but "unease" is much closer). You really can't control any of it, so an asshole's born every minute as people keep messing up your scenes. Cinematic people recognize the delusion at some level, yet the pretense endures because when results do randomly happen to click into place it feels so darn satisfying ("Fleeting instances of seeming control keep the toddler locked into his fantasy and eager for more").

Lagniappe: this two line computer program is guaranteed to ensure low-friction social ease in this world, and uninterrupted good vibes with minimal effort:
See? This life stuff's not hard!

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Faith Cooking

This took seven minutes to cook, and was a near-10 (on my surprisingly non-ditzy system for rating stuff). Please click to enlarge (as-is, it's a bit too small for full impact).

Sometimes cooking is about restraint and faith rather than technique or effort. A "letting" rather than a "doing". You can pull off a magic trick if you tighly harness your clear-minded, emotionally-engaged sense of taste (i.e. how you like it; how you'd like it to be) to your actions. If you make that connection, you don't need to do much.

Don't think about cooking. Think about eating, and let this framing fuel your myriad micro-decisions. "How will it look and taste?" Keep your attention firmly there, and don't let up for a moment. You can make it exist if you hold close and care enough. It's harder to do with a lamb stew requiring 30 ingredients and 75 steps. But simplicity, like this, is easier. And also harder.
Simplicity is easier because you don't need to worry much. You don't need to divide your attention or sustain your vision through time and travails. You can do the whole thing essentially in one single swoop (no one's ever driven to Boston, but this is a quick drive to the corner store). It's harder because there's no safety net; no complexity to hide behind; no formula to carry you. You are raw; naked; vulnerable. Just you and your decisions, revealing the commitment/faith/love (or lack of same) behind them.
The recipe below is like a joke. As with Von's Magical Cookies, you won't get special results from brutishly following these handful of "duh" steps. There's no magic to be found here, but I already told you the trick. It's up to you to commit.

Bring water to boil, then boil five Trader Joe's Beef Bolognese Ravioli for five minutes.

Slice three compari tomatoes and sautee briefly/lightly/gently in nonstick pan with a handful of baby spinach, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Don't cook it into a mush. Think about how you'd like it to be, and stop cooking the instant that point arrives; like clicking a camera button (remember how I suggested making toast!). The more you apply deep emotional micro-vigilance, the better your cooking - and everything else - will get!

Grate a bit of parmesano into the tomato mixture, still in the pan. Don't make it a Nebraska Sprinkle. Don't stir. Add another couple teaspoons olive oil plus some chili flakes to the mixture. And a tablespoon of cooking water. Stir very slightly. Do very little.

Drain ravioli. Cut each sloppily (I opt for deliberately sloppy - even raggedy - cuts about 75% of the time in my cooking) in half, and toss in a serving bowl with tomato mixture. Don't over-mix. Cease and desist the instant it looks like something you'd kill to eat. I just buried the lede again.


Again: that recipe absolutely won't yield this result. As they say in jazz, learn it, practice it, then forget it. Make it a fluent swoop - a single drive to Boston - never losing track of end result. Align your myriad micro decisions around your vision of how you like it. Not in the big cartoon view ("See how diligent I am!"), but in the micro. Deep into the micro! Take responsibility for your actions! :)

Monday, March 15, 2021

The Life Cycle of Moroccan Lefftovers

I've had more experience with leftovers than you have. The only other statement I can make confidently about me and you is that I've eaten in more restaurants than you have. And the two are not unrelated.

When I was working as a food writer, my fridge was always full of greasy little bags. I was the "Mikey" of the food writing world - the guy they gave impossible, crushing, stupid assignments to. Newsday had me survey restaurants under the 7 train in Queens, and create an overview of all the best Puerto Rican restaurants in NYC. Time Out NY had me track down the best examples in the five boroughs of two dozen cuisines. My first book attempted to find 150 splendid "virgin" restaurants no one had previously written about (I cheated and threw in a few evergreens where conventional wisdom needed adjustment).

When you're fact checking 150 restaurants - or raking through the boroughs for Puerto Rican food - you're not eating every bite. Usually it's a single bite or two, and you bring home the rest. Circumstances forced me to became an accomplished and creative leftover reheater long before I learned to cook. In fact, my cooking could be viewed as an extension of my reheating.

The following shows the life cycle of a few copious foods I had in my fridge for a week. File it under Lefftovers.

Those are two containers of stewed vegetables on the left, three containers of mesmerizingly fluffy and massaged couscous on the right, and a potently concentrated container of short ribs in gravy.
Just for kicks, a kitchen background tour:
  • 1: Big version of my bagel plates
  • 2: Flour for a cracker-making project
  • 3: Semolina (for cracker-making project)
  • 4: Podiatric metatarsal pads
  • 5: Tomatoes "on the vine"
  • 6: Domaine Désiré Petit - Arbois-Pupillin
  • 7: Trader Joe's white grits.
  • 8: Dried flowers to give the place a perky touch
  • 9: Magic mushroom folk sculpture from a hilltop village in Oaxaca
  • 10: Rubbing alcohol
  • 11: Trader Joe's Chili Onion Crunch (my brain's on a permanent loop of believing I've run out. This is like my 73rd jar).
  • 12: Newsylum "Counting the Days" IPA, from historic Newtown CT by John Watson, the former homebrewer I wrote about here (search the page for "beer")
  • 13: Evil Twin "Harlan's Even More Jesus" beer
  • 14: Evil Twin "Even More Jesus" beer
  • 15: Black Diamond Cider "Porter's Pommeau"
  • 16: Trader Joe's "Taste of Vermont" maple syrup assortment
  • 17: Dried fenugreek for cracker-making project
  • 18: Zozirushi "fuzzy logic" rice cooker (has more computer power than Apollo 11. Me and Bob(TM) at one point considered using it to serve Chowhound. Currently inoperable, I'm stumped as to how to proceed).
  • 19: The Tailor of Panama by John le Carré
  • 20: Autographed copy of "Sizzle and Drizzle" by Nancy Birtwhistle
  • 21: Instant Pot. Bought five years ago, never used.
  • 22: Mortar and pestle
  • 23: Rolling pin for the cracker-making project
  • 24: Sample bottles of bourbon from a tasting 6 years ago.
  • 25: Maggi Seasoning ("improves the taste"). Note that this has been moved off my kitchen table since March, 2019.
  • 26: Big bag of spices from Penzey's for the cracker-making project
  • 27: Kayanoya Original Dashi Stock Powder
  • 28: Harry & David Pepper/Onion Relish
  • 29: Harry & David Contry Cranberry Relish
  • 30: Quite possibly the last surviving box of original-recipe Cope's Dried Sweet Corn on the planet
  • 31: Empty bottle of Chimay Anniversary Ale
  • 32: Maker's Mark (no, I'm NOT an alcoholic. Alcoholics don't have this stuff lying around. They drink it all up.)
  • 33: Vast pile of Chinese pu-erh tea
  • 34: Lots of cereal boxes, because I'm a grown-up and can have as much cereal as I want
Here it is in its full plated succulence:

There is a story about how I came to possess this blessed Moroccan wonderment. But I will not share that story today.

So here's the bite-for-bite:

Day two was a clone of Day one. Meat was finished.

Day three, I still had a little couscous and a bunch of vegetables. I broiled some salmon and topped the bowl with chunks of it. One of my nutrition axioms is that there must always be protein:

Day four, I realized I'd fail to properly dredge the vegetable containers, so heavier chunks were disproportionally left over. I served them over soba noodles:

...and topped it with leftover broiled salmon reheated with some onions I sautéd, and sprinkled with chili flakes:

Day five, breakfast. All I had was a precious small container of meat gravy (not vegetable broth). I heated it in a pan with leftover soba noodles, murasaka sweet potato, and chopped pea shoots, then served over an egg white omelet jazzed up with Trader Joe's Italian soffritto seasoning:

Thanks to the legendary Phil Simpson of PMS Graphics for assistance with the kitchen tour.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Everyone's So Nice!

If you help a stuck rabbit or bird, or right an upside-down bug, the animal will dash away, clearly relieved, yet oblivious to the fact that it was helped. It just goes off and resumes its critter activities.

And I keep seeing humans under age 35 do likewise. They'll accept/absorb help with relief and go do their thing, scarcely looking back. They may or may not utter a "thanks"-related statement, but if they do, it's strictly pro forma. Their inner narrative, if I grok correctly, is this:
"Another door opened!"
I imagine that's what a released raccoon thinks - or would if it were more articulate.

Understand, I'm not a quid pro quo guy. I don't need favors returned or gratitude showered. So I'm actually ok with this, and my message here isn't "the youth today are so ungrateful!" I don't expect squirrels to present me with acorns for being of service, and same for people. It's just strange to see humans become so narcissistic that help gets absorbed as entitlement.

It's always smiley, however. That's the evolution (in the 70s, only extreme hippies were smiley; the rest expressed positivity by not punching you in the face). These days, people fancy themselves on a journey, and doors appear to magically open before them. Everyone's so nice!

The problem is that the helpers, themselves, likely haven't experienced life this way; i.e. with a solicitous safety net. In fact, its their scarring and trauma that spur them to help in the first place. And it's odd to find oneself lumped into a faceless crowd devoted to the elevation of some random somebody. "Go, Riley," I guess.

I struggle to empathize with the framing. But I do understand its roots, having seen it coming years ago. Major shifts in parenting style in the 90s left an entire generation with the enduring conviction that they're superheroes - the best little boys and girls in the world.

My mom called me that a couple times, but she wasn't super-convincing, and I certainly never believed it.

Friday, March 12, 2021

The Ups and Downs of Authenticity

I have a number of friends who send only "formal" emails.
"Hello there, Jim! I trust the pandemic has..."
...blah blah blah. It's like they put on their TV announcer voice and do the thing. They're not actually communicating, it's communicative gesturing. They watch themselves, in the mirrors of their minds, corresponding. Authenticity is hard for many people. They're starring in movies in their head.

I generally shake off such niceties, though I try to be good-natured about it. When my exasperation is noticed, people always attribute it to some issue with the particular form. "The Pandemic" must be a touchy subject for me. I must prefer another formal template! But, no. The template itself is the problem. Drop the stiltedness and just be real. Talk to me! Don't announce at me! Let's not play out a canned scene, sharing wry observations and maintaining "connection" so we can feel duly correspondy. I don't like to play contrived scenes. Can't we bake fresh?

Alas, such people prefer to receive emails that way, too (every friend has a handbook on style and engagement to be reverse-engineered and diligently followed). If I shoot a quickie note - "Hey, check out this video", or "Don't forget to get vaccinated!" - to a formal communicator, I can sense their frantic effort to recombobulate - to return the communication back onto proper track. "Jim, what a delight to hear from you once again, and thanks ever so much for the video link. Rebecca sends her very best, and I trust the pandemic has..."

But, late-ish in life, I've learned something very important and little-noticed. When such people "get real", you'll very often wish they'd left on the wrapping paper. It's not clean in there. They were doing you a favor. They were right. It's better this way.

Certain segments of our society - and I was one of them for a good long while - foolishly assume that authenticity's always the good stuff. Scrape down to the core, and you'll find nothing but beauty and light.

Nyuh-uh. In many - perhaps most - cases, the core is either an aggrieved needy mess, a savage tasmanian devil, or a sniveling homunculus. Tightly-wrapped people should be revered for performing a public service. It is not in your - or their - best interest for them to come as they are; to speak from the heart; to let it all hang out. Informality, it took me forever to learn, is not always the best course. It's not gems they're hiding (this is also why intuition is overrated).

I've come to appreciate uptightness. In many cases, it's just people keeping their gelatin from squirting and talons from slashing. They are showing that they care.

For one thing, I've come to view Northern Europeans in a very different light. My propensity was always more African/Latin-American. I'm one for exuberant syncopation and unbridled soulfulness. "What it is, baby!", etc etc. But (especially after managing a million people on the Internet) I've learned that bridling has its virtues.

To learn this lesson in a manner that can never be unlearned, check out the notorious/villainized Lars Von Trier film "Antichrist", in which the director kicks you in the head repeatedly to unencumber you of the foolish notion that "opening up and acting from one's deepest and most authentic feelings" is always the best course for everyone. In the film, a wife has been in therapy, where she's taken the credo to heart, and, on a rustic vacation weekend with her very patient, very understanding, very nurturing husband, turns into a fiend, eventually (graphically) severing his penis. And from that point it gets really violent and crazy. It's the longest 108 minutes you ever lived, but you will assuredly get the message.

They say great art changes a person. Most people who view this film change their willingness to ever see another Lars Von Trier movie. My shift was more per the director's intent: even though this represents a worst-case scenario (i.e. hellish savagery isn't always the outcome), I'm way less eager to see everyone acting from their unbridled, uninhibitted, fully authentic core. Thanks, Lars, I get it now.

As a devoted yogi, I know for a fact that our core of cores is, indeed, pure love and light. But what therapy junkies and new-age types naively fail to recognize is that, in most cases, a vast layer of scorching molten mantle lies between crust and core. That, in fact, is the reason people are driven to button themselves up in the first place. So don't unbutton the buttons unless you're prepared to dismantle the mantle.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Gate Hookers

Business Plan Abstract:

Only a slim fraction of returning travelers are greeted at airports. The rest have a mild feeling of inadequacy; of missing out. There's minor resentment at those who are made a fuss over. And this resentment compounds over the years, implanting a mounting sense of deprivation as, trip after trip, one is greeted by complete silence as others are eagerly welcomed.

Gate hookers would be mildly attractive, but mostly just exuberant, professionals who wait for you in the arrivals area, grinning maniacally, waving, and generally expressing delight at your return. For a small extra fee, they could hoist personalized "Welcome Home, _____!" placards (white boards, for easy reuse).

After the ecstatic reception, they'd walk you out to your car (or taxi), asking about your trip. Finally, after reiterating how truly glad they are that you're back home safe and sound, they'd return to terminal to await the next client.

Alternative: limosine guy, with full uniform and commanding presence, holds your name prominently etched on his terribly professional clipboard. British accent: "Nice to see you again, sir, right over here, sir, may I take your bag, sir?" He deposits the bag in your car or taxi and returns to terminal to await his next client.

The counterintuitive - and extra lucrative - element is that none of this has to be deceptive. You needn't pretend that this is YOUR family or YOUR driver. Nah, these are just your gate hookers. There's no stigma (no sex, etc.), so there's no reason this couldn't be an accepted traveler's norm. What kind of dweeb returns home without hiring a gate hooker or two?

Everyone enjoys being greeted upon arrival. Consider the ladies who put leis around your neck when you get to Hawaii (do they still do that?). These are complete strangers, yet everyone just loves it.

And the service could be priced super-affordably. In the future, no one will go un-greeted! Since each encounter would require only a few moments of work, a skilled gate hooker could squeeze in dozens of clients per day. $20 should easily do it, making it easy to hire multiple gate hookers for extra conviviality. Businessmen and other frequent travelers would develop chummy familiarity with their gate hooker, making the experience that much more satisfying.

Monday, March 8, 2021

CDC Guidelines for Vaccinated Persons

Media is reporting the CDCs nerdy, wordy guidelines re: what vaccinated people can do. As expressed, it seems meager. The loonies will have a field day, saying "Why even bother?"

Here's how the guidelines - or at least the reporting thereof - ought to begin the list of vaccination perks:

Vaccinated Individuals May:

1. Not die a horrendous and solitary death choking on fountains of puss kicked up by their putrified lung tissue.

2. Not risk months of affliction with neurological, cardiological, and other pernicious, little-understood effects of a terrifying pathogen.

3. Not risk killing their neighbors and loved ones.

[And then all the other stuff]....

Human beings can't communicate.

I realize that's an extreme and counterintuitive statement. But at a moment like this, with stakes this high, if the smartest and best-paid of us can't do any better than this (and some goofy trombonist/food critic needs to state the freaking obvious), the jenga tower of human culture is irredeemably flimsy and human beings really can't communicate.

Saturday, March 6, 2021


I recently wrote about how...
Most of my musician friends were scary. I didn't hang out much with the shiny, composed front men. My crowd was the pot-smoking unshaven sidemen; the hardworking, unheralded wise-asses at the back of the stage who made the shiny front man sound good.
I just noticed that Rolling Stone has built an ambitious trove of interviews with some of the most prominent mega-act sidemen, and it's well worth a look. They're calling the series "Unknown Legends", a stupidly condescending title. Just because you're not Paul Macartney-famous doesn't mean you're obscure. All these guys are well-known by any reasonable measure. But whatever.

The best interviews are with drummer Chester Thompson (recounting, among other things, his time with Zappa, and his culture shock as a kid from the projects of Baltimore hanging out with the swanky British gentlemen of Genesis), and with backup singer Dolette McDonald.

Since I was of that tribe (not at the stadium rock level, though a number of my friends and colleagues did pass through that carnival), there were few major revelations. But I did get a big kick out of this quote from Drummer Steve Ferrone describing the time he briefly jammed with George Harrison and Ringo Starr:
Question: As a Beatles fan, playing on songs “Taxman” and “Something” must have been real fun.

Ferrone: Even better! When we were at rehearsals, Ringo showed up and [percussionist] Ray Cooper had a second drum kit. While we’re sitting up there, I said to Ringo, “Do you want to come up and play?” Ringo came and jammed. Basically, I was sitting onstage with two of the Beatles. Whenever I play with another member of the Heartbreakers, you get some kind of idea about what it’s like to play in the Heartbreakers. And so when you’re playing with Ringo and George, there’s this connection that happens between them. It was like, “Oh! I see this now.”
That's the essence of my tribe right there. That's some brute-serious sideman stuff. No romance, image, or "legend" crap, just really digging in and seeing what it's like to actually work with them, musically. I was transported right there by those last two sentences. Picture fully painted. Sorry if you can't fully relate; I suppose this is like plumbers trading war stories of turds that just wouldn't flush.

Dolette McDonald's story of David Byrne insisting that she sing a certain way that she didn't want to made Byrne look pushy and difficult (obviously revenge for the nasty business that had gone down between them years earlier, as she also explained). But from a sideman viewpoint, it's a whole other thing. I completely understand why she eventually bailed from the business and went into hotel management. Sidemen don't say "no". We don't say we can't do it. We make it happen, period. If, as a sideman, you ever feel you've been engaged as an artist to provide your special specific something, you ain't a sideman anymore. Time to go into another line of work (I'm not excoriating McDonald; she seems smart and cool and sings her ass off, and concedes that she was pretty scrambled by all those years on the road).

Extremely unsurprising to me was that virtually all these players started as jazz musicians, and still consider themselves that. The general public figures that's just quirky Charlie Watts. No.

While the world's captivated by the preening rock ‘n’ roll rebels up at the microphone projecting their images and flipping their hair, music is music for the musicians. A player can't possibly get good enough to join these tours and make this money if their motivation is to embody some cinematic bad boy. These guys are pros, and their true love is the music the general public scorns, and which sounds nerdy and corny. They play the stuff you love in order to make a buck, but that's just their meal ticket.

Nearly all the interviews offer the polite, carefully generalized observation that none of these sidemen were fans of any of these groups before they got the gig. It's hilarious if you watch for it (I didn't even have to). The general public doesn't understand that people like me don't feel ecstatic at the prospect of playing a record date with, say, Fleetwood Mac. We step down to that, not up. Though it's nice to actually pay rent for a while.

Indeed, I spent the 80s hanging and playing with young black musicians in Jamaica Queens at night. They were all spending their afternoons in studios creating what later came to be known as hip-hop. But after work, they never spoke about any of that. Nary a word. That's not what played on their Walkmen. They were as devoted as I was to playing bebop with old guys in mildewed lounges.

So if you spent your youth enthralled by, say, Phil Collins while rolling your eyes at the likes of me, joke's on you. The cats bringing your music to life were all from my side of the tracks.

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