Friday, June 18, 2021

My Nemesis

For the first time in like 45 years, the name of my childhood trombone nemesis suddenly flashed into my head. So I googled him, and found that he's still playing, though he moved out of New York in the late 80s. I found his bio online, and its high point is the student band he beat me out for in high school. That band remains, all these years later, the apotheosis of his musical life. If only I could go back in time and inform my 14-year-old self. Or, really, any kid with a nemesis.
I supposed this is the trombone version of the high school football star who spends the rest of his life nursing bygone memories of glory
When I got a little older, and made my way through college and grad school, I came to realize it was all dress rehearsal. My grades, and my teachers' esteem, and which band I got placed in...none of it mattered in the big picture. I was there to get better, not to be King of School (actually, at age 58, come to think of it, I'm still here to get better, not trying to be King of...whatever this is). But in high school, it still mattered. Not making the cut for that student band was a big deal. Maybe my last truly big deal (subsequent denials and failings hurt aplenty, but I recognized other good stuff would happen if I just kept going).

So here's the kicker. After chuckling at the irony of his bio, I found a video, and discovered that he plays really well in the little gigs he's doing out there. Not daunting; not some kind of hotshot; just real good. I like him and respect him. My kind of player.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Fake Sun Tzu Quote

In my list of oft-referenced quotations, I forgot one:

“If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.”
   ~ falsely attributed to Sun Tzu

I don't do revenge. Sometimes I think about it, but I never carry it out.

It's not a matter of morality. And I'm not laying the groundwork for a self-esteem lozenge I can suck to constantly remind myself of what a GOOD PERSON I am. It comes from the recognition that revenge is an indulgent distraction. It's a form of scorekeeping, and I don't keep score, in any way/shape/form, because it's nonsense. In this world, there are no winners. Even an overweight person getting into tiptop shape - the dream of all dreams for a wide swathe of the populace! - will discover that he's only moved laterally, not ascendently. So it's just a matter of losing gracefully...or, better, shifting your perspective to embrace it all as-is, enjoying the ride (ideally while always doing your best, to perhaps help improve the ride for others). Other people's behavior runs along a separate track, so I just keep doing my best (like an ant!) regardless of injuries or obstructions arising from their actions.

But the universe seems to do revenge for me. If I wait long enough.

Of course, everything dies in the long run. And, even before that finality, everyone takes knocks. So, in a sense, I'm just relaxing smugly into the obviously banal. But to me, it's comeuppance. Not quite joyful (I don't cackle delightedly, nor do I passively allow harm come to people I dislike....I'd stave it off if I could). I just enjoy a quiet assurance that they'll get theirs without my lifting a finger. The ultimate refuge of the patiently non-vindictive is in knowing that people are so fantastically good at making themselves miserable that they'll do all the work for you.


How about me? Will I, in the end, "get mine"? I don't think so. Because the perspective that makes me patiently non-vindictive also inhibits me from framing setbacks dramatically. For instance, my primary memories of a weekend in the hospital for scary heart problems were 1. sherbert (hadn't had it since childhood, didn't remember how good it is), 2. strangers sincerely hoping I'd get better and not die, 3. my kindly Indian cardiologist practically swooning from the contact high of my surprising blitheness (the head nurse, figuring I was in denial, wanted to bring in a psychologist, and he assured her it was unnecessary), and 4. a quick side-trip I made on my way home from the hospital, as reported here):
On my way home, with my hospital wristband still dangling, I detoured to see a friend who'd been especially upset about my predicament. I stood outside her office window waving with both arms from the street, exuberantly jumping up and down a few times on the sidewalk (middle-aged men aren't supposed to jump) and saw awed radiant delight dawn on her face.
So, apologies to any detractors out there, vindictive or patient, but I'll never get mine. My frame of perspective makes me bulletproof. This is why I try so hard to laud the benefits of reframing (and to explain how easy it is to recover that dormant, slippery faculty)!

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Hypnotizing the Barber

I finally culled the remains of my once-epic hair. The move was years in the making. Not an easy one, because I'd always been "the guy with the hair," even though that was years ago, before my pate started Gene Wildering.





It was hard to finally let go. I bought a hair clipper in mid-pandemic, and it sat unused on my kitchen table for six months before I took a deep breath and did the deed and sheared the beast.

My reaction, after relieving my scalp of its burden, was complete and utter indifference. Because I don't have to look at me. My eyes face the other way. So I felt exactly the same. How could it be otherwise, unless I told myself stories about it?
The sensation of sameness was the Truth, while cooked-up mental drama about "What This Means", or "How I Present Myself" would have been pure indulgence. Perhaps fun, or perhaps self-pitying, but ultimately unnecessary.

It's like the Christmas Eve I spent bouncing between feeling happy and comfortable, and seeing myself like an on-screen movie character, alone for the holiday, pathetically sad and miserable. It still gobsmacks me that I had such trouble divining the truer of the two perspectives. The one where you're not telling yourself stories about what's happening is reality, while story-telling is inherently indulgent fantasy. I have nothing against indulgent fantasy (aka contrived bullshit). I don't consider it sinful or wrong. Just unnecessary and best suspended if it's not making you happy.

The burning question was: How had I become so deluded that contrived bullshit felt as real as reality? How could I wind up flailing so hard to distinguish obvious truth? To literally come back to my senses? This so rattled me that I felt compelled to figure it all out, which led to whatever it is the Slog has turned out to be (I charted the trajectory here).
To my enormous surprise, I turn out not to be a naturally skillful barber. I looked like a rambunctious three-year-old's crayon drawing. So I let the chopped salad grow out a bit, and finally headed to a barbershop, where I asked the barber to keep it all super short, and mostly just clean up my atrocities. He laughed politely, and asked me how much FADE I want.

I said not much. Nothing ostentatious. I don't want to look like I'm trying hard. If a "10" were a Hummer-driving mid-level coke dealer, and a "1" were Homer Simpson, make me like a "3".

Silence.

The barber had fallen into a hypnotized trance (if I'd urged him to cluck like a chicken, he'd surely have done so). Why? Because I'd said something no one had previously said to him, and barbers are in a groove of doing the usual things to the usual people making the usual requests. Then in walks this lunatic, and just the mere phrase "Hummer-driving mid-level coke dealer", much less the whole unorthodox - however expressive - manner of explaining my desires, was so utterly outside the bounds of his constricted and comfortable slice of the universe that everything stopped cold for a moment. He'd been disrupted.

Realizing I was not going to be getting his best work, I begged off, saying an emergency had come up. And next time I'll try hard to state my request in the affably muddled manner to which barbers are accustomed. Because not only is everyone (including, of course, me) "a foggy incompetent heedless feckless dweeb," per my paraphrase of Matt Groening's brilliant insight in my previous posting, but the world counts on it. Runs on it. 

If you work on a chain link fencing assembly line and thoughtfully add your link in novel and delightful ways, you will disrupt the process. You must not make people stop and think in this life, prompting them to respond freshly and spontaneously. Your extra effort is not only wasted, it's counterproductive.

Really, the world hasn't been failing me; I've been failing it. Creativity does not pay. Surprising behavior, alas, breaks things.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Hispanic Day Laborers are like Amazon Web Services

Contractors are overpaid for the same reason CTOs are. They, and they alone, have the magic formula for wielding the tremendously useful and economical - but essentially non-user-configurable - back-end toolset.

If you have reasonable tech competency and spend an afternoon or four trying to get an image up and onto Amazon web services so it appears when its URL gets called by a web browser, you will inevitably be reduced to tears, even though that's precisely what Amazon web services is built to do....and does it beautifully well and ridiculously inexpensively, if you can actually make it happen.

Same thing trying to get a talented, diligent Ecuadoran carpenter into your house to install a tile or cut a beam.




I speak Spanish, too! And lots of these guys are my friends. But I swear on my children's health, it was easier to build and run Chowhound while penniless than it's been to get my bathroom done by going directly to day laborers (who are great and friendly and hard working and honest and diligent). It just can't be done.

And the funny thing is that all those guys aspire to being contractors. They look at their fat-cat contractor overlords driving around in expensive pickup trucks and doing no work at all, and figure "I can do that!" But if they had the organizational skills and administrative clarity to schedule, plan, and answer questions in an organized and timely fashion, they never would have dropped out of high school, and never would have become day laborers. They're day laborers precisely because they hate needing to clearly answer questions and plan and schedule and be organized and think about anything beyond where to hammer the next nail.

Same, to a lesser degree, for American-born tradesmen. If they had a flair for clear-headed linearity and timely on-point communication, they'd be friggin' lawyers or whatever. And, to pull back the camera and behold the nauseating ultimate futility of it all, those fancy contractors aren't all that great at it, either. They're just slightly more coherent hammerers. And, truth be told, even the lawyers are usually pretty messed up.

"The Simpsons" was incredibly incisive social satire. Chowhound Matt Groening had one brilliant flash of insight: pretty much everyone's a foggy incompetent heedless feckless dweeb. So do not redo your bathroom, ever.

And don't imagine for a moment that your own stupidity doesn't contribute amply to the shitstorm. It's insane of you to imagine that people will do better by you than they do for themselves. If your laborer, or contractor, or lawyer were capable of shaking off the malaise and elevating into clear-headed 100% smart responsiveness, that would be immensely more helpful to them than to you.


Friday, June 11, 2021

Friday in the Park with Jim

Crescendo


Green Beard


Cool blue moths!


When you’re walking around a beautiful place with an urge to capture it in photographs, and you sternly remind yourself it’s OK to simply be there without needing to incessantly document, then, and only then, is when good photographs seem to happen.
Note: I'm not sure these are good photographs. I suspect they're merely pretty (the very thing I object to below). But I'll continue riffing, even if I haven't offered fitting examples.
The creative urge requires friction. If you freely indulge a photographic urge, for example, you're doomed to produce postcard shots. Art needs something to grind against. That's why actors insist they perform best with a little stage fright.

Why postcard shots are a bad thing (at least if you aspire to be creative):
The Wellspring of Great Results
The Crux of Creativity
The Times Everything Worked Out

There needs to be a process of reflection before you press the button or play the note or write the word. The subject must be processed for the output to acquire some all-important skew. To produce a shot that’s not merely lovely but interesting and capable of inducing a shift in the viewer, it must pass through your perceptual digestive system (note: I do NOT mean you should "think about it". For best results, leave cognition out!). This consideration imparts all the power. Viewers might glean a spidey sense of the artist's perspective, and perhaps briefly experience a sympathetic shift. Skew, deftly applied, is highly contagious.

When we talk about the "touch" of a chef or a painter or other artist, that's what we mean. We project it as existing within the meatloaf, but it's our very perspective that's touched by touch. The meatloaf is the medium (take that, Marshall McLuhan).

The thing is, it's hard to tell the difference. A flatly pretty postcard shot doesn't look so different, at a glance, from a more interesting shot with skew - with personality and touch that can induce viewers to reframe. If the slippery quality were squarely discernible, we’d be living in a completely different world.

Here in this world, most people overlook touch and skew most of the time. We even skoff at those who claim to be affected by this mysterious, hard-to-pin-down quality. They seem kooky. For many of us, Jackson Pollock‘s work is indistinguishable from random paint splatters. When you're less sensitive to touch - because it's not something you're interested in, or pay attention to - you become less susceptible to having your perspective shifted. Hold fast enough for long enough and you'll find yourself living in a purely material world sans subtext and subtlety, where abstract art is just spatters and meatloaf's just meatloaf (unless there's some obvious wrinkle, e.g. truffle oil...which, by the way, pretty much accounts for the existence of truffle oil).

As weeks go by, I find myself growing more sympathetic to the commentor beneath this posting who was exasperated by the notion that a few unremarkable - even hackneyed - words spoken to a friend in duress might have swung him into a different trajectory. I should have respected the skepticism, even thought I'm certain it's wrong, and that unimpressive-seeming snatches of word or action, wielded with great sensitivity and flawless timing and deliberate inflection, really do have the potential to shift someone's perspective, much as we can be shifted (aka "inspired", "transported", "elevated", etc.) by more conventional forms of art. I've seen it happen many times, from both sides of the fence. But I mustn't lose touch with the fact that, being inherently slippery and implicit - forever relegated to peripheral vision - the very idea of it parses to many as delusional.

Art is any human creation devised to induce a reframing of perspective, and it can be subtle to the point of invisibility without losing its power to coax a shift. This represents the fulfillment of my Nano-Aesthetics rallying cry, and the ultimate goal of Devas, who aim to maximize their helpfulness while minimizing the part they apparently play.


It also gets me a notch closer to accounting for the mysterious ju-ju of Paleolithic cave art.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

LEFFTOVERS: Korean Ecuadoran Salvadoran Breakfast Sampler

Nothing particularly creative here, but the combo was interesting. All were patiently heated in a very lightly oiled nonstick skillet (I did the omelet in a second pass).

Let's spin the clock:

12:00: Leftover riguas, which are the nth Salvadoran iteration of corn, with a modest vein of beany mash. This item is surprisingly widely available - in any supermarket with a decent Latino/Hispanic (here's the diff) refrigerated section for, say, cheeses and such. It's pretty commercial-tasting, but makes a fun variety carb to add to a leftover meal and break up monotony.

2:00: Leftover kimbap from the wonderful Doorebak (aka "Hi, Cook Catering") in the Closter cluster. I was always taught that when kimbap (vaguely sushi-looking rolls, can be stuffed with anything but raw fish, which would make it actual sushi) loses its of blush of freshness, you pan sautee it.

6:00: Egg white omelet with leftover broccolini (I do not eat protein-less meals, and you shouldn't, either).

9:00: The Ecuadoran ají (hot sauce) that shows up in my cooking or on my plate more often than not.

11:00: Korean jun ("pancakes"), again from Doorebak (aka "Hi, Cook Catering"), made with, as close as I was able to determine, penguin meat (see previous link).

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Quotations

These aren't necessarily the "best" quotations, whatever that would mean. Just the ones I most often reach for.


"One must imagine Sisyphus happy."
   ~ Albert Camus

"Enlightenment is absolute cooperation with the inevitable."
   ~ Anthony de Mello

"What we are looking for is what is looking."
   ~ St. Francis of Assisi

"It's better to see God in everything than to try to figure it out."
   ~ Neem Karoli Baba

"Develop a scope of mind that is like the sky, which has no limit to the east, west, north, or south."
   ~ Shri Singha

"Imagine a dreamer saying, ‘May all these dream people wake up before I do.’"
   ~ Ramana Maharshi's reaction to the notion of Bodhisattvas

"God-consciousness is not sublimated sexuality; sexuality is repressed God-consciousness."
   ~ Ken Wilbur

"Duality Is embedded into brains, taught and retaught. Quiet the concept and see that suffering is also only embedded into brains. telling heart how to feel. Hush your thoughts to control emotional reaction to such ideas and allow feelings of love for the potentials of all, as well as the experiencing of here and now. Heart is unfolding. Focus with this. You are Not an endpoint, nor were you the beginning. only the continuation of seeing-knowing, leading mind to reward for discipline in acknowledging, pursuing only what truly resonates with heart. Finding peace in the quiet of acceptance of the moment."
   ~ Random Web Comment

"I'm not looking at silence anymore, I'm looking from it."
   ~ ????


Here are some terse pull-quotes from Slog postings (mostly not as metaphysical as the above).

Thursday, June 3, 2021

The Closter Cluster

Exploring the gastronomic wonders of Closter, NJ, a mere ten miles south of the Tappan Zee Bridge.
I dug Mario Cuomo ok, but will never give Andrew Cuomo - who changed the bridge name in the ultimate Uday Hussein move - the satisfaction, and neither, apparently, will Wikipedia.
I just can't do long eating surveys. Can't. I did way too many as a freelance writer, then the Chow Tour I was assigned by the company which bought my web site damn near killed me (here is the result, if you're curious).

I've had like 17 of these on hold, including delirious runs in places like Singapore ($435 r/t thanks to TheFlightDeal.com) but they're not gonna happen. Too much PTSD. But I'll try to grind this one through via blithe sloppiness. First draft, very rough, sorry I didn't finely masticate the worms and guide them down your expectant throat. This is all you get.

I used to fantasize about staying a couple weeks in Worcestor/Framingham, MA, which boasted great Brazilian, Tamil, Sichuan, and also my favorite diner. I haven't been back in a while, but few of my standbys remain standing. Now it's all about Closter, NJ. There is a cluster in Closter - The Closter Cluster - and it is one for the ages.

First of all, understand that Closter is one of the north Jersey towns that's gone Korean. Nobody writes about this (did someone proclaim it "racist" to point it out?), but it's A Thing, and it's GREAT. Closter used to be like 50% vibrant Korean eateries and 50% clutching, stubborn, fading generic Jersey American/Italian/etc places, but the latter have dissolved and been replaced by either more Korean or else seriously artisanal miscellany, side hustling vistors to the Korean wonderment and delighting resident Koreans, with their smart, demanding, versatile palates.

Enough damn intro. Oh, and I shot only a few random photos. Because I don't love you anymore.



Doorebak (aka "Hi, Cook Catering") is the pinnacle of Korean grandma storefront cooking, exactly what every chowhound quests for. Real home cooking, lots of love, good price, nice lady (she learns about one word of English every two years. This year, she seems to have acquired "potato", which, to me, makes her fluent).

Great jun (pancakes) of various type. I scored some kimchi fried rice, some scorched rice, some jun of a flavor she tried to pantomime via penguin movements (I asked "Penguin?" and she frowned and considered, but did not think that was it). Also some sweets. It's just perfect. The perfect store. You want this. Takeout only, even pandemic aside. She somehow anticipated all this.

You'll understand better if you scan the yelp photos at above link (Yelp is not at all useful for tips or ratings. It is useful purely for its photos, which enable chowhoundish triage without burning gasoline).



The Fish Dock is, as you surely guessed, yet another Icelandic fish shop. Their fish is flown directly from over there. So if there's a storm in Iceland, they won't have any (read details here). I bought cod cheeks, which you just never ever see around here, marinated in black garlic. Also crab cakes. The whole scenario sounds expensive, but nope. $4.25 for each crab cake, and like $11 for three big fat cheeks. Nice Icelandic lady with white eyelashes and scary tattoos gave me helpful cooking tips. They will hopefully return to making fish and chips on Thursdays once the virus thing chills out a little more.



OH MY GOD NO WAY THERE'S A KOREAN WALNUT PASTRY PLACE. Had these once ages ago in Toronto, never found them again. Cocohodo does not have the customer volume to continually be making them fresh, so they're good-not-great, but they're frickin' Korean walnut pastries, a serious holy grail. I think the trick is to find out exactly when they prepare them and show up then. Though actually these might be the sucker order, as they're more famous for their taiyaki, which are hot and made to order. Taiyaki are filled waffle fish. Search through Yelp photos (link above) to get their vibe.

I also got "Grain" latte, which was whoozy-makingly great. It's made from Korean "misu", a powder combination of 7-10 grains which turns up in myriad contexts in Korean cooking (much like, for that matter, "miso"). I like this lady's description, though she's writing about a place of the same name in California which I'm pretty sure is not related so I'm totally confused, yet her description fits:
It's made with a combination of seven to 10 grains such as brown rice, barley, black beans and sesame seeds, the drink was a healthier choice from the menu. It had a frothy layer that created a thick, creamy texture. The warm latte had plenty of nutty undertones that paired perfectly with the walnut pastries. This drink is great for those looking for non-caffeinated, healthy options.
"Healthy", sure. It's so creamy and sweet, it's surely about 800 calories. But WORTH IT. Great people. Happy place. They know they're bad mo-fos. They run a walnut pastry place. God.

They also make this inexplicable item:
Occasionally Korean stuff can leave me utterly kerfuffled, like Archie Bunker irately demanding a turkey club. But let's persist, because this place is such a point of light that we need to take them seriously and not disrespect their blatant trend mongering.

Dalgona coffee, aka "quarantine coffee" has become popular during COVID. You make it by...
whipping equal parts instant coffee powder, sugar, and hot water until it becomes creamy and then adding it to cold or hot milk. Occasionally, it is topped with coffee powder, cocoa, crumbled biscuits, or honey
And because Korean food is considered by young Korean hipsters to be modular (sort of like Chinese cuisine is for iconoclastic Hong Kong kids), they're turning it into a whole thing, with boba and everything. Hey, I'm sure it's tasty as 좆까. Especially with a turkey club. See what I did there? That was a "call-back". Lends a zingy professional food-writing flavor. Damn, I'm good.



I've been going to Farm Cafe (formerly "Demarest Homestead" or something like that) for 20 years. It's this weird little farm stand run by a very nice lady who's addicted to having the absolute bejesus scared out of her by Fox News, and she assumes all customers share her indignation (this time she was grumbling about "Kids wearing masks! Can you believe it???"). I feel badly for her, she deserves happiness, seeing as how her task in life is to serve all of us reasonably priced burnt chocolate chip cookies. Here, I'm eating one now:
Also delightful pies, chicken pot pies, soups, muffins, lemon cake, stuff like that. Very fresh eggs. Some stuff is underpriced, some overpriced, I don't think she totally understands retail. She makes panini and other pizazz-sounding things, all delicious but wrong, like she saw panini in a movie once and tried to recreate it.

Your best move here is to over-order. Impulse buy whatever strikes you. Freeze what you don't eat. You'll be glad. But don't expect anything to be better than the burned chocolate chip cookies.

All the other places in this report are in a tight cluster (the Closter Cluster) but this one, appropriately, is on the fringe. Oh, and definitely not Korean. Like, at all.



Isabella's Fine Foods & Catering makes exotically non-Korean artisanal sandwiches, and is run by friendly, solicitous non-Koreans who seem to really care. I had meatball parm, which was pure Jersey (fine grained meatball with ample filler, black peppery tomato paste-heavy sauce) but on awesome bread and with a winning personality. The Platonic Form of shitty Jersey meatball parm sandwiches.

Sorry, this is happening all over right now as rusty food writers remember too late to take the fucking shot.


Their most popular item is something called a French Kiss (roast beef, french brie cheese and carmelized onions with horseradish mayo). Not really my jam, but it's supposed to be great.



Deja vu. La Tabatiere is another in a long line of pretentious Korean French-wannabe coffee shop/bakeries with a pretentiously small and concentrated selection of individually wrapped and fetishized yet oddly banal-seeming baked items. But my god. I got a "blueberry danish", particularly fetishy and track lit and expensive, and it tasted like it was made in a French country oven in 1881. That is not the accustomed outcome with fetishized Korean-French banalities.

You know how some Americans or Europeans go totally Japanese or Korean, cooking (or whatever) more authentically, staunchly, dogmatically classically Asian than any actual living Asian ever would do? That's how some Japanese and Korean bakers approach French baking: with a convert's meticulous zeal. So suddenly I'm in a Godard film, munching elegant baked goods in black and white, within stroking range of Catherine Deneuve's shimmering wavy hair. Welcome to Closter.

The "blueberry" in the blueberry danish isn't Acme jam smeared between layers of puff pastry. It's perfectly fresh, unblemished, fat, juicy glorious fruit, macerated via some deep and archaic technique, making this more of a tart than a danish (though, again, it's on puff pastry), blasting more beautiful butter flavor (imported, surely) than any shlub like me is used to - or deserving of.

I also bought soy bread, which I don't really understand. I asked whether I needed to warm it, and counter chick spoke the four most irritating words that can be uttered in such a scenario: "It's up to you!"

I feel so empowered!



I didn't try it but very much liked the looks of ma mi, a homey little Vietnamese joint. Now that I'm home and looking online, holy crap do their Yelp photos look great (yet again, via link above). I am very fond of absolutely everything about their menu.




I'm figuring a Korean restaurant can't possibly be bad here in the Cluster. But I've been fooled before, when it turns out that a dominant immigrant population cooks their own stuff at home and doesn't require restaurants. The local Koreans are probably going out for Icelandic fish and meatball parm sandwiches, so Tao Haus may be purely for tourists. Idunno. Menu looks good, vibe looks good, Yelp photos (see link) look good.



Zendiggi Kebab House is Persian, with much yelp love. I feel like I've tried it once before, but Chowzheimer's affects the best of us. But, anyway, I was pondering the question "what does Closter lack?" And Persian was the first thing I came up with. After "Icelandic fish store". Call-back.

But, seriously, it may be a very VERY smart move on the proprietor's part, given Koreans' love for non-Korean barbecue meat restaurants to break up their bulgogi monotony (this is why Koreans own many of this country's Brazilian churrasco-rodizios). It's just so exotic and titillating to NOT wrap your meat in lettuce, y'know?

Here's the menu (which, oops, I touched; go ahead and queue up jokes about Elvin prison):




The following are not clustered in Closter....but close to.

I haven't been, but got a tip from a real live Moroccan (the person who cooked this glory) that Mazagan Restaurant, a Moroccan place down beneath the cliffs in the weird hamlet of Piermont, is terrific, albeit pricey. As always with Moroccan restaurants, there is some anachronistic Middle Eastern stuff on the menu, because Moroccans know how to accept - and monetize - condescending ignorance from outsiders. That might have sounded harsh. Did that sound harsh? Wasn't trying to be harsh.

Roost is a cool-looking spot in the impossibly idyllic village (looks like "Willoughby" from the old Twilight Zone") of Sparkill, just north of Closter, so not quite of the cluster. I haven't been here, but get a good vibe (and, for those not aware, my chow-dar seldom fails).

Noble Cafe is a cool coffee shop also in Sparkill with good baked goods. Not Catherine-Deneuve's-wavy-hair good, but good.


I dream of booking an airbnb in Closter and soaking in local culture for a few days. But higher priority right now is Providence, RI, which has tons of Cambodian and Laotian, both rare cuisines (I don't think there've been more than five Cambodian places in NYC in the past 30 years). That's the golden destination right now. Also Mali. But for now can anyone direct me to a TURKEY CLUB???

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Four Incredibly Great Obscure TV Shows

Many tens of billions of dollars are spent annually on TV content creation right now. It's insane. But, per Sturgeon's law, 90% of it is crap.

Of the remaining 10%, even with all this expenditure, and even though we're in a zeitgeist - the golden age of "Peak TV" - you still must search far and wide for devastating greatness. And, when you find it, you will inevitably discover that only a few thousand others are watching. Or even noticing. Because there's so much TV that, as with restaurants circa 1997, gleaming gems are neglected amid the vast field of contenders. Cream, alas, does not always float.

In 2016 I offered a survey of recent TV series divided into four buckets:
  • You'll Never Be Whole Until You View
  • Excellent; Well Worth Watching
  • Acquired Pleasures
  • Bitter Disappointment
Back then, the three series I filed under "You'll Never Be Whole Until You View" were "The Leftovers" (HBO), "Fargo" (free on Hulu, but well worth buying), and "Rectify"(season 1 free on Amazon Prime Video; the rest you've got to buy, and it's well worth it). Since then, I'd add "Atlanta".

I've been pointing out fresh treasure via the "Television" tag/label (view all such postings in reverse chronological order). But let me now lop four huge fish onto your deck for consideration in the YNBWUYV category. All are fairly recent (one's still unfolding), and you've probably never heard of any of them. Critics mostly ignored them, nobody watched them, and even social media like Reddit gathered only a few lonely fans to discuss them. But you'll never be whole until you view them. These treasures have been lost amid a torrent of TV content, none of it nearly as good.

I mostly won't tell you what they're about, because....well, I'll explain via italicized riff:
I'd make a terrible movie/tv critic, because there's nothing I'd less rather do than recap a storyline. Not out of spoiler concern, but because it's so beside the point. "That sounds like the sort of story I'd like to watch!" presupposes you're in it for genre - the most superficial level. Who does that now?

When I was five, I Iiked cowboy stories. Now that I've grown up (kinda), I like stories that are well-crafted, shot, acted, and directed, which draw me viscerally into a world, respect my intelligence, and leave me with a shifted perspective. I couldn't care less if they're cowboys or astronauts or if they're hunting for a murderer or a diagnosis or a super robot or a big pile of dope. I'm not looking for iterations of stuff I previously liked. In fact, I'd prefer a great iteration of something I previously didn't like (I recently wrote a whole post on the sublime pleasure of a great version of a disliked thing).
These all transcend genre, so I won't describe the genre. They're about what happens "along the way" rather than about the overarching story, so I won't tell you the overarching story (aside from a grudging effort re: "Patriot", the first one below). I'll mostly just rave like a lunatic and hope you trust my taste; that I won't send you to watch dumb crap. Ok, here goes.

Patriot

"Patriot" (free on Amazon Prime Video) was created by Steven Conrad, my new hero. I'll flock to anything he does. As I noted back in March, before I'd reached the latter half of season 1, where it shifts into high gear, this show is uniquely quirky and bursting with thoughtfulness and small subtle touches and rich imagination and creativity and laughs even though it's a dark show about a spy pushed way (no, way) beyond all limits by his handler...who's his dad.

Before the tale of mayhem and mishap (theme: intelligence services are just as messed up and poorly-run as other government functions) even gets going, this decent, competent, devoted, patriotic guy, trying to live up to his dad and country's impossible demands, wound up, due to a blunder by the incompetent hacks he works for, in an Iranian dungeon, subjected to personality-erasing "white torture", cooped up in a tiny cage with bright lights and "American Pie" blasted at top volume 24 hrs/day for months. Coming right out of that horror, he's sent, foggily, into the travail of unimaginable aggravation and futility that is this show.

He does his best, which is actually impressive. The poor shmoe is so devoted, and so well-trained, that he just keeps going and going, long past any point of wondering why. And the people he meets along the way - mostly in his cover as a consultant for a midwest piping firm run by the pompous jargon-spitting poobah of American piping - eventually form a family-like band of support, which makes zero sense explained like this, but I'll be damned if Conrad doesn't sell it as near-realism. Oh, and his sole outlet is to sing hilariously earnest original folk songs at open mic nights about the necks he's been forced to slit, etc. He’s even got a small following.

Perpetual Grace, LTD

With Patriot cancelled after two seasons due to a profound lack of interest from viewers or critics, Conrad went on to create "Perpetual Grace, LTD" (you have to pay for it via Apple or Amazon) with the same actors (in different roles and different genre), salted with inside jokes and plot references from "Patriot" which are offered as generous easter eggs for the 35 souls who've stuck with. And this one adds BEN FUCKING KINGSLEY, who is magnificent.

Perpetual Grace, LTD is even better than Patriot, and was even less successful, cancelled after its first splendid year. Oh well. Next from Conrad: "Ultra City Smiths", due to premiere any moment now on AMC. One day everyone will claim to have followed Steven Conrad all along. Get in now (remember, I told you about Breaking Bad in 2009 when no one had heard of it)!

Oh, and if you do watch Patriot and Perpetual Grace, LTD, before showering me with tearful thanks and homemade brownies, also check out Steven Conrad's ultimate futility, a podcast devoted to fake impenetrable piping jargon (plus some stories that presumably would have occupied Patriot's non-existent third season) hosted by the fictional - though perhaps not to Conrad anymore - grandfather of American piping, Leslie Claret. I may be the only listener. I'm not kidding.

Get Shorty

"Get Shorty" (free on Amazon Prime Video) has nothing to do with the movie, aside from the broad arc of mob muscle finding himself suddenly in the filmmaking business...and finding he's good at it because it uses the same skillset.

Which is trite. However not one episode - not one moment - is the least bit trite. My eyes grew lazy from non-rolling. The show consumes more plot per hour than you'd have imagined possible, yet it's all both swallowable and surprising, quite a feat. No predictability and precious few false turns. You'll watch as toddlers do, perpetually surprised and delighted. Not because you're too young to spot the tropes and bullshit, but because the writers are geniuses from a higher plane of existence, and they never wink at you (sole exception: notice the final shot of each season). They never drop the ball or cut corners or call attention to their own cleverness, so you just watch and grin and love it in a buttery cocoon with hardly any loose strings, clumsy contrivances, plot holes, suspensions of disbelief, or pacing hiccups to interrupt your immersive fiction injection.

On top of that, there are some microdots of tremendous subtlety. The show functions as a well-shot, well-written, well-acted ripping yarn, ala "Justified", but, if you look deeper, there's depth and subtlety, snuck in for those few who feast on nuance.

Also, oh yeah, just in passing, the cinematography is astonishing. And did I mention that Alan Arkin's son, Adam, arguably the greatest current TV director, directs many of the episodes? Of course it was cancelled after three seasons (2-1/2, really).

Mr. In-Between

"Mr In-Between" (free on Hulu. Amazon has the first two seasons - the third season, currently playing, is spectacular, and you can record it - and catch up on demand - if you get FX channel. Remember, though, that Hulu has a 30 day trial period, and this show, alone, is well worth paying for a couple months @$6-$12) is one I've written about before (see below), and it's improbably as good as the three gigantic monsters of creative excellence above. This humble no-budget Australian show is about thug Ray (essentially the Aussie version of the guy in Get Shorty), played by series creator/writer Scott Ryan who nobody had previously heard of and who has risen to the occasion and then some.

Ray is a 3-D person with a family and an inner life, not painted as a monster (though Jesus F Christ does he ever do monstrous things), but just a bloke trying to make a buck with the skills he has. It's crime as job, totally unglamorized. But, as with any job, you need skills and smarts to do it well. Watching Ray skillfully do his thing, you see neither an omniscient cackling psychopath nor a tormented soul desperate to exit The Life. He's just a bloke trying to pay bills, and every moment feels probable. For the first time since the novels of Donald Westlake, you feel like the writers themselves are petty criminals, revealing what it's really like.

The third season just started and it's fantastic so far, though I hope Ryan doesn't start Hawkeye-ing his character too much.

Here's what I wrote after last year's second season finale:
People aren't cartoons. People can be lots of things at the same time. The guards at Auschwitz went home every night to their families, and some were surely loving and lovely spouses and parents. The Sopranos felt fresh because never before had we seen villains as just people. But even the Sopranos was light brushstrokes and heightened drama and a bit broad. Show biz. So the creator/star of Mr. Inbetween tried to go all the way and produced a dead-realistic, thoughtful, non-judgmental portrait of a hit man who's a real human being (and great dad) who - like all of us - isn't entirely defined by his day job. It's not some cheap manipulative play of making us like/dislike the guy. And, no, he's not "trying to get out", because he's good at it. The whole thing is subtly superb and hugely entertaining. I can't recommend it enough.


Lagniappe

There's another show (this one vastly better known) that is, impossibly, even better than these four. It's the only TV show ever that I'd describe as "Shakespearian," a word I normally avoid. In this case, the Bard himself would watch squeezing his head in his hands, giggling excitedly about the cleverness, the keen insight, and the language subtlety. "Succession", on HBO, is due back for its third season late this year, and I can't wait. If you haven't seen it, run, don't walk. If you have seen it, watch it again. I'm now on my third rewatch, and finding tons of delicious nuggets I'd previously missed. Succession is so dense (yet easily watchable) and subtle that you could mine it for years. It's an Everlasting Gobstopper.


It's a great time to watch TV. I've enjoyed the hell out of this pandemic. But, like with food in the 90's, you do need to mine for grandeur and eschew the shinier options. It takes work! Be careful out there!

Monday, May 31, 2021

Highly Imitative Aliens

If you go to Barcelona, one in three local women will strongly remind you of a female character from a Pedro Almodovar film. But it's not that Almodovar brilliantly portrayed the culture. It's the other way around. They act that way because they've all watched Almodovar films.



It's frequently been observed that mobsters since the 1970s have taken inspiration from the Godfather (and, later, The Sopranos) for their notions of gangster style and attitude.



There are a few dozen clone lines in any society, no more. People are types, which is adaptive behavior because it lubricates social interaction. When you meet a brassy lady with a gravelly voice and energetic good humor, you feel that you know that person. Love her or hate her, you can deal with her comfortably due to long experience with her clone line. Same for the aloofly ponderous academic. Or the BAD BOY. No one's born as these things. The personas are adopted via modeling, these days mostly via movie and TV actors. In the old days, one modeled the persona of a family member or another local "role models" (turn that phrase around in your mind for a moment!).

We really commit to the role. A person never feels more expressively uniquely himself than when he's being most flagrantly clone-ish. That's exactly how the millions driving VW bugs or listening to "indie rock" manage to feel fiercely nonconformist. ("Hey, I'm a free-thinking type! One of those!")



There was a Star Trek episode where a starship had accidentally left a book about 1920's gangland Chicago behind on a planet populated by particularly imitative aliens. When the Enterprise visited, everyone acted like gangsters and spoke with thick Chicago accents.

We are that planet.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Misery

"We inhabit a bright, beautiful planet full of promise and peril, lovingly tailored to our precise specifications. We need the sad and horrible parts. If we don't get enough of them - if we've implemented cheats to override them - we pay to get our fix, and/or brood, worry, and stress our way there. We need all the movies."
      -- "Why God Lets Bad Things Happen"

Most people spend most of their lives making themselves miserable over the prospect of future misery (which only rarely materializes) and the recollection of previous misery (which no longer exists). We can even make ourselves needlessly miserable by recalling the times we made ourselves needlessly miserable over future misery that never materialized!

If misery's so bad, then why are people so endlessly thirsty for it?

In "Grief Survival Kit", I asked
If you're so phenomenally upset about death, that can only mean life is truly amazing. So why ruin so much precious alive time with unnecessary drama? If the departed saw you doing this, they'd slap their foreheads and holler "Stop! That's just crazy! Don't do that!! Especially not in my name!" They'd want you to mourn for a while, and then go out there and kick ass, relishing every moment.
Even real misery - right now, in the present moment - often turns out, in hindsight, to have been unnecessary. Very few of my unrequited crushes were so great. The balloon that floated away was just some balloon. Bad days with good people were good days. The wallets lost and fenders dented didn't matter. Physical pain fades, and that which doesn't becomes easily tolerable once accepted.

All that remains once you've disregarded the flotsam, the drama, the entitlement, and the trumped-up hoo-haw, are an isolated few horrors I could either suck on like lozenges of woe, stoking my misery (to counterbalance moments when I worry I might be feeling inappropriately happy), or else embrace like rich chile heat in the stew of it all.


Further Reading:
"New Cars and Pizza and Needlessly Making Ourselves Miserable"

The Nourishing Song of Autistic Shrieks

A severely autistic kid, who I've never met, lives up the hill from my house. And for several hours per day, he blasts piercing owl-like hoots and shrieks down the hill. The volume is remarkable. When guests visit, they're startled when he launches his latest program. Are aliens invading?

You might think it would be hard to sleep, or write, or think with this as my sonic background, day after day, year after year. But it's not. You may have read my theory that, despite their inability to participate in empathy theater, autistic people are actually more empathic than normal. They're aware, and they care (deeply), but they couldn't imagine displaying the usual performative indicators. They're too busy caring to arrange expression and body english, and utter the clichés, that make people seem caring. The supposed dysfunction of autism amounts to a seemingly opaque condition of utter genuineness. Being caring, they couldn't fathom how to - or why to - seem caring.

So while my neighbors hear disturbing shrieks of haunted dysfunction, I frame it differently. I hear singing; an effort to blanket the hill and all its inhabitants with exactly the sounds this person has decided we require for nourishment. And I trust him.


You might argue that I've simply "gotten used to" the shrieking. And there may be an element of that. But that, too, is a process of reframing. Reframing is the same thing as a shift of perspective, and perspective shifts via placement of attention. Attention is instinctively directed to the unfamiliar, and familiarity accrues with experience. We deprecate needful attention to things which previously have proved themselves harmless and unproductive (attention will always be rivetted by, say, frying onions or angry dogs, despite their familiarity, but the yadda-yadda fades into background). The unfamiliar is gradually reframed into mundanity.

I suspect that my neighbors never get used to it, because they've chosen to associate this sound with anguish rather than benevolence, and chosen to deem it a rude disturbance; a daily torment. Such instilled emotions are destined to be freshly triggered every time, attracting heightened, rather than diminished, attention. We distinguish our frying onions and angry dogs from our fading mundane yadda yadda via engrained patterns of emotional response. We frame internally, though we nuttily imagine that external factors frame us (very short poem, please give a quick read).

So the process of "getting used to" something is just another process of reframing. Our entire experience of the world, in fact, is the culmination of sequential framing shifts (an inner process that we project outward...remember the golden retriever!), mostly instinctual and unconscious, but, per my repeated urgings, also potentially volitional if you're playful enough to flex atrophied muscles. For example, by reframing a shrieking kid as a benevolent protector.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Trust Mah Benevolence!

This happens all the time.

You start to ask someone to PLEASE not say a word of....

....and already they're nodding in assurance, waving you off. Gotcha. 'Nuff said. I won't breathe a word.

"Won't breathe a word of what?" I ask. I haven't actually explained what mustn't be repeated, or to whom. And that strikes me as a rather essential chunk.

Confused and interrupted, the person stares blankly. This isn't how this script is supposed to go.

"I just won't....say a word! About anything! To anyone! Ever!" they think, dopily, knowing better than to speak it out loud. "You want me to not do the bad thing, and I'd never do that! I'm a good thing doer!"

"But having cut me off before I could explain what the thing actually is, how could you possibly oblige?” I ask wordlessly via my perturbed scowl.

"I don't need to hear," they continue, silently, with increasing distress. "I'm virtuous! Whatever it is, I would never in a million years do it! Blanket statement! Total coverage! Don't worry, I'm safe because I'm a GOOD PERSON! You can TRUST ME!"


No, I obviously can't. Good people listen closely, paying careful attention to the request, and let it sink in before agreeing sincerely. People who cut you off before you've even made the request (>75% of people will do this) have no intention of following through. In fact, those are the Bad People (as any writer of quality fiction will tell you, every villain feels righteous). They've clearly marked themselves.

Good people listen up at such moments, because they know they might otherwise go the wrong way. They are good people because they know there's always a choice, and it’s precarious, and they earnestly strive to choose right. Bad people pay scant attention, because their presumption of virtue trumps any need to actually behave virtuously.




Meanwhile, I'm an impolite asshole for taking a PERFECTLY NORMAL exchange and dragging it in a whole other direction, creating friction and discomfort for people being kind enough to take the trouble of signalling their totally totally benign intentions. Signalling benevolence is a precious gift of respect and kinship, and I've rudely ignored this gift, making these people feel bad just when they're taking pains to soothe and placate me with extra-sincere benevolence theater. Shameful behavior!

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Wagon Hitching, Credit Taking, and Reframing

In my posting on Devas, I wrote that I have
...an unusually lithe ability to shift perspective; to reframe. Sometimes I can induce such a shift in others (though I often fail miserably). Oddly, when it works, I'm never recognized as having had anything to do with it. That's how devas roll. When it's clean like that, you're doing it right.
I thought of a relatable example. It will take me a few minutes to work up to it, though. But, to reward your patience, it will include a fix for procrastination. 

Say there's a task someone's procrastinated. Not because they hate the task. It just slipped away from them, launching a vicious circle of shame and aversion. The symptoms are familiar (if you're someone who can watch your mind work): whenever you try to tackle the task, you suddenly get REALLY HUNGRY....or think of someone you need to call...or remember you haven't picked up the mail or marinated the chicken. You have a sudden need to drink a glass of water or lie down because CAN'T YOU GET A GODDAMNED MINUTE OF PEACE AND RELAXATION??? Your brain helpfully fires off a creative blitz of enticements and distractions. That’s how procrastination works.

There is a cure. You simply need to hitch your wagon. I'll explain.

You can't execute an abstract proposition. The reason it's hard to lose weight is because losing weight is an abstract proposition, not a doable thing. Try it! Reader: LOSE WEIGHT! Go!

Nothing, right?

Trying to pursue an abstract proposition makes us a little nutty, prompting shame and confusion rather than pragmatic action. You can persuade yourself (or others) to take a walk, or do a push-up, or eat a healthy egg-white omelet. Those things are eminently do-able, and will eventually, if repeated, lead to weight loss. But a person cannot be persuaded to LOSE WEIGHT, because that's beyond the human ken.

You can take a single step toward a larger process, but it will feel like a measly step, not a grand process. The grander you frame it, the less doable it becomes.

So here's how you hitch your wagon. Identify a single nugget of pragmatic action. Preferably one that's reasonably pleasant, and somewhat intriguing. Start thinking, playfully, about this nugget, just as an isolated thing, without any reference to the over-arching goal. Coax yourself into absorption. And, before you know it, you'll be up and doing it. Just don't let yourself pull back the framing to a painful long view. If you do, look past it. Guide yourself gently but persistently into the finite task at hand. Reframe it, in other words, in close-up, rather than a long shot.

Say someone's procrastinated listing his household clutter on eBay. It's the bane of his existence, but he can't seem to get to it. How could you help? By guiding him away from the monumental storyline (which is enticingly familiar; he's visited it 10,000 times in his head) of pain and futility. Frame him down to one manageable task:
"Is there anything really valuable?

"I have one book that might be worth something!"

"Geez, I wonder what it's worth! Enough for, like, a steak dinner?"

"Let me fish it out of the box and check, just to satisfy my curiosity!"

"I'm curious, too!"

"[Pausing, body suddenly freezing in mid-action] I really need to organize all that stuff. [Scowl, stress, moan]."

"Well, don't sweat that for now. Let's just check price for this book!"

"Ok, ok. Let's see....here it is, and I see on eBay it's worth....$150!"

"Wow! Y'now, if you hit that link "Sell One Like This", your listing publishes instantly!"

"[Freezing again] I wasn't planning to get involved in this big project right now...."

"No, of course not! But if you list this book, you'll break the ice! You'll prove you can do it!”
You creep quietly away, leaving him to it. His wagon's been hitched. Four hours later, he reappears, proudly proclaiming  serious progress.
Nothing momentous was said. It was entirely mundane. I'm assuming lightning bolts didn't shoot from the page as you read that. So, upon reflection, I have to concede that the commentor here made a fair point. If there's no "there" there, what's the difference between powerful slippery guidance and just sayin' some shit? The difference is art, which I define as "any human creation devised to induce a reframing of perspective".

Jackson Pollack's work looks, superficially, like mundane paint splatterings. Great art works on a deep, subconscious level, inducing a shift of perspective (leaving one moved, inspired, transported, etc.), often with little indication at the surface level. And a deva works at the extreme end of the indication curve...ideally to the point of invisibility/cleanness. That's who a deva, ultimately, is. But I digress.
Now here's the question I've been building up to: Would your friend notice what you'd done? Would he call you after this productive afternoon to say anything like the following?
"I want to thank you for the way you shifted my perspective from a painful monumental task into a more manageable finite task, enabling me to finally tackle this project. You ignited my curiosity and I tore through it like a champ! Thank you so MUCH for reframing this situation for me and allowing me to get going! What a brilliant and generous bit of persuasion that was!"
No. Nobody says that. Nobody even sees it. When perspective shifts (not just to some new tangent of thought, I mean a fundamental shift of perspective), we don't register a cause. That's because, unlike thought, we don’t view perspective from a higher vantage point. The world seems to shift, because we project our perspective, and you’re a whole different person and it's a whole new day. Born again!

No one ever goes back and fishes through the weeds for an impetus. That would require the converse shift, which is hardly enticing. And it would also require facility with a framing function everyone steadfastly ignores. We figure the world shifts externally; we don’t see it (frame it!) as arising from an adjustment of internal perspective.


Imagine opening a door for a bored golden retriever who runs exuberantly out into the meadow. House? What house? No house! No door! No person-who-opened-door! Just glorious MEADOW, everywhere! What individual could possibly trigger GLORIOUS MEADOW EVERYWHERE? “GLORIOUS MEADOW EVERYWHERE” is a universe. How could such enormity possibly stem from some stupid arm opening some stupid door?

No, this was God’s work, conjuring GLORIOUS MEADOW EVERYWHERE via command, ala Genesis. And so long as we posit a Supreme Being upon whom we project our framing faculty, we will remain oblivious to stupid arms opening stupid doors, much less to rediscovering our innate freedom to shift at will.

This explains why no one ever shares Slog postings. I could publish Jesus Christ's personal cell phone number, and it wouldn't ripple. That's because I offer shifts of perspective - reframings - here. Many readers roll their eyes at what seems like overheated bullshit, or are puzzled by the "weirdness", but those who draw value run out into the meadow without looking back. It’s “clean”.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

LEFFtovers: Pork Chop Curry Penne


This consists of:

A leftover pork chop (sliced)

A leftover serving of spicy Indian vegetable curry

Some really good penne.


Before cooking, as I went about my day, I backburnered a process of visualization, envisioning not how I, as a cook, would approach it, but how I, as an eater, wanted it to come off. I never push with the cooking, I always pull from the eating. The best route, I've found, is to reverse engineer a clearly envisioned result. Work it out carefully in your imagination, like a puzzle, then execute.

The pork chunks, being leftover, were bound to be slightly dry. So I didn't want to "feature" them. They had to be buried in sauce. But I didn't want to give them the "meatball" treatment. I wanted the pork flavor to remain pure, and not be lost in the curry. I even wanted the caramelization from the rewarming to come through.

So I didn't rewarm the pork chunks in the curry, nor did I add curry over the reheated pork to heat in the same pan. I braised the pork chunks by themselves, removed them from the pan, then heated the curry, finally stirring it together with the pasta at the very end. Leftover flaws in the pork wouldnt be obvious, but it wouldn't be stewed, either. You knew you were eating pork chops, but they didn't particularly stick out.

Do I sound obsessive? Well, that's what it takes to produce quality. You have to care to a degree that would be off-putting if people knew.

Deva Redux

As of now, Tuesday morning, yesterday's posting on "Devas" has been much improved. You might want to give it another look (many of these postings are intended as lozenges, anyway; deliberately rewarding multiple rereadings).

Monday, May 24, 2021

Devas

A group of pilgrims was wandering around the Himalayas, visiting remote shrines, when the weather suddenly shifted and it was snowing and blowing and unimaginably cold. White-out conditions. Their destination was not far, but if they tried to find it, they might fall off the mountain under those conditions. The only option was to stand in place and be frozen by the howling winds.

Suddenly, a figure appeared, and gestured for them to follow. At last they spotted the shelter and ran to the door. But the figure was gone. Where had he gone? Who was that??

A few days later, a local monk offered an explanation.

"Oh, that sounds like a deva. Yeah. Just a deva."

"What do you mean, 'just a deva'? There are people who stand around deserted mountaintops during blizzards, like, just in case? And that strikes you as normal?"

"That's his gig," replied the monk with a hapless shrug. "He's the guy who points the way."

"Where does he live? Who signs his paycheck? Does he just stand there for 30 years waiting for that one lost dude to show up?"

"No frickin' idea. Devas exist, but we don't know anything about them."

I'd read this story as a 13-year old, in the autobiography of an obscure tantric swami who interested me (his language was more formal; I've presented, above, my teenaged impression). And my own visceral response shocked me: I couldn't escape the feeling that it sounded like a great job.

Wait, what? Dude, there are no pizzerias on Himalayan mountaintops. Or anything else you like. And you are not physically hardy. Nor are you particularly charitable - at least not in any obvious way. You're not the sort of person people think of as kind or generous. You do try to help - pretty much always, come to think of it - but you don't make a display of it. In fact, you cover your tracks. You prefer it when they don't even notice.

Oh. Ok, I get it. All of that is actually what devas do. Huh. So I'm a deva already. Devas don't accept tips or pose for selfies. They don't stoke their mythologies. They help and get the hell out. They remove themselves from the equation. It's not about them. And that's why I'd like the gig. It's already my preference!

So that's how I became a deva.

No, it's not. That would be the line if this were a "tale of adventure," with momentous decisions drawing me to extraordinary experiences. What I am describing is the opposite of that. I'm talking about making it not about me. To an extreme. The furthest distance from "about me" that human existence can be pushed. And you can't remove yourself from an equation while feeling momentous or extraordinary. There's no "journey" without a shiny protagonist. All that's left is Need being served. Pfft.

A deva is pure helpfulness with no bullshit or self-mythology. You can't "become a deva" because that would require an overarching dramatic narrative, and narratives require a protagonist. Rather, this is "Thy will be done." "Let go, let god." I know I sound like a ham-faced TV preacher, but the source material actually has value, go figure.

So if I didn't become a deva, how did I become a deva? Well, first, I already was one, but hadn't realized it (it was a song I habitually picked out of the piano smash). I'd always tried - sloppily/stupidly/erratically/comically....but, most of all, unnoticeably - to help make situations better and to be supportive, in my way, to those in genuine duress. At least when I acted from my deeper self. When I acted in conformity with those around me, or out of fraught neediness or fear, I was an obnoxious prick. At age 13 I was, shall we say, a work in progress.

I was (mostly) selfless, and also empathic - if you stubbed your toe around me, I'd howl in pain. So I was already kind of doing it, the deva gig. But, as I've noted several times in this Slog, I have a disability: I'm intelligent. Unless my brain understands, my confusion can grow unmanageably thick, leaving me weak and shaky. My brain sputters and grasps, making its unease known until it's absorbed all my attention, forcing me to stop and explain things to it.
"It's better to see God in everything than to try to figure it out."
      - Neem Karoli Baba
My gut might offer wonderful guidance (the deva's deva!), but my stupid smart brain requires explanation, so there's always a lengthy (sometimes years/decades) delay as I patiently try to explain my gut to my brain - essentially explaining myself to myself; accounting for why I do what I do and feel as I feel (and there was plenty of 'splaining to do; in contemporary America, self-diminishment is an alarming dysfunction).

In fact, that's what this Slog is. I'm explaining myself to myself while you eavesdrop. If you ever had the eerie sensation here of watching someone who already knows stuff struggling to uselessly codify that Knowing, yup, that's right. The brain must be fed. It needs to know. If not, it will endlessly question until all momentum is lost in the mounting confusion and paralysis.

Think of my brain as a camel with a particularly large hump. Large water capacity! What a blessing! But you must constantly refill the fucking hump, and it takes fucking forever. That's my life: dutifully refilling the fucking hump. Can't just wander around and enjoy, like other dromedaries. There's an awfully fine line between "gift" and "special need."

So I already was a deva, but, having read the story, I gained perspective on who I already was, and what I'd been doing, and, sort of, why. I didn't need to know any of those things; I could have simply let it happen; but smart brains are cumbersome and needy. A great disability.

Thus clarified, I relaxed into the momentum - the flow - that had already been carrying me all along, without the distraction of a zillion nagging questions (e.g. where I'd keep my treasured baseball card collection if I lived in the Himalayas).

None of it made a lick of sense from an outside view. I was a suburban teenager obsessed with Space Invaders, Frank Zappa, foosball, NY Mets, sci-fi novels, and a certain strata of cheerleaders who wouldn't dream of ever speaking to me. I was hardly deva material.

But on the other hand, I was also spending hours per day in lotus position, wailing in Sanskrit (my parents completely tuned it out) and having high-level spiritual experiences (not realizing their level until decades later). So maybe I was deva material, after all.

The ambivalence, which has only worsened with age, was, itself, puzzling. My deva inclination was a pull, not a push. I wasn't aiming to act this way; I was fully content to remain the same suburban yahoo....who happened to do certain stuff that wasn't at all the sort of thing such a person would normally do. I couldn't imagine creating some new facade to signal my new proclivities. I'm not corny enough to don a purple robe, grow out my beard, change my name to Swami Lasagnanda and make a display of smiling benevolently. I'm out of the "seeming" business.

Facades (aka personalities aka identities) are light things; mere veneers. There's something deeper and truer, and, if you stay connected to that level, and don't let yourself be too distracted by the drama and the cheap temptation of the myriad Skinner Boxes, you will eventually flip perspective. You'll find, to your surprise, that you're a deva lightly pretending to be a person rather than a person inexplicably acting like a deva.

I didn’t become a deva; the deva that I always actually was became me. Perspective shifts to the flip side.
Chowhound was a deva effort (having started as "Jim Leff, The Chowhound", it deliberately became less about me as time passed, even when I ran it). This Slog is a deva effort (which, I'm starting to understand, is why no one ever shares or links to it). And, in daily life, if I see a chance to add a missing chunk, I quietly offer that chunk.

Looking ahead, it's been dawning on me that every talent I have stems from an unusually lithe ability to shift perspective; to reframe. Sometimes I can induce such a shift in others (though I often fail miserably). Oddly, when it works, I'm never recognized as having had anything to do with it. That's how devas roll. When it's clean like that, you're doing it right (the deva in the story was a bit of a newbie, I think).
It's a tough job. For starters, it's not easy to grasp, much less embody, a role that's "not about you". Plus, you need deep certainty about where, exactly, you point. That's a hard call for sincere people who are painfully aware of their biases, fallacies, and general shmuckery. We live in a world full of self-certain dipshits and nincompoops trying to shove us hither or yon while they, themselves, remain supremely lost. So vast effort must be spent objectively gauging (and endlessly re-verifying) your own level of oblivious dipshittery. You must be bulletproof in your blithe equanimity to know you're standing upon solid ground. A helluva prerequisite! But those struggles aren't even the hard part. The real problem with the deva thing is the response. It's not at all what you'd imagine.

A certain number of people you try to help after spotting them lost in a blizzard, freezing to death (speaking metaphorically) will punch you in the face. Any lifeguard will affirm that some people resist rescue with violent belligerence. Truth-tellers and helpers have a notorious tendency to get crucified, especially when they're right, and I understand why.

Many more people will simply ignore you, or seek a second opinion from someone more credible-seeming. Having declined to make a big shiny show of yourself, you hardly inspire respect or confidence. People are impressed by huge egos, which seem to augur bona fide wisdom. As I wrote here,
If you don't project superiority - if you're not a pompous, boastful, stuck-up "Do You Know Who I Am?!?" prick, leading with your accomplishments, playing the part, and prepared to pee at least as hard and as far as any alphas in your midst, it's surprisingly tough to be taken the least bit seriously by anyone.
A significant number will thank you vehemently, vow to follow your directions to the letter, walk in the opposite direction of your pointing finger, and promptly fall off a cliff. And curse you wildly during their lengthy drop.

In the end, people don't want devas. They have willfully positioned themselves in stress and trauma because they like it that way. To offer guidance out of that predicament - toward safety, peace and liberation - is like dashing around a theater during a horror film, tapping anguished moviegoers' shoulders and reminding them "it's only a movie!" Not a useful enterprise. Not likely appreciated.

Everything you need to know about the predicament of devas in 21st century America is contained in the popular catch-phrase "Don't try to fix me!" Coddled, bored, jaded aristocrats froth up Rich People Problems for themselves, eagerly contriving drama and angst (suddenly we're all goths and drama queens) while others are expected to play along, supplying the scripted responses and honoring each other's aggrieved victimhood. Relief or liberation would deflate the fake suffering with which they so tenaciously identify.

And to think we actually have the gall to demand a messiah.


Further Reading
Angels From Both Perspectives
Jnani Train
Karma

Also: here's a follow-up to this post, clarifying an important point.

I’m leaving this for future arrivals: All jnanis are devas, but not all devas are jnanis. Jnanis are the ones who've explained it all to the satisfaction of their cumbersome brains. Per the Neem Karoli Baba quote, above, the brain doesn't need to be explained to. Its satisfaction is completely beside the point; a needless detour. But, per above, poor slobs like me are unable to flow on gut assurance without the pre-approval of brain-satisfaction.

Most devas, I'd imagine, haven't the slightest clue what's going on, but are perfectly ok floating peacefully in the incomprehension. To a jnani, that's an unimaginable superpower. I'm so envious that I can barely stand it. OTOH, jnanis can explain themselves to others (albeit via maddening paradoxes and slippery metaphors), so that's gotta be worth something I guess.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Music and Food

When it comes to music, I'm like a sybarite who requires ever more novel and kinky ministrations to ignite his jaded passions.

When it comes to food, I'll weep over a homely, soulful corn muffin.

Monday, May 17, 2021

ParkerVision

ParkerVision, Inc (PRKR) is a company protecting its patents via litigation. It sounds a lot like patent trolling  which is disgusting, but my favorite financial writer, Andrew Tobias, insists that this isn't what's happening here. Also, the company has more than patents going for it.

In February, ParkerVision's multi-billion dollar trial against Qualcomm was imminent, and the stock (which I'd bought at 40¢/share) zoomed up to $1.86 in anticipation. If it won the lawsuit, it would pay off like a lottery, and if it lost, it would plunge some, but there's other big litigation on the horizon, plus, as a sweetener, the aforementioned other stuff.

But the trial was delayed to late 2021 at the earliest. So of course the price fell, and continues falling, because investors are twitchy and NOBODY (except ratty little me) wants to tie their money up for 6-12 months waiting around like dopes (patience is my superpower).

I do not recommend investing in PRKR in the hope they'll win their litigation. First, it's speculative, and I'd hate to see you lose your money. Second, at it's current price ($1.08) it's no longer the cheap lottery ticket it was at 40¢/share.

However....

At some point the trial will reschedule. And as that date draws near, interest will perk up again, raising the stock price again. And I just can't see how anything fundamental will have changed. Either the patent was previously violated or it wasn't, and the market has previously priced that question at $1.86. So it should go up to somewhere near $1.86 again, give or take, as the new trial date draws near. It will almost certainly rise from $1.08. So what I’m suggesting is: buy now (or in the near future), and sell before the trial. 

If it does hit $1.86, that would be a 72% gain over today's price. That's beaucoup. And it doesn't hinge on the trial result. The company could lose at trial, at every trial. It could crash and burn miserably but you'd be out and counting your money long before that happens. And while I could devise sci-fi scenarios for disasters between now and the trial (Congress legislates a completely new canon of patent law? Management caught operating a white slavery ring?), I can't see the risk.

But risk is there, whether I can see it or not. It always is. Only invest what you can easily afford to lose. This is one of the safest, surest ≈70% profits I could imagine, but please be careful, as I've been wrong before!

The following are Tobias' writings about the company, in chronological order. They assess its litigation chances, and, again, I'm not suggesting you bet on that litigation (though you may want to let a few shares ride, as a lark; $50 might turn into like $500. Or be sucked into a gaping pit of judicial pain and never seen again).
Jan 24, 2018, Dec 10, 2019, Mar 11, 2020, May 4, 2020, June 10, 2020, Jul 7, 2020, OCTOBER 9, 2020, Nov 17, 2020, Nov 24, 2020, Dec 31, 2020, Jan 24, 2021, Jan 27, 2021, Jan 28, 2021, Feb 3, 2021, Feb 11, 2021, Feb 14, 2021, Mar 2, 2021, Mar 11, 2021, Mar 29, 2021, Mar 30, 2021, Mar 31, 2021, Apr 6, 2021, Apr 17, 2021,
I've been a big fan of Andrew Tobias' writing (I copy his style sometimes) since college, and have followed his blog for almost 30 years, and also know him personally a little bit, and he's not just super smart, successful, and dialed in, he's a sweet guy incapable of deception or manipulation. And even if he wanted to manipulate, his sleepy little blog is too sparsely read to move markets, and he knows it. So (just like me right now) he offers tips as a gift to his small circle of faithful readers. You might want to bookmark him. But this side play isn't something he's pushing. It's my big idea.

Here's the catch: the timing will most likely compel you to take a short term capital gain, which is taxed highly (depending on your bracket). But this level of profit should still be well worth it (check with your tax person).

Also, you may want to wait to buy, because the price keeps falling (markets hate a becalming, and there probably won't be meaningful PRKR news until the new trial date is announced). But if you wait too long, the announcement might come before you can get in, and the price will have begun rising. My wild guess is trial won't be announced until September, so I plan to buy shares for this side-play in late August, hopefully for 85¢ - 95¢. OTOH the current $1.08 is already plenty low. (Edit: now it’s $1.05!)

Sunday, May 16, 2021

I Loathe Geniuses

I'm sad that I'm no longer a musician. But there is one big fat juicy advantage: I no longer associate with geniuses.

All musicians think they're geniuses. Without exception. Maybe not, like, some amateur dulcimerist, who jams with the local dulcimer community group at the library every Sunday. That person dreams of imminent genius, but perhaps isn't quite there yet. But any musician with the least bit of a viable career, or following, or any association with a person or enterprise with a following, is a GENIUS.

The problem is that I fawn poorly. I talk to people like people, and that's the worst affront to geniuses, who merit great deference ("I'm not just anyone, I'm the rhythm guitarist for Floyd and the Bozos, and we have a RECORD DEAL").

Musicians spend so many years facing uphill - first during the arduous journey of developing skills, then the lengthy period of shat-upon dues paying as they climb the ladder - that once they arrive "there" (i.e. any degree of acceptance or success), they feel world-crushingly elite. Those years of aspiration would seem worthless if you didn't emerge from the interminable chrysalis as a regal star child. It's MY TIME!
Why do the abused so often become abusers when they get some stature? Because it's THEIR TIME!
Want to rile up a musician? Tell her she's improved. The implication that she was ever less than sublime will drive her to apoplexy. You can get away with "better than ever!", but she'll swirl the phrase around her mouth, probing for stinging hints of non-glorification.

There's a cliché that's become a nonsense mouth sound via overuse among musicians. "Sounds great, man" is the standard thing musicians say to each other. It's not quite a euphemism for "you sound just ok, but you're such a turdish egomaniac that I don't dare use anything but superlatives," even though it totally means exactly that, and we all know it. But it still works because, just on the face of it, "great" is a word we like to hear. Good word. Hey, say "great" some more! C'mon! Don't worry, man, you don't have to mean it!

I know many brutishly untalented musicians who feel like geniuses. I used to work with some, and it bugged them that I out-played them. I saw one a couple years ago, after I'd long been out of the business. He begged me to sit in with his band, which I did only after much persuasion on his end and explanation, on my end, about how I'm very very out of practice.

I didn't embarrass myself, but I did not exactly impress. And afterwards, he got on the microphone to tell the crowd about the long journey of his development as an artist, and how gratifying it is to finally have reached a pinnacle where he's surpassed musicians, like this guy [gestures at me], who he once looked up to. The passing of the baton. The lifecycle of genius.

This really happened. I guess it's like a prize fighter knocking out chumps to work up the food chain. You still feel like an absolute beast landing your right hook on the jaw of some boozy, bloated rube and sending him to the canvass. People cheer, bells ring, just like it was real. Hey, look at you! You're doin' it! That's YOU up there!

I wasn't the least bit surprised, because the guy had identified as a genius all along, back to when we first met as kids. And one thing about being just a regular person (which I've been the whole time) is that you must accept having your bacon stolen by geniuses. It's the law of the jungle! Geniuses gotta genius!

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