Thursday, December 30, 2004

Regional product blogs.

Tomorrow is ritual clean-up day around here, part of the disposal of the Old Year, so I may well knock off the blogging till the early days of ought-five. Happy New Year to all.

An article of mine about Tim Hortons ran today at That piece was on the back burner so long it fell off the stove, but this week I finally got around to finishing it. The gist of the article is that Tim Hortons, a Canadian purveyor of coffee and doughnuts, wants to expand further in the United States, and is executing plans to do so. Maybe they should. Their doughnuts are good, I ate several in Montreal, and coffee drinkers say the same thing about the coffee.

But then I think that some regional products ought to stay regional: it makes them better, gives them a certain cache. Krispy Kreme should have stayed in the South, Coors should never have ventured east of the Mississippi, and you shouldn’t be able to wander into any supermarket here in the Midwest and buy Ghirardelli.

But no. Business doesn’t work that way, usually. And besides, for all its appeal as a Canadian brand, the truth of the matter is that Tim Hortons has been owned by a certain Ohio-based hamburger chain, Wendy’s, for nearly a decade now.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

AS&S blog.

On the day after Christmas, I finally made it to American Science & Surplus, or at least one of its stores, in Geneva, Illinois, which is fairly far west of the city, and somewhat south of where we live. We’d gone out to do more conventional shopping, and I had to throw that store into the mix, because I’ve wanted to visit American Science & Surplus for years, ever since I read an article about it in the Chicago Reader. It was unusual enough to merit its own front-page article in that publication.

The AS&S web site says the following: “Here at American Science & Surplus we are fascinated by discovery and invention. And we are dedicated to having fun along the way. We offer an eclectic range of products, many with a science or educational tilt to them, others simply handy or amusing. Value is important, and whenever we can, we carry surplus at prices well below retail. We love closeouts, inventory overruns, mis-manufactures, and items whose time has not come.”

“Eclectic” doesn’t do it justice. It reminded me vaguely of the kind of dime store that doesn’t exist much anymore, but no dime store I ever went to offered wiring and electrical parts, beakers and test tubes, batteries and light bulbs of every description, globes and replica bones (including a full-sized skeleton, perfect for a closet), and such other items as a brain-shaped jello mold, Rocky & Bullwinkle refrigerator magnets and a boxing rabbi action figure—just to list a very small sample. The aisles were cluttered, and there was something to see covering every square inch, whether you had the remotest interest in buying it or not. And, as the web site says, prices are low, which may help explain the Geneva store’s location in a semi-suburban, semi-rural area, where rents must be low.

Lilly came away with a Boxing Day present, a caveman-ish looking figure whose arms stretch, and who can be launched like a rubber band; Yuriko got three boxes of white chalk, which she said is hard to find elsewhere; Ann got a red rabbit’s foot, which she showed no interest in; and I got Moose and Squirrel for the refrigerator.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Xmas 04 wrap blog.

It’s warming up here, nearly 40 F. today, after temps reaching near zero in recent days. In fact, this year marked the coldest Christmas I can remember, even in Chicago, where I’ve spent a good number of them now.

Cold, but only a dusting of snow. The large winter storm that blanketed a lot of the Midwest and even parts of the South in the days ahead of Christmas bypassed Chicago. Just as well, as far as I’m concerned. There’ll be enough powder and ice in January and February.

Here’s a novel thought: I like Christmas. In some quarters, you’d be marked as slightly childish or hopelessly sentimental for expressing such a thing openly, but here I am publishing it to anyone who cares to read it. Moreover, I am an adult, and not an especially sentimental one either. I happen to think it’s fully possible to enjoy Christmas without being a child, or accepting a lot of the nonsense that goes with the season (and what human activity doesn’t come with a measure of nonsense in its train, or sometimes in the driver’s seat?).

Part of it is that I like all holidays, and if I had the power to create more, I would. And longer ones: the de facto down-time between December 25 and January 1 ought to be openly acknowledged as a national week off.

More than that, Christmas is special. It's a full-blown modern cultural experience with pagan tap roots, Christian meaning, and secular frenzy. It obliges you to give presents, strictly as a matter of custom--and custom should have some authority. It has songs, some deeply moving, some absurd. It has lights and ornaments of endless variety. It’s deeply encrusted with lore, offering a wide cast of such instantly recognizable characters as baby Jesus, Santa Claus, and Ebenezer Scrooge, just to name a few major ones. It’s the backdrop of countless stories, books, stage plays, pantomimes, and movies, from It's a Wonderful Life to Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. It’s a family holiday whether you like your family or not (a touch of social obligation again). It's a fusion of tradition and the distinctly new. You had it as a child, your children have it, and their children are going to have it.

Some effort is involved in Christmas, but so what? This year, for example, I put up outdoor lights and a decorated indoor tree, sent a number of cards (plus e-mails), obtained and wrapped some presents, took my family to Christmas Eve services at St. Nicholas, and did some of the food preparation—by which I mean breakfast on Christmas morning, not making elaborate special confections or a break-the-table feast, which we did without.

All that comes on top of assorted everyday living and its tasks. Still, Christmas wasn’t a burden this year, and never has been. Of course, people invariably complain that’s it involves too much to do. I suspect that it’s the perfectionists of the world complaining the loudest about Christmas, as they do about everything else. It has to be perfect, or it won’t be Christmas!

That’s an extreme characterization, but it seems to fit a lot of people. To that I can say, Bah, humbug.

Monday, December 27, 2004

A moment’s blog.

While you’re nestled in your priest-hole of an office, enclosed by winter, life and death go on elsewhere. Though working today, writing and posting on the Internet, I didn’t hear about the Indian Ocean tsunami until fairly late in the evening. A woman who works in my office is on vacation in Thailand now, and while I doubt she was anywhere near the affected Thai islands, it’s enough to give one pause.

Reminds me of the sinking of the car ferry Estonia a little more than 10 years ago, en route from Estonia to Sweden, which killed more than 1,000 people. A modest change in schedule, plus a whim to go to Sweden that we never actually felt, could have conceivably put us on that ship. At least, we were close enough when it sank for that idea to come to mind—we were in St. Petersburg, Russia, on our way to Finland and the Baltics, including the Estonia’s home port, Tallinn. Not long after the accident, we took a ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn. That’s when the idea really came to mind.

But it didn’t stop us from making the crossing. No point in being chicken when it comes to riding in public conveyances, or seeing distant shores. The only result of that is never going anywhere.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Winter Solstice 04 blog.

No blogging till Boxing Day or so. Today seems like a good day to start a little vacation, the Winter Solstice –- not the “official” start of Winter, by the way, unless you can locate the office that made that decision. (It isn’t the National Weather Service, either.) Winter “starts” on December 1, if you have to have a date, and it will be practically forever before it’s over here near the Great Lakes.

I will never be able to top the Solstice in December 1991 when I boarded a plane in the Northern Hemisphere (Osaka), and about 13 hours later got off in the Southern Hemisphere (Sydney). From the shortest day to the longest, all in a day. I should have had some kind of mystical insight at that point, but I was just tired. And looking forward to skipping out on three weeks of winter in the North.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Not a Zamboni blog.

Yesterday I mentioned that, as part of a stroll through Chicago’s new Millennium Park, we happened across a zamboni smoothing the ice of that park’s large ice rink, which is next to Michigan Ave. The seasonal touch was some joker dressed as Santa Claus, skating near the zamboni and sometimes hitching a ride on the machine by grabbing a handle and letting it pull him along.

I imagined a Tribune headline: Man Dressed as Santa Dies Under Ice-Smoothing Machine. And the Sun-Times headline: Zamboni Crushes Santa! And the Chicago Reader: Death on Ice: Why Did the City Let Kris Kringle Die Under a Zamboni? Ho-ho-ho. But as far as I know, the man went home safe that evening.

We watched as the zamboni tracked circles around the rink, leaving a thin sheet of water in its wake, which I suppose freezes in a smooth position. Just my guess at zamboni mechanics. I had to think about it because Lilly asked me why the machine was putting water on the ice. It was mildly hypnotic, watching the machine go round and round, hardly making any sound but a shoooosh, the operator (zambonist? zambonisto?) intend on keeping it on course like any pilot.

The machine said Olympia on its side, with a small Canadian flag inside the initial O. I looked it up later and it turns out that, technically, this ice-resurfacing machine wasn’t a Zamboni. Olympia is a brand by another manufacturer, Resurfice Corp. of Ontario – as Airbus is to Boeing, it seems that Resurfice is to Zamboni. Or maybe not, but I’m not going to waste the analogy. In any case, there are two major makers of such equipment, one American, the other Canadian. Useless information, but I like it.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Zamboni blog.

It was an eventful weekend, and I could write about my shopping experiences during the peak of the shopping season, the crush of Michigan Ave. on the Saturday before Christmas, or the Japanese Rugby Football Club’s annual holiday party, at which I saw about 20 Japanese rugby football enthusiasts sing and dance to the Village People’s “YMCA.” But I think I’ll stick to zambonis.

Or, more properly, Zambonis, since “Zamboni” is a trademark of Frank J. Zamboni & Co., a California company that makes ice resurfacing machines, and that, in fact, was founded by the inventor of the device, Frank J. Zamboni, who died in 1988. It’s a word that I’m fairly certain I learned from the Peanuts comic strip, like a lot of people who grew up in warm-weather regions, and who had no need to pay attention to cold-region paraphernalia.

We drove into Chicago late in the afternoon on Saturday, and parked at the East Monroe Street Parking Garage under Grant Park. Until recently, after emerging from that underground space, you had to walk westward on the unappealing Randolph St. or the slightly more appealing Monroe St. (near the Art Institute) to reach Michigan Ave. Now that Millennium Park is complete, it’s a better walk, because you can cross that park to reach Michigan Ave.

First, we crossed the “BP Bridge,” which connects Grant Park to Millennium Park over the busy Columbus Ave. that separates the two. The bridge opened this summer along with the new park, and it’s a serpentine of a bridge, cloaked in shiny metal scales. Nice match for the Frank Gehry band shell that it leads to (see my July 16, 2004, entry).

Though single-digit Fahrenheit temps were on the way – arriving Sunday morning – it was still a reasonably pleasant mid-30s F or so on Saturday afternoon, and a lot of people were in Millennium Park, so I suppose that makes it a year-round success of a park. We looked at the glass towers; no water fountain this time of year, but the towers were still alight with giant faces. We saw the mirrory, silver Bean; people were crowded around it, just like in summer. And we came to an area that’s an outdoor café in summer; it’s now an ice rink.

No one was skating, except a fellow in a Santa suit. Instead of people, there was a zamboni making the rounds, with Santa sometimes holding onto one of the machine’s handles and skating along with it. A zamboni. I realized I’d never actually seen one before, and neither had Yuriko or Lilly, so we stopped to watch. We weren’t the only ones, either. The rink was surrounded by people watching the ice smoothing.

But it wasn’t a Zamboni. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Blogs, etc.

It’s peculiar to be called by your first name by a near two-year-old, but that’s what Ann does. She puts an ‘s’ sound at the end of the name instead of ‘z,’ but I can tell what it is. I say to her, “Daddy,” or “Call me Daddy,” but so far she’s sticking to “Deece.” Lilly never did call me that, but as parents of siblings are known to say, each child is different.

Except when they’re similar. Ann’s fondness for drawing, for instance, is almost exactly like Lilly’s at that age, and her attitude toward candy is just the same, too: want! Now! Lilly is a little more sophisticated in asking for candy, but the attitude is the same. Underneath an adult veneer, so is mine.

Come to think of it, I’ve known adults who never have gotten my name straight. “Dee” is a normal variation, usually used by people I’ve just met, but occasionally lasting a while, if I don’t think it’s important enough to correct. Mr. Allen, my 8th-grade English teacher, persistently called me “Deece.” One is reluctant to correct an English teacher, at least as a student, though I can think of a few ideas conveyed by English teachers that now—as a profession editor or even as an educated adult—I disagree with. Or even disdain.

I forgot who it was, but one of my teachers was livid about not using “etc.,” in any context. Something about it being a lazy writer’s tool, a substitute for thought, etc. Well, I grew up and discovered that, in his essays, no less a writer than George Orwell used that useful Latinate occasionally. I’m with George on that one.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Snow White and the Seven Blogs.

I heard on the radio this morning that a massive invasion of arctic air looms on the horizon, meteorologically speaking. Something about zero degrees F. by Sunday. What fun. What gas bills.

So I took another walk today, when the atmosphere registered a balmy 45 F or so near the shores of Lake Michigan. I didn’t make it to those shores, but I was on State Street, among the crowds in front of Marshall Field. That store’s display windows are one of those local holiday customs celebrated in local lore, and I can say that the store puts a lot of effort, and surely expense, into designing them. They tell a story in signs over the displays, which are always animated figures—the sort that move something like cuckoo-clock figures—who dwell in elaborate doll-house-like settings. If you start at the corner of State and Washington and then head south on State, finishing up at the corner of State and Madison, you can follow the story in sequence.

This year it was the story of Snow White. The designers were clearly trying to get away from the Disneyfied version of that tale, probably by drawing more on Grimm for the feeling and details. Small example: Snow White’s hosts are always referred to as “Little Men,” who specifically work in a “Diamond Mine.” To judge from a scattering of overheard comments, this bothers people for whom Disney is the only version.

Then again, there were some touches that I thought were bizarre. Literally true to her name, Snow White’s skin is the color of marshmallow, and her hair is pitch black. She also is made up like a tart. As for the Wicked Queen, she affects an icy flapper style. Now why would the Wicked Queen dress as if she were going to a party on William Randolph Hearst’s yacht, with half a mind to push her cheating lover over the side into the cold, cold California Current?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Things that make you go hmm, the blog.

Not quite as cold today, though chilly enough. Warm enough to take a walk on the streets of downtown, as far as Daley Plaza. I like this year’s municipal Christmas tree: lots o’ colorful globes, spheres and balls.

My floor in my office building has two men’s rooms, one—as I tell visitors—full service, the other a simple space with two urinals, a washstand with a mirror, and a dispenser for paper towels. The walls are dim yellow, the light fluorescent, and sometimes the odor-suppressant system, a little box up near the ceiling, hisses and groans as if it’s tired of its lonely job. The right-side urinal has occasional issues with leakage. Some days, you find a Vietnam-shaped puddle under it, snaking out toward, but not quite reaching, the spot from which you conduct your business.

A simple place, as I said. One of thousands of anonymous WCs that serve downtown Chicago. Earlier today, I went in for one of my daily visits, and noticed a crutch propped up against the side of the wall, between the urinals. Not a fancy crutch, and one with some wear on the handle. But it doesn’t matter what kind of crutch: the question it asks, just by being there, is how could someone forget his crutch?

But it’s imaginable. I think I did it myself once, back when I had a broken foot. Toward the end of my recovery, I really didn’t need the crutch much, and took it with me mostly out of habit. So naturally, I wandered off without it at least once, though I remembered quickly and went back for it. Maybe that happened to the crutch I saw today, since it was gone when I returned to the little room later in the day.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Blogging in the Past.

Now I’ve heard everything. I have iTunes on my machine in the office, and periodically I troll around its Internet radio stations, which offer a broader spectrum (figuratively) than the (literal) broadcast spectrum. For example, where on the dial are you going to find a station called “MacVooty Radio – All Slim Gaillard”?

This morning I was tuned –- if that’s the word –- into “Living in the Past Radio.” The past, but only a fraction of it, from about 1968 to 1984, as far as I can tell. Otherwise the format isn’t very constricted. Any pop recording from the period seems to be fair game. It’s as if all the radio stations I knew ca. 1978, from the persnickety AOR KTFM to the heavy-rotation KTSA, home of awful AM fodder, were melded into an unwieldy contraption whose main charm is its unpredictability.

And it plays things that never got much airplay when they were new. Today, for instance, Living in the Past Radio at one point played “The Twelve Drugs of Christmas,” a holiday selection by Cheech & Chong. I think I heard that on somebody’s dorm room stereo at some hazy time, but never on the radio.

A few minutes later, the station (is it a station?) played “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” which I hadn’t heard in decades, and which ranks high among songs that insult Southerners. Not as high as the more famous “Southern Man,” by a certain Canadian, no less –- mind your own business, Neil –- but pretty high.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Tuesday Morning on Monday Evening blog.

Cold today. Cold as Swedish Hell. Or maybe not quite that cold, since it isn’t even single digits, though it isn’t much higher than that. Cold as Belgian Hell, to pick a more moderate Euro-climate. Anyway, it’s colder than it has been in many months, with more to come. Of course, winter in December is something of a pleasure. Trouble is, the season doesn’t end when the Season is over.

Even after nearly five years, this job of mine is still an education. For instance, I’m learning the subtleties of laptop use, particularly on a train, where I now sometimes do some writing. It isn’t like writing at a desk in a number of ways, the most important of which is that, except in situations like earthquakes, desks don’t move much. A train, however, isn’t very useful if it doesn’t move, and the vibes from the track reach upward to you and your machine, and sometimes give commands to the machine. Windows open unexpectedly. Whole paragraphs are highlighted without permission. The cursor decides to take a vacation on the other side of the screen (long overdue, maybe, but I’m a slave-driver when it comes to the cursor).

Then there was the matter of Tuesday Morning. My editor sent me a note this morning requesting an article about Tuesday Morning, an oddly named retailer, for the next day – which happened to be Tuesday morning. With a name and a web link, I investigated. I needed to investigate, since it was a chain of stores I’d never heard of. Sometimes there’s a good reason for that – if it’s a brand existing only, say, in California, Nevada and Nunavut. In the case of Tuesday Morning, however, there’s one in Schaumburg. So I not only wrote an article about the company – leading with some financial news that I won’t bother with here – but I also dropped by the S-burg location after work.

Tuesday Morning sells overruns and discontinued items, mostly home décor and other clutter, at discounts from regular department stores. No novelty in that, but apparently the stock at Tuesday Morning is so fluid that you never know what you’re going to find there – which, according to the manager of the store, whom I interviewed her briefly, is one of the reasons people come there. I liked the fact that the store looked mildly chaotic, with piles of stuff here and there, more or less categorized, but not always. That’s how I might keep a store, a sort of doppelganger Target (which would probably fail; I’m no storekeeper).

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Christmas lights ’04 blog.

Cold and windy today, a bad combination. It didn’t keep us indoors, but that wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

The Christmas tree is up. We fetched it from a lot on Saturday afternoon, conveyed it home in the back of the minivan, and decorated it in short order. For more on my way of decorating a Christmas tree, see the December 11, 2003 entry, because it was the same this year. Whatever your Christmas customs, that’s the important thing.

There were some small changes. We added a string of tiny lights, making three strings total, since we thought last year’s tree was a little underlit. Lilly was more adept at ornamentation skills this year than last, especially at the concept of spacing the baubles. In fact, she did most of the middle branches, while I did the higher ones. The lower branches weren’t completely naked, but there’s no glass down in those precincts. Lilly did hang a full rank of plastic bells down that way, however, maybe with the intention of drawing Ann’s attention. It works, too, more or less.

Our outdoor lights have been up for a week. I took advantage of last weekend’s relative warmth for the job, and it looked like a lot of other people did too. That weekend, lights were strung, electric statues posted, and inflatables inflated all around the suburbs that I could see. There’s a mocking essay somewhere in the subject of lawn inflatables, as the early 21st-century equivalent of pink flamingos, but I don’t quite have it in me.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Jingle blog. (And I don’t mean bells).

Today wasn’t a total loss. While I was on hold briefly, I heard, unexpectedly—who would expect such a thing, dragged from deep in the pit of popular memory, steaming with associations of long-gone days in front of the TV, representing… but I run on at the keyboard. There I was, making a business call, and what do I hear but—something I don’t think I’ve heard for 30 years, mind you, something virtually everyone my age would recognize, but also something that probably couldn’t be made now, so dated does it sound…

Yes, it was the Armour Hot Dog song. Part of which goes:

“What kind of kids eat Armour hot dogs?

Fat kids, skinny kids,

Kids who climb on rocks.

Tough kids, sissy kids,

Even kids with chicken pox

Love hot dogs

Armour hot dogs…”

I doubt that very many kids exhibited much brand loyalty to hot dogs in the late 1960s, when this jingle was current, or even now, but I suppose some parents did. The really striking thing about the lyric isn’t the sales aspect, though. It’s the reference to fat kids and sissy kids—something I don’t think would fly at many ad agencies these days, so entrenched are overwrought notions of self-esteem in our time.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Choco-fountain blog.

Today’s small marvel: a fountain of chocolate. There it was, the main attraction at the dessert table at the annual Christmas (Holiday) party of the Association of Industrial Real Estate Brokers, in one corner of a well-appointed event space near O’Hare. The chocolate was liquid, thick but not too hot, and flowing from the top down three levels, after which I suppose it circulated back.

The idea was to create fondue, which I did, using bits of cake on a skewer, though marshmallows, apples, soft cookies and other items were available. The chocolate coated these things richly. Fun to make, a pleasure to eat, and just a soupcon of decadence.

The event hall was atop one of a cluster of five-story buildings sandwiched between O’Hare and one of the expressways that runs near the airport. The cluster had a name, the O’Hare Aerospace Park, which suggested something grander than a collection of dowdy 1970s offices.

But from the access road that ran near the cluster, you have a perfect view of one of the flight paths into O’Hare. And O’Hare, as all the world knows, is busy. I saw the underside of three planes as they roared by, in as many minutes. A somewhat bigger marvel, that.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Today in the Loop blog.

The Chicago Fire Department has pitched a long green tent on LaSalle Street, at the base of the LaSalle Bank Building, scene of a major fire on Monday. It’s a temporary lab of sorts, to investigate that fire. From the corner of LaSalle and Monroe, the tent was the only indication that something had happened. That, and the fact LaSalle Street was closed behind police barricades, with officers posted to deter the curious from getting too close to the building.

I’m curious, but only enough to peer over the barricades. They’ll be gone soon enough, and the fire damage way up the side of that fine old building ought to be more visible. Been in that place myself a number of times, especially to interview some of the bank’s execs, and once to oversee a photo shoot (exactly a year ago today; see the December 9, 2003 posting).

Mostly, though, I was out for a walk during lunchtime, since the temps weren’t that bad – upper 40s or even lower 50s – and the rain of the last few days had quit. You never know, this time of year, when the floor is going to drop out from under the temperatures. I never know, anyway, since I’m fairly casual about listening to weather reports.

The LaRouchies were out on Federal Plaza, bullhorning apathetic passersby. Actually, there seemed to be only about three devotees of the crackpot present, and the rant de jour was against the “privatization” of Social Security. Of course, I’m against that too, in as much as I understand the issue, but it doesn’t make me want to drop everything and follow LaRouche. Even a lunatic has his lucid moments.

Saw a new restaurant on Washington to investigate sometime: Polletto. It promises “World Chicken and Salad.” I’m not sure what “world chicken” would be. Chickens with passports? Chickens are citizens of the world, if only as protein slaves to homo sapiens, but I don’t think that’s what they have in mind. They probably don’t mean chicken imported from around the world, either; that would cut into the margins too much. Probably they buy wholesale 10 blocks west like every other Loop eatery. Maybe it’s a lot of different styles: chicken recipes from the four corners of the Earth. No, too much trouble, especially if this is a franchise I’ve never heard of. Probably it’s just something the owners thought sounding hip – we got cosmopolitan poultry, no backwater Tyson birds from Arkansas.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Taco Hell blog.

Busy, busy day at the wordwerks, both print and Internet, so this will be short.

Regular readers will know that I'm not a partisan of the slow food movement, though I enjoy slow food when I can, which is all too rarely, at least by certain standards, according to which the dining is to take hours. As for fast food, I have my favorites, and they've changed over the years. But Taco Bell has never made the short list.

Today I edited an article about Yum! Brands (exclamation point per the company's style), and I read the following: "...the company has opened its first Taco Bell concept in China, called Taco Bell Grande." Heh-heh-heh. Mao hasn't even been dead 30 years.

Monday, December 06, 2004

50,000 avocados blog.

Oh, man, I am in the wrong job. Somebody out there represents avocados to the world, and that person created the following press release, which was inadvertently (I assume) posted five separate times on Yahoo’s retail news wire at about noon today.

IRVINE, Calif. Dec. 6, 2004--While watching the ball drop in Times Square this New Year's Eve, imagine it filled with Hass avocados. In fact, it would take approximately 50,000 Hass avocados to fill the lighted sphere, announcing the start of another year and millions of party-goers enjoying guacamole.

“Whether on the East Coast, the West Coast or somewhere in between, New Year's offers the perfect opportunity to dip into a delicious bowl of "guac" -- the perfect party pleaser, satisfying taste buds across the nation. It is anticipated that over 34 million pounds of avocados will be consumed as America rings in the New Year.

“In honor of the New Year, the Hass Avocado Board has developed "Guac Around the Clock" recipes so party-goers can specialize their guacamole according to their time zone. Visit for all the "Guac Around the Clock" recipes.”

Then again, writing about nothing but avocados and guac would get a little tiresome after a while, so maybe it isn’t a dream job. Still, the image of 50,000 avos squeezed into that silly New Year’s ball is pretty memorable, and the thought of 34 million pounds of any vegetable – fruit? – staggers the imagination. Well, maybe not stagger, but makes the imagination sit up and lift its eyebrow like Mr. Spock and say, “Interesting.”

No, he usually said, “Fascinating,” though I don’t how an emotionless creature could be fascinated by anything. Fascination would seem to require an emotional attachment to one thing at the expense of others, at least for a while. But never mind, the idea of Vulcans never did hold much water anyway, except in the tight confines of Star Trek scripts.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

They Might Be Blogging.

I haven’t posted any old material lately, so here’s something from Chicago in the late ’80s. I don’t remember why I was inspired to see They Might Be Giants that night, but I was. Maybe Dave L., who introduced me about The Bobs, Jonathan Richmond, Pianosaurus and other eccentric musicians, suggested it.

December 18, 1988.

We met Lee C. and Dave L. at Cabaret Metro, right before the show started. The first act was Balancing Act, an LA band with excellent guitar work, fine vocals and one hell of a drummer. A Cabaret Metro, there aren’t any fixed seats in front of the stage, a style I remember from Europe, and the audience stands. The place has the look of an old vaudeville hall, with parts missing, such as the seats, peeling paint and some other deferred maintenance issues.

Pretty soon we were surrounded by other concertgoers – teenagers, mostly. They Might Be Giants soon came out, with their giant old man heads hanging behind them, their accordion, their boom box, their bizarre musicianship, their manic energy. Such energy. But then again, these guys are younger than I am. All Playmates, some pro athletes, many rock (?) musicians, all younger than I am now [I was 27 then.]

Intense fun. TMBG alternated between fast and slow, cynical and cheesy, bouncing all over the place. You never knew what was coming next. “The sun is a mass/of incandescent gas/a great big nuclear furnace…” was one fun tune, probably based on collective memories of science movies in the fifth grade. At one point they told the audience that there was a phone number you could call to hear “a new They Might Be Giants song each time. It’s toll free, if you call from your parents home or work.”

2004 Note: The quoted song I that saw them do, with their own variations thrown in, was called “Why Does the Sun Shine?” It predates TMBG, though I don’t feel like chasing down the details. More of its lyrics include:

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
A gigantic nuclear furnace
Where hydrogen is built into helium
At a temperature of millions of degrees.
Yo ho, it’s hot, the sun is not
A place where we could live.
But here on earth there’d be no life
Without the light it gives.
We need it’s light
We need it’s heat
We need it’s energy
Without the sun, without a doubt
There’d be no you and me.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Rodent blog.

A field mouse took up residence in our minivan not long ago. We knew that because he left behind his dung, or spoor, or whatever rodent turds are called, mostly near Ann’s car seat. Which sealed his fate. Mouse turds I might ignore in various places, maybe an obscure corner of the garage, but not near my baby daughter.

How it got into the car, I’m not sure. Climbed up the wheel and into some impossibly small hole that leads to the passenger compartment, maybe. Our kids are less than fastidious when it comes to eating in the car, so that must have provided its food, though I can’t say where the mouse found water. From other evidence, it looked like it spent most of its time burrowed in the cushy foam of the middle car seat. Food, warmth: such simple needs. I prepared a simple death for the creature.

Rather than put out some poison, or a snapping trap, either of which little hands might want to touch, I first set a couple of sticky traps. These are cruel devices, set for the purpose of immobilizing the rodent till it dies of shock or dehydration or something. But wherever I entertain such PETAish thoughts, I remember that we’re talking about disease-carrying, crop-eating vermin. Besides, that kind of trap worked pretty well on the mice that invaded our basement in Westmont.

This mouse was made of stronger stuff. The next morning I found the sticky trap had been moved around, and some grey fur stuck to it, but no dead mouse. Plan B involved an actual snapping mouse trap, not the traditional kind of Tom and Jerry cartoons, but a plastic setup that snaps with ruthless efficiency—and placed far enough under the seat to keep Ann’s busy hands away, I hoped. We’d used that kind of trap in Westmont, too, on the little buggers that invaded the attic (it sounds we had mice all the time in Westmont, but we really had only two invasions in five years).

The next morning, there he was, his little skull dashed against the hard plastic reality of human technology. I haven’t ruled out a visit from his cousins, or maybe from unrelated field mice on the loose. But so far no more spoor.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Snow schnoz blog.

I was wrong again about the snow that fell the other day. It stuck, but has been slowing melting since, forming ice hazards in a lot of places. It’s December, but it still feels too early for that kind of thing, somehow.

During the Thanksgiving Eve snow, Lilly built the requisite snowman, a small figure on top of our cast-iron patio table, whose umbrella and chairs were stowed in the garage some time ago, leaving it to sit out the winter solo. Lilly’s pretty good at rolling the snowman parts, better that I would be if I ever did it, but maybe that’s a consequence of being born in the North. Her snowman design, however, reflects her Japanese half, in that it consists of a body and a head -- two parts, rather than the body, thorax and head that are standard issue for North American snowfolk.

I don’t think I actually saw any snowmen in Japan, because Osaka approximates Houston’s climate, but I did see them depicted in artwork: always two parts.

I also don’t think I’ve ever seen a snowman with coal for eyes and mouth, or a carrot for a nose, here or in Japan. That, like a hobo’s stick & bag, seems more like an ossified artists’ depiction than a real design plan. We used raisins for the eyes, but they were hard to imbed properly, so we skipped the mouth. She inserted a small stick for a nose, looking like an impaling accident at first, and used a small aluminum pie pan for a hat. By the next morning, more snow had fallen, and had covered the nose-stick so that the snowman had a real Jimmy Durante of a schnoz.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The red-nosed blog.

I read in the papers that tonight’s airing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer represents the show’s 40th anniversary, making it nearly as old as me. I have a sneaking feeling it will be more durable than me, playing for a good many more decades before it finally peters out, but that isn’t because I like it. No, I never cared for it.

For one thing, I don’t like its curious stop-action animation. I’m sure it represents an artistic achievement of some kind, and is the toil of a lot of people, but I still don’t like it. Then there’s the matter of Rudolph’s redemption in the eyes of the other reindeer, a problem that of course goes back to the source-material song.

These are cartoon reindeer, so I suppose you could make them do anything and chalk it up to make-believe. Still, they’re anthropomorphic reindeer, and I expect them to act something like people. The problem is in the line of the song that goes: “And then all the reindeer loved him…” Wrong. They mocked and hated him before. After his heroic feat, the other reindeer would hate him more. Maybe enough to trick him into a hunter’s trap, so that he ends up as reindeer pate. (Yum.)

Now here’s a story: Adolph, the Red-Baiting Reindeer. Though deft political maneuvering and a fanatical obsession with destroying the North Pole Communist Party, a nobody of a reindeer assumes absolute power over the boreal nation, with Santa Claus as a pathetic figurehead. Subsequent events are, as you’d imagine, quite bloody, decimating the animals of the arctic.