Archive for February, 2010

Revisited: Early spring cleaning

February 28, 2010

I’m glad to report that activity at my workplace has really picked up in recent weeks. I’ve actually put in some substantial overtime the last two weekends, and the prospects look good for more. I realize I’m one of the few people still employed these days who can make that claim, so I am grateful.

Without being too specific, my job involves helping publicly-held companies prepare financial documentation that is required to be released to their shareholders. Most companies operate in the fiscal year that ended December 31, so this is the time when they’re pulling together the data that shows how they’ve done the last 12 months. As you might imagine, they have a lot of explaining to do. Which means I have a lot of real work to do, and not so much time to devote to my blog.

So what I’m doing today is something of an early spring cleaning, a yard sale of the half-baked ideas I’ve scribbled down in moments of questionable inspiration that later turned into “what did I mean by that?” Everything not marked with a price sticker is going for a nickel.

(10 cents) Everyone has enjoyed all the jokes at Rod Blagojevich’s expense, especially about that huge mane of hair he carries around. Long after he’s been reformed and elected governor of Louisiana, we’ll still remember that hairdo. We’re going to want to reference it to use on other people so we’ll need a proper adjective: Blagojevichian? Blagojevichesque? Blagojevichistic?

(25 cents) The woman in the news this weekend for swimming across the Atlantic Ocean is getting way more attention that she deserves. She went from the westernmost point in the east to the easternmost point in the west, she swam in a cage, and she spent only eight hours a day in the water while sleeping at night on a boat. With those kind of dubious criteria, I’m ready to make the claim that I’ve spent the last 55 years walking a billion miles across the galaxy. Never mind that I was attached to the Earth while doing it.

(10 cents) While sitting in a doctor’s waiting room the other day, I observed the woman across from me helping her elderly mother fill out the personal information form. When she reached the part about marital status, she was faced with the usual options – M, S, D or W. She selected “D,” because her husband was “deceased.” That’s not right, is it?

(15 cents) I’m getting a little tired of hearing the adjective “full” in news reports all the time. Someone is being buried with full military honors, the governor said there will be a full investigation, the church is taking full responsibility for neglecting the abuse charges. Does anyone every get buried with partial honors and, if so, how bad a serviceperson would you have to be?

(10 cents) If women ever knew the basketball fantasy that goes through a man’s mind when he throws a balled-up piece of paper into the trash can, we’d be laughed out of the house. “And the 30-footer from beyond the top of the key wins the game!” should not count when the paper napkin banks off the side of the refrigerator, leaving a dark lasagna stain.

(50 cents) Indecipherable commentary heard while trying to watch the recent Winter X Games: “skiing big air,” “clean grab,” “stomping it clean,” “kangaroo flip sweet double,” “he can’t tweak,” “that was all time” and “that’s how these Swedes roll.” I’m glad baseball season is just around the corner, because we all know that “back, back, back” makes a lot more sense.

 (20 cents) I once participated in a medical study that required me to answer an extensive list of questions asked by a nurse’s assistant. One of the questions was “do you ever have headaches?” I responded that I did, occasionally, like probably just about everybody in the world. “How long have you had the headaches?” she followed up. “On and off for as long as I can remember, I guess,” I responded. A look of concern crossed her face as she recorded my answer. I bet I’m eventually going to die.

(30 cents) Wouldn’t it be neat if they made more video games that simulated the tasks of everyday life? I know there are driving games and skateboarding games and guitar-playing games, but how about something that riffs on the thrill of using an ATM machine? Going through the self-scan at the grocery store? Pumping your own gas? I would so play those games.

(15 cents) I’m convinced the world is divided into two distinct groups: those who will eat only traditional breakfast foods for their first meal of the day, and those who will consume things like cold pizza, RC Cola and a Moonpie, or leftover Chinese food. I am a member of the first (correct) group, while my wife is a member of the opposition. So – as I found out on some recent business trips abroad – is the entire continent of Asia.

(40 cents) Speaking of which, during the three weeks that comprised my first trip to India, I yearned for a good old-fashioned hamburger near the end of my stay. As you might imagine, though beef is virtually everywhere in the streets, very little of it is in a readily edible form. (Take a bite out of a passing cow and you’re in big trouble). The closest that the hotel room-service menu could offer was something called the “Holstein Burger,” a small beef patty topped with cucumber slices and a fried egg, topped with a cherry. Not exactly McDonald’s.

(15 cents) What is it with little kids being so excited to get a sticker at the grocery store? Don’t they realize how little it’s worth in real dollars?

(no price sticker) We once had a backyard neighbor who claimed to have a shrinking brain. He always complained that we didn’t trim the grass enough on our side of the shared fence, and once killed a honeysuckle bush rooted in our yard but extending into his. I don’t know why or how I ever thought that was going to be funny. You can have it for free.

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Revisited: Poets for our times (about 30 years ago)

February 27, 2010

The rise of folk and, ultimately, rock music was grounded in a lyrical foundation that gave us pop stars who were also poets. Beginning with the likes of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and Simon and Garfunkel, it’s a tradition that has stalled in the contemporary era. Though Jewel may have published a book of poetry – including “I lived in a car/But couldn’t drive far/My teeth they are weird/It’s chewing I’ve feared/Yet somehow I’m hot/Which forgives quite a lot” – it’s hardly comparable to what the giants of the 1960s and 1970s were able to produce.

Two of my favorites from that earlier period were the Doors and John Denver. Mercurial front-man Jim Morrison composed lyrics for the Doors that were every bit as evocative and stirring as anything written by bards as far back as Shakespeare. When Morrison cries out “Father/Yes son?/I want to kill you/Mother/I … want…  to/Waaarrriiiihhhhyyyyaaaa!” in his masterpiece “The End,” it’s not hard to imagine Coleridge, Byron or even Emily Dickinson adding “right on, dude.” When John Denver soars through the musical heights of his beloved Rocky Mountains, he’s flying in the experimental tradition of earlier wordsmiths such as Buddy Holly, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Amelia Earhart.

I thought I’d take a look at one short piece from each of these inspired giants, and try to analyze what it was that causes our emotional reactions to be so profound. I start with Morrison’s tone-poem “Horse Latitudes”:

When the still sea conspires an armor 
And her sullen and aborted currents breed tiny monsters 
True sailing is dead 
Awkward instant, and the first animal is jettisoned 
Legs furiously pumping their stiff green gallop 
And heads bob up 
Poise 
Delicate 
Pause 
Consent 
In mute nostril agony 
Carefully refined and sealed over

 

 

I remember when I first heard this piece as a young man how sad it struck me that early seamen had to throw horses overboard when the winds died. What a terrible fate those noble beasts faced. They suffered at least as much as Morrison himself did after his arrest on obscenity charges for exposing himself during a concert. I see the exposed horses as an allegory for the act he allegedly performed on stage in Miami, though I hesitate to think what the “mute nostril agony” might be symbolic of. This poem captures perfectly the angst of a time when America’s youth were questioning traditional morals, and what the hell something like this was doing on a rock album.

Now, let’s contrast that hallucinogenic imagery with a folksier sentiment from Denver’s classic “I’m Sorry”:

It’s cold here in the city
It always seems that way
And I’ve been thinking about you, almost every day
Thinking about the good times, thinking about the rain
Thinking about how bad it feels alone again

I’m sorry for the way things are in China
I’m sorry things ain’t what they used to be
More than anything else I’m sorry for myself
Cause you’re not here with me

I’m sorry for all the lies I told you
I’m sorry for the things I didn’t say
More than anything else I’m sorry for myself
I can’t believe you went away

I’m sorry I took some things for granted
I’m sorry for the chains I put on you
More than anything else I’m sorry for myself
For living without you

Denver, obviously, is sorry – he’s very, very sorry. To this day, some critics claim he was a sorry songwriter in more ways than one, though I tend to see his pathos in a more positive light.

Remember that this song debuted in an era when the U.S. was feeling its way in a post-Vietnam world, trying to consider old relationships in a new light. Amidst the profound self-pity about his girlfriend leaving, he still takes time to offer regret about the Cultural Revolution in China and the hardships that caused for a billion people, as well as the cold and rainy forecast in his hometown. By the end of the song, you can tell he’s heading to a better place – this is about the time he left Colorado for California and the contentment that came from his role in movies like “Oh God” and “Walking Thunder.”

We lost a great poet but we found an even better actor.

Tilikum the whale crashes health care summit

February 26, 2010

WASHINGTON (Feb. 26) — President Obama’s health care policy summit was horrifyingly interrupted yesterday when Tilikum, the killer whale from Orlando’s Sea World, burst into the Blair House conference room and began thrashing participants mercilessly.

“Aarrrhhhhh,” said Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.). “I’m being bitten by a killer whale.”

What was to be an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to hash out a compromise on the medical insurance crisis instead had suddenly become a scene of carnage with a vaguely fishy smell. The 12,000-pound orca broke through an unattended side entrance to the second-floor hall and began his reign of terror at what was now a bipartisan buffet.

“Please, no, no!” observed Senate majority leader Harry Reid. “My leg! My leg!”

President Obama was among the few attendees who were uninjured by the rampaging whale, who appeared surprisingly agile for a beast without feet. Obama ducked behind Vice President Joe Biden as the killer approached the two, and it appeared the whale wasn’t interested in the stringy, gamey second-in-command.

“Look at me! I’m too big to fail,” Tilikum was quoted by onlookers. “I am raining down some major predatory practices on your sorry asses! You want to deal only in talking points? Well, check out these teeth — is that enough of a point for you?”

It took almost 20 minutes before Secret Service officials and Washington police were able to end the onslaught. The whale was briefly cornered before slipping out a window and escaping down an alley.

Homeland Security officials were at a loss to explain how such a blatant lapse of security could occur with so many of the nation’s top executive and legislative leaders gathered in one place.

“We do have footage from cameras at the Orlando airport showing Tilikum going through security,” said Transportation Security Administration spokesperson Amy Wolfe. “His carry-on baggage was thoroughly searched and no weapons were found. We’re at a loss to explain how he could fly into Washington on a passenger airliner and then carry out such an audacious attack.”

The whale apparently took a cab from Reagan National Airport in D.C. directly to the building across the street from the White House where the meeting was taking place. His credentials went unchecked by officers who were screening guests in the lobby. One guard who spoke off the record said he thought the massive man-eater was a lobbyist for the insurance industry.

After the attack, which left three senators dead, seven congressmen injured and another nine thoroughly soaked by water emitted through the marine mammal’s blowhole, Tilikum was seen climbing aboard a Metro subway, then disappeared in rush hour crowds.

“I think we actually made some progress toward reaching agreement on key points in this critical debate,” Obama said at a news conference following the summit/slayfest. “Since two of the mortally injured were Republicans, we’re back to having a filibuster-proof Democratic majority that will finally make universal health care a reality in America.”

“You’re going to need some pretty good insurance after I’m through with my reign of terror,” Tilikum wrote on his blog before the attack Thursday.

Fake News: Toyota driving a hard bargain

February 25, 2010

WASHINGTON (Feb. 25) — The president of Toyota testified before Congress yesterday that lawmakers were obviously smart men and women who make wise purchasing decisions, and they look like they’re “ready now” to buy his excuses about the Japanese automaker’s quality.

“What would it take to put you in a position today to accept my explanation?” asked Akio Toyoda, defending his company against allegations of unintended acceleration in millions of recalled vehicles. “Because more than anything, I want to see you leaving here today as a happy customer.”

Toyoda, who noted in his opening statement that “it’s funny — my wife’s first name is ‘Congress,'” encountered some difficult questions from members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. But at each turn, he tried to deflect the interrogation by urging congressmen to accept his personal apology, which would only be available today.

“I met with another nice legislative body just this morning who was very interested in acquiring this particular defense of my company’s failure to adequately respond to safety concerns,” Toyoda said. “They said they’d be back later this afternoon, but I told them I couldn’t guarantee this justification of our actions would still be available.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) challenged Toyoda’s assertion that he had another buyer, noting a television advertisement that claimed an “Excuse-A-Thon” would continue through the weekend, until Toyota had cleared out its backlog of 2008 and 2009 Mea Culpas.

“Sure, you could get a used alibi. However I see you as someone who won’t settle for less than the best,” Toyoda said. “Feel free to take my testimony home with you for the rest of the day, see what your friends and family think. If you like what I’m selling, then you can come back in the morning and we’ll do the paperwork.”

Committee chairman Edolphus Towns wondered aloud if the House panel could trade in some congressional excuses about bipartisan gridlock, budget deficits and last week’s Washington snowstorm in order to get a more thorough and self-degrading statement from the Japanese executive.

“You drive a tough deal, you’re very good at bargaining,” Toyoda said. “You’d be killing me on my margins, but I really like you. I really want to do business with you.”

Toyoda then asked for a brief recess while he could talk to his manager, who had to authorize such a deal. Rep. John Mica (R-Fl.) contested the maneuver.

“You’re the chief executive of the company,” Mica said. “Who’s higher up than you?”

Toyoda said any request for a deal of this extraordinary nature would have to be personally approved by Emperor Akihito, most heavenly master and lord of the Chrysanthemum Throne.

“Get yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy some complimentary donuts while you wait. It shouldn’t take too long,” Toyoda said. “Can I buy you a Pepsi? How about some Tootsie Pops for your kids?”

At The Movies (In The Breakroom)

February 24, 2010

February is not the best of times in the world of cinema. The winter crap, er, crop of movies are generally artistic cast-offs designed not to distract voters considering Oscar nominations. Instead, we’re given fluff, misguided children’s fare and some guy named “Duane Johnson” who I swear looks exactly like The Rock.

With so few films of merit currently on the market, it only makes sense that you don’t need a New York Times egghead to help suggest what might be the best choice this weekend at the local cineplex. Your expectations are already pretty low. About all you need for guidance is the good word of a friend who liked that one scene where the guy and the girl sort of kissed but not quite, and in the background was that song — you know, that “la-la-la” song from the seventies — played on a harp.

So let’s turn to the voice of the commoners for some recommendations about the hits and the misses currently in first run. Overheard in an office breakroom that could be your own, let’s meet our critics. Rachel is also known as “Old Rachel” to distinguish her from the attractive young intern Rachel. Old Rachel has two preteen children who help define her worldview of Hollywood. We’ll also hear from The Lady From Accounting, a late-middle-aged divorcee who has the nerve to go to movies to be entertained, not challenged. There’s not a romantic comedy she’s viewed that she didn’t “jess loooovvvve.”

So what do you nice ladies suggest?

OR: I don’t like that “Shutter Island” movie. It looks too dark. It’s depressing. Leonardo DiCaprio was good in “Titanic,” and he was a cute kid on that TV show when he was young, but I don’t like him lately.

TLFA: I saw that preview too. No thanks.

OR: You know what I did like, though? I liked “The Squeakqual”. It was actually better than the original, and those Chipettes were just darling, I don’t care what Alvin says.

TLFA: Everybody says they don’t like Chipmunk movies, but everybody goes to see them anyway. Speaking of squeaky, I kind of liked that Sandra Bullock movie, you know, the one about the football player she adopts and he wins the World Series. They say she might win a Grammy for that.

OR: Right, right … I think it was called “All About Steve,” and she’s been kidnapped by a hijacker on a bus, then she wins the Miss Firecracker beauty contest. She’s so cute.

TLFA: You know what else was good? “Invictus.” I didn’t think I’d like it, what with all the soccer and Nelson Mandingo and Ben Affleck (or was it Matt Damon)? Anyhoo, I meant to see “The Wolfman” but I had looked at my ticket stub upside down, and I thought theater 7 was theater 1, and I didn’t even realize it was the wrong movie until about 45 minutes in. But “Invictus” was actually okay, at least for a movie without any werewolves in it.

OR: I was gonna see “Valentine’s Day” on Valentine’s Day — wouldn’t that be wild? But my car got all tore up and I couldn’t make it.

TLFA: Oh, I want to see that one. It’s got so many stars! And I just love romance movies. I heard it’s just great. It’s kind of like that old TV show — you remember “Love American Style”? [singing] “Truer than the red, white and blue, ew, ew, ew, ew …”

OR: Honey, that was before my time. But if you want to see a good, funny movie, go see that “Dear John”. These two kids fall in love and then 9/11 happens and he has to leave and she’s like all boo-hoo. It’s funny, but it’ll make you sad too. That’s what makes a good movie, if you ask me.

TLFA: Talk about sad, my friend was telling me how she cried the whole last half of “Tooth Fairy.” You’d think it was going to be funny, because it has The Rock dressed up in a tu-tu, but he learns some valuable lessons about helping poor kids whose teeth are falling out. It even has a message, if you like that sort of thing: Always brush after every meal.

OR: I love The Rock. I’d even see him in some Shakespeare movie, if he took off his shirt.

TLFA: You got that right!

OR: I’ll tell you what I’m looking forward to, and that’s “Alice in Wonderland”. It’s got Johnny Depp in it, and I think that singer April Lavigne is the one who says “off with her head.”

TLFA: You know, that Alice, she was on drugs.

OR: Well, she fell down a hole!

TLFA: That’s true. Anyway, I just loved Johnny Depp in that “Chocolate Factory”. That’s what he looks like in this movie, except I don’t think it has as much chocolate.

OR: Well, if you only see one movie this year, you gotta see “Michael Jackson, the Olympics and the Lightning Thief.”

TLFA: Wasn’t that his concert film? The one he was practicing for when he died?

OR: No, wait, not Michael, some other Jackson.

TLFA: Janet? I always thought she’d make a good actress, how much she looks like Michael and all.

OR: No, this one is about a teenage boy whose dad is God. Well, not the God, but a Greek god. And he’s flinging lightning bolts all over the place and it’s kinda like “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings,” one of those kind of movies. The boy is real cute, too. My girls are crazy about him.

TLFA: And it has Olympics in it too? Is there ice dancing? Did you see where that guy riding the luge got killed? That was so sad.

OR: No, it really didn’t have that much Olympics in it. I was surprised. What’s been your pick for the best movie of the year so far?

TLFA: I really liked “Lonely Bones”. Where that girl gets murdered and tells her story from up in Heaven.

OR: Percy Jackson goes to Heaven too. Wouldn’t it be cool if those two met? Now that would be a great movie.

TLFA: That would be awesome.

OR: Well, I’d better get back to my desk. My spreadsheet just crashed and I’m about to throw some lightning bolts myself!

TLFA: Ha, ha. Okay, then. Maybe I’ll see you At the Movies.

Feature writer pitches in periodically.

February 23, 2010

The call came early in the morning. The city editor said the crime reporter had called in sick, and they needed someone to cover the police beat.

“But I’m the features writer,” I said. “Crime reporting requires complete sentences, with verbs and commas. I deal in short, punchy phrases. I’m not sure I can do it.”

The editor cracked a silent smile. At least, that’s what I’m making up.

“You can handle it,” he said. “I like your style.”

Would I still be able to use lots of short paragraphs?

“Go for it, kid,” he answered. “And be sure to bring your bag of periods.”

Carolina Avenue is just two blocks from Arlington Avenue in the city’s South Central neighborhood.

Two streets where the best and the worst happened within three weeks of each other — and involved the same man.

Carolina Avenue is a street with a burned-out house on it. Arlington Avenue is where two police officers were wounded while serving a search warrant. Trying to keep crack cocaine out of the hands of children.

Police say the same man who shot the officers had told them 20 days earlier that he tried to get into a burning house to save a stranger.

Thirty-one-year-old Tymon Wells.

“The same guy,” said Lt. Brad Redfern, of the city police department.

In other news, a man trying to sell watches outside a liquor store told police he was robbed Tuesday.

The suspect snatched two silver watches from the vendor’s hands. Threatened to shoot him. In the face. With a gun. A gun that had bullets in it.

The victim described the suspect as light-skinned. Black. Male. Between 20 and 30 years old. Wearing a white coat and a white hat.

White hat, maybe. But definitely not one of the good guys.

Meanwhile, a York woman was arrested on assault charges after police says she threatened her daughter with a knife.

That’s right: her daughter with a knife.

Ebbie Hines, known fondly by her neighbors on Turkey Creek Road as “that crazy old bat,” told police she only grabbed the knife because her daughter grabbed another knife first.

“She was a kind woman, always letting others go first,” said somebody or other.

Hines said that earlier in the day, the daughter threw a salt shaker at her, striking her in the chest. It left a bruise.

On her chest, and in her heart.

Hines was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with intent to kill.

In Rock Hill, it was 2 a.m. Saturday. A time when most people are asleep. Unless they decided to stay up late.

No work on Sunday, you know.

But somebody was working late at the Sportsman, a hunting and fishing equipment store. They drove their GMC Yukon through the front door in an apparent robbery attempt.

The crash caused $15,000 in damage to the store. Enough to buy a toy for a thousand poor kids in Haiti. Or make 500 care packages for troops in Afghanistan. Or buy a golf cart for a mentally challenged teen.

Instead, a store has a destroyed foyer.

Officers followed footprints in the snow, but at the time of the report it was not known who was involved in the break-in attempt.

Hopefully, it wasn’t Santa Claus. Or Rudolph, that famous reindeer with the nose of red. Probably not, since Christmas was two months ago.

Finally, the back door of a Chinese restaurant was pried open during a burglary in which thieves stole $1,500.

That’s a lot of hot-and-sour soup with extra tofu.

Police said an unknown person or persons cut the phone line and ripped out the alarm system. The thieves first searched the front desk area, then entered a storage area.

A safety deposit box was stolen during the incident.

Not so safe after all, huh?

End of story.

Stalling in the Stall: A Photo Essay

February 22, 2010

I think when I say that I don’t enjoy bumping into other men in a public rest room, I am not alone.

Perhaps I should be a little more specific. What I don’t like is coming out of a stall after I’ve done my business, and encountering co-workers wandering amidst the sinks and urinals. It’s such an intimate setting, it feels as though we should be talking to each other, sharing in the brotherhood of fellow men who have similar biological needs to ours. Yet it’s that very intimacy that intimidates us into fears that any overtures could be misinterpreted.

Besides, I don’t like talking to most people at my desk or in the hallway; why should I want to engage them in the bathroom?

So when I’m using a stall, and I can tell from the shuffle of feet or the splashing of water or certain olfactory indicators that others are in the room, I tend to linger in the privacy of the commode cubicle. It’s usually only a few minutes before I hear the exit door closing, signaling me that it’s safe to emerge into an empty room.

I actually view this respite as an opportunity for a little quiet time in the midst of a hectic day, and have created some diversions for myself to make the moments pass more quickly. Using only the common fixtures found in most restrooms, I’ve devised something of a “play time,” and thought I could share these ideas with others who yearn for both privacy and fun.

Fine dining and bathing?

I don’t know what these three devices are intended to do, but I won’t let that limit my imagination. The circular thing at bottom left appears to unscrew and so would make a fine plate for an impromptu meal, or perhaps a frisbee. I presume the spigot will release water, allowing a quick sponge bath with sopping tissue. The other piece of plumbing, attached to the toilet tank itself, looks like a fire suppression sprinkler, so I probably shouldn’t mess with it. I don’t want to set off any alarms. I’m here to evacuate myself, not the whole office park.

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Feel the burn

Here are two opportunities for a quick workout while waiting on the urinator next door. The handicap grips can be used as uneven parallel bars for a speedy upper-body burn to build those biceps. (Don’t swing so high that your feet appear over the top of the stall — that could arouse suspicion). The plunger can double as a pogo stick.

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Explore the dark side

Many stalls have a little metal door in the wall leading to places unknown. If you can stuff yourself through, it could be a chance for a wonderful and mysterious adventure. (Or, you could end up trapped between the wallboard and the insulation). Use the spray deodorizer to lube yourself down for the tight squeeze, then pretend the can is a weapon to fend off the dragons and satyrs of this mystical realm in the Land Beyond the Janitor Closet.

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Me Tarzan, you hot

Catch up on your National Geographic reading from the library of periodicals atop the commode tank. This classic journal of world cultures has spiffed itself up since you probably last checked it out as a teenage boy. Gone are the half-naked native women of Amazonia, replaced now by fully naked lowland gorillas, like this seductress treed in a Tanzania national park. Her threatening gaze may say “no-no-no” but the romance of the primeval jungle will eventually convince her submit to your manly ways.

Revisited: Going to the organic grocery

February 21, 2010

I absolutely love my neighborhood organic health-food store. They let me hang out in their small Wi-Fi-equipped café for hours at a time playing with my laptop, drinking cold bottled tea and raiding their free samples. Though the freebies don’t always complement one another — yesterday’s selections were chocolate brownie bites and garlic hummus – they’re always delicious.

My wife and I shop here on a regular basis, so I don’t feel too guilty doing this cyber-loitering. I blend in nicely with the houseplants and pistachio-nutshell artworks (I’m the one wearing sweatpants) and I try not to make a nuisance of myself. It’s become something of a home away from home since my hours at work were cut back a few months ago and I started getting on my wife’s nerves at home.

I’m not a big health-food consumer though I do enjoy just about anything that’s tasty and expensive. Browsing the shelves here I find a lot of products I’m sure I would enjoy, but I also see a lot of items that are something of a mystery to me. Health and organic food manufacturers have gotten very creative with their naming conventions. It does make them memorable, though often in an unintentionally funny way.

Here are some of the products I found while wandering around the store yesterday afternoon, and my guess of what they really are:

Wallaby yogurt – I’m sure it’s not made of wallaby, but I also want to know that it’s not made of wallaby milk.

Seventh Generation recycled toilet paper – Recycling is obviously a good and important thing, even in items like bathroom tissue. Taking it all the way to the seventh generation, however, seems a bit much.

Women’s bread, man’s bread, brown sandwich bread, kamut – These are all frozen bread products and are fairly self-descriptive, except for whatever the hell “kamut” is.

Dr. Praeger’s spinach pancakes – This sounds more like a prescription than a healthy side dish.

Amy’s tofu rancheros – Yee-hah, let’s round up those free-range tofus and slam ‘em into these rancheros.

Gaga’s SherBetter orange frozen dessert – I guess this is some kind of sherbet substitute. I thought sherbet was already healthier than other frozen desserts but, as the name suggests, this is even sherbetter.

Scandinavian-style Gravlax – This was displayed next to the salmon and crab dip, so I’m guessing it’s a fish product, possibly similar in nature to the notorious Norwegian lutefisk. Combining the word roots “grav” (as in “gravel” and “grave”) and “lax” (as in “laxative” and “lacks edible texture”) does not tempt me to buy it, however.

Chocolate hazelnut tea – Just doesn’t seem like a good taste combination.

Blackwing ostrich filet – “Blackwing” sounds like a disease sweeping through the ostrich population, not a brand of their tasty meat filets.

Uncured organic chicken corndogs – I know curing is considered a bad thing among whole-food purists, but it seems like if anything needs to be restored to health it’s chicken corndogs.

Ziyard vegetarian kibbeh – I had to go online to learn that kibbeh is a “Levantine dish made of burghul,” which wasn’t particularly helpful.

Quorn turk’y and chik’n products – I’m presuming these are made of corn and at least vaguely resemble the poultry products they sound like.

Dominex eggplant burgers – I’ve never before thought of the eggplant as a particularly assertive or strong-willed vegetable.

Baby Mum Mum vegetarian rice husks – Start your child out right in life with the kind of taste-free bulk that brightens the eyes of kids everywhere.

Venison jerky with sea cucumber – This product was in the pet food section, though I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the more hard-core customers here have eaten it themselves.

Organic Ghee – Ghee is a clarified Indian butter that can be stored without refrigeration. Mmm!

Revisited: Inside the neutraceutical aisle

February 20, 2010

Recently I wrote about some of the strangely-named — and downright strange — grocery items I found in my neighborhood organic health food store. Yesterday, I wandered through what traditional stores would call their HBC section (health, beauty and cosmetics) but this store would have to call their USB section (unguents, salves and balms). Here are some of the items I found:

Candex Yeast Management System – I know yeast are living creatures, however I doubt they really need a manager. If they do, I know several from my work that I can recommend.

Super Digestaway – I’d imagine this is for people who feel their food is staying in their gastrointestinal tract for too long, and would prefer to see it expelled only moments after it is eaten.

Colon Green – I can understand the importance of an environmentally correct colon, and I hope that’s what this product delivers. If instead it actually turns your colon green, that is something I would not want, no matter how many glaciers melt as a result.

Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice Root Extract – Whatever this product is, it single-handedly broke the spellcheck function in my word processing program. It now stops on every single word and instead of offering “suggestions,” that field is simply headlined “huh?”

Intestinal Bowel Support – I hope this isn’t what it sounds like: a contraption of harnesses and trusses.

Parasite Formula – Like several of the products listed here, I’m not sure if this formula fights the title character or is comprised of it.

Gigartina Red Marine Algae (5 strains) – For those situations where four strains aren’t enough.

Dr. Ohhira’s Essential Living Oils – I’m guessing these do NOT include gasoline, motor oil, heating oil, etc.

Fucothin (concentrated Fucoxanthin) – For consumers ready to say to society “screw your impossible body images and screw your xanthin as well.”

Show Me the Whey – It’s so clever, you have to buy it, regardless if your diet is whey-deficient or whey-cool.

Hemp Shake – Not yet available at Burger King, fortunately.

Goatein (goat’s milk protein) – Stimulates those follicle-producing glands on your chin and upper lip in a way that will produce a strong, healthy goatee.

Host Defense – Something you take before going to a party thrown by your pushy neighbor?

MucoStop – If mucus has already been produced in overabundance, I wouldn’t want it to stop; I’d want it to MucoGo, into a tissue, into the garbage and into the landfill.

Super Lysine+ FizzSticks – Imagine the disappointment of young children who instead were expecting fish sticks.

Organic Motherwort – Just because “organic” and “mother” are in the name does not make up for the fact that “wort” is there too.

Quai Dong – I wouldn’t buy this product simply because I’d be afraid that a mis-type dropped the “l” from “quail.”

IP-6 and Inositol Plus Maitake and Cat’s Claw – When IP-6 and Inositol and Maitake are simply not enough, it’s time to get out the nail clippers and call Harriet in from the other room.

Bone Up – Please, please, please, let this product be for sufferers of osteoporosis and not for middle-aged men.

Ultimate Eye Formula – Again, I’m not sure if this is something that purports to help your vision, or is simply made of eyes.

Holy Basil – St. Basil was one of the group of great oriental theologians to whom, under God, we owe our right belief in the Trinity and the Incarnation, and also the chief organizer of ascetic community life in the East. When he died in 329 A.D., he was freeze-dried, ground up and sold as a spice.

Inflatrol – Can be used both on your tires and on your gut.

Calming Kit for Kids – This is an organic collection of Benadryl, vodka and cough syrup with codeine.

Confidence and Daydream Remedy – These are two different products sold for use with children. I assume the former boosts confidence and the latter suppresses daydreaming, but I could have it backwards.

Gummy Omegalicious – Another product for kids, most of whom are smart enough to see past the “gummy” and the “licious” to find that key ingredient of fish oil hiding in the middle.

Ubiquinol – It’s the herbal treatment for everything!

Guggul and Red Yeast Rice – Guggul is the resin from a tree from India. Why you would want to ruin perfectly good red yeast rice with it is beyond me.

Ditch the Itch Bar – This label is pasted on the product sideways and I originally read it as “Ditch the Bitch Bar,” believing it to be some kind of soap that would repel an estranged loved one. That actually sounds like a more useful product than this anti-itching formula. You can relieve an itch by scratching it with your fingernails but you can’t … Wait a minute, I guess you could.

Superhazel – Sounds like a mash-up of two sitcoms from the 1960s, where the sassy maid and the suburban witch become one, and madcap antics ensue.

Licefreeee! Lice Killing Hair Gel – For those kids who want to be fashion-forward and parasite-free at the same time.

Bone, Flesh and Cartilage – Are these things enhanced if you take this product, or is that what it’s made of? We need to know.

The readers take over today

February 19, 2010

Here are some some out-of-context reader comments from the past few months.

♥ My one claim to fame is that I babysat for David Byrne’s daughter when I was 13. So back when I was in the eighth grade, I spent the day at his house, saw him in his bathrobe, got taken out to lunch by him and his wife. Later, I was like uh, dang.

♥ When the concert started, using sign language, I said, can I buy two of those from you?

♥ Keeping a well balance credit score is really important.

♥ It’s great to be old … the music doesn’t seem so loud anymore.

♥ I seem to remember that one having them stuck together too.

♥ This was the Transiberian Orchestra I attended.

♥ I have yet to buy the turkey. I’ve always had a soft spot for Rudolph.

♥ Hi there. That is very interesting place here.

♥ During a recent visit to my friend’s house, we had plenty of cheese.

♥ Sad thing is, there are human speakers of the language that would be just as hard to reason with.

♥ I went to Wal-mart last year. Never again.

♥ You and your son did well to visit the vacant places.

♥ Wow, this is weird. I took three years of German in college.

♥ I am researching some information on wall ovens so I’ve bookmarked your website.

♥ I’d love a gun. I’d play with it every day.

♥ I’d hire them if I go to Texas.

♥ I think I want to be a gardener’s assistant.

♥ For months I’ve suspected that I was reading the wrong website. Now everything is clear.

♥ It was my mom that nipped my dream right at root level when she found me rolling around on the ground in the chicken pen.

♥ Having beaten non-Hodgkins, this was good to see.

♥ But then you’d want a glass of milk. Where does it end?

♥ I always look forward to your new posts. I learn more compared to school.

♥ I believe I will wait for the Rapture to add more coolant.

♥ Death to Dublin, that’s what I say … but not out loud.

♥ I was searching for sites to see on Oahu when I came upon your webpage. I will be back in a day or two.

♥ Can you write something about the hero who kept his driveway clear of snow for an entire weekend?

♥ I’m thinking that if that were my family, Christmas with Jesus would be a lot more appealing. But only if He makes cornbread and sausage dressing for the turkey. None of that oyster or chestnut stuff.

♥ One of my main issues is that the Leonid meteor shower is too late in the year and too early in the morning. It’s too cold in November.

♥ The world would be a better place if there were an East and West Korea as well.

♥ I love food that makes me smile, full of colors and passion.

♥ I’m sorry. I fell asleep last night before I brushed my teeth.

♥ What happened to reciting the Big Mac song forwards or backwards?

♥ The guy in the last picture? He must be from an asteroid.

♥ I long for the days when there was a Star Spangled Banner.

♥ Sometimes I wish I had a career in marketing, except for the part where you get fired in a heartbeat when your ad flops or your spokesperson turns out to be a serial killer.

♥ A shrimp-flavored M&M might be a welcome change.

♥ That phone should come with some wheels, like those shoes.

♥ I’ve sat and stared at things waiting for two days to be told to go home.

♥ I put stickers of giant teeth with googly eyes and miniature bears and ice cream cones on most of the months.

♥ I’m pretty sure, for example, that I never went to the bathroom before the age of 36.

♥ How can you take a high school dropout, scrub and turn him into the PBA tour’s high average leader while he picks apart what it takes to create a 9,000-year human ecosystem?

♥ I was very disturbed when my mother told me I could not grow up and marry a mouse.

♥ I wish someone would close-caption my life. It would really help the aliens who watch me keep up with events.

♥ All competitive sports must be banned!

♥ There’s actually a person who is assigned the task of going around and unplugging all the coffee pots in the office.

♥ I can’t remember the last time I drank water.

♥ Many questions remain unanswered, such as “How did the hot dog feel?”

♥ My guess is that Howie Mandell is beating that guy over the head with a baseball bat.

♥ I was also surprised to find that Yonkers is an actual place.

♥ While texting is preferable to talking on a phone, it is still a form of communication and therefore reprehensible.