Category Archives: television

Starstuff

Carl Sagan has been damned as a popularizer of science. Carl Sagan has been praised as a popularizer of science. Since the first time he put on his corduroy jacket and turtleneck to introduce the masses to the wonders of the universe in his ground-breaking TV series Cosmos, he has been many things to many people (and associated with the phrase “billyuns and billyuns”).

So. Is being a science popularizer a good thing or a bad thing? It’s a bad thing if you expect a scientist to remain in the lab and conduct research, without wasting her or his time appearing on Johnny Carson. It’s a good thing if you think science needs to be popular for society to survive.

That Sagan appeared on Carson’s show was not a fluke. Rather than being the epitome of an obsessive researcher, Sagan was an enthusiast and a promoter of science who could, at the same time, entertain as well as he explained.

Sagan was in the news a lot, too. He was the one that insisted that astronauts who had been to the moon be quarantined for a period to make sure they had brought back no alien germs. He was the one who demolished the theories of Immanuel Velikovsky, famous for his book In Search of Ancient Aliens, which purported that alien civilizations have visited Earth and left their mark on ancient astronomy, archaeology, and biblical studies. (Every year when he was teaching astronomy at Cornell University, Sagan devoted one whole lecture to debunking Velikovsky.)

Sagan’s astronomy class was swamped with auditors (particularly on Velikovsky day). To be officially registered for Sagan’s Astronomy 102 class, you had to sit through Astronomy 101, a deadly boring class taught by a deadly boring professor. (I had the great good fortune of taking Sagan’s class, and met him at department parties.) His teaching was compelling and his tests were far from regurgitating dry facts.

Sagan’s particular field barely existed: astrobiology. Since life has never been discovered on other planets, there wasn’t much to say about it, though he could, and did, do experiments on what circumstances and elements needed to be present for life to arise out of the “primordial soup.”

He memorably said, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” He was also famous for “Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge” and “The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

Carl Sagan is now present on Facebook, despite the fact that he’s been dead for some years. Most of the quotes attributed to him are on the subjects of today’s culture of stupidity (though he didn’t live long enough to see how thoroughly correct he was), the lack of science education in the US (or at least rigorous science education), the dumbing-down of popular culture, and the need for both scientists and people like him to make science accessible.

Many of the Facebook quotations are influenced by the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, which was required reading in his astronomy class, though it had nothing to say about astronomy. Instead, it was a work that denounced what came to be known as pseudoscience, such as belief in ghosts and witchcraft.

Losing Sagan was a profound blow both to science and to making science available and understandable to the masses. Others have attempted to carry on his work as popularizers of science, notably Neil deGrasse Tyson (who had a part in the “Is Pluto a planet?” debate) and Bill Nye (The Science Guy). Tyson has even starred in a reboot of Cosmos, though nothing can rival the fascination of the original series.

Neither one, helpful as they may be to the science-ignorant, has stepped into Sagan’s loafers as a teacher, a public figure, a prescient philosopher of science, an inspiration. I miss the heck out of him.

My Next Tattoo

I know I’m not the tattoo “type,” being neither a biker nor a chef, but I already have two tattoos and am now considering a third.

My first two tattoos were mental health tattoos. The one I’m getting in the photo is a semicolon. (Okay, I’m also a punctuation freak. The semicolon is my favorite.) It stands for the point in a sentence where a writer could have put a period and ended it there. If there’s a semicolon there instead, the sentence continues. As a metaphor, it means “My story isn’t over” and as a mental health symbol, it represents suicide awareness and prevention.

My second tattoo was a colon followed by half a parentheses followed by another colon, like this :):

In emoji terms, this would be happy face/frowny face. In a mental health context, it stands for bipolar disorder, which I have. (Bipolar used to be called manic depression, and it’s a lot more than wide mood swings.)

Determined to try something a little different – and more colorful – this time, I began contemplating options that would be meaningful, at least to me.

Compass rose. A compass rose is the little design at the bottom of a map that orients you to north, south, east, and west. For me, it symbolizes travel, which is a thing I love to do and have done often, both domestically and abroad, with my mother or my husband or by myself.

I also thought of having a compass rose with a yellow rose, perhaps in the center, in honor of my mother. She loved to travel too, and the yellow rose was her favorite flower. But that might be a lot to cram into a small tattoo. (I want something subtle, not showy.) Maybe I can get a yellow rose separately later.

Books. Reading, as all my friends know, is a passion of mine, one I’ve been indulging since I was four years old. I’ve read under the covers when I was a kid, in the hallway between classes when I was a teen, and practically anywhere and anytime now. (I have three e-readers so I can recharge them and still have at least one to read from. But I digress. I’m not getting a Nook tattoo.)

I’ve been wavering between an open book, maybe with a pen, to signify writing books; an open book laid flat; or a small stack of books. I think the stack of books offers an opportunity for some color, so I’ve been leaning towards that.

Orion. The constellation Orion is my favorite. (Is it weird to have a favorite constellation as well as a favorite mark of punctuation?) I love when it appears every autumn, with its belt and sword of stars, and the big red star Betelgeuse at the left shoulder and the bright blue-white Rigel at the right knee, creating a hunter figure from Greek mythology. (Most people pronounce Betelgeuse as “Beetlejuice,” but I’ve heard other pronunciations as well. Isn’t this educational?)

Astronomy is and has long been one of my special interests. I belonged to an astronomy club in high school. I subscribed to Sky and Telescope magazine for a while. I watched Carl Sagan’s TV show Cosmos avidly, then took his astronomy class in college.

Rather than have the stars as black dots connected by lines or superimposed over the figure of a hunter, I would like the tattoo to have a watercolor background, like a nebula.

I’ve been toying with these ideas for some time, but have been feeling motivated to get on with it recently (perhaps because I’ve been binge-watching Ink Master.) This week I got in touch with one of the artists at Monkey Bones Tattoos, a local studio. Mike, who did the punctuation tattoos, wasn’t available, so I selected another tattooist named Viktoria.

She and I then emailed back and forth about ideas and schedules. The earliest opening she had was in August. (Evidently there is pent-up demand for tattoos, owing to the shop being closed during the pandemic.) I sent her pictures of tattoos that looked something like what I wanted. We discussed the merits of each, as well as how my vision might differ from the “reference” I sent.

So, now it’s official. In August I’m getting a tattoo of a stack of books on one of my wrists. I’ve even put down a deposit for the appointment, so I can’t change my mind. When it’s done, I’ll post a picture of it. But I’m still not becoming a biker or a chef.

Train-Wreck TV

Two trains collided head on

It’s pretty common knowledge that I get depressed from time to time. (Just read my other blog, Bipolar Me, if you don’t believe me.) But there’s one thing I’ve found that I, well, not enjoy, but am drawn to when depressed, and that is what I call train-wreck TV.

What do I mean by that? To me, train-wreck TV is a reminder that there are people whose lives suck worse than mine does. I don’t mean shows like Duck Dynasty, Swamp People, or Mama June: Not to Hot. Those I dismiss as being the let’s-all-make-fun-of -the-hillbillies genre. Being from Kentucky myself, I object to the idea that all Southerners are stupid (or inbred, or racist, or other stereotypes). And just forget about shows like Seeking Sister Wife. I won’t watch that until there’s Seeking Brother Husband.

No, what I like are shows best described as People Behaving Badly. The last time I had a real bout of depression, I watched shows like Supernanny and even Wife Swap. The lives depicted there were worse than mine because at least I didn’t have screaming, disobedient children or a controlling or clueless spouse.

But this time around, I’m drawn to competition and “reality” shows, which have lots of People Behaving Badly.

I can’t really get my jolt of “Man, these people are really messed up” from the competition shows I normally watch. The contestants on Food Network competitions may get worked up enough to say, “I think the judges made the wrong decision,” but that’s not really behaving all that badly, merely having a snit. And the Forged in Fire people, even when they lose, generally talk about how much they’ve learned and the friends they’ve made. For people who spend their time hammering things, they’re remarkably personable.

I also haven’t been drawn to Gordon Ramsey cooking shows. Although he definitely behaves badly, I don’t really care to see people being degraded and abused. I feel too much sympathy for his aspiring-chef victims to truly enjoy his rants. Admittedly, their lives do suck worse than mine. At least I don’t have an obnoxious bully screaming at me when I’m trying to make my bologna sandwich for lunch.

Lately, the shows I’ve been drawn to are Bar Rescue and Inkmaster.

Bar Rescue is a lot like Restaurant Impossible, except with more yelling. A bar business is failing and host Jon Taffer shows up to straighten them out and make the place a success again. But unlike Robert Irvine, who does basically the same sort of thing for restaurants, Taffer shouts a lot and tells people to their face that they’re failures or losers or drunks or thieves or lazy or assholes (he doesn’t spare the swearing) or generally rotten people who shouldn’t be trusted with a lemonade stand, let alone a business like a bar.

And indeed, he is right. The bars they have featured have included one where a horse was allowed into the bar (it shat on the floor) and another where a porn video was shot in the bar while it was open to customers. Next to these, the over-pouring bartenders, demented relatives, and absentee owners seem like mere pikers.

Taffer straightens them out with what could be called tough love – a lot tougher than the family therapy that Irvine offers, though often with the same results. Then he remakes and rebrands the bar, which doesn’t always stick. Some of the clueless owners go back to their old ways, names, and decors, including a pirate bar in a corporate business district. (It might have done fine in Key West.) In one memorable instance, Taffer even helped an owner close down and sell the bar.

Inkmaster is altogether different. It’s a competition show where contestants vie to win $100,000 plus other goodies for doing tattoos. The lives-suck-worse-than-mine element comes in the behavior of the contestants. There’s a lot of X-rated language (thoughtfully bleeped but still identifiable). But the real attraction is the infighting, feuds, psychological warfare, and blatant manipulative behavior of the potential celebrity tattooists. Pronouncements like “I eat the weak” are mild.

The people who receive the tattoos (called “canvases”) are no prize either. They bicker with the tattooists over what their tat should be. They bitch about the results. They make impossible demands. (One canvas wanted a tattoo of a phoenix shooting fire out of her vagina. (The canvas’s vagina. I don’t know if phoenixes have vaginas. The judges’ critique was that the phoenix was poorly drawn.) Their lives suck worse than mine because they have to live with these creations for the rest of their lives, unless they are on a “cover-up” episode, which still doesn’t ensure good results.

I must admit that this show appeals to me because I also have some tasteful tattoos of marks of punctuation, and narrowly avoided getting semicolons where there should have been periods. Not that compares with a bad phoenix-and-fire vagina tattoo.

I suppose that by the time I hit another major depressive episode, there will be plenty of other, newer train-wreck TV to watch. It seems that there’s no end to people behaving badly or people whose lives suck worse than mine. Thank goodness.

What Do You Do With Your Winnings?

You suddenly receive a chunk of money. What will you do with it? That’s a question that I have heard often. Not directed to me. I have no prospects of landing more than pocket change, unless my mystery gets published, hits the bestseller lists, and gets picked up for a television series.

But I watch a fair number of competition shows on TV, primarily on Food Network or The History Channel. I enter giveaways occasionally, when HGTV is offering a fabulous house in Rhode Island as a prize. But I never even buy lottery tickets, to which I have a philosophical objection. (I believe that they are a tool used by the upper classes to make money by fooling people into believing that they can magically join the upper classes. But I digress.)

The prizes offered in the shows I watch are seldom life-changing, usually starting at $10,000, which seems nice, but I have seen them go up to $100,000, which actually could be life-changing, if not a key into the leisure class.

What the contestant would spend the money on if he or she won is a question that invariably gets asked. I have noticed a pattern in the responses. There are a few major categories.

Travel. Contestants’ dreams of travel seem pretty realistic to me. It’s what I would spend my winnings on.

The usual fantasy trips are to take the family on a great vacation, to have a honeymoon that somehow never happened, or to visit a part of the world from which ancestors came. In the food competitions, there is also a tendency to wish for funds to travel the world (or at least part of it) sampling and learning how to cook different kinds of cuisine.

(Since we were on the subject of honeymoons (or at least I was), I also hear contestants who want to spend their prize on an engagement ring or a wedding. I know the price of diamonds and of weddings have not gone down in recent years, but $10,000 or $25,000 seems a bit high for regular folks, the ones who never appear on “Say Yes to the Dress.” An engagement ring for $25,000? I mean, come on!)

Home. I’ve heard a number of contestants say they would like to put a down payment on a new home. This time the figure seems a bit too low. But what do I know? Maybe the couple has already saved toward a house and this would put them over the roof, so to speak.

Other winners say they would renovate their kitchen (on the food shows) or their workshop (on craft- or building-type shows). This I can understand. Remodeling a kitchen or a workshop could easily eat up that kind of money, especially if new appliances or tools are required.

Business. Again, as with houses, the prizes offered don’t really seem magnanimous enough to start a business, but again, most of these lucky winners may have a fair amount put aside already. Or their dreams are more modest – to get a storefront instead of an internet bakery (a concept I’m not altogether clear on), or a food truck (I’m assuming this would also be a down payment, given that a food truck would have to cost more than a car, which you can hardly get for $10,000 anymore anyway) or the ability to turn a part-time hobby into a full-time business, which seems to me like a pipe dream, but I suppose there are people who could make it work.

Charity. Some of the potential winners have loftier goals. I’ve heard chefs say that they would start a variety of cooking programs for troubled youth. I’ve heard winners say that they would give part, or even all, their winnings, to a charity that provides funds for researching a disease or condition that a family member suffers from. Others want to donate to a church or other religious cause. Once I even saw a kid (on “Kids’ Baking Championship”) who wanted to help out a teacher who had fallen on hard times.

Me, I’d be off like a flash to Ireland with my husband. (I’ve been twice, but he’s never been). If there’s some left over, we’ll just have to arm wrestle for it. Maybe Benson, Arizona, where we once enjoyed one of our best vacations ever. Or, more likely, only as far as the IRS office.

 

 

Beware the Deadly Cow Farts

You may not have noticed, but that bastion of social liberalism and cutting-edge science, Burger King, has taken on the issue of global warming, by directing its attention to the proliferation, not of carbon emissions, but cattle emissions.

Cow farts. (And cow burps, lest we forget.)

How does that work, exactly? It all goes back to methane, a notoriously stinky gas. Human farts are largely nitrogen, with at most a 10% content of methane. Cow farts, on the other hand, according to a Danish study, produce “enough methane per year to do the same greenhouse damage as four tons of carbon dioxide.” That’s one hell of a lot of farts. And they’re 21 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide is. (Carbon dioxide is also a component of human farts, but not enough to make a difference. See how educational this blog is?)

Actually, as an article in the well-respected journal Gizmodo tells us, the methane produced in the intestinal tract of cows may contribute even more to greenhouse gases than the transport industry.

How do cows produce the methane that escapes from either end? It all starts in the cows’ first stomach (they have up to four, depending on how you count). Cows chew their cud (wadded up grain or grass) and send it on down the line to stomachs two, three, and four, and then out into our atmosphere.

“In actuality it’s not as much the farting that’s the problem,” the Gizmodo article continues. “Cows’ burping and manure contribute more methane gas than flatulence.” But cow farts make better headlines. Even the Burger King ad mentions farts first. And it’s the first time I’ve ever seen farts called out in a commercial. Oh, they’re implied in gas relief product ads, but Burger King has taken a giant step by actually naming the problem. After all, isn’t that supposed to be the first step in solving one?

BK proposes a possible fix – changing the cows’ feed. Some suggested solutions have been attempted in other places, such as jacking up the cows’ feed with garlic (to be honest, I don’t know if this is what Burger King intends to do), which seems like it would at least alter the aroma and maybe make their burgers taste … well, different; and housing cows in giant plastic bubbles, which was dismissed as inhumane. (I’m not making this up.)

This is not a new problem. Back in the 70s, when I took Carl Sagan’s class at Cornell, he told us that greenhouse gases were produced in large quantities by “the rumen of ungulates,” which is delicate science-speak for cow burps and farts. As freshmen, we thought this was hilarious. (Why was Carl Sagan, who was teaching astronomy, talking about greenhouse gases? Because he was Carl Sagan. But I digress.)

It’s sobering to think that that noxious barnyard odor is not just repulsive, but also harmful to the environment. It’s also sobering to think that Burger King has been seriously contemplating the problem of cow greenhouse emissions. And I’m not sure how long the ad agency that produced that commercial will last with them. Though I, for one, would be curious to see a follow-up commercial on how their strategy is working out.

I would also be fascinated to be driving through farmland and see a herd of cows roaming the fields encased in giant plastic bubbles. How would they eat? What would happen to the methane when the cattle were released from their containers, as surely they must be at some time, if only to shovel their solid emissions.

I guess we should all just be grateful that the average cow diet doesn’t contain a lot of beans. Good for your heart, maybe, but not for the atmosphere.

 

If you want more details on the subject (though I imagine you don’t, really), go to https://gizmodo.com/do-cow-farts-actually-contribute-to-global-warming-1562144730

Food, Felons, Films, and Fire

When couples drive somewhere, usually the man drives. When families watch TV (assuming that they have only one TV), the father or the kids control the remote.

My husband and I subscribe to the first paradigm unless we are driving a long way, when we switch off on the driving chore.

But when it comes to the TV remote, the battle is on. I try to get him to get the snacks so I can get first crack at the remote. Sometimes I think my husband hides the remote in his side of the sofa just so he can get to it first. Our TV actually requires the use of two remotes. That’s when things can get ugly.

The problem is our different taste in viewing. We do have things in common – neither of us likes sports, or news, or celebrities behaving badly. But Dan likes classic films of all sorts – Jimmy Stewart and Judy Holliday and The Thin Man and John Wayne and Topper – as well as action and science fiction films full of mindless, high-tech violence.

I, on the other hand, am addicted to cooking shows and crime shows. I never make any of the recipes (or commit any of the crimes), but I find them soothing. Cooking is an everyday activity that involves creativity and pays off with a lovely meal. Crime, alas, is also an everyday activity that only occasionally involves creativity and pays off with just desserts. The closest thing we’ve figured out to a film that will satisfy both of us is Arsenic and Old Lace (the best movie about serial killers that I know).

So there Dan is, reaching for the remote to turn on Turner Classic Movies  or SyFy, while I am grasping, trying to get first dibs for The Food Channel or OWN. What to do?

Of course, we could take turns, which is no doubt what a mythical mom would suggest. Or we could just watch whatever the faster person finds, which is what we usually do. Or we can change the channel when the other person goes to the bathroom. (Innocently: Oh, were you watching that?)

I do admit that it can be tedious to watch 11 or 12 cooking shows in a row, or four or five gruesome murders. But I get twitchy when I have to devote two uninterrupted hours on a movie with screaming and explosions or (possibly) women with irritable, high-pitched voices arguing with big lugs. And when there’s a festival with an actor that he particularly likes and I never heard of, well, then I go to my computer and blog, which he considers antisocial (although it is probably the most social activity I engage in).

Part of what saves our marriage is that we have vastly differing schedules. Dan works third shift and watches The Fifth Element when he gets home and I’m still asleep. I watch Forensic Files while he’s fast asleep in the afternoons. It works fine, as long as he doesn’t turn on the Screaming and Explosions Channel when I’m trying to have a nap.

But (I hear you ask) aren’t there any programs that you both enjoy, that you can watch together? Or is your entire life a tale of remotes that pass in the night (or, well, the afternoon)?

Sometimes we can agree on a movie or turn to our collection of DVDs for something like Chicken Run that we both enjoy. (Yes, we’re serious intellectuals. Can’t you tell?) And there’s always House or Star Trek. But we have found one show that we get together for every Wednesday evening.

Forged in Fire.

For those not in the know, Forged in Fire is a competition show in which smiths make knives and swords, often with unexpected challenges thrown in (no power tools or rusty tools as source materials). Eventually, the final two contestants are sent home to make some elaborate blade, which is then tested in some fairly gruesome manners, until one of them wins $10,000 and bragging rights.

I’m sure you can see how this resembles Chopped, say, or Snapped. Forged in Fire satisfies my need for competition and creation, with a little gore thrown in for good measure. It gives Dan the old-timey pursuits that he loves, with men he can identify with whacking things with hard objects or sharp edges.

It may not be what marriage counselors recommend at couples bonding sessions, but it works for us.

 

The Blue Hue Poo Revue

ink drop / adobe.stock.com

I think all of us have learned, from experience if not from science class, what color bodily fluids are. Pee is yellow. Poop is brown. Blood is red. Nobody knows what color bile is, though I think it is supposed to be either yellow or black, depending on your sense of humour.

But from what we see on television, it would seem that bodily fluids are uniformly blue. Except maybe bile. There aren’t many bile-related products advertised on TV or in print either, for that matter.

The blue hue started with pee. Diaper commercials were the culprits. In an effort to demonstrate how well their products absorb, the diaper companies showed people pouring blue liquid into a diaper. The fake pee then turned into a blue, or sometimes purple, gel.

As is well known, however, the only blue pee that exists in nature is Smurf whiz, unless you count what happens after you drink punch at a particularly rowdy frat party. If an actual baby produced blue pee, you’d take the child to a doctor straight away; Google to find out if Smurfs ever leave changeling children, as elves and fairies are said to do; or tell your SO to stop taking the baby to frat parties.

Now let’s consider poop, which even small children know everybody does, though it’s not strictly speaking a bodily fluid (usually, that is, one hopes). Thanks to toilet paper commercials, we all now know that unclothed bears somehow have underwear that they can leave skidmarks in and that the bears are obsessed with toilet paper. They even “enjoy the go,” a state of mind that I have never attained.

We all assumed, I assume, that because they left skidmarks in underwear that no bear wanted to touch, the offending substance was the normal brown color, despite the bears being blue in at least half the commercials and red in the rest.

Recently, though, in an attempt to illustrate how well a certain brand of toilet paper cleans, one company showed two women’s wrists with smears of a blue … substance … on them. The superiority of the touted brand of asswipe (or wristwipe, in this case) was shown when the blue poo disappeared from one wrist but not the other. Why the models were wiping themselves using their wrists is one of those unsolved mysteries I don’t care to speculate on. 

Blood, as we know, only exists on TV commercials when children scrape their knees, and then the liquid is satisfyingly and accurately red. But when women’s “feminine hygiene products” (aka “period pads”) are being advertised, if the monthly flow is mentioned at all, again the illustrations are blue, much the same as with diapers. (This is what happens in a society where women’s genitals are referred to as their “lady gardens” or, in one memorable commercial, ” a woman’s V.” But I digress.)

However, recently, one brave advertiser has dared to admit – and illustrate – what all of us knew all along. Pee is not blue. It is yellow. The makers of Poise pads for LBL (light bladder leakage, for those of you not up on your three-letter acronyms) demonstrate the product’s effectiveness by having someone pour light yellow fluid onto the pad, which promptly absorbs it without turning it blue.

It may be slightly unsettling that the first version of this commercial showed a woman pouring the yellow liquid from a coffee pot, though the association of pee with coffee is an obvious one. I think later they decided to use a scientific-looking beaker, or at least a glass that made the substance look like lemonade. Or pee.

Let’s get real, folks. We now have poop emojis to put in our emails and posts, and they’re not blue. I think adults are adult enough now to tolerate a degree of accuracy in their advertising. And frankly, if we’ve been trying to protect children’s sensibilities rather than adults’ with all this blue foolishness, I submit that we’re not fooling them in the least. Personally, I think that children would find accuracy in bodily fluids hysterically funny and giggle uncontrollably. Which, ironically, is how I feel about the blue pee and poo.

 

Don’t Harsh My Buzz

We all have things we love. We all have things we hate. Where the trouble comes in is when we love something that others hate and they feel compelled to tell us we’re wrong. I’m not talking here about huge social or religious dilemmas or political differences. I mean the stuff that shouldn’t matter, but people get all exercised about.

Like pineapple on pizza. There are those who love it and those who hate it. But for some reason, the haters attack the lovers as though they’ve committed a mortal sin by allowing fruit to touch their Italian dish, which we all love. (Technically, tomato is a fruit too and nobody minds having tomato sauce on pizza. Don’t ask me what that kiwi’s doing there in the photo. I have no strong opinions about kiwi. But I digress.)

Now I admit to liking Hawaiian-style pizza on occasion, the kind that comes with (for some unknown, peculiar, multicultural reason) Canadian bacon and pineapple. It isn’t my very favorite – that’s pepperoni and extra mushrooms. But once in a while, I order pineapple.

This hurts no one. So don’t harsh my buzz. Be like John. I invited John over once and served him pizza. It had pineapple on it. Without making a fuss, John picked the chunks of pineapple off his slices, ate the pizza, then ate the pineapple separately, as a sort of dessert, I suppose. That is what I call a mature, polite approach to pineapple pizza. That’s how I would approach a pizza with kiwi, if I tried it (I would) and didn’t like it. Hell, I even tried anchovies once, just to see.

I find that some people like to harsh other people’s buzzes over a variety of topics. Once, when I posted something about Star Trek, a new Facebook friend replied, “You do know you’re too old for this.” Well, phooey on that. I loved Star Trek when it first came out and I still do.

Yet it seems that loving Star Trek is not enough for some people. I need to love the right kind of Star Trek. These days, Star Trek: The Next Generation gets beat up a lot for its storytelling, plot lines – everything except Patrick Stewart, who everyone admits is pretty great, except when he says, “Engage!” or “Make it so!”

But damnit, I like NextGen (as it’s called, when it’s not called ST:TNG). In some ways, I like it better than the original series (ST:TOS). Don’t ask me to defend why I like it. I shouldn’t have to.

Or take Cats (the movie). Okay, it wasn’t great cinematic art for the ages and it didn’t have much of a plot – which is understandable if you know that the source material is a series of poems. But it had fine singing, incredible dancing, and amazing costumes. It had cats and T.S. Eliot. Why wouldn’t I love it? Even my husband said it was “astonishing.”

Country music is another area that I love that people are determined to knock. It all sounds the same, or it’s the music of racists, or everyone sings through their nose, or some other objection. Or I should spend my time listening to something good (however that’s defined).

This really harshes my buzz. I grew up with country music and, despite it being my parents’ favorite music, I never disowned it, not even when I was in my teens and the Beatles hit it big. I enjoyed both Willie Nelson and Elton John. I even enjoyed John Denver. (There, I said it!)

I don’t know. Maybe it would have been different if I had lived in Texas, but in suburban Ohio at the time, I met with only scorn among my peers. And, I’m sorry to say, that scorn continues to this day. And I can see how easy it is for that scorn to develop. I never listen to modern country music. I’m still stuck at the Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Emmylou Harris stage. (And don’t harsh my buzz about Kris Kristofferson movies, either. I still like them, except the one he made with Sylvester Stallone, whose movies I’ve taken a vow never to see. But if you like him, fine. I won’t hassle you about it.)

I’m hoping that now that Ken Burns has turned his documentary lens on it, country music will regain its status as something that it’s okay to like. In fact, I may listen to Waylon Jennings while eating pineapple pizza, and then relax with a little NextGen.

It’s my choice. Don’t harsh my buzz.

Memories of Things I Didn’t Know Existed

My husband has a terrific memory. Not for where he left his car keys or wallet, of course. But for obscure TV shows, theme songs, and jingles, he’s the best.

Today, for example, he wanted me to look up online “Lincoln Vail of the Everglades.” I did, while he started singing the theme song. It turns out that it was an actual TV show that lasted for one entire season, recounting the adventures of a law enforcement officer who sped around the Everglades on an airboat. Dan also referenced “Sky King,” a similar show about using an airplane to fight crime.

Dan can sing the theme songs to “The Littlest Hobo,” a show about a wandering dog, “Car 54, Where Are You?” and “Davy Crockett” (which actually has more lyrics than just “King of the Wild Frontier”). For cartoon shows, he’s a good reference, too, blithely singing the theme songs to “Chip and Dale” and “Tobor, the Eighth Man,” which was a cartoon about a robot (get it? robot spelled backward).  He can sing “George of the Jungle,” of course (can’t everyone?). But he can also sing the entire theme to “Super Chicken” and part of “Magilla Gorilla.” And he can hum the tunes to the “Crusader Rabbit” and “Clutch Cargo” themes, which have no words.  He also still remembers the cartoons “Tennessee Tuxedo” (and his sidekick Chumley), “Mr. Magoo,” “Top Cat,” and “Beany and Cecil,” one of my personal faves.

But it’s in television commercials where he really shines. He even remembers the Ajax Pixies, who sang the first-ever commercial jingle on television, back in the 50s. He knows all the lyrics to the Good ‘N’ Plenty candy jingle (“Choo Choo Charlie was an engineer…”). He can sing the Texaco tagline (You can trust your car to the man who wears the star!/The big, bright Texaco star!) And he really captured my heart when he sang me the jingle for Kisling Sauerkraut, which he knew from growing up near Philadelphia. (It had a wonderful line in it about the product being sold in transparent plastic bags. That always gets me.  But I digress.)

References to old shows, cartoons, and jingles have made their way into our everyday lives as well. Sometimes when we leave the house, Dan will say, “Here we go, rocketing into fun-filled adventure with Adam Ant and Secret Squirrel!” (Half the time he says “a damn ant,” but never mind that now.)

Admittedly, these are not terribly useful skills, but they use as many brain cells as I do remembering Emily Dickinson’s, William Carlos Williams’s, and e.e. cummings’s poetry, I suppose. And, come to think of it, his knowledge is more likely to come up in bar trivia games than mine is.

Now, if only he could remember how to figure out what the date of Thanksgiving is, or the code to our storage locker, or the lyrics to “Bad Moon Rising” (he still thinks it goes “There’s a bathroom on the right”), then he’d be truly formidable. Until then, I’ll just have to be the repository of useful knowledge such as whether you have to travel north or south on the highway to get to the airport and what his cell phone number is and how to spell and pronounce “foliage.”

It’s a small price to pay for all those quality Saturday morning reminiscences.

 

 

Magic in the Kitchen

It’s amazing what you can find in a kitchen. I admire people who have matching containers for flour, sugar, and mixing spoons. They usually also have kitchen gadgets that I can’t even name, let alone operate. Then there’s the ubiquitous kitchen junk drawer, which as a friend of mine noted, contains “rabies vaccination tags for cats that ran away” and “a dozen mangled twistie ties from last year’s Wonder Bread.” (He also called it “The Mother of All Clutter” and “Perfection’s Perfect Safety Valve.”)

But the most amazing thing you can find in the kitchen is a new life. A new start. A new purpose. Redemption.

I first realized this when my husband and I were watching the TV show Chopped. We couldn’t remember the names of the contestants, so we gave them nicknames: Who’s getting chopped this round? Red-beard guy! No, kerchief lady! Pickles everything dude! (We do the same with Forged in Fire. Santa Claus guy! Teenage upstart! Tattoo-neck! But I digress.)

One night there was a man on Chopped we took to calling “The Old Drunk,” because he was, well, old-looking and called himself a drunk when the judges asked him to tell a little bit about himself. He told how he had spent years as a hopeless alcoholic and how, after he got sober, cooking had saved him. I don’t remember whether he won Chopped, but now, I understand, he has cooking videos on YouTube and has appeared on other Food Network shows like Beat Bobby Flay. He seems to have done pretty well for himself on his journey up from rock bottom.

Then I started noticing other contestants with equally compelling stories. There have been more than a few who have credited cooking with saving their lives or giving them a way out of alcoholism or other addictions. Men have said that their lives started in gangs or ended in jail until they discovered cooking. One woman said it helped her escape from domestic abuse. Any number have said that cooking helped them feel pride in themselves when their families disapproved of their lifestyle or career choices. And quite a few competitors have said they used cooking to help overcome challenges such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other physical and mental difficulties.

This is not something that occurs only on TV, either. My husband used to work in community-based corrections. (And no, that’s not where we met.) As he counseled prisoners (inmates? clients?), he routinely heard that there were two professions that they wanted to explore when they were back on the streets: hairdressing and cooking.

(I don’t think there are any competitive hairdressing TV shows, but as soon as I say that, someone is bound to prove me wrong.)

What makes cooking such a redemptive pursuit? I think there are several answers. Cooking takes time, attention, and creativity when it’s done well. Even non-professional (or non-competitive) cooks can take pride in the idea that they are nourishing someone else – or even themselves.

I’m not saying that cooking will solve all a person’s problems or replace AA. But I do think that cooking, whether it’s at the level of professional or amateur, art or craft, hobby or necessity, speaks to something vital inside us. Food is necessary for life, after all, and making that into something expressive and loving and creative is transformative, of both the food and the self. It feeds not just bodies, but sometimes the soul.

I’m not sure about Forged in Fire. I don’t know whether bladesmithing is a redemptive act, too, though I imagine if done with sufficient commitment, pride, and artistry it could be. The same is likely true of many of the other competition-type shows. (Except Cupcake Wars. I may be wrong, but I can’t imagine anyone redeemed by cupcakes.)

One of the best-selling cookbooks of all time is The Joy of Cooking. I think it’s the joy as well as the struggle, the stumbles and disappointments, the cuts and burns, the standing rib roasts and the fallen soufflés, that give cooking its power to feed us all, and especially those who practice it with passion.

And those people I really admire, whether they’ve got their canisters in a row or not.