Sunday, October 4, 2020

Pumpkin spice is the truth, the way

This time of year pumpkin spice makes its annual resurgence in our culture, much like news reports of Betty White's demise. (She's still fine.) The sheer, sudden pervasiveness of pumpkin spice in everything causes a certain backlash, as with anything popular. Pumpkin spice haters, or "pumpers," as I call them, clearly need a hobby. I mean, besides Deep State rumor-mongering. They need their own political party, with Eeyore as their mascot.

There is nothing wrong with the world that a little pumpkin spice can't cure. I know this is a majority opinion, which is rare for me, so I am basking in it. This time of year, I walk a little taller.  And smell better, thanks to my pumpkin spice aftershave, which has the added benefit of soothing my razor burn. It's like rubbing autumn, and commercialism itself, all over your cheeks. 


Pumpkin spice is really a misnomer, though. What they should call the fragrance is, simply, "spice." Nobody rips open a bag of pumpkin spice marshmallows and exclaims, "Mmmm. Gourdy!" 


Pumpkin is not a smell, it is a porch-based science experiment. The spice smell is from the pie, and the pie is from Thanksgiving, so pumpkin spice, in its October marketing, is really just a subliminal way to get the consumer salivating to SPEND next month.


It's genius.


ACTUAL products which you, like me, should never be able to get enough of:


Pumpkin spice SPAM 


Pumpkin spice Kraft macaroni and cheese


Pumpkin spice Pringles


Pumpkin spice doggie dental treats


Pumpkin spice hummus


Pumpkin spice beard oil


Pumpkin spice latte deodorant!


Pumpkin spice protein powder


Pumpkin spice instant latte for dogs


Pumpkin spice squeezable apple sauce


Pumpkin spice-flavored pumpkin seeds!


Pumpkin spice salsa


Pumpkin spice kale chips


Pumpkin spice dog shampoo


Because nothing is more entertaining than the look in a dog's eyes when you have convinced him that he is pie.



My neighbors a few blocks down have little pumpkins growing as decoration along the front strip of their yard. I am tempted to go after dark and stick a little sign in the top of each one that says "Now with spice!" 


That is how much "in the spirit" I am. 


It is not just a matter of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves or ginger. Not just about evoking memories of holidays past so we empty our wallets. Pumpkin spice, at its core, is closer to spirituality than commerce. A prayer, almost, of a better way. A path. A path which smells better than we do. 


As father of capitalism Adam Smith famously wrote (I am paraphrasing), "All pumpkin spice is a matter of belief." 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Perks Of Very Dark Times

It's true I have not written any posts since March, when the coronavirus and political discord got the best of me and I had a hard time finding humor in anything. But recently I got to thinking. Just because I've lost my sense of humor doesn't mean I can't write words down. So here you go!

. . .

These are dark times for anyone whose name doesn't rhyme with Pezos, but the silver lining is there to be found if you just look. Sure, it's a pain to wear a face mask, but there ARE some upsides:

  • Nobody can see if you have spinach in your teeth. 
  • Nobody can be blown back by your bad breath. 
  • Men, your coworkers won't even know if you've shaved or not. 
  • The fact that everyone who lost their jobs over COVID isn't masking up and robbing banks every day is sincerely heartening. 
  • Research shows that most of us have gained a 59% increase in our daily requirement of breathed cotton lint.
  • Genuinely dumb people, who believe that re-breathing your own carbon dioxide will kill you, are suddenly very vocal, providing free entertainment for those who have already watched everything on Netflix.
  • Total strangers can now get into fights (hey, your body doesn't care HOW you get your cardio) over facial wear, an advancement that even earrings on men could never bring about. 
  • For the first time in history, the audience-reach of the political yard sign has been exponentially increased by being transferred to the human face.
  • Seriously, your breath has been an issue.
  • Always wanted a daylong ear massage? Boom.


It's not just deadly viruses which have an upside. Elections years always bring their own perks too:

  • The economy gets a tremendous boost from ammunition sales.
  • Also home-use blood pressure cuffs!
  • Citizens are reminded who is good and who is bad.
  • You no longer have to wait all the way until Thanksgiving to "get into it" with Uncle Morty. 

Downsides:

  • "Bloviate" changes from a verb to a noun and rhymes with Soviet, as in "We now live in a uncurtailed Bloviate."
  • Genuine truth is twisted by the powerful to play as lies to the gullible, a cohort of such recent growth in number, if it formed its own political party, it could win every election from now until the civil war. 
  • The Deep State turns out not to be nearly as deep as thought, and is mostly night managers of Dunkin shops. 

Any year with both a deadly worldwide pandemic AND a presidential election could be expected to be full of drama, yet the huge surprises still keep coming and it's only September. We are learning as we go. I certainly am. Check it out—mind blown:


QAnon turns out not to be, as I had thought, for people addicted to Zachary Quinto.


. . .








Sunday, February 9, 2020

Coming out as Californian

I think it is a sign of a certain maturity when you reach the age where you stop trying to hide the fact you are a walking California stereotype. It's not like you publicize it or anything. But you find yourself mentioning casually to a friend that you recently bought reusable stainless steel drinking straws in order to save the turtles. You keep them in a cloth pouch in your car's glove compartment. You whip them out at fast food establishments, saying to the counter person, "No thanks. I brought my own." You ignore her slight recoil, as she realizes she is Just. Not. As. Californian. As. You.

You might think the contents of all glove compartments are the same, from sea to shining sea. They are not. Sure, in cars anywhere between California and New York, you will find some commonality; emergency sunglasses, your old scratched ones you keep just in case you forget your good ones. Paper napkins and ketchup packets. Pencil nubs. Seven years of insurance documents because you can't remember which one is current. Three pennies. Expired coupons. Inexplicably, a roll of dental floss, not even in a dispenser. These are universal.

A Californian's glove compartment, though, might actually contain gloves, because in the morning, steering wheels can dip below 70 degrees to the touch. I am speaking of native Californians, not recent arrivals, the behavior of whom is unpredictable due to the sudden, intoxicating exposure to sunlight. Aside from gloves, though, the glove compartment of a true Californian, by which I mean a SOUTHERN Californian, by which I mean a "woke" Southern Californian, will always have the following items:

Stainless steel drinking straws, kept clean in a hemp drawstring sack made by the indigenous people of Venezuela. (The hemp sacks of Columbia are excellent too, but one cannot verify the "fair trade" aspect of those, and so are to be avoided.) 

Tube socks for the homeless, to be handed out at stop lights. 

Travel size, abridged version of "An Inconvenient Truth" by Al Gore, the one with the reflective back cover, which can also be placed under your rear windshield wiper in the event of a breakdown after dark. 

Gift card to Whole Foods, and a stamp card from Vegan Vibrations.

Audio CDs of Michelle Obama's "Becoming," aka El Biblio.

A pair of plastic-free, BPA-free silicone wine glasses, because sharing is caring, and caring is not optional. 

A purple amethyst geode from Sedona, to stabilize your car's chi, a necessity for L.A.'s freeways.

A lot of people reading this will not be from Southern California, and will think I am joking about the steel straws, but I am not. The only thing a Californian wants to protect more than sea turtles is a hemp farmer's right to unionize. We are not playing. 

I admit a steel straw gets awfully cold on the lips when imbibing some iced boba or a milk shake. It takes some getting used to, but better a little discomfort for the cause than sleepless nights over befouling the planet. Plus, there is the satisfaction which comes from knowing you are better than other people, which should not be underestimated. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

40th High School Reunion

In kindergarten you don't know that your beloved teacher, who cast you as the ferocious lion in the class circus pageant specifically because you were so shy, will one day die of cancer. 

You don't know that the nap time you take for granted during class, where you pull out a beach towel and chill on the floor for 10 minutes, will sound pretty good to you again in your 50s when the afternoon rolls around. 

You don't know that while you spend that kindergarten year watching a bean plant grow in dirt in a clear plastic cup, watch the roots spread down and the sprouts shoot up, more than 3,000 American boys will die in Vietnam, boys who once spread beach towels too.

In kindergarten, where your two forehead cowlicks still defy gravity, giving you the appearance of a great horned owl, you can't know that 52 years later you will attend a 40th-year high school class reunion. Or that several friends from that same kindergarten will be there, armed with pictures of their kids and even grandkids of their own. Reunions are surreal events, like something out of Poe, where the past shimmers in the same physical space as the present. This is not a criticism.

There are people whose names you recognize on their name tags but not their current faces, and people whose faces have barely changed in 40 years but whose names you cannot possibly dredge up. There is that moment where you have to decide whether it's rude to check the name tag, as if somehow after 40 years, after 14,600 days, you should still be required to remember a name you last heard as you sat in your sweltering seat on that graduation lawn.

There by the bar is the one dude in the whole school who could run faster than I could in sixth grade. By the buffet, wait, is that the girl who was the first in our grade to develop breasts that same year? 

There is a guy I remember mostly from P.E. class, taller than I remember, who tells me he spent the last two years caring for his dad at the end of his life. "He was there for me when I needed him, and I promised him I'd be there for him."

I remember the first reunion, 10 years after graduation, having a vibe of "what have you made of yourself?" A kind of posturing. Some of us were still single, some had four kids, some were already divorced. I remember one guy made fun of me for not remembering his name even though we spent years on the same track team. He was a hurdler. Who remembers hurdlers?

At the 40th there is no such vibe. There is only warmth, a feeling like gratitude, of still being around when quite a few of our class are not. By the entrance is a poster board showing dozens of classmates we have lost, posed in their senior portraits, forever young. Now and then a group will cluster around it. "I didn't know that," one will say. "Oh my God, I just ran into him a couple of years ago."

I visit the buffet table and grab some hors d'oeuvres. I talk to my buddy I remember better from junior high, who just lost his wife a few months ago, the pain still clear in his voice. He played high school football and coaches it now, a mentor to boys just like he was, a halfback whisperer. 

California girls. They make you feel sad for all the other states. I'm sorry, but that song nailed it. Some of these ladies have still got it going on. Gone is the sense of vanity, though. They are comfortable in their skin. It's nice to see.

I chat with one old kindergarten friend, who has recently left his career and moved home to care for his elderly mom. The kindness in his eyes has never changed. It is amazing how we may develop crow's feet or lose our hair, but the eyes stay the same. I notice it again and again.

I spend a minute with a woman who was a ravishing girl in school. She is still lovely and now a successful writer-producer in Hollywood. I would never have said a word to her in high school, but now casually ask her, since mutual friends have posted updates about her career online, how the TV business is. She describes another epic series she is working on. Nice, I say, well good luck, and then it's my turn to order at the bar.

Reunions are full of these moments with people you didn't really know, but with whom you went through something together and feel comfortable. I expect Titanic survivor reunions were much the same. 

There is the guy who accepted my friend request on Facebook a few years ago, but I notice we are not currently friends there, and so I guess he was just being polite. There is the person I un-friended because they "liked" a friend's blatantly racist comment about "sending them all back to Africa." Online life makes real life weird, but often only once a decade. 

There's my fellow runner who, like me, became a librarian, still hilarious as ever. And my theater friend, who recounts getting kicked out of a show "for good cause," he admits, because the pain of his parents' divorce often caused him to "just check out." 

Perhaps the most valuable single thing about aging is the perspective you gain on your younger self, something our friends on the remembrance poster never got to do. 

There are other conversations. There are also people I saw from a distance and recognized but didn't approach. Reunions are inherently weird, and maybe doubly so for us introverts. If you are reading this, and I never talked to you, rest assured I was glad to see you. Genuinely. It's not you, it's me.

Back in the '70's, every graduating class had a slogan based on its year of graduation. Ours was "'79 is fine." It had been preceded by "'78 is great," which is inarguably better, but you can't choose when you were born. I always felt sorry for the class of '80. They ended up, I think, with "8-0 is on the go," which is painfully vague, and should have been reason enough for abolishing the practice altogether.

Do they still do it? Is next year's class slogan "'20 is plenty"? Minty? Flinty? Linty?

I did a lot of plays in high school. In one, at age 16, I played an old man looking back on life. A few of his lines touched me, even then, and I have never forgotten them: "How many of us would settle, when we're young, for what we eventually get? All those plans we make. What happens to them? It's only a handful of the lucky ones who can look back and say that they even came close."

The event was held after dark in a local botanical garden, just across the street from our old high school. The party site was quite a ways from the parking lot, so at the end we were shuttled back to our cars in one of those electric golf carts. Those go pretty fast. Whizzing past the foliage in the dark, it felt like a scene from "Jurassic Park," as if a velociraptor might leap out at us at any moment. Or one of our old teachers, beard down to his knees, sprung from his grave by our merry-making, still waving a protractor in the air. 

For the record, I had only been drinking soda.

I drove away down the main street and a memory came to me of a spring night 40 years earlier, when the same street had been completely flooded, filled curb to curb from a rainstorm as I drove my date to a formal dance. Or my dad drove us. I don't remember which date or which dance. But I remember the water, and our car like a ship cutting through it. Apocalyptic. There was a drought then too. One's home town, I guess, is full of visions like that. 

We danced to this thing they had back then called rock music. It's not around any more. Kids at our old high school these days have heard of it, no doubt, but probably regard it the way we used to think of ragtime. Half a century from now, hip-hop will likely elicit an eye-roll from teenagers. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut used to say. So it goes.

1979. Jimmy Carter was president. He's still around, you know. So are we. And the class of '79 is still fine.


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Hawks and omens

I started listening to an audiobook recently which came highly recommended. It was called "H is for Hawk," and I listened to it for a couple of days but decided to bail. It was just too dry for me, and I still have 255 other books on my "to read" list.

The next day, driving down the freeway, I saw a hawk circling above me and took it as a sign to give the book another try. I like bird omens. Even if they end up wrong, they're pretty. 

I still didn’t like the book, bailed again. This morning, a week later, I looked out my front door and, I kid you not, a HAWK was sitting in the center of my front lawn. Never happened before, in decades living here. It turned its head from side to side, then flew away after 20 seconds or so. I saw the distinctive tail feathers. It was a hawk. 

O.K., universe, I get it! It’s a great book! I’m not reading it. H is for "hard pass."

I am not a big believer in omens, but they certainly go way back. Humans have tried to make sense out of randomness forever. Eclipses were interpreted as a sign, abnormal births too. Even, according to one source I read, "the behavior of a sacrificial lamb on the way to the slaughter" was an omen.

Behavior. I'm guessing...oblivious or petrified? Which one was a bad omen for the slaughterer? Maybe if the lamb suddenly starts moonwalking, get out your locust nets? Maybe if, on the way to the slaughter, the lamb runs over and bites the lion in the butt, you know you'd better clean out your rain gutters for the coming frog-pocalypse. 

After the slaughter, things got even wiggier, apparently. They would call in the entrail expert to intuit the future via guts. If the guts looked weird, it was bad news for actors, at least in one culture. I read that if the experts thought signs pointed to the king being in danger, they would put a fake king on the throne until they thought the danger had passed.

Who do you get to play a fake king? An actor. Imagine the casting notice: "Wanted, for a one week to one year run, middle aged, beard preferred, must resemble the currently sitting monarch. There is a stipend, and we absolutely WON'T kill you once your part is no longer needed."

They'd totally kill him. And, to be honest, during the gig, the mead was only so-so. 

I do not think a pristine set of lamb entrails ever ensured a good harvest. It did mean a good dinner that night, at least, and a solid future for mint farmers. 

This is all by way of saying, I'm not going to read that book.