Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Five More Thoughts - Even MORE Shtick Ed.

I always figured it a German sort of creole, but the spell-checker brings up "shtick" without the "c," and so who am I to argue? Eh spell-chequer wood knot lye two Mie. Whatever, the point is that the routine's still pretty much the same (wah wah wah wah, me me me me), and the alleged thoughts are too (perils of sarcasm, music inability, resentful foodie-ism, family follies, commuting--hating myself for doing it doesn't excuse constantly writing the same post). I'm going for more frivolity than last time, as I continue to avoid serious work, and to procrastinate a book review that requires an ounce or two of actual thinking. I don't even care what day of the week it is.

1. Not!
In age-old posts, I liked to speculate about language and culture. If Russian, say, is fabulously suited for sarcasm, Italian (by definition) for heated romance, then Yiddish is a great dialect for self-deprecating irony, or at least that is something years of consuming American humor has taught me. (I am not comfortable with this sort of generalization, but I needed a segue, you understand.) Even though life has any number of cruel built-in jokes, it's still not easy to go through it being only half-serious. Well, it does allow you to cut yourself a lot of slack when you make assertions, which is always handy in those cases when those assertions happen to be wrong, but unfortunately you can't ace living when all you ever go for is partial credit. But even if you must hedge constantly, it's better than being dead-ass wrong on everything without ever showing your work, right? I equivocate a lot, too. It drives me crazy, except when it doesn't.

The problem is that circumstances develop which require more confidence. When you sarcastically load every utterance with its own counterargument, savor every double entendre, then where does that leave you when you want to say something sincere, to someone you like or respect? I've been catching myself quipping all sorts of things that, if one were to fail to pick up the meaning I intend, then they'd be left with the exact opposite. "I like the dress, Sweetie. No, it's my honest opinion. No, really!" I don't always make good first impressions.

The fact that some people seem to understand what I mean, at the level I intend it, is a little unsettling. Either I'm a better communicator than I think I am, or one with fewer shades. Or else you're just as nuts as me.

2. I'm not dead yet.
When I was a kid, the Lego brand symbolized the quality sort of toy building bricks. Unlike the competitors that had been around forever--patriotically-themed frontier beams, the awful hub-and-spoke networks with the derogatory Romany name, or the metal screw-together bars that were vaguely Communist in their ugly, ill-fitting universality--the newfangled little snap-together plastic cuboids, with the bizarre product literature translated from the original Danish (and quickly-discarded pictorial instructions that were smart enough to avoid translation altogether), were awesome. The bricks were small enough, and fit together snugly enough that you could make anything out of them and have it stay together.

There were a small number of specialty pieces that could add angles, hinges, wheels, and a few other useful odds and ends--wings, 90o headlights, cones, cylinders, windshields, and little dudes that achieved a sort of happy minimalist humanity--that could let a kid really innovate. I came to the age-appropriate scene when they were working at bifurcating their product lines to sucker in the completists. How I begged my mom and dad for the space-themed Legos (rockets, antennas, clear yellow blocks). My brother was big on the castle set (had some wall blocks, lances, Lego trees). It didn't take long before they all ended up in the big box. [I got a kick out of the "expert builder" Legos too, which ended up in a different box.]

The pre-made horses for the Lego knights were probably a bad sign, and over 25 years, the trend seems to have grown entirely out of hand. Best I can tell, each set is now comprised of approximately three highly specific, complex pieces that only nominally interact with pieces from other sets. I thought I saw a Bionicle thingie that didn't have any of the Lego buds on it at all. Might as well buy action figures.

In grad school, I bought Lego Racers (the video game), which, while having nothing to do with snap-together proto-engineering, somehow caught that spark of honest fun that some artist once caught on a smiling plastic yellow face. And virtual Lego has only been improving, by the looks of it. Lego Rock Band looks like tons of fun, somehow a little more pure than the block-less version of the game. Legos are dead, but the idea of Lego lives triumphantly on.

3. I'm dancing! I'm happeeee!
I've gone on about Rock Band, which is like a whole-family karaoke-full of fun. I like that we can do it together while I wait for the kids to warm up to the idea of participating in the jug band, and it's fun to pretend to drum, but of all the hobbies...

In my non-musical musical family, we're singers least of all. To be fair, my father (who is also the only one of us alive that can keep time) can produce credible, ear-pleasing, Garfunkular harmonies, but the rest of us possess voices that have been known to send dogs whimpering inside during the full moon. The local minister canceled Christmas in 1979 to keep my grandfather away from the hymnal. Yoko Ono once threw an egg at my mom. My poor daughters both adore singing, and enjoy chorus greatly, emote the notes innocently and without shame. My darling little girl (who I'd love to see get a shot at acting) has had a hard time landing prominent roles in the school productions because they're musicals. And yet I'm all for it--what can make you happier than singing, after all?

So getting a compliment for my voice was something entirely unexpected (and I'm sure my wife regrets it deeply). Granted, it was in comparison to two pre-pubescent girls trying to sing male parts, but I'm taking it. Evidently, I'm at least occasionally capable of hitting the same two notes that John Fogerty, Steve Perry, and Pete Townshend sing most of the time. Sweet.

(As I write this, Stephen Colbert is singing along with Elvis Costello, and faking it pretty well. Fucking talented people.)

4. Peer Pressure.
Colbert completely justifies anything else Comedy Central might ever do. I still haven't figured out what I like about Food Network (as I've often complained). Okay, I like to ogle the food, which they sometimes highlight between the personality parade. I also get a kick out of how they dub Japanese-accented English over Masaharu Morimoto's broken English. (Lou Ferrigno is somewhere flexing his muscles in sympathy.) I might enjoy Alton Brown's Mr. Wizard schtick if he weren't so damned smarmy about it.

And what's the alternative? Both times I've watched America's Test Kitchen, I've wanted to strangle that bespectacled know-it-all who tells me that everything I know about cooking is wrong. The presence of some interesting facts and explanations in there is that much more annoying, somehow. Maybe it's the presentation, like I'm being addressed as a ten-year-old. Any good material scientist knows the importance of morphology; any chemical engineer who's been around the block knows how touchy biochemical processes are to shepherd. I don't feel I need the level of condescension they offer.

Yesterday, I got schooled in the use of a potato ricer, which all the TV chefs have been playing with lately, and which I deeply suspect is a useless trendy gadget. Glasses-guy accented his shopping guide with an after-school vintage cartoon telling me the viscoelastic spuds I grew up with just. aren't. cool. Now, I always thought "creamy" was the goal, and my trick, such as it is, has always been to put plenty of fat and milk in there, as I whip the living crap out of them, mm-mmmm. I admit they're a little gluey. But why not? I associate "fluffy" with the under-processed (and slightly under-seasoned) taters that frequented my grandmother's table, and were preferred in eastern European households (data set of one). I admit they weren't my favorite. My mom also had a ricer at one time, long ago, that she used to turn leftovers into baby food. So I'm thinking, you're shitting me, right?

Of course I bought one. I'll report back.

5. I hate driving, have I ever mentioned that?
First we tried the local cooking shops, but the ricer required a trip to the nearest big megamall (helping to confirm the suspicion that it's a high-class, food-porn sort of gizmo), which, I'm sorry to say, isn't really that near. I hate everything about these places. I hate the crowd, the parking, the forced festivity, the canned indoor air, the designed inefficiency of moving around, the frenetic sense of holiday consumer pressures, the time crunch that prevents me from looking around at the rare item that's interesting (such as anything in the bookstore).

It's not even officially Hell Month yet, but there was no parking spots at the mall today. I'm happy to walk, but don't care to be stared down by looming blinkering fatasses on even the parking outskirts. Nor do I appreciate the dangerous pedestrians who scoot in front of my car to cross the street. When I stupidly jump out in front of moving traffic, I'm sure to make eye contact (what driver doesn't appreciate a thank-you wave for being forced to yield?) at least enough to avoid getting run over. It's a simple question of weight ratios, after all.

There's a special place in hell for the drivers of little cars that park deep in the slots, making them look empty, or better, let's damn the drivers of the street behemoths who block the view. The whole American consumer culture is overdue for a reimagining (which may not be voluntary when and if it comes), but I've got to tell you, in a lot of ways I'm more motivated by personal, and largely irrational annoyances.

[I need to go to bed. I'll clean up the English tomorrow, if so motivated.]


Potato Ricer said...

Yeah a potato ricer isn't essential but I think they do make a difference to the quality of the mash.

Keifus said...

Ricerbots! Awesome!

artandsoul said...

So THAT was the problem with my potatoes! Well, I like 'em lumpy, so there!

What you really need is a Microplaner. Trust me. That is a tool worth having, worth using and even though it sounds very tony, it's a true workhorse in the kitchen!

twif said...

perse will sing the praises of a ricer. me, i've always gone for the manual masher. i'll second the microplane grater though: fantastic for zest.

i am dismayed by the new lego trend towards pre-formed pieces. however, they still work with the old blocks. as my mom dutifully saved all sorts of crap i forgot i had as a kid, there is still a ton of legos floating around her house. so, the wee lad will at least be able to incorporate those with any newer sets. once he's past the stage where he simply wants to eat them, that is.

as for singing, i probably cannot hit those notes. fucking tenors. i'm a baritone, tending towards the lower register. my sweet spot is about the same as bing's. alas, the age of crooners passed me by.

Keifus said...

Well, the ricer confirmed my suspicion of returning eastern European potatoes, just with fewer lumps than the hand-mashed. They were definitely fluffy, however, and most importantly of all, my wife was pleased.

I do have a microplane grater (actually two, both gifts, and hey, now I know what they're called), and I admit that I like it.

We used to keep the legos in a suitcase, and it was one of the very few things that my mom felt was worth savnig. Somehow, the damn thing disappeared at the moment my kids were the right age. I think she gave them to my cousins.

As for hitting notes, a sweet spot ain't a bad thing to have. I just hope to get lucky.

twif said...

yeah, it's not bad, though my voice is rather unpracticed these days. just have to mentally transpose everything into a key i'm comfortable with.

artandsoul said...

I think you should both try a few nights at a monastery, and join in with the monks chanting.

It's pretty awesome.

And I"m not talking about anything remotely conventional-awesome.

There is something very comforting about the male voice chanting in the dark, in a space with a 50 ft ceiling and candlelight flickering and its mostly dark... they chant at that sweet spot you're talking about, twif.

Which just happens to be impossible for a woman's voice to match. Except in a whisper.