“We must powder our wigs; that is why so many poor people have no bread.”
― Jean-Jacques Rousseau
I only have a few days left before I retire. I didn’t want any celebration or fuss – I simply wanted to not show up on the appointed and anointed day. But a handful of coworkers chipped in (the days when a company rewarded someone that has come to work for over two decades with a gold watch or something are long, long over) and bought me a present.
I was speechless. This is not a cheap gift. And it was so thoughtful – If you gave me a blank check and told me to buy myself something, regardless of cost – this would have been it (I realize there are much, much more expensive Maki-e pens out there – but I would be scared to even touch something like that). I love the cigar-shaped pens. I love the gold Japanese nibs (Pilot is supposed to be smoothest, Sailor the most feedback – but Platinum is right in the middle) – this one is a medium, which means it is very smooth and a joy to write with. It even has a technological advantage – a slip-and-seal cap that is supposed to keep the nib wet for two years. I find that claim a bit much – but an instant starting pen is important to me and this one is.
The Urushi lacquer and Maki-e artwork is stunning (it is the modern “screened” Maki-e instead of hand drawn – but I don’t care). It is the Sansui design of boats, rocks, and flowering plants… with some cool gold birds flying across the top and, best of all, a gorgeous blood-red rising sun peeking out from the clip. The nib is a big #5 14K gold, with a simple design and a stylized Mount Fuji straddling the tines (the reason the pen is called #3776 is that is the height of Mount Fuji in meters). I never really thought about a pen like that – I never would be able to spend that kind of money to myself. I’ve inked it up with some Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-Peki blue ink and can’t keep my hands off it.
It was very emotional for me to get such a thoughtful gift. I know it’s only “a thing” but it is an exquisite thing given as a gift, as a remembrance.
“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup”
― Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings
There are few things more expensive than free samples.
Candy ordered a new iced tea pitcher from some tea place online. That tea place also had a coffee subsidiary and they sent her a free sample – 2 oz. of whole beans in a little envelope – for me to try.
This fruit bomb with lush notes of cherry, black currant, passion fruit, and cocoa comes from Hacienda San Isidro Labrador Project, a farm is located 1900 meters above sea level on the hills of Dota, in the Tarrazu region. It is a small, family-owned farm overseen by Johel Monge Naranjo and his son Matias. The pair focus on specialty and traceable coffee. Their product have consistently placed atop the annual Cup of Excellence competition that identifies the very best coffee being grown in Costa Rica.
And damn… it was good. I’m not able to describe coffee flavors – so I don’t know about cherry, black currant, or especially passion fruit but I know a tasty, unique cup when it passes my lips. I think it’s the aerobic fermentation that gives it something that your bitter Starbucks lacks.
So now I want to buy some. It costs about twice what regular but good coffee costs. I’m torn, but I know I’ll eventually give in.
There are few things more expensive than free samples.
“All we do is sleep, and eat and lay around and make love. We’re like slugs. Slug-love, I call it.”
― Charles Bukowski, Women
Slug On My Stoop
There was a slug on my stoop
tonight there on the concrete as I walked to the car to drive to the club for some exercise.
Moving slowly in the Yellow porch light.
Some don’t like slugs but I don’t mind, mind their little heads lookin’ around for what? slugs don’t think about creativity the nature of art but I don’t mind slugs eyes on posts slug body soft undulate brown spotted
I think it is too cold too late for slugs
It was late and dark I spent too much time today lying on the couch resting, thinking, dreaming, the deadly black control remote in my hand the death of life, of thought.
Slugs like summer wet hot not cold rough concrete October stoop they like eating children’s lettuce going Duh Duh Duh
The little head eyes on poles what does it dream? of summer? Warm and wet? Children’s lettuce? I dream of wind waving cream colored fabric dappled sunlight dabs of sun dabs of green a dropping away a flower unfolding and blooming before me a lake through mesh gold minted coins
Sheriff Jerry Allen of Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, was combing through a storage vault in a courthouse basement on February 29, 1980 when he came across an envelope. It was from the coroner’s office and read, “Charles Hardin Holley, rec’d April 7, 1959.” Allen opened it and found a pair of black-framed angular eyeglasses, the lenses scratched.
At the opening of the 1950 classic film noir, D.O.A., Edmund O’Brien strides purposefully into a big-city police station, proceeds down long, endless corridors, and finally arrives at a door marked Homicide Division. “I want to report a murder,” he says to the head detective. “Who was murdered?” asks the cop. “I was,” replies O’Brien.
“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.” ― A.A. Milne
From my old online journal The Daily Epiphany – Wednesday, November 28, 2001
Corpus Christi is the home for Whataburger, the chain of fast-food hamburger joints.
I first ate at one in 1979, in Harlingen, Texas, when my brother and I drove from Kansas to South Padre Island for his spring break. We were spending the night is some bizzaro motel (the chains along the freeway being full, but giving us directions to a more out-of-the way place of lodging) that sported small lizards living in the showers and some man making enormous noise apparently puking in the room next door. Not knowing our way around, we simply drove ’til we found the first place to eat – a typical orange-and-white, A-frame Whataburger.
I remember having a damn good burger (such as it was).
Of course, in the decades since actually moving to and living in the Lone Star State, eating at Whataburger has become commonplace. Their food is old-fashioned and superior to the more national chains (such as it is).
The first night in Corpus Christi, Candy and Nick went out to eat with some teammates, but Lee didn’t want to go. He and I decided to simply walk out of the hotel and look for something to eat on foot.
We walked a few blocks, working our way through the dark streets of downtown Corpus Christi. Lee and I cruised past several seafood joints, a handful of Mexican places, and some bars with loud music pumping out through the smoke and florescent lights.
It wasn’t long before we saw the familiar orange and white A-frame of a Whataburger – and that’s where Lee wanted to eat. It wasn’t any old Whataburger, though, it was the company flagship, a super-delux eating establishment.
Two stories high, with a generous outdoor terrace overlooking the gulf, waiters to bring food to your table (though you still ordered at the counter – they gave out a little plastic number) and even tableside ketchup service (and Whataburger serves Fancy Ketchup).
Lee loved the place. Especially cool was the fact that a clot of teenagers with skateboards was grinding on the metal railing across the street. Lee grinned wide, especially when they’d let out a periodic string of obscenities.
It was nice, Lee and I, sitting out on the terrace, eating our burgers, chatting about the events of the day, enjoying the flawless weather and sweet ocean breezes.
Now that’s the only place Lee will eat. We went back for breakfast every day, and walked over every evening. It’s good when you’re nine to have your own restaurant – your hangout
“I’ve spent years living safely to secure a longer life, and look where that’s gotten me. I’m at the finish line but I never ran the race.”
― Adam Silvera, They Both Die at the End
Today, I received an internet ad from a rare book site. I usually ignore these completely and easily, but this one caught my eye. It was for a copy of the “Rare” book – The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments – accompanied by a photo of the cover. I instantly recognized that cover, because my parents had bought me a copy (which I eventually completely wore out until if fell apart) when I was in… third grade or so.
In a week, I’m going to retire, which will be the end of a forty-five plus year career as a chemist. I’ve worked in a mine, cleaning up toxic waste sites, responding to chemical spills and accidents, running an analytical lab, working in arguably the biggest paint factory in the world, and supporting a sophisticated microelectronics and semiconductor manufacturing factory. All of this, for good or for bad, pretty much began with that book (along with a chemistry set) when I was in third grade.
I spent untold hours trying out all of the experiments that the book held that I could assemble the raw materials and equipment for… and more untold hours poring over the experiments and demonstrations that I couldn’t find the equipment for. My chemistry set – it came in a double folding metal cabinet – chemicals in plastic bottles on one side – laboratory glassware, including an alcohol burner, on the other. I remember spilling my precious phenolphthalein powder and thinking, “I’ll never see any of that cool stuff again!” – I had no idea (I have done more acid/base titrations in my life that an human should be forced to do).
I especially enjoyed setting up an apparatus for the electrolytic separation of water into oxygen and hydrogen. For someone that young – hydrogen explosions are cool.
This “rare” book appearing in a random email ad brought back so many memories – piled one upon the other – back from decades and decades ago.
But the question is, why is that book “rare.” Thousands of parents must have bought that book for their kids like mine did – I’m sure every school library had a copy.
The problem is, a few years after I had my grubby paws on my copy – someone realized that there was some dangerous stuff in the book. It tells how to make chlorine (though not, in my opinion, dangerous quantities) and talks about several reagents that have since been identified as potential carcinogens (but what hasn’t, really). So the book was banned, removed from library shelves, and destroyed as a menace to society. Chemistry sets too, like the one I had, are not available anymore. It is not considered safe to have third graders in the basement melting sulfur with an alcohol burner – no matter how much fun, how educational, and how bad-smelling that is.
It didn’t help that the book inspired one kid to try and build his own atomic breeder reactor. From Wikipedia:
The book was also believed to be a source of inspiration to David Hahn, nicknamed “the Radioactive Boy Scout” by the media, who attempted to construct a nuclear reactor in his mother’s shed, although the book does not include any nuclear reactions.
It’s a shame. Danger is overrated. Risk is not understood – not balanced against the possible reward. How many future chemists ended up studying “Blank” Studies in college, instead of something useful. Useful and dangerous – in my mind the two words are synonymous.
“Then love knew it was called love. And when I lifted my eyes to your name, suddenly your heart showed me my way” ― Pablo Neruda, Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada; Cien sonetos de amor
I was waiting for my ride in the triple digits on the busy road that skirts the high tech manufacturing campus where I work. Over ten thousand folks work at that location – though most use the exits on the other side. I stared at a couple of the businesses settled in – a coffee shop named Kaffeine and a bar named Drinks.
A little too much on the nose… don’t you think? But I guess when you are stumbling on the way to work, trying to wake up and face the day – you don’t want to sift through cute coffeehouse names like The Roasted Bean, Espresso Express, or HuggaMug Cafe. All you need is the stimulant – therefore Kaffeine.
Same thing on the way home. All you want is to kill those same overstimulated nerves – all you need is a Drink… or two… or three…..
“The train bore me away, through the monstrous scenery of slag-heaps, chimneys, piled scrap-iron, foul canals, paths of cindery mud criss-crossed by the prints of clogs. This was March, but the weather had been horribly cold and everywhere there were mounds of blackened snow. As we moved slowly through the outskirts of the town we passed row after row of little grey slum houses running at right angles to the embankment. At the back of one of the houses a young woman was kneeling on the stones, poking a stick up the leaden waste-pipe which ran from the sink inside and which I suppose was blocked. I had time to see everything about her—her sacking apron, her clumsy clogs, her arms reddened by the cold. She looked up as the train passed, and I was almost near enough to catch her eye. She had a round pale face, the usual exhausted face of the slum girl who is twenty-five and looks forty, thanks to miscarriages and drudgery; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever-seen. It struck me then that we are mistaken when we say that ‘It isn’t the same for them as it would be for us,’ and that people bred in the slums can imagine nothing but the slums. For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. She knew well enough what was happening to her—understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum backyard, poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe.”
― George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier
I’ve been getting up early every day, even on the weekends, to go on a bike ride at dawn – to beat the heat. On weekends, that means I have my daily exercise out of the way by 8 AM. Which is weird for me, because it leaves so much of the rest of the day free.
So I had some of that most precious of possessions – a little bit of free time – and decided to pick a movie from The Criterion Channel to watch. After a bit of bouncing around I found a selection from Taiwan, The Hole. Directed by Tsai Ming-liang, Starring Yang Kuei-Mei and Lee Kang-sheng. It was blurbbed as: Set just prior to the start of the twenty-first century, this apocalyptic tale of pandemic alienation follows two residents of a crumbling Taipei building who refuse to leave their homes despite a virus that has forced the evacuation of the area. As rain pours down relentlessly, a single man (Lee Kang-sheng) is stuck with an unfinished plumbing job and a hole in his floor. This results in a very odd relationship with the woman (Yang Kuei-mei) who lives below him. Combining deadpan humor with an austere view of loneliness and surreal musical numbers, Tsai Ming-liang crafted one of the most haunting and original films of the 1990s.
The film seemed so much to be about the Coronavirus… a viral pandemic of unknown origin, a Chinese apartment building locked down, mysterious men spraying disinfectant, empty stores, coughing and then death…. It was hard to believe the movie was made almost a quarter-century ago – long before Covid.
The biggest difference is that this virus was spread by cockroaches and, after an initial flu-like stage, caused the victims to crawl around afraid of the light, like a roach. Pretty horrible.
The movie is slow and follows a man in an apartment – he has a food store nearby but no customers during the pandemic – and the woman in the apartment below him. The pipes are leaking and a plumber beats a hole in the floor of the man’s place which opens up in the ceiling of the woman’s. The two are then set at odds over the hole, the plumbing, and trying to get on with their lives. In addition to the disease it never stops raining, which adds an extra layer of depression to the tableau. The woman’s place is always wet – from the rain and the leaking sewer above – and she tries to get by with cases of paper towels as her wallpaper peels off all around her. This drab and depressing world is punctuated by colorful musical numbers lip-synced to old Grace Chen showtunes. No – this makes no sense… none at all.
The surprising thing is that all this depression and hopelessness actually has an upbeat… almost romantic ending. I’m not sure if what we see actually happens or is just another fantasy – but it is nice to watch, nice to think about.
“Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons, a home in insipid surroundings, a circle of acquaintances who are not quite our enemies, the noise of motors with just enough relief to prevent insanity? Who would want to live in a world which is just not quite fatal?”
― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
“Craig, there’s a bunch of kids with bikes on the front lawn calling for you.”
“Ok, Mom. I’ll go out the garage door.”
“I don’t know why they don’t come in. Why do they just stand there and yell. Now, don’t stay out too late, I’m cooking dinner.”
“Yes, Mom. OK, Mom.”
Craig went out through the kitchen and the door to the garage. He lifted up the heavy door and pushed his Sears Spaceliner bicycle out through the opening onto the apron, then turned and pulled the door down behind him.
“Hurry up slowpokes!” Bill Bradbury yelled out. “Let’s get going. They’re spraying for mosquitoes!” Spread out below him along the street were a half-dozen kids on bicycles, waiting for him. They all had spider bikes in a rainbow of colors with tiny wheels and big curved banana seats. The best bike was Bill Bradbury’s – a bright purple spider with sparkly metallic flakes embedded in the plastic of the seat and, best of all, a round car-style steering wheel instead of the usual high rise bars.
Craig hated his bike and wanted one of those spiders so bad. His dad had taken him to the big Sears store downtown and insisted on the gigantic, heavy Spaceliner. After only a few months the chrome was starting to rust, the paint starting to peel and the plastic buttons on the big dashboard that controlled the horn and built-in lights were broken and hanging out. Worst of all, the bike was way too big for him.
“Let’s get one plenty big, so you can grow into it and it’ll last a while,” his dad had said.
He had to push it to get it going, at least rolling down the slope from the garage to the street helped. After the wheels were turning fast enough, Craig had to climb up the side of the bike like it was a fence or something and haul himself over the top bar and onto the seat. Even then, at the bottom of each pedal stroke, the big, heavy pedals disappeared from under his PF Flyers and he’d have to fish for them as they came around and back up.
The thing was a heavy steel beast and hard as hell to pump up a hill but at least once it got going it was hard to stop and he tore through the gang of kids who whipped around on their little, light bikes to get going and catch up to him.
“Come on!” yelled Bill Bradbury as he passed Craig, standing and pumping furiously, hands gripping tight on the steering wheel (the thing looked cool but was a bitch to control, Craig knew), “The sprayer is this way!”
After a couple of blocks they heard the distinctive putt-putt-putt of the bug sprayer and then, around a corner, there it was. The City handyman, Stan Pencil, was driving a little Ford tractor down the street pulling the sprayer in a trailer behind. There was a small diesel motor on the trailer and a big tank full of chemicals feeding into the hot exhaust – leaving a thick blue cloud of oily smoke pouring out backward. This cloud spread out and drifted across the yards and driveways where is, supposedly, killed off all the disease carrying mosquitoes that were starting to swarm in the summer evenings. With a chorus of loud yells and whoops the kids swung into the street, riding right up behind the trailer into the thickest cloud of smoke.
“Dee Dee Tee Baby!” yelled Bill Bradbury as he stood on the pedals and sucked in as much as he could. “It smells so gooood!”
Craig couldn’t loop around like the others because of his huge bike, but he could keep up and ride in the smoke for a block or so before he’d have to peel off and come around again. He loved the smell of the smoke just like the others. Chasing after Stan Pencil, The Mosquito Man was the best thing in the summer evenings, especially after spending the day at the City Pool.
“Love this stuff!” Bill Bradbury was still yelling. “Breathe it deep enough and you’ll get drunk!”
“Hey! You kids! Get outta there! You’ll kill yourselves. Nobody can see you in all that smoke!”
Mrs. Cunningham was out on her front porch yelling. She was always out there yelling. Craig looked over at her red face above the handkerchief she held over her mouth. The kids all laughed.
“Listen to me! To hell with you! All of you!” Mrs. Cunningham was really working herself up into a lather this time. Craig thought about splitting off and riding home, but he knew he had a little time before dinner, so he kept going.
He made it home in time for dinner, but just barely. After he wheeled his bike back into the garage and washed his hands and face, his mother was peeling the foil off his dinner. He was happy, it was his favorite – two pieces of fried chicken in the big compartment, peas, carrots, and corn on one one side, mashed potatoes on the other and some apple cobbler at the bottom for dessert. His little sister had a smaller, kid’s dinner with spaghetti and meat balls and his Mother had turkey. His father held his fork over a bigger foil rectangle – one of the Hungry Man’s Dinners. It had two oval grayish Salisbury Steaks swimming in a dark brown sea of gravy.
Craig’s father attacked the steaks like he was starving. He always ate that way. He said it was because he grew up on a farm with lots of hands and if you didn’t eat fast, “You didn’t eat enough.” Craig was only half finished, with still a chicken leg, a couple spoonsfull of potatoes and his dessert to go when his father pushed the empty foil rectangle away, lit a cigarette, and started to tap the ashes off into the remains of his dinner after each satisfied puff. He burned the cigarette down to a butt without stopping and stabbed out the hot end into his dinner. Then he lit another.
His mother was still eating, but when her husband lit his cigarette, so did she. She would puff, take a bite, then puff again. She used a little ceramic ashtray that Craig had made for her as a summer camp.
“Connie Cunningham called over here this evening,” she said and then looked at Craig with a raised eyebrow. He knew better than to answer, and stalled by putting a bit of cobbler into his mouth.
“She said all you boys were following the mosquito sprayer on your bikes again.”
Craig shrugged a shoulder.
“Don’t talk back to your mother!” his dad said, as he crushed his second cigarette and lit a third. Craig thought about retorting, “I didn’t talk back, I didn’t say anything!” but knew better. “She says that you follow too close and that the cars can’t see you in the smoke. She was pretty upset.”
“Now, I don’t want you doing that any more, you hear me,” his father added.
Craig glared at his little sister who was smirking at him.
“Ok, Ok. Now can I be excused?”
“Yes, take out the trash, please, and then go up to do your homework.”
Out by the alley with the trash bags Craig had to swat a half-dozen mosquitoes off his arm.
“Damn thing doesn’t even work,” he said as he trudged back inside.