You motherfuckers think you’re pretty clever, don’t you? Well let me tell you: I am un-fucking-impressed. Let me explain: I buy your whole milk vanilla yogurt for one reason and one reason only – the thick, unpasteurized layer of cream that comes on the top. It is one of the few unadulterated benefits of being my family’s principal grocery shopper that when I get home and put everything in the fridge, I take a moment to grab a tablespoon, open the yogurt tub, and skim off that delicious, fatty cream top. I have always loved creamy shit, and as society has gotten more health-conscious, I get fewer and fewer opportunities to indulge in the simple pleasure of creamy things. So I have always loved your yogurt.

And now you’ve gone and gotten rid of it. What the fuck? Do you think I care about your three-generations-of-family-farmers shtick or your sustainable practices or the fact that all the goddamn dairy cows get pedicures or whatever? I do not care. Without the cream top, you are no different than Dannon, Breyers, or the store brand. Basically, without the cream top, you’re worthless.

Now, I can understand that I am in the minority. Every day, I meet people who go on and on about “Oh, I can’t even drink two percent milk, that’s too rich,” and so forth. Of course, I mostly just want to smack them and say, “Toughen the fuck up, you damn wimps! I drink half and half, for chrissakes,” but I don’t, and I know that the tide is against me, so maybe it was a good marketing move for you to scrap the cream top. Fine. That’s business.

But you know what’s not business? You know what is unmitigated bullshit? This: if you have a brand that is basically known for one thing – the cream top – and you decide to get rid of that thing, your packages should have a banner on them saying, “NO MORE CREAM TOP!!!” I mean, you made the switch, so own it, right? Right. But you motherfuckers went and did the opposite:

photo.JPG

“Tastes creamier”?! Are you fucking kidding me? It is emphatically less creamy AND AS A RESULT IT TASTES LESS CREAMY. Just looking at that little emblem, I would suppose you added more cream to the cream top, not took it away entirely! Even when the world was subjected to the debacle of new Coke, we didn’t have to have our intelligence insulted with a banner on every can that read, “Now Exactly The Same!” Creamier! Come on.

Fuck you, Stonyfield Farms. Just … fuck you.

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The Forbidden Meal

April 25, 2011

My darling wife is, as a general question, tolerant of my preferences and eccentricities. But there is one thing she will not abide, a practice she finds so repellent, so contrary to good manners and morals, that it is fully prohibited from our home while she is present. I refer, of course, to the preparation and consumption of chicken hearts.

Why does Anna object to chicken hearts? It is not because they are high in cholesterol, although they are. Nor is it out of some humanitarian concern for chickens: I have seen her consume chicken legs without compunction, and I would argue that it is more cruel to leave one of these barnyard perambulators legless than simply to take his heart. No, Anna’s objection lies in the realm of grossness. To her, it just too gross to eat another animal’s heart. I try to persuade her, pointing out the obvious psychic benefits of consuming another creature’s life-sustaining organ, feeling its power flow through us, &c., but she just cringes. (She is probably remembering that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.)

So why is this a problem? Well, do you know how delicious chicken hearts are? I will tell you: THEY ARE VERY DELICIOUS. Imagine if you could take everything that was good about a whole roasted chicken – properly seasoned and cooked, of course – and use some sort of large hadron collider to pack all that chickeny goodness into a package the size and consistency of my thumb from tip to first knuckle. That is a chicken heart. Now imagine taking about forty of these thumb-sized joy parcels, deep frying them, and dusting them in salt. Exactly.

Tonight, Anna is out of town. TONIGHT, MY SONS AND I WILL FEAST.

(Note to self: stop by the grocery store for more oil.)

CT represent (WWII memorial)

Sigh. Monday morning like any other, with lunches to pack, children to roust from slumber, and the sundry bustling of weekdays. Here are some last vacation pictures, posted as much for the pleasure it gives me to look over them as for any informational or entertainment value they might have for my three loyal readers.

Lincoln Memorial

Dumbo (Smithsonian)

Playing on the National Mall

The zoo is always wonderful (except for the suffering of the pent-up animals, but we can save that moral dilemma for when my kids are grown), but certain things can make it extra-wonderful: (1) The zoo is FREE (except for, you know, the taxes we already paid to keep it open, but again, that’s a worry for another time); (2) A friend of a friend is a marine biologist who works in the Invertebrate House (refrain from making Congress-related jokes here) and he gives you a cut-the-line, behind-the-scenes, feed-the-octopus tour. So yeah, that was day two of our DC vacation and it was spectacular:

Reuben feeds the anemones, National Zoo

Max feeds the anemones, National Zoo

We fed the anemones.

Behind the scenes at the National Zoo, feeding Octavius the octopus

Octavius the octopus, National Zoo

Behind the scenes at the National Zoo, feeding Octavius the octopus

Octavius the octopus, National Zoo

We fed the octopus.

Behind the scenes at the National Zoo: cuttlefish toys

Behind the scenes at the National Zoo, in the invertebrate house

Backstage at the National Zoo, an impressive specimen

We saw some back-of-the-house sights in the Invertebrates House.

And then we pretty much got our zoo on:

Watching gorillas, National Zoo

Lions, National Zoo

Cotton candy, National Zoo

Vacation Seder

April 19, 2011


This week finds me and my darling family on vacation in Washington, DC, where we have the good fortune to have access to a lovely, unoccupied, one-bedroom apartment in Georgetown (it is the American pied-a-terre of a good friend’s Amsterdam-based parents). DC is a town I love, and I have been bursting with excitement to show it off to my boys, especially the elder who, at six, is highly interested in all things historical and especially in the civil rights movement (I am currently in the process of reading him Frederick Douglass’s autobiography, which is wholly inappropriate for a six-year-old, inasmuch as it contains the serpentine sentence structures that were typical of the nineteenth century, coiled around detailed scenes of gore and human cruelty best suited to the ouevre of Mr. Tarantino). As such, it was with some irritation that I confronted the necessary tasks of our first full day: instead of heading directly to the Mall, I was charged with taking both boys to the nearest grocery store, realizing a full shop in preparation for a Seder that we were to host (!), and preparing all of the food for said ceremonial meal.

I made the (rather long) walk up Wisconsin Ave. to Safeway tolerable by giving the boys free reign to play and dally (see above), with the understanding that the walk back would be a relentless, unforgiving march. They made remarkably good on their end of the bargain, although they proved useless in the carrying-groceries department. It was a schlep, but it was a fun schlep, and unlike Hartford, where Spring has staggered along in fits and torrentially rainy starts, Washington is floral and balmy, which buoys the hearts of New Englanders and makes heavy groceries seem lighter.

Upon our return, with Anna yet laboring to finish some still-pending academic endeavor, I put the boys to watch a movie and commenced cooking: charoseth, rack of lamb (breaded with crumbled matzoh, of course), sweet potatoes, carrots, and broccolini (’cause I’m gourmet like that).

About half way through the slog home from Safeway, when my fingers really felt as though they might start to bleed from the weight of those plastic bags laden with nearly $200 of groceries, I felt a little peeved. When I then got to the business of peeling, coring, and chopping apples, I was tending toward actual bitterness (and the charoseth, traditional off-setter of bitterness, was not even ready yet!).

But the charoseth recipe called for wine, and once the bottle was open and I’d poured myself a glass, and then another, I realized that it didn’t really matter if I hadn’t exactly signed up to cook Seder for eight, or to schlep groceries all over hell and gone, or any of that, because actually, I LOVE doing anything outdoors with my sons. And I LOVE cooking for people. And I LOVE Passover. And I LOVE my wife. And soon I was a little bit drunk and the charoseth was done so I could (and did) start gorging myself on Hillel’s sandwiches, and vacation felt like vacation once again.

And then people came and we had a Seder! I surprised myself by finishing all the food right on time, and Anna and I muddled happily through the ceremony, supplementing our overly progressive haggadahs with some of the mid-century reform Judaism essentials we know and love. (My favorite is the simple son, who looks around at the Seder and says, in earnest befuddlement, “What is all this?” That kid gives voice to so much of how I feel about the world.)

And the food was good and the company was great, and plagues, freedom, parting of the Red Sea, next year in Jerusalem, &c. It was so nice, and possibly the best way I have ever begun a vacation.

Concerning Tramps

April 11, 2011

A friend on the Twitters reposted the musing of some other person or internet concern, which personage or collective wittily remarked thus:

As it happened, I was early today looking over some of the first electronic mails I sent and received on my Gmail account, back in the halcyon summer of 2004. (Why was I doing this? Why not? Nostalgia is a powerful drug, and cheaper than cocaine.) As I was then fully immersed in studying for the bar exam of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and had recently emerged from the intellectual and alcoholic crucible of law school, I was given over to an all-encompassing obsession with the law. This manifested itself in long nights spent arguing the merits of various Supreme Court decisions (over copious libations, you may justly presume), in e-mail exchanges of like manner, and in a needlessly detailed acquaintance with all sorts of legal arcana. (It was at that very moment – June of 2004 – that I was first prised away, albeit only a little, from that heady life of the mind and the mug, as my first son was born in the preceding month.) One thing I learned of then was Massachusetts’ tramp statute, which remains on the books, and which I reproduce for you, dear reader, because it is short and funny:

Whoever, not being under seventeen, or a person asking charity within his own town, roves about from place to place begging, or living without labor or visible means of support, shall be deemed a tramp. An act of begging or soliciting alms, whether of money, food, lodging or clothing, by a person having no residence in the town within which the act is committed, or the riding upon a freight train of a railroad, whether within or without any car or part thereof, without a permit from the proper officers or employees of such railroad or train, shall be prima facie evidence that such person is a tramp.

It seems funny, of course, because our modern conception of liberty more or less includes, whether we stop to consider it or not, the freedom to live without labor or visible means of support. Also, because, well, tramp is a funny word with multiple meanings, the most current of which is the one exemplified in the Twitter post above. But in the 19th and 20th centuries, tramps were apparently a big problem. (If you would like to giggle a lot, read this serious bit of writing from 1912, entitled, sensibly, “THE TRAMP PROBLEM,” in which the General Secretary of no less intimidating a concern than the Prison Association of New York summarizes the state of the eponymous scourge, but as you read, make sure to think of the modern, loose-moralled-woman meaning of “tramp.”)

Connecticut, I am happy to report, has repealed its tramp statute, leaving our state’s citizens more or less free to wander on foot or by rail, without work or visible means of support. (Perhaps the long decline in reliable rail service in the Land of Steady Habits has robbed the tramps of a key element of their lifestyle. If so, one hopes that their descendants or admirers will not have the wherewithal to adapt their execrable practices to intercity buses traveling along the very abandoned railbeds where tramps once flourished, what with the Governor’s recent approval of the New Britain-Hartford busway project.) However, in trying to find the original text of Connecticut’s venerable statute, I came across the following marvelous report from the “Correspondence” section of the Albany Law Journal’s 1880 edition, demonstrating that (1) “tramp” is a funny word; (2) the perils of our nation’s patchwork of differing state and municipal laws are not new; and (3) “tramp” really is a hilarious word. (Also, you will do very well to ponder and, in the future, rely upon the pearl of wisdom imparted in the final sentence.)

We give an interesting communication from Delaware in another column on the subject of Tramps. About nine months ago the Connecticut anti-tramp law went into operation. The Hartford Courant recently addressed to the selectmen of every town, the mayors of cities, and the wardens of boroughs, a letter containing the following questions: “Has the tramp law resulted in practically freeing your town from tramps? Have you knowledge of the tramp law being used to oppress deserving men in any instance? Is the tramp law sustained by public opinion in your town? Please mention specific benefits to your town derived from the operation of the tramp law, if any.” The replies fill about seven columns of the Courant, and with three exceptions heartily approve the working of the law. The Courant editorially remarks:

“There has been a great saving in expense, which taking the State as a whole must aggregate many thousand dollars. There is an added feeling of security, worth more than the money saving. There has been a lessening of crime and a great reduction in criminal prosecutions. The law has enforced itself, for from the time that it took effect the tramp class disappeared, not waiting to ascertain whether public sentiment would sustain it. There have been a few trials and commitments under it, just enough to show that it works well when required. Now that its benefits have been felt so widely it is hardly possible that it would be allowed to he a dead letter if the miscreants should try the experiment of returning.”

Our Delaware correspondent congratulates the State that tramps have either disappeared or gone to work. Now the question arises, what becomes of tramps when they disappear? Do they simply go to another State? Legislation on this subject has hitherto exhausted itself in ingeniously compelling tramps to emigrate, and thus one State simply relieves itself at the expense of another. Perhaps those three dissenting communities in Connecticut were the recipients of all the tramps of the State. One of the most disgraceful things in the law reports is the evidence of the constant struggle of one community to shift the burden of its paupers on another. Depend upon it, we have not got to the root of the matter yet. The man is not cured who has got rid of his head-ache at the expense of a gout.

Spring Cleaning

April 6, 2011

With Spring at least arguably in the air, it is a good time for renewal, for the clearing away of accumulated detritus and the embrace of new things. As I have mentioned before, I am as a general question prone to the accumulation of detritus, and in no area is that disposition more manifest than in the realm of bicycles and bicycle repair. As a result, and to my darling wife’s great chagrin, the basements, storage rooms, and garages of places we’ve lived together have tended to fill up inexorably with bicycle frames and parts.

I am reluctant to call this a hoarding instinct. I accumulate bicycle parts with an end in mind, to wit, to rehabilitate bicycles, either for my own personal use or to give to friends. When I had no children, and even when I had only one child, this end was not merely aspirational: I routinely fixed and passed along bicycles, to the point where my wife often volunteered me for this service and would bring foreign grad students to our house and ask me to set them up with a ride for their semester in Boston. But since we moved to Connecticut with two kids in tow, that dream has largely gone unfulfilled. Burgeoning clutter has ensued (aided, I think, by the availability of a whole two-car garage).

On Monday night, I did something bold about this: A bike purge. I gathered up all the old frames, handlebars, seatposts, brake cables, and innumerable other sundries and piled them into the back of my truck. I even included my beloved Worksman cargo tricycle. (Why would I part with something I love so much? Because while it is cool, it is really really slow, and my boys are already getting big enough that they don’t fit too comfortably in the cargo area.) Here’s what the truck looked like:

A bin of small parts, too:

I took all of this to my friend Chris, the proprietor of Daily Rider Bike, LLC, and along with a bit of cash, traded it for this beauty:

Yes! It is a Yuba Mundo, a cargo bike capable of carrying loads of up to 440 pounds (in addition to the rider)! More importantly, it has an extended rear rack with a foot bar below that makes it ideal for carrying multiple children. And, it has 21 speeds, so it can go (moderately) fast, making it good for dropping off the aforementioned children at their respective schools and still getting to work on time. This is very exciting for me.

And it works! I took both boys to school yesterday and they were very very enthusiastic about getting to go so much faster than they had in the big, lumbering cart. Last night I took the bike out, sans children, to meet friends for drinks, and it was nice to ride. I gave Chris a ride from the bar to his house some five blocks away, and it was not too difficult. I could probably carry my whole family on this bicycle.

But really the best thing is that now I own three bicycles, they all work, and that’s it. There are no frames in various states of disassembly jostling in our garage. My cubbyhole of a basement work/artspace is beginning to shake off the disuse that came from a plague of wheels and handlebars. I can now admit that I will never run a bike shop (sigh) and embrace the things I can do: go on rambling bike adventures with my two boys; make art and fun, crafty things in my little workshop; fix the bikes I have when the break; and maybe, someday, park automobiles in the garage attached to my house.

Hooray for Spring!

And now, friends, another submission to McSweeney’s Lists section, which will invariably be rejected, since I have clearly aged out of the days when I could effortlessly create submissions they liked. Thankfully, the internet is so entropic, and with such low barriers to entry democratic that I can free my list from the cruel and arbitrary dictates of McSweeney’s and bring it to you directly:

Wu-Tang Donut Flavors
Ghostface Cruller
Boston C.R.E.A.M.
Cappadonut
RZAberry Jelly-Filled
Return to the 36 Sprinkles
Ol’ Dirty Frosted

(Also, celebrating, even facetiously, the freedom that the internet grants me to broadcast my words when mediators of public speech deem said words unworthy (or insufficiently amusing, anyway) reminds me of a joke Congressman Anthony Weiner recently told at the Congressional Correspondents’ Dinner (or whatever it’s called): He started by saying that the event was being broadcast on CPSAN 3, so it would be seen by “literally, tens of Americans.” Then he said, “The people at the CNN table are saying, ‘Tens?! What’s their secret?!!'”)

Unrelatedly, since all blog posts go better with a photograph, here is a picture I took Sunday while waiting to pick Anna up at the airport. If you park in the lot of the bowling alley across from the airport, you’re two minutes from the arrival terminal and the planes comes in really low right overhead. It’s fun if you have to wait for an unknown amount of time with a four-year-old and a six-year-old, or even if you are just a grownup who needs to get in touch with his sense of childlike wonder. This photo does little to capture the roaring might of planes landing, but it’s just blurry enough to imply the romance of travel, and that sky is just perfectly blue in exactly the way it was in real life, a way that says, “here comes Spring.”

Illness

April 1, 2011

My father is in the hospital with congestive heart failure, which, considering the fact that it contains the words “heart” and “failure,” is actually not as bad as you might think. I mean, it’s bad, but it’s not a heart attack, and that is encouraging, since I don’t want my dad to die just yet. He initially texted me to say he had “water-on-the-lung,” which sounds marvellously 18th century, like consumption, but when I spoke to him, they had determined it was CHF (I don’t know if anyone abbreviates it that way, really, but I’m going to).

I would like to rush to his bedside, or to his house to look after him, since they plan to discharge him in a few days, but my wife is at a conference in Montreal and I am home with two small boys, and I don’t even think we have the money to buy a flight to Portland on short notice. (My bank card was declined at Dunkin’ Donuts this morning for a $2.30 purchase, but I’m hoping that was just a card-reading error.) Luckily, Max has stepped up in the family support and reassurance department, producing a lovely get well card, which I already e-mailed to my dad (technology! it is bringing families closer together and stuff!). Here it is:

Also, I note with great pride that Max uses, without any particular urging from me, the Oxford comma. I feel that right-thinking people, left to their own devices, will always choose the Oxford comma because there is a natural pause before the “and.” It is reassuring to gain this evidence, scant and isolated though it may be, that my son is, in fact, sensible.