Monday, December 30, 2019

R.I.P. Skippy. Happy Blogroll Amnesty Day.

There was a time, now very far away, when most political bloggers kind of sort of knew each other.  Some knew each other better than others, crossing over into "meat world," and others only knew each other online.  Many of us stopped blogging somewhere along the way, only to pick it up again later, but there were others who kept on going.

When Steve Gilliard died we were all still blogging and word spread like wildfire.  Since then, we've lost so many -- Doghouse Riley, "Jon Swift" (Al Wiesel), Bob Rixon, and just this month we lost Shaun Mullen of Kiko's House.  But perhaps no loss cuts deeper than finding out only now that last summer, unbeknownst to me, we suffered the unfathomable loss of the whimsically named "skippy the bush kangaroo," who equally unbeknownst to me, was author/actor/comedy writer Gil Christner.  Joe Gandelman wrote about him after his passing.

Skippy was one of those "big name bloggers" who always had room for us smaller folk.  He didn't care if you were famous, or if people would recognize you at Netroots Nation, or if you hung around with Markos the Huge.  Skippy was one of the founders, along with Al Wiesel, of "Blogroll Amnesty Day."

Because the families of Jon Swift (I will use his blog name from here on out) and Skippy did not see fit to allow their blogs to remain up (though both can be somewhat seen through the Wayback Machine via the links in this paragraph), you won't get the chance to really see how these two guys were the ones who formed a true community of progressive bloggers who DIDN'T pull up the ladder behind them.

Blogroll Amnesty Day started as a giant "Fuck you" to one of those ladder-pullers, Atrios, who for seventeen years has managed to build and sustain a huge following with one- and two-sentence posts.   In 2007, Atrios decided that he would purge his blogroll of all but the blogs he deemed "important", and gave himself amnesty to do so.  Amnesty against what, I don't know, unless it's amnesty for becoming exactly what progressives were fighting against.  At the time, Jon Swift wrote:

This past weekend Atrios, the proprietor of Eschaton, declared a Blogroll Amnesty Day, saying, "one of the big complaints by new bloggers is that it's impossible to get onto blogrolls because established bloggers tend not to add them." I thought that adding new lesser-known blogs to his blogroll would be a wonderful idea. Although for some inexplicable reason that I am at pains to discover, Atrios has never seen fit to link to me, I, nevertheless added Eschaton to my own blogroll and introduced myself to Atrios with a sincerely sycophantic email, since he is after all a blogging pioneer who deserves our respect.

But the more I learned about this Amnesty Day, the more I realized that it was a very strange amnesty indeed. The amnesty he granted turned out to be amnesty for himself. He wanted to assuage himself of the guilt he might feel at kicking blogs off his blogroll instead of granting amnesty to others to swarm across the border into his domain. "Everyone feels a wee bit guilty about removing blogs from their blogroll, so they're hesitant to add new ones to an ever-expanding list," he explained. So Atrios deleted his entire blogroll and disappointingly repopulated it for the most part with the usual suspects. Then others in the liberal blogosphere followed his example, including Jesus' General and PZ Myers at Pharyngula, who already takes a very Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest approach to blogrolling. Then Markos at Daily Kos joined this ruthless bloodletting. "It sucks and it feels bad," he said, daubing the tears from his eyes as he typed. So the end result of Atrios' Amnesty Day was to make some blogrolls smaller and even more exclusive than they already were.

Thus began the teaming of Jon Swift and Skippy to appropriate Blogroll Amnesty Day for mere mortals and make it an annual celebration of newer and smaller-readership blogs, combined with an exhortation to "Look up!  Link down!"

Since Jon Swift left this mortal coil, blogger Batocchio at Vagabond Scholar has been carrying the torch for these two most generous men; both professional writers who got paid for their work, but toiled away in the trenches with the rest of us under their pseudonyms, encouraging us and asserting that what we were doing had value.

Without further ado, here is this year's entry, renamed now to the Jon Swift Roundup.  I hope you'll click through and read these self-selected posts by some of the long-timers as well as those who picked up sociopolitical blogging long after it was left for dead by many.

Rest well, skippy.  The world is a darker place without you.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

This is how it happens. This is how it has ALWAYS happened.

The Wifely Person writes about the signal that the current occupant of the White House sends by inviting "Pastor" Robert Jeffress to, of all things, the White House Hanukkah party:

This is the new and improved version of anti-Semitism we've all be waiting for. Feckless hails Jeffress as a tremendous faith leader, and invites him to attend a party with the people he damns to hell, including that hot tamale Ivanka and her husband, Jared. What kind of father does that to a child, even Ivanka? Especially when her children would be mischling. This is a father who doesn't give a brass farthing for his kids. ME, ME, ME, it's all about ME! 
All this on the same day Feckless Leader signed that ridiculous order that made Jews a nationality, and creates Jews as a distinct nation, NOT American.
If you've ever wondered how both the guys in the black hats can be Jewish AND people like me, who eat pork (though frankly, I think that's over thanks to the new Trumpian USDA relaxing of regulations) and scallops and almost never see a synagogue and celebrates the Solstice can be Jewish, I recommend you click through to the above to see exactly WHY Trump's declaration that Jews are now a nationality is so terrifying.

Because you can eat bacon, you can attend a Buddhist temple, you can take your non-Jewish spouse's name (as I did just to get out of the end of the alphabet), you can put a Christmas tree in your house, you can do all the yoga you want, read all the Robert Thurman you want, you can deny it forever, but when the brownshirts come, all they're going to care about is the origins of your blood.  The only exceptions are going to be those who very ostentatiously become baptized in an evangelical church -- and even THOSE are going to be suspect -- and those who are willing to rat out the Jews in their neighborhoods and social circles, and even THOSE are just buying themselves time.

How do I know this?  Because this is how it works.  This is how it happens.  This is how it has ALWAYS happened.

I don't like this paranoia I'm feeling these days.  My mother had it at a far more benevolent time and I used to say she was crazy.  Six months after her own husband died in 2000, she moved to NC (as I did to the same city fourteen years later), into a house that's no more than about three miles from mine.  You use the same road to get to her first house here as to get to mine.  Our house numbers are similar, transposed by a single digit.  But my mother was who she was, and with her social phobia was unable or unwilling to make friends.  She chalked it up to "They don't like Jews here."

Now I'll grant you that 18 years ago, there were fewer transplants here.  But I still believe that my mother's isolation was her own doing rather than due to some kind of rampant anti-Semitism in Durham, which was even then a liberal bastion.  She was, after all, kind of a buzzkill.  But I used to laugh at her paranoia, quoting her that scene from "Annie Hall" where Woody Allen is ranting at Tony Roberts about how the waitress was an anti-Semite because he heard her say "Jew eat?" ("Did you eat?").

Mom was being overly dramatic back then, but I have more sympathy for her worldview, now that we know, or at least have extrapolated, more about her family and how her parents and some siblings came here, were homesick, and then went back just in time for Hitler's army to take over Poland. We've theorized that our grandmother had survivors guilt, and in the days before good therapy, took out her grief on her husband AND her children, who then took it out on THEIR children. This is how the Holocaust reverberates through the generations and why seeing the lead-up happening again HERE IN THE U.S. is so terrifying.

I don't intend to spend the rest of my life, however it ends, being terrified.  I'm going to live my life, doing what I can to beat this back.  But  I would hope that anyone who's taken the time to read this will help fight back against this.  We already know that this administration has set up internment camps for people coming in through our southern border, separating families, and if not actively killing them (yet), is neglecting them to death.  Latino soldiers who have fought for this country are being deported, as are people who have lived here for decades as good, productive, law-abiding residents.  Today it's the Latinos.  The signs that the Jews are next are all there.  And let's not forget the pink triangles that were the gay equivalent of the yellow stars and how people who were gay were rounded up because Hitler saw them as an indicator of "decadence."

So even if you or people in your social circle or family  find themselves  believing that the Jews have all the money, or we're weird or smell like pastrami or any other garden-variety form of Jewish stereotyping, consider that when one group, or two groups, or three groups are targeted, NO ONE IS SAFE.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Forward into the Past

I first met Pen-Elayne in 1977 at a Jewish singles event in Carteret, New Jersey that was one of the worst social events I ever attended.  It was at the home of a thirtysomething guy who lived with his elderly mother.  All I remember is a bunch of people sitting glumly on couches, except this funny, chatty woman across from me.  It was not the match that the group had in mind, but I think we both recognized kindred weirdo spirits, and we became friends, regularly revisiting that evening and snarking about it far longer than it deserved in our life stories.

I'm not sure how we lost touch, but we did for a couple of years, until I ran into her at yet ANOTHER Jewish singles event, this one populated with FAR more interesting people, and we reconnected once again.

I was shy and introverted, and Elayne was a force of nature.  An imposing figure, she was completely  socially unaware, chatty, ferociously verbal, and with next to no boundaries at all, took over every room she was in.  No one could resist the Force that was strong in that one, even if they tried. This time, our friendship outlasted the end of the singles group, which was discontinued by the YM-YWHA that sponsored it because we weren't producing any Jewish marriages and resulting babies, but were more interested in just having fun.

Through Elayne, I learned about fan culture.  Today, fan culture is so mainstream that movies based on comic books are propping up the movie industry, huge conventions of fans of various types exist in every city in the country, guys like Kevin Smith can become successful filmmakers, and movies based on the Lord of the Rings trilogy (a.k.a. the geek cred holy books) win Oscars, but in the early 1980s, when we reconnected the first time, it was something I knew nothing about.

I was never into comic books OR science fiction, which are still the core of fan culture.  I got tired of comic book movies after the first "Iron Man," though Mr. Brilliant went to every one of them until he became ill. But Mr. B will come into this story later. 

I knew that fandom was about Star Wars and comic books and it seemed to me, as a Very Serious twentysomething who at the time thought I just wanted to work in a creative industry and live like a Cosmopolitan Girl, being taken to nice places by elegant men in three-piece suits, culminating in an Appropriate Marriage, to be kind of silly. I never did become part of the pop culture part of fan culture, but I sort of flitted around the edges of it with Elayne and our friend Anni. 

Most fans are smart weirdos who have at least at some point felt that we have been put here by mistake; that we belonged on some other planet where everyone has a finely-honed sense or irony, finds humor where others don't, and can talk endlessly about just about anything. I never adopted fandom through Elayne, but at long last I recognized who My People were. My mother wanted My People to be a Jewish doctor, lawyer, dentist or CPA (in order of desirability) who would marry me and support me in the style to which SHE wanted to be accustomed. I was so symbiotically bonded to my mother in those days that I had convinced myself that was what I wanted too -- until Elayne's world taught me that there was one I fit into much better.  But our weirdo world didn't just go one way.  Elayne brought fan culture to the table, and I brought my own weirdo pop cultural touchstones, like Allan Sherman, Stan Freberg and Tom Lehrer records, and most importantly, the Firesign Theater. In the late 1970s, we were, in our own way, the Jay and Silent Bob of Union County, New Jersey.

Inevitably, the rabidity of fan culture would enter the extant world of fanzines. Triggered by the 800-pound gorilla that was Star Wars, fanzines exploded, popping up everywhere. By 1988, fan culture had spawned the Church of the Subgenius (arguably the Mother Of All Weird Pop Cultural Touchstones), and its founder, Ivan Stang, had published High Weirdness By Mail, a "directory of the fringe -- mad prophets, crackpots, kooks and true visionaries."  In other words -- MY kind of people. There are still zines around today, with an entire web site devoted to the ones around today; a stubbornly low-tech relic in a high tech world.

In 1980,  Elayne began publishing a zine called Inside Joke that started out in the obscure area of Uncle Floyd fandom, which gradually evolved into one of "comedy and creativity." 

There were no personal computers in those days, and certainly no desktop publishing software. Publishing like this meant paste-ups -- cutting out typed text, arranging it, and attaching it to other pieces of paper with glue sticks.  Headline fonts meant buying rub-off letters in craft stores , creating the headlines on paper and pasting them on the paper above the text.  Publishing a zine was a labor of love and time, and Elayne did it EVERY SINGLE MONTH for a decade.

By the fall of 1981, Elayne had convinced me that I should write for Inside Joke. I don't recall feeling an urge to write before then, though I'd always had an easy time writing papers for school.  But Elayne convinced me to write book reviews, which then turned into other articles, and presaged the kind of writing I would do years later, when in 1998 I would start doing online movie reviews, and in 2004, I would start that other place.

One day in late May of 1983, Elayne dragged me out of the house because it was time to run off the latest edition of Inside Joke.  I'd had a run of incredibly bad boyfriends and even worse dates, and after the previous night, in which a first date consisted of listening to a guy cry over his ex-wife and talk about his experiences with EST, I'd decided that finding a Special Someone was never going to happen for me. This knowledge had me barely able to get out of bed, but Elayne is the irresistible force that can move the immovable object, and I reluctantly agreed to go.

So Elayne, Anni and I sat in Elayne's car across the street from Siggy's Bar in Fort Lee, New Jersey on a Saturday, bitching about men and waiting for some guy named Steve, who worked for a market research firm and had access to high-speed collating copiers, to arrive by bus.  I pointed out a very handsome young guy, sauntering across the street in a yellow striped polo shirt and white cargo pants, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, and said "See that guy?  That guy thinks he's God's gift to women."

The bar formerly known as Siggy's

And then That Guy got into the car.

That Guy, fall 1983, smoking and looking very much like he did on that day in May.

I will never know if Elayne was doing a shidduch that day.  She doesn't have a photographic memory of that day the way I do.  But I vividly remember rattling off one weirdo pop cultural touchstone after another -- from the ones I mentioned above, to the surreal genius that was Ernie Kovacs, to the 1969 New York Mets season, to the WMCA Good Guys -- the DJs on the AM rock 'n' roll station that in the 1960s was the "cool" one to listen to.  If I'd had better self-esteem, I might have noticed that That Guy's eyes were lighting up with each weirdo pop culture reference we had in common. But I think it was that we both remembered Gary Stevens, the evening WMCA DJ, and his imaginary sidekick The Woolyburger, that sealed the deal.  You see, when I was a kid, we had a poodle that we'd named Woolyburger.  She was the best dog I ever knew.  But Gary Stevens went off the air in 1968 when Woolyburger the poodle was only three, and for the next eleven years, I had to explain to people what her name meant.  This became especially difficult in my early teens, when people tended to think it was about pubic hair.

But That Guy, a.k.a. Steve, a.k.a. Mr. Brilliant, knew who the Woolyburger was.  And the rest is history.

Gary Stevens with the Woolyburger in 1965
Elayne and I lost touch again after a while.  I'm not sure why.  I think that when Mr. B. and I got married, and we went from dead-end jobs to careers and we became homeowners, our pop culture weirdo status became less noticeable even to us. Elayne kept moving further out in Brooklyn and Anni moved to Reading, PA, and I suppose it was inevitable.  Elayne followed Inside Joke with Four Alarm Firesignal (a.k.a. Falafal), a  new fanzine devoted to the Firesign Theatre alas now consigned to the dustbin of history.  Later on, we both started blogs, and then there was Facebook, and well, we became friends again, hopefully permanently this time, though we live even more miles apart now. Elayne is one of the few people in the world who even know that Mr. B. ever even existed, never mind having this shared memory and such a huge role in my life. But those days in the 1980s were good times.  They were zany and creative and ironic and fun and Elayne is a true American original.   
We may not be able to return, but we can look behind from where we came, and I'm thrilled to let you all know that you can too, because Inside Joke -- all ten glorious years of it -- are now available in PDF format for all time.  IJ is a time capsule, but more than that, it's a reminder of when long-form writing was cool, It wasn't about clicks or monetizing or being followed on Twitter.  It was just a bunch of weirdos screaming into the void, hoping other weirdos would read it and find kindred spirits.
See you in the funny papers.
Inside Joke, December 1984

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

18 Years On - When Is It Time To Stop?

I know that this is still an unpopular view, though some (including Your Humble Blogger)  have expressed it before, even as early as 2006. but even if for this reason alone (and there are others), I think there has to come a time when we stop this annual orgy of living -- dare I say enjoying --  9/11 over and over and over and over again. In an age where there have been 2311 people killed or injured in mass shootings since the 9/11 attacks and we have done nothing, and after eighteen years of pointless war in Afghanistan and not much less than that in an even more pointless war in Iraq, I think that we have let that day damage the national psyche enough.

I'm sure that there are families who would like to see the observances continue forever. I don't fault them for that. But I also have to wonder what it's like for them, and for those who have managed to patch their lives together without their loved ones, to have to watch that horrific footage on the 11th of September year after year after year after year. I would probably have long since decided to take an overseas vacation during that week by this point.

I keep remembering the "Jersey Girls," the 9/11 widows from New Jersey who demanded an investigation. We don't hear from them anymore. The most recent article about them that I could find was from 2012. I'd like to believe that they have learned how to live without 9/11 being the sum total of the definition of their lives.  I can't possibly know what it's like to kiss your husband goodbye in the morning and never see him again, though I do know a few people who DO know what it's like. Do their lives matter less?  Do the lives of people gunned down by white Christian American terrorists matter less?  No one outside their families reads THEIR names or shines beams of light for them. National figures don't go to Newtown, Connecticut every December 14 for a reading of the names of the children killed that day. Nor will there be televised vigils in perpetuity for those killed at a concert in Las Vegas, or at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, or at the movie theater in Aurora or the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, or any of the other mass shootings that have punctuated the years since 9/11. For that matter, there is no nationally-televised coverage of any observance of the Oklahoma City bombing victims either, and we all remember the dead child being carried by a firefighter out of the wreckage from that one. Of course that one was also perpetrated by a white Christian male, so perhaps it "doesn't count." Perhaps only attacks by darker-skinned people count in the American psyche.

In 2001, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were the most horrific thing that had happened in this country in our lifetime. Eighteen years, over 4000 dead Americans and hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq, over 2300 dead Americans and over 30,000 war-related Afghani civilian casualties in Afghanistan, and over 2300 dead on our soil by guns. If horror is to be measured only by American body counts, then given that we have been willing to tolerate mass shootings rather than do something about the proliferation of guns, isn't it time we found a place for 9/11 that doesn't involve reopening the wounds of these families year after year after year? Are we so sick as a nation that we really enjoy watching those planes and those buildings collapse that much? Or is it just that as Anthony Burgess wrote in A Clockwork Orange, "the colors of the real world only seem real when viddyed on a screen"?

There is a new tower down in lower Manhattan now, looking more like the financial district giving the rest of the world the finger than anything else. There is a museum and reflecting pools with the names carved into the stone edges much like the Vietnam memorial wall in Washington DC. No one reads the names of the dead Americans in Vietnam. But people go, and make rubbings of the names just as they do at the World Trade Center now. Both are hallowed places that should be treated with respect. But there also people taking selfies and vendors hawking souvenirs. It is a tourist attraction.

Grief is inevitably personal. There are differences from one person to the next, but all of us who have grieved the loss of a spouse, brother, mother, father, sibling, or close friend have certain threads in common. But still – it is a personal journey. We observe their birthdays. We observe the anniversary of the day they left us. (Irrelevant side note:  Mr. Brilliant's sixth (!!!) "sadiversary" is coming up on October 5.)

9/11 is a wound to the national psyche that in our complicated grief about it, we do not stop to think about the direct line that leads from 9/11 to Donald Trump. The Islamophobia we still see in small towns dates from those early days, when people in small towns were terrified that terrorists would fly planes into their local Wal-Mart. Back then, Donald Trump was still in New York, insisting he saw thousands of Muslims cheering (another Trump lie). Today in these towns they still elect legislators who promise to ban "sharia law" even though no one is trying to implement it. As recently as June this year, a spokesman for child predator and GOP Senatorial candidate Roy Moore said that Muslims can't serve because "you need a Bible" (you don't). The lack of transparency of the Bush Administration and the lies about Iraq created the skepticism about government that led to the embrace of an "outsider." The election (twice) of Barack Obama now feels more now like the last dying breath of sanity in this country than any kind of progress.

Of course we shouldn't forget. How COULD we forget? And yet we did forget.  We forgot about the people who went to the site in the days and months following the attacks to dig out, to try to find survivors at the ultimate expense of their own health and even lives, while they were lied to by an administration that has never really been truthful about what happened.  I remember Christine Todd Whitman, now lauded among TV commentators as a "thoughtful, sane Republican," insisting that the air was clean.  Tell that to the guys sitting behind Jon Stewart, who had to SHAME Congress into passing 9/11 responders funding and SHAME Mitch McConnell to allow the Senate to pass it.

Yes, risk is part of the first responders' job.  But they were entitled to be told the truth, and they were not.  But it shows how highly selective we are about exactly WHICH 9/11 victims whose memory we want to continue to flog for political reasons in perpetuity.

There comes a time to let the dead be at peace instead of metaphorically digging them up year after year after year. I have long believed, and have had multiple experiences to back it up, that the dead hang around as long as we need them. It is our duty to them to not need them too long, to not demand that they be stuck between this world and whatever comes next. The 9/11 families should decide when to let their loved ones move on to whatever comes next, not us. We owe it to them to give them back to their families. They have been used as political footballs and symbols rather than people for far too long. The best tribute WE can give them is not to treat their deaths like a snuff film to be watched every year, it is to remember the destruction that hatred, religious zealotry, and lust for power can do, to seek a more gentle world, and in doing so, quietly honor the lives they lived instead of grotesquely celebrating every year the way they died.

Update:  It's not just me.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Miscellaneous musings for June 26, 2019

Yesterday was my 64th birthday.  That's kind of hard to wrap my head around.  My mother was younger than I am now when I got married, and I had just turned 31.  I was born on her birthday, so I never had my own birthday until she died in 2012, and by the time my birthday in 2013 rolled around, Mr. Brilliant was already navigating bladder cancer so it got lost in the shuffle again.

So I've never really cared about my birthday. I only remember two of them from my childhood.  One was the Infamous Buttercream Fracas of 1967, which ended with my sister and I both crying and our mother raging at both of us and which has me fifty-two years later still craving buttercream frosting on my birthday cakes.  The other was the surprise party that friends threw for my fourteenth birthday -- one of the rare times in my childhood when I felt I actually had friends.

Last year on my birthday I went with some new Mets fan friends here in North Carolina to watch the Kingsport,Mets play the Burlington Royals at the Burlington Athletic Park.  This is rookie league ball, and it's like a trip back to 1947, except that the beer stand has five different craft beers. If you've seen the movie Bull Durham, you got a taste of how hokey minor league baseball can be.  The Bulls were a "high A-league" team back then, not the AAA team they are now with a fancy ballpark in a booming small city.  The Burlington Athletic Park is more like the old Bulls park, only even hokier because this is baseball played by eighteen-year-olds.  Nine bucks will get you a field-level chair seat right behind home plate and ten bucks will get you a hot dog, a bag of chips, a box of Cracker Jacks, a candy bar, and a Coke.  There are on-field games for the kiddies between innings a mascot named Bingo that is only slightly less terrifying to the children than Mr. Met, and the announcers advertise local businesses and birthdays, so I had the mortifying experience of having my birthday announced, accompanied by my compatriots standing up and pointing at my head so everyone know I was the one with the birthday.


I insisted on avoiding this fate this year, so instead the annual trip to watch this mighty rookie league matchup took place the night before my birthday, which of course meant that Kingsport lost the game 7-2, looking very much like their New York namesakes, via a combination of lousy pitching, bumbled infield play and two-out singles that result in nothing, But there were fireworks after the game, and as everyone knows, fireworks are so cool that they mitigated the pain of watching everyone around you rooting for the home team.

This year I decided that what I wanted to do was further break in the Weber Spirit grill I bought in the summer of 2013 in a stupid and foolish gesture of hope that cooking meat over fire would give Mr. B. the will to beat cancer and survive.  It never got used at the old place, and I was going to leave it for the new owners of my house, but the movers loaded it onto the truck, and so it made its way here, where it sat, covered for 3-1/2 years until my handyman insisted that a brand new, never-used Weber grill was a crime against nature, and headed for the Ace Hardware store, returning with a full propane tank.  He cleaned off the leaves and cobwebs, hooked it up, and I was ready to go.  Its maiden voyage was on Memorial Day, so the plates are no longer gleaming and there is sufficient old carbon on the grates to impart that faint flavor of old grease that makes grilled meat taste so good.  So I decided on a small get-together featuring a Jamaican dinner of jerk chicken, rice and peas, and steamed cabbage, along with macaroni salad and coleslaw from Aldi, of all places, where four bucks will get you two pounds of EACH one, both of which taste like they came from a good deli in New Jersey.

Some people like to go out for a fancy dinner on their birthday.  I'm not one of them.  To me, particularly in this area, a fancy restaurant is some cavernous place full of hard surfaces, lousy acoustics, where a snooty college-age hipster waiter in a man bun treats me like a fat girl or worse, refers to me as "sir"; a place where mayonnaise mixed with some spice or another becomes aioli, a side of five asparagus with a lemon squeezed over them and a shaving of parmagiano on top is nine bucks, and thirty bucks gets you a duck leg cooked in its own fat sitting atop a glurp of mixed grains and roasted beets with a spoon-schmear of some other kind of aioli.  Or something.  Anyway, this is not my kind of dining, because it makes me feel too much like I've stepped into Downton Abbey and I am Tom Branson  having dinner with the Crawleys for the first time.  No, I am happier feeding people myself than doing this, and so that is what I did.  And it was.


Sharing a birthday with my mother was always a drag when I was a child, and when I became older and it was about trying to find a gift that would make her happy for five minutes. .  But I'm proud and happy to share it with a celebration of the poet laureate of world cuisine on the first #BourdainDay.


In the early days of this new blog, I wrote about Emily Hayward, a cancer vlogger  I'd been following who had just passed away on June 26, 2018.  YouTube is full of vloggers, a very few of whom, like Emily and like Jeff Eisner from Pressure Luck Cooking, have a unique ability to interact with the camera that appears to break down the wall between the virtual and real worlds.  To this day, my post about Emily has received more page views and generated more comments than anything else I've posted here, even my post about Anthony Bourdain after he deprived us of his wisdom forever last year.

I found myself thinking about Emily the last few days, which is something I do fairly frequently when that little voice inside me says "But I don't WANT to go to the gym."  I tell myself that if this young woman could get herself to the gym with terminal metastatic melanoma, I can damn well get MY fat ass there. 

Today is the first anniversary of Emily's passing.  There is a battery-operated candle burning on my dining room table all day today.  She continues to be my spirit animal and role model for positivity,  for embracing life, and yes, for getting my fat ass to the gym.

"I want my channel to be about learning about how to live your life, learning about how to cope with terminal illness, learning about who you should surround yourself with, what you should do when you're dying of terminal cancer...just generally how you should live your life when you've got an illness.  Those you who HAVE got an illness, you suffer from something that is in your way of living your life, I want to help you deal with that.  If you've suffered from a loss -- someone who died of cancer whos close to you, it might help you come to terms with what's happened.  Not get over it, but just help you deal with situations that are tough in life in general." -- Emily Hayward, April 3, 2018


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Blogrolling In Our Time for Wednesday, May 22

You think you know people, right?  Say hello to a relatively new blogger, Matt of Matt's Political Blog.  (Seriously dude, you need a better blog name. "Sane Resistance" would be fine.)  I know Matt from the job I held before being laid off when the grant money ran out in 2008 and I ended up at The Job That Ate My Life.  He's good people.  Go pay him a visit and read why he's now in favor of impeachment.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Snippets of Memory for Saturday, May 18, 2019

For some reason, I found myself thinking about The Drop Zone today.

The Drop Zone was a bizarre restaurant in Roselle, NJ during the 1980s that I used to frequent with Elayne in those days before I met Mr. Brilliant.  It was owned by a WWII fanatic.  It had decent-to-good red sauce Italian food and tables with red checkered tablecloths, but that's where any similarity to any other Italian restaurant ended.  The place was set up like an Army mess hall, and salads were served in metal bowls that may very well have been military surplus. There were WWII posters everywhere, including some shockingly racist anti-Japanese ones, and a life-size cutout of Frank Sinatra in the front of the place, which had a stage festooned with American flags.  And yes, Sinatra music played continuously.

Just for giggles, I did a Google search to see what I could find, and all I could find was this post from the late, great Bob Rixon, who also was known to pitch in at the old place.

You can have your Springsteen if you must, but for my money, no one ever wrote more poetically or elegiacally about life in that part of New Jersey north of the Cheesequake Service Area (and sometimes south) the way Bob did.  He was one of my many blog buddies that I never met in person, but I always envisioned him as one of those guys who lived surrounded by obscure books and vinyl records no one had ever heard of.  I was shocked in 2014 to hear from Tata that Bob had departed this level of reality, but The Rix Mix is still there as a lasting reminder of New Jersey's poet laureate manqué, as do the archives of his free-form radio show on WFMU.

Like many of the places I used to go, the Drop Zone is long gone.  I guess part of getting older is seeing the real-life manifestations of the things that live in our memories start to disappear.