Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Curious Incident of the Backpack

So last week I arrive at work, park my car and proceed towards my building when I see this guy standing in the middle of parking lot staring with a look of utter disbelief at a backpack lying about five feet in front of him in a traffic lane. It's early but this registers as odd. I proceed with caution envisioning corporate security squealing onto the scene in an armored golf cart to unleash a barrage of automatic weapon fire at the suspicious bag. But it's not that early and I recognize this as highly unlikely. I approach the man. Nearby a car in a different lane slows down for a look. The man looks at me, shakes his fist in the air and in a deep voice with a thick Russian accent proclaims loudly, "eez thurd day een row ... bee has landed on bakpak!."

"Oh how very curious," I say, thinking to myself that the curious part had little to with the bee.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Pizza Pilgrimage

Last week we made our annual pizza pilgrimage. Every pizza I make aspires to the perfection of George Schenck's "American Flatbread." Not the frozen ones at supermarket in his signature black and white boxes -- though those are good too -- but ones like I sampled last week (pictured above) fresh from his modified Quebec style oven (pictured below) in the Mad River Valley of Vermont.

On our visit last week, we sampled the veggie special:

Look at that thing! You can almost taste the smoky overtones of the wood grilled ratatouille "sauce" mingling at the back of your mouth with the clean flavor of the fennel -- interrupted for a second by a soft creaminess that is the ricotta salata. Sometimes, all is right with the world -- even if just for a fleeting moment.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Thing About Naked People

I am told that most Native American men of the Pacific Northwest nations went naked whenever they could. Apparently, given their hardy demeanor and the temperate climate, this was often. Surprisingly, however, such was not the custom for women. Despite their best efforts over the generations, the men simply could not convince the women to shed their garb and prance about naked collecting salmon berries in the temperate rainforests. This particular problem, I found out, is virtually unknown to the modern-day menfolk at Doe Bay Resort and Retreat on Orcas Island.

The resort is primitive but splurges on the creature comforts. A sort of crunchy fine dining restaurant - "haute-hippie," if you will -- occupies a rustic wooden lodge perched above the bay. Nestled on a steep hill overlooking the bay are three slate-tiled hot tubs which look like something constructed by that civilization of furry forest creatures in Star Wars. The area is designated as clothing optional and the designation seems to work (if only we had known in college that it was as simple as "designating" an area ...)

I don't know about you, but when I think clothing optional, I assume that the only people apt to exercise the option are those who -- at least according to our dubious cultural body ideals -- should not. Not so on our visit. Our stay coincided with a yoga retreat attended exclusively by very attractive and fit alternative professional types who, after a day of feeling great about themselves and their yoga practices, simply could not get their clothes off fast enough.

The thing about naked people is they are remarkably engaging conversationalists and fascinating to be around on a great many levels. Honestly -- and this will come as surprise to my readership -- I really don't see a great variety of naked women (or men, for that matter) on a regular basis. So in a way, it was not unlike a good birdwatching trip (you gotta admit its better than the zoo analogy). "Say ... look there... did you know that the Purple Billed Tanager had such a prominent tail feather ... make an entry on the life list honey ..."

A naked person, you see, takes a grave social risk when he exposes himself. When the anxious naked person is received by another in a socially appropriate manner (tip: eye contact only) an immediate bond of trust is formed. In the company naked people, the conversationalist wants desperately to avoid the most obvious conversation starters because, for example, "ouch sister! I bet that piercing HURT like the dickens" just doesn't seem appropriate. And so the conversations gravitate towards the abstract. It was thus that I found myself deep in conversation with two very naked European RNA scientists. I can tell you that my attention to the development of new computational tools in the field of bioinformatics was laser sharp -- it had to be -- for the alternative was to dwell on the more obvious matter at hand: "how in the world do shave in that spot -- seems a tough angle!" Truthfully, the conversation did degenerate once when someone from the resort approached the area and, pointing at a small boat adrift in the bay inquired: "Has anyone left their dinghy out?" Several gentlemen allowed that they had, indeed. In retrospect, I almost think this was intentional -- a sort of service the resort provides to entertain the guests. You can imagine the staff mixes it up from time to time: "excuse me people, but does anyone here have a small dinghy? No? A nice lady in a yacht in the bay called and she is very troubled by it ... "

Anyway, I've always found cocktail parties just a tad awkward but now I'm thinking if everyone would just take their clothes off it would be so much easier -- don't ya think? Probably a line the Pacific Northwest menfolk already tried, though.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Elmer's Jicama

I have been thinking some about why people like particular foods and I am struck by the extent to which food affinities are cultural constructs. Consider, if you will, the jicama.

I toiled in restaurants for a handful of years after college for which I was provided just enough income to support the debauched lifestyle that it promoted -- a happy circumstance that capitalism seems especially well-suited to foster. Among my misfit compatriots was Elmer, a teenage El Salvadoran dishwasher. It was a subject of some debate whether Elmer expressed any emotion at all. If he did, it could only be characterized as disinterested depression.

One afternoon, on a whim, I ordered a jicama, sometimes referred to as a Mexican radish or yam bean root. The jicama is an unsightly beige colored fibrous tuber often described as an overgrown water chestnut. There is nothing sexy about the jicama, except perhaps that it apparently hails from the morning glory family, which, depending on your intimacy with the morning glory seed and some of its lesser known properties, may or may not rise to the level of sexy. Nor is there anything inherently comforting or reassuring about the jicama. It belongs to that class of food that is never described by its own qualities but rather as conglomeration of attributes drawn from other foods. "The skin of a Cuban potato," "the shade of ginger," "the flesh of a water chestnut," one would hardly be surprised to hear that it tastes like chicken, though it most certainly does not.

Elmer was putting away the produce order that afternoon and came upon the jicama. An unfamiliar intensity of movement flashed in his corner of the kitchen. At first he was startled. Then he was determined. He reached out to the jicama like a world cup goalkeeper bringing a soccer ball securely to his chest. He arched his back and lifted his chin towards the ceiling. Waitresses stood silently clutching hot plates as they looked on in utter astonishment. "Heee ... caaa ... maaaa!" exulted Elmer. With homesick watery eyes he set to work. Within minutes he had butchered the homely tuber and seasoned it with salt and lime juice. His eyes closed. His body shuddered. He swallowed. A look of peace overcame him. Then with solemn pride he offered his treasure to each of us. We took our jicama communion with respect, but it did not speak to us. The angels did not sing.

For Elmer, it seems the jicama was more than a vegetable. It was a symbol. He tasted things we did not. The jicama sang his national anthem while performing shiatsu on his tongue.

My "jicama," I suppose, is a fresh baguette with a rich aroma and strong chew. I don't know what my children's "jicama" will be. I only pray it will not be branded by Frito Lay, Hostess or Nabisco.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The BackBou Knits!

Now that team BackBou has returned, we've run the numbers and discovered that we are not hitting the growth targets we set first quarter of FY '06. Unfortunately, these metrics have not been lost on the "street" and -- well -- its time for drastic measures.

Apparently references to nudity are insufficient to attract readership (Liz excepted) and so we are going to try something truly base. We shall fake some "knit-speak" -- the number one siren song for the masses. Here we go:

So ... Then I knit three and purled 4 and repeated that, decreasing on each row until I turned the heal with my nimbus 2000 gingko/bamboo hybrid 5 pointers (which by the way I picked up for a steal at the the Knit Witt Stitch Bitch Galleria of Stix for Chix (dot com)). The sock turned out great mostly I think because Arnakua'gsak and Tekkeitsertok's Magnificent Mammoth Wool -- you know the stuff handwoven by Inuit elders out of wooly mammoth fleece remains discovered on a remote island off Greenland.

Sure it costs $75,000 a skein (that just covers the cost of the transport choppers) but my stash was looking so puny, I just couldn't help myself. Also, I heard with the ice caps melting and all, the price might go down because Tekkeitsertok's little sister Torngasoak keeps finding more Mammoth remains -- so whatever-- I mean, all due respect to Al Gore and everything but a little less ice and little more stash can't be all bad, right? I mean, I bet if Tipper knit him a little something cozy out of mammoth wool he'd relax a little, know what I mean?

Anyway, I'd post a picture of the sock but the pattern is proprietary so getta outta here! I mean it, quit looking over my shoulder. Like it says in the upper right hand corner up there, "Get your own blog!"

I can feel the hits rolling in.... And hang in there Liz, we'll get to the naked people next post.