Potato Peril

A constant of my daily shower routine is using the washcloth to scrub behind my ears.  Why?  It’s not like the behind-the-ear area of a 60-something guy working at a desk in a white-collar job is constantly exposed to dirt and therefore requires a vigorous daily scouring.

g-fruitandveg-potatoes-mainNo, it’s because I remember my mother inspecting that particular area and then saying, with a tone of terrible shock and deep regret, that my postauricular regions had become “so filthy” — not just dirty, mind you, but filthy, which was much, much worse — that “you could grow potatoes back there.”  And then I would be marched off to the bathroom to wash my face and neck and the unseemly behind the ear areas, preferably with rough Lava brand soap that was made with pumice and seemed like it was taking off a layer of skin in the face-washing process.

Interestingly, it was always potatoes that could be grown in the heavy layer of dirt and grime that somehow had accumulated while I was out playing with UJ and our friends.  Not carrots, or corn, or even flowers, but inevitably potatoes.  Because, at that age, mothers seem to know everything, my natural assumption was, and still is, that potatoes must require an especially deep, dark, heavy soil if they are to grow properly.

Mom used to have a sign hanging in the house that said “my house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy,” but that just meant the house was treated differently from the kids in the family.  The house may have gotten the benefit of the doubt, but Mom was extraordinarily sensitive to any sign of human grubbiness or — God forbid! — “B.O.”  (And “B.O.” was pronounced by my mother, who never uttered a profanity of any kind in her entire life, as if it were the queen mother of curses.)

And yet, when we were doing chores around the house, Mom inevitably would tell us kids to “put a little elbow grease into it.”  How we were to do that and still maintain the expected level of spotlessness was left unexplained.

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Drawing An Unscientific Maggot Line

I have a high regard for scientists . . . generally.  But sometimes scientists don’t exactly have a solid appreciation of the sensibilities of normal human beings.

maggots_lede_photo_bigstock_2100-768x526Consider, for example, this report on the work of scientists at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.  They conclude that, given the population in the world, humans need to start turning to alternative sources of protein besides animal meat.  The article linked above quotes “meat science professor Dr. Louwrens Hoffman” — apparently “meat science” is a discipline that has been developed since I’ve been in college, because otherwise that would have been a pretty darned tempting major — as saying:  “An overpopulated world is going to struggle to find enough protein unless people are willing to open their minds, and stomachs, to a much broader notion of food.”

So far, so good.  But Dr. Hoffman and his team at the University of Queensland are looking to replace beef and chicken and pork with — gulp! — maggots and locusts.  They reason that the world’s insect population is a far more sustainable source of supply for such protein.  They also recognize that most people rebel at the notion of consuming chitinous locusts or squirmy maggots, so they are working on developing “prepared foods” that include locusts and maggots as disguised ingredients.  So far, they’ve worked on a maggot sausage with promising results, and Dr. Hoffman swears that a student has developed an insect ice cream that is “very tasty.”  Who knows?  Soon you may be able to have an ice cream cone with a scoop of vanilla and a scoop of “insect.”

According to the article, there are already some insect-based products available in the U.S., such as Chirps chips and Chapul protein bars.  I haven’t had any of these items, and I haven’t noticed them flying off the shelves at the neighborhood grocery store, either.

There’s a basic repulsion issue involved in eating maggots.  With a nod to the French government defense strategy before World War II, you might call it The Maggot Line, and scientific-based arguments aren’t going to cross it.  I think the the issue with insect-based foods is whether ingredient lists on food packaging are required to accurately and clearly disclose the insect element.  If maggots can be called by their scientific names — which are Lucilia sericata and Phaenicia sericata — and jumbled in with the other scientific sounding ingredients for prepared foods, like sodium benzoate and monosodium glutamate, then maggot sausage might stand a chance.  But if the packaging has to use plain English and disclose maggots as an ingredient, forget it.

The Biggest TV Competition

The success or failure of a hotel chain obviously is going to depend upon how successful they are in appealing to potential patrons. It stands to reason, then, that hoteliers must have a lot of information about the preferences of their guests.

My recent experience suggests that hotel chains believe that visitors want to watch a lot of TV — and on the biggest TVs imaginable. In fact, seems to be a competition, pursued with nuclear arms race intensity, to see who can install the biggest TVs in their rooms. This TV, in a room at the Hyatt Arcade in Cleveland, is the largest one I’ve yet encountered. It’s gigantic, takes up the entire top of the dresser, and dominates the room. It’s got to be 50 inches across — if not more. It’s like having a drive-in movie screen in your room, situated directly opposite the bed.

I’m clearly out of step with other hotel guests, because I almost never watch TV in my hotel room. And frankly, I’d be afraid to even turn this TV on. With a creek this size, the volume would probably blast me out of the room.

The Impending Dash Clash

The apostrophe battle has been amicably settled.

spaced-em-dash2After some sternly worded exchanges, with many grammarians and wannabe English stylists weighing in, the B.A. Jersey Girl found an authoritative source that was able to bridge the gap between our competing positions and resolve the dispute.  She discovered that Bryan Garner’s Redbook:  A Manual on Legal Style acknowledged that while many style manuals follow the rule that always requires an apostrophe s to indicate a possessive, former journalists follow the Associated Press Style Manual and don’t add an apostrophe s when the word in question ends in s.  In short, both sides have a basis for their opinion, so we shook and decided to leave that issue behind.

Alas, a new punctuation fight looms directly ahead.  The virgin battleground involves something called an “em dash”—this super-long dash that, according to some grammarians, can be used as a substitute for a parentheses, can replace appositives that contain commas, and can be used to set off a sudden change in the direction of a sentence, among other uses.  It’s called the “em dash” because the length of the dash is about the same width as a capital M.

I’m all for adding a little dash to writing, but I’m not a fan of the “em dash” because it’s too long and is used without spaces on either side.  I’m a proponent of the dash that is formed with two hyphens and a space on both sides.  I think it looks neater and more orderly, whereas the “em dash” looks like a spear that is impaling the neighboring words.  I’m a fan of space in writing, and the “em dash” makes a sentence look crowded.  I say tap the space bar, give your words space to breathe, and let the “em dash” be damned.

In Password Hell

Today I went to get a new iPhone.  The battery on the old one was running down at Usain Bolt-like speed, and clearly, it was time.

51yn54juiql._sx569_When I got to the Verizon store, the pleasant young guy who took care of me looked at my phone, chuckled softly, and noted that the phone was more than five years old.  That’s like taking world history back to the Pharaonic period — when cell phone data storage was miniscule, cell phone cameras were crappy, cell phone batteries were tiny . . . and, not incidentally, cell phones were a lot cheaper than they are now.

So, I had to decide how much I wanted to spend for my new phone.   It didn’t take me long to decide that I didn’t need to spend $1500 (which, amazingly to me, is what the Verizon store employee who is probably making not much over minimum wage confessed he had spent on his phone) and would be perfectly happy with the cheapest iPhone 10 they had — which was still incredibly expensive.  Then I had to pick a color (red), and a phone case (a clear Pelican) and then it was iPhone set-up time.  And that’s where the process ran off the rails.

“What’s your Apple password?” he asked pleasantly — and I felt cold, icy fingers of fear clutching my heart.  And then he asked for my iTunes password, and then for my gmail password, and the depths of angst and despair burrowed ever deeper into my soul.  “I’m not sure,” I said uncertainly.  “Well, what do you think it might be?” he asked, slightly baffled and no doubt wondering how could anyone who uses a modern phone wouldn’t have all of their passwords memorized and ready to use at any moment.  So I gave a few half-hearted attempts, using passwords that I know that I’ve used for something or another over the years — but there was no conviction in my efforts.  Sure enough, none of the passwords worked, and I got the accusatory buzzings and beepings that inevitably accompany password failure.  So the pleasant kid had to reset my passwords — passwords that will now promptly be forgotten, and vanish on the wings of the wind down the password memory hole.  It made the new phone process even longer and even more embarrassing.

As I left the store I realized that there is a reason I get a new phone only every five years.

Redefining “Clingy”

Spring is the time for growing things. In our back yard, the fastest growing thing — by far — is a flowering vine next to the fence. It was supposed to stick to a wooden trellis built by our landscaper, but it’s long since outgrown that. I put an iron support for a birdhouse or hanging flower basket next to it, and the vine has eagerly embraced that. Now, its tendrils are venturing out, eagerly seeking other things to latch on to, wrap around, and grip tightly. This plant is clingier than your first high school romance.

I like to go out in the morning to marvel at how much the plant has grown since the day before and try to redirect it away from our neighbor’s yard and the little tree nearby. In doing so, however, I’m careful to keep moving. I’m afraid if I stand still for too long I’m going to find myself wrapped in those clingy green tendrils, too.

Self-Proclaiming “Bad Ass” Status

Can you properly proclaim yourself a “bad ass”?  Or, is “bad ass” status something that can only truly be conferred by others, in recognition of your record and your lifelong body of work?

il_570xn.1459814370_mhh7This compelling issue arose because a friend at work referred to herself as a “bad ass.”  Admittedly, she did it in a carefully phrased, utterly lawyerly way — I think she may have said that she “projects a bad ass persona,” or something similar — but the implication was essentially the same.  And that raises the question of whether self-proclaiming that you are a “bad ass” is really valid.  Can you become a “bad ass” simply by buying a “bad ass” nameplate for your desk?

I think earning true “bad ass” distinction can only come from your recognition as such by third parties, and not by a personal declaration.  A “bad ass” is defined as someone who is tough, intimidating, and uncompromising.  (And wouldn’t you like to know, incidentally, how the phrase came to have that meaning, and when it was first used in that context?)  Being a “bad ass” therefore is a quality, like being deemed “smart,” that is difficult for individuals to self-assess, in part because it involves some comparison of your qualities to others.  And true personal evaluation isn’t easy for people.

Samwell Tarly, for example, desperately wants to be seen as a tough guy, and he’ll remind anyone within earshot that he once killed a white walker — but despite poor Sam’s pleading, no one is going to call him a “bad ass.”  Arya Stark, on the other hand, is recognized by one and all as a “bad ass,” without really even trying.  She has that quality and everyone knows it, and Sam doesn’t.  Indeed, the Urban Dictionary website says that the first rule of actually being a “bad ass” is that you don’t talk about being a “bad ass.”

I therefore question whether self-proclaiming that you are a “bad ass” really works.  However, I acknowledge that my friend is indeed tough and uncompromising — so I hereby declare that I consider her to be a “bad ass,” thereby conferring upon her official “bad ass” status.  Now I just need to find one of those nameplates for her desk.