Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Impala – Bel-Air – Biscayne game

I approach this post with trepidation. My last post was my 100th on this blog, and this post will break that perfect symmetry.

But I don’t want a blog that ends at 100 posts. Would you? So, on to 200 (and beyond!).

I’m going to discuss one of my special childhood pastimes. At the age of 10, I became obsessed with – ahem, interested in Chevrolet vehicles – specifically, Impalas, Bel-Airs, and Biscaynes.

Now, I was no gearhead then, and am not now – if you asked me right now, I cannot tell you what a carburetor is for. My best guess is I became interested because my maternal grandmother drove a sky-blue Biscayne that was way cool (before I knew what way cool was). Decades later, Flickr helpfully informed me that Biscayne and Bel-Air were "poor man’s" Impalas. I’m not buying that. To me, Impala and Bel-Air and Biscayne were and are triplet brothers, riding boldly side-by-side from 1958 (when Impala and Biscayne joined Bel-Air in the Chevy lineup) to 1972 (when Chevy discontinued Biscayne in America).

In the 1960s and 1970s, the three models looked alike for the most part, except for the taillights: Impala had six (three on each side), while Bel-Air and Biscayne had four (two on each side). This was an important detail for identification.

You see, in the mid-1970s I carried a notebook and pen with me at all times, and I counted all of the Impalas and Bel-Airs and Biscaynes that I saw. From the school bus, from the backseats on cars, and on foot, I dutifully recorded each one with a single straight scratch mark.

(Impalas were always most plentiful, and Biscaynes rarest.)

It was amazing how many I could count in Washington, PA, population approximately 20,000 (in 1975) – even while following the rule of not counting the same car twice. If I passed a Biscayne walking up a hill, I would not count it walking down the hill.

What was the purpose of the Impala – Bel-Air – Biscayne game? It got me to keep my head up and look around. It gave me something to do, something to distract me from my small childish problems. It was there when I needed it, and for that I will be forever grateful.

It is practically impossible to play the Impala – Bel-Air – Biscayne game today. In 1975, it was easy to find cars that were three to seventeen years old (1958-1972). In 2011, Impala is the only one of those three models that Chevy still builds. Bel-Airs and Biscaynes have all but disappeared “in the field”; the last Biscayne I saw was this one rusting in a driveway in Orange:

You can play the game with a different set of cars. I would choose cars that are distinctive, easy to spot from yards away, and not that common – say, the Mini Cooper, the Toyota Prius, and the new Volkswagen Beetle.

If you decide to play this game, I suggest these simple rules:

1. Don’t count the same car twice.

2. Only count cars you see in real life – not on TV, not in the movies, not on the Internet, not in pictures.

3. Don’t play while you’re driving. This is one reason that keeps me from playing. That, and having so much more to think and care about now.

I can’t help but feel a little sad. What kind of person am I now who has no time to play an innocent car-counting game? Has my sense of play deteriorated into digitized versions of Mahjongg and Chuzzle?

I hope not. There is still so much to look at in the wide world of life, even while driving. And beautiful objects do not need to be counted to be remembered. Their “is”-ness is one giant, splendiferous scratch mark in the universe.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Those minor annoyances

I often get annoyed with other people’s list of pet peeves. Some of the stuff that grinds gears out there sounds so petty. People who use cell phones in supermarkets? (I am one of those; I sometimes need to ask Two Dogs what to get. A supermarket is not a theater.) People who don’t take off their hats when the national anthem is played? Biodegradable chip bags that are too noisy? Get a grip.

Then I remember that I have pet peeves of my own which may sound petty to you.

When I visit the supermarket on Fridays (or sometimes on Thursdays, if I’m at Bristol Farms) in the third week of the month, I see new magazines on the rack. Magazines like Sunset and Self and Bon Appetit and More – all of which I subscribe to. I see the fresh new issues in the supermarket, and look forward to seeing them in my mailbox promptly.

To the powers who run magazines, “promptly” means three to seven days – or even more – after the newsstand appearance.

I remember a time when one of the privileges of subscribing was receiving the issue before it showed up on the newsstand. It was like receiving a Christmas or birthday present. Now, I feel like a chump as the shiny covers of the magazines I subscribe to mock me in the supermarket for days.

(As of this evening, January 28, I am still waiting for More – and it’s hard because it has a new “book club” feature. I hope it gets here tomorrow – it’s a good magazine for “tub night.”)

P.S. I just realized that this is my 100th post. Somehow, I feel a little proud today.

Friday, January 21, 2011

My contribution to a most contentious debate

Photo courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art

(No, not the "tiger mother" debate...we all know that this is not the way to raise the people we have been waiting for. So shut down the publicity machine for this woman, already!)

The question of whether people should eat meat has become another American infinity debate, like those regarding abortion and the death penalty. You can see this debate in full flower in Alternet's "Food" section. At this point, this is becoming just as boring as abortion and death penalty debates.

If you reach back into the past, say, 288 years ago, you will find wisdom you can use today. As a teenager, Benjamin Franklin read a book about vegetarianism and decided to follow the diet. His motive was mainly financial: a meatless diet allowed him more money to purchase books (a good reason indeed). A boat trip from Boston to New York, during which the crew fished for cod, was an eye-opener for young Mr. Franklin:

I balanced some time between principle and inclination until I recollected that when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs. “Then,” thought I, “if you eat one another, I don’t see why we may not eat you.” So I dined upon cod very heartily and have since continued to eat as other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet.” – Benjamin Franklin, quoted in Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin: An American Life(page 36)

Young Ben had an excellent point. I have come to this same conclusion: it is not inherently wrong for humans to eat animal products, whether flesh or milk or eggs. Animals eat other animals. It’s a fact of life. Who watches nature channels and scolds “Bad lion! Bad shark! Bad eagle!” when they see predators predating? Why are humans special?

Torturing animals, killing just for sport, waste – those are all evils. But we can kill animals for food respectfully and humbly.

Ideally, we would slaughter our own meat and catch our own fish. Modern life keeps most of us too occupied, and so we must rely on middlemen. Ideally, we would all buy organic meat. Organic meat is prohibitively expensive for Two Dogs and me at this point in time, so we get our flat iron steaks and cooked whole chickens at regular supermarkets. (If more people bought my e-book Goody Ideas, though…)

I am happy with meatless meals – macaroni and cheese with spinach, grilled tofu and brown rice, eggs on top of asparagus and ricotta cheese. But a life without shrimp, scallops, tilapia, halibut, salmon sushi, chicken (and its liver), thin ham slices (chipped ham in Pittsburgh), lamb chops, and flat iron steaks will be difficult for me.

The vehement species of vegan would think me a monster. The vehement species of vegan says you cannot be a good person and eat meat. The vehement species of vegan wants the whole world to stop eating meat – yesterday.

(For an audio example of this species, listen to Bob Linden’s radio show Go Vegan. It’s the most annoying radio show you can’t stop listening to.)

The vehement vegans say that everyone going meatless will save the world because it will reduce greenhouse gases. (I think it’s the industrialized farming, not the presence of cattle, which causes the greenhouse gases – what kind of greenhouse gases came out of the dinosaurs?)

But what if the whole world went vegan?

What if we all woke up tomorrow and promised to give up eating beef, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy from that day forward?


1. Some of us would starve to death. It’s easy to forget this when you live in a country where fresh produce is practically in your face, but some people live in places with little or no arable land. Think of the Inuit (whom we used to call Eskimos), or the Tibetans.

2. What happens to the “food” animals if people decide not to eat them anymore? Will we just turn them loose from the farms and let nature take care of them? (That would make for some happy foxes.) Can they survive in the wild? Do vehement vegans even think about this?

3. Do we have enough farmland to feed 6,895,052,894 people (and growing fast?) Can we feed everyone on organic farming, or will we have to resort to unnatural interventions such as industrial farming and genetically modified seeds? I remember watching an episode of Penn and Teller’s Bullshit! in which they claimed that if we relied on organic farming alone, it would feed only 75% of the people. I am not sure if this is true, but I wouldn’t want to chance it. The next time you are in a crowd, divide whom you see into groups of four, and then decide which one should die from too little food.

Of course, there is also nothing inherently wrong with being a vegan or vegetarian. Remember, though, that the meat eaters help make this choice possible. You know what meat is? Food.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

They will not thank us for this

I shouldn’t read the news as often as I do.

It rarely informs me of what I need to know (an rare exception today: my individual health insurance rate is about to go up, and I may need to find a new provider), and it tells me things that do nothing but piss me off.

NewSouth Books, an Alabama-based publishing company, is coming out with a version of Mark Twain’s 127-year-old classic, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” with every instance of the word “nigger” transformed into the word “slave”. (There are 219 in all, or slightly less than the “niggers” you can count on the average gangster rap CD.)

Now, NewSouth Books is just one publishing company, not an agency of the government. People around the world will continue to be able to buy and read the unexpurgated Huck Finn. Alan Gribben, the Auburn University at Montgomery (Alabama) who suggested the project to NewSouth, claims that a “nigger”-less Huck Finn fulfills a need in the marketplace: to make the book more acceptable to students. “[E]ven at the level of college and graduate school, students are capable of resenting textual encounters with this racial appellative,” he writes in the introduction to this new edition. Well, Professor Gribben, many of these students have no problem with audio encounters with the same racial appellative.

I don’t like the idea of a neutered Huck Finn. I wouldn’t read it, and if I were a teacher I wouldn’t use it in my class. First of all, I object to this for the same reason I didn’t like the colorization of black-and-white movies and TV shows (a practice which, I am happy to say, has virtually disappeared): we should view historical documents in the manner of their original creation, so that we see the past as it really was. A child watching colorized episodes of “I Love Lucy” will think that color TV was the norm in the 1950s, and a child reading Huck Finn without the word “nigger” will not understand the casual way the word was used back in the mid-1800s.

Secondly, without “nigger”, Huck Finn readers will lose a necessary lesson in contextualization. Yes, Huck says “nigger”, but his actions – befriending and protecting a runaway slave named Jim – prove he is anything but a racist. Huck says the word because he grew up with people using the word, and it’s the only word for black people that he knows. When well-intentioned scholars try to demonize a single word – and it is still just a word, not a blow to the head – it cheapens the value of education. Our young people will not thank us for hiding the truth from them.

Let us hope that this bowdlerized Huck Finn will fail, and fail hard; this is a trend that must end. Otherwise, a century from now people might be going through our blogs and picking off the “offensive” language. (and who knows what words people will think offensive then? “Salt”? “Hamburger”? “Coca-Cola”?)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Six “ifs” for 1-1-11

Today, many of you will resolve to make significant changes to make your life better. Some of you will aim to lose weight. Some of you are looking for new and better jobs. Some of you are hoping to be less stressed. I say, good luck to all resolvers.

I will not be among them, though.

I have made resolutions in the past, nearly all of them having to do with writing. Trouble was, I forgot them before January 31st came along. The tasks of daily living have a way of making you forget grand plans.

Today, I make resolutions for the day. On December 30th, my resolution was to write this post so it would be ready for you today. Making resolutions for the day is working for me – at least in this instance. Maybe it will work for you, too.

Here are six “ifs” (not resolutions) for 1-1-11:

1. If you don’t have a job, and want one…don’t call yourself “unemployed.” You’re actually “worksearching.”

2. If it’s sunny outside…go out and take a walk. Or, at the very least, look out the window. Sunshine in winter is a gift!

3. If you see a jerk on TV…change the channel. (Or turn it off.)

4. If big sweet navel oranges appear in your food store…buy them. (They are sunshine for your tastebuds!)

5. If you get a chance to taste anything flavored like egg nog…take it!

Egg nog cookies from Trader Joe's

6. If you see some good words in a book, in the newspaper, on a blog, or in your own head…share them with the world. Here’s mine:

Life is meant to be lived facing forward. – Jennie Brown Hakim

Happy New Year, everyone!