31 March 2010

Tears for the Tools

The news on the radio said that at least 38 people were dead and more wounded from two suicide bombings in Moscow. 38 families left to mourn, and many more to deal with the aftermath of another senseless act of violence. I swallowed the lump in my throat, sent up a prayer for the victims, and wondered who would shed tears for the suicide bombers.

I would have cried for the victims, I think, if I was less fatigued from these sort of events. I am hard pressed to recall a week in the years since the invasion of Afghanistan, that has been without a car bomb, suicide bomb, IED...always something exploding, always someone getting maimed or killed...This does not mean I have no sympathy, anymore, it means I have no more to give.

That the bombers were allegedly women made no difference to me. It is no more tragic because the supposedly gentler sex perpetrated these crimes. If history has shown us anything about men and women, it is that one gender is no less capable of savagery than the other. So I do not feel sadness for the bombers simply because they are women. Double X on the spiral does not mean 'exempt from human frailties'.

That the bombers were a nationality other than American made no difference to me. It is no more tragic for a horrible crime to be committed, no more indicative of a intrinsic 'bad' or 'good' national character trait, for these events to have occurred in Russia. Nationality and citizenship are no more guarantees of rationality or compassion than skin color or native language. People like Timothy McVeigh are proof that Americans are just as capable of heinous acts on a grand scale as any group on the face of the planet.

Strangely, or so I thought at first, I felt greater sadness that two people had killed themselves to kill others, perhaps, with a twisted notion that they were furthering some greater ideal. Whether religion or politics, the most likely suspects, I do not know but either is highly probable, and equally odious, should they be shown to be the 'why' behind what happened. Those reasons are enough to be upset and angry, but I was beyond them as I wondered at my own feelings on the matter. 

I felt sad because I know that many people will curse the bombers for their lunacy, their terrible actions, their inversion of the natural order by dashing our collective expectations. I felt sad because many will look upon the perpetrators as the worst of the worst...but that is missing the point. What matters more is that someone was led astray. Someone was coaxed into believing that the Cause was more important than respect, compassion and understanding for your fellow human beings.

They were led to think that politics or religion or both were more important than human lives. The bombers were tools, tools used by evil mechanics to build soft engines of destruction and misery.

I do not absolve the bombers of responsibility. It is highly improbable that they were ignorant of the ramifications of their actions. But I have heard so much, seen so much violence perpetrated in the name of Higher Ideals that I feel less anger towards the tools and more towards the mechanics who use them. I do not despise the bomb so much as the person who activates it, and regrettably nowadays there seems to be little difference between a suicide bomber and the explosives he or she carries.

We should feel sadness for the victims, I agree, and anger at the criminals. But if we are to be serious about compassion and understanding, sadness for the perpetrators is not out of the question. I do not mean the bloody crocodile tears that some will shed for "martyrs to the cause", for what they did has no justifiable reasons to support such heinous acts.

If any tear should be shed for the bombers it is for their humanity and their reason lost, knowing that someone led them astray, and as a consequence innocent human beings lost their lives. They were tools in the wrong hands.

30 March 2010

A Gumbo PSA

Achtung, liebe Jungen und Mädchen und Unentschlossenen!

Regarding last Sunday's post titled "Arrhythmia", it has come to my attention that many folks were concerned that something was wrong with Yours Truly. Looking back, in conjunction with This Post, I can see where that conclusion was a reasonable one to draw.

I am pleased to report that the event depicted was purely fictional, and I am fortunate to have no experience with arrhythmia, then or ever. As far as I know. 

To those whom I have not already explained, the post was the result of a boredom-inspired, "5-Minute Fiction" writing exercise I gave to myself. The photo just struck me in a way I could not define, and the idea just came to me.

Although I did not intend to cause consternation, I'm pleased to see that it seemed to work well as a story! Thank you all for reading, and for your interest and concern!
That is all. As you were, people, carry on, carry on...

29 March 2010

Monday Sunshine: Honk If You Like Haiku

Washbasin, alone,
Geese call faint through cool window
Friends, opening buds!

28 March 2010


Of course it had never crossed his mind that he would ever need their services, so it was quite the shock when his vision blurred and the dizziness overcame him. Really, having an attack in the middle of a site visit, tape measure in hand, was more irony than he could bear.

"I came here to measure this room" he thought, crumpling to the floor, "and now the room will take the measure of me." The light through the doorway became searing bright. He opened his mouth to say something, but no sound was forthcoming. The hospital man had his back to the doorway.

There was a sharp crack, as of bone hitting wood, and then nothing.

Photo credit: Irish Gumbo

27 March 2010

Looking Glass

So much of our lives is seen through or on glass...

That I wonder if we are living on camera...

Actors in a security video...

Or maybe we are all just under surveillance...

Photo credits: Irish Gumbo

26 March 2010

Channeling Ambrose Bierce

Now, when I talked to God I knew he'd understand
He said, "Stick by my side and I'll be your guiding hand
But don't ask me what I think of you
I might not give the answer that you want me to"

I take The Devil's Dictionary with a grain of salt, and as intended, knowing full well that Mr. Bierce was engaging in some top-notch satire. Yet I sometimes wonder if the definitions offered therein may be true.

So much to wrap my head around these days, and in a fit of pessimism I thought:

The tragedy here is not that I do not believe in God...

... the tragedy is that I do.

Assuming I have been given some answers (and I am not convinced of that), I haven't been able to make sense of them. Sucks to be me, I guess.

*Lyrics used without permission: "Oh Well" by Fleetwood Mac

25 March 2010

45 and Life To Go

"I can beat ya to the front door!"

The challenge was laid down with all the unbounded confidence my lovely Wee Lass could muster. I knew she couldn't truly beat me to the front door, but those blue eyes and the mist of freckles across the bridge of her nose weakened the last vestiges of competitive instinct leaking from my worn out ego.

She would beat me to the door, and she knew it.

I said "Oh, yeah?" and did my best imitation of Apollo Ohno at the starting line. She laughed and took off running. I made a half-hearted leap forward, two, three strides and then fell back into my tired lope. The breeze was up, blowing her hair back. She really did remind me of a colt. I swallowed the lump in my throat as she raced to the door. She beat me with lengths to spare, and found it hilarious.

Watching her run, hearing her laugh, made me ache to live forever. Just so I could be around her lightness, her "winged energy of delight" as Rainer Rilke may have described it. Sometimes I think he wrote that poem with her in mind. The tears in my eyes came from knowing that I won't be around forever with that laugh like silver bells ringing in my ears. It made my heart sore with a bittersweet ache.

My heart. I have been thinking about my heart frequently as of late. I wonder what shape it is in, if it is feeling any stress cracks, if the wounds are starting to heal. I worry about it in a practical sense, as well. Many of the men on my dad's side of the Gumbo family tree had heart troubles, some with fatal results. My brother, as many of you know, passed away last year from what was most likely a massive heart attack. At least two of my uncles had multiple heart attacks, one died in his mid-forties.

I remember hearing my father and one of my uncles joking long ago, that if "we can make it to forty-five, we've got it made!". I was too young then to get it, to understand what they meant. My uncle is no longer of this world, but my dad is still chugging along, beating that mark by a very wide margin. He's had some brushes with coronary troubles, very serious but not debilitating. I have to say this is one of the few times I've truly hoped that I got my father's genes as it relates to the ol' ticker.

All that flashed through my head, watching my daughter run and giggle her way to the front door, because it's 45 and life to go, my daughter's eyes and laugh tell me so.

24 March 2010

Not The Sandman, Anymore...

Say your prayers, little one
Don't forget, my son,
To include everyone

Tuck you in, warm within
Keep you free from sin

Till the sandman he comes...

"What scares you, daddy?"

That she asked me that question at all is not in and of itself to be unexpected. That she asked me out of the blue, on a pleasant spring evening, freaked me out and nearly made me stumble. It was in no way a question that I really wanted to be asked. Especially by a child.

We were on an evening stroll around the lake at one of my favorite parks. The sun was setting, the air was cool and it was nice all around. It was the kind of evening that made me feel like a human being again, the claustrophobic snows of February seemed a distant memory. Spring, it was the first day of spring. I had no desire to start thinking about fear, and weakness.

"Well, sweet pea, I don't really know for sure what makes me scared." This was really adult-speak for 'I know but I don't want to tell you, because it is too hard to explain.' The Wee Lass was having none of it.

"Are you afraid of getting hurt?" I have a feeling she asked me that because earlier she had stumbled and scraped her hands and knees.

"Yes, I am, a little."
"Because...getting hurt...well, it hurts!" was my lame response.

Sleep with one eye open
Gripping your pillow tight
Exit: light
Enter: night
Take my hand
We're off to never-never land

Yes, we are. But my never-never land is very different from hers. Hers may be one of things that she wants to never come to pass; mine...is populated with things that I wish had never happened, and the dread of things that might happen. How to explain this to a new and growing mind? A mind that tends to see things in simpler terms than mine, more black and white as a general rule, and not those horrible shades of gray? Or worse: non-colors that I cannot identify and that morph into fear, anxiety and panic.

Sleep with one eye open...ha...this presumes that one gets to sleep at all. I sleep, yes, but not with the sleep of the innocent. By innocent, I mean one who is mostly free of terrible knowledge, things that kids do not know and will not comprehend until they get much older. Things that, as an adult, I wish I could forget, or make it so I never knew.

Something's wrong, shut the light
Heavy thoughts tonight
And they aren't of Snow White

Dreams of war, dreams of liars
Dreams of dragon's fire
And of things that will bite

She continued to look at me expectantly. I found myself at a loss for words. I may have muttered something about bad dreams or not having a place to stay. She has told me before that she is afraid of bees and sharks (she has had 'being chased by shark' dreams), so for her the things that will bite are very literal. They can be named. They have teeth. They can chase you around and around.

The things that will bite me are not so corporeal. Their teeth may be invisible, but slash to the bone all the same. How do you run away from a panic attack? How do you evade watching a loved one die? What to do when you lose your job, or are subject to that constant pressure of meeting the responsibilities of life without losing hold of what gives you life?

Hush little baby, don't say a word
And never mind that noise you heard
It's just the beasts under your bed
In your closet, in your head

This I will not tell my daughter. I cannot. I will not, not now, not when she is so young. I do not know how I would even begin to tell her that, when we grow up, the things that scare us usually do not have legs, they do not bare their teeth, at least not in the material world. The things that scare us live in the caves and swamps of the mind. If we are fortunate, they stay there. Sometimes, we are not so lucky. It is then when we have to dig deep within and search without for help slaying the dragons. Perhaps the strength we get from those whom we love, the things we cherish, the beliefs we hold, keep those monsters penned up. 

So it was that fine spring evening. I looked back at my daughter skipping up the path, and the eyes in the darkness beyond the firelight began to fade away. The breath caught in my throat when she looked up and saw me staring.

"Daddy, I want to hold your hand!" she announced with a smile. I reached out and grinned.

I want you to hold it, too, and never let go...

Take my hand
We're off to never-never land...

Lyrics used without permission: "Enter Sandman" by Metallica. Perhaps the finest song about dread I have ever heard.

23 March 2010

Stop Chasing It...

...be patient, serenity will find you.

I was fortunate, that day, that it found me.

Photo credit: Irish Gumbo

22 March 2010

Monday Sunshine: Haiku

Tea warming cold hands.
Crocuses green against rain.
Heart awakes for her!

21 March 2010

Animals Don't Run Financial Institutions. People Do. Now I Understand.

From my worn but quite serviceable Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary:

predation n  
1: the act of preying or plundering: DEPREDATION  
2: a mode of life in which food is primarily obtained by the killing and consuming of animals

predator n
1: one that preys, destroys or devours
2: an animal that lives by predation

predatory adj
1 a: of, relating to, or practicing plunder, pillage or rapine b: showing a disposition to injure or exploit others for one's own gain
2: living by predation: PREDACEOUS: also: adapted to predation

I was moved to meditate on those words after hearing a news report on the radio referring to the "predatory lending practices" of the credit card industry, ones that this latest spate of legislation in the US is supposed to mitigate or prevent. It led me to thinking of the differences between animals and people, tigers and businessmen, sharks and criminals. As with many behavioral issues I ponder, it seems to point very sharply to motive and intent.

Predation 1: Greed and lust.
Predation 2: Necessity and hunger.

Predator 1: Conscious effort arising from Predation 1.
Predator 2: Instinctual effort arising from Predation 2.

Predatory 1a, b: Humans acting out Predator 1.
Predatory 2: Animals following the mandate of Predator 2.

Hearing the practices of the credit card industry, and by extension commercial banking and associated entities, labeled as "predatory" seemed both fitting and insulting to people and animals, respectively. It's almost as if people cannot bear the implications of their own exploitative behavior. "Predatory" in this context is said with a faint tinge of unease and distaste. It is this association with the violence of animals that is implied to be ruinous and savage, as if animals acted as much out of licit malice as humans pretend they do not.

If there was only a way to disassociate Definition 1 from Definition 2. Watching a tiger bring down a deer fills me with awe and respect. It is understandable; the tiger, like me, needs to fill his belly and one deer will do. Tigers do not act out of greed. Tigers may take advantage of the weak and slow, this is true. But tigers do not say to the deer "This is a great deal for you, friend!" while administering the killing bite.

Watching money bring down human beings fills me with disgust and fear. It is incomprehensible to me...but then, I have a conscience and a sense of propriety. Money does not. Greed and lust may make human beings predators, but it does not make them animals. If animals understood pride as people do, I imagine animals would be offended by the comparison, and would demand that we stop the slander.

20 March 2010

For the Calorie-Conscious Caffeine Freak

Seen at a gas station/convenience store:

Now you can be twice as amped and still be calorie-conscious! After all, you wouldn't want to put any junk on your system, now would you?

Photo credit: Irish Gumbo

19 March 2010

Mobtown or Charm City: It Depends on the Mood

Baltimore, 8:13 a.m. intersection of South and Baltimore Street:

Just out of frame on the right is the El Basha Hookah Bar. I've never been there, but I've heard it is interesting. 'The Block' is just up ahead, you can see the Hustler Club peeking out above the car in front. Further up is the Baltimore Police headquarters...cheek and jowl with the seedier side. There used to be a sausage place up on the left called "Polock Johnny's", by all accounts a great place to get a Polish sausage sandwich or a hot half-smoke when hunger struck after a night in the strip clubs. Or so I've heard.

Here is another look at my sort of adopted hometown:

Baltimore...I'm not certain how I feel about you sometimes...but I don't know where I'd be if not here...

Photo credit, top: Irish Gumbo

18 March 2010

A Case of the Vapors

I write this on a Friday night, slowly decompressing whilst sitting on the couch. A long week of tired, my Wee Lass is in bed and I am soon to follow. I'm in a bit of a brown study, to go a bit old school. Old school, like 14th Century type old school.

Physical fatigue plays a part, surely, in this flirtation with melancholy. Being tired increases the degree of difficulty in keeping a stiff upper lip, the lights on, a smile on the face. Sometimes, I'm just too tired to try. Mental fatigue is a whole other matter, and that is what has me sitting still and quiet and just letting the mind breathe without trying to digest.

The trigger event occurred on the ride home from work. I was intent on picking up my daughter from school, and traffic was moderate, so I was focused without being blindered. Somewhere around the halfway point, I was seized by this thought:

I forgot at least three story ideas today. Three. I swore I would remember them, they seemed so clear and bright, there was no way...but I did forget.

This after telling myself for the umpteenth time that I didn't need to write them down because they were so strong and vivid. Pffft. Like Balzac supposedly said after having sex "There goes another novel", I allowed the distractions and demands of the World In My Face to displace a few notions of mine. Except I did not have the precious luxury of sex, it was the daily grind of work. Fatigue and reality, a hurricane in the head...

This happens to me a lot. I have a phrase pop up in my mind, or I see or hear something inspiring and I tell myself it would make a good story or essay and I'll write about it when I get home, this is going to be great! 

Fail. Fail. Fail.

It irritates me to no end, that even with multiple notebooks stashed in my briefcase, my car, my nightstand, that I am frequently too lazy to simply put a few words down for reminding myself later. I even carry a pen in my shirt pocket most of the day, and have one at hand when I am home.

So the net result is, I end up writing stuff like this. Because I cannot fight the push to write that balloons in my head, every day all day on occasion. I must. I have to write...I wish they could all be diamonds, but sometimes they are only coal.

17 March 2010

Snack Trends I Can Get Behind, Volume 2

That's right, kids, time for another libationary* flight of fancy...

Some time ago, in these here Gumbo pages, I let it be known that I had discovered a new and wonderful TASTE TREAT, heretofore unknown in these parts it would seem.

My friends, sometimes lightning does strike twice. The Muse whispered in my ear again...

Oreos...also taste wonderful dunked in Sam Smith's Oatmeal Stout.

I am also reasonably certain that that combination would taste good in something like milkshake or frosty form. Think of it, oatmeal stout ice cream, milk and crushed cookies blended into it. Taste buds, sit up and beg!

(urp) Yummmm...

*I totally made that word up. It's mine, dammit!

16 March 2010


Miles Davis makes some pretty damn good chowder, I must say. It was an honor to have him in the kitchen.

Okay, so he did not really make chowder today, in my kitchen. I made the chowder, he provided the inspiration and the music. It all started with a notion taking hold in my weary headbone on my evening commute last Friday evening. That, and hunger for some fruits o' the sea.

Chowder, it seems, is never very far from my mind. Sometimes it sits in front of me, like a dog on the porch eager to take me for a run. Other times it sits quietly in the shade, out of vision but faintly there like a ghost. It watches, it waits, it knows I'll turn around and say "What are you doing there, you scamp?". It is that turning around that makes me make chowder. 

I grew up near the water, rivers, creeks, bays and ocean. Crabs and fish were the most likely suspects when I ate seafood, but chowder making was nowhere on the radar as a kid. My first experience with it was the canned soup variety (name rhymes with "Shambles Monkey"), a quasi-New England clam chowder analog that seemed more about the salt and the thick than anything else. And I ate heroic quantities of it, not knowing any better and thinking it quite fine.

It was much later, as an adult, that I had a true clam chowder. It was a revelation. I was vacationing on Cape Cod, and dined at a restaurant that had quite the reputation for a "true" clam chowder. Later, I found out this meant it was made with real salt pork and not bacon. Anyway, it was so good, I wondered just what in the world I had been eating all those years before.

Subsequent visits to New England (and sampling chowders made elsewhere) piqued my curiosity and got me interested in chowder making. Problem was, I had no background to work with, no tradition of the thing, so I had to rely on what I hoped was good guidance I picked up from chefs and food writers whom I trusted to be making the real thing. I have practiced quite a bit over the past few years, but I never really strayed that far from what most folks would consider a traditional approach. It seems quite a few relatively modern approaches have celery and onions as mainstay vegetables. Potatoes are so integral to the dish (at least as far as I can tell) that to make it without them, well...it just would not be chowder.

So last Friday I was cogitating on chowder, putting together a big pot in my mind so I could fill out my grocery list for some weekend eats. The vegetables I would get from the supermarket, the seafood (because that is what struck my fancy) I would get from my favorite seafood store. Fish and shrimp, yes, sir...Sunday evening finds me in the kitchen, gettin' my chef on, and Miles is playing on the stereo. Potatoes, onion, fish, shrimp...and no celery. No celery. So what now? Miles made a suggestion or two...

If jazz is the art of improvisation, surely cooking cannot be far behind. I dithered a bit, but that smooth trumpet in the background and the cool bass gave me the idea. If I had no celery, then I would use carrot. I didn't know if the carrots would make me a heretic or a jazz master, but it is what I had.

This was the first time I had made chowder of any kind without celery, so I was a little hesitant. Plus, to give it a bit of a kick, I had some serrano chiles, fresh and green, so...into the pot they would go. But the music spurred me on, I diced the carrots, minced the chiles and cast them in.

The kitchen, the whole apartment, smelled delish, and I was picking up confidence. Miles kept going, urging me on...watching the potatoes boil and bubble I remembered I had some yellow corn in the freezer. Listening to that jazz, and feeling the oats of the first day of daylight savings time, I reckoned some corn might just be a welcome traveler on this road trip. I crossed my fingers and hit the accelerator...

The moment of truth came after I ladled up a big bowl full of what looked to be a mighty fine composition, a riff on what I had been thinking of as chowder. I set it on the table, "Kind of Blue" drifting from the speakers behind me, and thought that maybe, just maybe, I had my own form of jazz right there in the bowl. It wasn't New England clam chowder from Massachusetts, it wasn't Frogmore Stew from South Carolina, it was Mid-Atlantic Seafood Chowder a la Gumbo-style...

...and with that first mouthful of seafood goodness, the heretic and the jazzman shook hands, grinned and sat down to dinner in good company. Miles and me, we make a good team.

15 March 2010

Monday Sunshine: Haiku

Small, grey, glistening.
Cold hand with open oyster,
Sunlight, lovely pearl!

14 March 2010

Train In Vain: Winter

I waited, and it grew cold...


...no lonely whistle sounded, and the trees offered no counsel. As the snow fell, wispy hands caressing my face while I stood and shivered, I wondered just how far it would have taken me anyway.

Down in the valley, the river chuckled and hissed, content to be on its way.

Photo Credit: Irish Gumbo

13 March 2010

This Is Not My Beautiful House

With all the shite swirling around me, it seems David Byrne is soundtracking my life. Damnit.

The iGumbopod came to life again, as I was dropping Wee Lass off at the house, after her weekend visitation with me. It was just after sundown, with a little bit of sunglow left in a sky that was looking like an old bruise. I stepped out of the car, looked across the parking lot at the place I used to live...and it hit full force: That is not my beautiful house...Cue Once In A Lifetime again!

The ground shifted suddenly, I drew in a sharp breath and watched everything waver like I was looking up through a swimming pool. The dizziness caught me off guard and I think I may have reached out a hand to steady myself against the car. It was trippy and unsettling. A shake of the head and another deep breath brought me back to earth. I went around and opened the door for my daughter, who was bubbling with eagerness to see mom and thankfully, had no idea what had just happened to me.

Walking with her to the door, I felt like a stranger, an alien, die Ausländer...in a place that I used to know so very well. It had been my home for thirteen (how's that for a coincidence?) years. It had been a place that I had left and returned to every day for all that time. Now, it looked like something new, or something that I had been away from years longer than the ten months it had been.

Drop off went well, the lass was cheerful, and I had the glow of a weekend well spent with the apple o' my eye. The drive home was not so good. Turn the key, start the engine then sob over the steering wheel. As I pulled out onto the highway I was overwhelmed by waves of dislocation and rootlessness. By rootlessness I mean as if I once had roots, deep roots, but then they were ripped away and I was cast into a swift river. The banks I once knew receded into the mist behind me and I just floated away...

The echoes rang in my ear when I pulled in to park on the lot next to the building that has my apartment. Open the door, out of the car, that same weird dislocation. The walk to my door seemed to drag out, much longer than it should have taken. I slide the key into the lock, turned the lever that still feels strange in my hand, and walked into the collection of rooms that has sheltered me since I moved out last year.

Sheltered me. For this I am grateful. I would have to be an utter dunderhead to not appreciate a warm, dry place to eat, sleep and hang my clothes. Yet I was still possessed of that alien feeling, a nomad outside the city walls, and it was driven home by this singular thought:

This, too, is not my beautiful house, and it will never be...

12 March 2010

Stick It In The Fridge, Stick It In The Fridge...

...I like cool beverage...

Right now, in my refrigerator, there lurks 2 bottles of Anchor Bock and 4 bottles of Guinness Extra Stout. Plus, I have some chips. Anyone wanna come over and watch 'Family Guy' with me? Bring some onion dip, please.

What's in your fridge?

11 March 2010

Choosy Mothers Don't Choose Aflatoxins

I'm trying to eat healthier, and smarter. I really am. I have been trying to cut down on the chips and crackers (and sort of succeeding) and eat more "healthy" foods. You know, fruits, whole grains, the usual suspects. I have two problems with this approach:

a) My snack cravings gravitate to the savory-salty side.
b) I like chips. And cold cuts. And cheese. Things like that.

If sushi tuna rolls were sold like Oreos, I'd be in serious trouble. 

The challenge for me has been to find suitable savory-salty snackage that doesn't have the fat baggage of my usual munchies. Enter the nut family! Almonds, peanuts, cashews...these days most can be had in reduced salt or low salt versions. Plus they have the good fats, minerals, all that stuff that us supposed to be good for you, and I can eat a small amount and fill up.

So I'm munching my way through a big handful the other day, and a little tidbit of info burbles to the placid surface of my mind. A by-product of my overindulgence in reading about food, it slowed me down a bit. Peanuts, along with a number of other nuts and even chile peppers, can become infected with a type of  mold that produces something called aflatoxin.

As you may surmise, aflatoxin is well, toxic. Aflatoxins are known to be carcinogenic and mutagenic. Neither of those is a good thing. I believe I stopped chewing, and considered spitting out the masticated remains of the peanuts I had popped in my mouth. Hunger and good manners kept me from doing so.

Pondering this conundrum, another bit of food safety trivia* came back to haunt me: some mushrooms produce rocket fuel.

Okay, okay, they don't exactly produce rocket fuel, but they do produce a chemical precursor that, upon digestion in the stomach, decomposes into two other chemicals, one of which is rocket fuel. It's a dandy little chemical known as monomethylhydrazine, or MMH for short. MMH poisoning has an elevated incidence amongst workers in the aerospace industry, and it is the same type of illin' you get from eating the wrong kind of mushroom**. I remember reading long ago, of some researchers noting a similarity between the symptoms of chemical exposure in workers and those who had ingested some types of poisonous mushrooms. I like mushrooms, too. So I was a little bummed, especially knowing that even cooking them won't necessarily destroy the toxin. It could make it worse, because the chemical vaporizes, and ends up in the lungs. Whee!

Even my beloved chips are not free of the taint, what with the acrylamide scare. Yet another delish snack food ruined by the specter of carcinogens. It's a damn shame they taste so good.

I want to eat better, truly I do, but it seems to a health risk. Maybe I should stick to Italian hoagies.

*Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am a world class geek.
**Or perhaps it is the right kind of mushroom, if one is looking for certain other 'chemical' effects.

10 March 2010

Ghosts In The Window

Standing there,
alone and surrounded,
with the slosh of tea
sounding loud above the music

he wonders

if really, those ghosts
in the glass
with the headlights
shining through them

are people

and it is those
on this warm side
of the pane who
are the ghosts

standing, alone

he felt himself
without substance
giving the lie
to a full belly

looking up,
staring into hollow eyes
frozen to be noticed
he stops breathing

he, the ghost, blinked first.

09 March 2010


Overtaken by that sensation of standing in the middle of the road and running for my life, desperately wanting the side of the road but to scared to make a move. Making a move feels damn near impossible, because the the trucks, they roar by at high speed with nary a gap to be found between them.

Maybe it is train cars. Like trying to dodge between trains cars. On one side of the tracks, looking over at the other side of the tracks, the little snippet of view that can be seen in the space between the steel behemoths rolling at a blur over the worn silver ribbons of the rails.

I can see the other side, a little bit at a time. I would dash there, if I had the courage. But I don't. The courage has melted away like snow before a blowtorch. I have just enough to keep me from running away in the other direction. It keeps me rooted here beside the tracks, standing in the middle of the road. Life has accelerated, partly through my own interference, partly through the great grinding turns of the Universe.  Sucks for me, because I'm not all about the rush.

Life: that chaotic soup that resist scooping up in utter defiance of our best efforts. It has exhausted me on one hand, and overstimulated me on the other. Hence, my relative lack of communications with those who I love and those who I consider to be friends (again on one hand) and my burst of blog posting (on the other hand). To those who feel I have ignored or forgotten you, I'm sorry. 

Hopefully, the trucks will soon pass me by, and I'll be able to make it to the other side of the road. I'm looking to make it in one piece. I need to rest!

08 March 2010

07 March 2010

Don't Let The Terrorists Win: A Capitalist Theory of Same-Sex Marriage


So say the billboards that loom over part of my daily commute into and out of Mobtown. The words jump out, brightly illuminated by the sun or floodlights, depending on the time of day. These trite phrases are accompanied by huge, full-color photos of a beautiful couple smiling bovinely into the camera as if wedding clothes and a cameraman hovering over them were the neatest thing since being told now they could have sex since they were married.

Couple in this context meaning man and woman. The billboards are sponsored by some sort of 'Save The Family and/or Marriage' type outfit, who believe that marriage can only mean God-approved gender relations.

Yes, the traditional (which in this country means "Western/European/American/Christian") definition is a union between a man and a woman*. But the definition of marriage varies quite a bit, through time and across cultures. Some of those definitions include same sex marriages, some say nothing of procreation. With that in mind, I noted to myself the first time I saw those billboards did not say "Marriage between a man and a woman Works" or "Married men and women Make More Money."

The first billboard doesn't mention human beings at all. The second says "PEOPLE".

Married PEOPLE Make More Money. Hmm.

I think that is probably true. But gender roles are not essential to making money. Making money depends on skill and training and character and environment and sometimes luck. My theory is that married people make more money** because they are more likely to be in a stable relationship with shared interests, coupled with a desire to be together out of love.

Stable, loving relationships are also not defined solely by gender roles. They are defined by the character and interests and abilities of the people involved to make them work.

So let me get this straight: 

Marriage works, and married people make more money.
Married people make more money because they are in a stable loving relationship.
Those relationships are not solely defined by gender roles, but by the character of the people involved.

SO...Married people = more earned money = bigger tax base + discretionary income.

Thus, same-sex marriage could be a much needed boost to the economy. Talk about a stimulus plan, look at the potential gains to be had in granting equal rights to a huge untapped demographic!

Gee whiz, with all the economic woes facing the country, you'd think the 'pro-business, less government' conservative *coughRepublicancough* folks would be all over this, wouldn't you? Especially since if more people had more money to spend on consumption, the terrorists have even less of a chance to win!

*It bears pointing out that in much of Western history, marriage was more about solidifying economic and political ties than it was about a romantic notion of "Three-makes-family". So spare me the platitudes about fulfilling God's design...unless you mean that design was for the greedy and manipulative to force their worldview on everyone else for the sake of gain.
**Assuming that is really true. I'm very skeptical of the methodology and criteria that the advertising organization used to make that claim. Statistics and data can be bent in many ways.

06 March 2010

Candle In The Window On a Cold, Dark Night

Candle in the window,
On a cold, dark night,
Her hands on my heart,
She draws me toward the light...

Photo credit: Irish Gumbo

05 March 2010

I'm Good Enough, I'm Strong Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me...

...now if I just had time to adequately thank them all! Recently I have been linked, and it is a testament to my distraction and general dearth of time that I am catching up to some fine folks of my recent acquaintance.


See that there pretty little thang above? Well, I was anointed with it by the ever-intriguing and multi-faceted Mike at Annotated Margins . I had the pleasure of discovering Mike's place earlier this year, and always come away with a new perspective on the Universe after reading over there. Plus, he makes music. Good music. If I wasn't so far away from his stomping grounds in Oregon, I'd be in the audience on a regular basis. Thanks, Mike! Everybody stop by and say hello, it's worth the trip.

I know the rules say to link to seven others, and come up with seven interesting things about myself...but long time readers will know that I suck at rules, plus the time factor is cramping my style. These days, I tend to have to glimpse things on the interwebs as I run past my computer on the way to doing something else, so I'll do my best to get something resembling a response to the rules (if I don't forget).

We can all use a little more sunshine! I need to give a shout-out to new bloggy acquaintance, one I'm taking a shine to, and she's a newbie (relatively speaking). I refer of course to the little ray o' sunshine known as Lola Sharp over at Sharp Pen/Dull Sword. I must have said or done something that caught her attention, because she has been commenting regularly on the hot mess that is Irish Gumbo, and has made me laugh out loud! She was kind enough to leave me some link love on her most recent post, in which she mentioned me in the same paragraphs as some other most awesomesauce bloggers, so please drop in and say howdy.

Whew. So that's my gyrations for the day. Busy like the beaver, I am, and hopefully soon things will settle down to where I can be more attentive...and blog about the things that have been keeping me so busy...

04 March 2010

Year Of The Tiger

According to Chinese astrology, 2010 is the Year of the Tiger. According to some information I have read, it is more specifically the Year of the Metal Tiger, or White Tiger. This is considered by some to be a jinx, or a sign of a bad year.

I think the folks in Haiti and Chile would agree.

Tiger years are supposed to be dynamic, full of change and constant happenings. So far, the theory is holding true, locally and globally. Tragedies great and small seem to be afflicting most people, some I know and most I do not. But I sympathize with them all.

According to astrology, I am a Snake. Snakes do not do well with chaos or rapid change. Ergo, Snakes and Tigers do not, as a rule, get along well.

Amen to that, brothers and sisters. Or should I say 兄弟姐妹 (Xiōngdì jiěmèi), in keeping with the Chinese inspirations for this post. I bring this all up because, on a lark, I bought a book on Chinese astrology for the year 2010. I was most intrigued by some of the descriptions in it, specifically about my Chinese astrological sign, but also about some of the people I know and love. And even some people I know and for whom I do not particularly care.

The thing that struck me right off the top was this little gem at the beginning of the chapter on the Snake:

"I think.
And think some more.
About what is,
About what can be,
About what may be.
And when I am ready,
Then I act."*

That pretty much sums it up. Me in a nutshell. And as I stated earlier, Snakes and Tigers do not get along well with one another. It has been and may continue to be a year of change, of opportunity, one in which I am advised to be careful, to not rely so heavily on myself but instead seek to maintain friendship with others.
Of that I have no doubts. I respect the Tiger, but I will not be intimidated into inaction. I will be careful. I will think. And then, when ready, I will act.

Come, then, friend Tiger, let us dance...but beware the Snake...

*Quoted from"Your Chinese Horoscope 2010" by Neil Somerville

03 March 2010

In The Land of Goofball Squirrels

Cool title, yes?

I have no idea what it means, but herewith is my subject du jour: cause and effect. This concept is causing me some head pain. Not because I don't understand it. I understand it all to well. No, the head pain comes from my daughter not quite understanding it.

I know, I know...she's in kindergarten, so some slack shall be cut. Still, there are times when not really connecting the dots makes me want to tear my hair out, or run around in circles. I think this is because I have spent more time in the country of CauseandEffectistan than I have spent out of it. A common side effect of being an "adult", more's the pity.

The anxiety arises because I understand it, and I am accustomed to those around me understanding it. This is a wonderful thing, because it means I do not have to spend any time explaining things. Well, most of the time I don't, can't say it has never happened. Simple things, like a gas flame is hot, ice is slippery and water is wet. I am just not used to having to spell these concepts out.

I was reminded of this principle recently on a foray to a local park. A park that is still mostly under a very thick layer of snow, and was undergoing a rapid melt under the effects of a run of above freezing temperatures. To wit:

"Look, daddy, the snow's melting!"
"Yes, it is, sweet pea."
"Look, daddy, I'm walking in the mud!" That bit was said with great enthusiasm and a grin.
"I see, sweetie. Your boots will get muddy." A minute passes.


Yes, dear. I'll alert the media.

02 March 2010

Window and Mirror

If eyes are windows to the soul, mine seem cracked and dusty. 

The view looking out is obscured, and it follows the same would apply to the view looking inward. I cannot prove it, because I cannot look myself in the eye except through mirrors. Mirrors are useful, sometimes, but mirrors are not people. Mirrors can only show you what is on the surface.

Windows allow sight out, light in. The eye does much the same. Eyes do not truly look in on themselves, only the eyes of another make that possible. Thus, the dilemma: if I want someone to look into my eyes to see who I am, I must allow them close enough for unbroken sight. This is an uneasy task. Letting someone that close is letting them close enough to love. Love brings with it strength, and vulnerability.

Vulnerability creates anxiety. Anxiety breeds fear. Fear, as Frank Herbert wrote in Dune, is the mind-killer, the little-death that brings total obliteration. It is just cruel to think obliteration could be the end result of love.

So it is that I must face my fear. I will let it wash over me and through me, just as Herbert's Bene-Gesserit would have me do. I have no choice. I will let others in, I will let others peer through the dust, grime and cracks so that they can see who I must be. I am confident that love will be there, I will have it and because of that, I will not be afraid. I will not be obliterated.

I will lose my fear of love. I will have my window and mirror. I will see out, and in.