Lions and Tofurkeys and Bores, Oh My!

November 27, 2008

It’s Thanksgiving again, and as it is every year, families join together to spend four to ten awkward hours trying to avoid eye contact while eating enough to feed the Sudanese army without remorse. And while it’s a beautiful time of year, it’s also a time to reflect on those traditions that make this the greatest of holiday seasons.

Watching Lousy Football Games: Watching football on Thanksgiving is a time-honored American tradition, partly because of football’s hold on American culture, and partly because it’s an awesome excuse to sit in a basement in front of a plasma TV drinking beer yelling about why don’t you just run the ball in fourth and goal so you’ll cover you piece of garbage go back to Oklahoma you worthless prick of a coach it looks like someone’s not getting a Wii this Christmas because daddy didn’t think the coach was going to be such a cautious pansy on fourth and frickin’ goal while the womenfolk are cleaning up and doing the dishes upstairs. Of course, most of this tradition is spoiled because someone with a remarkable ineptitude at foresight a few decades ago decreed that it would be none other than the Detroit Lions that would host a Thanksgiving Day game every year. The Detroit Lions. A team that hasn’t had a winning season since they started paying players. Even General Motors posted a profit since they’ve won. At this point, the only way they could win a playoff berth is if the football shrank significantly into something a little bit blacker and rounder, they gave everyone on the team a stick, and they renamed the franchise the “Red Wings.” Of course, there isn’t even a halfway decent matchup this year, since Detroit is up against the 10-1 Tennessee Titans, an incredibly lopsided match that absolutely no one is going to watch outside of Vegas. The only good thing to come of that game is that Vince Young is sitting in Ford Field instead of around the dinner table in Houston inexplicably crying like a woman at random intervals when asked to pass the gravy.

Stale-Dated Yams: Thanksgiving is primarily a food holiday, unlike, say, the Furth of July, where meals are more often than not equated with food poisoning and salads that are in reality desserts, or Labor Day, which is about playing tag football or some form of bocce mutated so your four-year-old nephew and play without crying than it is about hamburgers and hot sausage. Thanksgiving is all about the consumption of gross amounts of food. And, of course, the preparation and anticipation of the meal as well. So it would be no surprise that there’s always some dish sitting untouched on the table. Sometimes it’s a staple dish, such as yams or cranberry sauce, that just looks kind of suspect, like maybe it sat in the back seat of the car for an hour too long, or maybe the dog retched in it when no one was looking. Sometimes it’s a well-meaning attempt for someone to appease the lone pretentious vegetarian sitting in the group, an abortive monstrosity of a disaster, a half-finished tofurkey or poorly made watercress casserole. Then, as if it’s one big guilt trip for everyone involved, that renegade dish is parceled up and handed to each family as they go out the door, baited with dark meat and rye bread leftovers, so they can be immediately thrown in the trash in the safety of everyone’s respective homes.

Making Politically Neutral Talk With Your Unbalanced Secondary Relatives: You know who they are. Distant out-of-state cousins and uncles-in-law that you see perhaps every third Thanksgiving, or perhaps an errant viewing here and there. And of course talking about the weather and how much the Lions suck will only take you so far. Eventually someone is going to mention the government, or the church, or the lone pretentious vegetarian who gave everyone the stink eye for loving the turkey so much, or the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, or Jeff Gordon, and off they go. No one wants to say anything except this guy, who knows it all and knows that if you don’t know things the exact same way that he or she does, you are an unrepentant idiot undeserving of the last slice of blueberry pie. And while you have cogent reasons for having a reasonably logical discussion with that person, you don’t, for two reasons. One is that Aunt Jane might pop in and contribute her two cents, and she still thinks the Freemasons are poisoning the wells and the metric system is just a way for the “International Bankers” (cough, cough) to take control of the oil and finance industries. And, two, there is always a chance that this person has you in their will.

Xanax: Oh, come on, like you haven’t already ground it up and poured it in the brandy you don’t think everyone knows you have stolen away in the breast pocket of your jacket.

An American Autumn

September 25, 2008

Welcome to the fall! Some enjoy the fall because of the weather, the atmosphere, and the seasons. Others dislike it for the fact that that means winter is fast approaching. It’s one of my favorite seasons for a variety of reasons, not the least of which it is the season I most closely associate with my birthday. Of course, fall brings with it a multitude of different experiences for different people. Such as:

The Fall Television Lineup: Each year, the televisions networks reveal their fall television lineup. Nervousness fills studio executives, producers, writers, and budding actors as viewers are now going to be the ones choosing which programs survive and which ones get cancelled after two episodes even though the television critics are required by law to change their pants on an hourly basis because it’s so ridiculously orgasmic to watch but has to be chopped off the schedule because it drew in .04% fewer viewers in the 18-34 age range than Kansas City Prostitutes Drive Big Rigs in the Arctic. So while there is plenty of hope, there’s an awful lot of disappointment, especially as one considers the fact that we live in a world where someone is contractually obligated to actually give Jay Mohr some work.

Football Season: This year is nothing like last year, when entire franchises were being rounded up and sent to Gitmo and Michael Vick was wandering the nation shooting at feral kittens with buckshot. It’s actually quite sedate this year; despite the upset of the Giants over the Patriots, New England was expected to steamroll over all the competition. However, the only drama during week one of the season—aside from whether Baltimore and Cincinnati would actually both slide into negative points—was that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was injured and will be out for the rest of the season, giving him plenty of time to fight for messiahship with Barack Obama and Steve Jobs. Aside from some incredibly arcane disputes about renegotiating the collective bargaining agreement, the entire drama manufactures for this season pretty much boils down to variations of Chad Johnson’s legal name and the concept of Jessica Simpson.

School Starts: Or, in other words, school buses suck. In some ways, the start of school is a wonderful thing. I don’t like too many things in this world, but one of the things I am terrifyingly irritated by are children of the age four through eighteen. And when they are in a building learning the cosine and making closed circuits out of a bunch of C batteries and some old crusty wires from the Nixon era, they are notably not at the mall or in front of me at the checkout counter at the local department store. So carting the kids off to school is a remarkably wonderful thing, if nothing more than the fact that since I’m forced to pay for it anyway I might as well get some peace and enjoyment out of the deal by not having to be made to feel old every time I have to go to the grocery store.

Election Time: While there is a lot of justifiably intense media focus on the presidential campaign, it’s also election time for countless local elections, as many people are fully aware of given the what seems to be approximately sixty thousand road signs you will ignore over the next two months. Everything from comptrollers to commissioners to ward council seats, everyone is trying to get a piece of the sweet participatory democracy pie. And, living in Pennsylvania, we get a super special treat of pretty much election any damn fool to any absurd position, most notably the prothonotary, a completely artificially conceived lie of a position cooked up by the Greeks or the Catholic church or somesuch and forced upon us by a progressive movement hell bent on electing everyone’s dinner every day.

A Lot More Pumpkin Crap On The Shelves At the Grocery Store: Now, don’t get me wrong, I like pumpkin stuff. I like pumpkin pies and cookies and bread and roasted pumpkin seeds and all sorts of things that make me quite capable of supply an embarrassingly large percentage of our natural gas needs. But every so many years—and this one looks likely to be one—there are multitudes of ridiculously-conceived items that are pumpkin-themed. I’ve even seen some monstrosity called pumpkin soup, something I suspect is very much so like finding something called watermelon broil or turkey cupcakes. (And please don’t write telling me that these things actually exist. I want to tread water for the remainder of my life assuming those things do not exist in a sane world.)

A Whole Mess Of Deadly Boring Movies Aimed At Scraping Up An Oscar Nomination:
Let’s face it, people are getting over the action-packed summer blockbusters, and are winding down now that the kids are on a regular schedule of not bothering me at the movie theater. The good news is that I can actually enjoy a movie without having to worry about contracting STDs from the approximately 14,000 teenaged sexual encounters that appear to occur once the lights dim down every time I venture into the theater after four in the afternoon. The bad news is that a boatload of period pieces, self-righteous historical epics, and a two-for-one sale at the Oscar Contender auction gets shoveled into the studio schedules, provided not entertainment but boredom packaged in sanctimoniousness. I don’t see why the movie industry needs to do this; the presidential campaign is fulfilling that need this year.

Viva la Barista!

July 20, 2008

Starbucks is in trouble, and for the first time it’s not because of WTO rioters or a Brazilian frost.

Recently, Starbucks announces a corporate restructuring to try and reverse a negative slide in profit. The reasons for this are varied and unimaginative, and alas are unlikely to involve such exciting scancals as executives being taped using racial slurs, Enron-style financial shenanigans, or Hepatitis A.

I’ve always been kind of ambivalent towards coffee shops. On the minus side, they sell overpriced, overburnt drinks that are one part legitimate coffee and nine parts dessert. Their clientele is a mix of pretentious college students dividing their time pretending to study and trying to get into the pants of each other, or, alternately, businessmen and women who decide to take a half-hour meeting and stretch it into a three-hour coffee-drinking social gathering where they hash out their executive plans and try to get into the pants of each other. They have ridiculous music which is marketed as “world” and “independent” music, as if they were produced in a Kenyan jungle by rogue pirate sound engineers instead of in Los Angeles in conjunction with an advertising deal with Clear Channel Communications and RCA. They make a pretty big deal about how they purchase fair trade coffee, as if a majority of the profits weren’t still going to the United Fruit Company and the descendents of Chase & Sanborn, and offer health insurance to their workers, for those teenagers who might get carpal tunnel syndrome while burning the lattes.

On the plus side, their stuff is pretty good, even though I feel like doing penance afterwards. And sometimes the baristas are pretty hot. As in attractive hot, not standing in front of an espresso machine all day long on a sticky summer afternoon hot.

Starbucks’s current financial woes stem from several different issues. One of them is competition. No one is going to ever accuse Starbucks from undercutting the competition; their product line has always been pretty expensive, and mom and pop stores usually carve out a fairly large market share by being slightly cheaper but still maintaining a sinful markup that would make the cigarette and textile companies blush with shame and green with envy.

But part of it may be Starbucks’s corporate image. Coffee shops tend to attract exactly the sort of young, progressive, idealistic customer that likes to bring marble mocha macchiatos to the protest rally. And yet one can’t quite shake the fact that Starbucks is a huge corporation, with bottom lines, suit-wearing executives, and quarterly earnings statements just like every other corporation. Unlike local shops, there is little identity in a Starbucks; going into one Starbucks is just like going into any Starbucks, with pretty much the same appearance, products, and color schemes. It’s eerily close to that episode of Star Trek when DeForest Kelley wakes up every morning with a groundhog and some Asian dude in a rabbit suit riding a phone booth, then he accidentally steps on his glasses as the bank vault locks shut.

Another issue is the saturation of store locations. Starbucks is notorious for cramming storefronts in every possibly corner, side shop, big box chain bookstore, and cardboard box under the bridge possible. Several malls have two or more locations, and those unaware of this fact sometimes feel disoriented, as if the streets they walk down have been looped like the background of some ‘60’s-era Hanna Barbera cartoon.

As such, Starbucks is changing their market strategy. They are going to close around 600 stores throughout the United States, and drastically roll back expansion plans, a curious decision since as far as I can tell the only places that aren’t already saturated with Starbucks stores are North Korea, Cuba, and Antarctica, and I’m not so sure about North Korea. I hear Kim Jong Il loves their Strawberry Frappachinos. So apparently their plans for a new store at the Olathe, Kansas Great Plains Mall has been scrapped for now.

So what can the company do to turn their business around? Well, here is my comprehensive plan to save Starbucks.

For one thing, they should stop pushing ridiculously obscure flavors as specials. I understand the desire to have people try new things, but as with all irritable middle-aged people like me, trying new things is an evil plot to completely destroy our lives for the balance of our existence, making us charred husks of our former selves. So when I walk into a Starbucks I want a mocha latte to be on sale, not a pomegranate iced tea with an asparagus flavor shot.

Secondly, I think Starbucks should give in and start encouraging all the silly things college kids today like to do. Mostly, I’m talking about trivia about arcane knowledge with the reward of ten cents off of a four dollar coffee. If possible, these trivia questions should be somehow relevant to any current classes being taken by the students, if for no other reason than to foster a false sense of exactly how productive their Master’s degree in Comparative Art History will be in the real world, and the crushing realization that $60,000 in debt will be paid off a dime at a time. That’s a lot of cups of coffee to sell.

Third, and most important—it’s small, medium, and large. Get over it.

Kiss The Cooks And Make Them Cry

December 5, 2007

Emeril Lagasse’s “Emeril Live” show was recently cancelled by the Food Network, after ten years on the air. As required by law, I must point out that this kicks Emeril down a notch.

Celebrity chefs are nothing new; the history of television is riddled with cheap to produce, moderately-rated programs they can shove in the mid-morning when only housewives and unemployed script writers are at home. While most of the early TV chefs were strictly local affairs, hiring the producer’s sister or the wife of the leading used auto sales owner in town, the national exposure was too tempting to leave even the kitchen out of mass media. Soon, networks and syndicates scours the kitchens of America looking for top expert chefs that didn’t look like they just stepped off the boat from the Island Of People Who Put Their Face In Meat Grinders.

Now, me, personally, I find very little use for television chefs for two distinct and unrelated reasons. Firstly, I do not have the cognitive abilities to 1) watch television and 2) do anything else at the same time, least of all prepare food. I would have to watch the program, write it down, then prepare it, and at that point, why not just buy a cookbook? Then again, I might miss Rachael Ray’s cleavage if I do that.

The second point is that I have a very dampened sense of taste, in the sense that pretty much all quality or gourmet food is lost on me. I just don’t have a taste for it, so any type of preparation beyond a certain time commitment is wasted effort. Now, there is the additional benefit of preparing meals for friends whose palates are not quite as dull, but that would make the rather radical assumption that I have friends who are willing to eat what I prepare. Or, friends.

Of course, there are plenty of chefs that have translated the fine art of cuisine into a lucrative television deal. They have had an impact on many households, from the majority of women who spend so much time and effort making unique and tasty dishes to the men who sit down and ask “What on earth is this? I thought you were making tacos tonight.”

Emeril Lagasse: The New-Orleans based chef (who isn’t, nowadays?) is known primarily for his laid-back and explosive demeanor while preparing dishes, including “Bam!” “Let’s kick it up a notch!” “Spice it up!” “Holy cats, look at me!” “Did you know I’m from Louisiana? I haven’t mentioned it for almost ten minutes!” and “I’m adding something hot to this dish to deaden all other flavors!”

Julia Child: Child is known for French cuisine, introducing that style of cooking to a wide audience desperate for foreign recipes. I’m joking, of course. Anyone not five years old watching PBS already knew how to prepare French cuisine, primarily by telling their fellow traveler cook to prepare a French meal while they when to their monthly Communist Internationale meeting to introduce new ways to infiltrate fluoridation into the local water system and organize the local grocery baggers for the front line of the revolution. People loved watching Julia Child because she was about eighteen feet tall and talking like someone shoved rags in her mouth and shot her gums full of Novocain.

Martha Stewart: Ostensibly the chick that started the whole thing off, at least in the modern sense of having about eighteen different cable shows and access to insider information. Of course, Stewart was much more than food preparation and sexual efficiency, she broadened her base of skills beyond the kitchen, bringing an army of women who think they cook but in reality cannot into the fold of women who think they can make pleasant looking centerpieces from homemade glitter and pine cones but in reality cannot.

The Frugal Gourmet: A staple on public television and sexual harassment lawsuits, he became one of the few public figures who was just as much about culinary mastery as he was about presentation. Low-key and highly cultured, there wasn’t much he couldn’t present to you in a pleasing and simple manner, especially if you were a male between the ages of 22 and 30 and spent all day in the kitchen with him.

Rachael Ray: A younger, hotter, and presumably more fertile newcomer onto the scene, Ray has polarized much of the audience of cooking shows. Some see her as a fresh face that will increase interest in the culinary arts, while others see her as an eye candy tart finding ways to misdirect her deep-seated physiological trauma from being forced to spit on her husband’s feet.

Gordon Ramsey: This Scottish celebrity chef actively disdains the celebrity chef moniker as he stars in a series of celebrity chef television programs. He is probably most well-known for Hell’s Kitchen¸ a competitive cooking show where he combines the charm of Simon Cowell with the misogyny of Sean Connery.

Each chef has their own style and their own opinions concerning food preparation, but they all have a common bond: of wanting to commercialize mass-produced frozen dinners with their name on it at premium prices and call it haute cuisine.

A Turkey A Day

November 21, 2007

There are two important things to remember about Thanksgiving: Food and football, though not necessarily in that order. Sure, sure, sure, there’s the whole “tradition” and “giving of thanks” but mostly this is a tradition of 1) food and 2) football, and give thanks for that.

Anyway, the Thanksgiving meal is the centerpiece of the occasion, so it’s no surprise that it gets a lot of attention. But for some reason there are certain people, namely communists and Al-Qaeda, who believe that the standard fare of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving just isn’t holding up too well. So for those looking to renounce their citizenship, here are some different alternatives to try for the standard Thanksgiving fare this year:

Deep-Fried Turkey: Whoever came up with the concept of deep-frying an entire turkey should be simultaneously nominated for the papacy, the Nobel prize, and (what the hell) the Pulitzer. Seriously, taking a nominally healthy item like turkey and deep-frying it is pure genius, right up there with taco salads and chocolate-covered strawberries.

Tofurkey: This is one of those made-up words that I mispronounce regardless of how many times I say it, which I hope and pray every day is never. I always want to say “tofu” without continuing the statement to say “turkey” so it always comes out as “tofufurkey,” a kind of degenerate banana-song variation of what George W. Bush might say if he ever needed to reference a tasteless, soulless husk of a main course over the Thanksgiving table.

Ham: Whoever decided to make ham an officially licensed Meat to Devour During Thanksgiving™ deserves to be shot. Seriously, ham is for Easter and Passover (I think) and turkey is for Turkey Day. And people try to make ham more than just ham by doing all sorts of unnatural things to it. Like pineapple. Who makes this stuff up? “Hmm…how can we make ham better?” “I know! Let’s make it taste slightly like the pina colada lifesaver no one ever wants to eat out of the multi-flavor pack.” Rubbish, I say.

Pressed Turkey Sweepings Formed Into The Shape Of A Slice: Found most notably at Denny’s.

Popcorn, Toast, and Pretzel Sticks: Yeah, you know what I’m talkin’ about. If you can’t have turkey, this is the next best thing. Well, no, ham would be. But still.

Flavored Stuffings: There is only one recipe that can properly be called stuffing, and that involves fixing the bread, adding in a host of seasonings, then throwing the whole thing in the trash. Stuffing enthusiasts have taken the concept of adding corn flakes to a meat loaf and basically laughed at it. I mean, nothing wrong with stuffing per se, but it’s own name means filler—let’s make a turkey look bigger than it really is! This will fool everybody up until the point where they look at it! The entire concept of cranberry stuffing, apple stuffing, and spearmint resin stuffing is ludicrous on its face and should be considered grounds for a civil case.

Any sort of dessert that is not pumpkin pie: OK, There is a little bit of an addendum to this rule. You can have additional pies and desserts beyond pumpkin, provided there is a strict three-to-one ratio of pumpkin pies to other things. You can have your apple crumbles and peach cobblers and all other sorts of blasphemous tarts, as long as you have at least three pies steaming hot from the oven to back you up.

Insane Sauces: I hate gravy, but I am foolish enough to concede the fact that I am a minority on this point. (Gravy, to me, is simply liquid meat, a disgusting and vile combination of nouns and adjectives I want nothing more to do with.) But some people try to push off various sauces and toppings that are downright un-American. I have seen pistachio sauces, ginger broth, and spinach dips dressed up as “gourmet offerings” but in reality are “stuff that pisses off your slightly racist uncle who just wants the drumstick, mashed potatoes and the Lions game, dammit.”

Turkey in any other form that sliced: I have had the unfortunate experience of seeing several failed attempts to be more creative with the turkey, despite the fact that the turkey spent his short, merciful life growing into the specific shape you see wrapped up in the freezer aisle. For those keeping score at home, turkey loafs are a no-go, and any type of turkey cakes or turkey balls or whatever Martha Stewart came up with in the slammer are going right back down to the shelter so they can be ignored and dismissed by hungry proletariats before they give in and wash it down with a savory beef stock broth and warmed cheese juice.

Stuffed Potato Shells
: Strictly speaking, this isn’t Thanksgiving fare, more like appetizer fare at every faux-upscale hipster dump chain restaurant that somehow manage to ruin a good thing with way too many chives. But it’s popping up more and more on Thanksgiving menus, which in my mind is certainly fine. There are a lot of extraordinarily great ideas sprung forth from lazy people, and I cannot think of anything lazier—and deliciouser—than basically kinda scooping the insides of a potato, deep-frying it, and then cramming it full of fattening junk like cheese, bacon, and sour cream. God bless America. The pilgrims fought and spilled blood against the French or Canadians or the Arawaks or something in Lexington and Normandy so we could make a perfectly acceptable vegetable like the potato the single most fattening item outside of shoving a side of beef into a pizza hollowed out and filled with Chicago.

So, anyway, spend this Thanksgiving experimenting with food, and you’ll soon be the talk of the town. And the cardiac ward.

The Rank: Non-Carbonated Beverages

October 24, 2007

Anyone who has the misfortune of knowing me personally knows that if there is one thing in this world I can’t live without, it’s women who have no qualms about displaying cleavage. But if there’s anything else besides that, it’s pop, of which, I swear, I drink easily six hundred gallons of Diet Pepsi a day. Some day on the autopsy table they’ll crack me open and look at the inside of my stomach, and it’s going to look like the carcass from Alien before Sigourney Weaver tossed a mortar shell in there. That was Alien, right?

Anyway, I decided to take a long look at any drinks available for me that are not of the carbonated nature since some day when I actually go to a doctor and he tells me that I either give up soda pop or die, I will have an alternative than waking up one day with my insides hollowed out.

7. Sweet Tea
The cause celebre of the south—you know, besides Nascar and slavery—is sweet tea, a cheaply made beverage that overly defensive southerners will proclaim to the heavens above to be the single greatest drink ever concocted. The one and only time I ever drank sweet tea I immediately deduced its secret recipe: 1) one part non-fluoridated water (don’t want to be a communist, now); and 2) about six billion parts raw sugar. I’m not a big tea drinker myself—I still want to show those limeys a thing or two—so perhaps it’s an acquired taste that is lost on me. Though I doubt it; I just think most southerners need something strong to wash the taste of Vicksburg out of their mouth.

6. Off-Brand Energy Drink
I’ve already detailed my adventures with Red Bull elsewhere, so in the interest of product diversity (and not paying two bucks for sugar water with ginseng) I have sampled a rather large variety of different energy drinks, all with completely insane names that have little to do with the beverage industry, the ingredients, or, for that matter, anything about energy at all. I’m not a fan, since the stuff tastes like I’m drinking liquid aluminum and as I’m drinking it I can actually feel my prostate expanding to the size of a cantaloupe.

5. Pink Lemonade
This actually includes all those –ades that don’t actually, you know, exist. Things like limeade and orangeade (which I kind of assumed was, you know, orange juice, but I was wrong, so terribly, terribly wrong…) and other artificially created drinks. I also include the incredibly odd Gatorade, which for all its bravado of being the ultimate sports drink is able to replace electrolytes and whatever nonsense it is athletes think it is they need is actually just salt and table sugar and some five year old thinking up a variety of names that vaguely sound like activity-related concepts even though they all pretty much taste like watered-down Hawaiian Punch.

4. Vitamin Water
Seriously. Everything that Gatorade is, vitamin water is even less off. Unless the “less of” ingredient is “water,” which there’s a lot more of. I’m not sure if they just make Citrus Flash Gatorade then dump about a thousand gallons of water in the vat then sell it, or if they just get a thousand-gallon vat and dump one bottle of Citrus Flash Gatorade in there. Either way, they’re making a ton of money labeling tap water with a slight taste of whatever was in the cup last and a dissolvable Centrum AD to pass the FCC’s rigorous labeling regulations.

3. Little Hugs
I know different parts of the country call these things by different names, but their content is unmistakable. The recipe is as follows:
1) Get some sugar
2) Pour this sugar in a plastic jug shaped like a barrel
3) Throw some food coloring in there
4) Add varying amounts of water, so the consumer is either going to get colored water with no taste, or thick raw syrup that suspends dramatically in a nearly solid form as it slowly drips into their mouth
5) Slap labels on them with different “flavors.” This is for cosmetic purposes only.

Seriously, the variation on these things is crazy, and it’s like the world’s most diabetic lottery.

2. Sarsaparilla
For some unknown reason I always thought sarsaparilla was a product of our Southern neighbors. I’m not certain why; probably some long-forgotten association with mint juleps and cotillions. Imagine my surprise when I find that the glorious refreshment known as sarsaparilla was actually a thoroughly WASPish concoction, meandering from the historical blue-blood neighborhoods of the mid-Atlantic all the way to the western part of the mid-Atlantic area. Basically, it’s root beer for those who want to stand on street corners playing checkers in a barrel of horehound bulk candy with elderly men and feel it necessary to radiate a self-assured sense of pretension. Still, it’s good.

It’s also carbonated, which should disqualify it for this list, but I forgot, so it stays.

1. Coffee That Is Actually Candy
I’m looking at you, marble mocha macchiato with coconut shavings and low fat soy milk. Why low fat? Seriously, why bother? There are more calories in that “coffee” than the entire defined jurisdiction of Hershey, PA, and you’re suddenly worried about fourteen seconds into placing that order that maybe you shouldn’t be depriving some Zambian kid of an additional two months of survival just so you can drink something that is maybe 10% better than that packet of freeze dried Chase & Sanborn that fell behind your basement cupboard during your bicentennial celebrations. But at least you’re paying the average GDP per person for it, so that makes you feel oh so much better, no?

Straight Up Until Morning

August 3, 2007

I have a few, shall we say, unique personality traits, something my friends would no doubt be perfectly happy to discuss at length, and probably have to their therapists. One of those adjectives that could be used to described my personality, besides “dashing,” “impressive,” and “prevaricator,” would be “uninitiated,” or, for those with simpler tastes, “lazy.”

I’m not lazy in that brother-in-law college slacker student way, but more of the not-wanting-to-get-out-of-the-chair-to-change- the-station-so-I-guess-I’ll-just-watch-Flip This House way. I’ve found myself often getting increasingly sleepy, unable to concentrate on such important tasks as reading through my mail, sitting through meetings, or staring at the back of the skirt that redhead was wearing yesterday at the coffee shop. Boosting my energy level seemed to suddenly be a rather top priority, and I was willing to undergo pretty much any sort of experiment so long as it did not require me to pay out to, or, more importantly, speak with a doctor or anyone else in any way involved in the medical community.

Instead of, you know, getting enough sleep or exercising to increase my energy level, I decided to try something different: an energy drink.

Now, under normal circumstances I rate energy drinks as a standard-issue scam, one step below electroshock weight loss and one step above Michael Bloomberg. I have no doubt that energy drinks are chock full of special Tibetan herbs and ancient Polynesian spice combinations, but I pretty much assume they just inject about a hectare of caffeine in it and throw some lemon rinds in it to make it not come back up after you chug it. I see these energy bars, which are pretty much Snickers but with 2% less calories but 2000% more carbs which somehow makes them healthy, much like how Cookie Crisp is part of a healthy breakfast assuming your breakfast includes toast, a glass of OJ, and a shot of insulin, and assume energy drinks are only one branch away from them in the nutritional supplement tree.

I also consider another strike against energy drinks: they cost too damn much. Somehow, they’ve suckered people into purchasing slim cans of the nectar small enough to fit into the chamber of most handguns, yet somehow have the marketing nads to charge nearly four times as much as a regular can of soda. They’re even ugly, too—silver or gold-patterned cans with some retro logo on it, as if people will associate this drink with the late seventies. Somehow someone determined that having people wanting to be all jumpy and hyper like they were during an era of 21% interest rates is somehow a selling point.

However, in the interests of science, I decided that it would be worth my time to check out these energy drinks. (Always on the cutting edge, I am. It’s only been about four years since they hit the shelves. The next consumer report I’m doing is going to be either on Furbys or OS/2.) I picked the most popular energy drink, Red Bull, at least evidenced by the annoying commercial-to-consumption ratio. And I chose a day of my own choosing, in this case Thursday, since I kind of forgot about it on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

My daily routine is largely determined by forces outside of my control, but generally speaking it revolves around 1) waking up tired 2) driving to work tired 3) working tired 4) driving home tired and, finally, 5) not being able to get to sleep. On the day of my experiment, I chugged a tall can of Red Bull and waited for my world to open up and present me with a landscape of perpetual harmony and orgasmic bliss.

You know that feeling you get when your have been laying on your arm for an hour or so watching Cribs and you cut off its circulation, then there’s that awkward, vaguely painful sensation as the blood swirls its way through your arm? Well, picture that sensation happening to the internal organs of your body, and that’s what happened to me for about forty seconds after I drank the energy drink. And that was it. I was, as I always am, somewhat underwhelmed.

Perhaps I was just too hasty, though. I spent most of the day at work kind of jumpy, but for me “kind of jumpy” means that I don’t fall asleep quite as quickly as normal when I’m running reports or something. I’m pretty sure I felt differently, but any kind of change causes my body to react differently to its environment, such as eating Corn Flakes instead of Froot Loops or the Doha Round.

So while I’m not going to be dismissive of the drinks, I’m not holding them up as any particularly shining example of a medical success. A decade-old can of Jolt seems like it would have the same effect only with less of an aluminum taste (though, I venture to say, not by much). I’ll have to run some more control experiments, such as drinking it before I go to bed; drinking it before I eat breakfast, drinking it during lunch, and drinking it before I shell out $2.00 for another 10 ounces of caffeinated hummingbird syrup.

Sweet Nothings

April 14, 2007

The other day some comment by a passerby triggered some nostalgic memory long buried under layers of work, relationships, one bout of strep throat, and three seasons of Lost. That memory was that of the Summit candy bar.

Many of you may not remember the Summit bar. In all actuality, I don’t, either. I vaguely recall it being somewhat peanut-butterish in nature, wrapped in chocolate and perhaps chopped nuts, though to be perfectly honest it could just as easily be nougat, kitten fur, and cabernet-flavored licorice bits. But I do remember, rather vividly, that this was the candy bar that, as a child, I often craved, begged for, and demanded upon completion of significant childhood tasks, such as raking leaves or not letting the dog eat raw hamburger out of the kitchen crisper drawer.

I remember the wrapped being navy bluish with a graphical depiction of a sunrise on it, the “Summit” part of the name being more along the lines of a beautiful theoretic act of nature and not of the Reykjavik variety. Again, this could be the altered logical conclusion of my rose-colored hindsight, and the wrapped could just as easily been a surrealist collection of migrant workers and swastikas as far as I know. But like most things with my memory I tend to block out the stuff that I dislike and glorify those that I love, which would explain why peanut butter is so prominent in my memory and nougat not so much so.

So, like most things, the vague thought of something I haven’t eaten in probably twenty years or so forced me to dedicate about four minutes of my life determining how to procure a Summit candy bar, a quest of glory no doubt unrivalled since the race to discover cold fusion or a contented female. I assumed its existence was regional and, just like the Boo Berry cartel set up in the former Confederate states, a kindly gentleman of a tender nature would supply me with a humble package of wistfulness for a nominal fee.

About three minutes into my four-minute devotional however, I was let to an unsettling and painful realization—the Summit candy bar was no longer in production. A rather alarmingly comprehensive list of discontinued candy bars put my perspective in black and white—the Summit Bar was no longer in print, as it were. In addition, other fondly remembered confections are no longer in existence except through the remembered mirror of progressive age, such as the Bar None candy bar, a product that I believe is the only one that is less kosher than divine, and the oft-forgotten PBMax bar, a treat I’m pretty sure never quite lived up to its name of colon rupture due to the maximum amount of artificial peanut flavoring it delivered into my system. (I was also pleased to learn that the Powerhouse bar is gone forever, in what may be a misplaced sense of justice; I am 90% certain this was a bar covered with that Communist invention of white chocolate, but my memory isn’t clear enough to make it a certainty. Still, guilt by association isn’t entirely unjustified in many cases.)

The worst part of it, though, is that I was also introduced to some other candy bars that are no longer in production that I was unaware of, and do not even have the benefit of a unclearly recalled childhood memory to claim a bastardization of. There’s the mysteriously named Cherry Hump, something no doubt is best left remembered either as clear as a bell or not at all. There’s Lifesavers Tangerine and Clove flavor, a combination I have a feeling was cooked up after the marketing department tried a combination of Lifesavers Cannabis and PCP flavor. Apparently there at one point was a Reese’s Chunky Peanut Butter Cup line, a product I equate with cultural significance somewhere between the Ark of the Covenant and the finale of M*A*S*H. There’s the Denver Sandwich bar, a rather confusingly named item I can only assume is the world’s only candy bar with egg, ham, and cheese flavoring. The Jingles Candy bar was apparently the pioneer in a generally accepted candy marketing rule of never naming a candy bar after something that could either be the name of a clown or a monkey. And, of course, there is the Yoo-Hoo chocolate bar, which either was the single greatest candy bar ever, or the single worst candy bar ever. We will never know, now.

It’s kind of a discouraging statistic that 99% or so of all new candy bars are rejected by the marketplace, and even most of those that succeed are simply variations of candy already established. There’s only so many ways that peanut butter, chocolate, nuts, nougat, and caramel can be combined, solidified, chopped up, and then given an absurd name unrelated to their content or taste. Still, one hopes for improvement. Perhaps tomorrow there will be that revolutionary candy that I will eventually forget, fondly remember, and distort its attributes decades from now, much like I do with sitcoms and ex-girlfriends. If it works for them, I don’t see why it can’t for me.

The Frost Report

January 27, 2007

Every few years, tragedy strikes America’s heartland. It’s not the wiles of Al Quaeda or a resurgent militia attack, but Mother Nature herself. Sometimes a frost arrives unexpectedly, destroying all of the hopes and dreams that are great in America, at least in the form of pulp-free orange juice and hint-of-lime-flavored tortilla chips.

A few weeks ago, a frost hit California, wiping out three-fourths of America’s supply of oranges, and a healthy chuck (literally) of avocados, lemons, and tangerines. This means higher prices for those fruits and their secondary products, like guacamole and .0002% of the ingredients in Froot Loops.

So, as consumers, most people will have to be a little bit pickier about what they eat this year if they want to get a good deal and simultaneously stay healthy. As a highly important consumer advocate, I’ve composed a list of products that are likely to be on the shelves, and hopefully this will help you create a healthy, efficient diet. Maybe.

Advantages: Oranges are great for making orange juice and limeade. They’re usually plentiful and great for diabetics who are about to go into shock.
Disadvantages: Symmetrical sectional wedges are just a little bit too convenient for evolution to be responsible for. We suspect the Trilateral Commission.

Advantages: Sour and tart, the lime is a perfect fruit for desserts such as a gin and tonic. For you pirates and cat ladies, they also prevent scurvy.
Disadvantages: They’re very hard to throw at road signs with any pretense of accuracy.

Advantages: Lemons are the primary ingredient in lemonade and artificial lemon flavoring.
Disadvantages: Every time I eat one, my car sputters and I have a burning desire to watch Some Like It Hot. What’s wrong with me?


Advantages: They make guacamole, which for some reason most people love to eat by the ton. Me, I think guacamole dip taste like I’m eating a pasted tree, but I also hate Nicolas Cage’s acting and Texas Hold ‘em, so what do I know?
Disadvantages: They look like Bruce Vilanch. And who would want to eat that?

Advantages: If crushed, left to ferment and laced with yeast, they make a tasty drink.
Disadvantages: If you don’t do the above, why bother?

Advantages: Nothing beats eating a nice, cool slice of slightly frozen watermelon on a hot, humid, sticky summer day. Except maybe eating something that doesn’t taste like a glass of water filled with small, flat marbles and one eyedropper of something that tastes like sugar but not really.
Disadvantages: It forces you to throw out 20% of your purchase when you buy a Jolly Rancher variety pack.

Advantages: There are so many varieties of apples that if you don’t like one you’ll probably like another. And it is constitutionally required that everyone love warm apple pie.
Disadvantages: You know that old saw about giving an apple to a teacher? I wish! All I got was a union form I had to fill out declaring it as an in-kind contribution. And an apple a day keeps the doctor away? A complete, unabashed lie perpetuated by the cruel. So the apple can go to hell.

Advantages: It’s the poor man’s apple.
Disadvantages: It’s the poor man’s apple.

Advantages: Bananas are inherently humorous. They have a funny name and can be inserted into your ear for comic effect. Their inedible skins may be placed strategically for instant slapstick comedy. They’re also apparently rich in potassium, though I don’t really care.
Disadvantages: Makes your homophobic uncle Rick very, very uncomfortable. You need to get him some Zoloft or something.

Advantages: Artichokes sound like they’re something that could kill you. They probably could.
Disadvantages: No one in the history of mankind has ever voluntarily eaten an artichoke.

Advantages: They are integral in the formation of pizza. Which is why pizzas are healthy.
Disadvantages: Some communist somewhere declared that this was a fruit instead of a vegetable. There’s a reason there’s no such thing as a tomato pie. Hmmm. Is there such a thing? I sure as hell hope not.

Advantages: They can be dipped in chocolate to be made tasty. Otherwise, you’re better off eating grass.
Disadvantages: Apparently dipping a fruit or vegetable in chocolate negates any health benefits, which just somehow doesn’t seem right. Maybe they need to rerun some tests.

Advantages: Pound for pound, kale contributes something like 1000% of the vitamins you need to be healthy and regular.
Disadvantages: It’s kale.

Shark Cartilage
Advantages: Supposedly it kills cancer.
Disadvantages: Yeah, right. Seriously. Shark Cartilage? Are you guys kidding me? Plus, this is technically neither a fruit nor a vegetable, nor a food of any kind. Whoops.

Advantages: Can be used in those miniature railroad presentations that old men with too much money and not enough lovin’ as arctic trees, which I assume exist.
Disadvantages: They differ very little from actual trees, both in nutrition, texture, and shape. And eating trees is an inherently inefficient way to prove to your girlfriend that you’re eating healthier.

Advantages: Radishes are good in some mineral and/or vitamin I’m too lazy to look up. Plus they don’t really have much taste so you can’t claim to not like the taste.
Disadvantages: Radishes are not vegetables. In fact, they are not food at all, but rather nature’s only pregrown construction material. Except for, uh, wood.

Red Peppers

Advantages: The spicy pepper can add zest and flavor to even the worst meals fixed by your deadbeat sister or senile aunt.
Disadvantages: Wait about six hours after consumption. Then you’ll be searching desperately for any kind of religion.

Advantages: They can be carved in humorous shapes for Halloween and dropped from overpasses at moving cars in the ultimate skill of manhood.
Disadvantages: Do you, uh, actually eat pumpkins? I thought they were nature’s equivalent of the workplace prank. I always assumed pumpkin pies were made synthetically out of sugar, plastic and broken dreams or something.

Advantages: They can be found reasonably cheap as supply vastly outstrips demand, at least evidenced by the lonesome basketfuls of the things sitting in every highrise in every neighborhood in every part of the world. When fried in batter, they become edible.
Disadvantages: Just ask any sorority.

Advantages: Cranberries are one of nature’s healthiest crops. They are a famously effective antioxidant, helping to ward off neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases. They have been shown to reduce urinary tract infections and can help prevent gingivitis.
Disadvantages: They taste like shit.