Monday, June 30, 2003

And Now, A Word from Los Angeles

Paul and Michele drove down to LA over the weekend. He says:

As we came over the mountains leading down into the LA basin and I saw the summer smog shrouding the hills from view, I thought (as I usually do coming into LA) "It's just amazing to see the air here."

Then I thought, "Heck with that. It's amazing to SEE the air anywhere!"

That's the thing about LA. Not only can you see the air, you can smell it, taste it, even bite off a hunk and chew on it if you're hungry. In Los Angeles, even the air is a multimedia experience.
Fun with Food

Bored with hot dogs? Turn that dull frankfurter into something exciting. Like an Octodog!

Do not use on erring husbands.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

"The unicorn lived in a lilac wood. . . ."

The Last Unicorn is one of my favorite books -- a fairy tale that grows in depth and meaning with each re-reading. It's lyrical, dark, idealistic, and funny. And an animated movie was made from it in 1982.

I know a lot of people who found the story through the movie love the movie. Maybe they should skip the next bit.

Now, by the time the film came out, I already knew the book by heart. I was bound to be a trifle critical of anything in it that wasn't up to the standard of the book. But my God, could there have been a worse time to make a serious animated movie?

This was before the triumphant re-release of Fantasia. Before all the grand new Disney films, before Pixar Studios, before computer animation. Cartoons then were cheap, jerky, and ugly. It was all supposed to be for kids, preferably kids who had no taste, subtlety, or experience of elegant animation that flowed instead of hopping.

In the interests of economy, I suppose, the story was trimmed. With a chainsaw. There just wasn't time to establish character or make Schmendrick's problem meaningful. Beagle's haunting, beautiful songs were replaced by a bunch of schmaltzy Broadway numbers.

The visual details, so important to a film, were just wrong. The human characters were caricatures, ugly and silly. The harpy looked like nothing on earth -- certainly not a winged woman whose hair was "thick about the hating human face." And the lilacs were clearly designed by someone who had never seen lilacs growing but had once overheard a drunken gardener describing them.

We watched this horror again a few months ago, and my first thought was, Please God, let someone remake this mess. Because this is one of the greatest of all fairytales, and it deserves a fine film as much as LOTR does.

Now Peter Beagle and friends are remaking it. They're not dissing the original film, but they're now able to make it look better and to include the whole story. The designs that are up already are lovely. The Unicorn herself brought tears to my eyes. Mommy Fortuna's Midnight Carnival looks eerie, dark, real. The costumes are just right. The storyboards show the blend of lyric beauty and smartass New York attitude that make the book so memorable.

I am so glad.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Want Ad

A specialized job ad, this one courtesy of my cousin Cindy:

There is a college in Kansas currently advertising for an anatomy professor/rodeo coach position.

The anatomy professor part of the job got three lines in the announcement of the position. The rodeo coach part got 2 long paragraphs.

Kansas has their priorities right.

Monday, June 16, 2003

High-Tech Ice Cream

Most of us who make homemade ice cream do it the old-fashioned way. Hand-cranked freezers are getting rare, and so are the electrified versions that spared the physical labor but kept the salt and ice. These days I make my homemade ice cream in a Krups machine that uses a plastic dasher inside a prefrozen metal bowl. (Tonight's variety: homemade fresh cherry sherbet with a touch of almond extract.) It holds only 3 pints, but that's plenty for several days for the four of us. And I can experiment with flavorings, sugar levels (all the recipes are too sweet), creaminess, yogurt, and various fruits.

But that is positively primitive compared to this technique. Who but a chemist would make ice cream with liquid nitrogen?

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Another San Francisco Treat

I don't know why this surprises me. We have cable cars, Victorian painted ladies, some of the highest housing costs on earth, and several of the world's greatest suspension bridges, one of which has a tunnel in the middle. Why not have a combination cafe/laundromat that features live music as well as your choice of heat levels on the dryers?

While laundering and listening at the BrainWash, you can dig into a hearty meal -- maybe a "This Is Your Brain on Drugs Breakfast Sandwich" for just $2.99 (egg over easy, spinach, cheddar cheese, tomato and aioli on a grilled English muffin with home fries or salad; $1.00 extra with Canadian bacon). (Good price, and it sounds wonderful.) Or a Coin-Op Omelet, also $2.99, for home fries or salad and a three-egg omelet with your choice of the following fillings for just 50 cents each: Spinach, Ham, Monterey Jack, Onions, Smoked Salmon, Tillamook Cheddar, Mushrooms, Bacon, Sliced Jalapenos, and/or Jarlsberg cheese.

San Francisco is a uniquely cosmopolitan city, so the BrainWash also serves pasta primavera, a Middle Eastern plate, fish tacos, teriyaki tofu, various hamburgers and vegetarian burgers (including the "New Burger of Doom"), mesquite-smoked turkey breast in a sandwich with guacamole, buffalo wings ("straight from the rust belt"), a Brainwash salad (mercifully devoid of actual brains, cooked or raw, dirty or washed), and Chinese chicken salad.

Of course, the menu also features an attempt at a cheese steak. Everybody tries. Nobody outside the five-county Philadelphia area can cook them, but God love them, they do their best. This one costs $7.75 and is touted on the menu as "Philly-style beef steak, sautéed onions, spicy chiles, red and yellow bell peppers and Jarlsberg cheese served on a panini roll." Jarlsberg on a cheese steak? Whatever you say, dear.

Though I haven't eaten there yet, I definitely plan to try the BrainWash. Usually when I'm near Folsom Street, I eat at Hamburger Mary's, a legendary cross between a Halloween party and a well-run diner. To be honest, you could describe any of San Francisco's great institutions as a cross between a Halloween party and something else -- university, bank, high-tech corporation, city government, whatever it would be if it were located somewhere like Chicago. Somewhere normal.

Monday, June 09, 2003

And Now the Internet Brings You . . .

The interactive hot dog.

Plus: Nature strikes back!

Sunday, June 01, 2003

You Know You're a Pennsylvanian When. . .

  • You've never referred to Philadelphia as anything but "Philly." And New Jersey has always been "Jersey."

  • You refer to Pennsylvania as "PA" (pronounced Pee-ay). How many other states do that?

  • You know what "Punxsutawney Phil" is, and what it means if he sees his shadow.

  • The first day of buck and the first day of doe season are school holidays.

  • You can use the phrase "fire hall wedding reception" and not even bat an eye.

  • You can't go to a wedding without hearing the "Chicken Dance," at least 1 Polka and either an Italian song (sung in Italian,) or "Hava Nagila."

  • At least 2 people on your block have electric "candles" in all or most of their windows all year long.

  • You know what a "Hex sign" is.

  • You know what a "State Store" is.

  • You know what a "hoagie" is.

  • Words like "crick," "chipped ham," "sticky buns," "shoo-fly pie," "pierogies," and "pocketbook" actually mean something to you.

  • You not only have heard of Birch Beer, but you know it comes in several colors: Red, White, Brown, Gold.

  • You know several places to purchase or that serve Scrapple, ring bologna, Lebanon Bologna, and Hot Bacon Dressing.

  • You can eat a cold soft pretzel from a street vendor without fear and enjoy it.

  • You know the difference between a cheese steak &a pizza steak sandwich, and know that you can't get a really good one outside PA.

  • You know that Blue Ball, Intercourse, Climax, Bird-in-Hand, Beaver, Virginville, Paradise, Mars, and Slippery Rock are towns.

  • You know what a township, borough, and commonwealth is. (At least you vaguely remember.)

  • You've waited to pass a horse-drawn carriage on the highway in Lancaster County.

  • You carry jumper cables in your car and your female passengers know how to use them.

  • Driving is always better in winter because the potholes are filled with snow.

  • Your graduating class consisted of mostly Polish, German, & Italian names.

  • "You guys" is a perfectly acceptable reference to a group of men & women.

  • You know how to respond to the question "Djeetyet?" (Didyoueatyet?) [The proper response is "Nope. Squeet!" as in "Nope, let's go eat!"]

  • You learned to pronounce Bryn Mawr, Wilkes-Barre, Schuylkill, Bala Cynwyd, Conshohocken, and Monongahela.

  • You know what a "Mummer" is, and are disappointed if you can't catch at least highlights of the parade.

  • You actually understand these jokes and send them on to other Pennsylvanians.

I scored 100% on this. I've also seen blue birch beer.