Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Reward

So, after two and a half weeks, I got my first paycheck from my seasonal job I'm not supposed to tell you anything about. So I bought a new guitar. This makes seven. Three acoustic twelve strings, a classical, an electric, a three-quarter size student six that's actually my wife's, and, now, an electric twelve string. This isn't the best picture of it, but the Wifey gets incredibly intolerant of my exuberance when I get a new guitar, so rather than wait until I managed to sneak the latest pics off the digital camera's card, I just went with what I had.

I bought it at the local Guitar Center. I have almost officially forgiven Guitar Center. They sponsor lots of save-the-music type programs, they do alot to make instruments available to those who otherwise might not have access to them, and they do seem to hire people who know at least something about guitars. On the down side, they are loud, they are warehouse-like, and, as the Wifey observed, full of people who are trying to be cooler than each other.

(And playing guitar, loudly, trying to drown each other out. I don't. I toddle off to a corner and try to decide if it's love.)

This machine, an OLP MM12, I first saw at the GC some months back. I had been dreaming of an electric 12 for years, and this one looked enticing, but I was skeptical, since I had never laid hands on an OLP that I could keep in tune for more than ten minutes. I always ascribed this to the funky-shaped head, with four tuners on one side and two on the other. The 12 has seven tuners above and five below, which seemed like it might offer a better balance. Still, I didn't give the thing a spin that visit.

The second time I saw it, about a month ago, I picked it up and stroked it a bit. It felt good, but I still wasn't sold.

As that first paycheck loomed, I thought about the OLP more and more. Yesterday we traipsed out there-- and it's a longish traipse, all the way across town, literally on the other side of town from us-- and I got a sales guy to locate the thing, plug it up, and let me try it out. It was love, but not for the reason it probably should have been. I mean, it sounded great, and it felt about right, and it is very pretty, but that wasn't it.

See, it needed rescuing.

When I got it, the treble E was gone, and the treble G broke while I was tuning it. I got it in tune pretty easy (it was wretchedly out of tune when I got to it), but it very clearly would have tuned easier and sounded better with new strings. And, besides. Like I said: loud. Lottsa people sitting around trying to sound like they know what's what.

So I picked up the guitar and found the Wifey, then we spent about ten minutes tracking down the kid who had got it for me (they work on commission). He helped me get a strap, which wasn't what I was looking for, but worked out pretty good anyways, and sold me the goods.

After getting back to Rachelle's folks' place, then back over to our house for supplies, I re-strung it. Immediately, it was a different beast. The strings, factory strings which were probably Ernie Ball, were dull and brittle and stiff; the new D'Addario's are silver and bright and supple. The old strings had produced a rattle in the D-G-B strings on the first and second frets; with the new ones, clear as a bell. Back here at our house, I plugged it up to the 15-watt practice amp (this morning, after coffee), and it just absolutely sings.

So Olaf the OLP MM12 has been rescued from the Island of the Lost Toys. Huzzah!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

I May Or May Not Be Here

I just recently started my seasonal gig, which I am contractually obligated not to tell you about. Suffice it to say that for the next two months or so I will be reading something like 130 to 150 essays a day for a company whose initials may or may not correspond to the term Myocardial Infarction.

It now occurs to me that anyone who has not known me for at least a year and a half will have absolutely no idea what that means.

Oh, well.

So, anyways, the upshot is I might not be blogging for a while. The reading the essays takes it out of one, you see, so I endf up not having the wherewithall to do things like blogging, and probably any enthusiasm I have for writing during this period should be reserved for works in progress. Or, who the hell knows, I might find that I need the outlet, using blogging as a substitue for screaming at the walls and howling at the moon. So I might be here or I might not.

So there.

Monday, March 06, 2006

An Ethical Dillemma

As anyone reading this probably knows, I end up coat-tailing Doc Nagel's blog a lot, ususally when he has posed some sort of ethical dillemma or philosophical point of order. Of course, to make matters worse, he now also has a Pro Ethics blog. Of course, this is really just for his Pro Ethics students, but that won't keep me from kvetching.

Anyways, the latest installment of his blog blog takes up the question of morality and meat, which is a tricky one in this day and age. Given that meat is mass produced by industrial means, it is difficult, nigh on impossible, to anticipate the treatment your entree received prior to being corpsified, which has ramifications of both cruelty (was your entree humanely slaughtered, or was it mangled and torn apart, tortured to death, bled to death, vivisectioned, or used in a British art installation?), and personal safety (is there anything related to the treatment of the carcass that is likely to hasten my death?). (And that second one is a doozy: not only does it encompass "Was this dragged across a grozny killing floor before 'aging' in a facility closely resembling a middle school boy's locker room," but also "Was this beast injected with compounds designed to swell it up to the size of a bull elephant, and will there be any latent and/or cumulative effects on me, the consumer, that won't show up on tests but are likely going to strike me down in the prime of my life?")

The real and practical answer is: there's no way to know. The best you can do is get friendly with your butcher, but even then the closest you'll ever get to the above is to see that the carcass looks relatively normal in the butchering process. (And that the shop is clean, the stock well rotated, etc. If you get on real good terms with the people who cut your meat, you might get them to divulge what they know about the origin of the meat, but the likelyhood is they won't know too much more than you do.) Then, of course, most of what gets consumed in this century is prepared food, which is to say it had been tampered with to the point that it is barely recognizeable as what it came from, so the question isn't just moot, it's not even a question. Which is to say the question has been removed from you: you can choose not to eat prepared food, ever, ever again, forever and ever amen, and good luck with that, or you can resign yourself to living with an ethical dillemma you will never be able to solve. (Or, as I suppose the majority of people do, you can simply refuse to let it be an ethical dillemma, which is to say you just won't think about it.)

Then, of course, there are the "certified organic" products, many of which further their claims on your conscience by insisting, in the labelling rhetoric, any and all animals involved were organically raised (eg. not chemically diddled with) and humanely slaugtered. (Although, as far as I know, the classic smack-of-the-hammer technique is still, by and large, considered "humane.") Prices in this category have come down (relatively) in recent times, and the products are more widely available in the standard mega-mart, but it's still not a reliable option in most places, as far as I know. (In California, where the Doc lives, the laws and regs are specifically tailored to the crackpot set, and thusly "certified organic" products are easier to find, since the regs were fashioned specifically for people who intended to go out and get certified.) (Gee, that worked out nicely.)

And then there are the folks who do crap that seems almost tailored to discredit or besmirch the organic movement in service of the almighty buck. Like the folks who insist that all organic fruits are ugly, mealy, tough, and unripe. Um. No. But that's reeeeally beside the point.

Back to animals. Take the matter of hunters: hunters are in a very unique position to see that the meat they consume is humanely killed and hygenically slaughtered. But the majority of the hunters I have known caught little or no game, and the few who did regularly bag animals, rather than treating the carcass with respect, not to say reverence, took the meat to someone who was guranteed to transform the various specific cuts into a mealy sausage every bit as unique and tasty as the products of the Hickory Farms Company. As for humanely killed, I know the claim is maintained that a skillful hunter always kills quick and clean, but I don't know with any certainty at all that these people are not in some way torturing the animals or letting them bleed to death or wearing them down with extremity shots, etc. etc., since most of the hunters I have know were dumb schmucks. (To be fair, the kind of person who is going to think hunting is a good idea in this, the Era of the Megamart, is likely going to be a dumb schmuck.)

(Which is the real reason I don't hunt: I don't feel any need to hang out with dumb schmucks who seem as likely to shoot me as any game we might run across, insert Dick Cheney joke here.)

Then there's the McDonald's question, which we have visited before: fast food is mystery meat. And the Corporation can assure me all damned day long that the animals used in their products were humanely slaughtered and chemically clean, but the chain of communications makes the plausibility of deniability waaaaaaay too easy. I either have to take it on faith or just try like all hell not to ask the question. Or declare the chain dead to you, as I recently did with Burger King. (I'm serious, man. Once you become aware of those "beef patties," it's all over.)

Then there's the latest experiment the Doc is pursuing, which is ordering organically raised and humanely slaughtered meat products on the internet. Which is just wrong. I mean. Hell. I won't even buy a hat on the internet.

And then, finally, there's this: the odds are that I will never be slaughtered and eaten by a predator, but if I do, I can feel pretty sure that the means will not be what you might call "humane." On the other hand, I will probably never be killed or eaten by a cow, although at this stage of my life it would be only fair play if I were to be killed and eaten by a cow. And it would make a great headline. "Man Killed, Eaten by Cow." Now that's the kind of copy that moves product!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Stick Food

Some of you may have noticed that I changed the picture in my profile to the one of me with the Wall Street Bull eating stick food. There's a reason for this.

Stick food is dear to my heart. Many moons ago, when I was just a whelp approaching early maturity (read: college guy), my Dad and I were whooping around Manhattan, specifically Lower Midtown, specifically Washington Square Park, when we decided that it was time for a pre-lunch snack. (Lunch was to be at some place arranged by my sister, a trendy transplanted Manhattanite, and results could vary wildly.) (It was also to be later in the afternoon.) Looking forward to my second cart dog in New York, both of the trip and my life, I approached to find that the cart seemed to offer shish kabobs instad of hotdogs. At first I was afraid-- I was petrified. I mean, first of all, while I can't claim to have lead a sheltered life, a kabob off a cart seemed like a fairly sporting move at that point in my young life. Also, the grill, the kabobs, and (in particular) the vendor didn't look precisely hygenic. And what was on the kabob, in addition to being totally unadvertised, was not specifically identifyable. It wasn't mystery meat, mind you. It just wasn't abundantly clear that it was, for instance, shoulder meat. As opposed to intestine.

But my Dad was standing nearby, others were waiting to order, and I figured I oughta go ahead and roll the dice. "Kabob," I said.

"Pardon?" the guy said, in the most indisticnt and muddiest Middle Eastern accent I had ever heard.

"Kabob," I repeated.

"You mean Shish Kabob?"

"Yeah," I said. I didn't know there was a protocol.

"Just a shish kabob or a sandwich?"

"Just a shish kabob," I said. He took one of the cooked kabaobs off a pile in the window of the cart, placed it on the griddle, put a trowel down on top of it to facilitate heating, and took the next order, my Dad's. (He ordered, and got, a hot dog, which were in a hidden cavity inside the cart, note to self.) A minute later he reversed the kabob and asked "Sauce?"

"Sure," I said.

"What kind," he asked, a little exasperated, offering a couple of poosibilities before coming to "Hot?"

"HOT!" I said, "Yes, hot!"

He sprayed the stick of meat with something in a bottle he fetched from a nearby rack. Finally he produced a soft breadstick, sliced it up the side, slid the kabob into it, put that in a food-service parchment, and wrapped the whole affair loosely in a foil. He handed it to me. I gave him correct change and got the hell out of the way.

The meat turned out to be rather indiscriminately butchered pieces of pork, cooked through and crispy but with pieces of fat still unmelted throughout. The sauce was hot and tangy, and the grease and the sauce melded wonddrfully and soaked into the bread, along with the heat from cooking. (This was in December, I might have said earlier.) It was delicious, it was tactile, it was a tad barbaric and romantic, sustenence at street level, the essence of the Being Human in Manhattan. About five bites in I decided I did need a soda after all. I was going to go to a different cart, but there were lines, so I ended going back to the cart where I had bought the kabob for it. The vendor who had been impatient with me before beamed at me now as he handed me a grape soda. (He didn't ask how I was enjoying the stick; he didn't have to.)

Since then, every time I'm in New York, it's the same routine. "Kabob." "You mean Shish Kabob?" When they ask about sauce, I get a dumb look on my face, and they immediately start naming sauces until I hear one I like. Actually, this pays off, since they don't always have the same sauces. One time I was offered one that sounded to my ears, like "Blgle blgle blgle."

"YES! Blgle blgle blgle!" It was delicious, but tasted just a leeeeetle bit like feet.

So anyways. Somehow, this trip, I knew I wasn't going to be seeing Washington Square Park this trip, and I figured I was going to be the only one indulging anyways, so from the first footfall I was going on about how I wanted Kolkolash. (It's from the Simpsons, folks; either you've seen the episode in question of you haven't.) By the time we got to the bottom of Wall Street, it was closing on noon, and the vendor carts were starting to warm up for the lunch rush. The guy I picked was kind of off on a corner on his own, seemed to have his props together, and would only serve me from one specific quadrant of the cart. (Honestly, he actually showed me where to stand.) The first three sauces he named sounded interesting, but I settled on hot because of the wind. (Needed all the help I could get.) Not only was it a perfect portion for a pre-lunch snack, it was the perfect kind of barbarian food for a poet scuffling the burg at street level to be snarfing in the financial district next to a big, brass monument to Kapital.

Romanatic as hell, huh?