The Longest Jump

Evel Knievel, 1938-2007Surfing around, I see news reports that Evel Knievel has died. Back in the 1970’s, at the height of his popularity, it would have been hard to overestimate the number of ten- to twelve-year old boys who didn’t have fantasies of being this most daring of daredevils. Makeshift wooden ramps sprouted in driveways and backyards and became our Caesar’s Palaces and Wembley Stadiums (without the broken bones, mostly).

Evel’s hard life seems to have caught up with him, though now he’s made the longest jump of all.

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Big Shot

Bourbon is aiming to attract a new generation.A few years ago a co-worker gave me a copy of Big Shots: The Men Behind the Booze for Christmas.  It’s an interesting little book full of witty, earthy, and sometimes sophomoric, anecdotes involving some of the legends and actual history of liquor.  Now, I’m not sure this is a good thing, but the nuggets of history, science, and folklore surrounding whiskey (and whisky – you’ll learn whether there’s a difference), gin, rum, vodka, brandy, various liqueurs, famous names and producers encouraged me to try some new things.  Try, I said.  And, of course, always in the name and for the sake of knowledge.

Uh huh.

Anyway, to that point I had never been much of a fan of gin, Tanqueray being a favorite of the other adult in the household.  Too much like drinking perfume, I thought.  Not that I’d know, you understand, but that’s what I thought.  Fresh from learning more about the subtleties of gin, though, I was willing to give it another try.  Beefeater (nice citrusy notes), Plymouth (plausibly calling itself “The World’s Smoothest Gin”), and even the eclectic Hendricks (including cucumber and rose petals in its botanical infusion) have turned out to be very enjoyable – all different interpretations on the gin theme, but all enjoyable.

Classic Manhattan CocktailThe lasting lesson of Big Shots has been to appreciate the variety among spirits that go by the same name.  Seems self-evident, but it just wasn’t a world I had really explored until then.  As featured in the New York Times, bourbon is enjoying its own resurgence.  Small batch and single barrel bourbons are all the rage, and taking up more and more shelf space (at the store, not so much at home).  The bourbons featured in the NYT article are mainly intended as “sippin’ whiskey” in order to appreciate their individual attributes.  But whether it’s over ice or in a nice cocktail (try a classic like the Manhattan or Old Fashioned), bourbon has a sweetness owing to the predominance (at least 51%) of corn that makes it (I think) more accessible, more “user friendly” than others.

As always, please drink responsibly.  And never drink and drive.

Black Friday

Steely Dan - Katy Lied

Yes, it’s Black Friday.  At least for the next twenty-five minutes.  Anyway, today is the day after Thanksgiving and the day retailers look to put them in the black for the rest of the year.  Despite my comments about holidays and my general frustration with the extreeeeeeeme commercialization and commodification that has taken place my wife and I have, for the last eight or ten years, been among the shoppers on the busiest day of the year.

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We Gather Together

Rockwell ThanksgivingIt’s Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S.  Like so many other holidays it has been almost, but not quite, completely overtaken by our consumer culture.  As a holiday grounded in thankfulness for the harvest, food is even more central to its celebration, and even more rigidly bound to a particular canon – roast turkey, potatoes, squash, cranberries, and pumpkin pie.  Every year cooking magazines and shows offer new ways to liven up these old culinary chestnuts, but it’s best not to stray too far from the classics lest you be branded a heretic.

In our time, for many, food has become something you buy and not something you nurture, grow, and harvest with the toil of your own hands, and has even become a form of recreation.  Thanksgiving as a holiday “experience” has, like nearly everything else, become a manufactured and marketed product.  Given this, what is the meaning of Thanksgiving today?

What does it mean to be thankful?

If you’re sharing Thanksgiving with family or friends, enjoy it.  If you’re traveling over the long holiday, travel safely.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Soul, Man

The Blues Brothers

Getting dinner together this evening a story on NPR’s “All Things Considered” caught my ear. It was the mention of the 1970s and 1980s hit music duo Daryl Hall and John Oates that first got my attention, but then the story about the Philadelphia variant of soul music kept me interested, including an interpretation of the Bee Gees’ 1979 “Too Much Love.”

I have never considered myself much of a fan of soul, but I love a good song and a certain economy of expression in rhythm and blues and, as it turns out, soul, a sensibility John and Daryl – which, it appears, they inherited from others in the Philadephia music scene of the 1960s – brought to some of the music my friends and I would sing at the top of our lungs, driving around late at night with all the car windows open. For all my harder rock leanings, there’s nothing to beat the pure sing-ability of the music we cruised on to on hot, muggy nights (and cold winter nights, too, still with all the windows open). Simon & Garfunkel, Seals & Crofts, England Dan & John Ford Coley, The Blues Brothers, and even the occasional Hall & Oates.

Silly New England white boys. We had no idea what we were connecting with. Well, most of us, anyway. Me included.

Eating Ourselves Out of House and Home

landfill.jpg

Interesting that American Public Media should have started its series “Consumed” today.  For some time now, but becoming even more pronounced in recent weeks, is a growing sense I’ve had that we have finally begun to see the results of our (unsustainable) consumer culture.  For everyone on Earth to consume the way the average American does would take six Earths, if I remember the quote correctly from one of the segments.  And, according to one of those interviewed, we are 30 to 50 years from no one on Earth living a first world lifestyle (or New World, I suppose).

Was Chicken Little an optimist?

Mightier Than The Sword

Waterman’s Ideal Fountain PenIn a recent post on his blog my friend Brian reminded me of my own interest in fountain pens and got me thinking about the tools we use to communicate in writing.  Fountain pens are no longer the minor fad they were ten years or so ago, but pen collecting has its share of avid devotees.  There are sites offering antique and collectible pens (“writing instruments,” if you must), pen repair and restoration, and selling high end pens that are more jewelry, fashion accessories, status symbols, even works of art than practical writing tools.  There are also those who that writing with a fountain pen is essential to the future of Western civilization.  Yes, I’m exaggerating, but only a little.

My own small collection pens (numbering about a dozen) is made up mostly of new, relatively inexpensive pens, all of which I use.  There are a few antiques, mostly undistinguished (or unidentifiable) makes, but they are interesting for their materials and colors as well as being artifacts of life seventy or eighty years ago.  The best “find” in my little collection is a 1930s Sheaffer Balance, a lever-fill model in need of reconditioning before it can actually be used.

“Why fountain pens?” I was once asked by a co-worker.  Good question.  Fountain pens are often fussy, finicky things, especially if you are committed to refilling them from a bottle.  I’m not that hardcore; most of the time I use cartridges.  But back to the question.  I started using fountain pens regularly about twelve years ago, but it seems I’ve always had one or two since I was a kid, some thirty-mumblemumble years ago.

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