Monday, May 31, 2010

The Future Soon

I've got a new short story posted at 365 Tomorrows.

Hope you enjoy it!

Friday, May 28, 2010

On the Beach

Gilligan sits on the beach, staring as always at the empty horizon.

He gnaws the last few pieces of meat from the Skipper’s thigh bone, then tosses it into the pile where it lands beside Mr. Howell’s skull.

Or was it Mrs. Howell’s? It’s so hard to tell them apart anymore.

He begins to drop the Skipper’s hat into the fire, but stops before letting go. He grins, uses the hat to whack himself in the head, then tosses it into the flames.

Good times.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Hardest Choice of All

I don't know how I got the money. Saving up from allowances maybe. Hard to recall that detail all these decades later.

What I do remember is the decision. The difficult decision, almost impossible to make. Standing between the two rows and having to decide: which will be my first record album.

I'd purchased and received some singles over the years: Popcorn and Last Train to Clarksville and A Cowboy's Work is Never Done among others. But I did not own an LP.

I now had the money but I had to decide, what was it going to be? My tastes were odd, I think, even for the early seventies. The first song I taped off the radio onto cassette was Also Sprach Zarathustra, Deodato's jazzy version of the theme from 2001 A Space Odyssey. Later recordings on that same cassette included themes from TV shows (such as The Time Tunnel) recorded by shoving the microphone up to the television speaker. Yes, my preference for film & tv scores manifested early.

But in the aisles of Richman-Gordman that day, I knew nothing of soundtrack albums, just the pop records filling the bins. So I had to choose. I wanted an album that contained songs I knew, and I had it narrowed down to two artists: The Carpenters or Olivia Newton John.

I still recall moving back and forth between them, checking out the contents of the records, trying to decide, trying to decide. I loved Have You Never Been Mellow and Please Mister Please and Olivia was, well, really really cute. But the Carpenters had Close to You and We've Only Just Begun -- and both songs on the SAME record.

I took the albums out of the bins. I gazed into Olivia's eyes, so magical, so inviting. And I bought The Carpenters. And I loved it. For many years, their version of Help! was the only one I knew.

My second LP was probably Westworld, found in a cut-out bin at a discount store. Or it may have been Live and Let Die. Either way, it was movie music. Pop radio had already lost its tenuous grip on me.

I still own that Carpenters LP. I may go drag it out right now.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Ching Ching

She looks at my nose, my hat, my shoes.

She shakes her head.

She jots down some notes.

She lifts my lapel, takes a close look at my gold science club pin, the one I’ve been wearing since high school, how any years ago now?

She’s pretty. High cheekbones, long hair. Not what I expected.

“So what happened here?” she asks me.

She reaches into my pocket, grabs my wallet, starts thumbing through it. No money. I could have sworn I had a couple hundred bucks in there.

She shakes her head. She stares into my eyes. She has green eyes. Not what I expected at all.

“I’m done,” she says, standing. “Tag him and bag him.”

Guess I’m done, too. May as well go toward the light now.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Twinkie Deconstructed

This is what I learned upon completing Steve Ettlinger's Twinkie Deconstructed.

Everything we eat comes from rocks, corn and petroleum.

Okay, that's an oversimplification, but Ettlinger's journey through processed food kept coming back to those three things as the starting point of many ingredients. Yes, we're dependent on foreign oil for so much more than just fuel for our SUVs.

Ettlinger's book started with a question from his son. While perusing a Twinkie wrapper, he asked where polysorbate 60 comes from. Ettlinger eventually set out on a journey to trace the history of all the ingredients on the Twinkie label. He travelled through numerous factories and underground mines to locate the source of twinkie-ness.

This list, from his website, gives a breakdown of where it all comes from.

The Twinkie-Industrial Complex of Twinkies’ Raw and Final Ingredients
As Described in
Twinkie, Deconstructed
chickens – whole eggs
cows - whey, caseinate, animal shortening
bacteria, yeast, fungi – vitamins B1 and B2, folic acid, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, glucose, sodium stearoyl lactylate, polysorbate 60, whey
corn – corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, cornstarch, modified cornstarch, corn dextrins, dextrose, glucose, corn flour, polysorbate 60, sodium stearoyl lactylate
soy – soybean oil, partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening, soy protein  isolate, soy lecithin, sodium stearoyl lactylate
canola – shortening, sodium stearoyl lactylate
cotton - partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening, sodium stearoyl lactylate, cellulose gum
wheat – flour
palm trees - partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening, mono and diglycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate
olive oil – mono and diglycerides, colors
sugar cane  - sugar
sugar beets – sugar
vanilla orchid – natural flavor
trees – cellulose gum
crude oil or natural gas - artificial vanilla, artifical butter flavor, artificial colors, vitamins, sorbic acid, polysorbate 60, sodium bicarbonate, cellulose gum
limestone – monocalium  phosphate, calcium caseinate,  whey, SSL
phosphorus – monocalcium phosphate
trona - sodium bicarbonate, sodium stearoyl lactylate
salt - salt, bleach, colors (and as source of lye and HCl in all processing)
gypsum – calcium sulfate  
iron – ferrous sulfate
air – ammonia for nitric acid for niacin and colors
sulfur – ferrous sulfate
water – water
Mmm. Tasty.

I've been reading books by Michael Pollan and watching Food Inc and generally trying to be more aware of what I'm eating. This nook was another big step toward encouraging me to avoid prepackaged, processed foodstuffs. 

My favorite example, from early in the book, comes from the reveal of how iron gets into enriched flour. Of course, enriched flour is a good thing, with the added vitamins & minerals helping to eliminate the (now forgotten) disease pellagra. (Although if everyone ate a balanced diet and used whole wheat flour we wouldn't need enrichment, we'd be getting all the vitamins & minerals we need.) Now, when you make iron into steel, a big coating of rust covers the steel. So it's bathed in sulphuric acid, where the rust falls to the bottom, ultimately getting separated from the acid then ground into powder and sprinkled into flour. Voila! You've just enriched your flour with iron.


And so it goes, from oil refinery to chemical processing plant to your mouth.

Ettlinger's a good writer and, though the process becomes somewhat repetitive with yet another chemical plant extracting yet another oil-based ingredient, it's a great look at where we get all the packaged stuff that lines grocery store shelves - and is slowly killing us all.

Bon appetit! 

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Hard Rain

I pulled into the church parking lot and nearly ran over Satcom 5.  It lay on the pavement, shattered, flattened, like something attached to the back of Wile E Coyote after he smacked into the side of a mountain. The four solar panels spread out like cracked mirrors, still attached to the central core. Even from a distance I recognized the remains of the American flag painted on its side.

I stopped the bus and told the kids to sit tight.

Tendrils of smoke rose from broken components, the burnt electric smell stinging my nostrils. I kneeled, trying for a closer look. Couldn’t have been here long. Fresh. I glanced around, but the church grounds were still empty in the dawn light. I still had time to clean it up before the Fire Brigade caught whiff of the wreck.

“Joey,” I shouted toward the bus. “Grab a bucket.”

We swept up what we could, salvaged a few bits and bobs and shoveled the remains into a ditch behind the Family Life Center. Joey and a few of the older boys covered the whole pile with leaves.

 “When will it stop raining satellites?” Joey asked.

“I don’t know, son.” We put our tinfoil hats back on. “I don’t know.”

Thursday, May 6, 2010


In honor of Orson Welles birthday, here is a list of books I’ve read about him over the years.

I owned Pauline Kael's Citizen Kane Book for years before finally reading it. I remember it as an evisceration of Welles and epistle to writer Herman Mankiewicz.

Then I read Road to Xanadu by Simon Callow and was just completely mesmerized by it. The book is amazing, as was Welles’ early life. Absolutely essential reading.

I loved the book and Welles so much afterward that I started seeking out more about him.

This is Orson Welles is a compilation of interviews Welles did with director Peter Bogdonavich. Amusing and anecdotal, like sitting in a room with Welles for a few hours.

Moby Dick – Rehearsed is a play written by Welles, an adaptation of the novel which I bet made for a riveting evening of theatre.

The Big Brass Ring is a screenplay by Welles that got made by others after his death.

Orson Welles by Joseph McBride is one of the other main bios of Welles and I don't recall a lot of details about it, but know I enjoyed it.

The Theatre of Orson Welles by Richard France was more of an academic book, one I got through interlibrary loan. Callow's book made me really wish I could have seen Welles' live productions with the Mercury Theatre and this helped flesh out more of that. 

I got Callow’s second volume, Hello Americans, shortly after it was released but I’m just now getting a chance to read it. Can’t wait.

Well, there you go. I told you it would be pretty much a list.