Saturday, November 28, 2009

Invasion of the Tartars

Thanksgiving morning, my mom sent me to the grocery store. She had been tasked with making lemon pie but realized that she lacked cream of tartar, an ingredient that makes the difference between good, fluffy lemon pie and sucky, flat lemon pie. So I went and picked it up from that swarming zoo of a supermarket, all the while wondering why this particular item was called cream, since it’s a powder, and why it’s called tartar, since it has apparently nothing to do with the seafood sauce or raw beef

The internet, as always, has explained it all. Drop dead, Clarissa.

According to Merriam-Webster, cream of tartar is a salt, so why it gets to be known as a cream is a complete mystery to me. (Full disclosure: I took Physics AP to pass out of high school chemistry, so there’s much about chemical classifications that I don’t understand. Most of these are cooking-related, like why baking soda gets to be a soda.) This particular sense of the word tartar comes from a term that the Online Etymology Dictionary traces back to the Greek word tartaron, meaning “a substance encrusting the sides of wine casks.” According to Merriam-Webster, there’s essentially no difference between this byproduct of fermenting grape juice, sometimes known as bitartae of potash, and the product now sold as cream of tartar. And it makes sense that cream of tartar is a wine byproduct that helps pastries rise, since yeast, which is also used to turn baking one-stories into high-rises, is an integral part of winemaking.

Also, if you think about it, the notion of crud accumulating where it’s not supposed to also works for dental tartar. It should be no surprise, then, that the two words share the same etymology.

So what’s the deal with tartar sauce? The soundalike has no relation, in either the verbal or culinary senses. The sauce — defined by Urban Dictionary as “the gay version of mayonnaise” — seems to come from the Tartars, who inhabited Tartary, the region that once spanned the region between the Caspian Sea, the Ural Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. (These people, now known as the Tatars, survive today. Charles Bronson was apparently one, so good for him.) According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the term Tartar originated in the fourteenth century in reference to the hordes of Ghengis Khan — which included some people now known as Tatars, but lots of others as well. The Mongols themselves allegedly called themselves the Tata, though the resulting term Tartar may have been influenced by the Latin Tartarus, “hell,” presumably by the way they conducted themselves. By the seventeenth century, the term could just refer to a “savage, rough, irascible person.” Regardless, the pickles-and-mayonnaise recipe seems to be historically tied to Turkish people and not Mongolians.

Sometimes spelled tartare sauce, the phrase is first recorded in French, which also gives us tartare in the sense of steak tartare, “highly seasoned ground beef eaten raw.” Curious, then, that the legacy of the Tatar people would be seafood sauce and raw steak, but it’s more than a lot of people can claim. Also good to know: the sauce and the steak have no connection with dental crud.

Food and words, previously:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I Think You’ve Got the Knack

Okay, so Inland Empire was borderline unwatchable. A good movie, yes, but a borderline unwatchable one. Regardless, it had its moments, and I was recently reminded of one of them when I found the following clip of it on YouTube. Watch it while you can — but maybe do so in a place other than your office, as it contains nudity.

Nonsensical, awkwardly sexy, and overall kind of creepy. In short, appropriately Lynchy. I have a theory that many of Laura Dern’s facial expressions in Inland Empire are meant to mimic those of an utterly confounded audience. Thoughts?

“The Loco-Motion,” previously on this blog:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Encyclopedia Drew and the Mysterious Feline Byproduct

I live in a cat neighborhood now. I live among cat people. This is mostly a plus, as the cats themselves are friendly. And I have learned to find comfort in the fact that every time I step out my front door I have at least one set of feline eyes tracking my every movement. Today, however, I was greeted not by glinting eyes but several mounds of cat waste product, none of it readily identifiable as having come from one end of the cat or the other. Really, it looked like polenta to the point that I don’t think I will be able to eat polenta again.

Even more troubling was the sheer amount of mess. Had that much been purged from a wildebeest or other such large, grazing thing, I would have been worried about that animal’s health. Because wildebeests are rare in my neighborhood, however, the source was almost certainly a cat — a sick cat — even if the mathematical nature of volume would seem to indicate that this particular feline lacked bones and internal organs. This leads me to imagine three possible explanations about how this horrible thing happened. For one, it may be that a boneless, organless cat was lurking around my house, oozing about and flowing to whatever part of the property happened to have the lowest elevation. I guess I can’t be angry with Jellycat, because it has clearly led a troubled life and therefore should be permitted to void wherever and whenever it wants. But this possibility is most likely not the case, as Jellycat would probably have been unable to make it up my porch steps.

This brings me to the second possibility, which is less appealing than the Jellycat scenario: One cat may have made several trips to my porch during the night, depositing its waste in increments. I hope this is not the case, because it would seem to indicate that one of the local cats is less friendly than it seems. Not only does it apparently have a grudge against me, but it also has the wherewithal to plan out a revenge that I would find especially unpleasant. This is a cat to be wary of.

But say cats can’t plan that far ahead — and, looking at their little tennis ball-sized heads, I’m inclined to think they can’t. Well, there’s still the third possibility, which is the worst one of the bunch. If it’s not one cat making repeated trips, then it must mean that the neighborhood felines have decided as a group to make my porch their deposit spot. I was not consulted. I wish I had been. I guess I’ll have to object at the next neighborhood cat meeting.

Whatever the case, I do hope I don’t have to hose down the porch tomorrow.

Previous Encyclopedia Drew mysteries:

Monday, November 23, 2009

On the Similarities Between Artists and Drug Addicts

A bit of advice: If you happen to live near a certain dilapidated building that you think may be a halfway house, it’s better not to publicly voice this opinion, as the woman who uses this particular piece of property as an art studio may be in earshot and may take offense. “But,” you begin, “the collection of people amassed out in front — all of them pale, smoking, and dressed in black clothes spattered with something-or-other — led me to believe otherwise.” And then when you attempt to relate that, when one really considers artists and drug addicts, the two groups have a lot in common and likely a considerable amount of overlap, you’ll realize that you should have stopped talking several sentences ago. So, yeah, it’s better just not to bring up the subject in the first place.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Before Pug-Beagles Walked the Earth

A quick update to my long-delayed word-of-the-week series. Lovers of designer dogs should know that I won’t be writing about the kind of animal that usually comes to mind when one hears the word puggle. No, the subject of this post is a little harder to love.

image courtesy of ugly overload

See? That little scrunched up whatchamacallit ball is a baby echidna — cute in its own way but probably less-than-appealing to the trophy pooch crowd. And this baby echidna and his fellow echidnitas would probably be pretty pissed to know that that there’s another species trotting around and being called puggles.
puggle (PUH-guhl) — 1. a baby monotreme. 2. a mixed breed of dog created by mating a pug and a beagle.
That’s right. Long before the term became associated with pug-beagles, it referred to baby monotremes — that bizarro order of egg-laying mammals that includes platypi, echidnas. I first encountered the word in this June 8 New York Times article on the wonder that is the echidna. Here is the sentence: “They lay leathery eggs, as reptiles do, but then feed the so-called puggles that hatch with milk — though drizzled out of glands in the chest rather than expressed through nippled teats, and sometimes so enriched with iron that it looks pink.” Lovely, no? (I have a previous entry on the monotreme habit of milk-sweating, in case you’re interested.)

If you’re Googling the term puggle, expect a hell of a lot of canine-related articles and not too much on the history of original definition of the term. The Wiktionary page, however, claims that the original puggle comes from the Australian verb puggle, meaning “to clean drains.” According to Wiktionary, “English settlers in Australia would puggle to get rabbits out of holes and sometimes find an echidna,” with the source of this possible etymology coming from a November 11, 2000, broadcast of the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s Radio National Science Show. And I guess if you pulled out a baby echidna from a pipe and didn’t know what it was, I guess puggle is as good a name as anything else. Obligatory Simpsons reference: That’s an odd name. I’d have called them chazzwazzers.”

Incidentally, I checked Wiktionary’s list of baby animal names to see if some unfortunate species’ young was coincidentally called pekapoos or goldendoodles. Thankfully no. However, I did learn a few new ones: cria (a baby llama, vicuna or alpaca), leveret (a baby hare), and parr (a baby salmon).

Previous words of the week:
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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wanderer of Time

A scan from Final Fantasy VI: Yoshitaka Amano art of Terra in her Magitek armor.


Dreamy, really.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Money Causes Mental Illness

From Spencer, proof of the post title gleaned from various Wikipedia pages. First, from the Wikipedia article on James Gordon Bennett, Jr. :
In 1877, [James Gordon Bennett, Jr., newspaper publishing heir] left New York for Europe after an incident that ended his engagement to socialite Caroline May. According to various accounts, he arrived late and drunk to a party at the May family mansion, then urinated into a fireplace (some say grand piano) in full view of his hosts.
And then, on a possibly unrelated note, this:
Attached please find two pictures of mining heiress Virginia Fair, whose father was one of San Francisco’s Big Four. One of them is a portrait by Boldini. The other is a snapshot of her bathing at Baileys Beach in Newport, Rhode Island. I'll leave you to guess which is which, and which more accurately depicts the lady.

And, finally, another crazy rich person painted by Boldini: La Marchesa Luisa Casati, who apparently requested extra crazy.

Bonus points for the inclusion of the greyhound, but menos puntos for wearing the dress that that one goth girl you know would have cut herself to wear to prom. Of course, we can only hope that we too will one day be wealthy enough to be so crazy.

Thank God for Larry David

Things I learned while watching the most recent Curb Your Enthusiam, checking on Wikipedia to see why the Cheryl and David on the show got a divorce, and ultimately learning something unexpected:
In 2003, Juan Catalan, a resident of Los Angeles, was cleared of premeditated murder charges against a material witness (a crime eligible for capital punishment) after outtake footage shot for the “Carpool Lane” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm showed him and his daughter attending the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves baseball game some 20 miles from the crime-scene at the time of the murder, resulting in a $320,000 settlement against the City of Los Angeles. On hearing of the incident, Larry David commented that “Now I’ve done at least one good thing in my life, albeit inadvertently.”
This is something I did not know. This is something I did not expect to learn.

Incidentally, Cheryl left David because he hung up on her while she was calling from a plane experiencing turbulence because he was with the TiVo guy and “couldn't hear” her.

Thank god for Wikipedia, too.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Drew Goes to the Post Office (A Short Play Based on Real-Life Events)

Woman at counter: Next?

(Drew, envelope in hand, steps up to the counter after having stood in line for about twenty minutes.)

Drew: Hi. Something weird happened. I moved recently and sent in my change of address notice. And I’m getting my mail fine, but I’m also getting mail for some lady named Vanessa who lives in New Jersey.

Woman: Does she live with you?

Drew: No, I live here in Santa Barbara. She lives in New Jersey.

Woman: And you don’t know her?

Drew: Right. No clue who this lady is.

Woman: Where did you move from? Did you just move here from New Jersey?

Drew: No, just from one side of town to the other.

Woman: Do you think this woman might have lived at the address you moved into?

Drew: I… don’t think so. Because she lives in New Jersey. (Points to address on the envelope.) See? The original address on this says it was supposed to go to New Jersey.

Woman: Do you think it’s possible that whoever sent this just got her address wrong?

Drew: I guess that could be, but that would be really weird because she lives in New Jersey. Also, her address is literally nothing like mine. Like, no part of it. Also, the address on the envelope is correct. It’s you guys at the post office who put a sticker on this saying that should be redirected to where I live.

Woman: Oh, well that wouldn’t have been us. It would have been at a different processing center.

Drew: Well, whoever did that is sending me Vanessa’s mail. It’s happened twice now. I would have brought the other envelope but I can’t find it.

Woman: You know, you could just peel off the sticker that directed this towards your house and put it back in the mail. It should get to New Jersey fine.

Drew: I can do that for the other envelope, when I find it, but I don’t want this to keep happening. Like, why should this lady’s mail have to go to California every time it needs to get to New Jersey? (Drew picks holds the envelope up.) Also, this looks like a phone bill. I mean, Vanessa probably wants to pay it. And the one I have at home looks like a personal letter. I could have just thrown this mail away, but I didn’t want to do that because I feel bad for Vanessa and I thought it was the right thing to do to bring this to your guys’ attention.

Woman: Oh, you shouldn’t throw away the mail.

Drew: And I won’t. But I’d rather this got fixed.

Woman: You know, I’m not sure what to do. Sometimes mail gets stuck together. I can ask my manager.

(The woman toddles off to speak with another woman. After a few moments, both come to the counter. The boss woman has a slip of paper in hand.)

Boss woman: So you’re moving and you need a change of address form?

(Drew, now dejected, exits.)

. . . . . . . . .

I left the phone bill at the counter. I hope this will sort itself out and that Vanessa in New Jersey will one day get her mail. Meanwhile, it seems like it might have been easier just to find Vanessa and ask her to come live with me in Santa Barbara.

A Pixelated Boob by Any Other Name

A preface: This does start out being just about video games, but eventually I get to boobs. Video game boobs, to be specific, but boobs all the same.

Way back when, I put up a post here on name oddities in video games. No, not that one. I mean the one about how three of the bosses from Street Fighter II exchanged names when Capcom translated the game for English-speaking audiences. It’s never been explained officially, as far as I know, but I agree with the notion that Capcom wanted to avoid possible lawsuits resulting from similarities between one of these boss characters, an African-American boxer named M. Bison, and the real-life African-American boxer Mike Tyson. (Really, would you want to enrage the guy?) Given that the original Japanese version had already recorded the voice samples — particularly those of the announcer, who would say things like “M. Bison wins!” or “Such and Such a Character versus M. Bison!” — it was easier to just shift the names so that M. Bison became Balrog (appropriate for a bruiser), Balrog became Vega (appropriate for the guy from Spain), and Vega became M. Bison (kind of a lame name, really, for the game’s big bad).

Back in the day, Street Fighter II “inspired” a whole host of similar games featuring combatants from many lands competing in globe-crossing martial arts tournaments. One of these has been rattling around in my memory for years, only vaguely recalled from the days little me used to play it at a pizza place where I grew up. This game was one of the paler Street Fighter II imitations, to be sure. The only clear memory I had of it was the presence of a scantily clad female fighter from Egypt stuck with the odd name Chaos. I finally Googled her and found that the title of the game was Martial Champion, which, it should be noted, is a pretty lame title for anything. Chaos, however, was there — indeed looking petty darn Egyptian, if because she was wearing a sexy Halloween version of a pharaoh costume instead of anything an actual Egyptian person would wear.

image credit: system 16

And here she is taking on the other female fighter, Rachael, your all-American girl-next-door who also happens to be ninja.

image credit: system 16

In the above image, they’re fighting on Chaos’s stage, which like Chaos herself looks stereotypically Egyptian. Why then, I wondered as a kid and wondered again now, is her name Chaos? Reading the Wikipedia page for Marital Champion, however, I found out. And the reasoning is similar to what prompted Capcom to switch around its Street Fighter II character names. What I didn’t remember about the game’s line-up of playable characters is that it also included a Chinese fighter — that special kind of hopping Chinese vampire, it turns out, even though I wouldn’t have known what one was at the time — who was saddled with the equally improbable name of Titi. In the Japanese version of the game, Chaos and Titi’s names were reversed, with Titi being a very sensible name for an Egyptian princess whose full name might be Nefertiti. and Chaos befitting the evil dude. But why the stateside switch? I presume the names ended up how they did in the international versions of Martial Champion simply because they didn’t want a lady fighter to have a name that would read similar to titty. Thus, the Egyptian princess got stuck with the name Chaos, for no apparent reason, and the freaky chaotic vampire got Titi. I suppose the vampire should have been happy that Titi wasn’t named Melonie, Busomania, or Princess Sweatercows.

So that theoretically explains that. But odd, isn’t it, that a scantily clad character can show her assets but not have a name that reflects those assets? I’d say that titty is an inappropriate enough word that the company that created this game, Konami, would have wanted to avoid the association, even if the name still does exist in the game, now attached to a male character. Still, it’s an odd notion that the mention of a slang term for breasts would somehow be worse than, say, the expanse of cleavage being revealed by Martial Champion’s other female character, Rachael. Practically no one remembers this game and the characters therein, so any strangeness perceived in Chaos, Titi and Rachael is pretty much a moot point. However, these are issues that persist in video games even today: the seemingly inexplicable name change thing, sure, but more importantly the odd issues of censorship, the whole “You thought this had to be removed but you let this slide?” thing.

One more bit about Martial Champion before I never mention it again: Aside from the Chaos/Titi confusion, the game’s English version seems to have been further doomed by a terrible U.S. marketing campaign. How unappealing — much less inappropriate to the look of the game — is the Martial Champion arcade flyer?

Holy Christ, that’s awful — as seemingly trying to piggyback on the success of Mortal Kombat, with its digitized life action fighters. Way to make a rip-off even more derivative, Konami.

Ice Cream Anti-Social

On a whim, I redesigned my blog tonight. Thoughts? Too autumny? Does the spacing on the letters in the header look too cramped? Any weird problems you've encountered?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Text Does Not Match Attached Photo

What I received from Aly via text: “We got a sofa at IKEA.”

The image that accompanied this proclamation:


Though the sofa arrived, I have yet to see Little Boy Buckethead toddling around the house, bumping into the walls.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Little Love for Marjorie Pettibone

Okay, so the January Jones-hosted SNL wasn’t so hot. So Jones ended up playing window dressing for a lot of shoddily written sketches. And so one of the only sketches she was given a prominent role in had her playing an uncharacteristically flatulent Grace Kelly on the set of Rear Window, leaving everyone watching feel bad for Jones and worse for Kelly. We can’t really blame Jones. Previous fresh-faced actresses have fared better, their nonexistent or still-forming comedic chops hidden with good writing. In the end, bad sketches will drown even a talented actor.

However, in all the scathing reviews the episode got — see Gawker, see the A.V. Club, see James Wolcott — there was a bright spot: “A Lady’s Guide to Throwing a Party — With Marjorie Pettibone.” Though it had Jones donning 60s drag and essentially doing a less self-aware version of Mad Men’s Betty Draper, the bit really worked for me, even upon viewing it again in the light of day.

Give it a shot yourself, and concede that Jones’s SNL appearance wasn’t a total wash-out.

Two highlights, for me:
  • “Address cats by their full name, but dogs as ‘Mr.,’ and then their dog name. Because cats are girls and dogs are boys.”
  • “After a few drinks, it is time to wake the children. Put them in hats and parade them around the living room in a single loop, and the children will be put back to bed until the next party.”
Also, since I haven’t done a SNL-post in a while, I’m going to mention that this week’s episode kept up the tradition of ending with a quirky sketch, more weird than funny but still more watchable than the recycled stuff that appeared before it. Why can’t they be more creative with the rest of the show?

Finally, a minus that I’m not sure anyone else mentioned: Jenny Slate playing Hoda Kotb in the Today sketch kind of irked me, since Michaela Watkins did such a good job with the character last season. Not that I have anything against Slate and not that a bygone castmember should maintain dibs on an impersonation of a real-life person, but it still seemed odd to see Slate appearing in the role in a premise completely unaltered from the days Watkins played it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Oswald the Vengeful Rabbit

So since the game actually made it onto Gawker — and not just the Gawker family’s game blog, Kotaku — I suppose I should write something about Epic Mickey, a slightly twisted Disney video game that has me more excited about the round-eared one than I’ve been since I was a kid.

Disney has a long history with video games, going back to a 1981 Game & Watch title, Mickey Mouse. My earliest Disney game memory — and likely that of many people who will read this blog — is 1987 NES title, Mickey Mouscapade, which had Mickey and his ladyfriend hopping Mario-style through various levels, shooting stars (for some reason), fighting villains like the evil queen from Snow White (for some reason) and finally rescuing Alice from Alice in Wonderland (for some reason).

Mickey Mouscapade was great fun at the time, but, in retrospect, the game kind of sucked, even for a first-generation NES title. Easily the worst part was the play control; Minnie follows Mickey around, jumping slightly after he jumps and landing slightly behind where he lands. This resulted in Mickey successfully leaping over those bottomless pits that so often dot the landscape of platformer-style video games but Minnie falling in and plummeting to her death, causing Mickey as well to die (again, for some reason.) Regardless, Mickey definitely has a place in my fond memories of playing video games.

Epic Mickey looks different. Rather than stick Mickey and his Disney cohorts in a bright, shining universe with smiles on every rock, tree and cloud — you know, like where Mario has been living for the last twenty years — the game’s designers have tried to grow Mickey up a bit. Mickey’s new world is a little dark, a little steampunky. Take, for instance, this nightmarish half-robot version of Donald Duck.

Not exactly the same waterfowl that hugs the kiddies at Disneyland, is it? Gaze also at this trippy concept art.

If the in-game graphics of Epic Mickey come close to matching what’s above, then we’ll be in for a treat.

What has me most excited about this game, however, is the news that its big bad will be Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a character Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks debuted in 1927, a year before the suspiciously similar-looking Mickey Mouse stole the spotlight.

Money disputes prompted Disney and Iwerks to eventually leave Universal Studios, which maintained ownership of Oswald until 2006. Wikipedia explains that as part of a deal between Disney and NBC Universal, the former traded the latter sportscaster Al Michaels for Oswald. Michaels now workings alongside John Madden at NBC, and Disney finally got the rights to a bunch of old Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon shorts. (I have to wonder how Michaels must feel about this trade. “You, sir, are basically worth the same as an obscure cartoon character that few remember and who looks basically like our current mascot.” Wikipedia notes that Michaels at least publicly had the sense to make a joke about the trade: “Oswald is definitely worth more than a fourth-round draft choice. I’m going to be a trivia answer someday.”) In any case, Oswald is back — and presumably pissed for having been shoved aside for some many years while Mickey lived the good life, being all recognizable even to people who don’t own TVs or have access to movie theaters.

This sort of thing thrills me: a fictional universe with a long history pulling an obscure also-ran from its archives and giving him or her a chance to shine once again. It doesn’t happen often enough, though I suppose superhero comics do it pretty well. Who would have expected Batman’s Jason “Robin No. Two” Todd to be resurrected from the dead? To draw an example from a different form of pop culture, the new Melrose Place wins points for me — even though I haven’t watched it — for bringing back Laura Leighton’s character from the original series, Sydney Andrews, even though she too was once dead as a doornail. It’s fan service, I guess, but it’s something that really clicks with the geeks who know a given universe inside and out. (“They thought of that! That’s what I think of! I feel validated!”) It’s good to know that the people in charge of a given franchise know at least enough about it to appease the experts.

I don’t know how well the game Epic Mickey will be received, but it gets points from me for rescuing Oswald the Lucky Rabbit from obscurity. And I look forward to beating the crap out of him at the end of the game.

A closing thought: Mickey Mousecapade’s control issues notwithstanding, I do think that the -capade suffix needs to be used more often.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Titles for Ten Movies That Sound More Interesting Than Ninja Assassin

You see, because Ninja Assassin isn’t technically redundant, but it sure seems like it should be.

1. Ninja Doctor

2. Ninja Secretary

3. Ninja Plumber

4. Ninja Pastry Chef

5. Ninja Crossing Guard

6. Ninja Prime Minister

7. Ninja Surrogate Mother

8. Ninja President of the P.T.A.

9. Ninja Competitive Ballroom Dancer

10. Ninja Conductor of the London Philharmonic

I would have put Ninja Schoolgirl on the list, but Japan already makes about thirty versions of this movie a year.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Ghost in the Sink

Halloween may have come and gone, but the ghosts linger — specifically in the bubbles in the soaking dishes in my kitchen sink. This is one is less scary if you pretend the mouth hole is actually a big round nose. I cannot suggest anything that the two smaller holes could be aside from nipples. Soapy ghost nipples.

bubble ghost

And I swear I will stop blogging about ghosts.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Drew Versus the Bamboo — Or, The Hitler Mustache of Dirtiness

Two activities have come to comprise much of what I do with my day: disposing of the vast amount of bamboo in my overgrown jungle of backyard and then recovering from the physical exertion involved in the previous item. I don’t mind the work. It’s a type of labor I haven’t had much reason to perform in the past few years. However, it does have a few side effects that I could leave without, foremost among them how dirty it makes me. I don’t mean to sound like some delicate flower, but I could do without coating my extremities in a sort of filth that’s plausibly seen more moons and seasons and U.S. presidents than I have. These bamboo stalks, some of them are twenty feet tall. And they have branches. And every branch creates a nice place for dead leaves as associated other rot to accumulate. When I start knocking these plants down, the vast storages of mulch-waiting-to-happen all end up on me.

On Thursday, I woke up and immediately got to work, shaking and cracking and pushing and chopping. I actually worked straight past lunch without so much as taking a bathroom break. When I finally did, I looked in the mirror and immediately thought “Damn, I have to shave.” Which was an odd thought to have, since I had actually shaved fairly recently. Then I looked more closely. Nope. Dirt. It was dirt I was seeing on my face, caked on to stubble and forming a pretend little Hitler mustache of dirtiness. I was so repulsed-but-amused by this that I photographed it for everyone else could enjoy my filth.


The following shower was one of the better ones of my life so far, if only because I may have never been dirtier and may have never been able to benefit so much from hot water and soap.

I took a follow-up picture to prove that I don’t still look like a bum.


The moral of the story: Bamboo is the worst stuff ever. Don’t ever plant it.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Legend of the Incest-Preventing Fairy

Before Halloween, Mental Floss put up a post titled “Five Scary Places and the Legends Behind Them.” Pretty tame stuff, in the way that a lot of old “scary” stuff doesn’t do much for us jaded types who have so much gore and bloodshed at our fingertips. One, however, stood out, because in addition to being old scary — that is, lame scary — it also exemplifies the sort of simple-minded, buck-toothed, barefoot style of storytelling employed by our ancestors to explain anything they didn’t understand.

Here, according to Mental Floss’s Miss Cellania, is the legend of Serbia’s famous Djavolja Varos. (“Devil’s Town” in English. It’s located between Devil’s Gully and Hell’s Gully, in case you’re passing through the area as you read this.) A quick preface: The location in question isn’t so much a town as it is a series a pointy rocks. Enjoy!
The story goes that the devil placed a curse on the local waters and those who drank it forgot their ancestry. This led to a wedding between brother and sister. A fairy tried to stop the marriage, but the couple refused. The fairy was left with no choice but to turn them into stone, along with all the wedding guests.
And this is how Serbians at some point saw fit to explain pointy rocks. Can we please examine what all has to accepted in order to make this story work?
  1. The devil has nothing better to do than make forget who their parents are.
  2. Even a temporary lapse in the understanding of familial relationships would result in siblings jumping into bed with each other.
  3. In addition to a devil that poisons the local well, Serbia also has fairies.
  4. One particular fairy was somehow saddled with the unusual duty of preventing incest.
  5. Not being able to do so, she did the next best thing: zapping everyone in a moderate radius into stone, which fairies can do.
  6. Finally, this story explains rock formations that basically look like stalagmites: pointy slender spikes sticking up from the ground. No arms, no legs, no confused wedding guest expressions.
That’s a lot of fucking salt to be swallowed. That’s the goddamn Dead Sea.

Before you think I’m bagging on Serbians, know this: I actually love the logic that underlies these kind of stories. And it goes without saying that as I type this now, there’s someone in some isolated part of my homeland who tells a similar story — devil, amnesia water, fairies, incest — to explain magnets.