Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Kim Chee

I wasn't impressed at first. It was 1990. My friend Jake slurped a bowl of what looked like bloody weeds. Or the gunk that lines the bottom of the sink when the garbage disposal backs up. It smelled like of garlic and cabbage fields.
"It's Kim chee," he explained. "I think it's Korean."
Jake was the guy who had to order the weirdest thing on the menu. Stuff like duck feet , blood pudding, escargot. I think he wanted to look sophisticated. An "I'm so worldly that I think this stuff is regular food, unlike you uncultured slobs" kind of thing. Ever the show off, he also drank Bacardi 151 straight up, but not after making sure everyone in the room knew it was flammable.
I never cared for duck feet , blood pudding or 151 (I never tried the snails), but I did grow to love kimchee.
Mmmmm Kimchee. Spicy, salty garlicky goodness freckled with red pepper. I like the crunch of the white chunks and the dark stringy leaves dripping with the brine.
There's always a jar or two in my fridge.
It probably feels so common, sitting next to the peanut butter, ketchup and the mustard. Yellow mustard, I might add. I never much cared for Grey Poupon.

p.s. I'm aware that "regular food" is a relative thing.
photo credit

Sunday, January 28, 2007


What is it with nutrition books? They claim to be "sensible"or "common sense" guides, but usually between the covers is some whacked out malarkey based on limited studies, selective logic and or whatever axe (food processor blade?) the author has to grind. Lose weight! Cure disease! Grow hair! Live forever!
I'll call this book Skinny Twit, as this bestselling(!) book doesn't deserve direct publicity. I agree with the authors that whole wheat and veggies are better than processed food, and that one should cool it on sugary and fried stuff. It's their veganism-will-save-you that I don't get. Saying "I don't like animal products because it's unfair to the animal and hard on the environment" is one thing, saying "Animal products will kill you" and supporting it with poor arguments are another.

Sample statements (and my comments):

Skinny Twit- Milk is toxic! It's for the baby cow, not you!

Namowal- Soy Milk is derived from soy beans, which are for the baby soy plant, not you.

Skinny Twit- Cheese is toxic! There's pesticides in cheese!

Namowal- Pesticides? What the hell do you think they're spraying all over fruits and vegetables? Unless you're getting organic produce, you're getting pesticides.

Skinny Twit- There's yucky stuff like pus in milk

Namowal- You can't escape yuck. There's yucky stuff like bugs and worms in your produce.

Skinny Twit- Artificial and animal-derived products could cause allergic reactions!

Namowal- Almost anything could cause allergies. People are allergic to pollen, grass and wheat, soy and peanuts for example.

And while I'm on my rant, I don't get the notion that natural = healthy and unnatural = dangerous. Rattlesnake venom, poison ivy, strychnine and smallpox are all natural. Purified water, flush toilets, live saving medicines and surgical procedures are unnatural.

Skinny Twit- You must an organic vegan diet unless you're"an idiot who wants cancer"-*

Namowal: That's crap! I had a roommate who ate only veggie organic stuff. He was eventually diagnosed with
lymphoma. Where'd that come from? Did someone slip him a beef bullion mickey? Oh, I know! His tofurkey was so meat like that his body mistook it for meat and flipped the cancer switch.

Ironically, my pal started eating meat (when he felt up to it) during treatment and is still alive, six years later. Did veggies cause the disease? Probably not. Did meat cure him? Of course not. I trot out this example only to show that, while veggies are healthy, they won't protect you from everything, nor will meat (in moderation) destroy you.

*actual quote(!)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Cheap Smell of Success

The red book on the bargain shelf at Barnes & Noble caught my eye.
Unexpected Strategies for Success! Promised the cover.
That's for me! I thought. My climb to the top has been more like a dash up a down running escalator. Expending effort, yet sliding backwards and looking foolish.
Perhaps this book would steer me to the right escalator. Or a stairs. I could learn how to be more productive! Indispensable! Worthy!
I bought the book.
The irony hit me as I pried away the discount label.
If this author knew so much about success, why was her book in the discount pile?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Why is this Cow Laughing?

Their cheese is bon et bel. Their mascot is tres terrifiant.
Imagine you're enjoying an alpine meadow. Maniacal laughter erupts behind you. Turning around, you see a devil-red, floating cow head.
She looks deranged. Like she's ready to stomp your head and chew your brain for cud. Or watching you in a meat grinder. Perhaps you're slowly being lowered to drown in a vat of special sauce? Whatever she's up to, it's trouble
Or maybe it's not her fault.
In Victor Hugo's Le homme que rit, the protagonist always grins thanks to some wacko surgury his handlers subjected him to as a baby. Maybe the cow had the same operation. A nuetral expression-ectomy. That way the farmer doesn't feel bad about branding her or zapping her with a prod because she always looks happy. Either that or he wanted to scare the neighbors.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Big Ben: Lock Up

That's no cowbell.
It's Big Ben, the famous bell that gongs out the hours for the London clock tower also known as Big Ben. * For clarity, I'm talking about the bell
Look closely at the picture.
Unlike the the other bells, Big Ben is in a cage. I wonder why?
Protection? Anything that's been getting slammed with a mallet the size of a stove for the last 150 years has to be sturdy.
Does it have a history of running away? Getting drunk and ringing off key? Sneaking up on unsuspecting people and going "BONG!" I hear it cracked some years back. Some blame metal fatigue. I say it was in a bar fight.

*Technically the clock tower has another name

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Rant of the Ant

Remember that Aesop Fable about the Grasshopper and the Ant?
The ant works hard all summer. He gathers food. He builds a winter home. While he's sweating away, a grasshopper goofs around.
Winter comes. The ant has a warm home and plenty to eat. The grasshopper freezes or starves.
I have a problem with this story- it's a lie.
I know too many successful grasshoppers. They break all the rules, yet prosper. They drink and drive with impunity. They cheat in their relationships. No one finds out. They lie, they gossip, they backstab. A few of them steal. And it pays off! They're never caught. They bounce from one indiscrestion to another like a pinball, enjoying the ride. Maybe they'll roll over a few ants along the way. That's okay. We're only ants, right?
I've heard that Aesop was blind. I belive it. He didn't see what was really going on.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Lobster Causes

Poor supermarket lobsters. All the other animals have gone to the happy hunting ground, their remains stylishly displayed amidst lemon wedges and fake garnish.
Not the lobster. He's stuck in a dingy tank. No plants. No castle. No plastic clamshell clapping out bubbles... Not even colored foil on the back.
Then there's those pincer bands. Do they give the lobster carpel tunnel? Maybe if you're scheduled to be boiled alive, numb body parts aren't a bad idea.
Those things look like activist bracelets. What cause would a lobster champion? The top concerns of the crustacean community?
I have a hunch it's something like this:

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Freezer Burn

That's not dust on my windsheild, that's ice.
Los Angeles isn't supposed to get this cold. This was the wrong morning to accidently hose water up my sleeve when I filled the bird bath.

Monday, January 15, 2007

60 years ago today: The Black Dalhia...

author's note: post was written in 2007
January 15th, 1947, Los Angeles.
Her body was discovered in a vacant lot, right next to the sidewalk..  She'd been cut in two at the waist and was posed with spread legs and her arms raised behind her head  Her mouth was slashed.  There was no blood- apparently the killer had drained it elsewhere.
Here's a then and now pic of the crime scene .

The victim was Elizabeth Short, 22..  .Popular lore depicts her as a would-be actress or model, but it's likely that's a bunch of  "Lure of  Hollywood Stardom Destroys the Innocent" nonsense.   I'm not sure what she wanted to be.  Maybe she didn't either.  She tended to drift from place to place- a few weeks with one friend, a few weeks sharing a room with other girls, a day or two mooching off a kind stranger, etc.  Except one stranger, or perhaps "friend," wasn't so nice.

The press  named her "The Black Dahlia" (her nickname). Rumors spread. One suggested she was a prostitute (she wasn't).
The murder was never solved.
Like the Jack-the-Ripper case, theories pinned the crime on mad doctors, vindictive women and famous people. Every few years a new book roles in about who "really" killed her.

A list of  (paraphrased) titles includes:
  • My Dad Did it!
  • No, my Dad Did it!
  • A Creepy Guy did it but Whoops, the Evidence Burned up.
  • A Famous Celebrity Did it.
  • A Famous Rich guy and a Famous Mobster Did it.
  • A Surrealist Artist did it. Surrealists have People in Pieces, Right?
I think it was some unknown creep with a vicious streak.
Her killer wasn't the only one to exploit her. She's inspired in books, movies, video games, and remarkably bad folk art.  On eBay I saw a snowglobe of the crime scene (no, I didn't buy it). 
Wait a second- I'm blogging about her. I guess I'm guilty too. Whoops.  Sorry.

Notes- photo of Short has been artificially colored.  All three photos have been snagged separately from the internet, so I can't promise they haven't been tampered with.  I included the Wikipedia link for a general overview, but remember this is wikipedia, so its vulnerable to any mistakes (or pranks) from its collaborators...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Two Namowals at the Blood Drive.

I have two sides. Good Namowal and Bad Namowal.
Good Namowal is responsible, loyal, hard working and kind.
Bad Namowal is selfish, childish, petty and mean.
A recent blood drive got them fighting.

Bad Namowal: Blood drive!? What a waste of time. You never get rewarded for good deeds!
Good Namowal: It's not about rewards. It's about helping people.
Bad Namowal: Like they'd help you!

I ignored Bad Namowal and went to my appointment.
Awaiting the needle, I reclined on the cushion and caught my reflection.

Bad Namowal: Wow. You look like a dead person on a slab.
Good Namowal: What!?
Bad Namowal: Someday you'll be a dead person on a slab.
Good Namowal: Will you knock off the morbid crap? What a thing to say!
Bad Namowal: You'll bypass the slab if you got eaten by a lion or sharks.

The nurse came. The needle went in with the usual mild pinch. This time the pinch lasted and intensified as she yanked it around.
"I'm having trouble," she said. "Your vein's slipping around." She kept at it, pushing, yanking, with the gentleness of someone unlocking a car with a coat hanger.

Bad Namowal: She's a butcher! Ouch. Is she using a fishhook or something?! A shrimp de-veiner? A corkscrew?
Good Namowal: Are you the world's biggest baby? Stop complaining. Hey, I think she got the needle in. All you have to do is wait a bit. The blood will help someone, and you'll get crackers. Win win.
Bad Namowal: They'd better have Cheez-Its. I want my blood back if they don't.

About five minutes into my good deed, the butcher checked on the blood baggie. "Hmm... it's stopped flowing." she frowned. "Maybe I can adjust it..." Push. Pull. Yank. Twist. Nothing. She called another nurse over.
"Needle's clogged" she said. "Has to come out. At least you got half a bag."
"Can you actually use half a bag?" I asked.
She wrapped up my arm. "Ah, not really. No. Sorry."

Bad Namowal: Ha! You wasted an hour and got your arm jackhammered to extract blood that's going down a drain. You and your good deeds!

Looking back, it wasn't a total loss. They blood guys still let me have a bag of Cheez-Its. Nothing shuts up Bad Namowal like Cheez-Its.

Friday, January 12, 2007

How was Rehab? (the stroke, part 12)

I'm back at home, back at work.
Most people didn't know what happened- how my mom was hospitalized for a stroke, recovered in a rehab hospital (where I sometimes stayed over to keep her company), and how until recently it took both my dad and I to keep her out of trouble.
Most co-workers don't know what happened. I kept my mouth shut except for a few friends. The two or three who did know asked me for updates.
"Hey Namowal!" one guy said. "How was rehab?"
I almost replied "How'd you find out about that?" until it hit me that he was kidding around, as if I'd returned from drug rehab. Had I said that, I'd have "admitted" to cooling my heels in a dry out clink. In front of a bunch of coworkers. That would have been... awkward.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Happy Quakeversery

I took this pic on a flight from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. It's where the San Bernardino Mountains meet the desert. Note how linier the boundery is. That's because the San Andreas Fault devides the two.
150 years ago this month, it ripped itself a new one. Known as the Fort Tejon Quake, it measured 7.9 to 8 on the Richter scale and may have been more powerful than the 1906 San Fransisco shake up. Centered in cenral California, it cracked the ground for 200 miles. Rivers slid off course (in one case, backwards). Waves threw fish from lakes. Trees uprooted. Near the epicenter the fault moved thirty feet.
The death count? Only two (known). Almost nobody lived near the epicenter. In 1857 it was the middle of nowhere. The few who did live nearby had bizarre stories to tell.
Lots of people live in the danger area now. Parkfield, Wrightwood, Palmdale and possibly San Bernardino are in for a beating if that quake repeats itself. And I can't be to smug- the southern leg of the San Andreas (including this picture) hasn't jumped for centuries. Plus, like a crime boss, it has a network of underlings running through Los Angeles to help wreak the place.
Excuse me while I put on my crash helmet.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Your Lights Are On

It's happened. Christmas has oozed into January. I knew it had leaked backwards into October, but the January breach caught me off guard. It's almost the middle of the month and I'm still seeing wreaths, bows, reindeer, Santa, snowmen and lights. An occasional inflatable ornament too, although some lie flat. I can understand leaving the decor out through January first, or even the fifth if you want to do the epiphany thing, but what's up with lighting up your house on the eighth? Are they a head start for this year?
It's not that I hate decorations. It's a marginal utility thing. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are nice to look at too, but only for so long. I'd rather look at my own severed head with a bad haircut than see those two again.
The light thing puzzles me most. I understand leaving the ribbons and garlands up a bit long- it takes time to take that stuff down. But the lights? Leave them up all year if you want, but why, oh why are you turning them on in the middle of January?
If you leave your car lights on you get a buzzer or a voice telling you to turn them off. Maybe Christmas lights should be equipped that way. Turn them on off season and you get a recording:
Ding Ding! "It's January eighth and your lights are on."

*apologies to Karen Lise Klein for ripping off I mean borrowing her light photo trick.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Evil Hamsters

There are two kinds of hamsters. Good Hamsters are mellow and like being handled. As long as they're not abused, they're gentle.
Then there's Evil Hamsters. Attack Hamsters. The ones who think fingers are chew toys. Hold a treat in front of an Evil Hamster and he'll ignore it and bite you.
One I worked at a pet store. It was an animal-friendly* place where cages, water dishes and food bowls were scrubbed daily. Sick animals were treated by a vet. Even disabled creature s were cared for, even though they wouldn't sell. Only one creature wasn't welcome: Evil Hamster
I met my first one when I cleaned his cage. The other hamsters let me gently scoop them into a temporary cage, but Evil Hamster had other plans. He pierced my finger with his teeth and bit down, hard.
My boss saw the blood. Whenever he encountered an Evil Hamster, he explained, he let it go in an overgrown park behind the shop. Oddly, there were never Evil Rats or Evil Mice. Not even an Evil Guinea Pig. Just hamsters. Every few weeks a new one got the boot, joining his Evil brothers in the city wilderness.
The shop is long gone, but I wonder about those hamsters. Since only the nastiest of the nasty were let go, there's probably one vicious hamster colony in that park. Maybe they've got tougher and meaner over the generations. Do they ambush picnickers? Pounce on joggers and drag them to their death? The next time I have to drive by that park I think I'll take a detour. It'd be real embarrassing to have to explain to my insurance that a band of hamsters hijacked my car.
*Unlike many pet stores in the early 1990s, this one disliked puppy mills and refused to sell dogs. They sold a few kittens, but only unwanted ones from shelters.

Friday, January 05, 2007

That's Macaroni Salad! (The Stroke, part 11)

My Dad, my brother and I are word manglers. When we're talking, sometimes the wrong words come out. Nothing's officially "wrong" with us. Everyone screws up words now and then and we're within the normal range, just close to the edge.
For example, my dad looks at our grapefruit tree and remarks about all the onions on it. I'll say something's "full" when I mean "empty", or refer to the refrigerator as the sofa.* Yes, I know the difference between a refrigerator and a sofa, but I open my yap and the wrong word flies out. We're not constantly doing this. Just enough to get the occasional odd look or the "being on something" accusation.
My mom was articulate one. The one who corrected our flubs. Then her stroke screwed with her speech. At first she couldn't say anything. Then came words that made little sense. To add to her frustration, my dad and I didn't make much sense either. Household conversations sounded like Abbot and Costello's "Who's on first"
Namowal's Mom (wants to say we need to go to the hardware store): We need to get, you know, the thing you wrap around your neck, a tie- no wait, not that. We need to go to the place across the street from Ralph's.

Namowal (wants to say the shop down the highway): Oh, you mean the shop down the sideway?
Namowal's Dad (wants to say hardware store): You mean the houseware store?

In spite of this nonsense, her speech improved. The other day we were in a restaurant and my dad returned from the salad bar with a plate of macaroni salad.
Namowal's Dad: I got myself some spaghetti.

Namowal's Mom: That? That's macaroni salad!
This was good. She'd turned another corner. She's correcting us again.
*I really said this a few days ago. I suppose I should be glad I'm not putting milk in the sofa and sitting on the fridge.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Bumper Stickers

I don't understand bumper stickers. Who cares where I've been, who my alma mater is, what I or whom I voted for. Some are funny, but it's the automotive equivalent of wearing the same funny T-shirt day after day. The joke gets old.
I really don't understand the political and controversial ones. Who changes their mind on an issue because of a bumper sticker? Who thinks, Hmmm, that's a swell slogan. I guess I was wrong all along? If anything, someone who disagrees with my sticker will think I'm a fool, a jerk, perhaps a fascist. If he happens upon my message in a parking lot he may feel morally obligated to slash my tires.
Then again, a bad joke or a tacky banner from a radio station might elicit damage too.
This chart sums up how bumper stickers appear to their target audience.
You have been warned.