Thursday, March 27, 2014

You Look Like My Father, Who's in Heaven

I was sitting in the Mosaic tonight waiting for my cazuela when I noticed a couple approaching my table. They were leaving, but had veered toward me—a tallish Mexican guy, not bad-looking, and his slightly whorishly-dressed companion. The guy, who looked to be in his mid-forties, walked behind my chair and leaned over. “You look like my father, who’s in heaven,” he said. “I’m buying your dinner tonight, my friend.” And with that he pushed a fifty-dollar bill under the salsa bowl. He stuck out his hand, which I shook, but I barely had time to say “Wow, thanks” before he was gone.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

What Is Your Favorite Book?

I have trouble with the question. The book that gave me the greatest pleasure on first reading was The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and maybe that’s the one I should choose. It is also the book, along with Pride and Prejudice, The Odyssey, and Hamlet, that I’ve most often reread. Going back to a book again and again might qualify it as a favorite, though in these cases, except for the Sherlock Holmes, the rereading was for my teaching of these books. Another way to choose a favorite might be the desert island choice: if I could take only one book it would be the works of Shakespeare. If I could take two, the second one might be Don Quixote. Okay, there are six favorites. Here are forty-four more, in no particular order. Tomorrow's list might be different.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Six Easy Pieces
Death Comes for the Archbishop
Alice in Wonderland
Swann’s Way
Civilization and Its Discontents
Archy and Mehitabel
Richard Wilbur’s Poems
Endangered Pleasures
The World of Mr. Mulliner
The Killer Angels
How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time
Montaigne’s Essays
The Screwtape Letters
Drink to Yesterday and
A Toast to Tomorrow
The Maltese Falcon
A Moveable Feast
Falling Through Space
A High Wind in Jamaica
Gargantua and Pantagruel
Treasure Island
Cry the Beloved Country
Gulliver’s Travels
Master and Commander
A Shropshire Lad
Pogo, volume 1
Poetic Meter and Poetic Form
The Moonstone
South Wind
The Importance of Being Earnest
Flannery O’Connor’s Stories
The Chronicles of Clovis
The Odes of Keats
Fathers and Sons
The Bookshop
The Origin of Species
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
The Oresteia
Tristram Shandy

Friday, February 7, 2014

Trendy Word

Tranche seems to be a trendy word. It means slice or portion, though why it should be preferable to those words or part, piece, chunk, hunk, bit, section, division, third, fourth... or whatever, is not clear. It comes in through finance talk, where it has been in use to signify a portion of a loan or deal, a piece of money, a section of capital. The noun turns into a verb and more commonly a participle: tranching is a process of dividing a deal into separate liens or timed disbursements, bonds into classes, and so on.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Oysters Mosca

Across the river on the Sunshine Bridge from New Orleans is Mosca's, a little roadside restaurant that can fill your car with the aroma of garlic even if you blow by at sixty. After some experiment over the years, David Earnest and Kathy and I believe we have recreated their signature menu item, a baked oyster dish simply called Oysters Mosca.  Here it is:

Oysters (a dozen per person), shucked, with half their water carefully sieved)
1-1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1-1/2 sticks of butter or a combination of butter and olive oil
1 large or two medium onions coarsely chopped
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
3 cloves garlic, more if you like, minced
Parsley, chopped, if available
Juice of ½ lemon
Pepper & salt to taste
Cayenne pepper

Melt the butter and sauté onions until soft, not brown. Then add the garlic and mushrooms and sauté a few minutes more. Add bread crumbs, lemon and oyster water.  A little more moistening might be needed.  Cook for a few minutes and add salt, pepper, parsley, cayenne pepper to taste. Spread the oysters in a single layer on the bottom of a baking dish, cover with the bread crumb mixture, and bake in a 400° pre-heated oven for 10-15 minutes.

Serves 4
     The key to this dish is the amount of moisture. You may like it moist; Mosca's serves it with the oysters just done but the bread crumb mixture dry. But you can't achieve this result by cooking it longer, since that will ruin the oysters. You will have to experiment, and that's the fun. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014


I have an electric toothbrush that indicates how long I should continue to brush. It pauses briefly every thirty seconds; then at the end of two minutes its motor stutters to tell me I've done enough. I do this twice a day, and this morning I realized for the first time that every two weeks I'm spending an hour brushing my teeth, or, to put it in a more depressing way, every year I spend an entire day--24 hours--doing nothing but standing in front of a sink with a toothbrush in my mouth. Maybe I should spend less time brushing. Wouldn't regaining half a day be worth two or three more hours in the dentist's chair?
     This train of thought is much too gloomy to pursue. How much time waiting for lights to turn green? Washing coffee cups? Buttoning, unbuttoning, or trying to get the damned bottom parts of the zipper engaged?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

You Are Not Your Job

I have been thinking about those who genuinely find their identites in their work--artists of all sorts, missionaries, people with a calling to heal in some way--versus those who just can't seem to stop thinking about the office and bring it home. Identifying with your job can be dangerous: some people die within months of retiring because of it. Others are just annoying, and my pet peeve here is the professor who remains pedantic in his private life--too close to home for this ex-professor.
     So I did some thinking with a pencil and a calculator about just how much of our lives is work. If you are fortunate enough to have a full-time job and also fortunate enough to be able to live on just one job, this is how it breaks down. If you begin full-time work at twenty years of age, work a forty-hour week fifty weeks a year until retirement at sixty-five, and live until you are eighty, you will spend LESS THAN 15% of your time on earth at work. Even if you go to work at fifteen and work until you die, you'll still be spending fewer than 20% of your hours at work. Even in a work year, only 2,000 of the 8,760 hours are spent at work. You are not your job.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Getting Beyond the ABCs

            “Eddyville Ground, this is Cessna Four Four Romeo Papa with Information Lima at the terminal, ready for taxi.”
            “Four Romeo Papa, taxi to Runway Six Right, left on Delta, right on Charlie, left on Foxtrot, hold short of Runway Three Three.”
            This conversation uses the communications alphabet, also called the phonetic or radio alphabet, for clear and unambiguous radio exchanges.  Hundreds of such exchanges occur every day, and aviation traffic is safer because of this universally understood ABC.  But as businesslike and matter-of-fact as the radio alphabet seems, a closer look shows it is packed with history, romance, mythology, literature, and the lure of faraway places.
            The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), an agency of the United Nations, adopted the communications alphabet in 1952.  Soon NATO, our own armed forces, and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) also adopted the alphabet.  For the U. S. Army and Navy, it replaced the Able Baker Charlie Dog Easy alphabet familiar from WWII movies.  The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) specifies in Chapter 4-2-7 that the ICAO phonetic alphabet be used by pilots.  The version printed there is actually the ITU alphabet, which uses Alfa instead of Alpha (Spanish pilots might be tempted to say Al-pa) and Juliett instead of Juliet (so French pilots won’t say Jool-ee-ay).
            Although there seems to be a solid American base to the alphabet, with homely names like Charlie and Mike as well as the patriotic Yankee, we also get hints of the more cosmopolitan.  You may be figuring weights and balance in pounds, but Kilo is a reminder that there are other measures—in Lima, for instance, or Quebec, or all over India.
            As for history, Alpha and Delta are taken straight from the Greek alphabet, only a step removed from an earlier form of writing using stylized pictures, or pictographs.  Alpha, for example, derives ultimately from the Hebrew aleph, which meant ox.  Just turn the capital A upside down to see the ox’s head.
            Romeo and Juliet, of course, are Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, children of two feuding families in the Italian city of Verona.  In the Greek myth, Echo was the nymph who loved the self-absorbed youth Narcissus, pining away until only her voice remained.  And could Papa be Hemingway?
            There’s a whiff of the getaway vacation in Hotel and Golf, and the alphabet suggests a taste of nightlife: have a Whiskey and dance the Foxtrot.  If you can manage the more exotic Tango, you might prompt a “Bravo!” from the spectators. 
            So the next time you use the familiar letters of the radio alphabet, think of its cosmopolitan cultural background.  From its Greek beginnings in Alpha to the African zest of Zulu, this bunch of letters gets past the simple ABCs!