I save coupons from packets of tea

Tuesday was a marginal evening: if I’d felt any worse, I would not have gone to jiu-jitsu. As it is, I still ended up taking an open-handed biff to the head and a shot to the gut in the course of scrapping that evening. Not to mention the eight to ten chokes that were demonstrated on me in various positions, plus one cross-collar strangle that I had to take an aspirin for the next morning. But the beauty of our school is that when you take a slap to the head, the attacker immediately asks, You all right? And I was, and I said so. My own fault anyway, not putting up a block. Plus – I learned some key stuff that I needed for defending against multiple attackers. So the class was definitely worth it, as they usually are.

Anyhow, forty minutes earlier: I’m in my apartment, munching some snacks to boost my energy and staring into the open cabinet I’ve just taken them out of. I’m reading the ingredients on the loaf of Multigrain 100% Whole Wheat Bread that I’d bought at the Shaw’s five days earlier, because I have a busy mind and my eyes needed something to occupy them. Whole wheat bread, the kind I use four slices of to make sandwiches for lunch every day. Multigrain; more than one grain; grains being Good For You, as every American student of the food pyramid could tell you. Probably the best cheap bread I could buy in a chain supermarket.


Shaw’s Multigrain 100% Whole Wheat bread has 100mg of sodium per slice and contains high fructose corn syrup. God damn it. So with four slices in two sandwiches, not counting what goes between them, that’s already 400mg. And high fructose corn syrup. Damn it all. I don’t eat greasy corn chips, I have maybe one soda a week, I drink water or milk with most meals and I still can’t get away from high fructose corn syrup. It’s not the health implications that bother me – I’ve been ingesting it for years and I’m fine – so much as the feeling of being stalked. I don’t feel that I need to cut HFCS out of my diet. But I’d like to know that I could. I’d like to know that the greasy fingers of Archer Daniels Midland aren’t stroking my hair as I wander the aisle of my favorite chain supermarket, steering my head towards its preferred breads, baked goods and gelatins. I’d like to know that, if the doctor told me tomorrow to expel HFCS from my life, I wouldn’t be limited to an index card worth of food. I fear an unlikely future of asparagus, rice cakes and apple sauce with a farmer and a sunrise and some synonym for Promise on the can. I’m all lost in the supermarket; I can no longer shop happily.


I’m giving you a haircut, walking to the sushi bar

Good news, everyone: I’ve discovered I like sushi.

My first hint that I might enjoy a food I’d written off as pretentious, weird or just inaccessible for so many years came at Hawver’s wedding. He served raw tuna steak, which tasted delicious. This planted a seed in the back of my mind: the idea that raw fish could taste good (what the hell is this, Thomas Friedman’s op-ed column? fish growing from seeds? fix this before you publish).

Visiting Baltimore for Thanksgiving, my old pal Liz B. took me to XS on the outskirts of Baltimore. I ordered the chef’s Sushi Sampler, as it looked standard and unintimidating. It wasn’t until the platter arrived, stuffed with tuna rolls and sashimi, that I made my confession.

“I’ve never had sushi before,” I explained.


“I never got around to it. It’s one of those things I felt you had to try at a certain age or else it was too late to cultivate a taste for it. Like reading Catcher in the Rye.”

Liz was a perfect tutor, giving me just the right combination of coaching and tips to let me discover on my own. And it was all good! Tuna rolls: fantastic! California rolls: still good! Whitefish sashimi: loved it! Shrimp sashimi: incredible!

“Take a little bit of ginger,” she suggested. “Just a tiny sliver. Hold it in your mouth but don’t chew it yet. It’s very potent.”

Since then, I’ve hunted for more opportunities to find and eat sushi. When Misch and I grabbed lunch on Monday, I passed up my usual heaping mound of chicken teriyaki for a sushi platter. It came in a densely-packed plastic bento with a pair of chopsticks that splintered as I pulled them apart. And the soy sauce was a little too tangy for my liking. But I ate everything on the plate and loved it.

I would even have grabbed a sushi takeout dinner from a deli on Mass Ave on Tuesday night, but they didn’t look very tightly sealed.

Why do I like sushi so much? Yes, yes, it’s healthy, fish tastes good, new and exotic taste expanding my consciousness, etc. But what I really love about sushi is the texture. A well-formed tuna roll blends al dente, firm and chewy textures into a single morsel. It yields to the teeth and then dissolves into sticky bits of rice with a meaty center. My mouth has no idea what’s going on.

The guys at The Second Glass said that a good glass of wine should appeal to all the senses: taste, sure, but smell, vision and even the fluidity of its feel. I think sushi appeals to me in the same way. There’s the perfect tessellation of tiny rolls in a bento box, with everything arranged just so. There’s the wide variety of tastes. There’s the mixture of sensations. The meal does more than fill me; it engages me.

So: I like sushi. If only I lived in a country where it were readily available.

iceland part two

General impressions of Reykjavik:

  • More Like NIceland: Everyone I met in Reykjavik was cordial. Not quite friendly and outgoing, the way you’d get in the American South, but civil and helpful. Mix a laidback eagerness to please with the inherent stoicism that comes from any cold-weather climate, and you get an Icelander. I stumbled stepping off a curb and a complete stranger asked, “You okay?” The cute blonde at the coffee shop rattled off a list of suggestions when I asked for a good place to go dancing. One in three cars I saw on the street had all its doors unlocked. And everyone speaks English.

    At least once a day.  Every day.  Just like this.

    At least once a day. Every day. Just like this.

  • Weather: Every day, you’d get 45 to 90 minutes worth of blizzard. Then the sun would come out. Then it would rain – sometimes light spitting, sometimes a steady downpour. Then overcast. Then sun. Then, perhaps, more snow. You get odd little patterns like these when you live between the North Atlantic and the world’s quota of glaciers.

  • Food. Pricey. Everything on Iceland other than fish, lamb, hot water and light beer needs to be imported. Since I didn’t fly three thousand miles to experience Reykjavik’s notion of a cheeseburger, I ate seafood for most meals. Lunch on Saturday was fish and chips, and the fish had that sinus-filling freshness that suggested they’d been in the sea the other day. Saturday dinner: plokkfiskur at a restaurant called Boston – a fish “stew” that’s served like a plate of mashed potatoes.

    I asked the waitress at Cafe Paris what the fish of the day was for lunch on Sunday. She looked up for a moment, searching for words in her head. “Hot dog,” she replied, in the heaviest accent I heard that weekend.

    “No, sorry – the fish of the day.”

    She nodded, turning to double-check on the chalkboard at the front of the restaurant. I followed her gaze. “Had-dock” was, indeed, the fish of the day.

    Iceland just can't get enough of these above-average hot dogs.

    Iceland just can't get enough of these above-average hot dogs.

  • Actual Hot Dog: Apparently, hot dogs (or pylsur) are a big deal in Iceland. I saw the longest line that I saw for any establishment – including the nightclubs I visited on Saturday – outside a one-man hot dog stand on the Reykjavik harbor. In the snow. The hot dogs taste pretty good, but the toppings make the difference. Icelanders order their pylsi with a creamy remoulade. You wouldn’t think a hot dog lacked for something sweet but it really ties the package together.

  • Beer: If you want to drink the local brew, know these three brands: Viking (like Budweiser, but with flavor instead of water); Gull (a bit hoppy for my taste but still solid) and Thule (which I didn’t try). These are all golden-colored lagers with hearty taste. You can also find Guinness on tap nearly everywhere.

    Apotek before things heated up.

    Apotek before things heated up.

    Clubs: As with other cities in Europe, the nightclub scene in Reykjavik doesn’t really start until midnight, and doesn’t really start until 2:00 AM or so. I ended up killing a lot of hours in coffeeshops until the night scene picked up. Though you have your choice of fine dancing establishments, I bounced between Cafe Paris and Apotek from midnight onward.

    In Apotek, a stringy-haired elf of a man snatched a scarf off a girl and taunted her with it as she tried to grab it back. She called the bouncer, who remonstrated with the guy until finally tossing him out. The miscreant dragged his weight, clinging to a railing in the end to keep from being thrown outside.

    This didn’t kill my mood, though. I danced until 4:00 AM, hopping on a bench with a bunch of strangers to lord my gangly might over the crowd. This being Europe, I recognized almost none of the songs. That never hurt me, though.

hunger hurts, but starving works

GYAARRGH,” I yelled. “How do they expect people to work under these conditions? It’s stupid! This is insane!”

A slice of Upper Crust pizza appeared in my hand – spinach, mozzarella, feta, garlic, no sauce. I ate it in about two bites. Then I ate another, slowly.

“Huh,” I mumbled through a full mouth. “Actually, this shouldn’t be too hard. Let me just check some numbers and get back to you …”

Despite living with myself for nearly twenty-eight years, I still get amazed at how much little things affect my mood. Hunger’s high on that list. If I’m really hungry, I start snapping instead of speaking. My face defaults into a frown rather than a neutral state. I judge everything put before me in the most critical terms possible. No one’s moving fast enough or sitting quietly enough for my taste.

This isn’t shocking, of course. No one operates well when they’re hungry, or tired, or itching all over. I bring it up, however, for two reasons:

  1. I usually ignore the symptoms of hunger – up to a point. I don’t like taking time out of my day to eat. Walking to the kitchen and spending ten minutes preparing a sandwich? To hell with that. You know how much work I could do in ten minutes? My body takes the hint and represses its hunger pangs, quietly leeching protein and glucose from backup stores (my arms, my brain, etc) until I become a feverish ghoul.

  2. As a recovering hard rationalist, I still hold the output of my brain in very high regard. I’m fascinated by what comes out of my brain. I trust my brain. Up until the point where I can’t, anyway.

    The problem: I’m just as certain of the judgments I make when I’m hungry as I am of the judgments I make when full. Hell, I’m usually more certain – once I skip one meal and the second comes late, it’s all dire pronouncements from the ivory tower. When I’m hungry, the people around me are idiots. When I’m not hungry, the people around me are human beings with different agendas.

    If the judgments I make when I’m hungry are false, what makes the judgments I make when I’m not hungry true? What makes my full stomach the “correct” baseline, objectively speaking?

    I can’t always trust what I’m thinking. For most people, that’s a fact to acknowledge and plan around (“I should probably bring a snack, in case we don’t eat for a while”). For me, that’s deeply disturbing.

“I’m human after all” sounds like one of those realizations I should have come to as a teenager. Add that to “sometimes you hurt people, even with the best intentions” and “the audacity of your dreams is no guarantee of your success.” One of these days I might actually grow up.

street lights, people

Reading the news makes you stupid:

The study, released this week in the journal Obesity, suggests that by the year 2030, nearly every American will be overweight or obese.

Currently, figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the prevalence of obesity in adults at about 66 percent. But lead study author Dr. Youfa Wang of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore says that if current overweight and obesity trends continue, 86 percent of Americans could be overweight or obese by the year 2030.

Even more troubling, the authors note, “By 2048, all American adults would become overweight or obese.”

If you ever wonder whether someone does Real Science or Play Science, look for words like all, none, always, never in their press releases.

I suppose it must be exciting, living in a world where scientitians can predict with confidence what the American social order will be like in 40 years. I know I sure couldn’t. I would imagine that most Americans living 40 years ago – meaning, the summer of 1968 – would not have predicted that a black man would have a serious shot at upsetting a three-term U.S. Senator for the Presidency. I don’t think anyone in the pre-Apollo 11 era could have predicted the cellular phone, the desktop computer, the iPod, the hybrid car, Viagra or DVDs. I doubt anyone contemporary to Vietnam could have predicted Watergate, the Iranian hostage crisis, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Whitewater hearings, the razing of the World Trade Center or the Colts leaving Baltimore.

But that guy! Man, that guy has it figured out!

I present a short list of things that could end the obesity “epidemic” any time in the next 40 years:

  • Congress cuts back on or repeals sugar and corn subsidies, damming the flood of high fructose corn syrup down America’s gaping gullet;
  • Gas prices decline to the point that Americans can indulge in the luxury of “eating local” – that’s right, eating local does not reduce your carbon footprint – thus consuming more leafy greens.
  • A scandal on par with Enron shakes the Coca-Cola corporation, savaging the cola products market.
  • A mutated pox wipes out swaths of genetically engineered corn across the U.S.
  • Dow Chemical discovers an easily reproduced substitute for sodium, the most common food preservative.
  • An outbreak of Mad Cow disease scares America off of beef for 3 to 5 years.
  • All the currently “obese” people die off.
  • Nuclear holocaust? Alien invasion? The Second Coming? Really, anything.
Anyone who tells you with confidence what will happen forty years from now has just lied to you. Treat them as you would any other liar.

Edit: As several folks reminded me, you can easily guarantee all of America will be obese in 2048 by simply changing the definition of obesity.

a man in my shoes runs the light

Vivid dreams of marriage and work last night. If it weren’t a Friday I’d be worried.

# # #

Went out to lunch with a client on Wednesday and consumed my month’s quota of cheese. Tequenos and queso a la plancha as appetizers; chorizo quesadilla for the entree. I felt irregularly massed for the rest of the afternoon.

# # #

The Red Sox decision to trade a guy who beat up his coworkers sure has attracted a lot of debate!

# # #

I put some serious thought into applying for work as a bouncer yesterday. I could make some extra cash, meet some interesting people. Plus – and this has bothered me for a while – for all my vaunted self-defense training, another human being has never taken a swing at me in anger. I don’t think Palahniuk’s Fight Club glistens with pearls of wisdom, but not knowing everything about yourself until you get in a fight holds true. Especially if you teach other people how to fight once a week.

Then I remembered I don’t have any free time, and the kind of drunken assholes I’d have to associate with, and the whim passed me by.

# # #

Consider the following investment portfolio:

  • 75% in VEU (Vanguard’s All World Except US ETF – an international index fund);
  • 20% in VDE (Vanguard’s Energy Index Fund);
  • 5% in SPDR Barclays Capital TIPS ETF (an inflation-indexed bond fund)
After much deliberation, I will probably buy those this weekend. Don’t you run out and buy them all up just to drive the prices higher, you twenty or so people who read this.

luck, let a gentleman see

After getting the oil changed and the gas tank filled ($65, a new record), I picked up RJ and Mark to drive down to Foxwoods on Thursday afternoon. We made good time, despite some slowdowns on 95 South, and the Toyota only shuddered a few times. We pulled into the Bellissimo Grande about twenty minutes after Melissa and Fraley.

I checked in up front, gloating about the low rate I’d snagged to Mark and RJ. “Apparently, they started counting July 3rd as a holiday weekend just after I locked in my rate,” I told them.

They looked at the tally and did some math. “I’ll pay you back after we hit up the casino,” RJ said.

The guy behind the counter chuckled. “That’s what they all say.”

Fraley pointed this out later: as nice a place as the B.G. was, it and all the other hotels in a ten-mile radius really exist as satellites of Foxwoods. You don’t go there for a quiet getaway or for Connecticut’s rural ambience; you go there because it’s cheaper than the Grand Pequot or the brand new MGM. So they all have largely similar prices and compete on perks and amenities. The B.G. offered free appetizers for all guests – RJ, Mark and I split a cheese platter – and a complimentary shuttle to the casino.

While waiting for that shuttle, Melissa, Fraley and I sat in the lobby and listened to the world’s worst player piano. Seriously. Imagine an easily distracted ten-year-old plunking her way through the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack. The hotel also boasted a very small pool (about the length of my apartment; no deeper than 5 feet) and a spa that none of us patronized.

The Whole Sick CrewThe five of us hustled to the front of the line for the complimentary SUV-limo, as we had dinner reservations and couldn’t wait for the second pass. Older vacationers riding with us oohed and aahed over the first view of Foxwoods, which really does impress. The Mashantucket Pequot have preserved a great deal of old growth forest on their lands – partly out of respect, I imagine, and partly to underscore the huge towers of the world’s largest casino. It dwarfs the ancient trees. Once arrived, we navigated the vast concourse to the new MGM at Foxwoods and Craftsteak.

I’m not the type of guy who gets emotional about steak, normally1. But hear me out: Craftsteak elevates the pursuit of steak to classical artwork. After being surrounded by dimly lit dining elegance – a welcome contrast to the buffeting lights and smells of the casino floor – you order appetizers and sides. Spinach au gratin, for instance, along with oyster mushrooms and wagyu beef tartare. That last came with an egg yolk which, when mashed into the casserole and served on a salty potato crisp, merged into a sort of taste mural.

I talked myself into ordering the $52 grass-fed Ohio ribeye; how often do I get to eat grass fed beef? Conferring briefly with the server, she recommended I go medium rare rather than my usual rare. “Grass-fed beef marbles differently than corn fed,” she explained. “You’ll want to let it cook longer to unlock the flavors.” After the appetizers, the beef arrived, with sizzling char lines on the outside, pre-cut into strips in its own serving pan. I forked one out, hands shaking with adrenaline, and took my first bite.

“Wow,” Mark said. “I wish I had my camera.”

18 oz Grass Fed RibeyeFolks, I got emotional over this steak. I mean genuine, misty-eyed, whipped back to my childhood in the hills of France emotional. I don’t think I said anything for a minute or so. I don’t think I could be bothered to chew. I won’t waste time trying to actually describe the steak using clunky, impertinent words – read Calvino’s Under the Jaguar Sun and get back to me – but the reaction alone should explain it all.

I forced myself to take my time over an entire 18-oz steak, working through slow bites and pausing to nibble some sides, and felt content at the end. Not bloated – and only a pound of grass-fed beef will fill you without bloating you – but suffused with the bliss of tender beef, flavorful seasoning and a sweet Cabernet Sauvignon. I paid just over $100 for my portion of the meal and came out ahead of the deal.

After that, the gambling felt like an afterthought. Part two tomorrow.
1 Or anything else, for that matter.