Culture Guerrilla

I’m really not a culture snob, or not much of one.

I don’t want to have my favorite things be obscure, it’s just that I have obscure tastes and enthusiasms. I actually get quite excited when things I like get popular, since there aren’t that many things that do. “My Name Is Earl” was the probably the most recent pop phenom that I endorsed with full fervor, but that’s since bit the dust, so I’m feeling ungrounded when it comes to TV of late.

That being said, I do have to admit that few things have made me grieve more for the soul of my Nation than those sad, dark nights when I forgot to take reading material to the gym, and realized that the only things left lying around the treadmills or spin cycles were piles of celebrity magazines. I picked a couple of them up thinking “Well, how bad could they be? They will certainly make the workout go faster, right?” Nope. They were far worse than I thought they might be, and it felt like time stopped as my brain seized in the face of the overwhelming vapidness, crassness and stupidity that filled them.

So it occurred to me that maybe I should try to shine a small candle of intelligence and taste into the cesspool of celebrity idiocy and reality show freaks that the gym magazine rack offers. I started by leaving my own copies of The Economist magazine when I finished with them. They are a good spot smarter than the latest issue of (I Wish They Were Friends of) Us or People (Who Would Ignore Me If I Saw Them on The Street), I figured.

And then I stepped it up a notch: I left my copy of the 33 1/3 series of books about Steely Dan’s Aja album. It’s a little, interesting book about a big, important album, filled with taste, style and intelligence. I figure if anything can repulse the forces of fake, shallow, hebetude that our pop culture inflicts upon us, then Aja most certainly must be that thing. In fact, the world as a whole would be a better place if more people asked themselves What Would Don and Walt Do?, rather than trying to figure out how to get reality shows by stuffing their uteri with babies or pretending to launch the ones that already fell out of them into space.

While I haven’t actually seen anyone reading the Aja book yet, I have spotted it in a variety of different places next to a variety of different pieces of equipment, so it’s being carried around the gym, if not actually digested. But as long as it’s there, I will feel good thinking that somebody, someday, opted to read about the chord progressions in “Deacon Blues” rather than reading about some couple of simpering idiots called Branjovi or Catapelt or Benjaweesie, because the pop culture media assumes our attention spans are too short to actually read both of their empty, meaningless names in their entirety.

Okay. So maybe I am a culture snob.

Greatest Album Cover Ever?


Miles Davis and Horns, a disc released in 1956, culled from a pair of sessions in the early ’50s, and featuring the first recorded collaboration between Miles and Sonny Rollins. Which is interesting, but not quite as much so as the album cover, a truly bizarre (especially for its era, especially for the music it presents) illustration, in a shocking color scheme, that takes several viewings before you really figure out what you’re looking at. Then, once you get your head around the image (legs!), you get to have it exploded again when someone informs you that the cover was drawn by cartoonist Don Martin, a decade before he made his mark with Mad magazine. While Martin’s distinctive “hinged” bodies were already fully formed at this point (a great touch, to me: all the runners’ wrists hinge vertically, except for #21 in the front, whose hands splay out to his sides), he apparently left the sound effects up to Miles and company, since there’s nary a FOINSAPP, POIT, SIZAFITZ or GISHGLORK to be seen (or heard) on this album. Pity, though I still consider this be a (silent) masterpiece of modern graphic design.

Food, (Less Than) Glorious Food

Two things about it . . .

pr1. Where has all the Puffed Rice gone? Long time passing. Where has all the Puffed Rice gone? Long time ago. I’m a huge fan of this cheap, filling, low-calorie, low-taste breakfast cereal, either in the big red Quaker boxes, or the generic bags of it that most grocery stores carry. But I’ve had a problem lately: for some reason, the two grocery stores where I shop have stopped carrying any kind of Puffed Rice. So I need to know if you can still find it at your grocery store, or whether I need to find some secret online source for bulk ordering. And if it’s all gone, then I need to know why. Explosion at the puffing plant? Rice weevils run amok? This mystery must be solved.

2. I’ve written about my love for diners before, and have a rotation of several in the Capital Region that I hit on regular basis. My standard order is a grease group masterpiece comprised of a grilled cheese sandwich on rye bread, with a side of link sausages. There’s a stunning variety of experiences possible within that seemingly simple order: different tastes and textures of sausage, different thicknesses of bread, whether it is seedless or seeded rye, how melted the cheese is, what type of cheese is used (pasteurized American cheese food product is the proper ingredient, though it’s up to you as to whether you use the orange or the white kind), how dark the bread is grilled, whether there are sides provided with the sandwich (I deduct many points if you put cole slaw and/or a pickle on my plate and either of them touches my sandwich, and I will eat potato chips if you give them to me, but I am happier if you do not), etc. etc. etc. You can go to the same diner two days in a row and have a completely different grilled cheese and sausage experiences. So I am happy to report that I’ve had a couple of nearly definitive breakfast experiences over the past couple of weeks at the Metro 20 Diner in Guilderland: thick, seeded rye, grilled dark, oozy white American cheese, no chips, no slaw, no pickle, and two firm links of mildly-flavored sausage that crunch when you bite into them. Bravo!

Bad Blogger

You’d think that the unusual confluence of being a college employee, parent of a college student, and college grad student myself would give me all sorts of interesting perspectives and insights into the experience of higher education in America with which to fill my blog. And, actually, you’d be right in thinking such things. The only problem is, that combination creates such a strain on both time and mental resources that all of those perspectives and insights generally stay stuck in my head, since it’s hard to get excited about sitting in front of my blog admin page during those rare moments when I have some time on my hands. So sorry to be a crappy correspondent of late. It’ll all come gushing out at some point.

In other news: I wish I didn’t know how to spell plantar fasciitis. It feels as bad as it sounds.

In other, other news: the girl is home from college this weekend for the first time. It feels as good as it sounds.

In other, other, other news: Go Marcia’s Twinkies! Go Nico’s Rockies! Boo, major market behemoths! (I’m looking at you, Yankees and Dodgers).

Hello, Shelter Island

Not the lovely spot between the North and South Forks of Long Island (where I went to summer camp, decades and decades ago), but rather another meteorite on the surface of Mars, spotted by Rover Opportunity, which is checking out all sorts of amazingly cool stuff on its way to Crater Endeavor. Opportunity’s sister rover, Spirit, is likely never going to roll again, bogged down as she is in high sand in the Troy site near the Home Plate Plateau, so it’s delightful to have at least one of our friendly neighborhood robots making good time and distance, and finding excellent stuff while doing it, on the surface of Barsoom. It awes me to see another world looking like something you might encounter in the deserts of the American southwest (only 200 degrees colder). Huttah, Opportunity!