POEM: Ode to Cheese

“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” — G.K. Chesterton



Ah, Mister Chesterton, I must concur.
The Camembert love is lacking, Monsieur!
If there’s a way to make bacon better,
surely it’s smothering it in Cheddar.

On bread and water prisoners endure,
but brie with bread is the height of grandeur.
What, say you, is more addictive than crack?
Just a cracker topped with Monterey Jack.

Yes, poets obsess on love and death,
but you can smell the Roquefort on their breath.
[OK, there’s no budget for Roquefort,
truth is, it’s a canned cheese of some sort.]

POEM: Animal Observations

 sitting on a stone

-grassless

-hopless

and you call yourself a grasshopper!

 

I know I shouldn’t, but I anthropomorphize.

I can’t see this orangutan without hearing the words,

“Ya borin’ me!”

play in my mind

 

parents lunged to cover impressionable eyes,

but someday they will be adults

who wonder about the mechanics

of how baby giraffes get made

 

Dear Flamingos,

Stop hiding your heads.

It freaks out the tourists,

making them think there is a pile of heads in some other corner of the Zoo.

5 Truths to Take You from Tourist to Traveler

If “tourist” and “traveler,” sound like synonyms, you — my friend — are a tourist [or possibly a homebody.]  The distinction is evident to travelers, and if you want to enjoy travel, you need to become a traveler. Otherwise, travel is just an ordeal to get through so you can check some boxes and take some obligatory photos.

 

5.) Travel is miserable for those who are attached to having their food and beverages just so. The food will not be as you are used to. [If this is part of the beauty of travel for you — congratulations, you’re probably a traveler.] Foods and beverages that you consider staples will be completely unheard of, and foods you find bizarre and of dubious edibility will be ubiquitous.

This may sound self-evident, but travelers know what I’m talking about. For they have witnessed the woman at a beachfront cafe in coastal Cambodia send back her milk tea three times with explicit instructions because “it just doesn’t taste the same as in Bristol.” They have heard the rant of a Philadelphian who wonders aloud why he can’t get a decent cheeseburger in Rishikesh.

 

4.) A traveler must be ready to throw out an itinerary and wing it on a moment’s notice. While traveling in Peru many years ago, my wife and I were booked on a bus from Arequipa to Cusco to catch our flight back to the United States. The problem was that a spur of the moment transportation strike made the road to Cusco impassable until the day after our flight home.

After indulging in a bit of a tourist-like tirade about how this doesn’t happen in other countries, we exchanged our tickets to Cusco for tickets to Lima and caught our flight at its layover.

Travel often doesn’t go as expected. While it often feels reassuring to have every hotel night, bus, train, and ferry ride booked ahead of time, sometimes it pays to have some strategic flexibility built into an itinerary. [This isn’t to suggest that one shouldn’t book anything ahead of time. Some people do that, and it’s the mark of the vagabond — an especially flexible variety of traveler — but it’s not without its risk of being stuck somewhere one doesn’t want to be for longer than one wants to be there.]

Here is what I realized: While it can be stressful to have weather, strikes, coups, or industrial-scale accidents mess up your plans, that’s where one gets one’s good stories and learns the high art of adaptability. If that idea mortifies you, you still have work to do. If you can nod your head in appreciation, you’re probably a traveler.

 

3.) Everywhere you go, most people are pretty normal. I realize “normal” is a loaded term that could be taken in all sorts of wrong ways. I’m just saying that the run-of-the-mill people you’ll run across will be polite and share the same kind views about what is appropriate behavior (in a broad sense) as do you. (And, the more one’s mind gets stuck on the fine differences to the contrary, the more likely one is a tourist.)

One mistake that keeps many people from traveling (and makes others book their travel such that they have almost no interaction with the actual foreign population or culture –e.g. cruises and group tours) is selection bias. Tourists overestimate the dangers of places and people because their only exposure to such locales and individuals is via the news, and one never sees “Fruit vendor gives tourist a free rambutan, film at 11” on the nightly news.

Furthermore, people are startlingly bad at geography and often compare what’s going on in other countries, regions, and (famously in the case of Africa) even continents with what’s happening in the area covered by their local newspaper. We’ve had friends express concerns about events happening — not only in another country — but roughly the distance between Orlando and Chicago away from us.

 

2.) Speaking of selection bias, where the tourists hang out in droves is also where you’ll find all the pickpockets, con-artists, and others up to no good (not that there are massive numbers of them) — because that’s where the money and naiveté are most densely packed. So, before you go spouting off about how such-and-such a city was a “crap-hole lined with pure evil,” get away from the tourist areas in order to see how regular folk generally behave.

Ex-pats, often after having experienced many horror stories dealing with tuk-tuk drivers and cabbies, usually find that — out of target-rich environments — it often doesn’t even occur to drivers to try to stick it to foreign passengers.

 

1.) Learning who is trying to manipulate you and who is just interested in you as a foreigner is a skill that can be learned safely and relatively quickly. However, it requires movable shields. Many people, being out of their element, instinctively put up “shields” — a combination of nonverbal communication and impulsive, preemptive “no” responses to any approaching individual. As an introvert, this is something I’ve particularly had to learn to be cognizant of because it tends to be my impulse to strangers approaching me — anywhere. (On top of that, my few years as a cop and many years in the martial arts made me prone to error to an irrational degree on the side of safety and security. Which isn’t to say that one should ever lose awareness or forget about security, but saying, “Move it along, Missy,” to a grandmother who’s asking about the weather in Tennessee because her granddaughter is studying Chemical Engineering at Vanderbilt is a tad… rude.)

Make appropriate eye contact, be aware of who else has taken an interest in you, and — of course — never go anywhere with a stranger (including drivers who approach you,) but it’s not necessary to shut everyone down impulsively (although introverts like me may still do so when drained of energy.)

And another thing, just because you’re in Berlin, Budapest, or some other city you’ve seen in James Bond or Jason Bourne movies doesn’t mean you’re likely to get approached by a secret agent or to be drawn into international intrigue or covert smuggling operations. I, for one, have yet to be.

If you’re still unclear where you fall, here are a few brief parting hints:

  • If anyone has ever offered you food that is still moving of its own volition, and your response was, “Eh, why not?”  You’re probably a traveler.
  • If you’ve ever, in a foreign land, ridden in the part of a vehicle normally reserved for cargo, you are probably a traveler. [Alternatively, if you’ve ridden in the part of a vehicle normally reserved for human passengers, but found yourself seated with livestock, you’re probably a traveler.]
  • If you’ve stumbled into town to find it’s festival time and the only space available is in a manger next to a donkey — Mary & Joseph style — you’re probably a traveler.
  • If too much comfort makes you itchy, you’re probably a traveler.
  • If you’re more afraid of not living than you are of dying, you’re probably a traveler.

POEM: Half a Hundred Hungers

1.) nose hunger happens when you leave the building in the predawn hours and the scent of bacon or baking bread cinches against the stomach

2.) hunger of social convention is when one eats a slice of granny’s pumpkin pie because one can’t be rude, even though one just scarfed down a burrito moments before

3.) the desperate hunger of the lanky kid I once saw in a cafeteria snatching waste food off strangers’ trays as they moved down the tray return conveyor to be washed

4.) eye hunger upon seeing the foodie’s perfect plate: clean, geometric, and heeding the proper balance of white space — though only vaguely looking like food

5.) the savage hunger of bared teeth seen in North Korean villagers when the famine got so bad that people’s bodies self-cannibalized the fatty tissue of their lips

6.) dilemma hunger in which one must decide whether to feed the body or some impulse beyond reason

7.) hunger for affection: a drive to feel loved sometimes expressed through the presentation of cookies and cake

8.) hunger for attention: a drive to be noticed sometimes expressed by how many grapes one can fit in one’s mouth

9.) hunger gone automatic is observed when one’s hand puts a candy  in one’s mouth before one’s conscious mind is even aware one has done so

10.) hunger for oblivion: when one east the poison, knowing it will kick one into the abyss

11.) hunger for comfort is seen when one craves any familiar food

12.) hunger for the exotic is seen when one craves anything but the familiar

13.) sexual hunger is displayed by one who looms over his food, lustily partaking of it while loosing himself in waves of euphoric pleasure

14.) jealous hunger: when one loves a food so much that one suffers pangs of envy upon seeing someone else order it

15.) over-the-hump hunger is the phase of fasting during which one no longer believes one will “literally, die of hunger,” but during which there remains a vague and persistent hunger of which one can be readily distracted

16.) sensational hunger: when a hunger becomes a mere sensation, devoid of value assignment

17.) stupid hunger is experience when the brain says, “no more thinking until I know that blood glucose is rising”

18.) hulking hunger occurs when low blood sugar sends one into furious rants about inane topics such as wallpaper patterns and the sales tax on a pack of chewing gum

19.) empathetic hunger is experienced when you see someone who looks like he is starving, even though you are fully fed

20.) ice cream hunger typically takes place when one is stuffed, but when one is confident that there are voids and crannies in one’s food pile into which the ice cream can melt, and that, furthermore, the cold, creamy goodness will somehow lubricate one’s digestive track to provide a discernible benefit

21.) mineral deficiency hunger: when you see a salt block out for cows or deer and think, “wonder if it’d be alright if I got up on that?” Eww! But seriously, it’s when you’re jonesing for a bag of chips

22.) calculated hunger: when one isn’t hungry but concludes that one should be hungry based on the when and what of ones most recent meal

23.) travel hunger is when you aren’t hungry but you know a sandwich on your budget airline will give you ptomaine and that by the time you get to the hotel you’ll have shifted into hulking hunger [18] — it’s generally a rationalization for having a brownie from the Costa Coffee

24.) breaking bad hunger is the point at which one is so hungry one will resort to thievery

25.)  requited hunger is the rare hunger for foods, such as crocodile, that can be equally hungry for one

There are so many hungers I don’t think I’ve ever known:

thick hungers  [26]

thin hungers [27]

wanton hunger [28] (full disclosure: I’ve had wonton hunger [29], which is a hunger for little Chinese dumplings)

wishful hunger [30]

troublesome hunger [31]

burdensome hunger [32]

wild-eyed hunger [33]

intransigent hunger [34]

there are the unnameable [35] and unknowable [36] hungers that I don’t know whether I’ve experienced and can’t have had, respectively

and there’s dead hunger [37] that I’ve definitely not experienced

there are others that I’ve known:

sweet hunger [38]

sweet and sour hunger [39]

umami hunger [40] but not edamame hunger [41]

42.) forgetful hunger occurs when one was too busy — or distracted — to eat

43.) time contraction hunger is a desire to eat lunch not because one needs calories, but rather because one really wants the workday to be at least half over

44.) homicidal hunger: like “breaking bad hunger” [24] this is the point at which one would murder someone for a french fry

45.) first date hunger happens after one eats that salad designed to create a good impression only to find one is still starving

46.) six-second hunger occurs when you are so hungry that you consider the five-second rule null and void and will eat food off the floor no matter how long it takes you to pick it up

47.) pizza hungry is when you are only hungry for one food — pizza — and will opt not to eat if only other foods are available

48.) “Man vs. Food” hungry: this is not what it might seem. It’s when one is so hungry that one could still eat after having watched an episode of this show — a show which usually shines an ugly light on hedonistic culinary impulses

49.) pet food hungry is the level of hunger sufficient to make one willing to eat pet food

50.) physiological hunger: the urge one has to eat in order to supply calories and nutrients to one’s body

POEM: A Mythical Child of the Corn

Whenever I tell anyone that I grew up on a farm,
I get a certain reaction,

“REALLY?”

As if, of all the lies I could tell, that’s the one I’d pick.

You believed me when I told you I’d met the original Hamburglar,
but not that I grew up on a farm?

[Incidentally, I did meet A Hamburglar, but I’m pretty sure it was a sweaty teenager with limited job prospects.]

I don’t really think these people think I’m a liar.

Perhaps they thought farms are like Conestoga wagons and cave paintings,
quaint reflections of simpler bye-gone days.

Maybe they thought their corn chips were grown in petri dishes in a subterranean factory.

[Bad example. Maybe corn chips are manufactured that way, but I’m pretty sure somewhere there is a hose through which good old Hoosier-grown corn is fed in; maybe it’s just defective kernels that weren’t salable to the makers of feed for hulking Angus cattle, but still…]

Anyhow, I suspect they are just excited to come across someone so rare — if in a workaday way.

It’s nothing like meeting Neil Armstrong or Beyoncé,

but rather like meeting the guy who did Neil Armstrong’s tire alignment or who cleans Beyoncé’s fish tanks.

A mundane superstar.

A mythical child of the corn.

Ninja Nursery Rhymes

Public Domain image from Wikipedia

Ninja be nimble,

Ninja be quick,

Ninja knock you on the noggin with a big stick.

***

Ninja be stealthy… healthy… and wise,

Ninja snatch like a snake, pull out your eyes.

***

Biscuit in a basket,

Ninja put you in a casket.

***

Heading home from the archives,

I met this cat who had five lives.

He’d met four ninja in lives past.

One life was lost in a big blast…

two were stabbed,

and the last one gassed.

Reaching home, ninja at his door,

his lives remaining numbered four.

***

Uh, oh, Ninja,

Have you any heads?

Yes, sir, yes, sir,

Three over in the shed.

One for my Lady,

One for my Lord,

One for the practice,

’cause I got a new sword.

***

Eeny, meeny, miny, egg.

Catch the Shogun by his leg.

If he hollers, make him beg.

Eeny, meeny, miny, egg.

***

Hey, Willie Winkie, you’re making too much noise.

Running around town, checking on girls and boys.

If you’d have done your job, and shut the kid up.

I’d not have had to put Ambien in his juice cup.

***

POEM: The Destroyer



Mighty Fungi, the destroyer,
rending like a divorce lawyer.
There are no bonds you can’t dissolve.
It’s by your graces our world revolves.
Your rap is bad, but we all know,
the pile of stiffs would ceaseless grow,
if you weren’t breaking down the dead.

Plus, we love your work on beer and bread.

POEM: Some Clichéd Advice

Steer into that dizzy skid.

Don’t pop the top, blow the lid.

Life happens: while making plans.

No plans? Just kick that can.

Dance, like they ain’t watchin’ you.

Buy a vowel, get a clue.

Yesterday is history,

Tomorrow is a mystery,

Today is a gift, like socks.

Which you should grab, after dropping your…*

______________________________________________________________________

[*Note: I caught “Full Metal Jacket” on TV last night.]

POEM: My Theory on the Long Shadow of Hitler’s Mustache

People once saw in it great panache,
but Hitler killed the toothbrush mustache.

Now no one would dare to wear it.

Except that groundskeeper from Magnum P.I.

who turned out to be the mysterious millionaire.

Maybe, his wealth was Nazi gold?

But that isn’t my theory of the long shadow of Hitler’s mustache.

My theory is that when the short mustache comes back in fashion,
great evil will sit upon our doorstep.

For it is more than a choice of facial hair,
it’s a barometer of remembrance
that lacks an indicator of the half-life
of evil’s stain upon our collective consciousness.



Or, maybe, it just looks stupid on your face.
As if you made a dreadful razor error
and tried to play it off as a plan
through use of symmetry.



In which case, someone should be charting
the rate of application for name change by
Hitlers, Himmlers, Goebbels, and Görings.