POEM: Kool-Aid Gets A Bad Rap

I’m told The Kool-Aid Man was seen busting through this wall moments before my arrival, but I can neither confirm nor deny it.

They say, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid!”

It’s because the 919 people at Jonestown who did so died of cyanide poisoning.

Except they didn’t.

Well, they definitely died, but they didn’t drink Kool-Aid.

They drank “Flavor Aid.”

You see, Jim Jones has been accused of many things,

but not being frugal in the conduct of mass murder isn’t one of them.

Why use the name-brand when everyone is going to keel over by cup’s end?

Now, Ken Kesey did use genuine Kool-Aid in his acid tests —

dubbed “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests” by Tom Wolfe —

because he knew the people he was feeding LSD would live,

if, perhaps, zoinked out of their ever-loving Fahrvergnügen,

and he wanted them to have a quality simulated fruit flavor experience.

I’ve been told many times not to drink the Kool-Aid,

but I can’t say that I’ve been given Kool-Aid with anything in it —

well, other than water, a crap-ton of sugar, and whatever Kool-Aid is made of —

which I assume is similar to the non-liquid ingredients in spray paint.

[And no fatalities have ever been proven in building collapses involving The Kool-Aid Man.]

BOOK REVIEW: Candy by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg

CandyCandy by Terry Southern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

The protagonist of this story, Candy Christian, is a caricature of a flighty, young beauty with daddy issues. Candy’s personality mixes cringe-worthy naivete with an endearing – if unjustified – optimism about the virtue of men. This, combine with her laudable but exploitable desire to render assistance, leads to a chain of events in which her trusting nature is repeatedly manipulated, usually without her ever becoming aware she’s been duped (or, at least, without it being admitted to the reader.)

This book claims to be a satire on Voltaire’s “Candide.” While readers may find varying degrees of commonality between the books, they do share some common ground. Both start with the protagonist being educated by a philosopher. In Candide’s case, it is Pangloss (i.e. “all talk”) who insists that Candide lives in the best of all possible worlds. In Candy’s case, it’s Dr. Mephesto (i.e. presumably derived from the Germanic demon “Mephestopheles” whose name means something like “scatterer of lies,”) and Candy’s philosophy teacher harps on the point that a person must find meaning in service, and to be willing to demonstrate that service as – of course – an attempt to bed Candy.

The books are also both episodic, jumping from location to location with adventures occurring at each locale. However, this episodic nature starts late in “Candy,” with the first two-thirds or so taking place in her hometown (Racine, WI) and – only then going on the move. Despite the availability of air travel, Candy doesn’t get around as much as Candide, though she does finish her journey at a Tibetan monastery. Both books have also been classified as being of the “education of a youth” (i.e. Bildungsroman) variety. However, they both have also been criticized on the basis that there wasn’t much of value learned by the lead. That said, Candide offers a clear moral to end the story, whereas Candy’s takeaway is in a more ambiguous twist ending.

“Candy” (the book) hinges on more than one absurd turn of events, but given that the genre is humor, I had no problem with that. [Even Shakespeare, in works like “The Comedy of Errors,” asks one to suspend disbelief in exchange for a laugh and some solid entertainment.]

I will point out one last similarity between “Candide” and “Candy,” they have both frequently been banned on the basis of moral arguments. Which brings me to to a couple warnings. If it’s not been made clear to this point, this book is sexually graphic, and individuals troubled by that may want to avoid it. The other class of reader who may be offended by the work are those disturbed by the book’s frequent victory of exploitative characters. In some ways, the book shares as much in common with Marquis de Sade’s “Justine” as it does with “Candide.” While the tone isn’t at all dark like Sade’s book, the story does suggest that world order is such that the weak and naïve will repeatedly be exploited by the strong and amoral.

I found the book to be humorous. The story is intriguing and well-developed, and – if one can suspend one’s disbelief regarding a few of the more absurd events – the reader will find it engaging. It’s not always a comforting read, but if you don’t mind (or enjoy) that condition, then you’ll likely to find it a pleasant read.

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BOOK REVIEW: Seven Samurai Swept Away in a River by Jung Young Moon

Seven Samurai Swept Away in a RiverSeven Samurai Swept Away in a River by Jung Young Moon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

Full-disclosure: I enjoy writing that’s quirky and rambling as long as it jettisons pretension and brings in some whimsicality. This book by Jung Young Moon plays into that wheelhouse. If you’re expecting a novel with a story arc and character development, you may not like what you find. Personally, I wouldn’t call this a novel (though the author does,) but it’s one of those books that defies neat categorization. I’d call it creative nonfiction, and – more specifically – an “essay of essays,” which is to distinguish it from an essay collection. [Comparing it to fiction, it would be more like a novel-in-short stories than a collection of stories.] The author’s own words about how the book was composed are more insightful than my own, he called it, “… a mixture of stream of consciousness technique, the paralysis of consciousness technique, and the derangement of consciousness technique…” [As far as I know, the latter two are his own designations.]

Saying the book is rambling (and “pointless” in the best sense of that word) isn’t to suggest that the book lacks a theme. It’s a Korean’s take on things Texan after having spent a substantial amount of time there. But that Korean take on Texas is given an added twist into interesting territory by this particular Korean’s off-beat worldview. So, while many writer’s have considered the psychology, motives, and possible conspiratorial links of Jack Ruby (the assassin of JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald), Jung focuses on the issue of Ruby leaving his dogs in the car while he went to shoot Oswald. The author discusses the book as though it – like the sit-com “Seinfeld” – is about nothing, but I think it’s more about a chain of somethings turned on their heads and viewed through a fun-house mirror.

While the Seven Samurai are referenced in the title and are discussed at various points throughout the book, it’s more as a reminiscence than a throughline. That is, if one is expecting any great insight into Akira Kurosawa’s masterwork – either its story or as a film – that’s not how Jung uses the reference. He does talk in detail about cowboys and cowboy-ness. That may seem like a rough segue, but film fans may see a connection. Kurosawa’s film was famously the basis for the Western, “The Magnificent Seven.” I think there’s a connection in the broad appeal of machismo that both samurai cinema and Texas draw upon. [But maybe it was just some sweet alliteration for use in the title.]

I enjoyed this book immensely and would highly recommend it – except for readers who require order or who insist a book make a point. It’s humorous by way of strange lines of thinking and an alien outlook on a singular culture.

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POEM: Forced Philosophizing

Life makes philosophers of us all.

You’re forced to decide how you will know your truth.

And it is “your truth,” or “my truth.”

We are powerless to determine THE truth, having only a limited capacity to even discern it.

“Your truth” is the concoction of fact and fiction by which you dance through life.

Now, you may say,

“Life may force me to be a liar, a whore, and a scoundrel, but I’ll never stand for it to make me a philosopher!”

Maybe you think you can side-step philosophy by taking answers straight from science, scripture, or lockstep walking with your tribe, but making that decision has still forced you to philosophize.

No matter what default you choose, knowledge of truth will remain limited and sometimes faulty.

I favor holding truths like an intact bird’s egg found fallen out of a nest — careful not to grasp too tightly for fear of either crushing it or having a misidentified velociraptor chick pop out and bite off my thumb.

I can’t say that this is a better approach than those who hold truths in the way of a rodeo rider with a dislocated elbow and shoulder who — never-the-less — stayed his eight.

It’s not just in matters of truth and knowledge that we are forced to philosophize.

One also has to determine what constitutes a virtuous life, and to what degree one finds chasing said path worth the effort. Again, the choice to outsource future thought to a holy book is still an act of philosophizing.

I understand that most people don’t want to be seen as a philosopher anymore than than they would want to be seen as a masochist — a lifestyle which bears something in common with philosophy.

After all, the philosopher is one who insists on engaging in rigorous and tedious thought on subjects that offer no right answers — just a huge slate of equally least-worst options.

If she wanted to engage in such thought AND uncover the right answer, she’d be a scientist.

If he wanted to wax eloquent on his love of living in the dark, he’d study language or literature.

But the philosopher likes his thought like he likes his tragic figures of Greek mythology –Sisyphean.

POEM: Softening a Blow with Poetry

Nothing, these days, sounds mean or terse,
if you put it in metered verse.
Rhymes make a “screw you” whimsical,
not hostile or inimical.

So if you’d like to ride the fence,
and give insults benign pretense,
just rhyme your lines and count your feet,
they’ll think it jest and call it sweet.

[Ex. 1]
Your breath is Death on crack and meth
gone ten days without a shower.
It’d stop a clock and kill the hour.
“What foul winds blow?” It is your breath.

[Ex. 2]
To say you’re dumber than a post
gives the post too much room to boast.
I’d liken your wits more to toast,
but
one day you’ll be sharp as pot roast.

So if you need make libel or slander,
you can do it with the utmost candor,
if you can make the barb zing like a song,
they will drop their riposte and sing along

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