25 Random Things about Me (Breakfast Edition)

I must be desperate for content. I spent some time last week fulfilling my “25 Random Things” Facebook viral meme obligations. I am reposting that list here, for the benefit of those three readers of mine who are not yet on Facebook. And to make it look like I’ve written twice as much as I really have.

25 Random Things about Me (Breakfast Edition)

1. I once covered an entire wall of my apartment with hundreds of empty cereal boxes. This was before my town had recycling and I was sick of throwing away all those cardboard boxes (roughly four a week). So I built a wall. I like to think it was strong enough to keep out even the Kool-Aid Man (who, I should remind readers, was not a man at all).

2. I used to live near a General Mills Cheerios factory. Cheerios taste better than the factory smell would lead you to believe.

3. I’ve always felt that I had a special connection with Bob Evans, the man. The origins of this connection are hazy, but it must have something to do with my grandmother and scrapple.

4. Studying abroad in Russia, I had cold pickled fish for breakfast every day for four weeks. It was the USSR back then and I felt that I was somehow doing my part to maintain Soviet austerity. Many of my fellow Americans skipped out on breakfast, instead waiting hours in line at the single McDonald’s in Moscow to stock up on bagfuls of Big Macs, which they would then parcel out, cold and soggy, over the space of several days.

5. My brothers and I rarely had any kind of sweetened cereal. But every once in a while, Lucky Charms would magically be there in the pantry. I wonder now what were those special occasions that prompted my parents to buy them.

6. I find it strangely comforting that the bits of fruit in any flavor of Quaker Instant Oatmeal are apple. Apples & Cinnamon, of course. But also Peaches & Cream, Strawberries & Cream — they’re all pieces of apple. It reminds me of the 11″ GI Joes, all made from the same mold with simply different configurations of facial hair and scars.

7. I will burn my passport the day that there are more Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts in Spain than churrerías. Why bother traveling at all anymore?

8. I can’t eat quiche lorraine without thinking of Uriah Heep’s 1972 classic “Sweet Lorraine.” And then I think of their ode to Arthurian legend, “The Wizard.” Then I think of Gandalf. Which makes me think of Sir Ian McKellan. After that, the links in the chain grow fuzzy, but somehow I end up thinking about Chuck E. Cheese’s hound dog friend, Jasper T. Jowls.


9. Bagels did not exist in northeastern Ohio when I was growing up. I had never even heard the word until college. And lox? Forget about it. As far as I knew, that was some strange Dr. Suess beast.

10. I often wonder what Bigfoot eats for breakfast. Does the Missing Link understand the concept of brunch?

11. The latest (or depending where you stand, earliest) that I’ve ever been at an IHOP is 3:37am.

12. My in-depth qualitative research has proven that the best diners in America are to be found in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. They serve breakfast 24/7 and they usually have “Star” in their name.

13. I have a can of Spam from 1987. While technically this should go in the Meat Edition of 25 Random Things about Me, I must point out that I often ate fried Spam for breakfast in the eighties.

14. I once broke into a friend’s dorm room and removed all the marshmallows from his Lucky Charms, one marshmallow at a time. He had his revenge by clipping my car’s brake cable. Ironically I crashed into a Perkins.

15. You will never convince me that there is not a food in this world that cannot be made better with a generous sprinkling of Betty Crocker Baco’s brand bacon bits.

16. Foolish curs, that run winking into the mouth of a Russian bear and have their heads crushed like rotten apples! You may as well say, that’s a valiant flea that dare eat his breakfast on the lip of a lion.

17. 17, for the number of times in my life I have poured orange juice into my cereal bowl.

18. When I was nine I once at a dozen donuts in one setting. I’m not talking tiny donuts or donut holes. I’m talking big mothereffing donuts, with frosting and filling and glaze and sprinkles.

19. In grade school, when the Mikey-from-Life-commercials-died-of-exploding-Pop-Rocks rumor raced around the school, I punched my neighbor in the stomach just because.

20. My favourite Pink Floyd song is “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” from the album Atom Heart Mother. It should be your favourite Pink Floyd song too. Interestingly enough, this song was the first of Pink Floyd’s famous breakfast trilogy cycle, the second and third parts being “Have a Cigar” and “Young Lust.”

21. An old roommate, Matt Federer, taught me to use blueberry muffin mix as pancake batter. Because of this, Matt later went on to win $30 million in the Ohio Lottery.

22. I feel sad that my cats eat the same food in the morning that they eat every other hour of the day. Yet I would happily eat breakfast myself for every meal. This is called Cultural Relativism. Or American Exceptionalism. I forget which.

23. After my first communion, I was deathly afraid for several years that I would accidentally break the no-food-one-hour-before-Eucharist decree. Jesus, I was told, likes to have my belly all to himself.

24. In the summer of 2000 I drove from Philadelphia to the Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina, hot on the trail of the fugitive bomber Eric Rudolph. For three days I camped in the same forest as Rudolph and ate baked beans cold from a can for breakfast.

25. No other meal comes close to the sheer variety of two-dimensional foods that breakfast affords: pancakes, Pop Tarts, sausage patties, French toast. All food that can be mailed in a flat envelope, should the need arise.

Thoughts on Ben Folds’ “Still Fighting It”

My friend Adam over at Random Thoughts Escaping posted the Ben Folds’ video of “Still Fighting It,” along with some thoughts about fatherhood.

I’ve always loved “Still Fighting It,” which got heavy rotation on WXPN when the song came out. I’d never seen the video before. I found it quite touching, despite wanting to resist the sappy father-son footage.

Now that I’ve finished watching it, though, I can phase shift back to my ice-hearted self, and ask this critical question: Why don’t my home movies look like that?

I guess because I shoot with video and not film.

And I don’t have a crew.

Or a baby grand piano.

Or a beach.

But…I do have the kid, and that’s what counts.

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones

Indiania_Further_sm.jpgContinuing on the Indiana Jones theme, I also discovered in my old comic book box the first couple issues of “The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones” (larger image). This was back when the Indy characters had the potential to be a serious franchise — there was a Young Indiana Jones on television, you had the comic book, and a whole slew of videogames.

Honestly though, the comic book wasn’t that memorable (apparently like the new movie). In fact, I didn’t even remember that I had these rare, uncommonly rare, extraordinarily rare comic books.

Flipping through the first issue, however, I did find one image that I instantly recalled, as if it had been burnt somewhere in the reptilian part of my brain twenty-five years ago. Oddly enough, it wasn’t in the story itself. Instead, it was the inside of the back cover, a stark black-and-white preview of the next month’s issue:


This image actually gives me the creeps (larger image). The low angle looking up emphasizes the skeleton’s towering — but seemingly silent — presence, while Indiana Jones clutches some sort of treasure, the rays of his lantern illuminating but bisecting him, foreshadowing the swing of the sword from the pure darkness behind. Nothing is at a right angle, giving the whole scene an off-kilter tension, doubled by our helplessness, our inability to warn Jones of what we see. This single image, by the celebrated team of John Byrne and Terry Austin, surpasses anything in any of the actual Indiana Jones comic books.

Raiders of the Lost Ark Comic Book

Raiders of the Lost Ark Marvel AdaptationIn anticipation of the upcoming Indiana Jones movie, I dug through the old comic book box and came up with this, Marvel’s “Official Comics Adaptation of the Hit Title” — the original Raiders of the Lost Ark in comic book form (larger image).

You’d think this would be worth some money on eBay, but it looks like they’re going for about a buck a pop. So much for another one of my “collector’s item.”

Let Us Now Praise the Tater Tot

Tot Bomb
Creative Commons License photo credit: JaseMan

I’ve always suspected that Tater Tots were the ultimate comfort food. Something about them calls us back to childhood, back to the deep fried goodness of elementary school cafeterias. Even full grown adults are susceptible, drawn to the warm potatoesque mush inside and the crunchy, flaky shell outside. Some salt and some ketchup, and we’re in heaven.

My theory was confirmed today at the campus cafeteria. One of the a la carte lines had a hot batch of tots, fresh from the fryers. I helped myself, of course. It was the best thing that happened to me all day, maybe all week.

And as I was walking to a table, no less than four total strangers stopped me, asking where I had found the Tater Tots. They wanted them too. They wanted the comfort, the serenity, the salvation promised by each tiny perfect little tot. All across the cafeteria today were delighted students and professors, as eager for each new tater morsel as my grandma was for her Sunday Eucharist.

Pope John Paul II in Action

Tradermaester-maestertrader Adam remembers young Karol Wojtyla (henceforth known as “the pope boy”) running through the streets of Poland in Marvel’s comic book adaptation of his life. I’m happy to bolster Adam’s memory with these EXCLUSIVE!!! images of the pope boy playing soccer in his hometown of Wadowice (larger image).

The Pope plays soccer…(Small)

For my part, the image from the comic book that has stayed with me for over 25 years, the image which I don’t even have to open up the comic book to recall in vivid detail is the Pope skiing (actually, he was only a cardinal then, but who’s keeping track?). Look at him go!

The Pope loves to ski…(Small)

What form! What grace! What cool pope shades! (Larger Image)

A glut of Popes on eBay

The Life of Pope John Paul IIInspired by the strange coincidences between Adam’s and my first forays into comic books as children, I’ve dug up this gem from my attic: Marvel Comic’s “The Life of Pope John Paul II” (full size image). Published in 1982, this graphic biography (as opposed to a graphic novel) tells the “entire story” of Pope John Paul II “from his childhood in Poland to the assassination attempt!”

What excitement! What exclamation marks!

I bring up this prematurely illustrated hagiography now because I got this comic from a trade with Adam in the early eighties. It was Adam’s and now it’s mine. My question is: what the hell did I trade for it? And how did Adam persuade me that this comic was worth a trade in the first place? Sure I was a good Roman Catholic boy, but so was Adam. He should’ve wanted the comic book just as much as he convinced me that I wanted it. And gosh, the assassination sounds like a good enough read, but I’m sure whatever I traded had some pretty violent bits too. So why did I do it? I don’t know, and for years I secretly harbored a resentment that I had been had.

It wasn’t until decades later, when the pope died, that I realized perhaps this musty old comic book had some value. So — and I now admit that this was the real impetus for rescuing my comics from my parent’s attic — after the pope’s death, and probably even before the new pope was picked, I logged on to eBay, prepared to sell this “collector’s item” to some sobbing, mourning Catholic desperate for one last piece of pope memorabilia.

Yes. I planned to profit on the pope’s passing.

Does this make me a bad person? A good person doing a bad thing? A sinner? A seller? A merchant of death?

I don’t know. But I do know that I wasn’t the only one with this idea. Apparently all across the country were hundreds of other adults who had held onto their misbegotten Pope John Paul II collectible comic books from their childhood. Because there was a glut of pope comics on eBay. Dozens of the very same comic, all for sale for the highest bidder. It was a buyer’s market in pope comics. So saturated was the market that I didn’t even bother to sell.

So here I am, a few years later, faded old pope pictures in hand, my chance to make something of a decades-old trade with Adam long gone.

Or, not…

Maybe Adam still has whatever it was I traded for Marvel’s “Life of Pope John Paul” and he’s finally ready for a counter-trade…

My musty old comic books

Super Friends No. 13Adam and I have been friends for over thirty years — he’s one of the few people I regularly keep in touch with from my childhood. And lately Adam’s been mining our childhood for memories of our individual and collective comic book “habit,” writing some wonderful reflections upon comic books and what they’ve meant to him through the years. Adam’s most recent recollection describes buying his first comic book with his own money — Superfriends No. 13 — and he mentions that he is nearly certain I was with him at the time. My memory is more than a little fuzzy about this; I don’t recall it at all. I would’ve been seven at the time.

But I just dug through an old battered cardboard box, hauled around the country with me ever since my parents cleaned out their attic a few years ago, where I haphazardly store my fading, musty collection of comic books. And there it was: Superfriends No. 13, featuring some sort of giant green mutated shrew. So either Adam and I bought the same comic at different times, or we each bought our own copy at the same time (thus avoiding the fate of Bart Simpson’s rare copy of Radioactive Man). Either way, this cover is actually imprinted on my mind, and I didn’t realize how familiar it was until I saw it again (the image here is scanned from my own copy; I’ve also got a larger version where you can see just how wrinkled and scratched this thirty-year-old cover is).

Captain Atom
As I was rummaging through my stash of comics I also discovered my first comic book. I didn’t buy it with my own money, so it’s not in the same category as Adam’s, but it is the first comic I remembering owning, reading it over and over. Undoubtedly my parents gave it to me as some sort of bribe on one of our long family car trips. The comic, seen here (larger version), is No. 83 of Captain Atom, one of the many radioactive superheroes who never made it big. (You’ve never heard of him, right?)

Nonetheless there are some surprising coincidences here: (1) Captain Atom bears some resemblance to the Simpson’s Radioactive Man, so here I am again preliving a more wholesome version of the fictional Bart Simpson’s life; (2) I remember that at the time (age six) I thought Captain Atom was Captain Adam, because I knew Adam was my friend, but I had no idea on earth what an atom was; and (3) if you look closely at the larger image, you can see the legendary Steve Ditko’s signature. Captain Atom was one of Ditko’s creations from the early sixties (my version of Captain Atom No. 83 is a reprint of a much earlier appearance), and Ditko would of course go on later to create the much more memorable Spider-Man — the anchor of the Marvel Universe, which I would soon join myself, leaving behind the innocence of the Superfriends, the naive Wonder Friends, and the forgettable Captain Atom…

Is this fireman a little too happy?

This firetruck is a Melissa & Doug puzzle our son used to play with.

Happy Fire Engine

I was staring at the puzzle the other day, in an odd moment of nothing to
do. And it dawned on me that perhaps one of the firemen is a little too

A Happy Fireman - Click for a larger image

Now, I’m not the kind of person inclined to see a phallus in the Washington
Monument or genitalia in a whiskey advertisement, but I couldn’t help
but thinking that in another context this fireman’s body language might
be read a bit…uh…suggestively?

Falling Down in Mother Goose

A baby in a cradle hanging from a treetopAfter another week of reading Mother Goose to my son, it’s become obvious that he has a clear preference for a certain kind of nursery rhyme. Namely, one in which people (or in one case, an egg) fall down.

And there’s a lot of falling down in Mother Goose.

We all know about Jack and Jill, and the hush-a-bye baby whose cradle fell down, and of course there’s Humpty Dumpty. But what about Blue Bell Boy (“in coal scuttle fell he / up to his little chin”)? And the poor two gray kittens (“the bridge broke down / they all fell in”)? And the Man with bandy legs (“I met a man with bandy legs / bandy legs and crooked toes / I tripped up on his heels and he fell on his nose”)?

And then there’s the metaphorical falls. Jenny Wren fell sick. Molly, my sister and I fell out. Little Bo-Peep fell fast asleep.

So what’s with all this falling down in Mother Goose? There’s the audience of course, little children, who love the fact that gravity works, and works well.

I think there’s also the hint of the peril in the everyday, the 18th century equivalent of danger in the suburbs: downed power lines, fatal swing sets, strangers with candy.

Consider “Three Children on the Ice”:

Three children sliding on the ice
Upon a summer’s day,
As it fell out, they all fell in,
The rest they ran away.

Oh, had these children been at school,
Or sliding on dry ground,
Ten thousand pounds to one penny
They had not then been drowned.

Ye parents who have children dear,
And ye, too, who have none,
If you would keep them safe abroad
Pray keep them safe at home.

This tragic nursery rhyme offers a stern warning to parents: keep your children “safe at home.”

I can imagine a modern PSA with essentially the same message, just replace “ice” with “local gravel pit.” Or even better for my small town, “infill construction lot.”

Death in Mother Goose

Baa-Baa Black Sheep IllustrationFor Christmas, I gave my son a new edition of the classic The Real Mother Goose, with illustrations by Blanche Fisher Wright. First published in 1916, the book has been a perennial childhood favorite for almost a century. It certainly was one of mine. And so it was with nostalgia that I began reading “Little Bo-Peep” on the first page. An hour later, I had read maybe a hundred more nursery rhymes to my son, who couldn’t get enough.

For a long time I had heard that many popular nursery rhymes were rooted in historical events or based on historical figures. The best known example is “Ring around the Rosey”–supposedly about the plague, although there is little evidence to support such an interpretation. “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary” is another nursery rhyme that seems to point to a real person, although whether it refers to Mary Queen of Scots or Queen “Bloody Mary” of England is debated.

Regardless of whether nursery rhymes have specific historical antecedents, I have to say, with my nostalgia tinged by a critical eye, that they certainly are about more than just sing-songy rhythms and rhymes.

It’s surprising exactly how many deal with death. There’s “Solomon Grundy,” an old favorite of mine:

Solomon Grundy,
Born on a Monday,
Christened on Tuesday,
Married on Wednesday,
Took ill on Thursday,
Worse on Friday,
Died on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday.
This is the end
Of Solomon Grundy.

Here death is front and center, or at least as equal a part of life as, well, life. Grundy has three days to live healthy, happy, and wise (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday), and his downhill spiral, beginning with a mysterious illness on Thursday, takes three days as well (Thursday, Friday, and the death rattle on Saturday). Sunday (born) bookends Monday (died), and the final pair of lines summarizes the story so far: the end is final and inevitable.

But maybe it’s not surprising that death is so central to these nursery rhymes. Death was more a part of daily life in the formative years of Mother Goose (in the 17th century) than now, when we shuffle off our sick and our dying to hospitals and hospices and strive to eliminate the specter of death from modern life. I’m reminded of a remark by Walter Benjamin, who suggests that one of industrialized society’s subconscious goals has been “to make it possible for people to avoid the sight of the dying.” Benjamin continues:

Dying was once a public process in the life of the individual and a most exemplary one; think of the medieval pictures in which the deathbed has turned into a throne toward which the people press through the wide-open doors of the death house. In the course of modern times dying has been pushed further and further out of the perceptual world of the living. There used to be no house, hardly a room, in which someone had not once died. (Illuminations 93-94)

Solomon Grundy is a holdover from those days, when everybody died and everybody knew it and everybody saw it.

To be sure, we have death today, but it’s nearly always either spectacular death (an execution caught on a mobile phone, a CGI explosion in a Hollywood blockbuster) or mass death (tsunami victims piled high, mass graves outside a desert village). But ordinary deaths, the Solomon Grundy’s of the world dying dignified at home, surrounded by friends and family. Does anybody experience this any more? “Today people live in rooms that have never been touched by death,” Benjamin writes. He calls these people, these living who do not see dying as part of life, “dry dwellers of eternity.”

Benjamin seems to be saying that death quenches the dry desert of eternity. To be touched by death is to be touched by life. To be touched by death is to be full of life.

A Return to Sesame Street (Fisher-Price Style)

Since Elmo was (regretably) such a success with our son, we’ve rescued a bunch of old-style Fisher-Price “Little People” from my parent’s attic, including a few Sesame Street characters. Here we’ve got Bert and Ernie (circa 1974) tooling around town in a garbage truck.

Whose garbage truck? I’m not sure. I don’t recall Oscar the Grouch actually being a sanitation worker. In fact, wouldn’t he more or less be the enemy of Sesame Street’s trashmen? I mean, I think he had rabies or something.

In any case, Niko loves the toys, and it’s weird watching him play with the very same slobber-encrusted, booger-smeared toys that I played with thirty years ago. I don’t know who was more upset when Ernie went missing for a week, Niko or me.

[My Sesame Street photos on Flickr]

Niko and Quijote

Niko and Quijote (Larger Image)
Posted to Flickr by samplereality.

Don Quijote was on our street again, much to my son’s delight. I snapped this photo as my son was dropping some change into the “statue’s” chute. Moments later, Don Quijote was galloping in place and my son was in awe.

I was surprised to find on Flickr, in addition to my own photos of this particular Don Quijote, another visitor to Madrid had taken some snapshots of the very same street performer, a few weeks earlier.

Don Quijote “Statue”

Or “Donkey-te” as my son says. This is another street performer on Calle Postas in Madrid. Drop a few coins in the chute and he bounces on “Rocinante” or jousts at imaginary windmills (i.e. pedestrians).

My son goes crazy everytime he sees Donkey-te, and he woke up in the middle of the night last night asking for him. It took a while to convince him that Don Quijote was asleep and he should be too.

Disney babies are always dreaming

The following text is from the packaging of an “easy-grasp” fork and spoon set some kind, Disney-loving soul gave our son:

Playtime is filled with pixies and princesses. Bathtime overflows with pirate ships and mermaids. Meals are shared with bears who love honey. And Naps take place in castles, not cribs. So whether they are fast asleep or wide-awake, Disney babies are always Dreaming.

Well. Aside from slyly mentioning a host of Disney characters, this little piece of whimsical poetry actually makes me feel guilty for not encouraging my son to think of bathtime as an exciting Little Mermaid/Pirates of the Caribbean adventure.

Although, I do get a kick out of the idea of imagining the only Pixie I know by name–Frank Black–playing blocks with my son during playtime.