Friday, March 28, 2014

Speaking of Herring

Everyone is talking about pickled herring. Well, perhaps not everyone. But there is Mavis who can’t get enough of it and Fred for whom I just bought two jars and Ralph, a new convert to the club. And we all know about converts.

And then there is Putin who looked in the mirror this morning and saw Pushkin eating pickled herring. Napoleon might have conquered Russia if he didn’t run short of the stuff to feed his marauding troops. When invading Russia one is advised to pack sufficient barrels of pickled herring along with warm underwear, but not in the same suitcase. I’m sure the Russians never run out when they gobble up territory on their western flank.

Peggy is another pickled herring fan which is not the only reason I married her. In fact nobody doesn’t love pickled herring. Danes are crazy for the stuff and Latvians and Estonians. If I were stuck on the Monopoly board on Baltic, which is my lot, pickled herring would be a staple as it is for those folks in northern waters.

When we put out pickled herring for our Sunday Salon it is always the first to vanish. I wonder if some friends bring Zip-lock bags and slip a few bits and pieces into their pockets. The world may be divided between pickled advocates and those who prefer their herring with sour cream.

Schmaltz herring is also worthy of mention....all those consonants supported by a single vowel, as my friend Ed points out. It is herring at its most plump, just before birthing offspring. 

Herring is not a bottom feeder as some creatures so designated to vacuum the ocean floor. Knowing herring as I do I might presume that is beneath them. They feed largely on plankton rendering them  low in carbs and high in an alphabet of vitamins including the all-important D and Omega oil without which one can expect to die a day or two earlier than previously fated.

Some like it split, salted and smoked which goes under the name, kippered herring. If I were a herring I’d much prefer being pickled. However the kippered variety had been the breakfast of Brits for centuries which may have kept the empire from falling. When it did fall Kippers also fell out of favor. By the 70s, due to its association with the past, it was no longer part of the full English breakfast, replaced by eggs, bangers and blood pudding. What a loss. However it is now making a comeback as those rebellious Boomers are getting aged themselves.

Baltic herring are smaller than those in the North Sea and are usually expertly fermented for half a year. Sweden calls them surstromming. The smell is enough to empty a courtroom as in the case where a landlord was sued for evicting a tenant who spread the brine on a staircase. I suppose one accepts this version if they have no friends anyway.

The purpose of this tribute to pickled herring is to fill up the page on a subject I really know nothing about.  Which brings me to something I didn’t know five minutes ago. Herring don’t get to be called by that name until they mature from being merely sardines. In fact there is no single fish named, sardine. They can be any tiny fish. Whether or not there’s an initiation or Bar Mitzvah to earn herring-hood from sardine-ness has not yet been determined.    

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lines and More Lines

Hold that line was the chant from football fans back in the day. Now it’s been cut short to, Defense, which comes out as Deeefense.  Lines have a way of not holding, the way George Bush, the elder, drew a line in the sand in the first Iraq war until Bush the Younger saw to that by demonstrating that he was a good-for-nothing kid after all. Presidents are best advised not to draw lines. Beleaguered Barack Obama wishes he could take back that red line he set out in Syria.

Looking at the time-line it seems that the Curzon line was established after World War One to fix forever the border between Poland and the new USSR. It didn’t last 20 years. Russian people quickly got used to two things in life….lining up and following the Party line. 

When I came into the world breadlines were the headlines and newspapers had bylines that had to meet deadlines. I was raised on movies that depicted young men going off on ocean liners to the front line and pretty girls with eye liners in the chorus line.

In 1940 the French, thinking of WW I trenches, set up their forces at the Maginot Line near the German frontier. The battle line was drawn and German tanks simply went around it into Belgium and brought France to its knees six weeks later.

In New York and thereabouts we used to wait on line for rationed butter or to march into assembly while everywhere else folks waited in line, proving that Easterners were far ahead of their time since everyone is now on-line, except when you’re off-line.

One hundred years before the Civil War Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon surveyed their famous Mason-Dixon Line. Unbeknownst to many, including myself, it does not entirely run horizontally. The line is vertical through Delaware. It was drawn up to settle a border dispute between Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware.

Other than line drives and line dancing I’m not fond of lines. Straight or wavy they create divisions. My preference is for blurry ones, if at all, where poetry and prose mingle and fiction strays into non-fiction. Besides, I seem always to get on or in the line that doesn’t move. On the other hand how else could I read those tabloids and catch up on alien landings and JFK sightings?

I was once called to a police line-up to put the finger on the man who held me at gun point. I picked the wrong guy. I blame it on the Line. He shaved his curly-haired head and I fell for it hook, line and sinker.

The entertainment world seems Interested only in the bottom line. If you doubt this you’d be out of line.  Just line up your big names, have them sign on the dotted line and not step out of line. If they behave themselves they will never lose their credit-line.  Does anyone still read between the lines?

Without assembly lines we might have hand-crafted cars with an individual signature…and possibly somebody’s egg-salad sandwich still in the glove department

Unlike Blogs, lines can go on forever. I just read that half of infinity is still infinity. I don’t know what that means but I wouldn’t quarrel with the notion. Even half the notion.   

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Rabble in the Rubble

And then there’s the Ruble recently restored in the Ukraine. Beware when the vote goes 97% in favor of anything.  Our Floundering Fathers, some of whom art in heaven looking down, feared the rabble almost as much as the monarchy. In most states only the propertied with at least 60 acres could vote. In New Jersey, alone, (of all places) could women vote…if they owned the requisite land, certainly not those Blacks, merely 60% human (and 40% superhuman). Shake the pumpkin.

We need our rumbles; at least those 4.4 or less. Let London Bridge fall down, My Fair Lady. Even if hurricanes hardly happen in Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire….. anagrammed Hitlers happen. 

So Humpty got dumped and life is scrambled. He wasn’t a bad egg but quakes level us. They are a shared experience. They remind us there really are no borders. We’re all sharing this hurtling piece of spatial dirt. It may take a global event to recognize our brothers and sisters on the stairwell or homeless on the street.

And just when I had my ducks lined up a few chotkes fall from the shelf. It’s that damn balance of power… that fragile peace whose face we’ve grown accustomed to. Just you wait Henry Higgins, you’ll get yours.

A few days ago, 3/14, was Pi Day. In two years it will be 3.1416. We will carry it to four places and then it won’t happen again for a long while. I’ll take a slice of French apple. Putin will have his Crimea and eat it too. We need our fixed points that math offers but we also need our ruptures. The earth won’t hold still for a minute. Call it flux. Call it anything but don’t call me after ten o’clock.

I’ll be dreaming my usual mish-mash where time bends and memories are juxtaposed. Imagine a new color appearing!  Wouldn’t that be a dainty dish to set before the king? Walk, don’t run or you’ll break your crown and the rumbling tumbleweeds will fumble-bumble after.

There’s a joker in the House of Cards. Even a True Defective can see that. Other Spaceys are out there plotting his plotz and his plot in Potter’s Field. How about we start over from this rubble of a government? What’s broke is broke. Never mind Ukraine, Kabul or Caracas. What’s wrong with Kansas? Fix Katrina and Sandy Hook. Quake the Supreme Court. Dump the tea. 

Some say rebels. Some say rabble. Early on our aristocracy we now call Framers feared the turbulence and follies of democracy. It seems now our worry is the institutionalized greed of special interests and their influence on lawmakers. Bring on the quake.

My deaf daughter has been visiting for 8 days. When she smelled the soup she said she hears well with her nose. I have much to learn from her. How to deal with a world that comes at us unexpectedly, from all sides and can be unforgiving.  Know that the tectonic plates below haven’t settled down yet but we can handle their constant agitations. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Near-Birthday & Anniversary

In ten days I’ll be 81, not a prime number thanks to nine. This means if you placed nine candles in a row and then another nine perpendicular to those and made a square and filled it in and then lit them all you would have 81 before the house burned down.

I prefer to think that I’m thirty-one years into my fifties. At a certain point in life we do not get any older except in our eyes, ears, skin and bones. I’m sure all my friends would agree. I’m so fortunate to have friends older than me. It has kept me young, at least in my delusional state.

Bette Davis who famously declared that old age is not for sissies, proved it by dying at eight-one. Boris Karloff also checked out at this age. He had a career scaring the hell out of people long enough. He was first cast as Frankenstein nosing out Bela Lugosi for the part when the producer started laughing at Lugosi’s make-up. Karloff was fitted with eleven pound shoes to give him the monster walk. No wonder he didn’t make it to eight-two. Lugosi had to settle for Dracula. Between Boris and Bela I probably lost a few years.

It serves no purpose to compare one’s life with another’s but one can’t help themselves imagine what Schubert or Mozart would have accomplished having been allotted this life span. Suffice it to say that I have lived the years of John Lennon plus Geoge Gershwin with two years left over.

I’m told I’ve been living all this time on the cusp of Pisces and Aries. No wonder my back is giving out balancing the fish and the ram, half in water half finding my feet. It’s been an amphibious life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

At one time Peggy was twelve years older than I but over the years she continues to lose a year every birthday. Four days after March 21 we will celebrate our first thirty years together, our brief encounter.  In 1984 I made the leap to a safe unknown, from nothing to everything. I heard her reciting the Emancipation Proclamation on the back forty. Actually if I were in bondage it was of my own making.  But Peggy reminded me of my vestigial wings.

Every day is the anniversary of yesterday. Traveling together this far is reason enough for celebration. Another thirty years would make medical history. I don’t wish to be greedy. I’ll take one decade at a time.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Of Two Minds

I wish I could weigh in on the Ukrainian conflict with conviction but I feel both sides have legitimate concerns. The country is a land-mass sprawling westerly into Europe and easterly into mother Russia. Up until WW I the Austro-Hungary Empire took a slice and Russia the rest. Pity these land-locked countries ever pulled by divided loyalties.

Yet Switzerland has found a way to accommodate four language-driven sectors. More recently on Europe's western flank a somewhat similar unresolved conflict exists in Belgium. About 60% of the population with ties to the the Netherlands is Flemish while the linguistic group to the south are the French-speaking Walloons. The split continues but it has not erupted into armed camps. In fact, Brussels is, ironically, home of the European Union. 

Russia, itself, has ever felt the pull of European culture but resisted the Enlightenment and was slow to enter the Industrial Age. The dissolution of the USSR found chunks of the empire dropping away and asserting their ethnic identities. Ukraine is a sovereign state but its security and economic ties to Moscow have been a given. Having endured uninvited armies from Napoleon to Hitler the Russians are understandably insecure, some would say paranoid, about the Importance of buffer states.

Through an American and European lens Ukraine is under siege. Their former head of state is a corrupt Kremlin puppet responsible for the death of protesters and leading the country to financial ruin while he led a life of obscene privilege. We must rush to the rescue of these 46 million people. But wait!!

The terms laid down by the European Union would have ended Ukraine’s 16 billion dollars per year export trade with Russia. This condition was a deal-breaker for Yanukovych and a needless provocation aimed at Putin. It triggered the regime change and the Russian response. Ukraine would be the second largest country in Europe in area.  By joining the E.U. they would have to pass an estimated 350 changes in their trade laws.

The last thing we need now is a revival of the Cold War. One can hear the squawk of the hawks. John McCain never met a skirmish he didn’t love. As the Iraq and Afghanistan follies wind down a chorus of Neo-Cons are salivating over new prospects of a Pentagon build-up. Whether Ukraine turns to the West or back to the East we must accept that it is not in our national interest to intercede in any way other than through diplomacy. I’m hopeful Obama ignores their battle cries and forges an alternative path. There is in the American strain a messianic urge to make over the world in our image. One size does not fit all.

Blame it all on the cartographers; too many countries squabbling over who belongs to whom. Someday, but not soon, borders will shrivel and blow away. Maps will be of one green ink with land shaped only by blue oceans and inland waterways. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Play Ball

Baseball spring training is now upon us. I can hear the crack of the bat, balls thumping into gloves and staccato shouts of the fielders. Chuck easy, baby. Heads up.

Sport pages are filled with enough freak injuries to run an HMO out of business.  The act of pitching and batting must call upon a long dormant musculature still hibernating. Or possibly the muscles are over-developed to the extent they have no stretch in them.

It was never my problem. I return now to those glory days which get better every time I revisit them. There I was warming the bench in the late innings with the score tied. The manager had been saving me for this pivotal moment. There was no point in squandering my talent.

He called my number. I sauntered out of the dugout, picked up three bats as if toothpicks in my massive arms, threw away two of them and I dusted the rosin bag in my hands for a better grip. The crowd noise was building as I crossed home plate into the batter’s box. There would be no effort to summon the gods that may be. I knew they were busy and they knew I didn’t need them. No Greek gods could ever get around on a rising fast ball.

It was just that crafty southpaw on the mound and me. I knocked the dirt that wasn’t there out of my spikes.  I rubbed the back chalk line away and dug in. The first pitch was a brush-back as I expected followed by a low-outside slider but I wasn’t chasing. It was now a hitter’s count. He came back with a fastball in my zone but took something off and I was out in front hitting a screaming line-drive foul. He got away with one.

I stepped out of the box to give him something to think about. I unhinged the Velcro on my batting glove and tighten it just to stretch the moment. The next pitch missed the corner. I could see he wanted that one and was out of his rhythm. He came back with a fat hanging curveball he wanted back as soon as he threw it. I launched it into orbit like a celestial body. It jumped out of the stadium and may still be out there.

There is a certain resonance when wood meets ball in the full fat of the bat. Sixty-five years later I can still feel it. For that single moment the game seemed easy. In fact it got harder. It would never happen again but once is enough. There are moments in life we are meant to experience only once. I was part of a continuum started when an ancestor from pre-history picked up a tree branch and struck an errant rock headed his way.

This memory is so vivid because it never happened. The stadium was a schoolyard, the crowd noise was the ovation in my head and the bat was a plump broomstick sawed off at the curb. But I can still taste that confluence, swear-to-god.