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Monday, October 31, 2011

Spaghetti Aglio Olio

A favorite late-night snack all over Italy, spaghetti aglio olio (spaghetti with garlic and oil) is as delicious as it is simple to make. Ironically, Chef John from Food Wishes (an American) has the more traditional version while the other recipe (Italian) is a bit unorthodox. The addition of tomatoes isn’t very common but it’s a fantastic little dish.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Go Back to School, Kid. This Time Try to Learn Something

The new poster boy for the 1%.

I am a former Marine.
I work two jobs.
I don’t have health insurance.
I worked 60-70 hours a week for 8 years to pay my way through college.
I haven’t had 4 consecutive days off in over 4 years.
But I don’t blame Wall Street.
Suck it up you whiners.
I am the 53%.
God bless the USA!

He doesn’t blame Wall Street but I bet the Wall Street elite are thankful that they have some idiot kid with no sense of history willing to act as one of their brown-shirts if things start getting ugly in this new class war. There aren’t too many of the top 1% who are ex-military and a lot of liberals are afraid to death of former soldiers. I served too, and I’d like to tell this kid something. I didn’t serve in the military to protect a country that seems only out to make like better for the richest few. If the conservative hero Ronald Reagan hadn’t slashed the living shit out of the GI Bill this kid would have had a lot easier time making it through college. He could have done it in four years while only working part-time. But Saint Ronnie said that government spending sucks so he made a complete mockery of educational benefits for veterans (while drastically increasing overall military spending). If you don’t believe me you can look it up. I was actually serving during the Reagan administration and luckily for me I had completed most of my degree before I enlisted.

And fuck you for calling people whiners who are fighting for the rights of the working class. I’d be the first to say that many of the Occupy Wall Street folks have their heads up their asses and don’t have much of an idea of what to do, but at least they are doing something. They are actually protesting so people like you don’t have to work like a 16th century peasant.  I suppose that you think the early union organizers in America were whiners for trying to protect workers from the worst abuses of the industrial era. You should be ashamed of yourself instead of being so fucking smug and high and mighty.

It was a huge government “bail-out” of returning WWII veterans that turned America into a country which actually created the idea of the middle class. Veterans were now able to go to college and then buy home with VA loans. These men were mostly lower middle class deadbeats who would have never been able to afford a college education, much less buy a house. My father was one of those vets.

This was the United States government that did this so be careful when you spew out shit from Rush Limbaugh criticizing the government. And perhaps you skipped the class on civics but in a democracy, we are the government. This means that if we don’t like something we can work to change it. If our elected officials aren’t carrying out our wishes then we can protest our government. It’s legal and it’s in the constitution.   Try reading it sometime instead of having some right-wing moron spoon-feed you their bizarre interpretation of our founding document.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My Über-Extreme Make-Over

I’m looking to make some very big changes; changes so big that an extreme make-over seems like a half-assed half-measure. An extreme make-over is probably fine for people who don’t have very far to go; it’s like taking a bicycle for a short trip. I think that what I need is the make-over equivalent of a long ride on the Millennium Falcon. Because I couldn’t remember the name I had to Google “Millennium Falcon.” Among Star Wars geeks you probably risk getting beat up for that lack of trivia knowledge. I doubt anyone will think that I’m bragging when I say that in a group of Star Wars dorks I would be doing the ass kicking and wedgy giving. But before my digression I was talking about making some changes, getting sexier, more hip, more rico, more sauve, more je ne sais quoi.

Staying on the cutting edge of fashion is a lot of work. By “cutting edge of fashion” I’m talking about 1979 but still. It ain’t easy. I’m letting my hair grow out and depending on how many days I let pass without washing it I go from looking like a country western singer to a professional wrestler—two demographics I’m not particularly interested in courting. The only word of encouragement I receive from my friends concerning this hair-growing venture is “Yikes!” Maybe a new wardrobe would help to boost my image?

Damn, I thought that black was supposed to make you look skinny. Or is black supposed to make you look pregnant?  If that’s the case then well done, color black.  I just caught a sideways glance of myself in the mirror and at first I thought someone was sneaking up behind me until I realized it was just my back fat. What about stripes? Aren’t they supposed to make you look thin? Yeah, I think that’s right. I just hope they don’t charge me by the stripe. It supposedly creates some sort of an optical illusion so instead of seeing my gut people see an old woman or a lamp. Or do they see a pirate? Anyway, I read about it in the back of a magazine somewhere.

Do you know what really makes me look fat? Cheese makes me look huge. I don’t mean to pick on cheese, or single it out because cheese has had a lot of help in his evil work of forcing me to drill another hole in my belt (one more hole and I think I get a free set of steak knives!).  But I have bigger problems adversely affecting my sex appeal, issues that can’t be solved by simply having less gravitational pull. I hate to tip-toe around the issue but there may be children reading this so how can I put this delicately? How about this: “My cock is too small.” The thing is, I didn’t use to have this problem but while I was quietly deleting all of those spam emails, all the other men on the planet were taking them up on these offers of enhanced male-dom.  After about the tenth time I asked why they were laughing in the bedroom I became suspicious of the stock answer women gave of, “Oh, just something I heard at work today.”  My unilateral opting out of the phallic arms race has moved me from a figurative to a literal position when speaking of “holding my own.”

Everyone has heard it said that looks don’t matter, that what women are really interested in is personality. It’s probably safe to say that this axiom was probably written by someone who actually has a personality. How does one make-over a personality? I’ve heard of wiring your jaws shut to lose weight so maybe this could kill two birds with one elective surgery? I mean, how offensive could a guy be who can’t actually talk? I haven’t looked into the procedure but it must make you a better listener.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Just When You Thought You Knew Everything about Booze and Bars: Spanish Attitudes about a Cherished Pastime

For the purposes of full disclosure let me begin by saying that I am writing this in a Spanish bar. I’m only drinking a cup of coffee but then again I just got here and that situation is subject to change.

I think that I speak for a lot of Americans when I say that our idea of bars and drinking goes something like this. You go out to a bar and order a beer; then another and another; someone arrives late and tries to play catch-up by having a shot so you have a shot…maybe plural; hopes and dreams dashed, lives ruined; go home, eat a microwave burrito, and watch Sports Center; show up late, drunk, and very hung-over the next day for your job as a life coach; swear never to drink again right before agreeing to go to happy hour with someone you don't even like because everyone from last night is wimping out. I may have missed a couple of steps but I’m sure this sounds familiar not only to Americans but Brits as well (sorry but I don’t know what the British equivalent is for microwave burritos or Sports Center).  For the Spanish this scenario would seem totally alien even though the average person here has a closer relationship to a stable of bartenders than most Americans have with members of their own families.

It’s impossible not to notice immediately that there are a hell of a lot of bars in Spain. They have more bars per capita than any country in the world, something like six bars for every 1,000 inhabitants—three times more than England and six times more than Germany. It’s a thorny issue determining the whole chicken or egg question as far as which came first and whether or not we should order a beer while we argue the matter. Do people spend a lot of time in bars here because there are so many or are there a lot of bars to meet the demand? I suppose that I should clarify right from the start that a bar in Spain isn’t the same as a pub or a bar in The States. Bars here are more full-service affairs, like a coffee shop, restaurant, and bar rolled into one concept.

As far as consumption, Spain isn’t that impressive with folks drinking 11.7 liters per year (or one wedding reception) while the United Kingdom chugs 11.8 and Germany 12.  In the USA we drink only 8.6 liters, less if you don’t count Zima and white zinfandel. Spaniards have a much different relationship with booze than Americans or Brits. I think it would be quite unusual to see someone drinking at 8 o’clock in the morning in America while this is a common sight in Spain. An older gentleman sitting next to me is having a brandy as I sip my coffee. He probably half-expects me to take a nail file out of my purse or open a fruit roll-up from my Sponge Bob lunch box. The Spanish are generally very tolerant so the old brandy drinkers don’t voice their opinions of the boy choreographer sitting next to them drinking only a coffee. During the mid-morning almuerzo* at around 10.00 am it’s normal to see workers having a beer or glass of wine with their sandwich. Hell, even on vacation I usually wait until the crack of noon to crack open a beer. Even with these habits of early drinking you don’t notice much public drunkenness here, certainly much less than in America.

For the most part I see a very admirable moderation among Spanish drinkers—something I never really got the hang of. In my defense I have to say that I go overboard on everything. For example, I just made six liters of tomato sauce. I will also never be one of these folks who end up at rock bottom and then find the lord or whatever. My relation with alcohol would be somewhere between "well maybe just one little glass of wine" to "Cut off? I cut YOU off. I can kick all yer damn asses ya buncha pansies."  The defense rests. The verdict is guilty of an occasional lack of moderation on my part wherein I swear to be more Spanish in my habits of alcohol consumption.

*Any first year Spanish student knows that almuerzo means “lunch” in English but this isn’t a good translation of this Spanish meal. They have four meals a day here: desayuno (breakfast), almuerzo (a big snack before noon), comida (what we would call the midday meal or lunch), and cena (dinner). I've left out a few important feeding times in the Spanish day so as not to completely overwhelm those unfamiliar with the eating habits here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Comedy of Manners

People are basically the same everywhere—at least everywhere I’ve been—but there are a lot of little cultural idiosyncrasies that set Spanish people apart from Americans. I despise the argument over which nationality is the “friendliest” because I think those trying to frame the dispute are confusing “friendly” with other concepts like “courtesy” or “openness.” Being polite isn’t the same thing as being friendly. Friendly, by the very definition of the word, implies friendship, a pretty tall order if you expect it from total strangers.

This is one of those things that you hear Americans complaining about when they visit France. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone say that French waiters aren’t “friendly.” I suppose this is true if you compare a French waiter at a café in Paris with some teenager at Applebee’s who tells you her entire life story during the course of your mediocre meal. I don’t think that I’m being an asshole when I say that just telling me your name is really more information than I really need to effect our little transaction of exchanging food for money. Most cafes here in Spain are little mom and pop joints but don’t expect anyone to be jumping-up-and-down happy just because you walked in the door, the same goes for Parisian cafes. If it’s “friendliness” you are after then you should bring your friends along with you.

One of the first things an American notices in Spain is that people here say goodbye—hasta luego—when exiting an elevator. It’s a simple courtesy but try saying goodbye to a total stranger after sharing an elevator ride in New York or Chicago. I believe you’d get your ass kicked for pulling that kind of stunt, either that or people would drop dead from the shock of having an anonymous person say something to them that wasn’t a threat or an insult.  I was surprised myself the first time I experienced this bit of Spanish civility, but once the initial jolt wears off you realize how completely sensible and decent it is to acknowledge another human being’s presence while sharing the confined space of an elevator. When coming and going form an apartment building people will say hello to everyone, whether they know you or not. I walked past a guy today who was deep in the middle of a business conversation with another man yet he said hello to me as we passed in the lobby of a friend’s building. He had never seen me before and perhaps would never see me again but he went out of his way to acknowledge my presence.

Don’t forget to say “Bonjour” or “Buenas tardes” upon entering a store or restaurant.  Of course, you are always expected to bid farewell when leaving a business in Spain as well as in France.  I used to be terribly self-conscious about this little gesture of politeness, to the point that I wouldn’t leave a bar or café if the employee was in the back and I couldn’t say goodbye. I’d actually wait until they popped their head out from whatever they were doing. Often you will find yourself saying goodbye to other customers. Just about any interaction you may have with another human being while sitting at a café, from simply providing a light for a cigarette to sharing a remark about the day’s headline, is generally considered to be hasta luego-worthy in the minds of most Spanish people. I always get a kick out of the fact that I have made this sort of connection with people which now makes us something other than total strangers.

Americans, on the other hand, are a LOT chattier than most Europeans, at least in my limited experience.  I know that I am. Perhaps this is because I lived in South Florida too long, too many old people with nothing better to do than talk a stranger’s ear off. Sometimes my talkative nature works here and sometimes I get the feeling that people are saying to themselves, “Why the fuck is this guy talking to me? What did I do to deserve this?” It’s not that Spanish people don’t like to talk but it really isn’t their custom to talk with total strangers, at least not without a good reason—whatever the hell that might be. I lived in Greece many years ago and the Greeks at first seem extremely abrupt and closed with strangers. Once you are allowed inside their circle of family and friends everything changes drastically to the point that if you utter a few words of their language people practically adopt you on the spot.

Americans and Brits are also much more generous with the use of “please” and “thank you” than Spanish people, at least in restaurant and bar situations. I think most Spanish people feel that we go a little overboard on this sort of forced politeness where for them the "please" and "thank you" is sort of implied. All I know is that it’s very important to remember that a lack of these little courtesies isn’t a lack of manners on the part of the locals; it’s just the way things are.  Most British people probably find Americans to be short on good manners which, of course, isn’t true at all. We’re simply different.  

The longer I live in Spain the more things here become more the norm for me. I’m sure life would seem a bit awkward for me back in The States. I don’t think my own character has really changed at all but the way I perceive everything around me certainly has.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Time to Wear Pants Again

Let it be known that on this day of October 20, 2011 I have to wear long pants for the first time since late spring. It's been a good long run this year but it's over. Wearing pants probably also means wearing shoes which I haven't worn since May if you don't count the athletic variety. This entry gets filed under Almanac and probably isn't of interest to anyone but me because I like to keep track of this sort of thing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rise and Shine!

There must be a law in Spain that the more noise that you make in your job the earlier you have to begin work. I swear that the guys starting the remodeling job on the apartment across the back patio from me look at their watches and fire up their power saws the second the clock strikes 8 am.  And there’s another law that says workers have to do all of the noisy shit the first thing in the morning, saving all of the quieter stuff for later. No one ever paints the first thing in the early morning; that’s for using power tools, insane hammering, and the time for making disgusting throat-clearing noises like they are trying to cough something up that is lodged in their lower intestines.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Faux News is Good News

I just watched the internet sensation du jour of the 2 year old Chinese girl run over and then subsequently ignored by scores of passersby. This bit of faux news* will be beaten to a pulp and shit out 24 hours from now, or sooner if another, more spectacular video takes its place. I think the real tragedy here is that this completely overshadows a similar incident that happened only three months ago. In that mishap the run-over child was ignored by only 11 people walking by. This means no one will remember that poor kid because his record has been shattered by this new incident in which 18 people passed without giving a shit. I’m sure that flattened kid knows exactly how Hank Aaron felt when his record was stolen from him.

*It’s faux news because real news is about things that shape our lives. This is just a bit of an emotional hiccup that will pass and be replaced within a day by some other equally meaningless (meaningless to those not involved) tragedy. Our short attention spans get shorter and shorter as well as more bloodthirsty and vicious.  Probably fifty times more people will watch this stupid video than will read an article on the front page of the New York Times.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

For the Record

I have been completely opposed to the death penalty my entire conscious life, at least ever since I was probably about 15 years old and began to enter into discussion of politics, religion, and other existential matters. For me a person’s views on the death penalty serve as a litmus test for their overall political character.  If someone is in favor of executing criminals for any reason I doubt that we will be able to agree on anything; it’s like something has been set in a person’s DNA. I don’t know why I bring this up other than to have it down in writing for my own sake, like I am painting a self-portrait and don’t want anything left out.

To be in favor of the death penalty seems just about as stupid and illogical as many of the stances taken by the American far right. I watched Bill Maher’s mostly-ridiculous political talk show, Real Time.  During the puerile back-and-forth misinterpretation of dubious statistics I was able to catch a further glimpse of right wing stupidity and their completely rigid stances on a number of issues. Let’s just take two matters on which the right has chosen to take a very firm and uncompromising position: the climate change debate and income inequality in America.

Is there a single environmental regulation that conservatives can live with? Name one. I’ll wait. The moronic American Spectator’s moronic John Fund was arguing in favor of American conservative’s relentless attack on the Environmental Protection Agency by saying that the Chinese are not burdened by any regulations and therefor are trumping the US in manufacturing. These are the same idiots who years ago bullied us into accepting globalization and completely free trade without requiring that we buy only from nations with environmental laws similar to those we have in the West. China is the perfect state as far as American conservatives are concerned. It’s basically a fascist regime dedicated to making money at any cost with little or no regard for the individual.  I’ll bet that the ruling Chinese elite call themselves the “job creators.”

Our free fall into levels of income disparity not seen in American history since the days of plantations is another area where conservatives have dug in their heels and refuse to budge. I have been asking conservatives for years a simple question: Is there any point at which income disparities will become a problem? What about if 1% of the population owned 99% of the wealth? Well folks, we are on track for that eventuality. In very recent years even some of the most ill-informed members of our society have been able to see the damage to our democracy being perpetrated by the ruling economic class.  This free-fall began with Ronald Reagan so for conservatives to speak out against it would be to criticize their patron saint but even all but the staunchest Republicans are beginning to feel a bit queasy about where this trend is headed.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Reason #4,213 Why I Don’t Look Like One of those Hunks in the Magazines

My Sandwichera: A Love Story

Folks, all that I have to say is that if you don’t know what a sandwichera is already, continue reading at your peril. This is a small kitchen appliance (my goal is to collect them all!) that lets you toast a sandwich. Sure, lots of people have toasters but you have to toast the bread BEFORE you make the damn sandwich. That’s like nailing the board before you put it next to the thing you want to nail it to which is just crazy. Try living in that house or whatever the hell you were trying to build.  This is just like using a toaster if you are making a colossal sandwich. With a sandwichera you put the whole damn sandwich into the thing after you build it. Then you just sit back and wait for the sandwich items to fuse together. While you are waiting you can write a song about your sandwichera like I did.

Instead of worrying about my overall lack of hunkage I would rather spend my time trying to match various pork products with cheeses, mayonnaise, pesto, and bread.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mid-Week Summer Vacation...on October 12!

1893 replicas of Niña, Pinta, and Santa María
Historically I doubt that this holiday, Día de la Hispanidad, has been celebrated by a mass exodus to the beach. Whether today is unique, climatically speaking, I can't say but I do bear witness to the fact that I have never seen so many people on the beach bike path to El Saler. The temperature is supposed to reach 33 degrees today.

Back when I was a teenager my family lived in Hawaii. That’s about the only comparison that I can make to our current weather here in Valencia. So you can think of Valencia as Hawaii but with much better food.