Careers in Science: Pseudoptics

In the course of his research, the pseudoptician arrives at a series of conclusions:

  • It is easier to spot green prunes in a prune tree at night than it is in the day. In the daytime, they look nearly as green as the leaves. At night, the leaves look dark grey and the prunes look almost white.
  • He really fucking hates it when an adult burps in his face. When a guy did it at work, twice, he nearly punched him in the throat out.
  • If you google an old acquaintance you liked and they write back and ask gee what a surprise what motivated you to write, you will never hear from them again if you give them an honest answer, at least if you do it on the downward slope of a serious depression.
  • Paris is very large.
  • People, people, people.

Still alive and well

Last night friends made me go see Carolyn Wonderland at the Mojo Blues Club, a divey little club (in the best possible sense) in a run down (in a good way) wine cellar five miles from my house, for which I will be forever grateful.

What is it with the world where lame musicians get so internationally famous and someone like Ms. Wonderland didn’t make it onto my radar until last night? Last night’s concert changed my life forever. Ms Wonderland and her (great) band were so good my wife was naked when I got home. I was going to say she sings not *like* Janis Joplin but with similar power *and* plays like, well, my guitarist friend who was there compared her guitar playing to Stevie Ray Vaughn -and she is doing this singing and playing simultaneously – I was going to say that, but first of all it seemed to me like sort of an easy and shallow comparison, and then I just googled her and a real critic already said that, which sort of confirmed my reservations.

So I will not say that. I will say instead I now know what a moth feels like when it watches a Tesla coil. I will say that Carolyn Wonderland is the most amazing thing I have ever seen. I bought her CD, which is good, but live she is something else entirely. Listen to this: mosquitoes have been really bad this summer here. And they were especially bad at the show last night. And Carolyn Wonderland was performing a song, playing the guitar, and singing, and right at her big finish, ZAP her tongue shot out three feet and she gulped down a mosquito. And she didn’t miss a beat.

The mosquitoes all left us alone after that.

Not even Stevie Ray Vaughn can do that.  Janis Joplin maybe could have, but not while playing the guitar at the same time.

How to make fluffy, high-rising loaves of sourdough bread

  1. Your uncle dies and you make a quick trip to the United States for his funeral.
  2. While there, your sister gives you sourdough starter your cousin gave her to give you.
  3. The starter is basically an empty plastic bottle with a little scum stuck to the walls.
  4. Which you refrigerate, and worry you were too late in refrigerating it and it will already be dead, or it will die on the trip home because you can’t refrigerate it nor take it in your hand luggage and in your checked luggage the extremes of temperature will do it in or something, or you will forget it.
  5. Everyone laughs at you because you’re so jetlagged.
  6. And you are more susceptible to jetlag than most people. All someone has to say is “airplane” and you get tired and disoriented.
  7. OTOH you are happy you let the lady at the car rental place talk you into the upgrade. In fact, you practically talked her into talking you into it. The midsize SUV is so much more fun to drive around in a state of extreme fatigue than the ultracompact thing you reserved.
  8. By now your shoulders and upper back are burning from tension and your lower back is painfully close to throwing in the towel from sitting in airplanes and cars and sleeping on unfamiliar beds, and your tailbone hurts from all the sitting.
  9. So on the flight home, the long leg from Washington, D.C. (where, upon your arrival, a woman in uniform pulled you out of a long line and gave you to a man in uniform with the words, “Got one for you,” and he swabbed your hand and stuck the swab into a machine where nothing happened and you are secretly happy because normally it’s your brother who gets searched and interrogated and it’s nice to fit into a profile too, or even share one with him, and the man asks you, “How long have you been out of the country?” and you say, “26 years, just back for a few days for a funeral,” and he says, “my condolences” and lets you go because the swab didn’t set off alarms or anything, and, WTF a swab?) to Vienna, with your sore tailbone and 10 hours of stupid movies ahead of you, on tiny screens that are burning out and only show the colors brown, white and black, which is okay due to the jelly-like nature of your brain, although it ameliorates nothing, you find yourself moved to a (marginally) better seat so a family can sit together, and you find yourself sitting beside a pretty, young, dark-haired, pale woman, early 20s if that, and her baby, which was apparently drawn by Edward Gorey and cries a lot, like the sixty other babies on the plane.
  10. The woman is apologetic and you smile and try to reassure her, saying that your kid cried all the way between Tokyo and Vienna once, in first class, but the woman’s English is not so good, or maybe your pain and confusion makes you creepy, or you smile too much at her baby (at least you didn’t offer it a peanut, which briefly crossed your mind, Here baby, like a peanut? Would that shut you up, huh? How bout one of these pretzels, as they don’t actually serve peanuts on board aircraft anymore, due I guess to the allergy thing and people giving them to crying babies too much) or she is just polite or wants to sit with relatives, and she moves during the flight, trading places with her 15 year old girl cousin.
  11. The 15 year old girl cousin has a friendly, tough-guy persona and informs you that all the crying babies are Albanian, going home to Pristina for summer vacation, from Dallas where her father remains because he couldn’t come along because he has to run the restaurant and she’s going to Pristina for 5 weeks because her grandmother’s paralyzed and maybe her father will go next year and she’ll run the restaurant while he’s gone.
  12. The Albanians are all from Dallas, which is for her not such a great place to live because there are only two things to do namely 1) go to school and 2) go straight to the restaurant to work after school.
  13. Meanwhile, your sourdough starter is cooling its heels in your suitcase somewhere in the plane’s cargo section.
  14. The woman beside you talks and talks and you say you’re sorry about her grandmother and you think, although you don’t understand the thought, entirely:
  15. Take care of this girl, America, because she is your soul.
  16. Mainly because she is working and not consuming or otherwise out of control. Because she thinks of herself but also of others and glows with intelligence.
  17. Remember, America, back when you worked?
  18. Remember those days? When Walt Whitman wrote his poems going on and on about the working man and grass and so on?
  19. Before you went out of control?
  20. This girl still embodies that. It’s not dead. She carries it with her. You just have to feed it.
  21. So watch out for her.
  22. At home, pop the sourdough starter into the fridge and google instructions.
  23. is good.
  24. Follow the directions inexactly. Here is a fact about bread making: if it were such an exact science, wheat-based societies would have died out thousands of years ago.
  25. Result: two flat loaves no one in the family wants to eat because the crust would stop a .22 and the bread is extra, extra tangy.
  26. Sour dough bread baking is a slow process which you can’t hurry. There is something exhilarating about this. Those bacteria there can’t be rushed. It takes the time that it takes.
  27. We need more of this sort of thing.
  28. Follow instructions more exactly next time (and reduce refrigeration time because that turns out- refrigeration – to be connected to tang, and maybe your family will be more likely to eat the bread if it’s not so tangy) and get less-tangy, higher loaves. A little higher, anyway. People you communicate with during this process tell you they have never gotten high sourdough loaves without adding a little extra yeast, which you consider cheating.
  29. Letting them rise longer must be the key, you think.
  30. You resolve to follow instructions to the letter next time, to try to get nice, high loaves. And also to use just white flour, not whole-wheat.
  31. Apparently bread making is an art not a science, but at the same time pretty forgiving and not rocket-science type art see #24.
  32. Unfortunately, on your third try (you let the starter rest during the week and bake on weekends) you get off to a late start and in order to bake before you go to bed on Sunday you have to rush things along a little.
  33. So the loaves are still flat.
  34. This coming weekend you’re going to Paris for a week so you’ll skip it and try again when you get back. You plan to start on Thursday evening, not Saturday morning, so the loaves will have time to rise and rise and rise. Maybe that will help.

Home alone

Alpha just left for Carinthia with her father, to pick up her mother who was getting massages because she got a fresh knee, is my understanding. Beta is in Vienna preparing for a visit to Indonesia. Gamma just sent us an SMS from London, BIN LEBEND ANGEKOMMEN (“I arrived alive”).

There have been ads for a show on television recently, something something SOLITARY CONFINEMENT something, with images of people freaking out because they can’t take 9 days alone. What could be easier? I thought.

Except. Ignoring people who are here is easier to take, it turns out, than dealing with their absence.

Despite the list of activities my wife gave me before she left.

And the list I have myself. Water garden. Tie up tomatoes. Filter pool. Yell at cats and chase them around. Chat with tortoise. Play cello, which has brand new Larsen strings and sounds amazng now.

And other stuff. Walks and stuff. Sleep. Icecream straight out of the container.