Saturday, August 28, 2004

Brown beans won't make you blue

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Begging your pardon in advance if I slow down. I can't recall if I've had my coffee yet today.

And I do need coffee every day now. It's become my thing. Since coffee entered my life, I have a thing now. Got to stay sharp! Slow-roasted of mind! Finely ground of step! Vigilant to the last drop!

I wasn't always a regular coffee drinker. I recall it only vaguely, but mom and dad tell me that at one time mornings would see me squinting at bright lights, gauging the stubble on my chin as I reeled groggily into the kitchen for a bottle of bracing, warm baby formula.

I worked my way up to soda. As a boy I'd sit at the kitchen table for a breakfast of chourico and eggs, grunting something graceless at my sister by way of greeting, and whack an empty sippy cup on the table. I'd say, "Pepsi. Black."

When I was young, I tried a sip of coffee from my mom's mug. It tasted like old trees. I hated it and vowed to stay away from coffee for good. That sweet young lad is dead to me now.

Somehow, I managed to make it through four years of college--including early morning classes on three hours of sleep--without coffee. Students I knew and teachers I studied with would bring to class Dunkin' Donuts cups the size of champagne buckets. Instead, I lived on a strict diet of ice water and chocolate bars, keeping my body's energy furnace at a constant simmer.

Even when I began working for this newspaper, I didn't start drinking coffee right away. I held out for years, even though everybody else was chugging it, mostly to stay awake while writing deadly dull City Council stories.

Afternoons in the newsroom were often like this:

--

Scene: This newsroom. The reporters are typing away at old-fashioned Royal typewriters, muttering things to each other like, "Gee, what a scoop!" and "Say, Smitty, how's about lending me a sawbuck for the ponies?" The copy editors are busy drawing the next day's cartoons, and Dan is playing three-card monte with a group of Boy Scouts that has dropped by to see how journalism works.

DAN. (addressing audience) All the names have been changed to protect our identities.

(Horace, who was sneaking the names of people still alive onto the Obituaries page, stands up and cracks his back.)

HORACE. Say! I'm going out for coffee. Anybody want in?

ROSCOE. Large black, and make it qui-- (falls asleep)

MORTIMER. Octuple espresso.

PERCY. Iced IV drip with cream and two sugars.

CARY GRANT. (around a mouthful of half-chewed coffee beans) Gimme another 1-pound bag. I'm starting to blink again.

DAN. Can I have a hot cocoa?

(The typewriters fall silent. Somebody snickers. Then another. Pretty soon everybody--including the Boy Scouts--is pointing and guffawing.)

HORACE. Whipped cream on that, Sally?

DAN. (miserably) Yes.

--

But recently, I've begun to acquire a taste for coffee.

It started because my wife, who was a hardcore tea drinker, found that the tea wasn't working anymore.

She was on the green stuff, so she moved on to black tea. Then on to chai tea. When six cups of that daily wasn't keeping her alert anymore, she bought a coffee maker.

"Does it make cocoa in that thing?" I said when we first plugged it in.

"I don't know," she said, rifling through the box. "Let's see if I can find the baby instructions."

After an hour or so smelling the rich, Colombian aroma, I caved in and made myself a half a cuppa, heavy on the milk and sugar.

It was delicious. The next day, I made a little more. The day after that, I had a little more.

The next week, I gave Dunkin' Donuts coffee a whirl and liked that.

The week after that, I tried Starbucks and liked that even better.

I had gone from nursing a simple half-cup of coffee until 6 p.m. to sucking down one of those large Dunkin' Donuts iced lattes in seconds.

The caffeine started to get to me.

"You know what? You know what? You know what?" I said to my wife one day. "You know what? You know--"

"Yes! What, honey?"

I brandished the iced latte I was drinking at her, eyes bulging from their sockets. "The ice! Takes up too much room! In the cup! Room that could be taken up by more coffee!"

I began to foam at the corners of my mouth. She sipped at her own coffee and politely said nothing.

"These so aren't worth the price. But I can't stop. If I don't have my caffeine every day, I get awful headaches. Also, if I have too much caffeine, I get awful headaches."

She rubbed her temples. "Welcome to coffee addiction. Like me."

"I'm not an addict."

"Admit it and get it over with, honey," she said.

"I can quit any time I want," I said, running my finger along the bottom of the cup and popping it into my mouth.

In fact, I tried going off coffee one day this week. I was just fine, thanks. I woke up, had no coffee whatsoever, and then took a long nap. I woke up, had lunch, and then curled up on my favorite chair to sleep off this monster migraine that suddenly came upon me. I was conscious for a few minutes around dinner, and took a snooze before bed.

I slept for about 14 hours that night, and dreamed that I had a giant light switch planted in my forehead, but it was stuck in the off position.

The next day was warm, so I refreshed myself at work with an iced coffee. Horace handed it over with a tip of his cap.

"Thought you were giving those up, Chopper," Horace said.

I felt the smoky flavor slide down my throat, and all sorts of neurons in my brain started firing like crazy. A headache that had begun to throb behind my sinuses suddenly faded away like a bad dream. My eyes cleared, like milk swirling in a dark mug, and I floated in an ecstatic cloud of percolated bliss.

"I could, Horace old chum," I said. "We'll try again tomorrow."

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Clamcakes with a side of ennui

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All right, smartypants. Answer me this: If summer is supposed to be all about fun and relaxing, how come it's officially late August and I haven't had a clamcake yet?

Clams, yes. A clamboil, yes, one. I even had mussels earlier this month. But no clamcakes. I mean the balls of dough deep-fried so they're a crispy golden brown on the outside and chewy on the inside. Some even have a piece of clam in there somewhere, probably. Usually, they just have a vaguely seafood-like scent, but they're still good.

That's right. None so far.

In 2003: at least eight clamcakes. In 2004 so far: zero.

Something has gone dreadfully awry.

How? For the love of Mergatroyd, how did I get this deep into summer clamcakeless? Summer in New England without clamcakes is ... I don't know what. We don't have a term for it. It's not supposed to exist -- like how the Eskimos have no word for "flip-flops."

Maybe it's the weather. This summer has been distinguished primarily by its dampness. If I'm not rained on, I'm under a stifling blanket of mugginess. If it's not the mugginess, I'm a sopping, sweaty mess. When my grandchildren ask about life way back in 2004, I'll slurp reflectively at my gums and tell them that was the year it was so rainy, humid and sunless that I grew a thick, proud layer of mildew.

But no -- that doesn't clear things up in terms of the clamcakes. Blaming the weather is an easy excuse. Clam shacks are open when it's muggy. There are clamcakes when it rains. It makes the dough mushier, but still edible.

There's a real reason why I haven't had a goddam clamcake yet. It's much more scientific: It's about time and energy.

My problem with clamcakes can therefore expressed as this math equation:

Clamcakes (or C-squared) is a function of time, as defined as 98 days from June 1 to Labor Day, multiplied by energy -- which can be expressed as a fractional number by taking time and dividing that by the number of weekend days I have off from work and subtracting the weekend days when I have things to do, subtracted by one-third, which I use to take naps. And then divide it all by pi, key lime if they have it.

In layman's terms, that means I'm exhausted. I've been so busy that I don't have any energy. And this summer has slipped by so quickly that I've run out of time.

Most of my free time this summer has mysteriously vanished. If I'm not working at this newspaper, I'm at home trying to work on my own projects. If I'm not doing either one of those things, I'm either trying to relax by staring vapidly in the general direction of the TV or I'm asleep. In between all that, that's when I get to do errands.

My wife is busier than I am. She works full-time, then does her own projects -- but unlike mine, hers make money.

Our schedules leave us little time for fun, and there's hardly any relief in sight.

This week, I had to run to Home Depot twice. The first time I found a plug for the new washer and dryer I bought -- so I could do more laundry. The other time, I needed a sheet of plywood. I was so excited.

My wife, my dog and I went for a brief walk the other day, just before we both dashed off to work. We were talking about how tired we are.

"The only places I get to see are work, home and the grocery store," my wife said. "The only places you see are work, home and the laundromat."

"Now that we have the washer and dryer, I can't even go there," I said.

We shuffled through the park, our limbs like lead. The humidity made it seem like we were trudging through a pool full of melted butter. Then, like amnesiacs suddenly struck with flashes of remembrance both marvelous and terrible, our eyes opened wide as we realized something.

"August is almost over," she said. "Where the hell did the summer go?"

"Remember when summer used to be this long period of time that stretched out in front of us with no end?" I said. "What happened to that?"

"We got older," she said.

It seemed poignant. "What the fuck?" I said. "When?"

After a while, she said, "Remember when we used to go on little day trips? Because there'd be nothing to do? We'd go drive somewhere?"

"Like that time we drove up to Maine because neither of us had ever been to Maine before," I said, "and then when we got to Kittery we decided that we'd seen enough so we turned back."

"Or we'd go down the Cape and have a picnic? Or Newport?"

"There was a time when we used to be able to do stuff like that all the time," I said.

"That was just last year," she said. "We haven't even been to Gray's Ice Cream in Tiverton this summer."

"We got Del's. Once."

"We used to go to Fogland Beach all the time. And Bristol. We used to hang out at a cafe in Bristol and play chess together, and I'd beat you every game and let you win once in a while so you wouldn't be a big crybaby -- or sometimes we'd just talk for hours."

"Now the summer's almost over," I said. "We've hardly done any of the New Englandy things that we usually do."

Our dog stopped abruptly. We looked up and realized that we were in front of our apartment. As we climbed the stairs, it hit me:

"Clamcakes!"

"Where?" she said.

So I made a list of things that make a summer in southern New England, and we have to do them before Labor Day.

Before the weekend is out, I'll be able to cross off at least one item. I see in my very near future a brown paper bag turning clear, full of fried dough nuggets oozing oil and a scent approximately like clams. I see my wife and I taking them on a picnic someplace by the sea, driving with the top down on the car and the late-summer breeze in our hair.

Incidentally, if anybody can modify a hardtop Toyota Echo into a convertible real cheap, let me know.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Go directly to Boardwalk

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My wife and our dog went out for a walk the other day. I was supposed to go with them, but by the time I freed my finger from a knot in my shoelaces, they were long gone. So I stayed home to catch up on my drooling.

After a while, they came back home. I asked my wife how the walk went.

"Very nice," she said. "We went up and down the boardwalk."

"Aw, honey, you have sunstroke," I said, stuffing a fistful of crackers into my mouth pensively. "The big black flat thing outside that runs from one place to another is called 'the street.'"

She stared at me for a very long time, deciding whether to kick me in the shin. "I mean the big wooden and concrete boardwalk thing that runs along the Taunton River waterfront in a boardwalk-like fashion," she said. "It takes you all the way from Battleship Cove to Bicentennial Park. It's really nice."

"We have a boardwalk?" I asked. "In Fall River? Since when?"

"You tell me--you make the newspaper, Mr. Newspaper Guy."

"I only read the Jumble and the crossword puzzle," I murmured, hanging my head in abject shame.

To make a long story a little bit longer, the next day we headed down to Bicentennial Park on foot. I wanted to see the boardwalk for myself. The sun was shimmering off the concrete desert at the bottom of President Avenue. Over the burnt stink of car exhaust I caught a trace of salt.

A guy walking in front of me spotted my Red Sox hat and raised his arms straight up over his head, as if hanging on the rack.

"How does somebody like Curt Schilling get beat by the Devil Rays?" he yelled, not particularly in my direction.

"I have no idea," I said.

"And not just beat. He got his [pretend he said 'fanny'] handed to him." I couldn't hear anything else over the hiss of traffic. He kept on yelling and waving his arms, even as he ambled over to Globe Liquors. It was not yet 10 a.m.

When we got to the park, my dog was particularly fascinated with the spot where all the stray cats live. It's right at the entrance. None were around that morning, but we've seen them swarming around before. Once, weeks before, we saw one fall out of a tree, crashing to the ground like a coconut.

Two ladies were playing tennis in one of the four courts they have there--pretty well, actually. They volleyed for a while. It reminded me of a time last year, when my wife and I had tried playing tennis at Bicentennial. We'd driven over there and lugged our gear over to the courts, only to find that both cages of courts locked. Except there'd been two couples somehow inside, playing doubles.

One of the men had jogged up to us, on the other side of the fence, and told us, "I called the city to unlock it, but they wouldn't."

My wife nodded. "Oh," she'd said, and gazed up at the fence. It's at least 12 feet high. I'd looked around for holes in the fence and found none.

The man went back to his tennis game, and we'd walked back to the car, wondering how the hell they got in--or how they'd get out.

But I digress. Getting back to the boardwalk, it hugs the end of the park and flows south along the river toward the Braga Bridge. When you enter it, you'll see two big metal poles sticking out of the ground.

"So nobody drives a car onto it," I explained to my wife.

"What moron would drive a car onto the boardwalk?"

"We're in Fall River," I said. "Some moron will eventually drive a car onto the boardwalk."

A cool breeze brushed the sweat off my forehead. It does something to people, being down there. Maybe it's the smell of warm seawater, the swaying trees across the river and the lap of waves. Maybe it's the sizzle and pop of the electrical transformers by the park.

Whatever it is--Fall Riverites are friendly on the boardwalk. They smile as you stroll by. People laugh. More than one person said "hello" and "good morning," which was pleasant. There were people fishing over by Point Gloria. Some people were sitting around and enjoying the view.

I think I saw a gazebo somewhere--you can use it for gazeebing, I suppose. You can get to the Regatta from the boardwalk. You can make your way on the waterfront without driving. It's cool and breezy there for hot days, and it'll be a beautiful spot to go for a brisk walk in the winter.

Trust me. It's wicked nice.

All the boardwalk needs is a Del's Frozen Lemonade truck, some more trees and a Marcucci's franchise to make it perfect.

It doesn't lower anybody's taxes or create any jobs--unless there's a guy who gets paid to de-splinter the woodwork once in a while, or perhaps the friendly strollers were paid actors--but it's still wicked nice. It's not all about money.

You should probably go visit it now, while it's new and unspoiled. Enjoy the little things that make the city nice, the things you can only see on foot.

We don't have very many wicked nice things like it in Fall River. Most of our recreational water sources are gone--like the waterfall; remember the waterfall? that was nice, wasn't it?--or have highways streaking over them, or have nasty, ugly factories nearby using the water as an industrial toilet. The people who took care of this city before us saw fit to sell off Fall River's nice things for quick cash.

Some people are still hot to do that. They know who they are. Before you know it, the Taunton River will reek from dredging, and you won't be able to see across to Somerset with the liquefied natural gas tankers in the way.

We're lucky to have the boardwalk, so enjoy it. But any Fall River native knows our luck eventually goes down the shitter.

I was thinking about that as my wife, my dog and I made our way home on the boardwalk. One of the fishermen at Point Gloria grunted at us. He shook his head and showed us his bare line.

"Fall River water," he said, then chuckled and cast off again.

I knew exactly what he meant.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

It's hyp to be nosis

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You are getting sleepy. You are getting very sleepy. Your eyelids feel heavier and heavier. You are wicked tired, way more tuckered out than anyone has ever been in, like, the history of sleepiness. You are ready to fall into a deep, refreshing slumber wherein you will allow me access to your subconscious mind. I will supplant your free will with my own fiendish commands while you snooze away, my toothsome little macaroon. Sleep...sleep...

But first! Read this column!

I was checking e-mail the other day, pitchforking literally hundreds of junk messages for naked this and bigger that into the trash.

In the process, I came across a curious message advertising "mind-control software." I clicked on it. Something made me do it -- some voice deep in my subconscious.

The Subliminal Recording System is a program to make CDs with subliminal messages playing under music. You can use it to hypnotize yourself into eating less, or you can improve your confidence or rid yourself of bad habits. Like buying phony software, presumably.

"Take Control of Your Life Today Before This Software is BANNED Forever," writes the capital-letter-obsessed e-mail author. "Attract the Opposite Sex. Help Family & Friends. Improve Your Relationships." For best results, hypnotize yourself into forgetting you're trying to hypnotize yourself.

It all seemed a bit hokey, and I was wondering if it was the real deal until I caught sight of a helpful message: "THIS IS THE REAL DEAL." Seemed honest enough.

Believe it or not, there's a dark side to implanting hidden instructions in people's brains. The e-mail coyly hints at it: "Make Them Do What You Want."

If you've seen the recent blockbuster movie remake "The Manchurian Candidate," you know what I'm talking about. I recently saw the 1962 version of "The Manchurian Candidate." It stars Laurence Harvey as a Korean War veteran brainwashed by the communists to be a political assassin, facilitating a communist takeover of America. Harvey is programmed to follow any order, up to and including strangling his friends. Frank Sinatra co-stars as a smooth-talking Italian crooner who teams up with his gang of wiseacre friends -- Dino, Sammy, Joey, Pete and Ann Margaret -- to foil the fiendish plot in time for the 8 p.m. floor show at Caesar's Palace.

So I researched the Subliminal Recording System's Web site to find if I could use it to brainwash people into doing my bidding.

Like, what if I wanted my wife to pass the salt shaker, but I felt strange just flat-out asking? Or, say I wanted somebody strangled? Not that I want anybody strangled at the moment. But let's say I did. Would it be worth the $69.95?

I combed through the Web site for testimonials from Manchurian communist agents trying to infiltrate the U.S. government, because I figured they'd know all about this software.

Unfortunately, it seems the program is really designed more for quitting bad habits and such. There's no mention of strangulation at all, in fact.

That's more of a job for a different, even crazier mind-control computer program I found online at www.tifareth.com/tifareth.html: Tele Hypnosis Pro.

"Remote mind control is now possible with the most advanced radionics software: Tele Hypnosis Pro," the Web site says in cheerfully broken English. "Tele Hypnosis Pro is a superb program which you will control subconsciously other persons to get they make what you wish. It works for the most of people!!!"

Yes, friends, this is the Cadillac of mind-control computer software. With Manchurian communist brainwashers, it's Tele Hypnosis Pro 2-to-1. You can use it simply to improve yourself, if you like -- but take a gander at what else it does:

"Spiritual protection against hexes, curses, bad eye, black magic, etc. ... become younger innerly and outerly ... induce the goodness in perverse minds ... protection against fire, building and edification's colapses. ... to block the attacks of enemies."

I know what you're thinking: What's the difference between hypnosis and tele hypnosis? You big silly! "First and obvious difference is that the hypnosis is a direct physical technic accessing to the subconscious mind of the object using the physical sense of the object; in the opposite Tele Hypnosis works remotely with neither direct stimules nor physical use of the senses. ... If there was physical transmission of the commands, then, you would need the previous authorization of the person and to notify previously the contents of the induction." That clear it up for you?

Tele Hypnosis Pro costs a little more than Subliminal Recording System: $99. But does buying a mind-control program on the cheap give you "plentiful crops in agriculture and farming"? Does it "improve women's fecundity"? Does it "help to understand divine rules, laws and how works the cosmic machinery"?

No, no and not even close.

I'm not sure how to use the software, actually. I downloaded the instruction manual, but I may need to have an ex-hippie translate it into English for me: "A planetary kamea (magick squares) can be written on the reverse of the paper (in the opposite side to where you have written the mantra)," it says.

About this time, I was wondering who would fall for this stuff. Then I noticed that Tele Hypnosis Pro has a Web site where users can share their thoughts or ask questions. Yes, there are actual users of this product.

One person was having difficulty using Tele Hypnosis Pro to conjure piles of money.

A helpful friend replied, "If you want to manifest something, you must magnetise it into your reality. Money doesn't actually exist, so it is difficult to magnetise directly; it is merely an agreed fable. Better to directly wish for that which you want to gain with 'money' -- cut out the middle man."

It made a degree of baffling logic until it got to that business about money not existing -- I counted seven Agreed Fables in my wallet that sure as hell seemed to exist to me.

Another guy wrote in and said he was trying to persuade a woman to love him with the power of tele hypnosis and Microsoft Windows:

"I have been using (Tele Hypnosis Pro) for about 6 months now, but it does not seem to have any effect. ... Any help in this matter would be greatly appreciated, as I am starting to get discouraged with the product." He probably hypnotized himself to have excellent patience, too.

"The woman is my ex-wife, if that has anything to do with it," he adds. I held my head in my hands. No one replied, but I have some advice for him: Get the holy fuck away from the computer, take the tinfoil off your head and run, do not walk, to the florist.

The whole thing left me a bit sadder and wiser, having learned two valuable lessons.

One, there's a reason why they call it "junk mail."

I can't recall the second right now. All I know is, there's a strange voice in my head urging me to send a check or money order for 99 Agreed Fables to tifareth.com, located somewhere in Manchuria.
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