Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Followup: It's the great pumpkin beer mess, Charlie Brown (Part 1)

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After I went on and on the other day about how much I love pumpkin-flavored beer and can't get my favorite around here anymore, I received a few comments on Twitter about how I should just make my own. Not that I should brew my own -- just take a beer and add pumpkin pie spice.

"That's what goes on at the brewery," someone told me.

I was disappointed. Thought it was more romantic than that. I'd thought maybe it involved carving slices of pumpkin pie -- crust, Cool Whip and all -- into the beer vats, or maybe coaxing pumpkins to cross-breed with hops. But apparently no.

So I bought some pumpkin pie spice and took some Harp lager from the fridge, and I brought them into the laboratory (kitchen) of my Institute for Bizarre And Revolting Foods, or IBARF. I poured a little pint glass of Harp and then guessed how much pumpkin pie spice I should stir into it. I settled on a heaping teaspoon. Seemed sensible at the time.

The beer's immediate reaction was something like a middle-school science fair volcano, foaming up and over the top of the glass -- so, helpful tip to any middle-school kids out there. The foam caught gobs of the spice and carried it instead of letting it settle in the beer, and the action of stirring just made more foam. I wondered how I was supposed to break up the spice into the beer if stirring only made the beer go away. After a few more seconds of stirring I ended up with half a glass of muddy beer with an orange- and brown-flecked head pushing over the top like a dirty meringue.

Then I drank some.

My first sip was a mouthful of foam and a clump of dry pumpkin pie spice. It was unpleasant.

My second sip, I tried to go for the beer at the bottom of the glass, but ended up with more foam that tasted very beery and a lot like cinnamon. Also unpleasant. It smelled like a strange mixture of sweetness and beer mash, sort of like an alcoholic uncle threw up somewhere in the house after Thanksgiving but you're not sure where.

The third sip, I did get to some beer, but there were bits of pumpkin pie spice held in suspension in there, so that wasn't a great experience. It did taste pumpkinny, but tasted a lot more like failure and broken dreams. I dumped the rest down the drain and spent the next half hour before I went to bed wondering if it wasn't easier just to have a beer and a slice of pie.

I still have lots of pumpkin pie spice left, so I'm thinking about trying this again with an ale instead of a lager, though I'm not sure if that will only make the foaming chemical reaction worse. We'll have to see. I'm not done with this yet.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pumpkin flavor time, all the time

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Fall is my favorite season. There's new TV, colorful foliage, a smell in the air of freshly ruled notebooks, and various and sundry pumpkin-flavored food products appear at stores and coffee shops near you. Also, I get to wear a jaunty scarf and nobody looks askance at it.

Back to the pumpkin stuff. When I was in Bar Harbor recently, I had a Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale, a beer so goddam delicious you can't believe it. It was like drinking a beer pumpkin pie, which is what I yelled in the restaurant to my wife sitting two feet in front of me: "IT'S LIKE DRINKING A BEER PUMPKIN PIE!" I'm not kidding. There was nutmeg and cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice all mixed up and baked in. I detected the floury, toasty flavor of homemade crust in there, for chrissakes. Bringing the glass to my nose was like opening the stove on Thanksgiving. I wanted to handle the glass with oven mitts and leave it on the windowsill to cool. That beer was so fucking good, in fact, that a fruit fly landed in the glass when I was halfway through and started doing the dog-paddle. I was angry but couldn't hold it against the little son of a bitch. I would've done the same thing.

I've been trying to get some Shipyard Pumpkinhead in the area ever since then, with no luck. There's just none around. My wife couldn't even get an Asian woman at a Swansea liquor store to comprehend out the word "Shipyard." ("Sheep-yee?" "No, Ship-YARD." "Sleep-hard?" "Ship-Yarrr-Duh." "Shee-wee?") Tipsters e-mail blackfonzie@gmail.com if you can hook me up. If you can get me a case, you can keep two of the beers. And then we'll share a beer together, on you. So you get one. Still a good deal.

I've been sampling a couple other pumpkin beers, but none are as good as the Shipyard. I've had Blue Moon's Harvest Moon, which looked promising because it had illustrations of pumpkins on the label. When I tasted it, it was good, but about as pumpkinny as your average Octoberfest beer -- which is to say, not really. Then I had Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale, which is also OK but it doesn't knock you out with pumpkin flavor. Considering the label features a scarecrow with a pumpkin head standing in a pumpkin field, I expected a little more pumpkinness. But no. Just sort of a vague taste of nutmeg -- like you're drinking a beer in the same room as a pumpkin pie. Which is good, don't get me wrong -- it's just not as pumpkin-intensive as a sturdy man like me requires.

Maybe I expect too much. I want everything to taste like pumpkin. Not only that, but I want things to taste a lot like pumpkin. I may be like a junkie, except with pumpkin, so I can't get my fix unless I'm jacking straight-up pumpkin pie filling. I'm also addicted to the Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes, the little pukes. The other day, at Target, I took three bags of Archer Farms pumpkin pie spice ground coffee off the shelf before I started to feel a bit conspicuous and only bought two. Worst story: In my second year at college, my roommate and I saved spare change for months in a jar, cashed it in for big bills around the middle of November, and bought four whole 10-inch pumpkin pies. We kept them in a mini-fridge and ate nothing but the pumpkin pies for days. There were crust crumbs in the carpet for the rest of the semester.

Last year around this time, I remember Silk making little quart cartons of pumpkin-flavored soymilk. I would fold that into my pumpkin-flavored coffee and sit and drink it and, while I was copy editing badly written news, the double-shot of pumpkinny goodness would soak into my brain and I would pretend I was sitting in front of a warm and hearty fire in an easy chair with my wife and I under goosedown blankets reading leather-bound volumes of Dickens, having just eaten some of that same goose, while snow fell outside and there was a constant jingling of sleigh bells from somewhere, possibly some sort of machine I'd rigged together from an old motor, a wire hanger, and a set of sleigh bells. Long story short, I can't find that pumpkin soymilk around lately.

Why is the pumpkin flavored stuff only around for a few goddam months, anyway? I'd like the taste of pumpkin even in the sweltering heat of summer, believe me. I can handle it. You think I can't? You think I'll get sick of it? A man who eats nothing but pumpkin pie for several days will not get sick of the pumpkin flavor. Trust me. We ate four pies, but if we'd only had more money and less dignity we would have bought more. If I could receive all my necessary nutritional requirements from just pumpkin pie, I'd eat only pumpkin pie starting today. Come to think of it, there's got to be a way to do this, to get your protein and vitamins and minerals in pumpkin pie form. Get on this, scientists.

And food manufacturers: I can handle pumpkin flavor all year, not just the fucking autumn. Beer manufacturers: I can take it. Give me pumpkin flavored beer the whole year round. That's what I want for Christmas. But well before Christmas, please.

And then afterward.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

FAQ me: Why I changed the name

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People who know me, or who have been following this blog, or who've been following me on Twitter know that I recently had an identity crisis. One day recently, out of nowhere, I switched the name of this blog from Black Fonzie to Mister Fonzie. Why'd I do that? Am I giving up the "Black Fonzie" brand forever? Did I have a stroke or something? Find the answers to these questions and more below.

Q. Hi there.

A. Hey.

Q. What did "Black Fonzie" even mean, anyway?
A. Black Fonzie was, and still is, the name of a band. A good friend of mine -- we'll call him Jones, because that's his name -- started this band, and he and I are the only members (occasionally we may ask if someone in the audience plays drums). The band is the world's most popular, best-selling, fictional acoustic/metal/rock/funk/jazz/instrumental/wedding covers combo ever conceived. We have never performed together. Despite this, Black Fonzie has recorded several albums:

(1) "You're Not The Regular Mailman": A four-part instrumental suite concept album consisting of music heard in pornographic films, ranging in style from baroque to jazz to metal. Personnel: Dan on rhythm guitar, lead guitar, slide guitar, steel guitar, acoustic guitar, triangle, sexophone, flute, and harp; Jones on rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion, mouth noises, drums, and muted trumpet.

(2) "Santa Up My Chimney": Black Fonzie's Christmas album, featuring all the holiday favorites, including snippets of the above album remixed with sleigh bells.

(3) "We Are Your Overlords": A double-disc tribute to Led Zeppelin, featuring 23 cover versions of the "Immigrant Song" riff played over and over (special hidden bonus track: "Livin' Lovin' Maid").

There are also reputed to be several live bootlegs in circulation. Black Fonzie has yet to perform live in front of an audience.

You may begin to suspect that this is all rather difficult to explain when people ask what the name means.

Q. Sorry, I wasn't listening -- so what's "Black Fonzie" mean again?

A. Easy shorthand: the "Black" means evil, as in Black Sabbath. The "Fonzie" means cool, as in Fonzie.

Q. Why did you call this blog Black Fonzie?

A. I liked the name, so I started calling everything I signed up for on the Internet "Black Fonzie." First I used it for my email, then for a couple of usernames here and there, and then this blog, then more usernames, and more sign-ins, and eventually it was everywhere.

When I started this blog, I was writing a newspaper column. I only meant to use the blog for my own personal use, as a way to make a database of some newspaper columns I had written. They would be searchable so I wouldn't repeat topics, and then I could share the columns with people I knew who weren't in my paper's circulation area.

Eventually a few other people started following my blog, and then more people, and I kept using the name "Black Fonzie" for different things all over the goddam Internet. Pretty much anywhere you see Black Fonzie, that's me.

Q. Do people ever ask you what "Black Fonzie" means?

A. All the time. I've tried various ways of shortening the long explanation, and it never seems to come out funny. This is why mankind invented the phrase "You kind of had to be there."

Q. Hey, have people ever mentioned to you that "black" could mean "black" -- you know, as in "black"?

A. Um, yes. It doesn't, though. "Black Fonzie" is not a reference to an African-American version of Henry Winkler's "Happy Days" character. No. The thought honestly never occurred to me until years had gone by and I'd been using the name. Call me stupid, but it never came up.

Q. Yeah, but isn't that what people would think?

A. Yes.

Q. Have people online ever thought you were an African-American guy?

A. Many times, yes. Then they see my picture and go back to their knitting.

Q. I see. Is that why you're changing the name? So people won't get confused?

A. Partially. Lemme put it this way. Let's create an in-joke right now. Remember Spuds Mackenzie? The bull terrier that sold Bud Light to little children in the 1980s? Go on, read the Wikipedia page, relive your youth -- I'll wait.

OK. Now, the dog's first name was "Spuds." Another word for a potato is a "spud." Let's say you sat around shooting the shit with a friend one night, and you decided they should've changed the dog's name from Spuds Mackenzie to Potato Mackenzie. And from Potato Mackenzie someone threw out Mashed Mackenzie. And perhaps that devolved into a series of in-jokes featuring different methods of preparing potatoes followed by the word "Mackenzie," which would be utterly hilarious if you did this very late at night and had partaken of several Bud Lights. So on it goes from Mashed Mackenzie to Scalloped Mackenzie, to Baked Mackenzie, to Mackenzie Au Gratin, to French Fried Mackenzie. And this is the one you latch onto. Somehow it seems the funniest one. Eventually it becomes shortened to French Mackenzie.

Years later you open an e-mail account named French Mackenzie, and start a blog called French Mackenzie, and start calling yourself French Mackenzie online everywhere. Sooner or later, someone's going to say, "What are you, French? Comment allez vous?"

And it's not their fault for thinking that -- it's your fault for picking a name that sounded funny at the time but could be easily misconstrued to be something it's not. Either way, you get sick of explaining the whole thing about the potatoes.

Q. That was baffling. Anyway, I get the gist. You're not Black Fonzie anymore.

A. I'm now going to call this blog Mister Fonzie, and will be using that name as an alter ego online. It's pretty hard to misconstrue that one. And I'm in the process of switching over many of my usernames. But there are some things I just can't switch, because it would be too involved or impossible. So I'll be using both names, but in general trying to use Mister Fonzie wherever I can.

You can still call me whatever. "Black" is Mister Fonzie's first name.

Q. Now I'm really confused. Why don't you just call your blog by your real name?

A. Sit on it.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Don't write me in

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I've written here before about what a pain in the ass a presidential campaign is, and about the bizarre nature of third-party candidacies, and about how John McCain's constant splay-fingeredness makes him look like a ghoul. I've been basically implying for a while that I'm not interested in the job. But just so we're absolutely clear, now that America is headed to the polls and you have the write-in option: Don't write me in for president. Please.

I don't want to be the president. Ever. To be perfectly honest, to want to be president you'd have to have a fucking screw loose somewhere.

Yes, that means I think both Barack Obama and John McCain must therefore have a screw loose somewhere. That's right, I said it. Bob Barr and Ralph Nader, too. Quite a few untightened fasteners there, particularly considering their chances. And Ron Paul. Especially Ron Paul.

Listen: As president, you're entire job is to take shit from everyone. That's the whole deal. Taking shit from everyone and having headaches.

You take no end of shit from whatever party you're not in. It's built into the two-party system: it's You and Them. You are not Them. They are not You.

McCain has called Obama everything from "that one" to a terrorist-palling-around-with secret-Muslim Manchurian candidate socialist no-goodnik who faked his birth certificate. If he's elected, Obama can expect things to start getting really nasty. President Bush has been taking shit nonstop for almost eight years, being called everything from mentally disabled to a war criminal -- and while those descriptions might be somewhat apt, it must stink to hear them over and over and over.

You even take shit from people in your own party. Both McCain and Obama have some experience with this, having endured primaries where their party-mates told everyone who would listen that voting for McCain or Obama would be like shooting yourself in the foot, except you can't remove the bullet for another four years -- you'd just have to sit there with a bleeding, throbbing, gangrenous foot until it falls off of its own accord.

As president you take shit from entire countries. That's basically the job. The president is the one guy who we've decided is going to take shit from other nations on behalf of all 300 million Americans. And this shit they're giving us is sometimes grim -- very grim indeed. Imagine being the person who's in charge when the Air Force accidentally bombs a children's hospital in Afghanistan. You can let the pissed-off president of Afghanistan go to voice mail for only so long before it becomes your job, as president, to formulate some kind of tactful reply.

When you're president, everything wrong that happens is your fault -- things that may have nothing to do with you directly. The weather. Too much sex in films. Potholes. Pedophile priests. Lousy housing prices. If it involves America, and it sucks, you did it, pal. Never mind logic. Never mind your dozens of lackeys in the administration who work for you. You did it. The buck stops with you -- every single buck stops with you. That goes for everyone on the planet. If a McDonald's opens too close to the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egyptians are not going to find out who the CEO of McDonald's is, and burn him in effigy. They burn you. You're "close enough."

Sometimes things really are your fault. You approve some stupid decision that seemed like a good idea at the time -- if only to you -- and whole populations end up poor, unemployed, or dead. Which makes the possibility of screwing something up staggeringly high. I prefer jobs with an easily attainable threshold for success. Like being in newspapers. I get a few weeks of vacation every year to do with as I please, weekends off, and as long as every day's newspaper comes out eventually, everyone's a winner.

Everything you do is scrutinized and criticized. Maybe you're too fat. You're too young. Your beard is funny. You drink too much. You're too boring. You're too exciting. Expect to be nagged about those things for the rest of your life. Also, expect nutcases to try to assassinate you, every day, because they're mentally ill and they blame you for their awful, pathetic lives, the same way you're blamed for everything else.

Whoever wins the presidency tonight will inherit a massive debt, huge budget deficits, two wars, crappy infrastructure, an economy one clockwise toilet spiral away from Great Depression II, and about 100 million people furious that McCain didn't win. All this for $400,000 a year plus bennies. And you'll look like a bastard unless you give away your salary to charity. Who willingly applies for a job knowing that it's going to be a major clusterfuck you won't even get paid for? Strange people -- that's who.

You put up with all this nonsense, locked into a four-year contract you can't negotiate with, for nothing except a shot at making a difference in American history. And that's not even guaranteed. Two words for you: Millard Fillmore. Don't use Wikipedia -- name me three reasons why he's important, and one of them cannot be because his name sounds funny.

The one positive thing? You get room and board in a centralized location in a major city. And a maid. Those things would be nice. I'd like that. But I can get them by simply having a good enough job without the hassle of the presidency. And you can too. Kids: if you're reading this, work hard and dream big -- one day you can grow up to not be president, too.
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