Family and Coffee Cake

When I was growing up, my grandparents lived in Elizabeth, NJ.  My parents would drive my brother and I up for a visit on any given weekend and we would eat Jewish Deli food.  This consisted of lox, bagels, whitefish, and a bunch of the less attractive fare such as herring in cream sauce and gefilte fish.  Herring wasn’t a problem for me, but gefilte fish was another matter.

I’ve always found gefilte fish utterly disgusting and awful.  I mean, who really wants a mashed up fish patty with terrible flavor that is served out of a jar.  And in that jar it has been sitting suspended in a clear gelatin.  The thought makes me shiver.



Clearly I am getting sidetracked by the horror of gefilte fish.  Back to the important part of this story.

These were wonderful family meals and my grandparents loved to host their children and grandchildren.  They rank among my fondest memories from my childhood.  My grandma always made chicken soup from scratch which was a star attraction of the meal.  And she always had Entenmann’s Crumb Coffee Cake fresh from the store in that box with the cellophane top.  This was one of my favorite foods.  It was a soft cake, with a dense crumb top and I loved it every time I came to their house.  You cannot eat it without the crumbs getting everywhere.  Plus, when you were done, you could sweep all the crumbs that had fallen onto your plate into a small pile and eat them too, which was the best part.  Alternatively, I would smush the crumbs together into a single giant crumb that I ate.  It was an amazing combination of saturated fat, salt, sugar, love, freshness, and high calories.

It is not everyday you find yourself with a perfectly made delicacy that is both inexpensive and (since the company went national a few years later) available in most supermarkets.


Entermann’s discovered that people loved their cake so much that they expanded into an “Ultimate” crumb cake with more crumbs on top.  This was a good effort, but a mistake.  The cake had exactly the right number of crumbs on it.  Do not buy the “Ultimate” version that comes in a box with much more blue in it.  The one you want is the “Classic Crumb Coffee Cake,” much like Classic Coke.  And don’t think you can get the same thing in a bite size with their mini coffee cakes.  These simply aren’t the same eating experience or quality (in my opinion) as a square of the original stuff coming from the box.

For those uncertain of the correct etiquette of eating the cake, you cut it out of the box with a knife and eat it with your hands.  I guess you could eat it with a fork if you were frightened of getting white sugar on your tuxedo lapels, but I consider that similar to Bobby Kennedy eating his pizza with a fork and knife.  Sure, you could do that, but that’s not how it was done back in the old country of North Jersey in the 1980s.  Anyway, I don’t think it has confectioner’s sugar on it, so you could probably wipe away the mess with a napkin.

Many years later, in my late 20s, I came across an Entenmann’s coffee cake in a market and picked it up.  It was as good as ever and I now buy it whenever company comes into town. You only have a few days to eat it before it goes a bit stale, so it is better to have someone else in the house who enjoys it as well.

Sure, they have lots of other products I devour, such as their golden cake or those donuts that look like they’re covered in small tumors, but the crumb coffee cake is truly awesome.  Go buy a box right now.  Eat some.  Take it from me, if you don’t enjoy it, keep it to yourself because this reflects poorly on your character.  But I promise you, you’ll like it.

It is even rumored that Frank Sinatra had a standing order for Entenmann’s coffee cake wherever he went.  Is this true?  I have no idea, but the internet says it is, so it must be so.


Drones, Theft and a Prediction

Recent news included a tidbit about drones (the kind with cameras, weapons, etc., not the kind from a beehive).  Apparently there is already a prototype drone that can land on electric lines and draw power to charge its battery.  This would enable the drone to remain in the field for long periods of time as it would not have to go back to a base to recharge. 


Good Lord by Trustocorp, 2011, back lit stained glass

While the military implications of drones are fascinating, I believe the real significance of this article is in the potential of the technology.

If drones can steal electricity to charge their batteries, they can steal electricity to use for any purpose whatsoever.  Image if you have a drone that can perch on a line and has a plug that extends down to the ground.  Free electricity!  You need no knowledge of how to hook up a line to steal it.  You take no risk, the drone just flies up to the power line and you’re good to go.  When you’re done, it flies down and you pack it up.  No evidence exists of your theft at that location and the power plant picks up the bill for your usage.

In addition, if you have an electric car, it would only be a small jump in technology to have a small drone in the trunk and you could recharge your car’s battery anywhere you could find a power line.  No more stopping at a gas station for you.  No more worrying about the low range of your electric car.  Enormous potential abuses exist if there is an easy way to steal electricity with no way to be tracked.


My prediction

Perching drones will be made illegal for non-military usage as soon as they appear on the market. 


Though they may be as effective as a plastic gun printed with a 3D printer, the potential for abuse is far too high for Congress to allow them in private hands.  On the other hand, the government trusts itself to do the right thing, so their use will be monopolized by the government the instant they are available. 

Because most power companies are so heavily regulated that they depend on the goodwill of politicians, they won’t let out a peep of protest and will pass the cost of the theft on down to the private consumer.  Since the stolen electricity will be “free” to governments, as an expense passed on to private citizens and businesses, governments are guaranteed to abuse their new found powers of theft.  New technology of this sort cannot be put back in Pandora’s Box.  Once you learn to open the Kryptonite lock with a plastic pen, the whole design must change. 

What will become of our power lines?  Will they all have to be buried at great cost?  Will this be an excuse to watch everyone even more closely in our liberty loving society?  Or is there some far less costly solution?  Whatever the case, the winds of change are blowing.  This new technology will have a greater impact than a small plane that gets to hang out a bit longer taking pictures.

Artistic Appreciation with Age

As I get older, I see beauty everywhere.

It wasn’t always this way.  When I was in my teens and 20s, I had no interest in a natural setting.  I found no special enjoyment from a mountain or river scene, unless it was of the extreme Ansel Adams variety.Image

Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, by Ansel Adams for the National Park Service.


Now I can look at a lake and feel peaceful.  A waterfall holds my attention and an Olympic athletic performance keeps me riveted as never before. That change alone has added to my enjoyment of life.  I finally appreciate those things my parents and all the people around me have enjoyed for their whole lives.  The change has not stopped there and this is where I find things shifting to the absurd.


I now find beauty and interest all around me.  I still find some things much more attractive than others, such as the photo below.


Tribute to Man Ray by Guy Le Baube (1994)


When I look around, I see beauty in the random patterns of wood flooring, in a chaotic pile of driftwood, in a broken down desk.  I take joy in the artistic unattractiveness of an enormously fat person on a scooter,  smoking, with bad skin and stains on their shirt.  It makes me want to take a picture.  I find cheaply made items, broken golf clubs and plastic toys from the 90s and I want to capture the image.  I don’t even want to make a statement about them.  I have no message to send, just the joy in the image.  I want to see them for what they are.  In doing so, I enjoy them.  As my joy in the simple and unimpressive has grown, I fear I am becoming like that kid in the movie American Beauty.  He describes a plastic bag blowing around as the most beautiful thing he has ever seen.  I have ridiculed this for years and I disliked his character intensely.  Now I’m not about to call something like that the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, but I understand what he is saying.  I have to accept this is the one way street my mind has chosen to travel.


If this continues, I will find beauty in a plain white light switch on the wall or in the dust bunnies on the floor.  I find if I stare at something long enough it starts to grow on me and I see it as artistic.  I never understood the appeal of distressed wood (why damage something intentionally?), but now I find it may add to a table.  Perhaps I will appreciate the modern art paintings of a red square on a white canvas in another ten years.  Maybe on my deathbed I will appreciate the unpainted canvas alone.  I have always looked upon this sort of art with horror.  As a kid, Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup paintings seemed a waste of time.  Now I love them.  Diane Arbus photographs of everyday people appeal to me now more than ever before.


Though my opinions of art have spread far and wide, I find greater beauty in specific wonderful pieces more than in the everyday.  The beauty of the truly stunning has become so great in my eyes I stand transfixed when I see it.  Put a couple of drinks in me a I have to own it, to make it a permanent part of my life.

De gustibus non disputandum est.

(Roughly translated, there’s no accounting for taste.)


Here is one of my favorites:


The Weight of Water, Part 3 by Tara McPherson, 2008


Ancient Thought, Modern Agoraphobia

“While we are postponing, life speeds by.”

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”


I started reading (or rereading) some of the thinkers from Ancient Greece and Rome over the past two years.  Perhaps it is a time in life or simply an openness to timeless concepts that has drawn me back a couple of millennia.  Certainly the quotes above are meaningful to me, though I have picked concise, brief thoughts to share rather than lengthy discourses of some depth.

What strikes me most is the difference between how we perceive these early philosophers and the nature of their lives.  When I used to think of Socrates, I thought of a portly old man, expounding on life, or drinking hemlock in a sterile environment, wearing a white robe.


Influential.  Brilliant.  Sterile.  Tedious.  Long gone and dusty.


In fact, Socrates was a very interesting man, always talking, feasting with friends, drinking and socializing.  In reading Plato’s works, I learned Socrates fought in battle as a soldier, showed courage and loyalty, and was invited to feasts as a favored guest.  Socrates spoke of the nature of love and beauty in rich and poetic language, not as a mathematical formula of A=B, therefore C.  Though his ideas were usually accepted as the best of those in an evening, his voice was one of many people enjoying a topic, rather than a teacher dictating to his students.  This was a man who loved his life, loved learning about it, and loved living it.

The more I read of ancient thinkers and philosophers, the more I am unimpressed with the sterile lives led by our current experts.  Modern experts frequently go from college to graduate school and on to professorships, never peeking their heads out of a library, never truly living the life existent beyond the confines of their ivory towers.  How few would attend a feast (or throw one) with a mix of more and less educated guests, from many walks of life, with opposing political and religious views?

I fear I have painted with too broad a stroke.  There are those who write and discuss beyond peer reviewed journals and safe, small gatherings of colleagues.  There are those who live the life of the mind, yet climb mountains, fire rifles and swim in strange waters.  Those who are unafraid to speak their unpopular ideas in their search for truth.  Those who are open to a challenge of their beliefs that they may be either refined or discarded.

I lament there are so few who show such courage.  How many of our politicians or scholars will be read thousands of years from now, much less in a hundred?   Whose words from our time will resonate through millennia as do the words of Cicero or Augustus Caesar?  Perhaps a fierce intensity of living should be placed alongside books as a good prescription for learning and discovering the intense truths of life.  I recommend starting right away.

“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.”



Fortune cookies – It is time they told the future and nothing else

Fortune cookie

Fortune cookies.  Those magical cookies with a piece of paper inside telling us the future.  Never requested, but always included in every inexpensive Chinese food takeout.

The cookie itself is dry and bland.  Imagine a plate of just fortune cookies.  Yucko.  Without the fortune, nobody would ever eat one, but the fortune itself makes all the difference.  Plus, in my family, there was a tradition that the fortune wouldn’t come true if you didn’t eat the cookie.  And it’s one of the few times that everyone tells what their fortune is without fear that the telling will destroy the wish.  The fortune itself made all the difference.

I grew up in the age before fortune cookies had lucky numbers in them, making something tacky into something downright ridiculous. I’m a bit of a purist, so lucky numbers are hard for me to accept.  But the fortune itself?  That is truth writ large.  I have no choice.  I must accept my fate.

Sometimes the fortune is missing entirely, which is a loss.  You can always ask for another if that happens, so everything will be made whole.  But nothing is more aggravating than the fortune that does not tell the future.  “Your heart is a place of true happiness”  THIS IS NOT A FORTUNE! (Hopefully true, but not a fortune.)  “Sometimes traveling to a new place leads to a great transformation”  THIS IS ALSO NOT A FORTUNE!  I know about the present, I want to know what is to come.  If I wanted advice on how to live, I wouldn’t have ordered that egg roll.  I want to know that money, or wonderful journeys are in my future, or good news is coming, or even that I should expect a lucky Friday afternoon.  Don’t tell me platitudes.  Don’t tell me what Confucius thinks.  Uncover the veil of the unknowable future and give me that knowledge right now.

I received the fortune recently that “You will spend many years in comfort and material wealth.”  Awesome!  Maybe no spiritual growth, love of family, or anything beyond the  base material existence, but hey, it’s something I wasn’t certain of in my future until now.  Now that’s a fortune, and makes the $5 price of the meal worthwhile.




Some Car Thoughts

My first car was a 1987 Volkswagen Quantum.  My parents bought it used for me in 1991 for around $4000.  Over the next 6 years it held together, but I only saw 5 others on the road the entire time I owned it.  It certainly wasn’t cool.  In fact, it sucked all the coolness out of the air anywhere it went, but I loved it and it had power locks and steering, so good for me.


Today I went shopping for a specific car that appears to be equally rare:  A used Hyundai Equus.


Looks pretty cool with those mountains in the background.  Definitely a step up. Like my former car, this is not a young man’s car, more of a very comfy car for driving around diplomats and such.  I have always enjoyed cars with lots of headroom, legroom and amenities over the sleeker sportier variety.  Some versions of this car actually have a fridge in the back.  The inside is high luxury, everything anyone could ever want, but there were two things that stood out in particular when I took it for a test drive.  

1.  The back seats were more comfortable than either of the front seats.  I’ve never seen this before.  The front seats were fine, comfy and all, but the back were amazing.  So many controls, you could even open the opposite side passenger window from your door without having to reach across the middle.  Unfortunately, since I love to drive and this could become my car, I wouldn’t spend too much time in the back. The front seat did have a massage option, which is obviously cool. 

2.  Driving this car takes you away from the experience of driving.  It is like traveling in a silent bubble above the road.  Road feel?  Not a bit of it.  I could barely notice I was on the road at all.  You don’t notice your speed, any bumps, anything.  Everything about it is easy.  This is not necessarily a good thing for someone who loves to drive, though it is awesome for a passenger.  At the end of the drive I had no idea what I thought of it, driving it was similar to sitting still in the parking lot, except it brought me places.  Sure it has a powerful engine and all that sort of thing, but this was the first time I had experienced a car whose sole purpose was to make you forget you were driving.

All in all, I liked it very much.  It is a contender.  I’m not sure I want to give up road feel, but I do enjoy a good driving massage.  Since no one has heard of it or seen one before, I would be driving a mystery car. You can’t even find the Hyundai emblem anywhere on it, just the weird Equus symbol everywhere.  I think it looks like a wishbone with bat wings.



47 Ronin – The Movie



This weekend I rented 47 Ronin, a movie with some of the same characters as the famous story of the 47 ronin of Japan from a couple hundred years ago.  I would say it is based on the story, but really I would be lying to you.

Rotten Tomatoes, that movie review site, gives 47 Ronin a rating of 13% out of a possible 100%, placing it a solid 16% worse than Tideland.  Tideland was so terrible that it broke the cardinal rule of movies; a sequel to the original would excel it.  But more on that another time as Tideland deserves its own post.  Opinions can differ on many things, but the fact is, Tideland is worst movie ever made.  Ever.  Ever ever.

Keanu Reeves stars as a blah blah, half demon, yada yada, swords, witches, samurai, halfwitted stares into the distance, who cares.  Nobody has ever accused Keanu of brilliant acting, but he makes a fun action hero.  You want him to defeat evil and you turn to his movies for a good time, not for intellectual stimulation.  Go, Keanu, go!  Say your lines and kill the bad guy in cool ways.  Time for some popcorn.

All those reviewers who gave 47 Ronin a poor rating need to remember why the watched the film in the first place.  They wanted action and that’s exactly what they got.  If, as they stated, “…one dimensional roles” is a negative, why did Titanic get 88%?  (Ha, ha, I took a pot shot at Titanic.  Take that, American public that loved it!)

47 Ronin should have received a rating in the low 50s.  If you just want to see a bunch of samurai with swords fight demons (and a witch-fox-dragon-whatever thing) for honor, while facing certain death, buy some milk duds and rent this one.


Personal note: Milk duds happen to be excellent for removing any annoying dental work cluttering up your mouth.


Keep your expectations for 13% and this movie will exceed them with flying colors.

An overweight prediction


As the world has become wealthier and more efficient, the cost of food has dropped.  We exercise about as much as beached whales and we have seen the inevitable result:  An explosion of “big boned” Eric Cartmans as far as the eye can see.

Unless we come up with the means of losing weight that requires zero self control (such as a new Stalin or functional diet pill), I anticipate this trend will continue.

As the ranks of the overweight swell (both literally and figuratively), the social stigma of morbid obesity declines.  As time progresses, overweight people will attempt to make their lives easier by doing as little exercise as possible.  Easing the stresses in one’s life has been a goal of invention and business for millennia and has been a sign of progress in the modern era.


Often the most stressful exercise overweight people experience in a typical day is walking up stairs in their own home.  I predict that, as more and more people become overweight, newly designed houses will do away with stairs, either substituting an elevator (you’d still need emergency stairs which take up space), or, as I now foresee the future, multistory homes become a thing of the past.

Except for the wealthy, who can afford the cost of both floor space for stairs and an the expense of an elevator, homes will lose their upper floors.

If the seller of a home wants the new, morbidly obese, borderline shut-in to buy his home, a big selling point would be the ranch style.  Why should the mobile 400 pound man have to strain his overworked heart going up stairs?  He could just walk or ride his scooter straight from his bedroom to the bathroom, the home office, or out the door to his car.  When building a new home, for both future resale and one’s own convenience, why not build wider instead of higher?

I predict entire new developments without a step to climb.


Side note, with a tiny, super easy prediction:

In our age of politically correct speech, I am surprised the overweight masses in the United States accept the medical term “morbid obesity.”  “Morbid” and “obese,” while descriptive and specific, may easily be found offensive by people who fit into that category.  Consider, in the past, “moron” referred to an IQ of 51-70, “imbecile” to 26-50 and “idiot” up to 25.  Mental retardation had a specific definition before school yard kids started slinging it at each other.  These are all now considered offensive, politically incorrect,  and have been entirely removed from our speech as inappropriate.


It is a very small step to see how “morbid” in morbid obesity will have to be removed and some other, easier to swallow term will be substituted.  Perhaps something along the lines of “formidably built.”  It is only a short time before the term changes.  I give it less than ten years at most, maybe only 2 or 3.