Sunday, August 26, 2007

searching for like-minded haters

It all started with my last post’s bonus fun fact: I ate raw pork.

It’s hard to push a fun fact like that out of one’s mind; it’s more evocative than you’d think, like accidentally sharing a dirty needle. I tried to convince myself that trichinosis isn’t necessarily a BAD thing—that soon they’ll be selling trichinosis parasites on late night cable shows as a diet aid—and I was just a little ahead of the curve, an early adopter, a trendsetter.

It’s like TrimSpa, trichinosis. Nothing to get upset about. Trichinosis: Parasite of the Stars. Coming soon to TMZ and PinkIsTheNewBlog. In fact, trichinosis is better than TrimSpa since everyone knows that a TrimSpa, Methadone, and wheat grass smoothie is actually what killed Anna Nicole Smith. And when’s the last time you heard of anyone keeling over from trichinosis?

But then I began to wonder about my theory. Maybe it’s tapeworms that’ll be the new diet aid. Or cholera. And trichinosis will still constitute a dire medical condition, contracted through unwise consumption of raw pork. Maybe trichinosis is just a little too far ahead of the curve.

I have to find out more; I have a gripping need to know. But googling for trichinosis would be stupid. Then I’d likely find noteworthy cases of the disease, lavishly illustrated and lovingly described. I need to be more strategic about my Internet research so I don’t get the wrong answer or something I don't want to hear.

What about using a query like “I ate raw pork”? That’s simple. That’d be a turn of phrase you’d put in your blog or forum post if you just so happened to eat raw pork and wanted to casually chat about the outcome, good or bad. If you wanted some peer support or good advice.

So I google for “I ate raw pork” to see what turns up.

As it turns out, a number of people report have eaten raw pork. Fourteen, counting me. Or perhaps 16 if I don’t let Google omit the results very similar to these. Who’s to say if one incidence of eating raw pork is very similar to another?

At first glance, it appears that none of these chow hounds is crying in his trotters. Or writing a blog post from his hospital bed.

I follow each link carefully. The problem is, these people are even less sensitive to the delicate sensibilities of their audience than I am. One recounts eating French dishes made from raw wild boar; I can almost hear him grunting with gustatory pleasure. Another describes eating a raw pork sandwich in a German cafe. A Russian site transforms my innocent blog post into an ersatz raw pork recipe even as it infects my PC with some type of virtual parasite. Another site debunks the widespread myth that Coca-Cola forces worms to crawl out of raw pork.

My stomach churns.

Although none of the sites—including the Russian one that twists the words from my own blog—makes me feel any better about eating raw pork, they do entertain me. And often it’s more important to be amused than it is to tame one’s raging hypochondria. In fact, didn’t Reader’s Digest run a regular column called “Laughter is the Best Medicine” in which scary medical procedures were reduced to occasions for hilarity?

Here’s one now:
The phone by my hospital bedside was driving me crazy. Every hour or so it would ring. Because I was recovering from hip surgery, I couldn't reach it. Around midnight, it started ringing again. I noticed the light was on behind one curtain in my four-bed ward. "Excuse me," I called out. "Are you ambulatory?" "No," the answer came back. "I'm Martinez."
See? Hilarious. ROTFLMAO. Couldn’t be funnier. My intestinal parasites have been expelled through the power of the anecdote. They left, offended, while I was ROTFLMAO.

Laughter truly is the best medicine. Next to, say, Vicodin. Or stuff that kills worms.

But what has really impressed me is how this search for other raw pork eaters has proven to be so much more satisfying than any of my other recent searches. To be certain, my search history reveals such pedestrian queries as:

"cone of silence"
"bell bean" "cover crop"
milli vanilli
Elvis death day 30
David Redmiles
tiny cat pants
Dick Brass

Why is it that “I ate raw pork” yields more exciting results than searching for GWAR, Teletubbies, Milli Vanilli, bell beans, or Dick Brass? Why? I think it’s because using that first person pronoun in my query puts me squarely in the middle of a veritable army of like-minded bloggers, forum participants, myspacers, and soul-searchers instead of just flooding my already-clogged short term memory with more information. And it keeps me out of Wikipedia.

Information? I got plenty of that. Facts? A surfeit. I watch The Colbert Report, after all.

I don’t need information; I need connection. And LinkedIn isn’t going to tell me who else ate raw pork.

So let’s test this theory. Here’s another one. How about:

“I love convenience stores.”

Because I do. Some years I attempt to do all of my Xmas shopping at convenience stores: Slim Jims, 5-hour Energy shots, Auto Traders, Funyuns, and windshield wiper fluid all around! That’s what’s under our tree.

On Thursday, I walked over to the 7-11 on Pear Avenue—halfway between Microsoft and Google—to buy my lunch. It had an entire display of dried noodles: Ramen noodles. Cup of Noodles. Pad Thai noodles. Korean noodles with mystery seasonings and dried vegetable packets. Noodles. Noodles. Noodles. I read all of the noodle packages. Then I bought a small carton of cottage cheese and a banana, which I could’ve got at the corporate cafeteria.

But I have a hard time curbing my enthusiasm for convenience stores.

When we lived in College Station, every day I rode my bike 11 long miles to the university and back home again. Past new housing developments shedding carpet scraps and discarded black plastic landscaping pots. Past suburban yards with crazy barking dogs straining at flimsy fences. Past a row of semis parked at the Ponderosa Motel with its new red metal roof. I’d pedal and pedal; it was hot and no matter which direction I was going, I was invariably riding against the wind.

On my way home, I always stopped at a certain Circle K, the convenience store at the corner of farm-to-market road 2818 and Longmire Street. Once I saw a truck parked at Gas Pump 3 with its bed full of chickens; the air was thick with feathers and the smell of poultry in motion. But usually at the time of day that I stopped, the mini-mart was devoid of customers and the clerks were sitting at the checkout counter, bored, but never sullen. No matter how hot it was, I bought a coffee there. The pot would’ve been cooking on the warmer since morning. No-one else seemed to drink coffee in the heat of the Texas summer.

I poured myself a big cup of scalding stale coffee and doctored it with two stomach-coating shots of non-dairy creamer.

Once one of the clerks ventured, “Have a good day, ma’am” after I paid for my thick, foul-tasting drink and was heading out the door.

And I shot back, “You have a good day too, sir!”

And then, waiting a beat, I added, “Oh! Wait! I almost forgot! It’s always a good day at the convenience store.”

This banter was too much for the Circle K clerk. He very nearly pushed that button that summons the cops. Almost. His hand was poised.

Either that, or he was going for his gun. His Glock 9mm. That might’ve been what he was doing.

Convenience stores. What’s not to love? Armed clerks protecting the till. Unsupervised use of a powerful microwave oven. All the catsup, mustard, relish, and non-dairy creamer you can eat. Little Debbie Snack Cakes. Wax lips. Twang. Miller Lite. Wholesome porn showcasing udder-sized mammaries. Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Marlboro Reds in the hard pack. Enough sunflower seeds to transform the floor of your pickup into a compost heap. In short, merchandise that’ll satisfy almost any minor vice you might have picked up along the way.

It’s easy to see why I’d want to find out who else loves convenience stores, loves them enough to say, “It’s always a good day at the Circle K.”

I’ve got to know who these people are.

If you google “I love convenience stores,” you don’t find an army of other convenience store lovers. You find 20 other convenience store lovers. Just 20. Oddly enough, one of them is a homeschooler mom responding to a 6-facts-about-you meme. As I read her blog, I muse on how our love for convenience stores and our mutual participation in a “random facts about you” meme probably cannot sustain a relationship between us.

There is no connection.

In fact, as I scan through the writings of my fellow convenience store lovers, I begin to feel a trifle alienated. I don’t think I’d even be able to go on my annual Xmas shopping trip at the local 7-11 with any of these people. Even if they were in the car with me, I’d make ‘em wait in the parking lot.

I’d throw ‘em the keys and say, “Here. You can listen to the radio.”

It turns out that there are lots of ways to love convenience stores, some of them earnest and unseemly. A full 20% (i.e. 5) of these people just love convenience stores in Japan. Their love isn’t big and encompassing; their love is small and particular. You can apparently buy iPods at convenience stores in Japan and that’s enough to warrant a loving relationship. It’s like loving your girlfriend because she drives a cherry-red Mustang convertible.

It is wrong to love convenience stores because they carry an undeservedly fetishized consumer item. Wrong. It is a Lolita kind of love, one that should not be admitted, unless one has a Nabokovian command of the language. Otherwise, it is simply banal and creepy. If you love Japanese convenience stores because it’s the best place to meet drunk and disorderly Australians, that’s okay. Or because they carry smelly daikon and burdock Oden in the winter. But not because you can get a Super Big Gulp + Big Bite hot dog + iPod combo for $404.99. That’s just wrong.

Let’s face it: what I’ve learned is that most peoples’ love for convenience stores has nothing to do with the abstraction that made the Circle K clerk reach for his Glock in reaction to my exuberance. No. It’s because people like to buy ranch dressing and nachos with their gasoline. Or hot dogs with their iPods.

But still I’m fascinated with this idea of finding fellow travelers by declaring my love for something quotidian.

Maybe hate suits this paradigm better than love.

Hmmm. What do I hate?

I hate mayonnaise.

I hate it. It’s the one condiment that’ll force me to discard the soiled half of a sandwich (usually the top half). It’s a serviceable lubricant, but surely you can find something more aesthetic. Whatever your purposes—whether it’s to skate on the kitchen floor with inverted cantaloupe rinds strapped to your feet, to increase the opacity of your jell-o mold salad, or to make your hair shine—there’s always something that’ll work better.

Into the google search box it goes: “I hate mayonnaise.”

Here’s the thing: I’m in good company here. The results peter out at 287 unique mayonnaise-haters, but that’d still be enough to populate an academic conference or the dance floor of a really hot night club (floor slick with some other lubricant). From 287 submissions, Jon and I could surely put together a special condiment-themed issue of Lunch: An International Journal of the Midday Meal.

There’s a Worldwide I Hate Mayonnaise Club. I Hate Mayonnaise discussion boards. NO MAYO bumper stickers. Other people even report googling for the phrase “I hate mayonnaise.” In My Mean Girlfriend, a blogger tells of his girlfriend Annie taunting him with a mayonnaise-smeared sandwich.

People get worked up about mayonnaise, but in a good way. A way I can respect.

I feel connected again.

I hate mayonnaise. I ate raw pork.

But maybe I feel just a little less fond of convenience stores.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Eight random facts meme

Paul Jones (The Real Paul Jones, not some ersatz Paul Jones) recently tagged me to participate in the “8 random facts about me” meme.

Eight random facts about me. Got to make the most of it.

In fact, just to be an overachieving underachiever, I’m giving you a BONUS FUN FACT at the end. It’s really good and it’s something I learned just yesterday. It’s guaranteed to leave you feeling superior to me. You’ll shake your head and say, “I’d never do that!”

So here goes. Then I’ll tag eight more of you and you’ll have to do it too.

1. I’ve had a bump on my forehead since I was 17.

One day it wasn’t there and the next day I brushed my hair aside, and there it was. I’ve never considered getting rid of it; it’s like a second nose, one that doesn’t smell. It’s just part of my face. Nonetheless various people have referred me (unbidden) to plastic surgeons to see what they could do.

When people express concern this way, I just sing another verse of My Lipoma (sung to the tune of My Sharona).

According to Wikipedia, that font of all knowledge, 1% of the general population has one.

A lipoma. M M M My lipoma.

2. I have an ENORMOUS collection of postcards.

I stopped collecting them about 10 years ago, but I still have all the old ones. Boxes and boxes of them. Pictures of airplanes, zoo animals, Jackalopes, butts large and small, surfer girls, city skylines, the Rapture, the beaches where I grew up. Beautiful antique hand painted postcards. Funny postcards. Boring postcards. Postcards in unimaginably poor taste.

Sometimes they make their way into my talks.

My friend Carol used to write me whole letters on a series of postcards that she’d number consecutively so I’d know the order in which to read them. Her writing was small and slanty (I’ve always thought she held her pen very tightly). I’m surprised now that we shared such private stuff on postcards that everyone could read. But she knew I collected postcards.

Randy Trigg also knew I collected postcards; he once bought me a book deceptively called Boring Postcards.

But generally most people realize that I’m too disorganized to be a collector of anything except perhaps lint.

3. I once consulted a psychiatrist.

I was 24. It was just one visit, just one hour, just one seemingly stereotypical conversation on the couch, except that I sat in a regular chair and he sat on the other side of a desk.

He asked me what I did at work and I told him that I worked in a lead-lined basement and that I couldn’t tell him what I did: what I do is secret, SCI even. He thought I was making it up and that I was crazy—that my real life couldn’t be as strange and isolated as what I’d described to him. He seemed all too anxious to prescribe something strong that would once and for all curb my delusions.

I filled the prescription on my way out of the clinic, took one, and gave one to Kevin. We both felt terrible. After that, I couldn’t even give away the rest.

Eventually I flushed them. Probably some Pacific flounders became placid and far less psychotic.
4. One autumn I disappeared.

I got fed up with Pasadena—oppressive fall Santa Anas, a persistent stalker, and a bad case of the blues at work—and left to spend a weekend in early October in New Haven, Connecticut, ostensibly to see Hot Tuna. The trees had barely started to turn when I got there. I got distracted and ignored my return ticket. A weekend turned into a week that slunk along into November. I just continued to send rent checks to California Street Condominiums (our landlord’s optimistic name for our condemned, cockroach-infested fourplex on California Blvd) and didn’t come back to Pasadena until Rose Parade Season.

I spent three months reading fiction—Alan Paton, Walker Percy, Christopher Isherwood—lying in an old claw-foot bathtub in a basement apartment. Every half hour or so I’d run fresh hot water into the tub. The cat, Ezra, circled the edge of the tub warily, but well-balanced. I left the house mostly to buy more books from the used bookstores, which were cheap and plentiful in New Haven.

Yalies thought I was a townie and townies thought I was a Yalie.

Sometime in November it got cold and I had to buy a coat, an ugly dull lilac-colored synthetic down coat, a coat that turned totemic and followed me around (back to California, to Texas, back to California), haunting me for more than a decade. I finally abandoned it in Rochester, New York.

“Give it to Salvation Army,” I told Francoise and Pat. “It’s really very warm.” And, from all evidence, tenacious and almost indestructible.

5. As a child, I often chewed three pieces of Double Bubble gum at once.

I usually slept with the big wad of gum in my mouth in case I had insomnia and wanted to blow bubbles in the middle of the night. It passed the time better than balancing my pillow on both feet with my legs straight up, but not quite as well as locking myself in the bathroom and re-reading my entire collection of Mad magazines until dawn.

6. I’m irrationally afraid of dogs.

There’s no dog bite story to justify my fear. I’m just afraid of them.

If a nearby dog barks or growls, I get a surge of adrenalin. Dogs used to chase me on my bicycle; I eventually started carrying the clip-on can of doggy mace—Halt!—that postmen carry.

In 5th grade I was late to school almost every day since I walked along ever more circuitous routes to avoid dogs: once a dog had chased me on a particular street, I stopped walking on that street. The streets in my neighborhood were long and winding. Instead of leaving home earlier to compensate, I just got to school later. Eventually I was getting to school after 10am, then after 10:30. I sat in the back of the class so I could creep to my desk via the back door.

7. When I was in 7th grade, I wrote a report about the dangers of methamphetamine.

I cribbed it by and large from an article published in an old issue of Harpers (or perhaps it was Saturday Review) that we had lying around the house. I used the graphic from the article to create a spectacularly lurid cover for my report. It had a face reminiscent of one of Jason Mecier’s mosaics; it incorporated capsules, tablets, a syringe, and a handgun.

I think about my methamphetamine report every time I’m down in the Castro and see posters from the anti-meth ad campaign on bus shelters.

In 7th grade, I took Sudafed almost every morning to curb a perpetually runny nose (allergies); I can't say I didn't enjoy the lift.

8. I didn’t vote until the 1990s.

I stumbled and stuttered through the library’s copy of Das Kapital when I was in junior high school. I didn’t get it, but I thought turning the pages would be good enough to partially assimilate Marxism. I read Ramparts too and felt thoroughly radicalized.

By high school, I’d abandoned Marxism as stodgy and decided I was an anarchist, which seemed to be a more provocative stance. Better still, it irritated Mr. O’Rourke, the Vice-Principal In Charge of Discipline and Keeper of the Permanent Record.

Then, abruptly, I stopped paying attention to anything remotely political (save a few really interesting scandals like Mr. Reagan’s Iran-Contra debacle) and didn’t start paying attention again until the first Gulf War. I didn’t register to vote; I didn’t read about politics; I didn’t talk about politics; I thought it was crazy to put bumper stickers on cars. No-one knew what my political views were or if I harbored any at all.

I caught up during Poppy’s administration, reading The Nation and nurturing an unsustainable sense of moral and intellectual outrage.

“Enough!” I finally thought. “Enough! I have done sufficient penance.”

So now I have vague misgivings about politics although it’s hard not to have a strong opinion about the clowns, miscreants, and Teletubbies who are in office as I type this (you have noticed a more than passing similarity between the verbal stylings of Alberto Gonzalez and Laa-Laa, the yellow Teletubby with the liar’s horns, haven’t you?). But I have little original to say about politics (or Teletubbies) and can barely tolerate most pundits.

I do vote now though. Regularly. Conscientiously. Hardly ever just picking the name I like the best.

Bonus Fun Fact. I ate raw pork.

Remember when I complained about that saran-wrapped item I bought at Tuk-Tuk Thai Market in Berkeley? You know--the item that was roughly the same size and shape as the banana sticky rice cakes? Remember how the smiling guy wasn’t sure how much the saran-wrapped item cost? And remember how I wrestled with the saran wrap casing in the car, in the low light of early evening, eager to eat whatever it was.

Here’s what I said:

“But what’s this? The rubbery texture is a little too familiar. I grew up in LA; I’ve had menudo. This, this outer stuff that’s been so tightly encased in plastic is TRIPE. Ick. I can’t even imagine what the ground up material inside it is. It looked pink in the store’s fluorescent lighting through the partial translucence of the tripe. I’d originally thought it was one of those red bananas. But now I know I don’t want to know. ICK. ICK. ICK.”
I found out what the mystery item was.

Are you ready? Ready for your bonus random fact?

It was… raw pork sausage. Maybe you already figured this out but I hadn’t.

I ate raw pork sausage. No wonder I was scrabbling around looking for something to kill the taste.

How’d I learn this? My brother and I were at Tuk-Tuk yesterday and I saw the same inscrutable pile of saran-wrapped items on the prepared food counter, right where the banana sticky rice cakes used to be.

Except this time, there was a sign. Clearly written in big black block letters. RAW PORK SAUSAGE.

I turned green with the recollection of biting into the as-yet-unidentified food item at twilight in the front seat of my car.

“You’d know already if you got trichinosis from eating raw pork a couple of months ago, right?” I asked my brother as we walked home from the market. “You’d have symptoms soon afterward, wouldn’t you?”

He reassured me that I’d know already, and added that he thought the Thai sausage would be fermented raw pork anyway, not just plain old raw pork.

He said this to make me feel better. Some food is cooked without heat, like ceviche, which is cured via the acidity of the lemon juice. In fact, there’s something fashionable these days about ordering cured meats—witness the charcuterie plate in lots of fancy restaurants. Very French. Very stylish.

Raw pork. That’s all I could think. I was eating raw pork in the car because my blood sugar was low. Raw pork.

But when I thought about it yesterday, I just about tripped over an irregularity in the Berkeley sidewalk. I felt dizzy.

Raw pork.

Ick. I’ll never eat again.

And that’s your bonus fact: I once accidentally ate raw pork sausage encased in tripe. Recently, in fact. I made this mistake recently.

This meme requires that you tag 8 more people to do the same. I’m going to point you to their blogs, but I hope a few of them will take care of this assignment via skywriting. Something about those puffy white facts against the summer sky...

Mark, Jaina Bee, Erich, Connie Lynne, Susie, Rock, gem, Diane. Go for it!