Category Archives: Uncategorized

New Post on Tees of Mystery: Spoiler

In politics, a “spoiler” is a third-party candidate who runs to siphon off votes from a front-runner rather than win themselves. So that the opposing candidate wins. I have a couple of t-shirts from candidates who were accused of being spoilers.

Were they? One maybe not, the other quite probably. And in the long run, did it really matter?

The Carrot That Never Got Hung

I’ve owned it for almost 40 years.

It’s a coat hook: a cast bronze coat hook in the shape of a carrot. It has a look: stylized and hand-crafted, but competently executed and completely a carrot. That you can hang a coat on. It has real heft in the hand, considering its size; you notice. When I look down at it, it looks back at me. I’m a bronze carrot, it says. Deal with it.

But it’s just a coat hook, though apparently unique. I’ve never seen nor heard of another like it, anywhere. “Coat hook” and “carrot” are concepts that few metal workers combine. And I should tell you that in 40 years, no coat has ever hung from it.

Back in those times, a carrot was my totem. I looked like a carrot: tall, skinny, a little bushy on top. Not orange-colored at all; but I had played a carrot on TV. Well, small-town public access television, in an amateur children’s show put on by a few idle college grads and film fans. “Command Duck and the Quacketeers” we called it. Blame it on the ‘70s, I dunno.

Commander Duck meets the Cosmic Carrot

I was the Cosmic Carrot, an intelligent alien vegetable who’d come to teach earth children all about good nutrition. The carrot costume just sort of happened; somebody knew about paper maiche for the carrot headpiece; my mom had a source of orange coveralls. For my sidekick, I found a squeaky dog toy in the shape of a grinning carrot: “Squeaky” was his name. Squeaky and I were very close. He’s still around here somewhere.

The Carrot and his sidekick Squeaky

I moved to the big city. The carrot costume came along for the ride: to the occasional party, even to another public access show Still… you could go years without seeing the Carrot.

One day while traveling, I pulled over for a half-dressed craftsman selling in the dust by the side of a side road. This was in the hippie backwoods of Northern California back when there were real hippies and even real backwoods.

He was a feral polymath: naked to to the waist and burned dark by the sun, hair like a brown puffball. He turned his hand to anything that interested him, he said: mastered it, and then moved to the next thing. Lately he’d learned to refurbish and refinish furniture. Renovated chairs and tables and desks and bookshelves scattered across the front of his shack: dirt cheap in the dirt. They were all gorgeous. But nobody was there to buy.

If I’d had need of furniture, I could have furnished an apartment for $150 and you would have drooled. But I didn’t. He shrugged; furniture was already in his past. He’d just taught himself to sand-cast in bronze. Did I want to see the latest?

Of course.

He brought out a few small castings, including the carrot. “That one’s $5.”

It did catch my eye.

Now, I was and am cheap when it comes to buying for myself, but… it I had liked being the Cosmic Carrot. He wasa strange but earnest nerd who (usually) meant well. And people liked me being the carrot, for some reason. Maybe I was still the Carrot. Maybe I always had been. With some hesitance, I paid him his five: a hand-cast bronze for the price of a good breakfast. Told you I was cheap.

This was no life-changing experience: just, perhaps, a confirmation of who I was. So back at home, contemplating the thing, I told myself that when I came to the place where I would make my stand in life, I’d put that carrot on the wall and hang a coat on it.

That place was not a rented flat in a failing relationship; nor was it in the next two apartments I rented.

For the past 30 years I’ve lived in one small house with the woman I love. And yet the carrot coat hook has never been hung. There never seems to be space for it, or a use for it. We have closets, after all.

The carrot sits on my nightstand these days, and before that it lay on shelves, in boxes, even in storage for a bit. I’ve always known where it was, though: could always put my hands on it when I wanted to. Obviously it still has significance.

But I’m retired; dare I say, “old?” Where else is there to hang it?

Lately, I’ve been spending more time in the garage. It’s never held a car: just leftover junk and lately, our cache of household necessities in time of need: our “inconvenience store.” Given the times, the store will be with us for some time to come. So I spend a fair amount of time out there doing shipping and receiving and recycling.

I also cleared some space for exercise: a big mat, a weight bench, a set of adjustable dumbbells. Over the past two years of staying close to home, I’ve lost 50 pounds by dint of eating healthy and on our own schedule (my wife has also lost weight). I’d been a life-long weight trainer but stopped a few years ago because of age and time and schedule. Lately some of the strength has come back, thanks to more time in the garage.

And I got a radio for it. That’s actually a big deal. We live by broadband these days, and I stream most radio. We no longer even had a good radio, outside of the car’s. But my favorite local radio station stopped free streaming; its evil private equity owners now require a fee. For radio. It’s a hell of station — KPIG radio, Freedom, California, and it comes in strong here. But I didn’t have a radio. Who has radios?

Well, now me. A quality portable with a big whip antennae, excellent sound, and no digital features whatsoever. Completely analog down to the tuning. You know that’s getting hard to find now? I played KPIG on it yesterday during my workout and while sitting quietly in cool-down after. It’s great music, intelligently chosen. And I felt something odd. Kind of like peace.

I may be spending a bit more time out there; it’s full of things that should leave and maybe make room for things that should come. There’s even heating. Which is good, because it’s separate from the rest of the house. Sometimes when the weather’s cold I throw on a jacket before heading out there.

Who knows? That carrot coat hook could find a wall after all.

Magnum Shirtus

I’ve spent way too much time messing with a Big Picture article on the origins of the Hawaiian shirt. There was a lot to mess with. The Big Picture is really, really big. Big enough for a book, but we’re not going there.

Follow the link below to the article, which resides in the Tees of Mystery’s new Hawaiian Shirt Annex:

The Secret Black Bean Burger Recipe

I learned to make veggie black bean burgers. They’re good. I often recommend that people make them in online food forums. Then somebody asks “What recipe did you use?”

Goddamnit. Mine. I went to a cooking class and got the original recipe on a printed handout. Then I modified it to be way simpler. So it’s not anywhere on the Internet that I can link to. Unless I type it out for you, and I’m tired of doing that! Goddamnit.

So here it is, so I don’t have to type it out ever, ever again. This is the original recipe, annotated with the shortcuts that I made. The original recipe also called for chopped cooked veggies and shredded carrot, which I don’t include.

The Black Bean Burger Recipe:

The recipe makes 12-15 burgers. You can fry them, grill, or bake them. I fry them, but they should hold together any way you do it. After I’ve made them, I save a couple to eat, and freeze the rest. They reheat in the microwave well, and do well on a bun with the usual fixings (or even avocado), They make good cheeseburgers if you don’t care too much about being vegan.

After I’ve made them, I save a couple to eat, and freeze the rest. They reheat in the microwave well, and do well on a bun with the usual fixings (or even avocado), They make good cheeseburgers if you don’t care too much about being vegan.

Note that this makes a fairly floppy burger; too much moisture is the enemy. If such is the case, add a little more breadcrumb or dry oatmeal “breadcrumb.”

Ingredients

  • A “flax egg” to bind all the ingredients together. That requires
    • 1/4 cup ground flax (aka flax meal)
    • 1/2 cup of water
  • 2 15-oz cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup of nuts or seeds — original recipe said cashews, but also almonds or hulled raw sunflower seeds if preferred. I use the sunflower seeds because we have them around anyway. Tastes good, cheaper. Pulse the seeds/nuts into crumbs (not dust) in a food processor or grinder.
  • 1/4 cup of chopped onions .
  • 1 1/2 cups of cooked brown rice or any other cooked grain, including oatmeal. I use oatmeal because it’s always around, but use any cooked grain.
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs. (I just run dry oatmeal through a coffee grinder.)
  • 2 TBSP smoked paprika — a meaty flavor
  • 1 TBSP chili powder — for a little kick
  • 1 to 2 TSP of salt, to taste.

Assembly

  • Make the “flax egg.” In a small bowl, combine the flax and water. Do this first thing and set it aside to let it develop. It’ll gradually congeal into something like translucent pudding.
  • Dump the drained and rinsed black beans into a large bowl. Use a potato masher or big fork to mash them savagely into a paste, leaving maybe a quarter of the beans whole for texture and variety.
  • If you haven’t alredy, put the nuts or seeds into a food processor, electric chopper, or electric coffee grinder, and pulse them into crumbs (not dust). Put the crumbs in the bowl with the beans.
  • Once your flax egg has thickened up and absorbed all or nearly all the water, add it and all the other ingredients into the bowl. Mix everything together well. The mix should be pretty stiff, or get that way shortly. (If you wait too long and your flax egg turns into an actual solid, mix harder.)
  • Most of the ingredients were cooked or ready-to-eat, so at this point the mix’s flavor is just about what it’ll be when it’s fried or grilled. Taste it now; if you want to adjust the taste with different spices, more onions or nuts, a little parsley or shredded carrot whatever, now is the time.
  • Put the bowl in the fridge for 15 minutes to a half-hour to give the mix time to solidify even more; if it’s already pretty solid, 15 minutes will do. Clean up. Take a break.
  • Shape the mix into individual patties; the original recipe says 1/2 cup each, about 3/4 inches thick. Whatever you like. I tend to make them thick and small. The recipe says you’ll get 12, I get more like 17 or 18. The smaller they are, the better they hold together. (Besides, you can use small ones like meatballs in other dishes.) While they’re waiting, I put them on a plate on parchment paper.

Frying on the Stovetop (What I do)

  • Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil to the pan (depending on the size of the pan) over low/medium heat. I just use canola because it doesn’t smoke. If you were using a non-stick pan, you could probably use less oil.
  • Fry four patties at a time and cook until golden brown and crispy on one side. If it gets a little darker than that, it’s not the end of the world. You’re actually making a crust to hold the burger together.
  • Flip over and do the other side.. When done, transfer to a plate lined with paper towels or (yes) parchment paper.
  • Go ahead and freeze the patties that you’re not eating now. I freeze them in a glass storage bowl with a snap-on plastic lid, with a layer of parchment paper between each level of burgers. You can also wrap each one in parchment paper and throw them all into a plastic freezer bag. The frozen burgers heat up quickly in the microwave: maybe a couple of minutes, a minute or so on each side.

Baking (I never do this)

Preheat to 350 and line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper. Place the patties on the pans and bake for 20 minutes. Flip them and cook for 15 more, and pull them out of the oven. It’s way easy to make them too dry, so pull them sooner rather than later.

Grilling (I never do this, either)

Heat the grill to medium high, brush the patties with oil on both sides, and cook each side for about four minutes.

Eating (I always do this)

Generally I heat the patties, then pop them on a slice whole grained bread with a slice of cheese and nuke it till the cheese melts. I like to dd avocado, onions, tomato, and sometimes I nuke with tomato and onion along with the cheese. They also make great “chili burgers” lurking in the bottom of a bowl on a piece of bread with chili and cheese and whatever else poured/melted on top. And I have used them as meatballs in pasta with red sauce.

Take Your Best Shot

Today is better than yesterday. Yesterday wasn’t good at all. Because the day before yesterday, I got my COVID booster shot. I don’t react well to COVID shots.

Or you could say that my immune system reacts frightening well: it pulls out all the stops to fight the nonexistent invader.

That I feel, personally, like somebody whacked me with a big full-body hammer covered in carpet tacks is beside the point. Protection is the point. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.

My first round of two shots went worse. Shot 1 wasn’t bad at all: I felt a little loggy the next day. But Shot 2 put me on the floor. I stayed in bed for a day with something like the worst cold you could possibly have. I staggered out of bed the next day, white as a sheet. My color didn’t return till Day 5.

So I was expecting the worst this time around. “The booster is only a half-dose of the vaccine, so maybe it won’t be as bad,” the nurse lied. “And a strong reaction is a good thing!”

I felt weird within a few hours. And my wife tells me that my nose, at least, kept its color while the rest of me turned bedsheet white. I staggered around the house and tried to do a few chores before I had to sit down. I guess the nurse was right; this time around was less like being whacked with a giant hammer, and more like being beaten up by a gang of dwarves.

But you know, who cares? It’s what we have to do to stay safe, and to avoid spreading COVID to others. I grew up with that ethic: if the government said, “get your shots,” you got your shots. We all lined up for polio shots, and the second vaccine that came on a sugar cube. It wasn’t long after World War II; people tended to move as a unit in national emergencies.

And now, they don’t. Everybody’s special; “units” are for government dupes. And you don’t get your news from the newspapers or the mainstream media — which are sadly not what they used to be — but from some guy on Facebook who could be… anybody. With any agenda.

I get it. The national media’s not what it was. The medical community isn’t what it was. Politics definitely isn’t what it was. But if the Internet taught me anything, it taught me this:

To find a good answer to any big question you need to triangulate through all the answers out there. You separate the ones that cluster together in the highest level of probability, and treat the the outliers with suspicion. You examine everybody’s credentials; sometimes an outlier is something very sound that just hasn’t got the funding yet.

You will not get a good answer from somebody on social media or alternative video who looks and sounds “just like you” and plays off your fears. It’s called affinity fraud: gaining someone’s confidence by appearing to be of their tribe, then using them mercilessly, For money, power, or all of the above.

There is a risk in everything you do. A cousin of mine died of COVID a couple of weeks ago. We weren’t close and I didn’t attend the funeral. Even if we had been close, his county is a COVID hotspot: the kind of place where less than half the population is fully vacationed; where Fox and Friends plays on the TV in public places; where conservative megachurches take out billboard ads along the freeway; and where the county superintendent of education is not mandating COVID shots for students because, “we just don’t know.”

I remember him as a nice guy, a good old country boy, physically massive. He would have been around 70. And I’m going to bet he didn’t get his shots. If he didn’t, he was a casualty in a civil war he didn’t even know he was fighting, a war against established democratic process by nativist rabble-rousers. That affinity fraud works really, really well.

Believe me, nobody wants these shots. Nobody wants to stay home. Nobody wants to mask. But we’ve got to move as a unit to solve this thing. We’ve got to fight the war and put at least some trust in the scientists. Because COVID will not stop on its own, not for a long time. It doesn’t know how.

The Utility Knife of Destiny

Stanley and me

Almost 40 years ago, I purchased a utility knife at a small hardware store in San Francisco. Nearly all hardware stores in the city are small; it’s efficient to have one within walking distance in every neighborhood. Even if you have a car, San Francisco is a parking desert.

I can’t remember exactly why I bought the knife, but I never let it go. It lurked in kitchen junk drawers for years as I moved from apartment to apartment and finally to a house. From time to time it was needed; and it was always there. We grew old and worn together.

But the old days are not the new days. Now the old utility knife rides shotgun in my pocket I never know when I’ll need it. We’re part of the Cardboard Revolution, the two of us. Many of your are. My wife and I still shelter at home; we place orders online, and the world ships them to us. The necessities of the day go plop on our doorstop in brown cardboard boxes. In the distance, someone in a uniform scurries back to a truck for another drop.

Something’s got to cut open all those boxes, and then cut ‘em down for recycling. My old friend Stanley is ready. It’s even handy for deflating packing pillows. Thank goodness those things can be recycled.

And frankly: a good retractable utility knife will handle most of your pocket-knife needs. You need big pockets, but I’ve got them.

I’m all in favor of buying local. But when Korean billionaires buy the local chain of natural food stores… and when the Albertson’s supermarket empire buys our old regional chains… what’s local?

Anymore, everything comes from far away. The profits all go to somewhere far away. Local-owned retail is fast becoming a pretty story, like one-room schoolhouses.

My wife and I play the game for our own benefit. So the WaySafe market that delivers our food keeps running out of stuff we want? Go to the manufacturer!

Biff’s Blue Mill ships us a couple of crates of oatmeal, seeds, and legumes every couple of months for the same price as Waysafe or better, with free shipping. (And Biff’s is an employee-owned company.) I don’t always cut down Biff’s boxes. They’re too good. My wife uses them for storage.

So WaySafe can’t keep the chocolate products we like in stock? We can get that direct, too, from a big chocolate company 100 miles away. Okay, it’s now owned by an international chocolate empire, but the price is the same as retail and the shipping’s free if you buy enough. I like having a small crate of chocolate on the premises. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

Or there’s Bidet and Beyond, who we buy dishes from online. We can get the particular brand we like direct from the maker; but they charge full list and have a high bar for “free shipping.” B&B sells the same dishes at discount with free shipping for relatively small purchases. They want to lose money? That’s their problem.

Let’s not forget Red Bullseye, the general merchandise chain. We’re not in love with their online store but when we need enough general, you know, stuff, to qualify for free shipping, we go there.

They’re odd. Red Bullseye keep my box knife busy. We once placed an order for six objects; it came in five different boxes on three different days. One box contained a single small pack of batteries. And yet all the boxes were shipped from the same address. They do this all the time. How does that even make sense? I found a forum of supply chain guys online and asked them. They were happy to reply:

Me: Why do they do this?

SCGuys: Because it’s too hard to for them compile a full order. They have no good way of keeping the partial order in one place until it’s complete, so they ship the pieces. Say the warehouse has merchandise on tall racks with three levels: ground level, second level (reached by ladders) and third level (reached by power lift). Individual pickers are assigned to one level only. So if you order has items on all three levels, one picker gets any items from the first level and ships them; another picker finds and ships your items from the second level; and so on.

Me: How do they make any money this way?

SCGuys: Making money may not be their goal. They may be trying to earn customer loyalty, or to grow revenue at the cost of profit. Corporations can have many reasons.

Me: Still sounds stupid.

SCGUYS: …..

Red Bullseye is doing a little better, but it still keeps my utility knife way too busy. They’ve wised up and invited third-party vendors onto their site who ship the product on their own, and Bullseye warns you about this. It’s a bit Amazon-like.That’s fine; I’ve started using some of those vendors directly. They’re small-timers who specialize; good people to do business with.

As for Amazon? I stay away. If I need books I call the local bookstore; if they don’t have it — they often don’t — they’ll order from their distributor, who ships direct. So how is that different from buying from Amazon? Well — it’s not Amazon. There are many reasons to dislike or even hate Amazon and someday, someday it will crash like the Hindenburg. I will not cry. There are alternatives to Amazon, and nearly all of them are better and even cheaper. And possibly less evil.

So the big boys play their e-commerce games, and I game their system as best I can; Stanley’s always there to cut up the debris.

But I don’t like our system. I don’t like buying from giant companies who eat their competition, even if I can game them online. They’re gaming me better. All the profits go not to my community, but far, far away into a few pockets that already bulge; my community becomes poorer. I see a future where the players get bigger and bigger and the choices get fewer and fewer.

And I don’t like our global economy and global supply chain which runs so fast and loose that COVID could take the world by storm. You know, just walk in and own the place. I don’t like that my washing machine comes from Italy and the cheap houseware I buy online come from China where the power plants burn coal — the most polluting coal, at that — and belch greenhouse gases with abandon.

I don’t like that fleets of heavily-polluting jetliners carry loads of expensive crap across the globe from thousands of miles away, just because it’s a little cheaper than making it close to home. And few are in a hurry to address those issues because, y’know, that’s money.

You can still buy my Stanley utility knife, by the way — the same model, 40 years on But it’s been made in China for many years.

Joe Biden’s on the pulpit this week talking about the coming climactic catastrophe — and it is coming. We’re not going to head it off. There’s no political will to reign in pollution, because that also means reigning in the entire global network we’ve built for making things as cheaply as possible with no thought to the environment or even the welfare of the American people.

Too many billionaires stand in the way. In our country the right-wingers are too convinced that God is a billionaire, and the Democrats are too owned to redistribute income and tax the rich so that we can fight the problems that they cause. We won’t get there; we’ll be too late with not enough.

Winston Churchill once said about America something along the lines of: you can always count on the United States to do the right thing — when all else has failed.  And we probably will: people tend to wake up when doom stares them directly in the face. But will it be in time to avert huge consequences for billions of people?

Probably not.  There’s way too much to do, and no one or no thing in charge.  Yet.

Somebody once said “Pain is the great teacher of mankind. Under its breath, human souls grow.” We have a lot of teaching coming at us. It’s already begun.

Trouble is Their Name

I’m not normally one of those guys who names his stuff. My laptop is “laptop,” my car is “car,” my shoes are “shoes.” They’re all part of me. They don’t need names.

But there are those possessions that actively seem to want to cause me trouble. They have their own agenda. They get names.

Like Fang. Fang is a hefty pairing knife with a big molded handle: easy to grip. Cuts through an apple like it was Jell-o. Really cuts through just about anything organic. You can bear down on Fang; it doesn’t whimper.

But sometimes I whimper; because my fingers are organic, and too often they has gotten in Fang’s merciless way. Fang never gives you a free clumsiness pass, as our old dull knives did. There will be blood, every time.

Under Fang’s tutelage, I’ve become a more careful and precise knifeman. I line up my vegetable in advance. I place the knife correctly. I hold the item to the counter with a steady grip, but keep my hand out of harm’s way. I plan the operation carefully. I refrain from chopping wildly.

Because if I do, Fang will hurt me. It is expert in a very primal and basic form of conditioning. Even when drying in the dish rack, Fang sends out edgy vibes: be careful, or beware.

Fang is a good metaphor for human existence: we make our own trouble by how we interact with the things around us. Few things hold more potential trouble than a big, sharp knife in the hands of a hungry man.

“Donna” our washing machine is another matter. Donna is no metaphor. She’s a drama queen: truly. She has Needs, many. She wants pampering. All we really did to deserve Donna is what we didn’t do: find and read the operating manual online before punching BUY! Online major appliance purchases? Never again.

To be fair, we were desperate. In the middle of a pandemic, our 28-year-old top-loader choked to death on a wool blanket. A well-masked repairman came out to perform the last rites and offer grief counseling.

We lacked much choice because our laundry enclosure is a tiny closet on the landing between the first and second floor; it was built too small by the surfin’ contractors we bought the place from 30 years ago. Back then the installers squeezed in our old machine with a shoehorn, but washing machines have gotten bigger since then. We only had a couple of choices. Donna was the one that would 1) fit, and 2) didn’t come with reviews that read BEWARE.

And she was very water efficient. We have a drought going on. Donna it was. Even though she was a front-loader, which we didn’t want. Front-loaders are finicky.

We didn’t know the half of it. After the installers did their magic and wedged the machine into place — telling us, by the way, that the water hookup was falling apart and needed replacing — we finally read the manual. The machine needs:

  • To be throughly dried when use is complete for the day. With a rag. So it won’t grow mold and make your clothing smell.
  • To have its plastic detergent magazine removed when the machine is inactive — so it won’t grow mold and make your clothing smell.
  • To, if at all possible, please pretty please have its door left open when not in use. (If you have small children, that’s on you.) So it won’t grow mold and… And of course if the door is open, we can’t close the door to the laundry closet, ever.
  • To close the valves on the the water hookup when the machine is not in use. Because it’s delicate. “Oh, the pressure…” And our hookup is just barely hanging in there. Plumbers await in the wings.

We will skip over the special monthly maintenance procedure, and more more more.

My wife said, “That’s not a washing machine, that’s a… prima donna.” So “Donna” I named her. She even looks like one, with that gimlet eye and gaping mouth opened in bombastic song and one dramatically outstretched “arm.”

So now, there she is, the center of attention every time we climb the stairs. She even has her own window with stained glass art and a nice view of the acacias. Donna has it all. Including a name. We are but her slaves. And remember…

Always read the manual before pressing BUY.

A Special Case

The package arrived from Tracy. Tracy, California, famous not much except giant distribution centers that squat at the edge of the Bay Area. The Fedex guy threw it on the porch and I rushed out to get it. I knew what it had to be. Though what it looked to be was a drab, sturdy, medium-sized box taped up within an inch of its life.

I cut it open. Inside were plastic packing pillows surrounding a rectangular object wrapped in silver mylar bubble wrap. It glowed in the sun. You could imagine it as the payload for some space shot.

I cut that open and inside were three plastic cold packs, and…. NATURE’S BOUNTY.

Oh yeah, the good stuff: a case of ultra dark chocolate chips from the gnomes at Ghirardelli Chocolate, 80 miles up the coast. When you grow to understand that sugar and milk in chocolate are only a sideshow for the kiddies, THIS is what you want. You’ll never dip below 70 percent cacao again. You can’t: to you, “regular” chocolate is now sickly sweet by comparison.

And it’s just become hard to get in these times of COVID. We order from the supermarket online for delivery, and Ghirardelli 72’s been off their menu for three weeks. Demand, supply chain snarls, COVID chaos in Africa — who knows? The world’s a crazy place. Always has been, but now squared.

So we ordered direct, and in quantity, from Ghirardell itselfi. The chocolate mother ship is usually fully stocked; it’s run its own online store for years. There’ve always been bakers in Nowhere, North Dakota who need chocolate specialties they can’t get locally. Ghirardelli is there for them.

But only a big order makes sense: shipping’s expensive, and free shipping starts high. Hence a full case of chocolate chips, and another case of 100 percent unsweetened cocoa powder coming tomorrow. We crossed the free-shipping threshhold by maybe a dollar. And if it all last lasts two months, I’ll be surprised.

Do we bake? We don’t even use the oven. This is for my oatmeal.

In retirement I start the day with a giant bowl (yes, the bowl is oversized) of oatmeal with apples, blueberries, roasted sunflower seeds, a massive amount of unsweetened cocoa and, of course, 72 percent chocolate chips.

It’s extreme. By my wife Rhumba, it’s icky. But I enjoy my gleaming bowl of purple-brown oatmeal with chips on top. I like the taste, and I like the effect.

The effect? The Aztecs knew. They jazzed their warriors up on chocolatl — expensive, because the beans came from hundreds of miles south. But with a gut full of Aztec Brown, the plumed warriors of Tenochtitlan could fight single-combat battles all day without faltering, without even stopping to rest or eat. Warriors of the other city-states fell before them.

I’m not picking up an obsidian dagger any time soon, but theobromine — the active ingredient in chocolate — dilates your blood vessels, gets oxygen where it needs to go in mass quantities, improves your use of stored energy and more. Now that I’m a retired old guy, I’d rather not feel so old.

And I don’t. Losing weight helped, too, but chocolate keeps me sharp every day — in my opinion. I feel like a fit 50 again. Entering my late ‘60s, that seems more than good enough.

And I hope it lasts, because chocolate may not. Climate change will affect prime cacao-growing regions; and chocolate is no easy crop to grow or mass-produce. I won’t go into details; but a very few decades down the line, chocolate as we know it may only be for the wealthy. The masses will at best get a low-quality adulterated version mixed with other substances (and probably a lot of sugar). Call it “chok.”

Most chok will be bad — a small amount of mediocre chocolate product mixed with cheap ingredients. But it needn’t always be that way: we have “chok” even now, and some of it’s pretty popular. The italian candy gianduja is a chocolate hazelnut mix and, actually, pretty great. If you or your children require a daily Nutella fix — well, Nutella descends from gianduja. It’s chok.

So other felicitous combinations could arise. But they would still be expensive, and they wouldn’t be chocolate. Even good chok wouldn’t meet my needs, because I want to mainline the hard stuff every day. I don’t care about candy.

Again: between climate change, drought, mass migration, breakdown of trade relations and even war, the years of mass-market pure chocolate for the masses are numbered. I like the number “30,” because I’m old. But, no guarantees for anything.

Until then, I’m scrambling up and down the supply chain to get my fix and dance with the Aztecs. I will skip the obsidian blades and feather plumes; people wouldn’t understand.

Except for the two cybernetic Mesoamerican warriors on the wall of our TV room. They would understand. I think that the one on the right has had his chocolatl.

Gubmint Burgers

In which the author discovers the power to turn beans into burgers — and a nice plate ‘o nachos.

The other night my wife and I sat down to a dinner of pasta with sauce and meatballs. All perfect, and perfectly ordinary. If you ignore the meatballs, which looked like hockey pucks with a rough finish. And were not made of meat.

Welcome to the wonderful world of black bean veggie burgers which I, an elderly man, have just learned to make. Veggie burgers are a perfect “guy” project:

Haven’t got all the ingredients? Improvise! Veggie burgers need some kind of protein (usually mashed legumes), some kind of cooked grain (leftover oatmeal), maybe chopped nuts or seeds, maybe bread crumbs, maybe some cooked vegetables of your choice — lots of maybes. Go wild.

Above all, a veggie burger needs a “binder” to pull the flaky, pulpy mess into a solid: a flax “egg” (like strange jello), juice from a can of garbanzos, sometimes even nut butters. Binders are the duct tape that pull together the entire enterprise — along with cooked grain and veggies that soak up moisture.

Is the mix a little sloppy? More duct tape! More binder, more grain, more something! If you do it right, the melange thickens into a large semi-rigid mass from which hunks can be peeled off and formed into burgers; I have a little press that makes perfect burger pucks.

And you ask… what does it taste like?

Whatever you want it to. Hot dogs and sausages don’t taste like anything until spices are added: often smoked paprika, which by chance is just the spice you add in most black bean burger recipes.

That, and a good chili powder, and chopped onions and frankly you’re going to end up with something that tastes better than most “real” burgers. Fry ‘em up — you can bake them, but I’m me — and they even turn a respectable golden-brown color thanks in part to those spices.

Eat them then and there, or freeze them and bring them back to life later with two minutes in the microwave. The wife and I make cheeseburgers with them on whole-grain bread together with avocado and tomato. We get all our aminos, and it never gets old.

And if it does, crumble them and throw them into the pasta, or make nachos with them, or tacos, or just eat ‘em like a hamburger steak with a side of whatever you want. The consistency, the “tooth,” is comparable to that of today’s average beefburger.

It’s easy; it tastes great; no animal has to live a short life in squalor just to die in a slaughterhouse. No greenhouse gases are generated. No questionable “recovered meats” or pink slime can ever be on the premises.

I’m not an official vegetarian — my wife is — but I’m getting there. I think the last straw came when scientists revealed that pigs were smart enough to play simple video games. What else do we not know about the “dumb animals” we eat? I’ll miss salami; but I’ll live, and well.

All I needed to get to this point was time on my hands — first COVID working-at-home, then retirement — and a sheaf of veggie burger recipes I was going to get around to some day. The day came, and I got around to them.

And why not, when you can get 20 of them for three or four dollars of raw material? They taste like the ones in the supermarket; after you freeze them, they microwave just as easily. And once you get your production line going, why do less than 20? Why not 40? Aim for the moon! Veggie burgers for everybody! I’m already experimenting with garbanzo burgers.

But I do get the problem: people don’t have the time. It’s not just a hard world, it’s one that wants to steal every spare second from you. Who has time to make veggie burgers when you just want to collapse at the end of the day, and the weekend is already full of laundry and chores? Easier to kick over six bucks to the corps for four frozen disks. Like they want you to.

So I have this thought. Raising livestock accounts for 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gases worldwide. And all that livestock consumes a lot of feed — very inefficiently, up to several pounds of grain required for a pound of meat — in a world where crop failures are becoming more and more common. People may need the produce of those fields directly. I would bet on it.

From these thoughts comes a proposition: call it “government burgers.” You remember “government cheese” (aka gubmint cheese) in the ‘80s? The feds distributed free cheese made from milk that the government had bought to support milk prices and then stockpiled; the stockpiles were huge. It went to recipients of government aid as a consolation prize for Reagan-era cuts to food security programs. And it wasn’t all that good.

Government burgers wouldn’t be free: but what about ten bucks for a bag of 20, subsidized by the U.S. gov? Yeah, people like their meat, but a serving of tasty protein you can melt cheese on for 50 cents? And microwave in two minutes? People’d be lining up; save money, save time, save a bit of your lives and maybe even your health.

Demand for meat would drop; greenhouse gas emissions from the raising of livestock would drop. President Biden, you wouldn’t have to wait 10 years for the technology to arrive.

It would cost some, but so does everything. Besides, we’re supporting big agriculture already by paying them to support commodity prices by growing — nothing. Why not make them earn that money by growing veggie burger raw materials? Why not employ people by setting up distributed factories everywhere? Did I mention that veggie burgers are dead easy?

I hear the yabbuts gathering (“yeah but,” “yeah but,” “yeah but”), and you do have points. But unless you’re going to tell me this is completely impossible under all circumstances, let me say this: we’ve got to think outside the box if we’re going to live. Corporate power and the global oligarchy have already got us in that box, and they nail it shut tighter every day. But one of these days that box is going to catch fire with all of us inside. Unless we start knocking out the slats right now.

Government burgers; cooperative ownership; taxation of billionaires; the social means to produce the healthy, well-educated new generations that civilization must have to survive. It’s ALL outside the box. It’s ALL yabbut food.

But the only way to survive is will be to think crazy thoughts. And to understand some ideas are only crazy if you accept the world as it is. Which will kill us.

And now I’m going to have a burger. Actually, tonight it’s some sort of nacho/chili burger thing. It’s up at the top.

Of Aloha Shirts and Spooner Dudes

I’m an old middle-class guy on the West Coast who’s never been to Hawaii. All my old-middle-class guy friends have gone, some repeatedly. I never plan to. The thought holds no interest.

And yet I possess half a closet of aloha shirts, like the one above. I have my reasons, some practical: I’m long-waisted and can’t keep my shirt tucked into my trousers. Aloha shirts are usually worn “out,” which solves that problem. And I like the aesthetic.

What you see above is a reverse-print Reyn Spooner pull-over aloha shirt made of “Spooner Kloth” (a tough 60/40 cotton-poly mix). The soft colors, the painterly floral design across the chest: it all appeals.

Here in California, many old coastal guys love their “Spooners.” We wear them all the time, and we tend to own more than one. Fortunately, society seems to understand. And wives find us easy to buy for: a Spooner, honey? You shouldn’t have!

If you’re contemplating the difference between an aloha shirt and a Hawaiian shirt: there is none. “Aloha” is a Hawaiian greeting that connotes friendliness and caring. As Hawaiian tourism grew in the ‘1920s and ’30s, colorful and airy shirts were sold to tourists as “aloha shirts.”

In Hawaii, they’re still called that; elsewhere, “Hawaiian shirt” is generic for any shirt in loud colors with a pattern of figures and pictures. And though there’s nothing innately Hawaiian about an illustrated shirt, aloha shirts are everywhere in the islands now.

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The locals can buy aloha shirts made for their tastes, not just those of tourists: made and designed in Hawaii, too, by Hawaiian residents. Aloha shirts are even political.

Here’s a shot of a couple of Hawaii state legislators at a committee meeting; that’s a Reyn Spooner on the right, and a Rix on the left. Rix is one of the popular local shirt brands.

Sig Kane is another popular local-to-Hawaii brand; here at left, one of theirs is being sported by a former governor of Hawaii. The pols also favor local shirts from Hawaiian Force and Tori Richard; some even have shirts made custom by local designers.

Among all that, Reyn Spooner aloha shirts have been a Hawaii/West Coast presence for decades. Reyn Spooner (“Reyn” is pronounced “Ren”) was a Hawaii-based sportswear manufacturer and retailer. It designed and made Hawaiian- and Pacific Rim-themed themed clothing in Hawaii, and sold them in its company stores in the islands and also through west coast retailers.

Reynolds “Reyn” McCullough was an old-school men’s clothier and resort—wear designer. In the 50s, he shut his retail clothing business on California’s Catalina Island (he grew up there) and started over in Hawaii because, you know, Hawaii. But even in Hawaii, McCullough wouldn’t sell the local aloha shirts: too sloppily-cut and garish for his taste.

But in the ‘60s, somebody showed him how sewing a shirt with the colorful fabric inside-out (“reversed-print”) would get him the more muted, sun-faded colors he wanted. Without the sun. And shirts were a go.

Reverse-print shirt: note the inside versus the outside.

Along with reverse-print, McCullough’s shirts brought the Ivy League: aloha shirts with a trimmer, tapered fit on some models, plus button-down collars and more of a shirt-tail. The fabric print on the pocket always, always merged into the shirt’s overall fabric pattern. Some were Spooner Kloth, some were cotton or rayon.

McCullough and Reyn Spooner subsequently sold boatloads of tasteful aloha shirts to well-off Hawaiians and mainlanders. The concept was called “Boardroom to Beach.” Your CEO could wear a Spooner at the company retreat while maintaining his (or her) dignity. Like the Lahaina Sailor:

This design’s been on sale since the ‘60s. A Lahaina Sailor is loaded with respectable Hawaiian icongraphy; in other words, it’s dignified and possesses a very low cheese factor.

The Lahaina Sailor doesn’t sail me away, but I got two cheap at a thrift store, and it makes a respectable office shirt. I had a manager who, I swear, must have slept in his medium-blue Sailor. Because he was either never without it, or he had three of them. Note to the management team: Lahaina Sailors also come in navy blue or black for extra gravitas.

Here’s another of my favorites, yet another reverse-print pullover design with a print derived from Hawaiian quilt work. It does things to my eyes, but I like those things. Pullover woven-cotton aloha shirts were popular many decades ago, before there was such a thing as knit sportswear. Now, they’re less common, but worth it if you like an uninterrupted design across your chest.

For Spooner Dudes like myself, Spooners are like potato chips: you don’t stop at one. Fifteen to 30 Spooners is an average-sized collection for a typical old Spooner dude, and some young dudes, too. Spooner Dudes wear Spooners constantly. Spooners look sharp, not sloppy, thanks to MacGregor’s Ivy-League cut. And yet those soft colors give them a laid-back appeal.

Spooner artwork is usually of high quality and relevant to the Great Pacific Rim, if not always Hawaii. And they’re built like tanks: the Spooner Kloth models are almost invulnerable, prone only to tasteful fading and softening fabric. Spooner Kloth shirts drip-dry and don’t even wrinkle. They let the breezes in on hot days; on cool mornings, with a t-shirt underneath, they make a good, lightweight windbreaker.

Here’s another Spooner of mine, with a Japanese-inspired design: fans, cranes, and more. This one also gives my eyes a workout:

I’ve bought Spooners new, but most of my favorites are 20 to 30 years old and came from thrift shops. They all look like new except for the following one, which is from the ’70s. Some of the seams are a little loose, and it’s not even made of Spooner Kloth. But it still looks pretty good.

Spooner Dudes rarely jettison their Spooners voluntarily. So when I wear one of my thrift shop finds, I’m likely wearing a dead man’s Spooner. That’s okay: the Dude may die, but the Spooner carries on to the next Dude if at all possible. It’s The Way.

That said, here’s a Spooner that I actually bought new. They will give you a bright color if you ask nicely, and once again it’s a shirt you may have to decode. Oh, all right: koi fish. I wonder if there’ll still be Spooner Dudes in 75 or 100 years.

Reyn Spooner was a big name in Hawaiian-made aloha shirts, but it wasn’t the only name, or even the biggest. Hawaii has its own local shirt-makers and designers, always has. And other mainlanders also founded Hawaiian-based sportswear companies like Alfred Shaheen and Tori Richard (which you may have heard of, and which still makes all its shirts in Hawaii).

Above is a Reyn Spooner long-sleeve with a licensed Shaheen design based on traditional Hawaiian tapa fabric block prints — except for all the polychrome madness. This shirt gets a lot of looks. Shaheen was special.

So yes, there’s a lot of Hawaii aloha shirt talent to choose from, if you don’t mind ordering by the Internet: always has been, always will be I hope.

And that’s good, because Reyn Spooner and I are parting ways. They changed hands: twice. The second time, a new CEO and design team were brought in to “broaden appeal” beyond the aloha zone. Headquarters moved to California; the latest designs resemble medium-quality cartoon art in flat colors. Production’s been hip-hopping around Asia for some time now. Reyn Spooner no longer makes this old duffer’s aloha shirt.

But all is not lost. Because you have to ask: when you replace the old guard at an iconic sportswear company, just what does the old guard do after they’ve cleaned out their desks?

My new not-Reyn-Spooner

Why, start their own business back in Hawaii under another name and make more aloha shirts, just the way they used to. With a shop, and local production, and some online sales and distribution. I was lucky to find these guys on the Internet; but I was also motivated. I’ve bought a couple of their shirts. Here’s another one.

I suppose it would confuse the issue to say that this not-Spooner greatly resembles an old Shaheen design.

Yep, these are definitely Spooner Dude material: dignified (mainly), reverse-print, conservative, and built like tanks. The makers even have their own version of Spooner Kloth. Welcome to my new favorite shirts.

To be clear: I have no fetish for authenticity. It’s true that the world is full of generic “Hawaiian” shirts with derivative designs, usually made under contract in the cheaper parts of Asia.

But I never bought Reyn Spooners because they were “real Aloha shirts.” I bought them because they were real, period. And the ultimate cool duffer shirt.

They still are. Just, under a different name.