The Secret Ingredient

Someone asked about my soda bread .

“Rob, you must be holding out on us,” he said.  “Your recipe isn’t that much different than all of the others. How is it that the judges at the Irish Soda Bread Competition always seem to enjoy yours?”

I looked around and lowered my voice.

“Well, truth be told, there is a secret ingredient. I’ll tell you — but please don’t share this with anyone.”

He sat up and paid attention.

“Here’s the thing: take a big handful of Lucky Charms and put them in your food processor. Pulse them until they’re reduced to a fine powder. Then sift that in with your dry ingredients, and I think you’ll see a big difference.”

“Lucky Charms?”

“Lucky Charms. Your soda bread will be… magically delicious.”

He thanked me and shook my hand, and somewhere this morning there are people eating soda bread with a curiously different flavor. A certain tang that they can’t put their finger on, but one that seems seems oddly familiar.

It’s in the Bag

We like to walk the dogs in a neighborhood that adjoins ours. They have something on their street that I haven’t seen anywhere outside of a park: one of those boxes that dispenses poop bags. Did the village install this? We don’t have on on our street.

And these aren’t just any old bags, these are printed with instructions on how to pick up the poop.

Poop bag instructions
I didn’t think instructions were necessary, but I’ve been at this for a long time.

Curious, I visited the website listed on the bag for Dog Waste Depot. The online merchant is well named, for it is rather like a Home Depot for your dog shit needs. It turns out that installing one of these bag stations — either as an individual or maybe by a neighborhood association — is very affordable. Free shipping, anyone?

But people are people. They may have a fancy schmancy sign and poop bags,  but there’s still plenty of poop lining the lawns. Maybe they need better directions.

A Sensitive Area

A friend was concerned. “You don’t write much about local media any more. Is it getting better or are you just losing interest?”

Well, neither. It’s certainly getting different, but not better — and yes I’m still interested. The truth is that work consumes more of my brain capacity now, unlike in the Albany Eye days. Idle hands, idle hands.

But now and then, oh boy:

That headline is a masterpiece of poor taste, and it is funny at first — until you read the story. The jarring contrast between the jokey headline and the brutality of the crime is stunning. But maybe it was OK. After all, these were just a bunch of roughneck laborers from out of town, living in a cheap hotel. They aren’t like us, are they?

Oh, one more thing. Earlier in the day I read a story in the Times Union about a lawsuit brought by a man who’d been hit in the balls with a golf club. Before you ask, “What club does one use for that shot,” you should know that the guy lost a testicle. The reporter was less restrained, and wondered if the case, “might keep the judges from looking forward to golf season anytime soon.”

By the way, both of these stories were written by Robert Gavin, who covers law and the courts. I guess he’s the Paul Grondahl of crotch stories.

So local media? Maybe not better, certainly different, always interesting.

A Taste of the Past

To an entire generation in Albany, say chicken teriyaki and they answer you back, “Quintessence.”

It’s two years since Quintessence was demolished, mowed down to make room for the ever-expanding Albany Med. But for years it seemed like an empty imitation of itself; Quintessence wasn’t really Quintessence since the Jimmy Scalzo days. And what days those were.

I’d been to Quintessence many times in the early 8os before I realized that it was not just a place for late night drinking, but a great place to eat — and the chicken teriyaki with spinach noodles were as close to legendary as any dish ever served in this sorry town.

But it’s gone forever — unless you were among those at a class given at Price Chopper’s Market Bistro, where chef Donnie Graham, shared the secrets of the teriyaki. Graham spent many hours in the open kitchen at Quintessence, and served up countless plates of their specialty.

Believe it or not, one of the big revelations was learning how to cut the chicken into a long strip and properly wrap it around a scallion and piece of carrot. It’s then held on with toothpicks until the chicken shrinks and grabs the veggies tightly. Don’t forget to remove the toothpicks. I swear I swallowed one once long ago.

What of the marinade and the dressing for the noodles? Ah, sorry — I’ll post a lot of things online, but I don’t think paying for the class gives me ownership of the recipes and secrets of Quintessence.  You’ll have to rely on your memories of those days, but if you’re like me, many of your Quintessence memories are — a tiny bit hazy.

STFU and Do Your Job

Norman the plumber listened patiently as one of his helpers presented a long soliloquy about what was wrong with the job they were on, why the morning was so difficult and how nothing that went wrong was his fault. This particular laborer was well known for his complaining. As they finished lunch and got ready to go back to work, the plumber addressed the issues and grievances of his underling.

“Kenny, I’ve go some advice. And if you follow this advice, you’ll be a lot better off: shut the fuck up and do your job.”

I was just a teenager, but that stuck with me.

How many times do you wish people would just STFU and do their job? Yes you know exactly what I’m talking about. And don’t get me wrong, it’s advice I should heed more often.

So, I read this tweet last week from our esteemed leader:

OK. You won the election, you’re the most powerful person in the world, now STFU and do your job.

It turns out there’s an easy way to send feedback to the White House with a handy form on their website. Maybe this would be a good time to send Mr. Trump a message that he’d surely understand. STFU and do your job. Really, the world would be so much better, and indeed, it would be a tremendous way to make America great again.

So Afraid of the Russians

I used to enjoy playing Made for TV’s So Afraid of the Russians when I was a DJ in college.

It was a funny song — but frankly, we were afraid of the Russians. Plattsburgh Air Force Base, a stone’s throw from the campus, was understood to be a first strike target in the event of nuclear war.
Down at the bars we’d sometimes meet kids our own age who were from the base. Instead of going to class every day, they’d load bombs and fuel planes out on the flight line. That seemed strange to us, but when my own son decided he’s rather be a machine gunner in the Marines than a college student, I understood better.

That song was released in 1983, but certainly feels relevant again — even though the greatest threat we face may not be the Russians, but our own president.

Reckoning

St. Peter settled into his chair. It looked like another long day — but every day’s a long day when you’re holding the keys of the kingdom. Peter has plenty of help for this day-to-day stuff, but he still likes to pull a shift at the pearly gates.

Halfway through the morning an interesting case approached the bench.

“So, in life you were a talk radio host.” St. Peter peered over his glasses. Standing before him was an ordinary looking man whose head was shaped rather like a light bulb. He was sweating and looking down at his shoes. “On the radio in Albany for 30 years. Albany. That’s certainly the minors.”

St. Peter flipped through a thick pile of paper.

“You said some pretty colorful things about people. Immigrants, refugees, Muslims, women, gays, lesbians, transgender. State workers, union members, cops, firemen, teachers. You’re tough on politicians. I suppose I get that, but you called Elizabeth Warren ‘Pocahontas’ 37 times in one morning? Really. Shall I go on, this is a very long list?”

“St. Peter, you need to understand, that’s not me — it’s just my act. It’s a radio show, it’s supposed to be entertainment. I don’t really believe all that stuff that I say.”

“Ah, entertainment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that. Remember the Romans feeding people to the lions? Entertainment. Dogfighting? Entertainment. Cop Rock? Entertainment.”

There was silence.

“C’mon, smile, that was a joke.”

St. Peter shoved his files aside.

“Look, maybe you didn’t believe everything you said — actually, I can’t accept that anyone would be so stupid — but do you think the people who listened to you understood that it was an act? I think they heard someone who echoed back the fear and hatred in their hearts.”

“What about them,” the host asked. “I was just saying that stuff — the listeners were the ones doing the hating.”

More silence. It was a moment, but it felt like a week.

“Well, I was going to ask if you’re ready to repent, but you already answered my question.”

St. Peter started tapping on his keyboard (a 27-inch iMac, in case you’re wondering) and cleared his throat.

“OK, here’s what’s going to happen. We’re sending you downstairs to think this over. We grant you an appeal automatically, but as you can imagine, there’s quite a wait before we hear your case. Right now, our next opening is in… March 2896. You’ll get a letter with the exact date.”

An angel stepped up to lead the man away.

“Hey, don’t look so glum, it could be worse. One of your friends will be down there to join you soon. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Trump. Donald Trump? OK, who’s next?”

A Breath of Fresh Air

A guy I used to work with believed that toilet smells are hazardous to our health. He’d gesture down the hall to the well-used men’s room. “That first floor bathroom is going to make you sick,” he explained. “When you smell someone’s shit in there, you’re breathing in tiny shit particles,” I nodded in agreement, not because I agreed, but because I didn’t want him to know that I thought he was nuts.

No, I didn’t agree with his particle thesis, but nobody could dispute that the bathroom often smelled revolting. In the interest of full disclosure, I hold the controversial view that people should poop at home, not at the office.

So, one day I decided I’d had enough. Early in the morning, I set up some old sneakers and a pair of jeans in bathroom so it would appear that someone was seated in the stall. During the day, I saw several flustered people go in the bathroom and exit quickly seeing the crapper was occupied. Those needing to use the urinal did so without being subjected to a toxic atmosphere.

Finally, very late in the day, someone peered over the stall door and discovered the ruse. I’m not going to name the person who peeked, and believe me, it’s a name many of you would know.

Some of you will see this as a cruel prank, but is it really crueler than fouling a public space you share with your co-workers? Here’s some advice if you really need to go: take it to another floor.

Coyote Ugly

“The coyotes were after me!”

My wife was out of breath and extremely worked up after rushing back home with the dogs. In the woods along her regular route she’d heard a pack of coyotes — or at least what sounded like a pack of coyotes. She didn’t actually see them, but in the dark, scary noises are amplified; they may not have truly been “after” her, but it seemed that way.

Coyotemania gripped our house for a week, and we were consumed with talk of carrying pepper spray and cudgels to ward off the invaders. Then this.

According to the Times Union, these signs were posted around two adjoining golf courses in Albany and Bethlehem, warning of coyotes (“They are smart and fast”) and cautioning people not to mess with them.

By the way, what do you do if you encounter coyotes on the golf course? Let them play through.

Look, coyotes have been around here for a long time, and now all the sudden we’re freaking out? I’d suggest we all spend time worrying about real animal risks, like the deer who play chicken with your car. You’re much more likely to be injured in a collision with one of those damn deer than you are to be bitten by a coyote.

I much prefer the approach of Frank Vincenti of Mineola. This self-styled coyote defender spends his spare time trying to protect coyotes on Long Island and in New York City. Yes, New York City. From a recent NY Times story:

When he hears of a sighting, he closes his barbershop and heads to the scene. He may spend all night working as a human scarecrow, chasing the coyotes back into the underbrush. The goal is to keep them out of the public view and away from the traps set by specialists hired to euthanize them.

Vincenti believes the coyotes will persevere in the end, citing the most famous coyote of all:

“Wile E. Coyote always loses,” he said, “but no matter how they try to kill him off, he always comes back.”