Category Archives: Food

The Trouble with Tomatoes

The Trouble with Tomatoes
or
The Transmutation of Topography starts with Tomatoes

Chapter 1

Viktor grimaced. He then said, “So, let me clarify your request. You want to hire me to fix your chandelier? Oh, it’s not broken then. Ah, I see. Your chandelier is too slow? And you want me to increase the acceleration of your dawdling chandelier, so that it raises and lowers at a more rapid rate.” He gripped the phone tightly.

“Sir, I am a scientist. I study the majestic mysteries of the Universe. I literally see worlds in a grain of sand, or even a grain of… of….” he paused. Then, suddenly exhausted by the audacity of the request, he slumped into the chair and set down the phone.

Einida picked up the phone and calmly said, “Sir? Yes, I’m afraid we won’t be able to… excuse me? No. We will definitely not be able to…as you say, ‘pimp your shambolic chandelier.’” She hung up.

“What in blazes is going on here?” asked Viktor in dismay. “The phone has been ringing constantly, but the jobs that people want us to do are perplexing pedantic! They want us to make their pool fountains more efficient, or to add programmable LED lighting to their china cabinets, or to create a cryogenic champagne cooler. Someone even wanted me to make a device to warm golf clubs. And now this… THIS – a slow chandelier! That’s not science!” He leaned forward and put his head in his hands.

“…Why are people expecting us to do the work of a repair shop, rather than of a Science Laboratory? And why would there be a golf course in this area? We’re in the desert! ” He leapt from his chair and began to pace.

“Maybe we need to take a trip to the General Store and pick up some supplies. A day away from the Laboratory should be a refreshing diversion. I’m sure there will be interesting projects waiting for us, when we return.” said Einida.

“I cast my pearls before swine… ‘I must bear what is ordained with patience, being aware necessity doth front the universe with an invincible gesture…’”[1] Viktor began quoting as he took off his industrial lab coat and put on his linen lab coat.

And so Viktor and Einida prepared for the long, tedious drive through the remote desert to the General Store and Trading Post.

 

Chapter 2

After driving through the lonesome landscape for several miles, a sudden anomaly appeared at the end of the road.

“Is that a road sign? These roads don’t have names.” sputtered Viktor.

Einida slowed the van down and peered out the window. She said, “Apparently, this road has been named ‘County Road #1A.’ How quaint.”

nonameroad

Viktor sputtered and said, “What? We don’t need road signs! Everyone who lives out here knows exactly how to get to where they’re going. If you tell someone to turn at ‘Skunk Gas Pass,’ they’ll know exactly where you mean, and they’ll even be sure to roll up the windows.” Viktor tittered at the thought of the all blissfully unaware people who had driven, with their windows open, through ‘Skunk Gas Pass.’

That was a lesson no one ever forgets.

“Or when someone tells you to turn where the rubble from the old Post office used to stand. Everyone knows where that was.” said Einida, as she rolled down the window to take a photo of the street sign.

Viktor threw up his hands in exasperation and said, “Well, there goes our remote neighborhood. First come the roads that have names and then come a flood of suburban, suckling, namby-pamby, milquetoast…”

Einida interrupted what was most likely to be an entertaining rant. “Whoa! Calm down. This might just be a sign that the dastardly Department of Transportation finally got around to installing. You know how they always get lost out here. How many of their engineers have we rescued from their inability to read maps? This sign is probably their version of a #16 Rue Street.”

Viktor sniffed and said, “Nonsense. A sign is always a sign. And in this case, it is an ominous sign of terrible things to come. This sign will ultimately lead to sighs.”

Viktor scowled and shook his fist at the sign and said, “I dare say to you, to you… the tyrannical Transportation Department:
‘Fiend, I defy thee! with a calm, fixed mind,
All that thou canst inflict I bid thee do;
Foul Tyrant both of Gods and Human-kind,
One only being shalt thou not subdue….
Thou art omnipotent.
Over all things but myself I gave thee power.’” [2]

He finished the startling quote with mildly maniacal laughter. And then, he muttered grimly, “How can one possibly live in an undisclosed location, if the dreaded Department of Transportation is going to go around naming roads? Don’t they have better things to do?”

 

Chapter 3

 

They had not gotten far on their journey on “County Road #1A,” when they ran into yet another mystery.

At the corner of “County Road #1A” and “No Name Road #207”, there was what appeared to be a farmer’s market. At least, that’s what the placard on the side of the road said.

Einida slammed on the brakes of the van and stared in disbelief. Viktor rubbed his eyes and then stared in disbelief.

“It must be a mirage… people just don’t have farmer’s markets along rustic, ranch roadways…” said Einida, astonished.

The curious hand painted sign read:

“Welcome to the Tomato Rendezvous”
“Welcome to the Happy Tomato Place”
“Welcome to the Tomato Happy Place”
“Welcome to the Thrilling Tomato”
“Welcome to the Tomazing Farmers Market”

tomato001
“Well, this is an unexpected mystery. We must investigate it fully.” whispered Viktor suspiciously. He was not optimistic about what the results of their investigation might yield.

They got out of the car and walked towards a table that was covered with stacks of various vegetables.

“Excuse me, madam. What is this place.?” asked Einida with a strained smile.

“It’s a Farmer’s Market! I’m building a wondrous place of awesomeness that focuses on nutrition, vitamins, vegetables and well-being.” said a woman, who was sitting on the ground unpacking a crate.

“What on Earth are you doing way out here? There aren’t many people that drive down this road.” said Einida brightly.

The lady stood up, tilted her large sun hat and said, with unparallelled exuberance, “Hello, I’m Frau Pomadora and I’m here to sell tomatoes. My goal in life is to sell people the sunshine collected in the spheres of the world’s finest, freshest, fantastical, organic tomatoes.” She stuck out her hand and began to shake Enida’s hand vigorously.

Einida recovered her hand and took a step back from the palpable enthusiasm and asked, “What kind of tomatoes?”

“Well, I’ve got big Beefsteaks, awesome Oxhearts, pleasing Plum tomatoes, pretty Pear tomatoes, cherubic Cherry tomatoes… I’ve even got great Grape tomatoes, and the incomparable Camparis…” said Frau Pomadora enthusiastically, then she paused for breath.

“Isn’t it strange that some tomato varieties are named after animal parts and fruits? I dare say that an Oxheart tomato sounds rather ghoulish.” mused Viktor. He continued, “While I do admire the botanists who got to name these varieties, I’ll have to challenge myself to see if I could come up with even more interesting names…” He paused for thought.

Frau Pomadora quickly said, “That’s not all they’re named after. Why, I’ve got some exalted Arkansas Travellers, and some super San Marzanos, I’ve even got some smashing Sun Golds, beautiful Better Boys, juicy Jersey Devils…” Frau Pomadora took a breath..

Viktor, realizing that he would have to think about his version of vegetable names later, stopped thinking. He was about to say something, but Frau Pomadora got her breath back and continued speaking, “…Sweet Baby Girl cherry tomatoes, divine Virginia Sweets, top notch Tastefuls, superb Sweet Millions, bewitching Brandywines…”

“You certainly do know your tomatoes.” interrupted Einida admiringly. She always loved a good list. But she knew that this list was sure to be an endless catalog of tomato varieties, and they needed to get back on the road, soon.

“Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!” Frau Pomadora said while hopping up and down with great eagerness. “I also sell pizzas, fresh baked breads, dips, pies and many, many other vegetables. I love food so much that I have to share it with the world, at this very table. Isn’t this going to be the greatest?”

Viktor appreciated her passion and excitement for being a purveyor of produce. But he had doubts about the feasibility of starting a business in such an unpopulated area. So he said, “Madam, you are aware that the population of wildlife in this area far outnumber humans? The only thing around these parts are vast ranches that go on for thousands of miles.”

Frau Pomadora’s smile faltered. “Oh dear. It seems as though you don’t subscribe to ‘The American Journal for Region Reestablishment.” It’s a monthly magazine.” She leaned over and pulled out a tomato stained magazine from under a crate.

“This area has been on the cover for the last three issues. Congratulations! You are living in the most actively sought out real estate in the whole country. And I’m here to feed all the people who are going to be moving in.” She grinned and handed the magazine to Viktor.

journal“Pish Posh! Unconventional scientists can’t have neighbors! That simply isn’t done.” sputtered Viktor, losing all aplomb. He stared hard at the magazine in his hand.  Then, he rolled it up, so he wouldn’t have to see it, anymore He could feel a rant building.

“Tosh!” exclaimed Einida. “How can we have the freedom to experiment, the freedom to push the very boundaries of physics and nature if we’re surrounded by… by…”

“…people?” gasped Viktor, horrified by the thought of living next to actual humans, neighbors and city slickers.

Viktor took a deep breath and began to speak, “They all told me I was mad! Mad! For wanting my lair so far in the uncharted country. But now they’ll show me… the whole world will show me… they want to be here too. MWUAHAHAHAHAHA!” He laughed maniacally as he shook his fists dramatically at the clouds. Then, he took a deep breath.

He glowered and rubbed his forehead. Then he lofted the rolled magazine into the air and declared, “This is a disaster… a total disaster! How will I continue to experiment unhindered if the masses of non-scientific humanity are near? How can I experiment with rockets, automatons, satellites, pumpkin launchers, potato cannons, Ludwig Van Beethoven at 125 decibels, trebuchets…” He trailed off, the magazine fell from his fingers.

Einida continued, “…sonic booms, aerial balloons, mobile rumpus rooms, boulder rolling studies, trebuchets…and various assorted flingers, of course.”

Frau Pomadora smiled and said, “Wow, you must really like trebuchets. But don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be fine. And no one will mind if you continue your little experiments.”

“That’s what the village people told Dr. Frankenstein and look what happened to him! His most brilliant creation and his favorite windmill were destroyed by a mob of unenlightened, angry villagers.” grumbled Viktor [3]

Einida looked around furtively and whispered, “What will the Evil Minions Local 208 say if they learn that we’re going to have neighbors? This is just ghastly! This could ruin our Lab’s reputation as being ‘in a desolate, remote location’” She waved her hands in the air as she made air quotation gestures.

Viktor looked down at the magazine on the ground. It was slowly being buried by the blowing desert dirt. But he could still see most of the cover. The cover was of a satellite image. Viktor studied it intensely.

He came to a conclusion and sighed. “At least, they didn’t take a photo of our land. Maybe we’ll be far enough away from this impending sprawling, suburban madness to not be affected.” he said with gloomy optimism.

Frau Pomadora’s smiled gently and said, “Embrace change. Things always change for the better. Besides, I’m going to need a tomato tossing catapults for my ‘Tomazing Tomato Tossing Festival’. Catapults are good Everybody likes catapults. Right?” She patted him on the shoulder.

Viktor looked down at the magazine that was barely visible. He picked up a handful of sand and said solemnly, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare. The lone and level sands stretch far away.” He tossed the sand into the wind. [4]

Einida picked up a handful of sand and said gloomily, “Like dust in the wind of an hourglass, these are the days of our lives.” And she let the dust blow away.

Frau Pomadora’s smiled slyly and said, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If life gives you tomatoes, make Bloody Marys.”

Viktor then smiled and said earnistly, “In the immortal words of Grumpy Cat, ‘If life gives you lemons, you will have some pretty bad lemonade, unless life also gives you sugar and water.” [5]

THE END

References
[1] Prometheus Unbound by Aeschylus
[2] Prometheus Unbound by Percy Shelley
[3] Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
[4] Ozymandias by Percy Shelley
[5] Grumpy Cat

Donkey Blockade: Operation Teensy Vittles

The Lawn Mower salesman had just passed through the front gate of the Laboratory.  He looked up and saw something in the distance.  He drove slowly toward the obstacle and stared hard at the thing in the road.

“What the devil is that?” he mumbled to himself.

He slowed down further.  “Maybe if I drive slow, it will get out of the road.” he said to no one in particular.

The car slowed to a crawl, until he was almost upon the mysterious object. Then, he slammed on the brakes and whispered in a panic, “What is it?”

He quickly put the car in reverse and drove back to the gate.  At the gate, he rolled down the window and picked up the handset of the conveniently located phone.

Chapter 1

The Whistler set down his shovel, looked at his watch and sighed.  The Lawn Mower representative was late to their meeting.  The Whistler had been waiting, rather enthusiastically, to hear about all the latest, wondrous technologies in lawn mowing, such as; robotic GPS controlled mowers, biodiesel mowers, solar powered mowers,  and the advancement of hydrogen fuel cell technologies.

 

The  phone rang.  The Whistler picked up the handset and said, “Hello, This is Super Fun Adventure Quest Time Laboratories,  how may I direct your call?”. He paused and said, “I see.  You are running late for our meeting because the road is full of … what?”

A look of disbelief crossed his face as he said, “Excuse me.  Will you repeat that?  Did you say that you are trapped on the road because of donkeys… A donkey blockade, you say?”

donkey_road_block_sign001e

 

With a quizzical look, he asked, “How many donkeys are involved?… Two?… and you say that they’re tiny but quite threatening?  And that they have surrounded the car and are hitting it with their little noses…  Oh!  And loudly braying while shaking their heads in a menacing manner?  One moment, please.”

He put the phone to his chest and hollered “Einida, you have a donkey emergency to attend to…”

He lifted the handset and said, “Sir, I’ve alerted the appropriate authorities and someone should be there shortly to escort you safely to the Laboratory’s garden house.  Good-bye.”

Enida slid through the doorway, as she failed to stop her momentous sprint.  “Emergency?  What’s happened?  Are Subject 001 and Subject 002 ok?” She panted.

The Whistler, was not only a holistic landscaper, but was also well versed in the arts of animal husbandry.  His donkey handling advice had been ignored and he was looking forward to this “I told you so” moment.

He smiled mischieviously and said, “I’m sure you remember when I  mentioned to you and Dr. Phil that one should never, ever, ever feed any sort of animal from the window of a car?”

She nodded cautiously, “Um, I seem to remember something about that.  But I only do it when it’s raining and my umbrella is in the trunk.  Or when it’s really hot.  Or sometimes, I might feed them from the van, if I’m in a hurry… but I hardly do it at all.  Why?  What does this have to do with the donkey emergency?”

The Whistler shook his head and said, “Well, apparently Dr. Phil has been feeding them on a regular basis from the window of his truck.  And do you know what happens to animals that are given food with a stimulus event?  Like, perhaps, giving a donkey an apple during which time a very specific sound is made?”

She gasped and clasped her hand over her mouth, “Classical conditioning? For the love of Pavlov,  Oh no!”

“Instead of making dogs hungry at the sound of bells, as in  Pavlov’s respondent stimulus experiments…” he began his lecture.

Einida’s eyes widened as she realized the magnitude of his words.  She whispered in dismay, “I’ve created donkeys that are conditioned to respond to the sights and sound of automobiles… Oh my!  This can’t end well for anyone.”

Chapter 2

Einida grabbed some tools and left the building. She was on a mission to break the donkey  blockade.

When the donkeys saw Einida, they brayed loudly and shook their heads.

Einida stood in front of the donkeys, who were blocking the vehicle, and said with a stern tone, “Move.  Get going.  You will get no apples today.”  She waved her arms in the air menacingly.

 The Lawn Mower Salesman, quickly put his car in reverse.

 “No.  Sir, not you… you stay here… donkeys leave. “ Einida sait to the surprised man.  She then turned and yelled, “ Get a move on, donkeys!”

The donkeys gazed at her calmly.

“Heeyaw!!  Gitty up.. Hoowah… ” Einda was hopping about while making noises.

She then leaned over and pushed Subject 001 on his flank.  “Move it or lose it.” She said hopefully.

The donkey leaned back, determined not to be pushed around.

Dr. Phil walked up and snickered. Einida was hot, surly and still trying to move the donkeys by physically pushing them off the road.

Einida rubbed her brow in frustration and said “These donkeys are impossible. I can’t believe how stubborn they are!  I always thought that the phrase ‘Being stubborn as an ass…”

“Asset!” shouted Dr. Phil triumphantly.  “I’ve always said that people need to be more stubborn, if they want to be successful.  Do not let other people tell you what to do.  Seek your destiny and sally forth!  Let it never be said that I didn’t do things my way.”

As if on cue, Viktor walked up to the group and said, “Oh, yes.  We have a saying about Dr. Phil’s way.  That there’s the right way, the wrong way and Philips’s way…  which is the wrong way, but twice as fast.”

Dr. Phil said, “And then there’s The Whistler’s way, which is the right way done twice as slow and with a painstakingly comprehensive level of detail.”

“Does anyone have an apple?  I don’t think I can get this blockade removed without one.” Einda said while searching her pockets.

 Viktor studied the donkey blockade and said, “When thinking of famous blockades, I would consider the Ottomans blockade in 1394 at Constantinople,  the great WWI British blockade of X, and of course, the blockade of Marc Antony’s fleet in Actium to be the greatest blockades.  We shall not allow this blockade to escalate to those levels.”

Viktor stroked his goatee and said, “There’s got to be a scientific solution to this conundrum.  We’ve got to be smarter than the donkeys…”

“Hey, where are you going?  Aren’t you going to break the blockade?  I’ve been here for quite awhile.” said the Lawn Mower Salesman uncertainly.


“Be patient.  It is only a matter of time before the solution presents itself.” said Viktor calmly.

 

Being fed apples from the van.
Being fed apples from the van.

Chapter 3

Viktor, Einida and The Whistler were at the stables, trying to find inspiration for the problem at hand.

“I have a brilliant idea!  What if I start feeding the donkeys food from the vehicle that they DON’T like?  Then, they’ll associate cars with unpleasant tastes.  Hee-hee.” said Einda gleefully.

“What could possibly go wrong?” asked The Whistler innocently.

“I wonder what donkeys don’t like eating?” said Einida, while thinking about animal inappropriate foods such as caviar and sardines.

Viktor said, “That sounds like a metric that needs to be plotted through careful trial and error.”

“And be sure to stick to unappetizing vegetables, as equines are vegetarian.” continued Viktor.

Enida, no longer deep in thought, said, “Ooh!  I know that broccoli and cabbage are generally hated by human standards.  I should try one of those.”

“Whoa!  Don’t do that.  Broccoli and cabbage are cruciferous vegetables and are known to cause flatulence in horses.  And I believe that experiencing an episode of donkey flatulence is probably, actually, literally the last thing we need around here.” said Viktor with a stern look.

Everyone paused for a moment to consider that scenario.  And then they started snickering.  “Donkey poots…poot poot… tee-hee.”

The Whistler began to verbally demonstrate what he thought the flatulence from a miniature donkey would sound like.  He waved his arms to indicate billowing clouds of gas, while making enthusiastically obscene, high pitched noises.  He then pantomimed donkeys being made airborne by their high pressured flatulence.

He finally stopped when he noticed that Einida was rolling on the ground in a gale of laughter.  Viktor, slightly more composed, was chortling with glee while holding on to his shaking ribs.

“So, no kale, brussel sprouts, rhubarb or Bok Choy, either?” said Einida with a stray giggle as she stood up and began to shake the dust off her lab coat.

The Whistler said, “Those vegetables are bad for horses as well.  And they can’t tolerate avocados, tomatoes, onions, potatoes  and persimmons  Start thinking about fruits.  Horses love fruits…”

Viktor put his finger and the air and said, “Fruit!  All this talk of food has left me feeling peckish.  it’s time for a snack-ra-fice.”

And so, the trio walked off toward the Laboratory, anxious for snacks.

They were surprised by the honk of a car.  The Lawn Mower Salesman was yelling something through his window.

 

He rolled down the window, waved a bag of apples around and said, “It took me hours to drive all the way back into to town to get apples.  The donkeys loved them.  They let me pass, once I paid the toll.”

 

Viktor furrowed his brow and sighed, “Ah, yes.  The donkey’s Pavolvian response was strongly reinforced.  We’re going to have to work extra hard to break them of this pattern.”

 

“Are you ready to talk about lawn mowers?  What can I do to get you into a …” the Lawn Mower Salesman stopped his manic sales pitch when he saw the faraway look in Viktor’s eyes.

 

“Don’t mind him… “ said The Whistler as he pushed passed Viktor, “I am more than ready to discuss the merits and demerits of reel mowers, rotary mowers, robot mowers, solar mowers, push mowers, lawn tractors and my favorite… mulching modes!”  He clapped his hands in delight.

 

Einida turned to Viktor and said, “Let’s go eat.  We’ll never solve this dilemma on an empty stomach.”

 

“Indeed.” he replied while still deep in thought.

 

“Would you like a watermelon?  I bought one when I got apples…” offered the Lawn Mower salesman.

Einida grabbed the watermelon and they walked toward the Laboratory.

Chapter 4

Einida shrieked, dropped the watermelon she was holding, and ran towards the utility vehicle.  The donkeys were braying loudly and shaking their heads vigorously.  Normally, she was pleased by the donkeys, when they exhibited this behavior, as it meant that they were glad to see her.

Today, however, it occurred after she fed them some watermelon.  The donkeys became ecstatic and began drooling half-chewed bits of watermelon.  Then, when they vigorously shook their tiny heads, that same stream of drool and watermelon spewed everywhere.

“I’ve got to have an umbrella!” Einida shouted at The Whistler, who was laughing uproariously from the front seat of the van.  His meeting with The Lawn Mower Salesman had ended abruptly when Einida recruited him for this latest mission.  He correctly anticipated the mission would be highly amusing to watch.

The Whistler handed her an umbrella through the window and said with a smirk, “So, they like watermelon, do they?”

Einida put the umbrella under her arm.  Then, with the sleeve of her red splashed lab coat, she wiped off her clipboard. She made a note that watermelon would not be an effective donkey deterrent.

“Look out! Here they come.” The Whistler warned as he quickly rolled up the window.

Einida heard the stampede of tiny hooves and felt the warm drops of donkey drool hit her legs.  The donkeys were frolicking with the piece of watermelon she dropped and wanted to show their appreciation by getting as close to Einida as possible.  Subject 001 licked the clipboard.  Einida quickly put up her umbrella, jumped on the running board of the van, pounded the roof and yelled, “Drive!  Drive!”

 

Chapter 5

Einida was in the break room listlessly stirring her soup.  Her earlier lunch break had been interrupted by the idea that donkeys wouldn’t like watermelon.

“It seems hopeless.  These darned donkeys seem to like everything.  They are so… adamantly agreeable!” said Einida through gritted teeth.

Dr. Phil scratched his head and said, “Horse feathers!  Never give up… never surrender… horseradish!  Try feeding them horseradish.”  His stream of consciousness solution surprised him. Nonetheless, he waved his spoon in triumph.

“Why would you suggest a food that shares a name with the genus of the animal you’re trying to manipulate?” asked Viktor dryly.

“Obviously, it was named as such because horses love it!” declared Dr. Phil.

Viktor said, “But we’re not trying to find things that horses love to eat.  We’re looking for the exact opposite of…”  Viktor’s indignant rant was interrupted.

Einida said, “Actually, no one quite knows the etymology of the name horseradish.  It has been highly valued as a spice throughout history.  The Oracle at Delphi once thought that it was worth it’s weight in gold.  In the Middle Ages, it was actually used medicinally for…”

Viktor interrupted with a cough and said, “Poison!  It’s poisonous to horses…”

Einidia interrupted his interruption and said loudly, “Medicine!  It’s used to treat dandruff and sinusitis.  Speaking of medicine, this celery soup doesn’t taste nearly as good as I had hoped.  It tastes like warm celery water.”

Viktor folded his arms and said peevishly, “Have you not read my treatise on the souponification of soup?  Making soup is an art form, much like the saponification process when making soap.  One must gradually heat vegetables, patiently wait…” He paused and looked at her soup.

Then, he sighed and shook his head. “Am I looking at a bowl of warm water that is full of celery sticks?  That’s not soup!  That’s a culinary outrage!  That is to soup, what American cheese is to…” he stopped ranting and and gazed thoughtfully at the refrigerator.

“Celery!” he suddenly shouted enthusiastically, “Celery!  Have you tried feeding them celery?”

Einida dropped her spoon and looked at her clipboard.  She quickly searched the list of fruits and vegetables that were donkey approved.

“No!  They have not been exposed to celery.  Celery might actually work.  It’s one of those nutritionally mysterious vegetables that change how medicine gets processed in the human body.  I bet the donkeys will hate it!  I must get a test started right away.” said Einida jumping up from her celery water.

 

Chapter 6

Einida gently held out her hand.  A stalk of celery lay across her palm.  The donkey, Subject 001, softly grabbed the celery with his mouth and began nibbling.

If a donkey could grimace, then Subject 001 would have.  The celery fell to the ground with a light thud.  Subject 001 looked at Einida with a baleful glare.  It was the first time the donkey’s tastebuds had ever tasted something so woefully unpleasant.  Subject 001’s ears turned backward to communicate his substantial anger.

The Whistler, whose hobby was horse whispering, said, “Ooh wee!  That is one angry equine.  You’d better give him a palate cleanser.”

“That would defeat the purpose of this experiment.  I don’t want them to associate blockades with celery followed by apples.  They must learn that they shall only get celery when they blockade.”  She then circled the word “celery” on her clipboard.

Einida was ecstatic. She leaned over and cooed to the tiny donkey “Little buddy , you’re going to learn that cars mean celery, which means the opposite of apples.”  She straightened up and with dramatic flourish said, “I declare that’ The Great Donkey Blockade disaster’ has finally been defeated.”

The Whistler, who was sitting in the van,  smiled, nodded slowly  and said, “I’m sure it has.”

The donkeys began to stalk towards Einida.  Their ears were flattened and they marched forward menacingly with their tiny mouths chomping at the air.  They looked like an equine version of Pac-Man, eating invisible dots.  [can you think of a better metaphor?]

 Einida backed up and said, “Um… they look angry…”

 They began to trot terrifyingly towards her.

 “Run, Einida, run!  You don’t want those donkeys to acquire a taste for human flesh…” yelled the Whistler.

 But it was a needless warning, for Einida was already fleeing the rampaging donkeys.

 Once again, Einida was trying to escape the equines.  She stuffed her clipboard under her arm, jumped on the running board of the van, and yelled, “Drive!  Drive!”

 

Chapter 7

Weeks passed without a single blockade.

 The donkeys quickly learned that the Laboratory vehicles only carried abhorrent celery.  They quickly lost interest in blockades and went back to doing whatever it is they do.

Then, one day the radio crackled.

“Einida, there’s a coil winding vendor stuck at the gate.  Those min-donks are up to their old tricks again.  They’ve got a blockade in place and are terrorizing that poor lady salesperson. ”

Einida grabbed the keys to the van and grumbled, “Why? Why?  Why?  Why now?  This is impossible.”

Viktor stroked his goatee thoughtfully and said, “I believe that when the Lawn Mower salesman fed the donkeys apples, he taught them a new trick.  The donkeys have learned to differentiate between the staff vehicles and vehicles that they’ve never seen.  What a sophisticated level of mental processing that this turn of events indicates.  It shows a level of…”

“Bah!  Sophisticated… How am I going to solve this behavioural wrinkle?” Einida said gloomily, while stomping out the door with a bag of celery.

Shouting after her, Viktor said, “So, then you won’t mind if I update your job description to permanently include the escorting of newcomers through donkey blockades?  Oh, and I’ll need your report on ‘Donkey Blockades and Roadpower Strategies and Counter-Strategies’ on my desk by tomorrow. ”

The Whistler shouted, “If you feel like feeding the min-donks, be sure to get out of the car and walk to them…even if its raining!

The Whistler smiled and said to Viktor, “Well, at least the donkeys taught Einida and Dr. Phil to not take weather-related shortcuts in experimental protocol during active trials.”

 

“Indeed.” replied Viktor.

THE END

donkey_road_block_sign001d

How many mechanics does it take to change a light bulb?

Artist's interpretation of what a headlight might look like

A kind local flagged us down. He said, “Yer headlight’s out. ‘Round here, that’ll git ye ‘rested. You’d best git it repaired.”

He spoke with a gravitas that one would not expect to find in a grizzled rustic, and that is how Viktor and I ended up in the “Eternal Waiting Room.” You know the place. You’ve been there before. The location changes, but the details do not: a drab, bare space with blinding fluorescent lights, a scattering of magazines dated two Presidential administrations back, stale, bitter coffee, asinine blabbering and monkeyshines blasting from the television, the restrooms a vision of Hell not even the pen of Dante could accurately capture, and chrome and vinyl chairs so fiendishly uncomfortable that they would no doubt elicit a thin smile from the grim lips of Torquemada.

The car was in the repair bay, and I had such high hopes. It shouldn’t take long at all for a professional mechanic to do something as simple as replacing a headlight. Such a procedure is no doubt as easy as typing a shoelace to his trained hands. I wasn’t going to do it myself, since the last time I tried I smashed my hand within the bulb’s damnably cramped housing. There is a time and a place for DIY, and that time was not now. Sometimes, things are best left to specialists.

Time passed. The procedure had started with one mechanic, but presently he sought the aid of others of his kind. With every oily brow that creased, with every pair of dirty hands thrown up into the air in despair, with every newer and larger regrouping of mechanics, I imagined I heard the chiming of an old-fashioned cash register, as my time was being wasted and the bill was growing ever larger.

More time passed. Viktor and I were in the middle of an expedition when this automotive interruption took place, and this setback was costing us valuable research time.

I think it was when the football-player-turned-chat-show-host had finished demonstrating his “can’t miss” recipe for jerk chicken on the dusty TV perched on a narrow corner shelf that my patience reached its natural end, and I approached the garage manager: “Sir, if you can’t change the headlight, please return my keys, so I can take my car to the dealership, where they have experts knowledgeable about this process.”

The manager responded, “Well, we did replace/one/ of the headlights, only it was the wrong one. And we’ve had to take out a bunch of parts from the engine, to try to access the space where the headlight is, but it don’t seem to matter. It may take some time to put your car back together.”

I gritted my teeth, pursed my lips, and shot Viktor a sour look that told him we must expect an even longer wait.

And so, since we are scientists, inventors, and explorers, when life gives us lemons, we dive in, and engage in an exhaustive study of the properties of lemons, their nutritional aspects, and how to improve the current methods of their cultivation and usage.A Liemon?

The collection of data is for us second-nature.

Data collected from this experience:

Q) Number of mechanics needed to change a headlight?

A) Zero! Even though five different mechanics attempted this procedure, they all failed.

Q) Number of hours spent watching trained mechanics failing in their attempts to change a light bulb?

A) Two.

Such unpleasantries are often unavoidable on our adventures, but when I was able to distance myself from this fiasco, to observe it all in a
disinterested, scientific manner, it was truly amazing to watch so many professionals befuddled by something so seemingly simple.

A few days after this, I took the car to the dealership. Here, the repair procedure took all of seven minutes, five of which were devoted to the mechanic walking to the workshop to fetch a certain tool.

And those were a precious few minutes, though sadly they did not afford me adequate time to enjoy a cup of exquisitely-brewed coffee, made available by the specially-trained baristas that occupied a corner of the mechanic shop’s waiting room.

Delicious bank money, made from tearsAs a coffee aficionado, I know where to get get all manner of java. Coffee is everywhere now–restaurants, local and chain coffeehouses, convenience stores and gas stations, bookstores, and even hotel lobbies.

But did you know where to find the world’s most expensive coffee? It’s at your local bank. Most banks offer “free” coffee along with a small tray of cookies or mints. But it’s not exactly free, at least not the way I see it. I cannot enjoy bank coffee without thinking that I paid for it somewhere along the line with all those pointless and exorbitant fees the bank sees fit to charge me.

And the drinking of bank coffee is not without its hazards. The bank never provides a lid for the coffee and so, quite often I’ve found myself driving with one hand, while clumsily bringing the open cup to my lips, trying to gulp the beverage down before it sloshes over and scalds my hand or spills over my clothing.

While I was sipping my coffee at the car dealership, getting my headlight replaced, I noticed a pickup truck in an adjoining bay with a bumper-sticker that exhorted, “Freedom Ain’t Free.” And while I realize that the bumper-sticker was a commentary on the matter of national defense, I reflected instead that sometimes “free” services can be used as a dodge, a financial shell game, a diversion of the buyer’s attention from shoddy service.

Caveat emptor.

*Yes, I know that is a picture of a lime, but when life gives you limes instead of lemons… you take photos of limes.

The Super Fun Adventure Quest Time Nonsense Gum Experiment

Packages of flavor sensationsIt all started when I offered the Huntsman a piece of gum. When he asked what flavor the gum was, I said, “Blue.”

Puzzled, he retorted, “What flavor is blue?”

“I suppose it’s some sort of minty, fresh, frosty-tasting flavor.”

“But if you bought the gum, shouldn’t you know the flavor? Shouldn’t you be more clear on the matter?”

I responded triumphantly, “Of course not! I merely selected the gum by the color of the packaging!”

Front of Super Fun Gum(It suddenly occurred to me that my penchant for selecting products based solely on label color might not be the most common method of shopping. Still, it leads to delightfully unexpected results. For example, were I shopping for diet soda, I might just as easily end up with coconut juice, since both beverages have white labels. This gastronomic Russian roulette is an exciting way to liven up the taste buds.)

I studied the gum packaging carefully and declared, “This gum is ‘Polar Ice’-flavored. Here, have a piece, and describe to me the taste of the frozen wastes….”

“Why, it tastes minty-fresh! The inside of my mouth does in fact feel colder….Astonishing!”

This simple interaction ignited a flicker of insight in my brain. What if I set up an experiment where the participants would sample gum without knowing the flavors beforehand? Without the visual clues of the packaging, the enticing descriptions, would they be able to determine the taste?

And so, I collected a variety of gum flavors: mint chocolate chip, orange crème pop, apple pie, root beer float, lemon square, sweet watermelon, polar ice, and winter fresh. Sadly, I was unable to locate the rainbow sherbet flavor, as I was particularly interested in finding out what a rainbow tastes like.

The Back of Super Fun GumNext, I designed the packaging in which to present the gum experiment. It was a joy to make with the Lab’s new Klic-N-Kut machine. (I could have used the online packaging personalization tool offered by Extra Gum, but that project ended disappointingly earlier this year. Alas, I would have so loved to share the results of our gum experiments with you, gentle reader.)

And so, I emptied all the flavors of gum into a pile and shuffled them vigorously. I randomly selected pieces and inserted them into the new package. Then I spent a week offering random strangers and Laboratory employees a chance to sample a piece of gum and participate in an experiment.

While the random strangers were generally open to free gum and the cause of science, Lab employees were suspicious of my motives, asking, “What did you put into this?”and “Did you make the gum yourself?” and “Is this onion-flavored?” and “Does this look infected to you?”

The experiment took an unexpected turn when the package of gum was left unattended and was pillaged during the Lab’s annual “Celebration of the Miraculous Egg.” The sticky-fingered party-goers chewed the gum in a non-observant, non-scientific manner, and the data for those stolen pieces of gum were lost.

The results of this experiment were inconclusive. I shall have to try again, when more flavors are introduced into the world by the gum industry.

Caught in a Supermarket Avalanche

It started slowly, as the most horrific incidents in life so often do.

My mind would not accept what my eyes were seeing, but before this cognitive dilemma could be resolved, events snowballed into chaos.

Einida threw her body against the glass freezer door in an heroic attempt to check the violent collapse.

Frozen pizzas were shooting out rapid-fire like so many playing cards from the hand of a veteran croupier.

The four-cheese pizzas tipped forward and knocked the thin crust pepperoni pizzas against the vegetarian pizzas. One column collapsed against the next, and all were momentarily held in check by Einida, the human wedge.

With stealthy step, she slowly backed away from the door to see if the avalanche had stopped. The pizzas were perfectly balanced in a jagged heap. The DiGiornos™ supported the Totinos™ and vice versa…but only barely.

The pizza trap waiting to be sprung.

It occurred to me that we were in over our heads, that we might best leave the matter to store employees who were more experienced in the handling the vicissitudes of food storage and display.

I recalled the occasion when Einida and I openly stared and giggled at a lady in the produce department of that very store who had not completely detached her vegetable bag from its fellows on the metal spindle, with the result that as she wandered about the store, she dragged behind her a line of still-attached vegetable bags, stretched taut, to the amusement and amazement of the other shoppers. She continued for a not-inconsiderable distance before someone pointed out her dilemma.

This amusing scene was playing across the screen of my memory when I was suddenly jolted–by what force I have no idea–back into the present. I called, “Einida, we must disable this trap before some unsuspecting shopper comes along, opens the door, and is buried under an undignified mountain of frozen dough and tomato sauce.”

And so, as she leaned back against the door, I reached in from an adjoining freezer bay. I gingerly moved some of the topmost pizzas from the heap, in an attempt to lessen the pressure of the stacks of pizzas pushing against the door. It was rather like playing a game of Pick-Up Sticks, but with pizzas.

(Again, my mind digressed, as I contemplated the development of a new version of that beloved childhood game….)

The pizzas began to shift.

Einida urged, “Viktor, hurry! I can’t hold the pizzas back much longer!”

Blame for this disaster rests solely upon the shoulders of the grocers who insist on stacking plastic-wrapped pizzas, on their tiny edge. Such a configuration in inherently unstable.

I had apparently triggered the trap while searching for the freshest DiGiorno™ four-cheese pizza.

At any rate, I finally removed the last pizza from this Mountain of Woe, and stacked it with its brothers horizontally, in a thumbing of the nose to the careless grocer, in hopes that he might at least dimly perceive the danger to which he had exposed his customers through his arrogant attempts to defy the basic laws of engineering.

How to locate the freshest frozen pizza:

1. Examine the plastic seal. If the plastic is tight and conforms to the ridges of the face of the pizza, and looks vacuum-packed, it is fresh.

2. Avoid pizzas that have a loose plastic seal.

This seal is loose.  Avoid selecting this sub par pie.
This seal is loose. Avoid selecting this sub par pie.

Tales of Soup and Fiber

Fiber_soup2

“Oh, I do so love soup,” Einida exclaimed. “But how difficult it is to find one that is delicious, nutritious, and also filling.”

What was it, I asked myself, that made my Lab Partner such an advocate for soup? Which of its qualities did she most highly prize?–the taste? the fluidity? the texture? the temperature? What was it that so inspired her passion?

I had, years ago, devoted a not-inconsiderable amount of time to the study of soup and its making. It was an engaging subject that required many experiments. It lead to my discovery of “souponification,” that magic alchemical moment at which vegetables and water join together and metamorphose into actual soup.

I once developed an onion soup recipe that was delightful to taste, but it was dreadfully time-consuming to execute. Most onion soups done in the classic style of “Soupe a l’Oignon au Fromage” start with a beef base. I, determined to not be outdone by the French, decided to make an onion soup that was as tasty as the Gallic original, but without that bovine taint. So by taking a standard recipe and carefully modifying it over about ten iterations I finally came up with a recipe that satisfied me:

Viktor’s Vegetable Onion Soup

6 Large onions thinly sliced
6 T butter
1.5 t salt
1.5 t ground mustard
.5 t Thyme

3 T soy sauce
3 T burgundy cooking wine
0.5 t White Pepper
6 cups Vegetable stock (3 cubes of Vegetable bullion)

Stale Baguette
Cheese (provolone, Gruyère, or Swiss)

Cook onions, butter, salt for 40 minutes on medium heat. Stirring frequently.

Add Thyme & Mustard and cook additional 10 minutes

Prepare stock. Using 3 cubes of vegetable bullion.
Lower stock to a simmer. Add Soy, Wine, white pepper, and Onions.

Simmer for 1hr on low heat or until “souponification” happens. Stirring occasionally.

Fill a proper Onion Soup Bowl (must have a handle) to 0.75% full.

Serve soup with stale baguette cut into 1/4” tall medallions floating on top of soup covered in cheese.

Finish the Crust of the cheese with a flame thrower or a few seconds in a broiler.
————

In seeking the key to Einida’s happiness I had no time to indulge in the time-consuming preparation of my “11 Ingredient Vegetable Onion Soup.” Instead, I decided to explore, by means of experimentation, the effects of temperature on feelings of satiety. Could temperature, I wondered, make substances more palatable and induce the mental state of well-being? (I’d noticed that when I ingest liquids heated over a certain temperature, I have experienced long-lasting feelings of comfort.)

And so I hurried to the Biology Lab and started mixing.

I combined chicken-flavored bouillon cubes with psyllium husk formula. I heated the water to a temperature that would melt the bouillon. Then I mixed in the bouillon, and after that slowly stirred in the fiber.

The final stage of the experiment was to taste the oddly-colored soup. I bravely placed my straw into the brew and sipped.

I winced. The psyllium husk formula was orange flavored! As a result, the soup was unexpectedly flavored like a Chinese chicken or duck dish. Not unpleasant, but not quite comforting, and certainly too metropolitan for taste buds seeking simplicity.

Undeterred, I tried again, mixing unflavored psyllium husk fiber with the bouillon. This time I learned the painful lesson that using a straw to consume soup tends to distort one’s sense of the soup’s temperature. I singed my tongue.

“Einithaa! I neeth you to tathe thith enchanthing elixther.”

She, with great hesitation, took a sip. Her eyebrows rose in surprise, and she said, with enthusiasm, “It’s not bad at all. It’s actually much better than I expected. A little thick, perhaps. But with a lovely chicken flavor.”

And so ended my second experiment with fiber soup. The concoction failed to satiate me. I must find the balance between a soup that is too hot to drink, and one that has become a cold, gelatinous sludge. I will seek what in Middle English was called “lukewarme,” which is not, as most would believe, the state somewhere between hot and cold, but rather the state of a substance that was once hot and has since cooled down. It is only a “lukewarme” soup that can be both hot enough to dissolve bouillon and cool enough to drink through a straw.

New From The Lab–The Secret Formula For The Perfect Psyllium Husk Health Tonic

Sucrose, natural and artificial orange flavor, FD&C Yellow #6, and silicon dioxide–those are the ingredients found in commercially available fiber with nine grams of sugar.

And should you want to consume sugar-free fiber, you might end up ingesting wheat dextrin, natural orange flavor, potassium citrate, aspartame, gum acacia, acesulfame potassium, maltodextrin, lactose (milk), triglycerides, sucrose acetate isobutyrate, modified cornstarch, Yellow # 6, and Red 40.

I took to the study of fiber when the “Mysterious Fiber Shortage of 2012” occurred. I didn’t have time to investigate the actual cause behind the shortage, but I did learn enough about the subject of fiber to free myself from the shackles of the commercially-produced varieties and their bizarre added ingredients.

I vowed that I would never accept the tyranny of the Commercial Industrial Complex’s unnaturally tainted fiber, that I would find a supply of pure psyllium husk.

So, Einida and I spent days examining the shelves and bulk bins of natural food stores, each one smelling of potpourri and patchouli oil, and cluttered with beads, incense burners, organic soaps, and yoga mats. There were so many products and so many wrong options.

We had to find pure psyllium husk, since it’s the primary ingredient in a fiber solution. We read the ingredient list on bottle after bottle before finally finding a large container with the ingredients simply listed as “Whole Psyllium Husks.”

Next, we had to find psyllium husk powder. This involved visiting more stores and examining more bottles before we found a powder made with actual psyllium seed husks.

My fiber formula was beginning to come together. Victory was within my grasp. But when I mixed up what we’d gathered the flavor was rather unpleasant.

So, we went back to the stores and searched for the sweetener, Stevia.

Trying to read the ingredient list on a tiny bottle printed with the world’s tiniest type face proved to be frustrating to me, until Einida reached into her utility belt and pulled out her magnifying glass. Only then was I able to find the perfect bottle of Stevia.

For various reasons I was unable to secure the final ingredient, citric acid, and so substituted it with sugar-free Kool-Aid. If you use sugar-free Kool-Aid as a flavoring, you can make a fiber solution in almost any flavor you choose.

After experimenting with many different ingredient ratios, I was able to create the perfect mix for Psyllium Husk Tonic.

Instructions

Place the following ingredients into a container:

  •    -1/2 cup of psyllium husk powder
  •    -1 cup of whole psyllium husks
  •    -6-8 heaping spoonfuls of Stevia (using the tiny spoon provided in the packaging)
  •    -1 package (0.15 oz) of the Kool-Aid flavor of your choice

Place a lid on the container.

Shake the container vigorously.  Enjoy.

*Of course, Kool-Aid has unnatural ingredients as well, but it is an intermediate step. In future versions of this fiber beverage we hope to use a home-made drink mix instead.

Secret Psyllium Husk Health Tonic

The Unexpected Discovery of the Mystical Mushroom of Immortality

Ganoderma

“Excuse me, madame. I overheard your refused request and believe I can offer some assistance,” said the enthusiastic, off-duty, fried chicken pitchman.

The soporific Viktor and I were beginning another long day on the road with a chicken breakfast at a fast-food joint located alongside a highway just outside of Nowheresville, USA. Chicken, biscuits, cole slaw, corn, mashed potatoes, and other viands were on the menu, but coffee was not.

Viktor put down the titanium spork that he always carries with him on the off chance that he will end up eating fried chicken, and glanced at me with a wary eye.

“I heard you ask for a cup of coffee, and it surprised me, since you’re are at a fried chicken place. Most people don’t think to combine coffee and fried chicken,” the unctuous young man added.

“I, sir, am not most people,” I carefully said. I was overcome by a troubled mood. Without my matutinal mud I neither work nor play well with others.

“Well, madam, I happen to run a coffee business during my off-duty hours. Would you care to indulge in a sample?”

My heavy-lidded eyes widened. What miracle of java might this be? Is there hope of saving this doomed day? I nodded to the man in hasty agreement, indicating my willingness to sample his wares.

“Are you familiar with Ganoderma, the ancient Chinese mushroom that was once only consumed by royalty? Peasants faced harsh treatment, amputation, and even an early reunion with their ancestors for ingesting the Royal toadstool.”

“Why, no. How fascinating. How fantastic. An unexpected cup of coffee that comes with a tale of peasants, royalty, and forbidden mushrooms? Oh my.”

The Mysterious Coffee Peddler continued, “This coffee is brewed from those ancient, Royal mushrooms and has fantastic health properties. It isn’t merely a cup of coffee, it’s a delicious tonic of health and vitality. It contains anti-oxidants, and other health-stimulating properties.”

I was intrigued. And so, he handed me a cup of hot water, and two packets of coffee wrapped in a piece of paper normally used for food packaging.

I whipped out my knife and deftly cut a slit in a coffee packet. I was careful not to mangle the packaging, as I wanted to study it further.

As I moved to pour the powder into the cup, a complication arose. My cutting had not in fact opened the package. So, I firmly grasped the material and gently pulled.

The powdered miracle mushroom coffee rose into a cloud. It showered down upon my raiment and from thence to the floor.

“Blast and tarnation!” I exclaimed.

Viktor calmly responded, “Isn’t this what usually happens when you attempt feats of dexterity without caffeinated lubrication?”

I sighed in acknowledgment and began to recover what bits of the powder I could from my stylish traveling jacket, soon reclaiming enough to make a small cup of the miracle mushroom coffee.

I mixed water and powder, then slowly took a sip, wondering about what new world of exotic flavors my taste buds would be entering.

“It tastes like a latte.” I said. “It’s quite nice… sweet and mild.”

After I enthusiastically quaffed the elixir, the Mysterious Coffee Peddler asked, “So,  how do you feel?”

Viktor raised an eyebrow, telegraphing concern.

“Why, I feel fantastic. My mood has lifted and I feel as if I could conquer any challenge that came my way,” I said elatedly.

“Well, madam, many people do mention a feeling of exhilaration and a sense of well-being after consuming this miracle brew. And it barely contains any caffeine at all! Isn’t that fantastic?,” he added, looking quite pleased with himself.

My smile faltered, and I gamely said, “Oh…wonderful. Thank you for sharing this marvelous health tonic. I will do more research, when I return to the Lab. A good day to you, sir.”

As we exited the premises, I whispered to Viktor, “Perhaps that salesman should learn never to tell someone afflicted with a caffeine addiction that his coffee product has very little caffeine.  His volunteering of that all-important detail snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. I was almost on the point of making a purchase….”

Some time later, I contacted the esteemed Professor of Mycology, Dr. Lysistrata Mudge, and asked her about the Ganoderma, the “mystical mushroom of Immortality.” She assured me that the mushroom actually does exist and may indeed have been an ingredient in my beverage.

She pointed out that modern studies of the fungi have confirmed some of the beliefs about its healthful properties. It has been shown to reduce cholesterol, stimulate the immune system, and to lower blood pressure.

I will have to delve further into the world of the Ganoderma.  It is a fascinating topic, and worthy of future experiments, especially now that such work no longer bears with it the threat of Imperial punishment.

The Tale of the Titanic Truck Stop part 1

Not long ago, while exploring the wilds of interurban North America, the intrepid Einida and I happened upon, what was for us, the hitherto exotic and undiscovered world of truck stops. Like most people not part of the freight-hauling fraternity, we had assumed that such establishments offered gasoline, steak and egg breakfasts, Red Sovine eight-tracks, and little else, but we were wrong.

Oatmeal_dispenserThis hidden wonderland upon which we happened has restrooms staffed with live human attendants, and it offers an oatmeal-dispensing machine, and an array of fascinating products, not the least of which being canned lasagna that comes with a chemical pack with which you can heat up the dish.

O, if I could but count the times I have yearned for canned pasta to fill that void created by the monotonous hours spent staring at the white lines of the highway. And now before me on the shelf, priced well within the range of any ordinary consumer, was a can of self-heating lasagna.

Incredible! This discovery thenceforward and forever confirmed me in my love for truck stops.

And my options weren’t to be limited by pasta. There were “Heater Meals” of green pepper steak with rice, chicken and noodles in mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes and beef. I was spoiled for choice.
Canned_pasta

I forced myself to look away and regain the composure and objectivity so necessary in an inventor/explorer. Still, it was difficult for my mind to take in the enormity of this discovery. It meant nothing less than that I could eat a hot dinner _IN MY CAR!_

Farewell also to those awkward nights of setting off hotel room smoke alarms while attempting to use a panini-maker. No longer will I find myself in a jerkwater town, after an experiment has run late, unable to eat because all the restaurants close at 10pm. Instead, the trunk of my car will be a larder, packed deep and wide with any number of meal choices.

There is but one matter that remains unresolved, and I hesitate to mention it. Though completely sold on the concept of self-heating meals, I haven’t yet actually opened that first can of self-heating lasagna and tried the meal out. But soon I intend to set up taste tests for everybody in the lab, so we can analyze which dish is the most tasty.

So in the meantime, as you roar on your busy way from city to city, please reconsider the humble truck stop as a worthy place of visitation. A dizzying array of extraordinary products awaits your studious consideration.

A Chronicle of a Voyage to Point Bolivar

stilton_rendition

“Do help yourself to some more Stilton, my dear Viktor. I think you shall find it creates the most delightful effects.”

My colleague, the esteemed Professor Beckford Ganymede Hornblower, passed the cheese over to me, his eyes twinkling with merriment.

I helped myself.

“Some Oloroso Sherry as well?,” he asked.

How could I refuse?

As the smoky nectar warmed my vitals, I reflected upon how much I have come to enjoy these postprandial meetings in the Professor’s book-lined study, a room suffused with the scent of old paper, Moroccan leather, and Latakia pipe tobacco, a room shrouded in perpetual midnight.

My brain began to fog, and I had the strange sensation that I was stumbling around deep in the waters of the Professor’s aquarium, which bubbled sedately over in the corner.

“Curse it all, Professor!,” I said, as I set my empty glass upon a side table, sprang up from my over-stuffed leather chair, and crossed the room to the heavily-curtained window. “Curse it all, I cannot abide this inactivity! If I go many more days without an adventure, I shall go mad with boredom!”

“Then, my dear Viktor, you must mount an expedition!”

Thereupon I enumerated, in tiresome detail, all of the reasons, economic and otherwise, why the fair Einida and I were currently confined to our home paddock. To punctuate my frustration, I went to the large and rather rare world globe that is serves as such a unifying decorative note to the Professor’s study, and gave it a spin. When I saw the Professor’s eyes bulge out and his mouth droop, I realized I was abusing his great hospitality, so I placed both palms on the globe so as to impede any further movement.

The Professor’s shoulders slumped again, his eyes brightened, and he sank back into his chair. “You must go to sea, young man!”

And now the Professor was on his feet, scurrying about like a preoccupied mouse, stretching and squashing his diminutive frame as he reached for first this book and then that. Confused, I returned to my chair and watched this amazing performance play out.
Pulling a rare folio from a shelf, he turned towards me, absent-mindedly blew dust off the volume, and said, “Was it not just the other day that you were telling me of your interest in ships?”

“Well, yes, but….”

“But nothing, my good fellow! If you’re interested in ships and the sea, there’s no finer place for you to start than the Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry.”

DSC_3954_r
And with that he dumped the stack of books upon my (unprepared) lap, and my eyes followed his stubby index finger as it pointed to a photo of the vessel in question.
In what seemed like no time at all I stood, like Admiral Nelson, at the bow of this ferry, wind whipping my garments behind me as I gazed resolutely at the brown boiling sea before me.

The gun metal clouds and strong, incessant winds were no match for the engine of this sturdy vessel as it churned its way across the mouth of Galveston Bay.

The mixture of smoke and spilled fuel and brine worked its olfactory magic upon my fancy, and transformed the dear Einida into the shade of Lady Hamilton.

Amazing to me that I had not heard of this magic carpet ere now!

DSC_3803_r

The Bolivar Ferry was truly a delight. Of the five ferries that serve this port, we found ourselves aboard the “Robert H. Dedman.” And yes, while we did in fact remark upon the inauspicious sound of the name, due to our consecration to the steady and stolid tenets of science, we did not allow ourselves to fall victim to the humbug of superstition.

In any event, our dark thoughts were soon lifted by the sheer size of the Dedman Ferry. It measures 185 feet in length, and can carry five-hundred passengers and seventy vehicles. Our Einida gasped in glee to learn that the vessel can even carry several semi-trailer trucks (“big rigs,” to the hoi polloi) at one crossing. Indeed, I think it was Einida’s lifelong, abiding, and lady-like interest in interstate commerce that steeled my resolve to plight my troth to her all those years ago.

DSC_3980_r
As I swept the ship under my gaze, I noticed the pilot house on one end, and then, at the opposite end, another. A ferry with two pilot houses? What crystalline logic! What brilliance of design! The pilot is spared the challenge of constantly steering half the day in reverse by the simple expedient of transferring operations to the other pilot house.

A seaman of leathern aspect approached me. Clearly, our enthusiasm for the ferry had attracted his attention. He parted his wind-chapped lips and laconically commented, “Look ye to the aft of this here ferry and of the larger ships, and ye may see the dolphins dancing in their wake.”

I headed post-haste to the stern, but saw nothing. Meanwhile, the intrepid Einida busied herself snapping photos of what seemed to her the ideal lair for an evil genius. “Why,” she explained, “it even has its own submarine!”
DSC_3979_r
She was right. Envy coursed through my loins, until closer inspection revealed to me a sign for a pleasure ground named “Sea Wolf Park.”

It is an old and sometimes bitter truth, confirmed and consecrated by time, that parks as a rule do not make good lairs.

But yes, the submarine is in fact the genuine article, a World War II vessel, the “USS Cavalla,” by name. And alongside it is a very rare Destroyer Escort, the “USS Stewart.”
My dreams of settling down and opening a quiet, small-town super-villainry practice being temporarily crushed yet again, I spied a large ship off in the distance. I went to the upper deck for a better look.

The upper deck includes a rather spartan, utilitarian lounge, lined with windows, and furnished with hard benches, where, during the eighteen-minute crossing, more delicate passengers can seek respite from the elements. I positioned myself on the outdoor deck beyond the lounge and began to take photos.

One of my great passions is taking photos of ships. Galveston Bay is chock-full of them–real, full-size, ocean-worthy ships, the sort that put the amateur boatman’s dinghies and sailboats to shame. And the nearby Port of Houston is one of the largest and busiest in the world.

I sighed, as I dreamed of building a laboratory on Galveston Bay where I could indulge in my ship photography passion to the fullest, during breaks between experiments of evil intent….

The ship that fueled this fantasy was incredibly vast. It appeared to be a container ship. I looked down to the lower deck and spied my Einida. The wind whipped the hair from before her face and, unbidden, she looked up over her left shoulder, found me immediately, smiled and waved and mouthed her astonishment at the ship’s enormous size.

It took many long seconds–eternities even–for my brain to process that latest intrusion.

It was a horn. A loud horn. And it came from nowhere and everywhere at the same time.
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By some strange instinct I looked up at the large ship ahead of us and noticed that it was now veering to its port side off its course and bearing down at fearsome speed upon to the Dedman.

There was a frenzy of activity as hands on both the container ship and the ferry ran back and forth, frantically doing whatever they could to prevent the collision. As soon as the full extent of what was about to happen took a coherent form in my brain I leapt for the ladder and flung myself downwards to the lower deck, to my Einida!

I looked around in panic. I saw no one else. I saw Einida, staring straight ahead at the grey wall rushing ever closer.

I ran, I stretched, I extended my arms, my hands, my fingertips, convinced that I could save my beloved if only I could enfold her in the protection of my arms.

I put out my right hand still further. Einida was cold to the touch. She turned. There was no expression on her face. She looked not at, but beyond me.

All went black, followed by a metallic crash, a reverberating ring, a flash of light, and a convulsive rush of air.

There was a noise, unfamiliar, familiar, a sound, a nasal drawl.

I opened my eyes upon the face of Professor Hornblower, ringed in lamp-light, puzzled, concerned, amused.

I snorted, drew in shallow drafts of air through my nose and mouth, blinked wildly, looked around, tried to clear the fog from my head.

“I say, old man, you knocked over the drinks tray.”

Ears still ringing, I rubbed my eyes, wiped the sweat from my forehead,

“Well, well, Viktor, seems you had quite the siesta. But you will recall I did warn you about the powerful effects of Stilton.”