Saturday, September 11, 2010


People of means do not eat rice. Risotto is a rich person’s dish, the name dressed up as much as the simple kernel itself. Fifty pound bags of granular substance are reserved for second and third world countries. To make a meal of rice is so un-American, it is justified only by the accompaniment beans and maracas.

Yet this snubbed food symbolizes home to me. Not because I am from a rice country, but because we didn’t have much.

For most people, a snowy day locked indoors in front of hot pine embers translates to mugs of hot chocolate and down filled blankets. It means reruns of black and whites and snow cones made from freshly fallen white stuff. Often, it also means bare cupboards since a trip to town is out of the question for several more days. Once the last bit of beef is cooked and the large storage freezer is empty, it is time to dig deep into the pantry, because if there is nothing else, there is always a bag of rice. Those who’d canned their own goods the season before subsist on jam, pickles, and beets smeared onto baking powder biscuits. Because there is always flour and sugar. There is always flour and there is always sugar and there is always rice. When all other stored goods are gone, a savvy New Englander knows how to turn flour and sugar and rice into three days of meals. And often, we did.

We did so not only because of winter’s vengeance, but because of unreliable jobs, manufacturing’s jaunt overseas, and the occasional deluge of medical bills when the health insurance safety net snapped free. Rice did not taste poor to me. It was a special cereal not sold in stores – a homemade kind. It was warm and sweet with butter, milk, and sugar. It was filling, nutritious, and yummy. It was comfort food.

Rarely now do I eat rice and milk. Indulging in the sticky stuff is reserved for Chinese take-out night then tossed with the leftovers into the garbage. A lack of food – or even a lack of a paycheck and health insurance – is far from my mind. Recently, though, there was nothing to eat. The fridge, freezer, and shelves were full, but laziness trumped any urge to cook something. But there in the back of the fridge was a week-old container filled with dried up rice. Jackpot.

Something from home filled my bones as I soaked it in milk, sprinkled it with sugar, and zapped it warm. But it wasn’t the same. It didn’t taste like home. It was crunchy not comforting, weak not warm, bland not bold. Perhaps because I didn’t have to eat it to survive. Or maybe it was the 70 degree air outside. It is possible, though, that it needed to sit on a back shelf and soak in sadness, poverty, despair and madness. When cooked with sour milk and disguised with sugar, it tastes like home.

More likely, the rice concoction always tasted like it did the other night. Maybe my life of means has changed my tastes into one that demands it be dressed up and renamed, served on fancy plates at sky high prices. I do love rice pudding, a treat I discovered in adulthood. Cooked with loads of expensive butter and cream and stirred by hand for hours on end, it is an annual indulgence enjoyed by the whole family. When my baby is grown, I wonder if the combination of cinnamon, rice, butter, and cream will paint home to him. And I wonder if it will taste the same or if he will have moved beyond such a humble dish. Most of all, I wonder how it will once again reinvent itself from rice to riches.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

51st State: Newest Mexico

In an age when illegal immigrants from Mexico aren’t deterred by barbed wire, gunfire, or Arizona’s legalized profiling, isn’t it time to redirect those millions of taxpayer dollars and invest them in a sure-fire plan?

Stop patrolling the border and instead, send those troops over to start a war with Mexico. Rather than watching with folded hands the bloody war that Mexico’s drug lords are waging and winning, the U.S. should declare marshal law. It wouldn’t even be a war but more like child’s play. We have the resources and the clear-cut advantage of a professional army. Let’s add another 7-day war to our history books and expand our lands.

For a year’s budget that goes to fighting drugs in the U.S. that slip from in Mexico, it could be stopped permanently with one swift military action. Why haven’t we then? Besides the international outcry of imperialism and bully-tactic Colonization, it’s really about economics. The Mexican economy is kept afloat by the drug trade. The current civil war aside, Mexico is generally happy as a pig in mud with their profitable exports, illegal as they may be here.

If we invaded and took over, our tax money would pour through that sieve we created into the Mexican economy for the next three decades. We’d be building roads, hospitals, schools, prisons, and housing. But we’d save just as many millions not fighting illegal immigration. In fact, most would probably voluntarily go home. Jobs, healthcare, and safety would be guaranteed back in Mexico, something they haven’t seen in their lifetime.

Moving manufacturing from overseas to local cheap intra-continental labor is the main answer to the economic woes. China and Japan, now First World countries, are becoming too expensive, forcing companies to move their plants to second and third world countries again. What’s better than a new, struggling Mexican economy? Without drug money and drug lord interference, North American manufacturing could boom once again. What might be slightly more in wages would pay off in cheaper transportation costs. No more month-long trips across the ocean or losing important (or hazardous) cargo to sea quells.

Tax dollars garnered from manufacturing plants on new American soil would be reinvested into Mexican infrastructure. Contracts and jobs would send people running to Mexico, boosting our own lagging economy and lowering our unemployment rate. Those workers would need housing, food, and entertainment, and the reinvestment of their wages into the local economy would pay off in spades. The American government could stop sending them unemployment checks and start collecting income taxes. The only losers are the drug lords, who would somehow find a way to ply their trade elsewhere.

Hell, with a new American-based education system in place there, companies could even move customer service and IT support from India to Mexico. A new frontier for casinos and lotteries would generate jobs, revenue, and tourism.

After a decade of sweeping reform, the land once known as Mexico could be broken down into multiple states, localizing government and creating a whole new fight for the Red and Blue. If it wasn’t already taken, I’d vote to call the first state “New Mexico” because it would, indeed, be a whole new world. And maybe we'd finally have a soccer team to be proud of.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Now Hiring: Chief Executive Transponster

Call me old fashioned, but I need to put my hands on the fruits of my labor. Our forefathers never had to explain what they did for a living – they’d simply point to something in the room and say, “I built that” or “I make the bolts that hold that together” or “I sewed your shirt.” Ask the average American now what they do and they’ll be as stumped to explain it as Chandler Bing’s character on Friends (“he’s a transponster” was the guess during the apartment-losing trivia bet).

Today, job titles range from the obscure (the “Fandemonium Director” created by to the ambiguous (the “Happiness Engineers” that work at WordPress) to the hubristic (the self-applied “iCEO” title held by Steve Jobs).

Engineers the world around with $50k in school loans and bigger brains than the average bear should be up in arms at how their hard-won titles are thrown around today to dress up run-of-the-mill work. From the home-based “Domestic Engineers” to the “Caffeine Distribution Engineers” found at Starbucks to the “Petroleum Movement Engineers” at the local gas station, Engineers are popping up on every street corner with an education far removed from AutoCAD and algorithms.

America is no longer the country that once produced tangible goods. Our main export now is entertainment, information, and money. We import our jeans, straws, even our hourly help. Today’s Jack and Jill have internet jobs moving around data in cyberspace and met in an invisible chat room; they have a robodog, an electric car, and a surrogate growing their baby in India because it’s cheaper than maternity leave.

It is no wonder the unemployment rate is so high. We don’t really know how to do anything. A hundred years ago, people built their own houses, grew and canned their own food, sewed their own clothes, and delivered their own babies. It is said that out of ten people in a room, one is homosexual, two are color blind, and eight will say their favorite color is blue. But none know how to reattach a button, make spaghetti sauce not from a jar, or change the oil in a car. Well, maybe one could sew a button.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Warning: Made in China

What if you declare war and no one shows up to fight? That seems to be what China’s mulling over right now. Caught up in a made-up war over in the desert, we neglected to heed the call to arms that China issued nearly a decade ago.

You gotta hand it to them; they’ve fought calculated battles, hitting our people and our infrastructure with minimal loss of their own. How is it that our media and our politicians have yet to realize they’ve been waging a quiet, deadly war against us? Why do we keep chalking up each attack to ineptitude when it’s obvious they’re trying to pick us off one by one – and succeeding?

This isn’t crazy conspiracy talk. It’s an actual conspiracy. The summer of 2007 saw a massive recall of lead-laced toys made in China. Hasn’t it been something like 40 years since lead was added to anything except gas? Then there was toothpaste. The FDA ordered the destruction of Chinese-made toothpaste for containing toxic amounts of diethelyne glycol, a sweet, syrupy poison.

The fall of 2008 brought melamine-tainted baby milk, eggs, sweets, and animal feed across Europe and parts of U.S. Suddenly deadly amounts of melamine showed up in all of those unrelated,Chinese-made products?

The latest bomb exploded in our housing sector, though it may have been the first one planted. Since 2001, Chinese drywall used in most of our new housing has been emitting hazardous amounts of sulfur gas. In lightning time, this corrodes copper, electrical wiring, air conditioners, appliances, makes people sick, and easily becomes airborne, thereby entering and lodging in lungs.

Our government just issued a warning to gut all drywall, insulation, wiring, circuit breakers, and gas pipes and replace them completely. How did the Chinese government – which directly manufactured this product – manage to hit so many Americans? Their Trojan horse came in the form of a ridiculously cheap price we couldn’t resist.

The Chinese didn’t need to fly a plane into our centers of commerce because we paid them to send bombs into our homes and the hands of our children. We forgive and forget each time, continue to buy their products, and close our eyes to the obvious.

We are at war. Instead of trained militants, it is postmen, teachers, accountants, and babies who are on the frontline. Laugh if you will, but mark my words, there will be more headlines. The only one we should be seeing from now on is this: Warning! Made in China.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Till Cold Feet Do Us Part

It was a rite of passage around ten or twelve or some age when parents finally decided you were tough enough not to succumb to childhood disease. If you’d beat the pox, scarlet fever, croup, pneumonia, and measles, then a parent felt obligated to contribute a few bucks to your continued survival. Henceforth, warm nights in New England were no longer limited to dying embers in the potbelly and hot water bottles under the covers. No, from there on out you got your very own electric blanket. It was usually a hand-me-down or picked up while yardsaling and about half of the wires worked. But it was warm and welcome.

As an adult with a thermostat-regulated gas furnace, no wood to chop, and insulated walls, there is little need for this New England bedroom staple. But like warm cookies and hot chocolate, it is a comfort, a guilty pleasure. But unlike such American staples as Star Wars and Corvette, the original benefited from its update: the electric mattress pad.

Anyone with backaches, arthritis, or a partner who won the thermostat war needs one of these babies. It envelopes you like a . . . well, a warm blanket. A hug. Loving arms that never fall asleep or fidget. Adjustable from 1-10 and split down the middle with dual controls for his and her comfort, the electric mattress pad is the best invention since electricity. It’s like being a kid again – without the chores.

Friday, February 26, 2010

I pledge allegiance to . . . Hubba Bubba?

In typical American slacker fashion, Bode Miller chomped gum during the national anthem as he stood on the medal podium at the 2010 Olympics. The next day, his teammates paid dearly. Lindsey Vonn crashed hard and broke a bone, causing Julia Mancuso to be stopped mid-run. Her cursed second run went poorly.

Hell hath no fury like a nation’s flag scorned.

Of the eight golds (thus far) that were privileged to be accompanied by our national anthem, I only noticed one athlete putting their hand over their heart. Not one attempted the song, though cross-country skier Johnny Spillane did mumble along some.

It’s been noted that our own President doesn’t observe all of the recommendations set out by U.S. Code 301. Is Nationalism dead? In this day of invisible boundaries where athletes from several nations are all wearing Nike manufactured Olympic gear, where the best Norwegian sleds are raced under a rainbow of flags, and where our most medaled winter Olympian hails from Japanese roots, is there even such a thing as nationalism?

The Pledge of Allegiance isn’t said in most of our schools anymore. Only Whitney Houston knows all the words to our National Anthem. Our nation hasn’t fallen yet for this lack of showy patriotism. But for God’s sake, spit out the gum, Bode. It’s just good manners. If we are nothing else, we are polite Americans, eh?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Once Upon a Faulty Gene

Children are programmed to love their parents no matter the harm inflicted upon them. It’s hardwired into their little brains and hearts to forgive and trust. It’s one of nature’s catch-22 scenarios, put there to ensure that a parent can doctor a child back to health and still hold esteem.

As a sick tyke, I often felt betrayed by my trustworthy folks as they held me down and put torturous drops into my painfully infected ears. How could they do that to me over and over, knowing how much I hated it? I now watch with sick regret as I have to do the same to my own little one. I look into his doe eyes, filled with surprise and accusation and thank God or Mother Nature for his ability to hug me afterward instead of running away. I will always be the bad guy, the one to scrape wounds clean and make him drink penicillin (aka poison to him).

The problem is that this “get outta jail free” gene is the same one that makes abused kids lie and defend their parents, afraid of being separated from them. How is a judge to know what’s best for a child when that kid can’t differentiate abuse from loving care and says with all sincerity, “I want to live with mommy”? If evolution weeds out harmful traits, how long will it take for society to be rid of bad parents? And if there were no more bad parents, could we even procreate? Or is selfishness just inherently human?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dear Conan,

Dear Conan,

Stop being a baby.

If I did my job poorly, got bad reviews, or didn't make my numbers, I'd be fired. All you got for doing a bad job was a shift change; although you still get to go in at the same convenient time in daylight hours to do that job. Your late night show doesn't actually require that you work at midnight, unlike the plant employees where I work.

If I made fun of my bosses on their dime, I'd be tossed faster than dice in Governor Paterson's back yard. So you feel lied to by corporate America who didn't come through on their word for your promotion. Welcome to my world. I don't get paid a few million to ease that sting.

Your refusal of the reassignment is simply Un-American. I don't know one person who would turn down a paying gig. I do know plenty of laid off factory workers who are funny enough to fill in for you if you think you're above it. I'd bet my next measly paycheck they'd bring in higher ratings than you. But if they didn't and NBC gave them a pink slip, they'd hold their head high and go stand in line at the unemployment office like so many others.

Ya see, Conan, this country is built on the shoulders of workers. Go work.