Writers Workshop: Time Is Tight

Anatomy of an atomic clock. Source: brittania.com

Sorry I’m a little later than usual with this. I didn’t feel up to writing it yesterday and knew I’d be getting up early today, so I said "Ah, I’ll do it in the morning." Then one thing led to another and I fell into a wormhole… Anyway, I’m here now.

The technology for keeping time these days has really changed. Now, the absolute correct time is as close as your phone, because it’s connected to a cell tower and the company that operates the cell tower synchronizes the time with one of the many atomic clocks operated throughout the world that can give you the correct time to the nanosecond (such as this one). Before then, you pretty much had to get as close as you could by setting your watch to some more or less reliable source, such as the radio. Except that sometimes the time they announced on the radio was fast or slow, to fool the folks at Arbitron or the FCC. We used to have a phone number you could call in Chicago (I’ll just say it was CAthedral 8-8000, because if I try to find it I’ll fall into another wormhole) that would give you the correct time ("At the tone, the time will be nine… twenty six… and thirty seconds… (boop)…"). Most of the time, you got pretty close to the exact time and decided that was good enough.

We use the word "time" for an experience, usually one where you spend an hour or two someplace, like a party. "I had a great time at the party!" or "I had a lousy time at work today." Every life is full of good and bad times, and sometimes remembering the good times makes the bad time not seem so sad. Our veterinarian sends out condolence cards for when a pet dies that say "Remembering Happier Times" on the outside. They’ve recently started taking a pawprint of your deceased loved one that goes inside the card, and the members of the staff each write a little note expressing their sympathy. It helps. The vet also sends a check each month to the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine along with a list of the deceased pets that month (maybe $1 a name), and UGA sends a condolence letter to each family on the list.

Man, how did I get on that topic? That’s what happens when you try stream of conscious-ing to write one of these. You’d think I got enough stream of consciousness writing on Saturdays, but no…. (Incidentally, I don’t think Linda will mind if I mention Stream of Consciousness Saturday and invite you to join us. We have a great time.)

Writer’s Workshop: That’s Good Eatin’

One of today’s prompts is "share a favorite local restaurant that you love." There are several, really, and all of them are owned and operated by the same guy, or family. This is the Marietta Diner

They’re open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, though normally Mary and I just go there for breakfast, occasionally lunch. Their breakfasts are fantastic. We usually go for the Marietta Diner breakfast, which includes eggs, bacon or sausage, grits or home fries (Mary gets grits, I get home fries), and three pancakes. Occasionally Mary gets French toast, for which they use challah, which is richer and holds up better.

You can get breakfast all day. In fact, you can get anything on their menu all day. For a diner, this place has the broadest menu I’ve seen. How many diners do you know that have "surf and turf" and beef Stroganoff on the menu? Here’s video from Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, where Guy Fieri helps Gus, one of the chefs, make Stroganoff…

Another reason to go to the Marietta Diner is for the cakes. They’re huge. Mary and I split a piece of the cake, and both of us have had plenty.

More than that, though, is that they’re friendly there. The staff seems to like working there and with each other. They take good care of the diners. You know how it is when you go to a restaurant, they take your order, and they disappear? Never happens here. The place can be packed, and yet they don’t rush you.

Gus Tselios, the owner and general manager, has opened a few other restaurants, including Yeero Village, which is very close to us. They make not only gyros but other Greek dishes, like pastitsio and shish kebab, and they have a drive-thru. Mary and I go there if we’re out and about for the day.

There was also a restaurant named Cherokee Cattle Company, kind of a rustic steakhouse, that had fallen on hard times. Gus bought the place and remodeled the entire interior, but kept the steakhouse atmosphere and didn’t change the menu much. Oh, and they sell the cake there, too…

One more video, from Fox 5 Atlanta close to Christmas a couple of years ago. You can see the family atmosphere and camaraderie they have with one another.

Writer’s Workshop: We’ll Fake It

Sample from The Real Book, copyright Hal Leonard Publishers. Source: Amazon.com

A guy I knew back in Chicago who was an excellent drummer came over one day and said "I got an illegal fake book." A fake book contains abbreviated sheet music for songs that you’re likely to be asked to play on a gig. It has the melody and chord symbols for each song, from which a musician can come up with a reasonable arrangement on the fly to keep the audience happy and maybe get a tip. In other words, fake it. Kind of like the old joke, which I’ll try to clean up:

A guy is playing piano in a bar. It’s an upright piano, and he has a glass of beer and a basket of peanuts on top. While he’s playing, the bartender’s monkey climbs up on the piano and starts eating the peanuts and dropping the shells in the guy’s glass. At the end of one number, somebody says to the pianist, "Hey, do you know the monkey’s dropping peanut shells in your beer?" The pianist replies "No, but if you hum a few bars, I’ll fake it."

He was exaggerating a little by calling it illegal: It isn’t a crime for a musician to sit down with a record and transcribe what they hear. That’s actually the way most musicians learn. To take that transcribed copy and sell it to someone else, on the other hand, violates copyright, and the seller is liable to the authors and original publishers for compensatory and possibly punitive damages. The book he had, an early edition of The Real Book, had no such information in it. My friend wouldn’t have been liable, anyway, because he bought the book in good faith, and if accosted by a lawyer could plead ignorance, something which came rather naturally to him.

The ability to fake your way through a situation isn’t limited to music, of course. I got a call one afternoon and another trainer asked if I could cover a class the next day, because she was stuck in Boston and couldn’t get to Atlanta because we had snow here (always a dangerous proposition) and they had shut down the airport. I said I would, and drove the 20 treacherous miles from my house to the office and entertained the class until she arrived. She told me that my manager had told her to call me because I could, and I quote, "throw bullshit better than anyone." Talk about your backhanded compliments…

Writer’s Workshop: Thought Better of It…

Image by Yuri_B from Pixabay

That is, which prompt I was going to do. I had been planning on talking about where I’d like to travel (thus the picture at the top there), but when I started writing, I realized there was really nowhere I wanted to go, with or without Mary. Since I’m no longer driving, we don’t venture far from home. And that suits me just fine.

When I was recovering from my stroke, the doctor who was in charge of my recovery made it a point to tell me to start driving again, and gave me the number of a driving school that could evaluate me. I actually did pretty well, and was able to pilot this little Toyota Tercel around my area and got home safe without the instructor having to slam on the brakes or anything. About a week later, I was given a list of modifications I would need to make to the car, and I just about freaked out. I wasn’t about to make all those changes. Early one Sunday morning, Mary gave me the opportunity to drive the van around the block. Since my right side is weak, it was hard enough to get in, then I had trouble dealing with the gear shift, and the pedals, and I started to cry. I had driven the 1500-mile round trip between Atlanta and Chicago so many times and was really comfortable driving, but the stroke put an end to that. I climbed back into the passenger seat and that was that. It was for the best.

All I could think of was that old meme that said, "I’m doing much better now that I’ve given up hope." And when I say old meme, I mean before the days where everyone had a computer. Back then, they were made with paper, pen, letters and pictures clipped from books of clip art, and Xeroxed over and over and over. Try to find any of them now: you can’t. And some of them were really funny. I look for them online sometimes, and try to remember some of the funnier ones. Crude, yes, but funny.

Thinking about that reminds me of the way Richard Brodie described how memes replicate themselves in his book Virus Of The Mind. Just like a virus, a meme’s sole purpose in life is to replicate itself. In these days of Covid-19 and presidential elections, the memes are flying like crazy. I honestly believe that the memes associated with Covid-19 ("wear a mask," "social distancing," "better stock up on toilet paper," etc.) have spread faster than the disease itself. And we won’t go into the upcoming elections.

Speaking of elections, did you ever read the book Election by Tom Perrotta or see the movie with Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon? I need to read the book or see the movie again. Why? Why not?

This started out as a post inspired by the word "better," and I’ve gone all over the place with it. I think I’ve got the stream of consciousness thing down to a science, or an art, or both…

Writer’s Workshop: Pumpkin Spice?

Image by Theo Crazzolara from Pixabay

One of this week’s prompts is "Pumpkin Spice…love it or hate it?" There’s another side to the question about what fall trends I love or hate, and about the only one I can think of is the downward trend in temperature and humidity, which is welcome, though honestly I wasn’t out enough this summer to have been affected by it.

Anyway, back to pumpkin spice. Obviously, it’s great in pumpkin pie, but beyond that, I must confess I really haven’t had it in anything else. For that matter, I have no idea what it is. I can say with some confidence that it’s not made from pumpkins, but what is it, then?

I got my answer on the Betty Crocker website, where it was explained how to make your own pumpkin spice. You need:

  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) ground nutmeg
  • 1.5 teaspoons (8 ml) ground allspice
  • 1.5 teaspoons (8 ml) ground cloves

Put all the spices in a bowl and stir them up until they’re completely blended, and voila!, you have pumpkin spice. Not a whole lot, 80 ml of it, which is usually enough to make a pie. Someone commented that they should call them "fall spices," because you can put them in things like apples and sweet potatoes, something that I can certainly see (and taste).

Starbucks, of which I am a shareholder, seems to have been the culprit as far as using pumpkin spice in coffee, particular a latté. They also put it into the pumpkin loaf that is a big deal this time of year, and in cheesecake. And all that sounds great. I’m sure many Starbucks customers love having a pumpkin spice cheesecake square and washing it down with a pumpkin spice latté. As a stockholder, I encourage everyone to do just that. I’m not especially fond of cheesecake, and my taste in coffee runs more to an Americano (black, no sugar), but I might have a slice of pumpkin loaf.

The rest of the consumer market seems to have hopped on the bandwagon pumpkin spice-wise, and soon I’m sure you’ll be able to get pumpkin spice-scented air freshener and pumpkin spice scented candles. And that’s fine too. But some combinations, like pumpkin spice potato chips or pumpkin spice hot dog buns are, well, pretty gross. And pumpkin spice mashed potatoes or cauliflower… no.

Speaking of which, have you noticed that they’re using cauliflower in lieu of potatoes in some dishes? Ew…. Two vegetables I don’t like are broccoli and cauliflower. So, of course, what did some clever plant scientist do? Crossbreed them and call the result broccoflower. I’d have called it caulioccoli, myself, but I wouldn’t think of crossbreeding them.

Q. What’s the difference between boogers and broccoli? A. Kids won’t eat broccoli.

Anyway, in answer to the question, I don’t love pumpkin spice, but I don’t hate it. It is quite tasty in pumpkin pie, for which I’m sure it was developed, and there are some other dishes it sounds like it would taste good in, and the blend of spices is certainly fragrant, but that’s about it.