Archive for the ‘Rituals’ Category

Bonfire!

September 11, 2010

Here’s me burning the pile of junk food that I accumulated during my last weeks at Goldman Sachs.

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Camp cookout

September 11, 2010
From Bushwhacking south of Uncas and Climbing Black Bear Mountain – September 11, 2010

As soon as we got back from our hike I started a campfire. I felt like having a nice big bonfire, so I loaded on a lot of the big branches and logs that I’d gathered from around the property. The evening was just cold enough to make a big, hot fire seem like a cozy prospect. Grace stopped at two hot dogs, but I’d worked up enough of a hunger on that hike to down four of them with no pause, and then, after long consideration, have myself a fifth.

After the hot dogs, it was time for s’mores. I’d stockpiled several partially-used bags of marshmallows, and more than one box of unused Hershey bars. Unfortunately the Hershey bar I had turned out to be quite old; it was a whitish cocoa color, and the flavor had mostly left it. So, although I had about four s’mores, it wasn’t terribly satisfying. But hey, even a bad s’more is pretty amazing. And of course, it’s the satisfaction of the ritual that counts.

Flashback: Blindsided

September 11, 2010
New line of taps at Screamen Eagle

New line of taps at Screamen Eagle

Taps at Screamen Eagle

Taps at Screamen Eagle

Last Sunday, while Grace went to find an Inlet police officer who could sign the piece of paper to verify that we’d gotten the light over the license plate fixed, I went to Screamen Eagle for some curly fries. The sign out front said “20 BEERS ON TAP” and I said to myself “Huh? That’s new… no way they had more than a few before.” I walked in, and… well, take a look at the pictures and you can just begin to imagine my reaction.

The first tap handle that caught my attention was for Rogue Dead Guy Ale. Rogue is a top-tier microbrewery, so if any bar has Rogue on tap it gets an automatic thumbs-up from me. Any bar. A bar in Manhattan would get a thumbs-up. A bar in Inlet with Rogue on tap gets a big cartoon “Ahh-OOOOgah!!!” airhorn sound as my eyeballs pop out of my head, become as large as saucers, and hover there, trembling, for a moment.

Then my eye swept over the rest of that magnificent row of taps. Dogfish Head. Dogfish Head? Dogfish Head!! In Inlet!! CascaZilla, an entirely worthy hoppy ale from Ithaca. Sam Adams Octoberfest, one of the better festbiers out there. Pumking, an “Imperial Pumpkin Ale” from Souther Tier which is great fun, if rather gimmicky.

I continued past this new vision from a dream, wanting to see what was on the old, smaller row of taps at the middle of the bar. I was thrilled to see a Tröegs tap handle, although the Dead Reckoning Porter is not my favorite of their brews. If it had been Tröegs Hopback Amber, that might have done me in right there. As it was, the only handle from that row that seriously tempted me was the Lake Placid Honey Rye. Good stuff. Good stuff that I can’t get outside the Adirondacks.

After ordering my curly fries, I sat down in front of that first big row of taps. Then I saw that the Dogfish Head tap didn’t say 60 Minute IPA, as I expected. It said 90 Minute. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA in Inlet, New York!

Well, it took about all I had not to order a beer. I thought of how great it would feel to be down near my target weight when I go hiking in Acadia in three weeks. I thought of how wonderful it will feel after I reach my target weight, when I’ll be able to have a beer whenever I want — as long as I’m below that line.

I walked out with only my curly fries, feeling very proud of myself. If I’d known going into the situation that those beers would be there, it wouldn’t have been such a close-run thing. But being blindsided like that by Rogue Dead Guy, Lake Placid Honey Rye, and Dogfish Head 90 was nearly enough to make me stop caring that drinking beer outside of my weight benchmark celebrations would have been a major diet breach.

I met Grace just outside, and we walked over and sat down at a park bench. As we were eating the fries, I said to Grace “Do you know what I just walked away from?” and proceeded to tell her about my epic struggle. She said “Well, you can get those anywhere,” which made me feel deflated and irritated. Seeing my reaction, she said “I was trying to make you feel better by pointing out that you can get those beers at other places.”

Well, that brought me up short. My perspective suddenly shifted and I saw what I couldn’t see a moment before: of course she was trying to make me feel better; and of course I can get those same beers elsewhere.

Suddenly my reaction to the bar seemed conspicuous and puzzling. Why had I seen it as a unique opportunity that would be agonizing to pass up? The answer was simple, and revealing of my pathology: it wasn’t just the beer; it was the combination of the beer and the place.

Good times with loved ones make an enormous impression on me. Likewise, my memory suffuses special places with a magical glow. Put the special people in the special places, and I get a particularly potent nostalgia. It’s the one exception to the rule that I have a terrible memory: I can remember conversations with friends at camp from 1993.

The Adirondacks, and my family’s camp in particular, has always been my favorite place. For decades, as I’ve shared it with the people I love, my reservoir of happy experiences there has swollen. Camp is my primary nostalgia capacitor.

So when I walked into Screamen Eagle and saw those taps, two powerful forces intersected: my love of beer, and my nostalgia for camp. Here was a bouquet of excellent craft brews, one of them a paragon of the brewer’s art, popping up like magic in a cherished place where I never expected to see them. My reaction seemed so perfectly natural, so obvious, that in retrospect it seems inexplicable. But here’s me, trying to explain it anyway.

I felt like I wanted to celebrate. I felt like I had to celebrate. This intersection of delights obviously trumped any rules I’d set up. Right?

Well, I’m proud to say that the answer was “No.” I got out of there with my rules unbroken, because the rules are more important to me right now than they’ve ever been. Besides, my rules include allowances for celebrations, so the “imperative” for an impromptu celebration screamed of doublethink. Thankfully I was able to see through my own desperate rationalization enough to refuse it.

Back at camp, I got talking to Grace about my need to turn happy occurrences into celebrations. This led to thoughts about celebrations as revelment. We talked about how, in midwinter celebrations, people would use up a portion of their precious stores: they responded to privation with profligacy! This led me to wonder if celebration is always self-destructive, and finally to the big question: “What is a celebration, anyway?”

Grace pointed out that people often spent exorbitant amounts of money on weddings. She thinks that they do this at least partly in hopes that the expense will come back to them in some way. I hadn’t thought of that, but it makes sense, and it adds another dimension to the concept of celebration.

Maybe celebration is a constellation of the pagan, the selfish, and the giving: we receive privation and death, and we chortle in the face of the reaper; we receive prosperity, and we show it off and hope for reciprocation; we receive joy, and we want to share, amplify and extend the moment.

The purpose of all this musing was to examine my tendency to turn any unusual confluence of gustatory factors into a celebration. I am glad that it is in my nature to be joyous. But in the face of a universe which holds so much to be joyous about, I slip into revelment the way an iron filing in a magnetic field quivers toward a pole. This is a perversion of my joyous nature, and one that bears monitoring.

My brownie

August 19, 2010
My brownie

My brownie

If work stress wasn’t so peculiarly acute, I suppose that my now-familiar ritual would wholly blunt my reaction to all the tempting food at the office: I’d take my pictures, write about my reactions, post each blog entry, and thus redirect my obsession.

But for the last few days I’ve needed more than redirection. It was the Ferro Rochers that pushed me over the edge. Since then it’s been no harder to resist the food, but it’s gotten a lot harder to let go of my anger that the food is there in the first place. I believe that I’m feeling what a dry alcoholic would feel upon walking into the office to find that a “generous” co-worker had “thoughtfully” placed a tray of “free” martinis on a table five feet from his desk.

In short, it’s no longer a joke: I’m angry at all these people and their thoughtless thoughtfulness. It’s no longer a matter of choosing to passively not eat the food rather than to eat it. I want a third path: an active antithesis of eating the food.

One day way back near the beginning of my diet, I prepared a big mug of hot chocolate and then realized how many calories were in it. I very nearly finished it anyway, on the assumption that I had to. The pattern of “see food, eat food” was such a well-worn path that, having taken the first step, the outcome might as well have already happened. But by some fluke it hit me: I didn’t have to drink it. This gave me a valuable insight: nothing that hasn’t happened yet is fait accompli. Every moment is an opportunity to modify my habits.

So, with that insight in mind, let’s approach the brownie from an existentialist perspective. This morning, when someone carried the brownies into the office, they were that person’s brownies. In placing them on the table, the giver surrendered his sugary charges to the vicissitudes of passersby and peckishness; they became “the brownies”, and waited like Schrödinger’s cat for someone to come along and collapse the waveform of that discomfiting indefinite article. And when I picked up a particular brownie, it became my brownie.

The social contract is somewhat vague in such cases, but there are a few obvious truisms: I must not take more than one brownie until everyone in the largess zone has had a chance to partake; and, once I take the brownie, no one can take it away from me — it is my brownie.

A fatuous exercise, you say? Perhaps not. Because by emphatically establishing the brownie as my brownie, I take full ownership of the brownie’s disposition: it is mine to do with as I please. Thus I am called to examine my choices for what to do with the brownie. Finally, this consideration leads me to question assumptions that, having been so long ago established, were nigh invisible. A halting voice inside asks, “Must I eat the brownie?”

A loud and querulous chorus answers back “Of course you must eat the brownie! Someone went to the effort of making the brownie! Someone was nice enough to leave the brownie there for you! You took the brownie! NOW YOU HAVE TO EAT THE BROWNIE!”

But this is not the only option. Moreover, eating the brownie is not morally preferable to not eating it. The brownie giver, upon setting the plate on the table, relinquished control of each brownie’s ultimate disposition. That particular brownie, in becoming my brownie, passed beyond an associative event horizon; the giver’s intent for the brownie was untethered from any use to which I might put it.

Unencumbered from any moral qualms over what I should do with the brownie or, indeed, from the notion that the word “should” has any place in my considerations, I may now examine my options in the light of rationality. Should I eat the brownie?

Certainly not.

The brownie is, in its most basic essence, a block of protein-suspended sugar, fat, and cocoa. My body may respond with glee to the smell and taste of the brownie, but that impulse was formed in the dual kilns of my distant ancestors’ evolution and my own early upbringing. I can choose to respond rationally rather than viscerally. And reason tells me that there’s nothing in that brownie that my body needs.

So what do I do with it?

I’m gonna burn the little fucker.

That’s right. That’s my solution. That’s how I’m going to assuage my anger over people shoving martini-analogs right under my damned nose all the time. I’m going to take a reasonably helping of each offering, bring it home with me, and when I have a good big heap saved up… I’m going to have a bonfire. So far I have a box of Ferro Rocher chocolates, a few chunks of that big honkin’ Dove bar, two pieces of kaju katli, and that brownie. Along with samples of whatever treats will be offered during my final weeks at work, they should satisfy my pyrotechnic tendencies quite nicely.

It’s only sensible.

Mmmmm… hamantash…

August 14, 2010
Hamantash and tea

Hamantash and tea

Well, after all, what Platonic breakfast would be complete without a big hot mug of South African Kwazulu tea and a hamantash from Zaro’s?

Now, back to the trail.

Day One Hundred Fourteen

August 12, 2010

I got up at 5:30 for a walk, got to work early, and proceeded to have a busy day. I resisted a whole bunch of alluring foods, and had a big green salad for lunch.

Eric and I walked over the 59th Street Bridge and back, then headed to Blind Tiger for my “I’m down to 210!” celebration. I had a chicken quesadilla and delicious beer from Avery, the featured brewer and one of my favorites. I started small so that I could savor more of the beer spectrum; the Belgian white and the American brown were each only about 5.5%. Then I moved up to a Belgian strong ale, and then up further to my favorite: The Czar, a bloody miraculous imperial stout. I finished with Mephistopholes, an insanely well-crafted dark beer that weighs in at 15%.

Eric and I wove our way to Union Square and went our separate ways. I made it home sometime around midnight. It was clear long before then that I’d be paying for my celebration in the morning.

Ahhhh, Wednesday.

August 4, 2010

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I’m about to head over to Chameleon Comics to get this week’s infusion of distraction from all I want to eat.

The concluding issue of “Iron Man Legacy” should be quite noisy. It’ll be fun to see how Tony deals with Doctor Doom’s latest shenanigans. I hope it’s not as goofy as the first four issues, but if it is… oh well. The art is gorgeous.

I wasn’t overwhelmed with the first issue of Avengers Prime, but it has plenty of potential. And even more so than “Iron Man Legacy”, this title is worth getting just for the art: I can’t pass up the opportunity to see the classic red and gold suit drawn by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer.

So, I’ll return home tonight with some garish popcorn to occupy my brain as I walk the straight and narrow dieting path to my eat-whatever-I-want day on Saturday. Hey, believe me, every little bit helps.

Two Wednesdays worth of Iron Man

July 21, 2010

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Before I get on the train at Grand Central tonight, I’ll walk a couple of blocks north to Midtown Comics. I intend to pick up two titles from last Wednesday and one from today. Unfortunately this ritual will be largely wasted. I’m gradually coming out the other side of my post-vacation depression, and even during the worst of it on Monday I recognized that I’d had my debauch, and that it was high time that I got back on the straight and narrow. So even without the distraction of the comic books, I wouldn’t have a problem sticking to my diet tonight.

Yet the comic book ritual won’t be a complete waste. It’s gotten me thinking about why I’m succeeding in my dieting this week, and why I failed to do so last week. I think that these thoughts may prove valuable as a basis for strategizing the next vacation. Stay tuned.

Pied Piper

July 11, 2010
Bacon Cheeseburger at Pied Piper in Old Forge, NY

Bacon Cheeseburger at Pied Piper in Old Forge, NY

After our kayak trip, Grace was very keen to ingest some Hofmann hot dogs, and I was not exactly hostile to this plan. We drove to Old Forge and stopped at a local touchstone: Pied Piper. I remember them being rather overpriced from when I was there years ago as a friend, and anyway I prefer my own ritual of cooking Hofmanns over the campfire. But I have to say, Pied Piper does a really good job. I like they way they grill the buns to a crispy golden brown.

I only ordered one Hofmann frank because I was in the mood to satisfy my hot dog craving and my burger craving at the same time. So I decided on a bacon cheeseburger and had that as my second course. Mmmmmm! Again, the grilled bun really does it for me.

Day Seventy-Six

July 4, 2010

I cooked a big camp breakfast in the electric skillet: eggs, Gianelli sausage, Monterey Jack cheese, and toasted and buttered Heidelberg bread. Grace and I didn’t get out and about early enough to have our choice of donuts from Mary’s and Raquette Lake General Store, but at those places, even my second choice blows away my first choice elsewhere.

We sat on the dock at Raquette Lake and enjoyed our goodies along with the view. Then we drove to Blue Mountain Lake and rented a kayak. We put in early enough so that we got a full seven hours of paddling a portaging. I certainly needed it, given all I ate during the day.

We got the boat back at 5:30 and drove back to Inlet, where we stopped at “Screamen’ Eagle” for curly fries. Continuing on to Old Forge, we strolled through town and got ice cream sundaes at Benny’s. Then we made our way to the public park next to First Lake where the fireworks would be set off. We snoozed as the light faded.

The fireworks display was spectacular. Fireworks have gotten so much more multifaceted and impressive than they were when I was a kid that there’s no comparison.

Back at camp, Grace was too tired and too full to eat anything. I, however, roasted three Hofmann franks and ate them on toasted buns with Howard’s Piccalilli and Pepsi.

Now that was a full day!