The I-Can’t-Remember-What-to-do-in-Cacti-Situations Edition

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This week on Spartan Holiday, I want to talk about something serious. I realize that sometimes this blog gravitates toward the frivolous and satirical, even when dealing with epic, history-altering and tragic events. Like last week when I kind of made fun of the daily horrors of the Cretaceous period or two weeks before that where I joked about Japanese ethics and meaningful work.

Maybe it’s because I believe, like Paul Woodruff, that “reverence and a keen eye for the ridiculous are allies.” It’s just the way I transcend death and express the state of grace I believe we all live in as human beings. By naming hypothetical dogs, I counter the sense of meaninglessness wrought by suffering, injustice and loss.

But can I write, for a moment, about something unfunny and all too common here in desertlandia? Something all over our city streets? Yes. I’m talking about cactuses. I will flip-flop on the plural usage of cactuses and cacti in this post. Both are correct. Inconsistency is the test of reality; whereas consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

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Carmel Walsh’s cactus shoes are not the best invention ever (the best invention ever being the printing press or profiteroles).

If you live here and think cactuses aren’t really a problem, then you haven’t been outside lately. Both prickly pears and chollas are in full, red-blooded, hot-lipped bloom. And they’re all right up in your bidness on the sidewalks as you bike by. You go to sniff a flower and poke yourself. You take a picture of a flower for this blog and prick yourself. You anger legions of nectar-looting bees and sting yourself. There’s no two ways about it–cactuses are an urban menace.

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Flowers are hard to resist because of their ephemeral nature. Michael Pollan said it best in Botany of Desire:

I (Michael Pollan) do wonder if it isn’t significant that our experience of flowers is so deeply drenched in our sense of time. Maybe there’s a good reason we find their fleetingness so piercing, can scarcely look at a flower in bloom without thinking ahead, whether in hope or regret.

Flowers are stirring and subconsciously linked to our joie de vivre and sense of impermanence. It’s doubly poignant on a vicious cactus and we veer toward it.

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Other things can happen too. Like you’re hiking in the Sandias and you slip on some scree in your blown-out, treadless running shoes and your hand lands square on a little pincushion cactus and your friends have to pull 40 needles out of your palm and fingers while diverting you with stories of Craigslist fraud.

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I took this picture in the Sandias before I was attacked by a similar cactus further down the trail.

So let’s talk about cactus injury prevention. I think I succeeded in teaching my three-year-old daughter to be properly terrified by sidewalk cactuses by using the word “ever” about six times in the sentence, “Don’t ever (x6) touch a cactus Lali.”

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I think this teddy bear would be a good test to see if Lali remembers her little lesson.

But then I thought: Wouldn’t it be great if there was mneumonic devices to remind you not to touch different varieties of cacti when you see them? So I made some up on my bike.

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Ocotillo?

Don’t touch me-o

I didn’t say they were good rhymes.

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Are Chollas, soft?

Methinks not oft.

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Prickly Pear

Best beware.

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Also:
Prickly Pear?
Pants do wear.

This cactus here?

Best stay clear.

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So if you ever find your hand reaching in mid-air towards one of these cactus types, I hope you’ll take a moment to remember my rhymes. The last one is kind of a catch-all for when you don’t know specific names.

Isn’t it the hand reaching out in mid-air that says the most about us as humans, anyway?

It is a hostile, poisonous, pointy world we live in.

But it’s also a world of kindness, love and the out-stretched suspended hand, never landing, but forever reaching.

In closing here is a bad idea for a chair:

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Deger Cengiz’s  bid for the most uncomfortable chair in the world 

Random Crap Across the Eons

Hello. Konnichiwa. Moshi moshi.

Did any speakers of Japanese catch my faux pas? You only say moshi moshi on the phone.

Oh man. It’s fun to break Japanese rules. Try it.

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This week’s Spartan Holiday will be random crap style. I wish I had a special script for that, some kind of cursive baroque font. Well anyway, picture Random Crap Style written all fancy and flourishy.

Even though I call it random, I don’t think any series of things generated from a human brain on a given day are random. Weather is random. Roulette is random. But stringing together thoughts is not random. Still, I would say it is random-esque, seemingly random. Like the insertion of this picture of Andy and a pile of apple peelings:

a picture I stole from facebook

So let us begin long, long ago with:

Dinosaurs on Fire

A very unlikely Cretaceous scene in which nothing is on fire

Big news from the Cretaceous period in May’s National Geographic. Scientists have discovered that the air the dinosaurs breathed contained 25% oxygen, as opposed to the 21% of our current epoch (the Holocene in case any of you were wondering what the hell epoch we’re in). 25%! Do you have any idea what that means? It means everything was more flammable, fires didn’t just burn, they flashed, like when you shoot a stream of kerosene on a camp fire. Scientists say that even damp things were easy tinder.

So now we know that dinosaurs spent a fair amount of their time fleeing fires. Next time your kid has to draw a dinosaur for school, make sure he/she draws some raging flames in the fore or background. Like this:

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This discovery reinforces my unpopular, but staunchly held view that the Cretaceous period is not a wise destination in a time machine. Unless it is a quick in-and-out kind of thing. I suppose we would all like to peep between some ferns fronds at all the crazy shit going on for just a minute. But seriously, no more than a minute.

Oh hey. If you type “dinosaurs” and “fire” into google you get the bandcamp site for Dinosaur on Fire. Check it out. It sounds exactly like theme music to the Cretaceous period (though the guy claims the synthesizers “dictate the wonder, anticipation, and fear of exploring a 16-bit moon”).

De Hovenring

Next, also from National Geographic: Check out this awesome bike ring in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Hovenring it’s called, after various nearby locales with the same suffix: Eindhoven, Meerhoven and Veldhoven. This non-motorized-vehicle-only bike path is suspended so it appears to float like a lilypad over the intersection. I like it not just for its elegant design, but because it embodies my thoughts on cars vs bikes. Cars: dirty, stupid, earthbound. Bikes: Sleek, smart, gliding on air.

De Hovenring, National Geographic, possibly in Dutch

Do you wonder how they engineered the ring? I don’t. Because I looked at this picture:

Hovenring Plans

Shoe Pole

Shoe PoleYou know what that weird bike ring reminds me of? This weird shoe pole. This shoe pole is in my friend Deborah’s neighborhood.

I biked down there today, specifically to take a picture of the pole and I wondered about all of the dames (and ladies) who once wore these shoes, their names, their history, their foot problems, the streets they walked, and the endless waste of our fashion-accelerated material culture. I thought the pole was probably an ironic totem to the cult of femininity.

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Then I looked down at my own feet and realized that I am a hypocrite because I was wearing high heels. What?!! I was biking in high heels?!!!

But they are sporty heels that are actually more comfortable than a lot of my flat shoes. Anyway, just when I getting ready to reconcile my bias against heels as symbols of oppression, with the empowerment of footwear that heightens your stature and, if used correctly, can help you clamber over rocks, the dogs in the yard started barking their brains out at me. At this point I got scared and pedaled off.

The lesson I learned? I learned that high heels are dainty and attractive objects; in an aesthetic sense high heels have value, hence the appeal of this pole. But they are also just another example of how women suffer for fashion and sexual allure, and that makes high heels utter crap. But my shoes aren’t crap because they’re comfortable. I like my shoes. Come to think of it, this isn’t really a lesson.

So forget lessons. Let’s move to important questions. Why couldn’t those dogs see I’m a harmless, friendly person? Why are dogs such poor judges of character? Why did that stupid mutt sneak up and bite my leg in Truchas last year? Why did I have to get a tetanus shot? Why were the animal control people so blasé about the whole thing? Why did I eat both of those sesame balls, when I could have just eaten one?

Sesame Balls

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I’m writing an article for the Alibi about sesame balls. So my job in the next few weeks is to try as many different kinds of sesame balls as I can find. On the one hand this is awesome. On the other hand, I think my occidental constitution may not be equipped to eat this many sesame balls. It feels like the sticky rice dough is forming its own massive ball in my stomach.

And that is all of the random crap I have for this week. Join me next week for more intentional, deliberate and ordered things of inherent value.

Dogs I Named

Do you know what is fun? Naming dogs. Problem is I don’t have a dog and will probably not be procuring one in the foreseeable future. Plus I don’t want to name just one dog. I want to name a whole legion of dogs. And get paid for it. Or if not paid, I just want to volunteer my time as a dog namer and maybe be recognized at a company banquet or non-profit newsletter.

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A few years ago, I was cooling my heels in a waiting room, eavesdropping on a woman as she talked on the phone. It seemed to be a business call. It wasn’t long before I realized the business she was up to was dispatching dog names for the humane society or some such dog adoption agency. The phone conversation was about the names she had chosen for a new batch of intakes. Her idea was to name them all after brands of gum, i.e. Wrigley, Beechnut, Bazooka.

I remember sitting there wishing I were her. Wishing that were me. That it was my job to point at a doggie and say, “From henceforth you shall be called Dentyne Ice.” That was three years ago and I still remember it.

But yesterday when I was biking home, I had a realization. It went something like this: “Hey! Ooooh, hey. I don’t need to be in the business of rescuing, breeding or selling dogs to name them. I could…oh my god…I could just google doggie images online, post them and name them on my blog. Would that be wrong? Would that be taking advantage of a semi-public, barely read forum to live out my dog-naming fantasies?

I don’t see the harm. Unless the harm is to you, the reader, who must scroll down through my doggie pictures. But it’s not like I’m forcing you to scroll down. It’s all voluntary this blog reading. You could stop right now and go see what’s happening on baguettemenots.com instead, for example. You have complete free will so I take no responsibility for wasting your time.

Dogs I Named

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Officer Crupkee

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Crackers

blackdog

Dr. Jim Johnson

poodleloo

American Psycho

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Goober LaRue

sad-dog

Stinky

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Crenshaw

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Meatball

pitbull

Papworth (named after my orthodontist. He’s really good.)

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Gavin

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Mr. Fluffers

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Bisquick

Weimaraner_Clown

Ice Face

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Moondew

Wow. That felt really good. Wow.

I’ve also always wanted to name colors swatches for Pantone. Maybe I’ll do that next week.

And remember, free will is our birth right, our blessing, our curse, our existential imperative.

“A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants.”

Arthur Schopenhauer said that. He lived alone with a succession of beloved poodles named Atma and Butz. Those were their names. But according to poodlehistory.org, he addressed them each as “Sir.”

Shokunin

This week I watched a documentary about Jiro Ono, age 85, purportedly the best sushi chef in the world. His restaurant in Tokyo seats 10; you have to make a reservation several months in advance; dinner starts at 300 American smackaroos.

So… I guess I won’t ever eat there. Unless some really freaky things happen before Jiro dies. Such as: I become a multi-millionaire for no reason; or I make friends with multi-millionaires; or I steal the identity of someone who has a reservation at Sukiyabashi Jiro, after I steal someone else’s identity who has a plane ticket to Tokyo.

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My best idea so far is to set up a kickstarter for a fake charity to send me overseas to eat the world’s most delicious sushi. I would call it something like Overseas Japanese Fish Reclamation Fund.

Please contribute. If you care about the overfishing of Japanese waters.

Meanwhile, if you want to watch Jiro Ono and his devoted staff at work, learn the finer points of sushi production (choosing the fish, hand-roasting the nori over braziers, massaging the raw octopus for an hour), and see lots of super serious Japanese guys in white jackets constantly disappointed with themselves, might I suggest this documentary?

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And now for a SPOILER ALERT!!: Turns out Jiro Ono is an obsessive compulsive, ultra-fastidious, cute little workaholic beast. He dreams of sushi in his sleep (hence the film title) and still, after 75 years of sushi-making, is trying to crack the code to the flawless, most perfect-ess iteration of each kind of sushi. When you eat at his restaurant he stands in front of you at the bar and watches your facial expressions as you chew. Patrons often report an extreme case of both nerves and giddiness before they eat there. Michelin says that 3-stars (their highest ranking) is probably insufficient for Jiro’s work.

One of the most fascinating parts of the documentary was the concept of shokunin, a word that translates roughly to “craftsmanship” in English, but encompasses a whole host of virtues like contribution to society, tireless devotion and pursuit of perfection. Shokunin in Japan extends to all crafts and trades…if you are a floor sweeper, sweep the floor with shokunin. If you are a rice farmer, farm your rice with shokunin. If you are a dog catcher, go catch dogs with shokunin. As you can imagine, kids today in Japan exhibit a serious lack of shokunin.

It made me wonder though. Might I achieve shokunin in all that I do? For just one day. Or, more realistically, one afternoon? Let’s see.

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I started by evenly applying the toothpaste on my toothbrush for the betterment of society. I spent a lot of time afterwards, wondering how I could have done it better.

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Then, I achieved excellence by balancing the composition of my pictures on the fridge. I wish I had pictures of Japanese kids.

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Next I arranged some random crap on this plate for, like, 45 minutes. I felt very dissatisfied with my work.

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I made sure that my shoes matched and my toes were aligned. It was hard to walk, which felt very Japanese.

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Then I put these playing cards in order. I wasn’t for one moment bored or resentful.

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Finally, I picked up trash outside my house, but before I threw it away, I lined it up evenly on the sidewalk. I felt like I was continuing a great cultural tradition of cleaning up human waste.

So how was my experiment with Shokunin for the afternoon? Honestly, it was kind of exhausting. It made me glad to live in America, where we do everything in a slipshod, half-assed way.

But I think we’re all grateful that there are some people who are ruthless and merciless with themselves (Olympic gymnasts for instance). Without those people we would never know just exactly what it was that we weren’t accomplishing. And the sort of sushi we will never eat.

Until next week, dear friends.

Dark Lightning and Other Things Scientists Should Discover

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Wow, what a crazy two weeks it has been in the world of lightning news. We haven’t had any really good lightning news for decades, maybe even centuries. Just when some of us were getting bored of the lightning sciences, suddenly the discovery of dark lightning!

It’s true that surges of gamma radiation in the atmosphere were identified way back in 1991, but it was only recently that these invisible electrical blooms were linked to thunderstorms and visible “bright” lightning. Hence the new moniker “dark lightning.”

So, basically, way up in those thunderheads, flashing and crackling around, along with the regular garden-variety lightning is freaky, invisible ghost lightning.

(That reminds me of a quote from the Augusten Borroughs reading we went to on Monday. He said, “The past doesn’t haunt us, we haunt the past.” He also said some stuff about time and all linear events being like a river and we’re the fixed point (the physical present) on the shore. Which reminds me of Heraclitus, actually, and his quote, “You never step twice into the same river.” Which makes one think, dark lightning was always there, just waiting to be discovered, even in Heraclitus’s time. Which makes one think about the sundry other things that must exist, that we don’t know. And how they aren’t given any meaning or context until we know them, so in some sense, are non-existent. Yet we exist in physical form and they exist in physical form, and physical forms interact, which means on some level, the mystic level, we must know they exist.)

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Geekosystem.com is calling dark lightning, regular lightning’s “evil twin.” Livescience.com  is calling the pair a “one-two punch.” The Guardian says we don’t know if anyone has ever actually been hit by dark lightning but if we did get struck, say, in flight, it wouldn’t be pretty (the equivalent radiation of a full-body CT scan).

Scientists can’t say what it would feel like, but I’m going to guess. I’m going to say that being struck by dark lightning feels like a sharp, hard, slap on the back, only moreso (based on my childhood experience of repeatedly touching an electric fence at my grandparents’ cow pasture.)

Or maybe it feels like an extremely violating and pointless CT scan.

The truth is: the novelty and sexiness of dark lightning is on the wane. So, I have compiled a short list of other stuff I wish scientists would discover:

1) Dry Rain:

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In between wet raindrops, scientists discover an intermingling shower of dry rain drops. Basically, dry rain drops would be falling, fluid, dry H2O. (I don’t know how this works; that’s up to science to discover). You could feel it kind of plinking on your head and arms and battering leaves and flowers. Like dark lightning, dry rain has been there all along, but because the wet rain drops always fall fast on the heels of the dry ones (by a hair’s breadth), we couldn’t tell what was going on.

2) Another Sea:

Who’s ready for a new sea? I am. For centuries we have been building up mythical, romantic, and let’s face it, erotic, energies around the same wine-dark Aegean (Homer), bottle-green Baltic (Grasse) and wet-chalk Adriatic (I made that up). Not to mention the Caspian and Black seas and their various romantic qualities. Isn’t it time we had a more modern, more novel, sea?

Seas are usually demarcated by land, but sometimes you can have a sea within a sea as in the case of the Sargasso Sea smack in the thick of the North Atlantic.

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The Sargasso Sea, so named for its free-floating seaweed, is the center of a ring of currents known as a gyre. There are five major gyres in Earth’s oceans (moving clockwise or counter-clockwise). But wouldn’t it be great if scientists discovered some more?

But if they can’t, maybe the sea within the sea would just be an extra salty patch; or a plunging, deep pocket; or a super frothy area.

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3) Anti-wind:

So we are all familiar with wind. It blows grit in our eyes and teeth, musses our hair, makes windmills go round and enables pinwheels to be less boring. Wind does other stuff too, like once it blew the baby blanket off my daughter when I put her outside in her car seat for a second. It can rip houses off of roofs and clot the air with white cottonwood “cotton” thick as snow in the middle of summer. Wind engenders many poignant moments…creating a current against which a butterfly can struggle, symbolically/ominously snuffing out candles, or provoking meditations on a drifting plastic bag. It makes men and women both appear more sexy as they walk down the street or star in music videos–hair whipping, clothes clinging to their bodies.

Wow, I just realized that I could (but probably shouldn’t, but probably will), write an entire blog just about wind.

BUT what I really want scientists to discover is anti-wind. Instead of thinking of a calm, still day as the absence of wind which is sort of negative, we could think of a calm day as rippling with anti-wind (I guess that’s also sort of negative). Anti-wind would be an intangible, but not non-existent, force–the countervailing force that neutralizes wind.

So if you step outside on a really still and clement day, you’d say, “Wow, there sure is a lot of anti-wind today.”

Those are my three suggestions to scientists. Dave (who is a scientist) thinks his kind should discover a pride of vegan lions that have beaten their claws into ploughshares. As a biologist who frequently cites the lack of altruism in the animal kingdom as backstory to the human condition, Dave probably finds the thought of vegan lions more hilarious than the rest of us.