Sunday, July 17, 2016

Meet The Meat

I occasionally make poor decisions.

Sometimes, if the anticipated payoff is great enough, it’s still worth it.

I exercised this maxim a week ago or so on the way home from work. Thanks to my home state’s policy of “always working on all roads all the time for every reason even though nothing ever seems fixed because we work on the same roads every single year,” I’ve been taking a different route for the way home, and each day I have passed a store that specializes in smoked meats.

Smoked meats, as should surprise no one, are my kryptonite. 

I don’t know what it is. There’s something strange about smoked meat. Like, it’s meat, only full of spices to hide the gross parts and then cooked so it’s tough and weird. Like, sure, you gain the benefit if having it be able to sit around for a while without cooking or refrigeration, but you lose not being able to use the same meat to make a steak or a hamburger or literally almost anything else. (Granted, I’m certain the meat they use in smoked meat is not the same meat you’d use for a steak or even ground beef—it’s probably the Z-grade scrapins they can form into a tube and fill with garlic powder and brown sugar. But that’s neither here nor there.)

And none of this matters, because it tastes so good. I’m never thinking “Man, forget that teriyaki meat stick, I’m savin’ myself for a good ole sirloin steak later.” I’m thinking “Can I get away with eating three of these meat sticks and also eating steak later?” (The answer is always yes.) And can I use the benefit of being able to keep a meat stick around for buying a few of them and eating them over the following week? Yes! Do I do that? No! Do I instead eat them all in one sitting and then lay on the carpet wondering what I am doing with my life and what happened to my sense of self-control? Of course!

So anyway, after resisting the siren call of the meat shack for over a month, I finally gave in to temptation.

I stop one temperate evening and walk into the shop. If you’ve never been inside a store that almost exclusively deals with cut meats, let me describe how eat and every one of them looks: it’s a small, very claustrophobic room that has a distinct smell, probably of cloves or formaldehyde. They make a valiant if futile effort to sell things that aren’t meat, like chips and drinks, but they all have long-abandoned logos from campaigns past, covered with a sickeningly nostalgic coat of dust. There’s a rack of do-it-yourself seasoning packs, a noble gesture for those outraged by the reasonable prices who believe they would rather hunt and dress a cow themselves in order to form weird tubes of meat in the comfort of their own garage.

I vastly prefer spicy meat snacks, so I asked for that. I was just sampling, so I turned down the clerk’s offer of a full pound; just two sticks, thank you. The clerk seemed mildly annoyed at having to stop her butchering of a cow just to ring up two dollars and change’s worth of product, but she did her job gamely (ha!).

So I get in my car and immediately dig in. I’m driving, a meat snack hanging out of my mouth like Tony’s cigar in the title sequence of The Sopranos. It is…OK. Only mildly spicy, like someone reached for the red pepper flakes but grabbed parsley flakes instead. Also a little fatty. Disappointingly, I finished the snack and mentally crossed the store off the list. Oh well, I thought, maybe next time.

But! I still had one stick left over, and the previous one literally left a bad taste in my mouth. So I took a bite.

It was spicy.

Like, really spicy.

Like, pull off the side of the road because I can’t see the road because tears are streaming down my face spicy.

Of course, I’m driving when this happens, and while it’s quick it’s still gradual. I am, at least fleetingly, a menace to the others on the road. Caught off guard, I start coughing. Two bites in and I can hardly breathe.

It was delicious. 

I get back on the road but my mouth is on fire. I limp along to the nearest gas station, where I grab a fountain soda. The workers there probably thought I was some weirdo, face wet with sweat and throat constantly clearing, trembling as I take furtive sips from my unpaid-for drink. Back in the car, I hit the road again, taking tiny bites while gulping down Coke Zero until it was gone.

I don’t know what was up with that first stick. Maybe they put twice as much spice in the second and none in the first. Maybe they put it in the wrong box instead of “mild, fatty flavor”.

Who knows? All I know is that I’ll be back and I have no self control. Because I have no self control.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Angry Birds

I am not skilled in the art of dead bird removal.

I found this out the extremely hard way last weekend when I had to remove a dead bird from my property.

A few weekends ago, it was late at night and I took my dogs out before bedtime. Dexter and Chloe are dachshunds, where in theory they are instinctually bred to be hound dogs, skilled with the innate ability to catch badgers. In reality, of course, the only thing they are instinctually bred to catch are Beggin' Strips and where we dropped a piece of macaroni on the floor and so the art of hunting is lost on them. In fact, the only time they are even close to hunting is when someone in our neighborhood has the nerve to ride past our house on a bicycle, which apparently is the dachshund equivalent of the Norman Invasion.

Anyway, I took the dogs out and walked out on our back porch, because both of my dogs are insufferably stubborn and even though they want to go to the bathroom and they know full well we've done the exact same thing every single day for the past five years, actually walking down the steps requires a pep talk and threats of negative sanctions. And so I did the same tonight, promptly them gently to please for the love of all that is holy take four steps down the stairs and vacate your bladder it's almost midnight and we all want to go to bed.

As I do so, I hear a noise. I turn around and there is a bird.

Bird flapping around on my porch at midnight is a rare sight, indeed, and so for a moment I was flummoxed. What was going on? I quickly realized that the bird was injured in some way and wasn't able to move. Unfortunately, I wasn't sure what to do about this--he couldn't stay on my porch, since it was between myself and the door, but as I looked around I had no Injured Bird Removal Apparatus handy to take care of the immediate issue.

And then I remembered there were dogs here.

The moment I realized this was the exact moment the dogs realized there was injured prey on the field. They immediately went into Full Dachshund Alert and tried to snatch the bird. Part of me wanted to see it happen, because I knew full well if my dog caught a bird they would have no idea what to do with it, but I figured that they would at least know how to snap its neck and I didn't really want to be a part of that particular CSI episode.

And thus I stuff, Jurassic-World-Style, two extended palms keeping the hunter and prey apart. (Why I was trying to keep a clearly immobile bird from moving, I don't know.) I had to think fast--there was no way to move the bird, but there was also no way to move my dogs, either--I had no where to put them. It was like that weird logic puzzle about the fox, the hen, and the corn across a river, only in this case someone ends up with the Zika virus.

All this time, the bird is reacting to two barking dogs by trying to move, and even got a few lift-off-the-air flaps out of his system, but he was also slowing down. The stress, no doubt, was making his condition worse. So I decided to take a chance--I would scoop up a dog and throw them in the house, and just hope that the other dog wouldn't seize the opportunity to snatch the bird--along with the very real possibility of the bird also flapping its way into the house, which would then add a cat into the equation. And throughout all this, I couldn't leave the door open very long because there was a chance that a bat would fly in the house, as had happened in the past, and there was a not-insignificant chance that I was going to spend the night dealing with two dogs, a cat, a bird, a bat, and rabies.

But this was all processed in a few seconds. I grabbed the closest dog--Chloe--and shoved her in the house. Dexter, thankfully, stayed at bay. I then scooped him up and did the same, and slammed the door. Crisis averted.

But I still had a bird on my porch. I ran to my basement and grabbed a snow shovel. Upon going back outside, however, the bird was no longer moving. He was dead. My only recourse was to move him off the property where he could be granted a proper burial by being eaten by the neighborhood stray cats.

Resigned, I took the shovel and scooped the bird up, which immediately prompted him to flap and flurry and make a scene. Not dead, then. I couldn't now carry him across the street to his final resting place, so the only thing I could do was drop him off the side of the porch, where he landed with a sickening plop.

Ugh. So, now, again, he was off the property and out of scope for the dogs, but it was pitch black. At this point, any further ceremonial burial would have to happen at daylight.

The next morning there was no bird. No evidence of a bird. However, I noticed a pile of feathers on the other side of the street. Had the bird managed to walk away, only to be murdered a hundred yards from where I left him? Who knows. There, the entire ordeal ended, mostly with me washing my hands a hundred thousand times.

A week later I noticed a bunch of flies in our yard. Investigation showed that there was a definitely dead bird in my yard again. I have no idea if it was the same bird or not. In any case, message received.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Fourth

Happy Independence Day!

With this hot mess of an election, it's important to reflect on America.

Those who know me know I'm a pretty big defender of "the system." And I think that's an important point, especially this year. It all may seem a bit esoteric, but the abstract concepts of democracy can be deceptively maddening, but I think those are all (thankfully) by design.

Our Founding Fathers weren't perfect, but they also knew exactly what they were doing.

Our political system frustrates a lot of people, but it's important to remember that it was designed to be frustrating. Democracy isn't (and shouldn't be) built to react quickly to problems; they're supposed to be deliberative. And our system not only has checks and balances (which slow things down) but also a written Constitution that explicitly sets limits (which can slow things down even more).

Remember, regardless of whether your issue is gay marriage or gun control or free trade or immigration, if you give, say, the President the power to flip a switch to make something legal, you also give the President the power to flip it off, too. By having a slow, frustrating process, we protect these issues just as much as we slow them from progressing. Doing it any other way risks giving way too much power to those who oppose it. Building up court cases, passing state-level laws, and allowing time for society to adapt is as much a part of the process as simply having the President say X and having X happen.

And as we've recently seen with referendums like Brexit in the UK, direct democracy isn't always the best policy. (Think about your own personal pet high-emotion social issue, and ask yourself if you're willing to risk putting that up to a popular vote. I didn't think so.)

In fact, I think that's the cornerstone for navigating through the political process--try very hard not to be a hypocrite. Think about your own side, and think about how you would want things to be if things were reversed. If your answer changes, you need to think about things a little more. This isn't unconditional--a lot of people's opinions are based on absolutes, and a little bit of that is perfectly fine. But if your entire worldview is nothing but absolutes, it's possible that democracy is not for you.

Our nation was built to reflect all of these dangers. Our federalist government, our separate but equal branches, our weird electoral college and bicameral legislature--these are all deliberate. Yes, it's frustrating. But it exists for a reason.

Democracies are also designed to handle opposition. There's no such think as a salient political issue that everyone agrees on--if there was an issue everyone agreed on, it would be passed and resolved and would no longer be an issue. If an issue has made it to the government, that means there is at least some valid claim by both sides that makes it worth debating over. And because of that, there's always going to be a set percentage of people who are mad at the government. And that's good. That means the system is working. Democracy means having the freedom to hate your politicians, and since every issue is going to anger about half the population no matter what, it's inherent in the system. 

This isn't an apologia for bad governance. The American system isn't perfect. We should look to reform and revise those things that need it, and we should hold people accountable. But the gut reaction of people is that the rich and powerful are keeping this slow, unresponsive government from addressing the needs of the people, but that's deliberately designed to protect those same people.

Remember, a government with 100% approval rating is called a dictatorship. And we took care of that centuries ago.