Drinking with Papa

I would not have been able to hang with Ernest Hemingway when it comes to drinking.

A few years ago I picked up a recipe book of Ernest Hemingway-inspired cocktails, To Have and Have Another. Some of the recipes are things that Hemingway is known to have enjoyed, other drinks are based on his work. The book is as much a biography of Hemingway’s love of alcohol as it is a recipe book; each recipe features a three or four page profile of Hemingway, his life, or his friends that relates to the recipe.

I made a drink out the book shortly after I bought the book, and nothing since. I honestly don’t even remember which drink it was that I made. Yet I’d still take the book off the shelf from time to time, flipping through it, reading a chapter here or there about Hemingway and his life.

Yesterday afternoon I went for a walk through Dallastown, five miles give or take. It was a nice day, bright but not hot, and when I returned to my apartment I sat outside in my Adirondack chair and set about enjoying the afternoon.

An idea occurred to me. “Perhaps,” I thought, “Ernest Hemingway would have had a drink on an afternoon such a this.”

I went to my kitchen, pulled To Have and Have Another off the shelf. I was limited, of course, to the alcohol I had on had — rum, scotch, beer, and cider. I quickly found a recipe that I could work with, one that Philip Greene, the author of To Have and Have Another, called the Josie Russell, named for a rum smuggling friend of Hemingway’s from the 1930s. Hemingway had the drink while at sea, and this seemed like exactly the kind of drink made for a sunny summer afternoon.

Rum? Check. Admiral Nelson‘s Spiced Rum.

Cider? Check. Graft Cider‘s Cloud City Amarillo District, which is also fermented with pineapple and lemon zest.

Lime? Check.

Sugar? Check.

I got out a pitcher, mixed my ingredients, poured some of the cocktail into a beer goblet, and went outside to enjoy it in the sunshine.

“This is quite good!” I thought. It was sour with a kick of sweetness. It went down easily. You couldn’t even taste the alcohol in the drink.

I liked it. And I still had more in the pitcher.

I refilled my glass, went back outside, and enjoyed the drink in the summer afternoon.

My glass drained, I went back inside and poured out the last of the pitcher into my glass.

I resumed my seat outside and enjoyed the drink.

I finished the drink, took a deep breath, and decided the drink worked.

And then, five minutes later, the alcohol in the drink hit me all at once.

Of course it did. The cocktail “serves two or three.” And I’d had all three servings in half an hour, give or take.

Papa Hemingway, he could have taken that hit. Me? Not even a little. It knocked me on my bum, and I sat down on the couch inside and passed out for an afternoon nap.

The Josie Russell was a nice drink. I should have limited myself to just one drink, not all three.

And, on a tangential note, BBC Radio 3’s Sunday Feature just broadcast a program on Hemingway’s “The Killers” and the two film adaptations, one of them starring none other than Ronald Reagan in his last acting role. Worth listening to for Papa fans.

Post header photo, Ernest Hemingway in Floridita, by Franck Vervial, licensed Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0

Returning to a Cemetery

Thursday I got the Beetle back.

It had been in the shop for a week and a half, after I had broken the key off in the ignition. It should not have taken that long, but the newly cut key Volkswagen sent wasn’t cut properly — keys for the Beetle are laser-etched, for security purposes — and when the dealership received the second key, this one properly cut, late on Wednesday it still needed to be programmed, otherwise it would have been little more than a valet key and I’d have been able to drive maybe ten minutes before the engine shut off.

Anti-theft measures. Gotta love ’em.

Suffice it to say, being without a car for a week and a half meant that I had a backlog of errands I needed to do. Things like grocery shopping and buying new shoes. (I’m terrible on my shoes, specifically the soles, specifically the soles at the balls of my feet, and I needed both shoes for work and sneakers for everything else.) And while I could have done these things around the York area, I decided that, no, I could hit the highway instead and just as easily do them around Baltimore.

I’m not sure when the idea of a return to Loudon Park Cemetery came to me, but the idea had an attraction to it. My great-grandfather and his family are buried there, as are three of his siblings and his mother, not to mention a number of nieces and nephews. I visited there in late May and intended to go back when I learned where his brother is buried. Though I’ve not learned that — at some point I’ll call the office and ask if they can tell me which section he’s buried in — I decided I could make a quick stop. There’s a Giant a half mile away, I could buy some inexpensive flowers, and leave them for people that died long before I was born.

Continue reading “Returning to a Cemetery”

Greeted by the Moon

My alarm clock is set for 6:15. It’s a good time to get up.

Sometimes for my bladder, 6:15 is simply too late. Twenty or thirty minutes before the alarm clock goes off, my bladder will be insistent that now is the time to get up. “Now!” it screams. “Now!

This was one of those mornings. The rest of my body dragged itself out of bed wearily, because the bladder couldn’t wait.

Upon returning from the bathroom, I was greeted by a sight through the bedroom window — the nearly full moon through the trees behind the complex.

The cosmic dance of the solar system’s movement through the stars goes on.

The Best Week Ever

I broke my key off in the Beetle’s ignition lock last night when I left the office.

The Beetle has always had, shall we say, a “sticky” ignition. Sometimes it takes a little fiddling in the lock to turn. I’d actually found that the easiest way to turn it was to turn it from the passenger side; I got more torque on it that way. But week before last, when it got really hot, it became quite finicky. How finicky? Well, I spent half an hour trying to turn it one night when I left the office. VW Beetle message boards suggested some graphite, and that made things better. Sunday, on the trip to Bethesda and back, I had no trouble at all. Nor yesterday morning. But last night…

I fiddled with the key for a good twenty minutes. I could feel the lock almost go. And then the turn would stop. I kept turning, turning, turning…

…and the switchblade key came apart.

At this point I had no idea what to do. It was now 7:30 at night. Obviously, it was going to need to go to the dealership to get a new ignition switch and key, and that I couldn’t do until morning. But I also had no way of getting home — the unfortunate reality of living 35 miles from the office; anyone I could have gotten a ride with back to Pennsyltucky had long since left for the day — so I went to the dump of a hotel across the street to crash for the night. (And then to the Target across the street for a cheap polo shirt to wear at work today.)

I was going to need a dealership to replace the ignition lock; VW Beetles have funky laser-etched keys.  I thought it would easy — “There’s a Volkswagen dealership just three blocks down York Road!” Only… it’s not anymore. It’s a Subaru dealership, and their service department was sympathetic but couldn’t help. So I’m having the Beetle towed to the closest VW service department, and that’s in Parkville. I had literally no idea where Parkville even was when the Subaru dealership said that’s where I’d have to go. Turns out it’s twelve miles from the office, which means that I’ll have to figure out a way of getting there, too, to pick up the Beetle when it’s done.

Fortunately, the tow is covered by Geico, and I have that arranged. The truck should be here in about an hour and a half. And then we’ll see what the damage is.

Best! Week! Ever!

The Avengers of Pre-Human Prehistory

At work, I receive Marvel Comics' press releases.  This week they've been sending press releases about Marvel Legacy, the upcoming one-shot that is supposed to set the new direction for the Marvel Universe after years upon years of Secret Invasions and Secret Wars.

Among the press releases this week have been promo images for the "Avengers of 1,000,000 BC," a team of legendary heroes with familiar names who existed in the distant past, so distant that they've been forgotten, so significant that they inspired myth and legend as a kind of cultural memory.

Among the "Avengers of 1,000,000 BC" there's Odin, the Norse god.  There's also an Iron Fist and  Phoenix host, not to mention Agamotto, the magical being that Dr. Strange knows.  (I'm barely familiar with Dr. Strange, frankly, so I'm not clear at all about the relationship between Strange and Agamotto.  I know it involves an eye, but I'm not sure how.)

The teaser images puzzle me.  The Iron Fist appears to have Asian features, but I'm not sure how that would be, just as the Phoenix host has red hair, which would be genetically unlikely if not impossible.

The problem I'm having with "the Avengers of 1,000,000 BC" is that Earth's hominid population at that time would have numbered somewhere between 50,000 and 70,000 of homo erectus, an ancestor species to modern humans, homo sapiens.  Homo erectus made its home in eastern Africa.  They were a primitive hunter-gatherer society.  They were able to use fire.  They had primitive tools.  They possibly cooked their food.  They were probably dark-skinned and dark-haired, evolutionary adaptations to withstand the sun.  Based on studies of human lice and their genetic drift, homo erectus probably went about naked.  Based on fossil studies, homo erectus probably had some language abilities.  They would have looked to us to be almost human but not quite.

My problem with the Avengers of One Million BCE isn't that they exist — I've no doubt that someone could do something interesting with pre-human super-powered characters in paleolithic times — but that the Avengers of One Million BCE shouldn't look human.  The heroes of this era would not have been fair-skinned, had Asian features, or even had red hair.  (The red hair gene didn't develop until roughly 100,000 BCE.)  They would have had sloped foreheads, flattish faces, and heavy brows.  They would have had darker skin and hair to resist the sun's glare.  Males would have been larger and stockier than the females; homo erectus had extreme sexual dimorphism by modern human standards.  In short, the promotional teasers don't reflect the reality of hominid life on Earth in One Million BCE at all.

I've ordered the Marvel Legacy one-shot, though not with any enthusiasm.  My curiosity outweighs my indifference.  Nothing about the Avengers teasers have moved my emotional needle this week, and it's possible that I'll cancel my order.  Yet I feel that I should read Marvel Legacy, even if it's twice the price and shorter than the similar DC Universe Rebirth special, because it's an important moment for Marvel Comics and the comics industry.  But I'd probably be more intrigued by it if its characters reflected who actually lived on Earth in One Million BCE.

A Legend to Last a Teatime

How different would 20th-century culture have been if the Rutles had not discovered tea?

From the perspective of fifty years beyond Dirk McQuickly's interview in which he extolled the virtues of tea, it's almost impossible to grasp just how controversial his remarks were.  Today, tea is mundane, commonplace.  I myself have had several cups of tea today.  Yet, McQuickly's June 1967 interview about tea seems caused an uproar at the time.  Tea, it seems, was something that people simply didn't talk about.

Today, I can go to the grocery story — Weis, Giant, Food Lion, Wegman's — and I'm confronted with dozens of different kinds of tea.  There are people who like Earl Grey or Irish Breakfast.  They can keep those.  I'll take a nice herbal tea, and I'm especially fond of the Celestial Seasonings Honey Vanilla Tea.

Would this have happened with McQuickly talking on ITV about tea?  Would there have been such a variety of tea in stores?  Who can say?

The controversy over the Rutles and tea, of course, died down.  By the end of 1967 it was all forgotten. There were other controversial things for the Rutles to be criticized for, like Tragical History Tour.  Yet, when we sit down to a cup of tea, hot or iced, we all owe McQuickly and the Rutles a thanks for normalizing the consumption of tea.

Indiana Jones and the Hills of White Elephants

This afternoon novelist Una McCormack retweeted a link to a McSweeney’s Internet Tendency piece by Rachel Klein titled Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” from “The Girl”‘s Point of View. I don’t read McSweeney’s as often as I feel that I should, so I was glad that I read this.

Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants” centers on two characters, sitting in a bar at a railway station somewhere in the middle of Spain in the mid-1920s. One character is “the American.” The other character is “the Girl.” They order drinks and have a cryptic conversation. The Girl is going to have an operation of some sort. It’s widely believed by critics that the operation is, in fact, an abortion, since the cryptic conversation turns on the relationship between the two characters, whether they love each other now, and whether they will continue to love each other if the operation happens or does not.

Klein’s piece takes the widely assumed belief about the operation in Hemingway’s story and makes it explicit, profanely and humorously: “It’s an abortion, folks. That’s what we were talking about, except that I knew if I said the actual word to him he’d fucking freak his shit, but, like, not tell me so directly. Instead he’d say something about how cold his beer was and I’d be like, ‘Is that some sort of veiled reference to my pregnancy?’ and he’d be like, ‘Were those clouds there a moment ago?'”

Klein’s piece prompted me to dig out my collection of Hemingway’s short stories, and I read through “Hills Like White Elephants” in about five minutes. (It’s a very short story. In the collection I have, it runs four pages.) It’s pretty much all dialogue, from top to bottom, with the usual Hemingway quirks (like lapsing into Spanish for no particular reason). I am unabashedly a Hemingway fan, but I can’t say that I found anything particularly compelling about “Hills Like White Elephants” except for one thing — I wondered if “the American” was none other than Indiana Jones.

Obviously it’s not; Raiders of the Lost Ark wasn’t filmed until twenty years after Hemingway’s suicide. But within the universe of Indiana Jones, Ernest Hemingway and Indiana Jones were good friends and shared several adventures. Perhaps that Ernest Hemingway modeled some of his characters on his globetrotting adventurer friend, Indiana Jones. Why not? Hemingway modeled some of his characters, Nick Adams and Jake Barnes notably, on himself.

Let’s assume for a moment that the American is Indiana Jones. He could have been on an archaeological dig somewhere in Spain, either as a grad student or as a post-grad. While there, he becomes romantically involved with a woman, perhaps someone working alongside Indy on the dig as well. She becomes pregnant, Indy is in his mid-twenties and neither one is really ready for parenthood, and Indy suggests strongly that she have an abortion because he doesn’t want her or his potential child to tie him down and keep him from achieving his “fortune and glory.”

This backstory works. Whether it’s a good backstory or not I leave to others to ponder. I could imagine Hemingway and Jones meeting up in Paris and having a drink, Hemingway hearing the story of Jones’ expedition in Spain, and deciding to write up one part of it as a literary experiment. And then the telegram from one to the other:

ERNIE -[STOP]- TOLD YOU STORY IN CONFIDENCE -[STOP]- ANNOYED BY HILLS -[STOP]- WILL DISCUSS IN PAMPLONA -[STOP]- INDY

The unfortunate thing about Hemingway’s story is that the Girl is such an utter cipher. We don’t know her age or her nationality. She doesn’t know a great deal about alcohol. Presumably she speaks English, but that’s not at all certain. For all we know, in Hemingway’s story all of the dialogue in the story happens in Spanish; even the use of “cervezas” instead of “beer” in one line isn’t enough to make any sort of determination one way or the other.

It’s all so vague. Not one of Hemingway’s finest works.

Still, if one squints just so, it’s quite easy to see Indiana Jones as the unnamed American in Hemingway’s “Hill Like White Elephants.” Quite easy.

Digging into the Website

Sometimes my website goes through fallow periods, and when I say “fallow” I mean that in two ways.  On the one hand, I don’t feel like creating content.  On the other hand, I don’t feel like looking at my PHP and CSS code.  I used to post to the blog every single day.  Now I feel lucky if I write a blog post a week.  I used to dig into my PHP code at least every other weekend, and I’d stay on top of the WordPress support forum looking for new and interesting pieces of code or plugins.  Now I have a blog theme that is all sketched out and all I need to do is to sit down and finish the last code push, and it’s been that way since autumn.

Then there’s a week like this week, where I’ve made three posts, one of them a significant piece on a college baseball game, I tinkered with my theme’s CSS code, I wrote a little routine to replace the dates on my blog posts with Hobbit dates, I installed a plugin to enable front-end editing (and that required some tinkering because it hasn’t been updated in a while and triggered four PHP Fatal Errors), and I’m writing this post using the new Gutenberg interface (the future editor in WordPress) to see whether I like it or not.

Do I like Gutenberg?  Not particularly.  The Blade Runner post was written, at least in part, with Gutenberg, and since it represents the future of WordPress I want to build my experience and comfort with it.  I’ve become accustomed to writing my WordPress posts in HTML markup — WordPress has a visual editor, but I like the feeling of control and cleanliness I get from composing directly in code, and fifteen years of writing blog posts in code is so familiar to me that when I work with the CMS at work I write in code, not the WYSIWIG editor — that writing in Gutenberg’s WYSIWIG composition screen feels strange to me.  With the Blade Runner post, I wanted to embed videos from YouTube, but Gutenberg wouldn’t let me do it.  And, as a purely aesthetic matter, Gutenberg produces garbage code.  It turns my stomach and, for a project like WordPress that has the motto “Code is poetry,” the code Gutenberg produces for the user’s content is anything but poetry.

Still, familiarity with Gutenberg breeds comfort, and I’ve come to feel comfortable working with Gutenberg purely as a visual editor.  That’s the thing.  It’s useful as an editor.  I can see my words through the HTML tags.  I can see how my sentences hang together.  I can see my typos, I can see where I’ve left ideas out, I can jump in and fix my mistakes.  It’s very easy to add hyperlinks.  Gutenberg feels like a basic, distraction-light WYSIWIG editor.  I doubt it would suit all of my needs, but if I want to prototype text and then dig down into the guts of the code and fine-tune the post in the standard WordPress editor that would work.

Which leads me to the Front-End Editor.  I’m not sure how I stumbled across this plugin this week, but I did, and I’m glad I did.  It’s a plugin that was being developed for the WordPress core that was, for whatever reason, abandoned about two years ago.  One of the worst things about writing in WordPress is finding mistakes and typos after hitting publish.  Fixing these mistakes becomes cumbersome; you need two tabs open in your browser, one showing the post live on the blog, the other showing the editing screen, and then you need to flip back and forth between the two.  It’s not an ideal way to fix mistakes.  “Did I fix that comma?  Did I add in the verb I completely missed?  Did I catch everything?”  With the Front-End Editor, I can hit publish, then fix my mistakes live on the blog.  “This is genius!” I exclaimed (once I fixed the PHP Fatal Errors), and I can’t imagine how I ever lived without it.  It matches my workflow and, more importantly, it streamlines that workflow.

In my view, that would be the ideal direction for WordPress to take Gutenberg.  Instead of creating a brand-new editor experience, put the resources into bringing the Front-End Editor up-to-date.  The Front-End Editor won’t have all of the bells and whistles of the main editor in the WordPress admin, but it doesn’t need the bells and whistles.  It just needs to be able to create a post, add images, add tags and categories, and publish.  Ideally without the code garbage that Gutenberg produces.

If plugins like Gutenberg and Front-End Editor simplify content creation, why haven’t I been creating content as I once did?  There are two reasons, and they’re somewhat interrelated.  First, I could write to my blog every day when there weren’t other outlets for communicating with people online; either Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist then, or they weren’t the platforms that they’ve since become.  The kind of ephemeral, insignificant material I might post to my blog is the kind of ephemeral, insignificant material that modern social media is made for.  On Facebook and Twitter, material like that disappears down the memory hole (unless you’re someone like my Twitter follower Anthony Scaramucci, who has had his entire Twitter history dredged up in the last forty-eight hours).  On the blog, it’s important.  And the second reason, WordPress increasingly needs images with posts for thumbnails and headers depending on the theme in use, especially if the posts are going to be shared on Facebook and Twitter where those images are used as thumbnails and Twitter cards.  Sometimes, I don’t have an image.  Or sometimes, what I’m thinking about writing about doesn’t feel important enough for an image.  In a weird way, design decisions of the website itself drive whether or not something is worth publishing, let alone writing.

The goal, ultimately, of the blog design that I keep tinkering with is to get around those two problems, to have room for the important posts that justify the time and the illustration on the one hand and room for the ephemeral, random stuff on the other.  Ironically, that part of the blog’s design is done.  It required custom functions and the shortcode processor.  It’s been tested.  It’s worked for months.  It’s the other key component of the design, the one that requires a responsive slider and custom menus and a custom Walker that’s posed difficulty.  It’s not an insoluble problem, merely a tricky one.

All things considered, writing this post in Gutenberg wasn’t a bad experience.  It’s becoming comfortable and familiar.  At its worst, it feels like I’m writing in some open source attempt at mimicking Microsoft Word.  I’m not sure that it’s the right solution for every WordPress user, especially for those who use WordPress as a CMS rather than as a blogging platform.  If Gutenberg really is the future of WordPress, then I hope that the current editing screen remains as a fallback option for users.

And, as for my own blog theme, I’m getting close.  It’s almost there.  Almost.

Lollipopping

Even now, an adult in his forties, when I go to the bank, I’ll pick up a lollipop. The circular ones, the cheap ones, in the plastic wrapper, with the raised edge and center. A green one. Always a green one. No other color will do.

Is it because I like the taste of lime? I assume the green lollipops are lime. Come to think of it, I don’t really know. I certainly do like the taste of lime. Give me a key lime pie! Give me Lime Kool-Aid! Give me a green lollipop!

Whatever the reason — the color, the flavor — I peel off the wrapping, pop it in my mouth, let it just dissolve there, and then munch down on whatever’s left, leaving only the tightly wrapped paper stick in my mouth with.

Maybe I’m doing lollipops wrong, but if I’m doing them wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

Things Were Simpler Then

On Monday Warner Bros. dropped a new trailer for Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to Blade Runner, starring Ryan Gosling and, reprising his role as Rick Deckard, Harrison Ford.

To say that I’m looking forward to this film is an understatement.  It’s quite possibly the film I am most anticipating this year, edging out even Justice League.  (For the record, I’m indifferent to The Last Jedi.)  I wouldn’t even call myself a massive fan of Blade Runner; it’s a film I like a lot, that I’ve watched too many times to count, that I’ve thought about extensively over the last thirty years.  But it’s a milieu that fascinates me.  I’m a Philip K. Dick fan, I’ve read K.W. Jeter’s sequel novels (well, the two published in North America), I’ve read Chris Roberson’s prequel-to-the-novel comic book, I’ve read and pored through Paul Sammon’s Future Noir several times, I’ve even heard the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of PKD’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? with James Purefoy and Jessica Raine.  Excited for Blade Runner 2049?  Absosmurfly.

There’s nothing I can really say beyond that, so I’ll simply share the teaser, the two trailers, and a featurette that WB has released thus far.

The teaser trailer:

The first trailer:

“Time to Live,” a behind-the-scenes featurette:

The second trailer:

I think that, over the next three months, I’ll reread Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Jeter’s sequels, and Roberson’s prequel. I want to be ready for Blade Runner 2049. :)