Medium Rare

by wjw on December 21, 2014

usaWe are now in Amarillo, Tx.  After two days of crossing the Great Plains, I’m beginning to grow a bit nostalgic for those Pennsylvania mountains.  Variety has its virtues.

But tomorrow we’ll be in New Mexico, where there are plenty of mountains.  Though alas, the entire drive there will be boring.

The Joadmobile continues to serve brilliantly.  It’s even getting close to 30 mpg, which is pretty good for an overloaded vehicle traveling at freeway speeds.

I have only one real beef, which is with beef.  Traveling across the nation, we’ve been eating out more or less by necessity.  Since the Flyover States are where they grow beef cattle, most towns have a McDonald’s, a Wendy’s, a Subway, and a steak house named after Big Slim, or Cowboy Matt, or some other local character.  So that’s where we eat.

I’ve had the same steak in four or five states now.  It’s quite beautiful, very tender, and perfectly cooked.  And it doesn’t taste like much of anything at all.

I remember when beef, y’know, tasted like beef.

When I was in the hospital back in 2005, my sense of taste was the last thing to recover.  For a while, the only thing I could actually taste was red chile sauce.  (I ate a lot of huevos rancheros.)  And for months, I couldn’t seem to taste beef worth a damn.  I finally concluded that the anesthetic, or the painkillers, or something had just wiped out my beef-tasting taste buds.  Occasionally I would have a really lovely slice of beef, and it would taste like . . . nothing.

But then I was surprised by a wonderful, flavorful steak.  And I thought my sense of taste had finally recovered, until I had another steak that was tasteless.

And now it’s no longer a surprise.  Somewhere around 2005 something happened to America’s steaks, and for the most part they’re bland and taste only like a shadow of their former selves.  Is it chemicals?  Feed lots?  What?  And every so often I luck onto a good one, and I remember what all steaks used to taste like.

So here I am in Beefland, and everything I eat is bland and tasteless.  And the sad thing is, so many people think this is what the steak is supposed to taste like.

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Fields of Springs

by wjw on December 20, 2014

We are in Springfield, Mo., having previously passed through, or been within hailing distance of, Springfield, Penn., Springfield, Ohio, Springfield, Ind., and Springfield, Ill.  It’s like we’re on the Simpsons tour of the U.S.!

I noted that there were a lot of big gun stores in Indiana, just over the Illinois line, from which I gather that Illinois has more strict gun laws than Indiana.  If you live in Springfield (the one in Illinois) and want to kill someone properly, I guess you have to travel to Indiana, possibly to Springfield, for the correct firearm.

The highlight of the trip was viewing St. Louis’ Gateway Arch at twilight from a bridge over the Mississippi.  The arch, the sky, and the city behind were all varying shades of soft gray.  Monet could have painted it, or maybe Whistler, though the latter would have given it a pretentious title, like “Study in Gray and Taupe #4.”

We’re carrying a Saarinen chair in the car, and thought of introducing Eero Saarinen’s chair to Eero Saarinen’s arch.

There was a bit of fog and rain today after sunset, but it wasn’t Scary Weather like we had the previous two days.  The car is behaving incredibly well, even unto the wipers thereon.

The most evocative moment actually occurred yesterday, when we were lost (sort of) in Newtown, Conn., and wandered into an area full of neoclassical institutional buildings, all very large, all set out on a kind of campus.  Most of the buildings were in disrepair and showed signs of having been neglected for some time, though some had been converted to outposts of city government.  We wondered if it was an abandoned university (are there abandoned universities?), and wandered around a little, until we found a stately Roman portico inscribed with the words FAIRFIELD STATE HOSPITAL.

statehospAh.  This was one of the places where developmentally disabled people, and people with mental problems, were housed in Dickensian conditions until recent decades, when it was realized that it was cheaper to give them a prescription for antipsychotic medication and then throw them out into the world to perish on ice floes, or wherever else they ended up.

I would love to have poked around a little to view the Electrotherapy Wing and the Lobotomy Cave, but our schedule did not permit.

Would love to return, with a film crew.  Maybe someday.







by wjw on December 19, 2014

joadmobileI write from a motel near Dayton, Oh., after a long second day of our Cross-Country Odyssey.

The plan was to load the car of Kathy’s late Aunt Dolores with such of Dolores’ things as we wanted to bring west, then drive cross-country in the middle of winter in an underpowered, overloaded 1995 Ford Escort station wagon with 94,000 miles on it.  Surely I wasn’t the one who thought of this.

I can’t help but think I’ve been conscripted into the Joad family.  We’ll be strapping Granny to the roof any time now.

I’m trying to plot a course to avoid as much scary weather as possible, but so far it’s been scary at least once per day.

I’ve learned much about the geography of Pennsylvania, which took most of the day to cross.  The western part is all mountains, climbing up and up and up.  Ohio must be much higher than Pennsylvania, on average.

I’ve also learned the location of Pennsylvania towns I’d vaguely heard of, but hadn’t been able to place on a map.  Hop Bottom, Tunkhannock, Shinkshinny, Punxsatawney, and Clarion, the college town where the workshop originated.

And lots more with less memorable names.

The car is holding up remarkably well, and performed better today than yesterday, I suspect because the gunk (technical term) has been blown out of it.

Be home sometimes this weekend, weather permitting, which it may not.


Black Sun, Stalking

by wjw on December 15, 2014

So over the weekend we had our twice-yearly black belt weekend, which was mostly devoted to graduating 33 new Kenpo black belts.  I also re-certified for my own black belt, in which I re-tested for, well, just about everything I’ve learned over the last thirty-odd years.  I was a sweat-soaked bag of silly putty at the end, craving salt and carbs, but I was smiling.  Now that it’s over, I find myself less sore than I thought I’d be.

Please enjoy the accompanying video, which has only a thematic relationship to anything I did over the weekend.  I did sorta feel like this guy, however.  (The video is “Black Sun” by Kagemu.  That’s all I know about it.)

I’ve been called to Long Island to help Kathy in settling her aunt’s estate, and won’t be back for anywhere between five and seven days.  I probably won’t be posting much in the interim, so have a good week, and try not to freeze.



by wjw on December 12, 2014

John McCain, the only member of the Senate known to have actually been tortured, speaks on the Senate torture report.  I wanted to include this in yesterday’s essay, but ran out of time.

“The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow,” [Mccain] said, standing at his desk on the Senate floor as Ms. Feinstein and other colleagues looked on. “It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.”

He called waterboarding “an exquisite form of torture” and “shameful.” The C.I.A.’s techniques, he said, “stained our national honor, did much harm and little practical good.”

…“I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence,” he said. “I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering.”

He closed by saying he believed the country gave up far more in honor than what it obtained in intelligence. “We need only remember in the worst of times, through the chaos and terror of war, when facing cruelty, suffering and loss, that we are always Americans, and different, stronger, and better than those who would destroy us.”



December 11, 2014

So the U.S. Senate report on torture shows that it was far worse than I imagined, or I imagine anybody imagined.  We’ve known about the torture for years, of course, but now we know just how depraved and disgusting and totally without merit it was. Consider this: numbers are a little vague, but it appears […]

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Speaking of Watching the Tube . . .

December 7, 2014
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What I Are Watching

December 6, 2014

A few months ago I asked for recommendations about what I should be watching on the tube, and I’m pleased to report that I’m enjoying some of your recommendations. I’m finding “Continuum” pretty darn good, though I think Keira loses points for somehow not noticing that she is a jackbooted enforcer for an illegitimate slaver […]

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Toolbox in the House!

December 2, 2014

December 1 is the first date for applications for Taos Toolbox, the master class for science fiction and fantasy, taught by Nancy Kress, yours truly, and special lecturer Carrie Vaughn. The workshop will take place June 28-July 11, 2015, at the Snow Bear Lodge in beautiful Taos Ski Valley. If you’re serious about a writing career, […]

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Episode Five

December 2, 2014

Part Five of the Hardwired serial is now available at Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Amazon, and Smashwords. Apparently the folks at iBooks are still hung over from the holiday weekend, since I don’t see it there.  It should be there soon, however, possibly by the time you read this. [UPDATE: Here's your iBooks link.] In Episode […]

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