Thursday, July 15, 2010

How to eat strawberries

Strawberries were on sale this week. Naturally, being the selective shopper that I am I picked up a pint (bushel, quart, peck, whatever it is) and slipped them into my cart. Getting home, being the intelligent refrigeration connoisseur I am I put them into the fridge.

And there they remained. Days went by and I did not touch the—even days when I had a craving for fruit, looked at my banana tree, saw no bananas and opened the fridge. I looked in the fridge saw no apples, no oranges, no peaches, and even the oft-ignored ruby red grapefruit was gone. I settled on a tiny glass of orange juice just to take the edge off.

And today I realized that after days of fruit hunting I had ignored the strawberries. Never mind that they were sitting right in front of my eyes the whole time. I mentally blocked them out. And I could not figure out why. More on this later.

About twenty minutes ago I realized that strange feeling I had in my stomach was the end result of a strawberry binge. The same strawberries I had previously ignored were now irresistible to me and I consumed the batch voraciously and without remorse.

The difference, of course, was location and convenience. This second set of strawberries were pre-washed, set on the counter pleasantly displayed in a sharp, black, trendy Ikea bowl. At the risk of sounding irreverent, they would be hard to resist on a hunger strike.

And in contemplating this dichotomy, I realized that the only reason I ignored them before was because deep down I did not want to go through the labor of washing the strawberries. Apparently I was prepared to let them rot in the fridge because I could not fathom washing them.

I don’t really have enough time here to delve into all the other considerations. Should I have proverbially pitted them of their green turnip-kin top? Would that have enhanced their sex appeal (answer: I hope not, because as it stands I cannot resist them). What is that top for? Can I eat them without any harm except for the bitterness? Is that the same stuff lettuce is made from? These are the things I spend my time wondering but not making the effort to answer.

So, I realized, that if I want to get my fill of fruits and I am out of the single serve variety (apples, peaches, pears, plums, mango, etc) or the pre-made bite size ones (raisins, dried apricots, etc) just wash something and set it on the counter. Pretty soon it will be irresistible.

In a way, my kitchen served to illustrate Malcom Gladwell’s tipping point theory (or the feigned principles of groupon . . . both of which I highly recommend). Only the only action required of me was to wash them and set them on the counter.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bikes, fixies, and post-modernism

Oh, man. I bought a bike this week. Unlike my past purchases—a biannual parade of Huffys (yeah, I think that’s how you pluralize that . . . and I am referring to the every two years, not twice a year, form)—I got a real bike. Not a new bike, but a real bike.

I am the proud owner of a 1987 Trek 560 Pro Series. I have no idea what it means, but all I know is that the tires are skinnier than my ring finger, and I had no idea I could go that fast without my quadriceps going up in flames.

The guy I bought it from, of course, knew way more about bikes than me and was really talking it up. In fact, the only reason I knew it was a good bike was because my buddy (and proud owner of several quality road bikes) was on the lookout for good bikes on craigslist.

The seller wanted to know if I wanted to make it into a fixie. And as fate would have it, I learned the meaning of that word just in time to have an informed conversation about it. “Oh, a fixed gear?” I asked, feigning contemplation. “Naw I just wanted a retro bike. I will probably keep the derailleur.” Read: I need a bike that I can actually ride decent distances before I drop my car off to the collision shop for an indefinite period of time.

In order to appreciate the bike, I think you may need to take a glance at the craigslist ad. Just know that the handlebars you can barely make out actually reconnect at the top. They are like a pair of bike antlers, apparently made to impress other road bikes, or appear on the wall of a biker’s mountain lodge someday. They are ridiculous.

Another nuance I had not prepared for as well as my fixie and derailleur vocabulary were the petals. I don’t know how to describe them, except that instead of placing my feet on top of a pair of friendly black pads like most bikes I have known, I had to slide my feet inside these metal sort of U-cup things.

Needless to say, when I took the bike for a test drive, I could not fit my feet inside of these things. To make things worse, in order to put your feet in these things you need to be moving at the time the second foot enters. So, instead of riding the bike down the street, I Fred Flintstone-ed it until I got out of sight and just jammed the second foot in. Note to self: in order to ride I will need to be wearing aqua socks.

I am digressing from what I originally intended to write about, and that is the phenomenon of the “fixie.” For those of you who don’t know, there is a recent trend to convert a standard ten-speed bike into a bike where there is only one-speed. This is done by extracting the derailleur and shifters. The result is a bike that is a single gear and in order for the wheel to turn, the pedals must turn. This also allows for the rider to brake merely by pedaling backwards (yeah, my first huffy had that feature as well). Apparently this appeals to the PBR, skinny jean wearing, subculture known generally as hipsters.

If you are like me, your first reaction is why? I mean, I would conceivably argue that every bike is a fixed gear if one can resist the temptation to shift. I mean, I know this allows for coasting down hills without pedaling, but I am still not sure how there is a downside to that part. Nevertheless, I have heard some theories about their advantages: less maintenance, better feel for the road, and the like.

However, I believe this microcosm phenomenon can serve to illustrate a greater rebellion against a post-modern world. Rather than be forced to take part in an ever changing series of speeds and resistances, why not just turn to one absolute and eliminate some choices. That way, when I pedal, I know how far one turn will take me (exactly the circumference of my rear wheel).

Rather than be subjected to some arbitrary reality where once pedal cycle is converted by a complex series of pulleys and levers—leave those simple machines behind and just ride. I may be extrapolating a bit too much here, but I do think there is something to the concept of limiting ones options.

I once came across an interesting book on the topic as well. The Paradox of Choice essentially argued that less is more when it comes to options and that by overwhelming ourselves with options we walk away less satisfied (I would go into more detail but by “came across” I mean, I took it home from the library for three weeks, read the jacket multiple times, and started the introduction).

All that to say, I am not converting my bike into a fixie. Mainly because I like having the options there, but also because that seems like an awful lot of work. And I'm still trying to figure out how to get my feet in the pedals.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Anything you can do I can do better . . .

I have a big problem. And I don’t think its an uncommon one. The trouble is, I see something well done, something even incredibly done and I think “man . . . I totally should be able to do that.” When generally, of course, I have no business doing that.

The easiest example to relate to in this realm is that of abstract art. Who hasn’t looked at a painting (or in the more avant-garde regions the unspecific ‘exhibit’) and thought, “Why is this here? I could do that.” The stock response from the classic art defender is generally “well you didn’t they did it first.” And I agree with that to an extent.

I have always thought that about Jackson Pollock’s work. And I have been largely ignorant of it, and still am. However, I did watch an interest documentary about him which made me consider momentarily the journey he took to becoming the painter that became famous.

The big realization for me, was not that he had to painstakingly extract genius from within. Rather, I realized that the guy probably went to work at painting everyday, like a regular person heads to work in the office. Apparently, I assumed that they sort of just spewed whatever they could out in the last few hours of the day before bed. Because that’s usually the way I spew out whatever creative instincts I have (usually in writing—in this blog or otherwise).

And I get frustrated sometimes that I haven’t been able to produce anything out of my efforts. That is, other than a short work (originally a blog post) I sold to a gardening magazine, I haven’t published anything or written anything worth publishing.

The catch is, I haven’t generally worked at producing anything. And while I’d like to think that is the only thing holding me back, reality forces me to that there are other issues involve (talent, work ethic, etc). However, I would like to give it a go at some juncture. I just came to the realization that producing anything of value (in life or creativity) generally takes a fair amount of labor and commitment.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


I have discovered a grocery store within five minutes of my house which I now frequent on a weekly basis. This is huge for me, because despite my affinity for all things that provide caloric energy, there are about eighteen imposter stores within a three-mile radius of my house.

I don’t like to think of myself as na├»ve or gullible, but initially on relocating to Detroit I was deceived by the apparent plethora of grocery stores around my house. It seemed as if nearly every store I drove/walked by had a sign reading “full line of groceries.”

I was deceived, that is, until one day I went on an earnest search for hamburger buns. A few friends were in from out of town and we decided rather than drive to a store, lets just stop in and check out the “full line of groceries” at the local liquor establishments.

And to my surprise they did have a full line. A full line that invariably included some permutation of the following: Vienna sausages, Marciano cherries, $8 boxes of cereal, Spaghetti-Os, olives, and most frustratingly: hot dog buns.

The real experience was the search. After my first encounter with the full line of perpetually fermenting items listed above, I thought I would get smart. I would ask the cashier as I walked in, “do you guys have hamburger buns.” Now, initially I thought the perceived stare I got was based on the general paucity of my skin color and my presence in the area. However, upon further review, I believe it was a stare to suggest, “didn’t you read our sign, it says we have a full line – jerk.”

Inevitably I would go to the isle constituting the grocery store portion of the liquor store where the friendly gentlemen told me to find the wheat-based hamburger outfits. And almost without fail, I would discover: moldy hot-dog buns. Of course, the gentlemen appeared shocked that hamburger buns were not found right next to them. “Must’ve sold-out” he would explain. Yeah, in 1942.

I could not imagine that hot dog buns and cherries were really in that great demand until I remembered the third item of the full-line trifecta: Vienna sausages. Because in case you are ever stranded in a liquor store, it would be nice to be able to recreate a hot-dog like dining option. Mystery solved.