Friday, May 23, 2008

BEST OF: Fry attack

Most of us at least make a stab or two at trying to eat correctly, doing our low-cal, low-fat, high-exercise penance for past indiscretions. But sometimes, after an angelic breakfast of orange juice and cereal with fat-free milk or yogurt, I’ll get a major munchie attack about half-past lunch.

That’s especially true if I’m driving past JJ’s or the grill, and catch a whiff of crisp, hot French fries, right out of the fryer. Yes, I know they’re empty calories, coronary arrest lurking in a greasy little white paper bag. But that aroma can be so seductive that some days, it’s almost impossible to drive past the parking area.

When I’m really hungry and know I’ll be heading past those seductive scents, I’ve even tried distracting myself with peppermint lotion under my nostrils. Trust me: peppermint-laced fried potatoes will never challenge deep-fried Twinkies, which also sound like a culinary nightmare.

Recently, I gave in to the siren of the fryer, deluding myself with the thought that I’d avoided a French-fry binge for weeks. And, according to Julia Child (not to mention various dietary behavior-modification gurus), if you really, really want to eat something, you’re supposed to go ahead and eat it, in moderation.

“Don’t try to eat on the cheap,” they say, or you’ll wind up eating everything in sight to compensate for what you really want. It’s like a “Cathy” cartoon from hell, come to life.

You know what I mean. When you’re really craving a Linn’s éclair, Sugar-Free Jell-O just won’t do. Fat-free yogurt’s good, but it’s not a French Corner Bakery tart or one of Caren’s Corner’s sundaes. Celery’s a joke unless it’s filled with cream cheese or peanut butter, or sautéed in butter with onions for a rich turkey stuffing. And rice cakes make good building blocks for a tiny granddaughter. But lunch?

So there I was, decadence personified, searing my hands by snatching the first few blazing-hot fries out of the bag.

I dug around in the bag for the catsup packets, each the size of two plump, side-by-side stamps and holding a tablespoon or so of the spicy condiment. Aha! Found ‘em.

The trick is getting the catsup out of a packet.

“Tear here,” said the tiny printing near the ridged top edge of the packet.


I squeezed my grease-slicked right thumb and forefinger together at the “tear here” mark on the catsup packet. But the minute I tried to pull the other edge with my left hand, my right hand would lose its grip.

It was like trying to hold onto a raw egg white with your fingers spread apart, pry the pit out of an extra-ripe avocado, or grab a wary, soapy 2-year old out of the bathtub.

There in the middle of the sidewalk, my options were few. Those packets are made from well-disguised chain mail. I had no scissors in my pocket, no Swiss Army knife in the glove compartment.

Bite it open? Don't think so. I already pay my dentist far too much money to try that maneuver.

I had this vivid vision of having a catsup temper tantrum, putting the packet on the pavement and stomping up and down on it. But just think of the mess I’d have made and, what’s worse, there wouldn’t have been any catsup left.

By now, I was back at the office, and my fries were cold. Yuk. Cold fries rank right up there with chilled Cream of Wheat, or a warm Dove bar. So I threw the whole mess away, and stalked off in a hungry huff.

Later, I figured it out. The Zone Diet and Weight Watchers conspired to invent the catsup packet. It’s cut-proof, tear-proof and meal-proof … on purpose. It’s behavior modification, whether you want it or not.

I’d say thank you to them for their diet assistance, but I really, really wanted those fries.

Next time? I’ve got it all figured out. I’ll just take along my own little bottle of catsup. Have Heinz, will travel.

This column ran May 1, 2003, in The Cambrian.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bra-bbling about underwear

I say "grrrrrr" to anonymous writers, people who don't put their names on comments, letters or articles they post on the Internet.

If you've got something to say, by golly, then sign it. Take responsibility. Be proud of what you've written, so we know who to applaud or boo, depending on your stance and ours.

It's all there on the Net--somewhere -- politics, recipes, philosophy and, by the way, here's how my neighbor looks when he's half-dressed, half-smashed and half-witted.

And there are opinions on everything.

For instance, many aggrieved women have griped in print or online about that female-torture device known as a bra.

Fashion says there's no choice: We either strap ourselves into bindings to elevate our glands, sharpen their profiles and keep them steady, or we flip, flop and try not to catch our droop-boobs in the zippers of our jeans.

Bras are especially difficult after a certain age: As someone named Val wrote on a blog, "I used to wear a I wear a 36 long."

Some of the "bra-articles" surfaced first in newspapers or magazines, then migrated to the Internet, often because someone read the writing, liked it and wanted to share it with someone else.

For instance, Belinda Luscombe wrote an open letter, "Warren Buffet, Adjust My Bra," which ran in Time magazine Nov. 12 (,9171,1680142,00.html). Buffet owns underwear firms Fruit of the Loom and Vanity Fair (among many others), and Luscombe begged him to bring brassiere design into the 21st century.

I especially loved her tale of Herminie Cadolle, whom Luscombe said invented the bra strap about 120 years ago because "it made more sense for women's breasts to be suspended from above than cantilevered from beneath. So, instead of walking around wearing the lingerie equivalent of the London Bridge, women could slide themselves into a Golden Gate. This was a huge relief -- as anyone who has worn a strapless bra can tell you -- because the London Bridge pretty much always falls down."

Earlier that month, 52-year-old Lee Jackson of Auckland, New Zealand, responded online to the San Francisco Chronicle's "great bra debate" in the editorial pages.

Jackson said she wants to shoot the inventor who developed "an underwire to shove your boobs together for 'cleavage.'" If that inventor was a man, she said, he should have "paper clips wrapped around his testicles" and the clips "fastened to the waist of his BVDs with rubber bands."

Jackson wrote that she's tired of:
* "bras that fit wonderfully until I actually sit down, bend over, twist around or reach up for something";
* "so-called sports bras that make me wonder just what 'sport' they were designed for"; and
* "walking into a lingerie shop and having prepubescent, anorexic twigs advise me I might have better luck finding something that 'fits me' in the geriatric section of a department store."

Well done, Lee.

But we can't thank the woman who wrote of preparing for her high-school reunion with a quick diet and some fashion tricks ... none of which worked.

She battled with a slinky dress, body prep and makeup ("all-day, face-lifting, gravity-fighting moisturizer with wrinkle-filler spackle").

Then came a "black lace, tummy-tucking, cellulite-pushing, ham-hock-rounding" girdle and the matching "'lifting-those-bosoms-like-they're-filled-with-helium' bra."

The contortionist writer "pulled, stretched, tugged, hiked, folded, tucked, twisted, shimmied, hopped, pushed, wiggled, snapped, shook, caterpillar-crawled and kicked" her way into the girdle, then tackled the bra.

The saleslady had told her, "Put the bra on the way it should be worn -- straps over the shoulders. Then bend over and gently place both breasts inside the cups."

The writer groused that "the boobs weren't cooperating." After testing various techniques, she tried rocking back and forth to get her bosoms swinging. "Finally, on the fourth swing, pause and lift, I captured the gliding glands" and fastened the bra.

"Yes, Houston, we have lift up!"

She wrote, "My breasts were high, firm, and there was cleavage! I was happy ...until I tried to look down. I had a chin rest. And I couldn't see my feet."

She never did get to the reunion.

How I'd love to send her a fan letter, if I only knew who she was.

Friday, May 9, 2008

BEST OF: Popping-hot thoughts

Sometimes, my mind is like a popcorn kernel in a hot frying pan, jumping from place to place, but never really getting anywhere. That’s especially true when insomnia strikes. All I really want is an “off” button for my brain, so I can get some sleep.

In the middle of one recent night, I started mulling over some things I’ve learned in my life and how I’d define them.

For instance, I’ve learned that:

• If a jacket or dress in a shop window or ad makes the size 2 model wearing it look like a prime candidate for Weight Watchers, no amount of dreaming, wishing or squinting up my eyes will make the fashions look good on my generously proportioned body.

The phrase “high-style human Hummer” comes to mind.

• Running a vacuum cleaner over the same spot at least six times before I bend down to pick up whatever it is the vacuum isn’t catching is a waste of my time and electricity, and I feel profoundly foolish if somebody else sees me doing it.

Work order: “If you can’t suck it up, pick it up.”

• Cutting your nails over a shag rug will come back to haunt you.

Mantra: “Stepping on a rug of nails is no more comfortable than sleeping on a bed of them.”

• Buying a self-help book or listening to a do-it-yourself program doesn’t get the job done. If I want the results, I have to do the exercise, clean the refrigerator’s compressor, dig up the tulip bulbs or study Italian.

The title “’something for dummies’ means the dummy has to do the work herself.

• Once cupboards, closets and shelves are full, such pleasant occupations as window shopping, retail Web surfing, catalog-page flipping and going to garage sales can cause conflicts.

Having one mixing bowl is good. Two bowls can get me through a party. Having five identical bowls means I’ll never be able to get any of them into or out of the cupboard without a fight, and may not be able to close the cupboard door.

The dual phrases “Visa bill” and “But where are we going to put it, honey?” come to mind.

• Hunches are good things. Years ago, when county workers installed an all-way stop sign at Burton and Ardath drives, the concept made me nervous. It seemed to me then that having 99 percent of drivers stop at the busy intersection would make the remaining 1 percent is even more dangerous, because nobody would expect those drivers wouldn’t stop.

In a close call, I was nearly the statistic that proved my hunch.

I had stopped at the stop sign, ready to turn right on Ardath on my way home. As I began to turn the wheel and step on the gas, two commercial trucks came over the Ardath rise to the south.

A little voice in the back of my head said, “Those blankety-blanks aren’t going to stop.”

The big, heavy delivery truck, loaded with sheet rock and pulling a trailer loaded with an industrial forklift, sped through the intersection without a hint of stopping or even pausing. A second, smaller delivery truck followed behind.

If I’d made the turn, just because it was my turn and my right to do so, I’d be dead.

That first truck would have hit me right at the driver’s seat, and the second truck would have ploughed into the back of the first truck.

I recall a statement at the end of a public service message: “You may be in the right. Dead right.”

Now, if my mind would just quit popping so I could get some sleep, maybe I wouldn’t have such bizarre thoughts.

This column first ran in The Cambrian on April 3, 2003.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Follow the money

“You think there’s no good left in this world,” Mary Woeste of Cambria said. “You listen to the news and ask yourself, ‘Can it get any worse?’ And then something like this happens.”

Mary, a warmly caring woman eternally on the go, is a caregiver for seniors. She has more to do than time to do it.

I’ve known Mary for about a quarter century. Her brother and uncle, Keith Woeste and Pat Wade, were best pals with our sons Brian and Sean.

About a month ago, after a long shift, Mary was rushing to the post office to buy a money order, carrying cash in an envelope, five $100 bills saved up from Christmas and birthday gifts.

“I must have picked up the envelope upside down,” she surmised. As the money fluttered away, full-speed-ahead Mary was probably already a half-block away. She didn’t notice until, at the post office, she reached inside the now-empty envelope.

She went looking for the cash, but didn’t find it.

“I said to myself, ‘OK, it’s gone. I just hope the person who picked it up needed it worse than I do.’”

However, Henry Rodriguez, on his lunch break from Antiques on Main, had spotted two $100 bills. He thought, “It can’t be real. It must be play money. But then I saw someone else picking up paper in front of the drug store.”

Steve Johnson of Bend, Ore., had found the other $300 and was walking toward Henry. Once they figured out that the money didn’t belong to either of them, Henry gave his two bills to Steve and went to lunch.

Steve was puzzled. How to find the owner? He did what any smart guy would do — he consulted his parents, Loren and Jeanette Johnson of Cambria, telling them, “It was raining $100 bills downtown! I’ve just found $500, and I don’t know how to find out who it belongs to.”

He decided to check at the drug store.

Bingo! This is a small town. Chances are good that if you’re looking for somebody, somebody else you know will know that somebody.

Cambria Village Pharmacy clerk Mandy Ervin, recalls, “A man came in and asked Kris Morris and me if someone had lost some money. We said ‘yes, five $100 bills.’ He pulled them out of his wallet.”

Then he left, but the man who’d had a fistful of dollars wouldn’t be a man with no name for long.

Sue Patchen and Kay Ash were unloading their van in front of the antique mall. Henry came back to work. “I found $200, but we don’t know who it belongs to,” he told coworkers, including Debborah Patchen.

She told her mom and Kay, and they said they’d seen a distraught Mary going from store to store in East Village, asking if anyone had seen her $500.

Debborah called Anne Winburn, owner of St. Mary Mead, a shop across the street. By the time they called Mary, she already knew her money had been found. You see, the drug store clerks also knew Mary, and the pharmacist knew how to reach her.

Mary remembers, “The girl at the pharmacy called me and said, ‘I’m in tears. You won’t believe what just happened.’”

An amazed, grateful Mary “went right down, got the money and went straight to the post office.” But she was dismayed to not know who her Good Samaritan was.

That didn’t last long. Soon, Mary tracked down Good Guy Henry, just a couple doors down the block.

Mary didn’t need CSI Cambria to figure out the rest, because —surprise, surprise — it turns out Henry had known Steve when the Bend resident owned a store in San Simeon.

Mary called Steve’s mom, Jeanette Johnson. Jeanette asked, “How did you find out so fast?”

This is Cambria, Jeanette.

Mary wanted to send a “thank-you” gift. Jeanette checked with her son, then told Mary he wouldn’t take anything, “but you can send him a card.”

Mary said that, on the card, she told Steve that the next time he comes to town, “at least I hope he’ll let me treat him and his family to dinner … What a guy. I’m forever in his debt … and so is my American Express card.”