Archive for August, 2023

The pumpkin spice of August

August 31, 2023

Retailers are rushing the season: while little pumpkins peek out from the ironweed and goldenrod of late summer, the scent of pumpkin spice suntan oil blankets the beaches, heralding a torrent of pumpkin spice lattes soon to be sweeping through city streets. No, it’s not your addled perceptions, it’s an actual thing.

From NBC News, “Autumn arrives earlier than ever for Starbucks and others with pumpkin menu items: The number of limited-time pumpkin launches more than doubled to 86 in August 2022 compared with 2019”, by Amelia Lucas (CNBC) on 8/31:

In most of the U.S., tree foliage is green and temperatures are warm. But for many restaurants and retailers, fall is already here.

Halloween candy and pumpkin spice lattes used to wait until after Labor Day to make their annual debuts, ushering in the start of fall several weeks before the season officially begins. But in the past few years, restaurants and retailers have been releasing their autumnal food and beverages even earlier.

… [But] fear not — plenty of companies are sticking to normal seasonal boundaries.

Reynolds’ Hefty isn’t releasing its cinnamon pumpkin spice-scented trash bags until September.

Below, there will be a brief refresher about the substance and its cartoon career, just so I can replay Bob Eckstein’s charming cartoon about pumpkin cartoon-memes, from last fall; Bob has now turned this into the logo for his newsletter on substack, so I can give you this version:

Three cartoon memes: Seeker and Seer / Wise Man, Sisyphus, Desert Island — see my 11/1/22 posting “Every meme is better with a pumpkin in it”

Suppose I just showed you the first of these, out of the blue, without any background or information (all that stuff I’ve just been feeding you) — a pumpkin on a ledge outside a mountain cave — what would you need to bring to it to understand why I might find it so irresistibly funny that I smile every time I see it, sometimes break into happy laughter?


Safeway’s AI soup nazis

August 31, 2023

🐅 🐅 🐅 tiger tiger tiger for ultimate August, anticipating the welcoming bunny trio of September

I get my groceries from a local Safeway, with shoppers and deliverers supplied by Instacart. Safeway has an excellent line of deli soups, which I described for you in my 7/21 posting “Real food”, focusing on Safeway’s Signature Cafe (their brand name) chicken tortilla soup (in a plastic container), which was a major step on my route back to real food after my gall bladder surgery; I noted at the time:

Safeway has a whole line of these soups, including a clear lobster bisque suitable for liquid diets and several very nice chunkier soups, including a minestrone, chicken noodle soup, jambalaya and broccoli cheddar soup.

Yesterday, continuing my incursions into red meat and animal fats — cheese was the first wedge into this territory, but I’ve since moved all the way to (pork) carnitas and carne asada — and needing to order in some milk from Safeway, I thought to reconsider the store’s other soups, so I searched on “deli soups” on the Safeway site.

And got a notice — new in my experience — that this search was powered by AI. Instead of the expected inventory of Safeway’s dozen or so or deli soups, I got only three such soups, and these three were scattered among a huge number of listings for canned soups (from various companies). Not deli soups at all, but just soups; in fact, towards the end of the list, it branched into canned meats. So a massive AI screw-up.


Snacks for the team

August 30, 2023

Recently appeared in my comics feed, this One Big Happy strip from 2013, in which Ruthie and Joe consult with their dad about what snacks he should bring after their next Little League game:

We get the astounding 1st inning score — tied at 48! — just tossed off for free in the second panel

The kids present their father with a minefield of food allergies and aversions — meat, peanuts, caffeine, sugar — for him to negotiate through.


herd it / heard it

August 30, 2023

The pay-off to an elaborate set-up tale, giving a pun on a familiar expression (in this case a song title). From Vince the Sign Guy: Vince Rozmiarek of Indian Hills CO and (from his Facebook page) “his lighthearted puns shown on local community signs”:

Phonologically, there’s a stretch of speech that’s both I herd it through the grapevines (the pun, the pay-off from the vineyard cow story) and the nearly homophonous “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (the model, the song title); semiotically, however, that stretch of speech is either about one of these situations or the other, not two nearly identical situations

Specifically, there’s no metaphorical structuring of the vineyard cow situation (in the story) on the basis of the information exchange situation (in the song). Their only relationship is phonological.

This isn’t a defect; most puns are merely phonological, and that’s fine. Vince Rozmiarek’s vineyard cow story is a great little joke, of a recognizable genre of punning: the set-up + pay-off story based on a formulaic expression — for short, a formula pun.

It’s just that a small number of puns are what I’ve sometimes called — I’ve wrestled a long time with ways of saying this — satisfying, meaning semiotically satisfying: the participants are represented as belonging to two worlds at once. They are anteaters, say, with the formicavore’s passionate hunger for the insects, but they are also diners in conventional American restaurants, insisting on specific kinds of table service and exhibiting dining quirks (like an aversion to spicy food). The first of these worlds is systematically mapped into the second, in an elaborate metaphor. (The restaurant-going anteaters are a recurring theme in Bizarro cartoons.)

From this month in my postings: on 8/3 “Brief shot: cock time”, about the expression cock time:

An atrocious pun [on clock time], but satisfying in that some … item is not merely introduced into a context for a near-homophone, but participates in the world of that model expression. We see something that’s a cock [a man’s penis] and a (kind of) clock.


Wise Man

August 30, 2023

Thoughts provoked by John Baker’s comments on my posting yesterday “The back-to-school cartoon”, about this Brendan Loper cartoon:

(#1) I noted that “the original seer-consulting cartoon”, in the New Yorker of 12/5/22, had a different caption

JB commented:

For a second, by “original seer-seeking cartoon,” I thought you meant the first ever such cartoon. Any idea how this trope began? Is it primarily a New Yorker thing?

My response, and some notes from my files on the cartoon meme in question.


The back-to-school cartoon

August 29, 2023

With artwork by New Yorker cartoonist Brendan Loper, passed on by John McIntyre on Facebook, for the beginning of school (I laughed out loud):

(#1) The original seer-consulting cartoon, from the New Yorker of 12/5/22, had the caption: “The answers you seek shall be revealed to you by shutting up and paying attention to what happens in the movie.” The academic caption was created by someone, maybe even Loper, for Shutterstock


New Frontiers in Reverse Flying Cowboy

August 28, 2023

(Yes, about raw man-on-man sex, from gay porn, with photos of nekkid guys doing the deed, and with descriptions of it all in street language, so totally not for kids or the sexually modest)

The emotional attraction of the flying cowboy positions, plain and reverse, is the floating mid-air fuck itself — whee! — and the intimacy and trust that are needed if the participants are going to pull it off at all. And the couplings are, admittedly, a delight to watch. But they’re physically challenging, probably better left to the professionals, porn actors who train for this and have people to help with things.

In plain flying cowboy, the two men face each other, so facework and kissing can easily accompany the fucking, and the hole can wrap his arms and legs around his fucker, getting both support and intimacy.

Reverse flying cowboy, on the other hand, with the hole facing away from his fucker, is all about the asswork — no doubt deeply satisfying to both men, but it obliges the fucker to do a kind of balancing act with the guy suspended on his dick.

The result tends to merit judgments about how ingenious the actors’ performances are, about how clever they are in managing to make the fuck look like something a viewer could fantasize about. Because these fantasies are what the performances are for, what fags like me are paying for; the whole point is to get us fully immersed in the fantasy of taking it up the ass in mid-air and so to appreciatively shoot our loads. But for this, second-order aesthetic reflections on the marvels of the actors’ abilities are just a drag on our imaginative road to coming.

Worse, their efforts often come off as ridiculous; few things kill a hard-on faster than amazed laughter. Reverse cowboy is pretty easy to make convincingly hot. Flying cowboy has the facework going for it, and getting kissed by a fantasy guy during a mid-air fuck totally works for me. But reverse flying cowboy is a challenge; it so easily tips into absurdity. (There will be illustrations.)

A gay porn offer from 8/26, however, uses a shot that manages to communicate the intensity of reverse flying cowboy on both sides — with an orgasmic facial expression on the part of the fucker, and the body of the hole folded up so that the fucker can hold it in his arms, providing both support and intimacy, as well as that deeply desired big hard cock filling the hole’s ass. Amazingly hot (for the intended audience), so long as you’re not diverted by aesthetic analysis of the sort I just gave you.


Practice, practice, practice

August 27, 2023

Yes, the old joke about getting to Carnegie Hall. And the idea behind this 2016 Savage Chickens cartoon (thanks to Chris Waigl for bringing it to my attention):


Cognitively complex performances of all kinds — especially those that require creative fashioning for some audience or for the exigencies of the context — can be mastered only through long practice, the point of which is to automatize most aspects of the performance, which then do not require conscious attention, reflection, or decision-making in the moment, but leave room for that creative fashioning.

Although some simple skills can be acquired through mere repetition, all kinds of practice work better if  they’re engaged — intense, focused, even enjoyable. Meanwhile, for complex performances it’s going to take a lot of practice: the more cognitively complex the performance, the longer it takes to get really competent at it. Ten to fifty thousand hours, seven to ten years. For playing basketball, discovering the organization of social practices, ballet dancing, analyzing philosophical issues, playing and composing music, analyzing genetic mechanisms, writing fiction, revealing the mechanisms of population movements, creating computer languages, reviewing movies, playing chess, understanding the structure of a (natural) language, and much else.


It is the grief of love

August 26, 2023

Most of my day today was taken up with the Palo Alto Sacred Harp all-day singing (shapenotes from 10 to 3!); I’m pleased to say I was not only able to participate in this event (via Zoom), but managed to last through the whole thing, sometimes singing quite powerfully. I wasn’t physically there, and people couldn’t hear me (I had to mute myself because of the way Zoom works), but I got to choose a couple of songs (Confidence SH270 and Bridgewater SH276), and managed a really big contact high — a tonic for my life of solitude these days.

Early in the singing someone chose a song that I found moving but didn’t recall ever having sung before: SH83t, Vale of Sorrow: brief and easy to sing, a haunting minor melody, and a text I found deeply moving: the words of an earnest Christian who hopes to have earned his place with Jesus in heaven, but is nevertheless saddened that his death will take him from those he loves. He is experiencing what he thinks of as the grief of love.

The music (from the 1991 Denson revision of The Sacred Harp (first compiled in 1844)):

A reminder: the melody is in the tenor line, the third from the top (the treble line, at the top, has either high harmony or a counter-melody); the different shapes of the notes locate them in a scale (sort of a visual DO-RE-MI)

The text comes on two parts: one stanza of background, one with the grief of love:

While in this vale of sorrow,
I travel on in pain;
My heart is fixed on Jesus,
I hope the prize to gain.

But when I come to bid adieu
To those I dearly love,
My heart is often melted —
It is the grief of love.

The phrase comes at you out of the blue, after some conventional imagery and conventional expression (vale of sorrow, the heart being fixed on something, gaining a prize, bidding adieu, the heart melting with emotion).

Meat, meat, glorious meat!

August 25, 2023

As I recover from gall badder surgery, increasingly able to digest meat and fatty foods without mishap, I’ve developed a longing for challenging meat, especially beef, pork, and lamb. Not that I was a big meat-eater before the surgery, but being denied something makes you yearn for it all the more.

I had dreams about (pork) carnitas — something I adored but would have maybe twice in a year, as a kind of celebration of intense tastes. So I went to a well-reviewed source — Tacqueria El Grullo, 620 E Evelyn Ave in Sunnyvale — and ordered their (excellent) carnitas.

Their (minimal) description:

Carnitas: Chunks of braised pork. Served with a side of rice, refried beans and salad. [AZ: And, of course, soft (corn) tortillas, kept warm in aluminum foil. And, of course, containers of salsa verde and salsa roja.]

It then occurred to me that a side dish of some sort might be nice. On their appetizer menu, there was something new to me, though with a name that had a familiar part: asada fries. The El Grullo description:

Asada fries: French fries topped with melted cheese, beef, avocado & sour cream.

The beef would presumably be carne asada, chopped. I’ve been a fan of carne asada since I was introduced to it, in Chicago, back in the 1960s. Yes, go with the beef, marinated in lime juice and grilled and slightly charred, and finally chopped: GIVE ME MEAT. And then I thought: ah, asada fries must be the poutine of northern Mexico. And so (I discovered on further investigation) it was. Looks like a mess — it’s a lot of stuff jumbled together — but quite tasty. And undeniably meaty.