Shame! (a warning)

I have a complaint.

Yesterday I was minding my own business when I got a text from a phone number with which I was unfamiliar.  That’s not unheard of, of course, but this was the text:

I mean, what the heck, right?  Who among my friends was doing this to me?  After some consideration I clicked on the link, which took me to a legitimate Apple App Store webpage for an app called Gather—In Real Life.

Gather—In Real Life purports to be an EASY FUN FUN WAY to arrange get-togethers with your friends.

But Gather—In Real Life is a vile piece of crap.  I went to the App Store itself, where, as I suspected, the app was rated around a 1, and the top review said bluntly that if giving a 0 were possible, the reviewer would do so.  They went on to describe in detail the app’s spammy practices: merely downloading the app allows it to take all your contacts and send the above spam text to them.  Imagine: your family, your business associates, your random contacts—all of them get a text saying they’ve been “invited.”

It’s actually worse than that: the app will seize all your info from your phone.  Horrific details here, here, and here.

Needless to say, I did not download the app.  I texted STOP, then sent an excoriating message, then texted STOP again in case they thought I was saying it was okay to talk to me ever again.

I have more complaint: at some point in the upgrade process, Apple has done away with the Report button in the App Store.  If you’ve downloaded an app and need a refund or something, there’s a webpage for that, but after a day of searching I can find no way to let Apple know that this app is offensive, intrusive, and needs to go.

So here’s my blogpost on Gather—In Real Life.  Any response from the company will be posted and ridiculed here.

A memory

We’re rearranging about half the house and in doing so are coming to those decisions one comes to when one has a metric tonne of stuff.

You know what I’m talking about: those tubs of t-shirts and sweatshirts that commemorate things like shows you were in or GHP summers or (now) burns.  I understand completely that I have not worn any of them in probably a decade and I am not likely to wear them ever again.  Even I understand that they need to go, even if it means — to me — cutting the ties to that event.[1] 

But that’s a discussion for another day.  Today let’s look at this sweatshirt, which we made to advertise the Newnan Community Theatre Company’s production of Comedy of Errors, back in 1993.

First of all, I am still delighted when I see my tagline: deadpan hyperbole of obvious truths that say nothing about the quality of the show itself. (One of the younger cast members asked, quite sincerely, “How many twins does Macbeth have?”)

We had done Tartuffe back in the spring of that year.  Jeff Bishop directed, and he wanted to do it in straight-up period style, so we built a raked stage with wings and all those costumes.  I love costumes, I love period costumes, but these got to me for some reason, and one day as we were all furiously cutting and sewing, the subject of Comedy of Errors came up: would we do Elizabethan costumes for it?

Aghast, I joked that no, we would put everyone in sweatpants and be done with it.

And then I thought: why not?

In a play about identity, what could be more appropriate than a mise en scene where all the characters are identical? So I decided that everyone would wear grey sweatpants and sweatshirts, and that each character would have a different color of facepaint.  The twins, of course, would have the same color as each other.  (We came to refer to the show as “the Smurfs do Shakespeare.”)

This concept had the advantage of being astoundingly cheap, of course, but it came with a cost.  As I explained to the cast as we began work, the facepaint would obliterate any but the wildest facial expressions.  They were not going to be able to rely on subtle glances or grimaces.  This was going to have to be the broadest slapstick ever, with Shakespeare.

This was the first time that I auditioned a show and didn’t cast it right away.  The actors and I spent a couple of weeks working with the text, playing with it, and developing a physical language, a shorthand that we could call on when we began putting the show together.  Finally, the actors began to panic and demanded that I assign roles, mostly so they could start learning lines. Fair enough.

Somehow it all worked.  The actors all became extremely free in their physical work, and that spilled over into their ability to interpret the text as well.  One night I had to leave rehearsal for a short meeting, and I told them to play around with the scene in II.2 in which poor abused Adriana, wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, confronts the wrong man in the marketplace with her complaints.  When I got back I was presented with the astounding spectacle of Judy (Adriana) doing the entire long speech pursuing Mary (Ant. of Syracuse) as if they were in a professional wrestling match, ending with both on the floor.  Mary dragged herself free, panting, stood, and barely gasped out, “Plead you to me, fair dame? I… know… you… not.”  Brought the house down.

More: Blue (Pinch) being flipped on his back by Jeff (Ant. of Eph) in a cloud of white hair powder.

More: the performance when Jeff, refused entry into his own home, hurled himself at the door three times during his long speech (with the elders of Ephesus nodding complacently behind him)—only this performance, on the third run he suddenly grabbed Brady (Dromio of Eph.) and hurled him at the door.  Brilliant.

So yes: the sweatshirt is a physical reminder that we did good work.  But it has to go.  If nothing else, I’ll need to make room for my Peter & the Starcatcher sweatshirt, won’t I?

—————

[1] Yes, yes, I know: make a quilt. Now I have a quilt I have no use for and have to store. But that’s what I’ll probably do.

Gin Number Two

You will recall that I made gin a couple of weeks ago.  It wasn’t horrible, as the label proudly proclaims, but I wanted to see if I could make a more nuanced version.

To that end, I took one of my new, handy-dandy Field Notes Brand “Dime Novel” editions and began taking meticulous notes—as opposed to just dumping stuff into vodka like I did last time.

With that strategy, I think I was more successful.  I now have a recipe that I can reuse if I decide this is a good one.

Mostly, it is a good one.  Whereas the first one was almost overpowered by the lovage and had a huge bitter finish, this one is more herbal and has an interesting wood note as a finish.

That would be because as I finished up steeping the botanicals (gentian, angelica, lemon zest, lovage, coriander, burdock, and star anise), I rediscovered a jar of what I think is tincture of cedar chips.  I boldly added 30 ml of that to the mix, and lo! it makes a lovely difference.

So here’s Dale’s Gin No. 2.  Not objectionable at all.

A new cocktail, maybe

I made vanilla vodka a while back and promptly stuck it in the hall closet and forgot about it.  I rediscovered it over the weekend and it’s been sitting out on the counter bugging me.

Consider this an abortive attempt.

Vanilla-Suze Something

  • 1.5 oz vanilla vodka
  • .5 oz Suze (gentian liqueur)
  • .5 oz lemon juice
  • .25 oz simple syrup
  • barspoon grenadine

Shake everything except the grenadine with ice.  Pour, then pour the grenadine in; let it sink.

It’s not bad, but it’s not very distinctive.  Or it may be that I’m not into citrus juice cocktails these days.  More work is required.

Also, I’ve made a second gin.  I need to blog about it.

UPDATE: The cocktail is growing on me.

A free idea

If you’re sitting there trying to come up with the central idea for your next science fiction novel, have I got an idea for you!  Feel free to use it.  If it makes you rich, invite me to your yacht sometime.

Imagine a planet like Saturn, with huge gorgeous rings.  They would have to dominate the sky, right?

But imagine that this planet has a smallish continent at one of its poles.  (It’s close enough to its sun that it’s warm, etc.)  It’s isolated enough that they’ve never had any contact with any other cultures on any other continents on the planet.  And they cannot see the rings.

Viz.:

So they hit their Age of Exploration, and an expedition sets out.  (No, I don’t know why they’d go sailing off the edge of the world if there weren’t pepper involved, leave me alone.  I’m not going to do all your work for you.)

What happens when they sail south and these rings begin to slide up over the horizon?  What is their reaction?  What do they tell people back home? How do they explain and incorporate this thing? Is there religion involved?  How much might this affect their society and its worldview, so to speak?

Anyway, there’s the idea.  That’s all I got: the look on their faces when they first encounter the rings.  (Or maybe the entire novel plays out on ship, their society in microcosm…)

KENNETH!

Recently I have been asked by a couple of people: whence Kenneth, the guy I’m always yelling at in my blog.  I thought I had already written about his origins here, but I can’t find it and I need a blog post for today anyway, so here we are.

In 1986, CBS broadcast journalist Dan Rather was attacked by a man who was convinced that CBS was beaming signals into his head.  For some reason, the man kept calling Rather “Kenneth,” demanding to know the frequency of the signals so that he could adjust his tinfoil, I guess.

The band R.E.M. picked up the phrase and turned it into their song, “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”  From there it entered the public consciousness.

At least it entered mine.  I will confess that I don’t know R.E.M.’s song, but the Rather attack and the song both made sure that a crazy person without a firm grasp on what we laughingly call Facts yelling at KENNETH stuck in my head.

A second piece of Kenneth comes from the hysterical, vulgar, and deadly snarky Wonkette blog, in which house style creates an acerbic Valley Girl voice which takes, for example, half the nation opposing the GOP’s efforts to kill poor people and asks “how is that even fair, even??”  Again, the humor comes from the gobsmacking (assumed) cluelessness of the speaker.

The final piece of Kenneth comes from the Monty Python characters they called “Gumbies”:

“My brain hurts!”

So all of this gets combined into my head into a voice that, when faced with the inexplicable inability of amygdala-based lifeforms to grasp very plain reality, or when very plain reality has become gobsmackingly preposterous, has no recourse but to yell at KENNETH in a deranged, Gumby-esque way.

It helps if you read it with your head cocked a little to the side with your eyes wide open and glazed over.

New Cocktail: The Afterlife

The other night I was privileged to drop in to Barnes & Noble to a book signing by a former student, Blue Cole.

Blue, who is actually the son of a high school classmate, was one of those charming, good-looking teenagers who you feared might amount to nothing.  Dimples and blue eyes will only get you so far, after all.

However, Blue has grown up to be a fine upstanding citizen who is only a little worrisome when his wife takes him to big box stores and leaves him unattended.  This novel, Evil Upriver, is Blue’s third, unless I’ve lost count.

But Dale, I hear you musing, supernatural horror is not your thing.  You even write about it in the chapter on AUDIENCE in your own upcoming book, Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy.  Indeed it is not, but 1) I go to book signings for all former students; and 2) Blue personally invited me to come and asked me to wear my pearl earring, since that’s what the bartender named Lyles in the book wears.

How could I not invent a cocktail and take him a small box with said cocktail and other mini-bar accoutrements?

Actually, I was going to bring him the Smoky Topaz, which should be good enough for any normal purpose, but then my Lovely First Wife suggested that I invent a cocktail called The Afterlife because reasons.

It was a rush job, but I did it:

The Afterlife

  • 1.5 oz bourbon
  • .75 oz Amaro Angostura
  • .25 oz Ancho Reyes Liqueur
  • dash 18•21 Havana & Hide Bitters

The idea was that it would be at first taste an interesting take on the Manhattan with a somewhat toasty finish (GET IT, KENNETH?), but however, and also too, I felt it was lacking.

So tonight, I futzed with it and now it’s pretty solid:

The Afterlife, redux

  • 1.5 oz bourbon
  • .75 oz Amaro Angostura
  • .25 oz Ancho Reyes Liqueur
  • .25 oz simple syrup
  • .25 oz 18•21 Blackberry Peppercorn Shrub
  • dash 18•21 Havana & Hide Bitters

Stir with ice, strain, serve on the rocks with an orange peel.

Rather more ingredients than I normally prefer, but it’s tasty. Quite tasty.

(Sorry, Blue, about the recipe I gave you last night.  Feel free to use it, but this is the recipe that will appear in my second book.)

There’s a rule for that

I’m at the beach, not doing any editing or design on my soon-to-be-published Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy, nor even on the placement map for Alchemy, just reading, doing crossword puzzles, and generally basking. The book I just finished is Jingo, one of Terry Pratchett‘s brilliant Discworld novels, and though it was written in 1997 its take on jingoism, war, and especially immigrant Others is disturbingly on point.

But that’s not why we’re here today.  This passage:

[The incompetent Lord Rust is speaking, about to lead his non-army into an epic Light Brigade blunder] “Glory awaits, gentlemen.  In the words of General Tacticus, let us take history by the scrotum.  Of course, he was not a very honorable fighter.”

…reminded me of a Bible verse.

Wait, where are you going?  I can explain myself.

The Talibaptists think gay people are squicky, and they will refer to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as their prooftexts.  In return, otherwise sane people will refer to equally outdated prohibitions about shrimp and tattoos. Very occasionally, the wryer among us will throw in Deuteronomy 25:11–12.  You’re not familiar with that particular rule?

Here:

 If two men are fighting with each other—a man and his fellow Israelite—and the wife of one of them gets into the fight, trying to save her husband from his attacker and does so by reaching out and grabbing his genitals, you must cut off her hand. Show no mercy.

I mean to say, wot?  It’s as if Rule 34 applied to the Holy Book.

Before we get to my main point, let me say that I did a little reading of some explanations of this bizarre dictum and it actually does make a kind of sense in context. Elsewhere in Deuteronomy there are rules about a man whose testicles have been damaged no longer being able to enter the Temple, i.e., he’s no longer One of Us.  His entire family would suffer.  So a woman who did that to a man would have committed a truly serious crime.[1]

Often, when confronted with examples like this of outrageous Old Testament “laws,” the Talibaptists will wiggle and wriggle and contort themselves into pretzels to “explain” them away.  If you’ve ever had to listen to them, it provides good exercise for your eyebrows and pursed lips. Surprisingly, though, I found an exegesis that was sensible; it would be a miracle indeed if the Talibaptists threw their main weight behind its argument, which is that the point of the rule was to prevent and/or punish anyone who made it impossible for a man to support his family.  That includes corporations not paying an appropriate wage.

I mean to say, wot?

Anyway, my main point is this: just how often did this happen that there had to be a rule for it?  It’s like the warning labels that infest our lives: Don’t use this hair dryer in the shower. This chef’s knife is not meant to be used as a screwdriver. That kind of thing. It’s a given Stand-Up Comic’s Take that these warnings exist because SOME IDIOT DID THE THING, KENNETH, so what was the deal in ancient Israel?  First of all, were the men always wrestling, and if so, why were their testicles even in evidence?[2]

And had it become a problem that wives would throw themselves into the arena to give their husbands an assist?  What was this, the Judean Federation of Wrestling?[3]  I mean to say…

This realization puts the prohibitions of Deuteronomy and Leviticus in a whole new light.  They’re just warning labels.  For stupid people.

You’re welcome.

—————

[1] That’s just context.  The entire mindset is stupid.

[2] …nudity also being a huge shanda for the Chosen People.

[3] Not to be confused with the Judean Wrestling Federation[4]

[4] You’re welcome.

Gin, Part II

You will recall that on Monday I began making gin.

Yesterday I finished making gin.  This is a true thing.

On Monday, I put some juniper berries in some vodka to soak for 24 hours.  On Tuesday, I added what we in the gin industry refer to as “botanicals”:

There’s angelica root, gentian root, star anise, lemongrass, lemon peel, black pepper, and lovage (which had survived in the garden enough to give me what I needed).  Based on cursory reading on the intertubes, I measured out two grams of everything and dumped it all in.  It steeped overnight.

Yesterday I began taste-testing it, and by lunchtime it was clear that the botanicals—the lovage in particular—were threatening to overwhelm the gin qua gin.  I strained everything out, doubled the amount of vodka to dilute it, put more juniper in, added some coriander, and let it ride until cocktail hour.  Then I strained it all out, bottled it, and began testing it.

Okay, so… it’s not a sippable gin.  This will never compete with Ayrer’s Single Malt Gin from Nuremberg, for example.  More work is required before I get to that point.

However:

Gin & tonic: quite delectable.

Negroni on the left; Bijou on the right.  Both were good; although I was apparently not in the mood for a Negroni, I finished the Bijou with relish.

And then…

The Smoky Topaz. Oh my.  My recipe calls for barrel-aged gin, but this gin added several other dimensions to this most fabulous of cocktails.  That which is a too-strong presence of lovage when you sip the gin straight becomes a fantastic lingering undertone in the Smoky Topaz.

And so…

The trick will be seeing if I can repeat it.

New friends

I went out to see if there any lovage in the herb garden and found that I had acquired some new friends:

Aren’t they beautiful?  They arrive every year to feast on the dill, which I do not begrudge them in the least.  There’s plenty to go around, after all.

We will not dwell on the fact that I never see any cocoons, which means that either they go somewhere else to do that or most of them are eaten by friendly birds.