Thursday, December 26, 2013

Some Thoughts About "Seven" (AKA "Se7en")

     This isn’t one of my usual horror movie/book reviews, as the 1995 movie “Seven” was by no stretch of the imagination underrated.  It was an excellent, horrifying film, and it justly received much attention and acclaim.  But, I recently watched it again, as it was a birthday present, and I was struck by a few things that I’d like to discuss.
     (SPOILERS AHEAD)  To give a bare bones synopsis, “Seven” chiefly involves William Somerset (played by Morgan Freeman), a detective who’s planning on retiring in a week, and David Mills (Brad Pitt), a young detective who has recently transferred to the (unnamed) city at his request.  We also meet Mill’s pretty wife, Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow), who’s unhappy with the move to the city, and is also newly pregnant.  A series of murders occurs, and a pattern emerges—the killer is dispatching people guilty of the seven deadly sins.  Unexpectedly, the murderer, John Doe (Kevin Spacey), abruptly surrenders after five slayings.  As per his demands, Mills and Somerset accompany Doe to an isolated location, where the final two murders are revealed.  Doe has killed Tracy, and mailed her severed head in a box to the location.  Mills, with Doe’s urging, wreaks revenge on Doe and shoots him dead.
     I’ve noticed this before, but I thought more about it during this particular viewing—John Doe does rather a sloppy job achieving his life’s work.  (By the way, don’t take this as criticism of the movie or the screenwriter—as I said, I loved the movie, and I realize these “errors” were surely due to story telling or cinematic reasons.  This is just a horror geek picking at minutia in something he’s enjoyed, and watched somewhat obsessively.)  I realize he’s a religious zealot and insane, so it’s probably a mistake to use logic, but still.  To review, here are details on the seven murders.

1)      Unnamed obese man.  Doe punishes this man for his sin of gluttony by forcing him to eat until his stomach explodes.
2)      Eli Gould, prominent defense attorney.  John punishes Gould for his greed by forcing him to cut a pound of his flesh off himself, resulting in Gould bleeding to death.
3)      Theodore Allen, alias “Victor.”  Sloth—Victor is tied to a bed for a year, fed intravenously, and given the minimum of medical care to keep him (barely) alive.
4)      Unnamed prostitute.  Lust—an unnamed massage parlor customer is forced at gunpoint to have sex with the woman using a bladed pseudo dildo, which kills her.
5)      Unnamed woman.  John cuts up the face of a pretty woman, then bandages the wounds, so she can survive.  He then glues a phone in one hand, and a bottle of sleeping pills in the other.  The prideful woman chooses to kill herself rather than live with her looks disfigured.
6)      Tracy Mills.  John visits the Mills home and “tries to play house,” as he’s envious of David’s simple, but happy life.  It fails, of course, so Doe kills Tracy and arranges for her head to be mailed.
7)      John Doe.  Upon learning that Doe killed his wife (and unborn child), Mills succumbs to his wrath and shoots John dead.

     First off, John Doe is unusual for a movie killer in that he doesn’t directly kill most of his victims.  Not to absolve him—clearly he’s still responsible, but I wonder if the distinction is meaningful to him, by giving his victims, to varying degrees, a choice.  Technically he only personally kills Tracy.  Also, and here was a unique(?) plot twist in a horror/thriller—the crazed killer turns himself in to the police.
     Anyway, Victims 1, 2, and 5 actually make sense—in each case the person is “guilty” of the ascribed sin, and is forced into a scenario that uses the sin ironically in their death.  2’s method is a bit symbolic, (a pound of flesh for greed), but it seems to fit reasonably in the ideals Doe holds.  And in murders 2 and 5 both victims have a degree of control in the matter—Gould could have possibly survived if he’d been a better home surgeon, and the prideful woman could have easily lived (albeit at a huge cosmetic cost)
     The others, though, are fairly problematic.  Take Victim 3, Victor (who incidentally isn’t seen to die—he’s horrifically weak, insane, and presumably at death’s door, but still technically alive).  We’re told that after a strict religious upbringing he embarked on a life of crime, including drug dealing, armed robberies, assaults, and an attempted rape of a minor.  Serious sins, no doubt (the worst of all the victims, save Doe), but how do they fit sloth?  Even if the definition of sloth is widened to include indifference, or unwillingness to act and care, it doesn’t really work.  If Victor was truly slothful, his victims probably wouldn’t have been attacked.  Victor’s sins were clearly better defined as lust (the rape), greed (making money illegally) or wrath (assaulting people, robbing them with weapons).  He was only “lazy” or “indifferent” or “slothful” when Doe forced him to be so.
     Victim 4 isn’t “fair,” either.  While peoples’ reasons for becoming a prostitute vary, I’m guessing in the vast majority of cases they don’t do so for lustful reasons.  If they were, why charge money?  Just have sex with anyone you can, like a typical sex addict.  You could make a much better case that the customer exhibited lust, not the doomed prostitute.  True, the reluctant killer in this case is clearly severely traumatized, but he’s not killed or even physically harmed.  Here John Doe seems like a stereotypical sexist guy—blaming the hooker for the sin of “improper” sex while ignoring the customer.  With no demand for this business service, there isn’t supply, after all.
     It just gets less accurate from here.  Envy and wrath are accounted for, but in convoluted, “incorrect” ways.  Doe is guilty of envy, and is killed for it.  But everything else is “off.”  David Mills is also clearly traumatized (perhaps permanently?), but he’s physically alive and well.  He didn’t pay the ultimate price for his “sin” of wrath.  But the huge problem is this—why did Tracy get killed?  She doesn’t exhibit or demonstrate any of the deadly sins.  Even John Doe himself, Mr. Intolerant and Critical, doesn’t note any.  He murdered her, in cold blood, because he was envious of David and couldn’t have her.  Kind of like the fourth murder, Doe confused the victim/victimizer ratio, and essentially blamed Tracy for the “sin” of being desirable.
     I know, I know, it’s just a movie.  But hey, sometimes I have an abundance of free time.  And to reiterate, I’m not criticizing the story—it worked very well, and I thoroughly and repeatedly enjoyed the film.  I’m just noting the inconsistencies of the messed up, psychotic character within the film.
     Another thing I’ve noticed in later viewings is the cast.  Two of the supporting actors I now associate with later sitcom roles.  For example, the small role of Dr. O’Neill (his biggest moment is at the pride murder scene) is played by Peter Crombie.  But to fans of the great sitcom “Seinfeld,” he’ll forever be recognized as “Crazy” Joe Davola, the acquaintance of Jerry’s who believes that Jerry ruined his television show chances, and who subsequently threatens Jerry (once while dressed up as a clown).  And then there’s California, the head of the SWAT team in the movie.  He’s played by John C. McGinley.  McGinley has had a long movie and TV career, including roles in “Platoon,” “Office Space,” and “Identity,” but to me he’ll always be most associated with the “Dr. Cox” character he played on the sitcom, “Scrubs.”  He even gives his trademark Dr. Cox whistle at one point—I almost expected him to call a sensitive male character by a girl’s name, as he did many times to the “Dr. Dorian” character on the show.
     Two other supporting characters caught my eye as well.  Richard Roundtree also has had a long career, but he’s easily best known for playing “John Shaft” in the “Shaft” movies.  How ironic to see that in the movie “Seven” he’s working as The Man (he’s the district attorney).  Finally, the guy who plays the massage parlor booth attendant, Michael Massee, is associated with a real life, tragic death.  Massee was the person who actually shot Brandon Lee for a scene in “The Crow,” that resulted in Lee’s death.  This wasn’t Massee’s fault at all (the special effects crew handled the blanks in the prop gun in a negligent, irresponsible manner), but still, it’s clearly traumatized him, and it adds a bizarre layer to “Seven.”
     A few other cameo tidbits—Charles Dutton (“Roc,” “Alien 3”, "Rudy") has a tiny role in the film—he’s the cop who keeps the press at bay during the greed crime scene.  (Dutton also served time in real life for manslaughter.)  Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker is the corpse of gluttony.  And Morgan Freeman’s son Alfonse plays a fingerprint technician.  And finally—evidently R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe was considered for the role of John Doe.
     Also, I was interested to learn that an alternate ending (planned, but not filmed) of “Seven” had Somerset shooting Doe before Mills could.  On this, then, Somerset realized that his career and life were nearly over (or much more than Mill’s, anyway) and so his punishment would be less damaging.  Additionally, it wouldn’t be what John Doe had set up and wanted, so in that way it would “beat” him.
     In closing, in case you were wondering, there are holy, opposite equivalents to the seven deadly sins—the seven virtues.  These are chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.  Maybe there’ll be a sequel to “Seven” where a Satanic character kills people who exhibit these virtues, in ironic ways.  I wish I could say that this is an unrealistic joke, but given Hollywood’s propensity to remake/sequel-ize any movie of note (especially horror/thrillers) that’s probably a possibility.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Intestines

     Intestines, it’s safe to say, certainly fit the bill of being considered “disgusting” to eat by many people.  Not unreasonably, either—they are organs, first off, and to make matters worse they contain nasty substances.  Partially digested food.  Kind of post-vomit, pre-feces.  Who’s hungry?
     But despite these drawbacks, intestines are actually a fairly common food.  Most European nations have a history of consuming them, as do several East Asian countries, like the Philippines and Korea.  Here in the U.S. they’re most associated with the Southern, “soul food” tradition.
     There are, obviously, two types of intestines—large and small.  Food-wise, though, we’re basically only dealing with the small—I couldn’t find any references to people eating the larger kind (at least not happily, or commonly).  Pig is the most common source, but sheep (especially in Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans) and cow are sometimes utilized as well.
     About a year ago, I visited a huge, kind of sketchy, flea market in Delaware (see January 20th, 2013 post about pig’s ears for more information).  At the same butcher shop that sold the ears I also saw chitlins for sale (“chitlins” and “chitterlings” are the names for pig small intestines, especially in the soul food tradition).  Alas, the smallest portion sold was a five pound mass.  I wasn’t quite willing to make such a relatively large monetary, freezer space, and preparation time investment, so I reluctantly abstained.
     However, I then learned that I’d already had intestines years before.  At a Mexican restaurant in Iowa, I had “tacos de tripa,” which I thought meant tripe, or stomach lining.  I’ve had tripe many times since (see July 3rd, 2012 post about tripe), and usually liked it, as the Mexican style stew with hominy (“Menudo”), or in a tomato-based sauce in an Italian restaurant.  But it turns out that despite the closeness of the name, “tripa” is not tripe, but small intestine.  And I can tell you it was terrible.  It was like eating rubber—unpleasantly chewy, and what little taste it had was nasty.  Definitely a one time only, failed experiment.
     Furthermore, I’ve almost certainly had intestines as casing for some hot dogs and sausages.  Modern hot dogs, especially, usually use another casing source, like cellulose, collagen, or even a type of plastic (yum!), but traditional, (and usually pricier) butchers and stores still use the real intestines.  I like hot dogs, and really like sausage, so in that sense I could say I’ve enjoyed intestines.  But, let’s face it, I think the charm of hot dogs and sausage comes more from the spiced meat inside, and not the outer casing.  If I removed the inner stuffing from the natural casing, I doubt I’d be that impressed.
     Like some other digestive-associated organs, intestines are notorious for having a strong, foul odor when they’re cooking.  Traditional chitlin recipes advise tossing in an onion while they boil or stew, to cut the stench a bit.  (This seems like a weird strategy to me—like covering over a terrible song by playing another bad song, but, in the chef’s defense, it apparently works.)  Also, there are health concerns.  Intestines that haven’t been thoroughly cleaned, or cooked adequately can spread e. coli, salmonella, and other potent pathogens.
     So, to sum up, I’m willing to give certain forms of intestines another fair shake.  I’ll give chitlins a try if I see them on a menu, or more reluctantly, I’ll cook them if the portion circumstances are more reasonable.  But I have to say that I’m not optimistic that I’ll like them.
     Finally, author/historian/restaurateur Shauna Anderson is known as “The Queen of Chitlins,” but as far as I can tell other ranks are still up for grabs.  So enthusiasts can maybe reach that dream goal.  “Count of Chitlins” or “Duchess of Chitlins” would certainly jazz up a business card, or an epitaph. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Several Seaweeds

     As has happened before, readers in many parts of the world will find the topic of this post decidedly un-exotic.  This is one of those topics where I’m showing my patriotism, in a way, as many (most?) Americans probably find the thought of eating seaweed strange and unpalatable.  I know, because I used to be one of them.  If you’d told me as a child that one day I’d happily consume the nasty looking trash that collected around my ankles when I swam in the ocean, I wouldn’t have believed you.  But I grew up, my palate become more adventurous, and here we are.
     I was surprised to read that seaweed, at least the kind that humans eat, despite its name, isn’t a plant at all—it’s various forms of algae.  Most of the edible varieties are the oceanic, salt water species, rather than the freshwater ones.  And, as I mentioned, seaweed is commonly eaten in many parts of the world.  Many people know that East Asian nations enjoy it—China, Korea, and Japan most notably, but Northeast North American and Northwestern European countries do too, such as Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Iceland, Ireland, Wales, parts of England, parts of France, and Norway.
     Nutritionally seaweed acquits itself well, too.  There are some differences depending on the type, but most contain significant amounts of potassium, iron, and “B” vitamins.  Also, seaweed is an excellent source of iodine.  In many areas of the world, this isn’t a big deal, as salt is often iodized, but in places where it isn’t, seaweed could help keep those pesky goiters in check.
     Even folks who avoid eating seaweed dishes have probably had some, anyway.  Because carrageenan, alginate, and agar, with their gel-like properties, are common food additives, and are made from species of seaweed.  (Irish Moss, mentioned in my April 20, 2013 blog post about Jamaican soft drinks, is too.)  Pill capsules and toothpaste are often composed of these as well.
     As far as intentionally eating known seaweed, I started when I began eating sushi.  Both regular rolls and hand rolls usually are encased in a type of seaweed, called nori.  To me it’s a great wrap—it doesn’t overpower the roll innards (usually a type of raw seafood), but compliments it nicely, along with the vinegary rice.  Also in the Japanese restaurants I’ve had what’s called “seaweed salad,” which is composed entirely of seaweed, and no lettuce or anything.  This is very tasty too—the seaweed pieces are again, vinegary, and have a cool firm and chewy texture.  Some parts even pop in your mouth.  I would tell you what kind of seaweed is in the salad, but I couldn’t find out.  Every source I looked at said the salad is made from several different kinds of seaweed, but they couldn’t agree on what these were.  Wakame is one all listed, but after that there were several possibilities, including kombu, agar, and akamodoki.  Incidentally, I learned that actress Alicia Silverstone (“Clueless,” “The Crush,” a bunch of early 1990’s Aerosmith videos, the really crappy Batman movie with George Clooney) wrote a vegetarian cookbook (“The Kind Diet”) and is apparently a major fan of seaweed salad.  Finally, several websites pointed out that seaweed salad isn’t served in Japan.  Rather it’s only an invention for Japanese restaurants based in the U.S.  Our gain, in my opinion.
     The final seaweed type I’ll discuss is dulse, or Palmaria palmate, for those interested in the scientific name.  The sample I bought was harvested in Maine, which fits in with seaweed’s Northeast North America fanbase.  It was billed as a “sea vegetable,” which admittedly sounds classier than a sea “weed.”  Its serving directions were extensive.  Among the recommendations were to serve it raw (in salads or as a snack), soaked in water (for sandwiches), and roasted or fried (as “chips,” a stir fry complement, as parts of soups, or as an additive to pasta, pizza, and popcorn).  Or, to save time, the package basically said you could serve it any way, with anything.  It won’t surprise regular readers to hear that I tried the dulse plain.  The only “preparation” I did was soaking some pieces in water.  Dulse looks weird—it’s an unappetizing brownish color.  Anyway, I very much enjoyed it.  It was chewy, and slightly salty.  Enough to give it a nice “zing” but not overly so, lychee nut-style.  I preferred it dry, but the water-rinsed pieces tasted pretty much the same.  And I could see it being a worthy part of other dishes.  Although, for those on a budget, it was expensive—about $9 for a two ounce serving.
     So all in all, whether it’s a sushi wrap, beverage, salad, or plain snack, I’ve yet to taste a seaweed I didn’t like.  My advice is to get it if you can.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Moxie

     I’d heard the term “moxie” before, albeit often in older television shows and movies (i.e. a person with a lot of spirit or courage might be described as, “having moxie.”), but I didn’t realize until I started traveling and working in New England that it was a beverage, too.  Specifically a soft drink, or a “soda” to portions of the U.S.  I assumed that the drink had taken its name from the expression.  I quickly heard it was an acquired taste, that it had a “love it or hate it” reputation, and apparently only crusty New Englanders really appreciated it, and that’s why I found it there. 
     Well, it turns out, I had it completely wrong.  Moxie was the beverage first, and the expression came from it.  This is referred to as a “neologism,” with other examples being “Catch 22” (from the Joseph Heller novel), “Orwellian” (from the author George Orwell (a pen name, incidentally, his real name was Eric Blair)), and “sadistic” (from the Marquis De Sade).
     Moxie is a relatively old soda—it was developed in 1876, by a Dr. Augustin Thompson, who was born in Maine, but invented the drink in Lowell, Massachusetts.  He claimed to have named it after his friend Lt. Moxie, who had discovered the beverage’s secret flavoring ingredient on an arduous trek in some primeval part of South America.  Although it turns out that the proud and daring lieutenant is as real as the World War II spy H.E. Rasske from the Brass Monkey ad campaign (see November 7th, 2012 post for more information), or, in other words, completely made up.  This wasn’t the only ridiculous thing about Moxie though—it was initially called “Moxie Nerve Food,” and was said to combat “paralysis, brain softening, nervousness, and insomnia.”  After a few years Thompson added soda water to it, and stopped with the absurd health claims, and thereafter Moxie was just billed as a refreshing drink.
     Since Moxie has had its ups and downs.  Reportedly U.S. President Calvin Coolidge was an admitted fan, and Boston Red Sox star Ted Williams shilled for it during his playing career.  The humor periodical Mad Magazine (of which I was quite fond of as a boy) did unpaid endorsements for it by putting the drink in the background of some of their drawings in the 1960’s.  But, its popularity has been on the wane, and in the present day it’s almost totally a New England phenomenon.  I also learned it’s bottled and sold in parts of Pennsylvania, but on my fairly frequent excursions in The Keystone State I’ve never seen it.  It’s most popular in and associated with the state of Maine—there’s a museum devoted to it in Union, Maine, and an annual Moxie festival in Lisbon Falls, Maine.
     Anyway, as I’m currently in northern Vermont, I gave it a try.  Its color is dark brown, or like Coke, Pepsi, Royal Crown (RC) cola, etc.  As for the taste I found it fairly unpleasant.  It’s like weak root beer which is somehow bitter in an off-putting way.  It’s not the worst beverage I’ve had, but it’s far from good, or even average.  I drank about twelve ounces of it, and if all goes to plan that will be the last Moxie I ever have.  Although, I have to give Moxie credit for not being a run of the mill, sweet and inoffensive quaff.  It took guts, I guess, to market an admittedly bitter-ish soft drink, and obviously enough folks have enjoyed it to keep Moxie in business for nearly 140 years.  Its tagline on the bottle is “Distinctively Different,” and that’s entirely fair.  But, in my opinion, it’s not an enjoyable beverage at all.
     In case anyone’s wondering, the “secret ingredient” of Moxie has long been known, and it’s gentian root extract.  Furthermore, Moxie contains caffeine, meaning its original ludicrous claim to offset nervousness and insomnia is especially invalid now.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Several Unusual Mushrooms

     The mushroom has to be my favorite fungus.  Well, with the possible exception of penicillin, which probably saved my life on more than one occasion.  But as beneficial as penicillin has been to humanity, I think we can all agree that mushrooms almost certainly taste better.
     To fit in with the blog topic, I sought out a few, slightly off the beaten path varieties.  I figure pretty much everybody has tried the regular commercial type (called, among others, the common, the button, or the table mushroom) as well as portabellos and the amusingly named shiitake.  The kinds I’ll discuss here are the chanterelle, morel, straw, and nameko mushrooms.
     Mushrooms as a food are, of course, a double-edged sword.  On the positive side, nutritionally they’re very sound—low in calories, fat, and carbs, yet high in B vitamins, potassium, selenium, and copper.  The downside is that some varieties can kill you.  In very bad ways—painfully, with various organ shutdowns.  Some are even sneaky about it, as it can take up to twenty days after eating before the victim succumbs to their poison.  Other kinds don’t kill you, but can cause significant gastrointestinal distress.  So, as an important safety tip, don’t consume mushrooms you’ve picked yourself unless you really know what you’re doing.  Some poisonous types look very similar to harmless kinds, and most of the folk sayings (that the deadly mushrooms all taste bad, or are brightly colored, or stain silver, etc.) are tragically wrong.  (One risky kind is known as “The fugu of Finnish cuisine,” after the puffer fish that’s delicious, but if prepared even slightly incorrectly can kill you.  While I don’t think I’d take the chance myself, I do find this expression funny.  I almost wish every country had examples of these—“The fugu of Liechtensteiner cuisine,” “The fugu of Djiboutian cuisine,” and so on.)
     As is my usual practice, I’ll review worst to first.  I should state that I’m a big fan of mushrooms overall—either on pizza, mixed in other meals, or by themselves.  So none of these were bad, but some were better than others.
     Chanterelles were once associated with European royalty, as they were often on the menus of noble families.  I found these dried, in my favorite grocery store, Wegman’s.  Their appearance is like yellowish-brown broccoli spears—thin with an atypical head, or cap.  I sautéd them for about twenty minutes, added some salt and pepper, and then ate them plain, then, with condiments (Worchestershire Sauce and ketchup).  They were okay, but a bit bland.  Oddly, some people maintain that chanterelles taste better dried, that it makes their flavor improve.
     The straw mushrooms I had canned, with no preparation.  They were similar to the typical common mushroom in shape, but a little thinner and lighter.  They’re most popular in Asian cuisine.  They were slightly more flavorful than regular mushrooms.
     The nameko mushrooms are, as the names suggests, a favorite in Japan.  Here in the U.S. they’re sometimes called butterscotch mushrooms.  Like the straw kind I had these plain, out of the can.  Their shape was also like regular button mushrooms, only smaller and skinnier.  And they were better than the straws, noticeably tangier.
     Now we get to morels.  If I can mix a metaphor here, these are the White Whale of mushrooms.  They’re found mostly in the Midwest portion of the U.S., and in a tight time frame, in early spring (April and May).  I first heard about them while digging on a project in Iowa in the late 90’s.  Several landowners, when they cleared us to go onto their property, only did so after confirming that we weren’t after their morels.  They weren’t threatening, exactly, but they were firm about this.  (As an aside, we archaeologists do sometimes get threatened.  One old lady threatened to bash my boss’s head in with a baseball bat.  Another guy told some friends/colleagues of mine that he had a backhoe, and lots of land, so that no one would ever find their bodies.  And finally, one woman threatened another boss of mine right in front of the police officer who was mediating their discussion.  The trooper was reportedly amazed and almost amused by her casual stupidity.)  For the morel is said to be the most tasty mushroom, yet apparently it’s rarely if ever commercially cultivated.  Among its other charms, it’s evidently one of the easier mushrooms to gather, as it has a distinctive shape.  It has a slightly amorphous, oval cap, which is very spongy-like, with giant holes in it.  Kind of ugly looking, to be honest.
     Anyway, I’d heard so much about it, but never had the chance to really try it.  Until a few months ago, when I found it, in dried form, along with the chanterelles in the Wegman’s.  I cooked both together, so the morels also were sauted, seasoned, and eaten first plain and then with condiments.  Their texture was markedly different—chewy, and almost meaty.  Certainly very good, and the best of the four types I’m rating today.  But here’s the thing—I wasn’t dazzled.  With all the hype, and the difficulty in getting them, and the absurdly high price ($9 for half an ounce!), I expected to be blown away, and wasn’t.  To be fair, they were dried, and as I’ve noted, my cooking skills are primitive at best.  So I would eagerly eat them again, but if/when I do they’ll be fresh, and obviously picked by someone who mycology skills I respect.  Oh, and be forewarned, morels should always be cooked, as raw they tend to cause digestive issues (non-fatal ones, but still).  Finally, the morel goes by many names, some of them weird and entertaining.  Dryland fish, Molly moochers, and hickory chickens, to list three.
     I guess to be technical, truffles are a type of fungus, so they’re also on my “to try” list.  Alas, their price makes morels look cheap in comparison.  A hamburger topped with them will set you back $150 in a posh New York City restaurant, and a pound is going for up to $3600 (depending on the subtype).  A two pound specimen was auctioned off for $330,000 a few years ago.  I think that’s more expensive than cocaine, or heroin!  (Not surprisingly, organized crime has begun to get involved in the truffle trade.)  So unless I win the lottery, or my books start selling like crazy I doubt I can justify purchasing them.
     Oh, and to those that celebrate, have a great Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Sea Urchins

     Okay, that was clearly over dramatic, a response to a challenge that no one’s making, but still, it’s true.
     Sea urchins are fairly bizarre creatures.  For one, they look like the result of a torrid romance between a racquetball and a porcupine.  (I’m making a jokey comparison here, but bear in mind Rule 34 of the Internet, and google the end of the last sentence at your own risk.)  The spines of some species are soft and rather ineffectual, but those of others are akin to a porcupine’s—capable of inflicting nasty puncture wounds.  Additionally, some sea urchins’ spines are venomous, in extreme examples potentially fatally so.  Furthermore, the tiny growths between the spines, the pedicellariae, are sometimes venomous even when the spines aren’t.  So, it’s probably a good idea to avoid contact with sea urchins if possible.
     Also, sea urchins, like starfish, have pentamerium symmetry, rather than the common animal bilateral symmetry.  Meaning instead of being divided in two equal sides, with two arms, two legs, two eyes and ears, etc., sea urchins have five equal body segments which radiate out from their center.  This occurs in some of their body organs, too—they have five sets of gills, five sets of gonads, etc.  Therefore, I’m assuming organ donations aren’t as big a deal with sea urchins, which may be why less of them check the box on the backs of their driver’s licenses.
     Sea urchins aren’t that common a food item, though.  They’re eaten in the West Indies, New Zealand, Alaska (mostly by Native American groups), and Japan.  Also, in Mediterranean countries and Chile they’re consumed raw, with lemon, which kind of reminds me of ceviche (see August 4th, 2013 blog post for more information).
     I’ve had sea urchins exclusively as sushi at Japanese restaurants.  There’s no getting around the fact that their meat looks revolting—it resembles phlegm, actually, with its yellowish, clotty flesh pieces.  The texture may be off-putting for some, too, as it’s soft, and slippery, again uncomfortably reminiscent of phlegm once more.  But, and I can’t stress this enough, the taste is phenomenally delicious.  I’m a major sushi fan, and this is definitely among the best kinds (along with mackerel, squid, and freshwater eel, in my opinion).  As so often happens, writing and thinking about it has given me an intense craving.  Alas, sea urchins are somewhat tough to get.  Some sushi places don’t offer it, and even the ones that do are out of it maybe two-thirds of the time.  This may be seasonal in nature, but I haven’t kept records and checked on this.  In my research, I discovered that the reason for this is probably because sea urchins have been overfished.  So I feel a little guilty, since I just hyped this meal up so much, but to be (more) responsible, as an occasional treat, I couldn’t recommend it more.  Also, if you choose to partake, be forewarned, it’s pricey—usually around $5+ per order (even a single piece, sometimes) which I guess is a factor of its relative scarcity.
     One final fun fact about sea urchins (or sea hedgehogs, as they’re also known):  some species can reportedly chew through stone.  Which, I must admit, I’d like to see proven.  Off to YouTube, I guess.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Lychees

     I first had lychees over a decade ago, at a combination Japanese restaurant/grocery in the Ft. Dix, NJ area.  The sushi at the restaurant was very good, and the grocery sold me pickled ginger and shredded squid for later, so it was a very satisfying dining experience.  Anyway, my friend Keith bought something called lychee nuts, and passed some out for us to try.  It was pretty bad.  It tasted similar to a plum which had way too much salt on it.  It might have tasted okay, or even good with like one-tenth the salt, but I never had the opportunity to find out.
     Fast forward many years, and I saw a type of exotic for sale in the fruit and vegetable section at Wegmans, the awesome supermarket I’ve gone on about in many other posts.  They looked bizarre—like sea urchins, and were called just lychees.  I bought them, and then did a little research.  It turns out that lychees are indeed a fruit, and not nuts, although they’re sometimes referred to as such when they’re dried (and apparently over salted).  They’re an Asian fruit, cultivated in China, Sri Lanka, Japan, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Thailand, Pakistan, and Nepal.  They’ve been eaten for at least 4,000 years, and are considered a delicacy.  Nutritionally they’re very high in Vitamin C, copper, potassium, and phosphorus.  Lychees are occasionally also made into a wine.
     Underneath the soft spiny exterior, I found a whitish fruit, which then contained a pit, which was comparatively large.  The fruit itself was reminiscent of a cherry, only blander.  It wasn’t bad (certainly not terrible like the “nut” form) but it wasn’t dazzling, either.  Especially given its relatively high price and tiny amount of fruit per porcupine-like pod, I won’t purchase fresh lychees again.
     However, I also saw them canned, so to be fair I gave them a final chance in this format.  The picture on the label showed the familiar whitish fruits within a reddish “pod” or rind, without the blackish spines.  So either there are several varieties, or else folks shave them for eye appeal.  They tasted all right, but not great.  The sugar seemed to help somewhat.

     So all in all, whether dried, canned, or fresh, I’m not impressed with lychees, since at best they’re mediocre. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Several Potted Meats

     Potted meat has a poor reputation, and it’s pretty easy to see why.  It’s basically highly processed, cheap meat, with tons of preservatives, stuffed into a can.  One common ingredient in potted meat is “mechanically separated chicken.”  In case you were curious, the things being separated here are bone and tissue, and this is done by pushing pulverized bone and tissue through a sieve.  The result resembles a paste.  Potted meat also tends to have an extremely high salt content, the better to help preserve it.  Otherwise, its nutritional value is fairly low.
     On the plus side, all the preservatives mean that potted meat does stay good for a long time.  Its long shelf life and portability make it a good choice for emergency situations, camping, and soldiers’ rations.  Plus, there’s no denying that it’s very affordable for those on a budget.
     A former coworker of mine (Hi Scott) used to love potted meat, specifically Spam.  He would heat it up for lunch by leaving it on the windshield of our work van during sunny days.  He further delighted in grossing folks out by making a point of eating the clear gel that coated the outside of the Spam itself.
     Spam is, of course, the best known of all the potted meats.  It was developed in 1937, and became especially popular as a result of being part of soldiers’ rations, and later post World War 2 food allotments.  There was even a Spam-themed radio program in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.  And famous comedy troupe Monty Python featured this product as the focus of one of their sketches, in a restaurant that included Spam in every meal offering.
     To round out my potted meat experience, I decided to try four different kinds—Spam Classic, Spam with bacon, Treet Original, and generic potted meat.  As usual, I’ll go from worst to first.
     Generic potted meat’s ingredients include mechanically separated chicken, partially defatted pork fatty tissue, salt, garlic powder, and natural flavors.  Yum!  Its appearance was, well, a pinkish goo.  And it went downhill from there.  The taste was nasty, like eating a mouthful of salt.  What little meat flavor I could detect underneath all the salt was unpleasant.  Even though the tin was tiny, I only could choke down a mouthful or two.
     Treet is the Spam knockoff from Armour.  Aside from mechanically separated chicken and pork, seasoning, and salt, it also has corn syrup, soy, and wheat.  Its texture was firmer than the generic potted meat, and its color was a reddish pink.  Tastewise it was certainly better than the generic potted meat, but it still wasn’t very good.  I found it to be rather slimy.  I didn’t finish the container.
     Unlike the previous two, Spam Classic’s ingredients don’t sound so gross.  Pork shoulder with ham, salt, water, modified potato starch, sugar, sodium nitrate.  As I mentioned, this is considered to be the Dom Perignon of potted meats, if you will.  It’s brought to us by Hormel.  Anyway, it looked like generic potted meat, its texture was like Treet’s, but its taste was like neither.  While it was very salty, it did have a nice flavor—pork/ham-ish, not shockingly.  I discovered that the saltiness was cut nicely when I put it on Wheat Thins.  I finished the tin without problem, and I would consider buying it again, on occasion.  I hear it’s good with scrambled eggs, so the next time I cook (which may be years or even decades from now) maybe I’ll give that a shot.
     It’s a cliché (at least among omnivores) that bacon makes everything taste better.  It’s true with Spam.  While I liked the regular, the variety with bacon was markedly improved—it had a nice smoky flavor.  Again, I finished it with no problem, and will probably purchase it again.
     American-made Spam is consumed around the world, but it’s most popular on Pacific Islands, Asia, and the U.K.  The people of Guam, Saipan, the Marianas, and Hawaii are especially big fans.  In Hawaii it’s sometimes found on McDonald’s menus, even.  In the U.K. it’s often battered and fried.
     (Perhaps a few readers are wondering if I did eat the repulsive-sounding gel that lines the Spam like my friend Scott did.  Well, I didn’t have the chance.  Maybe they changed the formula, or something, but my Spams didn’t have it.  But, for the record, I probably would have sampled it, just to be a completist.)
     So, to sum up, some types of potted meat are indeed revolting (or at least unpalatable) and should only be eaten if they’re the only food available, and you’re huddling in a basement hiding from zombie hordes or Terminators.  But one kind, Spam, is actually okay.  Eating it every day is probably a bad idea, healthwise, but on occasion, to some palates, it makes for a decent, and inexpensive meal.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Coffin Hop Contest Winner Results

         There was a slight change as to how I'm giving out the free copies this year.  Originally I was going to give out prizes to the winner of the two horror trivia quizzes, and then pick one additional winner randomly from all those who commented on any of my Coffin Hop posts.  However, the winner of both quizzes, Jeanette, has graciously indicated that she only wants one prize, so more folks will be able to win something. Therefore,  I chose two winners randomly.  Those people are Christine Verstraete and ringois.  You have the choice of a free copy of either "Dead Reckoning" or "Kaishaku."  I posted blurbs and excerpts for each during the Coffin Hop ("Dead Reckoning" on Sunday, October 27th, and "Kaishaku" yesterday, the 31st), if you'd like to review these before deciding.  I can send you your ebook copies in the following formats:  epub, mobi, prc, pdf, or smashwords.  Please indicate which story you want, and in what format, in an email to:          
       So congratulations to the prize winners and I hope everyone enjoyed Coffin Hop 2013.  Thanks one final time to Axel, Julie, all the other participating authors and artists, and every reader.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Kaishaku" Blurb/Excerpt and Prize Info

     Below you'll find the blurb and excerpt for my other ebook, "Kaishaku," also from Musa Publishing.  As before, the book's cover is included on the column of photos to the right.  The web address for Musa is:
     This is the last day of Coffin Hop 2013.  I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did.  I'd like to thank Axel and Julie for starting and hosting the Hop, my co-bloggers for their involvement, and everyone for visiting all 80+ participating blogs.  This past week has been both entertaining and informative.  I'm sure as a result that visitors have all discovered new authors and artists whose work they'd like to check out.
     Everyone has until midnight tonight, Eastern Standard Time, to comment and thereby enter my random drawing.  I'll be announcing the winners in a post tomorrow, so please check back.  Or, you can drop me a line at and I'll let you know if you won, and what formats you can get your prize ebook in, etc.
     Thanks again, everyone, and, of course, have a great Halloween!

  Kaishaku Blurb:

     After receiving a DUI, Dustin Dempster is working off some community service hours at a hospital.  While there he’s asked to do some amateur counseling of sometimes difficult patients.  He thinks this a waste of time, but he reluctantly agrees.
     One of these difficult patients is Levon Howard, a man paralyzed from the neck down because of a car accident.  He’s initially uncooperative, but after being charmed by Dustin’s brutal honesty and willingness to break some small hospital rules, he agrees to participate.  Soon he’s revealing his biggest secrets to Dustin…
     For Levon is an obsessed and unrepentant killer of the worst sort, only with a personal quirk.  Despite his revulsion, Dustin finds himself intrigued by Levon’s story.  Soon he finds himself doing what was once unthinkable, and realizes that he’s being affected by what he’s learned.  Will Howard’s madness claim yet another victim, or even another perpetuator?

Kaishaku Excerpt:

     Dustin pulled up his chair, and listened intently.
     “For starters, my name is Levon, so call me that.  Not big on ‘Mr. Howard.’  Fort is right in a way—I do want to talk.  Just not to someone like him, or his flunkies, or a nurse.  What I’m going to tell you I’ve never told anyone—but I figure, why not?  My life—my real life—is over.
     “You never told anyone?  Why not?”
     “Shut up and listen!  You’ll see.  But anyway, the most important thing in my life is that I’m obsessed with killing.  With a catch—I’m not a murderer.  I’ve never been arrested, never went to jail, and never even broke the law.”
     Levon paused to catch his breath, and Dustin just stared at him, and resisted the urge to laugh.  Come on!  This guy’s gotta be fucking with me!  Or was he?  He looked pretty sincere—could he be serious?  Maybe he would have been better off not talking to him.  But, on the other hand, Levon could hardly attack him even if he wanted to, and besides, Dustin was a little curious.  So he waited for the paralyzed man to resume.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Unlikely World Series Heroes

     I realize that many (most?) readers of the Coffin Hop, especially non-Americans, might not care about the World Series, so I understand that this post might not be very popular.  However, I am a baseball fan, and the World Series is ongoing, so I thought I’d include a post about it.  (Also, frankly, I needed a post for today, and I couldn’t think of another horror-related topic, so here we are.)
     Very often, of course, during baseball’s biggest series the heroes tend to be the best players.  What made players like Babe Ruth, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, etc. so special is that they were great during the regular season and post season.  But, in a short series, anything can happen.  Sometimes the mediocre relief pitcher, or the reserve outfielder, or the pinch hitter play beyond their usual talent, and help their team at the most critical time.  Here are eleven of those unlikely World Series heroes.

1)      Dickie Kerr, pitcher, 1919 Chicago White Sox.  The star pitchers for the White Sox team that year were Eddie Cicotte (29 wins, 7 losses, 307 innings pitched, 256 hits allowed, 49 walks, 1.82 E.R.A.) and Claude (“Lefty”) Williams (23-11 won-loss record, 265 innings pitched, 265 hits allowed, 58 walks, 2.64 E.R.A.).  Kerr, meanwhile, was a good third starter/relief pitcher, with a record of 13-8, 212 innings pitched, 208 hits allowed, 64 walks, 2.89 E.R.A.  However, in the World Series it was a different story—Kerr was by far the best pitcher on the squad, going 2-0, 19 innings pitched, 14 hits allowed, 3 walks, and a 1.42 E.R.A. in his two starts, while Cicotte was 1-2, with 21.2 innings pitched, 19 hits allowed, 5 walks, 2.91 E.R.A. (good, but not up to his regular season standards) and Williams flat out stank, going 0-3, 16.1 innings pitched, 12 hits allowed, 8 walks, E.R.A. of 6.61.  The team overall lost 5 games to 3 to the Cincinnati Reds.  (For a brief period, 1919-1921, the Series was a best of nine format instead of best of seven.)  The next year, it was discovered just how special Kerr’s performance had been—7 teammates had taken money from gamblers to throw the Series (Cicotte, Williams, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Chick Gandil, Swede Risberg, Fred McMullin, and Hap Felsch), and one other (Buck Weaver) had known of the plot but not actually participated, or told.  All of these men, of course, were banned from baseball for life, even though, oddly (since they admitted their guilt) they were acquitted in a civilian court.
2)      Bob Kuzava, pitcher, New York Yankees, 1951 and 1952.  Bob Kuzava was an obscure, mostly relief pitcher for the 1951 Yankees.  As expected, he didn’t see action in the first 5 games of the Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers.  However, in the 6th and deciding game, reliever Johnny Sain loaded the bases with no outs, with New York clinging to a 4-1 lead.  Kuzava came in, and allowed no more base runners (although 2 runs scored on sacrifice flies), saving the series for the Yankees.  Incredibly the same type of scenario repeated itself the following year.  Again Kuzava was a spot starter/reliever during the regular season (with a record of 8-8, 133 innings pitched, 115 hits allowed, 63 walks, 3.45 E.R.A.) and didn’t get into the first 6 games of the series, which was once again versus the Dodgers.  Again Kuzava was called in to preserve the lead (4-2 this time).  He pitched 2.2 perfect innings to once again save the Series for the Yankees.  (This was back in the days when the “closer” relief pitcher wasn’t the norm, and Kuzava wasn’t the Yankees closer or main relief pitcher in either year.)  This was it for Bob’s Series heroics, though, as in 1953, yet again against the Dodgers, he got into a non-clinching game (Game 6) and pitched poorly, giving up a run in only two-thirds of an inning.  Overall, for his 10 year career he was pedestrian—49-44, 862 innings pitched, 849 hits allowed, 415 walks, 446 strikeouts, 4.05 E.R.A.
3)      Don Larsen, pitcher, 1956 New York Yankees.  Baseball fans recall Larsen, as he’s the still the only guy to pitch a perfect game in the post season (Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010, in the Divisional Series vs. the Reds), in the 5th game of the 1956 Series.  But fewer know that Larsen was at best a third starter, going 11-5, 180 innings pitched, 133 hits allowed, 96 walks, 107 strike outs, 3.25 E.R.A., behind Whitey Ford and Johnny Kucks.  Also, in his first Series start that year, in Game 2, he was removed after pitching only an inning and two thirds, as he gave up 4 walks and a hit.  No hitters and perfect games can be freakish events, occasionally thrown by middling or bad pitchers like say, Len Barker, Joe Cowley and Philip Humber, to name a few, and Larsen fits that bill only on baseball’s biggest stage.  For his 14 year career, he went 81-91, 1549 innings pitched, 1442 hits allowed, 725 walks, 849 strikeouts, 3.78 E.R.A.
4)      Dusty Rhodes, pinch hitter/reserve outfielder, 1954 New York Giants.  Rhodes was a huge factor in the Giants’ upset of the powerful Cleveland Indians.  The Indians had put up a 111-43 record, or a .721 winning percentage, second ever only to the 1906 Chicago Cubs 116-36, .763 mark.  (The 1998 New York Yankees won more games, 114, but due to their 162 game schedule, rather than 154, their winning percentage was “only” .703.)  In game 1, Rhodes hit a pinch hit, 3 run walk off homer in the 10th inning.  In game 2, he pinch hit in the 5th inning and drove in the tying run with a single, then stayed in the game as an outfielder and hit an insurance homer in the 7th.  In game 3 his single drove in 2 runs in the 6-2 final.  For the series he was 4 for 6, with 2 homers and 7 rbi.  They didn’t award Series MVP’s then (that came a couple of years later), but if they had, surely Rhodes would have been the choice.
5)      Bobby Richardson, second base, 1960 New York Yankees.  Richardson was the starting second baseman, but he was of the “good field, no hit” variety.  For the season, in 460 at bats he managed only a .252 average, with 1 home run, 26 rbi, 6 stolen bases, and a .298 slugging average.  The Yankees offense that year (and many others) was led by folks such as Moose Skowron (.309, 26 homers, 91 rbi, .526 slugging), Roger Maris (.283, 39 homers, league leading 112 rbi and .581 slugging percentage), and Mickey Mantle (.275, league leading 40 homers, 94 rbi, .558 slugging, 111 walks).  Well, the 1960 Series turned out to be a 7 game classic, which famously ended on Pittsburgh Pirate second baseman Bill Mazeroski’s walk off, Series winning home run.  Somewhat surprisingly, though, Mazeroski, who had a good Series otherwise (8 for 25, .320 average, 4 runs, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 5 rbi) was not the MVP.  Little Bobby was—the only time a losing player has won, like Cowboy footballer Chuck Howley in Super Bowl 5.  Richardson hit .367 (11 for 30), scoring 8 runs, with 2 doubles, 2 triples, 1 homer, and a still record 12 rbi.  (Mantle did great, too, hitting .400, with 8 runs, 3 homers and 11 rbi).  Obviously, it was a weird Series.  The Yankees scored 55 runs to the Pirates 27, hit .338 to the Pirates .256, and won their games 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0.  But the Pirates did enough to prevail.
6)      Gene Tenace, catcher/first baseman, 1972 Oakland Athletics.  Tenace was a backup catcher/first baseman (and even a game at second and third, oddly) who was a poor hitter that year (.225, 5 homers, 32 rbi, .339 slugging in 227 at bats).  He was promoted to starting catcher in the ALCS and played terribly (1 for 17, 1 run, 1 rbi).  Despite this, he continued to start in the World Series, against the Cincinnati Reds.  In his first two at bats, in Game 1, he hit home runs, leading the A’s to victory.  His torrid hitting kept going throughout the 7 game Series, as he finished at .348 (8 for 23), with a double, 4 home runs, and 9 rbi.  He was about the only Athletic player to contribute on offense—they scored only 16 runs total, and no other player even had 2 rbis.  Rightfully, he was named MVP, and began to get more starting time as his career progressed.  The World Series magic was gone, though—although he played (and won) 3 more series (’73 and ’74 again with the A’s, ’82 with the St. Louis Cardinals), he played mediocre-ly or poorly in these.
7)      Kurt Bevacqua, reserve first baseman, third baseman, outfielder, 1984 San Diego Padres.  Kurt was a true reserve for the Padres that year, garnering 80 at bats in 59 games.  He made the least of these, batting .200 with 1 home run, 9 rbi, and .275 slugging percentage.  Oddly, though, manager Dick Williams put him at designated hitter for the World Series against the Detroit Tigers.  I guess Williams knew something that no one else did, as Bevacqua was the offensive star for the team.  He hit .412 (7 for 17), with 2 doubles, 2 homers, 4 rbi, including the game winning homer in Game 2.  Sadly, this remains the only World Series game won to date for the Padres, as they lost in 5 games in ’84, and were swept in ’98 by the Yankees.  Bevacqua defined journeyman for his career, as he hit .236, 27 homers, 275 rbi, and slugged .327.  Other than this Series, he’s probably best known for blowing the biggest bubble in a mid 1970’s MLB bubblegum contest.  (Disturbingly, I just read that he was also arrested for stalking and attacking his ex-wife and her new boyfriend in the 80’s—didn’t learn the eventual outcome.)
8)      Billy Hatcher, outfielder, 1990 Cincinnati Reds.  Billy was a starting, if unspectacular outfielder for the Reds.  He hit .276, with 5 homers, 25 rbi, 30 steals, and .381 slugging in 504 at bats.  Co-outfielders Eric Davis and Paul O’Neill, third baseman Chris Sabo, and shortstop Barry Larkin were the offensive leaders for the team.  However, in the World Series against Oakland, Billy outshined them all.  The reigning World Series champs, the A’s were heavy favorites, but were amazingly swept by the unheralded Reds.  Hatcher was nothing short of incredible—the A’s only got him out 3 times in the four games.  He batted .750 (9 out of 12), which is like a high school baseball number.  He also had 4 doubles, a triple, scored 6 runs, and drove in 2.  He wasn’t the MVP—that went to pitcher Jose Rijo, who was excellent (2-0, 15.1 innings, 9 hits, 5 walks, 0.59 E.R.A.)  And, to be fair, the entire Reds team did well at the plate (.317 average), with Chris Sabo (.563, 2 homers), Larkin (.353) and catcher Joe Oliver (.333, 3 doubles, 2 rbi) among the notables.  Hatcher’s batting average is still the all time record for a World Series participant, with a minimum of 10 at bats (although Boston’s David Ortiz is currently challenging this—stay tuned).
9)      Mark Lemke, second baseman, 1991 Atlanta Braves.  Lemke shared second base with Jeff Treadway during the season, and was considered a good fielding but weak hitting player.  He batted .234, 2 homers, 23 rbi, .312 slugging, in 269 at bats that year.  The Braves were led that year at the plate by outfielder Ron Gant (32 homers, 105 rbi, 34 steals), third baseman Terry Pendleton (league leading .319 batting average, 22 homers, 86 rbi) and outfielder David Justice (.275, 21 homers, 87 rbi).  However, in the World Series against the Minnesota Twins Lemke started in 6 games, and had the series of his life.  He batted .417 (10 for 24), with 4 runs, 1 double, 3 triples, and 4 rbi.  Included in these hits were driving in the winning run in Game 3, and scoring the winning run in Game 4.  The Braves, of course, lost in 7 games in agonizing fashion, but if they had won surely Lemke would have been the MVP.  Lemke went on to play in the ’92, ’95, and ’96 Series with the Braves, but returned to his usual mediocre to bad hitting ways.
10)  Gene Larkin, reserve outfielder and infielder, designated hitter, 1991 Minnesota Twins.  In 1991 he had a typical season for him—98 games, 255 at bats, 2 homers, 19 rbi, .286 batting average, .373 slugging.  He was relegated to pinch hitter in the ’91 Series against the Braves, appearing in 4 games. However, he did something really special in Game 7—he had a walk off hit in the World Series clincher.  Granted, it was no dramatic homer like Bill Mazeroski’s 1960 Series blast, or like Joe Carter’s homer in Game 6 of the 1993 Series (vs. the Phillies)—it was only a single, over a drawn in outfield (the bases were loaded with one out in a tie 0-0 game), but still, he came through in the most clutch situation a Major League player can face.  This was of course Jack Morris’s famous (or infamous, to Twins haters or Braves fans) 10 inning complete game shutout.
11)  Pablo Sandoval, third/first baseman, 2012 San Francisco Giants.  Sandoval, or “Kung Fu Panda”, is of course a fan favorite, and it’s easy to see why.  He has an engaging, likable personality, and his roly-poly physique is endearing in a Babe Ruth/John Kruk sort of way.  And he clearly can hit, as his lifetime .298 batting average, .351 on base percentage, and .476 slugging average, attest.  However, I think even his most devout fans would admit he’s been a bit of an underachiever—partially due to injuries, but not totally.  In 2012 he had a decent but not great year—396 at bats, .283 average, 12 homers, 63 rbi.  But he sure turned it on in the Series against the Tigers.  In Game 1, facing one of the game’s best pitchers in Justin Verlander, he hit 3 home runs (2 off Verlander).  He cooled off somewhat over the next 3 games, but still hit .500 (8 for 16) with 3 runs, 1 double, the 3 homers, and 4 rbi, and he was justifiably named MVP.  But his Game 1 feat of hitting 3 homers in a game has only been done by 3 players in World Series history, by (drum roll) Babe Ruth (in 1926 and 1928), Reggie Jackson (1977) and Albert Pujols (2011).  Or two Hall of Famers, and one sure to be Hall of Famer.  One of these things is not like the others, as the quote goes, unless Sandoval really picks it up for the rest of his career.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Horror Movie Trivia Contest

     Just to recap the rules of this trivia post, the first person who answers all ten questions correctly wins a free copy of one of  my ebooks, either “Dead Reckoning” or “Kaishaku.”  If no one answers all ten correctly by the close of this blog hop (October 31st, midnight) the winner is the person who answers the most correctly.  In the event of a tie, I’ll chose the winner among the tied people randomly.  And the Coffin Hop address is:

1)      The 1932 horror classic “Freaks,” directed by Tod Browning, also known for directing 1931’s “Dracula,” was (loosely) based on a short story.  Name the story and the author.
2)      What horror classic is credited with showing the first flushing toilet in a mainstream movie or television show?
3)      What are the only lines uttered by Karen Cooper (the little girl who commits matricide and patri-cannibalism) in 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead”?
4)      1974’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” was written by Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper.  What was the original name of this screenplay?
5)      During the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation of Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill claimed that Thomas, among other things, had made inappropriate remarks involving a beverage.  Thomas’s supporters claimed that she took this alleged remark from a horror film classic.  What movie was it?
6)      Dario Argento’s “3 Mothers Trilogy” (1977’s “Suspiria”, 1980’s “Inferno”, and 2007’s “The Mother of Tears”) is based on an old story.  Name the author and the story.
7)      1981’s “An American Werewolf in London” has one of the rare instances in a movie or television show when a real telephone number is used, not a “555” number.  What is this real telephone number?  (And for legal harassment reasons, I don’t condone anyone calling it.)
8)      The first name of the leader of the evil gang in 1972’s “Last House on the Left” and the name of the villain in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series are both based on what real life person?
9)      How many people does Jason Voorhees kill in “Friday the 13th Part 5:  A New Beginning”?
10)  In 1993’s “Army of Darkness” (the 3rd “Evil Dead” movie), main character Ash is told he must say “Klaatu barada nikto” to retrieve the Necronomicon safely (which he of course messes up).  This is a quote from a sci-fi classic.  Name the movie.

Monday, October 28, 2013

"Night of the Living Dead" Cemetery Tour

     To us zombie movie fans, "Night of the Living Dead" is "patient zero" in the zombie film outbreak that was to follow.  Any horror buff worth their salt knows this, but to any of those new to the subgenre, "Night of the Living Dead" changed everything.  Before this zombies in movies were usually slave labor, toiling away in fields on Caribbean Islands, or the product of mad scientists' experiments--few in number, somewhat dangerous, but in a limited way.  But George Romero's living dead were something far more sinister--uncontrolled, hungry for living human flesh, and in sufficient numbers to (eventually) destroy all civilization as we know it.  Zombie films, and the horror genre in general were never the same.
     And it all began here, in a cemetery located just outside a small (population of about 2,000) western Pennsylvania town, Evans City.  Evans City is located about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh.  Directions are easy--googlemaps, or the like, will give them to you if you type in "Evans City Cemetery."  So I'll assume potential visitors will do this, and will find the cemetery, off of Franklin Road.  I'll include both my photos (in color) and some from the movie itself (in black and white, clearly).

Sorry, the credits cover the movie still, but if you look closely you'll see the similarity.  Here's the entrance off of Franklin Road.
 After you go around a bend, you'll see this sign on your left.

Just as you enter the cemetery proper, you'll see a small shed on your right.  Then just ahead on your left you'll see an important landmark--the chapel.  I tried to park my car about where Johnny and Barbra did.  If you keep going straight as you enter the cemetery, you can make your way back to the chapel by turning left down any one of the perpendicular cross paths, following that to the end, turning left again, and following that as far as you can go, and turn left and follow this around until you see the chapel building by the entrance/exit.  Once at the chapel, face away from it (as Barbra is doing in the photo above) and walk down that path a couple of hundred feet.  Look to your right, and look for a stone in the first row marked "BLAIR."

Romero and his crew did a good job of not showing gravestone names, but you can pick out a few if you look closely.  Johnny and Barbra's father is buried under the stone just to the right of the Blair stone.  It's really Grace and George Cole.  Notice in the movie there's a tree to the right of their dad's/the Coles' stone, which isn't there anymore.  Either it died, or was damaged/removed during the tornado that tore through this cemetery in the 1980's (which also necessitated the reburial of 200 bodies).
Here's a reverse view, showing Johnny and Barbra's view.
And here's a close up of the Cole stone.

These two shots show where we see the first ever zombie, played by Bill Hinzman, walking around.  Eventually, of course, he walks toward Johnny and Barbra.  It's a little tough to tell which lane he goes down, but I think it's the top of the two photos, since it's closer to the Kramer and Myers stones.
Here's a shot showing the Cole/Blair stones in the foreground, on the left, and other relevant stones in the background, and showing how close they are to each other.  The tallest stone in the background, on the right, is the Nicholas Kramer stone, that Barbra actually grabs onto after grappling with Hinzman's zombie.
Here's both shots of the Kramer stone itself.
This shot shows the Kramer stone on the left, and the Clyde Meyers stone on the right (it's the smaller of the two stones nearest the Kramer one, further away from the camera).  You can also see the Blair/Cole stones in the background, and even the chapel in the distance, giving you another idea of how close everything is to each other.

Here's a close up of the Myers stone, which ends up killing Johnny.
        After that, the geography gets a little confusing.  Evidently the filmmakers used cuts to disguise the exact locations.  Barbra appears to steer the car out the cemetery exit, and down the hill toward the road before she crashes against the tree.  Then she of course flees on foot, and runs for awhile before she reaches the farmhouse, which is apparently located some distance away, to the northeast of Evans City (while the cemetery is actually south of Evans City).  The farmhouse was destroyed right after the film was shot, to make a sod farm.  I couldn't tell exactly where it was, and obviously I couldn't check it out even if I could, as it's private property.  (Also, presumably there's nothing of the house left to see, anyway.)  I did find it amusing to see that if she'd reached Franklin Road again, and turned right (north), she would have hit "downtown" Evans City in only  .2 or .3 miles, shown below.
If you have a magnifying glass (sorry) you might pick out Boylan's funeral home, right by where Pioneer/Franklin Road intersects with Main St ( white building on the right, behind the light poles).  In light of what was going on with dead bodies, maybe that would haven't worked out well for Barbra, either.
        As for the other locations, the basement of the farmhouse was too small and run down, so the basement in the building of the filmmakers' Latent Image office in Pittsburgh was used.  Karl Hardman's ("Harry Cooper")  Pittsburgh office was used as the "newsroom" seen on the television.  Both are private, so I couldn't see these, either.  The upstairs scenes in the farmhouse were actually shot in a house that still stands in Evans City, but this of course is private property once again.  Otherwise, the bridge where Bill "Chilly Bill" Cardille (a local Pittsburgh horror host) is talking to the Sheriff and the search and destroy team of armed men, is still there, as is, clearly, the Capitol building area in Washington, D.C.

      So I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane.  This was obviously a low-rent version of "Horrors Hallowed Grounds" and I recommend you check out that website for more extensive/competently done revisits of horror movie locations.  Please excuse the technical crudity--I'm still quite the Luddite.  Thanks to Ricky for doing what he could with my outdated computer and lack of graphics knowledge.
     And it probably goes without saying, but bear in mind that Evans City Cemetery is a real cemetery, and those folks buried there, and their families, were not directly involved in the movie in any way.  Obviously I don't see a problem with touring a cemetery open to the public, and taking photos, but if you do visit, show the appropriate amount of respect.  I certainly don't approve of or condone any trespassing or vandalism.  On a similar note, I've included the still photos from the film as comparison shots, to help people see the still existing landmarks and to observe how these locations have changed over more than 40 years.  No copyright infringement of "Night of the Living Dead" is intended.
     And if you do see any weird, disheveled, shambling figures in the Evans City Cemetery...............probably don't shoot them in the head, since in all likelihood  they're just other overzealous fans of the movie, trying to scare people.