August 21st, 2003

caillebotte_man at his window

Fat of the Land

Yesterday's Sacramento Bee contained a feature about food at the state fair, which is going on now. My eye was caught by a picture of one of the fair's food booths. The large sign atop the booth said "DEEP FRIED CANDY BARS." As if this were insufficient inducement to hungry fair-goers, a smaller sign in the window presented an alternative; "FRIED TWINKIES!" The article accompanying the pictures told of another culinary delight available at the fair; deep fried Oreo cookies, covered in chocolate syrup, powdered sugar and sprinkles. Well.

I didn't finish reading the article. The chest pains were too intense. I turned to the financial section, to see how the stocks of HMO's and the big pharmaceutical companies were doing. Well -- of course! I must admit that I felt a momentary pang of regret that my childhood was singularly free of such things as fried Twinkies and fried Oreos, not to mention those deep fried candy bars. (I wonder if they dip the candy bars in some sort of batter first, to keep them from melting in the hot oil? Surely, they must.) Though I'm sure now that I'm better off for it, when I was young it was quite distressing to me that I lacked all experience of those comestibles unique to such places as fair grounds and amusement parks. I blame my father.

It is because of my father's social phobia that my childhood memories are so rich with empty horizons, deserted beaches, secluded canyons, twisting, narrow mountain roads, and dust devils whirling through vast fields. Although Southern California was even then a rather densely populated place, my father had a knack for finding emptiness. He even left the house before dawn most mornings, so that his commute to the print shop south of downtown would be through streets forlorn and still, bereft of all but a few other early risers and the trucks of milk men. On the return, when traffic could not be entirely avoided, he had the remarkable ability to seek out a series of seldom used residential and industrial back streets, and even a few alleys, which would carry him much of the distance. In short, my father hated crowds, whether vehicular or pedestrian. He could tolerate sitting crowds, so long as they weren't too dense, and we were thus able to attend the movies fairly often (though often on odd nights of the week) before we acquired a television set. But moving crowds annoyed him, and he went to great lengths to avoid them.

Alas, there are few places more crowded than a fair or an amusement park. As often as we drove by the grounds of the Los Angeles County Fair, near Pomona, we never attended that busy event. And, though we did twice visit The Pike, the decrepit and not-well-attended amusement park in Long Beach, on neither occasion did we remain long enough to justify eating anything. We would purchase a bag of the traditional (and boring) salt water taffy, and depart without so much as a corn dog from the myriad of other fried an sugary treats available. Indeed, it is a sad truth that, until I was eleven years old, and the local Chamber of Commerce held a carnival on the grounds of my intermediate school, and I was able to attend because it opened immediately after school on a Friday, I had never in my life tasted cotton candy! The only reason I had been able to experience that other staple of the world of fairs and carnivals, the candied apple, is because the elderly, childless couple who lived next door to us used to make them to give out on Halloween. Thus, my childhood was singularly all but free of the sort of greasy and sugary fair delights which I believed were every American child's birthright.

I find it odd that I don't bear any great resentment for this fact. Sure, it would have been nice if, just once in a while, I had been given the opportunity to eat myself sick and puke my guts up on the midway. But it is true that, now that I'm older, I delight in the memory of that empty, windswept beach under the cliffs of San Clemente, probably as much as I would have enjoyed the memory of burning my tongue on a fried- whatever-on-a-stick. And there was that bag of Fritos and bottle of Squirt I had one evening when we were parked on a dirt road above a railroad cut near Turnbull Canyon, and we watched the Super Chief speed by below in the twilight, the passengers off on their journey visible through the windows of the brightly lit cars.

Once I was old enough to go to the fair myself, I found that it paled quickly, and the various exotic foods had little appeal. I found that I would rather sit on an empty beach, or watch the passing scene in a park. Although I am not bothered by crowds -- in fact, I rather enjoy them -- I find now that I'm probably more like my father than not. It seems that the un-candied apple doesn't fall far from the tree, after all.
caillebotte_the balcony


We have been having thunderstorms this afternoon! Not much rain, but it smelled nice when the first big drops hit the hot pavement. The cable has been out all day, and will probably be out most of the night, because a couple of cable monkeys were aloft in their cherry pickers when the first storm hit. They scurried for cover. The cable was back on for about an hour, but then went off again. They are working on another block, now, and every time another peal of thunder rolls through, I imagine they'll be leaving their posts again.

Now, there is a luminescent blue twilight, and the air is still and expectant. There might be more rain, though I'm not expecting much, and there will probably be more thunder and lightning. Mmm, lightning after dark. It's worth not having cable for that. But Sluggo will have to sleep, too. Not only is he wonky from the heat, but lightning and computers don't get along. Sluggo could do terrible, terrible damage to the storm if I leave him on.

Oh, and I saw a dozen quail in my back yard today. This is the largest bevy of quail I've seen here in years. The birds used to be common here, but they've grown rare for the last decade or so. Too many cats, I think. But these quail did something interesting that I've never seen before. They were all in a tight group, pecking at the ground, when one of them gave a sharp whistle and they all stopped eating at once. They stood quietly for a moment, then most of them hunkered down on the ground, perfectly still. I surmise that their lookout spotted a hawk or other raptor flying overhead, and they stopped moving in order to maximize their chances of going unnoticed. I turned away from the window for a moment to do something, and when I looked again, all the quail had gone. Interesting fowl.
caillebotte_man at his window


There's been no more thunder or lightning. A little bit of rain once in a while. Moonless above the clouds, Mars concealed. The cable is still out. Strange night.

My dad takes these supplements which come in gel caps. He doesn't like to swallow them, so he cuts them open and mixes the contents into a glass of soy milk. Then he tries to discard the empty halves of the gel cap in the wastebasket. But they are sticky, and he invariably misses the basket and they end up on the floor. Then I walk through the kitchen and they stick to my soles. With each step, they make a loud click. I sound as though I'd mugged a tap-dancing gnome for his shoes. This happens every night. Around here, all nights are strange.