Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Lunch Thief

Some years ago, when Winnifred was the regular staffer and I was a student employee at the Peak, I had my first experience of the Office Lunch Thief. The difference between this thief and subsequent thieves in my work life is that his identity was not a mystery. We all knew it was Dean. Dean was at that time a cartoonist and photo editor of the Peak. He was also a dance student and his first class ended at 10:30 in the morning, well before lunch time. So rather than eat his lunch and be hungry at noon, he would eat our's. Or whoever's. We took to leaving larger and more pointed notes on the lunch bags we put in the fridge. "No eating, not even you, Dean." Things like that. But Dean was too tricky for that. Dean realized right away that the bigger and more threatening the sign, the better the lunch. We reached an apotheosis of kinds with the brownie incident. Win and I had been to some sort of chocolate event and had gotten two extremely expensive brownies to have in our lunch the next day. Sure enough, in spite of nasty note, they were gone well before noon.

I admit it, I yelled at Dean. He was apologetic. He offered us an original, signed cartoon to make up for the brownies. Working on the theory that Dean would be famous some day and his juvenilia might be worth something, we accepted.

We are currently unpacking the stuff that has been in storage since we left Vancouver in early 2000. Among the items we found was the cartoon, charmingly signed. It is undated but it was drawn on the back of a layout flat, presumably circa 1990. I know it was well before he began his long string of appearances as a junkie in a series of tv shows. I guess it was the long hair he had at the time, but he was always being cast as a junkie. I believe it was on "The Commish" in 1994 that he got a single line of deathless dialogue: as the cop is dumping his crack down the sewer, Dean says, "Oh man, that's cold."

To check how our deal worked out, I looked on eBay for Dean memorabilia. I did find a doodle being sold for $100, so I'm guessing our cartoon is worth... more than a couple of brownies. For now, however, we plan to sit tight on our investment.

I should also point out that Dean is not actually the most brazen Office Lunch Thief I have encountered. In one library I worked at, where half the staff were perenially-hungry teenage pages, there was a lunch thief who would rifle through everyone's lunches and get the nicest thing out of each bag. We came to refer to this activity as a "getting a combo meal," as in, "Lunch thief got a combo meal so I need to run out and get some more sushi."

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Flashback in Urdu

The Messenger, September 7, 1981

There you have it. A 1981 Urdu-language cartoon of Ronald Reagan, from the Toronto fortnightly newspaper The Messenger. Without even being able to read it, I feel it says it all.

I do have the best job. I find stuff like this all the time.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Depressing Books for Happy People

I have always thought of us as a cheerful family, which is why it is so strange that we particularly love art that's a bit, how to say, emotionally fraught. There was the time my mother came to visit us in New York and what she really wanted to do was see a play about torture, a museum exhibit about slavery and some public art about starvation. So I was amused this afternoon when I got an email from her:
Just finished reading Christa Wolf's book which I mentioned, One Day A Year. If you want the whole (tragic) history of the world 1960-2000, this is the book for you!
And it was with only a bit of irony that I replied:
Sounds awesome! I'll take it out at SFU once the new semester starts, because then I'll get the full semester loan. I looked it up and it's 600+ pages.
I was chuckling over my mother's tendencies, when I looked in my purse and found the book I had recently recommended to her, Defying Dixie, a history of the precursors to the civil rights movement, most of which were Communist or other far-left movements and which have been completely erased by history. Fascinating book; not cheerful. I also recently made Winnifred and my mother come with me to a play by Dürrenmatt, the guy who famously said, "a story is not over until it has taken the worst possible turn." And both of them plus Future Minister of Discourse were dragged to the Tony Kushner adaptation of "The Dybbuk," which, with its theme of God's betrayal of those who love him the best, makes the original (which is about the betrayal we propagate when we forget old loved ones--a metaphor for first-world Jews' failure to save more Eastern European Jews from starvation during WWI) seem like a walk in the park.

Then I remembered that Writing Sister recently recommended Everything Must Change, a novel about "asceticism and devotion to a cause in a materialistic modern society." That sounds like a hoot too.

Ozzie Sister occasionally sends me reading material from Down Under; most memorably a great book about Holocaust survivors. So beautifully written, almost poetry. You could kill yourself it's so sad.

It seems we've all got the bug: hard art is our thing. Ah, well. Happy families are all alike, anyway.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Freylekhn and/or Kushern Peysekh Aykh Ale

The Canadian Jewish Review, April 1954

And neither is my kitchen. Nonetheless, I want to wish you all a freylekhn (joyous) and, if you choose, kushern (kosher) Passover, with plenty of horseradish and enough liberation for everyone.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Spring is Sprung

The first really nice day of spring, so we decided to walk over to the Sun Yat Sen Gardens and walk around in the sunshine. That is indeed me in the distance below the magnolia flower. I can't remember the last time I just sat and looked at flowers.

We grabbed a cup of free tea from the art gallery in the gardens. Beside the tea urn they had a poster translating some of the advice given in a classical Chinese book on tea culture. I noticed the book suggested it was best to avoid sullen servants in order to fully enjoy your tea. I think I can safely say that I have never been troubled by sullen servants while drinking tea.

As often is the case in the gardens on a nice day, there was a bridal party taking pictures. They had a slew of photographers and numerous helpers, and were taking their time about it. I can only assume they didn't actually get married today, just got the pictures done, because there was no sense of hurry-up. In fact, they seemed to have been there for several hours already. Two of the young women on the groom's side were knitting when they weren't needed to keep the bride's train off the ground. It was easy to keep the sides of the family straight because the bride's side was Chinese and impeccable, and the groom's side was Caucasian and a bit hippyish. They shlepped from one part of the garden to another, as each photographer in turn decided what background he or she wanted for which grouping of people.

They also had a cooler with them, from which lunch appeared. One of the hippyish males in the party practiced his four-club juggling. After that, the bride re-applied her make-up and the whole thing started up again.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What is it?

Seen at SFU. If you take the stairs under the Rotunda to the bus stop, this structure hangs above you. It appears to be--oh I don't know--unwound videotape? used to create a kind of suspension bridge from one side of the Rotunda to the other--about 10 meters. Christo-inspired installation art? A statement about the accelerated aging of "new media"? Bored/drunken end-of-semester undergrads on a prank?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Unified Theory of Spinach

Many of you have worried that it's been so long since I've posted about food. You were hoping this wasn't a sign that we've stopped eating. The truth is, we've been eating, but not as well as we should be. We've both been working too much and not spending time trying new foods and examining unusual fruits, or even just cooking the stuff we like to eat. Today, however, I am attempting to reverse the trend. I am cooking spinach.

Spinach has been observed to have the following properties:
  • spinach, organic spinach in particular, must be eaten or cooked within 48 hours of purchase
  • time spent cooking spinach breaks down to 20% making the recipe; 30% cleaning the spinach; and 50% wondering if you've actually got that spinach clean
These observations, coupled with the fact that spinach is one of my favourite vegetables, led me to the following determination:
  • when eating out, spinach must be ordered
That way, someone else has to worry about the cleanliness and timeliness of the spinach.

However, today all the factors came together. Our food was delivered yesterday, with spinach; and today is my day off, so I can cook it well before the sell-by date; and since it's a day off mid-week (not full of brunches and other social responsibilities the way weekends are), I can take a leisurely approach to the cleaning process. And voila: spinach soup.

Years ago Winnifred taught me her cook-by-colour concept. She finds it aesthetically pleasing on multiple levels to use all similar-coloured ingredients in a dish. So for this soup I used: virgin rosemary-infused olive oil; scallions; celery; spinach; and, it must be said, garlic, which I posit as the mood-ring of savory ingredients. The result was indeed a very green soup that looked very nice in some bone-white Chinese bowls, and tasted just dandy.