Friday, August 31, 2012


Over two years ago I became a single man again, which at the time was something I neither wanted nor expected.
I stress that we are still friends.
How could it be otherwise?
When somebody has been central in your life, it is only natural that they remain part of it.
But in all honesty, that says more about her than it does about me. She is in so many ways a nicer and gentler person than I am - she did not want the end to be hard or angry, and she's very much the kind of person I would like to know, and to continue to know.

But we don't do what other friends do.
It's been several months since we went to a restaurant together.
Many years since we were at the movies with each other.
We've never gone out drinking together at all.
That's just not something she wanted.


That last part needs some elucidation. The truth is that she does not like the taste of alcohol, and even the affection many people have for wine baffles her. She does not drink, and has probably never even tasted a cocktail.
Liquor smells incredibly vile and harsh to her.
I still find that utterly charming.

She has also never appreciated tobacco.
I've sort of accepted that.
But it's odd.

I've always regarded the reek of good pipe tobacco as one of the more comforting fragrances possible. Trails of incense wafting through the room, the faint lingering presence of fine Turkish or matured Virginias adhering like a familiar and beloved signature to a tweed jacket and the spines of books - what could possibly be more evocative of the presence, OR the keenly remembered presence, of a beloved relative or companion?

Smells bring back memories more powerfully than almost anything else. The aromas of particular tobaccos recreate sharply differentiated mood rewinds, the merest familiar hint brings back full chapters of experience.

Even today I occasionally sniff at my father's pipes, which he gave me before he died, to recall the man.
During the fifties and early sixties my dad smoked a blend from John's pipe shop in Hollywood. He had started shopping there as a teenager back in the thirties, and when he returned from the war, he resumed doing so.
While I was in Northbeach and my father still lived in the Netherlands, I tried to figure out precisely what that blend was, as it was no longer the same as it had been.
I wanted my father to again experience the pleasures of his past.
Now there isn't even anything by that name.


In Naarden, in the first years after we moved to Holland, he would sometimes smoke an English flake, and whenever I sniff something similar now I can see crystalline sunlight slanting in and taste again the weak tea that I was allowed to drink at that age.
Teatime is always at four o'clock, don't you know that?

Once we shifted to Valkenswaard I spent innumerable hours reading in the upstairs living room, which spanned the breadth of the building, with my father at his desk engaged in translating technical articles into Dutch, my brother Tobias at his desk in the other corner studying for school, and my mother downstairs in her office typing away.
There were occasional whisps of Dobie's Foursquare (blue) from one of his pipes, if he lit up.
A contemplative odour, signature of that time.
And a cat asleep on the couch.

Years later it would not be till late at night that anyone else was there, as my parents spent the evening in their room together reading or talking, my mother's illness having limited her mobility considerably.
At that time I smoked my own pipes and tobacco in the stillness, with the various desk lamps on to provide sufficient light. My brother, when he was back from Tilburg where he went to school, would be downstairs in the dining room memorizing the chess moves of the masters, where I would occasionally join him for a game.
Again, a different spectrum of smoke.
Plus cats and pipe cleaners.

During summer break Tobias and I occupied the sera off the courtyard, with the French doors open - he pensively clicking chess-pieces and turning pages, I with a favourite book while enjoying a bowlful. Perhaps later Dad would join us, and take some of my tobacco, after much urging.
Sharp dark Syrian, pale Orientals, Virginia.
Especially wonderful when it rained.
Aromas of wet grass and trees.
Whisps of tarry smoke.
Impatient cat.

Amsterdam during stormy weather? Friesche Baai and Coopvaert, both little more than ribbon-cut Maryland, slightly sharp in the nose. A café terrace on the Prins Hendrik quay, looking out over the water toward the Central Station. Trams and bicyclists go past, shattering the glittering light reflected off wet pavement.

The character of each tobacco is a mnemonic.
Familiar smells become beloved.

Somewhere there is a room that requires an added fragrance.
Perfumes evoking a multi-layered response.
In time memories will arise.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012


On the bus I sat opposite a young lady with a Hello Kitty handbag. This wasn’t deliberate, please understand – a polite young fellow had insisted that I sit. Not because I look like a decrepit fossil (still very very springy!), but because of the silver in my beard.

I have a profound antipathy toward Hello Kitty.

Many of Hello Kitty’s acolytes carry her merchandise around in order to send a message that they are (exceptionally) feminine. But what they are actually conveying is that they have extremely questionable taste, and weak spongy little minds.
As well as flibbertigibbism in the rafters of their souls.
Hello Kitty is strictly for little girls.
Not grown women.

If by brandishing Hello Kitty totems you inform people that you are still a small child inside, then people will justifiably treat you as such.

Please understand the difference between “statement”, and “accessory”.

Hello Kitty makes a statement.
A rather stupid one.

On the other hand, a nice handbag is not so much a statement as an accessory, and a darned useful one at that.

[The reason why you have never seen a Hello Kitty man-purse is that men make their stupid statements differently than women. Males are more likely to go for a sports symbol than a zombie kitten. Yes, it looks equally dumb.]

Neat clothing, a non-excess of make-up, and tastefully chosen jewelry or hair ornaments, are far better at conveying the message that you demand to be treated as an individual, than any amount of girlie frip.
An adult woman with an active mind and sound judgment.
Nothing else is worth it.

The only legitimate exception to the 'no Hello Kitty rule' is Hello Kitty Cigarettes.
One can only smoke those cynically and with a sarcastic attitude.
Which at times can be exceptionally lady-like.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012


The warm breeze brought the smell of roses. There may have been other petals in the scent, but what came to mind was roses.
That fragrance remains an exciting discovery.
Evocative, every time.

It reminds me of frogs.

The first time I recall noticing that fragrance there was a happy looking amphibian sitting in the garden. Having seen pictures I recognized the creature for what it was, but I wondered why it seemed so incomplete; it had no crown.
Not even a diamond headband. That didn't seem right.
All the illustrations had shown frogs as regal!
This one simply looked contemplative.
Till it squawked and jumped.

At that age I envied frogs; they seemed to have the very best lives. Long leapy legs, big eyes, and above all, wetness! What freedom to always wear sopping garments!
When warm air comes from all directions, being moist is both natural and fun.
Especially if you are a frog, or something similar.

I was convinced that frogs went south for the winter, to vacation colonies where they basked in the sun all day and splashed in pools surrounded by rose bushes.
Their very own Florida.

Frogs probably don't smell floral, but fern-like and mossy.
But that may just be the base note.


The sunlight in the middle of the afternoon is not golden, not that soft. Rather, a strong steel white. Dragon flies drift in the heat-shimmering air, and the grass seems soft, so soft. Lie down and feel it, cool through the fabric, and like feathers stroking the backs of your knees. The perfect picnic consists of cream-puffs in an ice-chest, with cool water. How splendid to just stare up at the sky for a while before eating, lying like this.
Blue. No clouds. High overhead and to the west an airplane traverses the expanse, nearby a crow caws as it wheels through the air.
There's a cheeky blackbird hopping a little distance off.
A dragon fly hovers exactly overhead.
Relaxed, excitement.
Hot skin.

There are other blossoms here, but they cannot be identified.
Floral influences are far less strong on a warm day, and fragrances dissipate too fast.

Greenness, fruity and citrusy. Resinous, musky, narcotic.
Also something from the shadows under the trees.
Balsam, pine, leaves, and lichens.

One of those creampuffs would be divine right now. And feel delightful too.
An explosion of lovely sweet custard, smooth upon the tongue.
Lick the lips, drink it in, smiling with sleepy eyes.
Relax. Always imitate the frog.
Leap only if required.

At twilight there are more dragon flies in the air, their flittering wings reflecting silver from the streetlights. They are more active now that the heat has lessened, but the air still seems moist and musky.
There are haunting traces of perfume.
Soft blankets, amber tea.
And home.

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Regular readers remember that this blogger dallies with pipe-tobaccos that many more mature men might give a miss.
Though that may mean regrets and unsettled dreams.
Because I can.
And sometimes remarkable discoveries are made.

PIPE TOBACCO made in the British Isles

Tin blurb: Cavendish, Virginia and air-cured tobaccos blended with a special black cavendish, flavoured with wine and spices to our 80 year-old recipe.

Thin shaggy ribbons that become powdery white ash.

The initial tin-odour verges on bizarre. Sweet, like dessert wine, with hints of licorice, mint, and hair growth promoting scalp tonic.
Perhaps also anise extract, and your maiden aunt’s talcum powder.
Very vegetal, like an old-fashioned apothecary shop.
Seemingly the wine-gum of tobaccos.

Like many products manufactured by J. F. Germain & Son it requires quite a bit of drying first. Which is no problem, so for hours my office had a faint hint of this floating about. At end it was more incense-like than perfumy.
I’ve smoked several bowls now, and have thoroughly enjoyed them.
This is not a standard aromatic, but falls in the category of fragrant oddness to which both the lamentable Ennerdale and the fulsomely praised 1792 Flake belong.
It is far more smokeable than Ennerdale, much milder than 1792.
Unlikely that this will knock your socks out from under you, unless you smoke it fresh out of the tin and huff it like a teenager.
Don’t do that.

Dry first. Don't pack tight. Smoke slow.
If you do not do these things, you will experience regret.

The preparation of this product obscures the derivation of the constituents. Allegedly this is a mostly Virginia compound, with only a little air-cured leaf. But you would not think so. And the teasy ribbons will remind you of various ancient Dutch tobaccos that were only mildly dosed at best.

It will grow on you, and you might find yourself liking this more with each subsequent smoke. Particularly if you have a fondness for civilized aromatic tobaccos – Germain’s Plum Cake Mixture highlights what a bunch of crude vulgarians so many other manufacturers are. But this is not a nicotine powerhouse, so it won’t appeal to smokers of plugs and flakes.
Fans of Latakia had better avoid this.


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Far be it from me to be the last to know.
Except, in this case, I believe I may actually be the last.
What they look like, that is.

Confession: I still have not looked up Prince Harry’s rear-end on the internet.

I will further admit that, as a routinely dirty-minded person, that would be something that I should do. Out of purely intellectual interest, you understand.
Especially now that they're an advertisement.
And have acquired a life of their own.

I am ashamed that I cannot work myself into an inquisitive intellectual frenzy.
The naked royal sit-upons just do not interest me.
I shall not judge them pleasing or not.
Big fat 'whatever, dude'.
So very sorry!

For one thing, I am heterosexual. He's a male. Which you may have noticed.
If you looked up his bare bottom on the internet.
Or perhaps you knew it already.
As a heterosexual, the masculine posterior is just not fascinating enough to peak this blogger's curiosity.
Maybe I don't have enough issues.

For another, prurience be damned.

There are some things we are meant to see, some things we should see, and many things which are neither.
I firmly believe that randy royal escapades, while amusing to read about, do not need to be illustrated.
There are several exceptional and 'talented' actors and actresses who already fulfill the roles of illustrated escapismatists admirably.
For the average man, that is sufficient visual tweak.


Of course, homosexual gentlemen, or heterosexual ladies, might have a very slight interest in Harry's glutei maximi or pudendal appendageries.
Slight, because he's really not a very exciting physical specimen.
That the nudity is regal makes it no less common.
Unless he's precisely their "type".
In which case.....

He's a very naughty boy. When he gets home, he should be spanked.
And I fervently hope his commanding officer does exactly that.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012


My apologies to readers who cruised in here looking for something informative or zany.
I'm afraid that I cannot provide that today.

If you read the preceding post, you will understand why this is so.

Hamakom yenachem..........

Regular programming will return tomorrow.

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Monday, August 27, 2012


We lost a friend and comrade in arms this past weekend. The loss is very great.
Rafael Moshe passed away on shabbes.

I first remember meeting him at a pro-Israel demonstration in front of city hall several years ago. He and his wife and daughter were there, along with about fifty of us, facing a huge mob of pro-Palestinians screaming hate and threatening to kill us all. Which, unfortunately, is what the discourse more often than not has been like in this most liberal of métropoles.
All three of them were at numerous subsequent events where we found ourselves outnumbered by the hate-spewing wanna-be revolutionaries.
As you can imagine, that’s a basis for a profound bond.

Over the years we discussed Torah, Talmud, Rock and Roll, chemistry, potheads, politics, seedy dives, Kabbalah, the yetzias mitzrayim, the shir ha shirim asher li Shlomo, tattoos, zesty Philippinas, Palawan, laws, betelnut, and Cuban cigars.
That’s just a small sampling, there was more, much more.
Irreplaceable discussions, good cheer.
Plus drinks and curry.

Many of our conversations took place at demonstrations.
Remarkably, when a mob of venomous Berkeleyites and other front-men for the sitra achra are screaming their hatred of Jews, you find yourself tuning them and their voices out, and achieving clarity of focus. Moments such as that are to be cherished.

One time he, another friend, and myself, went off to a cigar-bar afterwards.
The next morning I got an e-mail from his eyshes chayil informing me that she had “dropped him off clean and pressed”, and that I had returned him “smelling like the men’s room at Grand Central Station”.
That was a long time ago.
I’ll have to ask her sometime how she knew about the peculiar perfume of that environ, but it won’t be for a while.
Best wait until we can smile again.

I remember him as having an exceptionally keen mind, before the crippling pain and the medication became dominant factors in his life. Both of those things narrow the mind's horizon. But even then, when there was a need, he could draft a darn fine piece of text.
Passovers were more than just a recounting of the escape from a horrid place, they were a celebration.
It wasn’t his family minhag but entirely accidental coincidence that every year someone would fall asleep on the lawn during sukkos.
Booths mean Slivovitz. I hadn’t known that before.

"I dropped him off clean and pressed, you returned him smelling like the men’s room at Grand Central!"

A flexible mind, and a traveler to strange and wonderful places.
With a devilish grin as he waited for the penny to drop.

Also, one or two “rule-circumventing” incidents...
For a good cause; no details will be provided.

Farewell, Rafael Moshe, we’ll miss you.
Say ‘hi’ to Dan for us.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012


An anonymous commenter wrote: "wow I have never seen anything like this, The awesomeness reaches highest levels of the universe multiplied by infinity."
That's a very strong opinion. Unfortunately the links embedded in the remainder of the comment convinced me that it was spammatic.

A pity, as I would like to believe in my own towering awesomeness.

More to the point, you should believe in it also.

No need to mention which post got the attention of the spambot wot placed the comment. Suffice to say that the comments underneath have already, in their own way, reached the highest levels of the universe.
Multiplied by infinity.

Penguins are mentioned.

This blogger gives credit where it's due - penguins are awesome.



Dang those birds are sexy! In my next life, I want to be a sleek vibrant penguin. No, I'm not in a hurry to get there yet, as I'm having too much fun being a grumbly middle-aged badger who stinks of pipe tobacco, and goes to noodle joints to eat by himself while watching other people. Phở gà, chow mein, and ho-fan tong make my furry snout twitch.
But imagine the joy of being one in a flock of thousands, rotund and oily, scarfing down mountain upon mountain of nice fresh herring, and mackerel, and sprat, and sardine..........

Penguins are perfect.

I want to hug one.

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One of the most charming and yet saddest news items this week is about an attempt by an elderly parishioner to restore a fresco in a Spanish church. Sad, because the result does not even resemble what was there before. Charming, because the new picture has a certain je ne sais quoi.
It has been described as simian.
With clothing issues.


Ecce Mono, by Ms. Cecilia Gimenez


Many years ago I stayed up in the hills during the monsoon. The weather was cooler there, and despite torrential downpours interrupted by long stretches of light yet persistent rain, it was quite enjoyable.
All day long it was dark. You could flake out under the overhanging roof and gaze out over the valley, green green like jade or fresh apples. Everything smelled much stronger, but it was far enough above everything to be very bearable indeed.

Still, you needed lots of towels. In that climate towels never fully dried.  Neither did clothes.
Even long after bathing you would still feel moist, and you would have to put a towel over the pillow in the long chair to keep it from getting too damp, or even to provide a layer of insulation and absorption.
My favourite towel had a picture of a teddy bear.
No idea where the proprietors had gotten it.
A teddy bear with a serious expression.
Holding on to a crimson balloon.

At night it was also useful to have a towel - if soaked and wrung out, it assisted sleep. Every day the sheets would be washed and ironed - the ironing was necessary to dry them. But the only way to get the towels dry was by toasting them near a flame.
During breaks in the rain a stack of clean folded towels would be delivered, smelling pleasantly smoky, like incense.

They were soft. Not particularly fluffy.

When no one was looking, I would bury my face in the stomach of the bear, and sniff deeply.
Laundry soap and toasted herbs.

One day I had put a shirt over a spare chair to air it out, and fallen asleep.
A startling sound woke me up.
When I looked towards where it came from, I saw a furry face.
With my shirt draped around it. Empty sleeves flopping.
The creature then rushed off in a panic.
With my shirt.

I do not begrudge the macaque that habiliment. It was replaceable, and she looked so pleased with it over her head.
But it was a very nice shirt, and I really hope she appreciated it.
I'm fairly certain that it was a lady monkey.
A male would've tried eating it instead.

And till she saw me watching, she was styling!
Très très chique.


She would have looked good just wearing a towel, too.

Spare towels.
Extra shirts.
Fit for rain.

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Saturday, August 25, 2012


Most people spend Saturday evening partying or behaving outrageously.
This blogger spends his Saturday evening avoiding Teddy Bears.
Contrary to popular misconception, Teddy Bears are NOT the soothingly soft - in - the - head characters of Disney and daytime television, but deeply complex individuals, frequently only borderline sane.
Pooh was a certifiable halfwit with offensive mannerisms, and probably had sexual issues to boot. In any case, quite bent.
Those furry pastel freaks on teevee are responsible for more damaged infants than you can shake a stick at, little fat overeating meatballs who coo and squeal, and demand pampering and coddling till far into their twenties.
Several other star ursines are forbidden from ever coming near kids again, after having damaged a few for life with insane escapades that went horribly wrong.

Bears are by no means safe comforting babysitters, and if you leave them alone with your brats, they're are likely to grow up traumatized, twisted, and deviant.
Questioning both your authority and leadership of the herd.
Saddled with a serious tranquilizer addiction.
Ignorant of the Oxford comma.
Always in therapy.

Shan't even mention the well-known coprophiliac bears who sold their souls to the toilet paper manufacturers; they have no pride whatsoever, they're only doing it for candy money.
Mercenary cretins.

Teddy Bears are hugely problematic to be around, and absolutely require the company of sane mature adults.
Otherwise they'll just create problems, and stir things up.
Especially when I'm the only human in the apartment.


This is my roommate's Teddy Bear, and her oldest friend. Due to my roommate's busy life (which does not include me), the Senior Roomie is often left to fend for herself, managing the other stuffed animals, who are a rowdy bunch. When things drastically changed a few years ago the Senior Roomie had a bit of a nervous breakdown. She's on medical leave at present while someone else has taken over her tasks. Quieter and calmer now, but occasionally she still mutters angrily. Especially in my direction. She's always had it in for me.
Lately, given that my roommate hasn't been romantically involved with anybody in a while, the bear has been gloating in an unseemly manner.
Hah, finally that woman will have to depend on the wise bear again!
Boy is she going to be pissed when S.K. finds someone.
I do not want to be there when that happens.


She has a sweet personality, but she's really quite batshit. Let's just say that this is a Teddy Bear with problems, who cannot deal with reality well. Or even at all. She also has queer obsessions, and blames me for a lot that is wrong in the world.
When I found her she was outside Walgreens panhandling for seafood.
Normally she sits in her corner and ignores the others.
Occasionally she says the word 'fish'.
Then looks threatening.


A sadly disappointed little fuzzball in a permanent state of denial about his social handicap. Probably not the sanest of Teddy Bears. Like several other critters in the apartment he just doesn't listen very well. Possibly suffers from ADD, but more likely just not very bright. Psychologically and behaviourally screwy. He's very hard to talk to.
I consider him the most dysfunctional of the roomies. One of his theories is that if I just threatened all the others on his behalf, and enforced what he says is 'the law', things would be a lot better. His love-life would improve, too.
Obviously, I shall not argue with him. That would be pointless.
Instead, I prefer to escape for several hours.
Smoking my pipe among humans.


Years ago I found Manferd sitting on the bench at a bus stop late at night, long after that line stopped running. He's made himself quite at home in the apartment, and seems remarkably well-adjusted for so taciturn and antisocial a critter. Possibly his hobo-life before he settled down taught him self-reliance and gave him maturity.
Sometimes I don't know where he is.
Or where his head is at.

As you can see, staying home on Saturday evening is out of the question. On the other hand, partying or behaving outrageously is not part of the program either.

Saturday evenings are a bit of a waste of time, and often somewhat depressing.

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Friday, August 24, 2012


It wasn’t until after I got to work that I realized my trousers bore the evidence of yesterday’s curry-related mishap. I had left the house in an awful rush, you see, and had overlooked the bright yellow effect.

No wonder that dog sniffed my pants; I smell good!

Spent much of the morning at my desk. Except for very quick trips to the office kitchen while nobody was around, to dab at my clothing with soapy water and paper towels.
Let the thighs dry while they’re hidden from view.
Got most of the shocking colour out by lunch.

While I like curry of all sorts – and stay tuned for a fish curry recipe and a chicken curry recipe here sometime soon – my favourite meals are different entirely.

In no particular order:

Rice porridge with a fried dough stick and a cup of milk tea.

Rice-stick noodles in clear broth with bean sprouts and minced scallion, with a plate of grilled pork on the side.

Fish and bittermelon over rice.

Wonton noodle soup.

Roast duck, stirfried kailan, and rice.

And last, though not least:

Peppercorn-crusted baby lamb chops with sautéed asparagus and a plate of rice.

I like various kinds of rice porridge (chicken, or fish, or lean pork and preserved egg, etcetera), as you may have read here before. There's something simple, old-fashioned, and comforting about it, especially with the fried dough stick for sopping, and this meal almost begs for a nice strong cup of milk tea. Close to heavenly.

The rice-stick noodle soup with grilled pork combo is quite obscenely self-indulgent. Part of the joy is dipping the pieces of pork in hot sauce and savouring them, then mellowing the taste with noodles, and spooning up some broth for a total effect. The sweet crunchiness of bean sprouts adds immeasurably. Then repeat.
With a glass of cold drip-coffee and condensed milk afterwards, one is prepared for the world.
More importantly, one is ready for a pipe of flake tobacco and forty minutes of day-dreaming.

Bittermelon is one of my favourite vegetables, along with kailan and asparagus. All three can be stirfried with collops of fish, chicken, or pork. But the sweetness of fresh fish is a particularly nice counterpoint.

Wonton noodle soup. Wonton noodle soup. Wonton noodle soup!

Roast duck is self-explanatory.

You will note that from the rice porridge to the duck and mustard, these can all be found at restaurants and lunch counters.

The lamb-chops, alas, cannot.
Sweet tiny chops!


I hardly cook anymore, because eating at home is a solitary affair. Why make a nice meal if no one will share it?
Besides, the food store nearby no longer has a meat counter, the butcher shop down the street closed down years ago, and the Cala Market on California and Hyde is being rebuilt to become a Trader Joe's sometime this autumn.

Lovely little lamb chops are so easy to prepare too!

Just crack a spoonful of peppercorns, add a sprinkle of salt and a pinch of five-spice. Then rub the chops with olive oil and dab them in the mixture till coated - not too generously. Heat up the skillet, add oil, and when it smokes put them in.

Brown one side on high heat, flip them, brown the other side. You may turn down the flame at this point, but take care that they don't cook too long, lest they toughen.
When they're done, put the chops on a platter.

As you've used plenty of oil, and there are little bits of darkened pepper and other crud left in the pan, you should probably just pour it out and wipe, rather than deglazing.

While the chops are resting, blanch the asparagus in boiling salt water with a splash vinegar to preserve colour, rinse under cold in a sieve or colander after they've cooked for two minutes, then sauté on high with some slivered ginger. Flame with a generous splash of sherry. When the bubbling subsides, add a little freshly chopped parsley or cilantro to the pan, swirl, and decant to a plate.

Lamb chops look absolutely gorgeous on white porcelain, and the fresh green hue of asparagus is almost better than the taste.

A lemon-caper sauce, or a mustard glaze with broth added after sizzling the mustard - these go well with both the meat and the vegetable. Minced fresh herbs or paprika may be added to either.

A small salad (lettuce and sliced cucumber, plain vinaigrette) to promote digestion..... perfect.

It's a simple meal, only requiring rice to complete.

However, because lamb chops are commonly sold in packs of three, you will be faced with a charming and delightful dilemma.

"Please have the last one"

"I couldn't, you take it."

"No really you must."

"I insist. Go ahead!"

"But I'm full, please eat it!"

"It's so small, surely just little bite?"

"I couldn't possibly. Please, you should."

"Honestly I would love for you to have it!"

"No no no please! You look so happy eating!"

"So do you, so do you!  You know you want to....."

And so on.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012


Sometimes someone you know will launch into an anecdote that you may have heard so often that you can interrupt and finish recounting the tale for them. In general, doing so is not a good idea.
People define themselves through their experiences, and re-telling their personal stories helps reframe these. It gives them insights and perspectives about themselves they might not otherwise have.

I do the same, but I try not to be (too) repetitive. Around someone who may have already listened to me before, I will cast the material differently. Or go off on a different tack.
It surprises them. And me.


I like listening to other people. It throws the discussion into a format that they are comfortable with.
Because I excercise discrimination about my associates it is safe to do so - my friends tend towards calmness, sanity, and thoughtfulness.
Even those who find it hard to speak have fascinating things to say.
Especially the quiet ones. They percolate surprisingly.

What they all have in common is that they have creative minds. No, they do not produce great works of art or immortal literature, their inventiveness applies to how they live, and their consideration of others.
They think, read, bounce ideas, and stimulate.
And they're honest, ethical, and gentle.
Yes, that requires creativity.
People you can trust.

Several of them are unfortunately limited in what they can eat because of kashrus or vegetarianismus - and there's an overlap there - but I happen to know the particular kosher vegetarian who has been seeding the comment section of my blog with wonderful recipes for raccoons, possums, roadkill,  marmots.......
Rabbit preparations that she herself would never cook.
Charming dishes all, and I'm keen to try them!
She also prepares a mean sea-kitten.
Sustenance for the soul.


Food is something to be passionate about.
I judge restaurants more on the personalities of the people who eat and work there, and their interesting quirks, than on the expense of the ingredients or the rarity of the dish.
Eating is much more fun when you can observe other people.
Nowadays I often eat alone.

There's pleasure in simple cheap stuff that may not appeal to many others, and one must discriminate in dining partners. Only go to the interesting places with someone who is receptive to the food.
It really is the considerate thing to do.

Afterwards it's nice to smoke a pipe and day-dream for a while.
There's an alley near the pyramid that's good for that.
On weekends the Financial District is peaceful.

It is not likely that anyone would join me there, unfortunately.
Keeping company with a badger might bore them.
Even if I provided a pipe or a cheroot.

Everyone has different cycles and needs.

Stay flexible and try odd things.
Be considerate.
Eat well.

There's always something new.


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Wednesday, August 22, 2012


In the year that my father passed away I rediscovered Amsterdam.  That is actually not quite correct; I had rediscovered it several times before.  But when I went back to Holland to see my dad before he died, I had been gone for over a decade.  It was a welcome homecoming.
Since then Amsterdam, more than the south (Brabant and Limburg) has represented another home.  The area around Eindhoven has little left to offer, as everyone I knew there has either left this earth or left that place: there is no real reason to revisit the Kempen anymore.
But Amsterdam is always there. 
Amsterdam is a personality, a city, a familiar atmosphere.
A place where the head is, and the heart must follow.

In my teenage years I 'rediscovered' the city nearly every year.  Always I liked visiting the flower market first, followed by spending the entire rest of the day strolling through the city, browsing antique stores and curio shops, having coffee and snacks, drinking in the feel of the metropolis.

It's partly the trees. 
The city is dense with them, they shade the streets and muffle the sounds.
That, more than anything else, makes the place other-wordly.
It's like being in a private universe.
Leaf-speckled patterns.

When I visited my father that last time, I dawdled for four hours in Amsterdam before taking the train to the south.  I had not been around Dutch-speakers since the day I left twelve years before.  Let me just drink in what it feels like.
I discovered that I was one of the very few Dutch-speakers in town.  When I asked someone where a particular street was, he apologetically admitted that he too was visiting, and only spoke English. 
Several other tourists, hearing me speak the local tongue, promptly asked me for directions.
I must have rather disappointed them.  Sorry.

During the next several weeks I went back to Amsterdam a number of times.
As I have in the years since.


I am particularly fond of the area around the Spui Plein. There's the Atheneum bookstore on the corner of Spui Street, the Cafe Luxembourg with the desultory and undiplomatic waiters, Cafe Beiaard around the corner with a much warmer staff, as well as several other cafes nearby where one may read the livres purchased at the weekly book market held every Friday amidst the trees surrounding the square. Which, surely, is the major reason to come. The printed matter you will find represents all the languages of Europe, and several beyond - Amsterdam has been a trading city for eons, and this is where the fleets that fought the Spanish in Asia and South America came from; for over three centuries it was the centre of the spice trade.

In the immediate area of the Spui Plein are a number of antiquarian booksellers where treasures may be found, not very far away at all is Scheltema Holkema Vermeulen, which is another famous bookstore, and snacks as well as very nice formal meals can be had at various eateries and restaurants. 
The streets are shaded by ancient growth, and it's a relatively short stroll to other squares.

Many tourists only known the Leidsche Plein.  They shoot down the Leidsche Straat from the train station, and promptly swarm into the Bulldog to lose their minds on hashish. Thank heavens they never buy maps, stay on focus, and have no interest in anything else. 
Their 15 watt presence would darken the mood elsewhere.
Such as areas merely half a block away along the various canals.
Leafy spots, curio shops, bookstores, and antiques.
Plus comfortable cafes and eateries.

The Rembrandt Plein by comparison sees hardly any outsiders, and I doubt that anywhere nearby sells spacecake to young Americans. There's an English pub there, but its clientele and mood are profoundly Dutch.  Clean, bright, old-fashioned.  If I remember correctly they even have the rugs on the tables in lieu of damask, as many traditional drinking establishments in the Netherlands do.
The Rembrandt Plein is tree-lined, there are many antique store in walking distance.
I recall it as perpetually sunny - just haven't been there on rainy days.


While Dutch food has always been infinitely better than what is available across the channel, the most exciting dining is at Indonesian restaurants. 
Indo food is a cuisine whose roots in Holland were planted centuries ago, when returnees from the tropics and newly available spices met head on. The exiles loved being home again, loathed the rediscovered Dutch climate, and longed for something exciting to eat.  Over the next several generations, the use of strong flavourings and subtle additions gradually found a place, eateries were opened up that catered to the Indies-gasten, and substitutions for ingredients not yet available added a different signature to several dishes.
After the war the flood of returning colonials added vigour, and, as a welcome change from the scarcity of the German years, East Indies food took off like a rocket.
Nowadays you can hardly find a Dutch kitchen without a spectrum of spices, condiments, sauces, and hotpastes whose origin lies halfway around the world.
For many ex-Indies folks, this was the taste of home.  They grew up eating it, and in fact had never been to the Netherlands till Sukarno expelled them.

A meat stew made dark with earthy kluwak nuts, next to something brilliant yellow, coconutty.  Red red hotsauce with a touch of fermented fish in a little saucer - the condiment - as well as grilled lamb skewers, slightly charry, with a drizzle of thick dark sauce.  A plate of blanched vegetables with some spicy peanut sauce. Shrimp stir-fried with chilipaste and kangkong.
Fish soup with tamarind, tomato, and fresh crunchy herbs.  Little fried snackipoos, and a spicy vegetable coconut mixture.  Raw veggies with a fiery dip.  A bowl of crunchy stuff to add on top.
Rawon, gulai, sambal, sate kambing, petjil, sambal goreng udang, ikan singgang, emping, urap urap, lalap, serundeng (these are all things I still cook at home, btw).
Everything in small portions, as it is the variety that counts. 
Followed by strong coffee, and a very thin slice of an incredibly rich and delicious cake, moist and aromatic: spekkoek ("bacon cake"), so named because of its appearance, being paperthin layers of brown and white batter alternating - one sweet with a faint faint hint of pandan, the other richly zapped up with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and cardamom.

[Spekkoek is something that really needs to be made by an auntie. It just tastes better that way.
I rarely do it myself.]

Then past golden-glowing windows home to the hotel, along streets darkened further by leaves and trees, but retaining the warmth of day long past dusk.

Holland is a wet and fecund place.  Green things thrive. 
Because of all the trees, Amsterdam smells good.
But that might still be the aroma of spices.

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There are no more little golden fruits, all that's left is a rangy looking transgender queen with a blonde wig.
No, this isn't about diminished expectations at Folsom Street, or in the gay bars on Polk. It's about kumquats.  There's a back lot where I can see the kumquats on their trees in season. 
Three trees in yards behind apartment buildings, planted long ago.
But they're all gone now.  The season has ended.
The only other person there at that moment is a former black man.
Smoking and yelling "ooh girl" on the phone.
It isn't quite the same.

From the exhaust vents come the fumes of imperial rolls in the deep fryer. 
And nearby is a pizza place, I can smell the yeasty reek of dough.
That's where I spotted the young woman with the nice forehead and the eyebrows that looked like wiggly caterpillars a few years ago.  Her brows dimpled enchantingly as she realized that pizza was lovely.
The two young men who were with her may not have noticed, as all three were animated and talkative.
I saw it, however. Women and food, of course I'm watching.
Her face was alive with pleased surprise.
It was very delicious.

Maybe she hadn't had pizza before?

But she didn't look like she had come from overseas.  Dressed very much like one of us.  Local.
Likewise her companions.  Well, other than that one looked like a teenage Leslie Cheung, and the other like an innocent and sweet-natured Lau tak-wah.  Not the cynical pop-star we now all know.
She didn't look like anybody.

On a whim I ate pizza there again.  Things have changed.  The topping on the Athena is not the same, nor as good.  There is no feta cheese anymore, and the pesto doesn't have the same saveur.
But I like the people that run the place.
One Arabian, and one Mexican.
A match made in heaven.
No, NOT that way.
Just friends.

Two slices; artichoke, cheese, olive oil, pesto, plus lots of chili powder.
Watched hicks in Kentucky wrestle hogs while eating.
The place was empty most of that time.
Three cablecars rumbled past.
I miss golden fruits.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012


A while back I saw someone’s self-description. She informed the reader that she spent a large amount of time thinking about coffee and goats.
I also spend a lot of time thinking about coffee, and goats.

They’re delicious.
She views them in connection with cheese.
Goat cheese.
I regard them in the light of curry.
Goat curry.

Possibly this is an irreconcilable difference.

Goat curry requires a decisive hand with black pepper, and the addition of a cinnamon stick. In addition to coriander seed powder, a touch of turmeric, ginger, cardamom, fiery chilipaste, fried onions, and a splash of coconut milk.
Plus some fresh green chilies, and cilantro.

Years ago there was a splendid Halal market on Polk Street.
Which is now a mediocre Mediterranean take-out.
Gone is the ready availability of goat.

Goat curry; it’s what Athena used to restore Penelope’s vibrant youth.
That which marks the crimes of Tantalus and Tydeus.
Psyche’s route to immortality.
The ineffable.

Goat cheese is also pretty good.

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Monday, August 20, 2012


It has been a long indulgent weekend. You’ve spent all afternoon in the deserted house ensconced in the armchair reading, having kicked off your shoes and curled up. Both your hair and your pleated skirt are awry, and, having devoured several chapters of an English novel, you rub your eyes. How late is it? Teatime?

Several minutes later you pad back into the living room with a plate and a cup. Time to go on the computer and see what’s new in the world.
Particularly, what that amusing Dutch-American chap who always hides out at his office on weekends has been up to.
And did he also have tea today?

Of course he did!

Dot. Dot. Dot.

Yesterday was a good day for escaping. And, at around tea-time, I was at my desk in the Financial District. Earlier I had been fondling my pipe after a satisfying bowlful in a peaceful alleyway with a bench, day dreaming.
Upon reaching the office building, I switched on the computer and read the BBC news as well as De Telegraaf. They’ve had particularly hot weather in Holland these last few days. How ironic that there are so many Dutch people and Germans visiting San Francisco now, where the highest it has gotten – in the downtown, and shielded from the wind – has been 63 degrees Fahrenheit. Usually it has been somewhat cold and windy.

Feeling somewhat disappointed with the world, I spent an hour reading about the fall of Saigon in 1975. That seems so long ago. All imperial powers have suffered tropic defeats. England, France, the Netherlands. Germany, Spain, Portugal. Italy. Ours was just a little more recent than theirs. We Americans don’t do imperialism well, it’s not as intrinsic a part of our culture, nor is brutally exploiting other people so important to our sense of well-being.

Then, to change the mood, something upbeat.
A vocaloid singing a spirited tune.



There now. Who could possibly feel sad after such a bright and sprightly performance?
And note that yesterday was a sunny day. Perfect for happy discoveries.


That backdrop is lovely.  Somehow I think it would make a great wine label.  Though obviously not suited to a California wine, better for a fine plonk from overseas.

[Watercolour by Jean-Pierre Houël, 1789, property of the Bibliothèque Nationale Française.]

The event portrayed in the painting above is greatly detailed on Wikipedia. The citizen-mob stormed the Bastille to acquire ammunition, rather than to liberate the prisoners therein.
Who are described in that Wikipedia article as four forgers, two nutballs, and a deviant.
All in all, other than the symbolic victory of capturing the citadel that represented tyranny, it was like most rebellious acts rather silly. Subsequent bloodletting discredited the rabble, and had they not been ultimately victorious, they and their cause would have been forgotten.

In other words, it was a great revolutionary triumph!
Which is deservedly celebrated every year.
Go ahead, play that song again.

Likely I had too much tea yesterday.
Positively giddy by evening.
Not a bad day.

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Sunday, August 19, 2012


There are stretches here between Chinatown and Polk Street that because of the trees present a pattern of speckled shadows cast on the pavement from the streetlights at night. This is most noticeable after a brief rain, when the air is cleaner and crisper and the light contrast more sharply with the darkness.
Usually fog smoothes out the sharp edges.

Pacific Avenue long after dusk is one of the most enjoyable short walks in my neighborhood. The incline is gradual, and it takes little effort to crest the hill. For two blocks it is level, before descending down to Polk. There used to be sewing factories in every block, but the last one may have closed over a year ago. It’s become a little “gentrified” – that is to say, many of the shop fronts are now ‘art spaces’, which means that something odd is in the window to indicate serious aesthetic labours within, and a full curtain hides what is beyond. Which, usually, is a young couple, possibly tattooed and pierced, living a Bohemian life in a city very far away from their bourgeois families elsewhere in this country.

Sometimes they have parties.

At three in the morning, after it’s all over, the attendees stumble home to their own art spaces. Depending on how erratic their zombie-shuffle, one gives them a wide berth. Not that they might erupt, but they’ve been known to crash into large easily avoidable walls.
Which jump right out at them.

During the day, Pacific Avenue can be described as 'Le Rue Vieille du 台山', traversed largely by country Cantonese who live above the art spaces and store fronts, as well as further uphill on the several cross streets. There are two bus lines that pass along in either direction, and except for rush hours it is rare to see white people riding. Leastways, rare for the Caucasian element to dominate.
Right around six p.m. there may be standing room only, as the conveyance fills up with Cantonese people lugging home fresh vegetables and seafood to prepare for dinner. Unlike the artistic types, they know how to cook, and do not eat out nearly every night.
There is an Italian Restaurant between Larkin and Hyde, and a Spanish joint at Mason Street. As well as a Wine Bar (Café Meuse) right on the intersection of Hyde.

Green leaves, yellow lights, and drifting mist.
The sound of cablecars heading down Hyde Street after turning north at Jackson.
Fat raccoons ambling up from Trenton, where they investigated the garbage cans outside West Ping Yuen beneath the tall leafy trees. Empty green painted wooden racks under the awnings of the Cheung Hing Market on the corner of Powell Street, not too far from both the Kam Po (excellent roast meats till around eight) and Ma's Dim Sum & Café, where all the way till early evening one may eat superior dishes with that real home town taste. Good food.

There are quiet alleyways in the sloping blocks on either side of Pacific: Lynch, Bernard, Phoenix Terrace, Salmon and Auburn, John, Wayne Place.......
Crows, pigeons, seagulls, cats, possum.
Something dark and glowering.
I know that it eats fish.
Maybe a demon.

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Due to my roommate's activities in the kitchen this morning, just before waking I dreamed of going to watch a large mansion burning down. It happened during the first year that we lived in Valkenswaard, and we weren't the only ones admiring the lovely flames. Seemingly half the town was there. Sad - it had been a beautiful building.

Where it stood they built a brand new post office a few years later. It was very modern and not nearly as beautiful; rebuilding that mansion and setting it on fire again would have been infinitely better.
Golden tongues flaring into a black-blue expanse, past dark dark trees.
Stark branches limned amidst trails of smoke.
Shifting patterns of light.

It wasn't that my roommate was burning anything, but the smell of cooking was the spark that set off an unconscious mind already primed by what I had eaten yesterday. Which caused gout and sleeping sweat.
I had feared that a bowl of 生滾及第粥 would do exactly that. Pork liver and other innards poached in scalding hot rice porridge. With densely delicious meatballs added.
As it turns out, there was just enough organ meat in that supper to inflame my evil joint as well as my head.
It has been a fiery night.

Readers familiar with Nabokov's Ada will remember a scene in which the entire household piles into carriages to go see a villa a few miles away burning in the middle of the night, leaving young Ada and V.V. alone.
V.V. stands for both Van Veen, the teenage protagonist, as well as Vladimir Vladimirovich, the name and patronymic of the author.
It is a lovely, albeit naughtily unsuitable scene.
As well as the start of something good.
Probably my favourite passage.
In a word: smoking.

I suspect two things:
One - Vladimir Vladimirovich himself conflated conflagrations;
And two - he quite possibly also had gout.
There may be something that he never tells us.
Though he mentions overmuch else.
His fevered memories.

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Saturday, August 18, 2012


Some pipe tobaccos are orgasmic. Monastic orgasmic.
Life slows down, the taste induces a dream state.
The next several centuries should be like this.

Blended exclusively for Butera Pipe Company by J. F. Germain and Son.
Esoterica Tobacciana

“A rich, full, matured Virginia with Louisiana Perique”

If this were a woman, she would be young and lively, with pleasing subtle roundnesses, not overly buxom. As well as one hell of a sparkling personality and a ready wit.
Come to think of it, I rather wish she were a woman.

On a whim I cracked a tin because my supply of Brown Virginia was getting low, and I didn’t want to rely on the aged Dunhill flake for my jollies. I’m also nearly through the tin of St. James Flake, which is a quite bit better than the Dunhill product, despite having considerably less age.
I’ve always thought the label design of the Esoterica line of tobaccos was pretentiously antique, both too precious and studiously elegant. Artsy.
But the products are all of stellar quality.
As is also this one.

Like all fine leaves that come out of Jersey in the British Channel Islands, this product needs to be dried considerably ere use. It is packed moist and springy, and may prove hard to get used to in that state. A day or two of leaving the tin open to the air will leave it dry but not desiccated, and send a faint delicious hint of fragrance into the room meanwhile.

It’s hard to describe in the pipe. Creamy, faintly fruity, freshly mature. Complex, vivacious, and brightly sparkling, and in all ways of most beguiling character. It has a slight tanginess, enchanting sweetness, and is enough to keep one occupied.
This, ideally, is what one would like to come home to.
Whether tobacco or female companion.

I had a full bowl after lunch in Chinatown. The meal was fun – and the waitress has a very trim figure – but the post-prandial smoke was the best part of the afternoon. It was over all too soon.

Reminds me of dozing in the long soft grasses.
I'm looking forward to Autumn and ripe apples.


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Friday, August 17, 2012


A friend sincerely advised me that if I desired to end up in a relationship, hanging around with middle-aged cigar aficionados and pipe-smoking oddballs was NOT the way to go about it.
She couldn't think of anything less likely to cause a romantic accident than that.

Well, I know that.

The problem is that I enjoy conversation.

The venues that she suggested are not conducive to any type of interesting or even entertaining chit-chat.

Dance-clubs and health-spas.
Places where, as she put it, women hang out.
Good heavens, girl, I do NOT want to hang out with women!


There. That about says it. Dating just isn't part of my skill-set. If a situation occurred in which I could find myself asking a girl out on a "date", my idea of what we should do together is eat at a place which is good for people-watching, then go for a long stroll through quiet streets exchanging snarky witticisms and mentioning the books we read.
Perhaps quoting semi-randomly from Monty Python.
During the day-time.

I haven't dated anyone in years.

The concept itself is somewhat absurd, too. The whole purpose of a date is to get to know someone, but the fallacy therein is that in order to want to spend time with another person, one already has to know them reasonably well.
More to the point, the young lady in question would have to want to spend time with me. If having a conversation with me bores her, that wouldn't be a date so much as an endurance test.

Getting back to the aforementioned dance-clubs and health-spas, that is not where the right people can be found. Those who like jook, snackipoos, and casual walks that involve relaxed conversation, books, and Monty Python references.
I do not know where such people hang out.
But I suspect that they stay at home a lot.

This pog ('perverse old goat') would like to meet someone who knows the words to The Lumberjack Song, The Philosophers Song, or Always Look On The Bright Side of Life.
If she's ever seen Michael Palin and John Cleese performing the fish slapping dance, or the military fairy, so much the better!

*       *       *       *       *

Gratuitous final remark: If the sweet young thing ALSO understands the sheer importance of defending oneself against someone armed with a banana, I very well might fall at her feet and worship her.
Seriously. Bananas are terrifying.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012


Perhaps I'm too tolerant and gentle with other people. I find it hard to tell them to please shut up because they are making pointless repetitive noises. Or imparting details - far too many details - about subjects that interest no one else in the whole wide world.


Such as what the lobby manager is presently considering having for lunch. Which is turkey breast and pepper jack cheese on a bun with pepperoncini. The merest lick of mayonaise. When the elevator finally comes he is still going into detail about the cheese with jalapeños mixed into the curd, the exact nature of the bun (sesame sprinkled, and dense of texture), and the quantity of pepperoncini. Which is dependent on the juiciness and volume of actual vegetable matter in the various pickled peppers picked from the jar......
As the door closes, I hear him reach a crescendo.
It is a fascinating subject.

Erm, thank you for sharing.......

I do not know what set him off. Neither I nor the other person in the lobby asked him about lunch. We both know far better than that! In fact, experience has taught us to limit conversation with him and his staff to brisk greetings upon entering or exiting. They are all a bit skewed.
Anything may unleash the voluble equivalent of Ragnarok.
After listening to the inane windgusts for several minutes, you may want to start eating your own tail. Start at the tip, then finish the job by swallowing your long cold scaly body all the way up to the head. Past the ears.
Definitely past the ears.

There is a conflict in progress on the ground floor. A tall and ancient bearded gentleman with two crows is cantering about on a big steed. Thunderclouds move in and out of arriving elevators, a host of serpents and lizards slither across the marble floor uttering sibilant lyrics in German. 
Gibichung Palace is burning, burning I tell you!  Our building lobby is Volkvanger and Vallehalle combined.  Mad mad blonde women wearing pickelhauben (and little else) chase the misshapen dwarf with a ring who slips and skitters.

And screeches repetitively.

The precious, the precious!

He's overdue for a vacation.

Before he drives us all insane.

Unleash the peperoncini forthwith!

There's one more day till the weekend.

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Several years ago I had a coworker down the peninsula who would leave work related voicemails on people's answering machines all weekend...