November 30, 2011

But My Cast-Iron Choo-Choo Is Very Attractive Under The Tree, Also.

A buddy of mine just posted this on Facebook.  Truly has to be seen to be believed...

November 29, 2011

Moment of Truth

So, here I am, working on my opening speech for the debate on Thursday...  and to maintain sanity, I am multitasking.  While typing away about how city/county consolidation will heal the sick, bring you free well drinks, and offer you a delightful shoulder massage, I am also watching an interview with Phyllis Diller.  (I know you're wondering: Ninety-four.)

I type.  I go on autopilot.  I pause to re-read my work, and found that I have offered "a solution tailored to Allegheny County's unique comedy structure."

Never say I haven't learned anything in graduate school.

Christmas On The Street

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street is a treasured part of the Secondmost Christmas festivities for many reasons, one of which is the below-embedded number.  Let us count (HA!  COUNT!  Right?) the ways it is wonderful...

1). It's a clever, catchy song.

2). This clip contains Mr. Hooper, who sort of served as my TV grandfather, except he wasn't hypercritical or prone to driving erratically in the path of oncoming fuel trucks.  Or anti-semitic slurs, obvs.

3a). Oscar looks like my crabby little old man cat, Ian.  In fact, Ian's nickname is "Oscar Brimley."  I'm pretty sure Ian knows enough English to hate this.

3b). "Oscar Brimley" will be the name of my next imaginary band, after "Fired For Ham" breaks up due to creative differences and disputes over licensing.

3c).  CONSUMER ALERT: I am free associating like a champ.

4.) You will soon think the following: "Joy to the world!  The school burned down!  And a partridge in a pear tree."  Trust me on this one.

November 28, 2011

The SMLTS Dubious Holiday Gift Guide, Part 2

"I have extremely limited space in my apartment--so of course I still have an LP collection--and I simply adore purchasing AA batteries in bulk.  If only there was a product that would meet my needs..."

You ordered one (1) holiday miracle?  Hammacher Schlemmer to the rescue!

(Aside from the conceptual silliness of the thing...  and acknowledging that I haven't fired up my turntable in years...  Anyone else cringing involuntarily on behalf of the poor records being strapped into that death trap?)

November 27, 2011

Dressed In Holiday Style

The traditional Christmas reindeerpig and...  uh... Skippy the Sparkle Season Stegosaurus?


Shameless Electioneering

When November rolls around, you get a chance to weigh in on terribly important things, to shape the values we embrace in the coming times.  In short, it's time to vote on 2011's Coolest Song In The World.  (Well, the guys-and-guitars corner of the world.)

For my money, this is 2011, distilled and poured into a glass...

This Is Why I Have An Artificial Tree

Saw that a Facebook friend posted this right as we're about to decorate the tree... it's the year's most festive feeling of deja vu!

November 26, 2011

When She Walks By, She Brightens Up The Neighborhood...

Christmas in Western PA is now 98% more flamingo-ey!

Traffic Stop

Pausing to examine the Secondmost traffic sources...

A Mini Return of Occasional SMLTS Feature "Today In Oh Hell No"
"john boehner looks like don draper"

Search Term Improbably Yielding Multiple Hits
"lost tortoise poster gangster"

A Somewhat Sincere Apology
To the shocking number of people who end up on this snarky post while innocently looking for information on cause awareness ribbons--seriously, this thing's a year old and still getting several dozen hits a month--well, sorry it's no help whatsoever.  Hope you enjoy your visit, anyway.  I share your opposition to disease, violence, and/or litter.

THE SMLTS Dubious Holiday Gift Guide, Part 1

A precious memory of Christmas shopping from my teen years...
Mom stood at B. Dalton's New Releases section, waiting for inspiration to strike.  "Maybe your uncle would like this..."  she mused, as she picked up a volume on Jack The Ripper.

I have a lousy poker face.

She put the book down.  "It's time to go home, isn't it?"


The Civil War buff in your life might like this.  By "like this," I mean "be in danger of receiving this from someone who has reached that desperate end-of-the-Christmas-shopping-list mindset."

Without a caption, can you honestly say you would look at this and think, "Hey, that's the great defender of Little Round Top, Joshua Chamberlain?"

For extra lulz, you can have your General Chamberlain nutcracker preside over the parade to surrender of your General Lee nutcracker.

November 25, 2011

Friday, Friday, Gotta Stay In On Friday

I would love to say that I avoided all retail on Black Friday, but the hairy personages do tend to insist upon being fed, so I had to make a quick grocery run.  Other than that, though...  #occupyhouse.  I spent the day working on papers and drinking coffee.  Nothing like taking a cold and dispassionate look at the day planner to spark a good, solid panic about those end-of-semester deadlines.  Just under two weeks to my econ final, yikes!  (Despite the fact that I have now been well and soundly educated by not one but  two acolytes of Milton Friedman, I still believe in commie ideas like the minimum wage.)

Outside of my little cocoon, the block is starting to light up.  I think one of the reasons I feel so at home in my neighborhood is that it's cobbled together from a couple of identities.  Bloomfield or Lawrenceville?  Old-school, blue collar 'Burgh or [whatever the hell it is we're calling yuppies these days]?  Yes!  But right now, the Bloomfield wins, hands down.  Strings of colored bulbs and thick ropes of tinselly garland hang from stoop railings. Hip?  Not even a little bit, but why front?  It's Christmas.  We can pretend to be upwardly mobile again some time next year.

APROPOS OF NOTHING: You live in a world in which Jon Hamm and Garry Marshall have been in a freestyle rap battle.  No, really.  47:45.

November 23, 2011


OK, this one's going out to all the cooks:  Couldn't you just swear you've forgotten something?

I've gone through my menu for tomorrow more times than I care to admit, and part of me is still absolutely convinced that I'll be in the home stretch--the part where I'm really in the flow of the moment and someone asks if they can help and I desperately want to say "Yes, GET THE HELL OUT OF MY KITCHEN BEFORE I WHACK YOU WITH THE ROLLING PIN!"  but instead chirp "No, but thanks for the offer!"--at that point, I will realize that I forgot to purchase, I don't know, the turkey.

(I checked.  I did remember, and it's even defrosted, delightful though PoultrySicles sound.)

Yes...  the bird's defrosted.  The two regulation pies (pecan and pumpkin) are baked.  The potatoes are mashed and ready to be reheated in their lidded casserole.

Cranberry sauce, bestowed by its can with ridges and probably also BPA...  check.

Stuffing.  Check.  Unapologetic Stove-Top fan.  There, I'm Out.

Green bean casserole makings...  check.  Still can't imagine who thought it would be a good idea to can fried onions.  I always find myself thinking of fallout shelters when I summon this unholy mess of canned goods; but never mind my better impulses, it is a tradition of My People, it is the birthright and legacy of the Midcentury WASP.  (That and my grandmother's truly horrific shrimp dip, which I don't prepare although it could well serve to repel my natural predators in case of emergency.)

Stock for the gravy...  plenty of butter...  celery, onion, carrots.  Heavy cream to whip for the pumpkin pie, which itself is largely composed of same.  I love my vegan friends, but they'd drop dead at my house tomorrow.

Thankfulness for everything precious that's left and everything hopeful that's grown from this strange, strange year?  Check.

With love from this battered heart, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving, Dear Reader.

November 22, 2011

Kostyra Out

Might I have a beatbox, please?

Thank you.


Rollin' through the Hamptons in my SUV
Been running nonstop since I left Nutley
That's Jersey, straight up, yeah Garden State
Now the world's my oyster on a Wedgwood plate
But I learned in the joint that life gets hard
When they take you away from your Amex black card
I got 99 problems and Alexis is one--

--WHAT?  I'm on a roll here.  A flow, if you will!  I--
(murmur murmur murmur)


Never mind.

November 21, 2011

Balancing Act

Such a strange week...  in one sense, I have the gift of spare time (nothing scheduled all week except for econ tomorrow morning).  But in reality, I have an awful lot to do.  Loads of papers, debate prep, getting ready for finals.  Finals!  Not possible!

It's terribly important to wrest some holiday cheer out of November, so I'm trying to allocate at least a little bit of time for non-typed, completely un-cited, gloriously aimless life.   As of yesterday, the plum pudding mold I bought a couple years ago has finally been baptized; the perfectly shiny tinned surface gave way at the rivets to the ceremonial rust a few hours into the steaming process.  The dense little cake nestles in the fridge now, brushed with cherry brandy, fermenting with the promise of what I really do think is the most wonderful time of the year despite the annual emergence of endless Black Friday spam and hideously tacky inflatable Santa lawn ornaments and that insanely grating commercial for the PA Lottery with the carolers.

Thick printouts of reports beckon; reports produced on the advisability of a city/county merger, which will never happen; I wonder again why I thought it would be stimulating to take the affirmative position on the coming debate despite the fact I don't personally think a full-on merger is workable.  It's the kind of exercise I've grown less patient with in the years since I got my BA...  life, real life, shows you quickly that rational argument and fact will only get you so far; there will always be bumps in the road, what one of my texts refers to as "difficult and unpleasant people," unforeseen circumstances.

I bristle at the kabuki theater aspect of collegiate debate; I've lost my patience for pretending, even as an intellectual exercise, that progress happens by everyone rigidly sticking to their preselected guns.  But I shall break out the kimono and play my role; good little pragmatist that I am, I'm always prepared to deal in the art of the possible.

November 19, 2011

Linear Thought Is Overrated

Glad to have scored a table at the coffee shop, even if it is smack dab in the front window, which really seems just a bit too Amsterdamish for comfort.  I more or less wrote this day off to recharging; I bought the last of the Thanksgiving provisions, I did laundry, I realized that my definition of recharging has changed drastically in the last year.  (I did re-watch Auntie Mame for the eleventy-billionth time.  Would you believe that I just realized that Comden & Green wrote the screenplay?  I cannot imagine how I managed not to notice this before.)

SIDE NOTE: "Some Other Time" is now stuck in my head.  Again.  Your turn!

November 16, 2011

Great Moments In Geek History

There was a largish beaker on the desk at the front of Somerset High's biology classroom.  It was filled with a nasty-looking liquid...  liquid which had settled in a couple of brownish layers.

There were small round bodies circulating through the fluid.

It looked pretty revolting.

Mr. Rhodes looked on contentedly as the class filed in, many of the students making "ew yuck" noises.

"What is that?" someone finally asked.

Mr. Rhodes explained that, in a world facing the realities of an ever-growing number of humans to feed, it was important to investigate unconventional sources of nutrition, especially protein.  Among these potential food sources were these critters which thrived in many climates, in...  uh... a renewable resource.

"They're called sewer lice," Mr. Rhodes continued, matter-of-factly.

There were general noises of disgust all around.  It gradually sank in...  Mr. Rhodes was just crazy enough to do it, wasn't he?

He was.  He reached into the beaker and popped one of the swimming critters into his mouth.

He then taught the lecture, without ever again elaborating on the subject.

I wasn't about to blow his cover, but I had the unfair advantage of knowing that the liquid was a mixture of ginger ale and cola, the "lice" were raisins, and Robert Rhodes was master of deadpan humor.

Learn All The Things

Here is what I've learned in school this week: We are all exhausted.

We clump into 3911 Posvar, which seems to be the site of 75% of GSPIA classes, like a goodly-sized band of civic-minded zombies.  We exchange tales of horror, as our deeply responsible natures and time-management skills fall short in the face of deadlines.  On the upside, this has resulted in some high-quality humor (which would make no sense whatsoever were I to try to explain it).  On the downside...


Sorry, I drifted off there.  Anyway.

This orphaned cover sheet taught me that St. Augustine
was in fact the Bishop of Hippo, which seems completely
hilarious right now.   The randomness of capitalization and punctuation
is merely a lagniappe from the Comedy Gods.  
Standards are dropping all over.  At the beginning of the semester, the computer lab attendants were extremely firm (but polite) about the whole no-food-or-drink thing; going so far as to ask forgetful people to set their coffee cups on the floor.  Fast forward through the better part of the semester.  Yesterday, I tapped away at my research notes whilst sitting across from an undergrad wolfing down a mess of Chik-Fil-A, a feral gleam in her eyes that clearly said Come get me, coppers.

The luster has definitely worn off the coffee available for purchase in Posvar; the air pots from the beginning of the semester have given way to some infernal device that instantly overcooks the poor innocent beans.  This is not to say I don't still buy it several times a week, but I'm bringing my own rations from home whenever possible.  I broke down today and took two insulated travel mugs full of delicious, life-giving elixir with me.

For the record, I still sat them on the floor when I was in the computer lab.

November 13, 2011

The Road Just Rolls Out Behind Me

Such is the difficulty of getting five GSPIAns in one place outside of class hours that we ended up holding our debate prep meeting on 1:00 on a Sunday.  AKA, game time.  You'd really think the coffee shop would have been mostly empty at the beginning of a Steeler game, but I suppose every grad student in the East End figured they were going to avoid the crowds.

Oh, and three of us ended up meeting.  Really, it's just bloody impossible.  The thing that's making my schedule tenable is the fact that I can write at 3AM if I have to, and that doesn't work for meetings.  But you go to class with the study group you have...

Anyway, we met, we made progress.  I decided that it was pretty silly to wait for buses on a Sunday (hell, I'd probably still be in Shadyside), so I took advantage of the beautiful weather and walked back home.

I like doing that every once in a while--a really good, long walk from Shadyside through Bloomfield.  Past all the stores I can't afford to breathe near, past the beautiful and ludicrously overpriced homes, through the crunchy brown leaves, over the bridge to Shadyside Hospital.   (You'd think after all these years that gulch would have lost its power to shock me; I still caught myself having a flash of vertigo halfway across, unable to head off the thought of the concrete giving way beneath my feet.  Occupational hazard of the study of crumbling infrastructure: the Minnesota bridge collapse stays fresh in one's mind.)

Up the road, further yet.  "Extraordinary Machine" starts running through my head.  I still only travel by foot and by foot, it's a slow climb/But I'm good at being uncomfortable, so I can't stop changing all the time.

Just a bit up the street, I passed the intersection where I was struck by a car some years ago.  (Yes, I was in the crosswalk, I had the walk light, all that good stuff.)  There's an odd satisfaction that comes from looking at a spot and thinking that I could have died there.  It's also the exact place where I started to learn that following the rules doesn't protect you from reckless jackasses who want to get where they're going regardless of the harm they cause in the process.

Everyone has their holy places, I guess.

Past the now-empty former Goodwill; past the now-empty car dealership that was my polling place for years.  The big, tinselly Christmas decorations are already going up on Bloomfield's utility poles.   Alexander's has already decorated its evergreen shrubs like Christmas trees.  It still seems too soon.

Past the closed-for-the-weekend bank, past the open-for-now West Penn.  Past the restaurant that's been poised on the verge of opening for the better part of this year; over some broken sidewalk slabs.  It's quiet in Bloomfield, excepting the game-time sounds of the bars.  The November sky is improbably, sparklingly, winkingly blue.  I can't stop getting lost in it.  This does not always mix well with aforementioned broken sidewalks; no matter, the streets are nigh abandoned and the blue gaze and I conspire in contented privacy.

Back to my daily stomping grounds...  the grocery that has changed little since it dropped into being around 1975...  the impossible intersection off the Bloomfield Bridge...  the stone retaining walls and the old industrial facilities nestled comfortably with rowhouses and Woolslair Elementary.  I arrive home, feeling exhausted and restored.  The Steelers appear to have started the game without my help.  The world goes on, however I choose to move through it.

Still have to work on the debate, though.  Dammit.

November 11, 2011

A Secondmost Thanksgiving: My Slightly Unconventional Turkey Roasting Method

Incredibly, Thanksgiving's almost here.  (You can tell because the after-Christmas sales have already started.)  Let us prepare to wave away Thanatos with a drumstick in one hand and a gravy boat in the other; let us get the meal out of the way so we can get to the pie already.  Sheesh.

Roast Turkey ala Secondmost

Peel about 1 pound carrots, peel and halve half a dozen onions, de-string half a dozen ribs of celery.  Arrange these on the bottom of a non-stick roasting pan.  Plop the turkey/turkey breast on top.  Shove an onion in the cavity, pondering for a moment the ultimate indignity of life.  Pour one stick of melted butter mixed with about two tablespoons of Penzey's Fox Point seasoning evenly over the bird.  (Obviously, you can substitute any seasoning you prefer...  watch out, though, you don't want to pick something that's mostly salt.  That ain't the way to brine the bird, kids.)

Roast uncovered at 350 degrees.  After about 90 minutes, the veggies will be quite brown and the skin will be nicely crisped.  Pour about 2 cups of turkey or chicken stock on the vegetables (NOT over the bird).  Tent with foil; roast until done.

You will have a browned bird with moist, well-seasoned meat, and beautiful pan juices for gravy.  Retain the veggies for stock-making.  Eat pie.  Go Lions.

BREAKING! Meme Nearly Missed!

Another pretty solid day of research and writing...  and it has to be said, all of this higher education stuff is seriously impeding my pop culture literacy.  Until moments ago, I had somehow completely missed the "Corduroy Day" appellation for 11/11/11.

Yes, I want to know who I am and what I did with me, too.  

Anyway...  what I lack in punctuality I make up for in semi-obscure musical guilty pleasures.

November 9, 2011

It's Fun To Stay At The I! B! E! W!

A few snaps from the big shindig last night.  (Victory parties are always much more fun when they're aptly named...)

Someone probably has picture of me shooting this picture.

November 8, 2011

Democracy Is Coming To Western PA

I'm pretty levelly sure that this is the first Election Day of my adult life that hasn't involved doughnuts.  But yea, verily, Democracy can apparently proceed without fried and sugar-glazed encouragement.  (Maybe I speak too soon...  it is, as I type, a quarter of an hour before the polls close.)

If there is any doubt left that I'm the nerdiest human being in the world, I voted later than I like to because I was in a public policy school.  

All in all, an uneventful trip to the polls...  Given the relative lateness, there was an unusual lack of brochure pushers.  There was a bit of new blood among the elections workers--the fellow who set up the voting machine for me was maybe 22, 23.  Had a nice chat with the lady handing out literature for the library tax (for which, well duh, I voted).

I'll admit there were a couple of my choices I held my nose for, but I guess that's part of the process, too.

November 7, 2011


We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

--Arthur O'Shaughnessy, 1874, "Ode"

November 5, 2011

The Dogs On Main Street Howl ('Cause They Couldn't Get Tickets Either)

Second year in a row, frozen out on the Soldiers & Sailors Bruce tix.  (Second year in a row, going for the freeze-out reference.)  In fairness, tickets went on sale in the middle of my econ midterm, and while I've done some crazy stuff to get to a Springsteen show, even I draw the line somewhere.  Really.

Anyway, I am totally not bitter.  I always froth at the mouth like this.

(The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank?  Why yes, you can donate online!)

For The LAST Time...

But go ahead and try picking up the grownup goats.  See how that one works out for ya.

November 4, 2011

Things You Can't Unsee

Years and years ago, back when radio was still in black and white, I went to Nashville for a conference.  Having (as the odds clearly dictated, despite my churning gut) survived the flight in, I was very happy to reach my hotel.

Clearly, the previous guests had enjoyed their tenure.  Housekeeping had just finished cleaning the room; outside the door, there was a cheery assortment of empty beer cases (not six-packs, CASES).  But no matter, the place had evidently been cleared out well.

The next morning, I made a pot of coffee in the little in-room machine.  I took the little paper hat off the mug and poured in the liquid.  It took me a moment to register the fact that the coffee had immediately turned beige.

My charming predecessors had poured creamer into the cups and replaced the lids.  You'd never notice, not in a white mug, until it was too late.

Thanking all that is holy that I realized there was something amiss before I took a sip, I chalked it up to experience.  Never really trusted a hotel drinking vessel after that.

What prompted this reminiscence?  Ewww, look at this.  $4 bottled water from the minbar is starting to look reeeaaal cheap now.

Wonders Never Cease

Among the things I'm relearning as a "midcareer"/"old"/"finely tuned*" student is how to do write a paper.  Well, writing hasn't really changed...  researching sure has.  When I was an undergrad, there frankly wasn't much of value online to cite.  I took one Constitutional law class for which we were allowed to cite recent opinions and such if we cleared the source with the professor.  There weren't even clear standards for citing online materials.
My study group sheds light on the topic. 

For the most part, writing a paper was still a very analog process.  Microfiche...  So.  Much.  Microfiche.  Actually physically digging out journals from the stacks.  Spending a whole lot of money on photocopies.  Trying to get the specific item you actually needed, quickly, from the excessively helpful reference desk.

So I can't help but appreciate the small comforts of my day.  I've been digesting this enormous USDA report for my project on food deserts.  Not only did I download the entire document for free--itself a bleeding miracle--I've been able to easily pull sources referenced in the report.  Real, honest-to-goodness, credible sources.  All this from the quiet and comfort of Castle Secondmost.  The coffee's better here, too.

I hasten to add that I'm still very pro-library--heck, I like 'em so much that I own one myself--but for the kind of research I'm doing, I'm eternally grateful to have the modern internet at my disposal...  not to mention an official, MLA-blessed citation system.

Another thing hasn't changed.  Deadlines in the mirror are always closer than they appear.  Back to the grind!

*Well-put, Alex!
  Possible, if tricky.  The technique involved setting down your satchel in the correct place, putting your towel over the drain, examining the atomic vector plotter...

November 2, 2011

Make A Feathered Friend Feel Fed This Week

Official PEEPS (tm) Artwork.

Remember, Peeps are clearly baby chickens, so it's not cannibalism.  This fails to explain why the turkey appears to be 1) resting on a deck railing and 2) translucent.  Your brain on Yellow #5, kids.

(Re: Headline.  Oh yeah, we're going for the deep cuts today.)

It Has Been Known To Lead To Dancing

Why not hop on over to today's PG and check out this article on The Pittsburgh Jazz Channel?

You can even be all meta and stuff and read the article while listening to The Pittsburgh Jazz Channel!