Friday, January 21, 2011

Wienermobiles and Whistles

A few days ago I posted my paean to bacon and so I have been thinking a lot about meat lately. And how can you think about meat and not reflect fondly on the hot dog? It is perhaps the most American of foods, a staple of summer picnics and cookouts. Humphrey Bogart once stated that “a hot dog at the ball park is better than steak at the Ritz." I can’t imagine going to a ball game and not finishing off a dog or two washed down by an ice cold beer. And growing up in the Midwest, I cannot think about hotdogs, or bacon for that matter, without evoking the name of Oscar Mayer, who, come to think of it, is also the King of Bologna as the 1973 advertising jingle reminds us - “My bologna (pronounced “baloney”) has a first name, it’s O-s-c-a-r, my bologna has a second name, it’s M-a-y-e-r . . . .” Can you see where I am going with this?

And who can forget the well-known 1963 “wiener song”?
Oh, I wish I was an Oscar Mayer wiener,
that is what I'd truly like to be,
'cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener,
everyone would be in love with me.
I have very fond memories of Oscar Mayer hotdogs in my youth. Hot dogs and Oscar Mayer went together. Our refrigerator was always stocked with its hot dogs, bacon (oooooooo . . . bacon), and other sliced sandwich meats in packages displaying the familiar red and mustard yellow Oscar Mayer logo.

These meat products trace their origins to the German-styled charcuterie produced by the Mayer brothers who brought their recipes from Germany to America shortly after the Civil War and who worked in the meat-packing business, first in Detroit and later around the stockyards on Chicago’s South Side. They later established a meat market on that city’s North Side and sold their meat products under the “Edelweiss” trademark, beginning in 1904. This changed to “Oscar Mayer Approved Meat Products,” in 1918, and the following year the brothers purchased a meat packing plant on the east side of Madison, Wisconsin. A few years later they opened a similar operation in Milwaukee. The rest is history.

In 1912, the company began to use a Model T Ford to deliver meats in and around Chicago, and in 1936 it came up with a new marketing strategy . . . using an automobile chassis onto which an oversized body in the shape of a hot dog was affixed. Dubbed the “Wienermobile,” this 27-foot motorized hot dog originally traveled around Chicago promoting the company’s “German-style wieners” and the wholesome goodness of its meats.

I got up close and personal with the Oscar Mayer Company (which is now a division of Kraft Foods and probably owned by the Chinese if you look deep enough), in the summer of 1965, when my family moved to Maple Bluff, an insular suburb of Madison on the shores of Lake Mendota. Prevailing winds out of the east would bring with them a redolent reminder of the company’s packing plant - the scent of countless cookouts and breakfasts gone by. The kids of the corporate chairman, a great grandson of the original Oscar Mayer, and the then company president were my classmates at Sherman Junior High School (later Sherman Middle School and now the Malcolm Shabazz City High School) which stands almost in the shadows of the packing plant, as does the old ice arena on Commercial Avenue where I use to play hockey after school.

I had heard of and seen pictures of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile when I was a youngster, but it was during my time in Madison that I saw one up close for the first time at a fall festival held at Tenney Park. I had always thought that there was one Wienermobile driven by the one and only Little Oscar. That is how it all started out, anyway. As it turned out, by the time I had my first encounter of the Wienermobile kind, it was one of a growing fleet of Weinermobiles piloted by a phalanx of Little Oscars. And on that day in Tenney Park I discovered that the father of one of my other classmates was a member of the Little Oscar fraternity and in command of the Wienermobile on site. At the end of the day, I had the honor of riding with my friend and his dad on the trip back up Sherman Avenue to return the Wienermobile to its garage near the packing plant. As a parting gift, Little Oscar (at least the one I got to meet and talk to) gave me my very own Wiener Whistle cast in the image of the iconic Wienermobile.

Now the Wienermobile fleet is crewed by “Hotdoggers” trained at Hot Dog High, in Madison. What I would have given to have a diploma from HDHS to go along with my Wiener Whistle. A few years later, when I attended high school in Richmond, Indiana, we regularly played Frankfort High School, the “Home of the Hot Dogs.” I guess that might have been the next best thing.

The Wienermobile has been updated and modernized several times over the years. Al Unser took one of them on a test lap at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1988 and clocked speeds in excess of 90 mph. Now, that is a fast wiener in anybody’s book. In these hard economic times a wise shopper tends to select store brands over the big name products. I seldom buy Oscar Mayer products anymore, but every time I see the familiar logo I think back to the old days and the backyard cookouts and the Wienermobile with Little Oscar at the wheel. Maybe in my next life I will come back as an Oscar Mayer hotdog. Everyone would be in love with me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Salty, Smoky, and Greasy As Sin

Not long ago a friend noted on Facebook that people often demur when asked if they want bacon, yet if you cook it and serve it unannounced, “it will magically find a home. Bacon is persuasive.” I never really thought about it in those terms, but there is not a small measure of truth in it.

Let’s me be honest up front. I love bacon. As I said when I responded to my friend’s Facebook posting, I will take bacon anytime, anywhere, under any circumstance, regardless of the time of day, the day of the week, the season of the year, offered or withheld. I will beg, maybe even steal, for a rasher of bacon. It can be thin or thick sliced, hickory or maple smoked, sugar cured or not. I really don’t care. Well, I guess this is not entirely true. I will draw the line on Canadian-styled bacon. Don’t get me wrong. I will eat it and I enjoy it, but it is sliced ham in my book. Nothing more, nothing less. It is not bacon and don’t let anyone (especially Canadians) tell you otherwise. The same goes for “turkey bacon.” It looks and kind of tastes like bacon; it even smells and sizzles like bacon when it is frying in the pan. But don’t be fooled by this. It is not bacon! It does not have the fat, the salt, even the nitrates of real pork bacon. Some might say for these very reasons it is better for you. I am quite certain this is true, but we are not talking nutrition here folks! We are talking about bacon, the true essence of bacon. the greasy, salty, why the hell am I eating this stuff that’s bad for me bacon. When it is all said and done, I find I must agree with Homer Simpson - “Porkchops and bacon, my two favorite animals.” Well, bacon anyway. A final word from Homer on the eating and enjoying of real bacon. “You know that feeling you get when a thousand knives of fire are stabbing you in the heart? I’m having that right now . . . Ooh, bacon, unexplained bacon!” I love bacon!!

There are those who can quote chapter and verse why you should not eat
bacon. One of the people who commented on my friend’s Facebook entry noted that she had read somewhere that when vegetarians fall off their self imposed refusal to eat meat, more often than not bacon (real bacon) is the culprit. The popular Wisconsin (where they eat a lot of bacon) columnist Doug Larson once wrote that "life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon." The late James Beard, the noted chef and food critic who, along with Julia Child, brought gourmet French cooking to the United States after World War II, had long confessed that “if I were about to be executed and were given a choice of my last meal, it would be bacon and eggs. There are few sights that appeal to me more than the streaks of lean and fat in a good side of bacon . . . Nothing is quite as intoxicating as the smell of bacon frying in the morning, save perhaps the smell of coffee brewing." As my friend
commented on Facebook - “bacon is persuasive.”

It is also becoming pervasive. It is not just strips of pork bacon frying in a pan anymore. It has also long been used to wrap other foods. Think of filet mignon Then there is bacon-wrapped shrimp, scallops and oysters; bacon-wrapped pork roast, bacon-wrapped chestnuts and dates; bacon-wrapped asparagus; and one of my all-time favorites - bacon-wrapped hot dogs. And I just discovered what could very well be a new favorite . . . the bacon-wrapped corndog, a version of which one connoisseur has christened the “porndog” because the batter contains hot peppers and other “sinful” ingredients. And don’t forget bacon-flavored seasoning for those dishes that just seem to be missing that finishing touch, or bacon bits for your salad or sprinkled over other culinary offerings. There is also the obvious combination . . . bacon-wrapped bacon (and bacon-wrapped bacon-wrapped bacon, and on and on). Let us not overlook foods not normally associated with its crispy goodness: bacon-wrapped Twinkies, bacon-flavored donuts and other pastries, bacon-flavored ice cream and Jelly Bellies. I understand there is a vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco that serves coffee brewed with bacon. James Beard would have loved that before heading to the gibbet. And what do you do when you find the need, after feasting on bacon, to dislodge those crunchy little bacon bits that wedge between your teeth? Bacon-flavored dental floss. Yes, there is bacon-flavored dental floss. Oh, the humanity!

I am reminded of the late cowboy poet and former poet laureate of South Dakota, Charles “Badger” Clark, Jr., whose poem “Bacon” can be found in his Sun and Saddle Leather (1915).

You’re salty and greasy and smoky as sin
But of all grub we love you the best.
You stuck to us closer than the nighest of kin
And helped us win out in the West.
. . .
You’ve sizzled by mountain and mesa and plain
Over campfires of sagebrush and oak;
The breezes that blow from the Platte to the main
Have carried your savory smoke.

How much more persuasive can one food be?

But we love you and swear by you yet.
Here’s to you, old bacon, fat, lean streak and rin.’
All the westerners join in the toast,
From mesquite and yucca to sagebrush and pine,
From Canada down to the Mexican Line,
From Omaha out to the coast!

Yes, bacon is one of my favorite animals. To quote Homer. “Ohhhhh . . . . .. Bacon.”

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It's Googleable

What a wonderful new word . . . something capable of being found during a Google search, probably the most comprehensive and used Internet search engine. I can think of only very rare occurrences when I have typed in search terms and not come up with a “ghit,” or Google hit, on something even remotely connected to my intended search. The transitive verb “to google” has been used almost since the inception of this search engine and it has become a part of our everyday speech. The American Dialect Society, founded in 1889, called it the “most useful word” in North American English in 2002. In fact it has become synonymous with web searches regardless of which search engine is being used. “Google” has also been incorporated in other phrases having to do with the use of the search engine, such as the frequently used “Google Bomb,” “Googlewashing,” or “Google bowling,” all of which have to do with the intentional high ranking of websites turned up during a Google search. I find this all quite fascinating.

But I must confess that I have not heard the adjective “googleable” used before this weekend, although I guess it makes sense. If you can have a verb, why not an adjective? So I looked into it and sure enough there are folks out there that use this term regularly. There is also the derivative noun “googleability” which is the ease with which information about a person or thing can be found on an Internet search engine (not just through Google).

How did I find this information? By running a Google search of course. Doing so I found literally dozens of googleable words using “google” as a base. Here are a few of my favorites: “Googleheimer’s” - signing on to Google and then forgetting what you were going to google; “googlescrewed” - to look up directions on Google Maps and get lost when you follow them; “googlebator” - someone who googles their own name; and “googlechondria” - looking up your physical symptoms on Google. There are also some Google-based afflictions: “Googlerrhea” - looking up the definition of “Google,”and “Googler’s Remorse” - when you look up something and the search terms gives you results that you neither requested nor want. I will leave that one to your own imagination.

So I really opened up a Pandora’s box, and afraid of coming down with my own version of Googler’s Remorse, I decided to stop while I was ahead. I wonder what search terms folks will have to use for this blog posting to come up? What is its inherent googleability? Do I even want it to be googleable? It’s up to you. Whenever the “googletunity” strikes you.

Monday, January 10, 2011

From Cyberspace Came the Six Thousand

Today the number of viewer hits for Looking Toward Portugal surpassed the 6000 mark. I appreciate everyone who has tuned in over the past two years and I hope you will continue to do so. I have received a number of interesting and rewarding comments from some of you and I am gratified that these random thoughts have resonated with so many. Thank you!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pardon Me?

“Be good, be kind, be humane, and charitable; love your fellows; console the afflicted; pardon those who have done you wrong.” August words from the Russian novelist and playwright Maxim Gorky. We are taught from an early age to turn the other cheek and we should all strive to do this. But perhaps this gesture should be reserved for those who might receive at least a modicum of relief from such charity. You would think that, in this day and age, our politicians would have more important things to do than consider the pardoning of individuals who have been taking the big dirt nap for decades. I do not object to the act of pardoning a transgressor, but let’s take a look at the facts, or what we believe them to be.

Charles Crist, the Republican turned independent governor of Florida who left office earlier this week, was seeking perhaps one last grand gesture before relinquishing the reigns of power in Tallahassee. Governor Crist, who since 2007 had considered the pardoning of Jim Morrison, the former lead singer and factotum of the legendary band The Doors, finally asked the state’s Board of Executive Clemency to consider such a pardon. Unfortunately, Morrison died in Paris in July 1971 and remains dead nearly forty years later. Or does Governor Crist know something the rest of us don’t?

Two years before his death, during a concert in a Miami auditorium in March 1969, Morrison dropped his black leather pants and allegedly presented himself in flagrante delicto. The public outcry was immediate and intense and the local district attorney charged Morrison with a felony count of lewd and lascivious behavior along with more minor misdemeanor counts. Morrison eventually surrendered to the FBI (was this a federal offense?) and was subsequently tried in 1970, convicted only on the misdemeanor counts of profanity and indecent exposure, and sentenced to a monetary fine and six months in jail. He appealed his sentence and was released on bail. Not long after that he moved to Paris where he died before his appeal was heard. The conviction has stood for four decades.

In early December the Clemency Board acceded to the request by Governor Crist who, like many, including other members of the band, never believed Morrison had actually exposed himself. The Board voted unanimously to issue a pardon to the long dead Door a day after what would have been his 67th birthday. The pardon does not really address whether a “crime” was actually committed in the first place and this oversight has left a bad aftertaste for those who still believe Morrison was falsely charged. We can hope that Morrison may find a more peaceful rest as a result of Governor Crist’s largesse.

Not to be outdone, the former Democratic governor of New Mexico , Bill Richardson, who stepped down on New Year’s Day, considered as one of his last official acts a pardon for William Bonney (aka Henry McCarty, Henry Antrim, but best known as Billy the Kid) who died almost 130 years ago. One had to admit that Governor Richardson’s decision was fraught with more serious implications since Billy’s transgressions were slightly more serious than genitalia gone wild. Depending on your source of preference, Billy is alleged to have killed between 9 and 21 men, including three law enforcement officers, during his short life (he was gunned down by Sheriff Pat Garrett in July 1881 at the tender age of 21). The pardon under consideration was not for all of Billy’s alleged crimes. In fact, it was not so much a pardon as a belated amnesty from prosecution for the murder of the Lincoln County sheriff supposedly pledged by New Mexico territorial governor Lew Wallace in 1880 if Billy agreed to testify about other murders he had witnessed. Billy cooperated, yet the amnesty was never granted and Billy was eventually convicted of the sheriff’s murder and sentenced to be hanged. He escaped before the execution could be carried out, killing two deputies in the process. The entire question of the amnesty became moot when Garret shot and killed Billy a few months later.

Governor Richarson, unlike his Florida colleague, did not rely on the serious deliberations or good judgement of a state clemency board. Rather, he established a special website where any individual could go and register an opinion on whether a pardon/amnesty should be granted. Just over 800 individuals voted with a slight majority favoring the pardon. Richardson, in the final hours of his term in office, and citing inconclusive proof that Wallace had actually offered Billy amnesty, chose to ignore the supporters of amnesty and many historians by denying the amnesty/pardon. Old Billy, I am sure, does not care much one way or the other. But some good came out of this exercise. “It’s good for tourism,” Governor Richardson claimed. “It’s gotten great publicity for the state.” If he says so.

Governors Crist and Richardson remained true to that sage advice offered
by John Dryden in “The Conquest of Granada.” “Forgiveness to the injured does belong; But they ne’er pardon who have done wrong.” I know I sleep better knowing that justice has prevailed.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A New Day, A New Year, A New Decade . . . A New Start?

It seems like only yesterday everyone was talking about the advent of a new century and worried about Y2K and the end of life as we know it. Well, it has been a tumultuous decade for sure. Little did we know just how much our lives were going to change so quickly. Ten years can make a big difference.

Now just about everything we do and think is governed by a new reality ushered in by the events of September 11, 2001 and this country’s war on international terrorism. We now find ourselves at war in Iraq (don’t let anyone tell you it is over, not as long as Americans continue to die there) and in Afghanistan (nine years and counting). We can no longer travel freely and without fear in our own country. We can no longer say or write what we believe without fearing that we will be labeled “unpatriotic” by those who feel they represent and speak for all Americans, those who want to take America back to its core values by voicing platitudes without backing them up with action. Talk is cheap, and if you look around, it seems to me they want to take more away than give back to us our American birth right. Fear seems to govern everything we do and by giving in to it, we are capitulating to the merchants of fear at home and abroad, those who will take because we are too afraid to defend what is rightfully ours.

I am reminded of another time when America stood on a similar brink. The country had been devastated by the Great Depression and the specter of totalitarianism was beginning to spread its long fingers across Europe with the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany. Franklin D. Roosevelt assumed the Presidency in early 1933 and during his inaugural speech he addressed the American people “with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impels.” His words that day still ring true:
This is pre-eminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great nation will endure, as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

It is time for our current leaders to speak with equal candor and decision. We should all do what we feel is right to make our country great again. Not red states or blue states, but united states. We must do what is necessary so that we can once again live without fear. So now, as we begin a new year, a new decade of the 21st century, we wonder what lies ahead of us. More of the same? I certainly hope not. There’s the word . . . “Hope.” Time for a new start. Let us not abandon our hope for a better time to come. We must all work together again, just as FDR urged the American people to give up petty differences for the common good.
It is the insistence, as a first consideration, upon the interdependence of the various elements in and parts of the United States of America - a recognition of the old and permanently important manifestation of the American spirit of the pioneer. It is the way to recovery. It is the immediate way. It is the strongest assurance that recovery will endure.
Let us all work together to make 2011 a watershed year, a benchmark in our history, when “they” and “us” once again become “we.”