Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Poison Veggie-Fruit, Anyone?

When I was a kid, my mother kept an impressive garden. It ran along one side of our suburban Long Island home and was accessible from the backyard. Following the final frost of spring, and lasting straight through to the first frost of fall, you could be certain to find a variety of fruits and vegetables sprouting, blooming, and yielding their harvests.

Although she might plant something new every now and then, there were staples on which you could rely. Tomatoes, of course, and string beans grew well, supported by the chain-link fencing surrounding our yard. Raspberries were a summer favorite. Mom made the best raspberry jam that never seemed to set up properly and, consequently, served as an excellent topping for vanilla ice cream. The tiny closet under the basement staircase was a treasure trove of mason jars filled to the rim with freshly boiled and packed preserves.

But there was one item Mom always planted that I never appreciated, mostly because it both confused and frightened me. I speak of rhubarb. The name alone is enough to cause confusion. What the heck is a rhubarb? Why is that unnecessary "h" crammed into the name?

All other naturally-growing and farmed foods make sense to me. An apple looks like an apple. String beans look like string beans. Even pumpkins and squash look like how you would imagine things named pumpkin and squash looking.

But rhubarb looks nothing like what you might think it should because rhubarb is a silly name with no suggestive descriptive qualities whatsoever, and I suppose that's understandable once you get a good look at a rhubarb plant.

Rhubarb has reddish-purple stalks that sprout a foot into the air like diseased celery and have such a tart flavor that they require an entire field of sugar cane just to make them edible. At the top of the plant are mismatched, dark green leaves that make you wonder if some weirdo snuck into your garden during the night and stapled kale to the top of your diseased celery stalks as a prank. And Mom was always quick to warn us against the poisonous qualities of rhubarb leaves.

"Don't eat the leaves!" she would say, as if my brothers and I were secretly scheming to raid the garden for a quick treat of raw rhubarb. You have to wonder who was the first person to figure out you could eat a plant with the color scheme of a poisonous frog and the mouth-puckering uber-tartness of a thousand Granny Smith apples.

That isn't merely an old wive's tale, either. If you eat enough rhubarb leaves -- 11 pounds, to be more precise -- you could end up dead. Not that I expect any of you to suddenly get a hankering for 11 pounds of tart leaves, but be warned that if you cook the leaves in soda you will increase the poison's potency, meaning you might only need seven or eight pounds to make you drop dead. If only because it would be the most disgusting food you ever tasted, don't do it.

To confuse matters even more, the United States government has officially declared rhubarb a fruit, regardless of the fact it has a stalk like celery, leaves like salad, and bears absolutely no fruit. That's kind of like setting aside the fact the platypus is part mammal and part fowl and declaring it a member of the mollusk family just for poops and giggles.

Throughout the years since my childhood, I have learned to enjoy the flavors of many of the suspiciously healthy items at which I once turned up my nose. Cauliflower, carrots, broccoli and many more now cross my plate with no chance of not being eaten, but so far I have managed to keep rhubarb at a safe distance. I plan to keep it that way.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Linked-In, Looked-Around, Logged-Off

Several years ago, I joined the online service Linked-In. Everyone else was doing it, so I figured why not jump off the same bridge?

For those of you not familiar with Linked-In, it's basically a semi-functional, constantly changing, over-promised/under-delivered social network for business people. Think Facebook, only without videos of dancing babies and talking dogs, and absolutely no Candy Crush Saga. Linked-In enables you to keep up with all the people you worked with years ago, all the people you work with today, and all the people you wish you had worked with over the course of your career instead of all those other people you're linked to.

Not only are everyone's business accomplishments listed out for you to see when you feel so inclined, Linked-In is kind enough to send you emails -- sometimes five a day -- letting you know that Sally Whatshername got another promotion and Willy Givakrap now has three professional certification acronyms after his name.

There are passive sales pitches of all kinds from every self-employed (read "unemployed" or "unemployable") would-be consultant with a laptop and a copy of "Business Plans for Dummies" at his breakfast table. There are total strangers requesting linkage to you for no other reason than to make themselves appear more important than they really are. There are associations and groups that will want to count you on their rolls without offering you much in return except off-topic discussion forums moderated by the Linked-In equivalent of a crazy cat lady. There are people with one-thousand, one-hundred and seventeen "connections" who post comments every three hours and others with seven "connections" who started filling out their profiles in 2007 and never managed to get back around to completing them.

But it isn't simply a one-way street. There's more to it than posting your resume and spouting your accomplishments. Thanks to the recommendations feature, you can help others spout about their accomplishments.

Presently, I have three recommendations on my profile, only one of which I didn't have to beg for. I would have more recommendations, but I'm not really one for reference-swapping with people I don't really know. Not that I mind someone lying to give me a leg up, just so long as they don't expect me to lie about them. I do have a phony baloney reputation to protect, after all.

The latest viral enhancement to Linked-In is the Endorsement feature. It's perfect for people who want to say something nice about someone else, but don't want to take the time to put that sentiment into words. Kind of like buying a Hallmark card, only with a click of a button you can verify that one of your "connections" is an expert in some random field of knowledge.

I have been receiving a substantial number of endorsements lately. There are endorsements for my sales acumen, my crazy-mad revenue management skills, my in-depth knowledge of hotels, my vast motel sales experience, and many more. Some of these endorsements came from people who might even know what they're talking about!

Just today, a person with whom I haven't worked for years endorsed me for a skill she could not possibly know I have in a field of expertise that has nothing to do with any position I've ever held at any job I've ever worked. Mixed emotions flooded over me when my third Linked-In email of the day announced her vouching for my noteworthy, and previously imperceptible, abilities. I thought long and hard over whether or not I should I accept the endorsement.

Oh, what the heck. Like anyone will ever try to verify my hang-gliding skills...

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Fast Poop, Slow Poop; New Poop, Old Poop

Gravity. That's the entire basis of modern plumbing as it has existed since the time of Christ.

Water from a higher level runs down through a series of ever narrowing channels and pipes, increasing the force of the flow as it goes, until it bursts from your faucet, or your hose, or your toilet. The toilet even gives it a bit of a boost by providing a reservoir meant to deliver a rushing flush of water to carry your unmentionables along to the sewage treatment plant. Plumbing is a simple, yet somehow perplexingly complex, field to which only the truly talented should apply themselves.

For example, the plumbing in our house is okay. It is plumb enough to carry waste materials to the waste material netherworld approximately ninety-seven percent of the time. Flushing the toilet is mostly a thought-free, worry-free practice that results in the removal from our house of all the things we would not want to have hanging around our house for several days, or even several more minutes than is truly necessary.

But mostly isn't the same as all the time. And ninety-seven percent, while a considerable portion, is not the same as one-hundred percent.

There are those times when -- dare I hazard to guess caused by the attempted flushing of an inordinate quantity of Angel Soft by a member of our household under the legal voting age -- our plumbing proves itself to perhaps not be quite as plumbed as it should be. The water simply cannot manage to force the biodegradable barge downstream to the municipal sewer pipes. A second flush, while tempting, yields no benefit. In fact, you'll likely discover how quickly you can pirouette over the poodle, shove aside the magazine rack, and turn off the water to the tank without killing yourself or permanently damaging the poodle.

A plunger in these circumstances is the second tool you need to resolve the clog. The first tool you need is a detective's keen sense of observation.

Is the clog at the farthest end of the house from the sewer lines? Is it at the nearest end of the house to the sewer lines? Is it between the house and the street? Are all the pipes in the house clogged with Angel Soft and poop to breaking point and the slightest plunge of a plunger will cause them to rupture?

Where does the gurgling of a trickle of escaping water sound loudest? In the kids' bathroom toilet? In their shower? At the kitchen sink? In the master bathroom?

Which appliance has the greatest potential to cause every toilet and sink and shower and bathtub in the house to gurgle and bubble like a witches' brew? The dishwasher? The washing machine? The pump in the basement?

Still and all, for every three challenging flushes there are ninety-seven that go off without a hitch. Considering how many people in this world poop al fresco and wipe with the nearest squirrel, the occasional clogged pipe really isn't so much a thing to complain about. Is it?

Perhaps some day, when the kids understand they don't need to flush an entire roll of toilet paper in a single go, we will be able to properly gauge the faculties of our facilities. Until then, if you see me stalking through the house clutching a plunger and listening intently for the sounds of gurgling water, give me a wide berth. The plunger might be dirty.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler