Monday Morning Movie Review: The Stuff (1985)

Shudder continues to deliver up the bizarre and unusual, proving it’s well worth the price of admission for the streaming service.  This last week saw the service bring the 1985 film The Stuff to the service.

It’s an unusual horror flick that combines elements of consumer protection advocacy, mass media advertising, consumerism, ruthless business tactics, and addiction into a blob of creamy terror.

Indeed, the film is something like The Blob (1958) and Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) rolled into one:  a greedy corporation knowingly sells a dangerous product, which turns out to be a goopy white organism that entire consumes the very people consuming it.

So, essentially, the entire flick is a metaphor for consumerism and corporate greed run amok.

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Preserving Old Varieties

My local paper, the Darlington New & Press, features a number of editorial writers typical of the kind that get gigs writing human interest pieces for tiny small town papers:  local pastors writing brief devotionals; a guy griping about the things we all gripe about; an astronomer.  They all write in a similar, mildly folksy manner, which I’m sure appeals to the more advanced age of the paper’s readership.

One of their writers, Tom Poland, wrote a fascinating piece last week about rare heirloom vegetables, “Long-lost treasures and heirloom seeds.”  The piece tracks down the Bradford Watermelon, a watermelon variety thought to be extinct, but which survived on the land Nat Bradford inherited from his family.  The watermelon variety dwindled in popularity in spite of its sweet, superior flavor because the rind was too thin to survive bulk shipping.

After years of research into arcane newspaper clippings and agricultural history, Bradford discovered that the melons growing on his ancestral farm are, indeed, the legendary Bradford Watermelons.

To quote Poland quoting Bradford:

In Nat’s words, “The greatest watermelon to have come from the great age of watermelon breeding fell out of cultivation. Lost to the world, the melon lived on in the Bradford family farm fields. The last seeds on the planet of this wonderful melon were in a couple of mason jars.”

What a remarkable legacy—and a fortuitous one.  Heirloom varieties of many plants are enjoying increased interest lately as part of the current homesteading movement, as these varieties are often tastier than their supermarket, genetically-modified alternatives.

I suspect, too, that there is a certain joy in knowing that by planting these forgotten seeds, you are directly contributing to the survival of a variety.  There is a link to the past, and the agricultural experiments of our forebears.

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TBT^16: Happy Birthday, America!

Since 2018, I’ve been reblogging my original “Happy Birthday, America!” post, which dates back to 2016 and the old Blogger site.  Each year I add another layer of commentary to to the original post, which essentially analyzed and discussed very briefly Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

My view on Lincoln’s role in American history has shifted somewhat in five years, but it’s undeniable that the Gettysburg Address is a powerful, succinct speech.  The Address, unlike my windy blog posts, is the quintessential illustration of the principle that “less is more.”

Like last year, this year’s post is a bit delayed due to the way the Fourth fell this year (on a Sunday).  It was a very quiet Independence Day:  my younger brother had my girlfriend, myself, and another friend over to have hot dogs and burgers, as his wife and kids were away visiting family.  I manned the grill, turning the dogs like a human-operated convenience store hot dog roller.  The thin, diner-style smash burgers my brother made were delicious, especially with American cheese.

This year was the first in awhile that didn’t really feel like the Fourth of July, even though last year’s celebration was during the supremely unfree Age of The Virus.  I suppose the holiday snuck up on me, and with the nation in the state it is, perhaps I just wasn’t feeling all that patriotic.

Nevertheless, I reminded myself that America has been on the ropes before, and we’re not going to let some bug-eating, gender-confused CommieNazis destroy our hope.

With that, here are several posts commemorating July Fourths past:

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MAGAWeek2021: Red Meat

This week is MAGAWeek2021, my celebration of the men, women, and ideas that MADE AMERICA GREAT!  Starting today (Monday, 5 July 2021) and running through this Friday, 9 July 2021, this year’s MAGAWeek2021 posts will be SubscribeStar exclusives.  If you want to read the full posts, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for as little as $1 a month.  You’ll also get access to exclusive content every Saturday.

Is there anything more delicious and American than steak?  Red meat is, perhaps, the finest meat God ever created.  Sure, pork and chicken are wonderful in their own ways—who doesn’t love pulled-pork barbecue?—but nothing beats a good steak.

Indeed, the noble Texas Longhorn is virtually a symbol for the Old West, just like the cowboys that guided him to market on the long drives of the nineteenth century.  The Texas Longhorn, according to Oklahoma State University’s Department of Animal Science, a product of natural selection, meaning the breed is the only beef cattle in the country that is not the product of human-guided animal husbandry or selective breeding.  Instead, the cattle adapted to survive specifically in North America, after cattle brought over by Christopher Columbus and early Spanish explorers made their way into what is now the American Southwest.

The Black Angus—a breed most Americans will recognize from endless restaurant adverts—is the most common beef cattle breed in the United States.  Grilling Black Angus steaks and burgers was no doubt a major part of many Americans’ Independence Day.

It’s no exaggeration to say that beef built the West, and fed the country in the process.

To read the rest of today’s MAGAWeek2021 post, head to my SubscribeStar page and subscribe for $1 a month or more!

The Joy of Coffee

H/T to Mogadishu Matt for the inspiration for this post:  coffee is one of the simple pleasures in life.  File that observation under “obvious and non-controversial,” but coffee brings so much joy for just pennies per mug.

I came late to coffee.  I didn’t begin drinking this spirit-lifting brew until I was twenty-six, when I returned to classroom teaching.  I was in the midst of my 2011 Weight Loss Odyssey, when I lost around 110 pounds in about eleven months.  I realized I needed a low-calorie pick-me-up, and determined to overcome my distaste for coffee’s trademark bitterness.

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Mississippi Meanderings

At the tail end of 2020—and into the New Year—I visited the small town of Lucedale, Mississippi, to meet my girlfriend’s family.  I flew in last Wednesday and we drove back Saturday.

I’ve driven through Mississippi before, and was in Jackson a couple of years ago for a friend’s wedding.  This time I was much further south, as Lucedale—located in George County—is very close to the Gulf Coast, and about fifty minutes from Mobile, Alabama.  It reminded me a great deal of my dear South Carolina—pine trees and deciduous forests; ample farmland; small, rural communities flung across open land between larger municipalities.  In many ways, it felt like my home, just with small regional variations.

For example, my girlfriend’s family eats black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, like any good Southerner does (for them, the black-eyed peas represent good luck; for us, they represent pennies and wealth), but instead of collard greens (also for wealth—they’re the dollars), they ate coleslaw.  I suspect that’s because none of her family liked collard greens, but the difference goes further:  my girlfriend’s father had never heard of Hoppin’ John.  For my Yankee readers, Hoppin’ John is a mixture usually consisting of black-eyed peas, tomatoes, and okra, and served over white rice.  It’s good.

Other than a world without Hoppin’ John, Mississippi also had some local chains I’d never heard of before.  My girlfriend’s mother kept raving about Dirt Cheap, which I think is like a Lowe’s-meets-Ollie’s that sells mostly “dirt cheap” home improvement supplies.  There’s also a regional chain called Foosackly’s, which is essentially a smaller-scale Zaxby’s with clever advertising and a hilariously bizarre name.  My girlfriend quickly became annoyed with my fascination with this obscure chicken joint.

One highlight of the trip was building a fire with my girlfriend’s dad.  He is a man of few words, clad in suspenders, and incredibly resourceful—he maintains much of their land himself, and has built several sheds and garages.  He also has added to their home, which has been in the family at least two generations, and will stay there (his mantra:  “never sell land”).

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TBT: The Joy of Autumn

It is—to use a Southern expression—hotter than blue blazes here in South Carolina, as it always is in early September.  Lately, the extreme heat and humidity have made any outdoor activities unbearable, at least for yours portly.  The air is thick and muggy.

But there is some relief in sight.  We’ve had some rainy days here and there that have given brief—fleetingly brief!—tastes of autumn.

Autumn is, by far, my favorite season.  After the brutal oppression of summer, autumn is a welcome relief.  Autumn in South Carolina is brief, but lovely—the days are warm, the nights crisp.  The season makes it stately arrival fashionably late, usually late in October or early in November (though Halloween always manages to be hot; just once I want an Indiana Halloween!).

The cooler weather brings with it better smells:  pumpkins and spices replace the persistent smell of cut grass and sweat.  Food tastes better in autumn, too.  There’s a reason candy apples are an autumnal fair food:  that thick, sugary, caramel coating wouldn’t last in the humidity of summer.  There’s also the pies:  pecan and pumpkin, of course, but also sweet potato.

Oh, and there’s college football.  The SEC hasn’t (yet) betrayed fans like the West Coast conferences.

So, here’s hoping autumn returns sooner rather than later to South Carolina this year.  With that hope—and prayer—in mind, whip out the pumpkin spice and enjoy November 2019’s “The Joy of Autumn“:

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Lazy Sunday LXXI: Road Trips

Well, we’re headed back from Universal Studios after a fun-filled visit (I’m assuming as such; I’m actually writing this post before the trip, so it may very well have been a disaster, but I prefer to be optimistic).  It seemed like a good time to review some of my road trip posts.

Back in Fall 2019—in The Before Times, in The Long, Long Ago, before The Age of The Virus—I was on a festival kick.  Every small town has some obscure but beloved festival (here in Lamar it’s the Egg Scramble), usually dedicated to some local foodstuff or cultural group.  Most of my recent road-tripping has been on those kinds of excursions.

As such, this edition of Lazy Sunday will have a good bit of overlap with “Lazy Sunday XXXII: Festivals“—I mean, it is Lazy Sunday, after all.

  • SubscribeStar Saturday: Aiken Amblings” – This post is about the annual Aiken’s Makin’ crafts festival, which my hometown hosts every September.  It’s a huge draw, bringing tons of vendors and visitors to downtown Aiken’s parkways.  I have many fond childhood memories of running around at the festival, though it’s shifted its location (to its detriment, I think) and its spot in the calendar (because it’s earlier in September, it’s hotter).  It’s still a great deal of fun, and I always manage to find some fun gifts for my train-loving nephew.
  • SubscribeStar Saturday: Yemassee Shrimp Festival 2019” – Since I was a young boy, I’ve been riding through Yemassee and past Old Sheldon Church on my way to Fripp Island, which is out past Beaufort, South Carolina.  Yemassee is an old railroad town that straddles the line between Hampton and Beaufort Counties.  The Shrimp Festival is fun, sweltering festival with—you guessed it—lots of friend shrimp (and fried everything, for that matter).  I highly recommend making a day of it for reasons stated in the full post.
  • Road Trip!” – This post is about heading down to Orlando (a nice bookend to today’s post, while I’m heading back) and some of my meager backroad explorations around rural South Carolina.  There are a lot of hidden gems if you’re willing to get off the Interstates and look around.

That’s it!  I should probably stop typing while driving (just kidding, just kidding).  This return marks the beginning of the end of summer vacation—the tempo of back-to-school preparation will just pick up from here.

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

TBT: Bologna

When you’ve been blogging daily for over 500 days, you sometimes get writer’s block—or just don’t have anything interesting to say.  It’s rare, as there’s almost always something happening that ticks me off.  But as I’ve noted, in The Age of The Virus, it’s a more common occurrence.

Think about it:  politics right now boils down to the media misreporting President Trump’s statements about The Virus, and to the question “should we reopen or stay closed” (the correct answer:  reopen)?  There are no major cultural events.  In general, it’s a bit of a blogging malaise.

A wise woman, fellow blogger Bette Cox, once advised me to write when I had something to say, not just merely for the purpose of churning out content or to meet an arbitrary daily counter.  She probably has a point, but in my youthful impudence, I’ve ignored her and have slammed out post after post, some good, some terrible, and a few truly great.

This week’s TBT is one of those posts that grew out of a need to publish something to keep my WordPress daily streak counter going (there are days where I feel enslaved to that arbitrary computer counter, which is really just me being enslaved to my own expectations).  It’s a test of a writer, though, to see if one can turn straw into gold—or, in this case, bologna into filet mignon.

You be the judge—did my ode to America’s lunch meat rise to the level of blog-worthiness (keeping in mind that the bar for blogging is pretty low)?  Or is it just cold cuts twisting in the wind?

Regardless, here is December 2019’s “Bologna“:

The long national nightmare is over.  No, not the impeachment farce; it’s the end of the semester!  Grades are in the books, work is done, and teachers and students are heading out for two weeks of glorious Christmas Break.

It’s been an eventful week.  As the House was fulminating about Trump’s alleged “crimes,” I was playing a gig with our community jazz band.  I play second alto sax with the group, but I asked to sing a song on this concert.

It’s long been a dream of mine to sing with a full jazz swing band behind me, and that dream came true Wednesday evening.  I sang Andy Williams’s “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and was a nervous wreck (if you’ve seen the lyrics to that tune, you’ll understand why—what a mouthful!).  But I got through it admirably enough, even with a low-grade sinus infection.

The gig was during the dinner hour at a large church in town.  The first alto player indicated how hungry he was, and wondered if he could get a plate.  I told him (unhelpfully) that I’d eaten a bologna sandwich in my car before coming in (which sounds like a joke and/or the most mundane, pathetic detail in the world, but it was true).  All the old guys in the band—it’s a swing band, so there are a lot of them—expressed their enthusiasm for bologna sandwiches, and asked how it was prepared:  did I use mustard?  “Nope, Duke’s mayonnaise, with cheese.”  Murmurs of approval followed.

I am a great lover of bologna.  My brothers still express frustration that, as a child, I would often opine that on Sunday nights, I would rather go home and eat a bologna sandwich than go out to eat (eating out was a rarity in those days)—thus undermining their cause to eat a deliciously fatty meal at, say, Shoney’s (rest in peace).  It’s probably terrible for you—all the reject parts of the Big Three sandwich meat animals (beef, pork, and chicken) rolled into one beautiful, red plastic-lined disc of processed flavor (one of my students called it a “hot dog pancake”)—but with a slice of American cheese and some mustard or mayonnaise, it’s delicious.

My students hate bologna, and tend to express disgust if they discover I’ve been eating it.  I can only assume that, living in more prosperous times, they’re used to eating lunches full of kale and couscous, and deli-cut meat from a high-end grocer’s counter.  Material wealth has robbed them of the opportunity to enjoy an American staple.

My older bandmates’ reactions were telling.  They were all quite wistful about their childhood bologna sandwiches, probably back in those high-trust times when children who looked and talked like each other and lived near their extended families ran around barefoot in fields and neighborhoods until the sun went down.  Most of them look to be in better shape than me, and they grew up eating processed reject meat.

Being on a tight budget, bologna is a godsend.  It’s cheap (around $1.50 for twelve slices of Gwaltney at the local Piggly Wiggly) and filling.  It’s great fried with an egg for breakfast, or slathered in Duke’s on white bread at lunch.

All quite different from the congressional bologna served up earlier this week.  Talk about a bunch of overstuffed, fake trash.  I bet Nancy Pelosi would faint if someone asked her to eat a bologna sandwich.  GEOTUS Trump—a lover of fast food, and fit as a fiddle—would chow down with workmen on a construction site, no questions asked.

America should be for the bologna eaters, God bless ’em.  It’s the meat of the workingman.  Kale only ever brought anyone misery.