Mea Cuppa

Over at Whatever, John Scalzi recently explained why he doesn't drink coffee:
"Coffee tastes like ass."
For most of the subset of caffeinated beverages known as coffee, Scalzi's correct. Most coffee, especially black, unsweetened coffee, doesn't taste good.

Some coffee's are spectacularly bad. There's a local deli chain, Miracle Mile, that makes one of the best Ruebens sandwiches in town. But their coffee is bad. Bad, bad, bad. Harsh, bitter and burnt. It is so bad that every time I go to Miracle Mile, I order another cup, because traumatic amnesia has wiped the last experience from my mind. (And, perhaps, I'm living proof that hope springs eternal, for surely MM's coffee must have improved since my last visit. Sadly, no.)

But there's a lot of coffee that's merely bad. Coffee shop coffee, usually, for some reason or another. Hotel coffee shop coffee is almost invariably bad.

Nonetheless, I've been a regular coffee drinker since 1981. Didn't like coffee before that. But then I had some home-brewed coffee while Hilde and I were visiting Diana Paxson and the other folk at Greyhaven... and it actually tasted... good.

Here's my secret method to making coffee palatable:
Use HALF the amount of ground coffee called for in the brewing instructions.
Some people have called my coffee "wussy-ass-wimpy". Yeh, yeh; these are the same type of people who drink Everclear straight.

You can make it stronger if you want, but don't use more than 2/3rds of the recommended grounds. Past that, and you get too high a concentration of the bitter oils that Scalzi so evocatively describes.

(Why do makers' coffee instructions invariably call for a larger amount? Gee, could it possibly be that using a larger amount of coffee means that you'll BUY MORE COFFEE, MORE FREQUENTLY?)

There's also light roast vs. medium roast vs. dark roast. I use the light or medium. The dark roast coffees have a burnt taste to me. If I wanted that, I could suck on a charcoal briquet.

One of the ways I judge a pot of coffee is by holding the glass pot up to a light and checking the color. The ideal pot, with the light shining thru, should have a dark red color like a good piece of cherry amber.

Also, clean the pot occasionally, wiping out any accumulated oils on the inside of the pot. Otherwise, you can end up with something like the break room at my postal station, Home of the World's Filthiest Coffeepots. (I'm not kidding about those coffeepots; we should open up a sideshow and charge the public to look at them.) ("Small children and pregnant women are advised against seeing this show.")

Yes, I use sugar and creamer. Yes, I'm not a Real Man. Tough.


How Do YOU Spell R-E-L-I-E-F?

Been meaning to post this since last week:

When I was sick with a respiratory crud back in January, my doctor ran some bloodwork on me. It showed some unexpected results:

I was anemic, several points below the minimum normal range. [mild alarm] So my doctor had me do a stool sample card.

Which tested positive for blood. [moderate alarm]

So I got scheduled for a colonoscopy and endoscopy at the Scottsdale branch of the Mayo Clinic. (I'd had both procedures previously in 2004, with negative results, but had been figuring it would be 2009 before I was due for a repeat exam.)

Two polyps were found in the large intestine, snipped, and sent for biopsy.

The good news: The polyps were benign.

The bad news: They were the type of polyps that can turn cancerous if left alone for five or ten years. The endoscopy of the esophagus also showed a small patch of Barrett's Esophagus tissue, which can also turn cancerous over time, at the entrance to my stomach.

So: Relief that my anemia wasn't from cancer. (Best guess is that the anemia was caused by irritation from the aspirin and ibuprofen I'd been taking fairly regularly; I've switched to Tylenol, and the bloodwork readings have improved, though not quite to normal range yet.)

But a certain measure of annoyance that, damn, something else to have to keep an eye on. (The doctors recommended a fresh endoscopy every 2-3 years, and colonoscopy every 5 years.) After having fretted most of my life about my family's wretched history of cardiac problems, now I have to keep a cancer-watch too? Damn.


Dead President Walking?

I was listening to Air America Radio this afternoon while driving around on errands, and a clip was played from a recent speech by George Bush.

It wasn't remarked on by the radio host, but I was struck by how dead Bush's voice was. He was clearly reading words off a paper given to him. His voice was flat and effectless. He paused, inappropriately, numerous times, as if having to re-focus on the words he was reading.

It was the voice of a man tired. Exhausted. On the point of collapse. A man who has lost hope. A walking dead man.

Earlier in the week, Bush had given his "angry" speech, accusing Democrats of partisan politics in their investigation of the DoJ/US-attorneys-firings scandal. I put "angry" in quotes, because my reaction to that speech was that it wasn't an angry man making an angry speech, it was a man acting, or trying to act, like an angry man. It was blustering, not anger; it was bad acting, and horribly, horribly unconvincing.

And it didn't work. The investigation continues; subpoenas for White House insiders are looking more and more certain. Damaging emails, and more evidence of systemic White House dishonesty, keep coming forth. Bush's administration seems, finally, to be beginning an accelerating slide to public disgrace and repudiation.

It's always been pretty clear that one of the main psychological dynamics driving George Bush has been the drive to out-do his father.

And it's pretty clear now that he's failed in that drive. He won't be remembered as a great President. He won't be regarded as a great warrior, or a great diplomat, or a great leader.

That's been clear to a LOT of people, for a LONG time. And now, maybe, it's become clear to George Bush too.

People have an amazing capacity for denial, for rationalization, for self-justification. Alcoholics, drug addicts, abusers, all can deny the wreckage they've made of their lives and the lives of people around them, for years and for decades. A lot of them go to their graves never admitting their own weaknesses and failings.

But maybe George Bush is reaching his own personal "tipping point". Maybe it's finally become undeniable, UN-deniable, that he is a failure as a President, as a leader, as a human being. Maybe he's looked into mirrors one too many times, and is finally starting to see a true image of the man he's become, and the legacy and reputation he will leave behind him.

It's not a pretty sight. It's the face of failure.

Everything he wanted, he will not have. Everything he hoped for -- fame, adulation, success -- he will not get. And he is only now truly beginning to realize this, only now beginning to KNOW this, to know it within his mind, and his heart, and his soul. The denial no longer works, the rationalizations no longer work, the self-justifications no longer work.

This is a very uncertain period. If my speculations above are anywhere close to reality, there are several ways events might proceed from here, all of them with a certain amount of danger attached. But if my reading of Bush's voice during that speech is accurate...

...then I think we may actually see a President leaving office via suicide -- Bush reportedly keeps Saddam Hussein's gun in his Oval Office desk -- in the next few weeks or months.


King & Kin

For about the last year, I've been hearing buzz about a new writer named Joe Hill in the dark fantasy/horror field. He's been getting awards nominations for his shorter work, and his new novel, Heart-Shaped Box, has gotten onto bestseller lists (and onto the book tables at CostCo, which is an even surer sign of success). I haven't read any of his work yet, but I've been wondering about this hot new writer with the same name as the famous union organizer.

Turns out "Joe Hill" is, sort of, a pen name.

Recent news has included articles on the forthcoming comics adapatation of Stephen King's Dark Tower saga. An excerpt:
King, 59, lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, Tabitha. He has three grown children: Oldest Naomi King is a Unitarian minister and is working on a nonfiction project; Joseph Hillstrom King recently wrote "Heart Shaped Box," under the pen name Joe Hill; and youngest son Owen King published a novella in 2005 entitled "We're All in this Together."
I suppose this bit of information might have been mentioned before, but I hadn't encountered it until now.

The most likely reason a famous writer's son might decide to write under a pen name is to show that he can do it independent of his parent's celebrity. But in the case of Stephen King, if it were me in Joe Hill's position, I'd make the same decision for a different reason:
His monstrous bevy of fans, however, are unfazed by literary criticism. At the release of the first "Dark Tower" book, thousands poured into a conference room at the Comic-Con summit to hear him speak. After a lengthy standing ovation, they stood in awe, photographing King and repeating over and over, in a tone much too casual for someone they've never met: "You are a genius," and "You are my hero."
I first saw Stephen King in 1981, at the World Fantasy Convention in Orlando, California. Now, WFC is a convention oriented towards professionals, so the majority of the attendees tend to be writers and editors themselves. People who, you'd think, would be pretty blase' about another writer, even one famous, sucessful, and at the top of the bestseller lists.

Not with Stephen King. Virtually every time King showed himself in public, he'd be surrounded by other WFC attendees holding out books for him to sign.

That is not a lifestyle I would like to live. I'd like to be a more productive writer, a more successful writer, a more widely-read writer.

But, man, I would not want that level of success, where fame and celebrity become dominant elements in one's life. And I wonder if Joe Hill didn't have some thoughts in that same direction when he chose his pen name.

LowerManhattanite Updates The Classics

Over at The News Blog, guest posters are filling the gap while host Steve Gilliard is recovering from major surgery. (Get well, Gilliard!)

Among the guest writers is LowerManhattanite, a frequent commenter on TNB who's garnered a reputation for a savage wit, a "ripping yarn" style, and a general regard as The Non-Blogger People Most Want To Have His Own Blog.

In one of his recent guest posts, LM updates a classic comedy routine for modern times.

If you can read it and not laugh out loud, you're unhinged!


Bro Ken Cur Ses

I just wanted to note for the record that my oldest brother, Gary, had his 60th birthday a few weeks ago.

Why is this particularly notable? Because he reached that milestone without having had a major heart attack, or dying from one.

In my paternal family line, no male has reached the age of 60, going back to at least before WWII (when my dad's father died at the age of 41), without a major heart attack. In fact, only one of my uncles lived to age 61, and that was only after several bypass surgeries.

How did the family curse finally get broken? I think mostly because of 1) recognition among family members that cardiac problems really ARE a chronic and major menace to males in our line, and 2) that medicine has progressed to where early warning signs can be detected and steps taken for prevention and treatment. (I think all four of us brothers are taking Lipitor daily.)

It's nice to think that when I retire (current plans are aiming at early 2010, when I'll be 57), I might actually have more than just a couple of years to enjoy retirement. (Considering how many books I've bought over the years, and never found the time to actually read, I'll need every moment I can get.)