Tuesday, January 29, 2008

An open letter to Victoria's Secret

There's no need to send me more catalogs.


Especially three times a week. I really don't need to replace my underwear often enough to warrant that kind of barrage. I only have two breasts and two butt cheeks. And it's not like I'm going to Tom Jones concerts on a regular basis.

Also, there are no men in my household looking for soft-core porn, if you're intending your mailing to serve as that.

So, please stop. Really.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Poultry perambulations

I grew up in a town that was once mostly farmland, as a lot of New Jersey was before World War Two. Yes, even areas within a 25 mile radius of New York City were pasture or fields of corn, tomatoes, whatever produce you'd find in the supermarket. Over time, especially after the war, the farms were replaced by suburban neighborhoods. Nonetheless, a few produce stands and even some small farms are still around today. They sell mostly shrubbery, trees, flower plants and other stuff you'd use to spruce up your landscaping.

One such stand is on a busy street in my old hometown. While the farmland long ago disappeared under tract housing, the stand lives on. In fact, the owners kept a cranky old rooster, who strutted around the property and pecked at anyone he didn't like.

My bank had a branch a half block down and across the street from the place. A few years ago, I was driving there when I saw the ornery rooster standing on the center line of the street, frantically turning his head back and forth, perplexed. Not a sight you often see these days in suburban New Jersey.

Aloud, I asked myself, "Why is that chicken crossing the road?"

I started laughing so hard that I had to pull over.

Fast forward a few years. On a lark, I submitted the rooster encounter to the New York Times for the "New Jersey Diary" they used to carry. It appeared a few weeks later with a kicker from the editor: "Why did the chicken cross the road? To open a chicking account."

I swear, it's all absolutely true.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

How many miles to the gallon?

In a 1987 find only publicized recently, scientists in Uruguay discovered the remains of a rodent the size of a small car, along the country's coast. The 1-ton creature is believed to have been 3 meters in length and 1.5 meters tall, and is a precursor to the guinea pigs that so many of us had as kids. (Well, not me, but you get the point.)

Lest you get too freaked out, remember that in nature, there's usually a predator around who's at least as big, if not bigger, than any given creature wandering around the wild. Apparently prehistoric South America really was not the place to be if you were smaller than a Volkswagen. Those studying the remains believe that the bulked-up rodent might have roamed the earth during the same period as saber-toothed tigers, the bodega cats of their day. Kinda gives you a sense of perspective about the Taco Bell rats and all of that.

What really freaked me out was that the first article I read about these giant rodents said nothing about WHEN they'd inhabited the earth. Maybe I should have assumed that they were long gone, but the way the story was written, you couldn't be too sure. Way to go, Time.com! Y'all know what happens when you assume...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Travel 50 miles for a dog and fries?

Despite the stereotype of overcrowding, traffic jams and overall bedlam, there are parts of western New Jersey where you could swear nobody lives. It's most surprising when one of those traffic-clogged retail-zoo-of-a-highways shrinks to a two-lane back road to nowhere. U.S. 46 is one of them, which I discovered only a few years ago. Its westernmost leg in Warren County rambles through small towns where there are more falling-down houses than there are occupied ones.

Buttzville is one of those communities, except for one tiny part. Much the way the population of the small town of Park City, Utah, swells exponentially during the Sundance Film Festival, a tiny corner of this tiny town becomes the most densely populated place in New Jersey when Hot Dog Johnny's is open.

The roadside stand does a brisk summertime business, having stood between the scenic Pequest River and U.S. 46 for 60 years. While there are places with better hot dogs much closer to where I live (Galloping Hill Inn, for one), none of them compares to Hot Dog Johnny's setting. You can enjoy your meal at picnic benches near the river while the kids play on the swingset, or just sit on the hood of your car, watching the Harley riders kick up gravel as they pull into the lot. It seems like everyone within 20 miles gravitates to the open-air counters to order up hot dogs, fries and root beer in frosty mugs. In other words, it's packed.

Today, I took a wrong turn onto 46 in Hackettstown and figured what the heck, may as well check out Johnny's. Chances were that they wouldn't be open, or at least business would be slow. Nobody would be fishing in the Pequest in the below-freezing weather, nor would most pleasure riders be out on their motorcyles.

Boy, was I wrong. The sign read "open all year," and the gravel parking lot was full. They'd installed wooden walls to create a vestibule around the counter area, which was packed. Service was brisk and friendly, as always, and there was nowhere to sit in the enclosed dining area. It was way too cold to sit by the river, so back to the car it was.

I'm not quite sure why there were so many people there. A gaggle of teenagers was debating how many logoed t-shirts to get, so maybe it was the tourist trade after all. Johnny's is on the hot dog circuit for devotees of the tube steak, so that could account for some of it.

Nonetheless, I do kind of wonder if these people come out of the woodwork when I get there, the way the fabled 'satan cults' just happen to be on the same desolate road where some teenager's car breaks down. Or maybe everyone gets the itch the same time I do to drive an hour for a dog fried in peanut oil.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Ranger Envy

I don't know what it is, but every time I go to one of the National Park Service sites, I have fantasies about becoming a park ranger. Not one of those Ranger Rick types who keep Yogi away from the pic-i-nic basket, though the nature stuff is very cool. I'm more into the stories behind the places.

Rangers have the enviable privilege of showing people the finer points of historic places, and sometimes, if you let on that you're as fascinated by history as they are, they'll clue you in on some stuff they don't ordinarily share. It might be a fact few people know, or they might let you into a room others don't get to see. In any case, I sometimes wonder if they get the urge to lie from time to time. Nothing very big, like there being a basement in the Alamo. Just something relatively plausible.

I've visited the Thomas Edison historical site in West Orange, NJ several times. It's about 20 miles from Menlo Park, where he and his 'muckers' invented the light bulb (and the town was renamed Edison in his honor). The West Orange site was where his manufacturing facility was, and where his famous research and development labs were. Touring that site, your head spins with the massive number of things invented and conceived of there, many of which are just now being reconceptualized, like the electric car. More on that another time.

After moving operations to West Orange and marrying his second, considerably younger wife Mina, he bought a house close to the office, in Llewellen Park, a still-tony and magnificent enclave of homes for the wealthy. Mina basically ran the house, which was called Glenmont; Edison himself usually slept on a cot in his library at the lab and when he was home he wasn't exactly the life of the party.

When you visit Glenmont, some of the rangers will take you beyond the usual living room/conservatory/study/bedrooms tour and let you see the inner workings of the household. That's how I got to see the cook's kitchen on a small tour. Besides me and the ranger, two folks from Ohio or somewhere were on the tour, and they kept asking ridiculous questions that only proved they hadn't been listening. You know, stuff that's so anachronistic that you have to laugh, like did Jesus ride a dinosaur, or something like that.

Well, we get to the kitchen, and the ranger points out the stove. Edison, he noted, was rarely home in time for dinner, and it was a real hassle for the help to keep a coal-fired stove going so he could have a warm meal whenever he got around to coming home. Not wanting her dear Tom to eat a cold dinner, Mina had installed the very first gas-fired stove in all of West Orange.

Somehow, the Ohio visitors weren't making the connection, so I helpfully added, "you know, that was before Edison invented the microwave oven." They nodded in acknowledgment. Ah, now it makes sense. The ranger just looked at me, raised his eyes heavenward and went on with the tour, noting that Mina lived in the house well after her husband's death in 1931.