Zucchini Races and The United States Constitution

We Hold These Truths to be Self Evident

The inspiration for this piece came while checking out at the Creswell Bi-Mart last week.   There was an older man without a facemask on, bellowing his displeasure at Governor Brown’s requiring citizens to wear facemasks in hard-hit Oregon counties. He said the “The whole thing is BS and unconstitutional: to anyone who cared to listen.   My first impulse was wanting to retrieve the copy of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence I carry in my car. The second, gentler impulse not to react, prevailed, and I thought that this poor man was struggling with the Coronavirus pandemic the same as all of us.

This piece is my third impulse.

Zucchini Races and The United States Constitution

Three summers ago, I sat in my friend, Scott’s booth at the San Juan County Fair in Friday Harbor, Washington. The fair is full of produce displays, horse shows, animal judging, cotton candy, chicken races, and the biggest draw of all, at five o’clock every night, The Zucchini 500, a side by side downhill drag race by “driverless cars” made from, what else: Zucchinis. And, though kids dominate the entrants, many adults enter cars and take the competition very seriously, with a few engineers perfecting innovative designs throughout the year to become the Zucchini 500 Champion.

There are two classes of cars: stock; cars whose main body is a full zucchini, and custom; cars that have some form of zucchini worked into the construction. Being fast is one goal, with friction-reducing wheels and aerodynamic designs dominating. But fun is also good, especially with MC Scott presiding like Don Rickles at a comedy roast. I entered a car one year that ran down the ramp for about six feet and then stopped; flat out stopped. Instantly, Scott branded that The Blum Line, and for the next few days, the main goal for all racers was to surpass The Blum Line.

 

Each day, Scott and Lynnette “Zucchini Queen” staff the “Zucchini 500” booth, checking in entries for the evening’s race. Scott Bell, commercial painter, musician, and elder statesman of all things San Juan Island. He isn’t the mayor of Friday Harbor and doesn’t hold political office, but he is a central figure in the island community. He might as well be the King for all the people he knows and the history of San Juan Island that he possesses.

 

Scott and I met while waiting for the ferry forty years ago when he played in the legendary rock and roll band, The Ducks, whose motto was, “Making The Easy Impossible.”   We struck up a conversation about the guitars we were carrying and have been friends ever since. When she met me for the first time, one of his bandmates said, “I heard Scott likes you, and Scott doesn’t like anyone.” Forty years later, whenever we get together, the conversation goes in a lot of directions. Scott can talk; Lord have mercy, Scott can talk about anything and everything. His persona is a bit of a tough guy. Still, in truth, he is loving and sympathetic, especially with young people, so all day, race entrants and other friends stop by the booth to say hi, share some stories, and register their car for the evening race.

 

And so it was, we stat talking when a kind of shy man in his late twenties stopped into the booth holding handful of campaign leaflets and handed one to each of us. We each took the leaflets politely, and a quick read of the bullet points warned us that Christianity and gun ownership were under attack! I asked the young candidate for County Commissioner if he might tell me specific examples of where Christianity was under attack. The aspiring politician begged off and said, “Hey, I’m just here for the fair. I don’t want to talk about politics.” I said, “Apparently, that’s not accurate because you handed me your campaign leaflet?” I continued, might you tell me exactly where Christianity is under attack?” but once again, the young did not want to “get bogged down in specifics.” So, I said, “Okay, let’s move on from that,” said I, “What about gun ownership? I know there is a lot of talk about gun rights, but, to the best of my knowledge, not a single gun has been taken away from anybody; pretty much, ever, so might you give examples of where gun rights have been taken away?” Again, the candidate for County Commissioner said he just wanted to enjoy the fair.”

 

At this point, I noticed Scott was uncharacteristically silent as I pressed asked the hopeful candidate, “Have you read the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence?” To this, he timidly replied, “Well, parts of it” and me, being the teacherly type, said, “Well, it’s your lucky day because I have a copy of both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence in my car, (It’s true, and yes, I know that makes me weird). I’d be happy to go get them, and we can have a look together.” This was too much for the future head of state, and he begged off one last time, saying he was just out for a little fun.

And I said, “Yes, me too, then said what I have many times to other friends and family when they bemoan something is unconstitutional or that some member of government should do this or that, “Look, I don’t know exactly why you’re running for office. I don’t know if you believe in Communism or Capitalism, but I do know this, “If you want to represent the people of this county, state, or nation in any capacity, you should read and understand the rules by which we are governed. You need to know the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and every amendment to it, because holding office is a responsibility and a privilege. I think you shouldn’t have that privilege until you’ve at least read the foundational documents that form our laws and customs.” The poor kid was flustered, but he did agree to read the documents, and we amicably shook hands before he left the booth.

 

When he left, Scott finally broke his silence. “You know, you were right to challenge him that way, and you were fair, but if you knew that poor kid, you would have let it go. It turns out that the kid has had a rough go of it in life, and his chances of actually getting elected were pretty slim (He did not win). And I felt like had I known more about him I might have been more gentle, but I stand by what I said: The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution are the bedrock upon which the United States was formed and exists today. Both documents are remarkable for their philosophical and pragmatic depth, and they should be read and understood by every citizen. New citizens to the US have to pass a test on it before they get their citizenship, but unfortunately, those of us born here get citizenship without having to show their knowledge of the documents. In theory, we all take a government class in high school, but most of us don’t remember much from that.

 

And for anyone who wants copies of either or both documents, I’ll be happy to provide you them, and we could even meet for coffee and discuss them, but one caveat, “No cherry-picking!” You can’t just pick the parts you like and throw out the rest. And if you do that and decide to run for office, I’ll be happy to write some speeches for you, but honestly, if you read the two documents, you won’t need me. In my spare time, I can get back to designing a custom zucchini car that will spare me from the comedic tongue of the awesome Scott Bell if I can finally surpass The Blum Line.

 

 

A Cup of Joe for Joey

Five months into the dramatic shift in daily life and one of the things that help me is an occasional cup of coffee. I’m sure you understand: life is often about simple pleasures.

I’ve previously confessed in this space to binge-watching too many television shows since things went all “Corona.” But, I did not confess another fact about my world of addiction. Coffee. Some, who know me, understand that I love coffee but it doesn’t always love me back. At various times, more than a few local coffee shops were under direction not to serve me coffee. It’s usually done politely by the barista asking, “Is that okay? Or, are you sure? Or, don’t you mean decaf; are you allowed to have regular coffee?” Lest you think I become a raving sociopath while “under the influence” let me explain.

For the entirety of my life, I have seldom had more than one cup of coffee in a day, and, I have seldom drunk coffee every day as many do. Normally, I have one cup every few days, early in the morning, and then I get A LOT done for the rest of the day. I can bang out the crossword puzzle or nail Jeopardy questions as if a superhero! I talk a lot, but that’s not so unusual, and if no one is around I don’t talk but work hard and focused at one thing after another. This is good for a writer, a builder, and a gardener. So far so good, until sixteen hours later, I cannot sleep, my muscles get tight and painful, and the jitters set in. One Cup, sixteen hours later!

coffeeA Cup of Joe

If I drink coffee on consecutive days, by the third day the boom book starts going away, less gets done, and all that chatty, creative energy transforms into a Zombie land depression. My energy flags, my speech slurs, my body hurts to the point that walking stairs is difficult and my neck gets so tight I want to snap it off. I begin to organize my world in a bout of OCD, and honestly, I just get weird.   And yet, all day, all I think about is getting that next cup the following morning. Though my addictions are legal, relatively safe, cheap, and benign, they are still addictions.

From Wikipedia.

Caffeine can have both positive and negative health effects. Some people experience sleep disruption or anxiety if they consume caffeine, but others show little disturbance. Caffeine can produce a mild form of drug dependence associated with withdrawal symptoms such as sleepiness, headache, and irritability when an individual stops using caffeine after repeated daily intake.

Crater LakeCrater Lake

I recall well the two best cups of coffee in my life.  In August of 1974, driving with friends from San Francisco to my home in Tumwater, Washington, we detoured to Crater Lake.  We arrived at the rim at midnight with a few blankets and no camping gear or warm clothing. The temperature was 31degrees, so we retreated down to a campsite and went to sleep. At four o’clock in the morning, it started raining, so we piled back into the 1974 Pontiac Catalina and set off.  It would be fifteen years before I saw Crater Lake in the daytime. We headed downhill with the heater cranked on high. An hour later we stopped for breakfast at a café, and when they poured the coffee into the restaurant ceramic cups, it was heavenly:  to that point in my life, the best coffee ever.  It was probably Boyd’s or Folgers but I didn’t care: “any port in a storm.”

CafeA Port in a Storm

The next great cup of coffee would come under different circumstances, but oddly similar. Nancy and I were in Europe in 1988 for the first time and traveling by train from Barcelona to Rome. Sharing our cabin was a young Argentinean whom we befriended and spent much of the overnight trip talking with instead of sleeping. Arriving in Rome, early the next morning, the Argentinian, a well-versed traveler, said, “Let’s get a coffee,” and we stepped into the bustling coffee line where a veritable phalanx of baristas stood cranking out shots of espresso. The Argentinian said, “Be sure to order two so you don’t have to wait in line again.” This we did and enjoyed the coffee agreeing that it was the best EVER!

RomeRome Termini Train Station Cafe

If you think this piece is simply the rationalizing of a drug addict (it is), let me say that coffee is not simply a drug experience, but more an aesthetic ritual I enjoy sharing with others. The other day, one of the Oregon Department of Forestry fire patrol crews stopped by to say hi, and with respect and appreciation for how hard they work and the service they perform, I made them a cup of coffee. They had heard about my coffee ritual and before preparing it, I explained my process in a step-by-step fashion. A few minutes later, they joyfully received the brew.

In pandemics as in life, it is the little things that sustain us. Amen.

Uncle Joey’s Obsessive Compulsive Perfect Cup of Coffee

  • Prepare a Clean work area
  • Layout your required teaspoons, cream, sugar, coffee, cups, pitchers, and whatever device you use.
  • Use good coffee (this is dependent on individual taste)
  • Make certain that nothing hot: water, cream, coffee ever meets a cold surface. Pre heat everything
  • Make the coffee strong. One tablespoon per six ounces is a joke; double it!
  • Never allow the coffee to cool, and only add hot milk or cream which has been heated to “The Natas” point, which for those who don’t speak Spanish, is when heated milk forms a very thin layer of skin on the surface seconds prior to boiling.
  • Blend the milk, cream, half and half together with the hot coffee and if you’re like me, add sugar. In my novel, Bedtime Stories, Philosopher Mechanic, Fish, says to the protagonist, Jake, “Black coffee is just a drug, but if you add cream and sugar, it is three drugs!”
  • And last, perhaps the most important step of all in the ritual: serve the coffee in a perfect cup to yourself or your guest who is “ready to receive it.” Receive means, calm, and ready to taste and appreciate the coffee instead of just banging it down.
  • Savor the first sip and each additional sip

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Sugar: Protect the Youth!

Rise of Sugar Raises Questions, by Joey Emil Blum 

In a recent blue paper, the National Academy of Nutritional Sciences addressed the rise of sugar consumption in the United States.  “Main-street America’s food supply is changing rapidly with sugar distribution outlets leading the charge. It seems like every town now has a “Candy” store and a “Bakery,” the terms preferred by sugar industrialists to the previously described, Sugar Dispensaries.

Though initially confined to medical administration in certified professional offices, sugar is now available in all fifty states and US territories. Outlets called, Bakeries and Pastry shops are proliferating alongside more traditional retail outlets for food, sex, and other drugs. Edible sugar is making its appearance in traditional grocery outlets in a myriad of products enticing consumers with names like apple pie, maple bars, cake, cookies, snickerdoodles, bars, hard candy, chocolate, jellies, jams, sparkles, fireballs, ice cream, spreads, preserves, leathers, pudding, sundaes, as well as a growing number of trade named sugar delivery systems directed at youth. Sugar researcher Leslie Green, of Tufts Medical School, said the sugar industry is targeting youth with a wide variety of sugar products with playful names like M and M’s, Junior Mints, Reese’s Pieces, Cherry Garcia, Almond Joy, Licorice, Butterfingers, Pepsi, Coke, Chocolate chips and scores of other child-centered products. Green, who has studied the effects of sugar on children for sixteen years, said in a somber tone, “We feel defenseless against the onslaught of sugar, and hope the public will navigate the health and social impacts of this emerging dietary staple.”

While research raises alarms about sugar’s role the rise in diabetes, heart disease, and obesity-related conditions, the sugar industry is showing meteoric growth. In their January Emerging Industries issue, Forbes said there are over two hundred individual conglomerates selling a new, super-potent sugar product called Donuts, though the lasting health effects of this product remain unclear. The public’s insatiable desire for sugar is pushing demand to unprecedented levels, a trend that analysts expect will increase rapidly.

As concerns about the medical safety of sugar surface, studies evaluating the effect of sugar on human health are proliferating. Industry spokespersons have strongly denied sugar poses any health risk to the public. Dole Sugar Corporation, Vice President Cole Aspenard, who serves as Chairman of the Sugar Board of America, said, “Sugar is God’s ways of bringing a smile to the world.” Asked to comment on health questions about sugar, Aspenard declared, “Attacking sugar is attacking America.”

Additional concerns about sugar consumption raise questions about the product’s effect on youth. The National Association of Teachers issued the results of a poll conducted of the nation’s classrooms, where teachers overwhelmingly declared sugar slows the mental ability of students and increases jittery behavior. Bianca White, the President of Venezuela Sugar Company, speaking from her company’s US headquarters in Miami, Florida said more study is needed but that, “Sugar has less influence on the behavior of a child’s ability than the sweet and life-giving molecules of air that they breathe.”

Even with health concerns mounting, it may be too late to derail governmental hunger for a new source of revenue. Presently, state taxation of sugar averages %15 at the supply level, but with municipalities like Seattle and Louisville, levying local sugar taxes of 10% at the retail level, we should expect similar actions by other revenue dependent municipalities. RBC governmental revenue specialist, Lindgar Jensen, who tracks emerging commodity markets for the financial giant, said, “Historically, the infusion of tax revenue acts as a de-facto barrier about understanding unintended consequences of new foods or medicines. Lindgar, who serves on The United Nations Council of Global Nutrition warns, “Per capita consumption of sugar is driving a rosy economic picture for those benefitting from it.” Shrugging his shoulders, Lindgar said, Sugar is here to stay.”