Friday, January 28, 2011

An Epistle Wrought by a Victim of the Snowpocalypse... FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE

Greetings internet colleagues. For those of you not living in the Northeastern United States (being the only part of the said country that really matters), you may or may not be aware of the fact that every soul in the said geographical area has been wiped clean. Alas, it's true. In New York impatient people perished waiting an extra 10 minutes for a bus to arrive. In Boston thousands met their end from the minor inconvenience of having to hop over a slushy puddle. In Philadelphia literally thousands met their doom when they had to send their hideous UGG boots to the dry cleaner to remove rock salt stains. In short, I'm sorry to say, but we are all dead. I met my tragic end when I received an annoying telephone call at 6:15 AM telling me that New York City public schools would be closed that day. The tragedy of having lost $154.97 in daily wages was too much for my heart to bear, and thus, in the darkened, overheated* gloom of my Brooklyn apartment, I withered to dust. Using the latest high-speed necrofiberoptic technology, I was able to download my consciousness into the nearest electronic device with a programmable memory (nothing fancy, mind you - by an unlucky coincidence a coffee maker was the closest object at my time of death) and am thus able to deliver this missive to you, Dear Readers. Let's talk about the economy.

Item 1: Return to the Gold Standard
Now, in my life, I was a titled Baron of the micronation of Sealand - a decrepit World War II remnant currently decaying in the English Channel. Sealand's economy as well as the rusting support beam keeping it from the watery abyss below are, not to put too fine a point on it, rather fragile. In these dark time the middle and lower classes find themselves quickly slipping back into standards of living roughly equal to that of medieval Scottish peasantry. Sealand took a cue from L. Frank Baum's economic treatise The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
I'll explain. In this timeless classic, an uppity little girl, Dorothy Gale, from gloomy Kansas senselessly murders an innocent sorceress by dropping a house on her. After looting the body of a priceless pair of silver slippers, the deceased's sister, a fellow sorceress hailing from the West relentlessly pursues the murderous thief, who quickly allies herself with such questionable company as a straw man, a tin woodsman and a lion. Dorothy evades the sorceress's machinations by following a road built entirely of yellow bricks until she meets the Wizard, who is nothing but a failed politician (and a worse hot air balloonist). Eventually Dorothy and her rag tag crew murder the western sorceress, steal her broomstick, and are given gifts and a way home by the Wizard and a rival sorceress. All this is actually a cleverly conceived allegory for sticking to the gold standard. See, Dorothy was able to complete her barbarous, blood-drenched quest by using "silver" slippers and following a yellow - or GOLD - brick road and by surrounding herself with brainless, cowardly, heartless brutes. That's what we have governments for!
Why did I tell you all this? You see, Sealand, as I said, took a cue from L. Frank Baum's beloved "children's" classic, and made its currency nothing but solid gold and silver. I, a titled Baron, suddenly realized that I had no gold and little silver to back my aristocratic ways. However am I to afford my rusting, cold, salty, wet estate in Sealand? Naturally I needed to buy some gold. I went right to a source that Baum would have applauded: The United States Mint.
A few weeks ago I purchased a 1/10 ounce Gold Eagle coin.

Fig. 1: Only 4 bald eagles and 1 depiction of Lady Liberty? What kind of majesty is that?!

Alas, I should have known that the Mint, with its infamous TIME AGENTS, have thwarted me by creating a TIME PARADOX DIFFERENTIATOR DEVICE. This abominably conceived machine causes quite the temporal anomaly - in that all important dates are made 2 weeks away from the current date. Thus, at the time of purchase, the site said my purchase was back ordered until January 31 of 2011, yet each day, the ship day was a DAY LATER, to the point where I am now told that it will not ship until February 12th of the same year. Oh, the very thought of those TIME AGENTS gives me a headache. How dare they get between me and a keepsake to mark the year of Maria's & my wedding!
Now, if only the United States would follow in the footsteps of the famed economic philosopher L. Frank Baum and the entirely farcical Principality of Sealand, maybe we could dig ourselves out of this mess.

Item 2: How to Feed Yourself in a Harsh Economic Climate
My last meal before perishing in the Snowpocalypse of 2011 happened to be at the famed Delmonico's steakhouse on Beaver Street in New York's Financial District. I have previously written about the curious history of Delmonico's. It was a fine meal of Lobster Newberg, slow braised beef, seared sea scallops, filet mignon and reasonably priced Chilean wine.
I wasn't always able to enjoy such fine feasts. In my youth, my family had very little money to throw around. My mother, ever the spendthrift, invented one of the finest cheap meals ever conceived; a dish that my sister and I retroactively entitled Ghetto Meal. I here share the recipe:

Ghetto Meal

  • 1 package Velveeta Shells & Cheese
  • 1 package frozen peas (the cheap kind, mind you - nothing a self-loving locavore would even consider edible)
  • 1 package Hillshire Farms Polska Kielbasa
  1. Slice the kielbasa on a diagonal and brown in a large skillet.
  2. Prepare shells & cheese as directed on the box. Make sure you squeeze every last drop of that luscious "cheese" product out of the space-age wrapper. Add to the browned kielbasa
  3. When that mixture is nice and warm, add frozen peas and heat through to the desired texture.
  4. Get yourself a paper plate and enjoy!
If I am feeling particularly adventurous, I may just chronicle the making of an haute-cuisine version of this recipe for my next entry.
Now, many of my readers would be put off by so low a recipe, but as you can imagine, for my sister and myself, this is the paragon of comfort food. When we bring up this recipe to our mother, she thinks we're making fun of her, but in all honesty, we applaud her for concocting a meal that could feed four hungry people and contain an ingredient from nearly every food group. I also reckon that with 1988 dollars, this meal would come to little over $1 per person, though this is purely conjecture.
The point is, you have to make do with what you have. In the Great Depression and World War II, people learned to grow their own vegetables and settled with eating much cheaper offal instead of Perdue "All-Natural" corn-fed, factory separated skinless boneless chicken breasts. Just ask my grandmother who relishes a nice plate of liver and bacon. To be fair, there is a bit of a pricing problem when a McDonald's Big Mac is $3.75 and a single red bell pepper is around $4 (yes, I paid that much for a bell pepper, and consider it one of the direst errata of my entire life -- along with the time a Japanese store clerk charged me $1.98 for an onion, forcing me to pay with my much-loved $2 bill). Still, there are cheap ways of feeding your entire family out there. That said, I got sort of disgusted when I was at the grocery store last week. A woman in front of me placed on the cashier's conveyor belt a six pack of juice boxes (an expensive variety depicting Sesame Street characters) and a deli counter sandwich with a self-adhesive price tag declaring that it cost $6.25. To my horror, the woman opted to pay with her WIC card. I am perhaps no expert in the area of food stamps and the like, but I am relatively certain that you cannot purchase any prepared foods with federal tax dollars. Every bodega and grocery store has a sign declaring that. Still, the cashier said, "It's okay, my manager says it's all right," and rang up the overpriced juice box and $6.25 sandwich. This is by no means the first time this has happened, as I've seen plenty of people pay for egg sandwiches with EBT and WIC cards. SIX DOLLARS AND TWENTY FIVE CENTS. Let's make better economic sense, shall we? I call this section:
How Not to Pay $6.25 in Taxpayer Dollars on a Sandwich
  1. Buy a loaf of bread for $1.99. I've seen it available at that price. The average loaf contains 20 slices of bread. For a single sandwich, you need 2 slices, bringing the total price of the bread used to 20¢.
  2. Buy a tomato for less than $1. I sliced a tomato and got around 8 slices. Let's say you want 2 slices of tomato on that sandwich. I liberally estimate this to cost between 15¢ and 20¢ - for the sake of this experiment, let's make it 25¢.
  3. Let's say you splurge on the lettuce. I can't find the price of a head of lettuce (it's $1 in the summer time) in the KeyFood circular, but they do offer expensive, pre-packaged salad blends (containing lettuce) on sale for $2.50. I once again liberally estimate that it will require 10% of this package for the sandwich, meaning the useless, tasteless green stuff on your sandwich will cost 25¢.
  4. What luck! Fancy Boar's Head Honey Maple Turkey and American Cheese (white or yellow) are on sale this week. $7.99 for half a pound of each. The recommended serving sizes of turkey and cheese are 2 oz. and 1 oz., respectively. That amounts to 50¢ of turkey and 25¢ of cheese -- and this is the premium brand, too!
  5. Hellmann's Mayonnaise is $3.99 for a 30 oz. jar. A serving size is 1 tablespoon, or roughly 1/60th of that jar. All that delicious pure fat that really brings the sandwich together will put you back $0.0665. For the sake of argument, we'll say it costs 7¢.
Conclusion: Make yourself a sandwich. TA-DA! Lunch cost you (and by YOU, I mean the hardworking TAXPAYERS) $1.52.

- $1.52

By a miracle of spendthriftery, I have saved us all tons of money that we can use to reform health care or visit Mars! You're welcome, America!
I plan on seizing control of the Rent is 2 Damn High Party (yes, that number two became official) and using the Sandwiches Are Too Damn Expensive For Taxpayer Dollars platform to launch my political career. First stop, Daniel Patrick Moynihan's old seat followed by the Oval Office.

In summary, dear friends, we don't need a State of the Union address to tell us the economic shape of things. The United States Empire is in no danger of collapse - even though its entire Northeast and all its occupants, myself included, were destroyed by snow. I'll borrow from our British cousins and leave you with the following:

Fig. 2: Can we replace that crown with an eagle clutching an American flag or something?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Most Honorable Company, Ltd.

Did you know that is it currently January of 2011 and that I haven't written a single thing in this weblog since October of last year? Alex-sensei, blood-drenched samurai Lord of Hitoyoshi Castle knows and he was none too happy with me upon our glad reunion on this New Year's Eve. I know that it's practically a federal crime at this point to deprive the populous with my charming wit and masterful command of the English language; and so before a government SWAT team breaks down my door, I will relate to you, my dearly deprived readers, several developments in my life. Please note, that I am being paid for writing this blog entry. God bless the prep period!


If you have not seen 2010's greatest Broadway musical, then you really ought to be ashamed of yourself. It closed on January 2nd because of lazy people like you who don't realize that a musical about the life and times of our 7th President is just a goddamned brilliant idea. Hell, it's an entertaining thought just sitting here in a quiet classroom. On a whim, I decided to check the reduced price Broadway tickets folder in the main office of the school where I had been filling in for a maternity leave. Sure enough, there stamped in red on a thin strip of paper was Andrew Jackson's Levis-clad butt, a stars & stripes hanky stuffed in a rear pocket, and a holstered Colt revolver hanging beside. Tagline: History just got all sexypants.

The theater was completely redecorated; taxidermied bear, a hog-tied horse hanging from the ceiling, broken portraits of long-dead Federalists & Antifederalists, abused chandeliers... essentially some bastard child of a log cabin and the Oval Office - a fitting arena for a musical about Andrew Jackson. On our way to the theater, I specifically told Maria that I would be beside myself if there wasn't a number in the production called "Populism: F**K YEAH!" The lights dimmed, Jackson showered us with an innuendo-laden introduction, and the company went on to sing "Populism Yea Yea." I was pleased.

I appreciated their treatment of Andrew "The American Hitler / Hero" Jackson. As a historian myself, I am torn between the legendary story of the first log cabin president, an unpretentious man of the people going on to govern the people, and the brutal and seemingly uncaring executor of the Indian Removal Act that constituted nothing short of genocide of an entire native population. That's America, folks - for better or for worse.


Every year around the holiday season, Union Square goes from its normal obnoxious, hippie-strewn, hobo-hangout (populated with such choice characters who refer to themselves as "Air" and describe their life philosophy in such wishy-washy, detestable ways as "undecided") to an even more obnoxious bastion of consumerism and overpriced hipster goods - The Christmas Bazaar. Helen, Varun, Maria and I visited the said Christmas Gay (our own rebranding) so that Varun could buy Helen the pillow she'd had her eye on. I found a handmade watch for $300 that was made of hand-hammered copper, but couldn't convince myself that the movement attached to the pretty hand-work was worth it. Naturally the four of us got to thinking about our absolute favorite topic: the differences between Japan and the United States.

We eventually came up with an amazingly brilliant idea to take Japan by storm. Taking a page from the boom in the 1980s of Japanese businessmen, we have decided to form MOST HONORABLE COMPANY, LTD..

At MOST HONORABLE COMPANY, LTD., our motto is "PUT FOOD ON TABLE." We take this to mean, SUCCEED AT ANY COST, EVEN IF THAT COST IS THE ENTIRE NATION OF BELGIUM. Now, all Japanese companies must adopt an adorably inappropriate mascot that has nothing to do with what the company does at all. I remind readers that baseball teams in Japan are not named after the cities where the clubs play, but rather after enormoous companies. Hence the team name Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Our mascot is none other than everybody's favorite GOOD EVENING CAT.

Fig. 1: Good Evening Cat (designed by M.N. French)

Having a mascot is all well and good... but even a tophat and a monocle do not a business make. What is a company without its products, and I am here to introduce some of the products and services that MOST HONORABLE COMPANY, LTD. will offer.
1.) The Purchase and Re-Branding of Giga-Pudding. I have seen this commercial twice, and that is two times too many.

Giga-Pudding will become a pharmaceuticals company - the kind that has important ties to various shady government lobbies throughout Washington. The purpose? We want nothing more than to make commercials showing people enjoying themselves on the beach, living life to its fullest, and playing soft, inoffensive music in the background - WHILE WE WARN YOU THAT THIS PRODUCT WILL CAUSE: fever, rash, upset stomach, shock, forgetfulness, irregular heartbeat, nightsweats, swelling of the tongue, inability to produce tears, severe cardiac events, Demonic Possession, violent erotic nightmares, instantaneous death, hallucinations, and an unexplained fear of the color blue.

2.) Pop Chan. Soft drinks are where the real money is made. It took a long and arduous conference meeting (that is, 2-3 minutes on a crowded subway) for our panelists to dream up the name of and invent flavoring for POP CHAN: EXCITING NEW NUMBER ONE GOOD SWEET DRINK! Pop Chan comes in the following flavors:

  • cola
  • strawberry
  • Giga-Pudding
  • seaweed shrimp kelp microplankton
  • melon

Yummy! But the most exciting part about Pop Chan is its viral commercials.

Pop Chan Commercial : Japanese Businessman

A shady, empty side-street at night. Flickering neon advertisements are reflected on the fresh rain upon the cold cobbled road. A man in thick glasses and a cheap double-breasted suit approaches a vending machine. Only a dog barking and the electric hum of the machine break the silence of the evening. He peruses the choices, and opts to purchase a pair of girls' panties, becaue urban legend has it that you can purchase things like than in vending machines in Japan. He puts the money into the machine and pushes the buttons for his selection. A can of POP CHAN falls from the machine instead.



The businessman is beside himself with anger. He composes himself and notices a tab on the can that reads "Pull Here" (however that is written in Japanese). He pulls the label to reveal a pair of girls' panties hidden beneath.


POP CHAN!!!!!!

Stars, rainbows, and flowers explode from the bottom lefthand side of the screen. One of MOST HONORABLE COMPANY, LTD's Presidents (William) pops in. He winks, displays a Churchillian V for Victory.


It's-a numbaa one goooooood!

The POP CHAN logo appears on screen, wreathed in a halo of golden light. For a brief nano-second, the image of GOOD EVENING CAT blinks on screen to the sound of television static.


If that doesn't outsell Coca-Cola in a matter of a single fiscal year, then the world is all but lost.

Item 3: Alcoholic Beverages. One of my dreams is to create my own brand of bourbon using only the finest ingredients from God's Chosen State (New York). Honestly, how great would a bourbon distilled from Long Island sweet corn and pure, clean Catskills water taste? Mighty fine, I'd bet. MOST HONORABLE COMPANY, LTD realizes the great value put upon so-called "premium" spirits nowadays. It seems that the larger and more streamlined a product becomes, the more expensive it grows. This is especially so when a hip-hop artist decides to mention a crappy brand of booze in one of his or her songs. And now such standbys as Hennessy and Courvoisier cognacs are nothing but artificially-colored ethanol. Here are some of our questionably named products:

  • Fun Drink Rum - you know, for those damned mojitos that 20-something females from Long Island and New Jersey think are delicious because it makes them seem exotic and tropical. Please notice that Fun Drink Rum shares its initials with one of Japan's favorite American presidents.
  • For Pete's Sake - GET IT?! Sake - like the fermented rice wine and sake as in, you know... for the sake of all humanity. It... it's a homograph! Ugh... never mind.
  • Little Boy Vodka - a flavor explosion in your... oh my god, I went too far. I apologize.

I'm pretty sure we had other ideas for MOST HONORABLE COMPANY, LTD. but they currently elude my memory. Of course we plan on forming our own shady holdings company, namely LEGITIMATE BUSINESS HOLDINGS, INC. which will compete with MOST HONORABLE COMPANY, LTD. in every respect until we artificially inflate our prices to the most insane levels imaginable before sinking LEGITIMATE BUSINESS HOLDINGS, INC. and reaping the profits until INTERPOL issues warrants for our arrest and we are left to liquidating our asset into pure gold bullion and retiring to our own sovereign island nation of Sealand (where I am currently a titled Baron). It's good to have dreams and goals, kids.

I have made a New Year's resolution to post more than once per month. We'll see how long that lasts.


W. Charles Olsen-Hoek

Co-President and Co-Founder MOST HONORABLE COMPANY, LTD.