Three Products Which Must Be Brought Back

Every now and again, mostly when I go to my kitchen cabinet and find stuff like “trail mix’ or some other un-salted, and otherwise un-appetizing bird food, I think about some of the good old fashioned junk food that used to be available. Before anyone knew what “trans-fats” were, when “Big Macs” actually tasted like something and you could buy Coca-Cola made with real sugar in glass bottles, we had access to some fantastic junk food.

Sadly, these things have gone by the way-side. Now, you can still buy horehound candy – a grotesque abomination of the word ‘candy’ if there ever was one – and every now and again some marketing genius will spit out some crap like the “McRib,” but you cannot put your hands on the wonderful treats of yore that you really want.

When you think about it, the junk food we have today just isn’t worth the calories. A “modern” Twinkie is not the same cake I used to eat – it’s smaller and the filling has the consistency of vegetable shortening. Blech. I remember the grainy feel of sugar as I’d bite into one of those bad boys. The last time I had fried chicken of any real value was close to 20 years ago, I was in Mexico and these guys were frying this stuff up in 100% lard. Now THAT is fried chicken. Colonel, I don’t care if you have 15 chefs in each restaurant “perfecting” the recipe; if you’re not frying that stuff up in good old fashioned animal fat, it’s just not worth it to me. Here are three items I wonder where they went and why I can’t put my hands on them now.

Ah, the good old days when no one really tried to pretend that a donut might actually be a reasonable choice and when no one had ever heard of “high fructose corn syrup.” Please bring these beautiful, wonderful treats back to me before I have to eat one more cashew nut or rice cake.

Three products that should immediately be brought back:

O’Grady’s Au Gratin Potato Chips. Man, these cheesy, extra-thick cut potato chips were the absolute bomb back in the day. I’ve found some links that suggest there were several different styles of these beauties, but all I really care about is the Au Gratin ones. These things were probably way too salty, and insanely loaded with all of those things someone designing the food pyramid (or whatever that’s been changed to) would have a stoke over, but nothing – and I mean NOTHING – would satisfy a salty cheese jones like these things would. Dear Frito-Lay marketing/production/R&D/advertising person, if you read this, please please please reiterate the imperative nature of returning this potato-starch crack to the marketplace.

Some recent comments on the “O’Grady’s Au Gratin Chips… BRING THEM BACK!!!!” Facebook fan page: “I’d do 100 hours of community service for a bag of O’Grady’s right now!!!” and “They are beyond imagination – it takes the experience itself for you to understand our passion.” I, for one, have never seen similar words uttered about “Ruffles” or “Cheez Waffies.”

Dunkin Donuts “Bismark.” This was not a donut. This was not a pastry. This was a solid, unadulterated clump of carbohydrates and fat. Sadly, what I can find about this amazing donut online is not what I’m talking about – it was not chocolate iced and it most certainly did not have anywhere near 340 calories. No, this thing was a vanilla cream and jelly (yes, that’s right, all mixed together) filled raised cruller-type donut, with vanilla cream on top of it and sometimes with a glop of jelly on top of that AND sometimes it would be rolled in sugar for good measure. If this thing wasn’t worth 900-calories, we’re not talking about the same donut. For years Dunkin Donuts has trotted out information such as “our donuts have no cholesterol**” with the asterisks excluding the French cruller – which is quite possibly one of the finest pieces of work on their menu, if I do say so myself. Here’s a newsflash: I’m at a freaking donut shop, I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE FREAKING CARBOHYDRATES. Give me the biggest freaking bag of grease, fat, and sugar you can give me. Give me the Bismark donut I’m describing here, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about you need to go back to “Fred the Baker,” and make the freaking donuts.

CW Post Cereal. “What? You go from potato chips and donuts to a freaking granola cereal??” Yeah, that’s right. CW Post was awesome. It wasn’t just granola. It was different. It had these awesome clumps, held together with what I can only presume was some kind of sugar. They used coconut in the cereal, too, and man do I love coconut. You just can’t get granola like this anymore. Other kids were heavy into Trix or Fruity Pebbles. I was heavy into this stuff. I almost never ate it as a cereal – you know, in a bowl with milk. Nope, the milk only messes up the taste. Straight out of the box and leaning against the counter while I did it. According to the Wikipedia article on this stuff, the sugar content was just under 28% which was in the middle range for cereal then! 28%! If sugary food is addictive, this stuff would be something close to crack, and I could stand there and eat an entire box of this stuff if left to my own devices. And note, most granola isn’t 28% sugar….yeah. This is just pure awesome yum.

O’Grady’s Facebook Fan page –

The SS Norway

In April 2001, my new bride and I honeymooned aboard the SS Norway for a Western Caribbean cruise.  It was an enormous hulk of a ship – the largest passenger ship in existence at the time, surpassed in 2004 by the HMS Queen Mary 2.  As not only the largest, but also the oldest, It stood as a reminder of the not so distant transatlantic past of passenger vessels transporting passengers from Europe to New York and back over a period of weeks.

It served as a Caribbean cruiser – repurposed from its previous duties – among the specially built Carnival liners.  Its refined nature contrasted against the newer and far more garish ships set it even further apart.  Because it was built to withstand the pounding of the open Atlantic, it was a peculiar choice to cruise the shallower and more docile Caribbean sea.  Its hull was far too deep to dock along the shorts in most ports of call, so tender boats were called to duty to transport its cruising passengers to shore.   The trappings of the ship were clearly from another, more refined age with accents of real brass.  The cabins had been retrofitted – the interior largely renovated – and therefore had sometimes peculiar shapes and sizes about them.  Where there had once been a swimming pool in its life as the SS France, there was now a disco.

The existence of such a ship was a puzzlement.  It first sailed in 1962, a bold statement of the Compagnie Generale Transatlantic to create what happened to be the last of the year-round transatlantic superships.   When first conceived in 1956, it was to compete with Cunard and the United States Lines ships – and while built in competitive spirit, it was short sighted;  As the ship was being built in the late 1950s, air travel began to overtake transatlantic shipping as the preferred means of intercontinental travel.    It began life as a bit of a white elephant and sailed for a mere 12 years before being hulked in 1974 when oil prices soared and government subsidies for the running of the ship dried up.

It was then resurrected by the Norwegian Cruise Line in 1979 and rechristened, and renovated in 1980, into the SS Norway.  By the time we took our honeymoon, NCL had been purchased by Star Cruises and plans had already begun to circulate about plans to bring the Norway to Malaysia for Pacific cruising.   Even as the ship received facelifts, maintenance had been cut back and by the late 1990s it had experienced several incidents and breakdowns.  By 2001, NCL had introduced “Freestyle Cruising” on all of its ships except for the Norway – her repurposing showing as the design would not support the open concept of the more modern ship.

We cruised on the Norway one more time in January 2003 – well after the point at which we understood would be her final cruising before being recommissioned in the Pacific.  After having cruised on a Carnival vessel, we came to more fully appreciate the ship for what she had once been.   A few months later in May, the ships boiler exploded in the port of Miami killing several crew members and injuring others.   Upon hearing the news, we could not help but to wonder if any of those hurt or dead would’ve been someone who had served us a few months before.

While sad and shocking, it was not a surprise given the maintenance cut backs and other not-wholly dissimilar incidents in the past: in 1999 it was out of commission for three weeks after a fire in Barcelona.  And so it was that the SS Norway came to its end on an Indian beach after having been towed there for demolition.  It was a ship that seemed to be born just a little too late, never quite fitting in; but it was a beautiful ship, a destination in and of itself.

This is a video I put together  from smaller clips I had of a ride on one of the tenders back to the Norway from Great Stirrup Cay during a rather unsettled weather pattern on that January 2003 cruise:

Writing for the College Newspaper: 1992 Edition

About 20-years ago, my last op/ed article – “The Columnist Manifesto” – ran in my college newspaper. Besides the fact that I can’t quite believe it was that long ago, what really astounds me is just how much the acts of writing and publishing has changed. Consider the way the process looked back in the early-1990’s.

Now to be sure, this was by no means the stone age. I spent exactly no time chiseling my pictograms onto stone tablets, nor did I have to sharpen my own quills and mill my own paper. I used a Brother WP-1400 word processing typewriter, for which I paid the astronomical sum of $400. The Dell notebook computer on which I am writing this article, cost just slightly north of that. I saved my columns on 3.5″ floppy disks, probably the most state of the art media of the day. The only thing was that the Brother used proprietary formatting, so one could only use the data on it in other Brother word processors. I will say that I was fortunate to have had that machine: besides being somewhat of a novelty to the others on my floor, it absolutely revolutionized how I thought about my writing tasks.

It had a small LCD screen where I could review my work, spell check, and edit before taking to actually printing it out. Printing consisted of the type-wheel whirring and clicking away. To someone who may not have known I had a fully automated typewriter, they would have heard typing going on at some 80-flawless words a minute.

I would then walk my type-written manuscript across campus to the newspaper office, where the paper had retained the services of a retiree to transcribe the work of the papers’ authors onto a Macintosh Classic computer. Quite impressive, really. The paper had 4-of these $1000 machines, although I’m pretty sure they were shared with some other campus club. Those machines had 9″ monochrome CRT displays ‘” not much better than the screen on my Brother although I’m pretty sure the processing speed of my Brother was probably better.

The paper’s clerk would then spend hours “processing” the writing contributions for the week, whereupon the editors would lay the paper out manually, and then send the paper off to the printers.

Consider the amount of work and time that went into that process. My simple article was written, printed, re-typed, printed, and manually laid out. Today, that article would be saved to “the cloud” somewhere or at the least emailed, where it would be received, imported into Quark or some other desktop publishing application, and emailed to a printer; that is if I didn’t just publish it to a blog while I was sitting in Starbucks using their WiFi.

I was so conscientious about saving my work, and yet I was saving it to these proprietary disks that were worthless absent the Brother machine; today it would be saved to GoogleDocs, to my hard drive, and my “sent items.” Our retiree clerk would simply have nothing to do, as would the majority of the editors.

At the time, I’m sure the whole process was hi-tech. Today, it seems like it could be a scene from “Mad Men” or from the 1950’s ‘Daily Planet’ newsroom. I may as well have been sharpening quills, in comparison to what can be accomplished today.

30 Years of Music in Your Pocket

J Geils BandI have been collecting music for exactly 30-years. For my 12th birthday I bought my very first record – a 45 RPM record of J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold”, a record I still possess. Yes, my parents clearly didn’t understand the lyrics behind the music…truthfully, nor did I.

Over time, my 45 collection came to number in the 100’s, LP’s came to number in the 100’s, cassettes which came to number hundreds more some of which duplicated my LP purchases, then CDs which came to number over 500 at various points. Over time this amounts to a lot of “stuff.”

Music collecting had become more about collecting “records,” and it is that distinction that I carried with me into my late 30’s. On the other hand, the “Gen-Y” crowd has grown up with digital music – and their collections are digital files. They carry their entire music collection (as distinct from “record collection”) with them in the form of iPods and the other varied and assorted MP3 players.

As a “Gen-Xer,” I was slow to adopt the “music” collection over “record” collection – if I couldn’t feel, touch, or otherwise experience the packaging as well as the music it didn’t “feel” like owning a copy of a work. It almost every other aspect of my life, I had long since adopted the digital medium and while I may not be the “digital native” of Generation-Y, I’m probably one of the most technically literate people going of either generation. But music…music was something different.

However the “stuff” in my life came to be somewhat burdensome. Over the course of time, these things came to be misplaced, given away, or otherwise just stored away as the rest of life’s “stuff” came to be more important. At one point, I would have preferred a Bang and Olufsen system over having an automobile, but somehow over time I found I’d prefer a sofa or a kitchen table. Over time, those things came to dominate my home and managing my records came to be more hassle than it was worth – especially given the limited amount of time I actually took to pull a disc out and play it.

And so it came to be, this stodgy Gen-Xer came to adopt digital audio. I ripped each and every one of my CDs to MP3 – and I realized how many of these discs I really don’t care for anymore, but I kept the digital copies. I bought a USB turntable and ripped copies of my old vinyl to MP3 with varying results. Fully armed with my iPhone, I can carry with me my entire “music” collection and pull up any given song I want at any given time. If I so choose, I can pull up a copy of a partially warped record, complete with cracks and pops – there’s something about the remastered Rolling Stones music that makes the music seem hollow and sterile next to a copy of a somewhat time-worn record.

And so it is, 30-years later, I can literally fit most of my life’s important music into my pocket and take it down off the wall, the CD holders, the display case – what have you. Now, I still haven’t been able to pry my books out off the shelves in favor of a Kindle or Nook, I am a big fan of audio books played on the very same iPhone on which I carry my music – there’s something sacrosanct about the feel and smell of the paper that just can’t be replicated on a Kindle, something completely different than the compulsion to own a “thing.”

I have come to feel comfortable “owning” digital copies over the physical object of a record, and because I can sort through them, build lists, and shuffle I have rediscovered so much of the soundtrack of my life. So, I have come to be free of possessing that physical object for the sake of possessing it, and have come back to enjoying that which I wanted that object for in the first place.

One Thousand Songs In Your Pocket