Monday, August 31, 2009

Northeast Tomato Tragedy of 2009

My idea of sensory perfection:

I am slowly wandering barefoot through a vast, wild garden, when I stumble across some bandit cherry tomatoes. A warm breeze wafts the earthy aroma of the tomato plants. I pick a defiant little fruit and pop it into my mouth; it is warm from the hot sun. It bursts between my teeth. Delightful! Gently, a cool rain creeps in, releasing nutrients from dirt into the mist. I inhale the air of life living.

Nothing smells quite like a tomato plant. Anyone who has grown tomatoes just knows what I mean. Right now, we should be bombarded with tomatoes in the Northeast, they should be popping out of garbage cans and tires and anything else deemed to be an effective plant container. We should be eating them like apples with sea salt, with the freshest mozzarella, in pastas and sauces, canning them for bleak winter, they should be coming out of our ears!

2009 has not been kind to the tomato. Here in the Northeast, late blight and a wet summer has left our tomatoes with soggy bottoms and gray fungus. Boooooo!

I grew my tomatoes from seed this year. I started them in March, that mercurial lamb-beast of a month, in the windowsill of my Washington Heights apartment. In the beginning, the best way to describe them would be "dinky." They were runts, city kids, compared to their hearty, country-grown cousins. Walmart, the root of the insidious late blight and all evils, sold infected plants more than triple the size of my plants to their uninformed customers! You see, people want plants, but they don't want to care for plants. Give 'em a genetically-modified, almost-mature tomato plant so they'll see progress immediately, feel that they've done something important, when in reality that plant already spent 75% of its life in some scary Walmart greenhouse being cared for by exploited workers with massive amounts of pesticides. Mmm, tasty.

Well, the opposite of that is this: my homegrown heirlooms with olive oil, torn basil and salt in the very window of their early lives! Look how far they've come!

Simply amazing.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Summer Is Not Over.

Summer isn't over! Yes, I'm wearing more clothes at this very moment than a rugged mountain man might wear in mid-October in Montana. (Remember socks?!? They're so April 2009!) A farmer at Added Value expressed to me that summer was already far behind him, a piece of fluff in a dryer vent. (Like compost, I amended and ameliorated that last part.) I disagree, vehemently! I present you with cold, hard, proof that summer is not over yet.

Exhibit A: The Calendar. Summer does not officially end until September 22. This should be enough to convince the reader that I am right and the farmer is dead wrong. Nonetheless, the following points serve to illuminate summery season signifiers from the LAST TWO WEEKS. Does this look like autumn to you?

  • I didn't think so. This is what sunset looks like in summer: golden glow. The sun's heading down, but against her will. She wants to stay and play, so she lingers for as long as possible.
  • This is me teaching teenagers about honeybees, surprised by how competent I sound on the subject. Do you see a classroom? No. Because its summer vacation.

Some responses from teens:
-To the drone's loss of genitalia and life when he mates with the queen: "Yo, why she gotta do that?"
-In response to the honey-tasting portion of the lesson: "I'm gonna get diabetes from this."
-To the fact that the worker bees, the majority of the hive, are all female: "That's sexist!"
-Student: "Is this a picture of you as a little girl?" Me: "No, that's a picture of me from March."

  • My original intention was to find out the name of this flower and it's growing season to prove that it is still summer. However, technology has, once again, failed to live up to my genius ideas, and there exists no contraption wherefore to download this photo into a flower database and retrieve its common name.

I like to know the names of things, which is why I have been compiling my own flower database of sorts, that will go up once I identify some of the tricky ones with my team of experts. (My dad.) Once I find out the name I will revise this post and thus strengthen my argument! Wha-ha-ha-ha!

  • Picnics. Need I say more?

Yes, you say? Fine. Would an elderly painter set up shop outside if there were the chance of catching a chill? I think not.

Whoa, elderly painter 1-2 punch!

  • This delectable nectarine, sweet with tangy juices, was grown locally. Booyah.

I think I've made my point loud and clear: don't believe the farmer when he tells you summer is dead and gone. Let's not mourn just yet. We've still got some fire in us, don't we? 'Cause if being pumped and rearing to go is wrong, I don't wanna be right!

I've decided to form a team called Summerbusters, made up of highly skilled funsultants with can-do spirits. Don't you want to be somebody's funhero in these waning days of summer? (Funshero if you're a girl.) Delivering 100% pure fun to whomever is lucky enough to hang out with us, bustin' out the funglasses like it's nobody's biznass, you know, normal funsultant work. (Contact me for an application.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Two Bridges

Brooklyn, New York

The Gatsby-esque Brooklyn Bridge is gothically grandiose, its masonry as imposingly human as the lives lost during its construction and the dreams it represented. Completed in 1883, the idea of spanning the East River between City Hall in Manhattan and Brooklyn, not considered a borough of NYC until 1898, had been considered as harebrained as they come. I mean, Brooklyn was called a "Twin City" to Manhattan in the famous Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty, so it wasn't a matter of noble savages or anything, but that river was big, dude.

Most people at the time(unschooled as most of as are in matters of advanced engineering,) didn't believe it could be done. "Poppycock," a proper Englishman might call the endeavor. Instead, all the laypersons watched as the massive bridge was erected. (haha.)

Of course, back in the the 1880's they had ferries. Imagine what it was like in the 1650's when the land was mostly used for agriculture, and you had to rowboat across the East River. These days, I cross from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back again like it's nobody's business, without a care in the world about strong currents or wolves kickin' around.

Manhattanies and Brooklynites back in the day (also known as the Lenape tribe) were river people, farming maize and burning crops 'cause they knew it was good. I'd like to have been alive at this time, chillin' in what's now Red Hook in a marshy inlet, fishin'. I'd like to be both a wise, elderly grandma and a fifteen-year-old boy. (I figure if I shoot for both wisdom and innocence in my fantastical vision of myself as a Lenape Indian, when I finally do time-travel I'll be 50% more likely to arrive at my destination in a consciousness with the best traits on both ends of the age spectrum.)

The Brooklyn Bridge is so historically majestic that just being in its presence lends a certain gravity to the moment.

The Manhattan Bridge, on the other hand, is a utilitarian's dream.

Its efficient subway lines and hospital-aqua paint job are wrought with the steely will of the Industrial Revolution or an Ayn Rand novel.

No, the Manhattan Bridge wasn't a first. It isn't a beauty. It breaks no records. It most likely figures less prominently in photographs than other city landmarks.

How would it feel to forever compare unfavorably to one's neighbor? At least people are mobile.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Falcon Butlers: Part Deux

I came across this fantastic sculpture in Central Park: The Falconer. I imagine the falconer reciting the following lines:
"Falcon butler, for your flight,
fetch burritos in the night."

(*It's not just the angle. He's got a huge ass.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How to Defeat the Evils of Nepotism

As you've probably noticed, I'm quite fond of comparing honeybees to humans. We both exist in complex social systems that aim to sustain us. We both love honey. We humans love to name things. (Do honeybees have names for us? Perhaps certain buzz frequencies that signify "human?") We distinguish between individual things and the groups in which they congregate. A colony of bees. A gaggle of geese. A parliament of owls. An army of frogs. A knot of toads. (The list goes on...)

But what of ourselves?? A family of humans? A culture of humans? A society of humans? We map family trees based on sexual relations that produce babies. Is this the only way to distinguish our kin?

The family tree of a honeybee colony would resemble a thick, round shrub more than a towering oak: a drone might be his mother's lover. Although the prolific deadbeat dad has challenged the patriarchal system of organization, most women in America still change their last names upon marriage to signify membership in a new system of kinship. The idea of family is defined in this way: the Griffins, the McChards, the Plakiai...

The queen bee's mating flight lasts for two to three days and intimately involves between 10 and 25 drones, depending on her penchant for doing the nasty. This rowdy sexcapade is productive enough for the queen to never mate again. She carries the sperm inside of her, and deposits sperm and egg in a honeycomb cell to create a female worker bee, and egg alone to create a male drone. She will continue depositing egg and sperm into honeycomb cells unceasingly for the remainder of her life.

In the bee world, if a mother queen dies unexpectedly, worker bees will feed royal jelly to a handful of larvae. Imagine you are a female worker bee. Your mom just died and you must replace her. You are in charge of choosing the cells in which you will deposit royal jelly. Cell A contains the larvae of some random chick. Cell B contains the larvae of your sister. Interestingly, entomologists have noted that you will almost always choose your sister's larvae. Bees are nepotists!

Natural selection does trump nepotism. Remember that you must feed royal jelly to more than one larval bee. When the virgin queens emerge, they duke it out to the death, and the last one standing becomes royalty.

Nepotism is, therefore, a natural-enough tendency. But I've got problems with it. When I was in middle school, I was a "bad influence." Or so it seemed to the mothers of my female friends. In reality, I was incredibly unhappy, as most teenagers tend to be, and did not need to be excommunicated from my only friends by overprotective moms. (Seriously, if I didn't peer pressure your daughter into smoking weed, somebody else would've. And that somebody might have been a scary old man instead of sweet little me.)

Of course moms are protective of their kids, but calling a 13-year-old on the phone and forbidding her to speak to, let alone be friends with, her daughter is just plain cruel. I'm not the only bad influence to have this happen, either. The result of the mother bee's overreaction is a super-strong, super-small kinship system that excludes anyone who doesn't share a last name.

Does this mean that it is wrong for the worker bee to choose her sister to become queen? Well, this is the point at which my argument falls apart.

We 'Mericans tend to like our circles close-knit, uniform, and exclusive. But kinship need not be familial. When like-minded, inspired individuals work together to create a supportive, productive community, a new kind of family is born. Like a honeybee colony, each individual is important only insofar as she is part of a whole.

When people work together toward a common goal that is both satisfying and fruitful, something magical happens.

We're no longer alone in this confusing world!

In this way, life bursts forth from concrete, life free from nepotism.

At Added Value, when we harvest, cook, and eat meals on the farm together, we say this blessing:

We thank the sun and the air,

the water and the soil,

the many hands it took to grow this food,

and the many hands it took to prepare it.

I love my many families.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ode to New York City Summers

Even though your humid skies sag like wet diapers, I love you, New York City summertime. Thick, lukewarm air spits through the fan in my uptown apartment, mocking the archaic mechanism. Existence alone is cause for perspiration. Lady Liberty exemplifies the obstinate disregard for sweat that we New Yorkers must adopt.

I believe your subways are more conducive to men in heavy wool business suits than urban farmers in cutoffs and tank tops; they blast sterile bursts of cold air through loud AC systems and force me into the fetal position. (Although I must admit, your icy embrace has prevented me from waking up in the Bronx or Queens on several occasions.)

Girls have never been prettier than they are when they are walking down your streets in August drinking 40s in coffee cups.

Your expansiveness is overwhelming. Your opportunities are so numerous that they inspire guilt in those who fail to take full advantage of them.

Your summers illuminate little-known details that would be hastily ignored in meaner weather.

There's nothing like drinking a cold, locally-brewed beer on your Red Hook roof deck, New York. It can be a mystical experience.

View of you from Governor's Island:

View of you from Queens:

View of you from inside:

You're beautiful, New York City, no buts about it!

The reason I love you the most, though, is because you are a grown-up playground that brings friends together.