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Brother-Hood: Another Steeltown Story

3 Jun

 If you ever had a big brother like mine you are familiar with the horrors of nuggies, paralyzing punches in the shoulder, the Dutch rub, and the dreaded Indian burn. The Communist Chinese had nothing on my brother Norman. But where he really excelled was in the area of psychological torture.

Many of my earliest traumas relate to my brother and food. For example when I was about five years old, I learned that eggs come from chicken’s rear ends or as he put it– “butt-holes”.Normantaught me this, just as I was sitting down to breakfast. My mother believed that an appropriate  stick-to-your-ribs breakfast consisted of two eggs, four pieces of bacon, and about half a loaf of buttered toast, all washed down by a heavily sugared cup of milk with a teaspoon of coffee added so that I would feel like a grown-up.  I ate this breakfast with relish for several years until that fateful morning whenNormanexplained to me where eggs came from. While his anatomical knowledge of poultry may have been limited, it was close enough for me and I stopped eating eggs for the next 15 years.

Norman also taught me that mustard was harvested from dirty diapers. This lesson came one day while I was eating a mustard and bologna sandwich.Normanalso went on to tell me how health inspectors had found rats crawling in root beer bottles as well as tiny white worms   in my favorite candy bar. Wally Cleaver would never tell the Beaver such things. It   dawned on me that I was stuck with Eddie Haskell for a brother.

When I switched from root beer to cola,  Norman described how the company that made my favorite cola had a terrible accident one day, when a worker fell into a vat of cola and drowned. Of course the carbonation dissolved the poor fellow’s eyeballs and the company didn’t discover the body until the entire batch was bottled and shipped out. Bottles from this batch remain on grocers’ shelves to this very day. My mother must have wondered if  I was developing anorexia by this time.

In the  days before convenience stores, Steeltown have several  corner stores. My favorite was an establishment about two blocks from my house. It was called Baxter’s and they not only carried Superman comic books, but also served Chapman’s ice cream. Kindly old man Baxter would puff on his pipe patiently waiting for you to decide on what flavor you wanted. Baxter’s was much friendlier than Pepper’s Confectionery, where the paranoid owners treated everyone like a shoplifter. One day I was eating an ice cream cone, whenNormanarrived home from one of his frequent  delinquent forays. He was riding my black Schwin bike and as usual he jumped off before it stopped and the bike continued on, crashing into the side of the garage.  He had already ruined his own bike doing this and was well on the way to demolishing mine as well. “Didja get that cone at Baxter’s?” he asked. “Yeah”, I admitted reluctantly. “You know why those cones taste so good, doncha?” “Oh, no!” I thought, “I don’t want to hear this.” “It’s because old man Baxter slobbers pipe drool all over the ice cream.” “Oh Yeah?”, I said, without much conviction. “See for yourself.” he grinned.   I never finished that cone as I could swear the vanilla ice cream seemed to develop an aromatic tobacco tang.   The next time I was in Baxter’s I carefully kept an eye on old man Baxter scooping the ice cream, while I pretended to look at the comic books. Damn it if  Norman wasn’t right.

My parents often went out on Friday nights, leaving me completely at Norman’s mercy. He insisted on watching the Spook Spectacular movie—  a television show consisting of  old Universal Studio’s horror movies that completely terrified me. One stormy night, when I couldn’t stand to watch another second of Frankenstein strangling a little girl, I retreated to the back bedroom where I hoped I could avoid hearing the grunts and screams. I crept into the back closet and shut the door. This was an odd closet that had a window that overlooked our back porch. I opened the window wide and stood in the darkness, glad I couldn’t hear the television. 

Except for the lightening,  it was pitch dark.Normanmust have though I went to bed. About 15 minutes later, he strolled out on the back porch to smoke a cigarette, so my parents wouldn’t smell it in the house. It was so dark thatNormanstood right next to open window where I was standing, not six inches away, but failed to see me. Looking jumpy he lit his cigarette and anxiously scanned the stormy skies. The movie and the piercing thunder must have unnerved him too.  I knew I’d never get a chance like this again so I waited until next loud crash of thunder and leapt through the window yelling and grabbing atNorman. He dropped his cigarette– screaming in terror, like a little girl. When he recovered enough to realize it was me, he started chasing me through the house, swearing and threatening to kill me.  I ran into the bathroom and locked the door.Normanswore at me and pounded violently on the door until my parents finally came home and grounded him for a week for keeping me up so late and having a cigarette burn on his shirt.Normantried to play dumb saying he didn’t know where the cigarette burn came from. Maybe it came from an Indian burn that backfired, I suggested.

What to do with those Thanksgiving leftovers.

23 Nov

Check out Terry Stawar’s Column in the Evening News and Tribune the day after Thanksgiving at http://newsand tribune.com

Happy Franksgiving America

29 Oct

We are only a month away from Thanksgiving Day — the holiday that more than a quarter of Americans claim is their favorite. My exhaustive research shows that families gather together to give thanks in the manner of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans’ harvest celebration of 1621. My source? None other than that repository of all knowledge: the Weekly Reader magazine. It’s a sort of Huey, Dewey and Louie’s Junior Woodchuck Manual for us baby boomers.

But according to sociologists Melanie Wallendorf from the University of Arizona and Eric Arnould from the University of Colorado, Thanksgiving also serves multiple social functions as a “collective ritual that celebrates our material abundance through feasting.”

They contend that our elaborate Thanksgiving Day meal is a way of reassuring ourselves that we have the ability to more than meet our basic needs. We stuff our turkeys, as well as ourselves, to show how well we’re doing. Perhaps that’s why we add so much butter to everything. When I was growing up, my family only served real butter at Christmas and Thanksgiving time.

Since this abundance ritual — in its basic form (turkey, stuffing, cranberries and pumpkin pie) — is widely shared, it also serves to binds us all together and increase social cohesion. But unlike the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, those of us born since World War II come to believe in a “permanent abundance.” We aren’t sitting in clover just because it’s harvest time or because we had a particularly good year. We view continually increasing material abundance as a defining feature of what it means to be an American.

These days, however, the unpredictable price of energy, rising food and health care costs, the mortgage credit crunch and the stock market meltdown have challenged this cherished belief. In a Newsweek cover story titled “A Darker Future for Us,” business writer Robert J. Samuelson says that fundamental changes in our economy have put us on the cusp of a new era, in which continually increasing prosperity cannot be counted upon.

Conservative columnist George Will has recently emphasized the historic link between Thanksgiving and the economy. He pointed out how President Franklin Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week to extend the Christmas shopping season to help battle the Great Depression. Back then, it was unthinkable to advertise Christmas merchandise before Thanksgiving. Will says that FDR did not defer to the calendar any more than he did to the Constitution, even though over 60 percent of the country disapproved of his actions and the public was outraged. FDR’s critics mocked the early Thanksgiving by calling it “Franksgiving.”

Unless it gives them a three-day weekend, Americans just don’t cotton to anyone messing with their traditions. Jeffersonville Mayor Galligan recently learned this after his attempt to change the date of Halloween, or as they now call it in Jeffersonville — “Tommyween.”

Over time, major corporations have become integrated into our traditions. So despite our stated preference for the “old fashioned” and “homemade,” most of us are preparing to eat our Butterball turkeys, Ocean Spray cranberry sauce and Pepperidge Farm stuffing. While those three companies seem recession-proof — with strong annual earnings from Ocean Spay, a new corporate headquarters for Butterball and Pepperidge Farm being the most profitable division of the Campbell Soup Company — many other corporate icons have fallen on hard times. Like many Americans, in recent months the companies that handle my mortgage, retirement fund, insurance and major credit card have all faced serious fiscal difficulty. Even R. H. Macy & Company, the sponsors of the New York City Thanksgiving Day Parade and the setting for The Miracle on 34th Street, filed for bankruptcy in the 1990s and the brand only survived through a series of mergers and reorganizations. As recently as early October, the reconstituted Macy’s slashed its 2008 profit outlook, due to the softening economy that has consumers scaling back on spending.

So what do we have to be thankful for this year in the present era of mortgage foreclosures, dwindling retirement accounts and trillion dollar bailouts? I asked a number of people and there were many of the customary responses: faith, family, friends and health. Many people were also thankful simply to be Americans, with all the freedoms we enjoy. Others were thankful for the election outcomes; even those whose candidates lost were at least glad that the long campaign is finally over. A surprising number of people said they were thankful for their “jobs,” perhaps in recognition that the unemployment rate just hit a 14-year high.

In the field of mental health in which I work, the watchwords of our profession are “hope” and “recovery” and such an ideology of optimism is more relevant today than ever. When FDR said we have nothing to fear but fear itself in his first inaugural address in 1933, the Great Depression had reached its greatest depth. FDR was the man for those times, precisely because he could convey the those optimistic values which are at the core of the American character.

In the same speech, FDR also said these words that may be more relevant today than they were when he first said them. “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.” Or as John and Paul (The Beatles, not the apostles) put it for us baby boomers — “We can get by with a little help from our friends.”

I Do Not Like Green Eggs and Salmon Croquettes

18 Sep

             

               I wouldn’t call our three year old grandson, Oliver,  a picky eater, although from year one it was clear he didn’t want other people to feed him. Even now he wants to maintain control over things. When we recently went to the movies, he was determined to supervise  the popcorn. He would share, but insisted on giving me one kernel at a time and he had to thoroughly examine each one before he would let loose with it.  Perhaps that comes from having two bossy big sisters.

            When she was a little girl, Oliver’s mother was, at times, too good of an eater. To our mortification she would literally lick her plate clean when we ate out in restaurants. 

            But I, believe it or not,  had the reputation in my family as being an incredibly fussy eater. I rejected almost everything. For a while I would only eat the yellow part  of eggs. Later I switched and would only eat the white part. Comedian  George Carlin says that “fussy eater” is just a euphemism for “Big Pain in the Ass”. As I grew older I would rarely eat anything but hamburgers and chocolate milkshakes.  Dr. Berman, my jolly, rotund, cigar-smoking pediatrician, told my mother not to worry.  He said that I could get along just fine on this diet, which I now suspect was pretty much the same things he ate.   

            About 20% of children are fussy eaters. Two factors contribute to this rejection of foods:   “food  neophobia” and picky eating. “Food neophobia”  is  the reluctance to eat unfamiliar foods.  New foods are often rejected by children solely on the basis of their names.   George Carlin says he would never eat food with names like squash, wheat germ, or  horse radish when he was a kid. Picky eaters are children who eat a very limited variety, because they reject both familiar and unfamiliar foods. On average, picky eaters are lighter and shorter than their  peers, but still within the normal range for their age.

            In some instances picky eating is matter of imitating parents or older siblings. For example, my brother Norman disliked cucumbers.  Once when we all went out to dinner, he and his two daughters acted liked they had been poisoned when they discovered cucumbers in the salad.   In other cases it is some characteristic of the food, itself, that leads to its rejection, such as taste, color, or consistency.  For instance foods that are hard,  mushy, gooey, or chunky are often summarily rejected.

            In the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin asks his mother if he has to eat the “slimy” asparagus.  Calvin hates mushy vegetables, but when his mother tells him that they’re really monkey brains, his weakness for grossness overcomes his resistance and he’s happy to eat them. Picky eating is seen throughout popular culture. Who can forget Dr. Suess’ classic  Green Eggs and Ham.  There is also the episode of  Leave it to Beaver,  in which  the Beaver’s  refusal to eat Brussels sprouts almost causes him to miss the  trip to Mayfield to see the big game. 

            Cultural factors also play a role in food rejection. In Japan kids tend to hate carrots and green peppers. In one episode of Pokemon,  the Misty character  says the three things she  hates most in life are “bugs, carrots, and bell peppers”.

            Picky eating is not confined to children. You might remember that President  George H.W. Bush   created quite a stir when he announced that he  didn’t  like broccoli.  University of Pennsylvania  anthropologist Jane Kauer surveyed over  500 adults regarding their eating habits. She found that one-third of them described themselves as “unusually picky eaters ” and  about 20%  had  an extremely narrow range of acceptable  foods.  

             Kauer also discovered that about  60% of adults clean their plates at mealtime and about half  eat the same breakfast nearly every day.  Many of us won’t drink while we eat or eat food that has any sort of filling (ravioli, pirogues,  blintzes, etc.).   About 20%  of us abhor the jellied consistency of  raw tomatoes and routinely avoid  unfamiliar foods. One of our kids always ate things sequentially and made a big fuss whenever foods touched each other on his plate. To desensitize him, my wife Diane would always serve him his hamburger with one baked bean on top of the bun. 

            Kauer and others have found that fried chicken, chicken fingers, French fries, chocolate chip cookies, plain cheese pizza, and Kraft macaroni and cheese are among the small number of food items that are almost universally accepted. These comfort foods are   familiar, bland,  and obvious  in regard to their make-up.   At times picky eaters are   almost paranoid about what is in the food they eat. There is a lack of trust about ingredients,  and in more extreme cases, preparation.  I once had a boss who flatly refused to eat ethnic foods, fearing they were tainted in some way.   Kauer says, “We all know what’s in fried chicken…   …even if we get it from some place we’ve never been before.”  And George Carlin neatly summarizes the issue saying, “I only eat things I can immediately recognize. I came to eat, not to make inquiries.”
            Extremely picky eaters displayed more obsessive-compulsive and depressive  tendencies,  expressions of disgust,  and avoidance of unfamiliar foods than non-picky eaters.  In taste tests,  they also subjectively rated sweet and bitter flavors as being more intense. As a group they weren’t food-haters, they just saw themselves as “highly selective”. Never-the-less, mental health experts are considering adding a classification  called “selective eating disorder ” to the American Psychiatric Association’s new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

            So the next time I won’t eat a salmon croquette with that yellow stuff on it, remember,  I’m not being “picky”–  just “highly selective”.

Originally published in the Tribune & Evening News (http://newsandtribune.com/)

Thanksgiving as seen from Academia II: A Psychoanalytic Viewpoint

18 Nov

Wallendorf and Arnould say that Thanksgiving Day has a number of close symbolic links to infancy. Historically it’s associated with the beginning or infancy of the nation. They say: “Thanksgiving allows each participant to return to the contentment and security of an infant wearing comfortable clothing who falls asleep after being well fed. Sitting in relative silence, each participant is fed plain soft food by a nurturing woman and then is taken outside for a walk.” According to Wallendorf and Arnould, in American’s calendar of rituals, Thanksgiving is the equivalent of Sigmund Freud’s oral stage of development. As such it comes before the retentive conflict of Christmas and the sexually charged New Year’s Eve. The connection to infancy is also seen in the way people dress. Generally people wear soft fabrics such as jeans and sweaters, fleece sweat suits, and sneakers. Elasticized waistbands and other comfortable clothing features are common. Wallendorf and Arnould say our typical Thanksgiving wardrobes “recall the contemporary one-piece, all-purpose infant garment, sometimes known as “Dr. Dentons”. This is clothing that can move from meal time to play time to naptime without a change.” Besides the centerpiece turkey, there are many soft foods served at Thanksgiving (mashed potatoes, stuffing, yams, etc,) . Many people smoosh their food together at this meal. While this may symbolize family togetherness, it also converts food into the consistency that infants consume. I’m not sure I really believe all of this psychoanalytic stuff, but it certainly is something to think about.

Thanksgiving as seen from Academia II: A Psychoanalytic Viewpoint

18 Nov

Wallendorf and Arnould say that Thanksgiving Day has a number of close symbolic links to infancy. Historically it’s associated with the beginning or infancy of the nation. They say: “Thanksgiving allows each participant to return to the contentment and security of an infant wearing comfortable clothing who falls asleep after being well fed. Sitting in relative silence, each participant is fed plain soft food by a nurturing woman and then is taken outside for a walk.” According to Wallendorf and Arnould, in American’s calendar of rituals, Thanksgiving is the equivalent of Sigmund Freud’s oral stage of development. As such it comes before the retentive conflict of Christmas and the sexually charged New Year’s Eve. The connection to infancy is also seen in the way people dress. Generally people wear soft fabrics such as jeans and sweaters, fleece sweat suits, and sneakers. Elasticized waistbands and other comfortable clothing features are common. Wallendorf and Arnould say our typical Thanksgiving wardrobes “recall the contemporary one-piece, all-purpose infant garment, sometimes known as “Dr. Dentons”. This is clothing that can move from meal time to play time to naptime without a change.” Besides the centerpiece turkey, there are many soft foods served at Thanksgiving (mashed potatoes, stuffing, yams, etc,) . Many people smoosh their food together at this meal. While this may symbolize family togetherness, it also converts food into the consistency that infants consume. I’m not sure I really believe all of this psychoanalytic stuff, but it certainly is something to think about.

Thanksgiving as seen from Academia

17 Nov

Well Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I am looking over my favorite Thanksgiving reading. It’s something called, We Gather Together: Consumption Rituals of Thanksgiving Day by Melanie Wallendorf and Eric J. Arnould. Wallendorf is from the Marketing Department at the University of Arizona while Dr. Arno is in the Department of anthropology and sociology at the University of Colorado. They wrote this piece in 1991 for the Journal of Consumer Research.

This article is sort of what might be produced if anthropologists from Mars came to earth to observe how we celebrate Thanksgiving. It reminds me of the Conehead Movie in which Dan Aykroyd (playing the role of Beldar, a stranded space traveler from the planet Remulak) says to Chris Farley (dressed in a tux) when he comes to pick up his daughter for the prom, you looked especially handsome in “your pubescent ceremonial guard”.

I love how they say, “Thanksgiving Day is a collective ritual that celebrates material abundance enacted through feasting. Prototypical consumption of the meal occurs within nuclear and extended family units and private households”.

Tomorrow I will tell you why they say we often wear sweat suits and why many of the foods we eat are smashed or soft.