Gaffigan and Food: A Match Made in Heaven

I’m about to review Jim Gaffigan’s new book Food: A Love Story, but first I wanted to let you know that I am eating a donut. I think the author would want it that way.

This summer, I reviewed Gaffigan’s previous book, Dad Is Fat. It chronicled his life with his wife and five kids in a two-bedroom New York City apartment. If there’s anything Gaffigan likes to talk about in his stand-up more than his family, it’s food (if his next book is on his paleness, he will have a trilogy on his hands).

Gaffigan opens this book by pointing out that he is an “eatie,” not a “foodie.” He loves to eat, but he isn’t too particular about what he eats. When visiting a new place, he will go out of his way to eat what that place is known for, but he won’t travel too far out of his way to find out what the “best” version of that food is.

People who have watched Gaffigan’s stand-up will recognize some of the jokes in this book, but there is enough new material to make it fresh. I particularly enjoyed the several chapters he devotes to regional food in the United States. It made me think of my good friend Ryan, especially the section where Gaffigan talks about Mrs. Wilkes’ in Savannah (which I visited with Ryan and another friend, Doug, one spring break 14 years ago). Ryan is the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic person I know regarding regional foods. Ryan and I once traveled through North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia, and had barbecue at least four times in three days. This wasn’t a “barbecue tour,” mind you. We were just eating regional food as much as possible while we were there.

Food enthusiasts and Gaffigan enthusiasts everywhere will devour this book (pun emphatically intended).

"Can we stop with the kale propaganda?" —Jim Gaffigan
“Can we stop with the kale propaganda?” —Jim Gaffigan

Note: Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review.

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The Facebook Activist

I am a Facebook Activist. I change the world with my posts.

I sit at my keyboard and share my important opinions on the issues of the day. In addition to dropping my own wisdom-filled thoughts, an essential part of my job is re-sharing the slogans/pictures/infographics of others, especially on hot political topics. I must remain vigilant; if I neglect my duty for even one moment, people are liable to think the wrong things.

Many people who disagree with me have changed their minds because of my activism. I have belittled them, called them names, caricatured their opinions, or refused to engage them directly, and they have immediately seen the error of their ways.

Even though my family and friends are the only ones who read my posts, I don’t write for them. I write for The Public.

That means if my family and friends are upset or alienated by what I say, I don’t care. My message must get out.

Because I am a Facebook Activist. I change the world with my posts.

(For further reading, see this Malcolm Gladwell piece from 2010).

Book Review: Between Heaven and Mirth

Martin, a Jesuit priest who has been called “The Official Chaplain of Colbert Nation,” is convinced that joy, humor and laughter are central to spirituality. He calls readers’ attention to humor in the Bible and in the lives of spiritual leaders throughout the centuries.

Most of the jokes that he tells and examples that he gives are from his own Catholic tradition – all the cartoons on the cover seem to be of Catholics, save Martin Luther, who had a well-known spat with the Catholic Church. However, he does give space to humor in Protestantism and even other religions. When writing about humor, there is always the danger of being unfunny. Thankfully, Martin escapes this danger. This was a fun read, and it was fun in large part because Martin is able to poke fun at himself. I had no idea there were so many jokes about Jesuits.

Here is a link to an interview with Martin at Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership blog. This is a great quote from that interview:

We feel drawn to religious leaders with a sense of humor. It shows us that they understand their essential poverty of spirit and their own reliance on God. It shows humility, which is also essential in the spiritual life. You take God seriously, Jesus seriously and the gospel seriously, but you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously.

To which I can only say: Amen.

“The Lesions are Free”

I got this e-mail from a church e-mail list that I am on. I don’t know whether the humor was deliberate or not, but it was too funny not to pass on:

Hello there get your dancing shoes on!!!!!

This Thursday night here at the church from 7:00 to 9:30
MaryAnne will be teaching Swing Dancing, the lesions are free.

Bring along a few friends and have a go on the dance floor.

CHILDCARE WILL BE PROVIDED!!

I’m so glad I don’t have to pay for my lesions anymore.

June/July 2008: Books Read

Last month I didn’t post my monthly brief reviews of books I read. The reason for this is that I didn’t read any books during the month of June. I took Herodotus’ The Histories with me on the cruise that I was on from June 3 to June 19, and read a bit of it after I got back, but didn’t finish it by the end of the month. Here it is, along with the other things I had my nose buried in during July:

1. Herodotus, The Histories. (The 1954 Aubrey de Selincourt translation) Herodotus is known as the “Father of History” largely because of this book, which is regarded as the first work of what we would today call “history.” It is ostensibly a history of the Greco-Persian wars that took place in the early fifth century B.C. However, it is sometimes difficult to follow the narrative because Herodotus interrupts himself so often. He doesn’t begin talking about the wars until well over halfway through the book. Instead, he sets the stage by giving histories of the Persians, the Greeks, the Scythians, and the Egyptians, among others, and passing along every story he has ever heard, whether true or not, about everyone and everything in the ancient world. As a source for information about the ancient world, it is invaluable. This is how we know almost all of what we know about, for example, the famous battles of Marathon and Thermopylae. As a narrative, though, it drags.

2. F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture. I’ve been talking with the pastors of my church about teaching an adult Sunday School class in September on how we got the Bible. As part of my background research on this topic, I read this book. Even though it came out almost 20 years ago, I think that it holds up well. First he writes about the Old Testament, and gives details about why some books were included by everyone, other books (the Apocrypha) were included by some, and still others were left out by everyone. He then does the same for the New Testament. I’d recommend this book to anyone who is curious about how the canon of Christian scripture was formed. Don’t read this book if you’re looking to have your ears tickled with titillating conspiracy theories about how the church “silenced” its enemies.

3. David Sedaris, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. I first heard of David Sedaris from his 2001 book Me Talk Pretty One Day. His comic, autobiographical essays are hilarious, though I’d only recommend them for adults (some of the essays have foul language or mature subject matter). One thing I particularly appreciate about Sedaris is the essays about his childhood, growing up in Raleigh, NC. Even though he is older than I am, I resonate with many of his observations about southern culture from my own North Carolina childhood. One of my favorite essays in this collection is “Rooster at the Hitchin’ Post,” about his brother Paul’s wedding. Here is a sampling:

My brother had chosen the [hotel] not for its sentimental value but because it allowed the various family dogs. Paul’s friends, a group the rest of us referred to as simply “the Dudes,” had also brought their pets, which howled and whined and clawed at the sliding glass doors. This was what happened to people who didn’t have children, who didn’t even know people who had children. The flower girl was in heat. The rehearsal dinner included both canned and dry food, and when my brother proposed a toast to his “beautiful bitch,” everyone assumed he was talking about the pug.

4. Lesslie Newbigin, Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt and Certainty in Christian Discipleship. This book is a short one (104 pages), but an excellent one. It is one of the best books on religious epistemology I’ve ever read, and I think that it is sorely needed as many churches are struggling with how to be missionaries in our “postmodern” world. Newbigin relies a great deal on Michael Polanyi’s idea of “personal knowledge,” and applies it to Christian discipleship and missions.

5. Paul Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible. I’ve had this book for over a year now, and finally got around to it because of the aforementioned Sunday School class I plan on teaching soon. This book has a different subject matter from the Bruce book above. Instead of asking how we got the canon, this book introduces the science and art of textual criticism, which is dedicated to determining as closely as possible what the original biblical texts said. The book can be a little technical (it is a “student’s guide,” after all), but I think that it will be a great resource. It has many charts and illustrations to help the reader get a sense of what the author is talking about, and the end of each chapter has a reading list for further study. It is also organized thoroughly, so you can find what you’re looking for easily. This is a worthwhile addition to my library of biblical reference books.

My New Career as a Plasma Donor

After I had been unemployed and looking for work for a few weeks, I decided to take matters into my own hands and donate plasma.

When you donate plasma, unlike when you donate blood, those who take your plasma do not rely exclusively on your sense of altruism. When you donate blood, it is your good deed for the day, and you are rewarded with some orange juice and crackers to ensure that you don’t pass out on the way home. Plasma donors, on the other hand, get cold hard cash for their time and bodily fluids. Around here, they will pay you $20 if you donate once in a week, and $35 if you donate another time during that same week.

Ethically, some people may have problems with donating plasma for money. I, on the other hand, do not. After all, the plasma donation process takes quite a bit longer than the blood donation process: about an hour and 15 minutes each time, including the pre-donation screening. I feel that they are paying me for my time as much as for my plasma. And it’s not as if they use the stuff to make water beds, or anything. Plasma TVs are not made from it. Your plasma is used to treat diseases.

I began my career as a plasma donor by making an appointment and going in to the plasma donation center for them to size me up. They took a blood sample and ran tests, gave me a (non-invasive) physical, and asked me many, many questions. Most of these questions had to do with whether I had made it a habit of playing fast and loose with my bodily fluids, sexually or otherwise. Since I have not, it was easy to answer “no” to them. And since I am in good health and not on any medications that might disqualify me, I was given the green light to donate.

After drinking plenty of fluids and going to the bathroom, I went into the room where you donate. In this room, there are rows of people lined up on special chairs that elevate your feet, and a machine between each chair that does the actual sucking of plasma. There are several attendants whose job it is to stick you with a needle, get the machine started, and keep an eye on you if anything goes wrong.

I had been told that the actual plasmapheresis process could take an hour, and that they encouraged you to bring something to listen to or something to read, so I brought with me a magazine, a book, and my iPod, just to give myself some options. If I felt fine throughout the process, I would read the book. If a little woozy or distracted, the magazine. If more woozy and distracted, I would turn to the iPod.

When it came time to stick me, I offered them my right arm, since I am left-handed and regard my right arm as helpful, but essentially expendable. Unfortunately, one of the problems with my right arm is that its veins are smaller than those in my left. On this day, the vein was too small for the needle to find it. And don’t think that the attendant didn’t try: he stuck it in, fished around a bit, and in the end cast his jealous eye toward my abundantly veined left arm. The machine was still to the right of the chair, but he pulled the cord across my body, stuck my left arm, and the process began.

The process was fascinating to me, a first-time plasma donor. You can see the blood going out of your arm, but instead of filling up a bag, as I had seen it do so many times when I was donating blood, the cord split in two before it got to the machine. A yellowish liquid began filling up a bag, while my blood filled up a plastic container on the front of the machine. There was a row of four red lights and four green lights on the side of the machine, and I had to keep squeezing my hand to keep the green lights lit up so the machine would keep pumping blood out. It was a little like a pinball machine.

Then, after about 8 minutes, the plastic container filled up with blood and the cuff that had been squeezing my upper arm deflated. The blood then began to go back into me. I can imagine that some people might have difficulty with this concept. It’s one thing to see your blood outside your body, but then to see it be put back inside – that’s something else entirely. I didn’t feel much, aside from a slightly cool sensation that came from the anti-clotting stuff they put in the blood as it goes back in. It was a strange sensation the first time, since for my whole life up to that point, cool sensations caused by liquids entering my body had always been caused by liquids that I had put in my mouth.

After the plastic blood container was emptied out, the cuff inflated, the green lights lit up, the machine made a ka-CHUNK sound, and the blood and plasma were coming back out again. I kept an eye on the machine for a little while longer, but in the end decided that the machine would alert me if anything unusual was happening. Since the needle was in my left arm and the machine was on the right, I thought that holding a book or magazine might become complicated, so I listened to a lecture that I had on my iPod for the rest of the time.

The blood container filled up and emptied out seven or eight more times, and the plasma bag was full. The final step was the machine putting a saline solution through the needle to hydrate me. Again, I got the strange sensation that I was drinking something without drinking something. At the end, they bandaged up my left arm (the right was already bandaged) and sent me out. I checked out, and found that my plasma donation credit card had been credited with $30 (including the coupon I had cut out and given them). All in 2 hours’ work.

I’ve been back twice since then, and the last time I got the big payoff: $35. It would be nice if I could continue doing it, or maybe if it could turn into a full-time job, but I don’t think so. In the first place, they only allow you to do it twice a week. And in the second place, while it’s nice to do when you’re unemployed, it does cut into your day and have an effect on the rest of your day. You’re not supposed to lift heavy things, and I didn’t feel so sure I should go running after giving plasma. In the end, my career as a plasma donor will likely be short-lived.

The Return

Mary and my dad and I have now returned from our Mediterranean cruise. Soon, I’ll begin blogging through the trip day-by-day, giving a rundown of what happened and some pictures as well. But tomorrow, Mary and I are leaving to attend a wedding in Spokane, so there will be no blogging for a couple of days. But for now, I will leave you with a little taster of things to come: of course, it is a funny sign:

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