Saturday, June 28, 2014

Postum, Fauxstum, Faux Fauxstum, and Nearstum

While we’re on the subject of beverages...

Years ago, I developed a fondness for Postum, a caffeine-free grain beverage that made a pretty good faux coffee for late-night drinking, especially while writing on cold winter nights. I didn't buy huge amounts, maybe a few jars a year. Apparently that wasn't enough to satisfy Kraft Foods, because they discontinued it—to my great discontent.

Rather grumpily, I set about looking for alternatives. At Whole Foods, you can buy something called Kaffree Roma, which doesn't exactly taste like Postum, and sure doesn't taste like coffee. But Roma isn't bad, and it grew on me. In time I decided it was a pretty good faux Postum, and so I renamed it Fauxstum (foh-stum).

One day I went to Whole Foods to buy another jar of Fauxstum. They didn't have any. All they had was a theoretically similar grain beverage called Cafix. To my taste, it wasn't as good as Fauxstum, but it was good enough to get by with on a cold night. So there I sat, on a cold December night, burning the midnight oil and drinking Faux Fauxstum.
Faux Fauxstum

Well, in due course it turned out that Postum had become available again through a small company that had acquired the rights to the name, the label, and the recipe. Unfortunately, they only sold it through online stores like Vermont Country Store, where it costs an arm and a leg, with shipping. I guess I didn’t want it as badly as I wanted Vernors ginger ale, so I held off on paying $20 for a jar of the stuff. However, in the fullness of time, I received a couple of jars as a gift from my loving wife, who doesn’t wince as I do at paying $20 for a jar of something. I rejoiced. Postum is back!

Except... honestly, it’s not, exactly. The new makers clearly tried really hard, and I give them lots of credit. But it seems to me that they haven’t gotten the recipe quite right (maybe the secret of the original died with its maker?), and the new Postum has a taste highly reminiscent of the old Postum. But although it comes close, it doesn’t quite hit the mark. And thus is born... Nearstum.

Well, I have a cupboard full of the various ‘stums now, and when winter circles round again, I’ll get back to it. But meanwhile? It’s Vernors time, baby!

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Vernors in Massachusetts!

There is a God, and he loves us. If you doubt that, consider this: It’s now possible to buy Vernors Ginger Ale in the Boston area!

Vernors is my favorite summer beverage, if you don’t count craft beer. Aged in oak, it tastes like no other ginger ale. It’s got a great gingery fizz that smacks you in the nose, with undercurrents of vanilla. I grew up with it in Ohio, and didn’t realize how good I had it until I lived where you couldn’t buy it. For years now, I have either dragged a supply back with me from Ohio if we were out there visiting family, or I have paid an exorbitant amount to buy a summer supply online.*

But thanks to the opening of the first Wegmans supermarket in not-too-far-away Newton, I no longer have to do that. Because Wegmans, bless them, has brought Vernors to Boston. What a great supermarket!

God is good. Truly.

*If you live where Vernors is unavailable, check out the Vernors Store.

It's not five cents a bottle anymore!

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Godzilla Saves the World—Again!

Speaking of culturally significant shows, Julia and I went to see Godzilla a few nights ago. I cannot claim to be an unbiased reviewer, because I have a long-standing affection for the beast and his signature GRONNNNNNGGGK-K-K! In fact, I can see a couple of Godzilla toys on the shelf from where I sit at my computer right now. But I’m highly sensitive to bad versions of Godzilla, of which the version starring Matthew Broderick was one. (It wasn’t a bad monster movie; it just wasn’t Godzilla.)

Anyway, the new one is pretty good! 'Zilla comes to the rescue when human attempts to stop some other nasty monsters fail. Although, I have to say, we both felt that Godzilla got shorted a little on screen time in comparison to the MUTOs (the Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects), which were ugly, massive buglike things. Also, I have to admit that Godzilla’s motivation in the story was pretty vague. But let’s not get all scientific. Of course you can detonate a large fusion warhead just offshore and not flatten San Francisco! It’s a Godzilla movie!

I must confess to some disappointment in the Godzilla roar, though. This interesting video shows the two sound guys who produced it talk about the three-year job of getting it right. And I have to say... close, but uh-uh. The original, produced by a resin-coated leather glove being dragged down the strings of a bass, and then slowed down, was better, in my opinion.

Here you can see how 'Zilla has evolved over the years, both in body and sound. I thought they got the sound best in the mid '60s and '70s.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cirque du Soleil — A Wild Ride

I'd never been to Cirque du Soleil before. Now I have. Wow.

This year they're doing a show called Amaluna, which from the press looked pretty fantastical. Our niece Lauren was visiting from California, and we decided it was time to go. What an amazing amalgam of showmanship, acrobatics, gymnastics, dance and flexibility, music and drum, fantasy and story, balance, strength, and a touch of humor. The cast is 70% female and the band 100%, which marks a major shift for Cirque.
Eye candy, too. I told Allysen if I were a woman, it would be enough to turn me gay. There’s a sort of story to it, loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest. See it if you get a chance!

You can read a couple of good reviews at Huffington Post and The New York Daily News.

Here are Lexi and Julia in front of the big tent, as the crowd was leaving.

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Ebooks on Sale at Open Road Media—While They Last

I almost forgot to mention: a couple of my former E-reads titles are now on sale at their new home at Open Road Media. You can pick up From a Changeling Star and Seas of Ernathe for $1.99 each, until the end of June. In fact, you might want to take a look at Open Road’s sale page, because they have a lot of “first in series” books on sale. I picked up one or two myself. You have to scroll down a ways to get to mine.

After June 30, my nine books at Open Road will become unavailable for a while. That’s because the rights are reverting to me, and I’ll be putting them out under my own imprint, in association with Book View Café. There’s a fair amount of work involved in reformatting the books, getting new covers made, and so on. So it’ll take some time. I’ll be releasing them one by one for months to come.

The first will be, in fact, From a Changeling Star.

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Monday, June 02, 2014

Gene Soccolich, 1946 - 2014

Scattering the ashes of a friend is not my preferred way to spend a sunny afternoon. And yet there was camaraderie and healing in it last Saturday, when Allysen and I joined with my friend's family and another friend in saying good-bye to Gene Soccolich, who died a week ago of heart failure.

I first met Gene in 1973, when I was heading to the University of Rhode Island to attend a one-year graduate program called Master of Marine Affairs. A mutual friend put us in touch, because Gene was doing the same thing. We rented a place together in Jamestown, RI, on an island in the mouth of Narragansett Bay. For nine months, we lived in one of the nicest places I've ever lived in—a glass-fronted summer home overlooking the water, with spectacular sunsets behind the bridge to the mainland. There I introduced him to Star Trek reruns (which did not entirely take), and he introduced me to Pink Floyd's Meddle album (which did). I sometimes kept him awake typing on my portable typewriter—at least at first, and then he started waking up if I wasn't typing. He liked to tell people of the time he lay awake waiting for the typing to resume: After a minute of silence, he heard a single keystroke, and then, "Shit!" (I was a poor typist.)

In the years that followed, I went on to become a struggling writer, and he worked first in state government, and then in the high-tech computer industry. Oddly, he barely knew how to turn on a computer himself, though he facilitated million-dollar deals involving the technology. His expertise was in making such deals, which he did by getting people to talk to each other about what they really needed in a product, service, or business partner. He had a remarkable ability to cut through the B.S. (though he could sling a pretty good line of it himself when he wanted to).

He was married for a time, and had three great kids, all adult now. We used to see them during happier days, and then for a time we didn't. Gene's later health and financial troubles brought me back in touch with his kids, which is one of the things I'm most grateful for, here at the end.

Gene had lousy genes, when it came to cardiovascular issues. His first heart operation in his forties was just the start. By the end, he'd had his aorta replaced with a Dacron tube, after a ballooning aneurism threatened to drop him in his tracks. (His sister Christina, a rising literary star, had her own career cut short by a brain aneurism that robbed her of the ability to write.) Divorce, loss of work, poor health, and depression led to a very difficult life for Gene in the last ten or fifteen years.

But even while drawing inward and becoming ever more isolated, Gene began writing a novel. Initially he titled it American Spit, but later changed it to Waking Up Down East, which I thought was better, more reflective of the book's redemptive ending. He asked me long ago if I would please try to find a way to get it into print, if he was gone before he did it himself. I said I would, so that's something I'll be working on in the future.

In meantime, though, it was uplifting and healing to spend time with his two sons and one daughter, his sister, and his other good friend Bruce. His ashes went to sea from a gorgeous outlook on the coast north of Boston. Gene always loved the sea, and it seemed a fitting place to say good-bye. Godspeed, old friend.