When danger calls

Every day people climb mountains, skydive, play chicken, bike without a helmet, invest in the stock market, and go spelunking.  Each one of these activities comes with its own risks, and yet those risks do not deter us from coming back to the same activities again and again.  Perhaps it’s a desire to break out of our conventional lives, to lets risk and adrenaline drive us into new experiences or attempt to relive the rush we’ve had from previous, similar excursions.  Ultimately however, despite that fact that I’ve chosen a wide range of activities here,  I’m not sure that the gains outweigh the risks.

Perhaps it is best summed up in Gun Shy, a little movie I like that is virtually unknown (despite its all-start cast), when an investment banker in his later years talks about his loss of love for his job.  He speaks (and I couldn’t find the exact quote) about going out onto the trading floor dressed in a cape, feeling like Don Juan, as if the world is his oyster.  But somehow, somewhere along the line, he lost that passion.  Now he’s basically just angry with his life and his job.

I can feel it already – that frustration, that desire to break out and do something “totally unexpected”.  A part of that is because my current job is less than fulfilling, but it’s more than that, too.  There’s something alluring about taking a chance, or making a risky bet.   I’m not saying that I’m ready to quit my day job and start training for Everest, or even that I want to buy myself a bike.  In fact, I find both of those ideas almost equally terrifying.  But I think it would be just as bad for me to try and ignore the occasional desire to do something a little crazy as it is to embrace that urge completely and start jumping of roofs.  The desire comes from somewhere, I think in all of us, and once I figure out where, I should have a better idea about the why.

Is George Washington Carver turning in his grave?

The man nicknamed ‘Black Leonardo’ is kinda my idol. He’s an exemplar of taking a simple, widespread crop and turning it into 30 gazillion useful products that we still know and love today. As a staff member of an institute of technology, I am a big fan of making simple things industrially and technologically useful. In addition, Carver was a huge proponent of education, focusing on the education of former slaves in agriculture and related areas to make them self-sufficient.

While Carver did not in fact invent peanut butter (the recipe he published for home-made peanut butter was pretty much standard for the time and not really similar to current commercial recipes), he had a close and personal relationship with the un-nut. Which is why he may or may not be disturbed by the current food uses of his nut in the products of Peanut Butter and Co. While some of the peanut butters are interesting and potentially awesomely good – ‘Dark Chocolate Dreams’ and ‘The Heat is On’ to name a few – others leave me wrinkling my nose. Do we really need cinnamon raisin pb? And the honey flavored variety – how is that any different from the pb&j premixed jars that failed to revolutionize the industry?

Still, there are aspects of the marketing and product line that I enjoy. For one, the cartoon monkey mascot holding his little peanut instead of the typical banana is cute. I have no idea what monkeys have to do with peanuts, or if they ever really encounter them in the wild, but it’s still cute. Also, the peanut butter milkshakes available at the sandwich shop in NYC are probably great – if I ever get there. I am intrigued as well by their cookbook, chock-full of pb recipes and with an introduction by Jerry Seinfeld. I have no idea what Seinfeld knows about food, but it’s still an intriguing idea. Finally, they also make raspberry marshmallow fluff. Whoa.

Ultimately, all this has done exactly what it was supposed to – next time I’m in the store, I’ll probably pick up a jar of one of these unique butters for testing without guilt. After all, the company is highly socially motivated, both in New York and in its product line. And even though innovation with widespread application is lacking from this particular company, I definitely think they are moving in the right direction.

Around the World…almost

When my parents had their 25th wedding anniversary, my sisters and I wanted to do something special for them.  We thought about throwing a big party, or sending them off to travel someplace, but what we really wanted to do was send them on a cruise.  We had difficulties with fundraising and organization, so it never ended up happening, but the idea still lingers in my mind.  I think to myself, ‘maybe for their fiftieth’.

I’m not sure what it is about a cruise that still catches my attention.  Perhaps its the allure of old money, of travel undertaken in a slow and stately manner, the call of the ocean and  the mere idea of ‘ports of call’.  Perhaps it is the food or the entertainment or the style of the whole huge ship.  But somehow, there is still an attraction that outweighs the inevitable problems of cruise ships.

And there are always problems.  There’s food poisoning and seasickness, mechanical problems and staff shifts.  There’s possible seasickness, there’s the lack of real interaction with the ocean itself.   There’s the limited amount of time spent in those touristy regions in various ports-of-call, and be sure to be back aboard on time, cause we WILL leave without you.  And hey, even if you manage to get all the way around the world on your around-the-world cruise just to be stopped at one of the last ports of call, like these poor suckers.  I mean, you could make your own way back home, catch a flight or something while the various owners and cruise lines work out their legal troubles.  But who really ever wants to leave the Madeira islands?

I’ve decided instead to travel around Africa in a sailboat, after I save up the money to buy one and learn how to sail.  If you’re interested in joining me, please send a check.