Category Archives: Ice cream for everyone

Aggregated whimsy

All made-up constructions.

Just as we look with curiosity at the hep lingo of the Beats (and selectively adopt their patois), I predict generations hence will both mock and adopt the Google-optimized syntax and gleefully vulgar diction of the contemporary listicle. And in that future, linguists and grammarians reverse-engineering our decade’s contribution to language will probably extract something not unlike this: the BuzzFeed style guide.

And it’s a nonclusterfuck. While it may seem to the casual observer that BuzzFeed plays fast and loose, this style guide is evidence that the enterprise employs a flavor of editorial rigor seemingly bygone, more conservative era. This is a good thing.

The word list is a time capsule in waiting. Editors openly acknowledge the role the site plays in a broader conversation, advocating hat-tips in their corrections policy. The LGBT section is thorough and humane. Just as On Writing is my favorite Stephen King book, this is probably my favorite thing BuzzFeed has published.

A few of my favorite bon mots:

  • On combining forms: “-esque (closed up/hyphens depend on readability: yolo-esque, Kafkaesque)”
  • On headlines: “For lists, always use a numeral. ‘9 Adorable Photos Of Monkeys Riding Cats,’ ’54 Amazing GIFs Of Naked Presidents'”
  • On music: “Hyphenate all made-up constructions.”
  • On periods: “Use one space between a period and the next sentence. Never two.” (Yes please.)
  • Miscellaneous numerals: “8mm film, 8-track tape, Hot 97, 55 mph, $150K”

Related, both in the Atlantic: Because Internet and TL;DR: Srsly, this is the future of language. Squee.

At its center is the squirrel, combusting.

From the apocalyptic imagery of its opening lines to one of the most evocative descriptions of bureaucratic residue I’ve read, very few articles about our electrical grid have captured my imagination quite like “Squirrel Power!” It’s a story about power outages caused by squirrels, and it’s a strong contender to be one of my favorite pieces of journalism of this year.

While it doesn’t have the same import as last weekend’s also-brilliant (and definitely more grave-feeling and timely) “9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask,” it’s worth pointing out that it is much, much better than its frivolously punctuated title might lead you to believe. Jon Mooallem’s use of imagery is about eight levels better than it needs to be, and his use of acronyms recalls their humorous deployment in The Princess Bride. On the journey between the Thus spake Zarathustra by-way-of Mel Brooks opening and the perspective-shifting final paragraphs, cheek and statistics abound. Spokespeople from utility companies and townfolk chime in from South Carolina, Montana, and Michigan. And squirrels pop.

Some of my favorite passages (with added emphasis):

I wind up hearing a lot of the same snarky jokes. People say the squirrels are staging an uprising. People say the squirrels are calculating, nut-cheeked saboteurs trying to overthrow humanity. Like the apes in “Planet of the Apes,” or the Skynet computer network in “The Terminator,” the squirrels represent a kind of neglected intelligence that’s suddenly, sinisterly switching on.

And while gruesome, the phrase “lingering, second wave of obstruction” that necessarily describes the nature of the problem just sticks in the mind, a fully-formed beauty. (Everything after and including the words “dead weight” also recalls Monty Python.)

But if the squirrel doesn’t fall off the equipment — if its charred carcass is lodged there — the squirrel can trigger a so-called continuous fault, interrupting the restarted flow of electricity all over again. It’s a zombie attack: a lingering, second wave of obstruction. The lights go out when our electrical grid can find no way around this stuck hunk of dead weight that used to be a squirrel.

This passage about navigating public records to study this issue is unexpectedly rich:

What exists, instead, are only flecks of information, the partial outline of a very annoying apparition.

And this is the first of those aforementioned final paragraphs. “Natural order” is a pretty loaded term, but since he’s writing about nature (and the way squirrels’ teeth grow), I’ll withhold my usual cringe:

A power outage caused by a squirrel feels so surprising only because we’ve come to see our electrical grid — all these wires with which, little by little, we’ve battened down the continent — as a constant. Electricity everywhere, at the flick of a switch, seems like the natural order, while the actual natural order — the squirrel programmed by evolution to gnaw and eat acorns and bask and leap and scamper — winds up feeling like a preposterous, alien glitch in that system. It’s a pretty stunning reversal, if you can clear the right kind of space to reflect on it, and fortunately power outages caused by squirrels do that for you by shutting off your TV and Internet.

Another paragraph begins: “There have been very few squirrel specialists throughout history.” And while this bald assertion seems meant to prompt a guffaw, I’d like to think it also alludes to the melancholy (and rather meta) revelation that there are very few outlets today where 2,200 words could be published about the effects of small synanthropes (love this word) on the delivery of basic services. Or really, in an age when this article is barely satire, where journalism about any factors that affect the delivery of basic services could be published.

And while I wish for a natural order of vaguely emo short-form infrastructure writing, that would not guarantee a similarly satisfying blend of introspection, statistics, and cheek that Mooallem has produced here. Still, I am grateful for this alien glitch and the space to reflect on it.

(Via Christina)

…with an ice cream maker and Steve Buscemi.

Steve Buscemi stood ahead of me a couple places in line. I didn’t recognize him from behind, but once he came to a bend in the line, I could not mistake the translucent blue eyes that hung over his smirk for anyone else’s. He wore skinny black jeans and a faded black cap embroidered with what I think was a Jamba Juice logo in cardinal red monochrome. He travelled with a woman with reddish brown hair who wore thick-rimmed glasses.

I made eye contact with him and moved to nod as if an acquaintance, but he didn’t recognize me. He may not have recognized that I recognized him. Or maybe he did: he is, after all, recognizable.

I thought to take a picture of him with my phone, to tell him I was a fan and in particular I remember his voice work at Eastern State Penitentiary. I did not take that leap. I read the lips of the TSA agent who asked to see his boarding pass and identification: I’m a fan of your work.

I yanked my over-stuffed suitcase onto the steel tables leading to the conveyor belt, emptied my pockets into a side pocket of my suitcase, took off my shoes. As my bag passed through the perfunctory X-ray, I faced to the side, elbows above my head, as shown in the diagram. I stood perfectly still. Another agent allowed me to pass. I lined up at the end of the conveyor belt and waited for my bag. My shoes came out. The agent at the conveyor belt called for a bag check. The agent responsible for bag checks chided him for calling for bag checks so often. She asked whose it was and I said it was mine. She told me to follow her. I put on my shoes and followed her.

She opened the main compartment of the bag, removed the clean shirts at the top of its contents, and observed two drums wrapped in plastic. She looked at me wearily, wordlessly asking what these two drums were meant to be.

“My parents gave me an ice cream maker for my birthday,” I said. She started swabbing the edge of the compartment.
“Are you going to use it?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, then clarified: “Not on this flight.”

She continued swabbing other pockets and placed each of these swabs into a scanner the size of a jukebox. I watched, having expected this interaction as a consequence of packing a disassembled kitchen appliance into my suitcase.

“Homemade ice cream is good,” she said without prompting.
“I agree.”
“I asked because I have an ice cream maker but I never use it.”
“Well…”
“It’s good with fresh fruit.”

I started to comment about how I thought frozen fruit would suffice for mixing into ice cream. She started to advise me about strawberries.

“What’s good is when you take strawberries, cut them in half and hull them. Sprinkle some sugar over that, leave it overnight, pour out the juice the next morning. Puree that,” she said.

I stopped paying attention to my suitcase. I assume the swab turned up clean.

“That sounds good,” I said. “I’ll have to try that.”

She replaced my clean shirts atop the drums of the ice cream maker and zipped the suitcase closed. I fished out my phone, wallet, etc. from the side pocket of the suitcase and replaced them in the pockets of my jeans. Another agent interrupted us to bring me my messenger bag. I left it at the end of the conveyor belt in my haste to follow the agent who did bag checks and advised me about strawberries. I took my suitcase and messenger bag and headed towards Gate 30 where Christina was waiting and other passengers for Alaska 6 were already lined up.

As I offered her to get us a bottle of water, Steve Buscemi and the woman with reddish brown hair sauntered past.