Monday, March 06, 2006

Most Asian cultures would identify as a horticultural implement

Wherein if Cryptonomicon was mandatory reading I could stop with these excerpts

Boing Boing mentions that John Draper is doing video podcasts. John, going by the moniker "Captain Crunch" helped popularize phone phreaking in the early 1970s.

Here is the Esquire article that brought him notice and fame, leading to a prison sentence.

And there was a prominent Cap'n Crunch mention in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. :
The condemned man showers, shaves, puts on most of a suit, and realizes that he is ahead of schedule. He turns on the television, gets a San Miguel out of the fridge to steady his nerves, and then goes to the closet to get the stuff of his last meal. The apartment only has one closet and when its door is open it appears to have been bricked shut, Cask of Amontillado-style, with very large flat red oblongs, each imprinted with the image of a venerable and yet oddly cheerful and yet somehow kind of hauntingly sad naval officer. The whole pallet load was shipped here several weeks ago by Avi, in an attempt to lift Randy’s spirits. For all Randy knows more are still sitting on a Manila dockside ringed with armed guards and dictionary-sized rat traps straining against their triggers, each baited with a single golden nugget.

Randy selects one of the bricks from this wall, creating a gap in the formation, but there is another, identical one right behind it, another picture of that same naval officer. They seem to be marching from his closet in a peppy phalanx. "Part of this complete balanced breakfast," Randy says. Then he slams the door on them and walks with a measured, forcibly calm step to the living room where he does most of his dining, usually while facing his thirty-six-inch television. He sets up his San Miguel, an empty bowl, an exceptionally large soup spoon—so large that most European cultures would identify it as a serving spoon and most Asian ones as a horticultural implement. He obtains a stack of paper napkins, not the brown recycled ones that can’t be moistened even by immersion in water, but the flagrantly environmentally unsound type, brilliant white and cotton-fluffy and desperately hygroscopic. He goes to the kitchen, opens the fridge, reaches deep into the back, and finds an unopened box-bag-pod-unit of UHT milk. UHT milk need not, technically, be refrigerated, but it is pivotal, in what is to follow, that the milk be only a few microdegrees above the point of freezing. The fridge in Randy’s apartment has louvers in the back where the cold air is blown in, straight from the freon coils. Randy always stores his milk-pods directly in front of those louvers. Not too close, or else the pods will block the flow of air, and not too far away either. The cold air becomes visible as it rushes in and condenses moisture, so it is a simple matter to sit there with the fridge door open and observe its flow characteristics, like an engineer testing an experimental minivan in a River Rouge wind tunnel. What Randy would like to see, ideally, is the whole milk-pod enveloped in an even, jacketlike flow to produce better heat exchange through the multilayered plastic-and-foil skin of the milk-pod. He would like the milk to be so cold that when he reaches in and grabs it, he feels the flexible, squishy pod stiffen between his fingers as ice crystals spring into existence, summoned out of nowhere simply by the disturbance of being squished.

Today the milk is almost, but not quite, that cold. Randy goes into his living room with it. He has to wrap it in a towel because it is so cold it hurts his fingers. He launches a videotape and then sits down. All is in readiness.

This is one of a series of videotapes that are shot in an empty basketball gym with a polished maple floor and a howling, remorseless ventilation system. They depict a young man and a young woman, both attractive, svelte, and dressed something like marquee players in the Ice Capades, performing simple ballroom dance steps to the accompaniment of strangled music from a ghetto blaster set up on the free-throw line. It is miserably clear that the video has been shot by a third conspirator who is burdened with a consumer-grade camcorder and reeling from some kind of inner-ear disease that he or she would like to share with others. The dancers stomp through the most simple steps with autistic determination. The camera operator begins in each case with a two-shot, then, like a desperado tormenting a milksop, aims his weapon at their feet and makes them dance, dance, dance. At one point the pager hooked to the man’s elastic waistband goes off and a scene has to be cut short. No wonder: he is one of the most sought-after ballroom dance instructors in Manila. His partner would be too, if more men in this city were interested in learning to dance. As it is, she must scrape by earning maybe a tenth of what the male instructor pulls down, giving lessons to a small number of addled or henpecked stumblebums like Randy Waterhouse.

Randy takes the red box and holds it securely between his knees with the handy stay-closed tab pointing away from him. Using both hands in unison he carefully works his fingertips underneath the flap, trying to achieve equal pressure on each side, paying special attention to places where too much glue was laid down by the gluing-machine. For a few long, tense moments, nothing at all happens, and an ignorant or impatient observer might suppose that Randy is getting nowhere. But then the entire flap pops open in an instant as the entire glue-front gives way. Randy hates it when the box-top gets bent or, worst of all possible worlds, torn. The lower flap is merely tacked down with a couple of small glue-spots and Randy pulls it back to reveal a translucent, inflated sac. The halogen down-light recessed in the ceiling shines through the cloudy material of the sac to reveal gold—everywhere the glint of gold. Randy rotates the box ninety degrees and holds it between his knees so its long axis is pointed at the television set, then grips the top of the sac and carefully parts its heat-sealed seam, which purrs as it gives way. Removal of the somewhat milky plastic barrier causes the individual nuggets of Cap’n Crunch to resolve, under the halogen light, with a kind of preternatural crispness and definition that makes the roof of Randy’s mouth glow and throb in trepidation.

On the TV, the dancing instructors have finished demonstrating the basic steps. It is almost painful to watch them doing the compulsories, because when they do, they must willfully forget everything they know about advanced ballroom dancing, and dance like persons who have suffered strokes, or major brain injuries, that have wiped out not only the parts of their brain responsible for fine motor skills but also blown every panel in the aesthetic-discretion module. They must, in other words, dance the way their beginning pupils like Randy dance.

The gold nuggets of Cap’n Crunch pelt the bottom of the bowl with a sound like glass rods being snapped in half Tiny fragments spall away from their corners and ricochet around on the white porcelain surface. World-class cereal-eating is a dance of fine compromises. The giant heaping bowl of sodden cereal, awash in milk, is the mark of the novice. Ideally one wants the bone-dry cereal nuggets and the cryogenic milk to enter the mouth with minimal contact and for the entire reaction between them to take place in the mouth. Randy has worked out a set of mental blueprints for a special cereal-eating spoon that will have a tube running down the handle and a little pump for the milk, so that you can spoon dry cereal up out of a bowl, hit a button with your thumb, and squirt milk into the bowl of the spoon even as you are introducing it into your mouth. The next best thing is to work in small increments, putting only a small amount of Cap’n Crunch in your bowl at a time and eating it all up before it becomes a pit of loathsome slime, which, in the case of Cap’n Crunch, takes about thirty seconds.

At this point in the videotape he always wonders if he’s inadvertently set his beer down on the fast-forward button, or something, because the dancers go straight from their vicious Randy parody into something that obviously qualifies as advanced dancing. Randy knows that the steps they are doing are nominally the same as the basic steps demonstrated earlier, but he’s damned if he can tell which is which, once they go into their creative mode. There is no recognizable transition, and that is what pisses Randy off, and has always pissed him off, about dancing lessons. Any moron can learn to trudge through the basic steps. That takes all of half an hour. But when that half-hour is over, dancing instructors always expect you’ll take flight and go through one of those miraculous time lapse transitions that happen only in Broadway musicals and begin dancing brilliantly. Randy supposes that people who are lousy at math feel the same way: the instructor writes a few simple equations on the board, and ten minutes later he’s deriving the speed of light in a vacuum.

He pours the milk with one hand while jamming the spoon in with the other, not wanting to waste a single moment of the magical, golden time when cold milk and Cap’n Crunch are together but have not yet begun to pollute each other’s essential natures: two Platonic ideals separated by a boundary a molecule wide. Where the flume of milk splashes over the spoon-handle, the polished stainless steel fogs with condensation. Randy of course uses whole milk, because otherwise why bother? Anything less is indistinguishable from water, and besides he thinks that the fat in whole milk acts as some kind of a buffer that retards the dissolution-into-slime process. The giant spoon goes into his mouth before the milk in the bowl has even had time to seek its own level. A few drips come off the bottom and are caught by his freshly washed goatee (still trying to find the right balance between beardedness and vulnerability, Randy has allowed one of these to grow). Randy sets the milk-pod down, grabs a fluffy napkin, lifts it to his chin, and uses a pinching motion to sort of lift the drops of milk from his whiskers rather than smashing and smearing them down into the beard. Meanwhile all his concentration is fixed on the interior of his mouth, which naturally he cannot see, but which he can imagine in three dimensions as if zooming through it in a virtual reality display. Here is where a novice would lose his cool and simply chomp down. A few of the nuggets would explode between his molars, but then his jaw would snap shut and drive all of the unshattered nuggets straight up into his palate where their armor of razor-sharp dextrose crystals would inflict massive collateral damage, turning the rest of the meal into a sort of pain-hazed death march and rendering him Novocain mute for three days. But Randy has, over time, worked out a really fiendish Cap’n Crunch eating strategy that revolves around playing the nuggets’ most deadly features against each other. The nuggets themselves are pillow-shaped and vaguely striated to echo piratical treasure chests. Now, with a flake-type of cereal, Randy’s strategy would never work. But then, Cap’n Crunch in a flake form would be suicidal madness; it would last about as long, when immersed in milk, as snowflakes sifting down into a deep fryer. No, the cereal engineers at General Mills had to find a shape that would minimize surface area, and, as some sort of compromise between the sphere that is dictated by Euclidean geometry and whatever sunken-treasure-related shapes that the cereal-aestheticians were probably clamoring for, they came up with this hard-to-pin-down striated pillow formation. The important thing, for Randy’s purposes, is that the individual pieces of Cap’n Crunch are, to a very rough approximation, shaped kind of like molars. The strategy, then, is to make the Cap’n Crunch chew itself by grinding the nuggets together in the center of the oral cavity, like stones in a lapidary tumbler. Like advanced ballroom dancing, verbal explanations (or for that matter watching videotapes) only goes so far and then your body just has to learn the moves.

By the time he has eaten a satisfactory amount of Cap’n Crunch (about a third of a 25-ounce box) and reached the bottom of his beer bottle, Randy has convinced himself that this whole dance thing is a practical joke. When he reaches the hotel, Amy and Doug Shaftoe will be waiting for him with mischievous smiles. They will tell him they were just teasing and then take him into the bar to talk him down.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home