Week 26

The Pantry School was rocked over the weekend by Charlotte’s Talent Show Birthday Party Extravaganza, which left us all feeling more inspired than usual.  Many representatives from Report Night came and offered songs, dance numbers, at least one puppet show, Stupid Human Tricks, performance art, frivolity and three (3) separate dinosaur cakes.  Safely back in academia, the reports were typically juicy.

My good friend and splinter Report Nighter in Phoenix, Denise, brought a topic to my attention that was too good to resist.  I went first, teaching my distinguished panel about a new law in Arizona that’s been largely eclipsed by the oh-so-racist changes in immigration law.  Later this summer, it will become a class 6 felony to create a human/animal hybrid in Arizona.  That means no one will be allowed to genetically or otherwise engineer a mermaid, a centaur, harpies, any dog-faced boys or Spider-Man (probably) anywhere in the Grand Canyon State without risking up to two years in prison.  The reasoning behind the law is less ridiculous than it sounds.  Since Dolly the sheep and other genetic tamperings have offered mixed results, a few places are starting to set down ground rules.  Particularly with embryonic stem cell research being such a hot button issue, it’s semi-realistic to make decisions policing such practices.  Louisiana passed a similar law last year, so Arizona isn’t even a pioneer in this territory, but still.  Let the news be spread far and wide.  No Bat Boy in Arizona.  (Or Mexicans.)

Jon’s report came mostly in the form of another gripping PowerPoint presentation, this time telling the story of Calamity Jane.  She only lived to be 49, but managed to secure legendary status in the Old West, partly through her heroic actions and partly through her own shameless (and not necessarily factual) self-promotion.  I can definitely admire someone so PR savvy.  Jon explained that the nickname “Calamity Jane” came from either of two sources.  One, she once saved the life of Captain Egan who was shot and falling off his horse.  She swooped in and caught the fallen soldier, carrying him to safety.  Two, and the more likely source if you ask me, she was a bitch.  She spat and cussed and rabbleroused and drank and worked as a saloon girl and a prostitute (and a nurse, to her credit).  Fact: she met Wild Bill Hickok.  Probably not fact, but still part of Jane’s one-page auto-bio: she and Wild Bill met and fell in love and married and had a baby.  Jon’s additional visual aid was a poster he drew of Doris Day in a still from the musical, “Calamity Jane”.  Although the mouth is screaming more than singing and the rifle is aimed awfully low to be pointed at a nefarious villain’s face, the illustration is completely charming and awesome.  Jon’s artistic skills get a B this week.

Kaili’s report came last and touched on a subject I keep close to my heart.  I’m an avid reader of children’s literature and I always fall back on the classics.  Kaili talked to us about Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad.  Lobel won both Newbery and Caldecott Medals throughout his career and eventually PBS made animated shorts of Frog and Toad’s adventures.  Simple and understated, they tackled issues like kite-flying, being alone and cleaning house.  Now I consider myself to be a Frog and Toad fan, but I’d never seen these claymation shorts before.  I was a little surprised, but of course delighted to watch some on YouTube.  They were charming and poignant.  I was even more alarmed to learn that there was recently a Broadway musical based on the Frog and Toad books.  “A Year With Frog and Toad” ran in 2002 and was groudbreaking in that it was aimed at a 3-to-5-year-old audience.  Apparently it’s become a staple in community theaters here and there.  Who knew?

And that was Report Night.  Booyakasha.

Week 25

As promised, Report Night this week included a report from a first-timer and of course plot twists and surprises aplenty.  Even an emotional rollercoaster.  Hey, can we help it if junior high-style oral reports are a maelstrom of thrills and pathos?  Of course not.

I went first.  My report explored the bizarre and uniquely Southern sport of noodling.  Noodling is a method of catching catfish wherein the noodler uses only his hands.  He (or she) puts his hand into a hole where catfish are known to nest, and when the fish gloms onto the hand (and catfish have some amazing glomming powers), the noodler pulls the fish out of the water and into the boat.  It’s currently legal in eleven states, though regulations may have to be put into place at some point, as the dangers of noodling are many and high.  Cuts and scrapes can occur, sometimes fingers are lost and there’s a strong chance of drowning, as a swimmer may have difficulty swimming with an added, thrashing 60 lbs on one arm.  More worrying than anything else, though, is the possibility of sticking your hand into a hollow only to find that the catfish have moved out and a snake, beaver, muskrat, snapping turtle or alligator has moved in their place.  Accomplished noodlers can’t understand why their sport isn’t taken more seriously.  Perhaps it has something to do with the term “noodling”.  Or one of it’s aliases, “catfisting”.

Kristy’s report sought to answer the question of whether consuming local honey can alleviate seasonal allergy symptoms.  Science is rather fuzzy concerning why it makes a difference, but Kristy’s comic book-inspired visual aid helped clear things up.  It makes sense.  Bees steep themselves in pollen while harvesting nectar; it sticks to their wings, legs and bodies; they return to the hive to produce honey; the honey winds up having undergone an in-bee chemical process saturated in pollen.  It stands to reason that honey should contain traces of local pollen, which would act as a sort of vaccination to those who regularly eat it.  You’d be exposed to small amounts pollen via honey, and your body would be more acclimated to dealing with it in the air.  I’m no scientist, nor have I even researched a report on the topic, but in my opinion, it works.  Plus, honey is delicious, so what’s the harm in a placebo?

Kaili taught us all this week about a mysterious monolith that used to stand proudly in the Middle of Nowhere, California.  From the 1960s to 2000, the Mojave Phonebooth provided extremely rarely needed phone service in the Mojave Desert, eight miles from the nearest paved road, fifteen miles from the nearest numbered highway and zillions of miles from any sort of home or building.  It swept the internet in the late 1990s and was all the rage for a short while, but the ridiculous tourism the phone generated was too much for the environment.  All the traffic and litter and pollution prompted the state of California to have the phone removed in 2000.  I don’t understand why people made special pilgrimages out to the middle of nowhere to use a payphone, but I once roadtripped from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas just for a specific burger joint and then turned right around and drove back home, so perhaps I’m not one to judge.

This week marked Karen’s debut report and she came out swinging.  She introduced us to a few notable conjoined twins.  After a short discussion on a few different types of conjoined twinning, Karen told us about Laloo.  He was born in 1873 with an undeveloped parasitic twin growing out of his chest.  This twin had his own limbs sticking out, as well as (unpredictably) functioning genitalia.  Laloo was not only a successful circus attraction, but a bit of an activist, as well.  He lived his life championing acceptance of others with unusual anatomies.  We also met Josephine Myrtle Corbin, who was born with two lower halves.  She had four legs and two complete pelvises.  So complete, in fact, legend has it that of her five children, two were born through one vagina and three through the other.  Karen passed around portraits of her subjects that she printed from the internet, and they helped to clear up some mechanical confusion.  It was a fascinating topic and the report was quite well-handled.  I look forward to hearing more from Karen in the future.

Jon gave us a classic Kaili Baird fake-out where we thought his report was going to be on dwarfs, when it was really about feral children.  A tad disturbing, but too fascinating to resist.  He explained the difference between how feral children are depicted in fiction and how they really are, which was sobering.  In movies and novels, they’re wise, moral and strong, and conveniently bilingual.  In reality, of course, they are languageless, mistaken for retarded and incapable of getting by in human society.  Jon covered three famous examples.  Victor of Aveyron was mild and caring, though it was later suspected that Victor had some sort of disability and wasn’t feral at all.  Genie actually was a little bit retarded, but her father chose to protect her from the world by keeping her locked alone in her bedroom for 13 years, so she never developed even rudimentary communication skills.  Oxana the Dog Girl was neglected by her alkey parents and spent five formative years being raised by her family’s dogs.  She can more or less pass for normal now, but her crawling, barking and panting are unnervingly doglike.  Rumor has it she’s got advanced senses of hearing, sight and smell, too, though that may be a little too sci-fi for me to believe.  Ah well.  The truth is out there.

Our sixth and final report of the evening was by Ben.  Ben is from Florida and works as a lobbyist for a Massachusetts environmental non-profit.  It can be deduced, then, that the current Gulf of Mexico oil spill is a very sore spot for him.  That would be correct.  His report was both informative and impassioned as he told us about some of the hundreds of endangered species in the Gulf who are now even more gravely threatened.  He helped us understand the long-term effects of the spill through details such as Cape Cod whalewatchers not having whales to watch this season, as they’ll all have perished in the Gulf of Mexico.  The spill itself has now reached a surface area the size of Jamaica (approximately Rhode Island and Connecticut combined).  The chemical dispersant being used to break up the oil is causing small tar balls to litter the area from surface to ocean floor.  What I found most disturbing was the factoid that the oil that’s been spilled and is now killing precious sea life would be enough to power vehicles in the US  for nine hours.  It really makes you wonder how much longer we humans can keep up our planet-devouring lifestyle.  I, for one (not to mention Ben), could stand to see a change.

Report Night this week certainly had its ups and downs.  The spectrum of topics ran from most of the Eastern seaboard to the inside of a bee; from a kennel in the Ukraine to a traveling circus in India to the middle of the Mojave Desert.  Just when you think you’ve heard it all, leave it to the Pantry School of Research to overturn fresh, new stones.

Week 24

The Pantry School of Research took a hiatus last week to observe the Cinco de Mayo holiday, some of us with a rooftop barbecue.  Taking a breather is often quite refreshing and we came back to Report Night this week ready for another educational workout.

Ben’s report opened the evening.  It remains unclear what lesson we were walking away with from his presentation, but that’s not to say Ben didn’t give us plenty to ponder.  He opened with the unfortunate news that singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom recently got drunk and bitterly criticized Lady Gaga and Madonna, two pop stars who have seen a bit more success in Newsom’s field than Newsom herself.  Somehow this was tied to the idea that humans are all interconnected and each moment of physical contact involves a slight exchange of atoms.  This intimate mashing of matter leaves us both a little undone and a little unified.  Of course, such interaction can only happen in person and not online, which led Ben to another point that while we humans should be delving deeper and deeper into space travel, we are instead crawling further down the rabbit hole of “virtual reality narcissism”.  Even from a purely biological perspective, we’re supposed to be seeking sustenance and companionship and instead we’re chasing fast food and pornography.  Ben is rather concerned about extraterrestrials and the well-being of our souls.  What all this has to do with Joanna Newsom has yet to be discovered.  Perhaps Ben’s presentation was less of a “report” than a “lecture on the downfall of civilization”.  Regardless, our applause at the end was definitely laced with fear for the future.

While we scratched our heads and drowned our confusion in brie, I was selected to present next.  My report this week echoed a similar theme as a report I did last summer: an American cartoon icon who represents a more racist era.  This time I discussed Speedy Gonzales.  Speedy’s own personal cultural crimes are minimal.  The hat, the accent, the clothes.  He is a mostly positive role model; he’s clever and kind, he fights for what he believes in, he always saves the day.  His mouse peers, however, are where the real cultural crimes lie.  Speedy’s cohorts are lazy and helpless, they drink and smoke, there are occasional marijuana references and at least one of them, Speedy’s cousin, carries a gun.  In fact, that cousin, Slowpoke Rodriguez, epitomizes every unflattering Mexican stereotype there is.  The thing is, Speedy cartoons, including his lethargic brethren, are only offensive in the US.  Latin American countries have embraced Speedy and continue to rerun his adventures to this day.  Even so, Cartoon Network yoinked Speedy Gonzales from their airwaves in 1999 in order to appear culturally sensitive.  After years of protest from fans, they reinstated the fastest mouse in all Mexico in 2002.  Warner Bros., however, just to be safe, released the Speedy volume of their Looney Tunes Golden Collection with a beautifully worded disclaimer, reminding the viewer not to blame the WB for any perceived racism, but to accept it as an integral part of American history.  So is Speedy Gonzales a grotesque, hurtful stereotype?  I leave it to you to decide.

Jon closed this week (as Kaili’s report fell through at the last minute), first with his miniature piece on situs inversis.  Very rare indeed, situs inversis is a condition where a person’s organs are situated backwards inside the body.  The heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and all their friends wind up mirror-imaged, which Jon pointed out is a common deus ex machina in many novels and films (including ‘Ninja Assassin’).  Next, his proper report tackled a subject I’ve long wanted to learn more about: phenylcyclohexylpiperidine, also known as slerm, wet stick, ozone, supergrass, toe tag, angel dust or PCP.  In his first displayable visual aid, Jon drew a molecular structure diagram and the head of a man who had smoked PCP.  I think Charlotte’s reaction verbalized what we were all thinking when she blurted, “Wow! That guy is so fucked up!”  The legendary effects it has turned out to be mostly tall tales, as people on PCP don’t actually gain freakish strength, speed or stamina.  It’s a dissociative drug, making people forget to keep themselves alive.  Carelessness, aggression and a depersonalized feeling of indestructibility lead PCP smokers to frequently commit suicide, usually accidentally.  Since its invention in 1926, PCP has been occasionally brought into use as an anesthetic, only to be recanted shortly thereafter because it gave people the crazies.  Even as a veterinary painkiller, it drove animals to violent suicides, so it didn’t find popular recreational use until 1967.  In the 1970s and 80s, it was touted by the media (including the likes of Mike Wallace on ’60 Minutes’) as the #1 drug problem in America.  News propaganda intended to scare schoolchildren away from the suicide-fueling substance, though in hindsight all the fuss hardly seems to have been necessary.  Besides, just a glance at the PCP-afflicted druggie Jon drew was plenty to keep those of us at Report Night on the straight-and-narrow.

Next week will hopefully bring reports from a couple of first-timers and is guaranteed to see more of the usual madness from us veterans.  If you’re not chomping at the bit to see what’s coming in Week 25 of the Pantry School of Research, you clearly haven’t been paying attention.

Week 23

Report Night once again boasted very impressive attendance and only a few reports.  Still, nearly all the attendees have proven their report chops in the past, so it still felt like we were presenting to colleagues and not just rubberneckers hoping for a piece of Baird.  Sam and Sawyer, two newcomers, came to sniff out the Pantry School and see what it’s all about and I think it’s likely we’ll hear more from them in the future.

Charlotte got things started with a piece entitled, “David Horvitz is a Genius.”  David Horvitz, of course, is an artist and weirdo in New York City.  His website features a long list of items for sale, under the heading, “Things For Sale That I Will Mail You”.  Some of these items are goods, some of them are services.  If you give David Horvitz $5, he will take a photograph of a mailbox, print it and send it to you via that same mailbox.  In New York City,  he can easily use a different mailbox for every request.  If you give him $30, he will find a homeless person and buy him or her food; whatever he or she wants for under $30.  You will receive a written record of what was bought and who it was for.  If you give David Horvitz $1, he will sit in silence and think about you for one minute.  You will receive an email when that minute begins and one when it ends.  The list goes on and each item is accompanied by a long string of names of those who have made purchases.  I have to agree, David Horvitz is indeed a genius.  Where it will ultimately take him, I’m curious to see.

Ryan’s report covered SVC 1, colloquially known as the Popemobile.  He presented a charming illustration of SVC 1 driving past the White House and a cornucopia of fun facts.  For example: There are multiple Popemobiles in different regions of the world so a single Popemobile doesn’t have to be shipped all over.  Most of them feature cassette players, “so he can listen to his tapes.”  (Stan assumes he’s listening to Slayer.  Others hope it’s Sinead O’Connor.)  The Pope can also roll down the windows, although his security staff strongly advises against this.  The Vatican apparently has no particular brand loyalty; various cars have been Ford, GMC, Fiat and Mercedes.  In 2002, Pope Jean-Paul II called the name “Popemobile” undignified (SVC stands for something in Latin that means “Vatican City State”).  And during a recent visit to Yankee Stadium, stadium officials laid down the law that the Popemobile was NOT allowed on the grass, and the Pope and his staff obliged, circling the perimeter of the park instead.  That’s right, even the Pope himself must defer to the authority of the New York Yankees.

My report was next and I aimed for left field.  I think I got there.  I began by explaining the controversy in Union Square Park wherein new rules may be put into place that would severely limit the number of street artists allowed to peddle their wares in the park.  That means a lot of artists would lose their livelihoods.  They feel that they’re being picked on and ousted to make room for bigger business and more private vendors.  Plus, not letting artists express themselves falls into First Amendment territory and that’s a whole other report.  The Parks Department thinks Union Square is way, way too congested with all the vendors (they’re right) and too many of them are “not real artists”.  This issue came to my attention because I’m a fan of one of these artists.  Marty Allen makes sock puppets, photographs them and sells framed prints of these photos to tourists in the park.  He’s also behind a puppetry-integrated rock band called Uncle Monsterface.  Weird?  Of course.  Anyway, if you’d like to learn more about Marty, go to martystuff.com, and to help save his place in Union Square, check out streetvendor.org.

Kaili wrapped up the night with an update about a report she gave a few weeks back.  She’s gotten a follow-up email from Ted Behr of the Jamaica Plain Symphony of Laughter Club.  He reminded her that he’d like to see her again (and, frankly, who wouldn’t?).  After seeing my previous Pantry School blog about Kaili’s laughter yoga experience, Mr. Behr was looking forward to us making it over for a field trip.  That has not yet happened, but Kaili’s update reminded us that we need to put a date on the calendar.  I’m sure we’ll get there.  Our curiosity will not be satisfied any other way.

The Pantry School of Research.  Kicking ass and taking names since 2009.

Week 22

More new faces came out of the woodwork for Report Night this week.  The mighty Ian came back to the fold and brought with him his ladyfriend, Anna.  Karen, on loan from 826 Boston, came to see what all the fuss is about and my oft-AWOL roommate Ryan graced us with his presence.  Another twist: this week was another off-campus affair, as we all met at my house instead of the Pantry proper.  How did that go, you ask?  Read on.

Ben’s report was first.  He talked to us about the issue of wireless technology filling the air with radiation and people with cancer.  His platform was one debunking the ridiculous paranoia of those who claim to suffer from electro-sensitivity.  A delicious coincidence: first-timer Anna works for an organization supporting these claims and spreading awareness that huge antennae and smaller wireless technology are causing health concerns over time.  Ben continued with his report, dismissing the electro-sensitive as copper hat-wearing hypochondriacs.  He also quoted Arthur Firstenberg, whom Anna turned out to know personally and who cited the television broadcast switch from analog to digital as a cause of malaise, insomnia, absentmindedness and nausea in humans and mother birds abandoning their nests.  Firstenberg later sued his neighbor for brain damage incurred by the neighbor’s cell phone, laptop computer, desktop computer, fluorescent lights and dimmer switches.  He added that cell phones themselves emit such a minimal amount of radiation, it would take a much more serious attempt to cook one’s brain in order to incur any actual damage.

Anna was then given the floor to offer a counter-report.  She explained that the major difference between the crazies and the legitimate threat lies in ionizing vs. non-ionizing radiation.  The ionizing kind is the type that is widely known and under control.  The non-ionizing kind is what we have to beware, as it is cumulative over time and not much is known about it at present, so there’s no telling what kind of brain damage might be waiting for us down the road.  The point/counterpoint format was a first for the Pantry School and I for one found it fascinating.  I was kind of hoping for a Springer moment involving a thrown chair and torn-out weave, but we only just met Anna, so I’m still optimistic.

Anna also came to Report Night with a prepared report to share, so we relocated her to the Chair of Knowledge and had her go next.  Her actual report was on astrology.  She was recently given a rather thorough book of charts to read, so she walked us through a reading.  We learned the functions of sun signs and moon signs and which atmospheric and celestial conditions can affect a fetus at birth.  Anna read Ben’s and Jon’s charts and also reminded us that her belief in astrology in no way should color the validity of her belief in electro-sensitivity.

It was awesome.  Maybe you had to be there.

I volunteered to follow.  My latest opus was on the coconut and whether coconut oil is a miracle cure or instant heart attack.  The consensus seems to be that although coconut oil is full of saturated fat, it’s a healthy, happy kind of saturated fat.  I couldn’t find a scientific explanation of why that is.  Rather, I couldn’t find one from a source that seemed to know what it was talking about.  Something about the size of the fat molecule.  Regardless, I’m on board.  I love coconut, so I just needed to be reassured it’s heart healthy.  I also learned that Thailand uses trained macaque monkeys to climb trees and harvest coconuts, and the coconut is technically a drupe, which is a very silly synonym for stone fruit (like peaches, cherries, mangoes, olives and coffee).

Jon went last with what was probably the winner of this week’s Report Night.  His PowerPoint presentation was on tickling.  He started simply, with a common definition, and elaborated with the different types of tickling: the harmless knismesis (visual: a mosquito) and the invasive gargalesis (Mr. Fantastic tickling the Thing).  Parents tickling children led to tickle torture, and tickle torture led to death by tickling.  Yes, it’s happened.  Not only can excessive laughter from tickling cause atonia and fainting, is can even spell infarction of the pons and medulla oblongata.  Not so funny now, is it?  Incidentally, pictures representing tickle torture prompted Karen to ask, “Is that Tony the Tiger?”, to which Jon responded, “No, that’s some kind of furry porn.”  That’s the Pantry School, folks.  Love it or leave it.

Ryan came in halfway through the reports with nothing prepared to present, but realized he had an ace up his sleeve, so he ran and grabbed a book and came back to talk to us about Chuck Klosterman.  Klosterman’s book Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs includes a list of hypothetical questions that he uses to test social waters and Ryan shared a few of these questions with us to discuss.  We explored our psyches aloud and made concrete decisions whether the heavier lifestyle burden would be a pet turtle we MUST keep alive or Hitler’s skull on display, and whether we’d sacrifice our soul mate’s collarbones to avoid getting stuck with hearing nothing but Alice in Chains for the rest of our lives.  Less a report than a giggly therapy session, but no less educational.

I like to think we all went home better people.  Will Anna return with more surprises for Ben?  Will Karen keep coming despite her ugly commute?  Can Leo overcome his shyness and tell Gina how he feels?  And will the fire-damaged factory ever return to its former luster?  Hold your breath until next week.

Week 21

There’s a lot going on in the world.  Poland just lost its president, an Icelandic volcano is ruining travel plans all over Europe and the Pantry School saw five pants-shittingly intense reports this week.

Ben got the party started with his exposé on the hyena.  His aim seemed to be to dispel the inaccurate, unflattering rumors circulating about Africa’s cackling mischief-maker.  He taught us that hyenas are not scavengers, but skilled hunters; they actually have a wide array of vocal sounds in their repertoire; they’re related more to meerkats than dogs; they have an intricate social structure and are impressively intelligent.  Ben, however, knew what would interested us the most, so he centered his visual aid on it.  The male and female genitalia are virtually indistinguishable.  Female hyenas have scrotum-shaped labia and an eight inch clitoris, which is used for urinating AND mating AND childbirth.  Ben ranked the hyena’s eight-inch clitoris right up there with the human knee as an example of poor evolutionary design.  Ben also covered much of how they hunt, eat, shit and think, but I’m sure the mystifyingly bizarre hyena clitoris is what most of us walked away with.

I went next and talked a bit about L’Inconnue de la Seine.  If you don’t know who that is, then clearly you didn’t live in Europe in the early 1900s, because that’s about when she was all the rage.  She was an apparent suicide in Paris, pulled out of the Seine in the 1880s.  An infatuated morgue pathologist made a death mask from a cast of the girl’s face and she instantly swept European Bohemia.  She became a fashion icon and her mask adorned the houses of artists, poets, novelists and weirdos throughout the early 20th century.  That’s why she was written about by the likes of Rilke, Nabokov and even Pahlaniuk.  What I found the most interesting, though, was that hers is the face they put on the CPR Annie dolls that we all learned CPR from (apt for someone who probably drowned), making her the most kissed face of all time.  So kissable because she’s so darn dead.

Charlotte followed with her report on the alleged Apollo moon landing.  I think Charlotte herself believes the landing was real, but her report was to argue the contrary.  Why would that first moon landing have been faked?  Well, there was the needed distraction from American failures like Watergate and Vietnam.  The Cold War and Space Race made the US pretty antsy to one-up the Russians.  Perhaps some new American heroes were in order.  And regardless of motive, there certainly was a lot of shadiness surrounding the broadcast.  Shadows and angles were inconsistent, the sky was suspiciously starless and thin crosshairs behind objects mysteriously rotated between shots.  What’s more, the original film documenting the landing was lost.  Just lost.  So the only source material we have is the washed out, grainy picture from the (pre-HD) television broadcast.  Other souvenirs turned up missing, as well, which seems awfully sloppy for an agency as insanely ambitious as NASA.  Of course, there have been multiple moon landings since, but that first one has too many inconsistencies to prove beyond reasonable doubt that it wasn’t shot in Hollywood, CA.  I never had reason to doubt the validity of the moon landing before, but now I’m not so sure.  And I do love a report about conspiracy.

Next, Jon taught us all a thing or two about perfume.  He provided a sample of Britney Spears’s “Fantasy”, which Kaili was quite taken with, and a PowerPoint presentation that the rest of us found enlightening.  With origins in ancient Mesopotamia, perfume has gone through quite a few transformation over the centuries.  It’s been drinkable, made from distilled rosemary in brandy, in Hungary.  In fact, Hungary was the perfume capital of the universe until France got their act together with citrus oils and carefully constructed aromatic compounds.  Jon explained the difference between Eau de Parfum, Eau de Toilette and aftershave, and head notes, heart notes and base notes.  Base notes, typically the unpleasant basis for most pleasant scents, include whale shit (ambergris) and deer balls (musk), as well as the nether regions of the civet, which is the famous producer of cat shit coffee (kopi luwak).  I forgot to find out which of those base notes Britney Spears smells like, but I think we all learned quite a bit about how to make scents.

Kaili’s report went last.  Sometimes Report Night goes out like a lion (i.e. DJ Assault or the Robosaurus); sometimes it goes out like a lamb.  Kaili recounted her experience from earlier that day, when she was hurrying to barely miss her bus.  She looked down and what to her wondering eyes should appear but a FIFTY DOLLAR BILL.  No one else was around to be a possible owner, so Kaili had no choice but to adopt the poor little orphan.  She told us a few fun facts about the 50.  They circulate for 55 months.  Attempts have been made to get Ronald Reagan’s face on it.  And apparently a young Taiwanese boy can sing just like Whitney Houston.  Kaili Baird, ladies and gentlemen.  There can be only one.

Five reports is a big turnout these days.  Let’s see if, next week, we can go for six.  Regardless, what we’re lacking in quantity we are more than making up in quality.  Stay tuned.

Week 20

This week’s Report Night was another study in impromptu flying by the seat of one’s pants, which is always a welcome element.  See if you can keep up.  When things got started, there were only three of us reporting.

Lucy opened the show with her report on Mr. Kazuo Uyeda and the hard shake.  The hard shake is a method of cocktail mixing that was invented by Uyeda, the Zen Master of tending bar.  It really is the next evolutionary step in the growing trend of obsessing over intricacies of the drink making process.  In the most sophisticated circles, mixing cocktails has become performance art.  Part pseudo-science, part spirituality, the hard shake insures that harsh alcohol particles are “rounded out” and “velvety bubbles” cushion the soft, vulnerable taste buds from the crude distraction of ice.  Dilution, chill rates, ice shape, electro-coupling, negative ions and maybe even your own aura all play a role in “proper” beverage making, but of course only Uyeda himself has mastered the technique he’s brought the world.  Others are so eager to learn, Uyeda teaches classes on the hard shake.  An upcoming workshop in New York City is capped at 110 students, who are paying $675 apiece to study under Master Yoda– er, Uyeda.  So… are you ready to behold the glory of Uyeda and the hard shake?  This is the clip Lucy showed us. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAJ1faS6Szg Don’t be surprised if your life has now been irrevocably changed.  One last piece of advice, from the man himself (via Lucy’s visual aid): “Asking by myself, how create more delicious taste, how satisfy with customer, how get near and make in harmony with my mind, etc?  Answer does not coming if you do not ask something.  Please listen the word of cocktail.”

I followed.  My report this week was on Mr. Kim Peek, who came to my attention right after he died this past December.  He was a “megasavant” and the inspiration for the character Dustin Hoffman played in Rain Man.  Although Raymond Babbitt was autistic, Kim Peek instead suffered from FG Syndrome, a rare genetic syndrome that causes some particular physical anomalies and developmental problems.  Macrocephaly (enlarged head) damaged his cerebellum, which impaired his motor functions.  He couldn’t get the hang of buttons or personal grooming.  The syndrome left him retarded in some respects and hyperactive, with severe hypotonia (low muscle tone), which is what caused the characteristic facial appearance (rather droopy).  Intriguingly, he was born without a corpus callosum, which is the bundle of nerves that connects the two hemispheres of the brain.  Scientists believe his neurons improvised by forming other, unusual connections, which may be the the cause of his exponentially increased capacity for memory.  Peek could, off the top of his head, recall just about any piece of information he’d ever read in the 12,000 or so books he’d covered in his lifetime.  Dates, sports statistics, geography, literature, history, you name it.  At public appearances (after Rain Man came out and made him a celebrity), he would impress the audience by coming up with which day of the week they were born, based on the date.  When he read books, he read two pages at a time, the left page with his left eye, the right with his right, taking him about eight to ten seconds before turning the page.  And he absorbed every single word.  His story was particularly interesting to me because he lived his whole life in Murray, UT, and spent epic amounts of time in the Salt Lake City Public Library, which happens to be my favorite library in the world.  A documentary about him is serialized on youtube, so if you’d like to learn more or see him do his thing, I highly recommend it.  (And I couldn’t blame you if you just wanted to see footage of the library.  It’s pretty awesome.)

Kristy’s report came last.  She revealed the shocking truth behind baby carrots.  Brace yourself.  Ready?  They’re not baby anything.  They’re an engineered breed of carrot that’s really really long and skinny.  Through a process of about a bajillion machines, they are washed, shaven, cut, shaped, primped, buffed, waxed, massaged, airbrushed, acupunctured and optically sorted until they look like the little bite-size carrots in the bag at Trader Joe’s.  They began in 1989 as a convenient ingredient for frozen food entrees, but over the years they’re become convenient for consumers who don’t have time to cut their own vegetables.  As Kristy’s solid visual aid showed us, other baby produce are actually full-grown specimens of miniature breeds of vegetable.  Baby corn?  Legit.  Baby tomato?  Legit.  Baby zucchini?  Legit.  But that baby carrot?  Not legit.  In fact, baby carrots are also lower in most nutrients, particularly Vitamin A, which I imagine is most of the reason to eat carrots in the first place.  They whole thing reminded me of a traumatizing experience I had in sixth grade.  One day, in the school cafeteria, I saw where the salad bar got their hard boiled egg slices: from one obscenely long, chicken-crippling egg.  It had to be two feet long.  I saw some lunch lady slicing it into the little discs you put on your salad.  It was about the least appetizing thing I’d seen that school year, which is impressive considering I was an 11-year-old boy in a public school.  Anyway, lesson learned.  Baby carrots = lame.

When the reports were finished, we hung around and chit chatted for a bit.  Melanie, an old friend of the Pantry but first-timer at the Pantry School, said she found something recently and would we mind if she whipped up an improvised report about it?  Go for it, said we, so Melanie borrowed Charlotte’s laptop and talked to us about the tanuki.  It’s a Japanese raccoon/dog, which looks rather like a red panda but somehow cuter.  They’re very popular in Japanese folklore and are represented as sly and mischievous, though gullible and absent-minded, and always jolly.  Tanuki statues are big in Japan, often shown wearing cone-shaped hats and bearing sake.  They’re commonly depicted with large bellies (like many other jolly characters) and, inspired by an actual physical characteristic of the animal in the wild, GIGANTIC TESTICLES.  A quick internet search resulted in Japanese prints from the 1840s showing tanukis using their scrotums for all kinds of helpful uses.  They shielded themselves from rain, they used them as fishing nets, they heaved their testicles as free weights.  And then Melanie showed us this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oq8xuVnB-Pk When the laughter died down, we applauded and resumed the chit chat.

But wait, there’s more!  That’s when Kaili finally got home from a rather traumatic bus ride and after bumming us out with the nature of the trauma (her bus killed a bicyclist), she reminded us that she also had a report.  After a trademark non sequitur revealing Brigitte Bardot as an anti-Muslim racist, Kaili launched into her report on the Mosquito.  No, not the insect.  Mosquito is the nickname for a terribly annoying, high-pitched alarm that only very young people can hear, as adults have typically lost that range of their hearing.  It’s used as teenager repellent in malls and event centers.  If someone wants to deter shoplifting, loitering or graffiti, that’s a good way to do it.  No real harm is done, although some complain that it causes headaches and isn’t fair to babies and small children.  I think it’s hilarious.  Naturally, the system has been one-upped in Japan.  (What is it with Japan this week?)  Students there have harnessed the magic of the Mosquito and turned it into a ringtone, so they can swap text messages during class and their teachers can’t hear the alert.

So during the course of the evening, our three reports grew to five, we visited Japan three times, a first-timer talked to us about rodent testicles and Kaili braved a vehicular homicide and still managed to get a report in under the wire.  For a group of lame researchers, the Pantry School still manages to find a way for Report Night to be eventful in the extreme.  Every Wednesday.