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.