When faced with a lot of stress I employ several coping techniques. There’s collecting pens ala officer Sorenson, watching New York’s pigeons(overweight and disheveled they remind me of myself), meditatively looking at cornucopias of goods in various retail store layouts and fixtures, and then there’s food.

Happiness derived from material things is fleeting, especially in the pursuit of the American Dream. But I grew up in the Soviet Union where the Socialist economy greatly restricted variety and quality of just about everything, and I have a slightly different perspective on materialism.

My friends who visited Cuba told me that people there are much happier than in the US: they have very little to aspire to in material goods, and thus live a life that is much less busy, and as a result much more relaxed and happy.

I frequently quote a paragraph from a letter by Carl Steinway to his brother Theodor in Germany:

“I cannot advise you to come here if you are able, by diligence and thrift, to make a living in Germany. People here have to work harder than abroad, and you get so used to better living that you finally think potato soup tasted better in Germany than the daily roast here.”

Carl and Theodor are two of the “Sons” in Steinway & Sons. Steinway Tunnel is named after the third one.

The variety of food that I had access to growing up was not that great, but I certainly had better fruit and vegetables than the majority of Americans have these days. I’ve asked my younger co-workers, and they are sure that strawberries sold in American supermarkets taste like strawberries. It’s a bit of a Matrix moment there (supermarket strawberries absolutely do not taste like real strawberries).

I had a childhood in which I only experienced hunger when dieting and cold when fishing in bad weather. On the other hand, my grandfather, who went through WWII, remembered the real hunger and the real cold. He was very glad that me and my father never had to experience hunger, and every time I would refuse to eat kasha, he would say – “so, you don’t want to eat kasha that your grandmother made you – what do you expect – marzipan”?

I would ask him what marzipan was, and he’d say – oh, it’s a very tasty French candy. He must have remembered marzipan from NEP times or maybe from his early childhood before the Revolution.

I always though that marzipan was something amazing and heavenly, the tastiest treat possible. I was also pretty sure that I’d never taste it. It was the gastronomic equivalent of the “sea rooster” fish (a very rare fish that I dreamt of catching in the Black Sea).

These days I mutter curse words when I catch “sea roosters” – they are considered a throwback fish in NYC. And marzipan – well, it turned out to be yucky concoction of almond paste and sugar that appears on store shelves around Festivus. I buy it from time to time to remember my grandfather.


And when I want to taste a tomato or strawberry that tastes good I have to spend a lot of time and money at farmers markets or take a trip to my hometown.

WML: How To Remove Gum From Stuff or Goo Gone Guy – the Real Magic American ™ Hero.

A few days ago I was very sleepy in the morning and sat right into a huge wad of gum that some asshole left in the middle of a train seat. The monstrous stinking blue glob firmly attached itself to my favorite Politburo coat. It was probably a couple of packs of Extra. I did not notice it until some guy pointed it out to me in a grocery where I was ordering some fried eggs for breakfast. Interestingly, he was the only person to mention that to me the whole day even though I was walking with a huge blue blotch on my ass the entire day.

In any case, chances are pretty high, that when you ask somebody (even google) about removing gum, you will get a lot of stupid answers, the first one usually being “freeze it with ice”. You know, I am pretty sure that all those clowns have never tried removing gum with their methods.

The first page stupidly recommends:
freezing it
egg whites
peanut butter
lemon juice
WD 40

The result of these remedies highly resembles what happed in this Simpsons episode.

You know, when I worked as a porter in an apartment building, at some point I was tasked with removing gum from the sidewalk. My boss ordered a special spray (very similar to “canned air” spray used for dusting off electronics.The spray would freeze the gum, at which point it was supposed to become brittle and fall off. No such luck. The modern formula allows the gum to stay stuck even when frozen. And the spray achieved temperatures much lower than the temperature of ice.

I’ve seen special crews with steam blasters cleaning gum off sidewalks of the Rockefeller Center. But even with high pressure steam they have to spend about five-ten minutes per piece of gum.

In any case, the solution to my problem is very simple. There is a product that really works on gum. It’s called “Goo Gone StickerLifter ®”. It consists of petroleum naphtha (aka n-hexane ) and citrus oil. You see, it turns out that n-hexane dissolves most dry adhesives like there is no tomorrow. It’s not very smelly and not very toxic. And it dissolves in warm water + soap.

Removing gum, dry glue and stickers is a pleasure with it. I took out the whole gum stain in a couple of minutes. I don’t know if “the enjoyment of this experience was “better than sex.” “, but the Goo Gone Guy might disagree.

“Never fear, Retailer Man is here!”
“Holy profit margin! It’s a truck load of Goo Gone!”
“Oh, Goo Goone Guy you are a real Magic American ™ hero.”

They don’t mention n-Hexane, but the Retailer Man is right about the profit margin though :)