Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tang & Trouble



Christina Tosi's Tang Toast Recipe Is The Perfect Anti-Trend

The Huffington Post  |  By Alison Spiegel  Posted: 03/31/2015 7:36 am EDT


When toast became a trend, we were perplexed, to say the least. Artisanal toast is now a common feature on restaurant menus. Food publications share toast recipes on the regular, and avocado toast is in danger of ruining itself via over exposure on Instagram. 

How did this happen? As Hannah Goldfield points out in The New Yorker, "Artisanal toast, one might posit, represents our intensifying obsession with and fetishization of food. Every meal is special and important, every dish should be elevated, revered, and broadcast -- even something as pedestrian as toast."

Leave it to Momofuku Milk Bar chef and owner Christina Tosi to remind everyone taking toast too seriously to chill out. In her new cookbook, Milk Bar Life, Tosi offers a recipe for Tang Toast, which is literally margarine and Tang spread on toast. It's the anti-toast-trend recipe, and it's restored some kind of order to the universe. 



Tosi's Tang Toast perfectly embodies the simplicity and playfulness that runs through the whole book.

With recipes like Ritz Cracker Ice Box Cake, Cake-Mix Coffee Cake and Blue Cheese Pretzels, Milk Bar Life is approachable as it is awesome. While her last book, Momofuku Milk Bar, consisted of elaborate recipes for which the ingredients alone may take days to amass, the latest embraces a "down-home, lowbrow approach." "We long for FLAVOR, not fuss," Tosi explains.

Tang Toast is the epitome of no fuss, and it may have just saved toast from itself. See below for the full recipe including an excerpt from Milk Bar Life, which comes out April 7.

Recipes reprinted from MILK BAR LIFE: Recipes and Stories Copyright © 2015 by Christina Tosi. Photos by Gabriele Stabile and Mark Ibold. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

Tang Toast
SERVES 1
Did you know Dutch folk eat toasted white bread with butter and sprinkles? Grown-ups eat it on the regular, and no one flinches!

If you can’t quite channel your inner Netherlander, and cinnamon and sugar ain’t your steez, maybe Tang toast is! This odd combo is big in the Christian church community that I was exposed to growing up in central Ohio. Think about it: what’s the only thing left in church kitchens Monday through Saturday? 

Some white bread, tainted margarine, and the remnants of some Tang. This recipe is perfect both for churches running low on supplies and for late nights when you’re running low on energy.

2 slices white bread
1 tablespoon margarine (not butter)
1⁄2 teaspoon Tang drink mix
1. Toast the bread.
2. Slather each slice of toast with margarine, add a sprinkle of Tang to each one, and eat.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
A Toast Story
How did toast become the latest artisanal food craze? Ask a trivial question, get a profound, heartbreaking answer.


from: PSMag    John Gravois  Jan 13, 2014
  
Giulietta Carrelli outside the Trouble Coffee & Coconut Club. (Photo: Jeff Singer) Giulietta Carrelli outside the Trouble Coffee & Coconut Club. (Photo: Jeff Singer)

All the guy was doing was slicing inch-thick pieces of bread, putting them in a toaster, and spreading stuff on them. But what made me stare—blinking to attention in the middle of a workday morning as I waited in line at an unfamiliar café—was the way he did it. He had the solemn intensity of a Ping-Pong player who keeps his game very close to the table: knees slightly bent, wrist flicking the butter knife back and forth, eyes suggesting a kind of flow state.

The coffee shop, called the Red Door, was a spare little operation tucked into the corner of a chic industrial-style art gallery and event space (clients include Facebook, Microsoft, Evernote, Google) in downtown San Francisco. There were just three employees working behind the counter: one making coffee, one taking orders, and the soulful guy making toast. In front of him, laid out in a neat row, were a few long Pullman loaves—the boxy Wonder Bread shape, like a train car, but recognizably handmade and freshly baked. And on the brief menu, toast was a standalone item—at $3 per slice.

It took me just a few seconds to digest what this meant: that toast, like the cupcake and the dill pickle before it, had been elevated to the artisanal plane. So I ordered some. It was pretty good. It tasted just like toast, but better.

A couple of weeks later I was at a place called Acre Coffee in Petaluma, a smallish town about an hour north of San Francisco on Highway 101. Half of the shop’s food menu fell under the heading “Toast Bar.” Not long after that I was with my wife and daughter on Divisadero Street in San Francisco, and we went to The Mill, a big light-filled cafe and bakery with exposed rafters and polished concrete floors, like a rustic Apple Store. There, between the two iPads that served as cash registers, was a small chalkboard that listed the day’s toast menu. Everywhere the offerings were more or less the same: thick slices of good bread, square-shaped, topped with things like small-batch almond butter or apricot marmalade or sea salt.

Back at the Red Door one day, I asked the manager what was going on. Why all the toast? “Tip of the hipster spear,” he said.

I had two reactions to this: First, of course, I rolled my eyes. How silly; how twee; how perfectly San Francisco, this toast. And second, despite myself, I felt a little thrill of discovery. How many weeks would it be, I wondered, before artisanal toast made it to Brooklyn, or Chicago, or Los Angeles? How long before an article appears in Slate telling people all across America that they’re making toast all wrong? How long before the backlash sets in?

For whatever reason, I felt compelled to go looking for the origins of the fancy toast trend. How does such a thing get started? What determines how far it goes? I wanted to know. Maybe I thought it would help me understand the rise of all the seemingly trivial, evanescent things that start in San Francisco and then go supernova across the country—the kinds of products I am usually late to discover and slow to figure out. I’m not sure what kind of answer I expected to turn up. Certainly nothing too impressive or emotionally affecting. But what I found was more surprising and sublime than I could have possibly imagined.


IF THE DISCOVERY OF artisanal toast had made me roll my eyes, it soon made other people in San Francisco downright indignant. I spent the early part of my search following the footsteps of a very low-stakes mob. “$4 Toast: Why the Tech Industry Is Ruining San Francisco” ran the headline of an August article on a local technology news site called VentureBeat.

“Flaunting your wealth has been elevated to new lows,” wrote the author, Jolie O’Dell. “We don’t go to the opera; we overspend on the simplest facets of life.” For a few weeks $4 toast became a rallying cry in the city’s media—an instant parable and parody of the shallow, expensive new San Francisco—inspiring thousands of shares on Facebook, several follow-up articles, and a petition to the mayor’s office demanding relief from the city’s high costs of living.

The butt of all this criticism appeared to be The Mill, the rustic-modern place on Divisadero Street. The Mill was also, I learned, the bakery that supplies the Red Door with its bread. So I assumed I had found the cradle of the toast phenomenon.

I was wrong. When I called Josey Baker, the—yes—baker behind The Mill’s toast, he was a little mystified by the dustup over his product while also a bit taken aback at how popular it had become. “On a busy Saturday or Sunday we’ll make 350 to 400 pieces of toast,” he told me. “It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?”

But Baker assured me that he was not the Chuck Berry of fancy toast. He was its Elvis: he had merely caught the trend on its upswing. The place I was looking for, he and others told me, was a coffee shop in the city’s Outer Sunset neighborhood—a little spot called Trouble.

THE TROUBLE COFFEE & Coconut Club (its full name) is a tiny storefront next door to a Spanish-immersion preschool, about three blocks from the Pacific Ocean in one of the city’s windiest, foggiest, farthest-flung areas. As places of business go, I would call Trouble impressively odd.

Instead of a standard café patio, Trouble’s outdoor seating area is dominated by a substantial section of a tree trunk, stripped of its bark, lying on its side. Around the perimeter are benches and steps and railings made of salvaged wood, but no tables and chairs. On my first visit on a chilly September afternoon, people were lounging on the trunk drinking their coffee and eating slices of toast, looking like lions draped over tree limbs in the Serengeti.

The shop itself is about the size of a single-car garage, with an L-shaped bar made of heavily varnished driftwood. One wall is decorated with a mishmash of artifacts—a walkie-talkie collection, a mannequin torso, some hand tools. A set of old speakers in the back blares a steady stream of punk and noise rock. And a glass refrigerator case beneath the cash register prominently displays a bunch of coconuts and grapefruit. Next to the cash register is a single steel toaster. Trouble’s specialty is a thick slice of locally made white toast, generously covered with butter, cinnamon, and sugar: a variation on the cinnamon toast that everyone’s mom, including mine, seemed to make when I was a kid in the 1980s. It is, for that nostalgic association, the first toast in San Francisco that really made sense to me.


Trouble’s owner, and the apparent originator of San Francisco’s toast craze, is a slight, blue-eyed, 34-year-old woman with freckles tattooed on her cheeks named Giulietta Carrelli. She has a good toast story: She grew up in a rough neighborhood of Cleveland in the ’80s and ’90s in a big immigrant family, her father a tailor from Italy, her mother an ex-nun. The family didn’t eat much standard American food. But cinnamon toast, made in a pinch, was the exception. “We never had pie,” Carrelli says. “Our American comfort food was cinnamon toast.”

It was perhaps the safe distance between them—an elderly man and a young woman sitting on a public beach—that made Glen relatively impervious to the detonations that had wiped out every other home Giulietta had ever had. "He couldn't kick me out," she says.

The other main players on Trouble’s menu are coffee, young Thai coconuts served with a straw and a spoon for digging out the meat, and shots of fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice called “Yoko.” It’s a strange lineup, but each item has specific meaning to Carrelli. Toast, she says, represents comfort. Coffee represents speed and communication. And coconuts represent survival—because it’s possible, Carrelli says, to survive on coconuts provided you also have a source of vitamin C. Hence the Yoko. (Carrelli tested this theory by living mainly on coconuts and grapefruit juice for three years, “unless someone took me out to dinner.”)

The menu also features a go-for-broke option called “Build Your Own Damn House,” which consists of a coffee, a coconut, and a piece of cinnamon toast. Hanging in the door is a manifesto that covers a green chalkboard. “We are local people with useful skills in tangible situations,” it says, among other things. “Drink a cup of Trouble. Eat a coconut. And learn to build your own damn house. We will help. We are building a network.”

If Trouble’s toast itself made instant sense to me, it was less clear how a willfully obscure coffee shop with barely any indoor seating in a cold, inconvenient neighborhood could have been such a successful launch pad for a food trend. In some ways, the shop seemed to make itself downright difficult to like: It serves no decaf, no non-fat milk, no large drinks, and no espressos to go. On Yelp, several reviewers report having been scolded by baristas for trying to take pictures inside the shop with their phones. (“I better not see that up on Instagram!” one reportedly shouted.)

Nevertheless, most people really seem to love Trouble. On my second visit to the shop, there was a steady line of customers out the door. After receiving their orders, they clustered outside to drink their coffees and eat their toast. With no tables and chairs to allow them to pair off, they looked more like neighbors at a block party than customers at a café. And perhaps most remarkably for San Francisco, none of them had their phones out.

Trouble has been so successful, in fact, that Carrelli recently opened a second, even tinier location in the city’s Bayview neighborhood. I met her there one sunny afternoon. She warned me that she probably wouldn’t have much time to talk. But we chatted for nearly three hours.

In public, Carrelli wears a remarkably consistent uniform: a crop top with ripped black jeans and brown leather lace-up boots, with her blond hair wrapped in Jack Sparrowish scarves and headbands. At her waist is a huge silver screaming-eagle belt buckle, and her torso is covered with tattoos of hand tools and designs taken from 18th-century wallpaper patterns. Animated and lucid—her blue eyes bright above a pair of strikingly ruddy cheeks—Carrelli interrupted our long conversation periodically to banter with pretty much every person who visited the shop.

At first, Carrelli explained Trouble as a kind of sociological experiment in engineering spontaneous communication between strangers. She even conducted field research, she says, before opening the shop. “I did a study in New York and San Francisco, standing on the street holding a sandwich, saying hello to people. No one would talk to me. But if I stayed at that same street corner and I was holding a coconut? People would engage,” she said. “I wrote down exactly how many people talked to me.”

The smallness of her cafés is another device to stoke interaction, on the theory that it’s simply hard to avoid talking to people standing nine inches away from you. And cinnamon toast is a kind of all-purpose mollifier: something Carrelli offers her customers whenever Trouble is abrasive, or loud, or crowded, or refuses to give them what they want. “No one can be mad at toast,” she said.

Carrelli’s explanations made a delightfully weird, fleeting kind of sense as I heard them. But then she told me something that made Trouble snap into focus. More than a café, the shop is a carpentered-together, ingenious mechanism—a specialized tool—designed to keep Carrelli tethered to herself.

EVER SINCE SHE WAS in high school, Carrelli says, she has had something called schizoaffective disorder, a condition that combines symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolarity. People who have it are susceptible to both psychotic episodes and bouts of either mania or depression.

Carrelli tends toward the vivid, manic end of the mood spectrum, she says, but the onset of a psychotic episode can shut her down with little warning for hours, days, or, in the worst instances, months. Even on good days, she struggles to maintain a sense of self; for years her main means of achieving this was to write furiously in notebooks, trying to get the essentials down on paper. When an episode comes on, she describes the experience as a kind of death: Sometimes she gets stuck hallucinating, hearing voices, unable to move or see clearly; other times she has wandered the city aimlessly. “Sometimes I don’t recognize myself,” she says. “I get so much disorganized brain activity, I would get lost for 12 hours.”

Carrelli’s early years with her illness were, she says, a blind struggle. Undiagnosed, she worked her way through college—three different colleges, in different corners of the country—by booking shows for underground bands and doing stints at record stores and coffee shops. But her episodes were a kind of time bomb that occasionally leveled any structure in her life. Roommates always ended up kicking her out. Landlords evicted her. Relationships fell apart. Employers either fired her or quietly stopped scheduling her for shifts. After a while, she began anticipating the pattern and taking steps to pre-empt the inevitable. “I moved when people started catching on,” she says. By the time she hit 30, she had lived in nine different cities.

Like a lot of people with mental illness, Carrelli self-medicated with drugs, in her case opiates, and alcohol. And sometimes things got very bad indeed. Throughout her 20s, she was in and out of hospitals and periods of homelessness.

One day in 1999, when Carrelli was living in San Francisco and going to school at the University of California-Berkeley, she took a long walk through the city and ended up on China Beach, a small cove west of the Golden Gate. She describes the scene to me in stark detail: The sun was flickering in and out of intermittent fog. A group of Russian men in Speedos were stepping out of the frigid ocean. And an elderly man was sitting in a deck chair, sunbathing in weather that suggested anything but. Carrelli struck up a conversation with the man, whose name was Glen. In a German accent, he told her that people congregated regularly at China Beach to swim in the ocean. He had done so himself when he was younger, he said, but now he just came to the beach to sunbathe every day.

"I'm wearing the same outfit every day," Carrelli says. "I take the same routes. I own Trouble Coffee so that people recognize my face—so they can help me."

Carrelli left San Francisco shortly thereafter. (“Everything fell apart,” she says.) But her encounter with the old man made such a profound impression that five years later, in 2004—after burning through stints in South Carolina, Georgia, and New York—she drove back across the country and headed for China Beach. When she arrived, she found Glen sitting in the same spot where she had left him in 1999. That day, as they parted ways, he said, “See you tomorrow.” For the next three years, he said the same words to her pretty much every day. “He became this structure,” Carrelli says, “a constant.”

It was perhaps the safe distance between them—an elderly man and a young woman sitting on a public beach—that made Glen relatively impervious to the detonations that had wiped out every other home she’d ever had. “He couldn’t kick me out,” Carrelli says. She sat with her notebooks, and Glen asked her questions about her experiments with strangers and coconuts. Gradually, she began to find other constants. She started joining the swimmers every day, plunging into the Pacific with no wetsuit, even in winter. Her drinking began to taper off. She landed a job at a coffee shop called Farley’s that she managed to keep for three years. And she began assiduously cultivating a network of friends she could count on for help when she was in trouble—a word she uses frequently to refer to her psychotic episodes—while being careful not to overtax any individual’s generosity.

Carrelli also found safety in simply being well-known—in attracting as many acquaintances as possible. That’s why, she tells me, she had always worked in coffee shops. When she is feeling well, Carrelli is a swashbuckling presence, charismatic and disarmingly curious about people. “She will always make a friend wherever she is,” says Noelle Olivo, a San Francisco escrow and title agent who was a regular customer at Farley’s and later gave Carrelli a place to stay for a couple of months. “People are taken aback by her, but she reaches out.”

This gregariousness was in part a survival mechanism, as were her tattoos and her daily uniform of headscarves, torn jeans, and crop tops. The trick was to be identifiable: The more people who recognized her, the more she stood a chance of being able to recognize herself.

But Carrelli’s grip on stability was still fragile. Between apartments and evictions, she slept in her truck, in parks, at China Beach, on friends’ couches. Then one day in 2006, Carrelli’s boss at Farley’s Coffee discovered her sleeping in the shop, and he told her it was probably time she opened up her own space. “He almost gave me permission to do something I knew I should do,” she recalls. It was clear by then that Carrelli couldn’t really work for anyone else—Farley’s had been unusually forgiving. But she didn’t know how to chart a course forward. At China Beach, she took to her notebooks, filling them with grandiose manifestoes about living with guts and honor and commitment—about, she wrote, building her own damn house.

“Giulietta, you don’t have enough money to eat tonight,” Glen said, bringing her down to Earth. Then he asked her a question that has since appeared in her writing again and again: “What is your useful skill in a tangible situation?”

The answer was easy: she was good at making coffee and good with people. So Glen told her it was time she opened a checking account. He told her to go to city hall and ask if they had information on starting a small business. And she followed his instructions.

With $1,000 borrowed from friends, Carrelli opened Trouble in 2007 in a smelly, cramped, former dog grooming business, on a bleak commercial stretch. She renovated the space pretty much entirely with found materials, and with labor and advice that was bartered for, cajoled, and requested from her community of acquaintances.

She called the shop Trouble, she says, in honor of all the people who helped her when she was in trouble. She called her drip coffee “guts” and her espresso “honor.” She put coconuts on the menu because of the years she had spent relying on them for easy sustenance, and because they truly did help her strike up conversations with strangers. She put toast on the menu because it reminded her of home: “I had lived so long with no comfort,” she says. And she put “Build Your Own Damn House” on the menu because she felt, with Trouble, that she had finally done so.

The trick was to be identifiable: the more people who recognized her, the more she stood a chance of being able to recognize herself.

GLEN—WHOSE FULL NAME was Gunther Neustadt, and who had escaped Germany as a young Jewish boy with his twin sister during World War II—lived to see Trouble open. But he died later that year. In 2008, Carrelli became pregnant and had twins.*

That same year, after having lived in her shop for months, Carrelli got a real apartment. She went completely clean and sober, and has stayed that way. She started to hire staff she could rely on; she worked out a sustainable custody arrangement with her children’s father. And Trouble started to get written up in the press. Customers began to flock there from all over town for toast and coffee and coconuts.

The demands of running the shop, caring for two children, and swimming every day allowed Carrelli to feel increasingly grounded, but her psychotic episodes hardly went away; when they came on, she just kept working somehow. “I have no idea how I ran Trouble,” she says. “I kept piling through.” In 2012, after a five-month episode, Carrelli was hospitalized and, for the first time, given the diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. Under her current treatment regimen, episodes come far less frequently. But still they come.

At bottom, Carrelli says, Trouble is a tool for keeping her alive. “I’m trying to stay connected to the self,” she says. Like one of her old notebooks, the shop has become an externalized set of reference points, an index of Carrelli’s identity. It is her greatest source of dependable routine and her most powerful means of expanding her network of friends and acquaintances, which extends now to the shop’s entire clientele. These days, during a walking episode, Carrelli says, a hello from a casual acquaintance in some unfamiliar part of the city might make the difference between whether she makes it home that night or not. “I’m wearing the same outfit every day,” she says. “I take the same routes every day. I own Trouble Coffee so that people recognize my face—so they can help me.”

After having struggled as an employee in so many coffee shops, she now employs 14 people. In an almost unheard of practice for the café business, she offers them profit-sharing and dental coverage. And she plans on expanding the business even further, maybe opening up to four or five locations. With the proceeds, she hopes to one day open a halfway house for people who have psychotic episodes—a safe place where they can go when they are in trouble.

WHEN I TOLD FRIENDS back East about the craze for fancy toast that was sweeping across the Bay Area, they laughed and laughed. (How silly; how twee; how San Francisco.) But my bet is that artisanal toast is going national. I’ve already heard reports of sightings in the West Village.

If the spread of toast is a social contagion, then Carrelli was its perfect vector. Most of us dedicate the bulk of our attention to a handful of relationships: with a significant other, children, parents, a few close friends. Social scientists call these “strong ties.” But Carrelli can’t rely on such a small set of intimates. Strong ties have a history of failing her, of buckling under the weight of her illness. So she has adapted by forming as many relationships—as many weak ties—as she possibly can. And webs of weak ties are what allow ideas to spread.

In a city whose economy is increasingly built on digital social networks—but where simple eye contact is at a premium—Giulietta Carrelli’s latticework of small connections is old-fashioned and analog. It is built not for self-presentation, but for self-preservation. And the spread of toast is only one of the things that has arisen from it.

A few weeks ago, I went back to Trouble because I hadn’t yet built my own damn house. When my coconut came, the next guy at the bar shot me a sideways glance. Sitting there with a slice of toast and a large tropical fruit, I felt momentarily self-conscious. Then the guy said to the barista, “Hey, can I get a coconut too?” and the two of us struck up a conversation.

This post originally appeared in the January/February 2014 issueofPacific Standard as "A Toast Story." For more, consider subscribing to our bimonthly print magazine.
 

About This Religion Stuff

WHAT COMES AFTER RELIGION

from Jonathan Hodgson 2 weeks ago All Audiences 

The debate between believers and atheists usually goes nowhere. The real issue is: what should fill the gaps created by the end of widespread belief? What should fill the God-shaped hole?
Script by Alain de Botton

Animation designed and directed by Jonathan Hodgson hodgsonfilms.tumblr.com
Sound design by Honza Topinka

Produced in collaboration with philosopher Alain de Botton for The School of Life theschooloflife.com
Watch it HERE  
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The World according to Sugarfoot, or What I learned from the Dalai Lama & Yoda

In which I describe a concept of the true nature of religion and the usefulness and dangers of fear and anger.

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering”

                                                                            - Yoda and the Dalai Lama

     It is my contention that all of the “great religions”, the faith-based religions, are a strain of lingually transmitted virus.  This could explain such phenomena as mass conversions, the “Moonies” and “finding Jesus.”

  
   We have all seen it.  Some perfectly normal, rational human being we have known for years will start spouting scripture.  Their eyes glaze over and they become incapable of logic in certain areas of their consciousness.  This seems to me to happen most frequently to adults, and less so with “school-age” children.  I’ve never heard of it being observed in babies.

     This virus, (let’s call it the R virus), acts like any other virus.  It gets into your nervous system and propagates itself.  Unlike some viruses, it doesn’t kill you or give you a fever.  Instead, it targets certain areas of your brain, specifically your speech-centers, and induces you to spread it to other hosts via what you say.  You begin to “believe.”  You spout dogma.  You proselytize.  In specific ways you become irrational. How does this work?  Let’s explore.


      When babies are born, they are intelligent, aware and inputting a stream of sensory info as wide as a freeway.  They are inexperienced in dealing with the new reality they’ve landed in, but they’re present.  They are conscious – but they are non-verbal.  They process and react to their environment, but since they haven’t acquired language, they don’t do it with words.  They can experience fear.  Fear has been documented in newborns. They can experience anger.  Ask any mother.  A pre-verbal child starts shrieking, and you can bet that child’s mom can tell whether that shriek denotes fear or anger. 
 
    Now, babies learn to recognize words long before they use them.  Even dogs learn to recognize words.  If I say, “Hungry?” to my dog, she licks her chops and bounces around in anticipation of food.  But she never replies.  (At least not verbally.)  She can input language; a word is a part of a language.  But she doesn’t process it any differently than any of the non-verbal sounds which she receives.  So we can’t really say that the dog or the baby have acquired language per-se.  A word is a sound, or a group of sounds, which carry a specific meaning.  If the dog has learned to associate that sound or combination of sounds with an object or event, then it will attach a specific meaning to it.  But that meaning will exist in the dog’s consciousness in a non-verbal format.  The dog does not have a developed speech-center in its brain, so it’s not vulnerable to a virus that wants to live in one.


     The pre-verbal baby and the dog are in a similar boat.  The baby extracts meaning from incoming sensory data.  But it does not give precedence to words, because it hasn’t acquired language.  It is absorbing all the sound around it and attempting to derive meaning from it, but its speech center is not yet totally “on line.”

    Now for a side trip into the concepts of fear and anger: let’s look at pre-historic, or rather, pre-verbal man.  Fear and anger have survival value, both for the individual human and for the species as a whole.  

     When a cranky rhinoceros comes charging at our pre-verbal human, the human experiences fear.  He gets a big shot of adrenalin and goes haring off and climbs a sturdy tree.  He not only survives, but he preserves the possibility of propagating his species by surviving.  


     As for anger, let’s suppose our rhinoceros-fleeing human comes down out of his tree and successfully knocks down a rabbit.  He carries it off to his cave and builds a nice fire.  He puts the bunny on to roast, and waits with eager anticipation to quell the rumbling in his tummy.  

     But along comes another pre-verbal human and decides roast rabbit sounds like just the thing.  He snatches it off the spit with every intention of gobbling it down as fast as he is able.  Here is where anger comes in handy.  Our hunter leaps up and flies into a towering rage.  He’s hungry, dash it all!  He needs those bunny calories to get through his day.  He roars.  He shakes his hairy fist at the interloper.  He gnashes his teeth and strides forward, with every intention of doing bodily harm to the rabbit-thief.


     The rabbit thief begins to feel that catching his own rabbit may be safer than risking a thrashing from this snarling character.  He drops the rabbit and beats a hasty retreat.

     So this anger thing can be pretty useful.  Well, you say; if our rabbit-hunting chap of the first part had acquired language, he could have said, "I say, old bean, I really need that rabbit for my own as I’m famished and simply won’t have the oomph to get through another hunt successfully if I don’t dine on it.”      

     But the other hairy fellow might just as easily have answered, “Sod off, Shorty. I’m hungry too.”  So our fellow might still have needed the anger shtick to keep his meal.  Of course he could have shared the rabbit with the interloper, but hairy brutes that go around snatching other hairy brutes’ rabbits usually don’t make pleasant dinner companions anyhow.  I’d have given him the heave-ho as well. 

     So we see that fear and anger have their uses.  Now let’s get back to virus R and the pre-verbal baby. 

     Here’s our little one.  Shall we call her Susie?  Ok, here’s Susie lying in her crib all pre-wired with potential linguistic abilities, and the right sort of larynx and what-not to produce the complex sounds that make up language.  But Susie doesn’t know that she’s “Susie”, because “Susie” is a name, a sort of word, and she’s experiencing herself and everything around her in a lot of ways, none of which is verbal. 


     But here comes mom.  Mom begins to make these patterned sounds in a repetitive manner because she has language.  She relies on it almost exclusively to relate to all the other humans she knows, (and machines like computers, and even animals like dogs.)  Mom is hell-bent on passing on her linguistic ability to Susie.  And, not surprisingly, she does.  Then a very sad thing happens.  Susie gradually stops paying attention to all the non-verbal components of her sensory array and begins to rely on her linguistic ability to do most of her communicating.  This is sad because as wonderful as language is, it has severe limitations.  You know this if you have ever tried coming to a complete understanding of what your significant other means when he/she says something like, “I’ll be ready in just a minute.” or “I love you.”

     All the complex information that Susie had about how wonderful mom smells goes out the window because mom has no vocabulary for the complexities of smell, of if she does, it has mostly negative connotations.  So Susie stops accessing that input and begins to tune it out, until not only her ability to have feelings or (non-verbal) thoughts about those complex smells begins to atrophy, but also the very ability to smell fluently gets tuned out, and eventually ceases to exist. 
     This process is simultaneously going on with most of Susie’s other potentially useful ways of relating to her environment and the things and people in it.  Her native telepathic abilities, her proximity sense, and a host of other ways of perceiving reality just become stunted or die.  In fact, Susie puts up mental filters to prevent all sorts of information coming in.  That freeway of information becomes, (compared to what it once was), a goat-path. 
     The older Susie grows, the more her non-verbal communications fade and become inaccessible to her.  By the time she is an adult, she is doing nearly all her person-to-person communicating with language.  Simultaneously, more and more of her brainpower is diverted to dealing with language.


     Then along comes the R virus.  Susie is exposed.  Will she be infected?  A number of variables will affect whether or not she is.  One of the more interesting ones is whether or not Susie has dabbled extensively in psychoactive drugs such as LSD or THC.  These kinds of drugs have the effect of lowering the “filters” that Susie has in place to eliminate input which is not useful in a population doing most of its communicating with words.
     The R virus may be less effective in the case of a brain that uses other forms of perception and/or communication as well as language.  These mind-altering drugs may leave behind them a chemical “memory” which acts as an anti-virus, or stimulates the body’s immune defenses against the virus. 
     Another factor is age.  If Susie is exposed to the virus before her speech-center becomes the dominant force for communication in her brain, then her body may be able to defend itself against the R virus as easily as it does against the common cold.

    
     In some cases, a young person may be exposed to the virus and experience an incomplete “conversion.”  The vestigial remnants of non-verbal communication skills may allow the R virus to implant religious notions in the brain of the affected young person, but block the virus-propagating proselytizing.  These people could become “carriers”, or non-proselytizing religious.  They would not be motivated to spread the virus; but un-infected people could unwittingly expose themselves by asking about the beliefs of the “carrier.”    
     It is possible that the R virus may be able to stimulate the production of endorphins in the brain.  When infected people “preach” (i.e. propagate the virus) they experience a rush of pleasure.  This insures that the host will perform effectively.  If the virus is able to stimulate adrenalin along with endorphins, it has the added advantage of being able to make converts by force as well as by persuasion.  In effect their host humans will be eager to engage in “holy wars.”

     This becomes especially dangerous when the R virus infects a person who is naturally more prone to anger.  The cocktail produced by combining a low threshold for an anger response, and the adrenaline plus endorphins could produce intense anger, metamorphosizing into hate.  This infectee would be extremely dangerous, and he/she could easily and with enjoyment participate in hate crimes such as were experienced during the religious inquisitions of the middle ages.

     It is important to distinguish between religious and spiritual people.  In many ways they may appear similar.  But there are crucial differences.  The spiritual person will tend to control their own destiny, while the religious person will feel that their destiny is in the hands of a Higher Power, and seek not only to placate that Higher Power, but will try to convince others to do so.
     Spiritual people may align themselves to some degree with larger groups of organized religion, but will be likely to be viewed as “fringe” elements by their “parent” religions.


     Examples are the Sufis, the Rosicrucian’s, the Kabbalists and other “mystical“ sects.  The more “faith-based” religious types are the classic examples of R virus infectees.  
     In the Buddhist religion there are those practitioners who engage in meditation, self-discovery, and strive for individual spiritual evolution.  At the opposite end of the spectrum are the members of the Nichiren Shoshu sect who chant feverishly in the hope of attracting monetary, material and other kinds of rewards from a benevolent deity.
    It is interesting to note that more “primitive” tribal peoples of the world may practice a sort of spiritual discipline, often with the assistance of hallucinogens, fasting, feats of endurance and trance-states.  These practices are usually aimed at achieving harmony with their larger environment, which may be misconstrued by the uninitiated as a form of worship, rather than a merging process.  These people are often immune to the R virus as long as their society remains intact.  This is because they do not rely so heavily on linguistic forms of communication, so that the other forms of perception are allowed to co-exist within their brains, protecting them from the R virus.

  
 With these simple people, fear and anger remain in proportion, and do not frequently expand to levels which produce hate and suffering.  They may be viewed as impoverished by the more “enlightened” religious groups, but in reality may live in much richer interior landscapes.

     In these troubled times the more prudent members of the population would be well advised to protect themselves against the R virus.  There are a number of ways to do this.  Pet owners sometimes have a higher resistance.  This is especially true if they have a relationship with their pet that does not consist of merely issuing one-word commands to their dogs or cats, expecting to be understood and obeyed.  The pet owner who has a non-verbal two-way communication going with their pooch or puss, and isn’t phobic about a dog smelling like, well, a dog, has a much better chance of having a high resistance to the R virus.  Show me a pet owner who is constantly spraying air-freshener to drown out any hint of the scent given off by a clean, healthy dog or cat and I’ll show you a potential convert putting out the welcome mat to the teeming hordes of Fundamentalist microorganisms.

     
 But what if your condo association or landlord doesn’t allow pets?  Be creative!  Volunteer at an animal shelter.  Dig in the yard, (without a talk radio blathering in your ear) or spend some time in a floatation tank.  Try meditation in a natural setting.  Smell things.  Once a month try going through a day without speaking.  If all else fails, you might consider firing up a fat one – or putting a dent in a bottle of Merlot.  Just shut up and exercise your senses.  Practice communicating without words. 



    Hey, if a dog can do it, so can you.  Get in touch with your inner child and get some immunity.  What have you got to lose besides control of what goes on in your mind?  Wouldn’t you like to be in charge of your own thoughts instead of a bunch of fanatic, dogmatic germs?  Take my word for it, if you don’t watch out you could find yourself suddenly spewing all kinds of irrational claptrap and getting up a war on somebody or other because they’re spewing a different brand of claptrap.  Look at the newspaper headlines if you don’t believe me.  We’re in the middle of an epidemic.  As if global warming weren’t enough, we’ve got the R virus charging around.  And it’s making all sorts of people who are supposed to be making rational decisions for us act like fools.