series of homemade presents
Wednesday, June 12 2013
Today was KMOCA Michæl's birthday, and, since Gretchen had some prior engagement with her poetry ladies (an event where, in her consideration, only vegan food would be served), I would have to represent our household all by myself. Gretchen had, of course, baked a cake, and so I took that cake and the homemade TV-B-Gone I'd made as a gift, and waited for Deborah in the Emmanuel's parking lot on US 209. She already had Jacinta with her when she arrived, so it ended up being a high-occupancy carpool down to Ellenville.
The venue was Aroma Thyme, for which Michæl had a coupon. There were to be eight of us in all, though the two seed library guys were delayed because of a freak accident. One of them, Ken, had been eating something and a wasp had flown into his mouth, stung him on the tongue, and then fled. By the time those guys arrived, Ken was all jacked up on benadryl, though his speech was strangely unaffected.
Michæl dove directly into his various presents, which initially included a bound collection of pictures of a dog standing on things, an obscure 21 ounce India Pale Ale, and, of course, my goofy GPC-themed TV-B-Gone. Unfortunately, there were no television handy to turn off, so all I could do was explain how it works to those at the table. I'd brought a digital camera with me, so I could show everyone that the infrared LED does indeed blink out a series of mysterious codes. It's a simple device, but it kind of blew everyone's mind that there is still such a thing as handmade electronics, or that I had the things required to make such a thing just lying around. In a way, an Arduino-based project is a little like a 3D-printed object in that a lot of its physical essence is downloadable as a file from the internet, and our society hasn't quite caught up with the reality of downloadable physical objects.
I should say a little something about Aroma Thyme. For starters, it had a surprisingly hipster clientel considering what a socioeconomic backwater Ellenville is. It had a real bar with good beers (both KMOCA Michæl and I had good Imperial IPAs we'd never tried before). And the food was good as well, with lots of vegan options. I had the hummus pizza, which was decidedly better than I expected. But there was an off-putting undercurrent that manifested when the waitress saw that I'd brought a cake. She told me that there was a $3/person "cutting fee" for cakes brought from elsewhere. That's a pretty steep corkage for a dessert; in our case it was going to cost us $24 to eat that cake in Aroma Thyme. So ultimately we decided to take the cake back to Accord and eat it in the house belonging to KMOCA Michæl and his wife Carrie. Carrie warned us that it would be a mess, but it really wasn't so bad.
The change of venue was good because it not only gave KMOCA Michæl a chance to test his new TV-B-Gone, but it gave Jacinta and Michæl (a different Michæl) a chance to play a tune they'd written for KMOCA Michæl. It was sort of a contemporary pop song built up in layers on a computer running a program called Reason. All the hallmarks of modern pop were there, including gratuitous autotune and even a hip-hop break (rapped by Jacinta). It was a hilarious tribute to all the things we all know and love about KMOCA Michæl, including the fact that he's had a vasectomy, that his cellphone is an ancient relic, and that, for an art project, he once shot a boat full of hundreds of holes. I've been to a lot of birthday dinners in my day, but never to one where a series of homemade presents vied to out-top one another.
The last of the amazing homemade gifts was Gretchen's cake, a glorious three-layer lemon cake decorated with edible flowers. It was gorgeous and tasted like heaven (something I can say because, in break from tradition, I actually ate a piece). I had to tell the others that Gretchen was hoping to have a piece, otherwise every morsel would have been eaten (the fact that there were a fair number of gluten-free people in attendance didn't seem to extend its life by much).
On the drive back to my car at Emanuel's, Deborah and I talked about several things, including the idea of "emergence," where many small dumb things can, through simple interactions and network effects, produce an overall intelligence. This is the basis of the intelligence of our brains, of ant colonies, and also of capitalist markets. One could say that the behavior of cyclic cycadas also shows emergent intelligence; in interacting with nature, they determined one of the best possible cycle times for their generations, a large prime number unlikely to coincide too often with the lower-number cyclic peaks of their predators. Deborah says, by the way, that there are no cicadas this year at her house in Olive Bridge. The mid Hudson Valley is at the northeast limit of the the Brood II range, and evidently even the near-Catskills lie outside it.
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