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May 2012Monthly Archives

Popcorn Addiction

A few years ago a newspaper feature article in the Star and Tribune focused on “Minnesota, The Land of 10,000 Treatment Centers.” We are a leader in dealing with various addictions. Alcohol and drug addictions are problems that socially conscious Midwesterners try to address. The Alcoholics Anonymous model has been applied to other behaviors, including overeating, sex, gambling, and there are even rumors of a treatment program for abusive TV watching. With all the programs and support groups available in this state, I am surprised that there isn’t one for popcorn addiction.

First, there’s the smell. Movie theaters are notorious places. It’s like being Pavlov’s dog when you walk in the front door. Usually this is right before supper. “Oh, I’ll just have a little box.” Other times I have been in a large office building and the air circulation system brings hints of kernels freshly popped. Time for a social call.

Popcorn is made in various ways. There’s the air popper. It usually dims the lights at the house. You also have to use some kind of flavoring sprayed or poured over it so it doesn’t taste like chunks of Styrofoam.

Then there’s the microwave kind. “Consumer Reports” not too long ago did an article on various microwave popcorns. It’s usually pretty good, but can make a person hyperactive after a bag of it. Maybe it’s the radiation still rising from the hot kernels.

The addiction even hits while camping. One wonderful traditional method of popping corn is the wire basket over the campfire. It takes a little finesse otherwise everything goes up in flames. There’s also the old “Jiffy Pop”; the aluminum covered fry pans with everything in them. If you do it right, the outcome is a ballooning foil-wrapped pan with crunchy morsels inside. Getting the Coleman stove flame set just right is difficult and most often results in a product that has the consistency and taste of charcoal.

Personally I prefer the saucepan and oil method. We had an old saucepan that we used for years bite the dust recently. It was pretty funky but worked well. One thing you never do of course is clean the pan. The flavor passed on from generations of poppings would be lost if you scrubbed it. There is a price paid however when the accumulated oil on the outside goes up in flame

The way a person eats popcorn is diagnostic of how far the addiction has gone.  One kernel at a time, no problem, small handfuls, most likely a reflection of hunger.  Vast quantities shoveled in a short time – a preoccupation out of control.

Some say having a beer in the morning after a hardy party cures a hangover.  One sure sign of trouble with popcorn is waking up in the morning and finishing off the last two handfuls in the bowl. 

The addiction cycle it is said includes denial and preoccupation.  Having a bowl of white or yellow popcorn at nine PM every night helps cap the day. HMMM —–Is that denial? Now where did I put that salt?


Much of what we do with our lives is done for a reason; take the laundry for instance.  If you don’t do at least two loads every day, either you run out of socks for work or clean t-shirts.  Have you ever tried wearing a t-shirt with a logo on it underneath a dress shirt? – very tacky.  Likewise if you don’t take out a couple pounds of frozen hamburger in the morning it’s, “Can I make this meal work at 5:30 in the afternoon with the microwave down?”  Fortunately there are things we do just for the pleasure of it – take biking.

Biking here in Northern Minnesota has limitations.  If you’re lucky, you can do it from mid April to late October.  You do however have to exercise some good judgment.  Early morning biking suits my schedule.  But cruising at fifteen to twenty miles per hour with air temperatures hovering around thirty-five degrees, in the dark, before dawn, can lead to hypothermia.  Either you wear a snowmobile suit if you really want to do it, or choose a mid day ride.  Biking here is largely a late spring, summer, or early fall recreation.

Weather is an important variable.  Starting out on a day with showers possible is always a risk – but like many risks it can have great payoffs.  Reward comes in outracing a rain shower, or if you get caught in it, hearing the hum of tires on wet asphalt, singing the power of your legs and lungs.

On the other hand, being soaking wet, chilled to the bone in a thin shirt and bike shorts lets you know you played the game and lost.  The black strip of road grime up your back is also a reminder.

My main mode of transportation is an old Schwinn Varsity.  It’s at least forty years old.  In its’ various incarnations it has hauled kids on various sized bike seats, books to graduate school, and occasional backwoods forays off paved roads at Itasca State Park.  There was even a one time attempt to have my black Lab pull me down the street.  That unfortunately wrapped me around a stop sign.

I know the bike is heavy – every time I lift it onto the bike rack on top of the car.  Compared to my son’s hi tech Peugeot, its pumping iron. Speaking of Peugeot, now that’s an experience!!!  Light, sleek, high pressure tires – no kick stand to weigh it down……   I’m all of a sudden in the Tour de France – right behind Lance Armstrong.  I sprint at the end of my ten mile ride, legs weary with exertion finding that last ounce to give – I cross the asphalt bump at 27th and Birchmont – YES – the pleasure of it all!

Dancing with the Demon

I thought the demon had left,

          gone, taken a holiday.

Asleep under a soothing chemical blanket,

          I was deceived.

 I used to dance with him near the cliffs.

          I could never be sure when our dance would pull us to the edge.

Looking there, over the edge, it always seemed a matter of flight or fight.     

Fight the urge to sadness and hurl over the precipice,         

          or fly laughing at the maelstrom below.

 When flight was taken

           a view to the beauty of the chaos below. 

When diving to the waters in turmoil,

            becoming one with them, foundering and sliding below the surface.

The demon has been denied for many months now. 

            There has been no dancing, no flying no diving.

Impatient, emergent, unrelenting. He pressures with cascading thought.

 “You are back!” I say, standing at the edge.  “Yes.”  He smiles.

            “Let us join the dance once again.  Flying comes later.”

Fishing Addiction – circa 1988

The other day I was having lunch at a local fast food Mecca when a truck-load of sixteen foot fishing boats went by on the highway.  I turned to one of my lunch mates, arched an eyebrow, shook my head and uttered with unrequited longing, “Ohhh, unspeakable lust!”   Strange comment for a midday repast, but perfectly understandable as neither of us has an all weather aluminum juggernaut to satisfy a growing addiction.

Many of us can recall fishing experiences with grandpa and dad. Usually it meant a small wooden or shallow draft aluminum boat with an old five and a half horsepower Evinrude or Johnson outboard motor. While speed was not required, a dependable start was when weather changed.

Equipment for a seven or eight year-old usually consisted of a bamboo pole, a rare bird these days, a length of line, some lead shot weights, a hook and worms.  You didn’t troll, especially with a kid in the boat; mostly you sat and fished Panfish.   Unwinding the line from around the cane pole took at least ten minutes, getting a worm on the hook another five, another ten till nature called and then the fascination at peeing off the side of the boat.  After that the bottom of the minnow bucket was way more interesting.

Dad could have developed into a first rate fisherman, but the occasional trips to the muddy western Minnesota lake were not rewarding enough to insure a continued interest.  There were times however. 

On one occasion we started out just as the sun was peaking over the eastern horizon.  Wisps of steam rose from the lake’s quiet surface.  A strike, hook set and a fine four pound Walleye settled in the bottom of the landing net! 

Dad was ecstatic. After grasping it firmly to free the hook, he laid the fish in the bottom of the boat to admire its’ captured strength; power all too evident in the next second when it leaped high into the air and over the side of the boat.

Stunned, dad burst out laughing, uttered a mild curse and reached for another minnow.  We would persist and we would win. Persistence is after all what fishing is about. 

I know of many fishermen who fall in love with the technology of fishing.  I have often felt, (although never researched) that there is a direct correlation between the number of lures, gadgets, and thing-a-ma-bobs and a person’s inability to catch fish.  Twenty First century marketing deludes us into thinking we need just one more lure, one more gee-whiz electronic doodad and we’ll win.  The basic issue remains, “What are they biting on?” and “Where is the best spot?”

I have to admit though; I really like my depth finder and GPS.  Dead reckoning on a large lake can be frustrating.  Sometimes excellent habitat is so far out that clear reference points to ball park a location can’t be counted on.  But here some modern engineering gets carried away.

I have a friend who recently got a “deal” on a high tech depth finder.  For awhile it was malfunctioning and he had to send it back to the manufacturer.  The company added a couple more microchips that enhanced the unit’s performance.  One of them added cross-hairs that line up on a “target” to determine if you are moving toward or away from the fish.  I told him now all he needed was a torpedo!

If you are a fisherman you can’t really look at the unit cost of each catch.  Thinking like, “Today’s limit runs me $400 a pound,” will get you nowhere.  It’s really like the stock broker who tells you, “If you stay in the market for the long run you’ll do all right.”  We understand that.

In a similar vein, a few years back my brother and I organized a family fishing trip to Lake Michigan.  Along with my father-in-law and son, we were to meet him in Wisconsin and from there drive to Sheboygan to pick up the charter boat.  When we got to his house he got word that his new adoptive baby son was ready for pick up.  I told him, “Well you’ve got a choice. A true fisherman knows what he needs to do.”  Minus my brother we left early the next morning.  He’s addicted but his heart is in the right place.

Anglers fall on a continuum.  I’m not what you’d label hard core, but some of the people I fish with in Canada are; up at five-thirty, on the lake by six, back at seven pm, clean fish, eat, talk smart, drink a little and then go to bed.  The logistics of this yearly expedition are worthy of Hannibal, although he had snow to contend with.  We have backups on everything, including alternatives at breakfast.  Weight gain is optional but inevitable.

I have a fairly stressful job and fishing puts me in another place. If luck is with me I can see something concrete for my labors.  If I catch nothing, then it’s a little like work except that the water, the sky and warm breezes are the pay off.

Last September I took a Friday afternoon off and went out on the lake in a borrowed boat.  I was working a sand bar at about fifteen to eighteen feet.  After a few passes and a couple keepers I got groggy in the 60 degree temperatures.  The lake was calm so I killed the trolling motor, put my feet up and dozed.  I woke relaxed and loose; the price of addiction.

Muddy Jungle Rivers by Wendell Affield

Check out this incredible personal journey from Northern Minnesota to the rivers and jungles of Viet Nam.  An excellent, poignant read.

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