“What was her name?”

“Cora, right?”

“Barnacle! Nora Barnacle!”

“Yeah. Well, he wrote her these letters and they are the grossest thing ever.”

“Oh geeze, yeah. I’ve never seen anything as disgusting.”

“Have you been on the internet?”

“Yeah, and this is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

“I just read James Joyce’s letters to his lover. Have you seen those before?”

“No. Are they any good? I never made it through Ulysses. Liked Dubliners though.”

“Once you get past the poop, it’s pretty hot.”

“Eh, I’ve seen worse on the internet.”

“Oh, man! Are you talking about the Joyce-Barnacle letters? I love those!”


I sit at the table deciding whether to use Earth Balance or butter on my vegan waffle.

You see, I’m lactose intolerant. I’m also soy intolerant. However, soy-free EB doesn’t contain soy, and butter doesn’t contain lactose. We compare the nutritional value of the two containers:

Earth Balance Butter
Serving size 14 oz. 14 oz.
Fat 11g 11g
Sodium 110mg 110mg
Vitamin E 10% 0%
Vitamin A 0% 10%

The difference is vitamin A or vitamin E. The butter contains cream, whirled and processed until only the milkfats are left. EB contains: Palm oil, canola oil, safflower, flax, and olive oil. Water, salt, natural flavor, pea protein, sunflower lecithin, lactic acid, and annatto for color. The butter comes from Pennsylvania. The palm oil in EB comes from Brazil and Malaysia.

Palm oil is actually this whole issue. Much (85%) of the world’s palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. It is also from Brazil, Columbia, New Guinea, Ghana, Borneo, and Sumatra. Plantations are sites of burned rainforests, destroyed for palm oil agriculture. Animals that are threatened, endangered, and critically endangered due to this profess include: Asian elephants, tigers, Sumatran rhinoceros and Sumatran orangutans. (The Orangutan Project)

But! EB doesn’t get their palm oil from those sources, so it’s all cool, right?

The question between Pennsylvania Butter and Global Earth Balance rapidly becomes more complicated once it moves beyond the fauna v. flora debate of sourcing. If we look at our scope beyond the daily life and relative suffering of a Pennsylvania cow and a Malaysian tree, the tree definitely has the better deal. We start looking at environmental effects–grass and orangutans, dairy farm workers and field hands, pollutants, CO2 production rates, the ability for me to pick which is better (or, let’s be honest, less bad) gets overwhelmed by internal debates of environmentalism, globalization, and moral economics. Nutrition (which should be my highest priority because taking care of myself ought to be my base metric for what I do (even though it’s not) is not an issue since the two substances are, basically, nutritionally identical.

I stop looking at the stick of butter and tub of earth balance and do the most reasonable, rational thing I can think of: douse my pancakes in Michigan maple syrup.


A TSA agent has a line of Chinese school children in front of him.

“How old are you?” He asks one.

They stare at him.

“How old are you?” He repeats, louder.

“对不起,你多大了?” I say.


The man shuffles kids under twelve one way and those over another. Twelve is a magical age where your body cannot be affected by millimeter wave scanners and you are a greater threat for terrorist activity. The younger ones go through a metal detector and keep their shoes on. The older ones are sent barefoot to the scanner.

Another TSA agent directs the children through the scanner. He tries to explain what to do, but TSA-speak is too specialized. He makes a motion to each child, showing them how to stand in the machine.


The children nod.

Things I took through a TSA checkpoint:

1 electric kettle full of socks and underwear (used)
1 electric kettle stand
1 electric tooth brush (sonicare)
1 tube toothpaste (3.8 oz)
1 bottle Bauscher + Lomb Bio true contact lense solution (4 oz)
1 Dell Latitude (with charger)
1 mason jar containing distilled water and a living sphagnum plant (4 oz)
2 pairs microspikes

“Do you have something in your bag?” The screener asks, holding it in front of me.

“Anything big?”

“A kettle.”



He opens my bag and takes it out, running the backpack and the kettle, now separate, through the scanner again.

“Anything in the kettle?” He asks when he comes back.

“Some used socks and underwear.”

“Can you open it for me?”

“Sure.” While he holds it, I hit the open button. He can see one sock and one pair of underwear. There are more underneath it, but he doesn’t ask for any evidence of this. I’m not allowed to touch my bags while he opens them. I’m not allowed to touch things in the bin. For the sake of the agent’s safety, I have to hit the open button while he holds it.

“I didn’t know people still used kettles for tea.”

“How do you make tea?”

“A microwave.”

“Do you fly a lot?”

“I used to,” I say. “Now probably four to six times a year.”

“Have you thought about TSA pre-Check? You can read about it on our site.”


“Do you always opt out?”


“Did you know that with TSA pre-Check you can keep your laptop in your bag and shoes on. You can also pick which method of screening you want to go through–the scanners or the metal detectors.”

“For $85, I can choose to go through a metal detector rather than a patdown?”

“Yes. It might be more convinent for you. It lasts five years. If you fly four times a year, that’s twenty flights for $85.”

“I think I prefer the pat down.”

After reaching the gate and seeing my flight was delayed, I wanted to brush my teeth. When I started to walk away from my bags, someone told me that you [still] can’t leave bags at the gate.

“Why?” I asked. “So they won’t get stolen?”

“So if there’s anything dangerous in them, like a explosive device or biohazardous agent, a terrorist couldn’t leave it.”

“After the security screening, shouldn’t everything be safe?”

“Do you want some coffee, miss?”

Pandora Helps Political Organizers Target Voters, the scrolling text reads. “You probably vote democratic if you listen to Daft Punk,” CNN informs me as I sit and wait for my flight.

As I write this list, I wonder what would happen if they banned more of these things. I think I remember hearing something about epoxy being material you could make a functional blade out of. Epoxy can look a lot like toothpaste. What if you couldn’t have any toothpaste at all? I wonder if I’d then have to check my bag. The bag I have with the kettle and the microspikes. I think about the cost and the fees. The TSA gets an extra fee for each checked bag. More people are using carry-ons because of checked-bag fees. It is widely believed that the existence of the TSA and the use of scanners is about capitalism and votes.


“Welcome aboard the Love Train. The train of love. This goes out to the ladies and the men and everyone in between.”

“Thank you for being part of the love movement. Remember to love thyself and love thy brother and thy neighbor and everyone else around you.”

The conductor smiles at each of us as we get off the train.


Why is there no blog post this week? After giving brain power to work, plants, and mountains, I only have enough left to think about this thing I started writing. Here are three paragraphs.

Because she is in her 20s, white, and employed at an office in an urban area, she goes to the climbing gym after work. The place is filled with people who check off the same demographics boxes she does. Once, she saw a black guy there. Sometimes she sees an Asian or Indian person–more men than women. There are a lot of Asians and Indians north of the river, but not that many black people. Especially ones who can afford the gym fees of nearly a thousand a year.

Like many people in Camberville, June grew up somewhere else and moved to New England. She did it in search of independent adulthood, desperate to escape the life she grew up in. She adopted the lifestyle completely, abandoning the sports teams of her motherland for the Pats, Sox, Celtics, and Bruins. She had winter boots, rain boots, sandals, and a pair of barefoot shoes to run in. She had more long underwear than shorts, by volume and quantity. She drank Magic Hat, Sam Adams, and beers from local breweries. Her gin came from the Berkshires, and cheese a goat farm near Northampton. She complained whenever she had to go somewhere more than five miles away, and acted shocked when someone didn’t know how to eat Ethiopian food, even though she hadn’t known when she first moved to the area.

She wears the same climbing shoes thirty percent of the climbers there wear. They are the cheapest pair on the market that still comes from a brand name company, available at REI and EMS, frequently included in seasonal sales. Until you have enough experience to know what you want, just get the cheapest pair you can find. They fit like a glove. Until she broke them in, it was uncomfortable to wear them, but over time the leather stretched and the shape conformed to her feet.


“Sorry I was late,” he says to me. Turning to the bartender. “Two,” he looks at me. “What are you having?”

“The winter stout.” The bartender nods and pours.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” he repeats himself.

“It’s cool,” I say, jerking my head in the direction of the hyper-clear television screen showing a round up of scores for the night. It’s a Monday. Hockey’s on. “The Bruins are beating the Islanders.”

“Where are the Islanders?”

“New York. The Bruins are us.”

“I know that,” he says. We both laugh uncomfortably.