Saturday, 6 December 2014

Erkel the Unimpressive Alien

This story was inspired by a dinner conversation with my family. Therefore, it is also dedicated to them. In place of it holding any real significance, I will say that I hope meeting Erkel makes you a little less intimidated by the superior life forms from other planets that have been or are interacting with Earth. If, that is, you happen to be intimidated by that kind of thing in the first place.

Erkel never could quite get the grasp of doing fieldwork. He got good grades in the theory classes at Space University, but his practicum in Atlantis ended with no small disaster. Admittedly, Erkel had not been the sole problem with that particular situation, but it didn’t bode well for his future career. After graduation, all of his classmates were given state-of-the-art ships and sent to nice, warm, tropical locations on Earth in which to found civilizations and build giant megalithic structures. Erkel, however, graduated at the bottom of his class and barely obtained an assignment from Command Pantheon. After much deliberation with the panel, Sergeant Ankhor gravely handed him an info crystal and nodded. “Ok, Erkel,” he said, “We’ll give you a ship, but there’s only one assignment open for you, so you can take it or leave it.”

Erkel gazed into the info crystal. “Ohio?” he said, “Where’s Ohio? I don’t remember learning about Ohio.”

Sergeant Ankhor shook his head. “Nobody’s ever learned about it. Nobody else is in the area.”

“So, I take it that I’m not to be near the equator… like everybody else.” Erkel said.

“No,” Sergeant Ankhor laughed. “Nope. Definitely nowhere near the equator.”

“Uh,” Erkel swallowed back his disappointment, “I’ll take it anyway.”

“Good alien,” the sergeant said, slapping him on his narrow, grey shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll grow to like the climate.”

Erkel zipped to Ohio and got straight to work, but just couldn’t seem to catch a break. While all his buddies approached godhood and built structures and civilizations that confounded human beings for thousands of years to come, Erkel only managed to make a few dirt mounds. For a while it looked like he was on the verge of inventing a new giant alien-human hybrid species, but he hit a wall and the whole project tanked when his girlfriend, Neith, came all the way over from the Mediterranean for the first time in centuries just to break up with him. It was a cold and rainy night when she arrived.

“It’s not that I don’t like you Erkel,” said Neith, “It’s just that I tend to, you know, forget about you when you’re not standing right in front of me.”

“But, Neith,” he sputtered, “I love you!”

“Oh,” said Neith, “Well, this species you’re creating will love you. Don’t worry.” She winked and wandered off to see how things were coming along in the warmer southern continent.

You can imagine Erkel’s despair when his own hybrid race ended up in several massive boneyards a short time later. Yet, even the gravesites amounted to nothing. The Smithsonian never publicized anything about them. Nobody even remembered his civilizations, much less recognized him as a deity. By the time he was recalled by Command Pantheon, it was like he had never been on Earth to begin with.

After the failure in Ohio, Erkel didn’t catch another commission for a thousand years. During the interim, he made crop circles just for laughs, in a fit of frustration, but was matched by a handful of human pranksters with planks of wood and a few ropes.

Eventually, General Ankhor stuck out his neck for him again and got Erkel assigned to a tech crew position on a research vessel. It was his job to make sure the math was right so that abductions of humans through closed bedroom windows didn’t end in disaster. Abducting through windows was easier than abducting through walls, but it was still a delicate maneuver. To give Erkel credit, he had suggested altering all the human fire regulation manuals so that at least one window was required in every bedroom, but he unfortunately had the idea only several years after the humans started instituting this rule of their own accord.

Erkel managed to successfully abduct about half a dozen people before disaster hit at the house of Solomon Rupke. He had poor, terrified Solomon in the tractor beam and halfway through his second-floor window when it became apparent that something had gone wrong with the calculations. Solomon wouldn’t come all the way out, and he wouldn’t go all the way back in. Erkel's colleagues threw sidelong glances and got them out of there before Ripley's Believe It or Not showed up, leaving Solomon with his legs still dangling out of the window. Erkel’s handiwork was displayed all across the globe under the headline “Still Living Man Materialized Halfway Through Pane of Glass”.

“Well,” said his coworker, Nabat, over a cup of Ayahuasca, “At least you’re finally getting your media attention. Even if it is while you’re on a covert operation.”

Erkel sniffed. “The National Enquirer doesn’t count.”

After that, Erkel was reduced to janitorial work on deck. His sole legacy to humanity was a hairy, hardy creature that ran around barefoot in the mountainous western region of North America. It was an inbred and devolved descendant of his failed hybrid species. It didn’t even have language capabilities.

No, Erkel never quite got the hang of doing fieldwork.  It was a long few millennia.

"Well, you'll just have to sleep in a bedroom without windows. It's against fire regulations, but they're really just a conspiracy started by the aliens." --Cousin Jordan on how to avoid being abducted by aliens.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Carla is a Kimchi Queen

I have hardly written a thing in any medium at all since August, which I'm sure is my driest stint in at least a decade. There's lots to write about, but for some reason I have had no compulsion to actually sit down and write. It's strange. And hopefully short-lived.

I did, however, recently have a compulsion to make homemade kimchi. Kimchi, for those of you who are not plugged into the erudite world of international food, is a traditional Korean dish made of fermented cabbage and chili. Basically, it's red sauerkraut. My first roommate at school got me hooked on the stuff.

Since making exotic food is always done best when it's done with friends, I called up one of mine and suggested we make kimchi together, even though she had never tasted any before in her life. "It just so happens that I've been on a homemade fermented foods kick lately," she said, which was convenient. "Let's do it!"

So, since she has three small kids we didn't want to pack up and haul all over the city, we agreed that I would pick up the ingredients ahead of time. I convinced my cousin, who lives with us, to join me in the hunt. "Hey," I said, "Do you want to come with me all the way downtown tonight to check out a Korean grocery store?"

He shrugged. "I have nothing better to do."

Not only did he come, he drove me in his own car and was the one who found most of the ingredients. We got salted shrimp (which just about made me gag to look at it), the smallest possible package of gochugaru spice (in an aisle that sold mostly extra-large-flour-bag-size sacks of the stuff), and roasted seaweed to complement the kimchi. We also found the last remaining napa cabbage and daikon radish at Sobey's. The radish looked like it had been freshly pulled out of the garden and haphazardly chucked into the produce aisle without so much as a label. We weren't even quite sure that it was a daikon until the cashier confirmed our suspicions. It looked more like a rhinoceros tusk.

Here's my friend wielding the daikon in an appropriate pose:
The next day, my friend and I convened. First we cut up the cabbage and had her little guys get down and dirty helping us. They rubbed salt into that cabbage until their hands were too sore to do it anymore. Then we put them to bed. The elder of the two little guys had red pajamas, so we pretended he was turning into kimchi while he put them on. He took great delight in this and proceeded to not only turn me into kimchi, but to eat me, also.

Here's the smaller of the little guys getting the fermentation process started:
After the little people were in bed, we let the cabbage ferment for a couple of hours while we hung out and played with her pet leopard gecko. Then, after washing our hands, we prepared and mixed together the rest of the ingredients.

My friend first started getting really excited about our endeavour when she saw the jar full of dead shrimp. "I think I might have to eat one plain," she said, staring back at them. "This is so cool!" A few minutes later, she said, "I'm not so sure about this anymore." I said, "Oh, I'm not letting you back out now."

Unfortunately for her, the tiny aqua-baby-sized shrimp she ate, while whole, was actually like, nine-tenths straight salt. Her face showed it. We discovered that she had probably just consumed her entire recommended daily dosage of sodium. Oops.

I myself forwent eating an intact shrimp, because whatever else I may dare to eat, seafood terrifies me. I made my friend blend the shrimp into a pulp, since the shape of food does actually make the difference between whether I like something or throw up. Even blended, however, little poppy-seed sized shrimp eyeballs continued to stare me down through the fleshy gelatinous goop. We quickly mixed in the chili flakes so I couldn't see the pink pudding anymore, and then things were fine again.

Using some plastic gloves from my friend's garage, I squelched the red paste into the cabbage. At first I was concerned that it was dry, and not red enough. Something had gone wrong. But just as I began to express my fears, the cabbage seems to relax and all of a sudden, is was swimming in its own brine. A beautiful, red brine. Then I got excited. At any rate, whatever we made looks like kimchi, except when it's in jars. In that case, it looks like pasta sauce, but you sure wouldn't want to confuse the two.

It turns out that food shrivels up a lot when it ferments (who knew?), so we finished with less kimchi than I had expected, given the size of the napa cabbage we started with. Nevertheless, we came out of the experiment with one jar each of authentic Korean kimchi that's actually Canadian.
Although my cooking cohort has still never really eaten kimchi (we have to let it ferment for a few days before we eat it), she recited to me all the health benefits she could foresee it giving. I suspect she will grow to like it whether she actually enjoys it or not. As for me, tonight, I opened up the jar and inhaled deeply. So far, it smells like kimchi - pungent, mouth-watering kimchi. Complete with dismembered shrimp paste. I made my cousin smell it, too.

"Isn't it so good?" I exclaimed.

My cousin made a non-commital humming sound.

"It's better than this particularly weird Christmas song we're currently listening to," I said.

"Definitely that, yes," he agreed.

Just a little longer to wait!

Speaking of my cousin, I've begun collecting quotes from him: "It was on purpose, but not intentional." ---on being asked how he had burned his finger