Friday, November 4, 2016

We’re Getting Somewhere

At seven years old I learned the Earth spins along on its axis at 1,040 miles per hour.

So of course I wondered: if I jump high enough, would I come down in a different spot? Obviously I should, because the Earth is moving under my feet, and if I step off of it, the two of us would move independently. Just like a merry-go-round, right? You step off and look back and see it still spinning without you. You don’t go spinning along with it all around the park.

A thousand miles per hour was hard for me to imagine because I didn’t have any reference point for such numbers. But it equals 1,525 feet per second, and I could understand that. That’s about five football fields. In a second. If I jumped up for one whole second (it’s harder than you think—try it) I should come down somewhere in the next neighborhood.

But of course not. I had jumped plenty of times before, without even thinking, and didn’t go crashing through the hedges bounding my front yard. So the effect must be more subtle. If it’s moving and I’m moving, then we’d both move together a bit before separating, like jumping off the roof of a moving car.

So to begin my experiment, I started small. Why take chances?

I drew a chalk line on the sidewalk. I aligned the toes of my red Keds up to it. I gave a little hop.

Nothing.

A bigger hop. Then a full jump. Then a give-it-all-you-got heave-ho.

I actually came down behind the line. Maybe I was facing the wrong way? After a few more trials, I could see the results were random. While I hardly ever came down exactly on the line, my in-fronts and behinds were about even. I was crushed. Why didn’t it work?

I’ve learned since by both observation and inference that it’s just as well. In sixth grade I would see how high I could throw a baseball, and it’s good I didn’t break a window in the next town. It took until high school for me to grasp the why of it all—the relative motion, the physics. I’m still a little disappointed. I still have a lot of questions.

For example, in 2012 when Felix Baumgartner rode a balloon up 128,097 feet—that’s over 24 miles high—and then stepped out. He was in a free-fall for four and a half minutes. You can’t even imagine four and a half minutes, because if you try, you’ll get bored and go do something else before you get to four and a half minutes. That’s how high he went. That’s how far he fell. He rose up from Roswell, New Mexico, and do you know where he landed?

Roswell.

I think of that when I feel I’m not getting anywhere. While things in my little sphere of awareness may not be changing much, I’m moving right along nonetheless. Just think:
  • Because it spins and we’re on it, we’re riding along on the face of the Earth at 1,040 miles per hour.
  • But! The Earth is moving too: it zips around the Sun at 67,000 miles per hour.
  • Meanwhile the Sun, dragging Earth along, is ripping through the Milky Way at a cop-taunting 515,000 miles per hour.
  • Thanks to a push from the Big Bang, the Milky Way disk itself is skipping across waves of space space at 1.3 million miles per hour.
And behold we humans, tagging along all the while, riding shotgun, hair blowing in the wind.

It’s impressive progress, without even lifting a foot. Lucky for me, I stay with it even when I jump up off the Earth’s surface. If it didn’t work like that, and I jumped up from my house in Omaha for about one second, I’d come down near Denver, and leave one hell of a skid mark.

We’re moving right along. We’re definitely getting somewhere. And we’re all gonna be fine.


Yikes! I forgot continental drift! It’s an additional inch per year — about as fast as fingernails grow. Not much, maybe, but it adds up.

Friday, September 2, 2016

In the Raw

On a recent trip to Hawaii’s Big Island, I was introduced to the traditional bowl of raw ahi stirred up with soy sauce and sesame seeds, called poke. Although it looked like an exposed brain, I fell instantly in love with its decadent healthiness. Bonus: Having just finished Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, I also enjoyed quoting from it: “Can I have a little poke?”

I know. Po-KAY.  [ sigh ]

We also prepared raw ono marinated in lime, coconut milk and pineapple—basically a fish daiquiri. And kalua pig. (Also not a cocktail).We cooked all this at home. By home I mean the sterile AirBnB house which had clearly never been anyone’s actual home, and by cooked I mean we put it in a bowl and stirred it.

Our home kitchen was very spartan, which is fine in Hawaii because:
  1. cooking heats up the house, 
  2. few houses have air conditioning, and, 
  3. why cook when you can eat daquiris at the beach? 
Besides the occasional brewpub burger and deep-fried bits of things, I didn’t encounter much cook-type cooking. Most of the food we saw was simple, fresh and cold. While the French linger over lunches, picking at course after course, Hawaiians dive into their poi and laulau and kalua pig, git-er-done-style, and move on—much like my father ate, a man who in no other way resembled a Hawaiian.

Hawaii offers lots of fresh fish because:
  1. it’s far better than frozen fish, 
  2. it’s right there, and 
  3. Hawaii is 2,500 miles from the nearest Costco. 
In 1794, British Captain George Vancouver gifted a dozen cows to Hawaiian King Kamehameha. The king was so impressed that he placed a kapu (taboo) on the cows, which forbade anyone from touching them. The kapu was lifted fifty years later because:
  1. there were now over 35,000 cows, 
  2. they were killing people and tromping hundreds of plants into extinction, and, 
  3. cows taste good. 
I had a couple of locally-grown, grass-fed hamburgers that were out of this world, putting my Midwestern meat snobbery to shame. The restauranteurs were not posey locavores. It’s just that in Hawaii, everything is locally grown. Even the Big Island, at its widest, is only 90 miles across, marked by an 8-mile-long feature named the Great Crack, which I include here because even geography can be funny.

Anything that can’t be grown must be shipped in a can across the Pacific, which is why crap food is so much more expensive in Hawaii than fresh.

Lest you miss your Costco cuisine, most every restaurant offers stadium cheese, which is the Hawaiian term for that plasticky orange food-like product we sometimes refer to as nacho cheese, that globs out of a pump at the movie theater. Besides the dreamy fresh fish, bananas and pineapple, Hawaii offers pretty much any canned food that can survive on a literal slow boat from China.

Back in Omaha I was offered a culinary class in which one names a pig, butchers it, then takes its pieces home to store in the freezer. It’s all well and good to know where your food comes from, and I suppose naming your pig is the least you can do when you’re going to eat off of it for a year. That’s longer than many of my other so-called serious relationships. Hawaiians don’t give their fish names because really it’s just a one meal fling and then it’s over.

It is a 1,500-mile journey from my home in Nebraska to the Pacific Coast, then 2,500 miles more to Hawaii. That’s how far my wife traveled to enjoy her first taste of Spam, a Hawaiian favorite food, after she snapped up a can prominently displayed in a Kona grocery store. That’s also how far the can of Spam traveled. It was made in Nebraska.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Special Delivery

I had been married once before. It was a long time ago. We got pregnant 18 months later. I don’t goof around.

The hospital where we were scheduled to deliver insisted we take a childbirth class. There were four sessions, one per week. We joined six other couples of the usual variety: some who want you to think they know everything, some who ask relentless questions and don’t listen to answers, and some, like us, who sit silently, saucer-eyed, minds spinning as if they had just been informed their father was David Crosby.

The first class was about feeding and bottles and how to hold a newborn so his head doesn’t fall off. I wondered how babies survived before they invented school. I don’t remember what the second class was about because the Q&A couple wouldn’t shut up long enough for the teacher to get a theme going.

At the top of the third class the teacher announced, “We’re going to watch a film—” Mrs. Q&A started to ask whether it would be presented in video or Super-8, but the teacher pressed on: “—all about Cesearean sections.” That shut Q&A up, her hollow mouth still open.

I froze too. They’re going to train me to go in after the baby? I envisioned myself like Little Jack Horner, only instead of sticking in my thumb, it would be my whole hand. Instead of a pie, it would be a lasagne. Instead of a plum, I would pull out my daughter.

In those days, once you had a C-section you had to deliver that way forevermore. I wondered why they bothered to stitch women back up, only to open them again later. Why not install a zipper? Or a little door? Women like Octo-Mom could harvest babies like eggs from a hen. You could decorate the door with a crafty little wreath, maybe tattoo some daisies around the entrance. You already have a little shrubbery.

They don’t because women wouldn’t leave the door shut. Every woman I know wants me to understand what she’s really like on the inside. If she could just show me, she would.

All these thoughts raced through my head in one second, before the dizzying swirl popped like a soap bubble as the movie started. I learned that once a C-section begins, the father has no job whatsoever. He doesn’t get to say, “Breeeaaathe,” because a machine took over that job. He doesn’t even get to coach, “Push, honey,” because to push at that point is like squeezing a pumpkin seed.

There’s no need to tell you more about the movie. You pretty much know what happens next, if you saw Aliens. I don’t know why they made us watch it except to make regular childbirth, the equivalent of passing a football out your butt, look fun in comparison.

Contractions started three weeks early. I thought they might be false, so we waited a little while. They weren’t. We rushed to the hospital where we were issued matching gowns and a room. Then we waited.

At one point the attending nurse mumbled that she wasn’t hearing the heartbeat very well through the strapped-on monitor, so she picked up a hand-held version and poked around for a better spot. Listenening carefully, she stiffened, froze for a moment, then rushed out of the room without a word.

We exchanged worried glances. The attendant returned with the head nurse in tow, who put on headphones and listened for herself. She looked at the attendant in confirmation, then they both whisked away, avoiding eye contact with us. Please not now, I thought. Please not us.

We hadn’t had much money back then, and no insurance. We had skimped through a lot of the pre-natal testing: no amniosentesis, no ultrasounds, etc., paying as we went for what we could afford and only what seemed crucial. Suddenly that plan felt short-sighted.

Long, quiet minutes passed before the attendant and head nurse returned with the doctor. He listened briefly, then announced flatly, “Congratulations. You’re having twins.” Voila. He left the room.

They didn't cover this in the class.

My body tipped back into the wall. My wife let out an uncomfortable, high-pitched giggle. I wasn’t unhappy with the news, I just didn’t know what to do next. I hadn’t pictured any of this.

Events came fast after that. Baby Kate burst into this world with a wide-eyed gasp, as one emerges from a deep dive. The doctor passed her over his shoulder to Team One, which whisked her away to a cold, stainless-steel scale upon which she was weighed and wiped clean of the wax and debris.

Although Kate had cleared the way head-first, Molly followed tentively, her right hand outstretched to feel the way. She got stuck, her arm bent over her head. The doctor had to push her back in and rearrange her, causing New Mom to let out a wild-eyed yell fit for a Pittsburgh Steeler. Molly gave it another go and flopped out with comparative ease. She was hustled off to a second steely scale, a heat lamp trained right above her face, and she was abandoned while the staff returned to Kate.

I had been sold on the idea of participating in the delivery, and imagined myself in full hospital uniform standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the doctor, crouched with my catcher’s mitt at the ready. The reality was that I was given a small, taped-off square in which to stand, with firm instructions to stay there. I looked at Molly, alone and squinting under the harsh hot light. Nuts to this, I thought. I’m breaking out. Quiet and unseen, I tiptoed the few steps to Molly and shaded her face with my giant adult hand. Her eyes opened wide and she looked at me as if to say, “Thanks Mister—whoever you are.”

I didn’t know how wide and clear and soulful a baby’s eyes are at birth. It’s only after they squirt in an antibiotic that the eyes swell shut for a week, like a visit from Joe Frazier. I enjoyed a brief moment bathing Kate before they doctored her eyes shut too. So much magical gazing time is lost. If I knew then what I know now, I’d have looked deeper, longer. My eyes would have said, “We’re gonna be fine,” even though I didn’t know.

There was nothing else for me to do. Labor had been long and I had been awake and terrified for nearly a day. I headed out to buy another crib. I was grateful for a task I could comprehend, but it seemed like woefully inadequate preparation for what was coming.

In the elevator I encountered our baby delivery class teacher. Shell-shocked and exhausted, I could barely form sentences. I tried to apologize because, since we had just delivered twins, we wouldn’t be attending her final class covering normal childbirth.

“How big were they?” she asked.

“Fifteen and sixteen pounds.”

She fainted, right there in the elevator.

What are you fainting for? I thought. You’re the one who presents horror films for a living, and I’m the one who just touched two blood-soaked fetuses for the first time.

No, wait, I remember now—the babies were five and six pounds. I didn’t  know at the time whether that was good or not. They probably covered that in the final class.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Basil vs. Zucchini

Every year at this time we pause to make a few notes regarding the hits and misses of our backyard garden, so we can do better next year. Like we said we'd do last year.

Basil and zucchini were big producers this year. But what if you don’t have room for both? Let this chart help you decide which to plant next year, and which to let go, until a big bag of money falls in your yard and you can afford an estate that comes with a gardener.


Basil
Zucchini
Planting
Medium basil plants are easier to start than seedlings, which may dry too quickly or get eaten by rabbits.
Planting
Save money by planting zucchini from seed. It grows easily. Like crabgrass. It may show up in your garden even if you don't plant it.
Growing
Keep basil watered. It wilts under direct hot sun, but thrives in partial sun to light shade.
Growing
Zucchini is maintenance-free and spreads easily, like ebola. Avoid planting too close to a tree—zucchini vines may grow up the trunk and pull it over.
Uses
Pesto, of course. Julienned leaves of fresh basil are a dreamy addition to caprese, bruschetta, pizza and pasta sauces.
Uses
Zucchini is edible when crusted with panko and sautéed in garlic and butter. With enough butter, garlic and panko, you can also eat shoelaces.
Flavor
Basil has an intense flavor somewhere between licorice and heaven. It is best fresh, so add it near the end of sauce recipes.
Flavor
Zucchini can be substituted any time a recipe calls for fresh cardboard.
Nutrition
Basil is a fat-free vitamin powerhouse, a good source of Vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, trapezoid and xylophone.
Nutrition
95% of the nutritional elements in zucchini are in the dark green skin, which you cut off and throw away. A single zucchini has as much fiber as 2 cups of cardboard.
Preserving
Basil is always best fresh. Any unused leaves will keep for up to a week in the fridge if you wrap them in a damp paper towel. Pesto can be frozen and used through the winter.
Preserving
Wrap 5lbs of zucchini in a paper bag, with “A gift of our bounty!” written on the outside, and leave it on a stranger's front porch. Any leftover zucchini can be stored in a dumpster.
Favorite recipe
Finely chop basil leaves, garlic, tomato and black olives. Set aside. Stir a little basalmic vinegar, anchovy paste, oregano and a dash of cayenne into 1/4 cup of virgin olive oil, and toss in the chopped basil mixture. Spread over toasted baguette.
Favorite recipe
Peel 3 zucchini and dice into half-inch cubes. Set aside. Finely chop basil leaves, garlic, tomato and black olives, then stir in a little basalmic vinegar, anchovy paste, oregano, a dash of cayenne and 1/4 cup of virgin olive oil. Spread mixture over toasted baguette. Discard zucchini.

Reprinted from Food & Spirits Magazine

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Trending Markets

Here in the heartland of agriculture, we’ve cultured something that grows great on four acres of parking lot: the farmers market.

A farmers market isn’t much of a market and there aren’t many farmers. Mostly it’s rows of big white tents anchored with sandbags in case farm weather shows up. With all the tie-dye scarves and homemade herbal ointments for sale, most farmers markets look like more a Phish concert merch table.

The “farmers” are mostly handsome, fresh-looking kids in their twenties, decked in natural linen shirts and Ray-Bans. All the vendors have clean fingernails and wear earbuds. None is wearing Key overalls. They’re all sunny and friendly. I like them. I just don’t believe them.

I don’t believe them because they sell tomatoes in April. They sell corn on the cob in May. They sell goat cheese even though nobody around here has seen a goat outside of a petting zoo.

The real farmers I know don’t have time for a farmers market. They’re too busy manning million-dollar self-steering GPS-enabled combines that harvest a 45-foot swath of genetically perfect corn which will be delivered direct and fresh to an ethanol factory. They’re busy maintaining the machines that deliver a ton of hormonally-enriched by-products from the other end of the ethanol plant to feed a thousand chickens that have never seen grass and would be blinded by the bright sunshine reflecting off the pearl-white skin of a farmers market vendor.

On a real farm, you browse pigs. My friend went with his young son to a real farm to buy a pig for a roast. “Which one do you like?” the farmer asked as they stood surrounded by the merchandise. My friend’s little son pointed at one, more or less randomly, and the farmer pulled out a pistol and shot the pig right in front of them. That’s a real farm.

At the farmers market you browse small-batch cheeses, hand-crafted in a small town in Iowa, which is fairly near a real farm. Each is lovingly hand-wrapped by a person who recently quit her executive vice president position at First Data.

There is always an opportunity to sample the local Nebraska wines, which I do to remind myself that there’s still something to like about California.

I love the smell of steaming funnel cakes, which look a lot like farm fresh steaming cow pies.

I love the street music. It’s not farmer music – these banjos and accordions and straw hats and zydeco are more like a Louisiana version of Hee Haw. I’m a little less enthusiastic about the prodigious three-year-old drummer kid they trot out occasionally to the main crossroads. He’s a great drummer for a three-year-old, which is to say not great. You know there is a sad back-story: only somebody mean and spiteful ex-spouse buys a three-year-old kid drums.

The customers are good about wearing their farmers market costumes: wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses and tank tops and tented baby carriages and PBA-free water bottles. Once, my wife had to walk the six blocks back to our car because she forgot and wore her bra.

And the dogs. Farmers market customers insist it is charming to bring along their boxer to endure an hour on a hot summer sidewalk, drooling on the flip-flop feet of every sympathetic bystander. What comes out of my mouth is “Can I say hi to your dog?” when I meant to say “Mind if I rat you out to the Humane Society?”

I stroll from booth to booth, figuring one vendor might be a better farmer than the rest: fatter onions, greener kale, a better drawl, Key overalls. I get stressed when I can’t tell a difference from one to the next. I eventually go to whoever is closest to the exit. I buy a pound of kale and radishes, promising myself I’ll eat healthy this week. When I get home I make room in the fridge by throwing away last week’s kale and radishes.

The one thing truly local about our farmers markets is the way customers approach each booth politely, admiring the kiwi and leeks and whatever else doesn’t grow in Nebraska, turning it over, asking a lot of questions (“What can you make with this?” “Is this PBA-free?”), involving the vendor in a long discussion about the organic, bio-ethnic, pro-biotic yogurt they prefer, while their kid wipes a booger on the lettuce. Then they set it all back down and move politely to the next booth without buying anything.

It's not about the produce. It's a chance to stroll in the sun, see lots of people and feel a little better about ourselves. We're all in the market for that.

Reprinted from Food & Spirits Magazine

Friday, March 18, 2016

Know Your Hash from a Hole in the Ground

If the big bomb hits tomorrow, or ISIS hackers succeed in taking down our power grid, I’ll still be fat and happy living off the three-day supply of leftover minestrone my wife made. There’s half a roast chicken in the fridge too.

If trouble lasts longer than three days, not so pretty.

Without electricity, I’ll have to use up what’s in my freezer before it spoils: three packages of edamame, some leftover hot dog buns and a bottle of Jägermeister. Actually, the Jäger will keep indefinitely, but it tastes best cold so I’ll finish it off out of respect.

All those ingredients in my pantry seemed so important when I got them, but they're going to look a little precious now: the three colors of whole peppercorns, the quinoa I only used into once, fine and coarse sea salt, and six kinds of rice, including cannaroli, sushi rice and some dark long-grain rice in a fancy package about the size of a cigarette box. I have a bag of dried garbanzo beans, flax seeds, enough dried lavender blossoms to make lavender tea (or lavender martinis!) for a year, a pretty-much full bottle of fish oil pills (they seemed like a good idea at the time but it turns out they taste like fish oil) and two boxes of panko, because I bought one at the store and didn’t know I already had panko because that's how often I use panko.

Armageddon is hard.

I scrounged up two cans of tuna, a box of whole oats, some flour and sugar, and three tins of cinnamon. In a pinch I could make a week’s worth of cinnamon tuna cookies.

On the brighter side, I have a fine stash of booze and a dozen limes, so I’ll starve smiling.

Grocery stores will still have plenty of food, but when power goes out their doors slam shut. Stores are unable to sell anything without using their computers – God forbid anybody learn to count money or do inventory by hand. Store managers will stand by while the ice cream melts and the red meat turns brown. Knowing my neighborhood, looters will bust down the doors before the first day is over, scurrying home while ice cream drips through their fingers. The 300-pound security guy standing next to the day-old doughnuts ain’t gonna take up chase and get stabbed over no ice cream.

Survivalists recommend we stock up enough food for a minimum of seven days. Three months is better, a year is good. Actually, they don’t really want us to stock up. They want to take over the world while we stand begging at their cellar door for what they stocked up. It’s no coincidence that the people who stash food also stash guns.

Canned food? Most of it lasts only a year. There is a long list of people on Survivalist.com who claim you can eat food way past its expiration date, but you doesn’t have to browse their website very long to get a clear sense of the brain damage caused by eating expired food.

The solution, they say, is to rotate your canned items: eat the oldest stuff and replace it with new stuff. In other words, to maintain a year’s supply of canned food you have to eat  a day’s worth of canned food every day. After 365 days of year-old corned beef hash, I won't care much if the world ends.

Freeze-dried foods last pretty much forever. Just add water. But if you can afford a year’s supply of those precious little meal packets, you can afford a private plane to fly you to where the real food is.

My plan isn’t to stash food. My plan is to stash a list of the people who stash food. I’ll list them in order of culinary creativity. I don’t want to kill a guy over ten cases of pork and beans, but if he's a hunter with a freezer full of fresh meat, who's the prey now?

Is there any food you can store indefinitely? According to research: marshmallows, Twinkies and scotch.

That’ll do.

Or, instead of me having to stock a year’s worth of canned food and instead of me having to kill my neighbor to steal his pork and beans, how about all you politicians try harder to get along? A world of fresh food is worth the effort.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Finding My Direction

Some people have perfect pitch. A person with perfect pitch can hear a note and tell you it's an F-sharp, or B-flat, or whatever. Generally, I avoid such people, and accountants, at parties.

Many of us have relative pitch. We can sing Doe-Re-Mi in such a way that you'll recognize it just fine, but our "Doe" might not be the same "Doe" you would have started on.

A few of us are tone deaf and bray like goats, which is fine too because goats are cute.

Relative pitch means you can sing Happy Birthday in such a way that other people recognize it. You may find yourself straining halfway through the song because the person who started with "Haaaaaaappy…" picked a note way higher than you expected, but who knew?

 The guy with perfect pitch, that's who. He'll immediately want to stop the song and start everybody over again on the proper note, but of course he's never the guy to start the song in the first place.

Happy Birthday was written in the key of G, which means it starts on a D note.* People with perfect pitch can sing a D note on command without first running to a piano. That sounds like a lovely gift to have, but the flip side is that every time someone sings Happy Birthday in the wrong key, which is to say pretty much every time, it sounds wrong to these poor saps. Out of jealousy I would hate people with perfect pitch, except that God has already cursed them for me.

I've played guitar since I was a kid, and I can tune one fast. It'll sound great too, unless you play it next to another guitar. Mine might be a whole note lower or higher, because although the strings have the proper intervals relative to each other, the overall pitch of the instrument as a whole was off in the first place.
To get around this shortcoming, I have various strategies:

  • Tune in front of someone with perfect pitch, and keep adjusting until they stop wincing.
  • Pick up a phone. Almost all dial tones are an F. Match an F on my guitar to it, and tune the other strings to match.
  • Tuning fork. I use one all the time because they're fun. When you hit a tuning fork, it barely makes a sound. But touch the ball end to the wood of the guitar and the whole instrument will come alive with the note for you. A friend showed me that you can also press the end of a ringing tuning fork to a tooth, which causes your whole skull to resonate a perfect A-440. Nobody else can hear a thing. I learned that in junior high, along with all the other weird body function tricks.

Sure, I could use an electronic tuner, but that's for pussies.

Like my relative pitch, I have relative map skills. I can read and understand a map perfectly well. I will always turn right if I am supposed to turn right, but I may turn north when I'm supposed to be facing south because I do not have a perfect sense of which way to point the map in the first place.

Worse, I have a very strong sense of direction matched by a confidently backward sense of where everything is. This was the fault of my 4th grade teacher. When we learned map skills, the top of every map pointed north, but my desk was facing south. As I learned the names and locations of every state in the U.S., I was facing the wrong way. Ask me to point north, and I'll point north. Ask me which way is California, and I'll point to New York.

Experts say language is best learned before age three. Map skills are best learned by age nine, after which they become cast in bone. As a result I am doomed to forever see the world upside down.

Right now I'm looking out my window at Farnam Street, and I know I'm looking east. I know that beyond a few hills and a river lies Iowa, because I've been there. Then maybe Chicago. But after that my brain starts adding Wyoming, Utah and Oregon. I've been to those states too, but I flew there, and flying is like riding an elevator: the door closes, and when it opens again you find yourself magically someplace else, with no real appreciation of how you got there.

The only solution I have is to point to where I think something is, hold that position, and rotate myself 180 degrees. It's like I have perfect un-pitch.

Another solution might be to do what the pioneers did: cross the United States on foot, step by step, mile by mile, month after month, learning the look and feel of every hill in the whole continent. It worked for Iowa.

I find it's easier to just be lost, wandering blissfully while I sing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. God only knows in what key.

*Yes, Happy Birthday was “written,” mostly by sisters Patty and Mildred Hill. Warner Music Group/Chappell Music owned a copyright through the year 2030. That meant every time you sing Happy Birthday publicly, you legally owed them a royalty. At last report, this was earning Warner $5000 per day.  [In September 2015 a Los Angeles judge invalidated the Warner/Chappell copyright. Party-poopers.]