Some People Just Blow Out Candles On Their Birthday, I Hosted an Insect Potluck, and Ate Bugs

Chris holding a meal worm, photo by Leehe Lev
I have a vivid memory of the second before being pushed off a bridge as part of the King Swing attraction in Nanaimo BC. Some instants of anticipation are burned into our memories with a clarity that the experience itself sometimes lacks. I had such a moment at my birthday party this year. It was the instant where I held a worm in my hand, and knew I was about to put it into my mouth. By the time I’d got to the cricket, (about half a strong drink later) it wasn’t quite as traumatic.

Each year on my birthday, I like to do something I haven’t done before: meditating in a floatation tank, or attending the funeral of someone I didn’t know. This year, I wanted to eat bugs.

If you’re still reading, consider that, in many parts of the world, insects are a nutritionally rich staple, requiring relatively little labour; it’s dense protein that doesn’t promote deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. The practical reasons for having insects as part of one’s regular diet speak for themselves. The yuck factor is undeniable. So if you’re not still reading, I totally get it.

At the risk of using an inappropriate metaphor, I planted the seeds of this idea almost a year ago with a friend who’s passionate about food security and the environment. It was a lot to ask of a friend, and she came through brilliantly with fried mealworms and caramelized crickets. It was definitely one of those experiences where thinking about it was a lot worse than doing it, especially if I hadn’t known what I was eating. Tastewise, the dominant flavours were fried oil, and sugar respectively, and how could that be bad? I’d had nearly a year to get used to the idea, which helped. Still, I downed my first drink pretty fast while trying to work up my courage.

I eat meat, but it’s always part of an animal. A large part of the gag reflex for me was knowing I was about to eat an entire organism: somehow cheese and yogurt just don’t count. Luckily for me though, I didn’t have to confront the reality of their death, an aspect of carnivorism we’re also usually spared. I’d expected my friend to order a bag of insect flour on line and make fritters or something. That’s what I would have done, but she showed me my own cowardice. She went to a reptile store and bought live things, arranged their death, washed their dead, segmented little bodies, then worked with them in a context where the sight of an insect is normally a cause for alarm at the least.

Was it gross? Yes. Did it taste gross? No. Did it make me think, “Yum, I gotta get me some more of these!”? No. Was it less revolting than the smell of the snails being eaten on the other side of the kitchen? Yes. Would I do it again willingly? Only after the apocalypse.

Phrases You Just Don’t Hear Every Day, But That Came Up At My Birthday Party

  • “Do you want to try the mealworm or the cricket first?”
  • “This piece has the entire insect embedded in the caramel; this one just has a leg.”
  • “Wanna down a draft of Raid first?”
  • “Is there nothing you wouldn’t do?”

What Happens When You Rub Two Memory Sticks Together? our incongruous relationship with technology

Our relationship with technology goes back a long way. Banging a walnut open with a rock seems like a far cry from reading tweets from the International Space Station. Nevertheless, a rock with a good heft, shaped perfectly for the hand probably offered an essentially satisfying user experience equal to that enjoyed by the owner of an IPhone 6. When our ancestors got grumpy after an hour of rubbing two sticks together without getting a spark, did they naturally resort to the assumption that one or both of the sticks was possessed by an evil spirit? I feel, and I don’t think I’m alone here, that I’ve always anthropomorphized technology, though out of a love for the absurd rather than because I’m a helpless victim of superstition.

My partner and I have a lot of really groovy tech in our place, and we get endless hours of entertainment from batting around incongruous scenarios about it, or attributing enigmatic and sinister motives to it. Surely corporations capitalize on this lingering discontinuity of thought when they tell me that it may take up to a month to remove my email address from their promotional email lists. This has to be pure bullshit. See they’re using these things called computers, and when you give it a command or limitation, it doesn’t take it a month to send it to committee, get orders in triplicate, and send the order back for revision; it just does what you tell it. Such bizarre and transparent absurdities are the cause of endless ridicule in our household. These and other puzzling encounters with the technical world are responsible for the following groupings of whimsical speculation that have gone on lately.

Reasons why our phone company might take “one to two billing cycles” to put us on their “no call” list

  • The guy carrying the slip of paper bearing the instruction has to walk from here to Moncton to deliver it.
  • If he’s delayed by bad weather, he may be forced to eat his companions in order to survive, thus lengthening his trip, and the time it takes us to get on the “no call” list.
  • If things go badly and he ends up being eaten by his companions then we’re screwed, and we’re doomed to never be on the “no call” list.

What a university music student has to do to gain entry to the restricted music building with all the pianos

  • sing an aria flawlessly or it’s no deal
  • sing a sustained high A till you shatter a wine glass, or you’re not allowed in
  • A few lines of a musical score are flashed on a screen and if you don’t sight read it perfectly you’re shot with a lazar
  • sing sufficiently well, or a robotic 3 headed dog named Fluffy will materialize and devour you atom by atom.

Reasons why printed documents such as manuals or course materials may not be available electronically for blind people:

  • Do you know how hard it is to photograph and apply OCR to cuneiform tablets?
  • The document was composed with led type on a printing press, then photocopied many thousands of times.
  • The document was originally produced by dictation to quill-bearing scribes, thus never existed in a digital format.
  • The monks working night and day producing illuminated fair copies in the basement scriptorium would be thrown into penury by something as radical as digitization of documents. You don’t want to be responsible for starving monks do you?

Where fast food really comes from

Nice McDonald’s lady: “We’re just waiting on your quarter pounder with Mc sauce.”
My partner in an aside to me: “They had to reprogram the extruder.”

Things You Might Hear When Calling Our Robot Vacuum Company’s Tech Support Line

  • If your Roomba has mated with your hair drier and the offspring can’t decide whether to suck or blow: press 1.
  • If your Roomba has begun to display aggression towards other household appliances: press 2.
  • If your Roomba has taken to making disparaging remarks about your cleanliness and moral character: press 3.
  • If Your Roomba has locked itself in the bathroom and refuses to come out until you get rid of the cat: press 4.
  • If your Roomba is leaving dust bunnies under the furniture because it’s too busy making dinner dates with the upright next door: press 5.
  • If your Roomba has begun displays of potentially suicidal behaviour, eg; playing chicken with the garden hose or bumping repeatedly into a heavy but unstable wall unit: press 6.
  • If your Roomba tries to hump your leg each time you bring a date home: press 7.
  • If you’ve caught your Roomba trying to plug itself into a USB port on your computer to access the Home and Garden channel: press 8.
  • If your Roomba chews your shoes every time you leave the house: press 9.
  • If your Roomba has fused with your microwave: hang up the phone, grab your belongings and get the fuck out.

The Politics of Money, Blindness and Anonymity

In a previous post, I described a remarkable incident at a restaurant in which two gentlemen paid anonymously for me and a dozen friends. It seems reasonable to conclude that such extraordinary generosity was related to the fact that 12 out of the 13 in our party are blind. The exact nature of cause and effect is impossible to know: charity, or a tangible sign of respect and admiration. What I can say for sure is that disability profoundly affects the relationship between me, the able-bodied, and money.

A couple of weeks after this incident, I was waiting at a bus stop, my white cane leaning on my shoulder, an obvious cue that I’m blind. A woman maybe 10 or 15 years younger than me asked three successive people for 50 cents, and was denied. I reached for my wallet and dug out a couple of quarters and held them out to her. Here’s an account of the conversation that followed.

Me: “Here you go.”
Young Lady: “Oh, no, it’s ok.”
Me: “No here, have it.”
Young Lady: “No no, I don’t need it, it’s ok.”
Me: “You needed it a few minutes ago.”
Young Lady: “Oh, I worked it out, I don’t need it.”
Me: “No really, you needed it, here.”
Five minutes later:
Young Lady: “Here, you can have your money back, I don’t need it, it’s ok.”
Me: “Is it because you think I’m worse off than you are?”
Young Lady: “No no, it’s not that, I just don’t need it, thanks.”

I’m pretty skeptical about whether the woman’s finances took a sudden upswing in the five minutes we stood there, so my conclusion is that, despite her denial, taking money from a blind person crossed some personal boundary not breeched by taking money from the able-bodied. Perhaps this is snobbish of me, but I can’t help feeling that, disability or not, I’m better off than someone soliciting charity at a bus stop. In my world-view, the flow towards equality is, therefore, served by her taking the 50 cents I offered, but she didn’t see it that way.

I, like many other blind people I’ve spoken to about this, have occasionally been offered money by strangers on the street. Attitudes towards this type of thing differ, but after one or two mild but sincere refusals, I always take it. I understand that money is a symbol, and a useful one. For some people, offering it is a way to acknowledge that, in some ways at least, my life is harder than theirs. If it makes them feel good to give, I’ll happily receive.

This gets a little muddier when there’s a skill involved. One of the ways I make money is to play guitar and sing in the subway. I place my folded cane out of the way, but highly visible in front of my open case, where I hope people will drop some coin. In part I do this to offer an explanation for why I fail to make personable eye contact with passersby as most buskers would. But I’ll be frank, if the fact of my blindness causes someone to pay more attention to my music, or at least to my tacit receptivity to being tipped, I’ll exploit it, and as in the example with which I started this post, I have no way to know about motivation. Because I can’t see, I don’t know whether people do a double take, then decide to offer coin when otherwise they wouldn’t have. Likewise, I can’t express extra gratitude when someone drops two $2 coins rather than two dimes. Unless coins happen to hit other coins, I won’t even know anyone’s dropped anything. If I hear coins and I’m not in the middle of a verse I always say thanks with a bright smile, but I’m sure sometimes people’s generosity goes unacknowledged. Does this irk them?

I like money; it’s necessary, I’d like to have more of it. The statistics regarding employment and income levels for blind people are pretty devastating. I feel grateful for my modest but cozy standard of living. For some blind people, money offered in exchange for nothing is disturbing and unwelcome. Some perceive such acts as patronizing, or based on false assumptions of helplessness and need. Sometimes this may be true. Personally, I can’t put a value or lack of value on someone’s motivations, but I know what a dollar or $20 is worth, and I’m not averse to random acts of generosity. If sometimes such gestures are based on false assumptions, the underlying motive is kindness. My life is harder because I’m blind, and I think it’s safe to say that money makes most people’s lives easier.