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Attack Of The Amazing Sea Condoms!

Condom Of The Sea

If you’ve been walking along the beach lately enjoying the odd hot weather that El Niño has been causing you’ve probably seen thousands of what look like blue condoms all rolled up on the sands. Apparently I hadn’t realized that people who moved here hadn’t been here long enough to know the story of the Sea Condoms.

No, they are the leftovers from an orgy that Poseidon had out in the ocean, but they’re a hydrozoan with the proper name of Velella velella. Commonly known as sea raftby-the-wind sailorpurple saillittle sail, or simply Velella. They are from the family of ocean dwelling organisms called Cnidaria which you may have heard of Velella’s famous relative the Portuguese Man-O-War. Velella have stinging cells just like the Man-O-War, but they’re pretty weak and harmless to humans. If you bother to pick one up they might feel a little bit sticky to you, but that’s about it. You won’t have to worry about falling over scream and writhing in pain because of one since they’re harmless and if they’re on the beach they’re pretty much dead as well.

Velella spend their lives pretty much just floating around and hoping something they can eat gets stuck in it’s tentacles. Imagine spending your whole life just sitting around doing nothing and eating when food just happens to be in the neighborhood. Not very interesting and pretty boring which I guess is OK when you don’t have a brain. Usually you see them on the beaches in the Spring coming up with the warm water, but because of El Niño we’re seeing them in late summer and fall now.

The biggest thing you’ll have to worry about will come in a couple of weeks when they really get busy rotting on the beach. The stench will be practically unbearable. It has a smell kind of like rotting seafood mixed with sewage. I suppose that’s in part to the fact that they can’t be too picky about what they eat when they’re just floating around all day and night. When I first started to see them as a kid I had to grab a few and bring them to the aquarium at the Academy of Sciences because in between their research they like nothing better than to look at something dead and smelly and identify it to make a little kid happy.

I brought my bag in and handed it to someone in Invertebrate Zoology [see, I was a smart kid and knew that it wasn’t a fish] and they said, Oh, it’s a Velella and tossed it aside. Apparently these sea condoms as we called them just aren’t that interesting unless you have to deal with the smell of their rotting corpses. They’re actually a colony of a group of animals that over about three weeks time join together into a little sea tribe of hydrozoans to eat and breed together before they end up washing up and rotting on a beach somewhere, so calling them sea condoms wasn’t too far off since sex is at least involved. From their medusa larval stage to sea condom takes about three weeks and then that’s pretty much it for them.

They’re here, they’ll be rotting for awhile and you probably don’t want your dog to eat any because, well, they’re rotting. You can touch them if you like. They feel kind of rubbery, but other than that there isn’t too much to say about them. It’s actually once of the bizarre things about San Francisco that there isn’t much of an interesting story behind, so you should at least refer to them as Sea Condoms.

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My Dad, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Memorial Day

I don’t talk about my Dad much. Once I turned 13 something changed and we kind of became enemies at times. There were good times when he told me stories, but they were mostly war stories because that was so much of his life and if even half of what he said was true he was not a guy to piss off in a fight.

My Dad was 15 when my Grandfather divorced my Grandmother. His sister stayed with her Mom and my Dad got to go with my Grandfather. I never met anyone on that side of the family, but my Grandfather had the brilliant idea to move from Philadelphia back to his native city of Riga, Latvia. 1930 was not a very good time for this because shortly there after Latvia was at war with Russia in the takeover of the Baltic states.

My Dad always laughed at how he and his friends would blow up train tracks the Russians used and steal their barrels of vodka and bury them in their backyards so no one could find them. How many punk ass teens would go around blowing up trains for the vodka just to get a buzz on over the weekend. This went on for awhile until the Russians started wondering why the train tracks all around a certain area were getting blown up. One of his friends got shot because when you bury vodka in the ground you have to dig it up and you usually spilled some when you’re trying to get it out of the barrel. My Dad’s friend and family were shot on site by the Russians.

My Grandfather was so furious with what my Dad had been doing that he tossed him on a boat at 18 to send him back to the U.S. He didn’t get along to well with his mother and sister and he decided to join up with the Merchant Marines because it seemed like a safe bet for him at the time. Well, it wasn’t 1941 yet so he was pretty safe. Until Pearl Harbor  and then he was a Merchant Marine during wartime. That meant he wasn’t a civilian, but now a soldier.

He was sent off to supply the ground troops in Europe along with moving troops to Europe and shooting at anything hostile in between. His ship was stationed in Italy that was safe at the time. It was Northern Italy I believe and when Germany finished with Austria they came to start talking with the Italians and my Dad was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Seeing the Germans approaching while he was on shore out of uniform they were suspicious of him. Luckily he spoke German and convinced them he was one of them. Great. The Germans took him back with them and now he was fighting for Germany by being sent on Operation Barbarossa to help dig trenches for the attack on Stalin.

While on the front line Russian soldiers caught him and told them he was merely a Russian peasant farmer who was capture by the Nazi’s and put to work. He spoke Russian as well so he managed to keep a bullet out of his head and now was serving for the Russian military.

He somehow managed to escape one night and I’m sure there was lots of vodka involved. He worked his way back to Italy to a part of Italy that wasn’t so friendly to Americans. So now he’s wearing the uniform of Il Duce’s army. He was stationed on the coast in Southern Italy which oddly enough a passing Merchant Marine ship became the target of the coastal forces.

As my Dad always said the Italian Army was so corrupt that they weren’t worth shit in a fight. He managed to get out of the way and hide and when the Merchant Marines send scout teams ashore his perfect English came back and he convinced them that he was one of them. He got back on ship and they checked him out and found him to be who said he was. He was back to safety by then and the war was almost over.

He went through hell during WWII, but he was always a survivor. The war was not kind to him and they didn’t talk about PTSD back then. They just gave you more cigarettes and beer. Towards the end of his life before the hear disease set in he was smoking a pack of Pall Mall non-filtered and drinking a 12 pack of Budweiser a day. I can see now it was to help him forget the memories of WWII. It didn’t always work. I would always see him go off and cry around the holidays because they were never fun for him. We don’t have many pictures of my Dad for some reason. I guess he only liked to be photographed with me when I was a kid. I did manage to find one and that was the day I came home from the hospital. It’s probably one of the few pics of him where he has even close to a smile on his face.

The Burrito Wars

After posting Friday’s article I received some feedback that leads me to believe there is a burrito war brewing. The so called California Burrito which is indigenous to San Diego does not represent the California burrito in an way. The California burrito that San Diego lays claim to started around 1995 actually originating in Las Vegas before moving to San Diego. It generally consists of meat, guacamole or avocado, sour cream and french fries [the original Vegas version used tater tots].

If you look back farther as I mentioned in my Friday article the original burrito made in California for public consumption started life in 1961 at El Faro, but that was made with corn tortillas. The actually Mission style burrito using a flour tortilla originated in 1969 at La Cumbre and is representative of the size of your forearm or bigger things that we know as burritos today.

Prior to all of this the burrito originally got its start in Tuscon, Arizona in the 20’s from a man who carried his food on a donkey [el burro] because they resembled the rolled sacks that donkey’s carried on their sides he called them burritos [little donkeys]. There wasn’t much to them except a tortilla and some meat. Nothing like we expect to find today. Making it’s way farther West the immigrant farm workers in the central valley would pack there lunches in a similar way adding a few other things to the meat such as salsa, beans, rice maybe an avocado slice that they picked and pocketed.

As the farm workers moved north they hit the San Francisco Bay Area where many of them settled in the Mission district and never lost their love for the food that gave them energy when they were out in the fields. This is where the San Francisco or Mission style burrito originated. I do remember back in my youth in the 70’s that if you wanted real Mexican food you had to go to Mission District. The prepackaged burritos you would find at a 7-11 had chopped up beef [usually beef heart] and some beans. This was more like what you might find in Mexico than here in the Mission District.

Now here is where the war part comes in. I always knew growing up that SF had a rivalry with LA. Apparently now that all the party animals have left LA for Vegas San Diego wants in on the game. In doing some research over the weekend I found that San Diego claims to have the best burritos giving it the right to the name California Style burrito. Apparently no one informed us or any of the foodie people who write for magazines about this. As it turns out the french fries in a burrito isn’t a uniform thing in San Diego as well. There are several places in San Diego that serve California Style burritos, but not all of them. Some San Diegans moved up to our territory and opened Taqueria Los Coyotes which serves the California Style burrito. I wrote an article on them previously. For some reason people in San Diego are appalled at the size of our burritos which is odd because theirs are about the same size as ours. They also don’t seem to like all the crap we put in our burritos. I guess they never thought of asking to hold the rice, etc.

I will still stand by my statement that a California Style burrito refers to those made in San Francisco that are attempted to be copied around the world. On my one trip to Mexico they even had a taqueria offering California Style burritos that were made in the same way they were made in San Francisco, no french fries. If you go to any taqueria in California and order a burrito it’s more like what you find in San Francisco where it started. Perhaps I should just let the whole California Style thing go by the wayside because if you’re into burritos you know that San Francisco has the best.