Flackers and Kombucha

I’ve been eating pretty conscientiously lately. I have good reasons, so don’t get douchey. (Although, now that I think of it, when do people eat conscientiously for bad reasons? “Eff it. I’m gonna cut back on meat and sugar to really stick it to my mom. That’ll show her.”)

Some of the stuff has been pretty revelatory. For instance: spaghetti squash is better than pasta for pesto, in my opinion, and while pinto beans can still go straight to hell, cannellini beans are like little butter bombs full of protein and velvety goodness. I could drink olive oil, and 36 percent of my adipose tissue is actually guacamole. (My love handles are deeeeeeelicious.) Parsley is a vegetable and makes everything better, and although I respect you, vegetarians, grass-fed, farm-fresh ground beef is probably a good enough reason to at least seriously consider killing a cow. (Although, I’m not sure I could do that—they are really tall. Much taller than you’d think.) Kale chips are mouth-watering, Swiss chard wants to kiss your face (yes, with tongue) and don’t even get me started on what eggs can do. Don’t even.


Have you ever had “Flackers?” or “kombucha?” Both are very strange.

Let’s start with Flackers. Flackers are a trademarked brand of crackers made of flax seed. Think of them as cracker facsimiles or “cracksimiles” for those who enjoy the occasional serial portmanteau. They are sprouted and blessed and prayed for by endangered owls or whatever. But mostly, they are flax seeds. Google “Flackers” for a picture of them, in case you’ve never been compelled to eat them. I can see why you might never be compelled to eat them. I would likely have passed them by, too, were it not for the ultra-restrictive “cleanse” diet my husband and I were on. While we had ventured back into dairy, we still were not eating wheat, and wanted a snack vehicle. I spied Flackers as possible diet-friendly vehicles for cracker accoutrements. So we got them, along with some squishy marvelous cheeses.

I want you to know that I will continue to eat them, even after this discussion, but not because they, in and of themselves, are yummy. They are suitable, nutritious vehicles for cheese and other tasty cracker riders. Their flavor is savory and earthy, and they are salty enough to do the job. But their texture is soooooooo weird. It’s something akin to eating an entire mouthful of tiny insect carapaces. Like, maybe weevils or cigarette beetles? They are cemented together with some kind of clear, edible netting substance. It looks like maybe the teeny beetles had even teenier glue guns and just glued together all the corpses around them. (I don’t know why the teeny beetle craft enthusiasts were surrounded by corpses. I have only made up a little bit about their society.)

The flax weevils are stacked, with some relative uniformity, about three deep and 37,189,750,708,715,807 long. When you bite into a plain, unencumbered cracker, the flax weevils are spontaneously released from the glue web, and immediately dissipate into your mouth, most of which end up nestling gently into the space between your teeth and gums. This is fun for a magnificently long time afterward. The ovoid shape of the flax seeds makes them nigh impossible to dislodge with floss, and while you can absolutely brush them out, they just slide right back in. There’s probably a military application for this, but I haven’t thought of it yet because I already stopped thinking about it as soon as I said the sentence. The balance of the flax weevils become very slimy and slippery and seem to literally flit about your tongue, which is terrific if you’ve always wondered what it would feel like to eat 37,189,750,708,715,807 live weevils all at once, but not great if you haven’t.

The only reasonable way to consume them is with cheese. The cheese absorbs all wayward flax weevils and escorts them with a firm, creamy hand to the sharp, chewing parts of your teeth (rather than the cave-like, must-be-extricated-by-a-dentist parts of your teeth and/or gumline) and then, in a rich, speckled blob, down your throat and into your Omega 3 processing lab, where all of the Chicken in a Biscuit crackers you previously consumed are destroyed and replaced by four extra minutes of life or a more lustrous, manageable cerebral cortex—whichever you wish for.

So, I keep eating them. And every single time, I try one without cheese, just to see if I’m mistaken. I’m not.

Worst case scenario, I know I could survive on a bug and cheese diet. I am having some trouble imaging the scenario that would necessitate such a diet, but should it materialize, I’m ready.

The second weirdest thing I continue to consume on purpose is kombucha. Kombucha, according to Wikipedia, is “a variety of fermented, lightly effervescent sweetened black or green tea drinks that are commonly intended as functional beverages for their supposed health benefits.” Fermenting things is all the rage. You can buy fermented anything at Trader Joe’s, which has really helped me out, buying wedding gifts for people I don’t really like. (Enjoy the box of lacto-fermented Mike and Ike’s, Paul and Tammy.)

On the whole, fermented stuff is yummy. Sauerkraut, beets, kimchi … yummy. Plus, it’s supposed to heal your guts, or, in layperson’s terms, “make you poop appropriately.” Who doesn’t want an appropriate pooping life? So, as a consummate fan of fermented goods, I started my relationship with kombucha already sold on the idea. Everybody kept telling me about it. “Ermaglerb, kermbercher …” etc., etc. So I finally picked some up.

First, after minutes of careful examination, I realized all of the kombuchas were rotten, each with a gigantic, 1/4-cup snot glob lurking along the bottom of the bottle. I’m as interested in disturbing gustatory experiences as the next person (see “37,189,750,708,715,807 live weevils,” above), but 1/4-cup of snot is just too much snot. (I’m not actually sure what my snot ceiling is, but I am certain one-fourth of a cup exceeds it. And here’s to never having a more precise answer to this question.)

I asked the staffer nearest the kombucha whether this snot stuff was supposed to be in there. He averred, explaining that this gelatinous, goo-blob was called a SCOBY, or “symbiotic ‘colony’ of bacteria and yeast,” which is the cutest acronym for the grossest thing I’ve ever heard, beating MRSA and C-Diff by a landslide. This SCOBY, he explained, was largely responsible for the health benefits of the kombucha. Because I wasn’t about to spend all this time trying to buy unrotten kombucha, only to go home and do a bunch of research about science, I resigned myself to somehow imbibing it. I chose what sounded like a delicious but unlikely flavor for a fermented item, something like guava kiwi, or strawberry fripple, and cracked the seal. Upon air exposure, the kombucha facsimilated an eighth-grade science volcano experiment, and powerfully overflowed the bottle. I was immediately doused in what smelled like someone had somehow distilled a burp into a concentrated perfume.

I cautiously took a sip of the 2/3 liquid that remained in the bottle. I want to say I’ve been fooled by olfactory hallucinations and subterfuge before. You know how cheese smells revolting, but the flavor is plum delicious? Or how liverwurst smells scrumptious, but tastes like lukewarm assholes? Not my first rodeo. But kombucha? Kombucha tastes just exactly like it smells. It tastes like a distillation of manifold burps. Dessert burps, banana burps, cheeseburger with mayo and Dijon mustard—all in one, like some horrible Willy Wonka gumball catastrophe. Kombucha tastes like what your burps would taste like if you could eat burps.

Because I already owned the entire bottle of kombucha, I took another sip. Same. Then another. Yuck. And another. Why was I still drinking this? Pretty soon, wholly without explanation, I had consumed the entire bottle. Huh. I regarded the nutrition label: one bottle, two servings. Twice as healthy, right?

A feeling of warmth and well-being washed over me. The people walking by my car in the parking lot were more attractive. The sun came out, the ice melted off my windshield, and my favorite song came on the radio. My ex-boyfriends all missed me, my sister gave me that one sweater I love, and my mom and dad got back together. Just kidding. My mom and dad would never get back together. But I did feel really good. For a while.

About an hour later, my guts began to rumble. I didn’t worry too much about it until the sound was audible to people adjacent to me. I was at the mall at the time, and knew I was in trouble when the cashier at Old Navy offered me her granola bar. I began to locate the exits. When the grumbling and groaning in my guts was producing visible tectonic changes in the flesh of my abdomen, I drove home like a bat out of hell. (On a related note, one time I gave my toddlers Fiber One bars. AS PROMISED FIBER ONE. As promised.) I literally bolted up the stairs to my bathroom, at which point kombucha taught me a lesson in moderation that tequila, Natty Ice, Totino’s Party Pizza, and marinated artichoke hearts had been unable to teach. Respect the kombucha. Or the kombucha will fetch a pound of flesh.

Here’s the kicker: I still drink it. It tastes horrible, explodes all over me, and then occasionally shaves my dignity down to a kind of dignity flattop. High and tight. But between the glugging and the regrets, there is the glowly postprandial elation that only SCOBY-juice can provide.

And there you have it. I’ve succumbed to the hippie rhetoric. I’ve drunk the fermented Kool-Aid and partaken in the flax-seed wafers offered by the church of erudite but dietarily responsible snacking. I feel like a traitor.

Between you and me, Chicken in a Biscuit crackers and cheesy garlic bread potato chips are no less inexplicable.

Pornography, or, “Worst First Dates”

In 1999, my ex-husband gave me a computer. I was pretty glad to get it. I had mastered emailing, and was ready to move on to the really exciting things, like AOL and internet porn.

Let’s get this clear right away: I’m not a huge porn fan. My porn experience at that point was limited to the following:

1. A couple of magazines unearthed by a 13-year-old me, in ~1985 in my mom’s friend’s attic. They were evidently from the 1970s. My suspicion was based largely on the unusual prevalence of mustaches and floppy boobies. (Throw in a headshot of Spiro Agnew and my argument is airtight.) They were disturbingly graphic and unaltered. Sans digital enhancement, the naked people all looked like slabs of pork tenderloin. With mustaches and floppy boobies.

2. A porn movie a boyfriend rented to watch with me. Everyone seemed really, really angry in it. With the volume down, their sexing faces all looked like they were watching Newt Gingrich pole dance in assless chaps and an American flag tank top. (He has bootstraps tattooed on his inner thighs, by the way. Interesting tidbit.)

3. My parents’ copy of The Joy of Sex, which was hidden under some sweaters in my dad’s closet. Finding that book in that spot was the single best abstinence education any parent could possibly provide. The idea of my disgusting parents contorting their old disgusting bodies into those disgusting and inexplicable configurations was enough to keep me from so much as holding hands until I was 16 years old.

So, my experience, such as it was, seemed anemic. But now I had a computer, so I needn’t remain so provincial. I was ready to be educated.

It took a long time. There’s a lot of porn. At first, me and a couple girlfriends searched for the basics: “boobs,” then “big boobs,” and eventually, “colossal boobs.” Rapidly boring ourselves with women hosting breasts as round and tight as giant tan boils posted on their chests, we started to search for things we’d always heard about but disbelieved: “Crazy fetishes,” “LITERAL horse lovers,” and “Diapered and 40-Plus.” All there. In plenitude! We had to choose which sites we looked at, there were so many results. So, we got even crazier. “Blindfolded sex with big nosed ladies on the hoods of Le Car, model years 1984-1986” and “llama mustard fetish.” Still there. The results got increasingly disturbing, and, in spite of the wine we’d consumed, less funny. There is a guy out there, pining away for one other soul who is only aroused by a woman riding a llama covered in spicy mustard. He wants to talk. He wants to relate. He made a webpage. And that is too much for me to worry about. So we wrapped up with high-fives (universal hand gesture of the morbidly uncomfortable) and the uneasy feelings that accompany a large-scale porn investigation.

It was like The X-Files, only instead of Area 51 we found a secret warehouse of sexual deviants so weird that Area 51 seemed like a Gap Outlet in comparison. Seriously, those people don’t want to know what genetic secrets the alien corpse is keeping. They want to have sex with it. And a donkey wearing fishnet stockings and a fez.


Well, over the course of the next few months, my computer starting behaving strangely — opening up windows full of gobbledygook, refusing to shut down, and generally acting like I had shoved a PB&J sandwich into its floppy drive (which existed, and was approximately the size of a carport — it was 1999). At about the same time, I began dating a man who specialized in computer coding. He was one of the HTML front runners, schooling himself in the dark recesses of his apartment, fascinated by ASCII. He came over one night during our initial courtship to watch movies. For the purposes of this narrative, let’s call him Stu.

At this point in our datinghood, we hadn’t even kissed each other. We were in preliminary nest-circling mode, evaluating what things the other found important enough to incorporate into the infrastructure. Stu was a quiet guy. He was not a particularly overt fellow, and generally preferred the company of computers to humans. But he thought I was nice, safe — a good person to joke around, listen to music, and discuss computer things with.

While we were watching our movie, I mentioned that my computer was behaving strangely. He offered to look at it, and I gratefully agreed.

If you were planning to stop reading before the story inevitably degenerated into me burning everyone and everything to the ground while standing in front of my eighth-grade English class naked and clutching a picture of Andrew McCarthy, this is your chance to jump off.

Stu started up my computer, brows furrowed and finger tapping as the initial “Safe Mode” message flashed on and off the screen. “Weird,” he said. “Yeah! It just started doing that!” I replied, enthusiastically. Stu hit “Escape” a number of times, and evaluated the resulting screen of green text carefully. “Something has corrupted your DOS kernel,” he said. “We might have to re-stage your machine.” Or something like that.

“Great!” I said. “You can do whatever you want to that kernel. Stage it, re-stage it, whatever.” Stu laughed. (Wasn’t I cute? And innocent? So uncultured I don’t even know what a DOS kernel is? Tee hee.)

Stu downloaded some things from a disk he had with him in his bag, and a black box with a large green progress bar began rapidly listing files, directories … and then it started. One after another, internet browser windows began popping up, filling the screen with a high-speed montage of the most disturbing pornographic images I had ever seen (which, at this point, was really saying something). Hundreds of screens, one after the other — a lady riding a donkey in a non-classical equestrian pose; a guy and a donkey, similarly engaged; two donkeys, a goat and a fat lady with a pinwheel, perhaps celebrating?; a lady with a stiletto shoe in a place which indicated a particularly vigorous disagreement with someone who had, until the disagreement, been wearing at least one stiletto shoe; two men in enormous diapers, hands on their hips, staring sultrily at the camera; and a bunch of guys in black leather porketta-roast-looking get-ups, eating what appeared to be, well, poo.

Stu sat, hands frozen over the keys like claws, his eyes wide, watching the seizure-inducing procession of horrors. I sat behind him, hand clamped over my mouth, cryogenically frozen somewhere between mortified and fascinated.

“Whoa.” I said.

Stu said 10,000 years of icy silence. A conversational glacier. He turned to look at me, and he was suddenly looking at me the same way he had been evaluating the computer. Did I expect … this?

There was no way to really explain. I could tell him that my porn exploration had been 90 percent ironic, or that I hadn’t been the only one at the helm when “donkey SEIKO farmer handjob” was typed into the search bar. Here are the things I thought of saying: “We were drunk!” = not better. “We were curious!” = the same could be said about the farmer. “We didn’t know it would do this!” = ditto. “Haven’t you ever looked at porn?” = inappropriate timing. Like asking the Ted Bundy investigators, “Haven’t you ever had that urge to just freak out on somebody?”

What I said was, “Can you fix my computer?”

“Not right now.” Stu said. “I need to figure some stuff out.” I’ll bet he did. I don’t blame him. That’s a whole lotta first date.

Now, I limit my porn exploration to what I accidentally read on my cable guide. Teaser: if you are looking for gooey encounters with human life preservers, get into plumbing or DJ-ing.