Snail Talk

And other tips for readers, eaters, and counterfeiters.


Q. Why is it that the French eat snails? — Ron Hawley, Woodside, Calif.

A. Just the other day my kid told me I was a good cook. Not wanting to lie by omission, I explained, “Honey, I don’t cook. I take a frozen thing out of the freezer, put it in the oven, and it melts.” Which makes it all the more unbelievable that Julia Child took my call.

I didn’t mince words. “Why do the French eat snails?”

“Because they’re delicious,” she replied, in that Julia Child lilt. She added that when you’re starving you’ll eat anything edible, and in the Middle Ages the people in France did just that.

Julia enthusiastically encouraged me to try them. “You really eat them for the butter and garlic,” she explained. “There’s an instrument that takes the snail out. You put it on French bread, pour butter and garlic over it — it’s divine.”

I chose not to mention that almost the exact same thing could be said about butter lathered on brown sugar and cinnamon Pop-Tarts.

I also wondered how the French ever thought up deep-frying potato sticks and frying bread coated with eggs and milk. But I didn’t ask.

Julia had already indicated a certain blind faith in French culinary skills: “I’ve never eaten a cow’s udder before, but if a French chef prepared it, I imagine it would be delicious,” she told me.

Julia Child is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Q. I say Albert Einstein said the following, but my friend says you said: “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute, and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.” Who’s right? — Andy Markley, Sacramento, Calif.

A. Although your friend is wrong, he is not alone. Many people get Albert Einstein and me mixed up, mostly because of our hair, but there are those who mistakenly credit me with Einstein’s quotes.

For example, many people attribute to me: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” In fact, these were the words of Albert Einstein.

I said: “Nothing occurs in life that cannot be explained by referring to a Mary Tyler Moore, Dick Van Dyke, or Monty Python episode.” Given the similarities, it’s an understandable mistake.

Likewise, Einstein wrote: “Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world.”

It is a common error for this, too, to be attributed to me. In fact, what I said was, “There must be something more to life than cleaning up cat vomit.”

I wish I could offer a list of identifying characteristics to help your friend distinguish my thoughts from those of Einstein, but there are none. We’ll just have to handle the confusion about each quote individually.

Q. Recently, I found myself in possession of a $100 bill. A co-worker told me that I should hold it up to the light to reveal a second portrait of Ben Franklin. The bill revealed someone who was clearly not Ben Franklin. In fact, I’d swear it was Walt Whitman! Is there someone different on every $100 bill? — Molly McManus, Columbia, S.C.

A. Gee, your bill may have been counterfeit. I happen to have a $100 bill myself. (I’ve been wrapping pennies religiously.) The second portrait of Ben Franklin in my bill looks nothing like Walt Whitman. Walt Whitman had a big furry beard and mustache and penetrating eyes, remember?

I called the U.S. Mint to inquire as to the identity of the second figure on the $100 bill. It is Ben! However, the guy at the mint directed me to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing because the mint only makes coins.

There, Claudia Dickens told me the second Ben Franklin is identical to the first. It’s called a watermark and is used as an anti-counterfeit identification device manufactured into the paper by Crane & Co. Inc.

I used the opportunity to seek validation on something Ms. Bramson told my fifth-grade class at General John Nixon School in Sudbury, Massachusetts. She said men couldn’t work in the mint because they’d go insane. That seems believable to me, but Claudia assured me the workers don’t go insane. She said even though all of those dead presidents are at first a sight to see, eventually you come to regard them as dirty paper that gets all over your hands.

We also had sex education in the fifth grade. I shudder to think what else Ms. Bramson got wrong.

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THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

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