My ostrich burger patties arrived from Louisiana — $3.50 a pound plus second-day air freight. The cooler kept it all frozen, and the burgers, which have about one-eighth of the fat of hamburgers and fewer than half the calories, tasted just about the same. Unlike turkey, or chicken, ostrich is very red meat. (Incidentally, my apologies for a typo in that nutritional table: the cholesterol numbers expressed in grams, as one of you sharp-eyed readers pointed out, should have been labeled milligrams.)

And for you vegetarians in the crowd (hey: looking at that very red meat has given me serious vegetarian thoughts), I recommend Health Valley fat-free “Healthy Soup in a Cup” — specifically, the “corn chowder with tomatoes.” I’m not saying it’s particularly frugal, at about $1.89 for what becomes 15 ounces of soup (though at least you don’t have to have it air-shipped, and no one has to chop its head off while it’s in the sand). And I’m not saying it’s all that elegant to be eating soup out of the same cup you cook it in. (Charles is in Paris or I’d never get away with this.) But I just love the efficiency of it all. It weighs next to nothing (cuts down on shipping and lets you “lug” a dozen of them home with your little finger). It tastes great (warning: I am an easy audience). And all you do is pour some boiling water into the cup (or microwave), let sit, drink, and toss out the cup. Not a bad hot lunch at the office once you get the hang of how long to microwave it. Who says life isn’t getting better every day? (What’s that? You object to tossing out the cup? Well, rinse it out and then use it for your coffee.)

Meanwhile, as I was hard at work taste-testing this stuff for you, my Russian stock broker coughed up every penny I was owed. It wasn’t like investing here, where you know you’ll get the proceeds of your sales promptly. The dollars took more than two months to arrive. But — to my mild surprise and great delight — I got back every cent of my original investment plus a nice fat profit (which you can rest assured I promptly blew on some other stupid investment). I think it certainly helped to have a friend on the scene to make some calls. And it helped that I spent a few hundred dollars to hire a firm that specializes in such matters. What I don’t know, and may never, is whether my Russian broker was actually trying to keep my money, or whether he had encountered difficulties and bureaucratic weirdnesses of his own. (“This is Russia!” after all, as people there are fond of saying.) But I said I’d let you know what happened, and that’s what happened.

I continue to think that, while speculative, Russia represents quite an opportunity. If the Templeton Russia Fund (TRF) should tank one of these days, perhaps on the eve of Yeltsin’s operation, or if it fails to go well, or there’s some other big scare, I think I’d pick up a few more shares. It’s risky . . . but not if it represents only a small portion of the funds you earmark for long-shots.

Finally, an update on my friend Jim Halperin’s first novel, The Truth Machine. It was no place two months ago and is now in every bookstore in the country, more or less, making me green with envy and Jim green with greenbacks. It’s an amazing story made more so last week, when Warner Brothers optioned the movie rights for big bucks. The producer is Bruce Berman, who was the studio head for the last two Batman movies and all three Lethal Weapons. And what I hate most about Jim Halperin is not his extraordinary success — that I suppose, as a friend, I could learn to abide — but the ease with which he does all this, part-time, while running a business. As we speak, I’m on page 257 of his second novel. Sad to say, it’s a lot of fun.

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