Spring’s First Fire

March was a cold, wet nightmare, and April hasn’t been much better. So when tonight’s weather was clear but cool, there was nothing to be done but light the first fire of the season and hope that spring is here for good.

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61*

If you’re a baseball fan, of a certain age at least, you think of 61 as a number that inevitably is accompanied by an asterisk.  That’s because, in 1961, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s decades-old single-season home run record of 60 by bashing 61 home runs — only to have his feat placed in the record books with an asterisk.

roger-maris-1961The 1961 baseball season was an exciting one, with Maris of the New York Yankees and his Hall of Fame teammate Mickey Mantle each chasing Ruth’s record.  Mantle was the a hero to many and the sentimental favorite, but it was Maris who broke the record by hitting his 61st home run on October 1, 1961.  They even made a made-for-TV movie, 61*, about the season.

Some people weren’t exactly happy that Maris broke Ruth’s record, though.  Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick, a friend of the Babe, insisted that Maris’ record go into the record books with an asterisk, to recognize the fact that Maris hit his 61 homers in a 162-game season, while Ruth hit his 60 round-trippers in a 154-game season.  It was a pretty bogus move by the Commish, because even though Maris held the record, the asterisk cheapened and delegitimized it somehow.  It communicated, implicitly, that 61 was not an authentic record and required explanation. It’s the most famous use of the asterisk in sports history — in fact, probably the most famous use of punctuation, period, in sports history — and the asterisk dogged Maris for the rest of his career.  (And he probably wasn’t comforted by the fact that asterisk comes from the Greek word for “little star,” either.)

The key point, though, is that I’ll always think of 61 as carrying an asterisk.  So today, when I celebrate my 61st birthday, I’ve got to put an asterisk after that number.

What’s my footnote?  I guess that I really don’t feel like I’m 61, and in fact am a bit shocked that I’ve been around for 61 years.  I can’t say that I feel like a kid, but inside I’m more of a forty-something.

Rating The Captains

Kish and I have been spending the last few months working through the Star Trek TV shows.  We began with Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine, after Richard recommended it as an interesting and thought-provoking show.  Kish, who just does not like science fiction and never got into the original Star Trek, gritted her teeth and agreed to watch a few shows.

To her surprise, and my surprise, too, Kish liked the characters and some of the plot lines on Deep Space Nine, so we watched every episode.  Then, after we finished that series, we turned to Star Trek:  The Next Generation, and now we’re on to Voyager.

star-trek-captains_610I think one of the things that we’ve found interesting about the different Star Trek shows is the different styles of the captains.  Deep Space Nine‘s Benjamin Sisko, stationed out on the frontier, was brave, tough and aggressive, with a sense of humor and a ready smile and a very strong mystical side.  In many ways, Sisko is the most outwardly human of the captains.  The Next Generation‘s Jean-Luc Picard, entrusted with the command of the Federation’s powerful flagship vessel, was formal, reserved, and by-the-book, an intellectual who was far more comfortable mediating a difficult dispute between warring alien races than dealing with the personal problems of his crew.  (Thank God Counselor Deanna Troi was on board to deal with those troublesome personal issues!)  And Voyager’s Kathryn Janeway, trying to unite a patched-together crew and get them home after being thrust 75,000 light years away by a powerful alien, is careful and decisive but with a decided warmth and obvious interest in the individuals who make up her crew.  Sisko, Picard, and Janeway all can deliver a reprimand, but she’s the captain who is most likely to take a moment to offer a compliment.

Which captain is best?  Kish started out advocating for Janeway, then switched to Picard, and now is thinking maybe it’s Sisko.  Each of them has their own style and their own strengths and weaknesses, and each of them engendered great loyalty among members of their crews for different reasons.  I think your choice might depend upon the specific circumstances.  If you had to select a captain to make a decision that would decide the fate of the universe, I’d definitely pick the careful, thoughtful Picard.  If you needed a captain to try to beat the odds and come up with an imaginative solution, I’d go with Sisko.  And if you had to pick a captain to be your boss and colleague, day after day, I think I’d opt for Janeway.

How do these three stack up against Captain James T. Kirk, the swashbuckling adventurer who invented the captain’s role on the original series?  Well, he’ll always be my favorite because he was the captain of my youth, but the episode-by-episode nature of the original shows and the movies never allowed his character to be developed with the same care and consistency as the others.  One thing’s for sure — if you were one of those anonymous red-shirted security guys who got killed every episode on the original series, you’d prefer anybody but Captain Kirk.

The Lot Of The Working Stiff

Starbucks is embroiled in protests in Philadelphia due to an incident in one of its stores.  As CNN reports it, two African-American men initially initially asked to use the restroom inside the store “but were told the cafe’s bathrooms were for customers only. They then occupied a table without making a purchase, which many observers have noted is a common occurrence at the franchise’s locations.  A manager called police after the men declined to leave the premises because, they said, they were waiting for an acquaintance.”  Police then took the men out of the building, and the men were detained.

The incident has provoked outrage and resulted in a sit-in, other protests, and lots of criticism of Starbucks, and the manager who called the police is no longer working at the location in question.  Starbucks CEO has apologized, and Starbucks has announced that every one of its 8,000 stores in the U.S. will close the afternoon of May 29 to “conduct racial-bias education geared toward preventing discrimination in our stores.”

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But this post isn’t about the unfortunate incident, the protests, or Starbucks’ response to the incident.  Instead, it’s about one picture taken during the protests, which appears at left — a photo of a Starbucks employee behind the counter at the store, wearing bright green Starbucks garb with “Zack” written on his apron, staring stolidly ahead while facing a protester with a bullhorn who is standing about three feet away.  That one picture, to me, aptly illustrates the lot of the working stiff.  Zack, the order-taking counter guy, isn’t the CEO of Starbucks, or the manager who made the decision to call the police, and we don’t know whether he was even in the store when the incident occurred.  But when things go south and the corporate crap hits the fan, it’s the little guys like Zack who show up for work and get sent out to face the music — and in this case, the bullhorn.

I’ve never had jobs where I had to deal with sit-ins and protesters using bullhorns, but I expect many of us have had jobs where we were the minimum-wage workers who had to deal with the red-faced customers who were angry about a decision we didn’t make.  And if you’ve had such a job, you suspect you know exactly what Zack was thinking at the moment the above photo was taken:  he’s thinking that the pay he’s getting just isn’t worth it, he’s wondering how long it is until his shift ends, and he’s trying to get to his mental happy place.  We’ve all been there.

And it also makes you wonder:  wouldn’t it be interesting to see how CEOs and high-level executives would deal with the bullhorn scenario?

Boarding Pass Breakdown

Anyone who travels much spends a good part of their travel day clutching their boarding pass.  We get it when we check in on-line, we make sure we’ve got it as we head to the airport, we present it to the TSA agent who peers intently at it for a nanosecond, then scribbles on it as we go through the security line, and then we give it to the gate agent.

american_airlines_boarding_pass_aa_198But how much attention do we really give this document that is, briefly, very important to the successful completion of our travel plans?  Other than glancing at it to remember our seat assignment or boarding group, does any traveler actually read their boarding pass?  For most people, at least, it’s as casually ignored as the tags on mattresses or the detailed agate-type agreements you immediately click yes to when you log on to the internet in a hotel.

The New York Post has an interesting article about some of the information on boarding passes — and specifically, how flight numbers are determined.  It turns out that, typically, airlines assign the lowest numbers to their most prestigious, long-distance routes.  Flights heading east or north usually get even numbers, and flights heading west or south get odd numbers.  Flight numbers with four digits starting with the numbers 3 and higher indicate flights operated by airline partners. And some airlines assign special numbers to reflect the destination, like American Airlines assigning the number 1776 to its flight from Boston to Philadelphia.

But I think the most interesting fact is that airlines at least give a nod to superstitions in assigning flight numbers.  If you’re flying to Asia, you’re likely to see an 8 in the flight number, because that number is considered lucky in many Asian cultures.  The numbers 13 and 666 are avoided, and when a flight crashes, the flight number gets quietly retired and replaced with another number.  The airlines might be superstitious, or maybe not, but they at least recognize that some of their passengers are.

Just something to think about the next time you’re twiddling you thumbs at the gate, waiting for your flight to board.

Seriously — Mayochup?

Heinz is encouraging Americans to vote on a question that could affect the tabletops of restaurants throughout the land.

The question is:  do Americans want Heinz to release a new condiment called “Mayochup” — a combination of Heinz Ketchup and Heinz Real Mayonnaise.  If 500,000 people vote yes, Heinz will roll out the new product and send it to stores.

mayochup-1Set aside the sad fact that some Americans have actually taken time from their days to cast their vote on what is clearly a marketing campaign ploy.  In modern, bot-ridden America, you could get 500,000 votes for just about anything.  Come hell or high water, Heinz obviously is going to bring their new condiment to market.

Set aside, too, the fact that the name “mayochup” sounds like some mythical creature that parents use to frighten their misbehaving children in southern Mexico, or the noise made by a barfing cow.  It is a truly awful name for a product.  Just having something called “Mayochup” on a table where food is being consumed is troubling.

And, finally, set aside the fact that “Mayochup” is made with mayonnaise, which is a disgusting, greasy, ugly substance that should never have been invented by the French back in the 1700s in the first place.

No, the worst thing about “Mayochup” is that it shows just how lazy Americans have become.  If some poor, benighted souls like the combination of ketchup and mayonnaise — which really says something disturbing about them, doesn’t it? — they can squirt some ketchup from the ketchup bottle, add some mayonnaise from the mayo jar, mix it up themselves, and go to town.  What’s next for Heinz?  An equally poorly named product called “Ketchtard”?

Stick To Your Ribs Fare

We’re up in Detroit for a visit with Russell. Since this is The Winter That Will Never End, we were treated yesterday to a hard, cold rain and temperatures in the upper 30s.

One time-honored approach to miserable weather outside is to go inside and fortify yourself against the elements. So, we stopped by the Krakus Restaurant & Bar in Hamtramck, which specializes in Polish and American cuisine, and I got the meat pierogies with bacon, onions, and sour cream, it came with a steaming bowl of spilt pea soup, and I topped it off with a bottle of Okocim beer. The food was excellent, the lager went down easy, and I relished a meal that Mom would have said would “stick to your ribs.”

Thus fueled, we ventured forth again into the never-ending chill.