Back To The Fin & Fern

The Fin & Fern is a cozy local restaurant on the edge of town, next to the mailboat dock. It serves great food in a relaxed, casual atmosphere. Last year it was a dining mainstay for us during the COVID Summer of 2020, when some of the other local restaurants shut down. And it apparently stayed open, at reduced hours, through the winter months, continuing to serve the residents of Stonington and provide them with another chance to get away from their home cooking for an evening.

So when we got back to Stonington, of course we decided to promptly pay a visit to the F&F, both to get an excellent meal and also to reward them for being courageous stalwarts during a very difficult time. The food was great, as always–we shared some very tasty oysters, and I had a delicious, perfectly cooked ribeye steak for my entree–and we were glad to see that the place was jammed with patrons. I’m betting that many of them also wanted to reward the F&F, and that the restaurant’s decision to stay open created some customer loyalty that will last for a long time.

Last year I wrote periodically about the need to support local restaurants and bars, which were hard hit by the shutdown orders. Keep them in mind this year, too, as the country works to recover from the pandemic period. And if there are places in your towns that stayed open during the worst of it, give them a special nod, won’t you? They deserve it.

The Stonington Salute

On my walk this morning, a few pickup trucks–the official vehicle of choice for most of the hardy residents of Stonington–passed me on the road. I gave the “walkers’ wave,” which is a cheerful smile and an upward flap of the right hand, fully exposing the palm. In return, the drivers of the pickups gave thestandard two-finger wave from the steering wheel, which I call the “Stonington salute.”

The two-finger steering wheel wave isn’t unique to Stonington–not by a long shot. Texas apparently has tried to claim it as a Texas invention; in the Lone Star State it’s evidently called the “hi sign.” Others describe the gesture as a “rural wave.” I like calling it the Stonington salute, even if it wasn’t invented or perfected here, because I’m a fan of alliteration. But I also like and appreciate the friendly thoughts behind the gesture. The drivers want the walkers to know that they see us and are acknowledging our presence, and the walkers want to be sure that the drivers are aware that we’re sharing the road, too.

The Stonington salute is a small-town thing, for sure. When I’m walking down the street in German Village, passing cars don’t give a wave. If big-city motorists waved at every pedestrian, they’d be waving their arms off. And there’s really not the need to do it, either. Pedestrians aren’t walking in the roadway, like they do here; they are on sidewalks, separated from the street by the devil strip and, in the case of German Village, a row of parked cars, too. The safety concerns that are part of the motivation of the Stonington salute and the walkers’ wave just don’t exist.

Of course, another part of the motivation for the salute and the wave is just that people are friendly around here. I like that, too.

“You Owe Me A Coke”

The other day a much younger colleague and I were discussing something. We each sent the other an email expressing the same thought that crossed in the internet ether.

Her reaction was to say “jinx.” Mine was to say “you owe me a Coke,” which I’m sure baffled her. And as I thought about my reflexive response, I realized that “you owe me a Coke” even baffled me. That’s been my standard response to two people saying the same thing at the same time for as long as I can remember, but I have no idea why that’s the correct phrase to say at that moment, or even when I learned to say “you owe me a Coke” under those circumstances. I’m guessing it happened when I was a kid and some older and more worldly kid used that phrase and explained that it was what you do when that happens, and you need to say it before the other person does. I promptly incorporated that notion into my understanding of how the world works, as kids do, and there it remains. I’ve forgotten the incident, but definitely remember the phrase.

Internet searches don’t really shed any light on why anyone–me included–would say “you owe me a Coke” in this scenario. It’s recognized as one of the things you do when people say the same thing at the same time. (According to some websites, another thing that you can do is punch the other person in the arm, and now that I think of it, I seem to remember getting slugged in the arm a few times, too.) But the origins of “you owe me a Coke” seem to be lost in the mists of time. Who came up with that notion? Why would one person need to buy the other a soda, and why a Coke, specifically? And for that matter, has anyone ever really lived up to the obligation and actually bought the person who said it first a Coke?

It’s just destined to be one of life’s enduring mysteries, I suppose.

Capturing COVID On The Cusp

Over the weekend I finished Michael Connelly’s The Law Of Innocence. It’s the latest in his series of books about Mickey Haller, the “Lincoln Lawyer” who represents all manner of criminal defendants and manages his law practice from the back seat of his Lincoln automobile.

It’s a good read. I like Connelly’s spare, reportorial writing style and plotting and could probably be entertained reading a grocery list so long as he wrote it. But what’s really interesting about this book, which is set in late 2019 and early 2020 and was published at the end of 2020, is how Connelly skillfully, and realistically, weaves in references to the looming COVID crisis. The reader, and the book’s characters, catch occasional glimpses of the coming pandemic in the far background of the main story, which involves Haller defending himself against a phony murder rap. Every once in a while there will be a reference to what was happening with sick people in China, or Seattle–and the reader remembers their own initial, occasional awareness of the COVID virus during that pre-lockdown period, and knows in the pit of their stomach what is coming, even if Mickey Haller and the book’s other characters don’t.

I don’t know how many other works of fiction have been published where the COVID pandemic plays a role; I suspect that with The Law Of Innocence Michael Connelly, who writes produces books regularly to the delight of his grateful fans, has published one of the first ones. I’m confident it won’t be the last. Fiction is shaped by what’s going on in the world, and the COVID pandemic is bound to produce a lot of books. Who knows? Perhaps one day literature professors will be debating which book should be viewed as the great COVID pandemic novel.

Gardening Muscles

Yesterday was my first gardening day of 2021. I did a lot of weeding, picking up fallen twigs, and clearing away dead leaves and stalks. I also lugged a few bags of cow manure into position and started to dig out a new flower bed in our side yard.

Today, I admit that I’m a bit sore.

Gardening may not provide the most aggressive workout, but you definitely use a different send of muscles than you do in, say, walking. There’s obviously bending, kneeling, and stooping involved, and also a lot of stretching and working with your arms as you pluck weeds behind your plants, spade out the soil, and use your weedpopper to dig out those stubborn dandelion roots. When you add in some rock hefting, which is an inevitable part of the gardening process in Stonington, you’ve got a pretty good exercise regimen going.

This morning, I’m feeling yesterday’s gardening workout in my hamstrings, lower back, and upper arms. It’s going to take a while before my gardening muscles are back in shape. Today, after it warms up, I’ll go out for another workout and try to build up that gardening tolerance again.

The Canvas Above

I notice the sky a lot more when I am up here in Stonington than I do in Columbus. I think that is because, when you are down by the harbor, the sky seems so huge and wide and sweeping, with a horizon that is absurdly far away. The sky is not fenced in and limited by trees, houses, and buildings, like it is in Columbus or any other city.

The unfettered sky seems like a gigantic artist’s canvas, where the wind and sun shape and color the clouds into brushstrokes on the blue background and illuminate the island masses below. And when a stray seagull wheels into the frame and soars past, as in the picture above, it’s like Mother Nature generously shared her artwork just with me.

Rake

Normally I hate TV shows about lawyers. In the typical American TV show about lawyers, I just can’t get beyond the unreality of the plots and the outlandish depictions of our legal procedures and activities. But I’ll make an exception for shows about British lawyers, or in the case of Rake, Australian lawyers. I figure that any legal settings where barristers are wearing horsehair wigs and gowns is so far outside my experience I can’t really object to the reality, or unreality, of any of the storylines or contrived courtroom drama.

And in fairness, Rake ends up not really being a show about law at all. Sure, Cleaver Greene–the “rake” of the title who is deftly played by Richard Roxburgh–has gone to law school and does his share of work in the courtroom, but the show is mostly about his train wreck of a life. We witness his countless bad decisions, his ego-centric interactions with his ex-wife, his ex-mistress, his son who has inherited some of Cleave’s tendencies, his friends, his steadfast paralegal/assistant, and his ever-changing dalliances, and we get to hear his often hilarious observations about life in general, all set against the backdrop of an Australian political and legal system that is amazingly corrupt and inept.

And if it sounds like the show is a slam on Australia, it doesn’t come off that way. Instead, Australia is presented as a kind of charming, friendly, out-of-the-way place where everyone knows everybody else and nobody takes anything too seriously. I’d like to pay a visit to Cleaver Greene’s Australia. It’s a place where a character whose life is going to hell can say, with perfect deadpan delivery, that everything is “tickety-boo” and you know exactly what he means even if you’ve never heard that phrase before. (“Tickety-boo” dates from the days of the British occupation of India and basically means “in good order.”)

As for the arc of the show, it becomes increasingly surreal as the seasons roll on. If you’re looking for realistic courtroom drama, even of the horsehair wig variety, you really should look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a show that will give you an interesting taste of the Land Down Under, a show that introduces you to Australian language and culture, a show that delivers some laugh out loud moments, and a show that recognizes it’s just a lighthearted frolic, you might enjoy watching Rake. We certainly did.

At The Ready

The last year has seen a lot of changes for everyone. We’ve rolled with the changes and adjusted as necessary—there’s really no alternative to that, is there?—but it’s also nice when we learn that something hasn’t changed, and probably won’t change.

That’s why I was glad to see the Stonington mailboat docked and at the ready when I took my first early morning walk through town and past the harbor earlier this week. That’s it there at the right of the photograph above, prepared to toot its horn, head out to the islands in the Bay and deliver mail, packages, and passengers, just as it has for years.

In the ever-changing world, the mailboat is a constant. I like that.

Over Old Mars

I admit it: I’m a space geek. I avidly followed the space program when I was a kid and watched all of the launches and landings, I joined The Planetary Society when I was a college student and got some great photos of planets taken by exploratory spacecraft of the ’70s that I tacked up on the wall around my desk, and I’ve been hooked on space and planets and the technological advances made in our exploration efforts ever since. That’s why I think what we’re doing now on Mars is pretty darned thrilling.

The photo above is a picture of the latest Mars rover, Perseverance, taken by Ingenuity, the helicopter/drone that has been taking short flights over the surface of Mars. It’s not the greatest photograph from a technical standpoint, of course, but the amazing thing is that it is a picture of human technology taken by another item of human technology on the surface of a distant, alien planet. The picture was snapped on Sunday on Ingenuity‘s third, and longest, flight over old Mars, when Ingenuity was about 16 feet above the Martian landscape and about a football field away from Perseverance.

We keep making significant advances in the space arena, whether it is developing reusable capsules and rockets, sending drones to Mars, or seeing more entrepreneurs entering the space technology and exploration business. It makes me believe that the next few years are going to see some real landmarks established: space tourism, permanent bases on the Moon, and even human landings on Mars. But for now, a blurry, grainy photo of Perseverance is still a pretty cool thing.

The Crack Of Dawn

I’ve always been an early riser. Grandma Neal liked to say that I got up at “the crack of dawn.” This morning’s stunning sunrise reminded me of that favorite phrase, because it looked like a crack in the sky, with light beaming in through the break and spreading over the sleepy town and boats at anchor in the harbor.

Sunrises like this are best enjoyed with a cup of hot coffee, and make getting up at the crack of dawn worth every lost minute of sleep.

Garlic Power And Marigold Magic

We’re getting close to the spring planting season in Stonington, and I’m working on a strategy to try to deal with the marauding deer population that decimated the flowers in the lower, unfenced part of our yard last year.

On a walk over the weekend, I ran into a fellow gardener who was out working in her yard and asked if she had any recommendations for non-chemical, non-fenced—yet effective—ways of keeping deer away from those tasty flowers. She recommended garlic, and lots of it. She said you crush the cloves to increase the smell and place them around the perimeter of the area you want to protect. The deer apparently hate the odor and supposedly avoid the garlic aroma area.

Garlic: it’s not just for vampires any more!

I don’t want to use any kind of chemical spray, which will just wash down into the harbor, and I don’t want to put up any wires or fencing, which would ruin the rustic look of the down yard. I’m therefore going to try the garlic approach this year, and combine it with another tip I got from a gardening neighbor. He said that when he planted marigolds last year he was surprised to see that the deer not only didn’t eat the marigold flowers, they avoided the marigold area of his garden entirely because they find that smell unpleasant, too. Some other locals also endorse the marigold approach.

So, this year I’ll be crushing and placing garlic cloves around the down yard, and planting marigolds as a kind of protective barrier for other flowers. If garlic and marigolds work alone, imagine their impact in combination! And I hope this technique works, because this morning I saw a huge herd of deer at the end of our road—and they looked hungry.

Cereal Advances (II)

The cereal makers keep pushing the envelope and blurring the lines between cereal and dessert—as well as messing with our holiday traditions. I’m not sure that Kellogg’s Peeps cereal can ever be topped, but I saw two new strong entrants in the cereal advances category on a recent trip to the grocery store: Kellogg’s Elf On The Shelf Sugar Cookie Cereal With Marshmallows (really, that’s what it says on the box) right next to Post’s Dunkin’ Mocha Latte Cereal made with Dunkin’ coffee that the box discloses is both naturally and artificially favored. (No kidding!)

I can’t figure out what’s weirder—Christmas-themed cereal in April, or wanting to buy a cereal that tastes just like the sugary flavored coffee that you are drinking with your cereal. I guess as between the two I would have to pick the Elf On A Shelf cereal, both because it threatens complete sugar overload and because kids deserve a break from thinking that creepy bug-eyed elves are spying on them and monitoring their behavior all year ‘round.

New Words For New Times

Germany has a checkered history, to put it mildly, but you’ve got to to give them credit in one area. As I’ve noted before, Germans have an uncanny knack for inventing useful words that capture very specific feelings or concepts.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Germany would be leading the way in inventing new words to deal with the COVID-19 world. In fact, the Leibniz Institute for the German Language did an analysis and determined that some 1,200 new words have been created during this pandemic period. One of the professors involved in the process of collecting the words concludes that the word creation process helps the German to deal with pandemic anxiety, which is captured by one of the new words: Coronaangst.

Some of the 1,200 words are pretty useful, and I’m going to try to incorporate them into my daily vocabulary. For example:

Impfneid — vaccination envy

Hamsterkauf — panic buying and stockpiling food like a hamster (This one is bound to be used in the post-pandemic world, whenever a hurricane or some other hazardous impending event is forecast.)

Coronafrisur — corona hairstyle (Who doesn’t know at least one person who hasn’t grown a special coronafrisur? I’ll be using this one the next time I talk to the Red Sox Fan, who has grown a remarkable mane during the shutdown period.)

Alltagsmaske — everyday mask

Abstandsbier — distance beer

Maskentrottel — literally, “mask idiot,” to refer to someone who wears a face covering leaving the nose exposed

When you consider the choice words the Germans have come up with, I’m afraid we Americans are losing the Words Race. About the only new phrase I can think of is “social distancing”–which I think gets absolutely blown out of the water by hamsterkauf.

Scooter Wars

The people of Columbus must really like riding scooters. Or, at least, that must be true of people hanging out in German Village. Schiller Park, in particular, is a magnet for scooters. Every morning on my walk around the park I see scooters at every point of the compass—some neatly arranged in appealing groups, like the ones above, some scattered willy-nilly, and some casually discarded and lying on their sides , like scooter litter.

By my count, there are at least four companies vying for the business of Cbus scooter users. And it must be a rule that scooter companies have four letters in their names—no more, no less—because that’s true of every Columbus competitor. We’ve got Bird, Link, Spin, and Lime.

What’s next? Sync, maybe? Given the ‘tude of the scooter riders, I’m surprised that Cool and Pose haven’t been used already.

15 Years Of Goldbricking

According to the BBC, an Italian civil servant is being investigated for collecting his salary, but not working . . . for 15 years. If the suspected facts turn out to be true, the public employee at issue has taken goldbricking–the ability to shirk meaningful work on the job while still getting paid–to entirely new, heretofore unexplored levels.

According to the BBC story, the individual “worked” at a hospital in the Italian town of Catanzaro. He stopped showing up in 2005, and nevertheless received full pay for the next 15 years and was reportedly paid more than 500,000 Euros during that period. His case came to light as part of a police investigation into rampant absenteeism and payroll fraud in the Italian public sector. Six managers at the hospital also are subjects of the investigation.

So, how did this happen, exactly? It’s not entirely clear, but the BBC article indicates that the employee was going to be the subject of a disciplinary charge by his manager when he threatened the manager. She didn’t file the report and then retired, and her successor, and the hospital’s HR staff, never noticed the employee’s absence. In the meantime, he kept getting his paychecks.

This impressive goldbricking feat sounds like an episode from Seinfeld or The Sopranos, or the plot for Office Space II. One thing the BBC story doesn’t disclose is what, exactly, the employee’s job was supposed to be. The reader is left to wonder: what paying position could be deemed necessary to create in the first place, but could be so inconsequential that no one would notice it wasn’t being done?