Golf Dreams

I haven’t played golf since I had surgery on my foot about six and a half years ago. I haven’t even picked up a golf club, much less played a round. So why did I have a disturbing dream about golf last night?

In the dream I was playing in a tournament of some kind and was being carefully observed by some stern-looking rules officials. I was on the green, trying to make a putt. My first effort missed, and somehow rebounded back to me and then rolled off a kind of ledge, and I reflexively caught the golf ball as it fell. I saw the officials tsk-tsking at that obvious rules violation, then I realized I didn’t really know the rules or how many penalty strokes should be assessed for that infraction or where I was supposed to put the ball after catching it. So I dropped the ball on the green, missed another putt, then another, and finally choked on a little gimme. At that point I picked up my ball, flipped it to one of the aghast officials, and said: “That’s it. I’m done!” And that’s when I woke up, feeling a surge of shame at my golfing ineptitude.

So why did I have a dream about an embarrassing golf course episode more than six years after my last actual experience on the links? My theory about dreams is that they are the unconscious brain’s way of sifting together fragments of the day and putting them into some kind of semi-coherent story. I suspect golf became the story line because, as we sat around a great blaze in the fire pit last night, someone asked me what I was going to do in retirement. Since golf is often associated with retirement, that question may have triggered the weird golf dream — fueled by the remnants of a fine Thanksgiving meal and a large piece of pumpkin pie.

If I haven’t played golf in six years and still have humiliating dreams about it, I probably should scratch golf off the retirement activity list. What would my dreams be like if I actually started playing again?

Refrigerator Envy

On Thanksgiving, everyone could use a large, empty refrigerator that is about twice its normal size. You know — a refrigerator that is large enough to allow you to retrieve a can of Diet Coke without risking knocking over multiple aluminum-foil covered bowls, serving dishes, and gravy boats that have been carefully stacked and balanced to consume every square inch of scarce refrigerator space?

Why can’t somebody invent an expandable refrigerator that you could use for the holidays? Like dining room table manufacturers did years ago, when they figured out that you could design tables to be extended so as to include an extra leaf or two when needed? Ideally, the expandable holiday refrigerator would include a special pie storage area, a beer bottle rack that would project out when the door is opened, and an extra large storage area to carefully secure all of the leftover turkey that will be used over the coming week.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! Or, as it will also be known in our household this year, happy Big-Ass Pie Day, as Kish bought a super-sized pumpkin pie for us to gobble down as part of the festivities.

Hey, if there ever was a year where you could justify an extra portion of pumpkin pie, without guilt, it’s 2020. And some extra whipped cream, too.

When The Kids Come Home

We’re pretty excited in the Webner household today. Tonight — the airlines, coronavirus pandemic, and any federal, state, and local authorities who want to have their say willing — we’ll have Richard, Julianne and Russell under our roof with us for the first time in a year, since Thanksgiving weekend 2019. And what a year it has been!

It’s kind of hard to describe what a happy — elated, really — feeling it is to see your kids in person after a long absence. Video conferences and phone calls and following Twitter feeds are fine, but there’s nothing like actually sitting in the same room with your grown children, rediscovering how they look since the last time you saw them, observing them interact with each other, and engaging in the kind of idle chatter that allows you to really catch up with how their lives are going. You want to see first hand how they look and how they sound and how they act. I’m looking forward to the walks and card games and kitchen and dinner table conversations where there is no specific agenda and the discussions can wander into whatever random areas might enter into the conversational flow. Those are simple, but real, pleasures.

For us, as I suspect is the case for most long-distance parents, the urge to see your kids face-to-face is heightened when a global pandemic rages and has ruined prior efforts to get together. In our case, COVID-19 wrecked multiple prior planned visits over the past year, and I know that it has affected the plans of some families that were hoping to reunite for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. We’re hoping the stars align for us this time.

And if they do, tomorrow we’ll all gather around the dinner table, welcome UJ to join us, pass around the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes, celebrate a classically American holiday, and simply enjoy each other’s company. We can’t wait!

Pavlov’s Snippets

This morning I woke up, walked downstairs, and turned on my JBL Flip 5 device to listen to some music. When I hit the on-off button, I heard the familiar chord and saw the button light up that tells you that you’ve got power, and then when I hit the button that syncs the device with my iPhone, I heard the happy-sounding, rising three-note snippet that told me that the syncing had worked and it was time to make my selection–which I promptly did.

Then I went to my computer, turned it on, and went through the steps of the multi-factor authentication process. When I completed the process, I heard another bright three-note snippet that confirmed I had successfully connected to the system, and I mimicked the tiny fragment of music as I started to look at my email.

These are just three examples of the little snatches of music that often accompany the basic electronic activities of our lives. Virtually every device–from computers to smartphones to refrigerators to video games–uses some combination of music, lights, and text as multi-factor messaging to tell us about our successes or failures. We want to hear the three happy notes that signal accomplishment, rather than the thud of notes that tells us we didn’t do things right. What’s more, we get to the point where we react to the musical cues without a conscious thought. Play the right sequence of notes for me and, like some modern combination of Pavlov’s dog and Nipper, the RCA pooch hearing his master’s voice, I’ll immediately feel the urge to go to Outlook and open up my email.

I like these little snippets of music, which add a little welcome color and dash to our rote daily activities, and I salute the unknown composers who came up with them. I guess I don’t mind that these brief tunes have burrowed into my brain and are effectively urging me to take steps A, B, and C. I do wonder, however, whether the unconscious reactive impulse on hearing these sounds is permanently imprinted on my synapses. I haven’t played Tetris in years, for example, but I can still distinctly remember every note of the Slavic-sounding song that played while you were trying to position the blocks correctly. When I’m in my dotage, if I hear the right three notes, will I still think “it’s email time”?

Overmasked

I noticed them doing some work around the Schiller statue on one of my recent walks around the park, and when I walked past the statue on Saturday I saw that Herr Schiller is now sporting an oversized mask. I suppose somebody in the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department decided we need yet another reminder of the need to wear masks — even though the statue is honoring social distancing dictates by staying more than six feet away from, and above, anyone walking by.

I’m sure whoever came up with the idea of masking the statue thought they were being pretty clever — even though masking up stuff has been done to death already. But the sight of the giant veiled statue provoked a pretty negative reaction from me. Must the authorities take every opportunity to hit us over the head with masks and other reminders of this ongoing pandemic? Can’t they leave at least some things alone, so we can get an occasional taste of the world as it was before “coronavirus” became a household word?

Trust me: we’re not going to forget that there’s a pandemic going on, even if there’s not a mask on every statue.

Playing In A Pandemic

Yesterday, the Ohio State Buckeyes beat in the Indiana Hoosiers in a matchup of two top ten teams. It was an entertaining game, we learned that Justin Fields is in fact a human being, and the Buckeyes hung on to win, 42-35, and remain undefeated. As is always the case with Ohio State, some fans were dissatisfied that the Buckeyes didn’t win by a larger margin.

After the game, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day — pictured above in masked mode — commented that people don’t understand the sacrifices these college students have made in order to play football games in the midst of a global pandemic. He was not offering the comment as an excuse, but as an observation — one that people should consider the next time they are thinking about criticizing their team.

In the case of Ohio State, virtually everything we associate with the team and the game and the whole Ohio State experience isn’t happening this year. There is no tailgating, no Skull Session, no walk through cheering fans to the Stadium, no ramp entrance, or Script Ohio, or band, or tumbling cheerleaders. Games are being played in an empty Stadium, with piped-in noise. It’s a dramatically different, and decidedly less energetic, environment, and it’s got to have an impact on the players.

But that’s only the gameday tip of the iceberg. For the players, there’s the isolation from the rest of the student body, in hopes of avoiding infection. There’s the monitoring of symptoms and periodic testing. There’s the uncertainty of whether or not the upcoming game will be played or cancelled because the other team has COVID issues — which has already happened once this season. And many, perhaps most, of the players and coaches have family members and friends who may be sick, and perhaps seriously ill, with the coronavirus at any given point in time. It’s not exactly an ideal environment for intense focus on the upcoming athletic contest. And when gameday arrives, and the experience is so utterly different, the point that this is a surreal time has to be driven home, again. The difficulties no doubt help to explain why some traditional powers, like Penn State and Michigan and Michigan State, are struggling this year.

I’m grateful that the Buckeyes are playing football, because we could all use a diversion, and there’s nothing like sports to provide it — even if the games are stripped of the “color and pageantry” we have come to know so well. But I’m also going to try to stay appreciative of the sacrifices of the players and coaches, on both teams, as I watch the games. They are undergoing pressures and difficulties most of us can’t even fathom.

Broken Circle

Suspensions, the exhibition of sculptures by Jerzy Jotka Kedziora at Schiller Park, was supposed to end in March 2020 — about the time the coronavirus turned our little corner of the world upside down. Whether it is due to COVID-19 issues or because people like me just enjoy them, the exhibition has been extended and the hanging sculptures are still there to be appreciated.

The sculpture above has attracted a lot of attention from passersby who have noticed that the strap on the one ring is unattached and are worried the sculpture needs repair. But that’s actually the whole point of this piece, which is called Broken Circle. The Friends of Schiller Park, which sponsored this exhibition, received so many inquiries about the sculpture they put up a sign with the artist’s explanation of the piece: “With one wheel severed, the gymnast is able to maintain the hard-to-explain position. I want viewers to interact with my sculptures, even if it is simply the viewer’s fear that the sculpture may fall.”

I am struck by Kedziora’s notion of the gymnast being “able to maintain the hard-to-explain position.” That seems like a pretty apt description of what many people have done in trying to keep their lives, and their family’s lives, in order in the face of a pandemic and the other issues that have made 2020 such a surreal year. If you’re one of the Moms, Dads, helping out grandmothers or grandfathers, stay-at-home workers, remote schoolers, masked health care workers, or countless other people who have been able to “maintain the hard-to-explain position” in the face of a broken circle and innumerable daily challenges, I salute you. Like the gymnast, you’ve survived the impossible.

It’s interesting how changes in the world can affect your impression of art, and vice versa.

Wanted: COVID Concierge

Back in the days when we regularly used hotels, the concierge desk sure could come in handy. If you were in a faraway city and needed directions, recommendations about restaurants or sightseeing opportunities, or reservations, the concierge desk was the place to go. In fact, the good people staffing the concierge desk seemed to know everything you might need to know about the city you were visiting.

We all could use a “COVID Concierge” these days.

We’re at the point in this pandemic, and in the governmental responses to the pandemic, where the rules being applied are becoming a bit overwhelming and hard to process. In Columbus, for example, we’re currently subject to a curfew and regulations imposed by the State of Ohio, plus a stay at home order issued by the county government — and for all I know, the City of Columbus has added an additional layer of regulation. The average person confronts a lot of questions as they go about their lives. How do you know for sure if you’re permitted to walk the dog at 6:23 a.m.? Can you visit your elderly relative at a nursing home, and if so, how? What’s the latest development concerning in-school and stay-at-home learning in your child’s school system?

And if you want to take a trip somewhere — hey, a fellow can dream, can’t he? — you’ll have to figure out the state, county, and local rules and regulations that apply to travelers at your destination, the rules and regulations for any states where you will be spending the night on your journey, and the rules and regulations of your home state and home town that will apply upon your return. Do you need to be tested to enter the state? If so, what documentation must you carry? Has your home state been put on a restricted list by the state of your destination? Will you be required to quarantine for a time period upon your arrival, or upon your return? What are the masking and social distancing requirements at your place of destination? How many gallons of hand sanitizer do your need to bring? And all of these rules can and do change, from day to day, so you need to stay up to the minute on it all.

That’s where the COVID Concierge comes in. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a COVID Concierge to help you navigate through the welter of different regulations and directives, tell you precisely what test you need to take and what documentation will be required, and make the reservation for you? And if you’re looking for a place to vacation because you just can’t stand the thought of being cooped up in your house for another day, the COVID Concierge would be a ready source of information and recommendations about which states would be the most painless to visit right now.

This is a sure-fire business plan in today’s environment. But I am offering it to the public, free of charge, so that anyone can put it into effect and set up their own COVID Concierge service. Just promise to send me the COVID Concierge phone number, will you?

The Squirrel’s Favorite Holiday

I’m guessing that squirrels prefer Halloween and Thanksgiving over all other holidays. That’s because squirrels have a taste for pumpkin — especially older, softer pumpkin. Over the last few days, the little fellow shown in the photo above and his furry pals have been ravenously devouring the pumpkins that were placed at Schiller Park as decorations. I’m not sure if the squirrels gnaw through the shell to get at the pumpkin seeds, or whether they like the inner flesh, but this guy was stuffing himself to get ready for the winter in that inimitable, hyper-alert, squirrel-like way.

If you’ve got pumpkins and want to be environmentally sensitive about disposing of them, put them out in your back yard where your neighborhood squirrels can get at them. They’ll thank you, and take care of recycling.

Back Under Curfew

Starting tomorrow, I will be back under a curfew for the first time since I was in high school. Ohio’s Governor Mike DeWine has imposed a three-week, statewide curfew on all Ohioans, requiring us to stay in our homes from from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. every day in an effort to stop the latest spike in COVID-19 cases. The curfew is being imposed in lieu of an order closing bars and restaurants.

As curfews go, Governor DeWine’s order is pretty tough. Back in high school, I don’t think I ever had to be home before 11, and it might have been midnight. There could have been some super-strict parents (or, more likely, parents who didn’t want to have to stay up waiting for their kid to get home at a later hour) who set a 10 p.m. curfew, but that was the exception. And if you violate Governor DeWine’s order, you aren’t just going to be “grounded” for a week or two — violation of the order is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.

Will this three-week curfew make an appreciable dent in coronovirus cases in the Buckeye State? Since the scientists and public health experts seem to be struggling with figuring out exactly how the virus is transmitted, that’s hard to say. Curfews are notoriously inexact disciplinary measures, because they presume bad things only happen late at night, and any high school kid knows that just isn’t true. We do know one thing for sure: if random drunken encounters at 12:30 a.m. are responsible for the latest spike in cases, the curfew will make a difference. And if that isn’t the reason for the latest surge, we’ve nevertheless shown the coronavirus that we “mean business.”

This will be the easiest governmental order to personally comply with in my lifetime, too. It’s pretty rare for us to be out and about after 10 p.m., and it won’t be a sacrifice to make sure we’re home by the curfew hour. Back in college, of course, we often didn’t even go out until after 10. College students and singles — to say nothing of bar owners who do a lot of business between 10 p.m. and closing time — will be bearing the brunt of this latest public health command.

Deboarding Downtown

Before the election, there were cautions about potential unrest in downtown Columbus during the period while votes were being counted. Most of the businesses in the downtown area put plywood over their street-level windows for protection against rock throwing, just in case. The boarded-up windows, which tend to attract graffiti, gave the downtown area a creepy, apocalyptic feel that matched, and maybe enhanced, the general sense of trepidation many people had about the whole election period.

Yesterday I went downtown for work and was glad to see that the plywood had been taken down from many of the buildings, while removal efforts were underway at still other buildings like the one shown in the photo above. Two weeks after the election, businesses evidently feel that the danger of civic unrest has passed and that it’s time to get back to normal. I was happy to see that development, because reflective windows are a lot nicer to walk by than plywood.

I’ve always been a believer in the “broken windows” theory, which posits that physical surroundings can send cues about expected behavior. Boarded-up buildings send a very distinctive message, whereas businesses that have removed the boards and are happy to let the sun shine in send a different message entirely. And although normally I’m the first person to question holiday decorations that are put up too early, this year I won’t mind seeing festive trimmings put up on downtown buildings, even if they go up before Thanksgiving. They will be a tangible sign that the election is behind us, the holidays (and the end of 2020) are on the horizon, and it’s time to move forward.

Our Little ’70s World

When you’re a kid growing up, your little world is necessarily “normal.” The decor in your house, the clothes your Mom buys for you, the breakfast cereal you eat in the morning, the haircuts your friends have — all of those are things that set your standard expectations and define what is customary and conventional. You have no reason to question it, because it is all that you know.

I think this notion explains how many of us lived through and readily accepted the collective insanity that took over the United States in the late ’60s and ’70s — a time of bad fashion, bad haircuts, and dubious home decoration developments like beanbag chairs. How in the world our parents adjusted to the ’70s, after living through World War II and the ’50s, is anybody’s guess. I kind of wish I had asked them about it at the time, but of course the thought would never have occurred to me.

When we moved to Columbus in 1971, our split-level house became a kind of shrine to the ’70s. It was a temple of black, brown, and white shag carpeting, steel, chrome and glass coffee and end tables that could slice your hand open, shiny white brick, and recessed light fixtures that made it virtually impossible to change a light bulb. About all we were missing was a lava lamp and a beanbag chair (which I really hated, anyway, because they provided no back support and left your neck stiff as a board), but we did have one of those annoying “clacker” devices with the five steel balls hanging on strings on the coffee table. I accepted all of that, and more — like leisure suits, maxi dresses, unappealing cars like the Ford Grenada, big bow ties and crushed velvet — because that was just the way things were.

It was only with some perspective, added after living through successive decades, that I came to realize just how weird and kind of hilarious the ’70s actually were. From time to time people talk about a revival of ’70s this, or ’70s that, and they still sell beanbag chairs, but I have no desire whatsoever to go back to that time period in any way, shape, or form. I kind of feel lucky to have escaped the ’70s in the first place.

Aspirational Screensavers

Our firm’s computer system recently changed to a new approach to screensavers, taking another quantum leap forward in information technology. When I first got a desktop computer back in the early ’90s, the big screensaver development allowed you to create a message that would scroll from left to right on your screen when your computer went into “sleep” mode. (Mine was “parturient montes, nascetur mus.”) A later upgrade allowed the technologically adept to upload a favorite picture of your kids as your screensaver.

With our firm’s latest advance, we get an ever-changing menu of beautifully framed photographs of evocative faraway places, ancient towns carved into mountainsides, colorful wild animals, and balloons drifting over rugged, exotic scenery under a clear blue sky. I always have two reactions to every one of the screensavers: (1) I wish they would tell me where this picture was taken, so I could try to go there one of these days; and (2) boy, that place looks a heck of a lot more interesting than the scene out my kitchen window.

I’m curious about the psychology (if any) behind the new screensavers. Did anyone do any kind of survey or testing to determine the impact of the wondrous photos on workplace morale and motivation? Did they attempt to determine how many people are just going to stare dreamily at the latest photo to pop up on their laptop, wishing they could be wherever that photo was taken rather than getting ready to start another day of working from home during a pandemic? Or is the thinking that we worker bees will be incentivized by the beautiful photos to work even harder and become more successful in hopes of being able to travel to those fabulous places one of these days?

On balance, I guess I like the screensavers and their depiction of a gorgeous, tranquil world. I wonder, though, whether it wouldn’t be smart to put into the mix some real-world photos of abandoned factories or Chernobyl to remind us that it’s not all puppies and cotton candy out there, and we need to put our noses back to the grindstone.