Thinking Of Someone Special

I am thinking today of someone very special.

tUp7Hbj_eRrm9ZbIIZSY9FBmsJGsR-VeouygXyLaKpU=w205-h207-p-noSomeone who brought me into this world.  Someone who took care of me when I was little.  Someone who brought me comic books and jello and 7-Up and put a cold compress on my forehead when I was too sick to go to school.  Someone who let me paint my room weird colors when I was a teenager and put up with my friends and our curious behavior when I was in college.  Someone who watched Richard when Russell was born and treated my wife like a daughter.

Someone who dutifully laughed at all of my jokes, no matter how bad.  Someone who always was in my corner and confident that things would work out well.  Someone whose life has touched mine in more ways than I could ever hope to count.

Now her pain and discomfort have ended, and she has moved on.  We will miss her.

Goodbye, Mom.

Hot Chicken Takeover

IMG_5027There’s a new sensation drawing throngs of diners to the North Market.  Called Hot Chicken Takeover, it appears on Thursdays in an otherwise unused space on the second floor, deftly serves thousands of hungry Columbusites eager to savor some delectable yardbird, then vanishes again until the next weekend approaches.

Yesterday when the Ex-Neighbor and I arrived the check HCT out the line was already long, and a look of bug-eyed chickenlust was on the face of every would-be patron.  A friendly worker handed us a menu, and the E-N and I scanned it as the line moved along.  We quickly decided on our choices — both featuring waffles — as the tantalizing scent of fried chicken hung heavy in the air and workers called out the names of people whose orders were ready.  In the meantime, some lucky souls were seated at long tables covered with red and white-checked table, already attacking their food with frenzied glee.

IMG_5028I got the thigh and leg combo; the E-N went for a chicken breast.  We both chose waffles over bread (which costs a bit extra) and selected the “hot” flavor (HCT has four seasoning options, with “hot” being second behind a mouth-burning level described on the menu only with a curse word) and took our seats.  After a few minutes of pleasant conversation, our styrofoam containers of crunchy goodness arrived, and we dug in.  The chicken smelled wonderful and tasted better than excellent — piping hot, juicy, with tons of flavor and a rising, accumulative heat level that left me greedily sucking my fingers and nibbling on bones searching for final scraps of meat until the E-N discreetly advised me, with just a hint of embarrassment, that I needed to wipe my face and start acting my age.  The spicy chicken goes perfectly with the sweetness a waffle and syrup, and the mac and cheese side dish, which is light and bright and not leaden with cheese, is a fine complement.

When we left a sign advised that HCT had sold out of two of its options, and by the end of the lunch hour it was all gone.  No surprise there!  When a place that serves fried chicken this good pops up — even if only in a mysterious, only-on-some-days, end-of-the-week way — it’s going to be ridiculously popular.  Now we know why.

Forcing Adherence To The Law

We may be on the verge of a new era in personal choice and personal responsibility:  Ford is getting ready to roll out a new car that simply will not allow you to exceed the speed limit.

From a technology standpoint, the Ford S-Max is an interesting step forward.  The car will come equipped with a camera that will read speed limits posted on roadside signs.  The S-Max will then automatically adjust the amount of fuel to the engine to prevent the car from reaching speeds above that posted limit.  So, rather than using braking action to control speed, the S-Max will use the operation of the engine itself to prevent any lawlessness by the lead-footed driver.

The Ford S-Max is in line with a recent trend to use technology to force adherence to the law, whether it is through electronic ankle bracelets that control where people can and cannot go or proposals for cars that require you to pass a breathalyzer test or to fasten your seat belt before the ignition will engage.  Leave aside the issue of whether requiring complete compliance with the law at all times is always safe and smart — there are circumstances, for example, when exceeding the speed limit to get out of the way of other vehicles in a merging situation is the only prudent course — and consider, instead, what such technological controls do to affect concepts of personal morals and to encourage governmental intrusion into personal choice.

If you have no ability to break certain laws, do you even need to develop a personal code of ethical behavior that will apply to your daily life and help to guide your actions?  If you can’t make the wrong choice, what does the concept of personal choice really mean?  And if we start to accept routine technological controls on our behavior, will government entities be tempted to increase the range of controls, by enacting new laws that regulate behavior and by requiring further technological limitations on our ability to act freely?

The Ford S-Max is a long way from futuristic, sci-fi worlds where computer chips are implanted into human brains to rigorously control behavior, but every journey begins with a single step.  I’m not going to be in the market for an S-Max — if the choice is left up to me.

Uncle Mack And The Woodworking Trip

They say that every story has a moral.  The moral of this story is:  make sure, upon pain of potential death or horrible disfigurement, that you use the right equipment — mechanical, and human, too.

It was the early ’80s, when Kish and I lived in the D.C. area and Uncle Mack and Aunt Corinne had a suburban spread out in Reston, Virginia.  One of his former law partners had decided he no longer could use some woodworking equipment and had asked Uncle Mack if he wanted it.  Uncle Mack — always avidly searching for some new hobby or interest — responded with an enthusiastic yes.  The price of the equipment was a drive to this fellow’s retirement home on the Maryland eastern shore to pick up the devices and drive them away, and Uncle Mack asked if I would give him a hand.  Being an ever-dutiful nephew, I said yes.

I drove out to Reston on a wet Saturday.  Uncle Mack had somehow obtained an actual delivery van to use — a wise decision for which I have been forever grateful, because I probably wouldn’t be here to tell the tale otherwise — and we set off.

After a long drive through D.C. ‘burbs and over Chesapeake Bay bridges we arrived at the guy’s house and went to his woodshop.  Calling it a “woodshop” really doesn’t do it justice, because he had every known piece of equipment that could be used to cut, shape, bevel, or sand wood — from stand-up metal equipment like band saws and mitre saws, lathes and belt sanders, to grinders and hand tools for detail work — as well as a supply of raw lumber.

Uncle Mack’s eyes took on a glint, and I could see that he was envisioning making fine wooden birdhouses, beautifully finished wooden bowls, lovely moldings, and entire rooms of sturdy yet delicate furniture with Amish-quality craftsmanship.  He wanted it all.  At one point I remember him looking longingly at a thin piece of wood with the retiree.  They agreed it was a really nice piece of wood.  “Cherry, eh?” Uncle Mack said.  “Sure, I can use that.”  It was indeed a terrific piece of lumber that might be turned into a bannister or a baseball bat.  It was added to the delivery pile.

I learned that day that old woodworking equipment is heavy.  The stand-up devices were made of metal from top to bottom and weighed approximately 200 pounds apiece, with narrow bases and wide table tops and sharp edges.  We huffed and puffed and wrangled them into the delivery van, but — how to store them to prevent damage during the drive back?  We had no clue, and no cloth wraps.  So we simply placed them upright in the back of the van, moving them next to each other cheek by jowl, until the rear of the van was jammed with metal, power tools, planks, boards, and blocks.  The  van sagged with the weight, and the retiree’s woodshop was denuded.  He looked wistful about it, but his wife appeared to be delighted.

After thank-yous and farewells, we started back, with Uncle Mack at the wheel of the overloaded van.  As we approached one intersection, moving at a pretty good clip, the car in front of us stopped suddenly and Uncle Mack jammed on the brakes.  We felt the momentum shift in the rear of the van and then heard staccato banging back there.  The next thing I knew there was a loud whang! from right behind me and I felt the metal shield that separated the passenger compartment from the storage area shiver with a strong impact at about my neck line.  After the sudden stop that poorly stored stand-up woodworking equipment, with all its razor-sharp saws and points and metal edges had come hurtling forward and toppled like metal dominoes, and only the metal guard had saved me from being beheaded by the edge of a falling band saw.  When we realized what had happened we both breathed a sigh of relief, then burst into laughter.

We finally got back to Uncle Mack’s house, and reasoned that we should drive the van into his back yard so we could move the heavy equipment directly through his walk-out basement to the inner basement that would be his shop.  When we drove the overloaded van into the back yard it promptly sank axle-deep in the soft ground.  We unloaded the van, tracking mud through Aunt Corinne’s beautiful basement, until the woodshop was crammed full, then tried without success to rock the van out of its deep muddy ruts, coating the backyard with mud droplets as we did so.  Finally we gave up and I drove home, grateful to have survived the experience.

I don’t think Uncle Mack ever used any of the woodworking equipment, or that fine piece of cherry wood.

The Proud Bricks Of Willow Street

IMG_5011German Village is a brick enclave.  Most of the humble bricks that make up the the houses and streets, however, are sadly and utterly anonymous — simple, ruddy red, generic rectangular blocks made of clay and straw, fired in a kiln, with nothing to tell you where they came from or how they got here.

Except on Willow Street.  On Willow Street, between its intersections with Lazelle and Mohawk, the bricks in the roadway are loud and proud. Their places of manufacture are stamped onto their surfaces, telling of companies that once thrived when America was a land of brick, before it became a land of steel and concrete.  Nelsonville Block.  Zanesville Block.  Athens Block.  Peebles, and Metropolitan Block, of Canton, O.  Trimble.

It’s as if the brickmakers and blockmakers knew that their products were going to Willow Street and decided to do something special.  And it is special.IMG_5013

 

There’s Gold In Them Thar Poop

The members of the American Chemical Society must be very curious people.  For example, a presentation at the most recent national meeting of the ACS addressed the prospects for recovery of gold, silver, copper, vanadium, palladium, and other precious metals that are found in . . . human waste.

According to a BBC report, the ACS presentation concluded, through a study that must have been incredibly disgusting to conduct, that gold is found in waste from American sewage treatment plants at the same levels found in a minimal mineral deposit. A prior study had found that the waste from 1 million Americans includes about $13 million in rare metals, and scientists are evaluating whether an extraction process using certain leaches could be applied to the solid waste produced by waste water treatment plans to see whether the rare metals could be pulled out, presumably cleaned up, and then sold.

The concept of extracting metals from solid waste is similar to the notion of “mining” metals from landfills and waste dumps.  Some experts estimate that landfills contain billions of dollars in metals, if they could just figure out an economical way to separate the metals from the disposable diapers and other vile items that have American landfills filled to the brim.  Already some “landfill mining” operations are underway.

Metals, if improperly disposed of, can be environmentally damaging, so I’m all in favor of any process that results in more complete recycling — even if it means sifting through smelly tons of human waste.  The BBC story about the ACS presentation left unanswered my central question about this issue, however:  how in the world does gold and vanadium get into the human digestive system, and its end product, in the first place?

Walking To The Grocer’s

When Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C. years ago, we walked to the Safeway on Capitol Hill and, later, the Safeway in the Watergate in Foggy Bottom.  Like many other D.C. residents, we had a stand-up metal cart that, when folded out, could comfortably fit two full paper bags of goods, and that was how we carted our food back home.

When we moved to the suburbs of Columbus we kept that cart for a while but never used it, and finally we gave it away to the Salvation Army.  The suburbs are made for cars, not carts, and as the boys grew up, and showed the appetites that boys always have, we needed far more than two bags of groceries, anyway.

Now that we’re back to just the two of us, the idea of walking to the grocer’s, just as we did in our pre-kid days, is appealing — and I wish we still had that cart.  We’ve got a Giant Eagle in one direction and a Kroger in another; both are about 10 blocks away.  Yesterday afternoon I walked to the Kroger to shop.  It reminded me of some of the benefits of walking to the grocer’s.

For one thing, it encourages discipline.  You need to carry home everything you buy using your own muscle power, not horsepower.  This tends to encourage making thoughtful lists and avoiding impulse purchases.  At several points yesterday I weighed whether to buy something, took a look into my basket, and voted no because it probably would put me over the two-bag carrying limit.  You also tend to avoid the heavy and ungainly giant-size options.  The inevitable result is less food around the house at any given point in time . . . and less food going bad.  And, of course, you also get the exercise of walking to the store in the first place, and then the combination walking-carrying exercise on the way back.

My walk to the grocer’s yesterday felt good, and it brought back some memories, too.