Just to Keep Dad from Monopolizing the Entire Blog

What up fam? Just posting this so ‘webnerbob’ is no longer plastered over the entire page. An update….

School’s been going well. The weather is getting slightly better, but everything is so muddy. All the snow on the ground is of the gray, dirty variety. This combination — of the mucky ground and these stalwart stranded icebergs in the middle of the mud — isnt really pleasing. February likes to tease people in Poughkeepsie. A couple of weeks ago we had a day in the 60s, it was so nice. Since then, though, its been consistently in the 30s. I like to keep my head up, though. Knowing each day is increasingly better in terms of weather is really a valuable asset psychologically. First semester is always worse because as the days wear on you seem to be entering a weather cave of snow, ice, wind and general coldness, nay frigidness. When I applied to Vassar I was specifically looking for a school with seasonal changes. Unfortunately, I assumed winters in Columbus were par for the course, so to speak. The Northeast, though, bitch-slaps the Midwest in terms of winters. As I see these few remaining ice bastions of winter slowly melt away, however, I can begin to look forward to days of wearing shorts, leaving the jacket in the closet. Say hello to Mr Sun for me!

Bag Boy

When I was 16 or so, I got my first job, as a “bag boy” at the Kingsdale shopping center Big Bear. I filled out an employment application, was hired in a few days, and then started working a few days after that. I was interested in getting a job so I could have some spending money and take my girlfriend out for pizza and movies.

At that time, at least, there was a rigid hierarchy at the front of the store. The store manager, Mr. Evans, was a lofty figure who for the most part stayed in the office and occasionally hobnobbed with customers. The assistant manager, Mr. Cooper, was the tough guy enforcer — a sort of vice principal type, who took care of any disciplinary action that needed to be taken. Then, there were the cashiers, who were older ladies who had worked at the store for years and younger women who were starting out on a cashier career. The lowest rung on the ladder was the bag boys, and the lowest of the low was the newest bag boy, with no seniority and no say on when he worked. For a few months, that was me. The more senior baggers got the cushy Sunday and holiday gigs, which paid double-time or time and a half; the grunts got Saturday morning, which was our busiest time, or weeknight work.

I had to join a union — I don’t remember which one it was — and paid union dues. I had to wear a shirt with a button-down collar, a tie, and a clean white apron. I would move from register to register, bagging groceries into brown paper sacks — cans at the bottom, bread on the top, keeping the Tide away from the meat, double-bagging when needed — and then load the sacks into grocery carts. You would wheel the cart out to the customer’s car, unload the sacks into the trunk, and hope for a tip. Some people were tippers and some weren’t, and you could never be quite sure which was which, so you were polite and friendly to everyone. If you slipped up, and a customer complained, you would get a dressing down from Mr. Cooper. At the end of the workday, as the store was closing, a bag boy had to go around the entire Kingsdale shopping center, to pick up any stray carts that had ended up by Lazarus, The Union, the MCL Cafeteria, or the Goodyear store, add them to a long line, and then push the line up the slight incline at the last turn before the Big Bear came into view.

I don’t remember how much I made at that job, but when I got my first paycheck it seemed like a lot of money. It felt good to be able to take my girlfriend out on my own dime. I think I became a quick, proficient bagger, and after a few months they sent me to a school to learn how to operate the cash registers — this was years before optical scanners and bar codes were developed — so that I could spell the cashiers when they were on breaks. The cashier work was easier, and gave you a chance to interact with customers. I learned that politeness paid off, and that if you wanted to keep your job it was a good idea to stay off your boss’ radar screen.

One day, I tried to get off work and called in to say that I didn’t have a ride to the store that day. They connected me with Mr. Evans, the store manager. He heard my story, and then he said: “Well, Bob, if you want to keep your job you will find a way to get here on time.” I rode my bike the store, my face burning with shame. I made it there on time, and neither Mr. Evans nor anyone else mentioned anything about my phone call. I respected that Mr. Evans quietly called my bluff, and I respected even more that, when I showed up for work, he didn’t grind it in. He knew that the message had been effectively delivered, and received.

In all, it was a good job and a good experience. I learned a lot about a lot of things — about being a worker, and about being a boss. I am a big believer in the value of work for teenagers precisely because work gives kids the chance to be on their own, judged on their own merits and the value of their contributions, learning the kind of basic lessons that are learned at any job. Lessons learned by doing and experiencing tend to have more long-lasting impact than lessons learned by hearing. In my case, those lessons lasted longer than Big Bear itself — the Big Bear chains went out of business a few years ago.

Convenient Darwinism

There has been a controversy recently in the Columbus suburb of Whitehall about whether the local schools should have a special recognition of the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. The issue has devolved into the standard, tiresome, “debate” between evolution and creationism.

I sometimes wonder if those who oppose Darwin’s theories don’t fully realize how useful and convenient those theories can be. I appreciate the concepts of evolution and natural selection, in part, because they provide us with some useful excuses for traits that otherwise might reflect poorly on us as individuals. The underlying basis for all of the excuses is that we are the end product (at last, the current end product) of millions of years of natural selection, and that in many instances it is impossible for us to resist the biological imperatives that are produced by that evolutionary history.

Some years ago, I read a very interesting book that argued, among other things, that one reason modern American struggle with their weight is — surprise! — evolution. The author’s theory was that natural selection favored individuals who were very efficient producers of fat, because those individuals were thereby more likely to survive during the cycles of feast and famine that characterized most of human history. Now that we are in a time of plenty (at least, we were until the last six months or so), we can’t help being fat because our bodies were specifically selected to produce fat.

So, don’t blame me for that seemingly permanent beer belly. It’s the fault of my distant ancestor whose fat-producing qualities allowed him, or her, to survive when the rest of the tribe perished due to starvation. Whoo hoo!

“Reunion” Recordings

The Columbus Metropolitan Library has a wonderful website that has a great, easy-to-use search engine. I like to search the library catalog for CDs with songs I remember, reserve them, and then give them a listen. A few times recently I have inadvertently reserved, and listened to, “reunion” CDs — that is, re-recordings of the original songs by the original artists and groups (or what is left of them). It is always disappointing when that happens. I’m sorry, but no re-recording of Judy in disguise (with glasses) by John Fred and his Playboy Band can adequately recapture the bouncy, zany quality of the original recording (which was a popular song on the Omnibus Party playlist). And, in any case, these CDs always consist of songs that were popular decades ago, and the target audience clearly is people who first heard the songs during those years. Most people associate specific songs with particular memories or times in their lives — at least I do — and we aren’t interested in a pale imitation of those songs.

I assume the re-recordings allow the original artists to make a few extra bucks in the twilight of their careers, without violating their prior contracts or copyright laws. I don’t begrudge them that; I just wish they would make the labels more explicit in disclosing that the song you will be hearing is not precisely what you so fondly remember.

Saturday Mornings

Saturday morning is, arguably, the single finest time of the week. When we were kids, Saturday morning was the time when you would race downstairs, fill a mixing bowl with a sugary cereal, and camp in front of the TV set, sitting cross-legged in our PJs and watching cartoons for hours — always looking forward to the time when our favorite, Johnny Quest, would come on. In college, Saturday morning was the essential recuperative period after the long, late, Friday night festivities. These days, I often work on Saturday mornings, but even those times are more relaxed and enjoyable because I can play baroque music on the internet radio and am not interrupted by telephone calls.

No matter how old you are, Saturday mornings are irresistible because the school work or work week has just ended, you have no immediate obligations, and the weekend yawns before you, pristine and full of promise and possibility.

The Cocktail Hour

Friday night is well suited to a cocktail hour, to mark the end of another work week. Kish’s drink of choice these days is a pometini (consisting of pomegranate juice and vodka) and I’m a red wine drinker. For many years now — since college, really — I have not had much of a taste for distilled spirits.

Although I don’t drink them, I have a certain fondness for cocktails. They seem classier, more sophisticated, and more fun than a glass of wine or a beer. When I was a kid, it seemed like all adults enjoyed their own cocktail of choice, and that drinking a mixed drink was just something that grown-ups did when they got home from work. After all, on Bewitched Samantha greeted Darren at the door with a pitcher of martinis, and when the Tates came over for dinner it was a very liquid affair.

Members of my own family were known for ordering particular cocktails. When Jim and I were kids, we used to go to University of Akron basketball games with Gramma and Grampa Neal , and before every game we would go to a restaurant called Sanginiti’s, where we sat at the same table and were waited on by a waitress named Christine. At dinner, Gramma had an Old-fashioned on the rocks (always ordered with the additional instruction: “and not too many rocks”), and Grampa had a Manhattan.

We learned about a bunch of new concoctions when we moved to Columbus and my parents hosted Ohio State football game parties. They had a fully stocked liquor cabinet, and partygoers would order a Tom Collins, a White Russian, a Stinger, or a Rusty Nail. When we got old enough, we would act as bartenders, and for a time I had a pretty good working knowledge of mixology. In college, Kish and I drank Seven and Sevens, available for 75 cents at Andy Capp’s bar on High Street (these drinks, which were served in a juice glass, did not seem very sophisticated in retrospect).

I’d like to see cocktails make a comeback, to the point where people don’t just order an appletini or whatever other “-tini” craze is hot at the moment, but return to some of the classics — like a real Martini, or a Brown Boxcar, or a Whiskey Sour. My guess is that, if the economy continues to bump along as it has been doing, people will be tempted to do so.

The Morning Walk

I had a bit of insomnia this morning, and I got up earlier than usual. As is my custom — and Kish correctly identifies me as a creature of habit — I got Penny leashed up and took my morning walk around the Yantis Loop. As Kish knows, I always go the same direction, and when Penny joins me she helps to add to the routine. In the first part of the walk we need to make sure that she answers the call of nature, and thereafter she must challenge my authority by stopping to sniff at every fence post. It takes a few tugs on the leash to teach her that on this morning, too, I mean business. By the mid-point of the walk, after we pass the pond and are approaching the icy patch at the turn that is always there during the winter, we are moving at a good clip, with Penny in the lead, head up and alert. When I get back home after my brush with exercise and the cold, the coffee tastes hot and good.

I like these walks because they get me up and going in the morning. I can listen to my Ipod as I walk along, and the uninterrupted time allows my mind to roam. Sometimes I think about work, sometimes about life, sometimes about the song I’m hearing, and sometimes about not much of anything at all. It is a good way to start the day.

Shanghai Rum

I find it interesting how families can be different in little ways. Growing up, my family — on both sides — loved to play cards; Kish’s family didn’t. Some families avidly follow sports teams; some are active in politics; some go to church, well, religiously.

Because everyone in my family played cards, I learned to love them. It was unavoidable. As kids, we played War. When Jim and I became old enough to spend the night at Gramma and Grampa Neal’s house, we would spend the evenings playing Gin Rummy. On vacations we played sprawling games of Hearts and Spades. When I was in high school kids on their free period played Euchre. My favorite card game was, and is, Cribbage, and probably the most mentally challenging game I ever played was Contract Bridge. Cards were great because they were an inherently social activity. Unless it was Solitaire, every card game was played with someone, and an important part of the game was the discussion that occurred as the cards were played, picked up, shuffled, and dealt. It might be a critique of how the hand was played, or the latest joke, or malicious gossip, or a cutting remark — but the social discourse was as much a part of the game as the cards themselves.

Nowhere was this more true than with my Gramma Webner and her sisters — Mildred, Marie and Margaret (the latter two always being referred to together, like “Laurel and Hardy” or “Abbott and Costello”). Their game of choice was called Shanghai Rum. No card game took longer to complete, had rules that were more complex and subject to argument, or provided more of an opportunity for gabbing. The rules of the game were written on dog-eared papers that were hauled out and placed on the table whenever a game began, so as to be available when the inevitable argument about the next step in the progression occurred. When Jim and I sat down for a game of Shanghai Rum with Gramma and her sisters, we knew that we were making a commitment to hours and hours of cards and conversation. I have no idea what we talked about during those games; I just remember that it was a lot of fun and a good way to pass the time.

I had forgotten exactly how the game was played — although I did remember that it involved multiple decks of cards, a progression of increasingly difficult combinations of sets and runs that needed to be achieved, “melds,” and “buys.” I happened to Google it today and was delighted to see that the indispensable Wikipedia has published the directions, which I’ve now printed out. In years to come, I’ll have my own dog-eared set of instructions, and some day, perhaps, Jim and I will be able to introduce a new generation of Webner relations to the slow-developing pleasures of Shanghai Rum.

A Roll Of The Dice

I park in a crumbling parking garage in downtown Columbus. From my spot on the 3rd floor, I have a commanding view of a surface parking lot immediately behind the garage and a neighboring brick building. Several years ago, they began displaying large outdoor advertisements on the side of the brick building overlooking the surface lot, which are then visible to the steady flow of traffic entering downtown on 3rd Street.

Last week they put up a new billboard, for a casino in Wheeling, West Virginia. It features a head-on photo of gamblers around a crap table and an enormous pair of red dice that give the ad an even more eye-catching, 3D quality. All of the people around the table are young, physically attractive, happy, and excited (and mostly female, too). The tag line reads: “Hey, Columbus! Come out and play!”

The ad is a bit inconsistent with what I’ve seen of casinos. I’ve never been to the Wheeling Casino that is the subject of the ad, but I have been to casinos in Las Vegas, Reno, the Bahamas, Bermuda, and Nice. On the inside, they all look the same — dark, and dark — and the people you see around the tables generally seems to be old, desperate, somewhat pathetic and, candidly, not particularly attractive.

My Reno experience was especially memorable. I was a young associate who had to go to Reno for a deposition of a man who had moved there after his business failed. Our client wanted to spend as little as possible and asked that I stay in the cheapest available lodgings, which happened to be the Circus Circus casino. (I think it cost about $35 a night.) Like many casino-hotels, you had to walk through the casino to get to the elevator to get to your room, and as I walked through the casino I was struck by how many of the people seemed to be lonely, elderly, and using walkers, canes, or wheelchairs — feeding quarters into slot machines with a vacant expression, or grimly shuffling their remaining chips at the blackjack table or roulette wheel.

I know that people can have a good time in a casino town, because my friends and my brother Jim have sworn that they’ve enjoyed their visits. On one occasion, Richard and I had a riot out in Las Vegas — but on that trip, we didn’t really gamble. Instead, we walked the Strip, went to a great comedy club performance, visited the shark aquarium, had some good dinners, and sat out by the awesome pool at Caesar’s Palace drinking beer.

So, my experience teaches that people should be skeptical when they see a casino ad that features a bunch of happy, excited, attractive people. Maybe the casino in Wheeling, West Virginia is different — but somehow I doubt it.

House Is Right

Fictional TV character Dr. Gregory House famously states: “Everybody lies.” Recent news indicates, once again, that House is right. Star baseball player Alex Rodriguez, after denying steroid use, admits that, at least for a certain period of time, he did use banned substances. The new President and the new Congress, after promising to conduct the people’s business with unprecedented transparency, write a 1000-page, $800 billion spending bill that has no legislative hearings and is not even printed and distributed to the members of Congress until a few hours before they vote on it. The new Illinois Senator, after conveniently forgetting contacts with the brother of the disgraced former Governor during his testimony before the state legislature, belatedly remembers and discloses those contacts in a supplemental affidavit. The list could go on and on.

I’m a big boy, and I understand that politicians and celebrities often don’t tell the truth. What really bugs me, though, is my nagging sense that those politicians and celebrities think they really fool us with their falsehoods and their hypocrisy. I think that, deep down,many of those individuals have complete contempt for the average, working American, and get a secret chuckle out of their belief that they have put another one over on us. So, I want to declare for the record: I have not been fooled, and I don’t think my friends have been fooled, either. We don’t believe politicians who say that they are altruistically doing things for the greater good rather than for personal gain, self-aggrandizement, or favorite lobbyists, we don’t believe athletes suddenly possessed of bulging muscles who swear that they don’t use performance-enhancing drugs, and we don’t believe celebrities who tout their lifestyle sacrifices to prevent global warming before they drive their Escalade to the local airport and hop on their personal jet.

The next time one of these folks tells a whopper, I hope they look in the mirror and feel a sick, creeping realization that they aren’t fooling us, because we don’t expect anything better from them. We know that they are corrupt and duplicitous. And I hope they feel embarrassed and ashamed for what they have become.

The Curse of Fandom

Lately I’ve been wondering if being a sports fan ultimately is a blessing, or a curse. In my adult lifetime, teams I have rooted for have won precisely one championship — the Ohio State Buckeyes won the college football national championship in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, which was a great game that Russell and I attended in person. (I’ll write a blog post about that experience some day, I think.)

Other than that, the record of the teams I root for has been dismal indeed. The Browns last won an NFL championship in 1964, when I was 7 years old and not really paying attention to professional football. They are one of the very few NFL teams that has never made it to even one Super Bowl, although they’ve played for a spot in the Super Bowl four times. The Buckeye football team and basketball team have had their share of heartbreaking losses in Big Games, the Cleveland Cavaliers have never won an NBA championship, and the poor Cleveland Indians have not won the World Series since 1948 — nine years before I was born. During much of my adult life, the Tribe was so appallingly bad that they actually made a fine and funny movie, Major League, about the team’s futility. (Alas, the movie was a fantasy.)

I admit that I get foolishly wrapped up in the teams I root for, and make a spectacle out of myself when they gag away a big one. It raises the question of whether the angst and stress from season after season of failure is worth the One Shining Moment when my team actually won it all. I’m not sure how I come out on that exercise in weighing pro and con, but in any case Spring Training is beginning and in a few days pitchers and catchers will report and another season of Indians baseball will begin. And perhaps … just perhaps … this will be the year.

Blatherings

Well, I have greatly disappointed Poppers with the fact that I have not posted a blog on the new Webner Family Blog, so consider this my inaugural blog.

First of all, I should say that Dad has greatly enjoyed the Webner Family Blog – great gift, Richard! He accesses it frequently, enjoys contributing, and enjoys (as do I) all of your and Russell’s entries. He’s been after me to post something quite nearly from its inception, but I find myself feeling inexplicably self-conscious — unlike Dad, who sits down and writes with great fluidity on a wide range of topics.

Anyhow, I think I will first write about Poppers. Since Penny returned, I’ve gotten a big kick out of the fact that she – while still clearly favoring me – now seems particularly fond of Poppers as well. She gladly goes on walks with him (sans me) comes to him when called, sits at his feet, is excited when he gets home for dinner, etc. Dad won’t admit it, but he clearly enjoys the apparent fondness Penny feels for him (although he still lets out those incredibly long sighs when Penny is doing something annoying and irritating, which is often. And I’m certain he believes life would be much easier without her.)

Anyhow, I told Dad I would make my first entry “Living with Poppers,” but I’m not sure I can sustain any one topic for any great length – but I’ll try. Actually, Dad is pretty easy to live with – and I’m certain I drive him nuts in a way he could never drive me. The biggest thing about Dad that became all the more apparent since you guys left the house is his proclivity toward routine. He always gets up at 5 am, takes his walk around the Yantes Loop, and always in the same direction. When I accompany him on the walks (which isn’t usually, I admit) I’ll suggest a different route – but I can always tell it kinds of unsettles him to deviate from his routine. Anyhow, once done with his walk, he comes home, plays solitaire on the ancient computer in the guest room, gets ready for work. Somewhere in between all those tasks he usually straightens up the house. He’s much neater than I (as you both know), and the various debris (chewed up plastic bags, toys, etc.) that Penny manages to leave everywhere drives him positively nuts, as do the many things (hosiery, wrappers, etc.) I leave scattered around.

When Poppers gets home in the evening, he changes, eats dinner and usually spends lots of time on the computer entering more songs onto his ipod, visiting the Webner family blog, etc. Sometimes we walk to the library. Lately we’ve started watching The Wire, which is a good television series about inner city Baltimore and the police department there. It’s very unusual; Dad said some people have called it the best television series ever; I think that’s hyperbole, but it is quite good.

Anyhow, back to routine …today we indulged in one of Popper’s more familiar routines – going to lunch at the Indian Oven (I didn’t have to work because of Presidents Day). The owner there really likes Dad, and they have their usual banter about whether Dad is going to order, once again, the Lamb Korma. Dad clearly enjoys the attention he gets there. The owner loves him – and why shouldn’t he? Between Dad and the various summer associates and other Vorys colleagues he takes there, he’s a darned good customer – one of the biggest “regulars,” I’m sure.

Anyhow, today Dad kept wishing everyone “Happy Presidents Day,” which elicited many strange looks in return.

Well, enough about Poppers …. All’s well here at home. Being an empty nester is very quiet. I can’t believe how quickly those years went by when both of you were home. It’s particularly strange to go into your bedrooms (not that I do that often, I promise). They pretty much look the same – that inimitable look of “perfect disorder” — but everything is sooooooo still and quiet.

Work, however, keeps me pretty busy. I work 7:30-4:30 pm. That 7:30 am remains a real challenge for me, but I’m managing. We’ve started ordering really good coffee (free trade, from Dean’s Beans/Amnesty International) at work, and so I look forward to a really good cup ‘o joe.

Anyhow, that’s about it for now. Maybe since I’ve done my first entry, the next one will come a bit more easily.

Mona Lisa, Revisited

Having finished the 1500-piece jigsaw puzzle of Dona III, by Joan Miro, I’m ready for a new challenge. So, I’m going to try once again to assemble the 1500-piece jigsaw puzzle of Mona Lisa. In addition to having an enigmatic smile, Mona Lisa provides makes a formidable puzzle challenge. Last year I tried to complete it over Christmas and ultimately gave up when I reached the acres of black in Mona Lisa’s gown and veil. I hate quitters, and it bugs me that I quit on the puzzle before, so I’m going to try again.