Asphalt Fumes

Today, as I walked to and from work, I smelled the scent of summer.  That’s because Third Street has just been repaved, and I was taking in the black, tarry aroma of asphalt.

IMG_1113I reflexively associate asphalt with summer because we lived on an asphalt street when I was a kid.  After a rugged Akron winter, come spring the cracks and holes in the street would be patched with more asphalt and a layer of tar.  When the hot summer months arrived, the asphalt would reach scorching temperatures and sprout tar bubbles, and the smell was as rich and heady as the sulphur fumes belched out by the rubber factories downtown.  You got tar on your sneakers, tar on your bare feet, and tar on your bicycle tires.

Ever since, the dark smell of tar says summer to me, just as much as the eye-watering odor of chlorine in the local pool or the mouth-watering bouquet of burgers sizzling on the grill when the Velveeta cheese is just starting to melt and drip onto the hot charcoal.  It’s as integral to the summer experience as the tinny sound of Turkey in the Straw played on the cheap loudspeaker on the roof of the ice cream truck or the smack of a fastball hitting the catcher’s mitt.

I took a deep whiff of that instantly familiar smell and barely succeeded in resisting the temptation to take off my shoes and stroll the asphalt in my bare feet, as in days gone by.  By the time I got home, I put on my shorts and sunglasses and let summer know that I was glad it was here, and ready for it, too.

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Working On The Friday Before The Memorial Day Weekend

It’s the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend, the first big three-day weekend of 2016.

The Martin Luther King Day and President’s Day three-day weekends don’t really count, do they?  They come during the winter when the weather stinks and it’s not much fun to go outside.  The Memorial Day weekend is different.  Now, people want to get outside and get going.  The traveling types want to hit the road, even though they know the traffic will be a pain, and get to their destination at the beach or the mountains or the national park as quickly as possible.  The stay-at-homers are looking forward to partying with friends and family, grilling out, playing catch, and swimming at the public pool on its opening weekend.  And everyone, whether they are staying or going, is looking forward to donning sunglasses and putting on shorts and drinking a cold beverage in warm sunshine.

empty-office-007We’re on the verge of the unofficial beginning of summer.  You can feel it in your bones, and today you’ll feel it in your workplace, too, as you walk past lots of empty offices and darkened cubicles and overhear co-workers talking about their fun weekend plans and see them anxiously looking at clocks and watches  and cell phones .

I’ve always thought the Fridays before the Memorial Day weekend and the Labor Day weekend are two of the toughest working days of the year.  If you’re smart and have the seniority, you take a vacation day and enjoy that magical four-day weekend.  If you’re a marginal employee, or worse, you wake up this morning and somehow convince yourself that you can plausibly call in sick on one of the days when workplace absenteeism undoubtedly is at its peak.  But if you’re a solid, responsible adult like the rest of us, you show up for work today, accept that it’s part of the job, and feel like a kid on the last day of school, just waiting for the bell to ring telling you that you can run out the school doors without coming back for three months.

I look at it this way:  working on the Friday before Memorial Day just makes the three-day weekend all the sweeter.

Hillary’s Real Problem

The State Department Inspector General’s report on Hillary Clinton’s establishment of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State poses a big problem for her bid to win the presidency.  That’s because the report not only contradicts some of the Clinton talking points about the whole ill-advised email escapade, but also reveals new information that accentuates why many people are leery of Clinton in the first place.

The report is, I think, a devastating rebuke for Clinton.  It can’t be reasonably depicted as a partisan hatchet job, because it was ordered by Secretary of State John Kerry and performed by the inspector general’s office during the Obama Administration.  And it recounts, in brutal detail, Clinton’s violation of State Department policies.  The report states that, according to officials, Clinton’s server was not, and would never have been, approved.  It concludes that Clinton failed to preserve federal records in conformity with the Department of State policies under the Federal Records Act.  It reveals that there was an apparent hacking attempt on the server, and that people who asked questions about the server were told not to discuss it.  In short, it confirms the worst-case scenario that Clinton and her minions have been downplaying ever since this story first broke.

David Brooks of the New York Times recently wrote an interesting piece on why he thinks Hillary Clinton is so unpopular.  He postulates that it’s because she’s presented as a kind of workaholic and never displays the human qualities that make her tick — what her hobbies are, what her interests are, and the other pieces of intimate knowledge that our nation supposedly craves in this internet age.  I think Brooks got it precisely wrong.  It’s silly to think that public perception about Clinton would change dramatically if we learned, for example, that she makes crafts in her spare time or enjoys skiing.  I think the root problem for Hillary Clinton is a combination of general “Clinton fatigue,” because she and her husband have been in the public eye, demanding our attention seemingly forever, and the fact that, in the eyes of many people, she projects a strong sense of entitlement and being above it all.

When those people watch Hillary Clinton, they get the sense that she’s annoyed at having to go through the motions, give the speeches, and pretend she’s enjoying it, when deep down she resents the fact that people just don’t bow to her paper resume and acknowledge that she is the most qualified person to serve as President and give the job to her, already.  It’s not that she’s not displaying human qualities, it’s that the human qualities she displays are the kind that many people find totally off-putting.  She’s like the kid who rolls his eyes and smirks when other kids give wrong answers during a spelling bee or a flash card contest and just wants to be reaffirmed as the smartest kid in the class.  Those kids tended not to be the most popular kids in the grade.

And that’s where, in my view, the IG report is especially troublesome for Clinton.  It reveals that Kerry and former Secretaries of State Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Madeleine Albright all cooperated and answered questions as part of the Inspector General’s investigation — but Clinton didn’t.  In fact, she not only didn’t cooperate and sit for an interview, but her chief of staff and top aides didn’t either.  Really?  They got paid salaries by the taxpayers, but they won’t participate in an investigation that deals with issues of compliance with federal records laws and potential exposure of highly confidential government documents?  Who the heck do these people think they are?

As for Hillary Clinton, she’s apparently got plenty of time to give speeches to Wall Street firms and trade groups for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and pose for grip and grin photos with high rollers, but she can’t be bothered to answer questions as part of an investigation by an official in the department she once headed?  It’s the kind of high-handed behavior that we’ve come to expect from the Clinton camp, expressing irritation and exasperation at doing the things that everyone else accepts and endures.

That’s why so many people don’t care for Hillary Clinton.  If she took up knitting or skeet-shooting, their views aren’t going to change.

Emily Appleseed

One of Russell’s friends and fellow Cranbrook Academy graduates is interested in urban farming.  Emily has started a fruit farm in the middle of Detroit on some derelict property, in hopes of bringing fruit and a neighborhood resource to families in the area who don’t have ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  It’s an incredibly cool idea that shows that, once again, one person and a dream can really make a difference in America.

Emily’s efforts are being chronicled in a Detroit Journal video series called Emily Appleseed.  You can watch the first episode above.  Russell himself makes an appearance in the second video, below, helping to clear the property and following a tractor to turn the soil.  He looks like a natural farmer.  His grandfather, Bill Kishman, who was a farmer for many years, would be proud.  The rest of the series can be found on YouTube.

30

Today Richard turns 30.  It’s one of those round number birthdays, divisible by ten without fractional results, that we tend to think of as especially significant.  Of course, in reality it’s just the turn of a calendar page; it’s not as if the adulthood fairy taps you with her wand when you turn 30 and converts you into a real grown-up.

And yet, it’s significant just the same, isn’t it?

I think we tend to focus on those round number birthdays, especially the early ones, because each decade of our existence can be aptly captured by a word or two.  From zero to 10 you’re just a kid, happy and unselfconscious and wondering at the world and soaking up just about everything.  From 10 to 20, you’re the self-absorbed teenager, fretting about your popularity and your place in the social, sports, and academic order at middle school and high school and college.  And in your 20s, you’re trying to figure out which way your life will go, finishing college, taking your first long-term job and then leaving it, moving from one city to another, and perhaps getting a second degree.

0001993830, though, seems to be the jump-off point for real adulthood.  You’ve settled on your career, and your personal situation is more settled, too.  People treat you like a fully functional, contributing member of society.  You stop getting carded at bars.  And for some of us, your parents start to lean on you for help and support and — gulp! — advice and decision-making.  After you hit 30, Mom and Dad start to seem a lot less iconic and a lot more human.

I distinctly remember when Kish and I turned 30.  We hosted a party for our friends at a local joint called the Grandview Cafe.  All of the people who were there were couples about our age, early in their careers, with little kids at home.  It was a fun party, but not the kind of wild, kick out the jams, loud-music-and-on-the-edge-of-barfing revelry of earlier days.  At the time I had worked at the firm for about eight months, Richard hadn’t quite hit his first birthday, and unbeknownst to us Russell would be joining the family a year later.  We were no longer on the cusp of adulthood — it had arrived.

Parents tend to hold on to a mental image of their kids as kids — or at least, I do.  When I think of Richard, my brain begins with the skinny, blond-haired kid who loved Home Alone and liked to build elaborate Lego worlds and created a comic-book character named Blurby and loved roller coasters.  That mental image is no longer accurate, and hasn’t been accurate for a long time.  He’s built a successful career as a talented professional journalist, he’s engaged to be married, and he’s been thoughtfully navigating the shoals of adulthood, on his own, for several years now.

In short, he’s 30.

Happy birthday, Richard!

The New Public Square Takes Shape

IMG_1091When I was in Cleveland yesterday, I got a bird’s-eye view of the ongoing work on Public Square.  By all accounts, it’s on track to be completed in time for the Republican Convention in Cleveland in July.

The new Public Square is an obvious improvement over old Public Square, which was divided into quadrants by heavily trafficked streets and served as a kind of way station for aggressive panhandlers.  It wasn’t exactly a welcoming venue.  The new Public Square has more green space — although not quite as much as I would have expected — and will have a restaurant in the building at the left corner of the photo above, a fountain area, and a concert venue on the boomerang-shaped grassy area to the right.  There’s still a road smack dab through the middle, but it’s now going to be limited to buses.

It looks like it will be a fine place for the pro-Trump forces and the anti-Trump forces to clash come July.   Hey, they don’t call it Public Square for nothing!  The big test, though, will come when the conventioneers leave.  Will Clevelanders adopt Public Square like Columbusites have adopted the Columbus Commons, or will it once again become a kind of no man’s land where people fear to tread?  Only time will tell.

Blackened Walleye Tacos

IMG_1088Next to, perhaps, pizza, tacos have changed the most since I was a kid.  In those days tacos were a tasty, but extremely limited, food option that inevitably consisted of a somewhat stale hard corn shell that broke into smithereens when you bit into it, ground beef browned to within an inch of its life, a dollop of refried beans, and taco sauce — along with the vegetables of your choice, if you wanted to ruin a good thing.

At some point, however, some culinary visionary realized that taco-ey goodness should not simply be a means of delivering browned ground beef to the digestive tract.  So chicken tacos were introduced, then pork, and the hard corn shells were ditched in favor of flour-based soft tacos . . . and then the food and flavor floodgates opened.

All of which leads us to the blackened walleye tacos that I had for lunch yesterday at a place called Pura Vida, just off Public Square in downtown Cleveland.  These delectable eats could trace their lineage to the tacos of my youth, I suppose, but they bore as little relation to those basic staples as modern humans bear to our pre-mammalian ancestors who crawled the earth during the Cretaceous period.  The walleye, which is one of the best eating fish you can find anywhere, was absolutely fresh, and the blackened preparation gave it a very tasty kick.  Add a light citrus avocado creme sauce, throw in some red cabbage slaw, corn, and tomato bits, and liberally douse with freshly squeezed lime juice that you supply through the grip of your own two hands and you have the perfect, flavorful light summer lunch — as opposed to the gut-busting tacos of days gone by.

Pura Vida allows you to choose a side with your taco treat, and I went for the African peanut stew.  It was a sentimental choice, because I once worked with a guy from Africa who prepared a curry peanut soup that was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve never seen it served anywhere else.  The Pura Vida version, which is made from sweet potato, kale, curry, and peanuts and includes a healthy spoonful of diced peanuts on top, had just the right combination of sweetness and spice and also had a nice, coarse texture.  It was an excellent pairing for the tacos.

Where with the continued evolution of the taco take us?  I can’t wait to find out.