Good Capitals, Bad Capitals

An apartment search service called “Rent Hop” has declared Chicago the “Rat Capital” of the United States.  Rent Hop did a study of rat complaints and concluded that Chicago received far more rat complaints than other American cities — 50,963 in 2017 alone.  That’s a 55 percent increase since 2014, and factors out to 1,876 complaints per 100,000 people.  Even worse, the neighborhoods with the most rat complaints also tend to be the neighborhoods with the most uncollected dog droppings.

6432106That’s really a lot of rat complaints, when you think about it.  If you’re a renter in Chicago — particularly in some neighborhoods — you’re pretty likely to have a rat encounter.

The Windy City blew New York City out of the water in the Rat Capital race; the Big Apple logged only 19,152 rat complaints last year, which put it well down on the list on a per capita basis.  Second place on the per capita list went to Washington, D.C.  That should come as no surprise, although it’s not clear whether the D.C. count was limited to only four-legged rats, or also included the two-legged variety.

Fortunately, Columbus didn’t make the Rat Capital list.

Cities used to declare themselves “capitals” as a mark of civic pride.  When I was a kid, Uhrichsville, Ohio — where the Webner part of the family hails from — had a sign boasting that it was the “Clay Capital” of the United States.  (I’m not sure any other municipalities were vying for that distinction.)  Akron was the Rubber Capital in those days, and even now on the highways you’ll see corny signs saying that one town or another is the Friendly Folks Capital or the Smile Capital or the Lobster Capital.

I doubt that Chicago is going to put up a sign about the Rat Capital designation.

Going To The Moon

Forty-nine years ago, on July 20, 1969, the Lunar Module carrying Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon.  Neil Armstrong stepped off a ladder onto the lunar surface, spoke his famous words — “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind” — and history was made.

6dd375de95e2dbaea454b6203379dd20I was watching on that day, along with probably everyone else on the planet who had access to a TV set.  I remember sitting with UJ and watching grainy black and white footage as the lunar module landed and then, later, Armstrong stepped into history.  I was 12 years old.  Even now, I still feel a little thrill just thinking about that day and that moment, when it seemed like anything was possible and it would be the start of a golden age of space exploration that would take human beings to Moon bases, Martian colonies, and on to the stars.  Of course, that didn’t happen . . . but I still remember that awed and awesome feeling.

Popular Mechanics has a great piece that steps through the various phases of the Apollo 11 mission, from liftoff to the descent to the Moon to the return to Earth, based on the recollections of some of the participants.  It’s well worth reading.  If, like me, you watched it live in amazed wonder, you can relive that experience.  If you weren’t around then, it’s worth reading just to get a sense of what it was like for the United States of America to invent spacecraft, land on the Moon, and return to Earth in an era when the most sophisticated computer used on the mission would now be considered a Stone Age relic.  It was an extraordinary achievement.

I hope our politicians celebrate this 49th anniversary, and finally decide that it’s high time that we return to the Moon — and venture farther still.  It’s long overdue.

Passive-Aggressive Hugs And Kisses

In our German Village neighborhood, most residents tend to be very protective of our streets and sidewalks.  We also recognize, however, that come trash day it’s not uncommon for scavengers to drive up and down the streets, looking for the possibility that one person’s trash could become another person’s treasure.  A large discarded item often is plucked before the garbage guys swing by.

But what if large items are so ugly or smelly that even scavengers won’t touch them — and they’re not within the guidelines defining appropriate refuse to be collected on the standard pick-up days?  What’s a resident who cares about appearances to do then?

After this unappealing, overstuffed floral print chair and mirror appeared on the sidewalk and then stayed there, like a pimple on the smooth brick skin of Third Street, one resident decided to go down the passive-aggressive note route.  First one hand-lettered note — the one asking to “please make them not be here anymore” — appeared.  Then, when the floral monstrosity remained for a day or two more, the second one popped up . . . just in case the offender needed to know the proper method for disposing of the overstuffed horror.  And does the handwriting indicate it’s one note-leaver, or two?  The use of lower case in the newer note makes me wonder.

When I take my walk this morning, I’ll be eager to see whether the unsightly chair and mirror are still there — and, if so, whether a new, perhaps more pointed, note has sprouted on the rear of the mirror.  We’ve seen the passive-aggressive “please” and “thx,” and the even more ironic “XO” hugs and kisses.  What’s next?  A passive-aggressive smiley face?

(Not Quite) The Perfect Wedding

If you’ve ever watched the TV show Bridezillas, you know that some people have a clear, overwhelming urge to make their nuptials “the perfect wedding.”  From the wedding dress to the bridesmaid’s gowns, from the rehearsal dinner to the wedding reception, from the flowers to the table decorations and countless other little details that some guests might not even notice, they have a clear mental image of what their wedding festivities should be, and they won’t settle for anything less than the ideal.

But what if your wedding reception ended up near the opposite end of the spectrum?

c7c002d8f611f84dbb4a87126049271b-vintage-wedding-cake-toppers-wedding-topperThat’s pretty much what happened to an upstate New York couple at their wedding reception in the summer of 2015.  Things started to go south a little before 8 p.m., when the bride met one of the guests outside and found her incoherent and vomiting into a grocery bag.  The bride then saw one guest after another become violently, physically ill, and there weren’t enough bathrooms in the reception hall to meet the need.  Some unlucky guests weren’t able to make it to the bathrooms in time, while others began fainting.  Fire trucks and ambulances were summoned, tarps were laid down to allow guests to be triaged, and some guests needed to be given fluids intravenously to rehydrate them.

In all, at least 100 wedding guests became ill, and 22 had to be hospitalized.  The sickened guests turned out to have food poisoning in the form of a staph infection.  The not-quite-perfect wedding has now resulted in a lawsuit, with the bride and groom suing the caterer for the reception, seeking $12,000 in damages to pay the bills for the guests who were hospitalized.  The caterer denies that its food was the cause of the outbreak.

So the next time someone talks about wanting to have “the perfect wedding,” you might want to encourage them to go for a baseline that’s a little more reasonable — like having a vomit-free reception that doesn’t require guests to be hospitalized, for starters.

Sunglasses Summer

This summer I have a simple, straightforward goal.  I’m not trying to lose 50 pounds, or develop six-pack abs, or write the Great American Novel.  No, my sights are set much lower, at something that is at least reasonably attainable:  I want to wear my sunglasses as often as I possibly can.

Some years ago, when I bought a new pair of regular glasses, I got this pair of retro sunglasses for a reduced price.  However, I’ve never really worn them much.  I think it’s because I’ve never gotten in the habit of wearing sunglasses at all.  I’ve always worn prescription glasses, and back in the old days if you did your only option was to wear the kind of shades that clipped on to your regular glasses.  That was too nerdy for me, so I swore off sunglasses.  As a result, even when I got these prescription jobs that address the near-sightedness issue, I just never thought of wearing them.

But earlier this year I resolved that I should start wearing the sunglasses, and I’ve realized I really like it.  For one things, the dark lenses hide the unseemly bags and wrinkles surrounding my aging eyes.  For another, the sunglasses make me think I look stylish, even if that is a laughable proposition.  And wearing the sunglasses on hot days somehow makes me feel cooler, temperature-wise.  I know that can’t possibly be true in an objective sense, because obviously eyewear doesn’t reduce the ambient temperature or minimize the harshness of the sun’s rays, but wearing the shades gives me that feeling just the same — and I like it.

Already this year, I’m confident that I’ve worn my sunglasses more than I have in all of the years I’ve had them, combined.  I feel a certain sense of accomplishment, but I also feel like I’m in more of a summer mood.  Amazing what a pair of sunglasses can accomplish!

Flower Pot Fail

It’s been beastly hot in Columbus over the past few weeks, with temperatures in the 90s and very little rain.  You might aptly describe the weather as broiling — but that’s July in Ohio for you.

We’ve been gone for a few days during this torrid period.  That’s been good for us, because we were enjoying much cooler weather, but for the plants in our front flower pots?  Not so much.  When I got home they were dried out and teetering on the edge of death.  I’ve been watering them in the morning and again at night in hopes of saving them and am seeing some hopeful green signs, but it’s obvious the hot weather combined with lack of watering knocked them for a severe loop.  The flowers and plants in our beds, on the other hand, seem to have survived the hot dry weather just fine.

It makes me question whether having flower pots during a midwestern summer makes any sense at all — unless you are going to be around on a daily basis to water them.  Since we’re on the road regularly, I’m thinking that next year we might forgo the cruelty to the poor potted plants and the guilt that comes from seeing desiccated brown leaves.

“Traveler’s Constipation”

The New York Times carries one of those “ask a doctor” columns called “Ask Well.”  The other day it responded to the question:  “Is there such a thing as traveler’s constipation?”

Parenthetically, this reminded me of when I was in college and the Ohio State Lantern carried a similar, extremely popular feature, in which one of the doctors at the University responded to student health questions.  Since the questioners were college students, the tone of the inquiries wasn’t exactly elevated.  I remember that one of the questions fielded by the doctor came from an oddly observant student who wondered why some of his toilet deposits sank to the bottom of the bowl while others floated.  No doubt the doctors who agree to write such columns wonder, from time to time, whether this is really why they went through the hell involved in getting an M.D.

e2e8df6b6cfdc669ce638b702cfcacc6Anyway, back to the pressing issue of “traveler’s constipation” — the Times doc states that there is such a thing, and it afflicts a percentage of travelers.  In fact, several medical studies of the phenomenon have been conducted.  One of the studies, of 70 Europeans who had traveled to the U.S., was quite robust in its data acquisition.  The Times described it as follows: “In addition to the usual questionnaires, all subjects maintained diaries on their bowel habits, had stool samples evaluated for consistency according to a standardized methodology, and had their colonic transit time measured after ingesting radioactive tracers. Colonic transit time is the time required for stool to move through the large intestine.”  (You’d think that ingesting radioactive tracers that the subjects would know were moving through their guts and then maintaining diaries on bowel movements and having stool samples analyzed might interfere with normal functioning and produce false results, but apparently not.)  And there are actually products out in the market that are supposed to help deal with “traveler’s constipation.”

But although the studies reported in the Times detected some evidence of “traveler’s constipation,” which apparently is primarily noticed during the first days of travel and often correlates with jet lag, whether the condition is caused by travel isn’t exactly clear.  The studies note that travel also often involves changes in diet and exercise — sitting at an airport gate eating something purchased along the concourse isn’t exactly designed to promote “regularity” — and the Times doc also notes that a significant portion of people, from 12 to 19 percent, are generally constipated whether they are traveling are not.  That may explain why it’s not unusual to meet grumpy people in the world.

It’s also not clear whether the studies also looked at another potential cause for “traveler’s constipation” — namely, a concerted effort on the part of mind and body to avoid having to use a dubious public airport bathroom — that might contribute to the condition.  The good news, though, is that the Times doc concludes that “traveler’s constipation” is not a serious health problem.  In short, it too shall pass.

Original Fixture

Our little cottage in Stonington has been revised and reconfigured and redesigned repeatedly since it was first built in the early 1900s.  As a result of all of the renovation work, we think there’s only one original fixture still in the house — the ceiling light in the guest room.  We’re determined to keep it as the one interior connection to the original design of the place.

It wasn’t a hard decision, because it’s a nifty little pink glass piece that has a distinctly old-fashioned, cottagey vibe to it.  But what I particularly like is the design.  Unlike modern overhead lights, which require you to stand, aching arms stretched directly overhead, and loosen multiple screws and then remove a glass fitting to get to the light bulb, this design is open.  Remove one of the anchors, tilt the pink glass section down, and voila!  You can easily change the light bulb or, more frequently, remove the inevitable collection of fly carcasses that you’re always going to find in a summer cottage.

It’s as if the light fixture design was based on the practical realities of where the light fixture would be and how it would be used, and took into consideration making it easier and simpler for the user to do the basics like changing a bulb.  What a concept!

The Back Page Of The Sunday Comics

The other day Kish and I were wandering through a thrift store. On a shelf stuffed with old Saturday Evening Posts and long forgotten board games, I saw this Dondi puzzle.

Dondi? I haven’t thought of Dondi in years. For those of you who never encountered the little guy, he was a “goody two shoes” type who appeared on the back pages of the Akron Beacon Journal Sunday comics section. Dondi was one of those darkly colored, continuing story comic strips that had a more serious bent — like the severe-looking, judgmental Mary Worth, who always seemed to be meddling in other people’s lives, or Brenda Starr, Reporter, the glamorous, starry-eyed journalist who never seemed to actually sit down at a typewriter.

I never actually read any Dondi comics, because it was one of those back pages strips. I read the front page, with Peanuts and Dagwood and Blondie and Beetle Bailey, and would read back past Andy Capp and The Lockhorns and Cappy Dick, but Gasoline Alley was as far back as I would go. The last pages of the Sunday comics were forbidding territory, with strange adult themes. If Dondi was placed back there, with all of that drama and angst, that told you all you needed to know.

What kid would want to read that stuff? It would be like telling your Mom on a fine summer day that instead of playing outside with your friends you wanted to sit down with her and watch The Days Of Our Lives or As the World Turns.

On The Rooty Route To Barred Island

There are many good hiking trails on Deer Isle.  One of the nicest ones, maintained by the Nature Conservancy, is the trail that runs past Goose Cove to the Barred Island Preserve.  It’s called Barred Island — I think — because when the tide is in Barred Island is an island, but when the tide is out a land bridge forms that allows you to get out on the island without getting your feet wet.  You can see the spit of land that leads out to Barred Island in the photo above..

 

 

 

There’s just one problem:  the trail out to Barred Island, which runs through a dense forest, is just about the rootiest trail you’re ever likely to encounter.  That isn’t an issue for normal folks.  In fact, so many prior hikers have taken this route that the exposed roots are worn smooth by the tread of countless prior visitors.  But if you’re a foot-dragging stumblebum like me, it means you’ve got to carefully watch where you are planting every size 12 shoe, to make sure that you’re not going to turn an ankle or do a face plant on the next root system.

 

 

If you pause for a moment before you make the next careful step on the rooty route, though, you’ll realize that you’re in some of the nicest forest you’re likely to see.  And . . . it’s so quiet!  There’s not a sound to be heard, and if you’re walking on a day where there’s a gentle breeze, as was the case during our hike, not even insects will bother you.  There’s so much pine straw on the ground that, except when you’re walking on the roots themselves, it’s like you’re walking on a plush natural carpet.

As you approach the water, after a hike of about a mile, you begin to sense the salty ocean smell mingling with the overwhelming scent of pine.  Finally you emerge onto a scenic overlook that allows you to see out onto the water and the islands that are far away. It’s a breathtaking view. 

Once you get out to the Barred Island and the bay, you’ll encounter a fabulous waterfront scene.  To the right, across a gritty, pebble-strewn beach, is Barred Island, and to the left are more of those colossal Maine granite boulders, many of them algae covered because they fall into an intertidal zone. And beyond that lies the sailboat-studded vista of the bay.

On the way back, be sure to take the shoreline loop and the short detour to Prayer Rock.  The path leads us up to a flat granite outcropping that is far above the cove and the bay, which can be seen through the ever-present pine trees.  You’re not the first one to visit the promontory, of course — some thoughtful soul has built stone benches that are dedicated to some other people who loved this area and the beautiful view the Prayer Rock offers.

 

Alas — it’s time to return, back over the rooty path to where you began.  Watch your step, and be sure to hand that walking stick that you found to the next traveler who wants to enjoy the hike to Barred Island.

Off Green Head Point

This afternoon we were walking and met up with a few locals who showed us some of the trails around Green Head Point — trails we would never have found on our own. The trails led down to the waterway between Deer Isle, Peggy’s Island, and Crotch Island, where the big quarries are to be found.

Based on what we’ve seen, you could probably set up a quarry wherever you wanted. Granite seems to be everywhere.

Handedness

This morning we went to the Deer Isle weekly farmers’ market. In addition to stalls offering local produce, eggs, dairy products, and meats, there also are stalls offering crafts and handmade goods — like the one that sold these spoons.

As I walked by, I was struck by this pile of left-handed spoons. There was a similar pile of right-handed spoons, as well as spoons that were agnostic on the preferred hand issue. I thought it was a joke — like the old prank about telling a gullible kid that he needed to go find a left-handed screwdriver– but the earnest young woman selling the spoons made clear it was no joking matter. Getting the right spoon to match your “handedness” is extremely important, she said.

It seemed strange to me — but then the whole concept of “handedness” seems pretty strange, too. Human beings are studies in bilateral symmetry; we have two arms, legs, hands, feet, eyes, ears, and nostrils. We don’t typically think of people as having a dominant leg, or ear, or nostril — so why do so many people have a dominant hand? About 90 percent of humans are right-handed, 9 percent are left-handed, and only the remaining 1 percent are truly ambidextrous.

That means, of course, that the market for left-handed spoons is a lot smaller than the market for right-handed spoons. But why should we have a dominant hand at all?

Noisy Jobs

The TV show Dirty Jobs features host Mike Rowe checking out jobs that involve difficult, hazardous, and frequently disgusting conditions — like working in a sewage processing facility.  The jobs featured on that show would be a tough way to earn a living, but I’m wondering whether having a job that exposes you to noises all day wouldn’t be worse — for me, at least.

spinaltap_128pyxurzWe’re having some work done to the exterior of our house, and the crew that’s doing the job is using an assortment of tools that make a wide variety of different loud noises.  There’s the humming drone of the air compressor.  There’s the sharp, staccato bark of the nail gun.  And then there are devices that make grinding noises, devices that make sawing noises, and devices that make incredibly high-pitched whines.  It’s like being in a This Is Spinal Tap dentist’s office from hell, with the volume on the amplifier turned up to 11.

For a while every day, when the crew begins their work, I think I can screen out the noise.  And for a while it works.  But ultimately the different sounds, occurring in different combinations, break through the mental barrier.  And once that happens, all I can think about is when the nail gun is going to be sounding off again, and I’ve got to get out and go somewhere where I can find peace and quiet.

The guys who are on the crew are a good group.  They work hard, know what they’re doing, and seem to enjoy having jobs where they get to work outside on sunny days and sing along to the songs on the radio while they saw and grind and nail.  The noises don’t seem to bother them.

My hat’s off to them, but I couldn’t do what they’re doing.  I’ve realized I really need a quiet place to work.

Neon Art

I’ve always liked neon signs.  There’s something kitschy about them, of course, but also something classically American — bold, consciously attempting to be memorable and attract passersby, naked in their capitalistic purpose, and often dosed with fantasy or humor.  Plus, neon really looks cool at night.

Downtown Boston has come up with a great way to celebrate — and preserve — some of these neon relics of a.past America.  On one of the small strips of land between the downtown area and the waterfront, called the Greenway, neon signs have been positioned around the perimeter.  The signs draw visitors like moths to light.  Two of my favorites were the Siesta Motel, with its cactus and sombrero theme, and the Flying Yankee Restaurant, with its rocket ship and flaming trail.  The Siesta Motel, which dates from 1950, was located in Saugus, Massachusetts — where its southwestern-themed sign must have stood out like a sore thumb — and the Flying Yankee Restaurant, which dates from 1953, long before rocket ships were commonplace, was located in Auburn, Massachusetts.

Don’t you wish you’d had a chance to see these signs on the great American road during the ’50s, and perhaps stop at the Flying Yankee for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie?

The Long Wharf

I’m in Boston for work, staying down in the old financial district near waterfront. Last night I took a walk out onto the Long Wharf, which juts out into the Charles River. The area has been a focus of redevelopment efforts, and last night it was crowded with people getting on and off harbor boat tours, enjoying an after-work beverage and the music at an outdoor gathering spot on the wharf, and trying to decide which of the many nearby restaurants to select for the night’s dinner.

It’s a great area if you’re a Midwestern landlubber who always enjoys checking out real harbors. There were sailboats on the water, enormous chains and tie-off pilings, and a sense of bustling activity that you always get at a busy harbor. It’s a fun thing to watch and experience, and gives you a good sense of what making the waterfront easily accessible to walkers and joggers can mean for a town.