Back To The ’60s

2020 has been just about the worst year imaginable so far, but over the last few days it has acquired a definite ’60s vibe, too.  With riots happening in the streets of American cities in reaction to the shocking and outrageous death of George Floyd, it’s like 1966 and 1967 and 1968 all over again.  Even middle-of-the-road Columbus has seen its share of disturbances.

636178516108265271-dfpd24221Civil unrest seemed pretty commonplace when I was a kid.  Whether it was “race riots,” Vietnam War protests that got out of hand, reactions to the assassinations of leading figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, or random civil disobedience, smoke in the air and tear gas canisters on the ground were a familiar sight.  Authorities would warn about what might happen during the “long hot summer,” and rioting and looting seemed to occur as a matter of course.  Footage of people throwing Molotov cocktails, smashing windows, and running with armfuls of loot from burning buildings were staples of the nightly TV news broadcasts and morning news shows.  And authorities learned the hard way that when a population gathers in sufficiently large numbers and decides to go on a building-burning rampage, there’s not much you can do about it — without applying overwhelming force and ramping up the tension even further.

Although rioting seemed like an annual occurrence during the ’60s, eventually the riots stopped.  Unfortunately, they left behind areas of gutted buildings and ruined, derelict neighborhoods that in some cases still haven’t recovered, more than 50 years later.  And the small businesses that are typically the focus of the burning and smashing and looting often don’t come back, either.  Drive around modern Detroit if you don’t believe me.

Disturbances happen when people feel that they are being treated unfairly and that they have nowhere to turn for justice.  They protest because they feel its the only way to make their voices heard.  Mix in some people who are looking to gain some cheap thrills and personal advantage from the unrest, and you’ll have looting and arson, too.

The best way to begin to deal with the issue in this case is to let the system work and do justice in the terrible case of George Floyd.  Giving people the feeling that things are getting back to normal, by lifting some of the coronavirus restrictions, might help, too.

Cooking With “Liquid Gold”

We’ve learned a lesson during this shutdown period:  if you are ordering groceries for delivery in order to comply with a mandatory governmental quarantine, you really need to be specific about what you want.  Otherwise, you run the risk that the person who is doing the shopping for you will make a judgment call that might not be what you intended.

We learned this lesson this week when we placed a delivery order and one of the items was “American cheese.”  We were thinking of the Kraft singles for use in grilling cheeseburgers, but what we got instead was a box of Velveeta “liquid gold” cheese — which definitely stirred some childhood memories.

In the Webner household of the ’60s, a brick of Velveeta was a staple of the family refrigerator.  Who doesn’t remember opening up the foil wrapper and gazing at that soft, golden brick still bearing the traces of the foil wrapper that indicated that the cheese had been injected into the packaging in liquid form.  (Presumably, that’s why the package calls Velveeta “liquid gold.”)  Unlike other cheese, Velveeta could not be cut and eaten by hand, unless you wanted to squish the cheese and end up with a thick cheese residue on your hands.  Instead, Velveeta was specifically designed for melting and cooking purposes — like gooey grilled cheese sandwiches, or even more gooey macaroni and cheese.

We haven’t had a brick of Velveeta in the fridge for years, but it doesn’t look like it has changed one bit in the intervening decades.  The packaging and presentation looks the same, although the box now helpfully notes that Velveeta has 50 percent less fat than cheddar cheese.  Back in the ’60s, the fat content of Velveeta — or for that matter any other kind of food in the family fridge or cupboard — was not something that was disclosed, or even considered. 

We’ll be using every ounce of this unexpected brick for cooking, because in the shutdown period, it’s “waste not, want not.”  Yesterday we made scrambled eggs with the “liquid gold,” and it still melts as well as it ever did.  

Sketchy Stuff First

When you’re stuck at home by governmental edict and need to be mindful that you can’t simply go out at your whim to replenish your supplies, what is your approach to how to address the available resources?  More specifically, do you consume the good stuff first, knowing that at the end of your shut-in period your future self will be dealing with the dregs and cursing your present self for total selfishness, or do you hit with the sketchy items first, secure in the knowledge that your future self will be reveling in the good stuff later and thanking you for your foresight and sacrifice?

I always adopt the latter approach — which is why, last night, I tried my first few cans of “hard seltzer.” 

I’ve seen younger people trying this stuff, but had never been tempted myself.  A global pandemic and mandatory isolation periods have ways of imposing their will upon such preferences, however.  A few cans of the stuff were in the refrigerator, and since I wanted to preserve our limited supply of beer and wine, I decided to give it a try.  Last night I sampled the “ruby grapefruit” and “black cherry” flavors.

In looking at the can, I can see why people might drink this stuff.  It’s low carb, and low calorie.  It’s also low taste — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you’re talking about an over-the-top flavor like “ruby grapefruit.”  I braced myself for the first few sips, thinking that it might be horribly cloying.  Fortunately, the folks at White Claw took a more subtle approach.  It’s still the flavor of grapefruit (not exactly the taste I’m going for in an alcoholic beverage) but at least it’s not at the pungent, hit you over the head level.  That said, in my view the black cherry flavor was more potable — although it still isn’t a flavor I would choose for an adult drink, and reminded me more of the kind of beverage you’d get as a kid at an amusement park.

Flavors aside, the hard seltzer is definitely a light and refreshing beverage, and as someone who’s gone the low-carb route before in the desperate twilight struggle against unnecessary pounds, I can see its appeal from that standpoint.  It’s not going to replace a cold beer in my book, but it’s not undrinkable.  Once we get out of the house and get a chance to hit the grocery store, I might actually try some other flavors, and stock the refrigerator with a few cans in anticipation of the next global pandemic.

A World Very Far Away

It’s been foggy the last few days.  This morning the fog is so thick that the rising sun is about as bright as a street lamp looming over the harbor, as the picture above shows.  When it comes to fog, Maine could give Sherlock Holmes’ London a run for its money.

As this morning’s sun shows, fog is a natural shield of sorts.  It obviously blocks your view of things that, on a clear day, you could see distinctly, and narrows your universe to the small realm that you can see.  It swallows and engulfs sound, too.  Sound waves fight to get through the legions of water droplets in the air, then just give up and fade away.  The silence of a foggy day is about as silent as the busy modern world can get.  Your ears will search diligently for any scrap of noise, simply not believing that it can be so quiet.  Even the sharp barking of a neighbor’s dog become muffled and softened.

It’s odd to be encased in fog as the country slowly emerges from a global pandemic.  On a foggy Maine hilltop, the coronavirus, and the harms and divisions it has caused, seem very far away.

A Working Man’s Cure For Insomnia

From time to time I experience insomnia.  After a while, you get used to it.  You wake up at 1:30 a.m., fully alert, and after trying unsuccessfully to fall back asleep you yield to the inevitable, get up, and do something until you feel like you can fall back asleep again.  I think insomnia occurs when something important is happening, and my subconscious brain just won’t stop fretting about it even while my conscious brain is asleep.

img_9638But, for me, at least, there is a cure for insomnia:  physical labor, preferably outside.

The last few days I’ve been fighting the dandelion wars out in the yard.  This involves bending over and, frequently, getting down on hands and knees to find the roots of the dastardly dandelions, then using a gardening tool as a lever to try to pop them out.  Often that’s a struggle, as you dig around in the hard ground trying to find the root — because if you don’t find the root those dandelions are just going to crop up once more and you’ll have to do the whole exercise over again.  Fill a bucket with the dandelion roots, flowers, leaves and other remains, walk down to deposit them in our compost pile, and then start over again in another part of the yard.  Do that for a few hours on a bright, sunny day and you’ll discover muscles in your back and legs and hands that you’ve forgotten you had.  Do that for a few days and hands that haven’t known callouses for decades might actually begin to develop a few, and hamstrings will be crying out for relief.

And at night, when darkness falls, you’ll find that you’re so exhausted that sleep comes easily and the nocturnal bouts with insomnia simply don’t happen.  It’s as if the physical fatigue overwhelms any effort by the subconscious mind to force you awake, so you sleep well — other than a leg cramp or two.

It’s just one of the many benefits of physical work — and obviously weeding doesn’t even hold a candle to the degree of effort needed to work on a construction crew or a farm.  People who do that for a living must sleep like rocks.

A Day For Those Who Served

Power Day:  59th Ordnance Brigade recognizes achievement

Memorial Day comes very early this year, but for a grateful nation it is never too early to appreciate those who have served on behalf of their country.  On this day, we take time to remember the selfless men and women who have fallen, and to recognize those who are serving yet today.  We say thank you to the soldiers and sailors, to the Marines, the Air Force pilots, and the Coast Guard captains, and — because it is the 21st century, after all — to the members of the newest branch of the U.S. military, to the members of the U.S. Space Force.

Thank you for all you have done and are doing to keep our nation safe and strong!

Dandelion Wars

The battle is on, already.  It’s an eternal, never-ending battle, like good versus evil or modern Americans versus encroaching obesity.  Except this battle is for the highest stakes of all:  a nice, grassy yard come summertime.

The enemy is the dandelion.  Sure, there are other weeds in the yard — lots of them, to be honest — but the dandelion is the undisputed leader of the weed brigade.  It sits there in the yard, flaunting its bright yellow flower, putting on an act of innocence.  As a child, you might have have gathered a fistful of dandelion flowers and brought them home to Mom.  You certainly picked and blew with delight on a dandelion puffball — blissfully unaware that, in so doing, you were scattering nefarious dandelion seeds to every corner of your yard and unconsciously aiding the ultimate lawn care enemy. 

But with adulthood came the realization that dandelions had to be defeated — in fact, they had to be wiped from the face of the yard at all costs.  You understood that dandelions, with their wicked sawtooth leaves and spreading roots, were killing off the grass and opening the way for other, prickly weeds to quickly turn your nice, soft, barefoot-friendly lawn into a ugly, painful, weed-infested disaster. 

There were times, after a long weed-hunting day out in the yard, when contemplated your aching hamstrings and briefly wondered whether the constant battle against dandelions was worth it, because you seemed to be fighting a desperate rear-guard action against an implacable, inexorable inhuman foe.  You wondered: Would it really be so bad to let the weeds win?  But you quickly dismissed that thought as ridiculous and self-defeating.  You grasped that it was your duty, as a good neighbor concerned about property values and the wrath of other homeowners on the block, to fight the good fight. 

Well, it’s Memorial Day, dandelion fighters!  That means it’s time to get out those tools and gloves, scan for the familiar dandelion signs, and get down on your knees and get back into the fray.  Once more into the breach, dear friends!