The New Calendars Are Here!

When I went in to the office yesterday, to work there for the first time since March, I saw that my 2021 calendars had been delivered — and I was thrilled to see them.

Getting my new work calendars so I can keep track of my schedule in the coming months is one of those very basic ministerial elements of work. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about it — until now. Never before do I remember having such a happy reaction to seeing this tangible evidence that a new year is coming. I felt like the Steve Martin character in The Jerk overreacting to the delivery of phone books with his name in them.

I would make this suggestion to people who are looking to do some early holiday shopping: if you want to buy people a gift that you can be confident will bring a smile to their faces, get them 2021 calendars. And don’t be surprised if the calendars sell out quickly, either. We may see a surge in demand for new calendars the likes of which we haven’t experienced before.

The new calendars are here!

Tab Stab

Coca-Cola recently announced that it will stop making Tab diet soda. Coke also announced that it will stop making “ZICO Coconut Water,” “Coca-Cola Life,” and “Odwalla,” none of which I’d ever heard of, much less tasted. But Tab? Tab hits home.

Hearing that Tab is being discontinued is kind of like hearing news of the death of an Hollywood star from long ago who you assumed had died long ago. You feel sad but also somewhat surprised that the person was still around. Not having had a Tab in decades, I assumed that it had gone to the great soft drink graveyard in the sky long ago.

Tab was a staple of the Webner household when I was growing up. Tab was the first diet drink introduced by Coca-Cola, and the first food item of any kind that I remember seeing advertised as a “diet” option. Mom fought a long, desperate twilight struggle to keep her weight down, so Tab was a natural item to add to the family refrigerator. With its kicky, quasi-psychedelic logo and flourescent can, Tab was very much a product of the ’60s. It was made the saccharine as the sugar substitute and became enormously popular in the ’70s, when dieting really took off, but then faded away find after Coke introduced Diet Coke and began pushing that beverage in lieu of Tab.

I’ve quaffed a Tab or two in my lifetime, the most recent time probably being while playing Pong on the Atari system we had in the family room of our split-level house, and I recall it as having a distinctive, almost peculiar taste. Not bad, necessarily, or good, either, for that matter, just . . . distinctive. You got used to it, and some people got almost addicted to it. Tab had its devoted fans who kept the brand alive when most people had forgotten it and it accounted for a tiny fraction of Coke’s total beverage sales. I knew one person who kept cases of Tab in his office and drank one with every lunch, which incidentally consisted of the same sandwich from Subway.

People who crave that unique Tab flavor are very sad these days, and are probably scrambling to use the internet to buy up as much of the product as they can in order to build up a lifetime supply. For the rest of us who lived with Tab long ago, we give a wistful salute to another childhood product that we will see no more.

Capturing The Moment — Good And Bad

Lately I’ve been thinking about how much cell phone cameras have changed our lives — and the world — for good, and for bad, too.

The good is pretty obvious. Cell phone cameras are easy to carry around with you, so you’ve always got a camera at hand if you want to capture a moment in space and time — like this picture of boats at Burnt Cove, silhouetted against the dying glow of the sun just after it had plunged below the horizon, as we were returning from a boat trip to North Haven with Dr. Science and the GV Jogger in early August.

I like having a camera at hand because you never know when those special moments might occur. (I like it so much, in fact, that UJ calls me “Snappy” whenever I haul out the phone to take a picture.) Taking these kinds of photos helps me to really lock those special moments into my memory bank. And, of course, there have been instances where people have used their cell phones to capture real news — natural disasters, police misconduct, public officials behaving badly — that wouldn’t have been preserved or come to light otherwise.

But there’s obviously a dark side, too. Selfie obsession — to the point where people are injuring and even killing themselves walking backward to get the perfect framing of their face — is an obvious issue. But there is more to it than that. If you go to your news feed page, how many “news” stories are really nothing other than one person’s bad day captured by a cell phone camera?

So much of what is presented as “news” these days consists of random private people misbehaving in their own worlds, in ways that would not be “news” at all if there weren’t a camera at hand to capture it. The exhausted mother lashing out at a misbehaving toddler, the delivery driver who wouldn’t stop to help a senior citizen who had fallen, the pilot who asked a woman wearing a revealing outfit to cover up — all of these are examples of stories that wouldn’t be stories at all without the salacious picture or video footage. People look at these kinds of stories because it’s always interesting to take a peek at other people’s lives, but they really aren’t “news” in any meaningful sense. And I wonder if, in this way, the cell phone camera has helped to knock real news off the public radar screen and contribute to the trivialization of public discourse.

Cell phone cameras truly are a double-edged sword.

The Painting And The Photograph

Last night we went out for dinner with our long-time friends the Pisciottas. When they arrived for dinner Laura surprised us with the gift of this beautiful painting she did of a view from the Greenhead peninsula on Deer Isle, based on a photograph I took and posted on the blog.

We love Laura’s painting and its colors, and I think she really captures the calm, breathlessly quiet reality of that foggy morning view of the western harbor, just off Ocean Drive. You can compare it to the actual photograph, below. After the painting is fully dried we will frame it and find a suitable place to hang it at our place in German Village, so we can always be reminded of this serene Stonington scene.

Laura took up painting as a hobby, has really worked at it, and obviously has become quite accomplished — and also is talented enough to bring real feeling to her pieces. She joins the roster of other friends and family members who are talented painters and whose work is proudly displayed in our house — which features some great pieces by Russell, Laurie Clements, and now Laura Pisciotta. Thank you, Laura!

Shuffle Season

Good news — Shuffle Season is upon us.

Shuffle Season is that rare, all-too-brief time of year when the trees have dropped some — but not all — of their leaves. There is color in the canopy of leaves above and color on the ground and sidewalks below. And when you reach a stretch of leaf-covered sidewalk, the temptation to shuffle your feet through those drying leaves, to hear the rustle and crackle and crunch, and to kick some leaves into the air and let your inner kid loose, is irresistible.

I’m just old enough to remember when people routinely raked their leaves into leaf piles, let their kids play in the piles for a bit, and then raked the pile to the curb and burned the leaves. The authorities ultimately outlawed the burning, but I remember liking the distinctive autumnal smell of those burning leaves. The specific spicy smell is no doubt stored deep in my amygdala.

I’m too old now to play in leaf piles, but I can still enjoy Shuffle Season and those dried sidewalk leaves. You can, too.

“You’re On Mute”: A COVID Poem

We’ve probably used the word “mute” more times over the past 7 months than we have in the rest of human history, combined. Telling somebody that they need to unmute themselves is a standard feature of just about every Zoom or Teams call that has occurred since the coronavirus work-from-home process started. The constant references to being on mute moved me to write some bad COVID-19 verse:

“You’re On Mute”

A point was made, I disagreed, and started to refute

Folks shook their heads and sadly said

“I’m sorry, you’re on mute.”

You have a point to make; a comment that is cute

But no one else will hear your thoughts

If you forgot you’re “on mute.”

It should be easy to recall, this Teams call attribute

The microphone icon is there to see and click

And yet: “You’re on mute.”

The icon is needed, to be sure; there is no substitute

To avoid echoing, and barking dogs

We Zoomers all must “mute.”

Some people don’t use it at all, but I won’t go that route

At times you don’t want people to hear

You’re grateful you can “mute.”

In these days of “work from home,” we’ve got no commute

But new skills are replacing driving

Like remembering to “unmute.”

Sign Of A Dog

We haven’t had a dog in the house for several years now, although we’ve provided dog-sitting services by taking care of Betty from time to time. So when we found this chew toy left behind by Richard and Julianne’s dog Pretty, from their visit over the summer, it brought back memories of the chew toys, squeak toys, jingle balls, bones, rawhide ropes, rubber rings, and other dog paraphernalia that Dusty, Penny, and Kasey enjoyed in years past. They all had their favorites, and would contentedly spend hours munching and squeaking and jingling away. Part of dog ownership was finding the toys in various locations and returning them to the dog bed.

Pretty evidently has given this little green frog a good workout, since it’s missing one of its legs and looks like it has been chewed out of round. Still, Mr. Frog maintains his brave smile. We’ll be sending him back down to Austin to rejoin Pretty, who no doubt will be very pleased to give Mr. Frog some more good chewing.

Back To The Oven

Yesterday I went back to my favorite restaurant to have my favorite dish for the first time in months. The restaurant is Indian Oven, located over on East Main Street on the outskirts of downtown Columbus, and the dish is lamb korma, at medium-plus on the spice scale.

No words can adequately capture what it is like to have your favorite meal after a prolonged withdrawal period. Let’s just say it’s almost a religious experience, and the lamb korma was every bit as good as I remembered. I took my time in eating, carefully mixed the meat, sauce, and rice as shown below, and savored every delicious bite.

If you haven’t had your favorite dish at your favorite restaurant in a while, I encourage you to do so, whether through in-person dining, as I did for lunch yesterday, or through carry out if you are more comfortable with that. Restaurants have been hit hard and need our support. Who wants to get to the end of this cursed pandemic only to find out that a favorite restaurant that helped to define the contours of your enjoyable “normal” life has closed forever?

Computer Grading

We have lots of software programs that we use at work, and it seems like new ones are rolled out every day. Recently, I’ve noticed that some of the newer programs that have been have a very annoying feature: they presume to grade you on how well you use the program.

Gone are the days when the computer world was fresh and friendly and new computer programs always featured a little paper clip guy with a squeaky voice or some other anthropomorphic icon that was supposed to help you master the new software. Sure, they quickly became incredibly irritating and were promptly disabled after their “helpful” badgering and unwanted “tips” got on your last nerve, but at least they were trying to help us. They’ve now been replaced by some hectoring schoolmarm who gives you grades because she can’t rap you on the knuckles with a ruler.

The other day I checked my dashboard on one of the programs and found that I had been given a C-. I have no earthly idea why I got a C-. Seriously — I swear that I did what the program requires me to do, in timely fashion. And yet, there it was, for all the world to see: a C-. I’ve never been given a C- grade on anything in my life (that I know about, at least). Now my record has been shattered by some soulless computer that assigned me an embarrassing grade based on wholly arbitrary and unknowable metrics lodged somewhere in the semiconductors and chips and RAM. And what’s most annoying about it all is that I actually care that I got a C-. I don’t think anyone logs or pays any attention to these grades, but still . . . it bugs me. Decades after my last formal schooling ended, I still care about grades, even if they are totally meaningless. Of course, that’s why the computer does it. The American educational system has trained me to be like Pavlov’s dog, except instead of salivating at the sound of a metronome I’ve been conditioned to respond to arbitrary grades.

Thank goodness that I’m not assigned grades in other areas of life — by family, or friends, or colleagues, or neighbors. The fact that I respond to grading, even now, is an Achilles heel of sorts. Don’t tell anyone, will you?

It’s All In Your Perspective

I’m guessing that most of us have loved The Wizard Of Oz since we were kids. Like the Cowardly Lion, we might have been scared by the flying monkeys and the evil Wicked Witch of the West or the loud Wizard of Oz face and flames and smoke and sound effects, but we enjoyed the innocent story of Dorothy and her faithful dog who were transported by a cyclone to a magical land — and then brought back home just because she wished it.

But what if you took an alternative perspective of the story, as the writer did above? Suddenly The Wizard Of Oz goes from being a delightful children’s film to a dark movie in the film noir genre. And the best thing about the alternative description posted above is that it is factually accurate in every detail. It just goes to show you that perspective is everything — and if you look at things from a different perspective you might see a different side, even of something as familiar as The Wizard Of Oz.

I’m late to the game on this; the description of The Wizard Of Oz above was written for the TCM channel by a writer named Rick Polito in 1998, was noted by people at that time, and then “went viral” again in 2012 or so. Being out of it, I missed it both times, but I got a good laugh out of it when I saw it recently — and a good laugh in 2020 is definitely something to share.

Thank You, Mr. Phillips

The toolbox at our house has a motley collection of tools — some inherited, some abandoned, and some picked up here and there. We’ve got a lot of screwdrivers, but almost all of them are flat head screwdrivers. We’ve only got one Phillips head screwdriver — the short, orange and black tool shown above — which is too bad because most of the screws that are used these days are Phillips screws.

I had to use the Phillips screwdriver the other day, and once again gave inner thanks to Mr. Phillips for his invention. The screws I was trying to remove were really in tight, and anyone who remembers trying to remove flat head screws and stripping out the slot (which apparently is technically called “camming”) — thereby ensuring that the screw cannot be removed by any normal human effort — should always be grateful for the Phillips head design. Sure enough, in this instance the screws were successfully removed with only modest effort and without a single swear word being uttered. I’d guess that Mr. Phillips single-handedly has materially reduced the amount of angry, explosive cussing that would have otherwise occurred but for his salutary invention.

In case you’re interested, here’s an article about the history of the screw and screwdriver — which, surprisingly, didn’t really become common until the 1800s — the tale of Mr. Phillips, and a curious backstory about why Canadians use a different type of screw and screwdriver that some believe is an even better design. As is the case with so many stories about early industrial developments, Henry Ford figures prominently, and helped to bring about the fact that Americans use the Phillips head rather than the Robertson head used in Canada.

I don’t know whether the Robertson screw is better than the Phillips — but I do know that the Phillips is a huge improvement over the simple slotted screw that is so easy to strip. I’ll always be grateful to Mr. Phillips for minimizing my blood pressure and my contributions to the swear jar.

Between The Lines

They’ve started a new campaign in German Village. The aspirational goal: to bring order and regularity in on-street parking.

Since we’ve been here, parking has been — to put it mildly — chaotic. Most houses don’t have driveways or garages, so street parking is a necessity. To complicate things, there are a few zones where stickers are required and non-stickered cars can get ticketed, but other areas are open for parking by anyone. The result is that people park where they can, which often means precious street parking space is wasted by yawning gaps between cars that nevertheless aren’t quite big enough to accommodate a car. When you’re hunting for a nearby parking space late at night, the not-quite-big-enough gaps and wasted spaces can be frustrating.

The new approach seeks to conserve and fully employ the precious street parking space. The city has painted corners like the one shown above to define specific parking spaces, and has also posted signs like the one below explaining the program and noting that people who flout the spaces can be cited with a $47 ticket. I can’t speak to whether people are reading the signs — I did, at least— but they do seem to be honoring the new spaces and parking between the lines. That will mean more parking spaces for us all.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that painting indicated spots on streets would spur parking compliance and end the Wild West parking atmosphere. If the price of achieving more parking spaces is simply the cost of a few cans of white paint and the wages of whoever painted the corners, German Village residents can reasonably wonder why this simple solution wasn’t tried before. But let’s not be grudging, shall we? A delayed solution is still a solution, and the new program shows the city is paying attention to the unique needs of our community. That’s good to see.

Back To School

The building at the end of our block is completing a full circuit in the circle of life. It began as a school, then later was turned into the Golden Hobby shop that sold craft items made by seniors — and now it is being refitted to serve as a school again, as part of the St. Mary’s school complex in our neighborhood.

The Golden Hobby shop people were nice folks, and we certainly appreciated the parking lot there when street parking got tight, but I’m glad the building is going back to its original purpose. We’ll miss the overflow parking, to be sure, but having a school at the end of the block is bound to ramp up the hustle and bustle and make our neighborhood even more interesting. And an expanded St. Mary’s school will undoubtedly be appreciated as an available option by the many young couples with strollers you see around German Village.

If the building could talk, I bet it also would express its happiness about returning to service as a school and being filled with the voices of kids again. Carved over the main entrance is a quote attributed to Socrates: “Learning adorns riches and softens poverty.” With noble and lofty aspirations like that, no building is going to be content to live out its life as a sleepy senior citizens’ hobby shop.

Suits And Ties

When we got back to Columbus for the first time in months, I went through the house, checking to make sure everything was OK. When I got to the closet where my suits and ties are kept, it was kind of weird to see them. They weren’t quite dust-covered, fortunately, but they looked kind of strange after four and a half months of cold turkey suit-and-tielessness.

I’d be surprised if anyone who has been working remotely over the last four months has donned a suit or other form of pre-COVID professional business attire. On the video conferences I’ve participated in, it’s been business casual, tops — and in some instances a cut or two below business casual, all the way down into the casual skirting grungy category. Nobody seems to care about it, either. There clearly are events where a suit and tie will still be required — some of my colleagues have been in trial recently, and for court appearances of course suits, ties, and other professional garb are a lawyer’s standard issue uniform — but so long as working remotely via videoconference and computer is the norm, I think business casual is going to be as high-level as the clothing expectations will get.

What I think is more interesting is whether anyone will go back to regular workday wearing of suits and ties when — some blessed day — the COVID-19 pandemic is over. There was a strong trend away from suits and ties before the coronavirus hit, and that may well continue and accelerate. But among some people I sense a strong yearning to get back to “the way things were” before the world turned upside down. Wearing a suit and tie and other professional attire would be one tangible way of signalling that we’ve returned to business as usual. For some people, at least, you’d have the weird scenario of putting on a suit and tie — a pretty uncomfortable combination — as a way of achieving comfort that things are “back to normal.”

I’ll be putting on a suit and tie for the first time in months in the near future when I’ve got a presentation, but I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll go back to regular suit-wearing when, at some point in the future, our office opens up at full capacity again. One thing is for sure — my suits are going to last a lot longer than their original life span.