Scratching The Seven-Year Itch

Today I played golf for the first time in seven years. Russell, Kish, and I went to the Island Country Club, a nine-hole track here on Deer Isle. It’s a pretty little course nestled in a pine forest. Surprisingly, for a course on an island, there were no water hazards.

It was a fun outing. Having not played in years, I played without the curse of high expectations. I hit the ball pretty well and played bogey golf, with three pars. I walked and carried my bag, to be sure to maximize the exercise element of the outing.

My short game needs work, obviously, but I did end the round on a high note by rattling in an 18-footer on the ninth hole. Golf is a lot more enjoyable when you just go out and play without worrying about your score.

The Shimmering Sea

We’ve had a lot of rain in Stonington recently, and it seems to have done its work. The showers have rinsed the air clean of the smoky haze we were experiencing only a few days ago—leaving everything crisp and sharp this morning.

On clear mornings like this, where the skies are blue and sun is shining, the reflection of the light on the water’s surface is so bright that you cannot look at it without donning sunglasses. The photo above doesn’t really capture it. But when the air is cool and the sunshine is warm and dazzling, it is a great time for a walk, and the motivation to get out and do something is overwhelming.

Death Of A UHF Pitchman

Ron Popeil has died. The inventor/developer/popularizer of countless weird products and the star of ever-playing infomercials, Popeil was 86.

If you got anywhere near a TV during the ’60s and ’70s, you knew the name Ron Popeil. He was the guy who sold many of the products that were featured on commercials on the “UHF” channels on your TV.

(I realize as I write those words that many people alive today have no idea what a “UHF” or “VHF” channel was, or how they were different. Here’s a primer. The VHF channels were numbered 1 through 13, were on the VHF dial on your TV with clearly demarcated slots for the stations, and accordingly were easy to find and came through on your TV much more clearly. The three networks and their local broadcast stations were always on one of those VHF channels. The UHF channels, on the other hand, were on a different dial that didn’t have specific channel indicators, so if you wanted to watch a UHF station you first had to switch to the UHF dial, then carefully turn that dial incrementally, with the precision deftness of a brain surgeon, to find the best signal for channel 43 or channel 61, manipulate your rabbit ears to further enhance signal quality, and put up with some “snow” on the screen and fading in and out. Nevertheless, becoming a master of UHF channel tuning was an essential skill for any kid who wanted to watch Three Stooges shorts, Star Trek reruns, bad horror movies, and the other enticing mainstays of UHF programming. The UHF stations eventually became a lot more accessible when cable TV became widespread.)

The first Ron Popeil/Ronco product I remember was the Veg-o-Matic, which allowed you to put a peeled potato on a kind of wire screen below the top of the device, depress the top, forcing the potato through the screen, and thereby produce french fries that were ready for the fryer. The Veg-o-Matic always seemed to me to be of limited usefulness, but it sure would come in handy if french fries were a staple of your diet. And of course the Veg-o-Matic was only one of a host of odd Ron Popeil products. There was the Ronco Steam-A-Way, a gun-like device that allowed you to steam out the wrinkles that appeared in your clothes while you were traveling. There was the Buttoneer, which appeared to replace thread with plastic stays to keep buttons attached to their fabric forever, and which was known mostly because its commercial the same phrase countless times as frustrated people dealt with lost buttons: “The problem with buttons is . . . they always fall off!” We can’t forget the Popeil Pocket Fisherman, a fold-up fishing product that allowed avid anglers to always be ready to set a hook and drop a line into any brook or pond they happened to pass by (although I don’t think bait was provided). And finally Ron Popeil brought us Mr. Microphone, a cordless microphone that could tie in to the frequency of your car radio and allow you to broadcast annoying comments to passersby. The smooth ’70s character with the bad haircut shown in the photo above uses Mr. Microphone to deliver the deathless line: “Hey good lookin’. Be back to pick you up later!” (That one has become a standard catchphrase in our household.)

It’s strange, and kind of scary, to think of how all of these Ron Popeil items, and their related commercials, have become so firmly lodged in my brain synapses that I can easily recall them, decades later–but that’s what repeated watching of UHF TV will do for you. RIP to the Master Pitchman and his menagerie of products.

The Delta Variant

The Delta Variant. It sounds like the title of a bad Robert Ludlum or Tom Clancy novel, doesn’t it? And according to the news reports it is lurking out there, ready to pounce, and threatening to propel us into a mask-wearing, social distancing, stay-inside-your-house reprise of what we went through in 2020–like the situation found in Australia, where a Wall Street Journal article recently argued that the governmental COVID responses have returned the Land Down Under to its roots as a nation of prisoners.

Already we’re starting to see signs of what might lie ahead. This week the CDC and the Biden Administration reversed course on mask-wearing, saying even fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in places with high COVID transmission rates. Only two months ago, the CDC said fully vaccinated people didn’t need to wear masks indoors. The CDC also recommends that everyone in grade schools–kids, teachers, staff, and visitors,–wear masks even if they are fully vaccinated. And the CDC’s abrupt reversal seems to presage additional policy shifts and concerns coming up. The CNBC article darkly warns: “The updated guidance comes ahead of the fall season, when the highly contagious delta variant is expected to cause another surge in new coronavirus cases and many large employers plan to bring workers back to the office.”

What caused the CDC to change its mind, again? The CNBC article linked above quotes CDC Director Rochelle Walensky as saying the change is based on “new science” and data showing that the delta variant behaves “uniquely differently from past strains of the virus,” suggesting that some vaccinated people “may be contagious and spread the virus to others.” But the description of the rationale sounds very contingent and conditional–and, frankly, perhaps the result of some guesswork. There seems to be healthy disagreement in the medical profession about just how dangerous the delta variant really is. And there definitely is disagreement about how to deal with COVID and kids, as a recent New York magazine article demonstrated.

Here’s the issue, as I see it: our health care experts and politicians don’t seem to realize that their credibility isn’t what it once was. They seem weirdly panicky and overly protective, and willing to reverse course and make sweeping decisions that disrupt the lives of millions on the basis of untested models and supposition, rather than hard science. They also don’t seem to take into account the cost and impact of their suggestions, whether it is the mental health impact of isolating people due to shutdowns, the health effect of breathing through masks for hours on end, or the economic effect of restrictions on activities. And their latest change also undercuts the impetus for the crucial public health initiative of encouraging COVID vaccination. Some who haven’t been vaccinated will reason that if even fully vaccinated people need to wear masks to protect the unvaccinated, what’s the point of vaccination in the first place? And if protecting the unvaccinated is the goal, how long will this latest round of mask-wearing rules last?

It’s obviously not ideal that there is growing distrust of the public health authorities and politicians, but it’s important that those people recognize that the distrust and skepticism and resistance to sweeping edicts exists, and won’t be going away. If autumn brings new calls for lockdowns to deal with the delta variant, the general level of skepticism about the need for that kind of draconian action will be heightened–and I expect that the level of acceptance and compliance among the general population will be affected, too.

A Turtle’s Spot

It was a beautiful day today—bright and sunny and about 70 degrees—so we decided to take Betty on a lunchtime walk down Indian Point Road to the beaver pond. When we arrived we noticed this baby turtle (in the lower right hand corner of the photo above) sunning itself on a lily pad, without a care in the world.

I hope the turtle enjoyed its prime pad position, because it won’t be able to do so much longer. When the turtle reaches its full-grown size the lily pad won’t support its weight, and it will have to crowd with the adults onto sturdier logs or rocks when it wants to sunbathe.

Spill-Proof

I’ve complained before about the spillage that inevitably occurs when you try to pour water from a standard coffee pot into the coffee maker to make coffee in the morning. Thanks to the capillary effect, water almost always spills onto the countertop, leaving you to mop things up. It’s a supremely annoying way to start the day.

But there’s good news for those, like me, who are easily irritated by such mishaps. Some profound product engineer has figured out a way to control the capillary effect and prevent spills. We had to buy a new Bunn coffee maker this week–the heating unit on the old one gave out, for no readily apparent reason, which was irritating in and of itself–and the new pot has a tongue that extends from the lid out over the spout, as shown in the photo above. It looks strange, and I initially thought it was one of those extra packing pieces you need to remove. But in fact it’s part of the design, and it works like a charm. The water follows the tongue, and every drop ends up in the coffee maker. Whoo-hoo!

It’s a pleasure to make coffee in the morning without dousing the counters and muttering dark imprecations as I swab up the spilled water. Such small advances make for a happier life. And it’s encouraging to know that, even with a standard device like a coffee pot, some nameless person is still thinking about improvements.

What Will Get You Back To The Theater?

We haven’t been to a movie in . . . well, I don’t know how long. At least 18 months, and probably a lot longer. Like everyone else, we’ve been homebound, and theaters have been closed, and nothing that’s been shown since theaters have reopened has really sufficiently piqued our interest.

Until I saw this trailer for Ghostbusters: Afterlife. The original Ghostbusters is one of my all-time favorite movies. The sequel was okay, but it didn’t really compare to the original. And the remake didn’t tempt me, either.

But this one? Well, it looks like it might just be channeling the spirit of the initial movie. And come Thanksgiving, I might just find myself in a movie theater seat for the first time in a few years, just to see whether the movie itself lives up to the preview.

I’d say it’s time to get back to the theaters, anyway. Don’t you think?

America’s Tailpipe

Some Mainers say their state is like “America’s tailpipe.” With prevailing winds blowing from the west, the exhaust fumes from daily life in other states head east and often find their way to the skies above Maine before spilling out over the Atlantic.

We had evidence of the “tailpipe” experience last night, when photo above was taken. We suspect that some of the smoke billowing from the enormous Bootleg wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington has been blown to our neck of the woods in coastal Maine, creating a dense layer of haze that shrouded the sun. The sun was like an orange pumpkin in the sky; you could look directly at it, and it cast an orange shimmer on the ocean waters below. The haze was so thick that at the horizon, where the filter of haze was the greatest, the sunset was entirely blocked from view.

“America’s tailpipe” is subject to an air advisory today, with an AQI of 101, which means the air is unsafe for specific sensitive groups. Our experience with haze shows how we are all connected by virtue of the environment, and why wildfire problems out west should concern us all.

Clam Hoes And Shedders

When you spend times in a different part of the country, often you learn new things.

Consider, for example, the evil-looking items being sold by an antique store in town. With long, sharp tines and short handles, they don’t look at all like innocent gardening tools. To the contrary, they look like the sort of implements Freddie Krueger or Jason would happily use to send witless teenagers to their painful, impaled demise.

So, what are they, exactly? As the hand-lettered sign explains, they are clam hoes—ideal for digging deep into the soft muck in the mudflats when the tide goes out and raking clams to the surface.

“Shedders” are another story—literally. The local newspaper ran a front page article, with photo, announcing that “shedders are in!” That’s big news in Stonington, because many locals contend that “shedders”—lobsters that have just molted their old, hard shell and are growing a new, softer-for-the-time-being shell—have sweeter meat and are the best eating lobsters of all.

We’re going to a lobster boil tonight, and if I draw a shedder—which you can identify because the shell can be easily cracked by hand—I’ll see if I can taste the difference. I am learning about local tools and terms, but my lobster palate may remain uneducated.

A Downyard Project Update

This summer I haven’t had a chance to do as much work as I’d hoped on the downyard—which is too bad, because it really needs the help. We’ve had a lot of rainy weekends, and other weekends have been devoted to travel.

This weekend, however, Mother Nature cooperated with the puny plans of mortal men, and I was able to devote a full day and a half to working on the project before the rain started falling around noon today. Because the downyard attracts weeds like mangy dogs attract fleas, the concept is to limit the potentially weedy areas and introduce plants that can hold their own against the weeds in the Darwinian struggle for survival. I’ve tried to do that by exposing the many rocks as possible (because I’d rather see rocks than weeds), digging out the weedy areas, and mulching over the whole rock-infested area.

In the process, I’ve tried to spot the small fern plants that naturally grow in the yard, weed around them, and then mulch around them, in hopes that once they’re freed from surrounding weeds and get more water and sun they’ll grow into bigger fern plants that will keep the weeds at bay. Those little green plants at the far end of the mulched area are ferns. I like ferns, and they seem to grow well here and are capable of holding their own against the weeds.

The project featured a fair amount of shovel work, lots of weeding, bug bites galore, digging out and tossing or carrying all kinds of rocks, hoisting and dumping five large bags of mulch and six medium bags of mulch, and then using a rake to spread the mulch. I could have used another bag of mulch to really finish the job, but I’m happy with the results.

Guardians Of The ‘Land

The Cleveland baseball franchise has announced its new team name. After more than 100 years as the Indians, starting next year the team will be called the Cleveland Guardians. The franchise announced the name with a video narrated by Tom Hanks, which you can watch in the article linked above. It’s a pretty generic video for the most part, with lots of standard pictures of Cleveland and people who are proud about that storied city, and a pretty forgettable script, too. But there is one statement in the video that rings true: the most important thing about the team name is the “Cleveland” part. Those of us who have lifelong ties to The Best Location In The Nation and its baseball team are going to root for the city’s baseball team no matter what its nickname might be.

But what about the name “Guardians”? I would have preferred the Spiders, which was the name of a prior Cleveland baseball team, but “Guardians” has its own link to Cleveland and its past. The Guardians are the names for colossal, stolid figures carved into bridges over the Cuyahoga River and featured in a lot of photos you see around Cleveland, so at least the name has that going for it. And it’s a pretty safe, basic choice. Some people have already made fun of it–the Bus-Riding Conservative says Cleveland Guardians “sounds like a prophylactic brand”–but after years of controversy, picking an inoffensive name that isn’t likely to rankle anyone seems prudent.

As for the team’s new logo, below, it looks like something a high school kid would doodle on their notebook during a boring study hall. But there’s still time until next season starts, and perhaps inspiration can strike. I’d like to see those little wings on the bridge guardians helmets put on the sides of the Guardians’ batting helmets, and big close-up photos of the heads of those poker-faced bridge guardian statues put on the outfield fences and elsewhere around the home ballpark. Why not go all in?

So, now I’m a Guardians fan. Who knows? With the team-naming controversy behind us, maybe the franchise can actually start focusing on winning baseball games.

Barefootin’

What article of clothing has fallen into the most disuse over the last, weird 16-month period? Pants? Long pants? Socks?

A friend argues that it is the humble shoe. His theory is that virtually no one on Teams or Zoom or other video calls is wearing shoes. He’s probably right. Since the camera only shows people (at most) from the waist up, and you’re going to be working from home all day, why lace on your shoes? Even if you’ve got the most comfortable shoes in the world, they can’t be as comfortable as bare feet—so why wear them if nobody can see them?

I would have thought ties would fall into the most disuse—have you seen anyone wearing a tie on a video call?—and women probably would think pantyhose, but of course each of those clothing items tends to be gender-specific. Shoes, on the other hand, are universal and gender-neutral, so my friend is probably right.

Time to short the shoe stocks!

Our New Downtown Bench

When civic improvements come to Stonington, sometimes they are on the smaller side. So it is with this new bench, which has been placed below one of the granite outcroppings next to the Dry Dock shop, on the western side of downtown. The new bench is a sturdy one that features some quality craftsmanship and a seat that can handle posteriors of all shapes and sizes.

A new bench might be a small improvement, but it is by no means an insignificant one. In any town that welcomes tourists, having plenty of benches where visitors can have a seat and enjoy the sights is a “must.” And having a bench near some of the shops is smart placement that helps the local merchants. Couples that don’t have equally zealous interests in shopping can split up, and the shopper can take her time and do a thorough canvas of the stores, secure in the knowledge that the non-shopper has a comfortable place to sit, check their messages, and look out at the activity in the harbor. And if two couples are visiting town together, the bench is spacious enough to accommodate two non-shoppers who’d rather sit and talk.

The bench fills a decided need in the western part of town, which had been bench-deprived until now. Previously, all of the seating was at the eastern edge and center of downtown, to accommodate the groups of ice cream eaters and 44 North coffee drinkers, and the folks waiting on a table at the Harbor Cafe. Now the western side has a place where visitors can take a load off, too.

Million-Dollar Students

I guess I realized that the Supreme Court case upholding a lower court’s invalidation of certain NCAA rules, and the decision by the NCAA to changes its rules to allow student athletes to earn income from their name, image and likeness, would change the world of college sports forever. I just didn’t realize how fast it would happen,

The magnitude of the change was crystallized for me when Alabama’s head football coach, Nick Saban, announced recently that the team’s new quarterback, Bryce Young, is nearing a million dollars in payments on various NIL deals. Young is a sophomore who has never started a game—but he’s going to play quarterback for the defending national champions, and now he’s going to be rich. Young signed with an agency when the NCAA loosened its rules to allow athletes to receive NIL compensation so long as they comply with applicable state law, and Young happens to play in a state, Alabama, where the law allows him to receive such compensation. More than half of the states have enacted similar laws, and Ohio is one of them. (It’s amazing how quickly legislatures can act when something important like college football is involved, isn’t it?)

The ramifications of some college athletes making huge sums in endorsements are mind-boggling. Of course, only the big revenue sports, like football and basketball, are likely to be significantly affected. If you’re a college football coach, I think it has made your job a lot harder. Now you’re not only going to be recruiting the star athletes on the basis of your school’s tradition, and facilities, and educational quality, and ability to prepare the athlete for life and a potential professional career–you’re also going to be noting how well some of your current and former athletes have done in the money game. And as a coach you might well also be recruiting local car dealers, insurance agencies, and other boosters to reach out to the sports agencies representing your athletes to sign up for endorsements, so your stars have marketing deals that are competitive with other athletes on other teams at other schools.

Part of the motivation for Savvy Old Coach Nick to mention Bryce Young’s million-dollar deals is no doubt to communicate that other stud players who are choosing between Alabama and other schools should come to the Crimson Tide to maximize their NIL value and enjoy a lucrative college education. This kind of news is bound to have an impact on competitiveness, because not all schools can offer the alumni and booster and endorsement base that is found at Alabama, or Ohio State, or the other perennial college football powers.

And finally, what does having a million-dollar quarterback who hasn’t even started a game do for internal team dynamics? How are the offensive linemen who aren’t likely to rack up endorsement deals, but are getting battered on every play, going to feel about the money discrepancy? Will savvy quarterbacks make sure that their endorsement deals include the big guys who are blocking for them? Will players try to establish their individual brands in on-field play to attract more attention and increase their NIL value? And how will players feel about having limited roles that might not be as noticeable to the endorsers, but crucial to the team’s potential success?

I don’t envy the college coaches who are dealing with these issues, and I wonder if the college sports world is going to look a lot different in the future. Who knows? The 2020 COVID season, with its weirdness and uncertainty and cancellations, might end up being the last “normal” college football season.