The Great Screw Top Status Shift

Recently I was out at our neighborhood wine shop, looking for some interesting bottles to try. As I surveyed the racks and boxes and shelves for likely candidates, I realized that one of the factors influencing my decision was whether the bottle was corked or capped—with the balance tipping toward capped. And there were plenty of appealing choices in the screw top category, too.

That’s a pretty significant change in perception and product packaging from the days of my youth. For years, screw top wine was the realm of MD 2020, Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, and Thunderbird, consumed exclusively by winos and high school kids who were just starting out their drinking careers and didn’t know any better. Reputable wineries offered only corked bottles because wine connoisseurs expected fine wines to come with a cork and thus insisted on it.

But, as has happened in so many other areas, the availability and perceptions of screw top wines have radically changed. Whether it was cork shortages in Portugal, articles in wine magazines arguing that modern screw top caps are more protective than corks, a general awareness that capped wines were becoming more available, or trying a screw top bottle somewhere and finding it was indeed potable, public opinion shifted. And after that happened, and people like me began gingerly giving it a try, we realized that capped wine is a lot easier to open than wrestling with a corkscrew and running the risk of cork explosions and failure and the cursing that inevitably accompanied it. With the screw top, it’s a quick twist, some satisfying metal cracking, and you’re in. Once people got over the perception hump and tried it, they realized it had some advantages—and in America, convenience and speed is always going to be a selling point.

The shift always begins with people laying aside their settled views and being receptive to a different approach.

Suitable

Yesterday I had occasion to wear a suit and tie for the first time in . . . well, I don’t know how long, exactly. Months, at least. And as I ventured into my now-unfamiliar work clothes closet to pick out suitable attire, my mind was filled with questions that simply would not have arisen pre-pandemic:

1. Would my suits still fit after not being worn during the months of remote work?

2. How do you tie a tie?

3. Could I get away with not wearing “work shoes”?

4. How uncomfortable would it be to wear a shirt that buttons up to the neck and then cinch a knotted piece of colorful fabric around the neck, just to add insult to injury?

Ultimately I went for the full “suit up” approach and even donned some work shoes for good measure. My selected suit fit, to my relief, my muscle memory kicked in and I tied the tie reflexively, and the outfit wasn’t too uncomfortable. In fact, it felt pretty good to break from the remote work garb and wear a suit. Who would have thought wearing a suit, button-down shirt, and tie would be a welcome change of pace? But it was—so much so that I might put on a suit from time to time, just for the hell of it.

I guess wearing a suit suits me.

Commander Cody, R.I.P.

One of the many bad things about getting older is seeing the familiar figures of your youth fall by the wayside. It happened again this week, with the passing of George Frayne IV—better known as “Commander Cody,” the leader of the great, undefinable, genre-crossing group Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen.

Everyone’s high school and college years has a unique soundtrack, because music always seemed to be playing during that time period and was such an important part of the whole experience. Commander Cody was definitely part of my soundtrack. I’m pretty sure the first Commander Cody song I heard was Hot Rod Lincoln, when it hit the charts during high school. What a great record! No song was better calculated to appeal to the car-crazy sensibilities of high school boys, and the Commander’s high-speed rendition and deadpan, gravel-voiced delivery of the lyrics put the song right up there with Radar Love as one of the great highway driving songs of that era.

In college, the Commander’s music was always on our turntable, and songs like Lost in the Ozone, Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette, and Rock That Boogie were staples that were played so often they remain permanently ingrained on my brain cells. Lost in the Ozone became a kind of catchphrase with my college roommate, and if something strange happened you could bet we would respond by crooning a few bars of that song’s refrain.

How do you adequately thank someone who helped to make your college years what they were? You can’t, of course, but I will say thank you anyway, and just wish the Commander a speedy, ozone-free journey to whatever comes next.

That Old Jelling Magic

Before yesterday, the Browns defense had not looked like world-beaters. In the opener, the defense got gashed by Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs–which has happened to a lot of teams over the past few years, of course–but it also gave up a lot of yards to second- and third-string quarterbacks in a second-game win against the Houston Texans.

After the Texans game, some Browns Backers wondered whether the defense was going to be a persistent weak spot for a team that has very high hopes. Other, more patient fans noted that the defense included a lot of new players and argued that everyone needed to take a deep breath and give the D some time to “jell.”

(If, like me, you are a word geek and wonder whether the correct word is “gel” or “jell,” wonder no longer: The Grammarist website says that “gel,” used as a verb, means to form something into a gel, whereas “jell” can be used to describe something becoming firmer or the process of a group of people coming together to work in harmony. “Jell” therefore is the more apt choice in this context, although neither word seems like a great choice to describe a stout NFL defense that would prefer to be seen as a stone wall, as opposed to gelatin or jelly.)

Yesterday the Browns D took a big step forward in the jelling department in a 26-6 win over the Chicago Bears. The Browns had nine sacks, with Myles Garrett alone getting a franchise-record 4 1/2, never let the Bears’ rookie quarterback Justin Fields catch his breath, and held Chicago to 68 yards passing (1 total yard, if you subtract the sack yards) and 46 yards rushing. Chicago scored only because the Browns gave them the ball in great field position and due to a sketchy pass interference call, but in both instances the defense stiffened and held the Bears to two field goals. In the meantime, the Browns offense wore down the tough Chicago defense and put up enough points to get a very nice win.

I’m not ready to say that the Browns are an elite defensive unit; the Bears offensive line isn’t very good, and the Browns were facing a rookie QB starting his first game. Nevertheless, the indicators yesterday were very positive. Garrett is always a handful, but Jadeveon Clowney and the rest of the defensive line was in the Bears offensive backfield all day long, too. In the NFL, getting pressure on the quarterback is an essential element of defensive success. Another positive sign was the play of two rookies, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Greg Newsome II. O-K, who was drafted to bring speed to the defense, was all over the field and had four tackles, a half sack, and two pass break-ups, and Newsome, who was the Browns’ top pick, had three tackles and a nice play on a pass. When your rookies appear to be getting the scheme and making contributions, that’s a big step in the jelling department.

Jell on, Browns! And let’s see where the jelling process takes us.

When Cupcakes Come Knocking

Ohio State’s largely rebuilt football team has played in some difficult games so far this season–including a loss, at home, to a very tough Oregon team and an unexpectedly close win over Tulsa. So I’m pretty sure OSU head coach Ryan Day was happy to see that the University of Akron were the next team on the schedule, because (with all due respect to the hometown college of the city of my birth) the Zips, this year, are the definition of a “cupcake.” And who doesn’t like a cupcake every now and then?

Nevertheless, the Buckeyes fell behind last night, 7-0, which I’m sure had the home crowd wondering what the heck is going on with this team. But then the Buckeyes righted the ship, got defensive turnovers and a score, and steamrolled the Zips, 59-7. The Men of the Scarlet and Gray padded their sack stats, racked up 600-plus yards of total offense, ran the ball at will, and got lots of yards after catches against a totally overmatched Akron defense that simply had no answer for Ohio State’s speed and bulk up front. And we got to see two other highly touted freshman quarterbacks, Kyle McCord and Jack Miller III, as Coach Day gave C.J. Stroud the night off to rest a banged-up shoulder.

So, what do you make of a game like this? I think not very much, although I’m glad to see that the Buckeyes got to play an easy game, everyone got some snaps, and no one got hurt. The idea of a cupcake is to allow your team to get an easy win and, hopefully, approach the upcoming games with a bit more confidence. But it’s also important not to get too excited about the result, or think that some of the problems on the defensive side of the ball have been fixed. For example, the Buckeyes defensive line was able to bull rush the Akron offensive line all night long and get pressure simply by pushing the Zips directly into the backfield. Will they be able to do that against teams where the size and strength and conditioning and talent levels are more equal? I guess we’ll just have to see.

I would make one more observation, as we get ready to move into the Big Ten season, where the fun really begins. I think this season is going to be one long lesson for Ohio State fans about just how good Justin Fields was–how accurate, how smart, how athletically gifted–the last two years. I have no doubt that Stroud, McCord, and Miller are all very talented with lots of upside potential, but so far they are playing a lot like freshmen. After two years of confidence in Fields’ steady leadership and playmaking ability, we’re going to have to get used to wildly inaccurate passes, inexplicable decisions, and other mishaps by guys who are still learning the system and adjusting to football in a big-time program.

But that’s all part of the fun of the college game.

Waiting For The Montauk

Of the garden of late bloomers, the Montauk daisy is the most frustrating. Two years after we replanted a portion of the plant that was gifted by a generous neighbor, I still have not personally seen its blooms. As flowers go, it’s a tantalizing tease.

The plant seems to thrive in the Stonington climate. Last year it took firm root after our replanting, grew considerably, and produced lots of buds that were just getting ready to bloom when they were neatly clipped off and consumed by the local rampaging deer horde. This year the Montauk daisy grew like crazy—so much so that it has overwhelmed its bed, and I’ll have to split it up and replant parts of it elsewhere in the down yard next spring—and the deer have blessedly stayed away, but I had to head back to Columbus before the blossoming started. The buds were out and getting ready, but stubbornly refused to comply with my travel schedule.

The flowers have now begun to open, and Russell graciously sent along this photo, but of course it’s just not the same as checking out the flowers, in the sunshine, with your own two eyes. Seeing the Montauk daisies in full bloom will have to remain an aspirational goal until next year.

“Fair Style” As An Adjective

A restaurant located near our firm, OH Pizza + Brew, features this sign about its dessert options in the restaurant’s front window. To some, no doubt, the phrasing seems odd. But to anyone who has been to the Ohio State Fair, and has eaten “fair food” along the midway, a reference to “fair style” desserts conveys a powerful message indeed.

What is a “fair style” dessert, exactly? Typically, it has multiple characteristics. First, of course, it must involve food stuffs that are bad for you, prepared in a way that accentuates their unhealthy impact. That means desserts that are fried, that are high in sugar, and that include components from Dr. Nick’s “neglected food groups” pyramid shown on a classic Simpsons episode.

Second, the dessert must be excessive. That means the portions must be huge—think of a piece of fried dough as big as a dinner plate—and the dessert must features unholy combinations that push the caloric content off the charts. Fried Snickers bars on top of ice cream in fried dough might be one element, for example, but you’re going to want to add, say, pieces of candied bacon dipped in chocolate, whipped cream, drizzled caramel, and then drop M&Ms and Reese’s Pieces on top, just to give the concoction a real fair flair.

And finally, a true “fair style” dessert must be plausibly, if messily, portable, and capable of being consumed by someone walking on a dusty path between ancient rides like the Tilt-a-Wheel. That means handheld options, like red hot elephant ears doused in powdered sugar and the covered with other goodies that will leave your hands gross and sticky for hours, or desserts that can be wedged into a cheap cone or flimsy paper bowl that will immediately begin to dissolve as the dessert quickly melts in the summer sun.

That’s what a “fair style” dessert means to me, at least. I haven’t been into OH Pizza + Brew to see what they offer. Frankly, I’m kind of afraid to check it out.

Beethoven’s Other Fifth

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Beethoven. Like many of the other composer giants, he was remarkably prolific, and it seems like there are always new pieces to listen to and new areas of his genius to discover.

I’ve grown to love the five Beethoven piano concertos, which feature solo piano flourishes seamlessly blended with music produced by the power of a full orchestra. I particularly enjoy the first and fifth of the concertos, where the orchestral pieces are stirring and aspirational and the piano solos are exquisite. They have to be among the most beautiful pieces of music written by anyone, anywhere.

I’m evidently not alone in this sentiment, because there are many recordings of the five piano concertos. One of the great things about my IDAGIO app is that it allows me to listen to different recordings of the same compositions and thereby pick up on differences in how different musicians and conductors interpret the pieces. As someone who has never played an instrument, I’m always surprised at how the same piece can be played in different ways.

I think my favorite recording of the Beethoven piano concertos—so far, at least—is the one shown above, with Daniel Barenboim at the piano and Otto Klemperer (the father of Werner Klemperer, Colonel Klink on Hogan’s Heroes) conducting. Barenboim plays the piano pieces flawlessly and with feeling, and Klemperer’s conducting gives the orchestral sections a real pop. It’s an old recording—Klemperer died in 1973–but it has stood the test of time.

It’s good morning walking music, too.

Memories By Maude

My maternal grandmother, Maude Neal, had a remarkable memory. Locked in her brain were hundreds, if not thousands, of poems, sayings, and song lyrics that she could summon and quote at will on any occasion. Her repertoire ranged from silly ditties she learned as a kid (“Kaiser Bill went up the hill to take a look at France. Kaiser Bill came down the hill with bullets in his pants.”) to sayings about hard work, fortitude, love, family, death, and just about any other topic.

Back in the ‘70s or early ‘80s Mom decided to sit down with Grandma, have her deliver some of her sayings, and make careful note of them. Mom then carefully typed the poems and sayings (with a few typos and strike-throughs) and assembled the pages in a handmade booklet, decorated with stick-on flowers and held together by yarn. All of us kids got a copy. We still have my copy, decades later, and keep it on a table in our upstairs study. It’s a cool piece of family memorabilia that reminds me of Grandma Neal and Mom whenever I see it.

And while I lack Grandma’s facility with remembering and quoting poems, I remember her reciting some of the poems in this little booklet. Like this one, which I first heard as a little kid when I came home and made some complaint about something trivial:

I do not ask to walk smooth paths

Or bear an easy load.

I pray for strength and fortitude

To climb the rock-strewn road.

Give me such courage and I can scale

The hardest peak alone.

And transform every stumbling block

Into a stepping stone.

Grandma’s poetic message was clear: suck it up, kid! It’s still good advice.

Messing With The Traffic

The south part of downtown Columbus is like a traffic engineer’s playground. It seems like somebody is always messing with the streets, bridges, and access ramps, throwing unexpected curve balls at motorists and pedestrians alike.

The latest initiative is part of a long-term effort to fundamentally change how people leaving downtown get on I-70 East. For years drivers came down Third Street (one way heading south, throughout downtown) and could turn right onto a ramp onto 70 West or left onto a ramp onto 70 East. The ramps were short for freeway access, and the merging happened in a congested area in which I-71 also intersected with I-70. So some time ago traffic engineers closed the 70 East ramp off Third Street and devised a plan to route people down little-used Fulton Street to access the freeway. Now that plan has reached fruition.

There’s just one problem: the grand plan has changed Fulton Street between Third and Fourth Streets from one way heading west to one way heading east. That isn’t great for those of us in German Village, because it doesn’t allow us to use Fulton to access 70 West, but it has really messed with the heads of downtown drivers and turned the entrance to German Village into an orange cone zone with an extensive and baffling array of signs about signal changes, lane changes, street direction changes, and detours. Because many drivers are on autopilot on their commutes, following the same routes they’ve followed for years, we’ve seen people heading the wrong way on Fulton, accidents, traffic backups and snarls, and lots of confusion.

At some point drivers will work this out, I expect, and the cones and signs will go away as traffic adjusts to its new flow. But then the traffic engineers will run their hands together with evil glee and throw a new wrench into the commuting machine, and the cones and signs—and rampant driver confusion—will reappear. That’s just the way traffic engineers roll.

The Browns Via Radio

Our TV and internet connection at our German Village house is on the fritz, so yesterday I needed to find an alternative way to follow the Browns game against the Houston Texans yesterday. I decided to try catching the game on radio by tapping into the Browns radio network on the internet and listening through my phone. The feed was pretty good, and the Browns won, so I’d call the whole experiment a success.

Listening to a football game on the radio is a different experience, and in this case it brought back some memories, too. When UJ and I were kids growing up in Akron, the Browns home games were routinely blacked out, so we would listen to them on the radio. We listened to Indians games on the radio, too, because they were never on TV, either. And every kid of the pre-ESPN era remembers coming up with ways to illicitly listen to the radio and follow the World Series games, which were always played during in-school hours. The radio was how Americans got most of their sports in those days.

Sports on the radio requires some imagination, and you’ve really got to pay attention, because there are no replays. Unfortunately, my radio imagination is pretty rusty, so I couldn’t really quickly picture the guys going in motion, or the formations being described. But the crowd seems like much more active participant in the game on radio, where you can tell by the surge in noise, or the sudden silence, whether a play went well for the hometown boys. And the excitement in Jim Donovan’s voice as he describes a Nick Chubb TD burst definitely adds something to the game experience. Doug Dieken, the long-time color analyst, is pretty entertaining, too.

I’m hoping to get our bundled internet and TV fixed this week, so I can watch the Browns on TV from here on out. But if they aren’t on—Columbus stations often have to choose between showing the Browns and the Bengals—it’s nice to know that old reliable radio remains an option.

One Last Stonington Sunrise

I’m back in Columbus, after a happily uneventful travel day. It was weird to wake up in our German Village bedroom and not see a scene like the photo above, taken one morning earlier this week, right outside our bedroom window. So I’m going to indulge myself by posting this last sunrise picture before transitioning fully back to Midwest sights and sounds.

They say that people who live around physical beauty eventually become indifferent to it. So far that hasn’t happened with me and the sights presented by living somewhere with a view of water and sun. Maybe it’s because the harbor views still seem so novel after decades living in the landlocked Midwest, or maybe it’s because my time in Stonington is broken up by returns to Columbus, or maybe I just like sunrises that have lobster boats in the picture. I hope I never reach the point where I can pass by a striking sunrise without stopping to goggle at it, and looking forward to seeing more.

The View From The Rocks

It was a beautiful morning yesterday. The sky was blue, the sun painted the eastward facing houses on Greenhead peninsula with a brilliant, glowing luminosity, and the tide was out, which allowed me to walk far out onto the rocky outcroppings along the shoreline and get a good view at the long pier fronting the water.

I wanted to get a good, long look at this pretty little part of the world, which I have called home for the past few months, and lock it securely in my memory before heading back to the Midwest. I took this photograph because sometimes a photo app can help the memory, too.

Pumpkins Please

Kish is a big pumpkins person. As soon as the pumpkins show up at the grocery store, she’ll buy a carload and put out as many as possible to make for a colorful autumn. That’s okay with me, because I think pumpkins are pretty pleasing, with their bold colors and rounded shape. In Stonington we have a nice shelf on our front step that is perfect for displaying pumpkins, where they go well with the remnants of this year’s crop of Black-eyed Susans and the dusty white plant the locals call “snow in summer.”

It’s still fairly warm here; yesterday the temperature may have briefly touched 70. But pumpkins aren’t the only sign of the cooler autumn to come. The edges of the leaves at the tops of the trees are starting to turn, there’s more animal activity, and the summer tourist season has ended. It’s a good time for pumpkins.

Putting The “G” In Goodbye

The people of Columbus generally, and German Village specifically, got some bad news this week: G. Michael’s Bistro is closing after more than twenty years of operation. The news of the restaurant’s closing was abrupt and was a shock to those of us who were G. Michael’s “regulars.” Apparently, the end came because the proprietors of the restaurant could not reach agreement with the owner of their building about a new lease. You can read their farewell message here.

We went to G. Michael’s, over and over and over again, because we always knew we could count on it for a fine meal and excellent service. I’ve had so many terrific dishes there, and I’ve written about some of them–like the spectacular duck sausage and white bean cassoulet appetizer featured in this 2017 post and pictured below. (I can still taste its delicate and succulent flavors in my memory.) We loved that the menu changed every so often, always giving us a chance to try something new while preserving a few never-changing standbys, like the shrimp and grits. And we also loved that it was only a block away from our house.

The closing of our favorite restaurant is hard to swallow (bad pun intended), and we’re not alone in that sentiment, as the sign above indicates. That’s because the relationship between “regulars” and their go-to dining option transcends a mere business relationship. The people at G. Michael’s knew us, and we knew them; we were greeted as friends by the always cheerful parking attendant as we approached the door and happily greeted again when we entered and walked to the host’s stand. Since we moved to German Village in 2015, we probably have eaten there more than 100 times–by ourselves, with family members and friends, and hosting large groups. I inevitably took clients who were in town on business to G. Michael’s because I knew that it would impress my guests about the quality of Columbus dining, the excellent fare, and the cool, relaxed German Village setting.

Now I’ve have to find a new favorite restaurant, and that sucks. G. Michael’s will be sorely missed.