The Halloween decorations in German Village this year are amazing, and elaborate. Colossal spider webs and giant spiders are especially popular, but so are skeletons, very creepy ghosts, bats, rats, gravestones, witches, Frankenstein monsters, Jack o’lanterns, and virtually every other haunted symbol you might think of. And more pumpkins and gourds thank you can imagine. It makes our walks around the ‘hood a lot of fun.
I find myself wondering whether our prolonged COVID experience has contributed to to elaborateness of the decorations. If you’ve spent months trying to stay at home and keep your distance, finally getting the chance to decorate your house, express yourself, and have some fun on a ghoulish holiday may just be irresistible.
The Hormel company has developed a bacon-scented face mask. The company created “breathable bacon” masks to promote its “black label” bacon, and a limited number of the masks, one of which is shown above, will be distributed, for free, to people who signed up for a chance to be selected for a mask on the Hormel website and are chosen to be one of the lucky recipients.
Alas, if you haven’t signed up for the bacon mask lottery already, you’ve missed your chance. According to the CNN article linked above, the contest closed on October 28.
We’ve already seen lots of designer masks in the mask market, so I suppose scented masks were inevitable. On the widely accepted theory that a little bacon makes everything better, experimentation with a bacon-scented face mask was inevitable. Can milk chocolate, peanut butter, and chili scented masks be far behind — if they haven’t been introduced already? And I suppose you can argue that a bacon-scented mask serves a scientific purpose: since one of the most definitive symptoms of COVID-19 is loss of sense of smell, a heady, bacon-scented mask could serve as a kind of early warning system. If you couldn’t smell your mask anymore, you would know it is time to go get tested.
I wouldn’t want a bacon-scented mask, which seems like it would get old pretty darned fast. Still, you have to admire Hormel’s initiative. Who’d have thought that 2020 would see giant leaps in the design — and smell — of face masks, and the exploration of new frontiers in everyday exposure to the wonders of bacon? It’s just further proof that necessity is the mother of invention.
Recently I was in a multi-person email exchange at work. The metaphors and similes were flying thick and fast and had taken a decidedly rustic turn when the B.A. Jersey Girl, who as her name suggests doesn’t initially hail from these parts, accused the sturdy Midwesterners involved in the exchange of “going all agro” in our references.
It was a fair comment, but it wasn’t the first time someone had observed that the metaphors and similes being employed weren’t particularly enlightening to all participants in a discussion. Usually, that happens when a non-sports fan finally cries out in frustration at being bombarded with rapid fire, increasingly cryptic sports references.
Both farms and sports are rich sources for the metaphors and similes we use to accentuate our points in colorful, graphic ways. There are more of them than we can possibly list. From the barnyard, we’ve got “fox in the henhouse,” “flown the coop,” “the horse has left the barn,” “chickens coming home to roost,” “strutting like a rooster,” “carrying the water,” “room like a pig pen,” being a “bell cow,” “acting like a sheep,” and “squealing like a stuck pig” — and that’s just “scratching the surface.” From the sports realm, we’ve got “home runs,” “slam dunks,” “fumbles,” “bunnies,” “Hail Marys,” “doing an end around,” “calling balls and strikes,” “blowing the whistle,” “play book,” “the ball’s in their court,” “putting on a full-court press,” “bush league,” and countless others that are “on the bench.” You may have used some of these yourself, and no doubt you can think of others.
I’ve tried to watch the overuse of sports references at work to be mindful of the non-sports fans out in the world; now I’ll also need to be mindful of farming references, too. But it makes me wonder: if you aren’t from the Midwest or other farmland areas, do you sprinkle your conversation with “agro” concepts anyway? And if you don’t use sports and farming metaphors and similes to illustrate your points, what references do you use to replace them?
As I’ve mentioned before, if you made a Venn diagram of Kish’s and my tastes in TV shows and movies, the areas of intersection would be a lot smaller than the untouched parts of the “Kish” and “Bob” circles. One of the genres that would be squarely on my side of the circles would be science fiction.
Until Away, that is. There have been a few sci-fi shows that Kish has tolerated, like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but Away is the first show I can remember that Kish actually really liked. There’s a reason for that: unlike many science fiction films and TV shows, which get caught up in technology or aliens or grim visions of humanity’s future, Away is all about the people. The plot of this Netflix show involves a five-person, multinational crew that is making a three-year voyage to Mars, but the mission also provides a structure for the backstories of the principal characters. For every depiction of weightlessness on the crew’s ship or every technological mishap the crew must deal with, there are plenty of flashbacks and lots of human drama. We liked the characters — led by Hilary Swank’s driven but tender mission leader Emma Green — and were interested in what was going to happen to them and their loved ones. More than other science fiction show we’ve seen, Away struck a very neat balance that reeled in both of us.
Of course, it being 2020, that means Away had to be cancelled this month, after just one season. We finaly find a sci-fi show that falls within the intersection part of the Venn diagram, and it is snatched away just as it is getting good! And it seems as if the healthy dollop of personal stories might be part of the reason for the cancellation: some critics felt that the show didn’t have enough of the science and technology elements that diehard sci-fi fans crave. And no doubt the cost of the show — which had a lot of “production value” and high-end special effects — had something to do with the cancellation decision, too.
We’re sad that Away was cancelled and hold out hope that some other streaming service or channel will pick it up — but even if that doesn’t happen, I’m encouraged that Away found a means of bridging that difficult sci-fi appeal gap. Away has shown it is possible, and maybe somebody will advance the ball even more next time. And if science fiction offerings can be moved from my circle to the intersecting zone of the Venn diagram, anything is possible. Who knows? Someday, someone may actually find a formula that would move period-piece melodramas from Kish’s circle to the intersection zone.
Recently we noticed that the post cap on one of our fence posts was missing. The post cap is that bulb-like fitting that sits atop the fence post and is designed to have both an ornamental and a practical function. The ornamental element is the sphere that helps to give the fence a pleasant and more finished appearance, and the practical function is to keep water from getting into the interior of the post and rusting it out.
We wondered how the post cap was removed, and what happened to it. I looked around in the front beds and the general vicinity to see whether I could find it, but had no success. Columbia Gas workers have been working on gas lines and using heavy machinery on the street, and I thought perhaps they had inadvertently knocked into the fence post and dislodged the post cap, and someone had picked it up as a random item on the street. Whatever the reason, we knew we would have to get a new post cap to protect the fence post, and were trying to figure our who to call or where to go to get that done.
But this weekend the mystery deepened. When we returned from a walk, we noticed that the post cap had been restored securely to its rightful place. Where had it been, and who replaced it, is anyone’s guess. It has markings on it that could reveal a collision with construction equipment, but for all I know the markings have been there for years. (I confess that I had not previously carefully inspected the post caps of our fence.) The post cap might have been returned by a member of the construction crew, or perhaps it was found by a neighbor. No note was left to explain the post cap’s absence.
Wherever the post cap had been, and whoever was the Good Samaritan, we’re just glad it’s back. Who knows? Maybe 2020 isn’t that bad after all.
Yesterday Big Ten football returned, in earnest, across the Midwest. In our household, for the first time I can remember, I was able to watch the Ohio State Buckeyes play an in-conference game with a Zen-like calm. It was eerie, because normally when I watch a game I’m an agitated, fingernail-chewing, shouting-at-the-TV wreck. I’m guessing my weirdly peaceful game-watching experience was attributable to a deep inner gratitude that Big Ten football is being played at all. With everything else that has happened, and is happening, in this ill-fated year, having some college football to watch is such a welcome diversion.
Even though Ohio State fell behind early yesterday, and the game was tied in the second quarter and remained in the balance for a while, I was able to maintain my tranquil disposition throughout the contest. It’s pretty clear that the Buckeyes have some things to work on — the offensive line still has to jell, and there is work to be done on defense — but this is a team with lots of extraordinary talent, starting with quarterback Justin Fields and his cadre of excellent receivers, and I’m perfectly content to let Ryan Day and his coaches work on ironing out the kinks and getting the team to play at its maximum capability. It’s all part of maintaining my new, zen-like ‘tude about spectator sports.
It will be interesting to see whether my new mindset will be able to survive a few bad calls from the refs, or unlucky bounces, or — God forbid! — losses. But for now, I’m just glad that Big Ten football is back, to add a little fun and fanship when it is needed the most.
This month marked the 80th birthday of John Lennon. The founder and one of the cornerstones of the Beatles, and the writer of so many great songs as part of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting duo, was born on October 9, 1940. He’s been gone for 40 years, after being shot on the streets of New York City by a disturbed person, but for many of us the loss of this special man is still fresh, and stinging.
I’ve written about the death of John Lennon before, from the standpoint of a creative life interrupted, to question whether his killer should ever be paroled. I still have that question, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve come for focus more on being grateful for the fact that Lennon lived at all, and made the contributions to my life that he did. So many of the tunes from the Beatles songbook and Lennon’s post-Beatles work are lodged in my head, and come naturally to mind at specific times. I feel especially tired, and the first few notes from the lone guitar that begins I’m So Tired from the White Album come unbidden from the memory banks, and I start singing the words. Who hasn’t thought of the song Rain on a rainy day? Who hasn’t thought of the song Help! during a difficult period? Who hasn’t been to a wedding reception that started slow — until the DJ played the Beatles’ definitive rendition of Shout, knowing that John Lennon’s screamed vocals and the chunky guitar chords and the ashcan drumming would be absolutely certain to get everyone with a pulse out on the dance floor and singing the words?
I’m sad that John Lennon was murdered, and am curious about what this witty, creative, interesting observer of life would be saying about our weird modern world had he had only had the chance to experience it. I wonder about what he would have done during his second 40 years — but am so glad that he had those first 40 years, for the musical and emotional contribution those 40 years have made, and continue to make, to my life. Happy 80th birthday, John Lennon, and thank you!
Since we’ve returned to Colimbus from Stonington, I’ve had to get my street walking reflexes back.
Not that kind of “streetwalking,” of course. I’m talking about literally walking in the street, with the traffic — exactly what your Mom told you not to do. In German Village, if you want to walk (and I do) and you want to maintain social distancing (and I do), you’re inevitably going to be veering out into the street from time to time to avoid approaching walkers and joggers on the sidewalks.
Street walking requires special awareness that wasn’t needed in Stonington. Up there, in our neighborhood, most streets don’t have sidewalks, so you walk in the street as a matter of course — but there’s really not all that much traffic, and not many parallel-parked cars (or joggers or bicycles, because of the abrupt steep inclines everywhere). In German Village, those are three of the things you’ve got to look out for when you venture into the street. You’ve got to be mindful of whether there are people who are in those parked cars you’re thinking of walking between in order to dodge those approaching walkers, because people in parked cars may be getting ready to pull out. And you need to be sure to look both ways, because you could have a cyclist or jogger approaching from either direction. And you’ve got to watch the cars, too, obviously— some of them are moving pretty fast, flouting the speed limit, and angry at the world. They don’t like sharing the street with us social distancers. And you need to be sure to wear white or other bright colors, to ensure you are seen by the drivers, cyclists, and joggers you’re trying to avoid.
I sometimes wonder whether walking in traffic to maintain social distancing is more dangerous than the coronavirus. It probably is, but it does keep you alert and on your toes first thing in the morning.
German Village features lots of high-quality Halloween decorations. This canoe filled with flowers and a screaming baby head with feet takes the prize in the “weirdest” category. What, I wondered, could be the English translation of “In ziegel vertrauen wir”?
It’s “in brick we trust.” Well played, screaming baby head!
So much of what goes on in the world these days is vast and sweeping and far beyond the capability of normal people to control. It can make people feel overwhelmed and helpless.
That’s why I think it’s important for us to step back and focus on the small stuff. We may not be able to determine when the coronavirus pandemic will end, but there are bound to be little things that we can change to make our lives incrementally better. If we focus on those little adjustments, we can accomplish something that we can feel good about.
Here’s an example of what I mean. We use a Roku device to get access to Netflix and Amazon and other streaming services. It worked like a charm . . . until one day a service called Crackle appeared on the Roku menu and immediately made using Roku an unpleasant annoyance. Ever time we tried to access Netflix or one of the other services, we’d hear a “bee doop” sound and the screen would take us to Crackle —which we didn’t want and will never, ever want. Whether by glitch or design, we were unwillingly routed to Crackle multiple times every time we tried to use Roku. It made what was supposed to be the pleasant diversion of watching TV into a frustrating exercise in high blood pressure irritation.
This week I decided to take action. I actually watched a Roku tutorial to see how to delete a channel, followed the instructions, and successfully deleted Crackle. Obviously, I should have done that long ago. But last night, we were able to use Roku and watch shows without seeing the hated Crackle logo or feeling the blood pressure soar. It made for a very pleasant evening.
It’s a small victory, but I’ll savor it nevertheless. And I’ll be on the lookout for more of that small stuff to change.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.