61*

If you’re a baseball fan, of a certain age at least, you think of 61 as a number that inevitably is accompanied by an asterisk.  That’s because, in 1961, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s decades-old single-season home run record of 60 by bashing 61 home runs — only to have his feat placed in the record books with an asterisk.

roger-maris-1961The 1961 baseball season was an exciting one, with Maris of the New York Yankees and his Hall of Fame teammate Mickey Mantle each chasing Ruth’s record.  Mantle was the a hero to many and the sentimental favorite, but it was Maris who broke the record by hitting his 61st home run on October 1, 1961.  They even made a made-for-TV movie, 61*, about the season.

Some people weren’t exactly happy that Maris broke Ruth’s record, though.  Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick, a friend of the Babe, insisted that Maris’ record go into the record books with an asterisk, to recognize the fact that Maris hit his 61 homers in a 162-game season, while Ruth hit his 60 round-trippers in a 154-game season.  It was a pretty bogus move by the Commish, because even though Maris held the record, the asterisk cheapened and delegitimized it somehow.  It communicated, implicitly, that 61 was not an authentic record and required explanation. It’s the most famous use of the asterisk in sports history — in fact, probably the most famous use of punctuation, period, in sports history — and the asterisk dogged Maris for the rest of his career.  (And he probably wasn’t comforted by the fact that asterisk comes from the Greek word for “little star,” either.)

The key point, though, is that I’ll always think of 61 as carrying an asterisk.  So today, when I celebrate my 61st birthday, I’ve got to put an asterisk after that number.

What’s my footnote?  I guess that I really don’t feel like I’m 61, and in fact am a bit shocked that I’ve been around for 61 years.  I can’t say that I feel like a kid, but inside I’m more of a forty-something.

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Stick To Your Ribs Fare

We’re up in Detroit for a visit with Russell. Since this is The Winter That Will Never End, we were treated yesterday to a hard, cold rain and temperatures in the upper 30s.

One time-honored approach to miserable weather outside is to go inside and fortify yourself against the elements. So, we stopped by the Krakus Restaurant & Bar in Hamtramck, which specializes in Polish and American cuisine, and I got the meat pierogies with bacon, onions, and sour cream, it came with a steaming bowl of spilt pea soup, and I topped it off with a bottle of Okocim beer. The food was excellent, the lager went down easy, and I relished a meal that Mom would have said would “stick to your ribs.”

Thus fueled, we ventured forth again into the never-ending chill.

A Big Hole In The Household

IMG_0575We lost our little pal Kasey today.  For six years, she has been a huge part of our family.  Now she is gone, leaving a big hole in our household, and an even bigger hole in our hearts.

We inherited Kasey from Kish’s Mom.  Kasey was a rescue dog that Kish and her siblings found at the Erie County Humane Society to serve as a companion for Kish’s Mom, who had just lost her dog and was dealing with her final illness.  It was a match made in heaven.  Kasey was perfectly suited for that role, and Kish’s Mom delighted in her company.  When Kish’s Mom passed, we added Kasey to our household.

Kasey immediately made an impact.  Even though she was much smaller than our other dog, Penny, who was a large, lumbering lab, Kasey immediately assumed the position of lead dog in the Webner pack.  And yet, her small size and big eyes inevitably caused Kish to pick her up, deposit her in Kish’s lap, and manipulate her paws to wave goodbye or do some hand jive or engage in other antics that made us laugh.  Kasey endured this terrible indignity with good humor and a perfectly deadpan expression that made us laugh even more.  From time to time she would puff out her cheeks in what we interpreted as a clear sign that her patience was wearing thin.  It was just one tiny, but memorable, example of her very distinctive personality.

When Kasey left the lap and got to be a real dog again, as when we took her on walks, she fearlessly strutted through the neighborhood as if she owned the place, barking at dogs 10 times her size with a raspy woof that one dog-sitter called a smoker’s bark.  She wasn’t a biter, but she wasn’t afraid to mix it up with any other member of the canine species, either.  When she first joined the family, as shown in the picture above, the brown in her coat was dark, and she was full of spunk and energy.  She stayed that way for years, as if she was somehow immune to the ravages of time.

Because she was a rescue dog, we never knew precisely how old Kasey was, although we think she reached the ripe age of 17 — which is pretty darned old in “dog years.” Gradually her coat got whiter and whiter.  It became too painful for her to put weight on her back leg, cancerous growths broke out on her face, and her eyes got rheumy and her hearing failed.  Her sleeping increased until she was dozing 23 hours a day, and she was losing all semblance of bowel control, besides.  As the end neared, she was more like a stuffed animal than a living creature.  Her appetite declined, and when it got to the point when she wouldn’t even bark for a piece of meat I was having for a meal, we knew the time had come.

If you have a dog in the family, you’ll know how difficult the decision is, and what a mixture of emotions it provokes — sadness at losing a great friend and companion, relief that their period of suffering is finally over, and hope that, somewhere, your dog is out romping on a grassy field, running without pain under a sunny, bright blue sky.  That’s what we’re feeling about Kasey.  We’ll never forget her.

The Great Grilled Cheese Debate

Yesterday was National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day.  It’s a day to celebrate the glories of the grilled cheese sandwich and to reflect anew on the delectable nature of melty, gooey, crunchy goodness.

wide_51094On such a day, you’d expect red-blooded Americans to engage in a vigorous debate on the best way to make a grilled cheese sandwich — and, especially, what kind of cheese makes the best GCS.  The so-called experts will discuss at length the respective merits of different, high-end options like aged cheddar, fontina, gruyere, Monterey Jack, raclette, and havarti, but they also pooh-pooh the traditional choice that many of us grew up with — namely, American cheese.  One grilled cheese chef, who probably spoke with a grimace on her face, dismissed American cheese thusly:  “It’s not really cheese to me, it’s some kind of weird plastic-y substance that should be banned from the face of the earth.”

Well . . . lah de freakin’ dah!  I’m guessing that same expert would sneeringly dismiss the use of Wonder bread, too.

I beg to differ.  I love different cheeses, and I think those high-falutin’ grilled cheese sandwiches you can get at restaurants are just fine, but when I think of a truly succulent grilled cheese sandwich, I think of them the way Mom used to make them — with Kraft American cheese (or maybe Velveeta), on Wonder bread, with a little butter smeared on the outside, then grilled so there was a crunchy, buttery outer shell for the melty cheese inside.  And, of course, the resulting masterpiece of the culinary arts had to be sliced diagonally and served with Campbell’s tomato soup made with milk, so you could dip the edges of the sandwich into the soup and gobble the result up in perfect combination.

I’ll take Mom’s grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup over the fou fou offerings of the so-called “experts” any day of the week.  When National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day rolls around, that’s the one I’ll savor.

Swedish Death Cleaning

Many of us have closets that are full to bursting.  They’re so tightly wedged that you get serious anaerobic exercise shoving heavy rows of clothing to one side or the other, desperately trying to clear a space to hang something, because you know if you don’t clear that space and try to wrestle free a hanger, it’s likely to come springing out of the crush and inflict bodily injury.

If this sounds like your closet, it may be time for a Swedish Death Cleaning.

That’s the grim name for the latest personal decluttering trend that’s sweeping Scandinavia.  The underlying, admittedly morbid “death” concept comes in because the goal is to try to make sure that your estate is as easy for your survivors to administer as possible.  Why make them tackle that jam-packed closet when you could just do it yourself now, and save them the trouble later?

Some of the tips involved in Swedish Death Cleaning seem pretty sound to me.  The author suggests starting by discarding or giving away bulkier items, like coats, to immediately clear space, giving you the feeling that you are already making progress and incentivizing you to continue.  Other tips are to adopt a “uniform” — i.e., accept and embrace what you typically wear, rather holding on to things that you might someday wear for a once-in-a-blue-moon event — donate the impulse purchases that you don’t wear anymore, rather than keeping them because throwing them out makes you feel guilty that you made a dumb decision in the first place, and get rid of things that have no “worth” for you.

It’s all good advice, but the trick is always with the execution.  What to do, for example, with those jeans I wore when I was 25 pounds lighter and hope, someday, to comfortably wear again?

And when you’re done with your closets, it’s time to give the Death Clean treatment to those drawers that are so full that you have to depress the clothes with your hand to push the drawers closed.

36

Today, Kish and I celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary.  On April 3, 1982, on a cold, snowy, blustery day in Vermilion, Ohio, we exchanged our vows, walked down the aisle, and began our married life together.

36-birthday-istockAt first blush, 36 doesn’t seem like a special enough number for such a special day.  After all, it’s just one of those even numbers that you zip right past if you are counting up to 100.  But if you delve into it, 36 is a pretty interesting number.  It’s the product of two prime numbers multiplied together (2 x 2 x 3 x 3), and it’s the sum of two prime numbers, too (17+19).  It’s a perfect square number, with a square root of 6.  It’s also a triangular number, which refers to the number of dots you need to form a triangle with six dots to a side, and a circular number, which refers to a square number whose last digit corresponds to the square (i.e., 6 x 6 = 36).  So, if you were a hopeless math geek, you’d celebrate 36 as a special number that is a square, a triangle, and a circle, all at the same time.

But the specialness of 36 doesn’t stop there.  A perfect score on the ACT is 36.  There are 36 inches in a yard.  The atomic weight of krypton is 36.  In Judaism, Maori legend, and Shaivism, the number 36 crops up as a number of significance.  And 36 also is important in games of chance.  The number of different possible outcomes if you roll two dice is 36, and 36 is the highest number on a roulette wheel.

So 36 is, in fact, a number with a lot to recommend it.  When you think about it, it’s a pretty apt number to commemorate the day when Kish took a gamble on getting married to a guy like me.

Much Ado ‘Bout Betty Boo

Russell’s dog Betty has been staying with us for a few weeks while Russell gets some work done on his builling.  Betty — who is known to Kish and me as Betty Boop or, in abbreviated form, Betty Boo — is making herself at home, as dogs always do, and there couldn’t be more of a contrast between the youthful Betty and the aging Kasey, who likes nothing so much as good morning, afternoon, and evening naps.  Betty is pretty much the exact opposite, and the difference between the two moved me to write some bad verse:

Much Ado ‘Bout Betty Boo

Damp tennis balls found in the halls,

A tattered sock and battered shoe.

These all, we know, are telltale signs

of Betty, Betty Boo.

Kasey wants to sleep so deep.

But things to rip, or tear, or chew

Are the very favorite things

Of Betty, Betty Boo.

She’s still a pup, and not grown up

With more energy than me or you;

A whirlwind of devilish play

Is Betty, Betty Boo.

It’s time to walk, no time to talk,

Then we’ll play fetch anew.

But she’ll never tire, no matter what

Will Betty, Betty Boo.