The Cleaning Wave

The Cleaning Wave comes rarely.

But when it does, it always begins with a whispered internal thought.  “I’ll rinse off my coffee cup and put it in the dishwasher,” you think, innocently.  Then you decide to wipe down the sink, until the stainless steel is bright and gleaming.  “That looks nice,” you think.

Then the wave begins to build, as waves always do.  The next thing you know, you’re wiping down the countertops, cleaning the range, and sweeping the kitchen floor.  “Hey, the kitchen looks great!,” you realize.

You could stop there, but by now the wave has got you and is rushing you forward, tumbling and unstoppable, and you move to another room and then to another and yet another, fussily straightening and polishing and putting away, until no surface in the house is uncluttered and there is a noticeable scent of Windex in the air and you begin to think about reorganizing the pantry or tackling the “messy drawer” that is found in every kitchen.  But then a kernel of doubt creeps in, and you wonder whether you really want to spend your whole blessed Saturday on a room or a drawer that is just going to end up in three weeks looking like it does right now, anyway.

By then, the cleaning wave has been spent.  It has crashed onto the shores of “messy drawer” reality, leaving you dazed and your place ready to greet the Queen of England — so long as she doesn’t go into the pantry or pull open that drawer.  And you think:  “You know, every house really needs a messy drawer.”

My First Phone Number

The other day the Jersey Girl and I were discussing the wonderful movie Lion, and specifically the part where a five-year-old boy, suddenly finding himself in a strange city a thousand miles from home, was unable to communicate his home town or his mother’s name — but nevertheless could fend for himself and survive for months.

Could we have done the same?  As five-year-olds, would we also have been unable to communicate to the authorities about how get us home?

rotaryphone-jpeg-size-custom-crop-755x650I’m quite sure that, at the age of five, I didn’t possess the kind of hardiness, stoicism, and long-term survival skills “Saroo” showed in Lion.  (After all, he and his brother were out stealing coal from trains and using other techniques to try to help feed their family, and I was just growing up in a small but tidy house in Akron, Ohio.)  But, I did have one thing that Saroo apparently lacked — my mother drilled all of the little Webners relentlessly, so we would memorize our names and our phone number.  Even as a small boy, I knew my name, my street, my city, and that seven-digit number that someone could call to let my parents know where I was.  And, in fact, when I went wandering around the block on one occasion, I told the nice people who found me my phone number, and they called and Mom came and got me.

Even now, 55 years later, that same phone number comes immediately to mind.  I can’t remember the phone numbers I had in my college apartments, or when Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C., or in our first homes after moving back to the Columbus area, but I remember that first phone number with ease.  It’s as if the drilling with Mom at the kitchen table as I ate another bowl of oatmeal on a cold winter morning engraved that phone number into the deepest synapses of my brain, where it can never be erased.

Of course, it’s totally useless information now — but still, it’s kind of comforting to know that I still remember something from so long ago.  Mom did a pretty good job.

Crossword Morning

It’s another grey winter day in Columbus.  I woke up early and started puttering around the house.  I picked up the German Village Gazette, our local weekly newspaper, saw it included the New York Times Magazine crossword, and thought: this is a perfect day to tackle a crossword puzzle.

I used to do crosswords from time to time — often on planes, if the people who sat in the seat before me hadn’t already marked up the in-flight magazine in the seat pocket — but it’s been years since I’ve dusted off the mental thesaurus and given it a go.  In the Webner clan, however, crosswords are a long and storied tradition.  Dad was a big crossword fan, always doing them with a back felt-tipped pen, and Aunt Corinne is an ace.  She would particularly like this one, because the unifying theme is grammar, and that’s her bread and butter.

If you haven’t done a crossword in a while, getting the knack again takes some time, but I got a few words and acronyms at the bottom of the puzzle, and it started to come easier.  Once I figured out the puns for the theme — i.e., “Santa’s nieces and nephews” = “relative clauses” — it came easier, and an enjoyable hour later I was done, and set my pen down with satisfaction.

The experts say crosswords and other mental puzzles help to keep the brain synapses sharp, and I think it’s true.  There’s a strong pun element to crosswords, of course, but the clues also often make you think of the world and the words in a different, slightly off-kilter way.  A three-letter word for “Bull’s urging”?  Red, perhaps?  Nope!  It’s a Wall Street “bull” that we’re supposed to think of, and the correct answer is “buy.”

Sometimes, thinking of things in a different way is a useful exercise.

Old Dog, New Tricks

Paisley has arrived for her brief stay with the Webners, and immediately she upset the well-oiled rhythms of our household.  For one thing, she follows Kasey around wherever Kasey goes — no surprise there, dogs are pack animals and Kasey’s the leader of the pack — and Kasey clearly finds it unnerving.  At heart, Kasey’s a loner . . . which is why seeking some solitude behind boots and shoes seems like a good idea.  And, of course, when tiny puppies are around you worry about accidents, and chewing, and stains, and curious little pooches getting trapped in inaccessible areas where they can’t get out and you can’t get in.

Who’d have thought that an impossibly cute eight-pound bundle of fur could cause such chaos?

Today the upset will end, as Paisley heads up to her new home in Hamtramck and Kasey gets to get some sleep and slide back into her leisurely lifestyle.  

A New Pup in The Family

Russell and Emily decided to get a pooch to add to their household, which already includes a cat.  We’ve become big fans of rescue dogs — Kasey taught us an important lesson there — so today Kish drove down to Athens to pick up Paisley, a beagle mix.  (Kasey’s taught us a good lesson there, too.)

I’m not sure if Paisley will keep that moniker, but I do know one thing — puppies are cute, no matter what their name.

Candle Scents

For those, like me, who are challenged in the olfactory department, scented candles can be baffling.

Consider the candle currently flickering in our kitchen.  It’s called “Snuggly Sweater.”  Does that mean it’s supposed to smell like a snuggly sweater?  Because, to me, it just smells like a burning candle.

What is a “snuggly sweater” supposed to smell like, anyway? Last time I checked, “snuggly” referred to a tactile feeling, not an odor.  Is “snuggly sweater” supposed to smell different than “scratchy sweater” or “bulky sweater” or “too hot sweater”?

It seems pretty clear that scented candlemakers are just coming up with aspirational lifestyle names, rather than meaningful smells.  Therefore, keep an eye out for “warm hug,” “blazing hearth,” “leather patches,” and “fat wallet” coming soon to a candle shop near you.

30 Years After “The Drive”

Thirty years ago, yesterday, UJ and I and two of our friends were sitting in our seats in Cleveland Municipal Stadium, watching the AFC championship game and hoping that the Browns would finally make it to the Super Bowl.

It was the first year after Kish and I had moved back to Ohio from Washington, D.C., and UJ and I decided to spring for season tickets to the Browns.  To our delight, the team — led by Bernie Kosar, Ozzie Newsome, two great running backs, some very good receivers, a defense that would bend but not break, and an indomitable coach, Marty Schottenheimer — turned out to be really good.  We saw some great wins during the regular season, and the Browns had won an improbable, come from behind, overtime thriller playoff game against the Jets the week before.  Now, on a cold day on the Cleveland lakefront, the Browns were playing the Denver Broncos for the AFC slot in the Super Bowl.

plain-dealer-front-page-the-drive-41646014a33b632eOf course, just as the Browns seemed to be on the cusp of victory that day, “The Drive” happened, and the hopes of the team and Browns fans the world over were crushed.  It’s a story that has almost become the stuff of legend — which is why you can find Cleveland newspapers and, of course, the Denver Broncos website remembering it, 30 years later — and it is always mentioned, bitterly, when people talk about the horrors of Cleveland sports fans over the past half century.

I didn’t realize that yesterday was the 30th anniversary of “The Drive” until one of the guys I went to the game with mentioned it.  I groaned when he did, because I had no interest in ever thinking about that game again, and I expected to experience that familiar hot blast of pain and frustration that always bubbles up whenever I remember that game — but to my surprise my reaction yesterday really wasn’t all that bad.  It’s almost as if the Cavs’ NBA championship win last year, and the passage of three decades, have taken the pitchforks out of the demons’ hands that are lurking in my Cleveland sports fan subconscious and replaced them with something softer that can produce a twinge of regret, but not the torment and angst that once seemed to be everlasting.

They say that time heals all wounds.  Maybe it’s true, even for sports fans.