I Before E . . .

The other day I saw a misspelling, with “receive” being incorrectly spelled “recieve.” It was a common spelling mistake back when I was a kid–one that led generations of schoolchildren, including me, to memorize the rhyme “i before e, except after c, or when sounded in ‘a,’ as in ‘neighbor’ or ‘weigh.'” If you wanted to be a good speller, that was a saying that became a key part of the spelling section of your memory banks.

With the broad adoption of spellcheck, it’s becoming rarer to see spelling mistakes these days, and it’s easier for people to just rely on computers to catch errors, rather than keeping those personal spelling skills sharp. Spellcheck makes life easier for content creators, I suppose, but I hope it hasn’t caused young kids and even adults to eschew developing their spelling capabilities and vocabularies.

I was interested in being a good speller when I was a kid, and I think it helped me develop a much deeper understanding of our language. The dictionary was a constant companion. You wanted to learn new words and their correct spellings, of course, but you also wanted to know something about the source of the word, which often provided clues that helped you to remember how to correctly spell it. The process gave you an appreciation for the broad sweep of the English language, how it has absorbed many words from other tongues, and just how confusing and arbitrary some of its spellings can be.

It’s nice to know, therefore, that there are kids out there who care about being good spellers and are willing to compete in spelling bees. The 94th Scripps National Spelling Bee begins on May 30 in Washington, D.C., with more than 230 spellers from the U.S., Canada, the Bahamas, and Ghana hoping to be crowned the top speller. You can read about the winner of the Ohio regional spelling competition, a student at Olentangy Middle School, here.

The word that will take the Ohio winner to the national bee was “guayabera”–a lightweight sport shirt, initially developed in Cuba and Mexico, that is designed to be worn untucked. It’s a good example of the ever-inclusive nature of the English language.

Learning From A Label

When I was a kid, I used to religiously read the backs of cereal boxes while spooning down my breakfast. The Wheaties and Frosted Flakes boxes usually had some pretty interesting information on the back, and besides–what was I supposed to do instead? Engage in meaningful conversations with members of my family?

I fell out of the habit of reading product labels and boxes, but lately I’ve tried to reengage with that practice, in hopes of broadening my base of walking-around knowledge. You never know what you might learn.

Consider, for example, this jar of 24 Mantra “organic curry powder,” with its description on the side of the jar of the “24 Mantra Advantage.” It raises some interesting points, and questions, too. For example, is it even possible for curry powder to be inorganic? After all, curry powder is made from a variety of ground up leaves, roots, and chilis. Isn’t everything that comes from a plant organic? Has someone created chemically based, laboratory-created curry powder and tried to foist it on an unsuspecting public? It makes you wonder.

The “24 Mantra Advantage” is one of those vague statements of purpose you see on some product labels these days. I’m not sure why this is so, but it’s interesting to see what companies decide to feature. The 24 Mantra Advantage statement says: “In our Mantra we have integrated the ancient wisdom ‘Tvam Bhumir Apo Analo Anilo Nabha‘ (You alone are Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether).” The “fire” part is encouraging if, like me, you like your curry at the high end of the spice scale, but I’m not sure that ether, for example, has much relevance to good curry. The label goes on to say that the company works with a lot of farmers, and states that one aspect of the “24 Mantra Advantage” is that you can “enjoy food adhering to international standards.” You wouldn’t think that last part really needed to be stated, but I suppose it’s nice to have that confirmation, in writing.

I’m going to have to think about establishing my own mantra.

The Demise Of The Cheap Car

One of the first cars I ever drove was a brown Ford Maverick. The Mav, shown in a sales poster above, looked pretty good, seated four people reasonably comfortably, got decent gas mileage, and had a bit of get up and go to it. Marketed as “the simple machine,” the Ford Maverick retailed for $1,995. It was one of many examples of the cheap cars that were available at low end of the automotive market.

There aren’t many cheap cars left. In fact, if you are a cheapskate like me, you’d say there are none. The average price paid for a new car in March 2023 was a stunning $48,008, according to the Kelley Blue Book. In fact, only three cars on the market sell for less than $20,000, and the cheapest of those–the Nissan Versa sedan–is listed at $16,925. The cheapest new vehicle offered by one of Big 3 American manufacturers is the 2024 Chevy Trax SUV, which is offered at $21,495. In effect, Ford, GM, and Chrysler have turned away from the affordable car end of the market, where they used to offer cars like the Maverick.

Why isn’t Detroit competing for the buyer looking for cheap cars? Part of the reason is inflation, of course, and some of the cost increases are due to safety features and expensive gadgetry that would never have been added to stripped-down cars like the Maverick. In large part, however, the reason is simply that car manufacturers find it a lot more profitable to build vehicles–primarily SUVs and pick-up trucks–that are loaded with bells and whistles and high-end features and that retail in the upper five-figure range. That’s what is driving up the average price of new cars to that mind-blowing $48,008 number.

Can it really be that there are not budget-conscious young people out there who want to save up their hard-earned wages, make a down payment, and buy a brand-new “simple machine,” like the Maverick, that gets them from point A to point B, without all the bells and whistles, for an affordable price? I find that hard to believe. As it is, that segment of the market must forsake their chance to take deep breaths of that wonderful new car smell, and focus on the used car market instead.

The Mountain View

We are out in Tucson for a visit, staying at a hotel in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Yesterday we were out at the pool, with one of the majestic peaks looming directly above and behind the blue water.

Having always lived in flat, landlocked places, I think mountains and oceans are truly wonderful. I seemingly cannot get enough of boats on the water, the tide coming in and going out, or the awesome cragginess of lofty peaks soaring far overhead. And with mountains, there is always a tantalizing question: has anyone ever actually climbed to the top of that thing, and if so how did they do it?

My reaction to mountains and oceans makes me wonder if people are always attracted to the natural features they’ve never experienced growing up in their home territory. Somewhere, are there people who are dazzled by Midwestern farmland and cows enjoying a placid munch of the grass from green fields?

A Bracing Dip At Barton Springs

Yesterday morning Richard and I decided to indulge in a classic Austin institution: taking a dip in the Barton Springs pool. Barton Springs is a natural spring that bubbles up from the ground just a stone’s throw from downtown Austin, as the photo above shows. It is a haven for dedicated swimmers and for anyone who wants to give their dog-paddling skills a workout. And speaking of dog paddles, at one end of the pool is a barrier and a fence that separates the human pool from an area where Austin-area dogs can have a riot splashing around around, as shown in the photo below.

The swimming area of the Barton Springs pool is probably about 200 yards in length. It varies in depth from about four feet near the edges to deep enough for diving at certain points. Although it is roughly configured like a very long swimming pool, it is a naturally occurring body of water with a bottom of algae-coated rocks, so you have to watch your step as you enter the pool. Human swimmers share the water with turtles and a unique species of blind salamander.

It was bright and sunny yesterday, but with temperatures in the 50s when we entered the pool. I had hoped that the water would be at least somewhat warm, but alas!–it was like taking a polar bear plunge. Under such circumstances, there is no alternative to just plopping in and hoping that eventually your body acclimates to the cold water, which mine eventually did. The bracing temperature of the water definitely provided some motivation to start swimming and hopefully generate some internal heat.

Speaking of swimming, I’m obviously totally out of practice, and it seemed to take me forever to move from one end of the pool to the other, as I tried out my back stroke, breast stroke, and freestyle techniques, as well as just floating and enjoying the interesting scene. Along the way I got yelled at by a lifeguard for the first time in more than half a century because I unknowingly swam–well, floundered, to be precise–through the well of the diving area. I did manage to avoid getting yelled at for running along the edge of the pool, however.

After I finally reached the end of the pool, we got out and walked around to take in the full scene. There were a number of accomplished swimmers who obviously have significant resistance to cold water moving methodically from one end of the pool to the other, as well as people sunning themselves on the lawn that is found on one side of the pool. According to Richard, the pool opens at 5 a.m., and there usually are people waiting to take a cooling dip and get their laps in. As for me, I was looking forward to changing into dry clothes and enjoying a warming meal of some breakfast tacos with a hot cup of coffee.

The Art Of Car Packing

Today I am moving stuff from point A to point B. The project presented a challenge in the fine art of car packing. The key question: how much stuff can you reasonably, and safely, get into your car, so that you only have to make one trip?

Car packing is one of the few times when the lessons you learned in your junior high school geometry class have practical application in everyday life. (To put you back into the proper frame of mind, who here remembers what a “rhombus” is? Anyone? My geometry teacher, Mrs. Jackman, would no doubt shake her head sadly and remind us all that a rhombus is a parallelogram with opposite equal acute angles, opposite equal obtuse angles, and four equal sides. Why do I mention a rhombus, which obviously doesn’t really have much utility in car packing? Because I like the sound of the word, frankly–but I digress.)

When packing your car, you must wrestle with determining what shapes can reasonably fit together, and what shapes can reasonably be wedged into the remaining spaces. But there is a lot more to it than that. What materials must remain horizontal, and what can be flipped to a vertical orientation? Which materials can be scrunched without damage? A sound sense of spatial orientation and a keen eye for structural dynamics also comes in handy. And from a safety standpoint, it’s crucial to make sure that you leave sufficient clearance to be able to look out the rear window through the rear view mirror, that the items to be delivered are anchored and secured, and that you haven’t inadvertently loaded the car with the front seat in the “spousal position,” so you don’t have sufficient leg room. That last point has tripped up many a novice car packer.

Car packing presents a welcome challenge, but it’s important to remember that every SUV looks well-packed when parked. You never really know just how proficient your work was until you take that first corner.

The Euchre Belt

The other day we were talking about potentially having a social event for our litigation group in Columbus, and someone mentioned that maybe we could hold a euchre tournament. The B.A. Jersey Girl commented, however, that we would have to actually teach the game to some of our lawyers. This astonished me, because I thought that this fun and fast-paced card game was played by pretty much everyone who has ever touched a deck of cards. To the contrary, the B.A.J.G. inexorably maintained: euchre is virtually unknown on her home turf or elsewhere along the east coast, and seemed to be played only in Ohio and perhaps other parts of the Midwest.

Sadly, in this, as in so many things, the B.A.J.G proved to be correct. In America, euchre evidently is widely known and played only in a swatch of states that may be called the “euchre belt”: Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. The American version of the game apparently is derived from an Alsatian game called Juckerspiel and was brought to the U.S. by German-speaking immigrants, who handed it down to succeeding generations. That explains why the above-noted swath of the Midwest, where many German immigrants settled, is home to many euchre enthusiasts.

In Ohio, though, euchre soon expanded out of the German immigrant community. When I was a kid, all of the relatives on both sides of my family played euchre (as well as pretty much every other card game), and when I was in high school I and other classmates at Upper Arlington High School often played euchre in the “student center” during break periods between scheduled classes. (It beat studying in the “learning center.”) It was a quick, raucous game that well-suited to being completed within an open period.

The rules of euchre are weird, which is part of the fun of the game–and which makes you wonder what long-forgotten savant came up with them. Among other oddities, you begin by culling the deck itself and getting rid of all of the cards except the nines, tens, jacks, queens, kings, and aces. A euchre game is four-handed, with a player teaming up with the person facing them at the table. Each player is dealt five cards (in two rounds, for no readily apparent reason), and the remaining four cards are placed in a pile face down on the table before the top card is flipped over. This is a crucial element of the game, because the three down cards in the “kitty,” which could be crucial to the hand, are instead “buried” and their identity is unknown to the players. Many euchre players have come a cropper, or lucked out on a weak hand, because of the identity of these down cards.

The players determine a suit first by going around the table so that each player decides whether to “order up” the top card that has been turned over from the kitty, in which case the dealer of the hand takes the card, puts it in his hand, and selects a discard from his hand to join the down cards in the kitty. (This is another key part of the game, where you try to signal your partner about your hand–perhaps by a long pause as if you are debating whether you’ve got enough to order up the card, only to ultimately decide not to do so.) If no one orders it up, the top card is turned down and another round occurs in which any player may name the trump suit. Whichever team names the trump then has to win three of the five tricks, and if they fail they are “euchred.” If you’ve got a very strong hand and you’ve named the trump, you’ve also got to decide whether to “got it alone” and hope you can win all five tricks by yourself–and not get euchred in the process.

The card priority rules of euchre are even stranger. When trump is named, the two most highest ranked cards are the “bowers”–the jack of the trump suit (the all-powerful “right” bower) and the jack of the other suit of the same color (the “left” bower, which can take any card but the right bower). So, if hearts is the trump, the jack of hearts is the right bower, and the jack of diamonds is the left bower. “Bowers” apparently are the Americanized version of “bauers,” which is German for farmers. Players must follow the suit that is led, but if their hand has a void (i.e., no cards of the suit led) they can try to take the trick with a trump. With every player holding only five cards, voids are common, and unexpected trump plays that take an off ace can ruin the best hands.

I can’t summarize all of the rules of this great game, in which hands are over in the blink of an eye. taunting is commonplace, and friendly arguments about card-playing decisions are inevitable, but if you’re not familiar with euchre, I encourage you to learn it. You can check out a “beginner’s guide” to the game here.

I’m hoping we go forward with that euchre tournament. It would be nice to see the “euchre belt” widened and lengthened.

The Skin On The Pudding

Yesterday our firm had a nifty little St. Patrick’s Day food event called “Irish nachos,” consisting of waffle fries, a queso sauce, and bacon crumbles. They were very tasty! I got to the buffet late, however, so when I dipped the ladle into the queso sauce there was a thin skin on top that crinkled up in response to the downward pressure of the ladle before breaking–and thanks to that sight a pleasant childhood memory came flooding back.

My mother always tried to have a dessert to serve during our family dinners. Usually it was something like a lime Jello mold with grapes in it–not a favorite for me, frankly–or some canned peaches or pears, perhaps served on cottage cheese. On some lucky days, however, it was little glass bowls of chocolate or butterscotch pudding.

The pudding always had the skin on top, and that turned out to be a big part of why pudding was a favorite dessert. Using your spoon to play with the pudding skin was irresistible and kind of fun–could you peel off the skin in one piece, could you use your spoon to wrinkle the skin and loosen it from its moorings on the sides of the bowl, and how much pressure would it take to puncture the skin, once and for all?–and the skin, once consumed, always seemed even richer and tastier than the rest of the pudding.

I see on the internet that some food websites offer tips on how a cook can prevent the formation of skin on top of pudding or custard. What? That whole concept is fundamentally misguided, like trying to make pizza without attention to the crust, or attempting to develop plant-based burger patties. In my book, the skin is a crucial part of the pudding. Why would you want to make a pudding without it? A pudding without skin is a pudding without soul.

The Change in Teenage Attitudes About Driving

Statistics show that American teenagers are less likely to get their learner’s permit and their driver’s license than they once were. In fact, they are a lot less likely to take what used to be viewed as a first step toward adulthood.

The Washington Post reports that in 1983, 46 percent of 16-year-olds had licenses; today, it’s 25 percent. In 1983, 80 percent of 18-year-olds had a license; today, it’s 60 percent. This phenomenon will seem surprising to those of us who grew up in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, when getting your driver’s license was a crucially important rite of passage. We all were eager to get behind the wheel of a car with a brightly colored, 100 percent plastic interior, like the one shown above, and head out on the open road. The only people I knew who didn’t have their licenses at the earliest possible moment were those who had choked on the parallel parking part of the in-car test.

That’s no longer true, and the big question is why this significant change in teenage attitude has happened. The Post article approaches the story anecdotally, through the tale of several families and their kids, and identifies a series of potential reasons. They include things like digital connectivity, which allows kids to hang out on-line without being physically present, the allure of video games and the gamer community, and the ready availability of Uber and Lyft if you need a ride. One kid confessed that he thought driving was boring, and he’d rather just ride and be able to look at his phone. Some parents also may not be pushing their kids to get their driving privileges like they once did.

Other, darker factors may be at work, too: the perception that driving has become very dangerous, thanks to reports of road rage incidents, the fact that many kids are dealing with depression and anxiety for other reasons and driving is an additional stressor, and, potentially, the fear of getting older and having to shoulder the many burdens of responsible adulthood. Some kids have mentioned, too, that it bugs them that their parents have put apps on their phones that allow the parents to track their every move–including how fast they are driving.

If you are wondering whether this shift is COVID shutdown-related, it apparently isn’t; the statistics show a gradual declining trend in licensure of 16-, 17-, and 18-year-olds since the high water mark in the early ’80s.

This reluctance to drive on the part of some of today’s kids may strike us as weird, but it really isn’t. The world has changed, the life experiences of kids have changed, and it’s therefore not surprising that teenage attitudes about driving would change, too What do those changed attitudes mean, long-term, in other areas of life, for the generation that is currently coming of age? We’ll have to see–but the reluctance by many to drive suggests that we certainly shouldn’t expect them to share all of our viewpoints.

A Slob’s Reform

When I was in college, I admittedly was a slob. Dirty dishes were piled up in the sink of my apartment, I never made my bed, I never cleaned the refrigerator, and the bathroom was a horror show of mold and grime and dirty towels. It is embarrassing to admit this now, but my apartment was so trashed that my mother forced my poor sisters to come over to clean it–thank you for that, sisters, by the way–only to learn a week or so later that, after a party my roommate and I hosted, it was a disaster area again. But it was college, there was a lot going on, and I couldn’t be bothered to spend time on something mundane like cleaning up.

At some point after college, though, my attitude changed, and I experienced a radical shift on the rank messiness to obsessive cleanliness scale. I realized that clutter in my living space kind of bugged me, and that I favored a spotless, gleaming countertop over one that was smeared with grease and littered with crumbs. I found that I enjoyed making the bed in the morning, picking things up and stashing them in their proper place, and doing simple chores like putting dishes in the dishwasher and polishing a tarnished tray to a decent shine. And, at the office, I found that I liked a clean desk and that, as between loose papers and documents stashed neatly in folders and then in boxes, I much preferred the latter.

As I puttered around this morning, putting away dishes from the dishwasher and wiping down the sink, I found myself wondering: what caused the change? Was there always a neatnik buried beneath the slouching college laissez-faire attitude about dirt and grime? I don’t think so, because I don’t remember being troubled at all about my crummy college living conditions. I suspect that, as I moved from college to the working world, I realized that maintaining some degree of cleanliness was a part of responsible adulthood. And I think I also came to appreciate the simple pleasures of doing a basic chore than can be brought to a complete conclusion in a short period. If you work at a job where you might not see results from your labors for weeks or months, you find real value in the immediate gratification of a completed task on the home front.

I wonder how my current self would react if given the opportunity to see my grubby college apartment. I suspect I’d collect some cleaning supplies, roll up my sleeves, and happily accept the challenge of bringing it up to code–so my poor sisters didn’t have to do it.

The Coldest Of The Cold

It’s been cold in Columbus the past few days, and the weather app advises that the temperature outside right now is a bone-chilling 13 degrees.

It seems to be cold pretty much everywhere in the U.S. right now. Because our weather app also keeps track of temperatures in other areas that we care about, we know that it has been unseasonably cold in Austin, Texas, too, where people are struggling with a balky power grid and Richard and Julianne have been huddled with their dog and cats when the power has gone out. The champions of the February Cold Contest, though, are Russell and Betty up in Brewer, Maine, where the current temperature is -18 and the wind chill is a ridiculous, and dangerous, -40. Fortunately, the Maine power grid is more dependable than what the Austin area has to offer, and Russell and Betty have heat.

As a kid, I don’t remember my parents talking about specific temperatures or the wind chill factor; at most they might chat with the neighbors about it being an especially cold winter. The only temperature I really cared about was 32 degrees, because I hoped for consistent freezing temperatures to allow for snowfalls, sledding, building snow forts, snowball fights, and other winter activities. It may have fallen below zero from time to time, but the approach back then–by parents and kids alike–was to just bundle up some more, perhaps wrap another scarf around your neck, hitch up your snow pants, fasten the metal buckles on your rubber galoshes, and deal with it, because the weather was simply the weather.

More recently, gadgets like weather apps on phones and thermometers in cars remind us of the specific temperature all the time. The coldest official temperature in the Columbus area is 25 below zero, recorded at Rickenbacker Air Base on January 19, 1994; that day it was -22 at Port Columbus Airport (now John Glenn International). I’m sure I was in town on that day and dealing with the cold, but I don’t remember that day, specifically. It was a cold day, obviously, but there have been many cold days.

The coldest cold I recall experiencing occurred in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on a wintry day where we decided to go snowmobiling and the temperature was well below zero. It was so cold that it was difficult to take a breath outside, and the outfitter for our snowmobile trek emphasized that you needed to make sure that every square inch of exposed skin stayed completely covered, because otherwise it would freeze virtually instantly and you’d be dealing with frostbite. I took that advice very seriously, and was glad indeed to be supplied with lined coveralls, enormous mittens that extended up to your elbows, and multiple neck gaiters, along with my helmet.

Cold comes and cold goes. I’m glad to see that the temperatures in Austin, and Columbus, and Brewer are supposed to warm up, relatively speaking, today and tomorrow.

3.2 Days

The Columbus Dispatch published an article earlier this week reporting that the Bier Stube, a bar at the south end of the Ohio State campus area, may be torn down to make way for another development project. The story had some personal resonance for me, and probably for many other people of a certain age who grew up in Columbus, because the Bier Stube–one of the oldest taverns in the University area–is where I had my first legal adult beverage. That beverage was a glass of watery 3.2 beer.

In those days, Ohio allowed 18-year-olds to drink beer that was 3.2 percent alcohol. “3.2 beer” began in the 1930s, after the end of Prohibition, and continued to be produced in many states, including Ohio, for decades. If you were 18 and wanted to have a legal drink–as opposed to going the fake ID route–3.2 beer was your only option. (3.2 beer hung on in Ohio until 1982, when the drinking age was raised to 19 for 6 percent “high” beer, and stayed around even longer in other states.)

So it was that, after we had all passed our 18th birthdays, a group of high school friends and I decided to head to the Bier Stube to celebrate. We had heard through the grapevine that it was a good, no-hassle place to quaff some brew. We went to the bar, presented our licenses to a bored bartender, ordered a pitcher of 3.2 Stroh’s, carried our glasses and the pitcher to a booth, and sat down. The Stube was a pretty rustic place, as bars go, but we didn’t care. The 3.2 beer was watery, but we didn’t mind that either. We saw our visit as a kind of rite of passage and first step on the road to adulthood. Weak beer in a bar that had sticky tables and floors wasn’t going to affect our ebullient mood at finally being legal, as we drank our beer, chattered away, and decided to get a second pitcher, just for the heck of it.

I haven’t thought of that trip to the Bier Stube and my first exposure to 3.2 beer for years. I’ll be sorry to see “the Stube” go.

Froot Loops

Our hotel in Austin had a great breakfast bar that included an omelet-to-order option, freshly baked biscuits, and lots of other tasty breakfast options—including two gigantic containers of Froot Loops. The cereal must be popular in Texas, because two of the three dry cereal options were Froot Loops. The other was Raisin Bran.

I successfully resisted the temptation to chow down on a bowl of Froot Loops, but it was a challenge, because one of my childhood memories involves that cereal. In the early’60s Grandma and Grandpa Neal took UJ and me on a trip to Battle Creek, Michigan, where we took a tour of the Kellogg’s cereal factory. At the end of the tour Kellogg’s served every visitor with a little dish of vanilla ice cream topped with Froot Loops, which had just been introduced. I liked my Froot Loops sundae very much and asked Mom to buy the cereal when we got home—which I’m sure is what Kellogg’s was hoping for. (I liked Toucan Sam, too.)

Froot Loops remains a favorite cereal to this day, although my metabolism doesn’t permit me to eat it anymore.

Saddled With A “Song Name”

In the spring of 1972, a one-hit wonder group called the Looking Glass released their one and only hit–a song called Brandy. Brandy told the story of Brandy, a “fine girl” who worked as a barmaid in a busy harbor town. She pined for a sailor who wasn’t able to marry her because “my life, my lover, my lady, is the sea.” Brandy became a huge hit for the group, rising to number one on the Billboard Top 100 and remaining in the top five on the American Top 40 countdown for weeks.

And, thanks to the Looking Glass, if I meet or hear of a woman named Brandy, my mind immediately thinks of that song and the lyrics that followed the mention of Brandy’s name: “you’re a fine girl.” It happened again last week, when I received an email from someone named Brandy. More than 50 years after Brandy ruled the charts, that song remains hard-wired into my brain synapses and provokes a reflexive reaction.

I suspect I am not alone in having this reaction–at least among people of a certain age–and it made me wonder what it would be like to have a “song name” like Brandy. Brandy was a perfectly good, unremarkable name until the Looking Glass decided to pull it out of the name bank and give it musical immortality. How did the Brandys of the world who were alive at the time feel when they first heard that song, and had the chilling realization that their lives were changed forever? And how often, since then, have the Brandys of the world had to endure guys who think they are clever crooning “you’re a fine girl” after hearing their name?

That would be true not only of Brandy, but of any name that became a key part of a popular song–names like Mandy, or Aubrey, or Cecelia, or or Michelle (ma belle), or Donna (Donna, the Prima Donna), or countless others. I would hope that parents who choose one of these names realize that they are consigning their daughters to a lifetime of being associated with the song that bears their name and idle comments about its lyrics.

Having a “song name” seems to be largely a female fate. In fact, I can only think, offhand, of two guy “song names”: Rocky Raccoon and Mack the Knife. I’m glad I wasn’t saddled with one of them.

When Libraries Aren’t Safe

For many bookish kids, myself included, libraries were a fabulous place of discovery during our childhoods. I loved going to the local library and browsing among the bookshelves, looking for a Homer Price book or an Encyclopedia Brown book or a Hardy Boys book that I hadn’t read yet–being careful always to be quiet as a church mouse to avoid being shushed by the librarian. For me, and I think many others, public libraries were a gateway to a lifetime of reading and all of the pleasure and intellectual growth it has brought.

That’s why it is so sad to read about the problem at the main library in Boulder, Colorado. The library had to close before Christmas because there was a spike in people using the library bathrooms to smoke methamphetamine, exposing staff members to meth residue and fumes. Then, when the city conducted tests of the air ducts and ventilation system at the library, it found unacceptably high levels of methamphetamine, leading the city to keep the library closed to conduct further tests of surfaces in the library. You can read the City of Boulder press release about the unfortunate situation here. According to a more recent report from a Colorado TV station, testing showed some contamination in certain seating areas, causing library officials to remove the furniture in those areas and further delaying the reopening of the library.

Anyone who has been in a library branch in an urban area recently has probably noticed that those library branches attract homeless people who are looking for a place to stay warm, particularly during the winter months. Library restrooms often end up being used by those patrons as personal hygiene centers. Some libraries are also dealing with issues of homeless people camping out on library grounds. The homeless issue is a tough one, and no one thinks people should freeze during periods of frigid temperatures. But surely everyone can agree that libraries shouldn’t have to put up with people smoking meth in their restrooms. Libraries aren’t de facto public shelters or drug treatment facilities, and librarians shouldn’t be put in the position of policing library grounds and bathrooms to identify drug use or roust out other people who are engaging in illicit activities.

Ultimately, the issue boils down to whether libraries will be permitted to serve their intended function–as places of learning and wonder that allow members of the community to enjoy reading different books for free–without having to shoulder additional responsibilities as a result of other societal issues. Meth use in library bathrooms interferes with that intended function, and will have regrettable consequences. How many parents in Boulder are going to allow their kids to go to the main library now, to browse through the shelves and find a book that looks interesting? That’s very sad.