Tea Time

I’ve started drinking hot tea some evenings. Hot tea seems to go well with cold weather. I especially like the Twinings natural peppermint herbal tea. After you’ve steeped it for four minutes– which is what the packet commands — the room is thick with a minty fragrance. Add some milk, and you’ve got a tasty, warming libation the fortifies you against the winter chill.

Drinking hot tea reminds me of my childhood, when Grandma Neal would watch us grandkids and have us drink tea with her in the afternoon. The tea kettle would shriek, the hot water would be poured into the teapot, and as the tea steeped Grandma Neal would set out a small container of milk, honey, a sugar bowl, and a plate of shortbread. We’d make our tea and sit carefully drinking out of china cups on saucers, dunking the shortbread into our cups of milky tea and trying to eat the result without making too much of a mess.

It all seemed very elegant. It was only years later that I realized that Grandma probably used “tea time” to get a rest. If the grandkids were sitting drinking hot tea and eating cookies, that meant they weren’t tearing around her house causing havoc.

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The Vestiges Of Prohibition

I thought Prohibition — America’s doomed effort to legislate morality and propriety by banning the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages through a constitutional amendment that gave rise to bootleggers, speakeasies, and rumrunners — ended back in the ’30s.  And it did . . . in most places.  But weird vestiges of Prohibition-era laws still can be found even now, more than 80 years later.

we-want-beerTake Colorado, for example.  Thanks to a law that traces its roots back to Prohibition, grocery stores in that state haven’t been able to sell full-strength beer.  If you walk into a store of the grocery chain of your choice in Denver, for example, you can buy 3.2 beer — and that’s it.  If you want to buy full-strength beer, you’ve got to go to a state liquor store. It’s kind of weird to think that such a limitation on beer sales would exist in Colorado of all places, because it has been one of the leaders in the movement to legalize the sale and consumption of recreational marijuana.  But Prohibition-era laws die hard.

Grocery stores apparently put up with the limitation because, until 2008, liquor sales of any kind on Sunday were banned in Colorado, except for the 3.2 beer you could buy in grocery stores.  That restriction no doubt gave grocery stores a boost in Sunday sales to thirsty drinkers who couldn’t buy anything else.  When the blue law ended, however, grocers started advocating for change, the legislature finally acted, and now the 3.2 beer limitation will be ending.  Effective January 1, 2019, you can walk into a grocery store in Colorado and buy a six-pack of Sam Adams seasonal — just like you can in Columbus and pretty much everywhere else in the United States.

For those of us of a certain age, the notion of drinking 3.2 beer brings back memories of our adolescence, when people of a certain age in Ohio (and elsewhere) were permitted to drink 3.2 beer and nothing else.  It was a rite of passage.  I don’t remember much about the quality of 3.2 beer, but I do remember the quantity, because you had a drink a lot of it to attain the desired effect.  The 3.2 beer laws in Ohio ended decades ago, however.

Welcome to the modern world, Colorado!  And down with the Volstead Act!

Soup Canned

Household food staples of the 1960s have had a tough time of it lately.  Production of the glorious Twinkie was halted for a while a few years ago when its maker went through bankruptcy, and now comes news that the Campbell Soup Company — a brand so iconic and associated with American meals that its soup cans were painted by Andy Warhol — is struggling, too.

w1siziisijmxodi0mijdlfsiccisimnvbnzlcnqilcitcmvzaxplidiwmdb4mjawmfx1mdazzsjdxqAccording to a report in the New York Times, Campbell’s earnings fell 50 percent last quarter, sales of its soups have been declining, and expensive acquisitions have left the company dealing with significant debt without providing any help in the sales department.  The company’s stock price trails the rest of the stock market and has lost a third of its value, and the company’s chief executive, Denise Morrison, stepped down under pressure earlier this year.  And now the company’s Board of Directors is facing a challenge that pits a hedge fund and dissidents who want the business to be sold or restructured against the heirs of John Dorrance, the chemist who invented condensed soups more than a century ago.  The Dorrance descendants own 40 percent of Campbell’s stock, have lived lifestyles of great wealth as a result of their descendants’ creation, and want to make sure that any changes that occur happen on their terms.

Why is Campbell’s struggling?   The Times notes that the company is “fighting headwinds like declining consumer interest in packaged food and a preference for fresh ingredients over highly processed soup from a can.”  Some people believe that the company has lost its focus with its acquisitions and needs to return to a soup-centric model, and analyst contend that the company hasn’t adequately responded to marketplace changes.  The article points out that “Campbell Soup cans, for example, have barely changed since 1900, and the top sellers remain tomato, chicken noodle and cream of mushroom.”

Of course, for many of us, those three soup options were familiar ingredients of meals when we were growing up.  In the Webner household, Campbell’s tomato soup (made with milk, not water) and grilled cheese was a highly popular dinner, countless casseroles were made with Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, and Campbell’s chicken noodle soup was the inevitable lunch if you were home sick from school with a cold.

I hope Campbell’s can figure out its problems.  Although I haven’t had a lot of Campbell’s soup lately, there’s something comforting about seeing those familiar red and white cans on the grocery store shelves, and I still think tomato soup and grilled cheese is something to be relished on a cold winter’s day.

Bring Your Parents To Work Day

According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s becoming increasingly common for businesses to host “Bring Your Parents to Work” days.  The Society for Human Resource Management estimates that around 1 percent of American employers host such an event, with advertising and tech companies like LinkedIn leading the way.

fullsizerender__1_Companies see such events as appealing to young employees who are close to their parents. (Or, stated alternatively, some companies may realize that they’re hiring Gen X/Y/Zers who have helicopter parents who have always been deeply involved in every facet of their children’s lives and expect that to continue into core adulthood activities like working at a job.)

The article reports that the parents who attend these days wander around the office, wearing matching “Josh’s Mom” and “Josh’s Dad” t-shirts and snapping pictures of their kids at work and posting them on Facebook.  And, parents being parents, it’s not unusual for them to corner executives and pepper them with questions about how the company is doing — and, presumably, why their gifted kid isn’t moving faster up the corporate ladder.  For that reason, some of the children admit that having Ma and Pa at the office can be an anxiety-inducing experience.  Others, though, think that visits from their folks will help their parents understand what they do and where they spend a lot of their time.

It’s another example of how family dynamics have changed over the years.  My parents were interested in making sure that I got a job, kept a job, and became self-supporting, because that was part of the road to responsible adulthood, but they sure didn’t express any desire to experience the workplace with me for a day — and I really wouldn’t have wanted them to do so, anyway.

Some people obviously see the notion of “Bring Your Parents to Work” days as a way for parents who are close to their kids to further cement that bond.  I see the workspace, in contrast, as off-limits territory, where people should be making it on their own, without oversight from Mom and Dad.  I think it’s part of the boundary drawing that has to occur as children grow up and make it on their own.  Apparently, not everybody wants to draw those boundaries these days.

Stan Lee, RIP

I was saddened to read of the death of Stan Lee yesterday.  Lee, who died at the ripe old age of 95, was the driving force behind Marvel Comics and the creator of countless characters — good guys and bad guys both.

stan2blee2bolder2bimageDuring my teenage years I was a huge fan of superhero comics.  (They weren’t called “graphic novels” back in those days.)  There were DC Comics — home to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman — and Marvel Comics.  DC was the established brand, with by-the-book heroes who were red, white and blue, fought the bad guys, and won; Marvel was the feisty challenger that featured characters who struggled and at least seemed aware of some of the challenges of real life.  Most comics readers of that day stayed true to one brand or another.  I was a Marvel guy, and ate up the characters created by Stan Lee — with the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the X-Men being my favorites.  I read the new issues as they came out and hunted around Columbus trying to find old issues so I could read through the back stories and fill out my collection.  Eventually I had a decent collection, but as I got older and we started a family I found that I had less time for old friends like Reed Richards and Peter Parker, and the collection got sold.

The interesting thing about Lee is the astonishing amount of his output, and his genius at coming up with new superheroes and supervillains.  For a time during the ’60s, he was the principal writer for multiple titles for Marvel, including flagship vehicles like The Fantastic Four and The Avengers.  He came up with dozens and dozens of great hero characters like The Thing, great villains like Dr. Octopus, and — even more interesting — other characters like Galactus who were neither good nor bad in their intentions to humanity, but just living their lives in the cosmos, even if it meant that they needed to devour worlds to keep going.  Lee and his artists — Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, who had dramatically different styles, were my favorites — had an assembly-line approach that required them to write and draw on a virtual around-the-clock basis to bring out new comics every month.  Somehow they did it, and it is astonishing that they were able to avoid schlock and produce high-quality issues month after month.  Lee’s work during the ’60s was one of those periods of great artistic outburst that become the stuff of legend.

Stan Lee later became known for self-promotion and cheesy cameos in the countless Marvel movies, and he ended up fighting with his fellow creator Jack Kirby about who was responsible for creating what back in those early, glory days of Marvel Comics.  His story confirms, once again, that creative people aren’t perfect — they’re people.  But his later actions can’t take away what he did during the ’60s, and what the characters he created meant for comic book readers like me.  RIP, Stan Lee.

 

Trick Or Treating In The ’60s

We’re getting ready for Beggars’ Night in Columbus, but that’s just part of what has become an increasingly big, and prolonged, celebration of Halloween in America.

In German Village, we’ve already had an adult trick or treat night that gave “grown-ups” a chance to don costumes, act like kids, and go to designated locations where they could have special drinks and eat Halloween food.  If you turn on your TV, you’ll see lots of commercials about preparing special Halloween-themed foods, decorating your house with spiders, fake cobwebs, and other scary stuff, and making or buying elaborate get-ups for your kids.  It all reflects the reality that, every year, Americans spend more and more on Halloween.   

f22c4ef1e347c837bc8f82d4dbf0581aIt was . . . different during the ’60s.  Halloween was almost exclusively a kid’s holiday in those days; I don’t remember adults being very involved or all that interested in participating themselves.   Most of us kids came up with our own costume ideas and made them ourselves, because there weren’t a lot of other options — you could buy a cheap costume from the local store, but it was impossible to see or even breathe in the hard plastic mask with a slit for the mouth and little holes for the eyes that was always of the package, and the flimsy bodysuit part of the costume was ripped to shreds almost immediately unless you stood perfectly still, like the unfortunate kids in the photo above.  After one year where I, too, went as Batman and wandered around with a sweating face, unable to see or make myself heard clearly, I decided that the homemade costume route was definitely the way to go.

I don’t remember much about the costumes I made, except that they were pretty simple.  One year UJ, Cath and I went as three of the four Monkees — I think I was Mickey Dolenz, my favorite Monkee — but our costumes didn’t matter much because it was unseasonably cold for trick or treating that year and Mom made us bundle up to the point you couldn’t see our Monkee outfits, anyway.  One year I was a pirate, one year I donned a jersey and went as a generic “football player,” and another year — I’m embarrassed to admit — I went as a “bum,” putting on some beat-up clothing, a battered hat, and smearing some of Mom’s mascara on my chin to give the appearance of unshaven beard stubble.  The hobo outfit was common in that pre-PC era and was an easy costume to make and blessedly mask-free, but I’m guessing that nobody goes trick or treating as a “bum” these days.

That’s one of the many ways in which Halloween has changed since I was a kid.  One thing that hasn’t changed:  kids still want chocolate to put into their trick or treat sack.  No apples or popcorn balls, please!

A Defense Of Fingernail Biting

I ran across this piece in the New York Times in defense of biting your fingernails, and I immediately thought of Grandma Webner — perhaps the most resolute opponent of fingernail biting in the history of mankind.  She regularly hectored UJ and me about our nail-biting habits, even to the point of mocking, with a grimace, the hands-in-mouth pose of the hapless nail-biter.

A defense of fingernail biting?  Grandma would scoff at the very notion.

1000-woman-biting-nailsThe Times piece makes a reasonable case, tracing nail-biting back to Cleanthes of Assos, a Stoic philosopher, and deftly addressing the arguments that nail-biting is gross and unhygienic.  And yet, the writer goes too far in justifying the conduct of many of those of us who just can’t resist chewing on our fingertips.  She concludes that “nail-biting pairs best not with tension and anxiety but with the moody, concentric revolutions of meditative thought” and adds:  “The urge itself may be faintly animalistic, but answering it can give rise to the kind of mental wandering that makes us more human. It’s freeing and creative, more about process than results. If the point were only to shorten your fingernails, clippers would do — but clippers are regimented and mechanical, while nail-biting is, literally, a manual art. It’s personal, bespoke, precise: You have to bite just the right nail, just the right amount. The method is traditional, and the materials couldn’t be more locally sourced. It’s the ultimate handicraft.”

Grandma worked hard to get me to stop biting my fingernails, and now Kish is the last line of fingernail defense.  With their aid and counsel, I’ve managed to stop biting my fingernails as a matter of course, and to reduce temptation at an absolute minimum I keep nail clippers at the ready in convenient places so I can always give a tempting nail a quick trim.  But when a key sporting event is on the line, I still feel those fingers reflexively reaching upward and my teeth preparing to render a satisfying snick as they chop through the keratin at a moment of maximum uncertainty.

In my case, at least, fingernail biting is clearly associated with tension and anxiety, not “the moody, concentric revolutions of meditative thought.”  It’s an old childhood habit that emerges anew at times of stress, and when the ballgame is over I still feel a twinge of shame that I’m not more disciplined and, frankly, grown-up about it.

Grandma Webner had a lasting impact.