That Good Samaritan Feeling

It snowed quite a bit Monday, going well into the night.  Tuesday morning I got up and instead of taking my early morning walk, I went out to shovel my front steps and sidewalk.

I was out shoveling at about 6 a.m., in the quiet darkness, when a young woman approached.  It probably took some nerve on her part to approach a total stranger on a dark, bitterly cold morning, but she obviously was desperate.  “Excuse me, sir!” she said.  “My car is stuck.  Would you mind coming down and shoveling me out?”

good-samaritanI looked down the street and saw that her car, which was one of those ultra-light compact cars that are about the worst snow vehicles in the world, was turned sideways and was well and truly stuck in the snow piles.  “No problem,” I said.  “When the weather is like this, we’ve all got to stick together.”  So I went down with my shovel, let loose my inner Dad, put her behind the wheel, and shoveled and pushed and rocked the car back and forth and instructed her on cutting the wheels this way and that — not too sharp! — until we finally got her too-light car out of the snow banks and onto the ruts of the street so she could head on her way.

“Thank you soooo much!” she said several times before she puttered away in her little car, and I think she really meant it.  I then went back to my shoveling.

Growing up in Akron, Ohio, I learned that you help people out when they get stuck in the snow.  One time when UJ and I were little kids we went to an Akron Zips basketball game with Grandma and Grandpa Neal, a blizzard hit during the game, and we came out to an Oldsmobile that was covered in snow and buried in a drift.  A bunch of men who also had come to the game came over to help us, and eventually they pushed and pulled and rocked us out to the point where we could get to the street.  Their selfless act of kindness and decency made a big impression on a little kid.

Ever since that happened, I’ll gladly lend a hand to help anybody trapped by the snow.  I know that the Good Samaritan acted for wholly altruistic reasons, and when it comes to the winter weather I do too — but I always like the “Good Samaritan” feeling I get when I do it, too.  That young woman’s heartfelt thanks made my Tuesday a little bit better.

Advertisements

My Inner Grandma

Yesterday Kish and I were talking about health, and before I knew it I used the phrase “fit as a fiddle.”  As soon as I said it, I realized that it’s a phrase that no American has probably used for the last 20 years,

That’s what happens when my Inner Grandma surges to the fore.

grandma-21“Inner Grandma” refers to the vast repository of sayings that immediately come to mind about the small realities of everyday life, like weather, and eating, and getting up in the morning, and how you’re feeling today.  All of the sayings were chiseled deeply into the synapses of my cerebral cortex as a result of spending huge chunks of my formative years with my mother and my two grandmothers, all of whom used some of the same core sayings.  I probably heard them hundreds of times as a callow youth, and was proud of myself the first time I used them correctly and participated in a conversation with Mom or Grandma Webner or Grandma Neal.  Now those sayings bubble up, involuntarily, whenever those everyday moments arise, even though the sayings themselves have long since lost their currency — and don’t even particularly make sense, come to think of it.

“Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”

“It’s raining cats and dogs.”

“I’m in the pink.”

“You’ve got an appetite like a truck driver.”

“Good morning, Merry Sunshine!”

“He’s happy as a clam.”

And that’s just scratching the surface.  I guess it shows how much of our thinking is shaped by our childhoods, and how we remain the product of our upbringing long decades after our childhoods have ended.  Mom and my grandmothers will always be with me.

Exam Anxiety

Right after waking up I realized with a start that I have a crucial exam today. Even worse, I’ve been procrastinating studying for the test, and not even going to the classes, besides. Now, Exam Day has arrived, I am totally unprepared, and I am well and truly screwed. How could I be so stupid and reckless?

The next thing I know, I’m rushing through the empty, echoing halls of the building, looking for the room where I’m supposed to take the exam. Everybody else must be in the classroom already! Unfortunately, in my rush to get here I obviously forgot to write down the room number where the exam was being given, and now I’m frantically racing through the empty hallways, trying to find the right room before the test starts. My anxiety level shoots through the roof, and I think: I am a colossal idiot to have foolishly gotten myself into this horrible predicament.

At about this point the conscious brain takes over and realizes that I’m a 60-year-old lawyer who doesn’t take classes or critical exams any more, and I wake up with a start and a racing heartbeat.

Why do I still have exam anxiety nightmares, even though I haven’t had to endure a crucial exam for more than 30 years?  It’s apparently a very common dream, and no doubt it’s because those long ago days of actual winner-take-all exams with real-world consequences engraved permanent, scarring concerns deep into the dark, twisted world of my id, where they are ready to spring forth with only the flimsiest excuse. Expose me to any unusual stressor, and that night I’ll probably be kicking myself once more because I’ve blown off the class and Exam Day is here. Yesterday I took some on-line training modules that ended with short quizzes that you needed to complete to show you’ve paid attention. I got passing scores, and I could have taken the quizzes over even if I didn’t get a passing score the first time around, but perhaps even that limited, low-pressure exposure to simple testing is enough to trigger the bad dreams.

It’s sad to think that I’ll probably continue to be haunted by the specter of long-ago exams for the rest of my life, but at least when I wake up I have the pleasure of knowing that the days of all-or-nothing testing are behind me — except in my dreams.

On Santa’s Lap, Anywhere

On Saturday I went to the nearest Ace Hardware store, on Parsons Avenue, to buy some light bulbs for the kitchen.  As I was checking out with the cashier, I looked over and noticed to my surprise that the store had a Santa sitting over to one side, in a pretty good approximation of the North Pole, waiting patiently for some squalling child to sit on his lap and tell him what was on their Christmas list.  Santa politely said hello, and I wished him Merry Christmas.

00020405I’m not sure that people normally associate an Ace Hardware store with the possibility of a visit with Santa, but I think this is significant news to report to the families in the Columbus area who have young children.  Folks, it looks like you can go to the Ace on a Saturday and get right in to see the Big Fella!  This is important information, because taking the kids to see Santa is an annual tradition in many families, and frequently is planned with the precision of a military operation.  Where to go and when — so as to avoid waiting in line for hours with some squirming, fidgety kid who is eventually going to have to go to the bathroom — is a key part of the planning exercise.

Maybe I’m wrong in my recollection, but I don’t think the location of the Santa visit would have bothered me one bit.  Whether in a gaily decorated old-line department store or in the area next to the hardware store aisle where they sell hatchets, I just wanted to make sure that Santa knew what I wanted most — and it wasn’t world peace.  So long as you accepted that the guy you were talking to was one of Santa’s agents, ready to convey your intense desire for a Rock ’em, Sock ’em robot game to the Jolly Old Elf himself, the location of the visit with the ersatz Santa was irrelevant.

As parents, of course, the key thing about the visit is to get the adorable picture of your kid sitting on Santa’s lap.  And when you think about it, you don’t really care where the picture is taken, either.  Consider the above dim, horribly underexposed photo of Richard and his cousin Joe, dressed in their holiday finest, sitting slack-jawed on the lap of some unknown guy in an area with a Christmas tree, white cotton snow, and, improbably, penguins.  (Improbably, because everyone knows that Santa’s workshop is at the North Pole, whereas penguins are native to the South Pole.)  Do we now have any recollection of where this picture was taken?  Nope!

For all I can remember, it might have been the Ace Hardware store.

The Ghosts Of Johnny Marzetti

It’s amazing what you can learn just by looking at signs in downtown Columbus.  Yesterday, as I was walking past a building that is being rehabbed and rebranded near the intersection of Broad and High Streets, I learned that its first floor space once housed Marzetti’s Restaurant — and its signature creation, Johnny Marzetti.

Really?  Who knew that, for more than 30 years now, I’ve worked less than a block away from the birthplace of one of the most hated school cafeteria offerings of my childhood?

johnny-marzetti-2It’s hard to imagine that Johnny Marzetti was actually created by any human being, much less somebody in middle-of-the-road Columbus, Ohio.  I never ate the Johnny Marzetti created by the former Marzetti’s Restaurant, but the dish served under that name by the hair-netted cafeteria staff of the Akron-area schools seemed like it must have been concocted by the devil — or perhaps was the residue of nuclear detonation tests on the island of Bimini.

Inevitably tepid, baked to a concrete brick-like consistency with a sharp-edged crust, flavored with tooth-curling, industrial strength tomato sauce purchased in garbage can-sized drums, shot through with suspiciously chewy ersatz meat by-products, and plopped on to your tray with a resounding thwack, Johnny Marzetti was always greeted with a groan by the kids at Rankin Elementary and Eastview Junior High.  And when, as was inevitably the case, the rigid pile of Johnny Marzetti went largely unconsumed and was returned at the tray drop-off at the end of lunch period, it was carefully scraped into a container — presumably to be recycled for another lunch next week, or perhaps used as mortar on the foundation of the school addition being constructed next door.

Johnny Marzetti — along with the other dish that my sister Cath and I loathed and called “hairy fatty chicken” — was largely responsible for converting me into a dedicated bring your own sack lunch student.  Why expose yourself to the possibility of picking at that inert pink mound of glop when you could have a PB and J made by Mom, with an apple and a Twinkie, too?  In its own demonic way, the Johnny Marzetti served by school cafeterias made us all appreciate the loving cooking efforts of our mothers.

That location being rehabbed at 16 East Broad Street now carries a lot of baggage for me.  I wonder if a restaurant will ultimately start up in that space — and if so, I wonder if I’ll have the guts to overcome the ghosts of Johnny Marzetti and try it.

A Taste Of Old Akron

The Webner family social media wires were burning up yesterday with the news that Swensons, an Akron-area tradition, may be planning on opening up a new hamburger joint in the Columbus area.  According to the article, Swensons has begun franchising and has indicated an interest in the Columbus market — they’re just looking for the right place.

e2fb43610d0ce3cec3e0f3ac6dabdfd1-akron-hit-theThis potential development burst like a bomb among the members of the Webner clan, because Swensons’ hamburgers were one of the foods we associate with our days growing up as kids in Akron.  Some days, we would buy sacks of burgers and milkshakes at Swensons, where to my recollection the meat had a very distinctive, somewhat sweet taste, and then go to the nearby McDonalds to get french fries because Grandpa Neal insisted that McDonalds’ thinner-cut fries were preferable to the Swensons’ variety.  Other times, we would go to Sky-Way, just a few miles down Market Street, which also was an old-line burger place.  At Sky-Way, you would drive up and park and then get served by kids who would skate up to the window of the car, attached a tray to the drivers’ side door, and bring your order directly to you without falling down.  The Sky-Way burgers were good, too, but it was the delivery method that really made an impression.

ls

Swensons, or Sky-Way?  In Akron, it was the eternal question and the basis for endless debate.  The Webners were enumenical on the issue — we happily consumed both.

I haven’t had a Swensons burger in years, but it and Sky-Way are enshrined in my fast food memory banks, right up there with the cheeseburgers UJ and Grandma and Grandpa Neal and I got at Riviera Lanes and broasted chicken and the old-fashioned pizza Mom got from a place with an Italian name that I don’t remember.

And when I hear that a Swensons might be opening up, I think two things.  First, if I go there, will the burgers taste like what I dimly recall and live up to my expectations?  And second, if Swensons is coming, can Sky-Way be far behind?

“Buddy Boy” And “Missy”

Recently one of my friends responded to an email from a colleague by addressing him as “buddy boy.”  It was the first time I’d heard that phrase in a while, and it was used perfectly, in line with the standards of my childhood.

00019748When I was a kid, there were definite gradations of parental reprimand.  Reprimands, of course, were different from punishment.  Punishment was typically physical, and could range from a swat on the behind to loss of TV-watching privileges to having to sit at the kitchen table until you ate all of the vegetables on your plate to being “grounded.”  Reprimands, on the other hand, were verbal, for offenses not quite meriting more vigorous discipline.  “Buddy boy” — as in “Listen, buddy boy” — typically was used with a relatively mild form of verbal censure, and when it was directed your way you knew that you had trangressed, probably by acting “too big for your britches” and presuming too much familiarity or expressing an opinion on some adult topic.  “Young man” was the next step up the scolding ladder, and usually was employed if you’d acted in an impolite or unmannerly way, often with respect to an older relative.  And the top form of reproach, which usually was reserved for some inappropriate public behavior, like at school, was to say your full given name, first, middle, and last.  When you heard that, you knew you were really in for it.

There was a similar reprimand ladder for girls.  The female equivalent of “buddy boy” was “Missy,” and the “young lady” replaced “young man,” but the top rung — the full name — was the same.

The reprimand ladder was an effective way of letting a kid know just how badly he or she had crossed the line.  Once a boy understood the censure spectrum, and then heard “buddy boy” directed his way, he knew he had screwed up, but his parents were really annoyed rather than furious.

Of course, these things change, and the “buddy boy” reprimand seems to have fallen out of favor.  In fact, if you run a Google search for “buddy boy” today, you learn from the top hit that it’s the name of a chain of marijuana dispensaries in Denver — so maybe the “buddy boy” message these days would be a little bit mixed.