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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yesterday I was walking past the former downtown Lazarus building when I noticed that two of the original display windows had been decorated for the holidays, as would have been done back when the Lazarus department store actually occupied the space. The two windows definitely give off a throwback Christmas vibe, with the ankle-deep cotton ball snow, the gold ornaments and fixtures, and the carefully placed mannequins dramatically displaying the women’s dresses and coats.
I think these are now the only two of the display windows that remain, but in the old days there was a row of them, and people would actually make the trip downtown just to check out the new goods that were featured in the the windows. In all likelihood, they would then go inside the Lazarus to see Santa and do some shopping–just like what is shown in the scenes of A Christmas Story. The display windows were a great form of point-of-purchase advertising, and a good window designer could definitely increase sales. Equally important, no kid’s Christmas list was complete until they had taken a look at the department store display windows to see whether there was something cool there that should be added.
I’m glad to see that these two display windows survived, even though the Lazarus department store is long gone and the building itself has become a kind of multi-purpose office space. I’m sure the cotton ball manufacturers are grateful, too.
It seems to be the cold season in central Ohio. Hearing the sneezes, coughs, and sniffles around town made me think of having a cold when I was a kid–and the home treatments that were inevitably applied in response.
In our household, Mom was the family medic. If you were sneezing or coughing, she would feel your forehead and take your temperature with a thermometer, and if you varied much from 98.6 you were sent to bed. Then Mom would head to the medicine cabinet and a closet shelf to retrieve the same crucial pillars of treatment that were applied to every cold: Vicks VapoRub, Dristan nasal spray, St. Joseph’s aspirin for children, Smith Brothers cough syrup, and a humidifier that was set up in your room. (In those days, long before prescription drug commercials for every known medical condition came to dominate TV broadcasts, all of the medications we consumed were of the over-the-counter variety.)
It wasn’t clear whether Mom had received any meaningful medical training, or advice or instruction from the pharmacist at the neighborhood drug store, but she took her doctoring duties seriously. And her treatment sent an unmistakable message: when your chest had been liberally swabbed with pungent, seemingly radioactive VapoRub, you had a harsh blast of spray shot into the far reaches of your nasal cavity, and you swallowed a few gag-inducing spoonfuls of bad-tasting cherry-flavored cough syrup and heard the hum of the humidifier, you accepted that you were, in fact, sick, and just waited until you got better. The only saving grace on the medicine front was the St. Joseph’s aspirin for children, which had a piquant orange flavor and actually tasted pretty good. You came away thinking that St. Joseph, whoever he was, must have been a nice guy to invent a kid’s aspirin that helped to get the taste of the cough syrup out of your mouth.
Did the rotation of VapoRub, Dristan, Smith Brothers, and St. Joseph’s, along with the constant whiffs of humidified air, actually have a therapeutic effect? We’ll never know for sure, but we do know one thing: the colds eventually went away and we did get better, even as the powerful odor of VapoRub lingered for a day or two thereafter.
Perry came to Cleveland in 1972 as part of a trade that sent “Sudden” Sam McDowell, a fireballing pitcher with an equally volcanic temperament, to the San Francisco Giants. McDowell was my favorite player, so I wasn’t happy with the trade–but Gaylord Perry quickly captured the hearts of Cleveland fans, including me. He somehow won 24 games for the Tribe in 1972, when the team was awful and won only 72 games, finishing well below .500. Perry’s ERA that year, in 342.2 innings pitched, was 1.92, and he threw an astonishing 29 complete games. If you do the math, Gaylord Perry accounted for exactly one-third of the Indians’ victories that year. His record and success for a crummy team was so remarkable that he won his first Cy Young Award. (He won a second time, in 1978, for the Padres.)
Perry was a workhorse for the Indians during some of the darkest, most hopeless years in the franchise’s history. He not only was a consistent 20-game winner–winning 24 games in 1972, 19 games in 1973, and 21 games in 1974–but he always put on a good show, too. The big question with Perry was whether he threw a spitball, and the does-he-or-doesn’t-he element was part of his appeal. His fidgety pitching routine featured pulling on the brim of his ballcap, tugging his uniform, and touching other areas where the illicit substances might be stashed, and it wasn’t unusual for opposing managers to ask the home plate umpire to go out to the mound and conduct a search, as in the photo above. Perry never admitted throwing a spitter, to my knowledge, but he certainly encouraged the speculation, knowing that getting into the batters’ heads was a strong step toward success.
When Gaylord Perry was on the mound, he put on a show. For Cleveland baseball fans of that era, that was about all we could hope for. Rest in peace, Mr. Perry!
I came up to Cleveland yesterday and had a chance to walk around Public Square before dinner. It was brightly decorated for the holidays, and with the Terminal Tower in the background I got the full sense of a Cleveland Christmas.
My visit reminded me of Christmases long ago, when my grandparents would take us to Cleveland to visit the department stores—Higbee’s, Halle’s, and Polsky’s—look in the display windows, enjoy the bright lights, go to the toy department, have lunch, and of course visit Santa. Our annual trips to Cleveland made the holidays even more special.
When I first started going to elementary school in Akron, Ohio in the early 1960s, I walked to school with my brother. The next year, when my sister was old enough to go to school, she walked with us, too. It was a journey of about 10 blocks, and we knew the route by heart. When we got to the area around the school, we would encounter groups of kids who had walked to school from other parts of the neighborhood, and an older kid wearing a Safety Patrol belt would let us know when to cross the street to get to the school itself.
This sounds like one of those “I walked three miles to school in the snow” codgerdom tales, but it’s not. Having grade school age kids walk unaccompanied to school in those days was an entirely normal activity, and no one gave it a second thought. We had been taught the route, we knew the street names and the turns we had to take, we had memorized our phone number, and we knew to talk to a policeman or to an adult if there were some kind of problem. But there never was a problem, and our walks to and from school were entirely uneventful. Everyone did it, and it was no big deal.
At some point between then and now, things changed. An interesting article in Psychology Today looks at those changing views. The shift in parenting concepts were captured in a book written several years ago called Adult Supervision Required by Markella Rutherford, who analyzed 565 articles and advice columns about parenting that appeared in magazines like Good Housekeeping and Parents. A 1966 article in Good Housekeeping, for example, captured the view that prevailed among the parents in my neighborhood in Akron: ““A six- to eight-year-old can be expected to follow simple routes to school, be able to find a telephone or report to a policeman if he is lost, and to know he must call home if he is going to be late. A nine- to eleven-year-old should be able to travel on public buses and streetcars, apply some simple first aid, and exercise reasonable judgment in many unfamiliar situations.”
Rutherford’s book shows that, by the 1980s, the notion of child capability and the presumed value of child independence that were generally accepted in the 1960s had been replaced by the view that children need to be monitored and protected, pretty much at all times. Rutherford describes the significant change in approach as follows: “For example, children walked unaccompanied to school, roamed around and played in neighborhoods alone and in groups, rode their bikes all over town, hitch-hiked around town, and ran errands for their parents, such as going to the corner store or post office. These descriptions of freedoms to roam have disappeared from contemporary advice. Instead, parents today are admonished to make sure that their children are adequately supervised by an adult at all times, whether at home or away from home.”
The “helicopter parent” concept of constant monitoring when a kid is outside hasn’t been the only change. Rutherford found that parents are now advised to be much more permissive about kid choice in the home, about things like what to eat and when to go to bed, and that the messaging to parents also changed about the value and expectations of children helping out around the house and doing chores.
The key question in this analysis is: has the change in messaging about approaches to parenting been good for children, or not? Does increased adult supervision affect development of children’s sense of their own capabilities, ability to think and act independently, and personal responsibility? The author of the Psychology Today article linked above thinks the trend is a negative one, and has helped to produce increased mental health problems for kids and declines in creative thinking.
Determining causal connections is always difficult, and debatable–but it is interesting to see how core concepts of parenting have changed dramatically over only a few decades. And you do wonder: if you treat children as capable at an earlier age, and let them exercise some personal responsibility, does that help to build a core sense of capability that will serve children well as they age and assume increasing control over their own lives?
Yesterday I had a very juicy burger for lunch. When I went to the restroom to wash my hands after I was finished, I found this soap dispenser offering “Boraxo” powdered hand soap to help with the wash-up process.
Boraxo? As in 20 Mule Team Borax, the long-time laundry soap sponsor of Death Valley Days, the old TV western that Dad used to watch?
Borax is a sodium compound that is found in places like Death Valley–hence the logic of the old TV show sponsorship–where water evaporated and left behind dried mineral deposits. Boraxo soap is a white granular powder. You use the plunger at the bottom of the dispenser to apply Boraxo while your hands are wet. The water dissolves the powder into a gritty, soapy substance that, in my view, does a very effective job of giving your hands a thorough cleansing scrub.
Borax used to be a popular cleaning ingredient, but it fell out of favor with some people because its grittiness and alkaline component can irritate your skin. But the Boraxo dispenser in the bathroom suggests that it is being rebranded as “naturally sourced,” “non-toxic,” and “eco-friendly.” In short, they’ve apparently got the 20-mule teams at work again and headed out to the Death Valley deposits to gather the borax.
The return of borax soap in the name of eco-friendly cleaning makes me wonder if we might see the resurgence of Lava soap, which was made with actual pieces of pumice–volcanic rock that also could accurately be described as “naturally sourced.” Lava commercials featured large male hands covered with axle grease that were quickly scoured to a pristine state after a rough encounter with the Lava soap, and mothers everywhere thought that if Lava soap could defeat axle grease, it might actually get the layers of dirt and grime off the hands and faces of 9-year-old boys before they say down to the family dinner.
With the emphasis on eco-friendly products, we might be moving back to the era when cleaning products were a little bit tougher than the fragrant soaps and foams that dominate modern bathrooms, but aren’t found in nature. You might want to give Boraxo a try–and keep an eye out for Lava at your neighborhood supermarket.
How many ants are there in the world? It’s the kind of dreamy question you might have briefly asked yourself as a kid on a lazy summer day as you were checking out an anthill that was teeming with the busy little creatures, just in one corner of your backyard. Sometimes, though, the subject of a child’s idle wonder becomes a scientist’s challenge–and Nature has published an article that tries to answer that question.
The first step in the challenge is trying to come up with a mechanism that would allow you to approximate the number of ants on Earth, because you obviously couldn’t count them, one by one, even if all of those notoriously active insects would oblige you by holding still. To give you a sense of scale, there are 15,700 named species and subspecies of ants. They are found in and on virtually every piece of dry land in the world and in the widest possible range of habitats, including cities, deserts, woodlands, grasslands, and especially rain forests. The National Wildlife Federation website states that the only land areas that don’t have ants are Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, and a handful of islands.
So how can the Nature researchers hope to count them? By piecing together the findings of 489 independent studies that have attempted to count ant populations on every continent and in every habitats where they are found, using standard ant-counting methods. By extrapolating from this direct data, the researchers estimate that there are 20 quadrillion–that’s 20,000,000,000,000,000–ants in the world. That’s a lot of ants. But that finding admittedly doesn’t give a complete picture, because there are no studies of how many ants live underground or in trees. 20 quadrillion therefore could easily be an undercount.
But the Nature researchers didn’t stop there. They wondered how much all of those ants would weigh, did the math, and concluded that the 20 quadrillion ants would have a biomass of 12 million tons of carbon, which is more than all of the world’s birds and animals combined. (Carbon accounts for about half the weight of ants.) And, as the researchers point out, we should be glad there are so many ants around, because they play a crucial role in the ecosystem in multiple ways, including serving as food for many species.
Ants are also kind of fascinating to watch on a lazy summer afternoon, too.
When I was a kid, I enjoyed watching Captain Kangaroo. I liked the Captain, of course, and Dancing Bear and Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit, but my real favorite was Mr. Green Jeans. He would come on the show, wearing his trademark green jeans and usually a straw hat and flannel shirt, perhaps play a guitar or sing a song with the Captain, and maybe show you a plant or animal and talk about it. But Mr. Green Jeans was at his best in helping Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit play a gentle prank on the Captain–one that usually involved the Captain getting showered with dropped ping pong balls. It was a gentle prank for a gentle show.
I was thinking about Mr. Green Jeans the other day in connection with the gradually dawning concept of people having jobs. As adults, we’ve lived with the concept of work for so long that we’ve forgotten that the notion of people getting paid to do something isn’t necessarily intuitive, and has to be learned like other lessons of the world. For me, at least, Mr. Green Jeans and Captain Kangaroo were part of that process.
At first, a very young watcher would take a show like Captain Kangaroo at face value, as if the broadcast somehow gave you a brief peek into the actual life of the Captain, Mr. Green Jeans, and their friends. At some later point, you come to understand, perhaps because your Mom patiently explained it to you, that the show wasn’t “real,” in the same way life in your home was real, and that Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit were just puppets, and that Captain Kangaroo was a show put on for kids like you to watch and enjoy.
Later still came the realization that Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans were actors, that being on the show was their job–hey, just like your Dad left every day to go to his job!–and that the Captain and Mr. Green Jeans were getting paid to be on the show. That last step in the understanding process was a big one, because it required you to get the concept of money, too, and why people needed to work, so they could eat and have a house and clothes and a car–and the fact that you would undoubtedly need to work, too, at some point. It was part of a bigger realization that the world was a complicated place, and there was a lot more to it than the Captain reading stories and pranks involving ping pong balls.
By then, as you watched Captain Kangaroo with your younger siblings, you thought that being Mr. Green Jeans would be fun. But by then your sights had changed a bit, and your friends were talking about being firemen or astronauts when they grew up.
One of the stores in downtown Stonington always seems to have some classic, vintage toys in its front display window. Last year the front window featured a balsa wood plane; this summer it is a glass jar of wooden tops. The tops drew me to the front window just as the Jetfire plane did, but I found myself wondering how many kids walking by even know what those wooden objects are.
The tops harken back to a day when many kids’ toys were made of wood–tops, Lincoln logs, train sets, and toy cars among them. (There weren’t many toys that required electricity in those days, save for E-Z Bake ovens and electric football; if you needed a power source for your robot or talking doll, then it was almost certainly those big D batteries.) Wooden toys were preferable, for both kid and parent, because they were solid and durable and pretty much unbreakable–unlike the flimsy plastic toys, which could crack or splinter easily, leaving a kid sad on Christmas Day.
I liked tops, because there was a certain learned skill involved in wrapping the string around the stem in the right way so that it didn’t get snarled and then giving the string just the right amount of pull. Too much of a yank,and the top went flying, not enough, and the top flopped over, but with the right tug the top would spin beautifully and stay upright for a while. A careful kid received an immediate reward for his/her patient attention to detail. That’s not a bad life lesson to be learned from a simple toy.
It’s nice to see that they still make wooden toys, like tops. From the look of that jar, I’d say customers have maybe bought a few, giving kids a chance to experience the simple pleasures of a top. Whether a kid will appreciate those pleasures in this era of video games and cell phones is anybody’s guess.
The other day I was thinking about what I believe is my earliest memory. It’s a difficult thing to do, because typically human memories don’t quite work that way; it’s not as if they are kept in a chronological filing cabinet. Instead, memories seem to be stored in the brain in a way that causes them to be triggered by external phenomena: a song, perhaps, or a situation, or a physical setting might provoke an avalanche of recollection. It’s therefore possible that I have an earliest memory that just hasn’t been triggered yet.
That said, the earliest recollection I can muster involved sitting in a big leather swivel chair, next to my brother Jim, at our Dad’s office when he worked as a bookkeeper for a construction company. I remember sitting on the chair as we swiveled around, looking at a safe with a big combination lock and a handle that was kept in Dad’s office to store the cash receipts. We liked rotating the chair like a merry-go-round and messing with the big lock on the safe. I’m not quite sure why I have this memory–perhaps it was because we had never been to Dad’s office before, and it was interesting to see it–but it is definitely an old one. I’m not sure exactly when Dad worked at the construction company, but the time period would have been in the pre-kindergarten years, perhaps when I was three or four.
I’m pretty sure my swivel chair memory is a true memory, and not a later implant, but of course there is no way to know for sure. The “earliest memory” issue does make you realize that your brain is kind of like your grandmother’s attic, with all kind of weird stuff stored up there, and you’re not quite sure why some memories got stashed and others didn’t.
It’s spiderweb season in Stonington, and our decks–with their posts, and fencing, and many corners, and other nooks and crannies–are prime web-building grounds for our spidery friends. On damp mornings, like yesterday, the water molecules cling to the webs and create some outdoor art that has a delicate beauty and also the impressive tensile strength to bear many times its weight in water.
My attitude about spiderwebs has changed since my childhood. I used to take sticks and pull them down whenever I encountered one. Reading Charlotte’s Web helped to change that attitude, and I also realized that it didn’t make much sense for someone who, from time to time over the years, has been called “Webbie” by some friends. I’ve come to understand that spiders and their webs perform a valuable service for us, in ridding our neck of the world of the annoying, buzzing housefly. And you can’t help but admire the industriousness of spiders as they build and repair their elaborate webs and then wait patiently for their prey.
On misty mornings I’ll make the rounds, taking a look to see what the spiders have been up to and admire their handiwork, like the effort above on our upper deck. Care must be taken, however, to avoid inadvertently getting a face full of webbing.