The Simple Pleasures Of Hooked Handles

I’ve got a black office umbrella, and a black house umbrella, so I’m covered — literally — whether it’s raining when I’m leaving the office and heading for home or when I’m leaving home and heading for the office.  For my little system to work, though, I have to remember to take the umbrella back to its “home,” rain or shine.

gold-umbrella-handle-flatThat means it’s not unusual for me to be walking one way or the other with a closed-up and snapped shut umbrella that isn’t being used to shield me from the rain.  And that means that, on those brief journeys, I get to enjoy some “hook time,” where I can use the umbrella’s hooked handle to twirl the umbrella windmill style, trying to do so a la Gene Kelly in Singin’ In The Rain, or carry it on my forearm, like a proper British gentleman, or use it as a cane and tap the sidewalk as I go along.  The hook is crucial to such maneuvers and my innocent fun, and I got to wondering:  when and why did umbrellas start to be manufactured with hooked handles?

According to The Gentleman’s Gazette, the hooked handle was added to the umbrella design in the 17th century.  That website explains:  “The curvature of the handle was intended to allow a servant to easily hold the umbrella at an angle to shield their employer. Although we primarily use this handle today as a method of hanging the umbrella from the arm, it still maintains its original practicality for doormen style umbrellas used by valets and doormen throughout much of the world. In fact, even in American cities like New York, it’s widely considered inappropriate for a doorman not to be prepared with a large canopy for those entering or exiting the premises.”

I’m not sure whether the servant explanation is historically accurate, but it’s certainly plausible, as anybody who has had to position their umbrella at an angle to brace it against the wind on a gusty day can attest.  It’s a lot more comfortable to do so with a hooked handle than a straight handle, because the hooked handle really allows you to get a firm grip.  But if the hooked handle was invented for that utilitarian purpose, it’s certainly provided other important benefits that perhaps weren’t fully appreciated in those pre-Singin’ In The Rain days.

Beggars can’t be choosers, and if I’m caught somewhere during an unexpected rainstorm I’ll use any umbrella to keep the rain off.  But if I’ve got a choice, give me an umbrella with a hook.

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Debunking Drinking Wisdom

Shortly after I passed the legal drinking age and started drinking adult beverages, I first heard the aphorism “wine, then beer, and have no fear.”  Some years later, I heard the flip side:  “beer, then wine, and I feel fine.”  The idea behind each of the sayings — which are seemingly contradictory, in case you hadn’t noticed — was that if you sequenced what you drank, you could avoid a hangover.

wineandbeerAre either of the sayings true?

No, of course not . . . and now a study has confirmed it.  Researchers from the Witten/Herdecke University in Germany and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom — two countries, incidentally, that are very serious about their wine and beer — studied whether the sequence in which alcoholic beverages are consumed might affect how people who overindulge feel the next day.  One group drank beer, then wine, and another drank wine, then beer.  A third, control group drank only one or the other.

The study found that the drinking sequence made no difference in the hangover impact.  One of the researchers explained: “The truth is that drinking too much of any alcoholic drink is likely to result in a hangover. The only reliable way of predicting how miserable you’ll feel the next day is by how drunk you feel and whether you are sick. We should all pay attention to these red flags when drinking.”  (No kidding!)

And get this:  another of the researchers makes the dubious argument that hangovers actually can have positive effects.  He stated: “Unpleasant as hangovers are, we should remember that they do have one important benefit, at least: They are a protective warning sign that will certainly have aided humans over the ages to change their future behavior. In other words, they can help us learn from our mistakes.”  Boy, scientists are perverse, aren’t they?

I’d never argue that hangovers are a good thing, but I do know this — any perceived folk wisdom about drinking that rhymes and is capable of being remembered after a few drinks probably isn’t that wise after all.

The Last Cookie Code

Yesterday someone left a deli tray of several dozen cookies by the coffee station on our floor. Within a few minutes the first cookie locusts had descended, the office grapevine communications network had sent out word far and wide that cookies were on the fifth floor, and after an hour or so all but one cookie was gone.

But that one cookie was a holdout. It sat, alone, on the black plastic tray for hours. It made it past lunchtime and endured well into the afternoon. Finally, as the end of the workday neared, some ravenous soul who could bear it no longer gobbled it down, and the last cookie vanished from our sight.

There’s a curious code of honor that prevails when cookies, brownies, or other baked goods or sweets are left near an office coffee station.  When the plate of goodies is full, workers have no hesitation about taking one, or two, or even three of the items — hopefully, without anyone else seeing that they are doing so.  But when the plate gets down to the last cookie, a different rule prevails.  There is tremendous hesitation about taking the last cookie and leaving an empty plate behind.  Perhaps it is the pain of a possible guilty conscience, or a feeling of goodwill toward co-workers who might not have had a cookie already and might want one in the future.  But the last cookie code acts to restrain the final act of gluttony.  In some cases, people who can’t resist will actually break the last cookie in half, or into quarters, and only take a piece so that there is at least some fraction still on the plate.  By leaving the remains of a broken cookie, their conscience is clear.

The code of the last cookie is strongest early in the day, when it first becomes apparent that there is only one cookie left.  As the workday wears on, rationalizations erode the force of the last cookie code.  After all, it’s 3 p.m., and nobody else has taken it.  If someone had wanted it, they would have eaten it by now.  It would be unfortunate to let perfectly good food go to waste, too.  And why should the cleaning crew get stuck with more work?

So the last cookie gets taken, the plastic deli tray gets quickly pitched, and the coffee station counter is once again clean.  Although the last cookie code has had its impact, the last cookie is now gone, and all’s right with the world.

Einstein On A Toilet Seat

I was in the bathroom of my hotel room in New York City and noticed some printing on the toilet seat.  Because toilet seats aren’t the normal forum for announcements by hotel management, I was intrigued and just had to read it.

The announcement stated:  “In an effort to increase sustainability, this auto flush has been deactivated.  Please press the button to the left to flush.”  And beneath that statement the notice read:  “‘The environment is everything that isn’t me.’ – Albert Einstein.”

Did Einstein ever actually say that?  It’s not easy to confirm whether he did or he didn’t.  A Google search will send you to lots of different websites where you can buy t-shirts, posters, or refrigerator magnets with that quote attributed to the Father of Relativity and printed over some peaceful pastoral scene, and also a lot of general quote websites where you can go to find a quote that fits every occasion (including, apparently, a notice on a toilet seat).  But those quote websites don’t seem to provide any attribution for the claimed Einstein quote.  The closest I could find was a website that referred to the Boston Vegetarian Society as the source for the quote.  But I’ve seen no citations to a book or published writing, or a speech given on a particular day, or one of Einstein’s letters.

Did one of the greatest minds in human history actually say: “The environment is everything that isn’t me”?  As is true with so many facially plausible quotes that are attributed to historical figures and thrown around like footballs these days, it’s really difficult to say.  But we can certainly be reasonably confident of one thing:  if Albert Einstein did say it, he probably never dreamed that it would end up on the toilet seat of a Manhattan hotel room as part of an announcement justifying a reversion to manual flushing.

 

 

Blue Tint Over Gray Skies

The C Concourse at John Glenn International Airport has an inventive solution to the inevitably gray skies you find in a Columbus winter — just tint the upper areas of the windows on the south side of the concourse looking outward a delightful, aspirational blue. Just looking at the windows as you deplane makes you think it’s a lovely day in Cbus.

Unfortunately, the illusion is destroyed when you look at the windows on the north side of the concourse and see the dismal gray reality, shown below.

The lesson? If you’re going to tint, tint every freaking window. Otherwise, you’re like the codger who wants to look younger but applies Grecian Formula 16 to only one half of his gray-haired head.

In The Rhinorrhea Zone

This winter I’ve been experiencing rhinorrhea pretty much on a daily basis.  In fact, I’m hit by a bout of rhinorrhea whenever I go outside for a walk on a cold day.

img_8058No surprise there — rhinorrhea is the high-falutin’ medical term for a runny nose, from the Greek word for nose.  (That’s why plastic surgery on the nose is called rhinoplasty, incidentally, and it’s got nothing to do with comparing the size of the schnoz being operated on to the horn of rhinoceros.)   My daily dose of rhinorrhea therefore isn’t a cause for alarm, it’s just an annoyance.

I begin my walk in the bracing cold, take some deep breaths of the crisp, clear air, and about halfway into my stroll my nose has turned into a roaring mucus machine and I’m leaking fluid like a sieve, leaving me to either sniffle it back down or remove the glove for a quick wipe-off with a tissue.  But it’s just a temporary fix, because inevitably the sputum production ramps up again for however long I’m outside, making the Kleenex box my first stop after I get home.

Why do our noses run during the winter, even if we don’t have a cold?  The medical websites will tell you that it’s just our noses working overtime at doing their jobs of warming and humidifying the cold, dry air we’re breathing.  The nasal membranes produce more mucus and fluid in the winter to protect our delicate lung tissues from the frigid air onslaught.

So congratulations!  That irksome runny nose means you’re perfectly fine and your body and its defense mechanisms are working as millennia of evolution intended.  Just be sure to keep an endless supply of nasal tissue on hand for the winter, because you’re going to need it.

Tentative Wagging

Russell’s dog Betty is a pretty smart dog, by dog standards.  She knows the basic commands, like “sit” and “hang on!” — the latter of which inevitably is used when she is trying to charge down the outside steps as we are heading out for a walk while I am trying to lock the front door.  And she clearly recognizes her name and words like “walk,” because the mere mention of the “w” word causes her to start leaping around with a pure, energetic ecstasy rarely seen in canine or human.

And Betty is a friendly, sensitive dog, too.  She’s a jumper who likes to greet her human friends with a set of front paws to the midsection, and she’s an inveterate tail-wagger, too.  Her full-fledged tail wag is impressive — the kind that can sweep glasses, magazines, and other bric-a-brac off the coffee table and send Betty’s hindquarters twitching back and forth like she’s being manipulated by some uncontrollable invisible force.

But sometimes the brainy part of Betty and the wagging part of Betty get mixed signals.  Typically this happens when a human being is directing some kind of communication to Betty that is of uncertain meaning.  The statement might be something along the lines of:  “Betty, the weather app on my phone says it’s very cold out today, so I’ll need to bundle up.”  Betty hears her name, and sees that the human is looking at her and apparently directing human speech at her, which I suspect she finds immensely flattering, but exactly what is being communicated is a bit of a mystery.  And, because Betty is by nature a polite dog, she wants to acknowledge the statement through some kind of response — but what is the right response?

Betty deals with this personal quandary by giving a quizzical look accompanied by what might be described as a tentative wag of her tail.  It’s not the all-out wag, to be sure.  It’s hedging, and usually consists of only one twitch, or perhaps two, of the tail.  The combination of look and wag says:  “I hear you, and know you are talking to me about something, but I’m not quite sure just yet so I’m reserving my full judgment and all-in reaction until more evidence is presented.”

I admit, I get a kick out of the tentative wag response.  In fact, sometimes I’ll talk to Betty just to get the uncertain wag.  It’s one of the things that makes it fun to have a dog around the house.