The Penny Chronicles

My name is Penny.

IMG_5208Today I am very thirsty.  These days, I am very thirsty every day.  My mouth feels dry, dry, dry, all the time, and when I drink I drink a lot.  I bet I drink more water now than I ever did before.  Each day, I seem to set a new record!  Some days, I even want water more than I want food.

The Leader knows this.  It is why she is the Leader.  So there are water bowls everywhere.  There is a bowl by where I sleep.  There is a bowl where the packs stays in the morning.  There is a bowl in the hallway, where I like to sleep on the rug.  And, of course, there is a water bowl next to my food bowl, too.

Thanks to the Leader, I never have to go far to drink my fill.

Sometimes the old boring guy will not see a bowl and will knock into it and the water will slosh over the side.  Ha ha!  But the old boring guy doesn’t seem to get mad any more.  He just shakes his head.  And when he hears me drinking, he walks over and pets me and scratches behind my ear and asks how I am doing.  I bet he feels thirsty some times, himself.

Speaking of water, where is that bowl?  I am thirsty!

Thumbing It

The other day I inadvertently caught my thumb in a door I was closing.  My thumb throbbed, I cursed, and then I realized with a start that until my poor pollex was 100 percent again I was totally unable to fully participate in essential activities of modern life.

The development of an opposable thumb has long been viewed as a crucial step in the human evolutionary process.  The thumb is a simple body part, made up of bones and hinges.  Yet the fully opposable thumb is unique to humans, and its development allowed humans to become complex organisms.  The thumb permits us to grip items securely and throw them accurately.  The thumb is essential to the use of the fine motor skills that allow us to perform detail work.  It is what made humans into toolmakers and tool users.

In the modern world our thumbs are more important than ever before.  They are our principal texting digits.  Your thumb performs the swipe that unlocks your iPhone.  Your thumbs anchor your hands on a computer keyboard and pound the space bar when you type your report.  Your thumb is what empowers you to open a clutch purse, use a bottle opener, pry open a child-proof container, and take notes with a pen.  Of course, it also allows you to signal an interest in hitchhiking and indicate ready assent in a noisy place.  The list of activities that require a thumb is endless, and it will continue to grow as inventiveness moves our species toward even greater reliance upon handheld devices.

With the enormously increased use of our thumbs these days, you’d think that doctors, physical therapists, and surgeons would be besieged by people with thumb-related ailments — but that doesn’t appear to be the case.  The humble thumb abides.

Mature Muppets

It’s not like I was a huge fan of The Muppet Show or anything, but I’d watch it from time to time.  It was a corny, vaudeville-type variety show that had decent music and good guest stars who were willing to interact with puppets, and so long as you didn’t have to endure too much of Gonzo or the Swedish Chef it was perfectly good entertainment.

Now the Muppets apparently will be returning to network TV, in a show that will will have the mock-documentary format popularized in The Office and what is being described as a “more adult” approach to the characters.  Among other things, the new show apparently will get into the Muppets’ “personal lives and relationships, both at home and at work, as well as romances, break-ups, achievements, disappointments, wants and desires.”

Ugh.  Put aside the undisputed fact that the mockumentary format has been done to death.  Do we really have to get into mature themes with characters that have always been comic relief?  I’m all for puppets, claymation, and stop-motion characters in movies, but don’t ask me to believe that they are struggling with real-world problems.  I don’t want to know the sordid back story of the two insult-hurling old cranks in the balcony, or why Fozzie Bear wears a Yogi Bear hat and doesn’t recognize that he is offensively unfunny.  I can’t bear the thought of a sincere, romantic scene between Kermit and Miss Piggy, either.

Many great TV shows were ruined when they ran out of ideas and decided that the only plot device left was for a lead male and female characters to fall in love, get married, and have a kid.  The Muppets would be better advised to stick to the kid stuff.

 

Pots Forsaken

There’s been a game-changing development at the coffee station on my floor.  The old multi-pot coffee device — the kind that is directly linked to the water supply so that steaming tureens of joe can be prepared to sate the thirsty appetite of java junkies — has been ignominiously unplugged and cast aside.  Now we’ve got a Flavia machine instead.

IMG_5158Is this change a big deal, really?  I’ll say!  The old machine was my dependable morning friend.  Every day when I got to the office my inviolate routine was to head directly to the coffee station, turn the machine on, remove the basket, insert a fresh filter, cut open a coffee packet and dump it in, press the brew button, and then listen to the hot water and coffee grounds start to cluck and burble and work their caffeinated magic.  By the time I checked email and finished my first few chores of the day a fresh pot was there, black and fragrant and ready to fill my cup.

But coffee habits have changed.  Now when you walk around downtown Columbus you inevitably see throngs of people carefully gripping their coffee cups, taking a scalding sip now and then as they head to their workplaces.  Some of them won’t drink “office coffee” any more, so there is less need for multiple pots of coffee on the burner, and much of the coffee that is brewed goes unconsumed and ultimately gets poured down the drain.

Hence, the Flavia.  Rather than making a hearty, bubbling pot of coffee, it hisses out a solo cup prepared from pre-measured foil packets that slide into a slot that snaps out of the machine.  And it’s not really a full cup, either — as least not in my massive mug.  No, the Flavia machine fills to about the halfway point and stops.  It makes my morning coffee look a bit lost and overwhelmed and forlorn, but at least I’m not being wasteful.

When I’m 65

Last week I was walking home from work when I saw the shoe shine guy outside the Key Bank building.  In the past he’s offered a shoe shine, in a very friendly way, and this time I made the spur of the moment decision to accept his offer.  Why not take a few minutes for an old-fashioned personal service and come home with some spit and polish?

He turned out to be a good guy who did a really fine job on my shoes, and I’d definitely recommend him and use him again.  As I sat in his chair and we talked, however, the conversation turned to our ages, and the shoe shine guy guessed that I was . . . 65.

IMG_5157“65?  Wait, seriously — 65?”  I was somewhat flummoxed.  “I’m only 57!” “Sorry.  I guessed wrong,” the shoe shine guy said, and then he went back to his work, flipping his brushes and applying his polish and snapping his towel as I stewed about the fact that I evidently look almost a decade older than my actual age. I gave him a good tip when he was finished and then headed home, trying not to walk with an old guy shuffle.

Kish gets a kick out of this story, and so do I.  I’ve never been vain about my appearance because there’s absolutely nothing to be vain about:  I’m about as average-looking as you can get.  I know that as I’ve put on mileage I’ve acquired grey hairs and creases and wrinkles I didn’t have before.  I’ve always thought, however, that you’re only as old as you feel and have tried to maintain a youthful attitude.  Now I know that rationalization doesn’t apply to the exterior me — the shoe shine guy has confirmed it.  If a guy who is working for a tip overshoots by eight years on his age estimate, you’ve got no room for argument or self-deception.  You’re squarely in AARP territory.

Today, as I celebrate birthday number 58, I’ve adopted a more nuanced perspective on the shoeshiner’s comment.  Who wants to look like a kid, anyway, and fret about whether their skin is smooth and their hair has the dewy sheen of youth?  Why not embrace with the Keith Richards alternative instead?  I apparently look like I’ve packed a full 65 years of living onto my 58-year-old frame.  That’s not a bad thing in my book.

Hydration Nation

IMG_5192Driving home today from Russell’s show in Detroit, Kish and I stopped at a Speedway somewhere along Route 23 to gas up.  I went inside to use the facilities and there, strategically located on the path to the restrooms, was this extraordinary shrine to hydration.  An entire section of the interior was devoted to every non-alcoholic form of refreshment you could possibly imagine — and this picture doesn’t even include the coffee station that included eight different kinds of coffee and a mocha java machine.

Are Americans really so thirsty that a random gas station stop needs to include a Quench Quad that features so many different kinds of soft drinks in sizes that include large, giant, and suitable for use as a swimming pool?  Is it any wonder that so many Americans are struggling with obesity issues when they are guzzling king-sized cups of sugary beverages and spooning down frozen concoctions every time they stop for gas?

David Sedaris

Last night Kish and I and Mr. and Mrs. JV went to the Ohio Theater for a visit by David Sedaris, the best-selling author, essayist, and serial contributor to National Public Radio.

Sedaris is an extremely funny man.  You might call him a humorist, the latest in a long line that stretches back to Mark Twain and Will Rogers and Bill Cosby of the late ’60s/early ’70s chicken heart era.  Rather than just throwing out one-liners, Sedaris tells tales of his childhood and his family, his beachfront home on the North Carolina shoreline, and his travels.  His stories build and twist and turn, hysterical and loving and mixed with social commentary all at once, always written with just the right observation and word choice.  It’s not easy to write something funny, but Sedaris makes it seem effortless.

Last night Sedaris read some of his pieces, then turned to selected entries from his diary, and finally fielded some questions from the audience.  The stories were vintage Sedaris — one about his effort to have a fatty tumor cut off by a random doctor who agreed to return it, in violation of federal law, so Sedaris could feed it to an old snapping turtle, another about his younger brother whose conviction that vaccinations cause autism is just one of many curious beliefs — and his diary entries, from around the world, touched upon his interest in having a different meal on Thanksgiving, the sensible British approach to what words may be used on radio, and other topics.  Along the way he threw in a few X-rated jokes about a snotty kid who gets a surprising answer when he asks his grandfather to “tell me something I don’t know” and a woman’s visit to her gynecologist.

Sedaris kept his audience well entertained with just a podium, a table with some liquids to wet his whistle, his notes, and of course his personality and his voice.  The setting recalled an earlier time, when Americans didn’t need to have loud music and constant visual stimulation to be entertained.  But be forewarned — while Sedaris’ venue is a throwback of sorts, his sensibilities and language are thoroughly modern and likely to veer suddenly into the scatological and sexual at any moment.  It’s not a show for kids.