Duck Walk

It was raining when I took my walk this morning — so much so that this drake decided to leave the immediate vicinity of the Schiller Park pond and venture out to the driveway of one of the houses along the park.  

Here’s a tip for those of you who are taking “coronavirus walks” every day:  rainy days see less people out (but more ducks), so you don’t have to do so much social distancing zigging and zagging.  I would say my walk this morning is easily the most direct walk I’ve taken since the whole social distancing regime took effect.  In fact, I’d guess that all of the veering has added quite a few steps to our standard walks.  Nobody walks as the crow flies anymore.

As for our waterfowl friends, they practice social distancing as a matter of course.  You can’t get too close to a duck without it waddling off to an assured clear distance, shaking its tail feathers and muttering under its breath all the while.  It’s as if they had coronavirus training long ago.

Close Talkers (Video Conference Version)

I’d say that I have participated in more video conference calls over the past three weeks than in the rest of my extended work life, combined.  And, as I participate in the calls, I realize I’ve got a lot to figure out.  Other people do, too.

forehead man wrinkles before and afterRecently I was on a multi-party video call with one of those split screen set-ups.  One of the participants was positioned too close to his camera.  His oversized eyes and forehead, positioned in the upper left corner of my computer screen, loomed over the other talking heads like he was Gulliver among the Lilliputians.  It made me think that, if there was a Seinfeld about life during the coronavirus pandemic, one episode probably would be about close video conference talkers.  (And I expect that, in the COVID-19 Seinfeld world, Kramer would undoubtedly violate all social distancing requirements and still barge into Jerry’s apartment to eat his cereal.)

The gigantic forehead incident made me realize that I need to think carefully about my  video conference presence.  Am I too close to the little glowing dot at the top of my computer screen, or too far away?  Is your video conference head supposed to pretty much fill the screen, or is the proper dimension three-quarters of the screen, or one half?

And the position of the head is important, too — especially for the older guys like me.  If your head is tilted forward, you’re giving the unfortunate viewer a huge dose of your forehead, receding hairline, and thinning scalp.  If you lean back, on the other hand, you’re forcing the viewer to focus on the multiple chins and the vibrating neck wattles.  Either way, it’s not exactly a pretty picture.

There’s also the issue of what kind of attitude you’re projecting with your video position.  If you’re leaning in, you look earnest and engaged, but also perhaps hard of hearing.  If you lean back, your look “cooler,” but maybe uninterested.  And if you’re somebody who uses his hands to accentuate the point you are making, as I do, how can you be sure that the screen is capturing those carefully calibrated gestures?

It’s all pretty confusing for the novice video conferencer who doesn’t want to assume the Gulliver position in the upcoming conference calls.  It makes me think that the picture element adds a really significant dimension to the communication that requires you to give some careful thought to these issues before the calls start, and position yourself accordingly — and deliberately.

Fool-Free

To the extent that the pranksters among us are tempted, I’ve got a very strong suggestion:  please, no April Fools’ Day jokes this year.

fof-the-fool-action-shotI’m not much of a prankster, myself.  As a kid I tried a few of the time-honored classics, like the well-placed Whoopie cushion on Uncle Tony’s chair, or the salt in the sugar bowl gag, but mostly my jests involved convincing a credulous person about some far-fetched story.  At the office, I’ve participated in a few jibes, too — including one incident that involved constructing a wall of boxes to block the door of a fellow attorney while he was in his office with the door closed for a telephone call.  This year, though, I’m not much in the mood for gags of the April Fools’ Day variety, and I don’t think that anyone else is, either.

It’s not that I’m opposed to pranks, in principle.  But there’s a time and place for everything, and pranks just seem kind of pointless and childish given the current circumstances.  Part of the idea of the April Fools’ Day jest is that the target will laugh at it, too — which doesn’t seem likely right now, no matter how well-crafted and humorous the scheme might be in a normal setting.  Plus, who are you going to pull the prank on — that person you’ve been spending 24 hours a day with for the last three weeks?  It doesn’t seem like a wise course when you’re going to be spending every waking hour with that person for the foreseeable future, does it?

So, I’m hoping that all of the pranksters among us hold their fire, and let this April 1 pass in a blessedly fool-free fashion.  Next year, perhaps, we all can let our inner pranksters loose.

Rewriting Right-Of-Way Rules

Our legislators and regulators, on both the federal and state level, have been busy with “big-picture” coronavirus issues.  It’s therefore not surprising that they haven’t yet turned their attention to a small, yet vital area:  namely, determining the right-of-way of pedestrians who are eager to get out of their houses and stretch their legs and who are turning our sidewalks into increasingly clogged traffic arteries.  In short, in this era of social distancing, who gets to stick to the sidewalk, and who must yield and swerve onto the grass or into the street to maintain the six-foot buffer?

Having thought carefully about this crucial issue over the past few days, I offer the following suggestions:

  • People pushing baby carriages or strollers have the absolute right-of-way over everyone else because it’s really unreasonable to expect them to veer out into the road or onto grass.  C’mon, folks — that’s just common courtesy!
  • People walking with little kids have the right-of-way over everyone except the stroller set.
  • People walking overly friendly, excitable dogs who might jump up on other pedestrians must yield to everyone, and probably should just stick to the grass in parks, to be on the safe side.  
  • Anyone walking with any kind of coffee cup or container must yield to everyone else on general principles, because they’re clearly not serious about taking a walk in the first place.
  • Joggers and runners must yield to any walker, faster walkers must yield to slower walkers, and people approaching other walkers from behind must always yield.
  • Single walkers must always yield to walking couples, or groups.
  • Younger people must yield to older people, especially the codgers who seem oddly oblivious to the concept of social distancing or who are projecting a “to hell with it all, I’ve got an absolute right as an American to walk on this sidewalk because my taxes paid for it” attitude.
  • If yielding hasn’t occurred within 15 feet of passing on a narrow sidewalk, you’ve got to yield irrespective of the rules — because it’s safety first out there, people!

No need to thank me.

Stay-At-Home Cookies

Normally I don’t do much baking after the holidays end, but if a pandemic isn’t a reason to depart from the norm, what is? We’ve taken our daily walk and want to be safe and respectful of social distancing and sheltering in place, and cookies seem like a good stay-at-home activity.

But what to bake? Unlike the holidays, I haven’t gone on a special shopping trip for unusual supplies — and an extended trip to the besieged grocery store for random baking supplies doesn’t seem wise under the circumstances. I’ve examined the cupboards with care, and figured I could make what we’ll call “Stay-At-Home cookies” in honor of our fight against the coronavirus.

Stay-At-Home Cookies

Ingredients: 1 1/4 cup margarine; 1 cup regular sugar; 1 cup brown sugar; 2 eggs; 1 tsp vanilla, 2 cups all-purpose flour; 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon; 1 tsp baking soda; 1 tsp salt; 3 cups uncooked oatmeal; 1 cup chopped nuts; 1/2 cup peanut butter

Combine margarine, sugar, and brown sugar and cream until well blended. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth and creamy. Add in flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt; beat until combined. Add in oatmeal, nuts and peanut butter and try to keep your spouse from eating the batter. Try some yourself and admit it is pretty tasty. Drop heaping spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment, then bake at 385 degrees for 12 minutes. Have some more of that tasty dough. Drink a beer or other adult beverage of your choice while baking; preferably while listening to ‘60’s music. Let cookies cool on baking sheet while you enjoy another beer and find yourself dancing to Woolly Bully.

How many cookies this generates depends on how much dough you consume during the batter/beer/Woolly Bully steps.

Spring Break 2020 — VII

On our last full day of spring break we decided to spend our time enjoying the vibrant flowers that have made this year’s vacation destination so special. The flowers here are remarkably vivid and bright, and it is especially enjoyable when the locals fashion them into pretty garlands that grace the native woodworking and other items made by local artisans. Just down the street is a market that sells the handmade work of master craftsmen who specialize in woodworking, pottery, and tapestry. If only we had such creative artistry at home!

Spring Break 2020 — VI

Of course, the social whirl is a key part of the whole spring break experience.  When the cocktail hour — liberally defined, of course — rolls around, it’s important to interact with your fellow spring breakers.  The crowds and partying give the spring break traveler an excellent opportunity for people watching while enjoying a tropical adult beverage served in a festive setting.

This year’s spring break destination has all of that, and more.  We had to elbow our way in to the overcrowded bar to get served, and then were incredibly lucky to find an open table where we could enjoy the sunshine, listen to the loud hip-hop music that had some guests on their feet and dancing, and watch the crowds go by.