Longevity Advice

Recently a new individual was officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “oldest person in the world.” The prior title holder, a French woman named Lucille Randon who was 118, died, and the second place senior moved up to the top slot.

The new world’s oldest person is Maria Branyas Morera of Spain, pictured above, who is a mere 115. As is usually the case when a new title holder is named, there have been news stories about Ms. Branyas in which she offers her views on living a long life. Typically these news articles focus on lifestyle issues, and if you’ve read them in the past you may have noted there is one obvious problem: the eating, drinking, and exercise habits of the super-old seniors who have lived well into the triple digits often are conflicting. One person will say the key is to live a Puritan lifestyle, while the next will admit they enjoyed a rasher of bacon every day, smoked for years, and happily downed a slug of whiskey before bed. The only consistency between the prior title holders seems to be that they somehow didn’t die.

Ms. Branyas’ thoughts are a bit different, and perhaps more useful as a result. According to Guinness, she says that luck and good genes have a lot to do with it, but otherwise she attributes her longevity to “order, tranquility, good connection with family and friends, contact with nature, emotional stability, no worries, no regrets, lots of positivity and staying away from toxic people.”

This seems like good advice–especially the part about toxic people. Being around toxic people not only can get you into trouble, and maybe cause your longevity luck to change for the worse, but the stress involved in interacting with them clearly could have adverse health repercussions. And keeping a positive attitude as you deal with the inevitable issues associated with aging is bound to help, too.

We’ll probably never know for sure what, specifically, allows some people to live past 110. But even if we don’t make it that far, avoiding toxic people is bound to make whatever years we have left much more pleasant ones.

What Makes A Great Year?

I ran across one of those traditional “end of a calendar year” stories, recounting how people felt about the past year. This one noted that “just” one in three people surveyed felt that 2022 was a “great” year.

I was struck by the use of “just” in the description of the survey results. Given all of the really bad things that happened in 2022–war in the Ukraine and the resulting increase in the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons, an American economy on the brink of recession, a horrible year in the stock market, a fresh outbreak of COVID in China, and so forth–how could even one-third of people surveyed possibly think that 2022 was “great”? Who in the world are these people, and how do they define “great,” anyway?

And that’s just it, isn’t it? When people are deciding whether a particular year was “great,” do they consider national or geopolitical developments, or do they focus only on a smaller circle of their families and friends? Did the members of their family stay happy and healthy for the year–or not? Was a marriage joyfully celebrated, or the arrival of a new child, or a special achievement by a high school or college student? Did everyone in the family have a successful year on the job, or were some laid off in some cost-cutting exercise? Can they heat their homes and put food on the table? For some people, at least, troubling national and international news might be storm clouds on the horizon, but it doesn’t really have an impact until it directly intrudes upon that group of family and friends.

The greatness–or crappiness–of a year depends a lot on your perspective. It’s nice to think that one-third of the people surveyed experienced enough happiness and healthiness and satisfaction in 2022 to call the year a “great” one. However you define a “great” year, I hope that 2023 meets that definition.

Pappa’s Eight Rules Of Etiquette

Last night we went to a great restaurant called Papiamento for a terrific dinner, and after dinner we decided to visit Pappa’s cigar lounge, named for the cigar-loving patriarch of the clan that owns the restaurant. That’s him in the photo above, in the chair facing the camera. While at Pappa’s I savored our meal as I smoked a very fine cigar, sipped some excellent port, and enjoying a nice conversation with Pappa, his son, and one of their friends.

Interestingly, Pappa has published eight “rules of etiquette” for people who come to the cigar lounge. They are a pretty good guide for proper conduct, not only in cigar lounges specifically, but in visiting establishments generally:

  1. Don’t bring in outside cigars. Customers are expected to support the lounge and not take advantage of the amenities without buying a cigar (or a drink).
  2. Stay out of the humidor and ask for assistance.
  3. Leave the cigars of other people alone.
  4. Don’t stick a cigar from the humidor up to your nose, in the event you decide it’s not the right cigar for you.
  5. No trash talking, no religious discussion, and no politics.
  6. Don’t wet the cap of the cigar before cutting it, so as to keep the cutter sanitary.
  7. Watch your ashes to avoid accidents.
  8. Don’t expect freebies, because Pappa’s is “a big boys’ room.”

When you think about it, the eight rules all boil down to having respect for an establishment and its owners and acting accordingly. We scrupulously complied with the rules (especially rule no. 5, which is a challenge for many people these days) and enjoyed a very pleasant, wide-ranging conversation that touched on David Bowie, Salvador Dali, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the guitar playing of George Harrison, the World Cup final, the history of the restaurant, and other interesting topics. The world would probably be a more pleasant place if everyone follow Pappa’s rules.

Using Things Up

Did you ever sit back and consider, for a moment, how many different pens you have in your household? You’ve probably noticed it when you were looking for a “good” pen, not one of those cheap, skinny ones that skip when you write and always seem to be ink-challenged. You may have pens in jars, pens in the kitchen messy drawer, and pens in family room end tables, in bedroom dressers, even hiding in bathroom cabinets. It’s as if your entire life has been devoted to accumulating as many different, partially used pens as possible.

It’s not just pens, though. Perhaps when you were engaged in that frustrating search for the “good” pen you realized that you’ve got a lot of other random stuff, too, and in amounts that are much greater than you could ever actually need. Consider, for example, those little round or square dental floss dispensers that your oral hygienist gives you as part of the dental swag bag after an appointment. You’ve already got dental floss at home, but it seems wasteful to just throw away a perfectly good mini-roll of dental floss, so you chuck it in a drawer . . . and the next thing you know they’ve apparently multiplied and that drawer is absolutely overflowing with them.

The same is true with pencils that are used about halfway down to the eraser nub and have become dull because you’re not sure where a sharpener might be. Or different kinds of tea bags in one kitchen cabinet, highlighters in various colors with barely a whisper of highlighter juice left, mismatched drinking glasses, and random pads of paper of varying sizes, with the remainder of the little rubbery strip that used to hold the individual pieces of paper curling up at the top. Or the kitchen drawer that is groaning with an impressive array of various food-related objects, like ’60s-era ice breakers, that never seem to get used. And a careful inventory of your personal possessions would probably yield other examples, too.

How did we end up with all of this household debris, and what are we going to do with it? You can’t just toss out usable stuff, because you’d feel guilty about that, so the only viable answer is to consciously try to use it all up. But how? It’s a daunting task, for sure. The obvious answer is to specifically change your habits with that goal in mind. In short, it’s time to take up doodling while you are watching TV, flossing multiple times a day, highlighting junk mail envelopes, quaffing cups of tea after dinner, and breaking ice just for the heck of it. And while you’re at it, you might join a skeet-shooting club to thin out the herd of that kitchen glassware, too.

Another Empty Spot On The Desk

Our IT staff came and took away my old office land-line phone recently, as I have now fully transitioned to communication through my computer. It leaves the empty spot on my desk shown above. That gleaming empty spot now joins other empty spots that have been created over the years, as once-essential workplace items have been pitched into the dustbin, their functionality entirely absorbed into the mighty, all-purpose desktop computer.

Once my desk held a dictaphone, a telephone, a speakerphone attachment, a hole punch gizmo, and a stapler. All are now gone. The flip-top calendar that I have had for years won’t be far behind; I’ve stopped using it in lieu of total calendaring reliance on my computer. And the other essential purpose of a desk–to hold the piles of papers that I’m working on–also is falling by the wayside. I’m old school and still print out some documents to review in hard copy form, but the amount of paper in my office is a small fraction of what it once was, with most of the reviewing and editing work being done entirely on the computer. In short, there are a lot of empty spots on my desk these days.

Thanks to technology, I am finally within reach of “clean desk” status.

What’s the purpose of a desk, in an era when the computer reigns supreme? It’s a convenient place to stash the legal pads and pens that I still use, and I need its writing surface when I’m making a note. It’s a great platform for my collection of aging family photos, kid art, and things like little clocks or fancy penholders. And when people come into my office they can be pretty sure that it’s me sitting behind the desk, staring at the computer and tapping away at the keyboard.

But all of those empty spaces make you wonder how much longer people will be using large, impressive wooden desks. In the computer era, they’ve become almost an affectation, a power device, and a prop, and you wonder if they will be part of the office of the future–that is, if offices as we know them will even exist.

Looking Through Different Windows

Stonington, Maine, has its share of quirkiness. One of my favorite examples of that quality is found at this place on Church Street, where a solitary window freed from the structure of a house has been put on a rock outcropping overlooking the harbor. It’s as if the window escaped from its confines and decided to come to rest where it could enjoy a pretty scene. A window like this is so alluring, enticing you to scramble up onto those rocks and take a look through the other side, just to see that specific, chosen view. So far, at least, I’ve resisted the temptation to trespass and check out the lone window’s perspective.

But in a different sense, I feel like our time in Stonington has given me a chance to look through different windows and gain different perspectives. I never would have considered the plight of lobstermen, ensnared in regulatory and economic issues far beyond their personal control, if we had not come up here to live among them. And I’ve gotten some insight into how powerfully small towns can react when a locally supported facility, like the Island Nursing Home, announces that it is closing. For that matter, I’ve come to learn a bit about what it is like to live in a small town, having never really done so before.

I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to see things from a different point of view and to better understand the concerns and motives of people living in a faraway place. I feel like it has broadened my horizons and made me a bit less judgmental, generally, because I’ve learned that there are typically two sides to every story. It also makes me wish that there was a way to ensure that more people could share in different perspectives and understandings before writing snarling Twitter posts or demonizing people they disagree with. and utterly dismissing their viewpoints. I think it would be helpful if more people tried to look through different windows before lashing out.

The Relentless March Of Progress

In America, the march of progress is relentless, and what once was casually assumed be a permanent thing can be wiped clean by new technology or new approaches and vanish without a trace. The latest evidence of that classic aspect of the American Way is that the last freestanding public pay phone booth has been removed from New York City. The phone booth, which was located in Times Square, had become a kind of kitschy tourist attraction before it was hoisted away last month.

According to the Bloomberg article linked above, New York City once had 8,000 freestanding public phone booths. They were a familiar feature on Manhattan street corners. Phone booths were used by superheroes to change clothes, and figured prominently in countless spy dramas and action movies. Bad guys who were planning to commit bad acts used the booths to place anonymous phone calls demanding ransom payments, and spies used the booths as dead drops or meeting places. How many films over the years featured a star rushing to make it to a particular phone booth on a busy street in time to answer a call?

Now New York City is a phone booth-free zone. I’m not sure if there are any phone booths left in Columbus, and I frankly can’t remember the last time I saw a phone booth anywhere. They have been so rare for so long that I wrote about an unexpected sighting of a phone booth in upstate New York in 2011. Of course, screenwriters long ago adapted to the demise of the phone booth by using burner phones as the new anonymous device to move plots along.

In short, phone booths have officially joined the horse and buggy, television static, and Blockbuster stores as relics of a bygone era. That’s the American Way.

The Power Of A Room

Since my trip to D.C. included a Georgetown University Law Center class reunion party, I figured I should visit the law center itself. It has changed a lot since I was a student in the early ‘80s, but the lecture halls look pretty much the same as I remember.

As I opened the door to this lecture hall—where I think I attended my very first law school class in 1982—I felt anew the angst and concern about whether I could handle law school that a much younger me experienced 40 years ago. The ghosts of professors and cases and Socratic method questions of the past still live on in those halls.

I’ll probably have a fresh set of nightmares about being late for an exam as a result of this visit.

Celebrating “Trolling”

If, like me, you’ve got the ESPN app on your phone, you’ve undoubtedly seen some kind of notice lauding such and such team or player for crushingly “trolling” another with some devastating putdown that bursts their bubble. Of course, it’s not just sports stars and their teams that engage in trolling–you see it in politics and other areas as well. And there, too, “trolling” is often applauded.

“Trolling” is an apt term for this practice, conjuring as it does the creature living and lurking in the shadowy, dark, dank areas under the bridge–scary, creepy, and disconnected from the rest of society, but always ready to spring up when you least expect it. The derivation of “trolling” in its modern sense isn’t a reference to Norse mythology, however, but rather to a fishing technique: “trolling” occurs when the angler puts a baited line in the water, hoping that a fish will bite. That’s what internet or social media trollers do. They say something outrageous and provocative, and hope that someone will engage and they can display all of their powers of insult humor, ironic commentary, and smart-alecky know-it-allism.

“Trolling” isn’t kind or polite behavior. It’s snotty and snarky and over-simplifying. You wouldn’t countenance it from your kids at home, and you wouldn’t hang around friends who engaged in it all the time. So why do ESPN, political website, and other internet and social media outlets celebrate trolling comments, and encourage those people under the bridge to emerge? How are we ever to de-coarsen our society if we’re constantly patting people on the back for a “perfect” or “hilarious” trolling effort?

It’s weird to think we’ve reached the point where some people aspire to be great trolls. They’re not exactly aiming high.

Wealth Porn

We’re down in Naples for a fun getaway weekend with friends. During the visit we took a guided boat ride that took us past some of the Naples area’s toniest areas.

Much of the boat ride featured the guide advising us of the cost and square footage of the huge homes and yachts that we passed. As we heard about $2 million tear downs, 10,000-square-foot guest houses, enormous pleasure crafts, and waterfront estates that passed the nine-figure mark, it felt like we were on a floating episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It was kind of hilarious in a weird way.

My grandmother used to say that polite people don’t talk about money. That rule obviously is out the window. Now the reverse is true: we’re reveling in a kind of wealth porn.

Human Composting

When you get to be a certain age, some subjects begin to have a lot more interest than they would have had, say, 40 years ago. Thinking about what should be done with your mortal remains is one such topic. So it was interesting to read that a few states are beginning to allow human composting–also known by the much more clinical name “natural organic reduction”–as an alternative to the standard burial and cremation options for disposition of human bodies.

So far, the legalization of human composting is limited to Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, which always seem to be among the first states to legislate new approaches in the social arena. It makes you wonder whether legislators and lobbyists in those states sit around brainstorming about possible new laws that will send a jolt through the rest of the country. Washington, Oregon, and Colorado are a kind of holy trinity of experimenters that substantiate the notion that states are the “laboratories of democracy.” That phrase comes from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who in 1932 wrote in a famous dissent in New State Ice Co v. Liebmann that “a state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” 

In any case, human composting involves a process that speeds up what would otherwise be the natural decomposition of human remains. Recompose, one of the companies that provides the service, describes the process as follows: “After you die, your body will be laid into the vessel onto a bed of wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. Over the next 30 days, everything inside the vessel breaks down thanks to natural decomposition. The soil is removed and placed into a curing bin, where it is aerated for several more weeks. Then, it can be donated for conservation efforts or given back to the person of your choosing.” Recompose charges $5,500 for the whole process, which produces a cubic yard of soil.

What to do with a cubic yard of soil that used to be a loved one? You can read about one survivor’s story about the composting of her late husband, an organic farmer, and what she did with the soil here. Some people take it all, some distribute it among the friends of the deceased, and some donate it to reclamation projects. Not surprisingly, there apparently is a bit of squeamishness about exactly where the composted soil should go. The Colorado law, for example, prohibits businesses from selling the soil or using the soil to grow food for human consumption. (In the interest of legislative completeness, incidentally, Colorado also bans putting multiple bodies into the composting containers without prior consent from either the deceased or the person who has the right to dispose of the remains.)

Why would someone choose human composting? Recompose notes that it avoids producing the carbon dioxide that is generated by cremation, and some people like the idea of “giving back” and returning to the soil, in the “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” sense. Some religions object, but it’s hard to see why anyone would object to giving people another option in the disposition of remains category. After all, “human composting” is basically what happened to countless generations of humans in the pre-burial, pre-cremation days.

Treadmill Rules

Lately I’ve been taking my morning walk on a treadmill in a small workout facility, rather than via a walk in the open air. It’s the first time I’ve really consistently used a gym and a treadmill. I’m getting in about the same amount of steps, but it is an entirely different vibe.

There are positives to the treadmill experience, of course. The primary benefit is that you aren’t subject to the whims of the weather and the possibility of some weather-related mishap, like slipping on ice during the winter or being sprayed with the splash when a passing car rockets through a rain puddle. But whereas walking outside, for me, tends to be a solitary exercise, treadmills in a gym are communal–and that means there are rules to be acknowledged and obeyed.

One of the rules involves respecting the personal space of the other treadmill users. In our little gym, there is a row of six treadmills. If you come in while some of those devices are being used, you need to find an empty treadmill that gives you at least a one empty treadmill buffer zone from any other user, if possible. Picking a treadmill right next to another user when there are plenty of unused machines would be viewed as unseemly and, well, weird. Another rule is that there is no talking, period. Even though multiple people are within a few feet of each other, everyone seeks to remain in their own little workout world, following their walking, jogging, or running routines, listening to their music or podcasts, and maintaining careful social separation. The other users don’t seem to even acknowledge each other’s presence with a nod or a smile.

Another big difference between walking outside and the treadmill experience is the looking presence of the machine itself. Outdoor walkers can always stop to tie their shoe or admire a pretty scene. Of course, you can’t do that on a treadmill, unless you want to be swept away by the moving belt and hurled into the exercise bikes behind you. There’s a pressure element, because you’d better keep your feet moving, and at the right clip. And the machines are very clock-centric. You program your time and start your routine, and you can’t help but look constantly at how much more time is left before the routine is over. That ever-present time concept simply doesn’t exist on an outdoor walk.

The Great Divide About The Great Reopening

Yesterday the B.A. Jersey Girl, the Bus-Riding Conservative, and I went out for a “taco Thursday” lunch. As has been the case since September, we faithfully donned masks when we entered the restaurant, wore them until we sat down, were served by masked employees, and donned masks again for the brief period between leaving our table and reaching the outside sidewalk. After we removed the masks again, we wondered: when is the City of Columbus mask mandate going to end? When are we going to get back to what we used to think of as “normal”?

Across the country, there are signs that society is on the cusp of what we might call the Great Reopening, with some states lifting their mask mandates and changes being made to vaccination requirements and other COVID-related policies. But it’s pretty clear that there is a very strong difference of opinion about whether a Great Reopening right now, or even in the immediately foreseeable future, is a good idea. The Atlantic recently ran an interesting article called “Open Everything” that argued–persuasively, in my opinion–that it is time to end all COVID restrictions. The reaction to the article on social media showed, however, that there is a sharp divide about what to do, and when. And the opinions on both sides are being voiced in the strongest terms possible, with reopeners being depicted as reckless morons who are putting lives at risk and non-reopeners presented as crazed Karens who revel in the ability to control every aspect of our lives and want to preserve that power.

The country has been through a lot since COVID first entered the lexicon two years ago, and superheated rhetoric about what to do next isn’t going to help us get over that experience. There’s nothing wrong with people expressing their views, but it sure would be nice to see the differences discussed in a reasonable and respectful way, with some effort to understand the differing views and without the inflammatory epithets. That’s part of the true “normal” that we need to get back to, and demonizing people of opposing viewsas killers or lunatics isn’t going to help us reach that goal.

The Lost World Of Two Sleeps

We tend to think that the basic elements of human lives–things as fundamental as sleep patterns–have forever been as they are now. I’ve always assumed, without thinking much about it, that sleep means going to bed and sleeping straight through until waking up in the morning. The BBC recently published a fascinating article about research that squarely refutes that assumption–and shows instead that our current approach to sleep is inconsistent with the accepted practices that prevailed for many centuries.

According to the BBC article, humans used to have “two sleeps” as a matter of course. The “first sleep” would last for a few hours, until about 11 p.m., followed by about two hours of wakefulness–a period known in medieval England as “the watch”–after which people would return to bed and sleep until morning. This pattern was confirmed by sworn testimony in court records and multiple references in literature, and the research indicates that it was followed across different countries and cultures dating back to classical times, during the prolonged period when life was much more communal than it is now and it was typical for multiple humans to share beds or other sleeping quarters.

What did those who awakened from their “first sleep” do during “the watch”? The research indicates they did just about everything from the exalted (it was viewed by some as a good time for quiet religious observances and reflection) to the productive (peasants completed some of their many daily chores, stoked the fire, and tended to animals) to the mundane (the newly roused typically answered the call of nature). The BBC article also reports: “But most of all, the watch was useful for socialising – and for sex.” People would stay in their communal bed and chat with their bedmates, and husbands and wives, refreshed from the day’s exhausting labors by their “first sleep,” might find a place for some alone time before “the watch” ended and it was time to hit the crowded sack again.

At some point, the practice of “two sleeps” ended and our current approach of seeking one, uninterrupted “good night’s sleep” became the norm instead. But, as the BBC article points out, a sleep research experiment from the ’90s suggests that it wouldn’t take much for people to be nudged back into the world of “two sleeps.” A careful look at some remote cultures also indicates that the practice of “two sleeps” still prevails in some areas. And of course, in some cultures where an afternoon siesta is commonplace, a different form of “two sleeps” is practiced.

What would the world be like if humans still followed the practice of “two sleeps,” and what would they do during “the watch”? I would guess that they would do just about everything that their medieval ancestors did–although with modern technology I imagine that many people would take “the watch” literally, and use the break in sleep to catch up on the latest offerings on streaming services.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I’m a big believer in specifically identifying at least some of the many things I’ve got to be thankful for, and then reflecting on them when Thanksgiving Day rolls around. Here’s this year’s list:

  • I’m thankful that I and the other members of my family made it through the last, star-crossed year in good health.
  • I’m thankful for the family, friends, colleagues, and clients who have added color and dash and interest to every one of the 365 days that have passed since last Thanksgiving.
  • I’m thankful that I have happy memories of Thanksgiving days gone by that I can recall with pleasure, like the little wax turkey candles (like the ones shown above) that Mom put out on the dinner table when we sat down for our big meal.
  • I’m thankful that, this year, our extended family will be able to get together to celebrate Thanksgiving as families ought to do, after skipping last year due to the COVID pandemic.
  • I’m thankful for the fact that the apparent supply chain problems won’t keep us from enjoying turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and a slice or two of pie today.
  • I’m thankful for living in a free country where my friends and I can agree to disagree, even about crucially important things like appropriate Thanksgiving pies.
  • I’m thankful for the people who laughed at my jokes, for those who gave me the benefit of the doubt from time to time, and for the kind words, the compliments, the encouragement, and the attaboys that helped me make it through every day.
  • I’m thankful for the people who take a few moments from their day to read my random thoughts on this blog, post likes, and leave comments.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks!