The Last Day Of The Four-Day Weekend

There’s a special quality to the last day of the four-day Thanksgiving weekend holiday. Those of us of a certain age remember working on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but those days are long gone for most white-collar workers. Now it’s generally accepted that we’re looking at four solid days off. And frankly, by the time late November rolls around, we can use a four-day holiday — this year especially.

Each day of those four days has its own identity and personality. Thursday is all about The Meal and the excitement surrounding it. Friday is devoted to regretting your Thanksgiving overindulgence and catching up with your guests. Friday is the day for meaningful conversation. By Saturday, everyone has settled in and caught up; Saturday is a day for just enjoying each other’s company. And when Sunday rolls around, the goal is to wring every last drop of enjoyment out of the holiday weekend before it regrettably comes to a close.

This year, the four-day weekend seems to have been quieter and simpler. There may have been some Black Friday shopping sale craziness somewhere, but if so there wasn’t much of it. 2020 has sucked in more ways than we can count, but it least it has discouraged people from going out and engaging in brawls with other shoppers trying to get that last big-screen TV on sale. This year, Thanksgiving seems to have gotten back to its family-oriented roots.

Enjoy Day 4. We won’t see it’s like again until Thanksgiving 2021.

Aspirational Screensavers

Our firm’s computer system recently changed to a new approach to screensavers, taking another quantum leap forward in information technology. When I first got a desktop computer back in the early ’90s, the big screensaver development allowed you to create a message that would scroll from left to right on your screen when your computer went into “sleep” mode. (Mine was “parturient montes, nascetur mus.”) A later upgrade allowed the technologically adept to upload a favorite picture of your kids as your screensaver.

With our firm’s latest advance, we get an ever-changing menu of beautifully framed photographs of evocative faraway places, ancient towns carved into mountainsides, colorful wild animals, and balloons drifting over rugged, exotic scenery under a clear blue sky. I always have two reactions to every one of the screensavers: (1) I wish they would tell me where this picture was taken, so I could try to go there one of these days; and (2) boy, that place looks a heck of a lot more interesting than the scene out my kitchen window.

I’m curious about the psychology (if any) behind the new screensavers. Did anyone do any kind of survey or testing to determine the impact of the wondrous photos on workplace morale and motivation? Did they attempt to determine how many people are just going to stare dreamily at the latest photo to pop up on their laptop, wishing they could be wherever that photo was taken rather than getting ready to start another day of working from home during a pandemic? Or is the thinking that we worker bees will be incentivized by the beautiful photos to work even harder and become more successful in hopes of being able to travel to those fabulous places one of these days?

On balance, I guess I like the screensavers and their depiction of a gorgeous, tranquil world. I wonder, though, whether it wouldn’t be smart to put into the mix some real-world photos of abandoned factories or Chernobyl to remind us that it’s not all puppies and cotton candy out there, and we need to put our noses back to the grindstone.

Back To Kindergarten Rules

We’re all still getting used to video conferencing and Zoom and Teams calls, but I’ve decided there are things I like about them. In a way, they take us back to first principles, and the basic, threshold lessons in interpersonal conduct that we first learned back in kindergarten.

Take the “raise your hand” feature. When was the last time you raised your hand to be called on for anything? But you learned about the importance of raising your hand from your kindergarten teacher — mine was named Mrs. Radick, by the way — who got you to understand that if every kid in the class tried to talk at once it would be chaos, which is why there had to be some mechanism to allow order to prevail. Of course, the same concept applies to a multi-party video call, which would quickly devolve into bedlam and gibberish without a method of organization. That’s why I like the “raise your hand” feature, and the fact that it reminds me of grade school days doesn’t hurt, either.

Other kindergarten concepts apply to video calls, too — like taking your turn, and trying not to interrupt the person who is speaking, which means waiting a decent period after the speaker appears to be done to account for potential technological glitches. These rules are essential to making video technology work, but they also embody core concepts of politeness and civility. I’m sure there are video calls that turn into unfortunate shouting matches, but I’d guess that, on the whole, video calls are more well-mannered and the participants tend to be more deferential and well-behaved than in direct, in-person interaction. The use of the mute button, to make sure that the discussion isn’t interrupted by barking dogs of the garbage truck rolling down the street, is another form of courtesy.

Mrs. Radick would approve of all of this.

Sports Versus Farming In Metaphor Land

Recently I was in a multi-person email exchange at work. The metaphors and similes were flying thick and fast and had taken a decidedly rustic turn when the B.A. Jersey Girl, who as her name suggests doesn’t initially hail from these parts, accused the sturdy Midwesterners involved in the exchange of “going all agro” in our references.

It was a fair comment, but it wasn’t the first time someone had observed that the metaphors and similes being employed weren’t particularly enlightening to all participants in a discussion. Usually, that happens when a non-sports fan finally cries out in frustration at being bombarded with rapid fire, increasingly cryptic sports references.

Both farms and sports are rich sources for the metaphors and similes we use to accentuate our points in colorful, graphic ways. There are more of them than we can possibly list. From the barnyard, we’ve got “fox in the henhouse,” “flown the coop,” “the horse has left the barn,” “chickens coming home to roost,” “strutting like a rooster,” “carrying the water,” “room like a pig pen,” being a “bell cow,” “acting like a sheep,” and “squealing like a stuck pig” — and that’s just “scratching the surface.” From the sports realm, we’ve got “home runs,” “slam dunks,” “fumbles,” “bunnies,” “Hail Marys,” “doing an end around,” “calling balls and strikes,” “blowing the whistle,” “play book,” “the ball’s in their court,” “putting on a full-court press,” “bush league,” and countless others that are “on the bench.” You may have used some of these yourself, and no doubt you can think of others.

I’ve tried to watch the overuse of sports references at work to be mindful of the non-sports fans out in the world; now I’ll also need to be mindful of farming references, too. But it makes me wonder: if you aren’t from the Midwest or other farmland areas, do you sprinkle your conversation with “agro” concepts anyway? And if you don’t use sports and farming metaphors and similes to illustrate your points, what references do you use to replace them?

The New Calendars Are Here!

When I went in to the office yesterday, to work there for the first time since March, I saw that my 2021 calendars had been delivered — and I was thrilled to see them.

Getting my new work calendars so I can keep track of my schedule in the coming months is one of those very basic ministerial elements of work. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about it — until now. Never before do I remember having such a happy reaction to seeing this tangible evidence that a new year is coming. I felt like the Steve Martin character in The Jerk overreacting to the delivery of phone books with his name in them.

I would make this suggestion to people who are looking to do some early holiday shopping: if you want to buy people a gift that you can be confident will bring a smile to their faces, get them 2021 calendars. And don’t be surprised if the calendars sell out quickly, either. We may see a surge in demand for new calendars the likes of which we haven’t experienced before.

The new calendars are here!

“You’re On Mute”: A COVID Poem

We’ve probably used the word “mute” more times over the past 7 months than we have in the rest of human history, combined. Telling somebody that they need to unmute themselves is a standard feature of just about every Zoom or Teams call that has occurred since the coronavirus work-from-home process started. The constant references to being on mute moved me to write some bad COVID-19 verse:

“You’re On Mute”

A point was made, I disagreed, and started to refute

Folks shook their heads and sadly said

“I’m sorry, you’re on mute.”

You have a point to make; a comment that is cute

But no one else will hear your thoughts

If you forgot you’re “on mute.”

It should be easy to recall, this Teams call attribute

The microphone icon is there to see and click

And yet: “You’re on mute.”

The icon is needed, to be sure; there is no substitute

To avoid echoing, and barking dogs

We Zoomers all must “mute.”

Some people don’t use it at all, but I won’t go that route

At times you don’t want people to hear

You’re grateful you can “mute.”

In these days of “work from home,” we’ve got no commute

But new skills are replacing driving

Like remembering to “unmute.”

Computer Grading

We have lots of software programs that we use at work, and it seems like new ones are rolled out every day. Recently, I’ve noticed that some of the newer programs that have been have a very annoying feature: they presume to grade you on how well you use the program.

Gone are the days when the computer world was fresh and friendly and new computer programs always featured a little paper clip guy with a squeaky voice or some other anthropomorphic icon that was supposed to help you master the new software. Sure, they quickly became incredibly irritating and were promptly disabled after their “helpful” badgering and unwanted “tips” got on your last nerve, but at least they were trying to help us. They’ve now been replaced by some hectoring schoolmarm who gives you grades because she can’t rap you on the knuckles with a ruler.

The other day I checked my dashboard on one of the programs and found that I had been given a C-. I have no earthly idea why I got a C-. Seriously — I swear that I did what the program requires me to do, in timely fashion. And yet, there it was, for all the world to see: a C-. I’ve never been given a C- grade on anything in my life (that I know about, at least). Now my record has been shattered by some soulless computer that assigned me an embarrassing grade based on wholly arbitrary and unknowable metrics lodged somewhere in the semiconductors and chips and RAM. And what’s most annoying about it all is that I actually care that I got a C-. I don’t think anyone logs or pays any attention to these grades, but still . . . it bugs me. Decades after my last formal schooling ended, I still care about grades, even if they are totally meaningless. Of course, that’s why the computer does it. The American educational system has trained me to be like Pavlov’s dog, except instead of salivating at the sound of a metronome I’ve been conditioned to respond to arbitrary grades.

Thank goodness that I’m not assigned grades in other areas of life — by family, or friends, or colleagues, or neighbors. The fact that I respond to grading, even now, is an Achilles heel of sorts. Don’t tell anyone, will you?

Thank You, Mr. Phillips

The toolbox at our house has a motley collection of tools — some inherited, some abandoned, and some picked up here and there. We’ve got a lot of screwdrivers, but almost all of them are flat head screwdrivers. We’ve only got one Phillips head screwdriver — the short, orange and black tool shown above — which is too bad because most of the screws that are used these days are Phillips screws.

I had to use the Phillips screwdriver the other day, and once again gave inner thanks to Mr. Phillips for his invention. The screws I was trying to remove were really in tight, and anyone who remembers trying to remove flat head screws and stripping out the slot (which apparently is technically called “camming”) — thereby ensuring that the screw cannot be removed by any normal human effort — should always be grateful for the Phillips head design. Sure enough, in this instance the screws were successfully removed with only modest effort and without a single swear word being uttered. I’d guess that Mr. Phillips single-handedly has materially reduced the amount of angry, explosive cussing that would have otherwise occurred but for his salutary invention.

In case you’re interested, here’s an article about the history of the screw and screwdriver — which, surprisingly, didn’t really become common until the 1800s — the tale of Mr. Phillips, and a curious backstory about why Canadians use a different type of screw and screwdriver that some believe is an even better design. As is the case with so many stories about early industrial developments, Henry Ford figures prominently, and helped to bring about the fact that Americans use the Phillips head rather than the Robertson head used in Canada.

I don’t know whether the Robertson screw is better than the Phillips — but I do know that the Phillips is a huge improvement over the simple slotted screw that is so easy to strip. I’ll always be grateful to Mr. Phillips for minimizing my blood pressure and my contributions to the swear jar.

For Court Of Appeals Judge: Lisa Forbes

Early voting has started in Ohio, and today I am going to break my vow not to write about the election for a second, and last, time. If you live in Cuyahoga County, I urge you to vote for Lisa Forbes for the Eighth District Court of Appeals, which is the Ohio appellate court covering Cuyahoga County. You can find Lisa’s campaign web page and information about her background and involvement in the community here.

First, the appropriate disclosures: I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of working with Lisa Forbes at Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, LLP for decades. Lisa and I have worked together on matters for clients and have served together on firm committees. She is a valued colleague and friend. I like and respect her, and I think she’s got all of the qualities that would make her a terrific court of appeals judge. Living in Columbus, I can’t vote for her — unfortunately! — but I have contributed to her campaign because I think supporting smart, qualified, hard-working people to serve on our courts is good for our judicial system and good for the Buckeye State.

For those of you who aren’t lawyers and therefore aren’t intimately familiar with the Ohio state court system, appellate courts are the courts that review trial court decisions and jury verdicts. If you’re a civil case litigant, or a criminal case defendant, and you think your trial court made a mistake, you go to the court of appeals for a second look and second opinion. After the court of appeals has had its say, you have the opportunity to ask the Ohio Supreme Court to take your case — but the Supreme Court accepts and considers only a small fraction of the cases that go through the Ohio court system. The vast majority of Ohio state-court cases end at the court of appeals level, and the decisions made by the courts of appeals are viewed as important legal precedent by other courts throughout Ohio.

That’s why it is so important to have really good judges on our courts of appeals. Because the Ohio courts of appeals review all cases that are properly submitted to them from the trial courts in their districts, they’ve got a significant workload of both civil and criminal cases. It is essential to have hard-working appellate judges who can review the briefs, thoughtfully analyze the legal issues, question lawyers for the parties at oral arguments, and then reach a decision with the other court of appeals judges assigned to the case and write an opinion explaining the court’s reasoning. If court of appeals judges don’t work hard, the system becomes clogged and appeals can drag on for months or even years, which can be frustrating for everyone involved.

Lisa Forbes has all of the capabilities you would ideally want in a court of appeals judge. She’s one of the most conscientious, hard-working people I know, someone who has deftly juggled family responsibilities and work obligations for years. She won’t drop the ball or disappoint litigants and lawyers who are looking for prompt decisions. She has a keen legal mind, she has lots of experience in wrestling with difficult and novel issues presented in challenging cases and finding the precedent and authorities that are relevant, and she is a gifted writer. Based on her years of experience, no case that might come to the Eighth District Court of Appeals would be beyond the ability of Lisa Forbes to thoughtfully and fairly evaluate and decide, and she would then explain her reasoning in an opinion that would be clear and understandable to everyone who read it — lawyers and non-lawyers alike.

The last point is a crucial one, because an important part of our judicial system is showing even losing parties that they have been heard, their arguments have been respected and fairly considered, and there are solid reasons why those arguments haven’t prevailed. We want our courts to be regarded by all as even-handed bastions of justice and fairness, and it is important to have judges who will always focus on and strive toward that goal.

I know that Lisa Forbes will do that. If you live in Cuyahoga County, in this election I encourage you to vote for Lisa Forbes for the Eighth District Court of Appeals.

A Signature Item

I bought my lobster coffee cup from a local shop in Stonington a few years ago. I got it because it screams “Maine!” — with a noticeable Maine accent, I might add — and I thought it would be a fun, kitschy way to enjoy my coffee in the morning.

Of course, that was before anyone dreamed of global pandemics, months of working remotely, and routine video conferences with people in faraway places. But it turned out that the lobster coffee cup served a useful purpose in the crazy world of 2020. It became a kind of signature item that was the subject of pre-video conference comment as we waited for other people to join calls, and later it reminded people that I was still up in Maine. Some people have a carefully curated bookshelf or wall of kid art, others have their menu of fake backdrops, and I’ve had my lobster coffee cup.

But now that we’re heading back to the Midwest, I must bid farewell to the lobster cup. it would be jarring to insert such a Maine-specific item into the German Village video conference setting. So I must say so long, lobster cup! You’ve served me well, and I’ll look forward to taking hearty, hopefully post-pandemic gulps from you next year.

A Summer Like No Other

Today is, officially, the last full day of summer.  Tomorrow morning at 9:30 or so the autumnal equinox arrives.  In Stonington, it feels like the northern hemisphere has been moving speedily away from the sun for some time now.  As I write this the temperature outside is a bracing 39 degrees, and you can definitely get a heady whiff of winter in the sharp breeze.

It’s been a unique summer in Stonington, as it has been across the country.  The statue of the stonecutter downtown has been masked up for months, and so were most of the people around town.  Here, like everywhere else, things that used to be strange and different have become second nature — like donning a mask before entering a building, working remotely with your office in a laptop, or automatically veering off to the other side of the street to keep that social distance from approaching pedestrians.   

Some businesses opened, some didn’t, and some found new ways to operate while scrupulously obeying the coronavirus rules.  The restaurants that opened seemed to start slow but gather momentum, and our guess is that grateful patrons will feel a long-term loyalty to the places that figured out a way to safely serve food to customers who just had to get out of their houses during a pandemic.  The shops in town all stayed open through the season and seemed to do a reasonably good trade, and while the Opera House was closed in 2020 it decided to offer drive-in movies on a big screen set up at the old ballfield and experienced a string of sell-outs.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the summer drive-ins become a permanent part of the Stonington arts calendar.

Of course, it wasn’t like a normal summer, and a lot of the things that we enjoyed in the past — like live musical performances at some of the venues around town, and the end of summer Labor Day party in our neighborhood — just didn’t happen this year, for totally understandable reasons.  But with summer now ending, the key point seems to be that the town and its businesses made it through, and will still be here next year.  That’s not true elsewhere, as thousands of American restaurants and shops and other small businesses closed their doors for good.  We’re grateful that our favorite places dodged that bullet.

The summer of 2020 truly has been a summer like no other.  We’re not sorry to see it ending, but it’s safe to say we won’t forget it.

Office Envy

My last full day in the office was March 13, 2020.  As I close in now on my six-month anniversary of an office-free work existence, untethered to a specific physical location, I have to admit it:  I kind of miss my office.

I’ve been perfectly content working remotely and using all of the technology that permits us to do so.  And without having to do my “walking commute” in the morning and evening, and with “lunch hours” that often consist of a hastily prepared sandwich that I eat while continuing to work, I feel like I’ve made very productive use of my “working remotely” time.

But, after working at the firm for 35 years, I’d gotten to the point of having a pretty darned nice office.  I miss my L-shaped desk set-up, which allowed me to easily pivot from working on the computer to a large, reasonably tidy desk surface, at the just the right height, where I could spread out papers and keep documents for different matters in different stacks that were close at hand.  I miss my office windows and the overhead lights that made my office a bright place to toil.  I miss my office chair, with its ergonomic design and rubbery webbing that would let you kind of sink into it, that gave me the ability to swivel around and lean back, always with total lumbar support.  And I really miss the susurrus of the office background noise coming in through the doorway, and the drifting voices of my colleagues as they pass by in the hall and chat at the nearby elevator bank.

So, don’t get me wrong — working remotely has been just fine.  Really!  But I suspect that, when I get back to the office for a regular day’s work, and get to experience that office environment again, I’ll sink back into that familiar chair, give it a quick whirl around, lean back, and think “aaah.

A Bottle’s Story

My latest recreational activity up here has been a project to try to expose the large rocks in the down yard and level out the ground in the process. it’s a classic pointless project. Is it necessary? Absolutely not! But it’s fun, and gets me exercise out in the fresh air, and I like to see physical results of my daily labors.

The project involves lots of digging with small tools as you work between the big rocks to lever out small rocks and level out the soil. And, sometimes, as happened yesterday afternoon, you find stuff — like the classic Nehi bottle and blue glass canning jar lid pictured above, both of which were wedged into a tiny crevice between two large rocks and covered in decades of dirt. They’ll join our collection of other bottles that have been retrieved, intact, from the down yard.

Alas, most of what I’ve dug up is shattered glass. I’ve excavated so many shards of glass that I’m convinced people must have used our down yard area for target practice or random, drunken bottle breaking. That’s why it’s cool to retrieve some intact old pieces that escaped the onslaught.

The Sound Of Hammering

Julie Andrews like to whirl around in an Austrian meadow and sing about the hills being alive with the sound of music.  In our neighborhood, lately, the hills have been alive with the sound of hammering–and it’s nothing to sing about.

Two workers have been building a one-story wooden house about 100 yards from our front door.  On every non-rainy day, starting at about 6 a.m., we are treated to a hammering symphony as they put up the structure and pound away as if their lives depended on it.

It’s made me wish for rainy days.

Hammering is a uniquely annoying sound.  It make a sharp noise, it’s repetitive, and it echoes and reverberates against the nearby hills, which just amplifies the irritation factor.  I’ve gotten to the point where I distinguish between the individual hammering style of each of the workers.  One guy uses four strokes of increasing force — bam, bambam, BAM — to get the nail flush with the planking of the roof.  You find yourself cringing inwardly as you wait for that inevitable fourth hammer blow to fall.

Oddly, on some days you don’t notice the hammering . . . until you do.  And then, once you do notice it, you can’t consciously unnotice it again.  You just hope that the workers will take a break at some point soon and let your brain cycle back to non-hammer-focused mode again.

I’m all for commerce, and it looks like the little house will be a nice addition to our neighborhood.  But I will be immensely grateful when the house is built and that infernal hammering ends.

Judge Gina Russo

My regular readers know that this year I’ve sworn to avoid writing about politics, and so far I’ve kept my pledge. But today I want to deviate from that course and write about a candidate who is running to keep a seat on the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas:  Judge Gina Russo.  You can read about her on her website.  

Judge Russo began her legal career as an associate at our firm, Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, LLP.  She was a smart, capable, hard-working member of our litigation group who had a special love for trials and the courtroom.  Judge Russo also was an absolute pleasure to work with:  someone who invariably displayed a positive, cheerful, can-do attitude and who could be counted on to get the assignment done, and done right.  She worked on pretty much every kind of case our firm handles, large and small, and got a lot of experience in various aspects of the civil litigation area.  Judge Russo also showed a knack for establishing strong relationships with clients–which is one of the hallmarks of gifted lawyers.  If a client keeps coming back to you when they’ve got a legal issue, it’s a tangible sign that the clients think you really care about their problems and are doing a good job on their behalf.  I’m happy to report to you that Judge Russo’s clients kept coming back.

Judge Russo left our firm because she relished the courtroom, and civil litigation trials tend to be few and far between.  If you want to get that regular courtroom experience, the prosecutor’s office is where to go–and that’s where Judge Russo went.  I was sad that she left our firm, but people have to follow their star, and I knew that she yearned to be on her feet before judges and juries and had made a careful, thoughtful decision, as she always had done.  It turned out to be a very good decision for her, because Judge Russo got the courtroom work she craved and rapidly worked her way up in the prosecutor’s office to the point where she was handling some of the office’s most challenging, high-profile felony cases. 

In March of 2019, Governor DeWine appointed Judge Russo to fill a vacancy on the Franklin County Common Pleas Court bench.  Now she is running for a new term as a judge, in the election to be held this November.  I’ll be voting for her, and I recommend that others do so, too.  Judge Russo has the breadth and depth of experience that we ideally look for in a judge–with significant direct involvement in civil and criminal litigation and first-hand exposure to the law in both of those areas.  And the same personal characteristics that made her a fine associate at our firm also serve her well on the bench.  Our society wants and needs judges who care about justice, objectivity, and fairness, who aspire to reflect those qualities in their conduct and their rulings, who will read and think carefully about what lawyers have written and argued, and who will work hard at their jobs.  And I want to emphasize that last point, because court dockets can become clogged and inert if judges aren’t always focused on deciding motions and keeping the cases before them moving forward.  I know from positive personal experience that Judge Russo will do all of those things, and no one will work harder, or with a more positive attitude, at their job.

It’s wonderful for the Columbus community and the justice system that we have excellent judicial candidates like Judge Gina Russo.  I recommend her wholeheartedly and without reservation.  Remember her when you head to the voting booth this fall.