Last night we had our annual bash with The Mentees (old and new) and their spouses. This year we changed things up and went to The Kitchen, where you help to prepare your meal under the guidance of the friendly and expert staff.
The evening began with noshing on the offerings on a charcuterie board and each of us making our own champagne cocktail. (I used some tasty plum bitters for mine.). Then Kish picked names out of a hat and we teamed up to prepare the different courses, donned our aprons, and got to work. The Red Sox Fan drew the short straw and had to chop, sauté, and stir with me in preparing the sauce for the beef loin, and we also enjoyed a fine winter salad with nuts and apple slices and blue cheese, wild rice, broccolini with pecans, and a terrific gingerbread soufflé for dessert. For the first time in my life, I actually ate some broccolini!
It was a lot of fun from beginning to end, and the food was great. There’s just something about people cooking together in a kitchen that leads to everyone having a good time. I’d recommend The Kitchen to anyone who’s got a group that wants to do something a little bit different.
Walking home from work tonight, with the temperature plummeting rapidly and already down below 10 degrees, I saw one of the people at the outdoor bus stop in front of the Ohio Statehouse smoking a cigarette. And I thought: “Really? Smoking in these ridiculous temperatures?”
Kish makes fun of me, because as a long reformed ex-smoker — I puffed my last cigarette more than 25 years ago and am forever happy that I quit when I did — I’m always quick to wonder aloud how anyone can smoke, period, even though I smoked off and on for a number of years. In that regard, I’m like the one-time sinner turned into a holier-than-thou convert. But if smoking under normal conditions seems crazy, given its abundantly documented health risks, smoking a cigarette outside in these temperatures seems especially insane. In fact, there is some evidence that smoking outside during freezing temperatures is even worse for you than smoking is generally.
In Columbus, you can’t smoke in most buildings as a matter of law, so at our firm, and in other businesses, the few remaining smokers have to go outside to indulge in their habit. You’d think that, as the mercury plunges into bitterly cold territory, the smokers would decide to refrain from going outside into the deep freeze and maybe even consider quitting altogether. But when you pass the smoking area outside, behind our building, there’s always a few people puffing away, even on a day like today. They look terribly cold, and act like they feel terribly cold, but they’re out there smoking, anyway. It’s a pretty good indication of how addictive smoking is for some people — and a pretty good advertisement for why you shouldn’t start smoking in the first place.
We’ve reached the depths of winter in the Midwest, and the part of that dismal season when changes in temperature mean melting snow, then refreezing, then melting again, then refreezing again. It makes walking outside a treacherous exercise that is not for the faint of heart — especially if you’re walking on ever-slippery brick.
But there is an alternative to outdoor exercise for those of us who are too cheap to get health club memberships but who desperately need the exercise if they hope to stave off the condition of Rapid Waistline Expansion. It’s called the stairs. And if, like me, you toil in an older building where there are lots of stairwells with different designs, like the stairwell shown above, the stairs can be a pretty cool option aesthetically, too.
According to the medical experts, taking the stairs does have the effect of burning some calories — although not enough to allow you to rationalize eating a Snickers bar a day, unless you’re walking to the top of the Empire State building on your way to work — and other health benefits as well, including building and maintaining health bones, muscles, and joints and improved aerobic capacity. I like doing it because it gets me moving and gets the blood flowing during the day, and I feel like I’m at least doing something to maintain or even improve my health while at the office.
Of course, it’s a lot easier taking the stairs going down, than going up.
In Ohio, self-serve gas stations became the norm more than 40 years ago. I suppose there are some stations with full-service options available somewhere in the Buckeye State, but the overwhelming majority of service stations require you to get out of your car and pump your own gas. That’s also been true in every other state that I’ve visited where I’ve used a car.
I’ve never been to Oregon, alas. And apparently Oregon (along with New Jersey) has been the exception to this prevailing rule — until now. Until this year, gas stations in rural Oregon have been required by state law to employ attendants to pump the gas. Now, a new law has taken effect that permits self-service gas stations in some rural counties . . . and as the Washington Post and other news outlets are reporting, the reaction among Oregonians has been incredible, and hysterical. When a TV station issued a tweet asking for reactions to the new law, Oregonians began claiming that they have no idea how to fuel their own cars and also revealing their deepest innermost fears about the issue. Beleaguered Oregonians expressed concerns at being required to exit their cars on cold days, having to touch a gas pump that has been handled by other germy human beings, and failing to properly insert the gas pump nozzle into the tank and ending up reeking of gasoline. Indeed, some responders claimed that “many people” aren’t even capable of operating a gas pump. And thoughtful Oregonians also worried that gas station attendants would lose their jobs and become chronically unemployed, and that the elderly and people with small children would never be able to manage.
Of course, those of us who live in “self-serve states” have managed to pump our own gas for years, without dousing ourselves with hi-test, producing blazing infernos, or suffering from infectious epidemics caused by touching gas pumps. Why, I’ve even pumped gas with two small children in the car! Looking back on it now, I can see that it was quite an achievement, even though it seemed like no big deal at the time.
I wish Oregonians well in their efforts to survive the transition to self-serve gas. And if you’re a self-serve stater who’s going to be visiting Oregon by car in the next few weeks, and on your visit you see puzzled people stopped at gas stations, wondering how to operate the pumps, will you please do the humane thing and lend them a hand?
Right after waking up I realized with a start that I have a crucial exam today. Even worse, I’ve been procrastinating studying for the test, and not even going to the classes, besides. Now, Exam Day has arrived, I am totally unprepared, and I am well and truly screwed. How could I be so stupid and reckless?
The next thing I know, I’m rushing through the empty, echoing halls of the building, looking for the room where I’m supposed to take the exam. Everybody else must be in the classroom already! Unfortunately, in my rush to get here I obviously forgot to write down the room number where the exam was being given, and now I’m frantically racing through the empty hallways, trying to find the right room before the test starts. My anxiety level shoots through the roof, and I think: I am a colossal idiot to have foolishly gotten myself into this horrible predicament.
At about this point the conscious brain takes over and realizes that I’m a 60-year-old lawyer who doesn’t take classes or critical exams any more, and I wake up with a start and a racing heartbeat.
Why do I still have exam anxiety nightmares, even though I haven’t had to endure a crucial exam for more than 30 years? It’s apparently a very common dream, and no doubt it’s because those long ago days of actual winner-take-all exams with real-world consequences engraved permanent, scarring concerns deep into the dark, twisted world of my id, where they are ready to spring forth with only the flimsiest excuse. Expose me to any unusual stressor, and that night I’ll probably be kicking myself once more because I’ve blown off the class and Exam Day is here. Yesterday I took some on-line training modules that ended with short quizzes that you needed to complete to show you’ve paid attention. I got passing scores, and I could have taken the quizzes over even if I didn’t get a passing score the first time around, but perhaps even that limited, low-pressure exposure to simple testing is enough to trigger the bad dreams.
It’s sad to think that I’ll probably continue to be haunted by the specter of long-ago exams for the rest of my life, but at least when I wake up I have the pleasure of knowing that the days of all-or-nothing testing are behind me — except in my dreams.
Twenty years ago, I last got a good look at my chin.
We were on a family vacation in Florida, with all of the slow pace and lassitude and relaxed approach to life that you associate with a welcome, sandy beach vacation during the cold weather months. I got totally into the kick back spirit of things and just didn’t feel like shaving — so I didn’t. And after letting the whiskers sprouting from the lower half of my face run riot for a few days, and surviving the initial itchiness that inevitably comes with any growing beard, I decided I might just keep the beard for a while to see how rejoining the hirsute set worked out.
I’d had a beard in college and when I worked as a reporter for the Toledo Blade, then shaved it off when I took a job on Capitol Hill. There weren’t many beards on the Hill in those days. I grew the beard again when I went to law school, then shaved it off again when I started to work at the firm because having a beard didn’t seem like a good idea for a new associate in a law firm in Columbus, Ohio. But by 1997 I’d been at the firm for 11 years, and I figured by then my colleagues would be willing to put up with a little beardedness. And the great thing about a beard is, you can always shave it off.
Twenty years later, I’ve still got that beard hiding my chin(s). The color of the hairs has changed from solid brown to a mixture of brown, gray and white, and I’ve gone through three beard trimmers trying to keep the bristles in moderately presentable form. I’d like to say the beard makes me look distinguished, but that remains an aspirational goal that is yet to be achieved.
Happy beard birthday to my whiskers!
When it comes to singing, I subscribe to the Buddy the Elf approach: “The best way to spread Christmas Cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”
So, yesterday I donned a Santa cap and, with about two dozen other lawyers at the firm, engaged in our annual holiday singalong. We remember and honor two of our departed partners who loved the singalong, perform for a roomful of absurdly supportive colleagues and friends, and belt out favorites like The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) and I’m Getting Nuttin’ For Christmas, as well as new parody songs with lyrics deftly penned by one of our talented partners.
When you only sing out loud once a year, it takes a while to really hit your stride . . . if you even have a stride. There’s a musical concept called a key — I think that’s the right word — that you have to figure out, and it takes some searching and a few songs to find the right range. I usually realize I’m singing in the wrong key when the high notes come out like more of a high-pitched screech; then I overcompensate and end up in a key where the low notes come out with an earthquake-like rumble. This is why no one who has any kind of singing talent wants to stand next to me at these annual performances.
Our little singing group will never be mistaken for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but we make up for our overall lack of talent with enthusiasm and sheer volume. And Buddy is right: It’s fun and it always puts me in a good holiday mood.