Wednesday Afternoon Football

Yesterday — which was a Wednesday, in case you’ve lost track of the days of the week — an NFL football game was played. The game kicked off at about 3:40 in the afternoon, and it was technically an NBC “Sunday Night Football” game that was broadcast with all of the “SNF” logos and announcers.

More solid evidence of the craziness of 2020: a “Sunday Night Football” game played on a Wednesday afternoon.

But it gets better. The game had been rescheduled multiple times due to COVID testing and the NFL’s oft-cited coronavirus “protocols.” (“Protocols” is a pretty deft word choice by the NFL, isn’t it? It makes the rules they’ve come up sound very scientific and technical and officially sanctioned.) And the Ravens ended up playing with a bunch of guys who apparently just joined the team this week. It was reminiscent of the NFL strike year, where your team fielded a bunch of previously unknown players wearing the familiar uniforms. Not surprisingly, it was a pretty sloppy game that the Steelers won.

The NFL is getting increasingly weird as the pandemic drags on. There are no non-cardboard fans in the stands, crowd noise is piped in, and you might just be watching a game where one team has to use a running back or wide receiver as a quarterback because all of the quarterbacks have violated the “protocols.” There’s no certainty about whether games will be played as scheduled, or when they might be rescheduled.

In short, we’ve reached the point where the NFL is kind of like a Las Vegas casino: time and calendar days have no real meaning, and anything might be happening at any moment of the day or night. The NFL’s old mantra about how anything could happen on “any given Sunday” is out the window. From here on out, rescheduled games, featuring unknown players, could be played on any day of the week, and at any hour, in a mad rush to get the season completed. You’ll just have to check your local listings and ESPN app to try to stay on top of things.

Is the quality of the football up to what you would want? Who knows? But you have to step back and admire the weirdness of it all.

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.

Refrigerator Envy

On Thanksgiving, everyone could use a large, empty refrigerator that is about twice its normal size. You know — a refrigerator that is large enough to allow you to retrieve a can of Diet Coke without risking knocking over multiple aluminum-foil covered bowls, serving dishes, and gravy boats that have been carefully stacked and balanced to consume every square inch of scarce refrigerator space?

Why can’t somebody invent an expandable refrigerator that you could use for the holidays? Like dining room table manufacturers did years ago, when they figured out that you could design tables to be extended so as to include an extra leaf or two when needed? Ideally, the expandable holiday refrigerator would include a special pie storage area, a beer bottle rack that would project out when the door is opened, and an extra large storage area to carefully secure all of the leftover turkey that will be used over the coming week.

When The Kids Come Home

We’re pretty excited in the Webner household today. Tonight — the airlines, coronavirus pandemic, and any federal, state, and local authorities who want to have their say willing — we’ll have Richard, Julianne and Russell under our roof with us for the first time in a year, since Thanksgiving weekend 2019. And what a year it has been!

It’s kind of hard to describe what a happy — elated, really — feeling it is to see your kids in person after a long absence. Video conferences and phone calls and following Twitter feeds are fine, but there’s nothing like actually sitting in the same room with your grown children, rediscovering how they look since the last time you saw them, observing them interact with each other, and engaging in the kind of idle chatter that allows you to really catch up with how their lives are going. You want to see first hand how they look and how they sound and how they act. I’m looking forward to the walks and card games and kitchen and dinner table conversations where there is no specific agenda and the discussions can wander into whatever random areas might enter into the conversational flow. Those are simple, but real, pleasures.

For us, as I suspect is the case for most long-distance parents, the urge to see your kids face-to-face is heightened when a global pandemic rages and has ruined prior efforts to get together. In our case, COVID-19 wrecked multiple prior planned visits over the past year, and I know that it has affected the plans of some families that were hoping to reunite for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. We’re hoping the stars align for us this time.

And if they do, tomorrow we’ll all gather around the dinner table, welcome UJ to join us, pass around the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes, celebrate a classically American holiday, and simply enjoy each other’s company. We can’t wait!

Playing In A Pandemic

Yesterday, the Ohio State Buckeyes beat in the Indiana Hoosiers in a matchup of two top ten teams. It was an entertaining game, we learned that Justin Fields is in fact a human being, and the Buckeyes hung on to win, 42-35, and remain undefeated. As is always the case with Ohio State, some fans were dissatisfied that the Buckeyes didn’t win by a larger margin.

After the game, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day — pictured above in masked mode — commented that people don’t understand the sacrifices these college students have made in order to play football games in the midst of a global pandemic. He was not offering the comment as an excuse, but as an observation — one that people should consider the next time they are thinking about criticizing their team.

In the case of Ohio State, virtually everything we associate with the team and the game and the whole Ohio State experience isn’t happening this year. There is no tailgating, no Skull Session, no walk through cheering fans to the Stadium, no ramp entrance, or Script Ohio, or band, or tumbling cheerleaders. Games are being played in an empty Stadium, with piped-in noise. It’s a dramatically different, and decidedly less energetic, environment, and it’s got to have an impact on the players.

But that’s only the gameday tip of the iceberg. For the players, there’s the isolation from the rest of the student body, in hopes of avoiding infection. There’s the monitoring of symptoms and periodic testing. There’s the uncertainty of whether or not the upcoming game will be played or cancelled because the other team has COVID issues — which has already happened once this season. And many, perhaps most, of the players and coaches have family members and friends who may be sick, and perhaps seriously ill, with the coronavirus at any given point in time. It’s not exactly an ideal environment for intense focus on the upcoming athletic contest. And when gameday arrives, and the experience is so utterly different, the point that this is a surreal time has to be driven home, again. The difficulties no doubt help to explain why some traditional powers, like Penn State and Michigan and Michigan State, are struggling this year.

I’m grateful that the Buckeyes are playing football, because we could all use a diversion, and there’s nothing like sports to provide it — even if the games are stripped of the “color and pageantry” we have come to know so well. But I’m also going to try to stay appreciative of the sacrifices of the players and coaches, on both teams, as I watch the games. They are undergoing pressures and difficulties most of us can’t even fathom.

Broken Circle

Suspensions, the exhibition of sculptures by Jerzy Jotka Kedziora at Schiller Park, was supposed to end in March 2020 — about the time the coronavirus turned our little corner of the world upside down. Whether it is due to COVID-19 issues or because people like me just enjoy them, the exhibition has been extended and the hanging sculptures are still there to be appreciated.

The sculpture above has attracted a lot of attention from passersby who have noticed that the strap on the one ring is unattached and are worried the sculpture needs repair. But that’s actually the whole point of this piece, which is called Broken Circle. The Friends of Schiller Park, which sponsored this exhibition, received so many inquiries about the sculpture they put up a sign with the artist’s explanation of the piece: “With one wheel severed, the gymnast is able to maintain the hard-to-explain position. I want viewers to interact with my sculptures, even if it is simply the viewer’s fear that the sculpture may fall.”

I am struck by Kedziora’s notion of the gymnast being “able to maintain the hard-to-explain position.” That seems like a pretty apt description of what many people have done in trying to keep their lives, and their family’s lives, in order in the face of a pandemic and the other issues that have made 2020 such a surreal year. If you’re one of the Moms, Dads, helping out grandmothers or grandfathers, stay-at-home workers, remote schoolers, masked health care workers, or countless other people who have been able to “maintain the hard-to-explain position” in the face of a broken circle and innumerable daily challenges, I salute you. Like the gymnast, you’ve survived the impossible.

It’s interesting how changes in the world can affect your impression of art, and vice versa.

Wanted: COVID Concierge

Back in the days when we regularly used hotels, the concierge desk sure could come in handy. If you were in a faraway city and needed directions, recommendations about restaurants or sightseeing opportunities, or reservations, the concierge desk was the place to go. In fact, the good people staffing the concierge desk seemed to know everything you might need to know about the city you were visiting.

We all could use a “COVID Concierge” these days.

We’re at the point in this pandemic, and in the governmental responses to the pandemic, where the rules being applied are becoming a bit overwhelming and hard to process. In Columbus, for example, we’re currently subject to a curfew and regulations imposed by the State of Ohio, plus a stay at home order issued by the county government — and for all I know, the City of Columbus has added an additional layer of regulation. The average person confronts a lot of questions as they go about their lives. How do you know for sure if you’re permitted to walk the dog at 6:23 a.m.? Can you visit your elderly relative at a nursing home, and if so, how? What’s the latest development concerning in-school and stay-at-home learning in your child’s school system?

And if you want to take a trip somewhere — hey, a fellow can dream, can’t he? — you’ll have to figure out the state, county, and local rules and regulations that apply to travelers at your destination, the rules and regulations for any states where you will be spending the night on your journey, and the rules and regulations of your home state and home town that will apply upon your return. Do you need to be tested to enter the state? If so, what documentation must you carry? Has your home state been put on a restricted list by the state of your destination? Will you be required to quarantine for a time period upon your arrival, or upon your return? What are the masking and social distancing requirements at your place of destination? How many gallons of hand sanitizer do your need to bring? And all of these rules can and do change, from day to day, so you need to stay up to the minute on it all.

That’s where the COVID Concierge comes in. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a COVID Concierge to help you navigate through the welter of different regulations and directives, tell you precisely what test you need to take and what documentation will be required, and make the reservation for you? And if you’re looking for a place to vacation because you just can’t stand the thought of being cooped up in your house for another day, the COVID Concierge would be a ready source of information and recommendations about which states would be the most painless to visit right now.

This is a sure-fire business plan in today’s environment. But I am offering it to the public, free of charge, so that anyone can put it into effect and set up their own COVID Concierge service. Just promise to send me the COVID Concierge phone number, will you?

The Virus That Wouldn’t Go Away

The coronavirus continues to rage through Ohio, as it is in other states. The Buckeye State has experienced a significant spike in cases, but it is not alone; cases seem to be on the rise everywhere, causing all kinds of cancellations and maximizing the uncertainty we’ve all been dealing with during 2020. If you were looking forward to watching the Ohio State-Maryland football game on Saturday afternoon, for example, you’d better make new plans: the game has been cancelled due to a spike in positive COVID tests in the Maryland program.

Ohio’s Governor Mike DeWine addressed the latest coronavirus developments yesterday. He said that, thanks to the increase in cases, we are at a new, “crucial phase” in the pandemic — the latest “crucial phase” in a year full of “crucial phases” — and detailed some changes in the Ohio mask-wearing rules to address apparent slippage in mask-wearing by some businesses and the general public. He announced that he will be issuing orders that public gatherings must be limited to 10 people or less, that “open congregate” areas at weddings and funerals must be closed, and that dancing and playing games will be banned. And he added that, if the current trend lines continue, in a week he may need to order the closure of fitness centers, restaurants, and bars — again.

The Governor recognized that people are tired of all of this, and many are discouraged. He urged people who have relaxed their approach to coronavirus prevention to get “back to the basics” of vigorous hand-washing and mask-wearing. (In our little corner of Columbus, I haven’t noticed any slippage in mask-wearing and social distancing among people who are out and about, nor in our Friday night visits to restaurants over the past few weeks.)

Let’s face it: whether we’ve tested positive for COVID-19 or not, we’ve all got a serious case of coronavirus fatigue. The virus won’t go away, we’ve lurched from one “crucial phase” to another, and the efforts we’ve taken haven’t prevented additional spikes in positive tests. There’s a nagging sense that we’re all going to have to live with these conditions for the foreseeable future — and that’s where the possibility of another bar and restaurant closure order becomes so dispiriting. Much as I think our home cooking has improved, and much as we have adhered to social distancing and remote work concepts, it’s nice to have the option of going to a restaurant, experiencing a change of scenery, and eating food that you haven’t cooked yourself as a kind of safety valve to break up the monotonous sameness.

Perhaps we’ll get a vaccine that changes this grim paradigm, or perhaps it will end when so many people get infected that we reach the “herd immunity” point that some public health experts talk about. Until then, the big challenge is to keep going, accept the uncertainty, and recognize that, one way or another, this bleak period is going to end at some unknown point in the future. It’s not a very encouraging message, but sometimes that how the real world works.

Jinxing The Year

Lots of people were pretty happy with the election results. Add in some apparent good news on progress toward a coronavirus vaccine, and there are many who have been in a celebratory mood lately. Social media has been littered with photos and video footage of sparkling champagne bubbling away in delicate flutes, ready to be quaffed as part of the party.

Speaking as a Cleveland sports fan, these displays of happiness, glee, enthusiasm, and even confidence for the future are causing me enormous concern about jinxing. 2020 has been an unbelievably difficult and punitive year so far, which suggests that the fates controlling the year are like the fickle and perverse gods of Greek and Nordic myth. My Cleveland sports history means I know all too well what happens when such capricious gods feel taunted or tempted by premature human displays of hope or optimism: that’s precisely when the gods will take steps to crush your soul and send it hurtling into the black pits of despair. Having already steered a pandemic and toilet paper shortages our way, the 2020 gods are clearly capable of just about anything that will further toy with the lives of puny humans.

I’m not saying this is definitely going to happen if the celebrations continue, of course — but it being 2020, why take a chance? Better to remain meek and humble so as not to tantalize the gods with another chance to toss a few more thunderbolts and chuckle at the resulting misery. Better to wait on the celebration until 2021 actually gets here — if that ever happens.

Fighting The Good Fight

Two people I know pretty well were candidates in last Tuesday’s general election. Both were motivated primarily by noble desires to serve the public in the judicial branch of our government. One of them won, and will be a great addition to the state court bench in Ohio. The other, regrettably, did not — but she fought the good fight. She was a great candidate who worked tirelessly and cheerfully and did everything that successful contenders must do.

As the 2020 election recedes into the distance, I’d like to focus for a moment on those candidates who fought the good fight. All of us have tasted the bitter dregs of defeat at some point in our lives, in an athletic contest, a spelling bee, a talent show, or a competition for the heart of another. We all know that losing really hurts. I cannot imagine, however, how it must feel to lose an election, after devoting countless hours to fundraising, campaign events, and — it being 2020 — awkward Zoom calls. Even worse, politics being what it is these days, the losing candidate often has also been the subject of demonization and the most negative advertising you can imagine. It takes a lot of guts and fortitude to run for any office — whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian, the Green Party, or the marijuana parties that appeared on some state ballots this year. Most of us, myself included, would never dream of doing so.

We all need to remember that our republic would not work if at least two candidates did not summon up the gumption to run for the office in question. On our ballot this year, there were a handful of uncontested races — and that’s too bad. Campaigns serve a crucial purpose. They help to frame the issues, they give us information about the contenders for the office, and the positions staked out by the candidates often increase public awareness of the issues and the duties performed by the office itself.

So, here’s to those candidates who fought the good fight. We appreciate your personal sacrifice and your commitment to public service. Our system couldn’t do it without you.

A Future Without Polling

The American people may be politically divided, and the emerging 2020 election results certainly reflect that reality. But I suspect we all could agree on one thing: pollsters who were trying to take the temperature of the American voter during this election cycle didn’t exactly cover themselves with glory. To the contrary, the polls were remarkably, and dramatically, inaccurate predictors of the actual results.

This year, virtually every pollster produced results that diverged from reality by percentages that far exceeded the “margin of error.” Florida, which was one of the most highly sampled states in the country, provides a good example of the phenomenon. The final pre-election polls, by respected pollsters, predicted that Joe Biden would win the presidential election by between four and six points, and the final results had President Trump winning by about three and a half points. That means the polls that were announced with great fanfare and breathlessly discussed by talking heads on news shows were off by between eight and ten percentage points. And Florida is not alone. Across the country, in the presidential, Senate, and House races, the vast majority of the polls were simply wrong.

Why were the 2020 polls so wrong — even after pollsters vowed that they had learned their lessons and tweaked their procedures in the wake of 2016, when polls also were demonstrably inaccurate? People have come up with a lot of theories. Maybe the pollsters aren’t very adept at predicting who is actually going to cast their ballot and are sampling the wrong populations. Maybe the polling questions reflect intrinsic bias. Maybe there are “shy” voters out there who don’t want to admit who they really support. And maybe people don’t like having their days interrupted by intrusive pollsters, and are increasingly likely to lie about their true intentions and feelings as part of an effort to consciously mislead the pollsters. Or maybe, just maybe, the notion that polling can be viewed as reasonably “scientific “ is a charade, and we should just accept that trying to detect and predict political currents in a country as broad and diverse as the United States is a fool’s errand.

I personally think we’d all be better off if there were no publicly announced polling. Polls don’t advance the national discourse, and they have made journalists into lazy, incurious creatures who don’t venture outside to actually talk to real people or cover real issues. If reporters spent less time trying to analyze inaccurate polls, they’d have more time to actually do their jobs. And if there is any chance that poll results cause certain voters not to exercise their franchise — either because the polls show their candidates to be far ahead or far behind — eliminating polls would eliminate that vote-suppression factor. We can also, I think, agree on the proposition that anything that suppresses voting is not to be encouraged.

I hope people remember the inaccuracy of polls when the next election rolls around, but I also hope the news media does some soul-searching about how it covers poll results. This election cycle demonstrates that poll results aren’t really news in any meaningful sense, and shouldn’t be reported as such. When polls are off by double or triple the claimed margin of error, they are little more than speculation, and not much more credible or informative than reporting on the armchair predictions of your relatives and friends. A case can now be made that, if the news media really wants to stick to reporting news, it won’t report on poll results at all.

The Turnout’s Tale

After a wait that seems like it has lasted forever, Election Day 2020 is finally here. Of course, we’re all interested in what the result of the presidential election will be — and also when we will know for sure. And of course, there are important Senate, House, state, and local offices to be decided, too.

I’m interested, though, in another result: what the overall turnout will be. According to the United States Election Project data, total U.S. turnout for the 2016 general election was about 60 percent of eligible voters; Ohio voters hit 64.2 percent. (You can see the data and state-by-state results here.) Sixty percent participation by eligible voters is pretty embarrassing. This year, we’ve been regularly reminded of the importance of voting by professional sports leagues, Google, every form of social media, and many companies’ TV commercials. In this election, which has easily been the most contentious election that has been held during my adult lifetime, will we do better at exercising one of our most important rights, and duties, as citizens in a republic?

Of course, this election comes in the midst of a pandemic — but voting absentee, and early voting, has never been easier. Many of our friends and colleagues went the early voting route, and by all accounts the experience was painless. If you’re on Facebook, no doubt you’ve seen pictures of your early-voting friends, wearing their masks and sporting their “I voted” stickers. They are not alone. According to CNN, early voting this year smashed all records. Officials believe the total number of early voting Americans will hit 100 million — which is more than two thirds of the 138 million people who voted in 2016.

We’ll be going the traditional route today, and voting in person on Election Day. It’s an experience that I always find humbling, and rewarding. Normally I vote first thing in the morning, before heading to the office, and usually there are long lines. Since I’m working from home today we’ll probably head over to our voting place later in the morning. I’m hoping to see lots of my fellow voters there, and keeping my fingers crossed that, as a country, we’ll hit much higher voter participation rates in 2020 than we did in 2016.

This election has been almost unbearably bitter and divisive, but if all of the rancor has spurred more people to vote, at least something good will have come from it.

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?

Tab Stab

Coca-Cola recently announced that it will stop making Tab diet soda. Coke also announced that it will stop making “ZICO Coconut Water,” “Coca-Cola Life,” and “Odwalla,” none of which I’d ever heard of, much less tasted. But Tab? Tab hits home.

Hearing that Tab is being discontinued is kind of like hearing news of the death of an Hollywood star from long ago who you assumed had died long ago. You feel sad but also somewhat surprised that the person was still around. Not having had a Tab in decades, I assumed that it had gone to the great soft drink graveyard in the sky long ago.

Tab was a staple of the Webner household when I was growing up. Tab was the first diet drink introduced by Coca-Cola, and the first food item of any kind that I remember seeing advertised as a “diet” option. Mom fought a long, desperate twilight struggle to keep her weight down, so Tab was a natural item to add to the family refrigerator. With its kicky, quasi-psychedelic logo and flourescent can, Tab was very much a product of the ’60s. It was made the saccharine as the sugar substitute and became enormously popular in the ’70s, when dieting really took off, but then faded away find after Coke introduced Diet Coke and began pushing that beverage in lieu of Tab.

I’ve quaffed a Tab or two in my lifetime, the most recent time probably being while playing Pong on the Atari system we had in the family room of our split-level house, and I recall it as having a distinctive, almost peculiar taste. Not bad, necessarily, or good, either, for that matter, just . . . distinctive. You got used to it, and some people got almost addicted to it. Tab had its devoted fans who kept the brand alive when most people had forgotten it and it accounted for a tiny fraction of Coke’s total beverage sales. I knew one person who kept cases of Tab in his office and drank one with every lunch, which incidentally consisted of the same sandwich from Subway.

People who crave that unique Tab flavor are very sad these days, and are probably scrambling to use the internet to buy up as much of the product as they can in order to build up a lifetime supply. For the rest of us who lived with Tab long ago, we give a wistful salute to another childhood product that we will see no more.