Post-Pie Remorse

After a terrific Thanksgiving, with lots of family time, football, food, amber ale, thorough analysis of The Game, and a few friendly hands of euchre, today I’m dealing with the traditional bout of post-Thanksgiving remorse. Specifically, I’m feeling guilty that, when we returned home last night, I was unable to resist scarfing down a piece of pumpkin pie, followed immediately by a piece of pecan pie.

At that point, sated by my late-night pie intake, I went to bed and slept soundly. But the morning’s light always seems to bring second thoughts, and there is no doubt that the two-piece-of-pie nightcap drove my overall caloric intake into the red zone, setting the stage for the equally traditional winter weight gain that typically occurs over the next few months.

But this year, I vow to resist the norm. There was only one response, therefore, to my post-pie guilt: leash up Betty and take a few laps around Schiller Park on a cold, gray morning with snowflakes drifting down, hoping that the prompt walkabout will burn the calories before they find the waistline.

In reality, if I hope to make a meaningful dent in yesterday’s calorie count, multiple walks will be in my future, and maybe a short jog, too.

Cherry Pie (And Other Odd Family Thanksgiving Traditions)

Yesterday at lunch, the Bus-Riding Conservative, JV and I got to talking about the Thanksgiving family meals we enjoyed as a kid. Thanksgiving is one of the most tradition-bound celebrations in the pantheon of American holidays, and you could tell that everyone participating in the conversation was enjoying their memories about their particular Thanksgiving family food rituals.

Until, that is, both the BRC and JV shocked me by saying that it was traditional for them to have cherry pie as part of the Thanksgiving meal. That really stopped me cold. Pumpkin pie? Obviously! Pecan pie? Of course! Apple pie, or mincemeat pie? A bit on the edge perhaps, but . . . acceptable. But cherry pie? Cherry? Shouldn’t the only red fruit served on Thanksgiving be cranberry?

Then I realized that I was being unfair and improperly judgmental. The strength of America lies in our diversity, and our willingness to embrace and value differences–even if it involves something as basic and beloved as Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t particularly care for cherry pie. In fact, I find it rather cloying and would never voluntarily order it. But I’ll defend to the death some family’s right to install it as a treasured Thanksgiving family tradition. And upon reflection, I’m sure that some of our family traditions, like the cranberry relish plopped out directly from the can so that it can be sliced with a knife with only a sprig of parsley as a garnish, might strike others as a bit odd.

So let those special Thanksgiving traditions run free! Jello molds with embedded grapes? Hell, yes! Tofurkey? Why not! Squid on a stick for an appetizer to go with the early football game? It’s just another thing to be thankful for.

Waiting On The Winds

Some things seem to take forever . . . but nothing seems to take as long as the release of the next book in the A Song Of Ice And Fire series, on which the Game of Thrones TV show was based. Called The Winds Of Winter, its release date has been repeatedly delayed.

Multiple presidential elections have come and gone. The HBO series hit the pinnacle of popularity and ended. Pandemics have swept the face of the globe. And still A Song Of Ice And Fire readers wait, and wait, and wait — like the poor unfortunates who are trying to get out of Africa that the narrator describes at the beginning of Casablanca.

Author George R.R. Martin has taken progressively longer to release the next volume in the series. The first book was published in 1996 (that’s 25 years ago, but who’s counting?), the second in 1998, the third in 2000, the fourth in 2005, and the fifth in 2011. In short, fans of the series have been waiting for a full decade for the next book. We’ve been waiting so long, in fact, that I’ve written before–six years ago–about the delayed publication date, and we don’t seem to be any closer to an actual release of the book. And The Winds Of Winter isn’t even the last book in the series!

Why do fans care about this? After all, some would point out, the HBO series told us how the story ends. But the books are much richer in detail in their description of Westeros and its inhabitants and their culture, with important characters who never even made it on the TV show screen. And while I’m not as negative as some are about the ending of the HBO series, I’d like to see how the creator of this compelling world wraps up the story. Of course, I’ll have to go back and reread the prior books when The Winds Of Winter comes out, just to make sure that I am fully recalling all of the different plot threads.

So, when is the next book coming out? No one but Martin really knows, but the speculation is that it will hit the bookstores in November 2023–a mere two years away. Having waited for a decade, I guess I can endure another two years.

Or three, or four . . . .

Caught On Morton’s Fork

We’ve all had to make decisions in circumstances where we’ve got no good options. We’re confronted by a true dilemma, weighing the frying pan versus the fire, and stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place, with no good way out. Philosophers might describe the situation as Morton’s Fork: a choice between two equally unpleasant alternatives.

As the article linked above explains, that name “comes from the tax-collecting practices of John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor under Henry VII. He reasoned that anyone who was living extravagantly was rich, and so could afford high taxes, whereas anyone who was living frugally had saved a lot, and so could afford high taxes.”  In other words, you’ve got to pay the tax man, no matter how you decide to live your life. (Morton’s stated philosophy suggests that the views of tax collectors haven’t changed much since the days of Henry VII, incidentally.)

A man in Brazil was faced with Morton’s Fork and put in a no-win situation recently while fishing on a lake with friends. The fishermen were attacked by a swarm of bees in their boat. And while normally the option of jumping into the lake to avoid being repeatedly stung by bees would be a good one, unfortunately this particular lake was home to piranha–those flesh-eating fish whose frenzied feeding can quickly strip a cow or a human to the bone.

So what did the guy do? He jumped in the lake to avoid the bees and was eaten by piranha. It’s not clear whether the eating occurred before or after he drowned–which would have been another unpleasant tine on Morton’s fork.

Sometimes life comes at you fast.

The Great Theme Song Dispute

Recently I was embroiled in an earth-shakingly important discussion. The topic was which TV show theme song was better: The Beverly Hillbillies or Gilligan’s Island? We weren’t debating whether they were the best theme songs in TV history. (That exalted designation must certainly be reserved for the theme song to Mission: Impossible.) Instead, we were engaged in a careful comparative analysis of these two theme songs, both of which tell a story that sets the context for the TV show itself.

I would have thought that this was an easy call. In my view, the uplifting tale of a happy, hard-working rustic who discovers oil on his property thanks to an errant rifle shot at some furry woodlands creature and then moves to Beverly Hills–all told to the accompaniment of some rollicking pickin’ music–is clearly superior to the improbable story of seven passengers on a boat who, thanks to an undetected storm, find themselves cast away on an unknown island within boat ride distance from southern California. But to my astonishment, other participants in the conversation, after giving the matter the serious consideration it deserves, voted for the Gilligan’s Island theme over The Beverly Hillbillies.

That conclusion is just wrong on many levels, so let’s set the record straight. The Beverly Hillbillies music–The Ballad of Jed Clampett, performed by Flatt & Scruggs, with its banjo-picking frenzy as the Clampetts drive into Beverly Hills–blows the forgettable Gilligan’s Island tune out of the water. The Ballad of Jed Clampett, which was released in 1962, hit number 1 on the Billboard country music chart, was on the charts for 20 weeks, and even rose to number 44 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island was never released as a single, so far as I can tell. Musically, it’s like arguing about whether the Beatles are better than the Four Freshmen.

And the lyrics for The Beverly Hillbillies are better, too, telling a classically American Horatio Alger-type story in which the “kinfolk” offered supportive advice to the upwardly mobile Clampetts. It includes some great rhymes, too, like “Jed” and “fed” and “food” and “crude.” Gilligan’s Island, on the other hand, featured the annoying repetition of “a three-hour tour” and made clear that the show’s characters were caricatures defined by their circumstances (“the millionaire and his wife,” “the movie star,” and “the rest”) rather than giving us the kind of rich context we learned about the Clampett clan.

And the key test is which song you’re less likely to forget in your dotage. For me, that’s undoubtedly The Ballad of Jed Clampett.

I rest my case.

Pants And Masks

As I’ve mentioned, in Columbus we are still dealing with a mask mandate imposed by our city government. Some places are dealing with the mandate with a welcome dollop of humor. I got a laugh out of this sign on the entrance to Dempsey’s restaurant, across from the Franklin County Courthouse, that equates the discomfort of masks and pants.

It’s true–pants are pretty uncomfortable, especially for those guys hanging around the bar drinking beer.

The Upside Of Masks

The latest City of Columbus mask mandate lingers on as we approach the two-month mark–so much so that people are wondering when the heck it’s finally going to be lifted. As the article linked above reports, even though the rate of cases in Columbus is dropping steadily, and has decreased by more than half since it hit its high point on September 21, we’re not even close to the likely termination date. The Columbus city administration has indicated that Columbus remains a “red”-designated area by the CDC, and the mask order won’t be lifted until the city’s rate falls enough for the CDC to put the area into the “yellow,” or moderate, transmission category for four consecutive weeks.

So, those of us in Columbus will have to deal with the mask mandate for a while longer–even though many other parts of Ohio, which also fall into the “red” category, are ignoring the CDC’s guidance and cavorting in buildings and bars without a mask to be seen.

But enough with the complaining! It’s time to see the benefits of masks, besides whatever effect they may have on transmission of COVID-19. I thought about this recently when I was in a masked meeting and couldn’t fully stifle a yawn–and then realized that, thanks to the mask, no one could see it and conclude that I was rude or bored, or both. For that one moment, at least, I was grateful for the mask.

I’m sure there are other positive aspects of mask-wearing, besides disguising cavernous yawns. During my pimply-faced, metalmouth adolescent years, I probably would have been relieved to wear a mask that would cover the latest skin eruptions and unsightly braces or the pathetic, wispy moustache I was trying to grow. And, if you think about it, masks also allow you to cover up reactions other than yawns. How may mask-wearers have responded to a colleague by sticking out their tongues, blowing a raspberry, or engaging in some other satisfying mouth-oriented expression behind the safe covering of a mask? And masks also can serve as facial banners that allow you to advertise your allegiance to a sports team, or offer your colleagues an inspiring “we can get through this together!” message. The sale of masks–as a new product that no one bought before–probably have had a positive impact on the economy, too.

Still, I’ll be quite happy when the mask mandate finally ends, and I can walk to the coffee station to get a cup without masking up.

Napkin Shrinkage

Yesterday JV, the Bus-Riding Conservative and I walked down to the North Market, passed the Veterans’ Day parade, and headed to Hot Chicken Takeover. For those of you not familiar with HCT–which I reviewed on this blog in 2015–it offers happy diners the opportunity to enjoy highly spiced, incredibly juicy fried chicken.

In such a place, where eagerly anticipate that they will be mopping up fiery chicken juices from hands and face and attempting to shield their clothing from drips and stains, adequate napkin supplies are essential. And yet, Hot Chicken Takeover–like most other restaurants that fall below the cloth napkin line these days–provides only skimpy single-ply napkins like the ones shown above. The napkins are woefully insufficient to provide meaningful lap protection. Even if you carefully try to construct a multiple-napkin lap shield, the napkins will flutter to the ground with the slightest movement or the mere whiff of air caused by a passing patron. And the cheap napkins will quickly become soaked and ripped to shreds if you try to use them for any absorption activity other than a dainty dab at the corner of the mouth. By the end of the meal we had assembled an impressive pile of damp, mangled napkins that we had to clean up and throw away along with our food container.

In short, yesterday we witnessed a total mismatch between napkin and food. And, as noted above, this seems to be an increasingly common, and disturbing, phenomenon in the restaurant business. Gone are the days when restaurants supplied sturdy napkins that could be unfolded to provide useful lap protection, or even tucked into the collar, and then used to clean off hands and mouth. I know those kinds of napkins still exist, because we have them at home. Evidently they are just too expensive, and the zeal for cost-cutting has led restauranteurs to offer clearly inadequate napkins instead. It’s an irritating trend and makes me wonder just how small and flimsy restaurant napkins might get.

Stop napkin shrinkage. Bring back adequate napkins!

The Golden Age Of Dog Food

We’re watching Russell’s dog Betty while Russell heads down south for the wedding of some friends. Over the last few days, I’ve been responsible for serving Betty her evening and morning meals, which has caused me to pay careful attention to her dog food.

It’s no wonder that Betty wolfs down her food with voracious speed as soon as the dog bowl hits the floor of the pantry. She’s getting some pretty high-end chow here. Her cans of Pedigree state that they are made with real beef, and some include “filet mignon flavor.” And her Fromm brand food is labeled as “grain free” pate–chicken pate, to be precise. To add to the sophisticated air of the Fromm offering, the Fromm can labels include disclosures in both English and French.

In case you’re interested, Betty’s “dog food” in French is “pate de poulet nourriture pour chiens” that is “sans cereales.” It even sounds classier, doesn’t it? I’m surprised Betty doesn’t request a cloth napkin and a candlelit place setting before she sticks her head into the bowl and starts gobbling it.

We’re clearly not alone in the tony dog food department When you walk around German Village and notice deliveries on doorsteps, pet-related boxes tend to dominate, and since GV clearly is dog territory, many of the packages contain dog food. Chewy.com seems to be a popular on-line venue for dog food, and it offers a huge array of different brands that include contents like “big Texas steak,” salmon, and chicken. That’s pretty tempting stuff for Fido.

We may be living through tough times for humans, but it’s a golden age for dogs.

An Old Crab

From time to time–typically after I’ve made a curmudgeonly comment about some regrettable modern development–I’ve been accused of being an “old crab.” A recently announced scientific discovery allows me to respond that if such naysayers want to see a really old crab, they need look no farther than the ancient crab, pictured above, that was discovered trapped in amber.

It’s an old crab, for sure. In fact, it’s 100 million years old, which means that this little guy was scuttling around during the Cretaceous period, while dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, when he had the misfortune of becoming trapped in tree resin that later became amber. The crab, called Cretapsara athanata, is the oldest modern-looking crab and the most complete fossil crab ever discovered.

The remarkable specimen is so complete that scientists could examine the crab’s entire body, including delicate tissues, like the antennae and mouthparts lined with fine hairs. And when they examined the crab, researchers got a surprise: they discovered the animal also had gills, but no lungs. That indicates that Cretapsara athanata lived an aquatic or semi-aquatic life, which makes the specimen even rarer, because most fossilized crabs are land or tree-dwelling crabs.

And if you are ever called an “old crab,” bear in mind that there are many things to admire about crabs as a species. As the article linked above points out: “True crabs, or Brachyura, are an iconic group of crustaceans whose remarkable diversity of forms, species richness, and economic importance have inspired celebrations and festivals worldwide. They’ve even earned a special role in the pantheon of social media. True crabs are found all around the world, from the depths of the oceans, to coral reefs, beaches, rivers, caves, and even in trees as true crabs are among the few animal groups that have conquered land and freshwater multiple times.”

So there!

Beer And Cheese

I enjoy a meal of beer and cheese every now and then. And in that regard, I’m part of a long line of human beer-and-cheese fanciers–a line that, as a recent discovery shows, dates back thousands of years.

A study published in Modern Biology focused on well-preserved human droppings found in salt mines near Hallstatt, Austria–salt mines that have been existed for thousands of years. People who worked deep in the salt mines over the millennia took their food to work, and they weren’t shy about answering the call of nature in the mines rather than journeying back to the surface. The dehydrating salt in the soil had the effect of turning the solid human waste deposits from days of yore into desiccated samples (non-smelly, the article linked above daintily points out) that have their biomolecules still intact. That means scientists can analyze the dried-out dung to see what the humans were eating over the years.

Ah, the romance of science!

The study of the fecal remains from the Iron Age, 2,700 years ago, showed traces of brewers’ yeast–the kind that produces traditional beers like pale ales. The paleofeces also showed lots of whole grains and fibers, as well as traces of blue cheese. And the study’s authors note that the ancient working man’s diet produced healthier, and more biodiverse, gut microbes for the ancient salt miners than are seen in most modern humans because none of the food was processed.

So there you have it: beer, bread, and cheese have a long history and are healthy, to boot. And those of us who still enjoy those long-term human dietary staples, 2,700 years later, get to use modern amenities like bathrooms, too.

Truth, Justice, And A Better Tomorrow

Some people on the conservative end of the political spectrum are pretty upset at DC Comics, which publishes the Superman comic books. They’re miffed that The Man of Steel is changing his motto.

For years, Superman has professed to stand for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” Many of us know this because we watched reruns of the ’50s Adventures of Superman TV show on UHF channels when we were growing up. We remember the introduction to the series, shown above, where a serious sounding narrator, after noting that Supes was faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive, informed us that he fought for truth, justice, and the American Way while the actor playing Superman sucked in his gut and the American flag waved in the background.

DC Comics says it is changing Superman’s motto to “truth, justice, and a better tomorrow” to reflect a broader, more global vision for Supes’ world. You can tell it’s a conscious effort to update the comic book hero to modern norms, because the article linked above quotes DC Comics’ “chief creative officer” as saying, without evident concern for exaggeration: “Superman has long been a symbol of hope who inspires people, and it is that optimism and hope that powers him forward with this new mission statement.”

That’s right: Superman now has a “mission statement.”

The kerfuffle about The Man of Steel’s motto is another great contrived point of contention for “commentators” to argue about, but even as manufactured media controversies go it’s pretty thin gruel. There’s nothing inherently wrong with punching out bad guys or reversing the rotation of the Earth to try to bring about “a better tomorrow,” and it’s not like standing for “the American Way” has any well-defined, specific meaning these days. Does it mean supporting the freedoms enumerated in Bill of Rights, or the ability to eat snack foods while sitting on your couch and binge-watching the latest hot Netflix series, or something else?

I’m perfectly content to let comic book characters change with the times. And if Superman wants to update the part about being faster than a speeding bullet, because that image is too triggering for the current generation, and more powerful than a locomotive, because nobody thinks of locomotives as especially powerful these days, I’m fine with that, too.

Unexpected Consequences Of Remote Work

The prevalence of remote work has changed a lot of things in our world. From traffic patterns during rush hour to restaurant usage in downtown areas to what people are regularly wearing from the waist down that can’t be seen on Zoom or Teams calls, the reality of many people working from home has reordered our lives in more ways than we can list.

Here’s another change that you might not have considered yet: what are you going to do with that inevitable cache of leftover Halloween candy? You know, the excess that was created because you don’t want to be caught in the dreaded predicament of being the only house on the block to run out of candy while Beggars’ Night is still going strong, so you bought an extra bag or two of “snack size” candy bars and little boxes of Milk Duds?

In the pre-pandemic world, the solution to disposition of the excess Halloween candy was easy and obvious: because you didn’t want to keep the tempting little goodies in the house for fear that you would fall into a chocolate consumption frenzy, you took the leftovers to the office. Once your supply of candy was placed in a bowl next to the coffee machine, you could be confident that the candy would be fully and happily consumed by anonymous officemates within hours, if not minutes.

But with remote work, those rapacious hordes aren’t at the office every day anymore, and the office coffee station isn’t the hub of frantic consumption that it was in days of yore. You’re not going to be able to rely on “taking it to the office” to get rid of that leftover candy, unless the federal government declares an emergency and orders everyone to return to their offices for National Candy Consumption Day on the Monday after the Halloween weekend, to assist in the Snickers and Reese’s and SweeTarts disposition effort.

Give it some thought before you go out to buy your trick or treat candy this year and come up with your preferred approach. Do you buy less, to avoid any excess? Or do you follow your standard “avoid a shortfall” overbuying approach, and figure out an alternative method of getting rid of the leftover trove? Or do you head in an entirely different direction, disavow candy altogether, and offer trick-or-treaters those unappealing “healthy snacks” that nagging health authorities have been trying to get us to hand out for years, on the theory that while the kids clearly won’t like them, at least they won’t tempt you, either?

Welcome to the remote work world.

Rabbits Underfoot

A few months ago, on one of my morning walks, a rabbit hopped across the sidewalk as I was approaching and disappeared into the shrubbery surrounding a flower garden. “Good morning, Mr. Bun,” I said, drawing upon Calvin and Hobbes terminology. I saw another rabbit, or perhaps the same one, on a walk about a month later, and occasionally spotted Mr. Bun on later walks, too.

But on a recent walk when I saw what appeared to be Mr. Bun, I noticed another Mr. Bun, and another, and another, and another. There were a total of five rabbits in close proximity, and I realized that one of them probably had to be Ms. Bun. A single rabbit might be cute, but when you see five rabbits hopping along together you realize that the rabbits are probably starting to breed . . . well, like rabbits. And when rabbits put their minds to it, they can be pretty prolific.

It’s the kind of concern that caused Australia to build its famous “rabbit-proof fence” to try to keep rabbits that had spread across the eastern part of the country from devastating the farms of western Australia. We’ve got a rabbit-proof fence of sorts, in the form of a sturdy, solid wooden barrier, around our backyard, and I don’t grow any vegetables, anyway. But I’m going to keep my eye on the rabbit population, and tell-tale signs of rabbit munching on the gardens and plants in the neighborhood. With no natural predators in the vicinity, except passing cars, it’s not hard to see the rabbit population growing exponentially, until German Village is hip deep in cute furry creatures.

Defending America’s “Town Of Motels”

Is Breezewood, Pennsylvania getting a bum rap? The little town off an exit ramp of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, where travelers pass a half mile of motels, truck stops, gas stations, and souvenir stands before connecting to the highway that takes them toward Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, has become a social media meme through the above photo. In the meme, Breezewood is presented as ugly, chaotic, and loud–a prime example of tackiness and American wretched excess.

That photo doesn’t exactly depict a garden spot. But now Breezewood’s defenders have risen to respond to the harsh criticism–as in this article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The defenders argue that the sneering dismissals of Breezewood reflect a cultural snobbishness about seeing the exposed machinery of American life: the gas stations that must exist to power American car culture, the hotels that are needed to house travelers that are the mainstay of the American tourism business, and the assorted rest stops and restaurants that service the needs of those travelers. And, of course, all of those businesses shown in that photo provide people with gainful jobs, and have allowed Breezewood to continue to exist when other American small towns have withered and died.

My own memories of Breezewood are different from the contemptuous prevailing meme, too. When UJ and I were kids Grandma and Grandpa Neal used to take us on driving trips from Akron, Ohio to spots on the east coast, like Washington, D.C. or the Jersey shore. We would climb into the back seat of Grandpa’s Oldsmobile 98, try not to fidget while he carefully navigated the car along the growing network of American highways, always obeying the speed limit, and wait until we reached Breezewood where we would stop for the night at a Holiday Inn close to the Turnpike exit ramp. In those days, a sign announced Breezewood as the “town of motels,” and we were always glad when we saw that sign because it meant we could get out of the car, go for a swim in the hotel pool, eat dinner, and visit Crawford’s Museum next door to the hotel–a “museum” of stuffed animals and curiosities that was basically designed to stir the imaginations of a young kid. The next day we would wake up, have breakfast, and continue our leisurely journey.

In short, I liked Breezewood and have fond memories of it. I’m glad there is pushback against the Breezewood meme. It shows that reality is always more complex and nuanced than a photo and a few words that convey a smirking putdown.