My Chopping Block

We’ve all been doing a lot of cooking at home during the last year or so, and I’m no exception. I’ve especially enjoyed making ramen noodle concoctions and stews, and experimenting with different flavors, seasonings, and ingredient combinations. I also like making those dishes because they typically involve some chopping and cutting.

Cutting and chopping are probably my favorite parts of the entire cooking process. For one thing, when it’s time to cut and chop I get to use my handcrafted, now well-scarred cutting board, which makes me feel like a real kitchen professional — even though I’m admittedly not an adroit chopper, and wouldn’t dream of doing the rapid-fire, fingers-at-risk chopping that you see on the cooking shows. For another, it’s just fun to get out a knife and experience the tactile sensations of dicing things up to whatever size you desire, then grandly sweeping them off the board into a simmering pot. Add some good music and you’ve got a nice little cooking experience going.

I particularly like the feel of cutting and chopping onions and potatoes. I’m not sure why, but during this continuing stay-at-home period attacking defenseless plant matter is especially enjoyable.

The Curse Of Obscenity

Yesterday was another frustrating day for Cleveland Browns fans. The Browns went on the road against a very good Kansas City Chiefs team, fought hard to overcome some bad breaks, and mounted a comeback that put them in position to win and make it to the AFC Championship game — but fell just short. Again. The hopes of Browns fans everywhere were raised, only to be dashed. Again.

As the final seconds ticked away, meaning that yet another season has passed without the Browns making it to their elusive first Super Bowl, I felt the frustration well up inside me, and I unleashed a colorful torrent of the crudest imaginable obscenity at the TV set. It was a brutal, uncontrolled, red-faced verbal tirade against the fickle fates and the capricious sports gods that surged out with a vehemence that surprised even me.

I hate it when this happens. It’s embarrassing, and I keep hoping as the decades roll by that I’ve matured to the point where I can rationally accept disappointments that occur in my corner of the sports world without hurling vulgar epithets or screaming like a lunatic, but yesterday shows I’ve still got a lot of work to do in that area. I sometimes wish I never learned about cussing. Knowing obscenities really is a kind of curse.

Temporary Alliances

The world of the sports fan is a world of temporary alliances. It’s like Europe of days gone by, when secret negotiations, confidential ententes, and treaties named after obscure towns could abruptly and unexpectedly tip the balance of power.

For most football fans, on any given game day they will be strongly supporting (1) their favorite team, and (2) whichever random team happens to be playing their favorite team’s hated rival or most challenging future opponent.

Today will provide a good example of this reality. The Cleveland Browns will be taking the field versus the Kansas City Chiefs. I’m guessing that the viewership for the game in Buffalo, New York will be off the charts, with all of the Bills fans rooting hard for the Browns to somehow upset the highly favored Chiefs.

Why? Not because Cleveland and Buffalo are fellow cities on the shores of Lake Erie that once were linked by an eponymously named steamship line, as shown in the picture above. (And the ship that sailed Lake Erie between the two cities was called the SeaandBee. Get it?) No, it’s because the Buffalo Bills throttled the Baltimore Ravens yesterday and will play whichever team wins the Browns-Chiefs tilt. Buffalo fans have got to feel that the Bills have a better chance of beating the Browns than the awesome Chiefs, and if the Browns could prevail over Patrick Mahomes and his offensive fireworks show, the Bills would have a home game against the Browns in Buffalo — with a slot in the Super Bowl at stake.

Put those two considerations together, and you’re not likely to find a more ardent set of fans for the Cleveland Browns in today’s game than the good folks of Buffalo, New York. And if the Browns do somehow find a way to topple the mighty Chiefs, and will be traveling to Buffalo for the AFC championship game next weekend, Bills fans won’t have a second thought about immediately reversing allegiances and hating the Browns with a deadly, all-consuming passion.

Machiavelli would be proud.

Jar Psychology

Are you a jar person, or a non-jar person?

I’m guessing the jar people out there, at least, know well what I’m talking about here. The jar people realize there is intrinsic value in a good jar or other potentially useful former food container. When, say, a peanut butter jar has been emptied of its rich, peanutty goodness, they carefully put the jar and its lid in the dishwasher for cleaning and, when the cycle is done, take the jar and place it is the jar storage cabinet in the kitchen that already holds a random collection of old pasta jars, coffee cans, and plastic storage containers that used to carry lunch meat. Why do jar people do this? Because you never know when you might actually need a good jar, and you don’t want to get caught short.

The non-jar people find this thinking to be baffling and utterly alien. They routinely toss perfectly serviceable jars that have been emptied of their contents into the trash, and if you ask them why they would patiently explain that such jars have fully served their intended purposes. They might also ask, pointedly, whether we really need to keep a supply of jars around when no one can remember the last time we actually needed a jar for any purpose whatsoever. They reason that, if once in a blue moon a storage container is needed, they can just go out and buy one.

This kind of thinking makes the jar people shake their heads in dismay and think of the fable about the industrious ant and the cavalier grasshopper.

It’s just one of the many points of division in this great country of ours. The jar people and the non-jar people just can’t understand each other, and probably never will.

GM’s New Logo

In case you hadn’t noticed, General Motors has redone its logo. It’s still got the letters G and M in it, of course, but instead of the proud, stolid capital letters, the G and the M are presented in lower case form.

Corporations apparently believe that consumers spend huge amounts of time carefully studying corporate logos and brands, reacting to each little feature. In this case, the newest General Motors logo is supposed to show that the company is moving toward electric cars. That’s why the new logo colors include “electric blue,” and the white spaces within the lower case m are supposed to make consumers think of an electric plug. (I would have totally missed that one.) I’m sure the rounded circle and the underline of the m also are supposed to have some deep meaning, too, but I’ve got no idea what.

I would guess that GM, like many companies, spent a lot of money on consultants and spent a lot of time deciding whether to go to the new logo — which, as the article linked above indicates, is getting decidedly mixed reviews. The thing that strikes me most about the new logo is the decision to go from capital letters to lower case. The straightforward capital letters, without stating the full company name, were instantly recognizable as the mark of a corporate colossus whose interests were once equated with the interests of America itself, but those days are long gone. Now, in the years after taxpayers had to bail out the company from some really bad corporate decisions, GM is a shrunken shell of its former self, and with the new logo it’s formally become the e.e. cummings of the American corporate world by going to the understated, meek, and frankly somewhat pathetic lower case mode.

That’s what the new logo conveys to me, but that message is probably not what the consultants and branding experts and logo designers and General Motors management intended.

Counting Down The Moons

Obviously, the Earth’s Moon is pretty great, as moons go. For the broad sweep of human history, this beacon of our night sky has inspired lovers and songwriters and literature, encouraged early humans to develop calendars and create the science of astronomy, influenced the tides of our oceans, and provided a bright light to help illuminate the dark night and early morning hours. For a dead, lifeless celestial body that is pockmarked with craters, that’s a pretty impressive list of achievements.

To the folks at Popular Mechanics, though, our Moon isn’t at the top of the lunar heap. When they decided to sit down and rank the more than 150 moons in the solar system — including ones you’ve probably never heard of, like Epithemius and Janus, which share the same orbit around Saturn, Dactyl, a moon that actually orbits an asteroid rather than a planet, and Mimas, which looks uncomfortably like the Death Star from Star Wars — our Moon didn’t fare very well. In fact, the Moon barely cracks the top ten, coming in at number 8. The Popular Mechanics crew concludes that it’s just not as interesting from a scientific standpoint, or as charismatic, as other moons. In fact, you get the sense from the comments reported in the article that the number 8 slot is actually kind of a pity ranking, given just because the Moon is our moon and we give it a capital M. The Old Man in the Moon has got to be disappointed.

The Moon came in behind Iapetus, Ganymede, Europa, Triton, Enceladus, Io, and the top-rated moon, Titan, which also orbits Saturn. These bodies all have features the Moon lacks, like liquid oceans, actual atmospheres made up of exotic combinations of chemicals, volcanic activity, bright colors, or the possibility of alien life.

OK, I get it: but has anyone ever actually written a song about Enceladus, or Titan?

Born A Buckeye

During football season, the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, only a short distance away from Ohio Stadium on the Ohio State University campus, has a tradition of swaddling newborn babies born at the facility in scarlet wraps that cheer on the hometown Buckeyes before big games. This year, in the days since Ohio State topped Clemson to advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, the infants have been sporting messages that urge the Buckeyes to beat the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The scarlet swaddling is a good way to make sure that these newest members of Buckeye Nation get off to the right start in their sports fandom and gives their parents a great keepsake — and who can disagree with the message? Go Bucks! Roll the Tide!

Random Pens

This morning the pen I was using ran out of ink. I felt around in the pocket of my work satchel and pulled out a fistful of potential replacements, and realized that my bag carries the most random assortment of cheap pens you can imagine.

I’ve got some unbranded pens that I picked up at the supply closet on my floor at the firm, as well as one branded Vorys pen that was sent out by the firm with some fanfare years ago and that I feel like I should save for a special occasion where using the branded pen would be warranted. (I haven’t quite figured out what that special occasion might be, but perhaps I’ll instinctively know it when It arrives.) Then I’ve somehow acquired a pen from a bank, two pens from hotels, and a pen from a tire and auto parts shop. Other than the pens from the firm supply closet, I have no recollection of how I got any of these pens.

I’ve also got some slightly higher quality pens in the mix, but I have no idea how I got them, either. I’m not a pen snob. I can’t justify laying out the money for a high end fountain pen or weighty Cross Bailey with replaceable cartridges, which in my view should be reserved for people with fine handwriting who write important letters on fine stationery. I don’t fall into that category. I’ll use pretty much any pen that is at hand because my handwriting stinks and the only person who is going to read my scribbled notes on legal pads is me.

I carry around more pens than is necessary, but I figure it’s better to be safe than sorry and I don’t want to find that I’m out of pens when I really need one. And in looking at this motley collection of writing instruments, I realize that the pen pocket of my satchel is the workplace equivalent of my sock drawer. For me, at least, the sock drawer ends up being a repository of one-offs that I keep around in hopes of finding the other sock someday. My pen pocket is the same way because you never know when you might really need a cheap pen.

Goodbye to 2020

Bidding a properly heartfelt farewell to 2020 requires the use of language that isn’t suitable for a family blog. This sign on one of the Greenhead Lobster Company buildings in Stonington, Maine admirably captures the sentiment, however.

Trying to usher 2020 out the door without adding a choice obscenity (or 20) is like trying to take a snapshot of an invisible object, or sneeze with your eyes open. So go ahead and give your potty mouth free rein for a few minutes, and let those epithets fly. You’ll feel better — and really, 2020 deserves it.

2,000 Years Of Fast Food

Pompeii — the Roman town that was buried by an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. — continues to tell us some interesting stuff about the everyday lives of the ancient Romans. Excavations have uncovered apparent brothels, bars, homes — and now, a fast food stand, pictured above, that was operating on a busy street corner.

The fast food stand evidently was closed in a hurry as the volcano spewed the ash that buried the town. Archaeologists found the remains of that fateful day’s offerings in some of the pots embedded in the brightly colored food stand. The menu when the volcano blew included duck, pig, goat, snails, fish, fava beans, and a paella-like combo dish. And from that chicken that is painted on the front of the stand, I’m guessing that everybody’s favorite poultry was in one of those pots from time to time, too.

The excavation also uncovered a scenario that might be familiar to modern fast-food stand operators. The remains of a person who was lifting the lid on one of the pots of food were also uncovered — leading archaeologists to speculate that somebody fleeing the eruption couldn’t resist stopping to grab some free food when they should have kept running.

The ancient Romans seem like they were a lot like us, suggesting that the basic motivations of people — and the key concepts of point of purchase advertising that attracts them — haven’t changed that much over thousands of years. The brilliantly decorated food stand, obviously calculated to catch the eye of passersby, with the no doubt delectable smell of simmering food, looks like a modern food truck or an open-air food stand on the street of New York City. The pork, chicken, and fish that was served would be at home in any modern fast-food outlet, too. The only thing that appears to be missing from the Roman stand is a dirty water hot dog.

The Ceiling Perspective

I’ve seen more of ceilings this year than I’ve probably seen in my entire life. In fact, it seems like every day, somebody’s office ceiling, or home office ceiling, or family room or dining room ceiling, is there in front of me, begging to be studied and analyzed.

It’s because of video conferencing, of course. It seems like there are three common video conference perspectives. There’s the straight-ahead perspective, where the camera is roughly on the same level as the person’s face, and the big issue is head size in the frame. Then there’s the setting where the camera is above the participant, looking down, and the person ends up looking sort of small and pathetic and overwhelmed by it all. (Not a good look if you’re interested in power dynamics during the call, obviously.) And then there is the ceiling perspective, where the camera is below the person, looking up, and you end up seeing the top half of their head and a whole lot of ceiling.

I’d never really paid much attention to ceilings before this year, finding them intrainsically uninteresting. I mean, after you determine whether or not the ceiling has crown moldings, what is there of interest? But I was wrong. On a boring video call, you can learn a lot from thoughtful ceiling examination. If you can see more than one smoke detector up there, for example, that tells you something meaningful about the person — or perhaps the fire trap status of their place. Is there a dream catcher or anything else hanging from the ceiling? Do they have a fan? Any spider webs up there? Are their light fixtures simple or elaborate, and what kind of lighting do they provide?

And if somebody is dancing on the ceiling, you’ve inadvertently called Lionel Ritchie.

2020 has changed my perspective on ceilings, as on so many things.

Out Of Practice

Practice makes perfect—and when you’re out of practice you tend to forget the little things. Here’s how you know it’s been a while since you’re done any traveling by airplane.

• You don’t automatically establish a mental calendar entry to get your boarding pass precisely 24 hours before the established boarding time.

• You kind of forgot about the whole TSA precheck line and confirming that you are shown as TSA precheck on your boarding pass until you’re already at the airport.

• You don’t think about following any of the streamlining and expediting and weight-minimizing travel tips that you’ve developed over the years and you end up bringing three or more otherwise identical cell phone chargers.

• You need to think for a minute about how to put your cellphone into “airplane mode.”

• Kids crying and dogs barking in the gate waiting area seem like a novel experience.

Robin’s Egg

This holiday season, as inevitably happens at some point during every holiday season for as long as I can remember, I heard the opening notes of Jingle Bells, and immediately thought:

Jingle bells, Batman smells

Robin laid an egg,

The Batmobile lost a wheel

And the Joker got away.

This little ditty — we’ll call it Batman Smells for ease of reference — is probably the most well-known parody of a Christmas song ever created. (The only real competitor, in my mind, involves three kings and a rubber cigar.) Batman Smells was sung by Bart on the first episode of The Simpsons, in 1989, but it’s been around since long before then. Who came up with this sad story of the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder, set to the strains of a holiday favorite?

Some people have tried to uncover the history of Batman Smells and have traced its lineage back to an early version of the song in a 1967 entry in the Lawton (Oklahoma) Constitution, with different lyrics in which Robin doesn’t lay an egg and the Joker doesn’t escape. They theorize that the initial version of the song was created by kids in southern California in the mid-60s, when the campy Batman TV series was a hit, and the song was then spread across the country by military kids who moved from base to base with their families. At some point, obviously, the song morphed, with later kids added the crucial touches about Robin’s egg and the Joker’s getaway that made the parody into a classic.

Whether that theory is true or not, it’s pretty easy to see why the parody became so popular. It’s the kind of irreverance that kids around the age of 10 just love, and who can’t sing Jingle Bells? It’s interesting to think that, at some point in the ’60s, some anonymous kids who were briefly touched by genius had the inspiration that has forever linked Batman and Christmas, long after the TV show ended its run.

Now, if we could only figure out the true story of that rubber cigar . . . .

Back To The Spiders

The New York Times and other media outlets are reporting that the Cleveland professional baseball team will be changing its name. After more than 100 years of being known as the Indians — and several years after getting rid of Chief Wahoo on their uniforms — the team will now be changing its nickname.

There’s a pretty heated debate going on already about what the new team name should be. I’ve always thought the “The Tribe” would be a pretty good alternative, since many of us already call the team by that name and “tribe” is defined as “a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader.” Those of us who have followed the Cleveland baseball franchise for decades would fall within that broad definition; we’re inextricably linked by years of suffering and frustration.

“The Tribe” doesn’t seem to be getting much traction, however, and many of the potential team names identified in the story linked above are pretty dismal. The one option that seems to be getting a lot of support is to call the team the Spiders. It would mark a complete break from the “Indians” and would also link the team back to the 1890s, when Cleveland had a National League baseball team called the Spiders. According to Wikipedia, the team was called the Spiders because the players who wore the team’s black and gray uniforms had a spidery look. The Spiders were decent for a while, finishing second in the National League several times, and included players like future Hall of Famer Cy Young, but also had a year that featured the worst won-loss record in major league history.

The Spiders seems to be a popular choice, and already people are designing logos and uniform concepts with a spidery look. If it can’t be The Tribe, I’d be fine with the Spiders. With the blog name Webner House, how could we object to supporting a team of arachnids?