Public Exercisers

We’re witnessing a new phenomenon on our walks around Schiller Park these days:  the invasion of the public exerciser.

sumo-squatI’m not talking about joggers, or walkers, or even those comically determined power walkers.  I’m talking about people who have suddenly begun to use the park as their own special fitness facility.  They brace themselves on the park benches to do stiff-backed push-ups and extravagant leg lifts.  They lie down on the asphalt of the basketball court and make cycling motions with their legs, then stand up and perform a kind of fitful twisting dance down the length of the court.  They do a lot of squatting, display butt cracks, and duck walk around.  They wave their arms like helicopter rotors, raise their knees up to chest level, and hop, hop, hop.  They lean against the picnic tables and stretch.  Then they put their hands on the basketball hoop poles and stretch some more.  We’d better hope that they’re not contagious, because they’ve touched pretty much every object and surface in the park aside from the Schiller statue — and they’d probably use that, too, if there wasn’t a fence around it.

These people just came out of the woodwork as the weather finally warmed up.  I recognize that fitness clubs have been closed down for two months, and perhaps that’s where they used to do their preening.  But what I find interesting is that they do all of these highly visible — and probably consciously visible — exercises in public, when they could be doing every one of them in the privacy of their homes or in the privacy of their backyards.  They’re not trying to be discreet.  It’s pretty clear that they’re desperate for attention — and probably desperate, period.

Who’d have thought our pretty neighborhood park would also serve as an outdoor gymnasium for attention-seeking fitness fans?  It’s harmless, I suppose, but kind of annoying nevertheless.

Enforcing Distancing

During the first few weeks of the shutdown, it wasn’t unusual to see people shooting baskets at the Schiller Park basketball courts, or even playing a small pick-up game.  Some people objected to it, and made a big stink about it on social media sites.  Now the authorities have taken steps to make sure that no one can play basketball there — even if they bring their own ball and are shooting hoops by themselves, without anyone else within six feet.

During these extraordinary times, is sending some worker out to put wooden blocks on a basketball goal to prevent people from playing the game or shooting baskets a prudent health care initiative, or a weird government overreach?  Does anyone know how likely you are to contract coronavirus from playing a game of basketball?  How many of the older people with multiple health care conditions, who statistics show are most at risk of serious health consequences if they contract COVID-19, are out at the park shooting hoops and ready to be selected to play in a pick-up game?

Of course, you can argue that the young kids who were shooting hoops and playing in those three-on-three games might bring the virus home, where it might infect at-risk people.  Still, blocking the hoops seems awfully Big Brotherish to me.  What’s next?  Removing the picnic tables and their benches because people might congregate there?

The Leading Scooter Indicator

They’ve put the scooters out around Schiller Park. I’m going to keep a close eye on them, because I think scooter use in the coming weeks may give us a lot of telling information about how things are going to be, post-shutdown.

Here’s my reasoning. Last year, scooters really made inroads. Lots of people, of different ages, were using them to move around town. Then the scooter weather ended, winter came, and then the coronavirus shutdown hit before scooter weather returned. Now we’re on the cusp of scooter weather again, and the scooters are out. Will people use them?

Of course, scooters are a pretty basic example of vehicle sharing. And, in post-shutdown America, the key word there is “sharing.” You can’t ride a scooter without touching the handlebars. Will people be willing to do that? Or will we see scooters standing idle due to fear of COVID-19?

And that’s why scooters are a kind of leading indicator. A big question for the post-shutdown economy is whether people will be too freaked out by the risk of infection to return to the pre-shutdown norm. If the Scooter Brigade — by self-selection risk-takers, since riders are willing to go zipping through vehicular traffic without any protective shielding — is willing to go back to scooting, that will tell us something about people, and the economy, bouncing back.

What if the Scooter Brigade doesn’t ride? Well, that will tell us there’s a lot of work yet to be done in the social confidence category.

The Squirrel Game

Yesterday morning I took a double lap around Schiller Park.  It was a bright, sunny morning, and lots of neighborhood dogs had brought their human pals to the park for a romp through the bright green grass.  Many of the dogs were off the leash.  That meant I got to watch some of the Squirrel Game.

For those not familiar with it, the Squirrel Game is played at Schiller Park on any sunny day.  The contestants are dogs and squirrels.  The squirrels venture out onto the grass.  The dogs see the squirrels and then take off in hopes of actually catching one of the furry critters.  The squirrels see the dogs coming and easily make it back to the safety of the trees, sit on a tree branch, and then taunt the dogs with a death stare like you might see in the NBA after one player posterizes another with a particularly nasty dunk.  

I would be willing to bet that, in the  storied history of Schiller Park, no dog has ever actually caught a healthy adult squirrel.  Nevertheless, their DNA compels the canines to keep trying, not matter what — which makes the Squirrel Game pretty entertaining to watch.  In fact, with people suffering from severe sports deprivation these days, what if there were a live broadcast of the Squirrel Game to help fans try to scratch that sports itch?

Play-by-play announcer:  Welcome to Schiller Park in Columbus, Ohio, for week three of the Squirrel Game!  It’s a beautiful day for squirrel chasing, and we’ve got a full slate of contestants ready to engage in a fruitless interspecies exercise.  Jim, do you think that this just might be the week where a dog actually catches a squirrel?

Color guy:  Not a chance, Frank!  But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be a bunch of representatives of man’s best friend who don’t believe that this will definitely be the day when they actually catch a squirrel, and they are willing to run themselves into panting exhaustion in hopes that their dreams will be realized.

Play-by-play announcer:  Well, hope springs eternal!  And we’ve got our first contestants ready to go.  Bosco and Skippy have moved away from their tree out onto the grass, and Missy, an overly groomed Shih Tzu wearing an embarrassing pink bow in her fur, has just been let off the leash by her human.

Color guy:  Our audience will remember Bosco, of course.  Like every squirrel in the park, he’s never been caught or even put into remote physical peril by the neighborhood dogs, but Bosco is a crowd favorite because of his exceptional taunting moves.  He’s been training Skippy, so we’ll get a chance to see how that is going.

Play-by-play announcer:  The squirrels have moved pretty far away from their tree to give Missy extra hope.  Bosco has dug up some kind of nut and is munching away on it, while Skippy is twitching her tail, hoping to attract Missy’s attention.  That’s one of Bosco’s patented moves, and it looks like Skippy has mastered it.  Wait a minute — I think Missy has seen them!  Yes, and she’s taken off!  Here we go!

Color guy:  Really bad form by Missy, Frank!  She’s started running much too early, and she’s not very fast, anyway.  You’d think dogs would have learned by now that if you really want to catch a squirrel, you need to sneak up on them.

Play-by-play announcer:  Well, they are dogs, Jim.

Color guy:  Yes, they are, which is why they never have a chance but still happily try.  Bosco and Skippy have noticed Missy heading their way, and Bosco is calmly taking a few extra nibbles on that nut and waiting until the last minute, giving Missy even more hope that this might actually be the day that she catches a squirrel.  And Missy has taken the bait, and is running at top speed.  Look at that pink ribbon fly!

Play-by-play announcer:  That’s why Bosco is one of the true all-stars.  He always gives the dogs hope before crushing their expectations like a discarded soda can.

Color guy:  You’re right of course, Frank!  And now Bosco and Skippy are engaging in some very nifty broken-field running to get back to their tree.  Some great moves from the savvy veteran and the rookie there!

Play-by-play announcer:  They’ve easily made it to the tree, leaving Missy back in the dust.  And now Missy has finally reached the tree trunk and is yapping and acting like she’s protected the human world from the scourge of the squirrel menace.

Color guy:  You’ve got to give Missy credit for trying to put a happy face on a pretty dismal effort, Frank!  She didn’t even come close, not by a long shot, but her posturing and irritating yapping shows she’s a real pro.  

Play-by-play announcer:  Bosco has caught Missy’s attention again, and is giving her that famous Bosco stare.  Jim, I’ve seen it countless times, and it still gives me chills.  And wait, Skippy is joining in!  A double stare!  And now Bosco is going back to munching on that nut, showing Missy and our viewing audience that he is totally undisturbed by the entire episode.  You’ve got to give him credit for showmanship!

Color guy:  Of course, Missy doesn’t realize she’s been dissed.  Being a dog, she’s pretty much oblivious to everything except the chase.  And now she’s trotting back to her human with a very self-satisfied air, having seemingly forgotten Bosco, Skippy and the entire embarrassing episode.

Play-by-play announcer:  Time for a commercial break.  When we return, we’ll be seeing Shultzie, a morbidly obese dachshund, try to catch Tinkles, a fan favorite with a white streak in her tail.

Color guy:  Ha ha!  I love to watch fat dachshunds try to run.  Don’t miss it, folks! 

Duck Walk

It was raining when I took my walk this morning — so much so that this drake decided to leave the immediate vicinity of the Schiller Park pond and venture out to the driveway of one of the houses along the park.  

Here’s a tip for those of you who are taking “coronavirus walks” every day:  rainy days see less people out (but more ducks), so you don’t have to do so much social distancing zigging and zagging.  I would say my walk this morning is easily the most direct walk I’ve taken since the whole social distancing regime took effect.  In fact, I’d guess that all of the veering has added quite a few steps to our standard walks.  Nobody walks as the crow flies anymore.

As for our waterfowl friends, they practice social distancing as a matter of course.  You can’t get too close to a duck without it waddling off to an assured clear distance, shaking its tail feathers and muttering under its breath all the while.  It’s as if they had coronavirus training long ago.

Schiller, The Poet

I walk around Schiller Park every day.  I’ve gazed in appreciation at the heroic statue in the middle of the park, and know that Schiller was a poet who was so admired by the German immigrants who initially settled in the German Village section of Columbus that they chose to erect a statue to him in the park.

But that’s about the extent of my knowledge, regrettably.  And since I think we should always be interested in broadening our horizons and learning a bit more about the places where we live and work, I set out to learn a bit more about Herr Schiller.  And with the aid of Google, it wasn’t difficult.

Friedrich von Schiller, who lived from 1759 to 1805, was a poet, playwright and philosopher who was a major figure in the European Romantic movement.  He was immensely popular during his life and has been described by a biographer as a “pop star of his time.”  He was passionate, apparently personally unkempt, and had a tumultuous love life that saw him fall in love with two sisters.

But here’s the most impressive thing I learned about Schiller:  he actually inspired Ludwig von Beethoven.  One of Schiller’s most famous poems was Ode to Joy, which Beethoven set to music, in modified form, in the final, chorale movement of his Ninth Symphony.  That’s a pretty impressive testament.  No wonder our predecessor German Village residents erected a statue to this guy!

You can read the entire, translated Ode to Joy here.  Here’s the first verse:

Joy! A spark of fire from heaven,
Daughter from Elysium,
Drunk with fire we dare to enter,
Holy One, inside your shrine.
Your magic power binds together,
What we by custom wrench apart,
All men will emerge as brothers,
Where you rest your gentle wings.

On The Leash

I suspect that our weekend morning walks around Schiller Park are a bit less enjoyable for Betty. 

On our weekday morning walks, which typically occur at around 6 a.m., there are, at most, one or two other dogs that we encounter, and often we see no other dogs at all. 

On our weekend morning walks, on the other hand, we walk a bit later, and usually there are lots of other dogs out — some walking, some playing fetch with their human pals, and some frolicking with other dogs.  Betty is always alert to the dogs that are running free, and I sometimes entertain the notion of letting her off the leash to roam a bit.  She’s not specifically trained for that, however, and I just don’t want to take the chance that she’s going to run off and get into some kind of trouble.  So I keep the leash on, and we walk forward instead.

The weekend walks get tougher when, as happened this morning, some thoughtless person lets an untrained dog loose and the dog charges up to every other dog in the park — including Betty.  It’s unnerving to have a canine of unknown provenance run up to you and your dog with uncertain intentions.  Most dogs are friendly and just want to do the sniff routine, but there have been incidents at Schiller Park where dogs have attacked each other and done some serious damage, to the horror of owners and bystanders.  That’s why the park has a policy that, if you can’t exercise immediate control over your dog by verbal commands, you need to keep the dog on a leash . . . period.  Since there aren’t a lot of verbal command dogs, that means most dogs should be kept on a leash.

But, what’s the social protocol for what to do when some irresponsible person ignores that common-sense rule?  In today’s encounter, the owner of the roaming dog was some older woman who didn’t seem at all troubled by her failure to follow the rules and the fact that her dog was misbehaving and racing up to every other dog in the park.  Should the leashed dog owner say something, or is that crossing an improper line?  I have no desire to lecture people on following the rules, but how else are the rules going to have an impact?

It makes me wish that some dog owners could be put on a leash, too. 

Once More Into Darkness

I may be the only non-farmer in America who dreads the “spring ahead” point in the year — which happens tonight, in case you’ve forgotten.

Why? It’s not that I don’t like having sunshine later in the evening, for sure. No, it’s because I walk Betty in the morning and we’ve just gotten to the point where the sun peeks over the horizon during our morning walk time — as the picture of one of the Schiller Park aerial sculptures that I took recently shows. With clocks moving ahead an hour tonight, Betty and I will once more be plunged into darkness on our morning stroll. We’ll have to deal with a few more weeks of darkness before the lengthening days give us sunshine at 6 a.m.

Trash Tax

I’m a big believer in the “user fee” concept of funding governmental services.  The underlying notion is simple:  many governmental services benefit us all, but some benefit only the specific users of the service — so why not have them bear the lion’s share of the cost of providing that service?  If a municipal government operates an airport, for example, it seems eminently fair to fund its construction and operations through taxes and charges to the passengers who fly through the airport and the airlines, rental car companies, and other who profit by doing business at the airport.

I think governmental entities also should consider expanding the “user fee” concept to look not only at who benefits from government services, but also at who causes the need for the government service in the first place.  I’m thinking specifically about the trash that you find at the parks, and on the streets and sidewalks, of Columbus and other American cities.  At some point, for example, somebody from some governmental entity comes to Schiller Park, empties the refuse cans, and picks up the random bits of trash to be found on the park lawns and sidewalks.

As a dedicated litter fighter who tries to pick up and throw away the random trash found at Schiller, I know first hand that much of the contents of the trash cans, and virtually all of the litter on the lawns and sidewalks, is fast food debris — coffee cups and lids, cheap styrofoam containers, straws, straw wrappers, sandwich wrappers, napkins, and carryout bags.  It’s virtually inevitable that at least some portion of fast food carryout will end up as litter, and as you move from the area around the McDonald’s to the area around the Starbucks you see the change in the litter patterns that reflects that.

So why not impose a targeted “trash tax” on fast food restaurants that helps to defray the cost of picking up the litter that those businesses generate?  It would be different from any fees paid for maintaining dumpsters at the fast food restaurant that get emptied from time to time, and would instead focus on the cost of the consequences of fast food carryout from a neighborhood trash standpoint.  And if fast food restaurants wanted to pass on the cost by charging carryout customers a bit more, I’d be fine with that, too.

Litter is a curse that can ruin enjoyment of parks and neighborhoods.  It seems eminently fair to require the businesses that cause the litter problem to pay for addressing it.

Leaf Stripes

Most of the trees at Schiller Park have long since lost their leaves, but these two little trees on the south side of the park held on to their brightly colored companions until the bitter (cold) end. Then they coordinated their leaf falls so the leaves would form neat parallel yellow stripes on the grass and sidewalk that we saw as Betty and I walked by this morning.

The leaf falls must have been sudden and recent, because the leaves haven’t yet been scattered by the cold breeze, by frolicking dogs, or by little kids who just can’t resist shuffling and kicking their way through the pile. For now, though, it’s a pretty little scene in our beautiful neighborhood park.

Suspended Over Schiller

On our walk around Schiller Park this morning, Betty and I discovered that an outdoor art exhibition has been installed at various points in the park. I think it’s the first outdoor art display at Schiller in the time we’ve been living in German Village, and it makes me hope that others will be following it.

The exhibition is called Suspension: Balancing Art, Nature, and Culture and it features life-sized sculptures by Jerzy Jotka Kedziora suspended at various points in the park.

As Betty and I walked the perimeter of the park, we caught glimpses of the sculptures in the interior of the park. The pieces had the effect of pulling us into the park, and made a cool, rainy day a lot more interactive and interesting. And now is a pretty good time to see the exhibition — which runs until March 2020 — with the sculptures framed against the remaining colorful fall foliage.

Many of the sculptures have a circus-type theme, but my favorites were the hard-working rower floating above the pond and a headless angelic figure drifting above the Third Street entrance to the park, with the tassels of its dress jostling in the breeze. Kudos to the Friends of Schiller Park for sponsoring a very cool bit of outdoor art.

Friday Night Hangover

 

When Betty and I took our morning lap around Schiller Park yesterday morning, circling the park, clockwise, on the perimeter sidewalk, we encountered the following, in order: (1) a disgusting pool of vomit that all joggers and walkers were steering clear of but that was of intense interest to Betty and other dogs; (2) an area of a flowerbed where the plants were crushed and uprooted; and (3) a car, which had lost part of a bumper and a hubcap, had white paint scrapes on the left front side, and was parked over the curb with a flat right front tire.

You didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that some irresponsible person got drunk Friday night, drove when they shouldn’t have, ran into something, “parked” their car at Schiller, toppled into the flowerbed, and then expelled the stomach poisons. I’m just surprised Betty and I didn’t see and smell a reeking figure passed out on the playground or under a tree.

What’s interesting is that, as of this morning when the photo above was taken, the car is still there. Perhaps the offender had a blackout and can’t remember where he/she left the car.  Or, perhaps the car was stolen by the offender, and the true owner doesn’t know where the car is.

So, I’m offering this post as a public service. If this is your car, it’s on the north side of Schiller Park. And if this post helps you retrieve it, how about making a decent contribution to the German Village Garten Club to compensate for the pretty flowerbed that got ruined as part of the entire escapade?

Schiller Summer Splendor

The Schiller Park gardeners have done a fine job this year, and the flowerbeds around the gates to the park are particularly splendid. The beds are colorful and vibrant and are one of the things that make Schiller such a great ornament for the German Village community.

Now, if we could just get the few thoughtless jerks to stop littering . . . .