UJ And Man’s Best Friends

Regular readers of this blog will remember my brother UJ, who has posted occasionally about his adventures and travels.

52812917_2017707298284358_42568911224307712_nLately UJ has been volunteering at the Franklin County Dog Shelter, where his principal activity is walking the dogs and, in the process, giving them a little bit of the human attention that dogs seem to instinctively crave.  Then, he posts about his exploits and the different dogs he has met on Facebook.

UJ had not previously indicated, from outward signs at least, that he was a big dog lover.  For example, I don’t think he’s ever had a dog of his own since he left our parents’ home, where we had a cantankerous “teacup dachshund” named George.  However, when one of his friends suggested the volunteer activity at the Shelter he gladly took it on, and it’s clear that UJ and the Franklin County shelter go together like hand and glove.  The Shelter has acknowledged UJ’s dedicated volunteer work with some posts of its own, like the photo to the right.

It’s interesting, too, that the focus of UJ’s Facebook posts has changed somewhat since he started his volunteer work.  After a few posts about what he was doing there, it really became all about the dogs he was walking and their desire to be adopted.  UJ will walk the dogs, take some pictures and video, and then post something about the dogs and how good-natured and easygoing they were.  And, UJ and his Facebook posts publicizing the dogs he’s walking have helped the dogs at the Shelter who are up for adoption find homes — including homes with some of UJ’s Facebook pals.

I’ve been a critic of social media, and I still think it has contributed mightily to our current polarized political situation.  But UJ’s efforts at the Franklin County Dog Shelter show how a little volunteer work and some social media attention can really have a positive impact.  I’m proud of UJ’s good work, and I think his use of Facebook to help orphan dogs find a human family illustrates what is the right role for social media in civic affairs — to let people know about what’s happening in their communities, and how they personally can make a difference.  Kudos to UJ!

Paging Professor UJ

Back when UJ used to write for this blog, he added a tag for “happiness” because he wrote a number of posts about it.  I regret to admit that, since UJ stopped his scrivening, it’s probably the least-used tag on the blog.  In fact, this post is likely the first one with a happiness tag in months, if not years.  I consider myself a happy person, but I just don’t write much it.

Apparently, Yale students also need help with happiness.  This semester Yale is offering Psych 157, a course called “Psychology and the Good Life.”  It tries to instruct students on how to be happier — and it has quickly become the most popular undergraduate course Yale has ever offered.  1,200 students, which is about 25 percent of the entire undergraduate student population, is taking the course.  The professor posits that Yale students are flocking to take the course because “they had to deprioritize their happiness to gain admission to the school” and in the process adopted “harmful life habits.”  If you read the article linked above, you’ll conclude that Yalies are a pretty sad, stressed bunch.

14344198_1067434466644984_673868475086152520_n copyWhen I was going to college, lack of happiness and “deprioritizing” personal happiness and fulfillment was not a problem.  If anything, Ohio State students of the ’70s tended to overprioritize their dedicated, incessant, deep-seated, Frodo Baggins-like quest for happiness.  The notion that fresh-faced students, still possessing the bloom of youth and newly freed from the constant supervision and irksome rules of Mom and Dad, need to take a college class to learn how to be happier would have been totally alien to the undergrads of my era.  And it’s really kind of depressing to think that, in any era, college students would need to sit in a lecture hall to get tips on how to be happier.  College must have become a grim, hellish place indeed!

But this is where UJ comes in.  He’s always got a happy grin on his face, a positive outlook, and a firm belief that “life is good.”  Sure, he’s retired, but his youthful attitude should allow him to connect with the legions of sad, beleaguered, put-upon Yalies who just don’t know where to find happiness in their soulless, barren college lives.

Hey, UJ!  Time to call that Psych 157 prof and offer a few pointers!

UJ At 60

Today is my brother Jim’s birthday.  He’s now 60.  60!  It’s hard to believe.

60 probably isn’t quite the milestone that it used to be.   Some people — mostly, people who are about 60 — say that 60 is the new 40.  In UJ’s case, that’s actually pretty accurate.  He’s always had that trim, youthful look that causes people to underestimate his true age, and his hair is still, for the most part, as black as it has always been.  He doesn’t seem to have the wrinkles or creases that are the old age giveaways, either.  Even though he’s my older brother, he looks younger than I do, and that’s been true for a while.

13325437_998034090251689_3557608014176405478_nEven if 60 is the new 40, though, 60 years is a long time.  UJ is part of my earliest memories.  We shared a bedroom in the first house I can remember living in.  We played together all the time, and when we moved from our modest home in Akron proper to the more wide-open suburbs of Bath, where we again shared a room, we were part of the same roving gang of boys that played football and built dams and forts and caught crayfish in the stream that ran through the woods near our house.  We went bowling and to Cleveland Indians Bat Day doubleheaders and on trips to Washington, D.C. and Ocean City, New Jersey and on Sunday drives to the Blue Hole in Castalia, Ohio with Grandma and Grandpa Neal.

We moved to Columbus, and finally we each got our own room.  Our paths began to veer away from each other in other ways, too.  We ran with different crowds in junior high and high school, and went to different colleges, but Jim came to some of our college parties and got to know Kish and my other college friends.  Our careers went in different directions, too, but the sense of connection is still there, and always will be.  When Kish and I moved back to Columbus, Jim and I decided to get season tickets to the Browns.  After Dad died Jim and I — well, mostly Jim — managed Mom’s finances.  Jim and Richard and Russell and I have taken trips together, to Hen Island and New Orleans and to amusement parks across the land, to get in a little Webner male bonding.

Even though we’ve spent countless hours together, I don’t remember ever getting into a fight with Jim, or even a significant argument.  We’ve disagreed about things from time to time, but he’s always been a good brother.

Now Jim is retired, and he hangs out at the pool at his condo with his friends like those in the picture above.  He likes to plays the slots at the Hollywood Casino from time to time, and enjoys an occasional drink made with Captain Morgan spiced rum, and there’s usually a toothpick in his mouth.  He seems to like his life, and I’m happy for him.  It’s just hard for me to believe that he’s 60.

Happy birthday, Jim!

A Shiners Tale

Since at least 1700, April 1 has been the day to pull a prank and dupe the gullible.  It’s a day to keep your skepticism level set at maximum, to make sure that strange memo you got at work isn’t a jest, and to double-check that what you’re stirring into your morning coffee is sugar and not salt.

The arrival of April 1 made me think about jokes we used to play as kids.  One of the most successful and most elaborate was a prank that my sister Cath and I pulled on UJ shortly after our family moved to Columbus in April 1971.

mens-dress-shoes-slip-on-leather-lined-business-casual-formal-suit-loafers-new-black-12_3852594At the time there was a pair of really cheap, almost plastic-looking black loafers lurking around the house.  I don’t know where they came from — they weren’t Dad’s, and they certainly weren’t UJ’s or mine — but for some reason they became an object of ridicule and silly humor in our household.  We called them the shiners, and they would mysteriously appear on your chair at dinner, or on your pillow when you went to your bedroom at night.  It was one of those inside jokes that sometimes develop in families.

After UJ deftly deposited the shiners with one of us, Cath and I decided to kick things up a notch.  We came up with the idea of making UJ think he had won a prize in a contest.  We decided that the Columbus Dispatch had sponsored a “best brother” contest and, with devilish cleverness, we thought that it would be more believable if we made out that UJ had taken second prize rather than winning outright.  So we typed up an official-looking letter stating that, on the nomination of his brother and sisters, UJ had come in second in the Columbus Best Brother Contest, and that the enclosed gift was his award.  Then we boxed everything up, wrapped it in brown paper, and mailed it all to make it look even more legitimate.

One day, when we got home from school, Mom announced that UJ had received a mysterious package.  With Cath and I barely able to control our glee, UJ first opened and read the letter — and fell for our scheme hook, line, and sinker.  As he read the letter he seemed legitimately touched, saying something like: “Gosh you guys, you didn’t need to do that!”  Then, with mounting excitement, he opened the inside box and found . . . the shiners.  First a look of puzzlement, then a sense that a mistake must have been made, and finally the dawning realization that he was the victim of a practical joke washed over his face, and Cath and I had a good laugh.  Mom, on the other hand, declared that enough was enough with the shiners, and they were never seen again.

As is the case with many practical jokes, the planning and execution was fun, but the act of consciously fooling someone ultimately seemed mean-spirited.  I’ve always felt kind of guilty about the shiners incident.  Sorry about that, UJ!

Happy April Fools’ Day!

Not Just Whistling Dixie

In a conversation today a co-worker used the phrase “not just whistling Dixie.”  It made me stop and think for a minute, and I wondered:  why is the ability to whistle Dixie treated so dismissively?  Is whistling Dixie considered pathetically easy?  I then tried whistling Dixie, and I realized that I couldn’t possibly do it — the notes just come too quick for my clumsy mouth to successfully deal with them.

The sad fact is that my whistling ability, well, blows.  I really can only whistle part of one tune.  It’s a passage from The Dance of the Little Swans in Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake, and even then I can only whistle it at super-slow speed.  If Russia’s greatest composer heard my dismal rendition of one of his most beautiful compositions, he would hurl himself in front of the Czar’s carriage.  And because I can only whistle one part of one song, when I’m in a whistling mood I repeat it over and over.  I recognize this is ridiculously annoying, but I can’t help myself.  So I try to reserve my whistling for those times when I’m by myself.

In reality, UJ is the whistling prodigy in our family.  He not only has a broad repertoire of standard tunes from Happy Birthday to the theme song of Gilligan’s Island, he also has the ability to whistle “by ear” and can faithfully recreate just about any song.  I haven’t tested him by asking him, for example, to whistle Jimmy Page’s guitar solo in Whole Lotta Love, but I bet he could do it. And he also has the lung power and whistling technique that allows him to really project his whistling, too.  You can hear the whistling UJ approaching from blocks away, sounding like a kind of high-pitched pipe organ.

When it comes to this crucial musical talent, I’m afraid I’m not even a patch off my older brother.  And I’m not just whistling Dixie, either.

JT’s At Taste Of Worthington

If you live in Worthington or nearby — I’m thinking of you, Dr. Science and Mike N! — I encourage you to get to the Taste of Worthington 2014 tonight.

IMG_2427Our nephew Joe and his business, JT’s Pizza, will be at the Festival, serving up some of delectable assortment of pizzas and other goodies.  Joe has worked hard to come up with a diverse menu and is always experimenting with new options; like any smart restauranteur he focuses on serving high-quality food to his customers.

UJ, who isn’t normally given to overstatement except when praising the talents of his brother, has unambiguously declared the JT’s Pizza Philly Cheese Steak sandwich “the BEST Philly Cheese Steak sandwich I’ve ever tasted in my lifetime.”  It is pretty darned good, and while you’re gobbling it or one of Joe’s other tasty offerings you can smack your lips, savor the flavor, and feel good about the fact that you’re also supporting a locally owned and managed business.

The Taste of Worthington kicks off at 5:30 tonight in the parking area of the OfficeScape Corporate Center, 350 West Wilson Bridget Road, and goes until 10 p.m.

Still Smiley

When we were kids and played on the same Little League team, UJ was known to our teammates as “Smiley.”  He was the kid who always hit doubles and could run like a deer, as opposed to his tubby brother who was afraid that a pitch would hit him on the nose and break his glasses.

10511205_676359375752497_4658884759017098909_nI’m pleased to say that all evidence indicates that UJ remains “Smiley” at heart.  If you look at his Facebook page, it’s full of smiley photos.  UJ is never introspective or contemplative in these photos — he’s usually wearing a bathing suit in blazing sunshine, tanned and squinting and flashing his gleaming white choppers with a lady friend on each arm.  Our family dentist, Dr. King, no doubt thinks UJ is one of the greatest living advertisements for sound dental care and careful toothbrushing and flossing that ever walked the Earth.

It’s nice to know that some things haven’t changed since the Little League days.  Come to think of it, I’m probably still afraid of being hit on the bridge of the nose by a pitched ball.