“Man-Oh-Manischewitz!”

“Man-oh-Manischewitz!” is one of the standard catchphrases in the Webner household.  It’s an all-purpose comment that may properly be used in a variety of situations to convey surprise, delight, or satisfaction, or even as a deft substitute for a minor obscenity.  (Another oft-heard statement in Webner House is “one man’s family,” usually muttered with a sad shake of the head and heartfelt sigh while looking at a mess created by the dogs.)

Every successful relationship or team has these kinds of verbal stand-by references, whether they be secret nicknames, punchlines from old, long-forgotten jokes, a lyric from a song that was popular during college, or the tag line for ancient TV commercials about really tooth-curlingly sweet kosher wine.  You could reasonably argue that such utterances are, in fact, part of the reason why the team or relationship is successful in the first place.

These comfortable catchphrases usually provoke an inner, if not outer, smile among the members of the circle.  They reflect a deep and lasting familiarity and tradition that makes people feel special.  Often they have been used for so long that the first relevant use of the phrase has been lost in the mists of time — although in our case we can reasonably guess that one of us blurted out “man-oh-Manischewitz!” after taking a good slug of an adult beverage that unfortunately turned out to be too strong, too sweet, or otherwise unpotable, everyone laughed, and it became memorialized in the family lexicon.

“Man-oh-Manischewitz!” is a pretty good catchphrase that has come in handy over the years, and it’s also part of a very interesting story with an Ohio connection.  If you’re looking to develop your own family traditions, I commend it to your attention.

April Showers Bring Positive Personality Powers

Some of the “scientific” studies being publicized these days seem decidedly . . . unscientific.  For example, a recent study by scientists in Budapest concluded that the season in which you were born has some influence on your adult personality.

The scientists took 400 people and tried to match their personalities to their birth season.  They determined that people born in the summer are more likely to experience mood swings, people born in the winter are less likely to be irritable, people born during the fall months are less likely to be depressed, and people born in the spring are more likely to be relentlessly positive.  Why might there be some significance to your birth season?  The scientists say the seasons may affect the body’s production of certain mood-related substances, such as serotonin and dopamine.

Four hundred people seems like a pretty small sample to draw sweeping conclusions about a previously undiscovered relationship between birth season and mood, and if sampling is done incorrectly it’s easy to mistake correlation for causation.  Having known people with birthdays throughout the year, I haven’t noticed any connection between birth date and bitchiness.  In my family, all of the five kids were born in the spring and early summer, and our personality types vary pretty wildly, from sunny optimist to gloomy gus.

And how do you account for the undoubted impact of life lessons on personality?  You could be a positive spring baby, but live for decades as a Cleveland sports fans and you’ll soon shed that cock-eyed optimist for relentless, crushing pessimism.  Budapest scientists can’t possibly understand the well-known Cleveland sports effect on mood.  If all of those summer babies grow up to be Browns fans, it’s bound to skew the results.

Only The Lonely Old Guys

Yesterday UJ and I decided — unwisely, it turned out — to go to a sports bar to watch the Browns.  The place was crowded with hopeful fans, so we had to share a long table with a couple.  As the game started, an old guy asked if he could sit at the table, too.

We said sure . . . and then I was surprised to see that, rather than sitting in an open chair farther down, the guy sat right at UJ’s elbow.  During the game he kept chattering away and interrupting, clearly hoping to engage us in conversation.  At first it was weird and annoying, but eventually it got to be so absurd it was funny.  As the Browns’ horror show mounted, it became one source of humor in another otherwise grim Browns debacle.

It reminded me of an experience Kish and I had on a trip.  When we passed through a common room in a hotel, an older man was sitting there with a few bottles of wine and invited us to come back for a “wine tasting.”  Kish felt sorry for him and said we should join him, so later we did.  The guy turned out to be a colossal know-it-all who chattered away non-stop, overriding the comments of others and one-upping every observations and anecdote.  No matter the topic, he knew more about it than you did.  Name a place, even a remote spot in a foreign land, and he had had an extraordinary experience there.  It was an amazing performance — so extraordinary that when Kish and I finally escaped the onslaught, we also got a few laughs out of it.

Although they produced a few chuckles, the incidents with the Wine Guy and the Random Browns Fan were kind of sad, too.  I can see going to a bar to watch a game on satellite dish that’s not on regular TV; I’ve done it before.  But I’ve never tried to intrude on the conversations of others, and I’ve certainly never bought a few bottles of wine in hopes of enticing random people to sit and listen to my boring tales.  (That’s what a blog is for!)

There must be a lot of lonely old guys out there, searching for positive human contact.

Slowing The Aging Process

Mention “aging” to someone in their 50s — like me — and you’re likely to provoke a grim expression.  We feel the aging process in our muscles and bones, we get that ugly twinge after a sudden move, and we see it when we look in the mirror and notice the grey hairs, the wrinkles, and the pathetic turkey neck.

But what if aging could be slowed?  What if therapies and treatments could be developed that would decelerate the ravages of time, or stave it off altogether?

Scientists are looking into the possibility that gene therapy, hormone treatments, and other approaches might have that effect and have been using some of the new treatment concepts in experiments on animals.  Economists believe that treatments that successfully delay aging — and thereby allow people to be productive and healthy longer — could have enormous economic consequences.

Speaking as one of the aging generation, I’m all in favor of seeing whether reasonable treatments can be developed.  At the same time, however, I question whether heroic efforts should be devoted to deferring the effects of aging when there are many other public health issues that also need attention.  And a public health focus on aging makes sense only if the years that are added are healthy, sane, active, non-institutionalized years.  When you regularly visit a nursing home and see how many Americans are living their final years, you can legitimately question whether living longer is inevitably a great thing.

Trouncing The Newbies

Yesterday Ohio State crushed Rutgers, 56-17, in a game that was out of hand by the second quarter.  Ohio State rolled up more than 580 yards of offense, had a 35-7 halftime lead, was ahead 56-10 after three quarters, and then took its foot off the gas pedal.

IMG_4991The game was an important win for the Buckeyes, and not just because they need to win every remaining game by convincing margins if they hope to have a chance to play in the first college football playoff this year.  No, the game also was important for one of those reasons that sports fans understand intuitively, but non-sports fans will never fully grasp:  Rutgers is a new member of the Big Ten, and therefore it was essential that Ohio State crush them like a bug on their first visit to the Horseshoe.

You see, there is such a thing as conference pride.  The Big Ten has become a whipping boy in the national press for laying eggs in big out-of-conference games, but we can only imagine the sneers and snickers and sarcasm from the ESPN talking heads if one of the newbies won the conference championship during their first year as a member.  We simply can’t let that happen.  Ohio State has held up its end of the bargain, administering thorough beat-downs to both Rutgers and Maryland. Now we’ll hope that the other members of the Old Conference follow through, too.

Parental Due Diligence

Jacksonville, Florida is the largest city in America in terms of land area encompassed within the city limits.  It covers more than 840 square miles, and within its borders is the largest urban park system in the country, with 80,000 acres of parkland.

Initially known as Cowford — because it was the spot where cattle crossed the St. John River — Jacksonville is now the most populous city in Florida, with more than 840,000 residents, and is the 14th largest city in the U.S.  It is also the youngest city in Florida (no surprise there!) with a median age in the mid-30s.

Jacksonville was the birthplace of one of the greatest American rock bands ever — Lynyrd Skynyrd — and also hosts the annual Jacksonville Jazz Festival, the second-largest jazz festival in the nation.  It has a big-league sports team in the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

Why the sudden interest in Jacksonville?  Just a little parental due diligence.  We learned a few days ago that Richard has gotten a job at The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville’s newspaper, and will be moving down to The River City to start his professional reporting career in earnest in the next few weeks.

Jacksonville sounds like a pretty interesting place to cover and we’ll look forward to learning even more about it through Richard’s reporting.  Congratulations, Richard!

Norah Jones

America has enjoyed many blessings.  Two of the more obvious ones are extraordinary national parks and exceptional women singers.

On the latter category:  if you haven’t already done so, give a listen to the Norah Jones CD The Fall.  Sure, I know it’s been out there for a while.  So has Zion National Park.  That doesn’t make it any less amazing.

You could spend days talking about incredible female voices in American music.  Judy Garland.  Rosemary Clooney.  Aretha Franklin.  Patsy Cline.  Janis Joplin.  Linda Ronstadt. Gladys Knight.

In The Fall, Norah Jones holds her own with this impossible competition.  Her smoky voice, with its deliberate pace and terrific lower register, adds an incredible depth to her songs.  Listen to I Wouldn’t Need You and December if you don’t believe me.

Friday night, after a great night out catching up with old friends and a few cold Blue Moon Beligian Wheats, is just about the perfect time to listen to Norah Jones.