Smell Not Covered

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We got a laugh out of this painfully earnest sign on the inside of a rear passenger window of a D.C. taxi that took us to the airport today.

I’m not quite sure how a cabbie would determine “marital status” or “family responsibility” or “political affiliation” or “source of income” or other non-visible qualities. I do know that if one asked me about any of these topics he wouldn’t need to discriminate against me — I’d never get into a taxi with a complete stranger who asked me such intrusive personal questions. (It’s nerve-wracking enough to trust that complete stranger to drive you to your destination without incident, without wondering whether the personal inquisitiveness means he is a complete nutcase, if not an axe murderer.)

Although the list of protected characteristics is long, it is not exhaustive. It appears D.C cab drivers could still refuse to transport someone who smells awful, or displays visible signs of complete insanity, or is brandishing a hand grenade.

Well-Knotted

The act of tying a tie is a simple one — and also a pain for those of us who toil in jobs where we still are expected to wear a piece of fabric cinched around our necks — but that doesn’t make its successful accomplishment any less satisfying.

IMG_3445For most of us unfortunates, the act of tying your tie to get ready for work is as rote as tying your shoe or starting the car in the morning.  The process is so automatic and ingrained you don’t even think about the individual steps.

II don’t know the name of my tie-knotting technique and whether it produces a Windsor knot, a Four-in-hand, or something else.  I just know that the chosen cravat is placed over my shoulders with the wide end on one side and the narrow on the other, and the relative length of each is adjusted by instinct.  The wide end then is looped around the narrow, popped through a hole directly under my chin, and flopped on top of the narrow end and drawn down to make a reasonably acceptable knot.   The last step is to tug down the narrow end until the gap between the tie and the shirt collar is closed and the button is no longer visible.  Voila!

If I can accomplish this and avoid the dreaded “Oliver Hardy” look — where the narrow end is longer than the wide end, which ends up flapping forlornly on the belly — while also having the wide end reach belt level, the operation was a success.  Extra points if I meet those goals and also produce the perfectly centered dimple.

It’s the little things, especially on a Thursday morning.

Clean Plate Club

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In the Webner household of my youth, being a member of the Clean Plate Club was an aspirational goal. Because I stubbornly refused to eat vegetables — largely because they tasted and smelled like aged sweat socks — it was an aspirational goal that I almost never achieved.

Still, old family traditions die hard. So when I found myself at the Oceanaire Seafood Room in Washington, D.C. tonight, faced with a plate of rare ahi tuna, seafood salad, ginger, and wasabi sauce, the inclination was to eat it all. No matter that the wasabi sauce made your eyes water and briefly caused your vision to go out of focus! Mom would have wanted the Clean Plate Club to have another member.

I’m proud to say that I fulfilled my clean plate obligations, and cleared up any lingering sinus issues in the process.

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“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.

Our Riotous Boss’s Day Celebration

Yesterday morning the ever-upbeat Chipper Secretary came into my office with a big smile on her face, handed me a card, and said:  “Happy Boss’s Day!”

Eh?  Boss’s Day?

Of course!  How could I have forgotten?  That explained the din from outside the window, where the famous Columbus Boss’s Day parade was passing by.  As the CS and I looked outside to see the throngs of ecstatic celebrants crowding the streets, a band was playing one of the many selections from the great American songbook recognizing the crucial role played by bosses in our society.  One of the many floats — all of which are hand made by office workers and must be decorated exclusively with shredded, recycled copier paper — depicted an appreciative employee receiving a “coaching session” from a friendly mentor that turned around his lagging career.  It was followed by the popular Shriner mini-cars, which stopped and disgorged gangs of would-be “bosses” juggling paperweights and other desk ornaments as happy children shrieked with laughter, then a man dressed like a stapler who handed out free samples to the grateful parade-watchers.

Of course, the celebration didn’t stop outside the window.  In our office excited people gathered in conference rooms to eat traditional Boss’s Cake, each hoping to get the piece with the tiny gold bowler hat that presages a year of “exceeds expectation” performance reviews.  Later the ritual Boss’s Day games began, and one of the secretaries set a new firm speed record for successfully placing a five-party conference call while simultaneously booting up a PowerPoint presentation.  By the end of the day, exhausted but happy workers were ready to go back to their homes, ready for their families to share in the fellowship that always wells in the breast of every employee when Boss’s Day ends.

I really appreciated the card.