Snow On Tax Day

When I left the house this morning there were blizzard-like conditions, when only a few hours earlier the temperature was in the 60s. “Why not?” I thought. It’s Tax Day.

IMG_1905As I drove down to Cincinnati, the odor of rubbery, overcooked broccoli somehow started seeping from my car’s ventilation system. After I parked my car in the Queen City I was pushed to the ground by an angry nun, then kicked in the butt by a dwarf dressed up like Uncle Sam. “Why not?” I thought. It’s Tax Day.

At lunch a packet of mustard sprayed all over my favorite tie, and the people the next table over got into a loud and aggressive discussion about whether Al Franken was a more compelling historical figure than Ted Cruz. “Why not?” I thought. It’s Tax Day.

After my meeting was over it rained dead frogs on the way to the car, then a thick plague of locusts descended, turning the daylight to darkness. “Why not?” I thought. It’s Tax Day.

As I drove home, the classic rock station on the car radio played the song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot. “What the hell?” I thought. I know it’s Tax Day, but playing The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is where I draw the line.

Baited Breath

Today as I was driving home I heard a snippet of a press conference given by a police chief somewhere in America. He was talking about an investigation he was conducting in coordination with the federal government, and reassured citizens that no stone would be left unturned thanks to their “duplicitous” efforts. Sounds like the kind of devastating admission that could be used to good effect by the lawyers who defend whoever gets arrested as a result of that joint investigation!

IMG_1674Of course, the police chief should have said “duplicative” — which is probably what he intended — but he botched it. No doubt he wanted to sound highly educated, but instead he gave people who were paying attention a hearty chuckle at a pretty good malapropism.

I received an even better malapropism recently via email. The emailer said he was waiting for something with “baited breath.” I laughed at that one, and thought of all the witty, fish-related responses that his error made possible. Should I say that when he finally got a response he shouldn’t fall for it hook, line and sinker? Add that I hoped he wouldn’t worm his way out of his responsibilities? Observe that if it didn’t work out there were other fish in the sea? Fret about the possibility that the project might hit a snag?

“Baited breath” — as opposed to bated breath — seemed like an especially succulent metaphor because it conjures up the idea of the speaker eating worms, minnows, and maybe even a little chum and tackle. Alas, it turns out that “baited breath” has become so commonplace that linguists think it might soon become the usual form of the phrase. Horrors! Has illiteracy reeled in and ruined another deft phrase that traces its lineage back to Shakespeare himself?

Books, Books, Authors, Food Trucks, Books

Get out your calendars, your book bags, and your wallets. The 2014 Ohioana Book Festival is less than a month away.

IMG_3700This year’s festival will be held on Saturday, May 10, 2014 at the Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center in downtown Columbus. The doors will open at 10 a.m. and close at 4:30, and in between the readers among us will be able to browse through a wide array of books, meet authors, listen to writers talk about their craft, and enjoy an interesting assortment of food trucks when their physical hunger overwhelms their intellectual curiosity. You can keep track of the authors, and the Festival schedule, here.

If you’re interested in volunteering at the Festival, you can information about available positions and activities here. Book festival volunteers will receive a cool Ohioana Book Festival t-shirt, as well as the undying gratitude of Ohioana staffers and Board members.

My One Visit To A Prison

The other day I drove past Orient, Ohio, the home of the Pickaway Correctional Institution, and I remembered my visit to that facility. It’s the only time I’ve ever been to a prison — and for me that one encounter was more than enough.

It was about 25 years ago, when we were defending a lawsuit brought by a number of siblings. We had to take their depositions, and one of them was in prison at the Orient facility. That meant the deposition would be at the prison. I drew that happy assignment.

I drove down to Orient, which is in a rural county south of Columbus. It’s a basic prison as prisons go, and not one of the maximum security facilities where the most violent and dangerous inmates are housed. Still, there was a lot of security — guard posts and barbed wire fences, going through multiple gates and doors with buzzers and bells and bright lights, showing identification at a series of locations — and I was keenly focused on scrupulously obeying every instruction I received. With the clanging shut of each gate and locked door that I passed through, I felt an oppressive physical and mental impact.

Finally I was inside, in a place where everyone but me, the court reporter, and the other lawyer wore a special outfit. The guards wore their uniforms, and the prisoners wore bright orange jumpsuits. The deposition was in a room off the common eating area, where some prisoners were lingering at tables. We followed a guard to the room, and as we walked through the common area I consciously avoided making eye contact with anyone.

We got to the room, and a guard brought in the deponent. He was a tall young guy, probably around 20, who was in prison for some kind of robbery offense. When the guard escorted him to the room he was handcuffed and wearing the ubiquitous jump suit. I was worried that he would be a glowering, threatening type, but he wasn’t. He answered my questions politely and carefully, without the aggressive attitude I had expected.

When the deposition was over, the guard walked him back to his cell, and the lawyers and court reporter cleared out of there as fast as we could. As I drove through the last gate at the last barbed wire fence, I breathed a sigh of relief. It felt wonderful to be free of that place. I suppose that’s the idea.

Morning Chirps On A Freshening Breeze

IMG_5999Last night it was warm enough for us to risk sleeping with the bedroom windows scrolled open. By the time this morning rolled around, we were treated to a clean, freshening breeze and the delightful sound of birds singing and chirping to greet the new day.

After a long, cold, seemingly endless winter, I’m not sure which was more welcome, but we were glad to have both of them. When you’re cooped up all winter long, the air in the house grows stale, and a morning breeze that brings in fresh air is as much a part of spring cleaning as a broom or a mop. And during the winter our avian friends are nowhere to be seen — or heard. The return of birds, and their birdsong, gives us hope that springtime is here to stay. It makes me feel like going outside, putting my toes on the cool grass, and letting loose with a chirp or two of my own.

Card Sharks

An Atlantic City casino, the Borgata Casino & Spa, has sued a big-time gambler, claiming that he cheated at cards and won $9.6 million playing baccarat in the process. (Those of you who are James Bond fans, like me, will recall that baccarat is 007′s game of choice.)

The casino alleges that the gambler used a method called “edge sorting” that took advantage of defective cards with patterns on the backs that were not uniform. The lawsuit claims that the gambler noticed the defect and got the dealer to arrange and shuffle the cards in a way that allowed him to use the non-uniform patterns to identify which cards were coming out of the dealer’s shoe.

$9.6 million is a lot of money — but it’s got to be embarrassing for a casino to admit that they didn’t detect that they were being provided with defective cards and were duped by this alleged scheme. Don’t casinos, as a matter of course, take steps to make sure that the cards they are using have uniform patterns on the backs?

It reminds me of my high school days, when boys would gather in the “student lounge” during free periods and play euchre. We didn’t gamble for money, but I remember one of my classmates bringing in a deck of “marked” cards and showing us how you could decipher the marks on the back. I never would have noticed the difference — but then I’m not a casino where gamblers have the opportunity to win millions of dollars.

The Bright Universe Below

IMG_1898Astronomers bemoan the amount of light produced by cities and suburbs at night. The bright glow from below interferes with their ability to see the stars above.

I saw a good example of the “light pollution” as I flew into Newark on a clear night earlier this week. Ironically, the light from the houses, parking lots, and shopping centers on the ground reminded me of the stars and constellations of the evening sky.