Shakin’ All Over

Last night Kish and I were at a dinner for the conference I’m attending here in Vancouver when we noticed an odd sensation.  I looked up at one of the hanging light fixtures and saw that it was swaying noticeably from side to side.

At first, I thought it was the overly vigorous dancing of some of our fellow attendees, who were stoked with alcohol and out cutting a rug to a live band.  After all, when dozens of apparently well-lubricated people are twisting, gyrating, stomping, shimmying, and mashed potatoing to their maximum capability, it’s not unreasonable to expect the light fixtures to feel the impact.  But it wasn’t the dancing — it was an honest-to-God earthquake, coming in at 6.7 magnitude on the Richter scale, that set the light fixtures to trembling.  And then it was over before we realized it.

I’ve been in very mild earthquakes before, but this one made our visit to Vancouver special.  Having lived through a noticeable tremor, we feel we can truly say that we have experienced the west coast.

Please, Travelers, Don’t Set That Alarm!

Our first night in Vancouver, Kish and I were jolted awake because a prior occupant of our room had set the clock radio alarm.  We stumbled over, bleary-eyed, to paw at the device and shut it off.

ButIMG_20140424_091322 then this morning the alarm sounded again.  We obviously didn’t shut it off entirely, and now we have two options — spend precious moments trying to figure out an alien clock-radio that is far more complicated than our home unit, or just suck it up and accept that we are going to be awakened at the same time tomorrow.  Since the first scenario is undoubtedly beyond our stunted technological capabilities and the second is unacceptable, we’ll probably just unplug the damned thing.

Please, travelers, don’t set that alarm!  Use the alarm function on your smartphone, or get a wakeup call from the front desk instead.  If you set the clock-radio alarm, you know you won’t disable it before you leave the room — and if you don’t no one else will, ever. If you set the alarm on the clock radio, you therefore are dooming generations of future guests to fumbling with that screeching alarm at your designated time until doomsday comes — or until some other thoughtless individual resets the alarm for a different time.

No hotel clock radio alarm that gets set ever gets fully turned off.  It’s as permanent as the pyramids.  So fellow travelers, please have mercy!

Once More Into The Same Age Interlude

As of today, for the next two months, I am the same age as my older brother. Of course, when I saw him this afternoon he taunted me about it, as brothers must. It’s an annual rite.

00019762We were born 10 months apart, back in the ’50s during the Baby Boom, when hospitals were overloaded with newborns and every family was growing like crazy. He was the spindly one and I was the beefy porker. He was the well-behaved one who would pose politely for a photo with a smelly goat at a cheap petting zoo, and I was the Curly-lookalike who wrinkled my nose at the odor and wandered away as fast as I could waddle.

Having a brother so close in age has its good points and its bad points. The principal good point is that he went through everything right before I did, and if there were barriers to be broken he did the breaking so I could sail through clear. And, of course, we spent a lot of time together and both grew up cursed with loyalty to Cleveland sports teams, so I had someone to commiserate with when the inevitable sports disasters occurred. The principal bad point is that now virtually everyone thinks that I’m the older brother — and its not even a close question — while skinny, black-haired UJ is the youngster.

So it will be, again, until June 19 when UJ celebrates number 58. I’ll kid him about it when it happens, as brothers must.

Mixology 101ers

IMG_1914Last night we had dinner with friends and our hosts had a surprise for our merry HJ band: they invited a bartender to teach our group how to make drinks. It made an already great evening into a riotous one.

Our bartender, an outgoing young woman named Charity Justman, gave us a funny, soup-to-nuts overview that started with wrestling pour spouts into bottles and ended with sage advice on tipping techniques that will improve the service you get in a public bar. She taught us how to do a professional bartender’s pour without using a shot glass (it’s all in the “one and two, three and four” cadence), showed us how to shake, muddle, mix and pour our concoctions, and clued us in on the language of bartending — a lot of which includes sexual references. We all got to serve as the “bar back” and the bartender, make a complicated drink, and then sample small portions of our reasonably well-prepared libations. At one point our hardworking crew donned unique sunglasses for a picture.

There’s more to bartending than the uninitiated would think, and learning about the craft from a friendly and patient pro like Charity is a lot of fun. If you’re looking for something different to do during your next dinner party in Columbus, you can reach her at http://www.facebook.com/YourTravelingBartender.

The Psychology Of The Two-Urinal Rule

Every guy knows this basic rule about the use of a public bathroom: if someone else is using one of the bank of urinals, you need to choose a location that leaves at least one urinal between you and the other user. It’s one of those social conventions that is so widely accepted that you really notice a breach.

This week The Atlantic has a fascinating article about the psychology of the two-urinal rule and other phobias and taboos about the use of public bathrooms. I was unaware, for example, that there was a formal name for the condition that causes people to have anxiety about using a public bathroom to do “number one” — it’s called paruresis — and that affects about 20 million Americans to some extent or another. (The analogous condition about “number two,” called parcopresis, is far less common.)

IMG_4196Interestingly, men seem to be more troubled about use of public bathrooms than are women, and the free-standing, out-in-the-open urinal apparently is a significant part of the problem. Studies show that men worry that they are being watched while they are standing there doing their business, whereas women — safely seated in a flimsy yet shielded stall as they answer the imperative — tend to worry more about cleanliness and comfort. Some men’s rooms are now being designed with partitions between individual urinals to try to address the perceived privacy problem.

The article notes that, even in our wide-open culture, there are still many taboos and rigid behavioral norms about using a public bathroom — even though the notion of privacy while excreting is a fairly recent development in the long history of humans. We tend not to talk to anyone when we are inside. We don’t make eye contact with other users, and in fact strive to maintain a state of studied indifference to their very existence. And, of course, we do our best to ignore the sights, smells, and physical conditions in the bathroom and the fact that the facilities are being used by complete strangers for unpleasant but essential bodily functions.

If you use public bathrooms all the time, you incorporate these norms and obey them, accept the fact of bodily imperatives, and forget about it. For some people, that’s harder than for others. So if the guy ahead of you in the line for a urinal at the next Browns game seems to be taking a while, give him a break — he’s probably doing his best while dealing with the weight of some deep-seated psychological issues.

The At The Airport At The End Of A Long Day Roundelay

IMG_20140417_211130I’m at the airport, sad to say
I sing the airport roundelay

I left before the dawn’s first ray
Long hours ago, to my dismay

I’m at the end of a long day
At which I’ve had all work, no play

The seating area has a strong bouquet
The guy next door brought Chipotle

I’m hoping there’s no flight delay
Were I religious, for that I’d pray

So don’t tell me of travel’s cachet
I sing the airport roundelay

Elimination Diets And The Value Of Beans

The latest diet trend, apparently, is the “elimination diet.” I say “apparently” because it’s impossible for an average person to stay on top of dietary fads. Is “juicing” still hot, or have we moved on to the “Dukan diet” or some other variation?

An “elimination diet” is one in which the dieter stops consuming entire categories of foods — say, eggs and dairy products — for a few weeks, to see whether the dietary change causes some positive change in their body condition. If you’ve got a chronic sour stomach or embarrassing gastrointestinal tendencies, maybe ceasing your gluten or nut consumption might help. And, as is always the case with this kind of diet topic, there are enthusiastic proponents of the elimination diet concept who swear that it has dramatically changed their lives for the better.

It’s hard for me to believe that any person who is paying attention isn’t aware of the eventual bodily impact of certain foods. I know that if I eat carryout Chinese food it will suck every ounce of moisture from my body and cause me to wake up the next morning with a mouthful of salt. I know that if I eat chili with beans for lunch my co-workers will want me to stay out of elevators for the rest of the day. I don’t think I need to eliminate entire categories of food to figure out the cause-and-effect chain.

Speaking of beans, they highlight one other problem with the “elimination diet.” A recent study has concluded that eating beans, peas, and other legumes lowers “bad cholesterol,” which is a cardiovascular health marker. In view of the fact that we are regularly bombarded with studies that provide us with often conflicting information about the health effects of eating certain foods — and always at precise portion sizes — how are you supposed to know if your elimination diet has cut out the magical food that might help you avoid a crippling heart attack or diabetes?

I’ve lived long enough to have seen the “food pyramid” revised once or twice, been exposed to countless studies about foods, and seen diet fads go from Scarsdale to Beverly Hills and back again. I’m convinced that if you want to stay trim, the formula is simple — consume in moderation, avoid too many sweets, and get plenty of exercise. For most of us, however, it’s not the plan that’s the problem, it’s the execution.

The Burrower

IMG_1907There must be something about beagles and burrowing. Unlike Penny, who prefers to just plop down wherever and snooze, Kasey will find the nearest blanket or comforter and use her head and paws to burrow down deep and wrap herself up, until she’s as snug as a bug in a rug — even if she ends up hanging off the chair, with head and legs akimbo.

She snores like a longshoreman, too.

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?

Let’s Go, Jackets!

Let me say at the outset that I am not a hockey fan. I don’t put an “eh” at the end of every sentence. I don’t know the difference between the red line and the blue line, and I’m lost when someone starts talking about “putting the puck in the five-hole.”

Nevertheless, over the past few weeks I’ve found myself regularly checking the ESPN website for hockey results, and on Wednesday night I actually listened to a hockey broadcast as I drove home from Cincinnati. The Blue Jackets won that game and clinched a playoff spot for only the second time in franchise history. With two games left in the regular season — included tonight’s matchup against Tampa Bay — the CBJ now are hoping to improve their playoff position and avoid a first-round series against either Boston or Pittsburgh, which are the two powerhouse teams in the Eastern Conference of the NHL.

Why do I care? I have a lot of friends who are Blue Jackets fans and season ticket holders who have suffered through some dismal, disappointing seasons since the team first started playing in 2000. I’m happy for them. I’m happy for Columbus, too. Nationwide Arena, where the CBJ skate, is the cornerstone of the Columbus Arena District. We need the team to be successful and prosperous for that area to continue to be a growing, vibrant destination. Playoff games will bring excitement, visitors, and tax revenues that will help fill city coffers. And if the Blue Jackets could make a playoff run, all of those positive benefits would be compounded.

Of course, the only time the Blue Jackets made the playoffs they were swept and out in three games — but that’s ancient history, right? Let’s go, Jackets!

National Siblings Day

00019764UJ has posted something on Facebook about National Siblings Day. I was not aware that there was such a thing, but then it sounds like one of those lame, made-up days concocted solely to sell greetings cards or promote Facebook postings.

Not that your brothers and sisters shouldn’t be recognized. After all, you’ve shared all kinds of meaningful moments with them, and they put up with you during the teenage years — when everyone is at their worst. They deserve credit and accolades.

But if you’re going to do recognize your siblings, why not do it in the way most families do — by posting an embarrassing photo from the early 1970s, with a ludicrous white brick fireplace backdrop and chintzy hanging lamps, when everyone looks like an idiot and the clothing selections are sure to humiliate even the most hardened personality — whether it’s a pink tie, yellow knee socks, some kind of quasi-Germanic outfit, or combdown sideburns? Only my youngest sister Jean looks like a reasonable human being in this atrocity.

Romantic Russians

We all have our views on what constitutes romance. On Seinfeld, Kramer once expounded on the “timeless art of seduction” — only to find that his awkward efforts were misunderstood by just about everyone who saw them.

So, who’s to say what constitutes romance in Russia? A volatile mix of vodka, poor dental hygiene, and absolute, frenzied desperation would explain why someone yearning for companionship might pose in a cheap, poorly made mermaid’s costume, in the trunk of a car, in a rain puddle in the middle of street, or on a heap of trash, and post the picture on a Russian dating website. And what else but high-octane alcohol and hopelessness might cause a person to think that a fox head cap might be the key to unlocking the hearts of the opposite sex?

So, judge not. If you were trapped in a soulless, mind-numbing existence on the outskirts of Moscow, you might be tempted to post an evocative pose with a banana or a see through spider web hat, or a photo that makes it look like you are ready to disembowel the next poor, lonely wretch who is willing to be alone in a room with you.