Car Names

Yesterday I was driving in downtown Columbus, in line behind one of those generic, ubiquitous, slow-moving SUVs. I looked at the colossal rear end of the vehicle and saw that it was called the Buick Enclave.

The Enclave? Now there’s a car name.

The Enclave is both evocative and designed to appeal to a very specific segment of the population. Evocative, because the enormous car actually looked like a big, boxy, rolling chunk of metal capable of sheltering a healthy segment of the population from the ravages of the outside world. Of limited and specific appeal, because no one who buys an Enclave is looking for anything sporty or daring. Nope, they want safety, and comfortable seats, and lots of cupholders where they can store the drinks they’re sipping in happy security as ugly, dangerous reality slides by outside their windows.

Car manufacturers do a pretty good job with names that define the vehicle itself, like the Mustang, or the Challenger, or the Nissan Cube. The Buick Enclave, I think, has to have a place in the Pantheon of great car names. But should it concern us that there apparently is a healthy market of American car buyers who are looking for a rolling enclave?

The Penny Chronicles

My name is Penny.

IMG_6268Every once in a while I see one of these things on the counter.  When that happens, I get very excited!  I jump up, put my paws on the counter, and knock it off and take it to where I can give it a good chew.

These are great things to chew!  They are brittle and small, and with my jaws and teeth I break them easily.  They snap and crackle and crunch, and it makes me realize I am a powerful dog.  That feels good!  I bite and chew and munch, and soon the basket is a splintered, slobbery mess.  I look at it, and I realize my work is done.

But then the real fun begins.  The old boring guy finds it, and boy does he get mad!  He says bad words and gets down on his hands and knees and picks up every little stick and piece of slobbery wood.  Ha, ha!  Time for the old boring guy to get some exercise!

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.

The Dog Barf Punishment

I sort of anticipated it.

When you’ve worked a full day and then decided, just for the hell of it, to go out for a beer with your colleagues after work — for the first time in years, mind you — you should expect that the Fates will discipline you.  So as I returned home, still savoring that most enjoyable after-work libation and chat with JV and the Unkempt Guy, knowing that two starving dogs would be waiting at the front door barking their famished heads off, I was wary.

IMG_2426But, dog barf?  A pool of dog barf on the family room carpet?  I guess I expected to suffer for my small transgression from accepted forms of responsible adult behavior, but isn’t dog barf a bit . . . harsh?  Does having a beer after work really merit finding yourself on your hands and knees on the family room carpet, hosing down the vile puddle with “spot clean avenger” and trying to mop it up with a rag before it leaves a permanent stain?

And, did you ever think about the sheer wonder of dog vomit?  After all, our dogs will eat, lick, smell, or otherwise consume the most appalling and foully odiferous objects, smears, and substances.  Our two dogs have the most cast-iron digestive systems imaginable.  What could be so repulsive that it would cause them to hurl?  My God, what could they possibly have eaten while I was gone?

So now I walk gingerly around the house, wondering whether Penny tried to chew the upholstery on the chair in the study or Kasey gnawed the knob off one of the kitchen cabinets and whether there is an even more disgusting surprise lurking somewhere in the house.

Still, the after-dinner beer was worth it.

That Hangdog Expression

IMG_2421Kish is up visiting family in Vermilion, and without her around Penny and Kasey think the house has gone to the dogs.  They obviously miss her, which is why they’ve got that hangdog expression. 

I thought some exercise might shake them out of their torpor, but our brisk afternoon walk just left them dog-tired.  Rather than trying again, I’m just going to let them dog it for the rest of the day.

A Day When It All Goes To Hell

It had been a perfectly good day.  A productive day at work, pleasantly mild weather, a nice walk back to my car.  And that’s when the trouble started and the star-crossed day really began.

The car wouldn’t start.  It was completely dead.  Kish was out of town, and I had to get back home and feed and walk the dogs.  But how?  It was too late to catch a bus, even if I had known which bus to catch.  My friends had all left work.  It’s too far to walk, too.  So a cab was the only option.

My cab driver had possibly — possibly — lived in Columbus for a month.  I directed him to take the fastest way back, following the freeways, but because he didn’t know where the hell he was going he kept it well below the speed limit.  It was the slowest cab ride I’ve ever experienced.  A little old lady zipped by in an Oldsmobile and gave us the finger.  I’m not sure, but I think we may have been passed by a toddler on a tricycle. 

Approximately three days and a hefty fare later, I walked to my front door to be greeted by two frantic dogs.  I fed them and decided not to change before walking them, but Kasey elected to have an accident just to teach me a lesson for getting home so late, anyway.  After cleaning that up and doing the poop patrol duty, then restraining two wildly barking and lunging dogs from attacking a clearly worried woman who was walking a tiny furball, we returned home.

The icemaker picked that time to jam, and when I opened the freezer door to investigate the problem one metric ton of ice fell to the floor, fractured into tiny splinters, and had to be swept up.  The first wine glass I picked from the cabinet had a big crack in it, and when I turned to get a new one Penny knocked my plate of food off the counter.

It was the kind of day that made our remote ancestors decide that alcohol needed to be invented.

Sucked Into The Polar Vortex

Here in the Midwest, we’re bracing for the latest round of unpredictable weather.  People have read that a “polar vortex” will be moving through this week, producing unseasonably cool temperatures in Ohio and its neighbors, and there’s been a lot of chatter about it.

IMG_5797The meteorologists are debating whether the incoming weather conditions really should be called a polar vortex at all — but the average Joe doesn’t care about the scientific mumbo-jumbo.  The fact is, we like having weather phenomena to talk about.  It’s basic, inoffensive stuff that you can talk about with anyone, and since it’s always changing, it’s a constant source of new fodder for conversation.  “Hot enough for ya?”  “That thunderstorm last night was a big one, wasn’t it?”  “This is the snowiest winter in years.”  Sure, it’s boring — but remember, this is the Midwest.

The predicted “polar vortex” (or not) that is headed our way consists of thunderstorms followed by a few days of high temperatures in the low 70s and lows in the low 50s.  Compared to tornadoes and other bad weather conditions, it’s pretty tame.  In fact, it sounds like a delightful break from the normal July menu of blazing days in the 90s and hot, muggy nights.  We’ll probably open our windows and enjoy the cool air.

And then, of course, we’ll all talk about it.

The Penny Chronicles

My name is Penny.

IMG_2418Sometimes the Leader can’t sleep at night.  When that happens, she goes to another room to read a book, and I go with her.  She will lie down on the couch, and I will snuggle in next to her.  She reads for a while, then falls asleep, so I will, too.  It’s my job to keep an eye on the Leader.

Sometimes the old boring guy can’t sleep at night, either.  When that happens, he will get up and go to another room, too.  I don’t know exactly where he goes, because I never go with him.  Never.  Sorry, old boring guy!  The Leader is my number one priority, and you don’t even make the top ten list.

Kasey always can sleep at night.  I know that because she snores.  I mean, she really, really snores!  But when the morning comes and it’s time for food, Kasey is up like a flash, runs down the stairs, and starts barking.  Who can blame her?  We are hungry!

Is The Red Head Dead?

Climate change advocates have made a lot of dire predictions about irreversible increases in global temperature, seas rising and swallowing island nations, and other catastrophes wrought by the nefarious greenhouse gas emissions of humanity.  But now they may have crossed the line:  they’re predicting the extinction of redheads due to climate change.

The theory is that red hair is an evolutionary response to the lack of sunlight in areas like Scotland, where red heads make up a sizable chunk of the population, because red hair and fair skin allows people to get the maximum amount of vitamin D from a minimum amount of sunlight.  If gloomy places like Scotland starts to get more sunlight due to global warming, the theory goes, then the evolutionary advantage red hair provides will be lost, and redheads will vanish from the human gene pool.

There’s some facial rationality to this theory.  If you’ve ever seen a redhead in a hothouse climate like Florida, you know that gingers wouldn’t flourish in perpetually sunny conditions and instead would retreat indoors, bemoaning their apparently permanent sunburns.  There obviously will be less inclination to engage in the physical activity needed to pass on those redhead genes if your skin is burned to a brick red color and feels like it’s on fire.

I’m hoping the climate change scientists are wrong on this very upsetting prediction.  I’m a fan of redheads, and not just because I married one and Kish’s family tree is full of them.  The world would be a poorer place without Lucille Ball and Maureen O’Hara, Vincent Van Gogh and Winston Churchill, Ron Howard and Willie Nelson.  With a lineup like that, we’ll even take a clinker like Carrot Top now and then.

Sunday Night TV Apocalypse

Many Americans begin their Sundays with a visit to the church of their choice and end them with apocalyptic visions — watching TV characters struggle with catastrophic scenarios that have put the human race on the brink of extinction.

Sunday night is the prime TV viewing period in the Webner household and across America.  Lately, though, it seems like every show has an apocalyptic theme.  On Falling Skies, the Earth has been invaded by multiple alien species who are hoping to wipe us off the face of the planet.  On The Last Ship, a weaponized virus has swept across the globe, killing and infecting 80 percent of humans, toppling governments, and leaving only one American ship and one scientist as humanity’s last, best hope for a cure.  And on The Leftovers, two percent of the world’s population has mysteriously vanished, leaving the remaining population to wonder why, struggle with the aftermath, and witness a slow breakdown of the entire social order.  (I recognize there are other apocalyptic TV shows out there, but one couple can only endure so much televised disaster.)

Why are these shows so popular?  For one, Americans like to see people in peril, and have enjoyed it since The Perils of Pauline.  Apocalyptic shows just allow the peril to occur on a much grander scale.  Too, the broad plot lines give ample room for action and adventure, heroism and cowardice, charismatic leaders, people finding inner strength, romance amidst the carnage, and acts of sacrifice and betrayal, and therefore can appeal to just about everyone.  If you like battles, you can watch the freedom fighters on Falling Skies gun down “skitterers” or the Navy personnel on The Last Ship fight al-Qaeda terrorists and rogue Russians.  And occasionally bigger picture questions can be addressed, too.  What is the role of hope in life?  How would ordinary people react to Armageddon?  What role, if any, would religion play when people are dealing with the end of life as we know it?

It’s all very interesting, and it makes for a good night of TV viewing.  And, having immersed ourselves in catastrophe on Sunday night, we awaken on Monday morning refreshed and well positioned to face another week of work.

The Relentless March Of Cell Phone Progress

If you want to have a good idea of the relentless march of technology — actually, a sprint is probably more accurate than a march — consider the cell phone.

When first introduced in the ’80s, they were heavy and clunky.  Then the miniaturizing wizards got to work, and phones got smaller and smaller as coverage got better and better.  Then the coolness barons entered the game, and the boring cellphones of the past morphed into cool, Star Trek-like communicators that flipped open and made you feel like you were on the cutting edge of a sci-fi life.  Then the app designers brought their skills to bear, and cell phones went from simple communications devices to cameras, games consoles, and repositories of such vast amounts of personal information that the Supreme Court recently deemed a warrantless search of a cell phone legally analogous to a general search of a home.

We tend to move unconsciously with all of these changes, without pausing to think what it used to be like before the apps and the miniaturization and the styling.  That’s why a hilarious piece like this one, about a 2014 cell phone user trying to use 2004′s coolest phone for an entire month, is not only funny but a useful reminder.  Humans are an adaptable species, and nowhere is that more evident than in our immediate willingness to use and learn the latest technology — and then assume it has always been around.

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.

Waiting For The BOOM!

IMG_6243Tonight is Red, White, & BOOM! night in downtown Columbus, and when I left the office this afternoon — we knock off early, so people can beat the traffic — fireworks fans were already gathering by the riverfront and the food vendors were hawking their wares.  All of the ingredients of a traditional Fourth of July fireworks display were present:  bad traffic, junk food, t-shirts with bald eagles that are two sizes too small, blankets and lawn chairs, corn dogs, miniature American flags, coolers of ice-cold beer, cutoff jeans, soft-serve ice cream, and acres of exposed human flab.

Let the fireworks begin!

In The Cage With Facebook Lab Rats

Some people are very upset that Facebook has admitted conducting a psychological experiment on hundreds of thousands of randomly selected users.

In the 2012 study, Facebook data scientists decided to test the hypothesis that reading about the great things “Facebook friends” are writing about their lives depresses readers, who feel that their lives kind of suck by comparison.  So, for one week, the data scientists used an algorithm on the Facebook news feeds of almost 700,000 people to delete posts with words associated with positive, or negative, emotions to see whether it affected the kinds of posts those readers made.  The study ultimately refuted that hypothesis.

A number of people feel that the experiment treated Facebook users as guinea pigs, improperly tried to manipulate their emotions, and was unethical.  I can understand the sentiment, but I think we all need to accept that we are lab rats in a vast media stew in which the overriding goal is to manipulate our emotions and perceptions — whether the active agent is a Facebook post, an email designed to provoke us to make a contribution to a political candidate, or a banner ad that touts the miracle weight-loss qualities of a previously unknown plant.  Face it, folks — it’s all just part of navigating through our media-saturated modern culture.

Knowing about Facebook’s willingness to conduct broad-scale psychological and social experiments has its positive aspects, too — it helps to explain certain otherwise inexplicable realities of Facebook.  From my occasional review of my “news feed,” I’m guessing that Facebook is currently conducting tests on these other hypotheses:

*  What is more likely to cause “de-friending”:  incessant requests to play Facebook games or posting memes that express rote sentiments and demand “click like if you agree!”?

*  Are conservatives or liberals more likely to post ludicrously overheated, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it reactions to current events?

*  Is there any location on a Facebook page where ads can be placed that readers will not be able to successfully ignore them?

*  Does the frequency of posts with pictures of food increase as Facebook users age?

The Chicago Skyway Blows

The only bad thing about our short trip to Chicago this weekend was our use of the Chicago Skyway.  Coming or going, it blows.  I thought the inaccurately named Dan Ryan “Expressway” was bad — so bad that if I were Dan Ryan, I’d ask that my name be removed from that sorry, always-under-repair stretch of Chicago roadway — but I would take the Dan Ryan 10 times out of 10 against the Chicago Skyway.

IMG_2373For the uninitiated, the Chicago Skyway and the Dan Ryan Expressway are the two ways to get to Chicago from northern Indiana.  The Dan Ryan is a freeway, the Chicago Skyway is a toll road.  You’d think that would mean that the Skyway would be a better driving experience — better road, faster, and so forth.  That makes sense . . . but it would be wrong.  In fact, the road conditions from Chicago to the I-65 turnoff just east of Gary are miserable.  And, because you have to go through three separate toll stops, it’s clearly slower even than the orange barrel-filled Dan Ryan Expressway — to say nothing of costing almost $8.  What does the money go for?  Beats me!  My shock absorbers would say it’s certainly not used for road repair.

It’s also obviously not used for toll booth employees or upkeep.  Today we were infuriated because only two of six toll booths at the final turnoff were taking cash or credit card.  Three lanes were reserved for E-ZPass — which is irritating in its own right — and one was closed for unknown reasons.  Of course, there were long lines in the two cash/credit lanes, which were made all the worse by the fact that rather than a toll booth employee, we had to pay a machine, and the machine didn’t tell you how much you owed.  It was scrambled, and the screen showed nothing but gibberish, like this:  ###%^**##.  So, what to pay?  Not surprisingly, it took us forever to get past the toll booth.  It was like some satanic trick:  just as we were celebrating escaping the Chicago Skyway once and for all, a final bit of ineptitude trapped us in toll booth hell.  What idiot allowed this to happen?

If Chicago wants to improve its image, the Skyway would be a good place to start.