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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Look Ma! No Bacteria!!

It has been a little chilly in Ohio lately.

A good old-fashioned cold snap has moved in.  It was not unusual for early morning temperatures to be 12, 15, even 22 degrees below zero.

Taking the dogs out in the pre-dawn darkness has been somewhat invigorating, attired only in flannel pj pants, sweatshirt and crocs. Why the dogs insist upon wearing that, I will never understand. Neither they nor I dilly-dallied a great deal. Get the job done, gang-way… open the door!

So it was, while overhearing one of the never-ending weather related discourses at work, someone mentioned “At least this cold kills the bacteria outside. That is a real good thing.” Which started the wheels to turning…

Bear in mind, my degree is in History, with an English minor. I am neither a macro nor micro biologist. However, I do know the proper use of the semi-colon and the colon in a sentence.

At first blush, the concept of a bacteria free world sounds pretty good. No colds, no pneumonia, not even a case of upset stomach. We would not have to sniff the milk jug before pouring it on our shredded wheat; it would be perpetually fresh. No more “plastic container roulette” at lunch; is it green or is it edible?  It would always be good! In the words of Nat King Cole: What A Wonderful World! Oh yeah!

(If the reader has been paying attention, they would have noted in the above paragraph two examples of proper colon and semi-colon usage. But I digress.)

For several minutes, my mind ran unfettered in a bacteria free world! No hand sanitizers! No antibiotics! No worries about eating 4 day old left over pizza! Oh happy day!

Then, a little nagging thought began to worm its way to the forefront. “There are good bacteria, and there are bad bacteria” Little Nagging Thought was saying. Here now lay a conundrum.

Let’s suppose there were no bacteria at all. Think about it for a moment. The simplest biological task of digesting a meal would not be possible. Without going into disgusting details, take it from me; good bacteria are “good” for a reason.  If you doubt this assertion, just take too many antibiotics next go-around. You will come to greatly, may I dare say; dearly, appreciate good bacteria.

If there were no bacteria, the oceans, lakes and rivers would be clogged with the remains of un-decomposed fish and marine mammals. Our fields, woodlands, and lawns would be piled with formerly animate birds, deer, saber-tooth tigers, woolly mammoths, maybe even the stray Sasquatch or two along with every other critter which had traversed the earth.

It would be very easy to research one’s ancestors. All that would be needed is a trip back to the Olde Country, rummage around for a while, and voila: Great-great-great-great-great-great you get the idea Granddad Padric, twice removed.  You know, for a guy who died a few centuries ago, he looks pretty good. In fact, cousin Thaddeus has his nose!

Admittedly, this would be an anthropologist’s dream come true. No more speculation; this is what Cro-Magnon Man looked like, and Cro-Magnon Woman, and Cro-Magnon boy, and Cro-Magnon’s neighbors, his dog, his cat, the guy who did the stunning artwork on the cave.  There they would all be, just as pristine as the day they cashed in their chips.

Can you imagine a world in which every blade of grass, leaf, shrub and tree never decomposed? We would have piles of dead vegetation as high as Mount Denali! Worse, there would be no nutrients in soil from decomposing matter. The Great Plains were so fertile due to eons of tall grasses living, dying, and decomposing to provide nutrients for new grasses. This would make it extremely tough to grow crops or any type.

When someone says they are in…ahem… “deep stuff”, they would be speaking of fact, not a euphemism.

If there were no bacteria, you can forget about hopping into your set of wheels and firing that bad boy up. Forget using your gas range, or turning on a light bulb for much of the world.  There would be no oil or natural gas reserves. Coal would be something inconceivable. And, those little sparkly things most women desire, forget it. No coal means no shiny diamonds.

Soon, I was in a morass of chaos brought on by a bacteria free-world. The implications were mind-boggling. Just as I was about to cascade down a slippery slope into the gaping jaws of a long dead coelacanth, my desk phone warbled.

It was my boss, telling me if I didn’t get back to work, my career with the company would be extinct. And that , despite living in a bacteria ridden world, would land me in some really deep stuff!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Céad míle fáilte

It is early February.

Deep within the swallow’s heart, a stirring begins. While not understanding why, the tiny bird finds itself drawn to an ancient former Spanish mission. Far to the South, a turkey vulture feels the tug of Buzzard’s Roost in Hinckley Ohio. With a flap of its great wings, the homely bird begins to wing Northward.

Deep in the recesses of a cold lake, a steel-head trout discerns a faint scent being carried on the current. Before reason can dictate, the fish is swimming against the current to the place of its original spawning.

All are inexplicable migrations; yearnings about which Man has wondered for eons.

So it is with me.
 On a cold, snowy winter’s evening, I could no longer resist the tug of just what I don’t know. Upon regaining awareness, there it was in my shaking hands. Oh… how often I have found myself in this situation in the past. I glance down, knowing what to expect; yet not really cognizant of my actions. There, as if to mock me, were the words “How the Irish Saved Civilization”

Yes, once again, I had been subconsciously drawn to Thomas Cahill’s work. My Irish soul heard the silent call of the book; “Come! Learn once again of your heritage!  Do not be ignorant or deceived by the world’s stereotypes!”

This is not my first, nor my second or third visit with Mr. Cahill. 
No, much like the swallow, vulture, and trout; the reading of Irish culture (yes, there is a culture. It is not an oxymoron) has become nearly an annual event.  And, much like my avian or piscatorial friends; I have absolutely no idea why!

Perhaps it is a preparatory event prior to the recognition of St. Patrick’s Day. Perhaps it is a means to re-stock my arsenal to combat the onslaught of ridiculous myths and stereotypes. Perhaps it is to replenish a well of Irish-ness which has been drawn nearly dry over the previous 12 months.

Regardless of the reasons, once again I am drawn into a world of pre-Christian customs (good and bad), ingenious architecture, heroic poetry and legend. Gratefully, I feel my spirit being refreshed. The aridness of the desert is becoming quenched. Life and vitality stir anew.

I read of petty kings, of inter-tribal livestock (and slave) raids. The wildness of a wild, beautiful island which geologically speaking,is a part of the New World at the very edge of the Old seems fitting. A wild, unique land which brought forth a wild, unique race of people who have impacted every continent of the Earth, from politics to literature to music; the Irish have influenced all.

Incidentally, under ancient Celtic Law, the only persons who could travel un-molested between tribal holdings through the no-man’s-land of the wilderness were Kings, Priests, and Writers.  Everyone else was fair game for thieves, slave-traders, and cut-throats.

The impression of a young Briton who had become enslaved by Celts, to shepherd sheep on the wind and weather swept hills of present day County Mayo. A slave who would escape, travel by foot to the Eastern shores of Eire to board a ship bound to unknown lands. A former slave, who embraced Christianity, became learned in the monasteries of Gaul and Saxony, could have enjoyed a comfortable, secure life. Yet, the slave-priest had a vision; a man of Eire calling to him, pleading with him to return to the land of his enslavement to bring the people the light of the Gospel.  Such is the true Patrick, not a semi-mythic figure who literally “drove the snakes from Ireland”. Although in a metaphorical sense; such is exactly what he did.

As I run my hand over the worn covers and curled pages of the little book; I think of my own Irish-ness. I recall a conversation with my siblings while seated in the sunny Florida room of our parent’s home. Dad had been interred beside Mom.  As the late afternoon light of a late November day began to fade; boxes of this and that were brought forth. Amongst the old photos, the grade-school projects were several things my sister had brought back from her trip to Ireland.

She looked at the items; a pair of clay pipes, a little souvenir lamb of fine Irish wool, a couple other small items.  Gently pushing them across the glass topped table toward me, she said “You should have these. After all, you are the most Irish of us all.”

What had been said partly in jest, I took as a supreme compliment; I thought of those rugged cliffs of Mayo, being assaulted by wave and wind, snow and rain, since before Time was. Yet they still stand, as if defying the lesser elements of wind and water.

I thought of a race of people who had withstood regular raids by Norsemen, harsh Anglo-Saxon rule, hardship upon hardship; yet they stand firm, having overcome all oppressors. 

I think of a people who were amongst the first in the world to recognize the rights of women. The rights to hold property, to vote, to rule, a people who refused to subjugate females; but hold them as equal to any man.

I reflect upon monks in tiny huts, clinging to the edges of cliffs, laboriously writing the words of the classic literature in order to preserve it; while on the continent of Europe; great libraries and countless volumes were being destroyed by hordes of ignorant barbarians.

The legendary outlook of a people, who can find humor in the most outlandish things, struck me. There is a old joke that for the Irish, we run the emotional gauntlet from Depression to Despair; yet only the Irish can find that to be absolutely hilarious.  

My thoughts run as free and wild as an Irish stag through the bogs and across the hills. I hear the song of pipes and harp, I am carried away to a rugged land surrounded by a raging sea.

So it is; as Winter crosses the mid-point and Spring is actually more than just a distant dream, I find a need to have my Irish spirit renewed.

It is only appropriate I say:  “Mr. Cahill, my most sincere thanks. Yet again you have saved this Irish spirit. Go raibh maith agat

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Still more Life with Ike

Many of you have asked, “How is Ike?”

Upon reviewing my folder marked “Columns”, I realized the Chronicles Of Ike have been noticeable scant. It is not that I don’t care for the little guy; I most certainly do

It is just that…well…giving a day by day account of a dog’s life has the potential to be somewhat boring. One can only read:

“I woke up. I ate. I went outside and did my thing. I came in side and begged part of a banana from the lovely lady. Took a nap. I woke up, and got a drink.  I barked at the neighborhood cat. Barked at a squirrel, and then played with my new chew toy. Took a much needed nap. Awoke to save everyone from a blue-jay once again. I ate again.” And, so it goes. Not the most riveting stuff ever written.

But, time has progressed, and so has Ike. He will be two this spring. The cute, cuddly animated Beanie Baby which invaded our home has grown into a stately, dignified, handsome dog. Finally, his head is growing into his ears. I no longer worry a stiff gale will pluck him aloft like an autumn leaf. He is a classic looking Bulldog.

My Lovely Bride, having long ago cast aside any hopes of training me, has spent a good deal of time working with Ike. He has been learning all sorts of things; waving Hi, rolling over, sit, down, heel, come front… all manner of doggie things. He has also been learning obedience, agility, and (I am not kidding) “canine freestyle”.

From what I have been told, and can comprehend it is a form of dancing, albeit with a four-legged partner.  Kevin Costner may have danced with wolves; LB dances with Bulldogs. I have yet to call her “Dances with dogs”… it may not be terribly well received.

The idea is to pick music which corresponds to the dog’s stature, gait and movements. This is then coupled with various Obedience and Agility maneuvers, which result in a rhythmic dance. To me, “Low Rider” comes immediately to mind. For some reason, I can’t picture Ike grooving to “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies”. 
The big recital is coming up in a few weeks; so I will be as surprised as anyone to hear what was chosen.

Just the other day, LB and I received quite a surprise in the mail. A large, official looking manila (did you call it “vanilla” when you were a kid, too?) envelope, addressed to her. Hands shaking with excitement, she opened it.  Contained within, accompanied by a letter of achievement and congratulations were……  Ike’s RN!!

Imagine that!?! We had no idea he was even enrolled in school! And to think he is now “Ike, RN”. Wow!!

This did go a long way in explaining the dog hair on my laptop, and the data overages on our cell phone bill. Obviously, he took courses on-line. When he was at dog shows, training, etc; he would sneak into LB’s phone and catch up on his course work.

I was so proud; I could have popped a button. Just as I was about to call the local paper and have them send over a reporter pronto and cover “Local Dog Gets Nursing Degree”; my Lovely Bride pointed out “RN” means “Rally Novice” and is an American Kennel Club Obedience title.

Well, I’ll tell you what….my disappointment was no less than realizing I missed the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Prize Patrol…..again. Still that is pretty cool, getting his first doggie title.

It’s just that any thoughts I had of his getting a good job, and picking up some of his own freight were pretty much over.

However, all may not be lost.

Recently, LB auditioned for a local indie play/movie project. The new thing in live theater is incorporating previously shot video with live action. This is something I incorporated in our church productions about 6 years ago.  But I digress.

She was cast in the role of the Judge. Upon receiving the full script, and reading through it; she noticed the leading character’s BFF is a Bulldog. When she asked the producers about the part, she was told that another dog was in mind.

However, when she initially sent a recent photo of herself, it was the photo of her and Ike when he got his title ribbon at a dog show. The producers went back, saw Ike, and (drum roll)… he is now the leading dog!

The ironic part is, he has more appearances than LB! Proving once again, W.C. Fields was right; “Never work with children or animals”.

As of this writing, he is taking it all in stride; curled up on his doggie blankets, snoozing in front of his toys.
Life for Ike and Life with Ike is good.

HEY!!!   I wonder if he ran the Prize Patrol off?? Hmmmm.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy 2015

Happy New Year.

No, seriously. I sincerely hope 2015 is a happy, new year. Lord knows this old world can use it.

Many have asked me “Why only one column in December?”

The reasons are many and varied. Busy with writing and re-writing, and re-writing again, our Church Christmas production. Getting things done for Christmas, shopping, wrapping gifts, etc. We enjoyed a much needed trip to Virginia to visit our daughter Aubrey, son-in-law John and wonderful grandchildren Gwen and Rocky over Christmas. Being a proud Father at our son Gabe’s graduation was tossed into the mix over the same trip.  Add an end of the fourth quarter drive at work to finish the year well above quota (which I did); well… any and all are sufficient cause to not write.

But, the answer is far simpler; I had a fairly moderate case of Curmudgeon-ism. No one wants to hear from a certified Curmudgeon; especially at Christmas, Chanukkah, Kwanza, or Winter Solstice, whichever one chooses to celebrate.

And, like clock-work and in relative silence, the calendar page turneth.

Each year I resolve to not make any resolutions. So far, my record of success has been impeccable. Oh, don’t think for a moment I am beyond any form of self-improvement. Just talk with my Lovely Bride, she will quickly dissuade you of any such silly delusions.

Rather, I make lists. Lists in my heart and my head; lists of things I would like to achieve over the ensuing 365 days.

The Perennial Chart-topper is this: to be more Christ-like. I hasten to point out this does not entail having a holier-than-thou attitude. In fact, it is far from such an outlook. It is a personal admonition to me to see people through His eyes, to hear their words with His ears, and to feel for them with His heart.

Hot upon the heels of Number One is Number Two, to not forget Paul’s commandment to men in the book of Ephesians; “Husbands, love your wives even as Christ loved the church that he gave Himself for her.” Anyone who has been married more than 2 months knows this can be a challenge at times. Especially when the toilet paper is replaced coming down from the back of the roll, not the front!! (note: If there were toilet paper in Paul’s day, would he have still written that? Hmm)

Breathing down Number Two’s neck is Number Three, again from Paul found in Colossians; “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, lest they be discouraged.” In my simple little mind, this extends to our four wonderful children we got through marriages, and our eight so far (hint, hint) amazing Grandchildren. The world is discouraging enough, our children and grandchildren need to be encouraged; particularly by their parents.

At times, Life being what it is, I find myself falling upon the words of my namesake; James. His timeless encouragement to realize when things happen, it serves to strengthen my faith. That when I lack wisdom, to ask of God, and He will provide wisdom and guidance greatly. I have found, as the years flow past like a river, that I need to ask of Him more and more. It is amazing how much I don’t know!

This is followed by a boot in the rear to be a better friend. None other than Solomon wrote there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. I am blessed to say I have several friends who fill that bill. I pray I will become the same to them.

Another on my list is to never forget John’s inspiring words, particularly when it seems at times as if we are being assaulted from all sides. As the rough-hewn fisherman so wonderfully put it; “Greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world.”

If along the way I lose some weight (after all, my body is a “temple of the Holy Spirit”, and the temple has been enlarging somewhat), get more things accomplished (whatever you do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord…for you serve the Lord Jesus Christ),  then that is great.

Except, this year; somewhere near the top is: Get at least a second book published this year.

Oh, yeah… and to make sure the Publisher’s Clearinghouse people have my phone number. I know they must have stopped by when I wasn't home last year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


I thought of my Dad the other day. This in itself is not so unusual; as I think of my Dad often. What set this particular series of thoughts in motion was unique, however.

The other day my Lovely Bride and I made a journey from Lake County to the local cell phone center located in Woodmere. As this entailed crossing the Lake/Cuyahoga County line, we made certain all our papers were in order and up to date.  While not quite as involved as making the trek to the western bank of the Cuyahoga River, it was still quite a cultural undertaking.  Fortunately, having grown up in the Hillcrest area (how many of you remember your phone number beginning “H-I-2-****”?), I could still pass as an Eastsider.\

After spending some time resolving the i-phone issue, we wandered about the other stores. Then, as we were exiting the parking lot, there it was; gleaming like a diamond on a black velvet drape; that distinctive script logo-type: Davis Bakery/ Delicatessen.

For those readers who have lived in the Eastern suburbs of Cleveland within the past 70 or so years, you may recall Davis Bakery. For those who have grown up elsewhere; I can only extend my condolences for not having known this true gem.

Frantically,  I pointed to the beckoning lights as LB patiently awaited the traffic signal to change. In my excitement all I could emit was a primate like “Oooo! Oooo!” similar to a spider monkey spying a ripe banana.

LB nodded, and pulled across the boulevard into a space directly in front of the door. Barely able to contain myself, I yanked on the  car door handle, only to realize it was yet locked. Nanoseconds before I began a simian type tantrum, she unlocked the door. I scampered into the welcoming arms of fresh baked Jewish rye bread, rich deli aromas, and heaps of baked goods.

I must have looked like a madman when I acknowledged the middle-aged lady’s greeting with a desperate “Do you still have rye bread?!” She chuckled and asked how many loaves I wanted. I expressed my desire for one loaf, and headed toward the dairy case, to grab a dozen jumbo eggs which were on sale.

Clutching the eggs, I turned toward the register. And then I saw them; Ladylocks.

 Instantly, I stopped, transfixed by the golden brown, and delicately tapered shell filled with a rich butter-cream. Instantly, memories of Dad came to mind.

I don’t know if this pastry is widely known beyond the Lower Great Lakes and some East Coast regions. They consist of a very delicate, flaky pastry, approximately 5 inches long, tapering from the large open end, to a smaller bottom. The void is filled with a rich buttery cream, usually vanilla flavored although chocolate and other flavors are seen. Finally, the whole concoction is dusted liberally with powdered sugar.

 Basically, it is a diabetic-cardiac patient’s worst nightmare.

Dad practiced self-control fairly well (see Dad’s Hammer November, 2013  for more about his legendary self control), except when it came to Ladylocks. Put a Ladylock before him, and he would be tempted to dicker with the Devil.

There are men who cannot pass a sporting goods store, men who cannot pass a hardware store and men who cannot pass a drinking establishment.  Dad couldn’t pass Davis Bakery without picking up a box of Ladylocks.

I don’t know how or when his addiction to this confection began.

Was he tempted into a dark alley by a seedy character in a ratty trench coat beckoning “Pssst, hey kid. Wanna see a really nice little pastry?” 

Was it peer pressure from school pals “Hey, Hoppy! Go ahead, take a bite! All the kids are eating Ladylocks!”

Could it have been during a time of dark despair, deep in the Great Depression that he stumbled into a dimly lit storefront, leaned upon the counter, and demanded “Give me some of the good stuff.” ? With a glint in her eye, the lady behind the counter reached for the most potent thing available; “Here, Bub. This will help you feel better.”, while pushing the seductive form toward him.

Or, was it innocently enough, while at a wedding reception a careless adult left their dessert unattended, and he took a small nibble?  BAM! The floodgates were flung open; the sugar rush began, never to be slackened.

Whatever the circumstances, he became a lifelong Ladylock junkie.

 I remember many times when he would burst in the door from work, a white cardboard box tied with white string in his hand. We knew by the tell-tale grease spots on the bottom what was within; Ladylocks.

Mom would sigh in resignation, knowing her lovingly prepared dinner would be ruined by a husband and houseful of kids bouncing off the walls from the sugar highs. But, what could she do? She had unknowingly married a Ladylocks Junkie.

Between bites of pastry and slurps of coffee, Dad would often reminisce of bakery trips long past. He told of setting foot on American soil again upon his return from the War in Europe. Most sailors and GIs went off in pursuit of a good stiff drink, or a steak dinner, or female companionship. Not Dad. He set his sights upon the nearest bakery and Ladylocks. He bought half a dozen, found a bench to sit upon, and devoured the entire box.

Throughout my growing up years, Ladylocks have been there; like a well worn, favorite coat. In good times, in bad times; Ladylocks have materialized from a white box tied with white string.  Some families have macaroni and cheese as a comfort food, others homemade chicken and dumplings. Dad found his solace in Davis’ baked delights.

My Lovely Bride was introduced to Ladylocks early in our dating relationship. If I am not mistaken, the circumstances were eerily similar to most appearances; Dad coming through the door, a silly grin on his face, grease spotted white box in his hand.

We knew that it had been either a particularly good day, or a particularly bad day at work. Or, it was just a run-of-the-mill day and he could no longer resist the Siren Song wafting across S.O.M. Center Road as he drove past the bakery. Although the Interstate had been long completed and taking the secondary state route was not necessary, his Pontiac would find its way to a spot outside Davis’.

LB and I married; college took us far from Northeast Ohio, to a land devoid of Ladylocks. We soon discovered other delectable treats, such as sugar-crème pie and fresh picked musk melons.

But, when we would return, Dad would typically have Ladylocks waiting for us. To him, there was no higher, finer offering than fresh made Ladylocks.  

Sadly, it was then I discovered my taste had changed. What was once light, fluffy and delightful had now become heavy, sodden, and just okay. I had never noticed the residual sensation of grease upon my tongue and roof of the mouth before. I had paid no attention to the unbelievable sweetness before. Now, it caused my teeth to ache and throat to constrict.

I didn’t tell Dad, I knew it would break his heart. It may very well have resulted in disinheritance and banishment from the family. So, I kept silent. For the sake of unity and harmony, I endured Ladylocks when we visited with Dad.

I cannot recall the last time I had a Ladylock.
 It has been decades.

Which now found me standing before the display case; vacillating between “to buy or not to buy”? That was the question. Several times I caught myself about to signal the lady patiently waiting at the register. Several times I thought how much Dad would enjoy that one with all the frosting in it. To buy….or not to buy, I wrestled within myself.  Above the counter was the old familiar string dispenser, a length just beckoning to be wrapped about a box and tied securely. Boxes were lined upon the back counter. It would be easy… oh so easy.

I turned, took two steps… and turned back to the display.

I stared at the pastries, my heart awash with memories. After what seemed a semi-eternity, I whispered, “No, they are all yours, Dad. You enjoy them.”  Turning my back upon the tempters, I walked quickly to the register.

“Do you want some pastry?” the middle-aged lady politely asked.

“No thank you, Ma’am. I was just enjoying looking.”

Gathering my bread and eggs, I glanced at the gleaming bakery case, the treasure safe within, as I exited the store. With a smile, I began to hum Bob Hope’s theme song; Thanks for the Memories

Friday, November 14, 2014

What is in a Name???

The other day, a friend of ours made a rather thought provoking post on his social media page.No, it wasn't a cat chasing his shadow, or a dog sliding down a hill on a garbage can lid.

Most apropos is the fact Northeast Ohio is experiencing the first snow fall of the season. To lend a degree of interest, it is a Lake Effect storm. (I take a more detailed look at this phenomena in my book; 1850: Death on Erie)

It said, in effect: the Polar Vortex has been renamed. It is now called Winter. Ever heard of it?

Well… this set me to thinking; which is dangerous at best and disastrous at worst.

What is in a name, I pondered. Would a rose still be as red, smell as sweet were it not called a rose?
Then, it struck me…there is a lot in a name.

POLAR VORTEX:  has an air of foreboding about it. One envisions Darth Vader returning in The Polar Vortex of Doom. Only Indiana Jones can save us.

Winter: predictable, while at times annoying, it is far from malevolent.

POLAR VORTEX:  wild, out of control, and Life Threatening. As in “It came from the Arctic! The POLAR VORTEX!”

Winter: mostly complacent, with the occasional wild flare up. Somewhat of a sluggard compared to Spring tornadoes
POLAR VORTEX: blizzards, white-outs, snow-clogged highways, and airports at a stand-still.

Winter:  a landscape cozily blanketed in white, smoke curling from the chimneys of warm, snug homes.


Winter: Peace

POLAR VORTEX: frozen pipes, frozen cars, and calling AAA

Winter: putting on a sweater, enjoying a cup of hot chocolate, and watching the snow fall

POLAR VORTEX: the Stone Age is just around the corner

Winter: Spring is just around the corner

POLAR VORTEX: Be Afraid! Be VERY Afraid!!

Winter: Oh Look! The Sun makes the snow look like millions of diamonds!

POLAR VORTEX:  the end of the World as we know it

Winter: Let’s go sledding! The Snow isn't going to last forever!

POLAR VORTEX: Stock up on milk and bread (why load up on milk and bread? Are people going to have a French Toast Eat-a-thon?)

Winter: Maybe I should pick up some eggnog in case people drop in, I want to be prepared

POLAR VORTEX: The wolf is at the door!

Winter: The wolf is smart, he is snuggled up in his den

POLAR VORTEX Do NOT leave your home!

Winter: Let’s go! There is a birthday party at the home of Farmer Gray. It will be the perfect ending to a perfect day.

POLAR VORTEX Nothing good happens this time of year!

Winter: Don’t count on it. Look how many birthdays there are in August, September, October….

The thoughts meandered through my mind like frozen custard through an ice-cream machine. 
All in all, I prefer Winter. 
It is far gentler on the mind.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Can O' Coffee

The other day my Lovely Bride came home from a trip to the Super-Dee-Dooper Mega Acres Exclusive Warehouse Shopping Club. I am struggling with the concept of “exclusive” when it appears to me every time I go there as if everyone and their dog is a member. 

I have a definite love-hate, approach-avoidance relationship with our Mega Acres warehouse. I detest the crowds, I detest the fact everything comes in Infantry Battalion sized packages, I detest rummaging through empty boxes in search of the perfect one (not too big, not too small, not too flimsy, not too laden with spilled jelly) in which to pile our stuff.

I do like the fact they have the best dog food we have yet to find. I do love their Sharp Cheddar cheese. And the samples. I love the samples. One can dine rather well on a Saturday just on the samples. One day, however, I chose to stay home.

I was busy doing the sorts of things husbands do while LB went to the cavernous store. You know, things like stare out the back window, pet the dogs, fiddle with the little pond on our patio; all those mystical “guy things”.

When she returned, I somewhat halfheartedly  watched as she unloaded this, put away that, and kept up a narration of the wonders of the store. Suddenly, she withdrew from the appliance sized box she had loaded stuff in, an actual honest-to-goodness can of coffee.

Sure it was the Club brand, but I didn’t care. I was mesmerized. An honest, full three pounds of coffee steel can. Who cares if it said “Such and such land” brand?  That guy with the big hat, moustache and his donkey are on the front, so it has to be good. This, dear reader, was the real deal.

The can sneered at the little, under-weight plastic “flavor saver” tub of coffee in our pantry.  This bad boy does not have any ergonomically molded handle on its side. No siree, Bob. You grasp this with two hands, reveling in the full 48 ounces of caffeine bearing goodness within. Your fingers nestle easily, naturally, into the five indented grooves circumnavigating the can.

My mind raced back to my earliest memories of coffee cans. 

Every garage, barn, shed and work bench had a random collection of old coffee cans being used (the new politically correct word is “re-purposed”) to hold nails, screws, nuts, bolts, springs, and the ubiquitous dried out paint brush; hardened into a permanent curve.  Invariably, these cans also would contain a spider or two, maybe some dead flies, and bits of unidentifiable dust and debris that came from God only knows where. They were glorious in their ignominy.

However, prior to being relegated to the various shops and sheds, they once proudly served to convey coffee to the kitchen tables of Americans far and wide. These were heavy steel, the type used to stamp out the hoods of Fords and the fenders of Chevys.  The only way to get at the dark treasure within was with a can opener. There was no easy-peel piece of ultra thin foil for a lid. This took an old fashioned, press-the-handles-down, hand-cranked can opener.

Now, there was a unique bit of whimsy associated with opening a can of coffee. Even back in the dark ages of the 1950s, the cans were sealed under a vacuum. This would elicit the most hilarious “PFFFTTT” when the can opener began to do its job; the end result of which would be a case of the giggles for me.  

And, the aroma…nothing compares to the aroma of a freshly opened can of coffee. Regardless of one’s age, or the time of day; try to resist inhaling deeply, and exhaling with an “Ahhhh”, followed by a smile.

However, opening a can of coffee posed hazards that would give the willies to a Consumer Product Safety inspector in today’s world. The vintage cans did not have an easy snap on-snap off plastic lid to contain the coffee once the can was opened. Therefore, the object was to open the can sufficiently to access the grounds, yet leave a portion of the lid unscathed to serve as a hinge.

One would attempt to open the now jagged, razor sharp edge of the can without slicing a finger. The standard procedure was to hook the end of a fingernail under the edge, and pry the lid back upon the hinge. For its part, the lid would raise about a third to half the way, then slip off the fingernail. In its descent, the serrated edge would commit all manner of atrocities upon the unwary fingers.

Following the application of mercurochrome and a couple bandages, one would then remove a butter knife from the drawer, repeat the hook-lift-bend maneuver, and gain access to the object of their desire. Upon making a pot of coffee, the lid was then pressed in place over the coffee. Invariably, after several of the open-close cycles, the hinge would succumb to metal fatigue and the lid would snap off. Now, the blasted thing would drop into the now half filled can, doing nothing more than to provide a booby trap to inflict injury when someone tried to fish it out.

It was with such a degree of nostalgia that I eagerly awaited the “Time of the Opening”. That ridiculous little blue tub seemed to take forever to become empty. I was beginning to feel as if I were living with the Miracle Tub Of Coffee; akin to the widow’s oil and flour, or the loaves and fishes.

Finally, the time came.

The roaster/packager of the new can did make an outward concession to the 21st Century. A glossy plastic lid was firmly in place atop the can. I gingerly placed the un-defiled can upon the kitchen counter. I extended the hand-cranked opener to my Lovely Bride, asking if she would like the honors. Graciously, she declined; allowing the pleasure of the “PFFFTTT” and initial burst of fragrance to be mine.

I removed the plastic lid. With nearly trembling hands, I lifted the opener. What’s this?

The hermetically sealed steel lid had been replaced by…. I don’t know what. It was silvery, had a metallic appearance, but was flexible. Upon tapping, it went “doink, doink”, not a solid metal “tick tick”. Then, I saw it. A little pull tab on one edge of the covering. Dejectedly, I placed the opener back in the kitchen tool basket. I grabbed the tab. I tugged. There it was; that satisfying, giggle producing “PFFFTTT”, that heavenly whiff of fresh coffee.

I continued to pull the tab. The faux-lid came free, curling upon itself. Then, about halfway across, it stopped moving. I tugged. It stayed put. I tugged harder. It stayed put. I let my inner Neanderthal come out. I grasped the flimsy metal with one hand, crumpling it together. I gave a mighty tug. I emitted a mighty shout as the scalpel sharp edge of the covering sliced through my finger.

While I was staunching the blood flow with half a roll of paper towels, my Lovely Bride calmly completed the task.  After administering anti-biotic cream (I have not seen mercurochrome in decades. Is it still made?) and a bandage, I reflected upon the can of coffee.

While it may not say it is good to the last drop, or better coffee a millionaire’s money can’t buy; the packaging  from Super-Dee-Dooper Mega Acres Exclusive Warehouse Shopping Club did meet the criteria for a proper can. It is constructed of steel. It made a giggle inducing sound upon opening. And, perhaps most critical to nostalgia; it rendered a dandy slice upon my finger.

Long live the good old days.