It’s Raining DONUTS!

Pikes Peak, the majestic 14,000′ mountain nestled in the Colorado Rockies west of Colorado Springs, is getting a major makeover.  Okay, maybe not the mountain itself.  Her nine-mile Cog Railway reopens in 2021 with new train cars and tracks to carry visitors to the summit.  Her Manitou Incline, the one-mile ladder-like hiking trail up her eastern flank, has been improved for safer climbing.  Finally, her Summit House visitor center is being replaced – sixty years after the original – with a state-of-the-art glass jewel.

“America’s Mountain” in the Colorado Rockies

Local folks like me only have one concern with all this Pikes Peak activity: the donuts.  What’re they gonna do about the donuts?

You can drive, hike, or take the Cog Railway to the top of Pikes Peak, but you’ll always stop in at the visitor center once you get there.  It’s the only thing you’ll find on the tiny summit beside the stunning views of the world below.  Maybe you’ll purchase a supremely tacky, overpriced souvenir while you’re there.  Maybe you’ll need a bathroom break.  Whatever you do, you will buy a donut.  Pikes Peak’s “World Famous” treats are sort of a reward for making it to 14,000 feet.  Okay, so they’re not Krispy Kreme but they’re not terrible either.  Just eat them at altitude.  Once you begin your trek down the mountain they collapse into a mushy mess and they’re awful.

When I first realized the Summit House was getting demolished instead of remodeled my thoughts went straight to the donut machine.  What are they gonna do with the donut machine?  The “Belshaw Mark VI Donut Robot” delivered its final batch last week before someone pulled its plug.  The Mark VI is a mechanical marvel.  It can produce 700 donuts an hour (the summertime demand for Pikes Peak).  The Mark VI endlessly dispenses the raw dough, four rings in a row, and creates donuts through a conveyer system of automated frying, rotating, and dispensing.  Leave it on for twenty-four hours and it’ll pile up 17,000 of the little buggers.

Meanwhile, the new visitor center is getting a new donut machine.  Maybe it’s the latest model of Belshaw’s Donut Robot and makes 1,000 donuts an hour.  Maybe the donuts taste more like Krispy Kreme.  Whatever it can do, this machine is a beast.  It’s so big they had to use a crane to lift it into the building before they even closed up the walls.

If I’m the old Mark VI Donut Robot I’m not happy about being replaced, not at all.  I mean, c’mon! I faithfully produced thousands of donuts day in and day out for decades!  I’m not yesterday’s news just yet!  Why not let me keep my job instead of giving all the love to a newer model? No siree Bob, I’m not gonna take it.  I need to make some sort of statementY’know, demonstrate the extent of my discontent.

OH MAN, can’t you just picture it?  Standing down on the streets of Colorado Springs one morning you suddenly hear this massive BAH-BOOM from the direction of Pikes Peak.  Sidewalks start shaking and people start pointing.  You look up to the mountain and there’s a freaking volcano blowing its top.  A huge column of fire rises to the heavens.  The sky is instantly air-brushed with white smoke.  There’s ash raining down in every direction.  Except, wait, it’s not ash it’s…. it’s…. it’s donuts.

The rain of donuts, of course, is the Mark VI Donut Robot run amok.  In its desperate attempt not to be overlooked it starts making donuts like crazy.  Four at a time, plop-plop-plop-plop, fry, rotate, dispense.  Faster and faster and faster, until its conveyor builds up a big head of steam and starts to break apart.  Then the whole thing just blows up.  Boom

Down and further down come the donuts.  Rolling by the hundreds along the hiking trails.  Bobbing down the rivers and creeks like mini inner tubes.  Ricocheting off the pine trees as they come back to earth until they just go poof! in a cloud of powdered-sugar smithereens.  Decorating the rocks and trees with a cream-filling look of snow.  Piling up in the low spots like generous helpings of oversized Cheerios.  Clogging up the cog railway so the only way the train gets to the summit is for the riders to get off the train and start eating.

The Mark VI may have imploded but man what a way to get noticed, right?

Truth be told, there’s an aftermarket for Belshaw’s Mark VI Donut Robot.  Do the Google search if you don’t believe me.  A used one runs $15,899 plus $600 for shipping, and don’t look now; they take credit cards and toss in a limited warranty!  Just think what you could do with 700 donuts an hour. All you have to do is click the “Buy It Now” button on the website.  But one more thing before you do.  Ask the seller if their Mark VI has given them attitude lately.  Like it used to be on a majestic mountaintop or something wacky like that.

Note: This post would not even be a whisper of a thought were it not for Robert McCloskey and his wonderful children’s book, Homer Price.  In Homer’s short story “The Doughnuts”, a restaurant donut machine goes bonkers and starts dispensing hundreds upon hundreds.  How the town resolves this donut deluge makes for a great story.  Thanks, Robert.

Some content sourced from the KKTV 11 News story, “Final Batch of Pikes Peak Donuts…”, and the Thrillist.com article, “You Can Only Get These Incredible Donuts at the Top of a Mountain in Colorado”.

Soft Spots

ESPN broadcast college football’s national championship Monday night. As the game moved to lopsided late in the second quarter my mind drifted to details besides the football itself. Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL is a striking facility, especially at night from the vantage point of the Goodyear Blimp. 15,000 football fans spaced randomly into 65,000 seats (thanks, COVID) looks awfully sparse. And speaking of awful(ly), the television commercials… well, let’s just agree college football ain’t the same thing as the Super Bowl, folks.

Home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins

Super Bowl commercials are more entertaining than the game itself, unlike the advertisement drivel I saw Monday night.  Super Bowl plugs cost $5 million for thirty seconds while Monday night’s spots were six figures at best.  Finally, Super Bowl ads are desperate to be memorable (even if you can’t remember the product itself), which is why you have office pools for “best commercial”.  You’re not gonna have an office pool for what I watched on Monday night.  This was the reverse of the Super Bowl: great football, lousy commercials.

To say Monday night’s commercials paled in comparison to Super Bowl ads is like saying Sprite’s a little clearer than Coke.  These product pushes were awful.  For starters, you had what seemed like five advertisers over a four-hour broadcast.  Dos Equis showed up every fifteen minutes.  Their beer (excuse me, their lager) ads included a closeup of a glassful, with a commentator calling the movement of the bubbles as if they were players on a football field.  Really?  I hope his was a big paycheck.

Then you had AT&T, who seems to be promoting the lovely Milana Vayntrub (as salesperson “Lily”) as much as their products.  Perhaps they’ve watched too many Progressive Insurance ads with Stephanie Courtney (as salesperson “Flo”)?

Don’t recognize Milana? You will soon…

Finally, ESPN promoted itself.  Normally I’d harp on the host network for advertising some of its own programs even though they paid millions to broadcast the game.  But part of me thinks ESPN really does need the promos.  COVID took a big bite out of sports over the last year, as well as a big bite out of ESPN’s workforce.  When the network brought us Korean baseball and American cornhole competitions I thought, “Okay, the end is near”.

But forget ESPN because I need to be a Davey-downer (i.e., slam) on one more commercial.  I’ve been building to this moment since the first paragraph.  Gatorade just launched it’s first new beverage in twenty years: “Bolt24”.  It’s low-cal and loaded with electrolytes, so naturally the target audience is athletes.  And Gatorade also selected athletes to push its product.  Enter Serena Williams.  She’s one of those athletes I’m on the fence about.  Her athletic skills and accomplishments on the tennis court are unquestionable.  She’s garnered enough championships to earn her place in the tennis player “GOAT” discussion (greatest of all time).

But Serena also has her not-so-role-model moments.  She does not take losing well.  She does not welcome constructive criticism.  Countless broken rackets, lectures (threats?) to chair umpires, and disqualifications would have you wondering if there isn’t a permanent child lurking within the adult.  Wah wah wah.  But the Bolt24 ad was the last straw in my Serena drink.  Why?  Because the tagline goes, “you know you’ve made it when the whole world knows you by one name”.  Oh, so when I say just “Serena advertises Bolt 24”, you knowingly say in response, “oh, her?”

Yeah, I get the pitch.  Bolt24 is a one-word drink.  Serena Williams is almost the only Serena I can think of (besides Serena van der Woodsen, the entitled main character of the TV series Gossip Girl).  But I just can’t buy into the loftiness of the catchphrase.  Get the world to recognize you by first name only and “you’ve made it”?  Sting. Madonna. Cher. Bono. Enya.  See the pattern?  It’s an actor/singer thing.  Also, an athlete thing.  Lebron. Tiger. O.J. (Maybe that last one should just be “Juice”?)

Okay then, shutting down my rant now.  Holier-than-thou personas don’t deserve any more press.  I like to keep “Life in a Word” positive; simple; modest.  Like me.  You know… Dave.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Is It Live or Is It Memorex?

It’s the woodchipper for you, buddy.

New Year’s Day has come and gone (and a warm welcome to you, 2021), which means it’s time my wife and I take down the Christmas tree. For some, taking down the tree means disconnecting the branches from the trunk, the trunk from the base, and packing the whole thing into a cardboard box to be used again next year. For us, taking down the tree means lifting it off the stand, hauling it outside to the truck, driving it over to the drop-off lot, and donating $5 to fund the recycling. Yes, this year – as with all of my years – the Christmas tree real, not artificial.

I’m not here today to debate real vs. artificial Christmas trees.  They both have pros and cons and your choice rests on where you live, your budget, and assorted other reasons.  For me, a real tree is simply a tradition I refuse to give up.  Picking out a tree with my family was a big deal when I was young.  There was something magical about living in sunny Los Angeles and watching dozens of pine-scented snow-dusted trees being unloaded from Canadian railcars.  Never mind we paid a little extra to have our tree “flocked” (adding a touch of spray-painted artificial snow).  It was still a real tree.

Memorex: Sound that “blows you away”.

Real vs. artificial goes way beyond Christmas trees.  When I consider one next to the other, I always think of Memorex.  In the 1970s and ’80s the Memorex Corporation produced audio cassettes, the precursor to the compact disc.  In their TV commercials Memorex included singer Ella Fitzgerald belting out a note powerful enough to shatter a wine glass.  Then they’d play a recording of Ella’s performance and the wine glass would still shatter, begging the question, “Is it live, or is it Memorex?”

Real vs. artificial also recalls Milli Vanilli, the R&B duo from the late ’80’s.  Milli Vanilli made it big with the album “Girl You Know It’s True”, then won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist.  But years later the world would find out Milli Vanilli never sang anything.  Instead they lip-synced their way to fame; their albums the voices of studio performers.  Milli Vanilli returned the Best New Artist Grammy shortly after that.

Let’s visit real vs. artificial a little closer to home; say, the kitchen.  As much as my wife and I seek whole, organic, locally produced foods, we can’t help including a few outliers.  I just went through our pantry and came up with a few “classics”:

  1. Aunt Jemima syrup.  This pancake topper – destined for rebranding in the name of racial equality – is nothing but high fructose corn syrup, water, and a whole lot of chemicals.  The “Natural Butter Flavor” variety blatantly advertises “contains no butter”.  You’ll find all the pure maple syrup you want in Vermont but you won’t find a drop in a bottle of Aunt Jemima.
  2. Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts.  A long time ago Pop-Tarts contained real ingredients (else my mother wouldn’t have put ’em on the pantry shelf as kid snacks).  Today’s Pop-Tarts are enriched flour and a bunch of scary-sounding ingredients developed in a lab.  It takes half the height of the box to list everything that goes into a Pop-Tart.
  3. Kraft Mac & Cheese.  Make a bowl of pasta, top it with melted cheddar, and Voila! you have macaroni & cheese in two ingredients.  Kraft Mac & Cheese needs twenty-one to accomplish the same dish.  But man, don’t it taste great?
  4. Ritz Crackers.  More enriched flour plus lab ingredients.  (Maybe every food can be made from enriched flour?)  The Ritz Crackers box includes a warning, “Contains wheat, soy”.  Ha, if only that was all it contained.
  5. “Real” Bacon Bits.  My mother-in-law left this bottle of horror behind when she brought a salad for Christmas dinner.  But guess what?  It really is made of bacon (okay, and chemicals).  I must’ve been thinking of other brands, where the bits are actually “flavored textured soy flour”.  Oh ick.

Back to our real Christmas tree.  After all the gifts were passed around and opened, we discovered one more, looking a little embarrassed behind the branches.  It was a brightly colored basket, the kind all dressed up with a cute wooden box and Christmas bow, overflowing with food items and protected in plastic wrap.

But here’s the rub.  We opened the basket and found a whole lot of nothing.  Generic cookies, coffee, candy, and a couple of cheap Christmas mugs, arranged carefully so as to suggest the basket contained much more.  To add insult to injury, none of the food items were name-brand (except for a handful of Lindor truffles).  The cookies and candy were made with a ton of artificial ingredients.  The coffee was so generically packaged it had me wondering if it was even coffee.  The whole basket made me think “Memorex”.

This is where I jump to a discussion about artificial intelligence, but your real brain needs a rest so that’s a topic for another day.  Meanwhile, my wife and I will keep heading out to tree lots (or the woods) every Christmas to find the perfect one.  “Artificial” may sneak into other parts of our lives now and again but at Christmas, we’ll always be keeping it real.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Busy Buzzwords

Our local news wraps its nightly broadcast by pushing little surveys you can take online. Earlier this week was, “Should the U.S. Senate vote to increase stimulus checks to $2,000?” (88% said yes). The night before, “What was your favorite holiday food this year?” (pie narrowly edged ham). What I find laughable is the participation rate – maybe 25 responses on average – yet the results are announced the following night like headline news.  25 is a minuscule sampling for a basis, like surveying a few of your neighbors and calling it good.  Yet other companies take the exact same approach.  Example: Merriam-Webster just announced its 2020 “Word of the Year”.

Merriam-Webster’s fitting “Word of the Year”

You’ll find almost 200,000 words in the English language (with more added every year).  Should pandemic take the trophy for 2020?  Well, yes, it’s hard to argue with Merriam on that one.  Not only did the COVID-19 pandemic dominate headlines and conversations, the word created the single largest spike in dictionary traffic.  On March 11th, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the lookup of pandemic increased over 100,000% over 2019.  I can’t convert 100,000% to a quantity but I know it’s a big number.

Merriam isn’t content with just “word of the year”, however.  They also list the top ten words according to increased dictionary traffic over the previous year.  Accordingly, 2020 self-branded with coronavirus, quarantine, and asymptomatic.  I wouldn’t think any of these words – pandemic included – induces peace of mind, but in dire situations our brains have a relentless need to know more.

With the mental fatigue brought on by too much COVID talk, perhaps you’ll find Merriam’s other top-ten words more refreshing.  Antebellum made the list because the long-popular country music trio Lady Antebellum changed its name to “Lady A”; also because the movie “Antebellum” was released in September.  Mamba was a top-ten for the passing of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his nickname in reference to his killer play.  Kraken is the newest franchise in the National Hockey League, the mascot a mythological Scandinavian sea monster.

Seattle-ites will learn to chant, “GO KRAKEN!”

But none of these are my favorite.  How about #7, schadenfreudeSHAH-dun-froy-duh means “enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others”.  In March, schadenfreude pointed to the college admissions scandal, particularly the outing of the guilty A-list celebrities.  Schadenfreude also colored the daily coverage of President Trump by the so-called “fake news media”.

For the record, schadenfreude is German (of course it is) so let’s give it bonus points for sneaking onto a top-ten list of English words.

You may not agree with Merriam-Webster but at least its choices are based on real data – lookups that imply support from the masses.  Other organizations are much vaguer with their selection criteria.  Consider Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year”.  Time’s stated criteria is, “for better or for worse… has done the most to influence the events of the year.”  By that definition it should come as no surprise to see Adolf Hitler selected in 1938, Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963, and Mark Zuckerberg in 2010.  However, you’ll also find almost every U.S. President on the list, as if simply inhabiting the Oval Office makes you more influential than all other persons.  President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are 2020’s “Person of the Year”.  Uh, shouldn’t we at least get them inaugurated before evaluating influence?

Deserving of more “Timely” recognition…

[Note: Time’s “Person of the Year” recognition owes a debt to aviator Charles Lindbergh, who completed the first solo transatlantic flight in May of 1927.  The magazine overlooked Lindbergh’s accomplishment by never featuring him on its cover.  To make up for it, Lindbergh became Time’s inaugural “Person of the Year”.  Makes you wonder if someone else was more deserving in 1927, doesn’t it?]

One more “of-the-year” example for you.  Pantone, the “color company” best known for its Pantone Matching System (or PMS, a rather unfortunate acronym), chooses a color of the year to put the last twelve months in review.  For 2020?  Like Time Magazine, Pantone broke its own rules and went with two choices: Ultimate Gray, which suggests solid shadows cast on a wall; and Illuminating, a lemony shade hinting at “the light at the end of the tunnel”.  Illuminating might be a little premature for 2020.  Let’s go glass-half-full and call it next year’s color instead.

Is this light “Illuminating” to you?

If Merriam-Webster could choose its busy buzzwords in hindsight, 2020’s winner might not be pandemic but rather, malarkeyMalarkey came in at #11 in the top ten (come again?) because it’s a favorite of President-elect Biden.  Rather than saying, “C’mon man, you’re making that up.” (okay, he says that too) Biden prefers, “Give me a break; that’s a bunch of malarkey”.

“Malarkey” my words; you’re gonna hear the Biden favorite a lot over the next four years.

Some content sourced from The Cut article, “Pantone’s Color of the Year is ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’”, Merriam-Webster.com, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Royal Beauty Bright

If I were more organized a couple of weeks ago I could’ve seen the Aurora Borealis. Maybe you’re familiar with this magnificent natural artwork: the waving colorful “northern lights” spreading across the sky like a wind-ruffled pastel blanket. The best seats for the AB are always to the north, like Alaska or the Arctic, but this year we had a similar instance just driving distance from our house in northern Wyoming. I missed it, darn it.  I’ll have to settle for a look at this week’s Christmas Star instead. Er, make that this week’s “Jupiter/Saturn overlap”.

The view from my house (directly above Pikes Peak!)

I’ve always been something of an astronomer wannabe. We have beautifully clear skies where we live and on most nights we can see more stars, constellations, and galaxies than we could possibly count. I’ve even invested in tripod-mounted high-power binoculars to get a better look at all things extraterrestrial. So I certainly didn’t miss the recent headlines about Wyoming’s “southern northern lights”, nor the nighttime blast of this week’s Christmas Star. Any astronomical event visible to the naked eye is worth noting in my iPhone calendar.

Courtesy of CBS News

Jupiter and Saturn aren’t really overlapping, of course (talk about an abundance of gas). They just look like they’re a single celestial object as seen from our Earthling vantage point. They’re still millions of kilometers apart in space, the same way stars in constellations aren’t all the same distance away from us. This blog post is a little late, as the best days to see “Jupiturn” were Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, just after sunset and looking to the west.

Speaking of a little late, let’s talk about the Real Christmas Star (RCS). Surely you’re familiar with RCS, the singularly bright beacon from biblical times guiding the Magi to the birthplace of the baby Jesus (editor’s note: lots of “b’s” in that sentence, Dave). This star moved in a westerly path – as noted in the third verse of “We Three Kings” – like the oversized laser pointer of an invisible tour guide. This star was purported to have stopped directly over Bethlehem close to the events we celebrate on Christmas Day.  This star “with royal beauty bright” was…, was…, (spoiler alert) – well, this star wasn’t a star either.

Also not a star…

I know, I know.  We’re talking about events from over two thousand years ago.  Outside of the Bible and pure faith, how can we know the true identity of the RCS?  Well, we know because we have astrophysicists.  I’m never one to blend science and religion but I’m about to make an exception.

To keep this simple let’s address the basic questions:

  1. When did the RCS occur?  During the reign of King Herod and Emporer Tiberius.  Roman historians (and the Bible’s Book of Luke) give the approximate timeframe as 8-4 B.C.
  2. Who saw the RCS?  The Magi according to the Bible, but also Chinese astronomers according to their own records… which go back to (gulp) before 1000 B.C.
  3. What did the RCS look like?  A morning star, because it was rising.  Not a comet, not a nova, not even a supernova.  In ancient times those three were seen as indicators of negative events.  The Magi certainly wouldn’t have followed something negative.
  4. What was the RCS?  Ah, now there’s the question for the Powerball jackpot.  And that’s where our astrophysicists come to the rescue.  The RCS – like this year’s Jupiturn – was also the convergence of Jupiter and Saturn, only amplified by light from the sun, moon, and at least three other planets.  That’s putting a lot of “balls” into play, isn’t it?  Celestial alignments happen regularly over time so astrophysicists were able to project backward and offer this likely explanation of the Real Christmas Star.

The RCS alignment from two thousand years ago seems recent compared to its next occurrence.  You won’t get that kind of planet-star-satellite party again until the year 16213.  That’s fourteen thousand years from now.  You won’t be around by then.  Maybe Earth won’t be either.

I did look to the west after sunset to see the convergence of Jupiter and Saturn earlier this week.  It was bright – sure – but not as if looking directly at the sun.  And knowing it wasn’t a “star” took some of the shine off of it (ha).  Meanwhile, the Aurora Borealis is out there a little more often.  At least I’ll be alive to see its next performance.

 

Some content sourced from the University of Notre Dame article, “Royal Beauty Bright”.

It’s Been a Silent Night

When singer Amy Grant released “Tennessee Christmas” in 2016 it’d been years since she recorded a holiday collection. In fact, her platinum-level “A Christmas Album” arrived way back in 1983; her triple-platinum “Home for Christmas” in 1992. “Tennessee Christmas” didn’t achieve platinum, gold, or anything else for that matter.  As my brother said at the time, “She never should’ve done it.” He’s right. Amy should’ve released just “I Need a Silent Night” and called it good.

Amy Grant can still pen lyrics (even if her voice isn’t as strong as it used to be).  “I Need a Silent Night” asks us to find the true meaning of Christmas in the midst of the inevitable commercial distractions.  Instead of “December traffic” and “Christmas rush” and “Shopping and buying and standing forever in line”, Amy asks:

I need a silent night, a holy night
To hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noise
I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here
To end this crazy day with a silent night

As if we’ve been granted Amy’s wish (ha), this season has been remarkably placid.  The message of Advent is always “prepare” and that’s what we’re doing.  It’s just – unlike most years – we’re not using words like “rush” and “chaos”.  We’re experiencing more of a “silent night” instead.

Our Christmas prep never begins until after Thanksgiving (I stand on holiday principles here) but by the following Saturday I was eagerly unpacking the decorations and streaming holiday tunes.  More importantly, I also found myself saying “yes” to just about every reason for the season:

  • Since we can’t have in-person services our church offered Advent wreaths to build and display in whatever room you “go to church” in at home.  We asked for a wreath as soon as they were available.
  • A family involved in our local 4-H advertised festive bags of scented pine cones as a fundraiser for their activities.  We bought two bags and they delivered them straight to our door.  There’s nothing that says “Christmas” like the tiny voice of a five-year-old saying, “Thank you, Mr. Wilson!”
  • Our church set up a virtual giving tree where you can pick presents from a list, buy them, and return them to the church for distribution to needy families.  I bought six.
  • We’ve been baking up a kitchen storm so we decided to put together plates of cookies for our neighbors and deliver them.  Front doors were opened cautiously, to which we said, “Well, this may be the only chance we get to see you face-to-face this year.  Merry Christmas!”
  • We’ll be having drive-in Christmas Eve services this year so our church put out a big bin of ornaments, asking us to decorate them and put them on trees surrounding the parking lot.  I grabbed several.
  • Starbucks moves to Christmas drinks and goodies shortly after Halloween.  There’s this unspoken opportunity to “pay it backwards” by taking care of the car behind you in the drive-thru, and then speeding off to remain anonymous.  I’ve been doing this for weeks.
  • Colorado Springs advertises a Christmas For Kids effort where you’re assigned a needy child’s Christmas list.  You buy the gifts, wrap them up, and pass them on to case workers who make sure the kids get them in time for Christmas.  I sponsored two.

Most of these Christmastime gestures (and why should they only happen at Christmas, right?) would not find room in our “normal years”.  We’d be rushing about trying to find one last gift, throwing up Christmas lights and decorations, and hastily preparing our cards to put in the mail.  We’d be wrapping presents ’til well past midnight on Christmas Eve.  Yet this year we’re completely organized and ready, including all those meaningful extras I mentioned above.

Let me “wrap” (ha) with one more holiday task we completed earlier than usual: decorating our tree.  Christmas trees must’ve been in high demand (or short supply) this year because our local lot only had one left in the 10′-12′ range we prefer.  It’s tall and thin (kind of like you see in Whoville in the original “Grinch” movie).  It’s so tall our angel at the top seems poised in the heavens, which is wonderfully appropriate this year.  She was the only decor on the tree all of last Sunday before we added everything else the following night.  So now our tree boasts the usual organized chaos of lights and ornaments.  But it’s only the angel I see.  She’s watching over us and giving us exactly what we need this year: a silent night, a holy night.

This post is in memory of Marion.

Golden Thrones

Every now and then the local news sneaks in a headline to showcase our local taxes and fees at work. A swanky new visitor center is about to open on the top of nearby Pikes Peak (14,115′) at a cost of $66M. A 250-ft. pedestrian bridge ($18.7M) spans gracefully over downtown railroad tracks, connecting a public park to our new U.S. Olympic museum complex. Increased traffic between Colorado Springs and Denver demands eighteen miles of a new interstate toll lane ($350M).

Colorado Springs must be “flush” with tax dollars

These efforts make sense and I’m happy to write the check, especially with the potential for revenue in return. But another project almost escaped my news feed and Mr. Mayor, I respectfully request a refund. We now have a fully-accessible fully-automated self-cleaning public toilet in a small park on the west side of town. Cost: $415,000.  That’s a lot of loot for a little lavatory, no?

On the surface our golden throne sounds good enough to try out.  It’s a touchless experience once you “ring the doorbell”.  The restroom door opens/closes automatically with a sanitary-sounding hiss.  Circulating air and classical music provide the white noise you need to mask unpleasant sounds.  A bathroom “host” politely pipes in over the loudspeaker to let you know you have ten minutes to do your thing.  After that – reason in itself to just go and watch from a distance – all doors open whether or not you’re buttoned up.  Talk about getting caught with your pants down.

Our city’s posh powder room comes from Exeloo (great name), an Australian company expanding its footprint into North America.  Besides the fancy features mentioned above Exeloo toilets are self-cleaning, which means they spray down and disinfect their surfaces from wall-mounted nozzles every thirty uses or so.  Makes me think the kitchens of Chinese restaurants could use the same treatment.

The (cheaper) Exeloo “Saturn”

Learning more about Exeloo didn’t make me feel better about my tax dollars.  That’s because our city purchased the fanciest model on the website.  Exeloo offers six different “loos”, with names like Jupiter, Saturn, and Orbit.  (Why – because going to the bathroom should be an out-of-this-world experience?)  Our city chose the model simply named “Fully Accessible”.  It looks at least twice as big as any of the others.

Let me contrast our wet-n-wild washroom with a more modest facility.  Just off the coast at Torrey Pines in North San Diego County you’ll find a nondescript public restroom sandwiched between the beach and the parking lot.  It has no doors.  It has no music.  It’s made entirely of cinderblocks and concrete.  A flush requires an “old-fashioned” pull of the handle, emitting just enough water to clear the bowl.  The sinks offer just a trickle of water to rinse your hands.  The mirrors aren’t mirrors at all, but big polished metal panels with just enough of a reflection.  This restroom is bombproof.

Which brings me to my point.  Why does my town need a bathroom good enough for a visit from Queen Elizabeth when cinderblock and concrete will do just as well?  The Torrey Pines toilet probably cost $4,000, not $400,000.  The next headline I’ll be reading is how a homeless person took up residence in our well-to-do water closet and now our tax dollars have to fund a full-time attendant as well.

The first time I experienced a first-class public flush was in Boston Common.  Smack dab in the middle of the grass expanse and softball diamonds we found a restroom similar to an Exeloo, only more like a double-wide RV.  It was a welcome sight after hours exploring the city on foot.  An attendant sat quietly on a nearby park bench, keeping an eye on things.  And the cherry on top of this sanitation sundae: the facility was sponsored by a non-profit called Friends of the Public Garden.  Not a tax dollar to be spent.

Could’ve had this whole house for less than our Exeloo, Mr. Mayor

Since we can’t go out to dinner or see a concert or even go to church this Christmas, I think I’ll take the family to see our sparkling Exeloo public restroom instead.  Maybe they’ve scented the circulating air to smell like Christmas cookies or pine trees.  Maybe they’ve switched out the classical music for holiday favorites.  Hopefully they’ve dressed up the attendant to look like Santa.  It’s the least they can do for my tax dollars.

Some content sourced from the 11/6/2020 Springs Magazine article, “At Least We Have a $300K Bathroom”.

Cookie-Cutter Cinema

We’ve collected a pretty good stack of Christmas movie DVD’s over the years but most are one-time-watch forgettable. Yet no Christmas celebration is complete without sitting down to “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946) and “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947’s original). Add in a televised version of “A Christmas Carol” (hopefully 1938’s original) and you’d swear all of the best Christmas movies were made before 1950. Of course, the Hallmark Channel would respectfully disagree. Love ’em or hate ’em, Hallmark’s been baking their cookie-cut Christmas movies for over twenty years.

Unlike most companies, even a global pandemic doesn’t slow down Hallmark.  I just checked my Hallmark app (yes, they have an app) and another forty Christmas originals are coming out of Hallmark’s holiday oven this year.  The first of these (“Jingle Bell Bride”) premiered on October 24th, so if you didn’t find the Christmas spirit before Halloween you’re already way behind.  Drop everything and grab the TV remote – you’ve got movies to watch!  Fresh cookies await: twelve of Hallmark’s 2020 offerings haven’t made their debut yet.

In life before electronic media Hallmark was the, well… hallmark of the greeting-card industry.  You bought a Hallmark card “when you cared enough to send the very best”.  You went to their “Gold Crown” stores to purchase wrapping paper, stationery, Christmas ornaments, and picture frames.  In brick-and-mortar days Hallmark seemed like anything but a media empire.  So they kind of snuck up on us with their bonanza of Christmas movies, didn’t they?

We should’ve seen this coming.  Hallmark quietly sponsored a couple of radio-based storytelling programs in the 1940’s.  Then they jumped into in-house productions with their “Hallmark Hall of Fame” (HHF) series.  You never knew when an HHF movie would pop up on TV but it must’ve been fairly often.  HHF is considered the longest-running prime-time series in the history of television.  For the record HHF movies were better than Hallmark Christmas movies.  Way better.  Maybe that’s because Hallmark Christmas movies run a budget of about a million dollars.  That’s not very much, even for a made-for-TV movie.

Admit it, you’ve watched a Hallmark Christmas movie.  You might’ve even enjoyed it.  But once you stood back and gained perspective you realized Hallmark Christmas movies are really bad.  They’re the very definition of schmaltz.  The acting is God-awful.  The outfits are dusted off from last year’s Hallmark movies.  The piled-up snow looks a little too perfectly placed around porches and lampposts.  The sets are nameless little towns in western Canada with same-looking Main Streets.

Then there’s the storylines. Dear Lord.  Every Hallmark Christmas movie is the same sugary-sweet cutout cookie baked at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  The lead finds herself in a Christmas-related predicament.  She conveniently crosses paths with “him”.  He unwittingly steps in to help with her predicament.  They find themselves on screen together the rest of the movie (read: flirt).  Then – but not until the last two minutes of the movie – they figure out they’ve fallen in love.  Quick kiss.  Holiday smiles.  Roll credits.

Even the actresses look alike.  That’s because they’re all the same actress.  Well, almost.  A dozen women grace Hallmark’s pantheon of “Queens of Christmas”.  If you recognize Rachel Boston, Candace Cameron Bure, Lacey Chabert, Danica McKellar, Alicia Witt, or a few others, you know the Queens.  Perhaps you’ve seen them on Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas” (an hour of Christmas commercials movie previews).  Perhaps you’ve heard them pushing their movies on Sirius XM’s “Hallmark Channel Radio”.

Why stop at Christmas?  Hallmark Channels want to be considered your “year-round destination for celebrations”.  Accordingly you’ll also find their themed movies around Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, New Year’s Day, and – lest they feel like left-out seasons – the beginning of spring, summer, and fall.  You can even bask in “Christmas in July” if you missed some of the previous year’s premieres (but why would you?)

Hallmark is a much brighter bulb than any of the actors you see here.  There must be a ton of profit in schmaltz; otherwise why would Lifetime, Netflix, Disney, and Apple also jump into Christmas movies?  Gonna be hard to catch Hallmark: their productions can be found on four television channels, three apps, and that Sirius XM radio station.

Counting 2020, Hallmark has produced and aired over 250 Christmas movies.  Talk about a marathon: it would take you twenty days to watch them all (after which you’d be surgically removed from your couch).  Not me.  I’ll stick with George Bailey in Bedford Falls, Kris Kringle at Macy’s, and Ebenezer Scrooge and his ghosts.  Real actors, real stories, and genuine Christmas spirit.  No cookie cutters.

Some content sourced from the 11/17/2019 Wall Street Journal article, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Netflix and Disney Battle Hallmark for Christmas Viewers”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Mixed Messages

My dad called the other day for a chat, but not before letting me know my answering machine was full. Since he couldn’t leave a message he just called over and over ’til I finally picked up. But here’s the thing: I don’t have any messages on my answering machine.  It’s not full at all.  So after the call I said to my wife, “Dad’s almost 92. I’ll forgive him a little confusion now and then. Probably mixed me up with one of my brothers.”

I still have one of these

Do you still have a landline in your house, the one with a bulky handset and built-in answering machine?  If you do, it’s tethered to the wall with wires, which then connect to a march of telephone poles outside (more wires), which eventually route your call to wherever it needs to go.  Imagine – in a world of wireless – a phone call with a physical connection from one end all the way to the other.  It’s positively antique.

[Random thought: once the world is fully wireless what’ll we do with all those telephone poles.  Caber toss, anyone?]

Go ahead and mock my out-land-ish outdated phone – at least I don’t have a party line.  Back in the day, if you lived in the sticks you shared a single physical line with your neighbors.  You were a “party” of subscribers who often found themselves talking over each other (“crosstalk”) or connected to the wrong party at the other end.  Party lines it is said, were the birthplace of gossip.

The reason I stubbornly cling to my landline is probably not the same as yours.  I keep my landline exclusively for those calls with my dad (er, and to divert telemarketers from my smartphone).  My dad can’t hear very well so anything wireless is a challenge, especially when you get the occasional syncing issue in the conversation.  On a landline Dad hears LOUD and CLEAR… even if he doesn’t always acknowledge what I say.  Are his calls worth the monthly subscription fee?  He’s 92!  You bet they are.

Now let me ask you this.  How often do you call your own phone number?  Why would you?  Pick up the phone and you get dial tone – all good.  Set the answering machine to “on” so people can leave messages – even better.  Except when they can’t.  Let’s suppose – “hypothetically” – your phone company redirects your phone number to a random voicemail box.  And that mailbox is already full.  How would you know?  Only if you called your own phone number, right?  Or, only if the one person who calls you (“hypothetically” your dad) insists he can’t leave a message.

Damn.  Dad was right after all.

Here’s the best part.  I can’t even call my phone company to fix the problem.  Why?  Because I “bundled”.  You know, where you combine TV, Internet, wireless, landline, and whatever else you have so they’re all billed and serviced through a single provider? Mis-take. Try calling your satellite TV provider to ask about landline phone service.  After you explain what a landline IS, the young person at the far end transfers you to a “specialist” (someone much older who actually understands landlines).  That person acts as intermediary between you and the phone company.  There’s a lot of, “Can I put you on hold for a sec?” and, “You still there? and, “Hold tight, we’re still working on it” and even the occasional, “You did say this was a landline, right?  Y’know, you really should get rid of your landline…”.

Long story short, it took me the better part of a week but now my dad can leave messages on my answering machine again.  He also says I should listen to my father more often.  (For younger readers, this is an excellent example of “eating crow”.  Look it up.)

Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) – the English band of the ’70’s who somehow fused pop, rock, and classical – had their biggest U.S. hit with Telephone Line.  Its final verse begins, “Okay… so no one’s answering.  Well can’t you just let it ring a little longer, longer, longer?”  No ELO, I can’t let it ring a little longer – the phone company rerouted my number to a full voicemail box.

But hey, thanks for calling.

The Original “Black Friday”

The first two weeks of November were jammed with “un-often” events this year.  For starters the bright light of Halloween’s blue moon spilled into the wee hours of November 1st.  During those same wee hours most of us lost Daylight Savings Time.  The very next day (Monday) marked the official arrival of Hurricane Eta to our shores. The day after that we voted in a presidential election. A week later we staged the Masters golf tournament (it’s supposed to be in April, people).  Then we had another hurricane (Iota), the first time we’ve had two in November.  Finally, we spiked positive COVID-19 tests in record numbers after months of declines.

That’s a pile of rarities in a short amount of time.  So why not add one more to the heap?  Friday the 13th.  I missed it completely.  Maybe you missed it too (and you’d be forgiven with all those other distractions).  Last Friday – the 13th – came and went without an ounce of bad luck to blog about.  Ironically, the only story I can share brought good luck.  I placed a carry-out dinner order last Thursday night and the restaurant gave me someone else’s food.  When I went back for the right order they told me to keep both.  As a result my Friday the 13th dinner was unexpectedly “on the house”.

Are you superstitious?  I’m not – not in the least.  I have no problems with sidewalk cracks, leaning ladders, or black cats. I don’t lose sleep anticipating the third occurrence of a bad thing.  I gladly pick up a penny (it’s free money after all) but with no expectations of luck.  I’ve broken mirrors (deliberately, in remodel projects) and wishbones (on a whim, in turkeys).  I’ve even knocked on lots of wood (mostly doors) but hey, my life goes on as usual.

Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece

As for Friday the 13th’s “un-luck”, its long-ago origins are suspiciously weak.  The most common comes from the story of Jesus in the Bible: thirteen individuals at the Last Supper (Thursday) followed by Jesus’ foretold crucifixion the following day.  Other theories point to fighting gods in mythology and fighting knights in the Middle Ages.  None of these carry water in my book.  Seriously, how did misfortune come to be associated with the collision of a particular day and date?

I read up on calendar averages, thinking the 13th falling on a Friday was as uncommon as a blue moon.  Maybe the 13th favors the other days of the week instead?  Nope, try the reverse.  Over a significant number of years the 13th falls on Friday more than Saturday, Sunday, or any other day of the week.

To add a helping of confusion, look no further than Spain or Greece.  These countries have an irrational fear of Tuesday the 13th.  Italy?  Friday the 17th.  Imagine watching America’s famous horror movie franchise in any of these places and wondering, “so… why do they call it ‘Friday the 13th'”?

No matter my efforts to undermine this superstition, the effects are real.  Over 17 million Americans admit to a dread of Friday the 13th.  Some avoid airplane travel and others won’t even get out of bed.  Buildings remove the thirteenth floor from the stack (which is a lot of demolition for a superstition, isn’t it?)  Elevators conspicuously delete the “13” button.  Numbered seats in stadiums go 10, 11, 12… 14, 15, 16.

For some of you, Black Friday means bargains.  For others, Black Friday means “13”. If nothing else, I’ll give you a couple of words to describe the circumstance of the latter’s irrational fear.  If you’re afraid of the number 13 you have triskaidekaphobia.  If you’re afraid of just Friday the 13th you have paraskevidekatriaphobia.  (Me, I only have acrophobia.  At least your phobias sound more sophisticated.)

Fact check.  This post was published close to the midpoint between Black Friday (the 13th) and Black Friday (the retail binge).  Okay-y-y-y.  This post also contains exactly 666 words.  WHOO boy.

Let me repeat… I am NOT superstitious.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.