Merry (go) Round Numbers

Smack-dab in the middle of last week the odometer on my car clicked over to 111,111 miles. I noticed the running total around 111,100, so for eleven slow-as-molasses miles I had one eye on the road and the other on the digits. The final mile was an unusually scenic tour of a Costco parking lot, but at long last there it was.  One hundred and eleven thousand, one hundred and eleven, on the nosey.  My phone was already balanced on the steering wheel for the photo. Click!

I know what you’re thinking.  Who keeps an eye on their car’s odometer at all, except when it’s time for an oil change?  Who even knows where their odometer is on the dashboard, what with trip computers and cruise control and all those other digits taking up space?  Well… I do, thank you very much.  I look at my odometer almost as much as my speedometer.  Because I’m searching.  Searching for merry numbers as they go round.  Like 111,111.

It’s a knack for knowing numbers to come, this game.  It’s the reason I didn’t miss the spectacular 98,765.  Or the elegant 48,484.  One glance at the odometer and my brain senses a “fun” number is just around the street corner.  When the final digit clicks into place there’s this little feeling of euphoria.  At least, until I drive another mile.

The numbers-game gene comes from my dad, I’m sure of it.  He has a laser-keen eye for the fun ones.  I still remember when I was a kid, him leaning over in the front seat to my mom and saying, “Marion, look at THAT!” And the mechanical (vs. digital) odometers of his day, they made the moment more dramatic.  Odometers used to count in tenths of a mile, and you’d watch a digit s-l-o-w-l-y slide up and out of view as it expired, to be replaced by a fresh one from below.

Right about now you’re thinking who is this guy and why do I read his posts?  Sorry, we all have our quirks and one of mine is fun numbers.  So here’s another angle.  I remember the zip codes of my childhood neighborhoods as if they’re tattooed on my brain.  90049.  92014.  Also the street addresses.  3349. 2600. 1944.  Even the ten-digit phone numbers.  Today, those zip codes come in handy when I need a short, numeric password, like a locker combination or a luggage lock.  At least zip codes are more unpredictable than 12345.  Disturbingly, 12345 is a popular passcode.  People can be so lazy.

As for the street addresses, four-digit numbers don’t allow for much creativity.  I don’t find myself glued to my bedside digital clock, waiting for 01:23am or even 1:22am (my birthday).  I don’t get a grin out of 11:11 or 4:44.  On the other hand, 9:11 catches my attention way too often.  Nothing fun about that one.

To be clear, I’m not describing obsessive-compulsive behavior (more like get-a-life behavior, right?)  This is just me getting satisfaction out of random numbers.  Numbers OCD is more like – using my wife as the example – turning the radio volume up, but only to the even numbers (as if the odds don’t exist).  Or nightmares about recipes calling for the oven to be set to 351°.  Or countdowns from ten that go “THREE… TWO…”, but “ONE” never comes.  OCD peeps don’t handle those numbers scenarios very well.

Here’s one more numbers game I take a lot of pride in.  My four brothers and I were born in (respectively) 1956, 1958, 1960, 1962 (hello, world), and 1964.  As a result, one of us celebrates a round-numbered birthday every two years.  When the middle brother turned 40 we started gathering together, face-to-face, at a location of the birthday guy’s choosing.  And we’ve done so ten times since, for the rest of the 40’s birthdays, all of the 50’s birthdays, and now into the 60’s birthdays.  Next month we’ll celebrate again (COVID delayed this gathering by a year).  Nice to know I’ll see my brothers every two years from here on “out”.

If you’re still reading to this point, maybe merry, round numbers aren’t the quirk I think they are.  I’m still reveling in the appearance of 111,111 on my odometer last week.  Yes, I might’ve had a little cry when it blinked over to 111,112 a few minutes later.  But that’s okay.  I captured the moment on my phone.  Not to mention, I’ll be targeting 123,456 before I know it.

Midwest Cookie Madness

I wonder how many modern-day brides still wear “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” on their wedding day.  This time-honored gesture of good luck includes a nod to 1) continuity, 2) optimism for the future, 3) borrowed happiness, and 4) purity, love, and fidelity.  But some brides would rather not mess with the dress, understandably distracted by other wedding-day traditions.  Like 18,000 homemade cookies.

Thirty-one years ago, after my wife and I exchanged our rings, we sliced into an impressive three-tiered wedding cake at the reception; miniature bride and groom perched on the smallest layer at the top.  Per tradition we took that smallest layer home, stored in our freezer and shared on our one-year anniversary: a toast to continued good luck and prosperity.  Had we been raised in Ohio or Pennsylvania however; our guests might’ve been drawn to the cookie table instead.  So says a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

Thousands of cookies at a wedding reception?  Sounds to me like the latest quirk of the my-wedding-is-more-memorable-than-yours game (besting cupcake towers and chocolate fountains).  On the contrary, cookie tables are almost as traditional as wedding cake, dating back several generations.  They are the reception obsession of some Italians, Catholics, Greeks, and Scandinavians.

Cookie tables are traditional in Ohio and Pennsylvania as well, and these communities take their baking seriously.  There’s even a Facebook page to exchange recipes, ideas and guidelines (see here).  Cookie tables may soon become a wedding reception norm from coast to coast.

Here’s a “taste” of cookie table guidelines.  Every item must be homemade by family members; or if purchased, only specially-ordered from your neighborhood bakery.  Cherished recipes (i.e. “lady locks” and “buckeyes”) must carry over from generation to generation, no matter how time-intensive the preparation.  Cookies must be as fresh as possible, leading to a flurry of baking in several houses days before the wedding (and lack of freezer space in those houses).  Even the layout of the table itself has rules; considering the number of cookie varieties and which varieties deserve prominent placement.  Finally, the table “reveal” must be decided: 1) Already on display as guests arrive?  2) Revealed by the bride and groom with a dramatic pull of a curtain?  3) Self-serve, or closely guarded by tuxedo-ed cookie stewards?

Cookie tables have one advertised – if not followed – rule-of-thumb.  The ratio of cookies to guests should be around 12:1. That number allows a guest to sample several cookies at the reception, and take several more home for later.  If I apply the 12:1 ratio to the 18,000-cookie wedding (a real-life example), there should have been 1,500 guests.  In fact, there were only 360.  According to the mother of the groom, “…my goal was to have a spectacular cookie table…”  I’m sure the guests thought it was spectacular, helping themselves to an average of 50 cookies each.

Competition plays a role with cookie tables, with the goal of “mine is better than yours”.  One example boasted of “…tens of thousands of cookies, filling nine banquet tables… six people worked for two days on the display”.  Another boasted of “reserved varieties, prepared especially for (and only for) family members of the bride and groom”.  Even the take-home boxes get a personal touch.  With all this attention to cookies, wedding cake – or any other dessert for that matter –  stands in the shadows (like the bride and groom themselves?)

When my son or daughter gets married, perhaps my family will extend the tradition to Colorado and prepare a cookie table.  With my baking skills, I’ll commit to an impressive 3:1 ratio, five different varieties (provided I’m allowed to use store-bought refrigerator dough), and guests will delight in a consistency I can only describe as week-old-but-slightly-burnt.  I guarantee it’ll be memorable.