The Here and Now

Week of February 28

Now that the impeachment is over, Super Bowl is done, the weather is sort of normal, and COVID-19 is receding, at least enough to let schools reopen, the little stories and headlines I enjoy so much can come out from behind the pieces of furniture and the nooks and crannies where they've been hiding.

Word of the Day

greige: for those of you who speak Pantone, it's 16-1109 TCX Greige. For HEX speakers, #978979. For those of you who speak visual, it looks like this:

the color greige

Put greige at the top of your need to know list, as it is the hot interior design color right now. It's so new and fresh that my spell check flags it. Plus, it's just a fun word to say, and lends itself to fun games like Substitution: The Color Greige, The Bridge over the River Greige, For Whom the Greige Tolls, Greige Eggs and Ham, Catcher in the Greige, Star Wars: The Phantom Greige.

Also, it also breaks the i before e rule, which is cool. Also a little weird.

Read the article this time.

Reuters tells us Second time lucky? Stonehenge first erected in Wales, archaeologists say.

Apparently the people who constructed Stonehenge moved (at least some of) the stones from a site in Wales known as Waun Maun to the Salisbury Plain.

original Stonehenge?

This will just raise up (pun intended) the whole how did they do that? discussion again. Me, I'm going with Merlin did it.

I read the article. What I found interesting is that the descendants of the Welsh uprooters also later removed a timber circle they had constructed near Stonehenge, with archeologists unsure where they went with all those giant timbers. The Welsh who built and then moved the Pressli stones also disappeared. Very curious and also worth a followup.

I'm supposed to say something vaguely amusing here. I asked the Conspiracy Theorist for help. He suggested that the Welsh circle was foreclosed upon. The builders were evicted, and since the bank couldn't find a buyer at that spot, moved the whole thing to a more central location where it became the center of a new religious/entertainment complex, like the Ark Encounter.

Mt. Ararat in Kentucky.

So where did these mysterious builders go? My guess is their astro-nomical/logical calculations showed them the end times were near, so they went to a mountaintop in Oregon to wait.

It all makes perfect sense.


Headline in Yahoo: How to Wear Your Ankle Boots This Spring: A Visual Guide.

Sorry. In lieu of pictures, we will be providing all-text directions.

a) on your feet.

b) soles/heels on the bottom.

c) toes go in first.

Can they do that?

IHOP cancels National Pancake Day. I thought that required at least a presidential executive order.

In our time.

I was filling out a survey for Fast Company magazine when I came upon a unique question: What is your current gender? I've never been asked that before. They had male, female, transgender, prefer not to say. I'm sorry they didn't have categories like between genders, not sure, or formerly. Some of those might be more accurate.

And really, does it matter what gender I am when reading your magazine? The rag might be better informed if it asked if I was an angry white male, perpetual progressive, timid back of the theater sitter, addicted to cat videos, a propeller-head with a tangential touch on reality, or currently painting the kitchen greige.

Warning! More Archeologists at Work.

The Guardian tells us: 'Unique' petrified tree up to 20m years old found intact in Lesbos.

That's a whole lotta rings to count.

Global Fashion.

A while back, my wife gave me a comfy fleece pullover. I've worn it enough that it's time for a washing. So I checked the tag in the bottom hem. It's in French and some Far Eastern language. I had better luck with the tag in the collar. It's in English, but looking glass English–I'm going to need a mirror to read it.


Have you ever noticed that almost all of the drug stores designed as drug stores have their entryways on the corner of the building? Some even have aisles aligned on the diagonal. Not settling to the mind when you walk in the store. It also begs the question why. Is there some sort of benefit to the relationship that accrues only to pharmacies?

Run and Hide: Enron's Back!

By 1999, Texas had a) established competitive markets for retail energy and b) deregulated everything except the placement of transmission lines. This last was a major lynchpin in Enron's business plan and vision of the future, and the company provided significant guidance for Texas when it set up the system.

Enron didn't have much if anything to do with the failure of the electric production system, but the second-coldest days in Houston were about a decade before, so you think someone would have remembered.

I don't think they quite thought about this happening.

Speaking of utilities and services...

What do you plan for when you're building something? Is it the midpoint of projected use, (say traffic at 1 pm, or an average of the day), lowest use or peak use (3 am and 5 pm rush hour, respectively). Do you build to meet current needs or to meet inevitable higher demand in the future? How about weather extremes (roads buckle in really hot weather, or multiple thaw freeze cycles? At what temperature is it cheaper to let it buckle and repair, or suspend service)? Do you plan for 30 year extremes? 100 year extremes? 5 year? Any?

Planners don't get enough credit, but always get blame.

Yes, but...

A headline in a blog I follow stated 500,000 Lives Lost.

No, a half-million people died. It was not before their time. Everybody dies.

The lives were lost only if we did not capture the deceaseds' stories, or if they were blocked from making the contributions they could and should have made. Many (I hope most if not all) of the lives lost weren't–those lives were captured and will be treasured. Some are lost because they never found their way, or never shared or developed the gifts they received. Every day, hundreds and thousands of people die from drug overdoses, car crashes, guns, and disease. Over 660,000 die from heart disease each year. But we don't talk about loss. Just because the 500,000 died from a new disease doesn't mean they were lost. That happened long before they shuffle[d] off this mortal coil.

I think the loss comes in that so many of the people died without having at least a chance to see loved ones to say goodbye, to gain closure. I know–following my logical train, you could say the same about any sudden death, as from car crashes, suicide, or gun violence. I could say that maybe they said I love you before they left the house, but maybe it's just a reminder to say I love you and be reconciled to those you love every chance you get. It helps with the coulda shoulda for those left behind.

All is not lost, then.


More Prose and Stories-->

Fred the Flower

fred the flower

Click on cartoon for more Fred



The man on the radio warned me.

“Expect scattered fog.”

Sure enough, a patch collected

In the clearing behind the house,

A space of many activities, where

Dogs run and children play,

And rabbits and geese sometimes forage.

Light dodges tree branches and leaves,

Sliding through the mist,

Captured by the fog.

Long thin shafts of shimmering yellow

Mark its path of descent.

The scene is not unearthly,

As fog is so often described.

I know this space,

The trees, the bushes,

The reeds by the river,

The place worn bare

By generations of scuffing children

Playing soccer or baseball or cowboys

Or games they concoct

To meet the needs of the moment.

A disk slices the serenity,

Followed by a hound exploding the mist,

Intent on bringing the disk to ground.

They disappear, and the fog

Swirls in to erase the tears,

Long before the owner strolls by,

Not disturbing the fog or the calm,

Sliding through effortlessly like the light.

The sun grows stronger

Promising return to the natural order,

Preparing for less adventurous dogs to play

And children to create new fantasies and dreams.

Click here for more Poetry.

Apt 123

Apt 123

Click the cartoon for more Apt 123

They Said It

I don't normally comment on the quotation, but today I must.

All happy families resemble each other, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Leo Tolstoy

There's a clear message here. If you want to be unique, be unhappy.

Rear View Mirror

February 21

Another week of cold and rain, with one unexpected and very welcome warm and sunny day. Also a holiday, not that there was anything different I could see. Of course, if you don't get out of the house, you don't see much.

Ted Talk.

There's been a lot of it this week. I'm always amazed at the number of truly funny people out there.

The worst part of the week for Ted was being put on standby for the trip back to Houston.

In a general observation, I've often wondered what value politicians add when they tour a disaster zone. It mostly seems to be a photo op, with the politician standing next to a guy in a hard hat as they point and stare at something just off camera. There's absolutely nothing they can do there besides get in the way. Now if the picture showed them carrying a chain saw on day three, we've got something. For all his faults, Donald Trump at least spent time in Puerto Rico distributing paper towels.

Still, I have a couple of questions questions:

  • Was this a planned trip, or did the daughters spontaneously think it would be fun to go to Cancun?
  • I mean, Cancun. Really? Really? Aren't girls that age supposed to want to go to visit Cinderella's castle at DisneyWorld? The high in Orlando was 80 degrees.
  • Did you really think leaving behind the dog was a good idea? Pictures of the left-behind-in-Houston poodle have been making the rounds.)
  • If the senator's daughters can push him around like that, shouldn't we be concerned that a U.S. Senator can be so easily bullied?


Headline in the Saturday New York Times: When will Travel Return?. For some of us, especially if we're going to Cancun, it's already begun.

Writer Weird(er)ness

A writer is the type of person who, when somebody gets their tongue stuck to a flagpole, asks How did it taste?

Hey World! You Stink!

Today's Earworm: Love Power, by Lorenzo St. Dubois, from The Producers.

Double whammy: music and lyrics!

Love Power

Kicking the can.

Nancy Pelosi has proposed a 9-11 style commission to investigate the events leading up to and occurring on January 6.

If it is modeled on 9-11, the commission will take nearly two years to produce a report; have three chairmen in its first month; be badly underfunded; have the sitting President and Vice President and immediate past president and vice president testify in private and not under oath; and face charges of conflicts of interest.

And remember the politics definition of commission: a body of distinguished citizens who are assembled to make it appear that we're doing something while in fact allowing us to maintain the status quo and pass the buck to a future generation. The commission will produce a long, mostly unreadable report that will provide inconclusive summaries; if there are action points, they will be ignored, and will occur when we've all moved on from the original incident.Nothing to see here, move along.

Yerrrrr Out!

It's Tuesday. An interesting imposed blast back to the past, in the days when mastodons roamed the great prairies and there was no cable or internet. The cable company is making upgrades to the equipment that takes everything–phone, cable, internet– off line, and so we can't get to the outside world. No news, no mail, no funny cat of the day, no weather. How can I find out what it's doing outside besides looking out the window? I need corroboration!

Everything cable-wise is supposed to be back to normal by noon. I will keep a detailed journal, which I am sure will rival Robinson Crusoe in detail and popularity, but without Friday to clutter up the plot line.

Maybe we can get Tom Hanks to play me.

Update: Everything seems to be back on line, with a surprise outage around 4:30 in the afternoon. There is no discernible difference in quality, but at least we had a day with no telemarketers trying to get us to renew a car repair warranty that does not exist on a car that probably doesn't exist, or at least hasn't in our lives since about 2013.

Humble semicolon;

I've been reading a lot about semi-colons recently (OK, one article and one chapter of a book, and I only read part of the article because I already ingested the information it provided a long time ago).

Neither piece mentioned what I always thought was the defining moment in the life of the semicolon, when typesetters, tired of getting colons and semi-colons confused (which in turn affected their salary), simply stopped setting semicolons, which in turn affected its use. Now we have this little thing that nobody knows how to use, except for the internet harpies of exactitude who will be more than happy to tell you when you're doing it wrong.

All that got me thinking about the generally sorry state of language (actually it's not sorry at all it's very exciting out there with new languages being invented all the time, sort of written pidgins, but terms of the contract allowing me to brag about having a Ph.D. in English require me to tut-tut about the sorry state of affairs vis-a-vis standard written English and at least make it look like I'm making an effort to stick to the rules of proper English, and about which I've been warned a number of times and will probably be warned about this parenthetical, even though it's grammatical and makes as much sense as the rest of the post). The written language we have was an attempt to represent spoken language. Punctuation was a relatively late addition. Many medieval manuscripts have no punctuation at all. Spelling was (and is) erratic, as the six known variants of the 16th century playwright Willm Shukspeer's name indicates), to say nothing of orthographic perplexities like though and tough.

But that has little to do with punctuation in general and the semicolon in particular. The problem is that much punctuation was developed about the same time as the printing press, or soon after. At any rate, things that made sense or were needed then aren't now, but new needs arise that aren't met by available punctuation. Sometimes someone will make an attempt to meet a need, as with the interrobang. It's apparently a real word since the spell check didn't flag it, and it has its own website but I dare you to find it on a keyboard. No positioning, no use. There are some other things I'd like to see that would be useful to readers:

  • something that indicates that a person is thinking. Right now, people use quotation marks, or italics, or indentations, but it's all arbitrary
  • something for reporters to show shading of speech. Right now, they have they said. This is very limiting, and even can make a story incorrect or make the subject out to be a jerk. I think some emoji could be put to good use here, like the laughing face and the emojit face and the angry face.

Anyway, emoji are a good example of what's going on in real world English, as is /are abbreviations and whatever it is the youth of America are using on Instagram and Tik-Tok these days. Everything except the semicolon, which is apparently verboten in online circles, as is the ellipsis. Maybe they can be pressed into use for the list above.

One other thing I hope gets a look-see and canonical incorporation into standard English is an area where I'm pioneering, replacing the apostrophe ' with k in contractions. First, it would end some of the confusion with the apostrophe in possessives (see? Another example to too many needs, not enough punctuation marks). Why k? Well, itks not a tricky question, as anyone who has typed on a keypad with autocorrect turned off can testify. AmIrightorwhat?


The AARP's new newsletter announces a new program that wants me to wake up and dance! Starts next week at, um, 11:00 east coast time. While on the one hand I fully support that as the proper order to do things, I'm not sure of he conjunction of time and activity is recognizing a new reality, or if they think it's going to take me 4.5 hours to get ready.

I Say, Give it a Go.

Headline: IKEA and the future of living.

Yes, living has a future. and Ikea's probably a part of it. Next problem.

You might want to rethink 'fate.'

On a review of a new book: The murky fate of Roman Britain’s lost ninth legion.

It's 1,900 years later. They're all dead. Nothing murky about it at all.

How it happened might be a better question.

No Surprise?

From Reuters: Police discover first cannabis farm in London financial district.

I'm guessing they just weren't looking hard enough.

Oh, no. More Spam!

From Axios: MIT researchers devised a way to allow spinach plants to send emails.

I'd be OK with email from carrots. But email from spinach is just another way of saying 'spam.' To be fair (to spinach), I've received some email that didn't live up to what I expect are the standards spinach has for email.

Speaking of rethinking

From CNBC: 'It has never been tougher to be a young person,' Bear Grylls says.

I think a hard look at any decade before oh, say, 1920, might disprove that, even if you discount diseases (presuming of course you lived through them).


From the Guardian: Smuggler found with nearly 1,000 cacti and succulents strapped to her body.

Someone is either a real fan of prickly pears, or a glutton for punishment.

Taking Away My Job.

I'm supposed to be asking the questions here, but New York magazine got there first, leaving me to answer them: America Saw a Historic Rise in Murders in 2020. Why? 'Cuz 'Murricans be crazy, dude. 'Murricans be crazy.

Having your secret and eating it too.

Headline in Bloomberg: Warren Buffet's Berkshire Reveals Three New Secret Buys.

But if you reveal them, they aren't secret anymore. So where are we here?

Ethical Dilemmas

Vacuolar tauopathy (VT) is a newly discovered form of dementia caused by an extremely rare genetic mutation. It's so rare, in fact, that it has been confirmed in only four people in the world—three in one family.

For the whole article, link to Free Think.

What should be society's response? Do we try to find the causes and a cure? What kind of resources do we put toward it, and at what priority? How much do we care about a family of three? Do we find out how it's transmitted? Or do we say, without cruelty, take care?

Do we really need a new physics?

A passage touting that a Magic number has been stretched out by physicists makes the claim that this is important because discrepancies between standard-model predictions and experimental observations may provide evidence of new physics.

Frankly, I was just getting used to the physics we have. Hearing this evokes the same response I have in hearing there's a new Rob Schneider movie coming out.

February 14

Today, of course, is Valentine's Day, named after a third-century Roman martyr who became associated with courtly love. He is also the patron saint of epilepsy.

I have absolutely no basis for saying this, but I suspect this will be a hard Valentine's Day, especially for those who have been locked up with the sweetie and kids for the year. Strained relations probably can't be totally repaired with a box of chocolate and flowers. And what about all those kids and the little candy hearts and tiny Valentine's day cards they used to give out at school (if they even do that any more).

I notice that TV has been quiet about V-Day this year, except for the Hallmark Channel, where two holidays exist simultaneously in its head–Christmas and Valentine's Day. But other places that would normally have advice for those practicing courtly love would occupied with the pandemic, impeachment and lousy weather. Seems to be a giant meh!

Well, we don't treat our readers like that here at TomatoPlanet!! Happy Valentine's Day to you all!. We even got you a gift. You can pick up your custom T-shirt in the lower right hand corner of the home page.


Once we get done with Valentine's Day, we crash headlong into Presidents' Day, which my computer calendar informs me is a regional holiday.

Last I checked, Presidents' Day is a US Federal holiday. So unless calendar people are counting the United States as a region, which is odd. in and of itself.


I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how I was enjoying reading one of my Christmas gifts, a brightly striped scarf.

Of course I don't read scarves. Besides, I didn't get one for Christmas this year. Besides, I thought it was time to update my old strange looks classic, after buying something like a scarf and telling the clerk, no, you don't have to wrap it–I'll eat it here. But that top sentence makes as much sense as what I was going to write after the comma, Grammar for a Full Life. The usual response upon hearing that I'm enjoying a grammar book is English majors are weird. Why, yes, we are. Thank you for noticing.

Earlier today, I read a post from Suzanne about events leading up to the passing of her mother earlier this year. Then this afternoon I tucked into the last chapter of Grammar, where I found a discussion of dying, and dementia, and language. Weinstein, in passing, comments In the end, of course–not just for my colleague with dementia, but for each of us–all distinctions vanish, unless there is an afterlife.

Well, that put a full end stop to my reading (that's a period to you amateurs), since I'm absolutely no good at multi-tasking, and reading and heavy smoke-coming-out-of-your-ears thinking is multi-tasking of the highest order.

I find the thought of not being able to read, to think, to communicate to be the scariest of futures. I would rather have to be helped to go to the bathroom than lose control of the functions going on above the neck. Of course, both fates probably await me.

So anyway, I'm thinking about dementia, that all distinctions vanish, and that we lose control of our thoughts, recognition and expression.

Unless you believe in an afterlife. Unless you believe in an afterlife. I figured that comment was just an offhand nod to Weinstein's (presumed) Jewish beliefs, but then I had the cosmos-shaking revelation. My usual view of the afterlife is the standard Christian heaven and hell dichotomy, the presumption that I will be climbing stairs, but once I get to heaven, I'll be met with more of the same, what I have here, only more so, with angels, God, music and lots of white added. But we're still in control, at least of our own life. There is still free will, the power to say yes or no, and cede control and power only by choice. We still have choice in our desires, and likes. If I don't like Shakespeare here, I don't have to like him in heaven, either, although I may be forced to sit through interminable performance of Coriolanus in hell.

the universe

But what if it's not a continuation? We don't know what's going on over on the other side. What if heaven (OK, the whole of afterlife) is a total lack of control and order, where we're not in control of anything? nothing there looks like anything we're familiar with. In this view, dementia becomes a preparation for the afterlife, a slipping into the next world, a preparation for the new order, a transition from this one? A test drive, if you will, or a learner's permit for living in a world with no rules, no boundaries, or a totally different set of parameters. If we are to believe physicists (and I can see no reason why we should, when they keep spouting their wacky theories about the nature of the universe), then the universe is playing by a whole different set of rules than we are in our finitude here on Earth. Just investigate what they have to say about dark matter,or, even better, string theory.

Enough for now. Too many cosmic forces and beams bouncing around. Besides, it's getting harder to see the screen with all the smoke in the room.

A Dwight Moment.

I've mentioned before that Dwight Davis' voice is the first one I hear in the morning (unless you count the cat). He's the morning jock with a soothing voice who plays appropriate music for the time of day, unlike his vacation replacements who favor ominous pieces by John Cage or anything by Alexander Borodin, and feel they have to tell us everything they know about the recording they just played or are about to play, or both.

One of the things I like is that, in spite of his starting his work day at 5 AM (I'm told), he is not a morning person, as he demonstrated this morning. A song came to an end, there was maybe ten seconds of dead air (so little I thought there was just a soft passage or fade at the end of the piece of music). Then Dwight came back and brightly announced he had dashed out of the studio to get coffee, but then managed to lock himself out of the studio.

That's the problem. There are certain things you need coffee for, including making and getting coffee.

And it's alright, Dwight. We understand., sympathize, empathize. Pick which one you like best.

Totally useless and unpleasant fact.

If you dislike Prince Igor as much as I do, you will no doubt be dismayed to hear that Borodin died before he completed it. Who knows what pain we would have suffered had he finished it off.

The weatherpeople are pushing their luck. On the one hand, they're trying to convince us that a week of highs in the mid-40s are normal (real normal is 50), that it is going to snow again on Sunday morning (giving them a whole week to talk about snow when we all know it's not going to happen), and that they know what they're talking about.

On the other hand, we only have to listen to sportscasters talk about the Super Bowl for oh, until it snows again here. C'mon, snow!

RIP Hal Holbrook

Hal Holbrook, the actor known for amazingly accurate portrayal of Mark Twain, dies at 95.

I saw Holbrook portray Twain in Houston, in a 3,000 seat theater. While I already loved Twain, his performance cemented the relationship. I especially liked Grandfather's Old Ram, a classic shaggy dog story. Or should I say shaggy sheep?

No, I shouldn't.

Do we care?

Newsweek: Pro-Trump Lawyer Lin Wood Fired by Covington Catholic Grad Nicholas Sandmann.

No, we don't.

CNet announces Astronomers just found the oldest supermassive black hole yet. This is not a good look for astronomers, missing an old, huge black hole all this time. It's sort of like geographers announcing discovery of largest Great Lake north of Michigan.

And, since it's not visiting anytime soon, it's getting a '0' on the Do we care? scale.

People Gets a 'Huh?'

for this headline: Texas Uber Eats Driver and Mother of 3 Killed While Dropping Off Food Delivery. It took three reads, which is two too many, to read this headline.

CNN: Real reporting done right!

CNN asks the hard question: Why do wombats poop cubes?

Mary Barry on Conservative Values.

It's different. I don't think I like it.

If Mary held bogus conservative values.

It's different. It's not good. I think we should outlaw it.

New Phone.

Exciting news: the new phone has a speech-to-text feature for voicemail, so I can read messages instead of listening to them.

The not-so-exciting news? Nobody phones anymore, except telemarketers, who don't leave messages. I've gotten to use the feature twice in the months I've owned it.

Moral: Every silver lining has a gray cloud around it.


When I was in high school (all-male Catholic) there were annual shoe fashions. One year it was desert boots. Another, wellingtons (a waxy dark-brown ankle boot with a raised welt around the edge, not the British muck boots). One year, wing tips. The sartorially correct wore these with white crew socks, and of course the school-required dress shirt, tie, suit or sport coat dress pants.

Style does not imply attractive, as my cohorts proved, and runway designers prove every year.

I hit only one of the fashion statements–the wing tips. Black, little indentations, waxy laces that refused to stay tied. They were hard to polish. It was a challenge to get the polish into all the little holes and then to get it out and make them shine. As needed, I replaced the heels, and maybe once the soles. These were shoes made the way shoes used to be: heavy, built for the long haul.

The wing tips were nice enough (although I don't think I've ever owned another pair), but the shoes I lusted after were the desert boots. But I never had a pair.

Then, about ten years ago, I saw them on sale in a Clark's store. I thought about them, but, even on sale, they were still more than I usually pay for shoes. My wife said, if I wanted them, I should get them, so I did. They were beautiful. The salesman gave me some care instructions, which I ignored. I wore them everywhere, including, based on tiny spots still on the suede, to paint my office.

They're tough. Last year, a lace broke. I was finally able to get replacements on the internet (another adventure in the failings of the American retail system tht I had to a pair of shoelaces sent by mail). Like Ralphie's Red Ryder, they are the best gift ever.

One of my shoe criteria is that the shoes be light, and when I bought the desert boots, they were feathers. This morning, though, when I picked them up, they were much heavier than I remember. I find this puzzling, as the heels and soles are worn down, and so they should weigh even less. But someplace along the way, they've been picking up weighty essences of some sort.

Which, now that I think about it, I don't want to think about.

But I still wear them–discolored, stained, heavier, run down at the heels, still the faves. In fashion after all these years.

Retail–the (missing) experience.

When I got the wing tips, there was a whole ritual. You'd go into a shoe store, take a sniff (shoestores had a unique smell&341; look at shoes, maybe take a shoe off the display something that you liked or wanted. Someplace in these preliminaries, a clerk would attach himself to you (and it was always a him). When you sat down, the clerk would sit on a low stool with an angled footrest in front, the shoes you wore in were removed, and the clerk would check the size.

the brannock device

Then came the fun part. The clerk would produce a foot measuring device, a long, heavy metal gizmo with knobs, cups and sliders. The clerk would place your foot in on one, make sure your heel was firmly settled in the cup, and then adjust sliders in front and on the sides. He would ask if that was comfortable, your mom would say you were still growing and to leave room. After the second foot was measured, the clerk would ask about styles and color, and then go into a mysterious room behind a curtain. When he emerged, he would be carrying three or four shoe boxes, which he would put on the floor, and the start the ritual of preparing for the try-on– removing the paper from the toe, lacing the shoe, putting it on your foot (using a shoehorn, tying the shoes, pressing on the toe of the shoe to see where the human toe was, and pressing both sides of the shoe to check width. If the assessment was satisfactory, you would then walk around the store for thirty seconds to see how they feel (like thirty seconds could tell you anything).

Selection made, the clerk would escort you to the cash register, and then return to clean up the mess and put everything back behind the curtain.

But there was one last treat. When you got home and unboxed the shoes, you'd find a store-branded metal shoe horn that had been unobtrusively slipped into the box. Someplace, I still have a The National metal shoehorn in a drawer. I wish I had it this morning when, for whatever reason, I was struggling to get my shoes on.

Anyway, there is no way to get that ritual and experience online.

Random aside. That foot measuring thing is known as The Brannock Device®. I mentIon this only because usually companies try to protect their brand names (photocopy instead of Xerox, tissue paper instead of Kleenex). Here, though, they almost lament that people don't know (or use) the proper name of their product.

Suggested motto: The Brannock Device®. Ask for it by name.

Ritual Survives.

One place the ritual experience survives is in tonsorial palaces, aka haircutting places, aka barbers. I was reminded of this when I was getting a haircut the other day (my motto: a haircut every six months whether I need it or not).

I'm sorry to announce they no longer use those little paper strips they put on before fastening the cloth around your neck. But otherwise the ritual was good–flapping of the cloth, fluffing of the hair, asking how you want it cut &#standard joke: shorter), much scissor noise, and so on.

Until it came time for the ceremonial viewing of the back of the head. Apparently my stylist had misplaced her mirror. So I didn't get the semi-annual look at the back of my head. Now, I don't care what the back of my head looks like. I never see it. If people form an (adverse) impression of me based on how hairs look on my neck, so be it.

But the break in the ritual distracted me enough so I forgot to ask the barber to trim the hair on/in my ears, the fastest growing hair anyplace on my body.

My motto (which I do not follow): It's heck growing old. Don't do it if you can.

Week of January 31

The big story is the weather. There's some white stuff outside. The weather people have been predicting it for weeks (story below). I guess it's good. If it wasn't for weather, there'd be no news at all. I hear that there's a big storm predicted for the northeast a couple of days from now. That might keep Phil in his hole for the second. I'll take it. I'm looking forward to spring.

Meteorology 101

Sometime in early January crazed weatherfolk began predicting snow for that week. On Monday. It was coming on Thursday. On Tuesday, Friday. On Wednesday, Saturday. On Saturday, the flapping faces pretended they hadn't said anything at all about snow. On Monday, they started again. And then again. If we had a quarter inch of snow for each minute they spent predicting it, single story houses would have disappeared.

Well, darned if it didn't finally work. It snowed last night. While it didn't impress me, there was enough snow to have school called off. That itself isn't exceptional, but the local school district is still all virtual learning.

This is what terrorized the village:

Jan snow 2021

So, if you're a breathlessly bloviating prognosticator (remember these are professionals. Do not try this at home.), what do you do? You double down. Now the prediction is we're going to have snow on Sunday. And Tuesday.

I hope it doesn't snow–it'll just make the precipitation people impossible to live with. Which, frankly, is tough enough now. So much time wasted waiting for something to happen when I could have been learning Urdu or doing something useful.

Writer gets strange(r).

Normally I try to keep the worlds of TomatoPlanet!! and Facebook separate (fear of 'worlds colliding' and all that). But I'm going to make an exception, because TomatoPlanet!! is the land of the absurd, and I may have put together four absurd words over there that deserve to be here, too.

One of my more activist friends was publicizing a conservation effort involving forests. We are supposed to importune our Delegates in Richmond to improve conservation efforts by letting them know I stand for trees.

I commented I brake for trees. Even I'm not sure what it means.

Today's earworm.

Sometimes it's a livable moment: Somebody to Love, by the Jefferson Airplane.

Follow the money.

President Biden pledges to convert the 645,000 vehicle Federal fleet to electric vehicles.

If you want to make money on this: the government is going to need at least 645,000 charging stations, probably more since some vehicles, like long-haul mail trucks, will need multiple chargers. Add in the wiring and other infrastructure to get electricity to the chargers, and things like portable batteries to charge cars that unexpectedly die, you're talking some good pocket change.

You're welcome.

Question(s) for the Makers of Laundry Soap.


Why do you think your soaps labelled Fresh should smell like a florist's dumpster that hasn't been emptied in a week?

Why is it the only thing your soaps won't wash out is the stench your product leaves in already-worn clothes?

Why do you think that we want to smell like a florist's dumpster? Or is this your way of supporting social distancing?

Speaking of Longing.

The house across the street has a mail slot next to the front door. Ever since I was a kid, I thought that was the coolest thing ever. We didn't have a mailbox or mail slot. Our mail was put in a milkbox, a square passthrough that in itself was pretty cool, although I didn't think so at the time.

Anyway, I'm still waiting to live in a house with a mail slot.

Honestly Don't Care.

For some reason, People magazine thinks I want to know What stars from Geraldo Rivera to Chrissy Teigen are saying about Trump's second impeachment.

No. Just no.

Gifting, (Re-).

First, a warning: I am probably not the best person to write a piece about gifts–giving or receivIng. I'm told I'm very hard to gift. I don't have good responses when asked what I need or want. Still, here we are.

I've been posting poems on Facebook for nearly a year now. One of the Christmas series poems mentioned returning gifts, which prompted one of my readers to comment about how disrespectful, despicable, and just plain not nice the practice is.

I thought her response odd, considering how a) a fictional narrator can't do gifting or returning or re-gifting, and b) the poem that she was taking me to task for was itself a gift, unless you consider the minute or two spent reading a form of payment. Is criticizing a form of return?

But it did get me thinking about the whole complicated dynamic of giving gifts, starting with why we give gifts (in general and in specific), through the response and ultimate disposition of the gift. As I go into detail, I'm sure I'm going to miss stuff. Like I said, it's complicated.

A lot of the dynamic is captured in the movie A Christmas Story. Two gifts stand out: Aunt Clara's bunny pajamas, and the Red Ryder. Ralphie didn't like the pajamas, they weren't right for him, but he was expected to thank Aunt Clara for them and wear them at least when she came to visit. For Aunt Clara, they may have been a labor of love, been a reflection of what she thought Ralphie was, or may have been a last-minute what do I get the ungrateful little bugger this year? Ralphie's needs and happiness were probably the last thing on Aunt Clara's mind, so should we be surprised when Ralphie is less than grateful (although at some point she probably did think Ralphie will like that)? Do we favor intent or happiness in determining the success of the gift transaction? And what did Ralphie get his aunt? I bet it was dusting powder. I gave away a lot of dusting powder when I was a kid. Soap, too.

We still have the problem of what to do with the bunny pajamas in Ralphie's closet. They can stay there, taking up space, worn only while they still fit and Aunt Clara visits.

(Totally random aside: Why is pajamas plural? No one says go put on your pajama. Even the diminutive 'jammies' is plural. I thought maybe because there are two pieces [tops and bottoms] but they're plural too. End of aside.)

Or they can be to someone who can use them, although I struggle to think of who that might be. They could be altered for Randy, but that would be double humiliation: ugly and demeaning hand-me-downs.

Of course, what was Aunt Clara thinking? could be a factor. People give gifts because they have to, because it's something they know the recipient wants or needs, or because the gift signifies our vision of what the recipient's life is or what the giver thinks it could/should be. I have a niece who used to give us things like fondue pots and margarita trees. They were very nice gifts, but I can only surmise that my niece pictured us traveling in exotic, jetting-setting circles. That, or she wanted to be invited over for margaritas and fondue. Whatever the image, it was very different than the life we were leading.

Aspirational gifts tell the recipient what we would like them to be. So the gift of a doctor's kit to a child might be saying we want a doctor in the family, and you've been selected. I have no idea what Aunt Clara's gift was suggesting to Ralphie.

On the other hand, the Red Ryder is a real gift. It is given in understanding (Ralphie's dad, by way of explanation, says he had one as a kid), without thought of potential danger or harm. It has a certain impracticality–socks are not good gifts. And Ralphie worked for the rifle–writing the essay, putting ads in his mom's magazine, visiting Santa.

And the real tell, older Ralphie announcing it was still the best gift ever. That doesn't happen often. Usually, gifts have a greatness shelf life.

There is one universally awful gift–the a gift has been made in your name to the donor's favorite charity. Bonus awful points if the donation was made to a charity/cause you actively don't support.

So anyway, to get back to the original question. I think re-gifting is OK, as long as you think the gift is something the new recipient will truly like and maybe even treasure.

Sorry for taking up your time. I'm betting that after reading this, the whole gift-giving mess is no clearer for you. I know it's not for me.

Fortnightly T-shirt

T-shirts money can't buy.

TomatoPlanet!! is a random collection of writing, cartoons, and things that skew absurd. It's funny, or at least I think so. © 2003-2021, John McCarthy

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