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A Spoonful Of Sprinkles.

Source: ARTnews

So much has already been said about Willy’s Chocolate Experience in Glasgow, an obvious and apparently cheap knockoff of the Willy Wonka universe, that saying anything about it just feels like piling on. Yes, the “sad Oompa Loompa” compared to a Manet painting made me laugh more than it should have, although I’ve never thought of the woman in the original painting as sad and the woman playing the Oompa Loompa, well, in that picture she just got caught at a bad moment. She described the experience as “trying to be the sprinkles on shit” but that’s something I want to focus on: she was trying her best to take something bad, something that was far beyond her control, and make it enjoyable. She also said,

I didn’t want to let the people around me down. The actors I was working with are amazing people, and this has got nothing to do with them. So I just thought, I’m going to make the best of this.

I’m sad the whole thing was such a poorly planned fiasco that even the company that organized it has admitted they should have cancelled the whole thing instead of trying to make the best of it, and I get why the adults were upset. Paying £35 per ticket to go into a poorly decorated warehouse with a bouncy castle is ridiculous. I even understand that the kids were upset that it wasn’t all I’m sure they were told it was going to be and that in the end all they got was a handful of jellybeans and a small cup of lemonade.

I also have memories of going to something like it when I was a kid, only in my case it wasn’t nearly as terrible for several reasons. I was, I think, only four or five, and my aunt took me to the Cain-Sloan store downtown. I don’t remember if she told me why we were going—if she did I don’t think I understood that it was something special. It helped that there was nothing to anticipate. When we got there we joined a small group that was led through an Alice In Wonderland-themed tunnel. It used pictures from the 1951 Disney film, which I hadn’t seen and I didn’t know the story at that time. What I remember is that we went through a dark room decorated with pictures of things the cartoon Alice sees as she descends down the rabbit hole and a woman in a department store uniform recited a script, saying, “She fell and fell and fell.” I thought, who is she? Because I’d missed the entire introduction. Also I was only four or five and experiencing sensory overload. The woman’s performance wasn’t especially dramatic but I think she was probably just a cashier who got roped into being a tour guide/narrator and did the best she could.

Then we were led into what, in my memory, was probably an employee break room poorly decorated with paper cutouts, and folding tables scattered with pages from coloring books, loose crayons, and a few cups of candy. I think both Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny came in, but they stayed up on a stage at one end of the room and we weren’t allowed to actually talk to them.

I recognize now that it was bad but I had an okay time. Maybe it was free—a promotional event to boost sales—which would have kept the complaints down. I also think that, as a kid I didn’t have the critical awareness to recognize just how bad it was. I didn’t have any experiences to compare it to so I was just able to take it in and enjoy it.

I don’t know if parents putting on a positive attitude in front of their kids would have helped save Willy’s Chocolate Experience. Maybe even the youngest, most unaware kids saw it for the trashy money grab it was, but when I’ve done things with friends’ kids I’ve tried to be aware that, when you’re young, everything is new. Kids grow up so fast and will have most of their lives to be cynical, sarcastic, and bitter. During that brief time when the world is still new and strange then I’m glad some adults try to be the sprinkles on the shit.

If You Want To Get Technical…

Hopefully the end of the refrigerator saga is near. It couldn’t be delivered earlier because we had to have a plumber come in and install a new water line. One of the benefits of working from home is I don’t have to take time off from work to meet technicians—I’d rather save my time off for things I actually want to do. Also it gives me an excuse to get away from them while they’re working. When I took time off from work I was never sure if I should stay around and watch them work or just go to the farthest part of the house from wherever they were and do nothing as quietly as possible. And they always seemed to want my input on whatever they were working on.

“So it looks like I should use a Feiser wrench to attach the flange to the output lever. What do you think?”

And I’d say, “Yeah, that sounds great,” while thinking, look, just because I’ve got a Star Trek t-shirt on doesn’t mean I know anything about engineering. Granted the one time I didn’t get asked what I thought was the summer we had a couple of guys install a new furnace. They spent eight hours in the crawlspace hammering and clanking away while I stayed upstairs doing nothing as quietly as I could. A few months later when it got cold and the heat came on we discovered they’d neglected to hook up a pipe correctly and the furnace was pouring carbon monoxide into the basement. By that time the company they worked for had gone bankrupt so we called in someone else who not only told us it should have only been a four hour job, at most, but the guys who’d done it had put it in backwards. Then he turned to me and said, “So we’ll get that fixed, and do you want the Spangler switch to be set to process secondary outputs on the two-twenty readout?”

“Yeah, that sounds great.”

What’s always fun, though, is when they ask me what I do. I tell them I work for a library and sometimes they’ll ask what exactly I do for the library.

“Well, I input metadata so users can access citations from a variety of aggregators through a graphical interface. So, anyway, what do you think, should we be using a proxy server to provide IP authentication for off-site users?”

I’m guessing that sounds great.


Cold As Ice.

There was a mix-up with our new refrigerator and the delivery company had to reschedule, which is fine—they’ve given us a new date and reassured us it will be delivered between nine and St. Patrick’s Day. So for a little while at least we’re going through the perishables like it’s a blackout and I’m buying ice like it’s that episode of The Twilight Zone where the Earth has moved too close to the sun and the temperature just keeps rising. And because of that I’m thinking a lot about ice. It’s really an amazing thing. Less than two hundred years ago ice was a luxury, unless you lived in a really cold climate. The only way to get it in the lower latitudes was to have it cut from winter lakes, covered with sawdust, and shipped south in insulated trains. There’s a Three Stooges short I remember seeing as a kid where they’re delivering ice. Curley starts out carrying a giant block up a set of stairs and by the time he gets to the top…

Source: Tenor


Now ice is something we take for granted. Almost every refrigerator spits it out from a dispenser in the door, and if you need more you can buy bags of ice. And even that’s a big change. I remember when we had to carefully fill trays with water and stick them in the freezer to get cubes of ice. There are cocktail drinkers who swear spherical ice is the only way to go—the lack of edges providing a more even melting that doesn’t interfere so much with the taste of whatever spirit they’re imbibing. A coworker once said offhandedly that he never understood why some ice cubes are clear and some are cloudy. I said it was because of impurities in the ice—the same nucleation sites that create bubbles in boiling water.

There are ice hotels, people sculpt ice—a wonderfully ephemeral medium—and so many parents have endured hours and hours of talk about Elsa, one of the heroes of Frozen. Most of the water that we know of in the solar system—outside of Earth, that is—is ice. There are vast oceans of diamond-hard ice under the surface of the Moon and Mars, and Europa and Enceladus are icy worlds that may have oceans underneath. Here on Earth Sonic Drive-Ins have special ice machines that produce “nugget ice” that some people think is better for cooling beverages and easy to chew, if crunching ice is your thing–it’s not mine and I prefer a higher beverage-to-ice ratio myself, but it works for them, and it’s better than McDonald’s where the ice cream machines don’t even work most of the time.

So, yes, I’ve been thinking entirely too much about how cool ice is. The one thing I’m not doing right now is re-reading Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle because—spoiler alert—the idea of the world being destroyed by ice isn’t something I want to think about right now.  Not that it’s something I worry too much about—if anything I’m concerned about warming because here it is, late February, and this is what I find:

Food For Thought.

The refrigerator died. I always knew it was going to—this isn’t our first refrigerator, and it’s lasted a really long time, but I always thought of its eventual death the same way I think of the sun eventually exploding. Yes, it’s going to happen eventually, but it’s not something I have to worry about today. Except in the case of the refrigerator today arrived earlier this week. Hopefully the sun exploding will stick to its current schedule of happening in approximately five billion years, by which time we will have gone through a few more refrigerators.

It’s really hit me how much I take the refrigerator for granted, it’s always been a reassuring presence, and how true it is that you don’t really miss something until it’s gone. Sure, the ice maker never really worked properly, and if you closed the freezer door too hard the refrigerator door would pop open, or vice versa, but at least it kept things cold. Still, as problems go, it’s a relatively small one, or rather it’s relatively six feet tall, three feet wide, and about three feet wide. It’s substantially bigger than the refrigerator my mother-in-law has in her basement and which, in spite of being made back when Leave It To Beaver was in its original run, is still working, unlike ours which, if I remember correctly, we purchased about fifteen years ago. And we have another small problem: newer refrigerators are even bigger, but the doors on our house, which also dates from the 1950’s, are still the same size. So we had to find a refrigerator that will fit into our home because leaving it outside isn’t an option. Also I don’t want a “smart refrigerator” that says things like, “Hey, I noticed you’re running low on milk. I’ll order some for you if you’ll just give me your credit card information which I promise I won’t give to some guy in Uzbekistan unless you decide to microwave that fish you’ve got in my bottom drawer.”

I know when we’re low on milk which brings me to the other problem which is only metaphorically small, and that is the new refrigerator couldn’t be delivered for three days. Three days! Normally three days goes by in a matter of minutes, except when I have a dental appointment coming up or, well, when we’re waiting for a new refrigerator to be delivered. It’s not like the dryer going out, which happened last year—that was fine because as long as we had sunny days I could hang up the towels to dry. Try doing that with leftover chicken curry. It’s just inviting the neighborhood raccoons to drop in. So the three day wait lasted at least a month.

We have managed a stopgap measure. First we threw out a bunch of things that should have either been eaten or thrown out a lot sooner, but that just caused me to reflect on how you don’t know what you’ve got in the refrigerator until it dies, and we packed everything we wanted to save into coolers and I’ve been buying bags of ice regularly at the mini-mart down the street. That’s got me asking questions like, will skim milk last longer than whole milk? What about half and half? Will it last twice as long? Does ketchup really need to be refrigerated? And what about Gary at the mini-mart? He’s seen me every time I go in to buy more ice and I feel like I’ve become a reassuring presence in his life. Will he miss me when I’m gone?

Bad Timing.

Back when I rode the bus regularly there would be at least a couple of times each week when I’d stay at work slightly longer than I should have. This was my own fault; my boss would sometimes stop by and say, “I’ve got one thing for you to do but it can wait ‘til tomorrow if you have to go,” and I’d say, “I can do it now!” This was partly because I knew that if I waited I’d forget what it was in the morning, and in most cases it would take me at least as long to write a detailed note to myself as it would to just go ahead and do it, but also because I have really lousy time-management skills. And the whole time in the back of my head there’d be a voice saying, “You can either hurry up and leave and wait for the bus or you can wait and have to hurry,” although most of the time it didn’t matter because Nashville buses are always at least fifteen minutes behind schedule. That is, even if I stayed at work an extra five or ten minutes I’d still get to the bus stop in time to stand around and watch traffic go by.

Most days my lousy time management skills aren’t a problem because working from home has cut down my commute to a few feet but Mondays are my day to be in the office. By now I should have gotten used to that, and I did get up early this morning. Maybe I got up too early. I finished taking the dogs out and feeding them, then took a shower and got dressed, the whole time thinking I was running late.

In retrospect it was that thinking that was my undoing. With everything done I went into the kitchen to get my keys, ready to go, but when I checked the time I was about fifteen minutes ahead of my usual schedule. Fifteen minutes to relax, let the sun come up, maybe even have  a bite of breakfast. By the time I’d done all that I was, well, a couple of minutes behind. But I thought I could make that up on the way. Then I was out the door and in the driveway before I realized I’d forgotten something so I had to go back.

Once I got on the road at least I managed to make good time, and it looked like my habitual procrastination wasn’t going to be a problem. At one point it even looked like I’d get to work early.

Then I got stuck behind a bus.

I was fifteen minutes late.

Where Are We?

The first time someone ever showed me a smartphone one of the apps on it was a compass. I said that was really cool and asked how well it worked if you were out in the wilderness where there was no cell service or wifi.

“Oh, it won’t work if you don’t have wifi,” he said. That made it seem a lot less cool because the time you need a compass the most is when you’re out in the wilderness somewhere far from any technology. Maybe something’s changed since then, or maybe the iPhone has always had an interior gyroscope and he didn’t know that, but the iPhone compass will work anywhere. There are also lots of astronomy apps that will identify the stars above you, around you, even below you–sometimes I point my tablet at the floor just to see what’s on the far side of the Earth. And now someone has written an app that will point you to the center of our galaxy. I think so, anyway–because I can’t really see the center of the galaxy, in spite of it being really, really, really big. From where I am it points roughly west–although direction is kind of meaningless because of the distance.

The app is a little weird, too, in that it has to be resting flat to show me where the center of the galaxy is. It’s a little like a real compass in that regard, which is why I once had an assistant Scoutmaster tell me that compasses don’t work when you’re on a hill. He was a bonehead, of course, but fortunately there was another Scoutmaster who knew how to read a compass.

I do think it’s really interesting to have something that gives a sense of where we are in our own extremely large galaxy, which leads to thoughts about how many other galaxies there are out there. The universe we live in is a very, very, very big place, and we are so extremely small.

Just for a little added perspective I pointed the SkyView app on my phone in the direction of the center of the universe and clustered in the southwest, just about the horizon, were Mercury, Mars, Venus, and Pluto. All so distant but, in comparison, they seemed so close.


Happy Valentine’s Day.

A public proposal, like any grand gesture, can only go one of two ways: really well or really badly. That’s why there’s the saying Aim for the Moon. Even if you fail you’ll fall among the stars. Which, depending on your perspective, either means you’ll go out in a blaze of glory or you’ll freeze in the cold, dark void, taunted by tiny points of light that are many orders of magnitude more distant than your intended target.

The fact that it’s either utter humiliation or grand celebration, the Lady or the Tiger, is what makes the public proposal so romantic but also challenging both for the giver and the receiver. I feel especially sympathetic toward anyone getting a surprise, and very public, proposal because not everyone wants that much attention, even if they’re absolutely certain. And if they’re not absolutely certain…

At least this one went well.

These two pictures were taken about a week apart but I don’t know when exactly the affirmative was added. I like to think that the person who accepted didn’t take long to say so but I appreciate that they gave me enough time to document before and happily ever after.

Radio In-active.

There was a crash on I-40 last Monday, and it wasn’t just any crash. A semi-truck carrying radioactive waste caught fire and somehow the description of it as “low grade” just made it sound even scarier to me. My wife said, “It was just alpha radiation so that’s not so bad.” Sure, tell that to Marie Curie or the women who painted the luminous numbers on clocks. At least, as far as I’ve been able to find out, none of the radioactive material spilled out so that’s good. And for me the other bright side is I didn’t know what was going on. All I knew was that, because I was driving home from the office that afternoon, no one was going anywhere. I’ve never seen anything like it. Every street was backed up with cars creeping along at only a few inches at a time. And when I say every street I mean every single street. I’m familiar with all sorts of side streets—I take ‘em all the time, sometimes because there’s heavy traffic on the main street, sometimes just because I’m not in any great hurry and just out of curiosity I’ll turn down a side street I’ve often passed but never been down before. I like to take scenic routes, and side streets, by their very nature, eventually lead to main streets. I don’t always know where I am but I know where I’m going and so far have always managed to get there.

This was not a day I wanted to take the scenic route, though. I wanted to get home and all I knew was that apparently every single car in the world between 1995 and 2023 was on the streets of Nashville and no one was going anywhere. And my knowledge of side streets didn’t help me because, as I passed them, I could see every side street was just as jammed as the main road I was on—filled with people who’d probably taken a side street a few miles back and were now trying to get back on a main street.

I could have walked home faster, and was tempted to, except for most of the trip there was no place to pull over and park, and even if I did I’d still have to walk back and get the car eventually. So I stuck it out. I turned on the radio but there was no news about what was causing the traffic backup. I did find one station playing Queen’s “Radio Ga-Ga” which seemed amusingly appropriate. Most of the time, though, I sat in silence, focused on the traffic, watching the needle on the gas tank steadily creep downward with the yellow warning light on. It reminded me of how my father used to make me crazy driving around for seemingly days, even weeks, with the yellow “Low fuel” warning light behind the steering wheel blinking, then glowing. I watched the monitor go from “51 miles to empty” to “48 miles to empty” and I’d only moved three inches.

I had a lot of time to think. It took me more than three hours to go less than ten miles.