April 2020


Whatchamacallit 8: Longboard Beer

Longboard beer

This is a six-pack carrier for Longboard Beer – which I drank when I visited Hawaii in 2014.

I’ve not really treated this with much respect: it sits on top of a bookcase in my living room collecting dust. But I look at it from across the room and it brings back memories of visiting Hawaii, my 49th United States of America state.

The first time I drank the beer was at the condo that we’d rented – my sister and I had bought it, along with other stuff, to eat in a rush. The beer was genuinely good and we ended up buying it several more times. I think the beer has a fan base – because on a subsequent trip to Japan, I found it for sale – the only Hawaiian beer for sale in the shop.

What it reminds me of is looking out over the ocean, going to the southern most point of the 50 states, and going up to the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station.

The time in Kona was fantastic. Longboard Beer was part of the magic.

During the Covid-19 crisis, I am going to try and make a point of writing a blog post about an object in my home.

We’ll see how long this lasts.

Whatchamacallit 7: Alan Turing First Day Cover

Alan Turing First Day Cover

This is a first day cover of a stamp honoring Alan Turing, cancelled at the Bletchley Park Post Office.

This is on my mostly gay wall of art in my bedroom. Strangely, I do not remember exactly how I acquired it, but it was likely shortly after issue in 2012, which was his centenary year.

In my email, I found this description of it:

On 23rd February Bletchley Park Post Office will release a first day cover celebrating Alan Turing’s centenary year. The cover will carry a single 1st class Royal Mail “Turing Bombe” stamp cancelled with a unique postmark for its first day of issue. It has been produced in association with the Alan Turing Year Committee and Bletchley Park Trust. The design by Rebecca Peacock of Firecatcher Design and is her first in this medium. The theme is Turing’s work on the mathematics of patterns in plants. Woven into the design is the Turing Bombe featured on the stamp. The first day of issue postmark is a facsimile of a Bombe rotor. Proceeds will go towards supporting the preservation of Bletchley Park. The intention is to release only 500 as a numbered limited edition at £9.99 plus post and packing of £1.50.

The information on the back of the fame indicates I had it framed in May 2014, two years later: this is entirely plausible since I didn’t really have the money to start framing things willy-nilly until later in life. I also ordered the special Alan Turing Monopoly edition, which sits (unplayed) on a shelf.

So I’ve said all of this without saying who Alan Turing is – and why he is important to me.

Alan Turing was an Englishman who was largely responsible for resolving the German Enigma machine – with his team, of course. Further, he was gay. Lastly, he committed suicide after being found guilty of gross indecency and sentenced to chemical castration.

Thus, after using him for his brilliant mind to help hasten the end of World War II, the British government prosecuted him for liking boys.

I made a point of visiting Bletchley Park, the site of Turing’s World War II work, once while on vacation – I believe in the spring of 2013, but I cannot be certain of this. The site feels like an optimal environment for getting scientists to do the hard core heavy lifting necessary to advance the science of codebreaking, especially in the midst of a World War.

This little envelope reminds me that past injustices can be, to some extent, made right: Queen Elizabeth granted him a posthumous royal pardon in 2014.

Society has come so far since World War II.

During the Covid-19 crisis, I am going to try and make a point of writing a blog post about an object in my home.

We’ll see how long this lasts.

Whatchamacallit 6: nackte männer

nackte männer

This is the first “annoyed” whatchamacallit – the poster of nackte männer that I look at each evening lying in bed. It’s at the foot of my bed, directly opposite my head.

Why am I annoyed?

Simple: because today, Friday, after work, my plans are to go to the airport, hop on Austrian (OS) 232 at 16:55, be in Vienna at 18:15, and at dinner with two friends at 20:00. In theory we’re meeting at loca.

Except, of course, we’re not.

Austrian Airlines isn’t even operating anymore and loca is closed for the duration.

Thus, I am annoyed – Vienna is an outstanding city to spend 48 hours wandering (well, 46.5 hours, as originally booked) – with specific plans to visit the reportedly impressive Imperial Furniture Museum. Other plans included authentic Wiener schnitzel, walks along the Danube, and whatever other idle trouble one can get into while in Vienna.

At the foot of my bed, the poster reminds me of a genuinely cold weekend spent in Vienna – in December 2012, I went there specifically to look at the “Naked Men” art show at the Leopold Museum – a museum I go back to virtually every single time I visit Vienna.

One particularly vivid memory of this trip was that I was so cold that I stumbled upon a Christmas market and bought a wool hat to cover my ears – that was probably the first time I’d purchased a non-food object from a Christmas market in several years. The hat stayed with me for years, before it started developing large holes. I bought a hat that specifically replaced it in January 2019.

Thus, this poster is an easily accessible, daily, reminder of a particularly wonderful vacation.

During the Covid-19 crisis, I am going to try and make a point of writing a blog post about an object in my home.

We’ll see how long this lasts.

Whatchamacallit 5: Hier war Goethe nie

Hier war Goethe nie

Before moving to Germany, I think it is safe to say that I had not really thought at all about Germany and its history – beyond the typical broad strokes that Americans learn about: Germany was responsible for World War I and for World War II.

I could go on about the accuracy of such statements – the overly generous generalizations – but that’s beyond the scope of today’s Whatchamacallit – “Heir war Goethe nie”

Before arriving in Weimar, I’d probably heard of Goethe, but I would not have been able to place him in the pantheon of German writers. Since living in Weimar, European Capital of Culture (1999), I can assure you that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was by far the world’s most important writer, a man whose genius exceeds that of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and William Shakespeare, combined.

I jest some, but not really.

This silly little sign is on the wall next to my front door, serving as a daily reminder of Weimar.

Weimar was a charming little city that lived (well, still lives) in the past: in the eyes of Weimar residents, Weimar is the center of German civilization, particularly in the form of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, but also Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller. Other notable cultural geniuses include Franz Liszt, Wassily Kandinsky, and Walter Gropius. If you’ve never heard of some of these people, it’s not Weimar’s fault that you’re ignorant.

Living in Weimar was an experience: the emphasis on “Kultur” could be, at time, oppressive – if you paid attention to it. As an ignorant American, I tried to be oblivious to it, to the most reasonable extent possible. Which could be, at times, tricky: Weimar is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – twice. Once for Classical Weimar (see Goethe and other enlightenment figures), once for Bauhaus.

Weimar’s obsession with Goethe is comical, if you’re able to relax a bit: Goetheplatz, a statue of Goethe in Theaterplatz, the Goethe café, Goethe Kaufhaus, Goethe Haus, Goethe Gartenhaus, Goethe’s burial site, and the Goethe Ferris Wheel. (One or more of these are a joke, I’m not really sure.

This little sign, which says, Goethe was never here, stands in stark contrast to most signs in Weimar, each emphasizing that Goethe was there – whether because he knocked on the wrong door, used a urinal, fell in love with the youngest lass in the house, or because he actually did something interesting there.

During the Covid-19 crisis, I am going to try and make a point of writing a blog post about an object in my home.

We’ll see how long this lasts.

Whatchamacallit 4: Northwest Airlines Mug

Northwest Airlines Mug

Growing up in Denver, Northwest Airlines as not an airline I noticed with any regularity. As a kid, the airlines that mattered were United, Continental, and Frontier – all three hubbing at Stapleton International Airport – of those three, only one exists – strangely all three are that one. (I’m talking about the original Frontier, not the ULCC that exists today.)

Not that I actually flew anywhere – but my Dad would regularly take me to watch planes take off and land at Stapleton – we’d stop by 7-Eleven, pick up a Slurpee, then park the car along the fences, next to runway 8R/26L. Airplanes were magical for me.

After I moved to Indiana, my first real long-haul trip was on NorthwestKLM to Amsterdam – two separate airlines so tightly integrated that I could not (and still cannot) imagine saying the word “Northwest” without immediately saying “KLM” immediately afterwards.

It took me a flight or two with Northwest before I realized that its then logo (see the one labeled 1987 in the photo above) was probably the most clever logo I’d ever seen: It is an N, it is a W, and it is a compass pointing northwest – all in one.

Northwest, through my collecting of WorldPerks miles, expanded how I view the world: I used their miles to visit Armenia, twice. I used my miles to pay for trips that I could not have otherwise afforded – even bringing a couple friends to visit me in Europe after I moved here.

I bought the mug shortly after Northwest was purchased by Delta – I had the inkling that things were going to change. Things were OK for a while – but then Delta effectively fired me as a customer, making clear that they did not value my custom: any reward-based ticket incurred a large fee if it didn’t originate in North America. As somebody living in Germany, it made loyalty to Delta utterly pointless.

At that point I decided to focus on United Airlines – using Lufthansa and friends for my European hops. Honestly, it was, for me, the right decision: United is (well, was) the only airline providing nonstop service from Berlin to the States daily and year-round. Delta went, but now serves only in the summer. American discovered Berlin a year or two ago; I am not sure they will rediscover Berlin after the crisis is over.

My parting with Delta was a sad – I used remnants of my Delta SkyMiles to fly from Tokyo Narita to Saipan in business class. Delta managed to disappoint me because, at that point, business class no longer included access to the SkyClubs – which annoyed the hell out of me.

Thus, for me, the mug represents a period of life when I cared about Detroit International Airport and when I recognized my favorite flight attendants between Detroit and Frankfurt or Amsterdam (and the one flight attendant who if I saw on the flight, I knew things would be rough). It represents the times I chose to connect in Memphis in order to eat excellent BBQ in the terminal. It represents, in a way, the halcyon days of travel for me – although I still travel a lot, so maybe the best days still are still ahead.

During the Covid-19 crisis, I am going to try and make a point of writing a blog post about an object in my home.

We’ll see how long this lasts.

Whatchamacallit 3: My New Orchid

My New Orchid

Monday morning, I went for my (now) usual morning constitutional – leaving home at 06:00, back around 07:30. The goal is to get my 10,000 steps in while the streets are deserted.

There is a careful dance early in the morning – people take detours in order to avoid each other – whether a different path or stepping on the lawn to ensure an appropriate berth is given.

After my constitutional, I return home, take a shower, and face whatever my day’s plans are. Monday to Friday, the first step is a quick breakfast before settling down to do my day job.

However, because I am trapped at home, I want something pretty to look at – I had planned to buy more flowers this morning – new tulips or roses that I could put in one of my pretty vases – but Blumen Dilek, a florist located about 1,100 steps from my door, appears to be closed for the duration. I looked through the window just after 7, it was bare of flowers inside.

This was a huge disappointment: without the ability to explore the city, I wanted something pretty to look at from my desk.

This orchid was the alternative.

I popped into the supermarket hoping they would have fresh flowers in stock – instead they had just a couple potted plants left, including this one.

12.50€ and it was in my backpack, heading to my home – the first live plant in my home in a very long time.

It is important to me to have something pretty, fresh, alive to look at. It sits in front of my router, across from where I sit and work. Thus it is the first thing I am likely to look at when I take mental breaks to stare off into space.

I have never really been a plant person – I hate the responsibility of it – especially at home, especially since I love to travel. It stands in contrast to my Mother who loved plants – growing up, she had taken a “breakfast nook” that otherwise went unused and repurposed it into a plant room – with dozens of plants.

We’ll see how I do with this plant.

PS – The pot came with the orchid – I love how the pot looks trompe l’œil-esque, but it is really three dimensional.

During the Covid-19 crisis, I am going to try and make a point of writing a blog post about an object in my home.

We’ll see how long this lasts.

Whatchamacallit 2: Hooks for hanging shower curtains.

shower curtain hooks

I realize, upfront, that this is an odd one to feature, but there is a story there.

When I was a kid, it endlessly annoyed me that the shower curtain would always have empty holes when hanging. Whether we did not have enough hooks because some had broken over the years or because shower curtains vary in the number of holes, I do not know.

Thus, back when I moved into my apartment back in 2010, I found myself staring at shower curtains at IKEA and remembering my annoyance at the missing shower hooks in my childhood – so when I grabbed the hooks, I grabbed two packages of hooks.

The spare package of hooks stayed in my medicine cabinet for years – probably five or six – but because I’m a careful adult and because all of my successive shower curtains have been supplied by IKEA, I’ve never broken a hook and I’ve never had more holes than hooks. The spare hooks eventually moved into a storage box.

During the Covid-19 crisis, I am going to try and make a point of writing a blog post about an object in my home.

We’ll see how long this lasts.

Whatchamacallit 1: Amsterdam painting.

Amsterdam, 2003

This painting of Amsterdam is something I acquired a long time ago.

The date on the painting is 2003, which sounds about right. I know that bought it before I moved to Germany – it was framed by Framemakers in Bloomington, Indiana. I am relieved to know that Framemakers is still in business, apparently in the same location: 314 West Kirkwood Avenue.

What I remember about the painting is that I was with a good friend who lives in Amsterdam. As I recall, we were walking around Rembrandtplein when we came upon an artist selling his work – this work – and it was, in our opinion, good. We then negotiated with him over the price. I do not remember what we ended up paying for two paintings, but if I had to guess, it was probably about 15€ each.

As I recall, she even made a comment that it was silly for us to be negotiating with him over the price because he needed the money more than we did – to be honest, though, this comment might be a fragment of my imagination.

The painting is wonderful because, to me, it captures the core essences of Amsterdam – those things that make Amsterdam, Amsterdam and not some other harbor city. Given its shape, the church in the background is the Westerkerk. In the middle you can see buildings shaped like traditional Amsterdam buildings – complete with furniture hooks at the top. The canals are evidenced by the bridges – with their arching over water. Last, but certainly not least, the bicycle.

This was not the first thing I had professionally framed – I think I still own one thing that I had framed before it, actually – but this was something where I can remember that the framing cost many multiples more than the art inside (something that, generally speaking, still remains true to this day).

Amsterdam hangs on the wall surrounded by other drawings, prints, paintings, and photos of places that I have been. For a few years, I made a point of trying to buy art everywhere I went – but this resulted in a few too many poor choices. Now I limit myself to things I actually really love – like this watercolor of Amsterdam.

The newest location specific framed art that I own is really recent: a 2020 Sapporo Snow Festival. But that is a Whatchamacallit for another day.

During the Covid-19 crisis, I am going to try and make a point of writing a blog post about an object in my home.

We’ll see how long this lasts.

The Importance of Walking Out

Every once in awhile I have an experience that reminds me the importance of walking out of a business – or a taxi.

Back in 2007, I took a taxi from Brussels Airport to a hotel – and when the taxi driver had trouble with his meter, I ordered him to stop the taxi at a gas station, I got out, and got a new taxi. It was clearly the right thing to do.

My first clue that the taxi ride was going to be bad was that it was a minivan taxi: I hate minivan taxis. Then the driver started messing with the meter and couldn’t get it to work the way he wanted it to work, so he pulled off and started hitting it. (Major) I told him I wanted a different taxi—where things looked up. (Paranoid Park)

It is a principal I have – and try to remember.

Back in December, I decided to try a restaurant that had come recommended by friends – I walked in, said hi to the waiter, then sat down at a nice table.

Five minutes later I still did not have a menu and the waiter seemed to have forgotten that I had walked in.

Eventually he noticed me and started to bring me a menu. Unfortunately for him, I’d already had enough: I’d stood up, put away my Kindle, put on my coat, and was walking out — “zu spät,” I said to him.

I went somewhere else where within 30 seconds of sitting down, a staff member delivered a menu to me. Life was good.

Unfortunately, I made a mistake with a taxi in New York City upon arriving at JFK three hours late – touching down at 11:30pm instead of 8:30pm – I decided to take a taxi to my hotel. I walked out, got into the next taxi in the queue and had a brief conversation with the taxi driver before focusing on my emails and thinking about bed.

What I had noticed is that the driver of taxi 3L67 had turned on the meter and not set it up for the $52 flat fare from JFK to Manhattan. I should have asked a pointed question at that moment, instead I let things slide – until the cell phone rang and the driver answered it, immediately starting to drift out of the lane, resulting in the driver in the neighboring lane to honk their horn.

Somewhere in there I realized I needed to be more aggressive and I told him to hang up the phone. I wasn’t sure if he didn’t hear me or just said something like, “OK” – but I could see that he was still on the phone, thanks to Bluetooth information on the car’s display.

Long story short, I got taken for a ride and at some point started to give him very specific directions about which lane to be in, where to turn, and where to stop.

When we got to my hotel, the meter read around $68.

We met at the back of the van, I recovered my suitcase, and I lectured him about not using his cell phone, even if it was hands free, while driving.

Ultimately I sort of feel like I gave him too much – I gave him $55.

In retrospect, I should have made it more painful and given him $40 or $30.

With 20/20 hindsight, I should have said something when he didn’t put down a flat rate for the trip from JFK to Manhattan.

And remember that walking out is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

SOS Soap Pads to the Rescue

Now that I’ve lived in Germany for a couple of years, there are only a few American products that I specifically seek out when State-side; everything else there are local options that work just fine.

However, when it comes to cleaning the tile in my shower, nothing in Germany seems to be super effective. What I have are fond memories (that sounds odd) of cleaning the shower using SOS pads as a kid growing up in Denver.

I popped over to Denver for Thanksgiving – this time remembering to buy SOS Soap Pads. It certainly wasn’t the raison d’être for the travels, but it was a nice added bonus.

So far I’ve used 1.5 of the pads scrubbing my shower walls and I’m almost done: the persistent, not wanting to go, schmutz is virtually gone. There are a few spots that need more attention, but realistically, when I look at the entire wall of tile, it’s hard to see.

Now that I am getting old(er), it’s amazing what thrills me.

Life’s good.