Thursday, September 28, 2017

How Do We Really Know If We're Yoopers?

Dear George,
When I was growing up in Menominee, we were keenly aware of living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.   Detroit seemed a million miles away, and we actually identified more strongly with Wisconsin than with the Lower Peninsula.  The Green Bay Packers — not the Detroit Lions — were our favorite sports team, and Milwaukee was our top big city destination.   In fact, many residents, including some of my own family members, wanted the U.P. to secede from Michigan and form their own state called “Superior”.  

The term “Yooper”, on the other hand, didn’t even exist during my childhood years.  According to Merriam-Webster, its first recorded usage was in 1977.  “Yooper”, of course, refers to a native or resident of the U.P.  So everybody who lives there or grew up there is, by definition, a Yooper.  However, it also makes sense to think of degrees of “Yooperness”, having to do with lifestyle, attitudes, interests, and activities.  Some people, one might argue, are more authentic Yoopers than others.  Here is a quiz, drawn from the various websites listed at the end, designed to assess how much one’s life history corresponds to a conventional Yooper profile.  Answer “Yes” or “No” to each question, and give yourself one point for each “Yes”.  With a total of 35 items, I would say that a score of 20 or more qualifies one as a Yooper through and through, and 28 makes you eligible for the Yooper Hall of Fame.  

Have you ever:

Eaten a pasty
Been to Ahmeek
Gone ice fishing
Driven for 30 minutes through the forest without seeing a building
Played cribbage
Ridden in a snowmobile
Played ice hockey with your friends 
Walked on snowshoes
Caught a muskellunge or a northern pike 
Owned a Packer Cheese Head 
Had six-foot snow drifts on your street 
Owned a T-shirt or a baseball cap with the area code 906 on it 
Ridden in an ice boat 
Cut down your own Xmas tree from the woods 
Owned two or more guns in your household
Considered Green Bay to be the “Big City” for shopping 
Had friends who own a “camp”, not a “cottage” 
Referred to soda drinks as “pop” 
Known who Heikki Lunta is 
Known people who have hit a deer with their car more than once
Worn snow pants on Halloween or Easter 
Skipped work or school on the first day of hunting season
Used the trunk of your car as a freezer 
Told ghost stories at a campfire
Been able to correctly pronounce Sault Ste. Marie, Mackinac, and Menominee
Had more venison than beef in your freezer
Carried snow chains in your trunk 
Carried a backpack weighing 20 pounds or more 
Had icicles that stretched from the roof to the ground 
Driven your car on the bay ice 
Worn flannel underwear. 
Jumped into the water with the temperature under 40 degrees. 
Had a butter burger for lunch
Had friends who swear they have seen Bigfoot

SOURCES:, “What da heck is a Yooper?”;, “What’s a Yooper?”, “You’ve probably never heard of a Yooper, but here’s why you’ll wish you were one”;, “13 things people from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula always have to explain to out-of-towners”;, “10 Yooper stereotypes that are completely accurate”;, “What is a Yooper?”;, 15 signs you’re a Yooper”;, “Yoopers and trolls”;, “Yooper” 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Summer Come and Gone

Dear George,
Here is another summer winding itself down.  Sometimes I delude myself into thinking it doesn’t matter because we get endless summers.  Of course, that’s not true.  Even if one lives to a ripe old age, they might get only 90 in their entire lifetime.  The older one gets, the more precious each one becomes.  My 2017 summer started off terribly because I’d pulled my Achilles tendon and was limping around for two months. This eliminated many of the enjoyable activities in my life: hiking at Miami Whitewater Forest, camping, neighborhood walks with friends, flea markets, working out and doing exercise classes, even routine activities like walking to the library or the grocery store. Thanks to stretching, ice, Ibuprofen, and rest, I finally did recover by early July and was happy to regain my lost life.

Things perked up a lot with a visit from NOLA by our son J and grandkids V and L.  We had planned to meet them initially at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, but I wasn’t ready for the walking and so they did it themselves on their drive up.  In Cincinnati we went to the zoo, took in the Star Wars costume exhibition at the Museum Center, had three-ways at Skyline Chili, and topped it off with ice cream at Graeter’s.  We celebrated the last day at the world’s largest swimming pool at Coney Island.  V tried to persuade me to come with her down the 100-foot high water slide but I claimed my spinal cord wouldn’t survive the plunge.   

Katja bought a new Smart TV, and, with some help, we  hooked up our Netflix subscription to it.  We are still trying to figure out how to use this sanely.  We started watching a murder mystery called “The Killing” and got so taken in by the suspense that we binge-watched 26 episodes in less than a week, sometimes staying up till 2 a.m.  Then I wanted to watch a football game, and Katja couldn’t stand it so she watched the entire next season by herself.  I think one day the coroner will find us there with the TV still running.

We did take in some higher culture this summer, attending La Boheme, Frida, and The Magic Flute at the Cincinnati Opera.  The Opera program listed us among the fans who had subscribed for forty years or more.  We started in the late 1960’s when the opera was held at the Zoo and the arias were frequently interrupted by animal hoots and howls.  We also enjoyed the folk art exhibition at the Art Museum and British Paintings at the Taft.  We watched a lot of tennis on TV:  the French Open, Wimbledon, and recently the US Open.  We were saddened by Roger Federer’s early quarterfinals departure.  Thanks to friends Paula and Frank, we went to two sessions of the Western & Southern Open at nearby Mason.  We watched most of the NBA finals, rooting 50% for our in-state Cleveland Cavaliers and the other 50% for the Golden State Warriors, the darlings of our California siblings, Vicki and David W.  We were happy for their team’s victory.  Friday nights we frequently went to the movies with friends Donna and Marika.  My summer favorites were Lost in Paris and The Big Sick.

I had my eightieth birthday in late July, and it required some psychological juggling.  I associate age eighty mostly with my grandparents, to a slight degree with my parents, and not at all with myself.  I go to the cardiologist once a year because of having had an angioplasty a couple of decades ago, and he said my heart was doing fine.  My primary care physician checked my feet because of elevated blood sugar, and he said he wished he had feet as excellent as mine.  Then the insurance company sent a visiting nurse who checked me for dementia by seeing if I could recall the words “boy-red-house”.  I passed the test (and have recalled “boy-red-house” every day since).  All in all, I conclude that what one mainly needs to survive at age 80 is a good heart, good feet, and the ability to remember three words. 

Katja and I went to the Ohio State Fair in Columbus, and we had a fun time.  It’s absolutely gigantic, probably a mile long.  I particularly liked the art exhibits, crafts, quilts, woodworking, etc.  I’ve been annoyed about living in Ohio ever since the presidential election, having decided that the state is populated largely by deplorables and idiots.  The arts and crafts displays at the Fair, however, altered my impression.  Now I see Ohio as full of highly talented people (none of whom voted for Trump).  Inspired by the state fair, we also took in the Boone County Fair across the river in Northern Kentucky.  This was a lot more like the fairs of my youth.  Katja and I rode on the big ferris wheel, which allowed us to see the entire world at its peak.  Then we recklessly went on the “Silver Streak” which hadn’t looked that bad until we got on it.  Katja had recently been to the doctor to check out lower back pains.  She screamed, “Stop, I want to get off” multiple times during our ride, and we worried whether she would walk again.

I’m enthralled with my Wednesday evening Zumba class.  I’m the worst dancer in the mostly-woman class, but I’m happy that I can get through sixty aerobic minutes and pleased that I’m not as self-conscious as I used to be.  Katja and I celebrated our 57th wedding anniversary with dinner out at the Bonefish Grill.  We’ve also made multiple visits to the Cincinnati Zoo to see six-month-old hippo Fiona and her parents, Bibi and Henry.  We enjoy shopping for groceries at our new Clifton Market which struggled during its initial months but seems to be doing better.  Each evening before I go to sleep I read episodes from Batman and Superman comics from the 1940’s.  I can’t remember why I ever moved on to books without pictures. 

We had thought about a West Coast trip during the summer but scheduling didn’t work out.  Then we decided on a seashore vacation in South Carolina, but Hurricanes Harvey and Irma forced us to cancel those plans.  Happily J came to visit last weekend for his 30th high school reunion, and we had a wonderful time.    Our autumn OLLI classes at the university begin tomorrow.  Katja and I signed up together for Israeli folk dancing.  I was too immature to do folk dancing in my youth, but now I’ve gotten my priorities in better order.  We’re looking forward to the fall.  

Friday, September 1, 2017

The View Through Fiona and Dom's Glasses

Dear George,
Recently we saw “Lost in Paris” at the Esquire Theatre.  It’s a French/Belgian comedy, written by, directed by, and starring Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel.  They do a lot of physical comedy and slapstick, reminiscent of Jacques Tati, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin, among others.  Both are tall, thin, and gawky, and their physical movements are a wonder to behold.  Fiona encounters numerous crises, and Dom, a homeless Parisian wanderer, comes to her aid.  Needless to say, the pair fall in love, and their unlikely romance survives despite many ups and downs.  (If you do a YouTube search on “Fiona Gordon”, you’ll get trailers, interviews, and other short films.). 

We were so taken with Fiona and Dom that we got their three earlier movies on DVD from the library (L’Iceberg, Rumba, and The Fairy).  All have the same quirky, occasionally tragic, but largely bemused view of life.  Every minor thing they do is spell-binding —running down the street, pouring a cup of coffee, talking on the phone.   I find myself thinking regularly about the Fiona and Dom movies.  They’ve definitely made me more aware of the oddities and delights of the world around us.  The main characters are typically lost, befuddled, or derailed by unanticipated happenings.  Though life is filled with perplexities, Fiona and Dom always discover ways to muddle through.  Once you adopt their perspective, everyday events take on a quaint, mildly bizarre flavor.  Here are a few Fiona/Dom-like examples that we’ve personally experienced in recent weeks.

At the Boone County Fair Katja and I decided to ride on a ferris wheel for the first time in years.  The gondolas were arranged in pairs, each facing the other, about six feet apart.  We sat down in one gondola, and a sixtyish man and a teenage girl, probably his granddaughter, sat down in the gondola directly in front of us.  Up we went, around and around, enjoying the view with the grandfather and granddaughter.  After a few minutes the ferris wheel came to a stop, then proceeded backwards in the opposite direction.  Much to our astonishment, our two neighbors suddenly vanished.  The gondola facing us was completely empty.  We looked all in all directions — our companions were nowhere to be seen.  Then the ferris wheel reversed course again, and our two fellow riders instantaneously reappeared.  I still can’t figure it out.  I can only think it was some kind of mystical ferris wheel which took riders away to alternate universes.  

A few days after the fair we were driving east on MLK Jr. Drive in Cincinnati to take the brand new entrance onto I-71 North.  We stopped at a traffic light at the I-71 entrance with six cars in front of us, all waiting to make a lefthand turn onto the ramp.  The light changed, the first car turned onto the ramp, the second car, etc., and finally us.  As I travelled down the short roadway toward the expressway, I noticed that all the painted arrows on the road were pointing back at me.  I wondered, “How could they make such a stupid mistake?”  Then it dawned that we weren’t on the entrance to the interstate — we were headed the wrong way down the interstate’s exit ramp.  Of course that meant that exiting cars could come directly at us any moment at 60 miles per hour.  Two cars behind me stopped to turn around, I turned around too, and so did the cars in front of me.   While I’ve made occasional mistakes about one-way streets over the years, I’ve never done so as part of a whole convoy of vehicles.  I could only think of lemmings following the leader and leaping off the cliff.

All in all, there’s a lot more confusion in the world than I remember from younger days.  I was the first person at my Zumba class a couple of weeks ago, and I noticed out of the corner of my eye a tall person entering behind me with fluorescent pink, purple, and orange hair, wearing capri pants with a colorful floral design.  I took it to be the tall woman that I’d seen at the last class.  I nodded, mumbled “hello”,  and stepped back into the hallway to wait for the instructor’s arrival.  A few more people arrived, and then the music started.  I looked in the doorway, and the instructor had already begun leading the class.  He had fluorescent pink, purple, and orange hair and was wearing Capri pants. 

It’s easy to get mixed up about people’s identities.   I woke at 2:30 a.m. the other night, got up and took half an Ambien, and sat down at the computer to while away the time before the pill took effect.  I thought I heard a soft clinking sound from downstairs, perhaps someone were opening a drawer.  I stopped and listened, but everything was silent.  Then, a couple of minutes later, I heard what could  have been a footstep.  I thought back to years ago when we had a night-time burglar who actually came upstairs and was right outside our bedroom door.   The police detective came to our house and recommended that we buy a gun, but that struck me as an over-reaction.  Now I sort of wished I’d listened to him.  Totally nervous, I turned on some music on the computer to scare the intruder away.  Then I started clapping my hands loudly in time with the music.  After a few seconds I heard someone call my name.  It was Katja.  She was downstairs making a tuna fish salad sandwich.

Katja and I went to see the hippos at the zoo.  Baby Fiona wasn’t out, but her parents Bibi and Henry were, and they were very playful.  As we were leaving, I heard Katja ask a zoo staff member when Fiona would next be out with her parents, and the person said it would be five days.  As we were driving out, I said, “Five days is a long time to wait.”  Katja didn’t know what I was talking about.  When I repeated what I’d heard, Katja explained that she had asked the staffer when Fiona would be as big as her parents, and the zoo person had said five years.  Katja suggested that in the future  I might want to double-check what it is that I think that I hear.  

While we’ve both had a healthy summer, Katja got a prescription for Zovirex from her doctor for a cold sore on her lip.  I’d used Zovirex for many years because of stress symptoms I’d get from my first day of Autumn teaching.   I was astonished to discover that Katja had paid $98 for a 5-ounce tube, about ten times more than I’d ever paid.  And then I was more flabbergasted to learn that the insurance company had contributed an additional $2000.  $2,098 to treat a cold sore?  What is the doctor thinking, not to mention the insurance company and the consumer?  I investigated on the Internet and found that a tube of Zovirex ointment costs about $20 in Canada and $20 in Great Britain, but up to $2500 in the U.S.  I turns out that the other countries, unlike the U.S., have laws regulating exorbitant drug prices.  Katja later observed that, for all its cost, the ointment didn’t work.  A friend suggested holding an ice cube to one’s lip instead.  We’ll definitely try that next time.

When it came time to pick a restaurant for our 57th wedding anniversary, Katja suggested 
“Knotty Pine on the Bayou” in Cold Springs, Kentucky.  That sounded very folksy to me, but unfortunately they were closed on Mondays.  So then Katja suggested Longhorn Steakhouse because they have Bloomin’ Onions on their menu.  Bloomin’ Onions would make for an excellent anniversary celebration.  Katja used to pick five-star restaurants like the Maisonette for our anniversaries, but her criteria have changed in mysterious ways.     

We are scheduled to go on a Caribbean cruise with J and K and our grandkids in November, and I learned that I would need a passport to go onshore in Mexico.  According to the Internet, I could either get a passport card or a passport book.  The passport card costs $55, is a convenient wallet size, and is good for land or sea travel to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Canada (but not for international air flights).  The passport book is $110, larger and less convenient (not wallet size), but good for all international travel around the world.  I told Katja about the distinction and said I’d decided to get a passport card.  She replied I should get the passport book.  When I insisted on the card, Katja was hurt and angry.  Neither of us chose to verbalize the real issue at hand.  Namely, Katja is extremely eager to do some European traveling together, and I don’t want to do it.  In the interests of a pleasant Caribbean trip, I applied for a passport book for $110.   

Even though it’s been two years, we are still suffering the loss of our sheepdogs.  One byproduct of dog ownership is that I spent a lot of time out on the street and had more frequent social contact with people from the neighborhood.   One of those regulars was a sixtysomething man who regularly walked his three Weimaraners on Ludlow Ave.  Because we both had big and somewhat unreliable dogs, we always stayed on opposite sides of the street, although I did develop a sense of kinship with him as a fellow dog-guy over the years.   Needless to say, I was surprised to see his picture in the newspaper last week as having been arrested for possessing child pornography.  I can’t imagine a loving Weimaraner owner also being a pedophile.  I guess dog owners have their secrets like everybody else. 

My overall conclusion is that life is pretty much like a Fiona/Dom movie — filled with mishaps, incongruities, and mysteries of various sorts.  Their films simply exaggerate the absurdities to bring them to our attention, but we connect with them so readily because of their basic truth value.  Our task, as I see it, is to take it all in, go with the flow, and be as amused as we’re can.  That’s what I’m working on.