Hurricane Sandy, the behemoth of a storm that recently slammed into the eastern seaboard and inflicted untold damage from Virginia to Maine, coincided not only with a full moon, which caused higher-than-normal tides, but also with our own longstanding plans to refinish an old coffee table. This essential piece of living room furniture has made its home in front of our sofa since 2003, when my wife and I married, and I can attest to its unswerving ability to hold up my aching feet while I watch ballgames or read the Sunday Times.
Its physical appearance, however, long ago lost its charm. The arrival of children soon after we married forced us to encase the entire perimeter of this table in an inch of soft foam in order to keep the little ones from losing eyes or teeth. Now that they are old enough to lose eyes and teeth on the soccer pitch, it seemed like a good time to remove the foam and give the table new life.
My wife took on the thankless task of boiling off the old finish with eco-friendly products, which made but a dent in the double-sided “tape of the future” that had kept the safety foam in place. I then swooped in heroically with my power sheet sander and the little bit of elbow grease that I still possess to grind the table down to bare wood. We fussed with it here and there for another couple of weeks, wasting precious time, and finally deemed it ready for new coats of finish just as Sandy was angrily making her way up the east coast.
When storms of this magnitude approach, shoppers are meant to participate in panicked runs on bread, milk, and eggs in case they want to make a hearty breakfast at 8 at night. They are not, I’m sure, supposed to ask the grocer how to deseed a pomegranate, or if there are any jars of unground cardamom pods “back in the warehouse.”
Similarly, I discovered, upon visiting the local hardware store on Saturday as the hurricane raced up the coast, that one should leave questions of polyurethane-to-naphtha ratios and the pros and cons of synthetic vs. natural steel wool to those rare moments when the store owner isn’t looking to unload the last of his power generators and sump pumps. He will appreciate it, as will the long line of your fellow hardware consumers.
In the early part of this century, it was not uncommon for the workplace to contain devices that allowed one to apply dry heat to food in order to lightly char the surface. The idea was that this gentle scorching would impart a nutty scent and flavor to one’s meal. Bread, in particular, was considered to undergo a marked enhancement in smell and taste quality when subjected to dry heat.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, fire officials teamed up with the generally paranoid to make the devices in question, called “toasters” or “toaster ovens,” illegal in the workplace. The idea was that if employees wanted to heat their food, they should make use of the microwave oven (no matter that microwaves apply heat to the inside of food instead of just the outside and probably cause cancer!). In any event, from then on the only toasting allowed in the workplace had to happen in a professionally-managed kitchen.
Recently, a couple of young, hotshot social scientists I happen to know at a prestigious university in Cambridge, Massachusetts (not MIT), conducted a study in which toasters were reintroduced into offices in highly controlled settings with fire extinguishers at the ready. These two fine young scholars have been able to demonstrate that the emotional wellbeing of employees across a broad spectrum of industries improves if they are able to eat toast at work. By this I mean they are able to eat toast whenever they wish, whether it be at traditional hours for toast, like 8 in the morning, or later in the day when a person might be famished and dinner is still a few hours away.
But that’s not all. These future Nobel laureates, whom I have agreed not to name because they don’t want anyone to know that they know me, have been encouraging me (or, frankly, goading me) into demanding a reintroduction of toast into the workplace, via public chant.
With this in mind, I'm planning to lead a chant of "We want toast! We want toast!" each Monday at noon. Ideally, people across the globe will put aside their petty differences and/or sleep for a minute to join me in this critically important endeavor.
One of my kids takes French at the French Library and Cultural Center in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. There are at least two librarians who work there, as far as I can tell, and I was thinking of writing something completely fictional in which these French librarians act as my central characters. Of course, I would also have to invent the character of the French Lieutenant, who lives in the Back Bay and uses the library (Question: Why is a French Lieutenant living in the Back Bay? Is the French army stationed nearby? If so, wouldn’t the US Army feel a little funny about that?)
Now, one of these librarians is put through the paces by the French Lieutenant, who’s constantly demanding that the French Library in Boston get these obscure French books that no one has ever heard of; meanwhile, the second librarian has a dark secret that s/he is keeping from the first, either about obscure French books (example?) or something totally unrelated, like deviant pseudo-sexual behavior. Oh, and one of them is dating the French Lieutenant.
As I think about this, it occurs to me that one of the librarians is male and one female; this means either the female librarian is dating the French Lieutenant, or else the French Lieutenant is, at minimum, bi. Let’s go ahead and say he’s gay; should I go back and reveal, in painful detail, his difficult teen years? (If yes, were his teen years spent in France or in the Back Bay?)
Need to put more work into this proposal before submission.
I believe in the future of friction. People say it’s past its prime, that the future will be friction-free. Sorry, but I doubt that very seriously. I was recently informed by an extremely smart person I encountered in a bus depot that friction isn’t going anywhere, at least not anytime soon. In particular, reports of the demise of rolling friction are way overblown. True, with the advent of personal aircraft, wheels may one day comprise a smaller share of the market than they currently do, but my associates confirmed what this guy was telling me: the vehicle of the future ultimately will be able to move on air, sea, and even land, resulting in continued rolling friction across a wide swathe of the country.
Let’s take advantage now America! Let’s take rolling friction back from the Chinese and do something with it before the Brazilians discover it!
What about sliding friction? That has a very bright future! Sliding friction is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years, especially in northern climes, as the earth heats up and more people find themselves skiing on grass.