January 28, 2009

Ketchup in the Fridge

I have long been an aficionado of Heintz ketchup, which, I long ago concluded, tastes strongly of tomatoes, whereas competing brands generally have a strong vinegar flavor. My family in New Orleans, where I grew up, was every bit as loyal to this product as are many Pittsburghers, who live in the city that hosts the headquarters of H. J. Heinz Co.

Although I always buy Heinz ketchup, I am not particularly attached to any one package. Instead, I approach buying ketchup with a calculator. I choose whatever container allows me to buy the condiment at the lowest cost per ounce. If necessary, I will buy more than one unit. I don’t much care if the container is glass or plastic, roundish or some other shape.

When I went to the supermarket the other day with ketchup on my shopping list, I discovered that the best value was provided by a plastic 46-ounce bottle that was tall, wide, and not too deep. The front label contained the words “FRIDGE DOOR FIT” and a small picture of such a bottle sitting on a refrigerator door shelf.

I find it interesting that Heinz would market such a container. I know that some people do indeed store their ketchup in the refrigerator, but I never have. Many restaurants leave ketchup bottles out on their tables, and McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants dispense ketchup from large, unrefrigerated vats. Nowhere on my current bottle of ketchup (or any other Heinz ketchup container I have seen) is there a warning such as “REFRIGERATE AFTER OPENING.” I checked the Heinz Web site and could nowhere find an admonition to refrigerate ketchup.

So why the refrigerator-friendly bottle? Some people, I guess—perhaps even a lot of people—are going to store their ketchup in the refrigerator whether it’s convenient or not. Heinz probably decided to make their lives easier. Those folks probably put their ketchup bottles in the refrigerator because their parents did. After all, I put mine in the pantry because that’s what my parents did.

By the way, although I assume the bottle does a fine job of fitting on a refrigerator door shelf—I haven’t bothered to actually try it—it is not particularly ergonomic as far as dispensing product is concerned. The bottle is attractive, however, and may fit more comfortably in the hand of someone bigger than I. Oh, and the ketchup bottle has a cool round cap with a flip-top cover in the shape of the Heinz 57 keystone logo, which is embossed, white-on-white, on the plastic.

January 26, 2009

Habits Are Hard to Break

For the past few days, I have been doing some work on a laptop computer, though my standard desktop machine has been running and being used for e-mail and other chores concurrently. The laptop is sitting on my desk, and my desktop monitor, which rests on a shelf atop the desk, is fully visible above the laptop screen. My desktop keyboard sits in a keyboard drawer under the desk. To my right is a mouse pad and mice connected to each computer. When I have been working on the laptop, 90% of my work has been done on that machine.

What has been remarkable to me while I have been working with this configuration is the fact that I cannot seem to break the habit of using the keyboard in my keyboard drawer.When using many applications, I spend a lot of time manipulating the mouse, making only occasional excursions to the keyboard. What I am finding is that I will use the laptop’s mouse and, when I need to use the keyboard, I go to where I am used to finding it, namely, in the keyboard drawer. This can be really irritating, not only because I am not accomplishing what I am trying to do, but also because the effect is to enter essentially random keystrokes into my desktop computer. Sometimes this has no effect at all, but I have inadvertently deleted mail messages this way and otherwise effected unintended changes in applications running on that computer. Yesterday, I managed to get Windows XP to hang, though I am hard-pressed to explain how.

I keep telling myself not to use the laptop keyboard, yet I keep making the same mistake. Habits, especially ones that have served you well, are hard to break.

January 21, 2009

“Hail Barack Obama” in the Post-Gazette

My friend and literary critic Jane Little liked my poem written for Barack Obama’s inauguration. (See “Inauguration Poem.”) She urged me to submit it to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for possible publication. I told her I would have to think about that.

My reluctance seemed justified. I had only finished the poem on Sunday night, and the inauguration was Tuesday. The inclusion of the line “Inauguration’s just hours away” seem to require a Tuesday publication. This didn’t give the newspaper much time to make a decision, and I thought that the poem might seem too partisan.

In the end, I decided Monday morning to send the poem anyway. What did I have to lose? I had heard nothing from the Post-Gazette by Monday evening and concluded that that was that. I was surprised by the arrival of a mid-afternoon e-mail message from an editor on inauguration day. The newspaper was planning to print three poems it had received related to the inauguration.

The editor had two suggestions, with which I readily agreed. He wanted to remove the couplet that put the inauguration “just hours away.” His motivation was clear, but I was already concerned about the poem’s short shelf life, and the lines were not my favorite ones anyway. I thought their removal strengthened the piece. The editor also wanted to place blank lines between the couplets, which, he suggested, would make the poem easier to read. He was probably right about that, too.

I changed the poem on Lionel Deimel’s Farrago Tuesday and eagerly awaited Wednesday’s Post-Gazette. Sure enough, my poem appears on page A-2 with two others, “We the People,” by Michael Uhrin, and “God Shines Forth: The Inauguration Of Hope,” by Romella D. Kitchens. The poetry was collected in an occasional feature labeled “News Muse,” which the Post-Gazette prints every now and then when news events inspire local poets.

You can read the revised poem here.

UPDATE. The Post-Gazette was slow in posting News Muse, but it hit the Web this afternoon. You can read it here.

January 19, 2009

Inauguration Poem

Many of my poems are topical, but I have an unfortunate habit of writing poems for specific occasions just in time for the event celebrated. This makes them hard to put into the hands of interested readers and virtually impossible to sell. A favorite poem of mine, for example, is “2001,” about the (mostly political) events of 2001. I thought it a good year-in-review piece, but I only started writing it on December 31, and I didn’t think anyone would want to publish such a poem in February or March.

True to form, I wrote a poem in honor of the inauguration of Barack Obama yesterday. The inauguration, of course, is tomorrow. I had thought of writing a poem about the President-elect before now, but I seemed to need the inspiration provided by yesterday’s We Are One concert. I rather like “Hail Barack Obama,” which was also influenced by my having been reading Ogden Nash.

Anyway, I invite you to read the poem. For the moment, Obama seems widely admired, but I should warn readers that the poem is decidedly partisan. Here’s a sample couplet:

Obama’s a thinker, not just a decider;
He’ll bring us together, not be a divider.


January 17, 2009

Neither in Hand nor in the Bush

I returned home yesterday after being out-of-town for a few days. As is usually the case when I am away, Darlene, my cat-sitter, had come by a few times to take care of Zeke and Eve.

The temperature was below zero when I drove up to the house, even though it was mid-afternoon. I parked on the street, as the driveway was covered with a blanket of snow, which I had not anticipated. I grabbed a few items that had to be taken inside and trudged through the snow that covered the sidewalk, steps, and porch. As usual, Zeke was waiting for me when I opened the door. I told him hello, and I greeted Eve, who I spied lying on the bottom stair to the second floor. (Eve seems not to have any particular need to experience my homecomings firsthand, and seeing her when I walked into the living room was unusual.)

I dumped my burden on the kitchen table and looked for Darlene’s pet-sitting report. These reports are generally unremarkable, but her last entry this time was unusual and a bit difficult to make out. Despite her better-than-average penmanship, I could not quite parse her final note, which somehow involved “bird” and “house.”

I put down Darlene’s report and went back out the door. I grabbed the snow shovel resting on the porch and spent the next few minutes cleaning off the driveway, porch, and sidewalk. After returning the shovel to its resting place, I backed the car into the driveway. After a couple of trips back and forth, the car had been unloaded, and all my belongings were inside.

Back in the kitchen, while looking over the mail, a bird flew into the room toward the window. Unable to get out the window, it then flew back into the dining room. I still did not know exactly what Darlene had written, but the essential message now became clear. (I later decided that the note ended with “you have a bird visitor in the house.” Right!)

I was a bit surprised that the bird had survived more than 24 hours in the same house as Zeke. Although my older (and larger) cat no longer is allowed outdoors, he was once a fearless hunter of small birds and mammals. Presumably, the bird spent most of its time atop bookcases and cabinets when it was not actually flying.

I must admit that I find birds flying about the house rather disconcerting, although it was not my first experience with the phenomenon. The last time I had to chase a bird out of the house, the feathered friend had been brought inside by Buddha, a Tonkinese who died a few years ago. Buddha carried the bird in his mouth. I thought his prey was dead, a notion I had to revise when it flew up from the floor. I eventually chased it out the front door.

In this instance, I considered both the kitchen window and rear door as possible exits for the bird, but, in the end, the front door seemed to offer the most promising way out. It could be seen from a greater volume of space than either of the other possibilities. My plan was to first confine the cats in an upstairs room, so that no one was tempted to follow the bird out the door. In retrospect, I don’t even know if the cats were paying much attention to the bird. In fact, I didn’t even pay it so much attention as to figure out what sort of bird it was. It was about the size of a small robin, I think, and seemed dark in color.

Before I had a chance to herd the cats upstairs, the bird flew into the living room, landing atop the tall TV cabinet. This gave it a good view of the door, so I propped open the storm door, pulled back the wooden door, and stood back. The bird quickly flew outside, and I closed the doors with a sigh of relief.

I have no idea how the bird came into the house. There is a fireplace in the living room, but it is protected by glass doors, so it seems unlikely that the bird came down the chimney. When I saw Darlene today, she said she didn’t think the bird had come in with her, so its presence was something of a mystery.

January 8, 2009

The Other Shoe Drops

Ever since the Presiding Bishop acknowledged that those who did not follow Bishop Robert Duncan out of The Episcopal Church represented the church’s Diocese of Pittsburgh, one question has hung in the air: When will Calvary Church go back to court to claim the real and personal property belonging to the Diocese of Pittsburgh?

The Calvary lawsuit, initiated in October 2003, resulted in a stipulation, enforceable by the court, that states in part:
Property, whether real or personal (hereinafter "Property"), held or administered by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (hereinafter "Diocese") for the beneficial use of the parishes and institutions of the Diocese, shall continue to be so held or administered by the Diocese regardless of whether some or even a majority of the parishes in the Diocese might decide not to remain in the Episcopal Church of the United States of America. For purposes of this paragraph, Property as to which title is legitimately held in the name of a parish of the Diocese shall not be deemed Property held or administered by the Diocese.
The Presiding Bishop—not, of course, former Bishop of Pittsburgh Robert Duncan—is in a position to determine what organization represents the Diocese of Pittsburgh in the church that she heads, even though two groups call themselves “The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” (See respective Web sites here and here. I see that Duncan’s group has now appended “(Anglican)” to its name on its Web site. Of course, the diocese in The Episcopal Church has an even greater right to call itself “Anglican,” since it is unequivocally in the Anglican Communion, whereas the status of the other “diocese” is unclear.) I should also point out that the court would risk violating the First Amendment by trying to second-guess Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Well, the other shoe has now dropped. Calvary Church, joined by the (real) Diocese of Pittsburgh, went to court today to demand the assets that it owns both by right and by virtue of the stipulation signed by both plaintiffs and defendants in the Calvary Lawsuit. The actual filing is not yet available—apparently it was being edited just before being presented—but a press release from the diocese is available here.

Stay tuned for more exciting court action from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, and the Anglican Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

January 2, 2009

Modest Success

My campaign to have the information updated on the Anglican Communion Web site for the Diocese of Pittsburgh (see “Change It Now!”) has largely achieved its goal. You can see the current page here. Gone are any references to Bob Duncan, Henry Scriven, or the former site of the diocesan office in the Oliver Building, where Duncan still reigns over his imaginary diocese and free-floating pretend province. On the downside, the listed URL for the diocesan Web site, though serviceable, is not the preferred one (which is http://episcopalpgh.org). That’s a minor quibble, of course. Also, the listed connections between the Diocese of Pittsburgh and those of Chile and Shyira are, I think, pretty much history.

Of more concern is that the page for neither the Diocese of Fort Worth nor for the Diocese of Quincy has been changed.

Nonetheless, some celebration is in order. (We Christians, after all, are taught to be thankful for the gifts we have received.) I hope that my own efforts had something to do with causing the Pittsburgh page to be changed, but I don’t know whether that was actually the case. I do know that others wrote to the Anglican Communion Office, and The Episcopal Church itself had requested the changes even before I wrote my essay. I offer my thanks to anyone who contributed (or might have contributed) to achieving this modest success.

Now, can we get the Anglican Communion Office to make some changes to the Fort Worth and Quincy pages?

POSTSCRIPT: After I wrote the above post, a friend pointed out a more serious error on the Anglican Communion Web site about the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Our assisting bishop is listed as “The Rt Revd Robert Robert Johnson.” Bishop Johnson’s parents were actually more imaginative than this listing suggests. His middle name is Hodges, not the rather improbable Robert listed by the Anglican Communion Office. Well, I did say our success was modest.

1/3/2009 UPDATE: Bishop Johnson’s name has now been corrected.