At Sixes and Sevens

I love this phrase because it’s just obscure enough that people think they should know what it means. (To be in a state of confusion or disarray.)

This post was intended to be about things that give me pause, but while checking on the phrase’s origin, I found some things to add to the list.

I had thought that the expression referred to numbers in a game of chance that were the riskiest and therefore led the gambler to some confusion about whether or not to make the bet.

That is true, but the better story comes from the possible second origin. I am still slightly at sixes and sevens about the whole thing.

England has something called an order of precedence for their livery companies. A livery company is a trade association and does not have anything to do with horses (which confused me very much the first time I read through the description of the dispute.)

The livery of Merchant Taylors (tailors) and the livery of Skinners were both chartered in 1327. They became the sixth and seventh trade associations in England. There is no surviving record of which was chartered first, but they started fighting about it almost immediately. Wouldn’t they have had to be chartered at the same place? Did someone bribe the clerk to change a date? The English were pretty fussy about their hierarchies.

It got so bad that in 1484 the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Robert Billesden, decided that at the Feast of Corpus Christi (how many know when that is?) the associations would swap places and feast in each other’s halls. It seems to be that skinners and tailors would attract a completely different type of crowd. Perhaps leg of boar one year and pheasant the next? Whiskey and mead? I love the mayor’s title.

The associations still swap places every year. They are still known as liveries. Both are part of the Great Twelve City Livery Companies (the top 12 in the listing). Sadly, the armor makers did not make the cut. English hierarchy remains alive and well in 21st century Britain.

One last note: the liveries maintain the word “worshipful” in their title (e.g., Worshipful Company of Fishmongers – #4). It’s not clear who they were worshipping, God or King. I think it was basically the same at the time. I would guess neither today. We just don’t have that kind of tradition here in the U.S.

Why do medieval English feasts always make me think of a bunch of people sitting around in the semi-dark eating greasy joints of some animal? Somebody there had to be eating the rest of it.

Moving on:

Was there anyone else whose first reaction to last week’s mega-storm on the east coast was to make sure it wasn’t going to hit them before it got to its destination? And be happy that it was going somewhere else?

Do politicians running for President get as tired of listening to themselves as the rest of us do? I think it should be like Family Feud: two candidates go head to head to see who can guess what Americans really want. Then they’ll know what they should promise (well aware that they won’t be able to do it.)

Why would someone come into a mega-store and ask whether we carry Amazon Fire Sticks? Do they not understand the concept behind Amazon?

Also unclear on the concept: the lady who returned her slow cooker saying that it cooked too slowly. (Yes, it did work correctly.)

If an airline can claim that they have arrived on-time even though they have to sit in queue for an hour and a half, why doesn’t that principle apply for arriving for the meeting they scheduled around your flight?

It’s ironic that they originally built Washington, D.C. on a swamp. I think some of the original residents may still be wandering the government halls.

I did not realize that there are Lego sets now that need to be locked down because they cost more than $100.

I think I need to buy one of the tablets they make for toddlers. They look totally indestructible.

How many kids appreciate (or can even see) the color gradations in a 156-color box of Crayons?

Why can you buy (really) inferior brands of chocolate at Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter that are not available the rest of the year? Is it just a sideline for a wax company?

Is your beloved cheap, broke, or chocolate-blind if he/she buys you one of those atrocities? Is it worse to be cheap or chocolate-blind?

Why can’t I find any cards to send for Groundhog Day?


No Points for Worrying

At the beginning of the 20th century, Ivan Pavlov performed his famous experiments on conditioned reflex. You may recall that when he fed dogs, he rang a bell at the same time. When the dogs saw the food, they began to salivate. Before long, Pavlov stopped bringing the food and only rang the bell. The dogs associated the bell with the food, and would salivate at the sound of the bell even if the food was not present. Pavlov repeated the experience with various visual and audio stimuli and obtained the same results. He also performed similar experiments on children successfully.

I have been thinking about Pavlov for the past few days. We were supposed to get another “major snowstorm” which would “dump 6-8 inches” overnight yesterday and create a “miserable morning commute.” It was also supposed to snow on Saturday, which it did. But it was a minor snow, so the weathercasters didn’t get very excited about it.

They were too busy with the “major snow system” developing in the west. You may recall that the part of Michigan where we live is not known for massive amounts of snow. So when we expect more than 3-4 inches, it’s a major event. As you may well imagine, this winter has been a meteorologist’s dream. More nights than not, the news leads with the weather. You’d never know we’ve been getting weather around these parts for as long as most people can remember.

So all weekend, the drumbeat has been going for our newest storm. They showed us all the pretty pictures on the weather maps with the light blues, the dark blues, and the lavenders. We saw pictures of massive storms in the eastern and western parts of the country. As far as I know, none of the viewing audience lives in New Jersey or Idaho, but I guess you can never be too careful.

Yesterday, the store was packed. It was like the week before Christmas. I guess that all the people who were left with only one loaf of bread and two bottles of wine after the one major storm we did get this year didn’t want to be caught short again. I definitely understand that people don’t like to drive in bad weather, but seriously. The same people who were saying we were going to get all the snow we also telling us it was going to be 38 degrees by the afternoon.

The break room buzzed with talk about the storm. Some people weren’t going to come in if it was too bad. There was general commiserating about how bad the roads would be. No mention of the number of people who were driving 4-wheel drive vehicles or lived within 5 miles of the store.

I bet you can guess what happened. Pavlov rang the bell, the people salivated, and the bowl was only partially full of kibble. It did start snowing yesterday afternoon. The little tiny flakes that seem to fall forever. But by the 10 o’clock news they were telling us that the majority of the storm was passed. There were two inches, tops, on our porch. This morning we woke up to a total of a scant three inches.

The road commission had apparently listened to the forecasts for the afternoon warm-up since they were pretty much AWOL on the drive in. So the morning commute was unpleasant. Then the sun came out. The roads cleared. The temperature was near 40 degrees. And no one starved, cut off from humanity.

So the weathercasters are relegated to telling us about the warm-up we will be seeing for a few days. But then we’re in for another “major cool-down”. It’s going back to the teens and twenties. Yep, we’re in for a continuation of winter, just like the groundhogs told us.

The title above is a quotation from Bob Mathias I thought was appropriate for this post. Mr. Mathias was a 17-year-old decathlete in the 1948 Olympics. While all of the other athletes were practicing up until the moment the competition started, he would be under a tree reading or napping. When someone asked him how he could be so relaxed, he told them that he didn’t get points for worrying. Mathias went on to win the decathlon by a wide margin.

Lest you think his winning was a fluke due to poor nutrition in Europe during the war, he also won in 1952. Afterward, he graduated from Stanford University and was commissioned into the U.S. Marines. He became a four-term U.S. representative from California.

Moral: If you’re a world-class athlete, don’t worry about the snow. Or something like that.


My Kingdom for a Horse (or a Pair of Oxen)

You may have seen the car commercial where the man on an airplane clicks a remote at his car as the plane passes over the parking lot. You then see that the car is nice and warm as the family gets off the parking lot shuttle and settles into it. I’m not sure what airport they use for the commercial. Any time I have flown in the winter (or summer), the plane would still have to taxi, park and unload the passengers. The passengers would need to get their luggage (it is a family, not a day-tripper), wait for the shuttle, and actually get to the car.

I picture three more realistic scenarios. First, the heater runs from the battery and the battery is dead after being used for 90 minutes without starting the car. Second, the remote actually starts the car and uses up a quarter tank of gas waiting for the people. The father then says to the family that the next time they can freeze; he isn’t spending $25 because they can’t wait two minutes for the seat warmers to start working. Third, someone sees the car running, takes it, and is gone for an hour before the family even realizes it’s missing.

All of this is crossing my mind on the way to work this morning. Once I was actually on the road this morning. Like many of you, we were hit by the storm yesterday. My husband was proactive and tried to clear things as the day went by. Unfortunately, what he could not foresee was how windy it would be overnight. And the two- or three-foot drifts the wind would create.

I do not own a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. The weather here really isn’t that bad. We are on the “good” side of Lake Huron. The moisture from Lake Michigan gets dumped over the west side of Michigan in storms, so the air is relatively dry by the time it gets here, so we get less wind and snow. We still complain.

After the storms leave here, they cross Lake Huron and get more moisture to dump on Ontario. By the time the storm reaches upstate New York, it has gone over the rest of the Great Lakes and they get the benefit of lots of moisture in the air. Which often means they get a lot of snow. If you watch pro football or hockey from Buffalo, you may have noticed the commentators seem to get a lot of pleasure telling us what bad weather they are surviving. In their heated broadcast booth.

We figured my biggest worry would be whether or not they cleared the road by the time I left at 4a. I got up and went out. The road didn’t look too bad (relatively speaking). I should have known there would be a problem when I went down our steps and sank into snow up to my thighs. I’m short, but not that short. I should have been able to walk through snow that had been shoveled shortly before we went to bed.

Ever the optimist, I went into the garage. Second bad sign: my car had been out for maybe two minutes yesterday while my husband got out the snowblower. I had to brush off the back and side windows. There was no indication whatsoever that it had been inside for more than 12 hours.

The engine turned over, and the heater whined (it really hates cold weather). I backed up to where the hood cleared the garage door. And got stuck. Started swearing. Looked for the shovel and couldn’t find it. Stomped upstairs and woke up my husband. Oh yeah – he keeps it on the inside porch so it will be convenient. Stomp back downstairs. Trip in the drift again.

Shovel out the wheels. Move a little. Shovel under the body. Don’t move. Shovel around the tires. Move a little. Shovel more. Create ice under the tires. Try to rock back and forth. Swear. Shovel. Move a little. I should probably mention that our house is set off the road a ways and the driveway is double width, so I’m not completely incompetent (yet).

Shovel. Can’t move. Straighten wheels. Move a little. See the light in the house. Husband is up for work. Stomp back in. Whine. He comes out (and trips in the drift). Five minutes later the car is on the road and ready to go. I apologize for being evil. He blames the snow. He’s good that way.

On the way, my brain keeps running “Jingle Bells”. ‘Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh.’ Yeah. With a wind chill somewhere around zero (it’s gotten worse since). But a horse isn’t a bad idea. One of those big Budweiser horses. It could have pulled my car out of the snow in a couple of minutes.

If you have ever needed road-side assistance in a storm, you know you could starve to death before they get to you.This is not a function of their ineptitude but of demand greatly exceeding supply (finally – a use for my econ class). I bet my son could make money using the horse to help other people. Or he could entertain kids by taking them for rides. I bet parents would pay to get the kids out of the house for a bit on a snow-day. Or their spouses.

I wonder how much it would cost to keep a horse like that. They’re probably expensive. Maybe I’ll try to sell the idea to someone in Buffalo.