Hmm Weekly for July 28, 2020

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Hmm Weekly for July 28, 2020

Another Week, Another Hmm Weekly

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Ask The Sophist

Dear The Sophist,
This is a two-or-threefold problem, or maybe just a progressive Sunken Cost Fallacy delusion in the form of a question. Three questions.

Every year since I was a teenager, I’ve been traveling to upstate New York’s Adirondacks for fun and frolic in the pines, usually as close as possible to a lake, in order to get in it. Build a fire, grill a hot dog, drink some beers, chill the fuck out. Even when I moved to Baltimore, Maryland, I kept showing up to hang with my friends at someone’s family’s cabin or some cabin we’d get together to rent. For about 10 years now I’ve rented a spot for my wife and me, and we invite folks from the Baltimore area to join us along with the usual suspects from New York, and it’s good times. For DECADES this has been going on, and I’ve only missed attending once or twice.

This year, I lined up a spot, put down a deposit, and figured sure, everyone is handling the Virus differently, everyone has their own minimal comfort zone, some of the regular attendees might skip it this year, we definitely need to make allowances for space and hygiene, but we’re still going, and I trust anybody I know who’s coming up to pay attention to the health announcements and act responsibly.

My problem is New York State just put Maryland on the list of Restricted States. Even though Maryland is below the threshold of “a testing positivity rate of higher than a 10 percent over a seven-day rolling average,” at 5.8 percent, Maryland’s current stats of 14.1 per 100K put it in the doghouse for the other threshold, “a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a seven-day rolling average.”

There’s a required, detailed travel form to fill out online asking about stuff like identification, travel dates, and exact destination. As of today we’d be expected to quarantine for 14 days once we arrived at our spot. The penalty for defying the order is $2,000, which, I as a former resident of New York, take seriously.

We’re only booked at the cabin for a week, so I’m assuming that’s acceptable since we’ll be heading right back to Maryland, and we can quarantine in a rustic cabin steps away from a lovely Adirondack lake with zero effort. My question is, with all this going on, should we?

My other two-part question is, the occupancy of the cabin on my signed contract is listed as four adults. I’ve stayed in this spot before, and the occupancy used to be seven adults. I think we had eight or nine people in the cabin at one point that year. I suspect some sort of septic system issue is the reason for the decreased occupancy, to lessen the demand on the septic tank. It’s possible we might have seven people in the cabin at some point for a couple-three days, and in terms of using and flushing the toilet, we’re all fully familiar with “In the Land of Sun and Fun” rules, and are prepared to take it a step further and use the restrooms at a local restaurant and convenience store, which means violating the quarantine, at some point while we’re exceeding the occupancy limit. What to do?

Yours Truly,
In The Great Outdoors

Dear Master of Lake-town,
I am answering this from an upstairs bedroom in the house in Maryland in which I grew up, having finally taken the kids to see my mother after 19 or 20 weeks of never venturing more than walking distance from our Manhattan apartment and never setting foot out of doors without a mask. The tree canopy is thick and green; the goldfinches are an eye-burning yellow; and as I lay back in the hammock in the deep shade on the way toward dusk, a monstrous pileated woodpecker gave forth a series of genuinely shocking war-cries and plunged from high up in an oak past the ridgeline of the house, gliding somewhere down into the back yard. I have ordered a bowstring and a straw-stuffed archery target so the children can get acquainted with the old 50" red fiberglass Bear recurve bow I used to shoot in the side yard.

I'm not in New York City anymore. But where am I? Aside from my mother—and the masked and gloved people handling the not-at-all-remote, despite the promotional claims to the contrary, transaction at the Avis rental counter and garage—I'm in the same bubble I've been inside for months. I've just moved the bubble to the country for a bit. I holed up in a bedroom in New York when the piano tuner came on Monday; I holed up in a bedroom here when the plumber had to come today.

Obviously, it should be best to stay put completely. But prudence and sanity, like children confined to a two-bedroom apartment from winter through the height of summer, eventually start scuffling with each other under the strain of indefinite lockdown. So you plan out an escape: a carefully circumscribed escape, with a healthy change of scenery. You're not saying "screw it" and going mouth-to-mouth with maskless strangers at the foot of an ice luge. You're following the time-honored plague-era tradition of getting away from everyone, fleeing the miasmic crowds for the clean and rejuvenating embrace of nature.

Your job, then, is to function as your own personal roving Health Department, fighting the pandemic for the citizens of the State of You. This comes with two problems: your guests, and your toilet. You say you trust your friends, which presumably means you are not friends with virus truthers, mask dissidents, or hydroxychloroquine enthusiasts. But you need to make sure they know they're required to protect your $2,000, and also your life, by taking the quarantine aspect of the quarantine vacation seriously. They, like you, may not mingle with the people of the Adirondacks. Groceries and beer must be brought in advance, or acquired by touchless pickup or dropoff. Firewood gets scooped up on the honor system. No exceptions.

And I mean: no exceptions. That brings up the toilet problem. What is "occupancy," anyway? Any calculation of how many people may live in a place has to account for the normal human things those people do, such as having guests over, and for the normal human things those guests do, such as using the plumbing. So maybe you have seven people, instead of four, for part of the week. As long as the weekly average is down around five or six people—a vacation household of four with an active social life—you cannot fairly be accused of mistreating the septic system. If you're still feeling guilty about the peak burden, just wander off and pee in a thicket or in the lake for the time when your guests  are there.

Under absolutely no circumstances should you, or they, resolve the tension by visiting a public restroom. The jury is still out on SARS-CoV-2 transmission via fecal aerosols, but you don't want to be on either end of a test case.

Enjoy your getaway, and let your memories of the soothing touch of nature carry you through your self-imposed post-vacation quarantine when you get home.

Let it mellow,
The Sophist

The Sophist is here to tell you why you're right. Send your questions  to, and get the answers you want.


Ornamental Plastic Lawn Flamingo

LAWN FLAMINGOS ARE in perfect balance between kitsch-irony and fuck-you-I-like-lawn-flamingos-non-irony. I had an art project employing a substantial quantity of pink flamingos.

When it came down I distributed the excess flamingos and kept one for myself, and stuck it out on my teensy Baltimore front lawn. There it stayed, year round, at some point becoming a functional marker for a sinkhole in the center of the lawn.

At some point it shifted in aesthetics from joyful pink silly bird to depressing faded piece of plastic with the ass all tore out. We thanked it for its service and transferred it to the recycling bin.


Summer! Part 2

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A TIP OF the cap to Twitter’s @RevTarthpeigust for their response to last week’s exercise in attempting to defeat the customization process for the Men's Baltimore Orioles Nike White Home 2020 Replica Custom Jersey.


WE PRESENT SELECT recipes from the leviathan and encyclopedic 1896 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, by Fannie Merritt Farmer, Principal of the Boston Cooking-School.

Oyster Sandwiches.
Arrange fried oysters on crisp lettuce leaves, allowing two oysters for each leaf, and one leaf for each sandwich. Prepare as other sandwiches.

Ginger Sandwiches.
Cut preserved Canton ginger in very thin slices. Prepare as other sandwiches.

Brown Bread Sandwiches.
Brown Bread to be used for sandwiches is best steamed in one-pound baking-powder boxes. Spread and cut bread as for other sandwiches. Put between layers finely chopped peanuts seasoned with salt; or grated cheese mixed with chopped English walnut meat and seasoned with salt.

If you make one of these sandwiches, before you eat it, please won’t you send a picture to

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