Up There in the Sky! Is It a Bird? Is It a Plane? No, It’s … Bacon!

Hot summer topics, from clouds to the scent of smoked pork products

I’ve been out of school for 35 years now, but while my work world runs straight through the calendar, I’ve never stopped thinking of summer as “vacation.” It’s strange how the languor of having the warm months off continues to linger. Nothing seems quite as serious in summer — or should I say “cirrus”? These are days for lying on one’s back in long grass and staring up at the sky. I’m evidently not the only one who thinks so, judging by last Friday’s Wall Street Journal article about an increase in worldwide interest in clouds.

Not nuclear clouds. Not clouds of suspicion. Just … clouds. Surely you, too, have noticed your friends posting photos of cloud formations on Twitter and Facebook? Just last weekend, one of my office colleagues put up a lovely shot of a lowering front hanging over Center City, taken from our offices on the 36th floor.

It seems a quaint and harmless diversion, cloud-gazing, doesn’t it? A pastime that links us to our ancestors standing on hilltops in Greece or Kenya or Mongolia, one eye on a flock of sheep and the other on the heavens above. See there! A cloud that looks like Lincoln! A baby elephant! A gun! Oooh, a slideshow of the 30 Creepiest Clouds Ever Seen! (That does NOT look anything like Marlon Brando, guys.) Holy Hannah, the Cloud Appreciation Society — the subject of the Wall Street Journal piece, sort of — has an entire gallery of “Clouds That Look Like Things”!

But all is not marshmallow fluffiness in the world of clouds, friends. You may not have been aware of this, but among the charges of the United Nations is deciding on official cloud types. In fact, it publishes the International Cloud Atlas, the world’s definitive cloud guide. And members of the Cloud Appreciation Society who believe they’ve found a new category are lobbying to have it added to the canon.

This may seem nothing but a will-o’-the-wisp to you, but it’s been more than 50 years since the last addition to the U.N.’s cloud categories. And the organization is concerned that the hordes of amateurs posting — and labeling, ofttimes incorrectly — their cloud photos online threaten mass confusion. “There is a risk,” the WSJ quotes Roger Atkinson of the World Meteorological Organization — the branch of the U.N. that functions as official cloud-keeper — as saying. “If people start using their own images and definitions, we lose the global standardization.” It simply won’t do to have every Tom, Dick and Harry willy-nilly deeming this cloud a nimbus and this a capillatus without clearly understanding cloud parameters. Order must be maintained!

The cloud type that Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society — his daughter’s middle name is “Cirrus” — wants added to the International Cloud Atlas looks like “turbulent water,” he says, and so he’s calling it undulatus asperatus, or “roughened wave.” The U.N. group has agreed to have a task team review his proposal, though it says there are no guarantees.

But hey, it’s summer, so there’s room in the Wall Street Journal for a story on clouds, as well as for one on the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco, where people have also been gazing up into the air — only they’ve been asking, “What’s that smell?” It seems that neighbors of a popular restaurant called Bacon Bacon, which specializes in — duh — bacon, managed to get the joint shut down because of the constant haze of bacon scent in the air.

“But,” you say. “I love the smell of bacon.” Who doesn’t love the smell of bacon? David Nevins, for one, who says the smell of Bacon Bacon’s bacon isn’t that lovely warm bacon-y aroma everybody loves, but instead an acrid and disgusting smell. He and his wife Inge are among those who’ve complained about Bacon Bacon, which until its forcible shuttering served grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon jam and “bouquets” of bacon strips, plowing through some 300 pounds of fatback each week. The closure came when city officials said the restaurant lacked a requisite permit; outraged fans of the spot, including 24-year-old Nick Barnes, who has its logo tattooed on his wrist, are flaming the bacon-haters on Facebook and Twitter. Three thousand of them have signed a petition of support; there are T-shirts and placards that read, “Really? You complained to the cops that you smelled bacon?”

It’s a perfect summer story, as wispy and silly as a cloud and especially apropos because this morning, I picked the first two ripe tomatoes of the season from my garden. Tonight I’ll be frying up some bacon, slathering some mayo (Hellman’s, of course) on slices of white bread (just this once, not the usual whole-grain), and serving BLTs. If my neighbors complain, I’ll distract them by pointing up into the sky and saying, “Hey! That cloud looks just like Jesus!”