Sunday, February 16, 2020

A more mellow Saturday than we’ve been used to. This allowed us an escape to our favourite diner for some beignets. Not an official celebration, but it’s a special they only offer once per year, so it was a party for us.

National Gumdrop Day

One notable difference between gummy candies and gumdrops, apart from their stickier chewiness, is that gumdrops are vegan. At the luscious heart of the gumdrop is a structural acidic heteropolysaccharide best known as pectin. Gummies are prepared with gelatin, which means they’re not even kosher or halal. But gumdrops fit any menu, and their creamy chewiness beats those rubbery jelly treats every time.

The noble gumdrop is an American creation, more than 200 years old. A confectioner named Percy Trusdale gets possible credit in one source I found, but there doesn’t appear to be a consensus. Perhaps they were gifted unto humanity by a benevolent species of visiting extraterrestrials. Could be that they beamed down and encountered Mr. Trusdale, who was out walking his donkey (it was just a thing he did). Mr. Trusdale then proved to be a terrific host, imparting the glories and pinnacles of humankind culture to these visiting creatures, demonstrating us to be a compassionate and worthy species. As a thank you, the aliens secured Mr. Trusdale’s future fortune by providing the secret recipe for the pectin treat that would carry his name into infamy. It is only through his mismanagement of the brand (he should have called them Trusdale Drops) that his name has nearly wafted into obscurity.

But his candy is still around. We popped into Carol’s Sweets once again. It seems we are ending up in that store almost every week with this project, which I count as evidence that this was a magnificent idea. We grabbed a sampling of a gumdrop mix, which included candy pieces and chocolate. The gumdrop is a revelation. It’s pure sweetness of course, but there’s an added thrill in twisting the internal goo around with one’s tongue to keep it from sticking to the teeth. It’s a physical, tangible adventure. Gumdrops are a feast for the senses.

Singles Awareness Day

This is a holiday for those who had no companion for the 14th, a day for the dateless to embrace the positive aspects of their relationship statuses. Hang with friends, savour some alone time, visit the family – but just the ones you like.

Over in England you’ll get two of these days. A group of dating experts (and I have no idea how one would join such a group) noted that Singles Awareness Day would be truncated to SAD, and SAD is sad. So they launched National Singles Day on March 11 (shortened to NSD, which sounds like some kind of nasally-applied hallucinogen). Why not just rename Singles Awareness Day? I mean, it’s not an officially-accepted holiday by any planetary government or administrative body. I suppose that gives us another celebration to dive into next month.

Neither myself nor my wife are single (a coincidence, probably), so we were unable to celebrate the day as untethered folks, embracing their sweet freedom. My mother – who is single and extremely happy in that situation – dropped by, so we could hear about the single life, but that wasn’t really enough for a celebration. Instead we found a few items to snack upon, all single-serving treats: a turkey-pepperoni-and-cheese snack, a Kraft single, and a single-serving yogurt.

These were our singles, and they were delicious.

National Wisconsin Day

Who invented the hamburger?

The answer to that question is a fork with a dozen tines, each poking a different far-flung locale in the United States. The Hamburg steak is easily traceable to the city in Germany (and in some form even beyond that), but the burger we know and love?

Was it Louis Lassen of New Haven, Connecticut? Oscar Weber Bilby in Tulsa, Oklahoma? Fletcher Davis from Athens, Texas? Frank and Charles Menches of Hamburg, New York? Oh, that one sounds like it might have traction. But let’s look at the claim of Charlie Nagreen from Seymour, Wisconsin. He was fifteen years old, hocking meatballs at the Seymour County Fair in 1885. He soon realized the lack of portability in his snack, so he shmushed a few and stuck them between bread. They came to call him “Hamburger Charlie.” Sounds like a legit story to me.

To commemorate this connection with the Badger State, we made up some Wisconsin butter burgers, which is just what they sound like: burgers with butter. One site I found recommends a bit of butter nestled within each patty. Sounded good to us, and tasted utterly sinful.

We won’t pretend to know as much about Wisconsin as, say, Alice Cooper might, but we learned a few things. Wisconsin placed itself firmly on the anti-slavery side early on. When runaway slave Joshua Glover from Missouri was caught hiding out in Racine, WI, he was taken into custody under federal law. A crowd of abolitionists stormed the prison, freed the prisoner, and helped him escape into Canada. Wisconsin took no shit.

46% of Wisconsin is forest, which is why driving through the state is a bodacious display of glorious greenery. Trek Bicycles, Harley Davidson, and OshKosh ‘BGosh all launched in Wisconsin. Famous Wisconsinians include Gary Gygax (founder of Dungeons & Dragons), Georgia O’Keeffe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Willem Dafoe, Heather Graham, Chris Farley, Harry Houdini, Gene Wilder, Orson Welles, Mark Ruffalo, Bradley Whitford, Charlotte Rae, Jackie Mason, Liberace, Les Paul, Clyde Stubblefield and of course the triumvirate of Wisconsin brewing: Frederick Miller, Frederick Pabst and Joseph Schlitz.

John Frum Day

Who is John Frum? You may as well ask who invented the hamburger – there’s simply no easy answer. Our search begins in the island nation of Vanuatu, located way off the east coast of Australia, on the brink of the eternal Pacific. Specifically we’re headed to the east side of the island of Tanna. It was there that a man named Manehivi, but using the alias John Frum, showed up and promised the Tanna people he would bring them all sorts of goodies: an abundance of food, well-built houses, snappy threads, and all the modern conveniences. This went down in the late 1930s, so I assume that would also include radios, fedoras and Lucky Strikes.

Some say John Frum wasn’t real. Some say he was a vision brought on by a kava-induced trip. No matter, to claim their prizes all the Vanuatu residents had to do was to abandon all loyalty to the European colonials. Ditch the churches. Pull kids out of schools. Head inland and resume the old traditions, the feasts, the rituals. This story spread, and a lot of the natives did just that.

A few years later saw around 300,000 American troops were stationed in New Hebrides, Vanuatu, for the war. That meant regular incoming shipments of supplies. The John Frum followers saw this as their prophesized bounty. The Americans were oblivious, but generous enough to appease the natives with some gifts, not realizing that in doing so they were helping to define a religion. John Frum was seen to be an American – possibly a representation of all Americans – bringing goodies and letting them go about their lives.

When the nation of Vanuatu was being put together and stamped on the globe (this was in the late 70s), the followers of Frum feared this would be a hind-kick into modernity and all the trappings they’d been trying to kick to the curb for the last 40 years. The nation happened, but the John Frum squad has been represented as an official political party ever since.

On February 15 every year, the followers of John Frum dress themselves up in ritual colours, and join together for a day of celebrations and military-ish parades, either shirtless or wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with “T-A USA” (sounds racy, but it stands for Tanna Army). They still believe John Frum will make a triumphant return with untold riches to bestow upon their people. And he’ll most likely be heading there on a flight out of LAX.

Happy John Frum Day to those who follow it – though since they’ve abandoned western technology they probably won’t read this.

National Ferris Wheel Day

Why on February 14? Because that would be George Ferris’s 161st birthday.

George wasn’t the innovator of a rotating seat-wheel. The Bulgarians were doing something similar back in the 1600s, albeit on a smaller scale and rotated by tough dudes for minimal pay. William Somers built three 50-foot wheels at Asbury Park, Atlantic City and Coney Island. It was in Atlantic City where George Ferris took a spin and realized how he could do it better. George came up with new technology (Somers sued him for this, but the case was tossed out), and built a 264-foot wheel for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Paris had built a massive tower for their Expo four years earlier – this was Chicago’s Expo legacy.

George’s big wheel held 36 cars, each able to accommodate 60 people, which meant more than 2,100 could ride the thing at any given time. The wheel was dismantled and rebuilt a few times – notably for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis – before being demolished in 1906.

We intended to go on a significantly less impressive Ferris wheel: the kiddie ride pictured above at our local shopping mall (yes, the one with the penguins). Unfortunately, the amusement park closed early on Friday, and yesterday we recalled that the entire park is in the midst of a rebranding process, shutting down rides as Hasbro creeps in with its sponsorship cash. So we opted out of this one. This is fine – we’ve been on more impressive Ferrisses, like the one beside Niagara Falls and that big ol’ London Eye. Also, we’d have looked kind of sketchy on a ride for little kids with no little kids of our own.

National I Want Butterscotch Day

We had planned to devour some butterscotch syrup over some of our leftover ice cream (the Baked Alaska is long gone, but the ice cream it left behind remains). Then we realized – this is not National Butterscotch Day, it is National I Want Butterscotch Day. To consume the titular treat would be to deny the manifestation of the day’s stated intent. To imbibe is to not want. We are aiming for authenticity here. The official record must remain pure.

So we passed by the ice cream toppings shelf. And last night, as I sat at my desk, spewing an over-abundance of words through my fingers, I found myself wanting butterscotch, drizzled over vanilla ice cream.

Mission fucking accomplished.

World Pangolin Day

This weekend marks the release of a movie based on a video game that popularized the Sega Genesis a generation back. The hedgehog is a fine and noble beast (and delicious in chocolate form, as we learned back on February 2). But I’d be far more jazzed to be guiding a pangolin through levels of loops, leaps and rings. The pangolin is a fierce little bitch. Coated in tough keratin scales (sharp at the edges for extra ass-kickery), the pangolin can curl up into a ball when they’re under attack. It doesn’t make them impenetrable, but a hearty pain the ass to any predator. As an added defense they can spew a rancid spray from near their butthole, skunk-style.

Pangolins are ant-eaters, in the same way that a Sherman tank is a vehicle. They hunt their crunchy insect game by night. They’ll do what they have to do for a meal. Their front legs can tear apart the ground, their claws can rip apart tree bark like it’s tissue paper, and some pangolins can dangle from tree branches by their tail, allowing them access to the insect penthouses, built on high. They don’t have teeth, but some Sarlaac-style spikes in their bellies to grind up their breakfast.

Like any good outlaw, the pangolin rides alone. They’ll hook up to slam scales once a year or so (I assume that’s what they’d call sex), but otherwise they live solo. Unfortunately, humans are – as is so often the case in any nature story – the assholes. In southeast Asia many believe there is medicine in pangolin scales. They are apparently also delicious. As such, they are the most trafficked animal on the planet. Scientists have pulled some genetic sequences from pangolins and found viruses that are almost identical to the SARS Coronavirus 2, so it could be that the pangolins – bad-ass as they are – are exacting some revenge upon us.

National Hippo Day

Around 55 million years ago, some primitive missing link creature split its genes in two: down one road came the sea-bound mammals of the present: the dolphins, the whales and the porpoises. Down the other… the hippo. The hippo may have resemblance to pigs and cows and the like, but those sea mammals remain her closest genetic relatives.

Like the pangolins, hippos are listed as vulnerable. They’ve got ivory in their teeth, and again the meat must be pretty terrific because people eat it. Humans have not been kind to the hippo populace. But unlike pangolins, the hippopotamus revenge is not subtle and/or viral. They are some of the scariest motherfuckers in nature. They’ll attack the hell out of boats. They’ll go after crops, and if the farmer intervenes, they’ll maul that farmer into dust.

Hippos have been part of African folklore and faith since at least Ancient Egypt. They became huge zoo draws, beginning with a dude named Obaysch, who was plopped into the London Zoo in 1850. Even that didn’t go smoothly though. He escaped from captivity at one point, and the only way they could lure him back was to use a zookeeper as bait.

Still, Obaysch was a rock star – or a polka star. “The Hippopotamus Polka” was a huge popular hit during Obaysch’s time, and no doubt encouraged the spreading popularity of the animal. In my lifetime I’ve seen one in a tutu, dancing in a Disney movie, heard some obnoxious child croon about wanting one for Christmas, and guided a few hungry hungry ones to a belly full of white plastic marbles.

Hooray for hippos.

Today Abbey, our daughter, returns for a quick visit. No doubt she’ll be disappointed she missed all the fun – today is pretty tame:

  • National Almond Day. We might snack on some almonds, and/or make some almond-crusted chicken.
  • National Do A Grouch A Favor Day. Jodie may have to do me a favor today. That’s it!

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