Sunday, April 19, 2020

Another magical day in the same ol’ chair, parsing through another roster of prescribed celebrations. Only today I can write in plain prose instead of ticking off syllables on my fingers like the world’s worst rapper. Supplies have been replenished – and at quite a cost, as the next couple weeks are filled with food-related experiments – and the window beside me has been opened for the first time this year. Spring has finally decided to make an appearance, which means people may break quarantine to chase the sun, and thereby stretch this lockdown out longer. The police were called on our neighbours for having numerous guests drop by. Always nice to see a machine gun on our street. Meanwhile, we had this to do:

National Animal Crackers Day

Biscuits – and I say ‘biscuits’ because I’m speaking the Queen’s English here – shaped like animals got their start in England sometime in the late 1800s. A few domestic American bakeries, which would later merge together to become the National Biscuit Company (a.k.a. Nabisco) began making them in this hemisphere. In 1902 they were rebranded as Barnum’s Animals, giving kids all the fun of going to the circus and eating the animals. On this side of the border those same cookies are put out by kindly old Mr. Christie.

There have been 53 different animals represented in cookie form over the years, the most recent being the addition of the koala in 2002. Two years ago the American cookies decided (at the bequest of PETA) to redesign their boxes so it didn’t appear that the animals were being transported in cages. I suppose it’s more gratifying to eat animals that had been out in the savannah, so at least you know they had a good life before getting transformed into your poop.

Canadian boxes had already done away with the cage design. It didn’t make sense, especially with the Barnum & Bailey circus having been shut down. The old boxes were kind of neat though – the wheels on the animal train went to the bottom of the box, and little perforations around them would let you pop it apart and turn it into a toy. We needed no such distractions yesterday though – we simply ate and enjoyed the things on their own merit. My only complaint – they should be called Animal Cookies. ‘Crackers’ invokes thoughts of salt and soup-dunking. This was dessert. Delicious, wild dessert.

Also, they were breakfast this morning. One of those can-we-still-experience-shame-in-quarantine moments.

National Auctioneers Day

This one really pissed me off. When sketching out our 2020 last summer, I had slotted in a trip to an auction house yesterday, having not attended one since I was a kid. I’ve always been fascinated by the process: the frantic competition, the energized paddle-wielding, all set to the music of the auctioneer. For what it’s worth I also enjoyed those old Federal Express commercials where everyone would talk at a rapid-fire pace. I’m just a fast-talking fan, I guess.

The thing about auctioneers is that they aren’t simply trying to speak quickly to move the process along. There’s a more elaborate purpose to that cadence. It’s a rhythmic monotone that draws people in, with surges of volume and inflection to provide a sense of urgency. They aren’t actually delivering information at a rapid-fire pace; there are filler words everywhere. Little phrases like “how many dollars there” and “what do you want to get ‘em for”, crammed into a tiny space between the actual bidding amounts.

Sometimes auctioneers have to deliver a lot of information about the item – or the animal – and they cram all that secondary info into their rhythmic chant. They have to pay attention to the room and catch every bid. They have to differentiate between someone actually bidding and someone scratching their eyebrow or waving at a friend. They have to know a lot about what they’re auctioning. It’s part business savvy, part keen observer, and part live performance.

We’d have loved to see an auction in person yesterday. Somehow eBay doesn’t feel quite the same. So we checked out this video, featuring auctioneer rapid-fire delivery set to hiphop beats. I highly recommend it.

National Record Store Day

2008 marked the first Record Store Day, and it has grown to be a beloved tradition among music lovers. Unfortunately the only way we could celebrate yesterday was to go online and imagine what might have been. But shopping for records online doesn’t compare to the joy of flipping through a batch in the store – that satisfying sound as each sleeve falls forward into the last, that moment of mystery that could reveal the next flip as the album you’ve been searching for.

I miss records. Our record player was the one casualty of our last move, and I haven’t owned one since. Even Abbey bought one when she was 18. I loaded her up with a few of my favourites, including the third Led Zeppelin album with the spinning wheel artwork. Records were 12×12 pieces of art. Some had lyrics printed on the back or on the inner sleeve, most contained a bevy of information about the music inside. CDs reduced the majesty of the art, but at least you’d still get the lyrics and the liner notes. Now with streaming services you get nothing. You can pop over to Wikipedia and do as much extensive research as you’d like, but you’ll still miss out on staring at the cover art as the music plays.

So why don’t I own a record player? Other priorities, I suppose. Maybe someday I’ll make the investment, but for now I’ll be satisfied on the fringe. I’ve even bought records without having anything on which to play them. I just love owning them, and if we’d been in a normal world yesterday, I probably would have bought another one.

There are a handful of decent record stores in town, but my favorite is Freecloud Records downtown. They have a great selection of cheap second-hand vinyl, not just the $30 new releases (or re-releases). The cheaper items tend to be in near-perfect shape, but the owner is meticulous and he won’t re-sell something that is scratched to hell. Besides, a few scratches and pops adds aesthetic. When all this weirdness has passed, we may keep a bookmark on this one – our local stores are going to need the help.

National Pet Owners Independence Day

This is another one courtesy of Thomas & Ruth Roy, whose vibrant imaginations in concocting over 80 holidays out of the blue have helped to keep this project a little bit extra-weird. The idea behind this day is for humans to send their pets into the world to go to work while we humans sit at home on our asses. Honestly, that sounds pretty damn good.

Newsweek (yes, seriously) suggests that we can spend this day by making a special pet-friendly cake for our beloved friends, or go out and buy them a new toy. That runs counter to the heart of this day for me – pets are supposed to do the crappy work while we owners get to reap the benefits. Our dogs should have baked us something, or at least fed us our supper of kibble on the kitchen floor while they did the dishes.

Given that we are both working from home (albeit not yesterday, as it was Saturday), our pets did sort of join us at the office. Once again, imagining we were in a normal world and not a quarantined world, had our dogs gone to our workplaces in our stead, how might that have looked?

Jodie’s students would have been in love with any of our dogs, so commanding their attention would have gone over better than Jodie’s daily struggles. They might not have been able to deliver the material very well (though Liberty is proving to be quite savvy), but as a theatre teacher she teaches her kids to tap into their empathy. Dogs are one of the greatest ways to encourage empathy. They might have done well.

In my beige-grey cubicle, the dogs would have gotten nothing done. I’m not 100% certain my bosses would have noticed the shift in personnel. Oh well. We’re all in the same workplace now. No special cake or kibble for us.

International Day for Monuments and Sites

Another UNESCO celebration, meant to provide awareness of how diverse we are as a people, the greatnesses we have achieved, the tragedies we have endured, and the care we have taken to keep these things in the forefront of our minds. Jodie and I were initially disappointed that this was another interesting day that would likely have to be sacrificed due to virus concerns. Then we decided, fuck it, we can go check out some monuments and sites in town and never come close to another human. This one we did right.

In February of 1932 the Edmonton Police moved into their new digs on 97th street, located where the Winspear Centre is today. For you out-of-towners, that’s our most glorious music hall, the place our symphony calls home. The police station stayed there for 50 years before moving, and when they left a key part of the building’s foundation was kept as a monument to the location’s history. Right beside that is a plaque commemorating the founding of the union that protected workers of the Great Western Garment company, whose factory turned out heaps of clothes just a couple blocks away.

We also visited Ezio Faraone Park, which commemorates an Edmonton Police officer who was killed in the line of duty. After that we stopped by a beautiful lamppost that has a special place in the city’s south side, right at the end of our High Level Bridge. Edmonton is packed with sites of note – we could have stopped by the original site of Fort Edmonton (well, the fifth site… the fort moved around a bit), one of the grand mausoleums in the city’s cemetery, or that house in the west end where I grew up. There’s no monument there yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

National Transfer Money To Your Daughter’s Account Day

Not joking – this is an actual thing. We celebrated this a day early, sending some money to Abbey in Vancouver to keep her deep in groceries for another couple of weeks. She’d be thrilled to have a job right now, but alas she remains stuck at home. Lucky for her, this day exists.

Nothing else to say about this one – I can’t find any origin for it, though it was probably some daughter who created it in hopes it would work on her parents. It caught on, at least enough to show up on a few sites. So even if she didn’t get any cash, she made just the tiniest sliver of history. Nice work.

Newspaper Columnists Day

ca. 2006 — Dave Barry — Image by © Brian Smith/Corbis Outline

The brilliance in news columns today tends to be accompanied by legendary political wit and in-depth observation into what specifically is plaguing our society. That’s all great, but where are the laughs? I’d like to take a moment on this sacred day (or on the day afterward, since this is yesterday’s schtick) to pay proper tribute to the columnist who made me want to write, a man named Dave Barry.

You have probably heard of him. His life was the basis for a short-run sitcom in the 90s. He’s been pouring humor into print for the Miami Herald since 1983. He won the Pulitzer in ’88 because he had a way of crafting so much hilarity into columns about family life, or travel, or playing in a rock band with Stephen King. My dad bought his first couple of books in the 80s, and I remember reading Stay Fit And Healthy Until You’re Dead and being blown away by the man’s use of language. More than anyone else, Dave helped to launch me on the path to seeking my own voice, and dropping as much funny (at least to me) as I can into my writing.

His columns would show up in our Sunday paper (he was syndicated all over the place), and I looked forward to them more than the comics that were printed on the same day. Yes, he was even funnier than Garfield. I have read almost all of his books, and my dad even snared me an autograph when they worked together incredibly briefly in the 90s. He is one of only two living writers that I would get excited about meeting in person, though I suspect it won’t happen. That’s okay – I’ve got his words.

Newspaper columnist jobs are not likely to grow over the next generation, and finding quality humor writing online is not always easy either. We’ve become an audience of meme-readers and quick-gag chucklers. It’s not a gig I’ve ever pursued, though it’s one I’d probably thrive at. Maybe someday the opportunity will arise. Besides, I’d also like to be in a band with Stephen King.

Our quietest Sunday of the month will still see us eating and drinking and hanging out.

  • National Hanging Out Day. We have gotten really good at hanging out at home. How can we make this day special?
  • National Amaretto Day. Finally my favourite liqueur gets its day. And given that I have tomorrow off, I look forward to this one.
  • National Garlic Day. We’ve got garlic toast with dinner tonight. Even though it sometimes bites me back, I love the stuff.
  • National North Dakota Day. Oh no, I thought, what good food could possibly come from there? How about a casserole topped with tater-tots?
  • Bicycle Day. I don’t know if we have a working bicycle on the premises. I guess we’ll see.
  • Humorous Day. Another day to enjoy laughter. Seems like we get one of these every week or so.

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