Friday, April 24, 2020

The clicking fingernails of time upon the tabletop of these all-too-similar days have the potential to nudge one off that happier-than-thou cliff into utter madness. But what is madness? Is it accepting the new norms as tolerable, even gleeful? Is it raging against science and reason to bring your machine gun (and facemask, just in case) to a protest rally? Or is it celebrating hundreds of holidays, mostly from within the same four walls? Perhaps madness can be found down all three paths. Off we go then!

National Take A Chance Day

Our original notes for how to celebrate this day said “buy a lottery ticket or drink some expired milk”. Clearly even before the lockdown we knew how to live life on the edge of adventure. Unfortunately we had no expired milk laying about, nor did we feel that buying a lottery ticket would be an appropriate risk to take, especially as it would involve walking into a store and interacting with other humans. Instead we opted to take the chance of merely walking outdoors, down sidewalks which may contain pedestrian traffic.

Had I the foresight to scribble that into my notes last year, that would have been impressive. It wasn’t really a dice-roll to walk near other people a few months ago. What else could we do yesterday? Quit our jobs? No, yesterday was about taking a chance, not being a complete dumbass.

There is no origin story on record for this celebration. Just as we’ve been noticing a trend of generic celebrations to make you appreciate humour, or generic celebrations to make you appreciate the little things in life, this appears to be part of the strain of generic celebrations to encourage you to follow your dreams. We appreciate the sentiment, but we are living our dreams: Jodie to be a teacher, and me to work from home and wear sweatpants every single damn day. So instead, we’ll take our chance with COVID – albeit a very controlled and un-chance-y chance.

National Take Our Sons & Daughters To Work Day

Thank you, Gloria Steinem, for creating this little celebration for us. Along with the MS Foundation for Women, Ms. Steinem concocted Take Our Daughters to Work Day in 1993 as a means of empowering young women to get an early chance to experience the monotony and soul-crushing reality of having to work for a living. Ten years later sons were added to the celebration, so finally it seems like men are achieving some equality in our society. Thank goodness.

Seriously though, I was always hoping to do this one with my kids. Not that they’d have had any fun with me. Before working as an office drone in my grey-beige cubicle I was in a call centre environment, so in a different grey-beige cubicle. Jodie worked with students, playing games and being creative. I never stood a chance. Didn’t matter anyway – Edmonton Public Schools was not a big supporter of this day, and it never came up in our kids’ calendars. It really should be a thing for everyone though. Most kids only have a vague idea of what their parents do, or what anyone does in a full shift. They should be exposed to the possibilities of their parents’ careers. Alternately, if you thoroughly hate your job, you should score some pity points with your kid by showing them just how awful your days are.

Since I work from home, there isn’t much to show my kids that they haven’t already seen. Our computer is new, but it’s still a computer. They’re familiar with the technology. So I did a video chat with each kid, and showed them the office anyway. Given that they are both thousands of miles away this was the best we could do. It was great to see them, even just as an excuse to cross this party off the list.

Talk Like Shakespeare Day

What words through yonder article break? This is very midspring madness. Celebrations acquaint a man with strange bedfellows. Shall I tackle this feat? Shall I cry “Celebration!” and let slip the dogs of war?

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our mirth-filled events. The course of true revelry never did run smooth. We are two who partied not wisely but too well. If music be the food of celebration, party on. Party on, Garth.

Some are born celebrating, some achieve celebration, and some have celebrations thrust upon them. We are certainly among the third group. Yet we’re stuck inside. Is this the spring of our discontent? No? Methinks me wife doth protest too much. We have seen better days, yet all the world’s a celebration, and all the men and women and dogs merely revelers. They have their pineapple upside down cakes and their glazed spiral-cut ham. And one man in his time plays many parts. For me, that’s usually the cook.

To celebrate or not to celebrate. That is never a question. Beware the Ides of March, as it is also National Pears Helene Day. To thine own calendar be true. A brunch in a restaurant! A brunch in a restaurant! My kingdom for a brunch in a restaurant!

I’d prattle on, but brevity is the soul of wit. And I’m all about the wit.

World Book Day

Once again the good folks at UNESCO want us to obtain a grasp on the important things. For World Book Day – also known as World Book & Copyright Day and International Day of the Book – the aim is to highlight the importance of reading, and ideally to keep kids thoroughly interested in it. It was originally conceived as a way of honouring author Miguel de Cervantes on his birthday, October 7, as well as on his death day, April 23. UNESCO decided to go with the April date, primarily because it’s also the anniversary of the day Shakespeare died.

In fact, the two of them both died in 1616 on April 23, yet Shakespeare died ten days later. Spain was already rocking the Gregorian calendar whereas England was still using the Julian calendar. There’s your weird piece of literary trivia for the day. You’re welcome.

In Spain this day is celebrated by giving the gift of books to children, which ties in with St. George’s Day in the Catalonia region. St. George is the patron saint of that little corner of the planet, so there were multiple reasons for gift-giving yesterday. In Sweden they’ve bumped this day to the 13th on two occasions so that it wouldn’t coincide with Easter. In the UK and Ireland they celebrate this day in March, reserving April 23 as World Book Night, which I assume is when they break out the dirty books. Closer to home, in Kensington, Maryland they celebrate this day with a street festival on the nearest Sunday. Needless to say, don’t call your travel agent for a quick flight to Kensington this year. It ain’t happening.

We are thrilled that we’d taught our kids to be avid readers. Jodie read some of her new novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing yesterday, while I was only able to parse a couple of articles in my Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader, thanks to a busy day at work, an evening meeting, and having to write an article partly in Shakespeare-speak. I did manage to sneak in some other reading though:

International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day

Of all the days we are celebrating this year, this one might have my favourite name. I’ll break it down for you: the technopeasants are us, the readers of fiction, and also the authors of fiction. Specifically in this case, science fiction. It’s international because this allegedly gets celebrated around the world, and the pixel-stained refers to the literary work being read on a computer screen. To sum up, this is a day for writers to post professional-quality sci-fi stories online for free, and for the rest of us to read them.

Author Jo Walton was talking to a colleague a few years ago, when the colleague started complaining about the ‘webscabs’ who post stuff for free. This democratization of literature is not promising for people who hope to make their living at it. And I should know – the only reason I’m not making a living as a writer is because assholes like me keep putting stuff up online for free. You can check out the day’s official (maybe) website and find a collection of stories, novels, poems and art available for free, all with the retro-joy of surfing a page that looks like it was made ten years before the first International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day in 2007.

This was the goofy little short piece of fiction I started with. It gave me a bit of a laugh. Unfortunately a lot of the other entries in short fiction were no longer online, perhaps because this day was created in 2007 and hasn’t been celebrated (at least not on this particular website) since. Oh well – I still got to read a little free quality prose.

And this celebration still has the coolest name.

National Picnic Day

It’s rather disheartening that National Picnic Day shows up in mid-April. I know, most of the western world is basking in spring’s unfettered glory right now, with flowers blooming and leaves emerging and birds having sex with bees (or however that works), but in Edmonton spring is taking its first infantile breaths. Yesterday would have been a fine day for a picnic, weather-wise, except for the wind. But what really nixed it for us was the grass.

Snow-mould. It’s real, and it’s gross. Almost as gross as the smell after your 5-month-old canine research assistant eats half a pound of butter and throws it up on the carpet beside your desk. Am I getting distracted and off-topic? Hell yes I am. Sorry.

The word picnic first showed up in our language in a 1748 letter from Lord Chesterfield (inventor of the sofa), in which he described an affair involving card-playing and drinking. It was literally just an anglicization of the French word pique-nique, which sounds much cuter. Actually, for the French the picnic was once an act of bold defiance, symbolizing freedom and progress. After the French Revolution, those ornate royal parks were opened to the public, and for the common-folk to dine in one unchallenged was pretty damn cool.

On August 19, 1989, an event known as the Pan-European Picnic sought to change the world. It was held on the border between Austria and Hungary right at a border crossing that was to be opened for 3 hours on that day. Things got a little wilder than the authorities may have expected, as scores of East Germans looking to get to West Germany via Austria poured through the crossing, as well as through a hole in the fence a ways away. It’s estimated 100,000 people made the walk to freedom, and it set into course the crazy events surrounding the fall of the Soviet Empire, including the wild destruction of the Berlin Wall a few months later. It was an amazing time to be alive.

And we can thank the beloved picnic. We avoided the snow-mould and had an in-car picnic instead. No worlds were changed, no classism statements were made, and no one found freedom. But the fries were pretty good.

National English Muffin Day

How much can I really rave about something as dull as an English muffin?

The answer, of course, is a veritable fuck-ton. I love these things. Toast one up and let it ooze beneath the warm current of melting butter and you’ve got a perfect breakfast food. We had considered giving Eggs Benedict another go last night, but I couldn’t wait. I toasted up a couple of ‘shmuffs in the morning and it was heavenly. The thing about the English muffin though, is when it’s not toasted it’s not particularly good. It requires that crunch to be elevated to greatness.

Back in the 1800s muffins (they just call them ‘muffins’ in England) were sold by travelling salesmen who would ring a loud bell, much like how an ice cream truck sends out its cries with a ding. It was a snack bread, eaten in its raw state most likely, given the disappointing lack of electric toasters in the Victorian age. Those salesmen were the ‘Muffin Men’; one of England’s most beloved nursery rhymes is literally about a guy who sold bread door-to-door.

The English muffin, whether topped with butter, jam, bacon, or a full-on stack of breakfast-sandwich innards, is a disc of bountiful breadly bodaciousness. Breakfast rocked yesterday. But you know what was even better?

National Cherry Cheesecake Day

Do we care about the ancient Greek desserts that may have been somewhat similar to the cheesecake? Does it matter that the Roman Empire also boasted something along these lines? Should we examine deeply the 15th century pastries that went by the name ‘cheesecake’ at the time?

No. Fuck all that. We’re here to celebrate the hell out of what cheesecake is today. And not even the global equivalents, which range from the vatrushka in Russia, which is a ring of dough stuffed with quark or cottage cheese, to the Swedish ostkaka, which involves curdled milk and jam. No, let’s look instead at the same dichotomy that divides pizza in America: New York and Chicago.

The Chicagoland cheesecake is baked, firm on the outside and fluffy inside. The crust is made from shortbread. The New York style uses heavy cream or sour cream, and ends up more dense and creamy. We try to grab a couple slices of real New York cheesecake whenever we visit – at Junior’s near Times Square the last couple times, but before that it was a pilgrimage to Lindy’s on 7th Avenue. The slices were massive and nearly unconquerable. And damn they were perfect.

Jodie was going to make her own yesterday, but one of her favourite former students (Myles, who is now a superstar baker at the competitive level) baked one of his own earlier in the week. Jodie reacted to his photos with awe, and he offered to create this masterpiece for us. Cheesecake is at its best – in my humble opinion – with cherries on top, but if the cheesecake is great your preferences may vary.

Last night was astounding. Best cheesecake we have had north of NYC. We are so glad this day exists.

Today we won’t be burdened by too much. A pleasantly light day:

  • National Arbor Day. We’ll give some love to some of the trees in the ‘hood.
  • National Pigs In A Blanket Day. A delightfully unhealthy dinner to remind us that our next insane project had better be a health-positive one.
  • New Kids On The Block Day. Yes, this day is actually a day to celebrate the 80s/90s boy band.
  • National Day of Silence. Actually a peaceful protest, but if we’re silent will anyone know? If an office drone speaks and no one hears him, does he make a sound? Do the dogs count? Stay tuned.