Friday, May 1, 2020

On a day such as this, jam-packed with more than a dozen options for celebrations, yet also filled with work, a much-anticipated broadcast from National Theatre Live in London, and three puppy companions eager for our attention, one wonders how much one can do. Yesterday became a matter of being selective: Walpurgis Night’s bonfire (with just the two of us) would be passed up for watching the broadcast of Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch. National Bubble Tea Day, which could have been an adventure into a new cuisine, had to be skipped for COVID shutdown reasons. But still, we had all this:

National Bugs Bunny Day

After 82 years (to the day) of being broadcast onto movie screens, through TV sets and all ensuing forms of media, have we ever found out what, specifically, is up with Doc? No matter, a big happy birthday to everyone’s favourite cartoon rabbit. You don’t look a day over whatever age an adult cartoon rabbit is.

Happy Rabbit, later renamed Bugs Bunny, got his start in Porky’s Hare Hunt, a 7.5-minute black & white short, on April 30, 1938. He was not, as stated by one of his early artists, was not the creation of one mind, but rather the result of numerous artistic visions. It does appear, however, that an early sketch by Ben “Bugs” Hardaway of the rabbit character was named “Bugs’ Bunny”, which later morphed into the character’s name. For that reason the two names that get tied the closest to Bugs’ legacy are Mel Blanc, who created the voice, and Chuck Jones, who did the bulk of the directing during Bugs’ peak in the 40s and 50s.

For the first appearance of Bugs with the name Bugs we go to 1940’s A Wild Hare, which was nominated for a short-subject animation Oscar. Sometimes he crossed a line that would keep his cartoons out of modern distribution (Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips, an anti-Japanese propaganda cartoon, for example), but he became a legend. And Mel Blanc, whose vocal stylings stretched much further than his Bugs voice, became a star on Bugs’ fluffy coattails. He was the primary voice for Bugs right up through Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, his final performance in that character.

Bugs has been in more films (including short films) than any other cartoon character. He also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1985, the second cartoon character to get one, after that mouse. TV Guide ranked the top 50 animated characters of all time, and Bugs was #1, as he should be. To celebrate his birthday, I spent lunchtime yesterday watching the aforementioned historic shorts, as well as the classics Wackiki Wabbit, Slick Hare, and of course The Rabbit of Seville. (note that not all the full cartoons are up on Youtube – I guess Warner Brothers still wants us to buy them)

National Honesty Day

National Honesty Day, held on the 229th anniversary of George Washington’s first presidential inauguration, also bookends the month of April brilliantly. We started with a day devoted to fooling our friends and family, and we end it with a plea for honest interaction.

Jodie and I didn’t interact with many folks. We both had a handful of teleconference meetings, but otherwise we mostly just interacted with one another. And we know each other well enough that lying to one another would be fruitless. Yesterday was a day in which politicians were implored not to lie, that scammers were asked to lay down their greedy mitts, and that companies remain true to their people. At least until May 1.

A few trivia nuggets regarding honesty. Notre Dame (the school, not the cathedral) did a study that showed that people who told fewer lies reported better physical health. Jane Goodall found that chimps can tell when they’re being lied to. Humans can too, at least somewhat. One study showed 52% of the time, people can tell when they’re being lied to. Not great odds, but I guess that depends on who’s doing the lying. Pupils dilate a little when a lie is being told, so that’s something to watch for.

Can you make it through an entire day without lying? Apparently that was difficult in that Jim Carrey film (I never saw it), but it shouldn’t be too hard for most of us. Nurses are seen to be the most honest profession; lobbyists and politicians the least. Sounds about right.

National Oatmeal Cookie Day

We were so happy this day showed up just as our massive stockpile of sweet celebration treats was depleting. I think we’re down to four of those jelly beans left, and only one slice of cheesecake. I’ve called dibs on the cheesecake, as Jodie tried to give that last slice to my mom, which shows she is not worthy of eating it herself. Those are the rules of food combat, I’m afraid.

Our team baker (hi, Mom!) came through for us in a big way with this one. She baked a delectable batch of chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies this week, and we’ll be munching these for the next few days. Oatmeal cookies, which I maintain are one of the only ways to make raisins palatable, are among the finest of cookies. The popularity of raisins in the cookies comes via Quaker, who printed the recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies on their packages of oats for decades.

All these cookies are descended from the Scottish oatcakes from the Middle Ages. Oatcakes are flatter and crispier than oatmeal cookies, so you’ll never confuse the two. If the cookies aren’t your thing, the Oatmeal Cookie cocktail, which consists of Irish cream, Goldschlager and butterscotch schnapps, apparently has a similar flavour and it’ll get you good and drunk. Had I those ingredients on hand, I’d have tried out the recipe, but my bar is sadly lacking. That’s okay, we’ve got these delicious cookies.

National Raisin Day

And speaking of raisins, they got their own day yesterday too. Oatmeal raisin cookies would have been a fine way to combine the two, but I’m happier having cookies I’ll enjoy more, and these little critters pictured above. Yogurt-covered raisins – not as delicious as the chocolate-covered ones we had last month from Carole’s Sweets, but they were pretty tasty.

Remember when we were kids and we’d come home on Halloween and sort through our candy? I’d always end up with a handful of those Sunmaid raisin boxes: little cardboard containers of one clumped-together glop of gritty raisin-meat. They were the worst. Because I was always worried about wasting food (see yesterday’s entry), I would still eat them, but I’d plow through them first, just to get rid of them. I never understood the appeal of raisins. At least until I tried some from the Santa Monica farmer’s market: those were plump and juicy and magnificent. I guess having grown up on the little rabbit-turd dried ones encased in cardboard I missed out.

One study by the American College of Cardiology suggests that eating raisins three times a day (which sounds to me like the actions of a dangerous sociopath) can significantly lower blood pressure. As someone who’s battling with both high blood pressure and a weird celebration project that cranks up my blood pressure due to its poor diet, that’s something to think about. Raisins are about 72% pure sugar though, so it doesn’t seem like that’s a healthy way to go. Also, drop a few on the floor and it can be toxic to dogs, so is it worth the risk?

Yesterday, maybe. Now that National Raisin Day is over, I’m going with no.

National Poem In Your Pocket Day

According to the League of Canadian Poets (whose bloodlust grudge matches have been cancelled this year due to the COVID situation), we should carry a poem in our pocket on this day, and share it with people at schools, bookstores, libraries, parks, coffee shops, workplaces and on street corners. None of that is acceptable this year, so we’ll have to call it a sufficient win to have simply carried a poem around. I opted for William Carlos Williams’ ode to a red wheelbarrow for two reasons: first, I really like it. Second, we don’t have a functioning printer so I needed to write something out by hand or tear up one of my books. This one is short enough that the former was not too taxing.

This day was linked up with National Poetry Month back in 2002, and after getting some plugs from New York City officials who put a little media oomph behind it, the Academy of American Poets made this day national in 2008. I don’t know when the Canadian League jumped on board, but it was probably not long afterward.

It was sometime earlier this week (the days blend together into one psychedelic swoosh lately) when I extoled the glory of poetry, and the richness of keeping it as part of your life. Seriously, spend two minutes of every day reading some poetry – just two minutes. Those will become the two minutes you look forward to the most, the two minutes when your heart sings and your spirit soars. It’s worth it just to taste the sweetest nectar of language deployment every day.

National Hairstylist Appreciation Day

Oh, how we appreciate them now, don’t we? As quarantine stretches its sinewy snarling limbs into week #6, those of us not fortunate enough to be married to someone in the locks-cutting game are starting to look a little shaggy. Jodie is noticing the grey breaking through her colour like an unwanted guest walking through a screen door. The sides of my head are getting a weird poofiness, and I’ve decided to let my beard go wild until this is all over. We’ll see if I can put David Letterman to shame.

Sarah, Jodie’s beloved hairstylist, has been a go-to for our family for decades now. She does an incredible job on all sorts of hair, and she’s an absolute delight to chat with. I grew up very used to forcing small-talk with the person cutting my hair, but with Sarah it was always a treat to converse while she was working. Joshua, who still slings food and drinks for Da-De-O, our #1 hangout, began down the road to styling as a career change just a couple years ago. But he’s got a great flair for beards, and I’ve never been anything less than thrilled with how he’s cut my hair.

We miss them both. Fortunately, few people ever see us these days, so our increasing shagginess is going mostly undetected. But our day of clean-up will come soon: Jodie already has an appointment booked in 4 weeks, provided we see a lift of restrictions by then. And Joshua knows I’ll be coming by as soon as we’re able – and a the very least he can chuckle at my misfortune when we stop by the restaurant for take-out on the weekend.

We all appreciate our hairstylists right now, as a piece of the massive puzzle from which we are deprived at present. But the end of this quarantine is in sight. Maybe reach out to your hairstylist and let them know they’re appreciated. They deserve it!

International Jazz Day

Did you get your jazz fix yesterday? We did. Some Dave Brubeck was on the menu, as was some Miles, some Medeski Martin & Wood, and a bit of Billie Holiday for soulful vocal relief. This is actually another UNESCO celebration, as those UN folks appreciate jazz as a unique and vibrant art form. The idea came from one of their UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors, a dude named Herbie Hancock who is about as much an authority on jazz as any human on the planet. Luckily, the good folks listened to Herbie, and this day was born.

Nearly 200 countries participate in this day every year. Jazz is a genre built for musical virtuosos to carve into, and it’s also one of the most versatile and wide-spectrum forms of music in human creation. You say you don’t like jazz? Try something else within the genre. There is a chasm of possibility between the soulful crooning of Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughn, the manic bebop of Dizzy Gillespie and the eclectic grooves of Weather Report. Some folks may lean toward the mellow vibe of the Oscar Peterson Trio, while others prefer pop and rock songs that have been jazzified by Postmodern Jukebox. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band serves up funkified New Orleans brilliance, while A Tribe Called Quest blended jazz into hip-hop back while people were still figuring out what hip-hop was. If you don’t like jazz – any jazz – then you just aren’t open to music.

From Myanmar to Ukraine, there are concerts and jam sessions and workshops held on International Jazz Day every year. Even yesterday, there was a livestream concert on the Jazz Day website, one which we were a bit too late to catch. That’s okay, we soaked up some brilliant stuff. It was a true treat.

National Prepare-A-Thon Day

This one comes to us courtesy of the Obama administration in 2014, so if you’re one of those people who will rebel against anything that particular president put into place, by all means, carry on without a plan. This is a day for getting ready for what’s to come, and making sure you don’t dive in without a plan. I thought it would be appropriate to give a little behind-the-scenes look at what we have done to get prepared for this project.

We started planning for this project last summer. I went to each site listed in our What The Hell Are We Doing link up top, one day at a time, and entered every celebration into a Google calendar for this year. This allowed me to access the data from my work and home computers, as well as my phone and tablet. I ordered the latest Chase’s Calendar of Events, since a lot of these days bump around (last Friday of the month and stuff like that), and I wanted to make sure I had the right dates. For each entry, I detailed what I thought we might do, including links to a recipes I’d be making. All that saved us plenty of time this year.

Unfortunately, I missed one site (checkiday.com) in my research, and they have a heap of new celebrations to add to the list. I don’t have time to plow ahead and add them all, so instead I check them the day before. Some of those we have to skip. We buy our groceries every two weeks for our upcoming recipes, and try to arrange in advance for outings (which don’t happen often, thanks to COVID). I have two dry-erase calendars on my wall beside my desk so I can consult them for quick reference, though the detailed entries remain on the computer.

It has been a test in learning as we go, trying to figure out how to not get caught by surprise when an unexpected celebration shows up. This is the fun of it all. It’s safe to say that without being prepared, we would have been screwed. Preparedness is everything.

National Mr. Potato Head Day

George Lerner’s timing wasn’t great. Possibly inspired by his wife’s nephew playing in the garden, he came up with the brilliant concept of a toy that consisted of a bunch of plastic doodads you could cram into a potato and turn it into a friend. Cool. Except World War II was raging outside, and it wasn’t the best time to be appropriating food for kids’ toys. He talked a cereal company into including them as prizes in their products, but that wasn’t quite as lucrative. It did, however, catch the eyes of toymakers Henry & Merrill Hassenfeld, whose company, Hassenfeld Brothers (later shortened to Hasbro) paid for the rights to manufacture these kits as an actual toy. George was about to get rich.

The first toy, priced at 98 cents, was released on May 1, 1952. So why do we celebrate Mr. Potato Head Day on April 30? That is a question for future anthropologists to pore over in their anthropology space-labs. Oh wait, looks like the first TV ad for Mr. Head hit the airwaves the day before it was released. So there you go: 68 years ago the first learned about Mr. Potato Head’s existence. Also, it was the first toy commercial to ever appear on TV, so that’s actually pretty significant.

The 60s was when the government started clamping down on dangerous toys, and the Mr. Potato Head parts were notoriously stabby. So they had to dull them down, which necessitated the inclusion of a plastic potato head with appropriate slots for the body and face parts. The days of turning an actual spud into a toy were passed.

Of course, the height of Mr. Potato Head’s fame was being voiced by the great Don Rickles in those Toy Story movies – even in the fifth installment last year, they used archival tape of Don’s voice because once you’ve gone Rickles, you can’t rightfully go some other way. We fire off a proud salute to Mr. Potato Head, the toy we all played with (even our kids). Well done, George.

We are now one third of the way through this madness, and the fun just keeps on rolling!

  • National Loyalty Day. To whom or what are we loyal? This is meant to be a blind patriotism type thing, but we’ll spin it our own way.
  • National Mother Goose Day. A good day to enjoy some weird and twisted fairy tales.
  • National Chocolate Parfait Day. Sounds like dessert is planned yet again.
  • School Principals Day. Jodie has a terrific one, and she’s worked with some other great ones. This is her tribute to share.
  • Batman Day. There are two of them this year, today and one in September. That’s just fine with me.
  • No Pants Day. Perfect!
  • National Space Day. We were originally going to use this day to visit the newly restored planetarium. We can’t do that now, so… damn.
  • International Sunflower Guerilla Marketing Day. We were going to go wildly plant some sunflowers, but getting hold of those seeds might be tricky.
  • Lei Day. Wear a lei? Where do we get a lei? They have them in dollar stores, but we are avoiding those due to crowds right now. So we might not get lei’ed today.
  • International Tuba Day. We’ll jam out to some tuba today.
  • Global Love Day. A day for love. We’ve got lots of love.
  • National Purebred Dog Day. Yet another day to honour our canine research assistants. How lucky they are.

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