Thursday, May 28, 2020

As another chapter begins in this skewed-orbit twirl around the sun we call 2020 we proceed with abandon and enthusiasm. To approach a cookie-cutter Wednesday any other way would have been to succumb to the tedium and repetition this year seems to want to offer. But we keep things spicy, alive, intense… we forge forward with an unabashed resilience to monotony, and a steadfast commitment to pursuing the most dynamic and noble quests our calendar puts before us. This is how we become mired in such glorious pursuits as this:

National Cellophane Tape Day

Cellophane tape. What a party. Some unknown person or corporate entity (whom I suspect may be 3M) came up with this day, possibly looking at the relative dearth of National Days on May 27, for us all to pay tribute to cellophane tape, better known as Sellotape in England. Over here we’d call it Scotch tape. I was initially looking forward to celebrating this day by wasting office supplies by seeing if we could tape someone to a wall in our office. Given that we were at home (as usual), with no office supplies storeroom to raid, we had to shift.

So how does cellophane tape enrich our lives? I have a roll on my desk at work that I have not had to replace since starting in that office five years ago. Before that I used packing tape all the time to seal up boxes filled with printed material to send out to customers. Jodie uses it occasionally at school. When the handful of warm days hit our town, I use packing tape to seal the vent for our little portable AC unit in our window. That’s… really about it from us.

Cellophane entered our world courtesy of Swiss chemist Jacques E. Brandenberger, who was hoping to create a surface that would repel liquid and not stain. He thought spraying a waterproof coating onto a tablecloth would be the way to go, but it made the fabric less fabric-y, and more something you could club someone to death with. Then he noticed the coating would peel away from the fabric, and he saw the potential in that coating on its own. This was back in 1900. He eventually created the stuff we know today, calling it cellophane after cellulose (the key ingredient) and diaphane (which means transparent). It took until 1930 for 3M engineer Richard Drew to invent Scotch tape, which officially hit the world on May 27. So a big happy 90th to tape.

Richard also invented masking tape, so maybe this day should be more about celebrating his awesomeness than the tape itself. But we don’t make the rules, we merely bend them when we need to. Happy tape day, everyone.

Old Time Player Piano Day

I found one source that claims this day exists, and upon further digging that source is no longer online. So do I toss the day? Or simply make my own statement that yes, it exists, and we’re celebrating it. I think you know which way I’m leaning.

A player piano, for anyone in my audience younger than 150, was the stereo system of the early 1900s. It was a piano that would take pre-made scrolls of punched paper that would then trigger the piano to automatically play whatever sheet music was on the paper. Initially these were powered pneumatically by foot pedals. Pianos in homes were just becoming a huge thing around this time, and this was the only game in town for hearing music in your house without playing it yourself.

The initial Pianola (as they were called) would sell for $250, equivalent to a whopping $7700 today. Compatibility between manufacturers was often a hurdle, but some brands had access to over 9,000 pieces of music. It would be like having a killer Spotify mix today, except you had to painstakingly swap out the massive paper rolls between each track. Sometimes the scrolls would have lyrics printed in the margins so people could gather ‘round and sing along.

So what killed the player piano? The Victrola didn’t help, especially as the quality of records improved through the 1920s. Then radio began to offer the ability to hear entire orchestras in one’s parlor or drawing room or whatever antiquated room you’d prefer. Lastly, the stock market crash of 1929 killed the production of the player piano. Anything made after that was done so as a novelty. We didn’t have one laying around the house to listen to, but we did watch this video, which shows how the mechanics work. It’s pretty intense.

Nothing To Fear Day

On this day 79 years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the nation and began to prepare them for the war they’d be shoved into come December. “We must not be defeated by the fear of the very danger which we are preparing to resist. Our freedom has shown its ability to survive war, but our freedom would never survive surrender. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Damn, remember when politicians would talk like that? It was a very eloquent and poignant observation, and it holds true today in facing any crisis.

FDR did, of course, crib that line from himself, having used it in his 1933 inaugural speech. Back then he was speaking of the issues of the Depression, and the fear people may have about making tough choices to get the economy back on track. He got his nation through that turmoil, and that phrase became one of the most cited as a brilliant example of presidential oratory. Raymond Moley was FDR’s aide who penned most of that speech, but it’s believed the big line about fear was Roosevelt’s creation.

To celebrate this day one site suggests we examine our fears and reevaluate them. Okay. Jodie’s fear is birds, specifically their wings flapping near her head. That’s a rational fear, and given her horrifying experience when a bird dropped through her sunroof and fluttered around the passenger seat, I’d say her fear is legit. For me it’s spiders, and while I know there are many poisonous ones out there we all should fear, it’s the fear itself that paralyzes me. I can’t stand to look at them, and I practically jump through my skin when I see one. I can’t help it – it’s a chemical response in my brain that propels me into a state of immediate madness. It’s a fear I could conquer, but I’d rather not. I have a hunch it’s somehow protecting me from an untimely encounter with a black widow.

Mostly we celebrated this day by simply admiring the power of such an eloquent phrase. In just a handful of words, FDR took the fears of an entire nation and presented them in a way that made them appear conquerable. And he did it twice, with two different global crises. That’s pretty damn impressive.

MCS Awareness Month

I’ll be completely honest – I was excited to write about this one because I thought it was MC5 Awareness Month, and I was intrigued by an entire month devoted to kicking out the jams with that Michigan-born rock band. But no, MCS is something very different. It refers to Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, or a sensitivity to exposure to common societal chemicals. This is considered a controversial condition, not fully accepted by the WHO or any other professional medical association. So is it real?

Well, probably. There hasn’t been a lot of research into MCS, possibly because it isn’t killing anyone. But you’ve probably known someone who gets a nasty headache whenever they smell perfume or paint fumes or even smoke. It was thought of as an allergy at first, but the lack of weird antibodies or strange white blood cell counts ruled that out. Some believe it to be psychological, given that many people diagnosed with MCS also deal with depression and anxiety. Others believe it’s just technophobia or chemophobia, manifesting in a way that induces nausea, headaches, or some other symptom.

Whatever the cause, the symptoms people deal with can be downright debilitating. There is no cure, only to adjust your life so that the presence of these smells is limited. And to be clear, it isn’t just smells – some folks have a similar response to plastics and synthetic fabrics. It’s more commonly appearing in women, and the diagnosis of this condition has climbed significantly in recent years. There’s also a weird correlation with veterans who returned from overseas with Gulf War Syndrome – they report a significantly higher frequency of issues with MCS symptoms.

Roughly 50% of MCS sufferers report an improvement in their condition over time, so there’s hope. But with this not being a wholly accepted condition I don’t see a lot of research money pouring into a cure. If you know someone who suffers from this, treat them kindly and don’t expose them to the smells or sensations that drive their insides bonkers. And maybe pop on an old MC5 record and crank it up. Couldn’t hurt.

Today glides smoothly into port with a small bevy of delicious celebrations:

  • National Brisket Day. I was so worried I’d have to write about this from memory, but a friend came through and gifted us with some of the best brisket we’ve tasted.
  • National Hamburger Day. Yep, this is the official one.
  • The Slugs Return From Capistrano Day. This is not so much delicious as weird and quirky. We’re all about the weird and quirky in these parts.

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