Saturday, June 6, 2020

This calendar maintains its motion and by the poke of its greasy, stubby index finger so do we. No great conclusions have been reached, no epiphany of magnificence has revealed itself to us… we grab our list and we celebrate. Where there’s nothing to actually celebrate (meaning to eat or drink), we learn. Sometimes we simply fire off a salute for the hell of it. Whatever the plan, we remain engaged and connected to the eternal jitterbug of the vast springtime starscape. And we dive in with eager claws to get at fun like this:

National Moonshine Day

Moonshine is sold at most local liquor stores, which doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me. Traditionally, moonshine is an illicit alcoholic beverage, crafted in stills in barns, shacks, and various hidey-holes around the world. The word, which very viscerally suggests the act of brewing beneath the cloak of darkness, originated in the British Isles in the 1800s. When the US outlawed any unregistered stills during the Civil War, the term came to America.

Of course the heyday of illicit hooch came while Prohibition was swinging its ugly phallus in the face of American common sense. Appalachia was a prime spot for crafting the stuff. There weren’t a lot of roads, which made it tough for police to patrol. Farmers also knew they could earn ten times the money if they turned their corn into booze before hauling into town for sale. Bootleggers would then scoot the stuff around the country.

I get the appeal, and I’d certainly have sought out some moonshine had I lived during that dark and dry era of American history. But today it seems unnecessary. People still make it, but the stuff I’ve sampled in my life carried all the gustatory satisfaction of drinking turpentine. I haven’t tried the stuff they’re marketing in stores right now, nor do I want to. I get that they’re cashing in on the supposed naughtiness of the name, which suggests it’s made illegally, but really it’s just going to be strong alcohol that tastes like strong alcohol. I can spend the same amount on something that actually tastes good.

So we celebrate moonshine in its past incarnations, and for getting people through times when legal booze was simply not an option. But it should remain a relic of the past. We’ve got the good stuff now.

National Veggie Burger Day

Every veggie interpretation of meat I had tried prior to about ten years ago left me disappointed and hungry for flesh. Sweet, juicy, bloody flesh. Of an animal of course – I haven’t yet encountered the tofu concoction that would push me over the line to cannibalism. But things have changed in the vegetarian world, and indeed the population of vegetarians and vegans has skyrocketed, or at least so my instinct tells me. I could look it up, but it’s more fun to sound like I just know it. Even though I’ve now dispelled that notion through over-explanation. Sometimes pulling back the curtain on the process can be a mistake. Moving on.

A top quality veggie burger should taste just as delectable as an actual meat burger. Not quite as delectable as a truly magnificent meat burger (such as the ones I regularly concoct for our barbecue), but at least a passable one. The origins of the veggie burger trace back to the beginning of the 1980s, either to the Gardenhouse in Gresham, Oregon or to a natural foods restaurant in Paddington, London. At least that’s only two claims; as we learned last week on Hamburger Day there are about a dozen places clamouring for credit on that one.

Oh, but there is one weird outlier. Apparently on a 1948 episode of the American radio drama show Let George Do It, a character refers to a ‘vegeburger’ made of nuts and legumes. I can’t imagine such a thing actually existed, and given what I’ve witnessed from mid-century American cookbooks (quite often featuring things like ham, eggs and asparagus floating in tomato-based Jell-O), I wouldn’t want to try it.

So how to celebrate? We were on a budget so we couldn’t get any fancier than A&W. But A&W’s veggie burger, the Beyond Meat burger, I’ve tried before and it blew me away. They already have some of the best food in the fast food game, but this burger is outstanding. Jodie, who has avoided sampling it up to this point, gave in and tried it last night. Even she was impressed, and she tends to approach veggie-fied meat concepts with more disdain and trepidation than I do. This was a delight.

National Doughnut Day

And here I was all excited about National Cheese Day yesterday, when the greatest of all possible days was lurking around the corner, ready to spring out and yell SURPRISE to my gushingly clueless taste buds. The doughnut, as those who know us would attest, is sacred to this household. Every Saturday, apart from a couple when we were out of town, Jodie and I have visited Destination Doughnuts on 124 street in Edmonton, and picked up some treats. They even provide us with doughnuts for our dogs – just dough, no extra. They are wonderful, warm people, and their product is legendary. We’ve been doing this since they opened in December, 2017.

The earliest known doughnuts would be the olykoek (oily cake) that was brought with Dutch settlers over to New Amsterdam, which would later become New York. So our favourite dessert substance has its roots in the same place and time in history as our favourite city. Sometimes the gears of the universe simply click together with a cascade of perfect magic. Washington Irving’s 1809 History of New York is the first recorded mention of the doughnut, though it referred to a fried ball of sweetened dough. It’s possible that a man named Hanson Gregory, disgusted at how doughnuts seemed to be perpetually undercooked in the middle, was the first guy to punch a hole in the dough and turn it into a ring.

Doughnuts are, of course, a Canadian staple food. It has been common knowledge in this country that if you’re travelling overseas and you want to make sure you are identified as a Canadian and not one of those rude self-entitled American tourists you should bring a Tim Hortons cup or some other paraphernalia with you. Tim Hortons was our national pride. Great coffee, great doughnuts, and truly Canadian. Unfortunately, Tim Hortons is now in Times Square, they changed their coffee recipe into something undrinkable, and I think they’re owned by a Brazilian conglomerate. And their doughnuts, once baked fresh at each store, now show up pre-made. They’re smaller than they used to be, and truly terrible blobs of unpleasant sugary breadstuff.

Fortunately we have hit a wave of boutique doughnutteries. There are a number in town, some specializing in vegan doughnuts, others in cake doughnuts. But Destination makes a brioche-based dough that has such a wonderful fresh flavour they can be enjoyed completely plain. Or, as pictured above, as a S’mores or Triple Play treat (with hickory sticks, potato chips, chocolate glaze and a caramel drizzle – oh, and toffee bits).

Doughnuts are the pinnacle of human dessert creation. We are deeply grateful we could truly enjoy this day as it was meant to be enjoyed.

Apple II Day

The first Apple II hit store shelves on June 10, 1977. Why do we celebrate this day on June 5 then? I don’t know. I’m guessing we’re not supposed to, but the internet told me to so here we are.

The Apple II was the computer that changed everything. Sure, the Apple I was a hit, and really opened up the home market, but when I was growing up the Apple II was the standard. It was in every school and a lot of homes. As kids (to clarify, as geeky kids) we learned how to program in BASIC. We’d copy lengthy programming instructional text from magazines, only to have it result in a tiny blip bouncing around the screen. But dammit, we made it bounce with the power of what we’d typed and that was fucking cool. We’d write up little quizzes for each other. Some of us would teach our teachers how to use it, which felt pretty bad-ass as an eight-year-old.

Then there were the games. We all had an Atari, Intellivision or Colecovision sitting around the house for full-colour fun, but Apple games were next-level green-screen awesomeness. You had Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, which shipped with a thousand-page World Almanac you’d have to refer to in order to solve the clues. You had Oregon Trail, which taught us all what dysentery was. I remember playing a long-haul cross-Canada trucking game in which you had to manage resources, like fuel, food, and your need to sleep. There was a presidential election simulator game. And of course our favourite, Ultima – an RPG with such depth and nuance it would almost be fun to play today.

(I say ‘almost’ because I actually did replay Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar a couple years back and it was mostly tedious.)

I begged my parents for an Apple II. I hoped they’d see me excelling on the thing at my friends’ houses and at school, and maybe help me toward my dream of working on computers for a living. Money must have been tight, because instead I got the Intellivision add-on computer module, which anyone who owned one will remember was a piece of utter crap. Then on my 13th birthday I got an MS-DOS machine, which wasn’t nearly as cool. The dream was dead. At that point I just wanted to grow up and be a guy who celebrates lots of stuff. Some dreams do come true.

In tribute to the greatest PC of my childhood, I flipped through some of the machine’s history but stopped short of seeking out a BASIC emulator. My patience for coding is long gone now, so I’ll leave that to the pros. But damn that toy was fun.

Hot Air Balloon Day

June 6, 1988 was the day Per Lindstrand set the world record for the highest ever manned balloon flight, at 19,811 meters (three feet shy of 65,000). Whether or not that is the reason Hot Air Balloon Day lands on this day, I can’t honestly say. Vijaypat Singhania broke that record by nearly 4000 feet in 2005, so Per’s big moment has been reduced to a footnote. But here we are.

And we are in the heart of balloon-flying season. Or we would be, were it possible for folks to gather in a basket and remain at least six feet apart from one another. Covid is murdering the recreational ballooning industry right now, which may not have registered on anyone’s radar, but I assure you – folks are struggling. If you’ve never ventured into a balloon and sailed upward, I can’t recommend it enough. The view is extraordinary, and the surreal feeling of floating above your city is like nothing else.

Jodie bought me a balloon ride for my 30th birthday. We gathered at Gallagher Park, which is known for being the best spot in the city to view the downtown skyline. We stood for 15-20 minutes and held the balloon as it filled with heated air, then clambered into the basket and floated upward.

Then we stalled. There was absolutely no wind. We just hung there, suspended about 150 feet above the Cloverdale neighbourhood, with nowhere to go. The pilot lowered us gently back to earth, and we scratched the flight and tried again a few weeks later. That day we floated gracefully across the river, up to the north end of the city. To call it ‘relaxing’ would be inaccurate; the device that blasts the flame into the balloon is astonishingly loud. Also, every dog in every yard beneath us was going crazy at the unnatural sight of airborne wicker. But it was pure magic.

Hot air balloons can only be admired in our imaginations for the time being, but I strongly urge everyone to try it just once. With a seasoned pro it’s quite safe, and you really can’t get another experience like it.

But bring earplugs.

Festival of Popular Delusions Day

It turns out we actually missed this day by one. But it’s so delightfully kooky we simply had to acknowledge it. This is a day to pay tribute to some of those oft-believe untruths that keep us going. It began in Germany on June 5, 1945. That was the day before the one year anniversary of D-Day, and the last day that the Nazis were able to delude themselves that they’d rule over our planet for the ensuing thousand years.

So what delusions do we cling to as a society? A cynic who has been paying attention to the news lately would claim “All men are created equal” to be a delusion, and I can see that. But we’re trying to keep marching onward with a smile in this little corner of the web, so let’s lighten things up a bit.

We can start with the five-second rule. When we pick food up from the floor and eat it because it did not break the five-second mark, we are truly deluding ourselves into thinking some mystical germ barrier remained in place. We adhere to superstitions, as though wishing someone to shatter their femur before a performance is somehow better than saying ‘good luck’. We delude ourselves into believing if we click on a Facebook test we’ll learn something about ourselves, like which character on Kate & Allie we truly are (I was always an Emma), and that we won’t simply be passing personal info onto some evil bot.

“50 is the new 30” I’ve been told. I was 30 once, and I’ll be 50 in five years. There’s no way I’ll feel like 30 in five years. We look at celebrity endorsements and think, “Hey, if Susan St. James loves this waffle iron, it must be one hell of a great waffle iron.” (sorry to pick on the Kate & Allie cast today) We believe that we can accomplish anything, when in fact we almost certainly cannot. Some folks believe vaccines are dangerous and will cause autism. That is even more of a delusion than the five-second rule. Others believe climate change is a hoax. That’s a dangerous delusion. Then there’s the Elvis-is-still-alive crowd. Are any of you left? I sure hope so.

Today – well, yesterday – we can all embrace our popular delusions and even pretend they’re real. Just don’t eat dirty food. And vaccinate your kids. And Jane Curtin, if you’re reading this, you’re awesome and I’m a huge fan.

National Attitude Day

Keep a positive attitude. Behold the power of positive thinking. Keep your chin up, your brow raised, your nostrils flared and tackle each day with a smile.

Yeah, this is one of those holidays. I was ready to flush this into the bin of who-the-fuck-cares, but then I realized that by doing so I would not only be ignoring this celebration but specifically defying it. That didn’t seem right. Besides, there is a particular angle that can be seen as tremendously relevant, given the weird situation we’ve been going through this year.

We have faced two significant crises this year: a deadly virus and an explosion of race rage in America. Everyone has approached these issues with their own chosen attitudes. Some have been suspicious of authority, defying distancing rules and protesting that they want a haircut. They have opted for an attitude of Me-First, which is a big jump downward from the Me-Too trend that had emerged a couple years ago. We have seen judgmental attitudes, scornful attitudes, and utterly defeated attitudes in response to everything in the news. Looking through social media comments can be like walking through a minefield, with little blips of sheer misery and meanness lurking randomly about the landscape.

Jodie and I have remained optimistic; this is the attitude we have shoved outward toward the world. We are in an astounding position of privilege this year and we know that: we both have jobs that saw no hiccup in providing us with paycheques. We both have had the ability to stay home and isolate, and generally hide from the world. We are in Canada, which is plagued with racial issues, but no level racial violence like we’re seeing in the US. We are also white, middle-class hetero-cis grownups, so we possess nearly every type of societal privilege on the block, minus the trust fund. We acknowledge, therefore, that our attitude is a result of this privilege.

But even folks as fortunate as us are taking a more jaded approach to their outward attitudes, heaping scorn on those who disagree with them, and just generally spreading misery around a world already mired in it. Don’t be that person. Make people laugh, make people smile, just use your attitude to make this world a more tolerable hell-hole for everyone. It’s all how you look at it.

Hug An Atheist Day

There’s no great history to this day, no great mystery to this day, just a very simple notion. Hug an atheist. Do you know one? Of course you do – they’re everywhere. Should you actually hug one if you’re not living in the same house as him or her? No, we’re still supposed to be keeping a distance from other people right now, so you may need to settle for a virtual hug.

The most interesting relevant piece of research I found was a list of some famous people who are actually atheists. This includes Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, Billy Joel, Seth McFarlane (okay, that one isn’t a surprise), Rob Reiner, Joss Whedon, and Jodie Foster. Okay, well now there’s that information.

I have previously determined that I am a form of atheist, which does not specifically mean that one believes with full faith that there is no God. I’m in that curious realm between atheist and agnostic, wherein I simply don’t care. I don’t think there’s a God, but if I’m wrong so be it. I don’t suspect I’ll obtain any evidence that I’m wrong in my lifetime, and given that I am always hungering for knowledge and solving puzzles, I’ll direct my time and resources toward puzzles with a solution, or answers I’ll actually stand a chance of finding.

So Jodie hugged me. Mission accomplished.

Saturdays are always a wild ride through a huge batch of merriment-related obligations. Here’s what we have for today:

  • Bonza Bottler Day. We have special bottles of something to celebrate this one for the sixth time in 2020.
  • National Eyewear Day. A good time to celebrate the eyewear we own, and the stuff we’d like to own.
  • National Higher Education Day. Jodie will work on her Masters today. I’m not working toward any degree, so I might just get high.
  • National Gardening Exercise Day. Enough with the gardening. We don’t have a garden. What is this, for squat-watering?
  • National Yo-Yo Day. I’m kind of up and down about this one.
  • National Drive-In Movie Day. These are making a comeback during Covid times – not sure if we’ve got one playing in Edmonton at the moment.
  • National Applesauce Cake Day. What the hell is an applesauce cake? We’ll find out! (thanks, Mom!)
  • National Bubbly Day. We will link this with National Moscato Day, which we somehow completely forgot about last month.
  • National Prairie Day. We have a medium-size house on the prairie, so we’ll discuss that I suppose.
  • National Trails Day. Hopefully they’re happy trails. It’s supposed to be rainy and cold all day, so no hiking the trails.
  • Drawing Day. I guess we’ll draw something.
  • National Black Bear Day. We’ll learn a little something about these kick-ass creatures that can totally kick all of our asses.
  • National Pineapple Day. Does pineapple go with applesauce cake?

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