Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The leitmotif yesterday was gratitude: universal, earthly and immediate. On this frazzled cosmic arc that has perched us deep within our walls, perpetual noisemakers growling in their constant rotation, we would be fools not to embrace gratitude. The bevy of metaphorical fires stretched around the globe may claw at our consciousness but they aren’t hurling us into an unavoidable singe. And we aren’t even offered the opportunity for boredom and malaise, as our minutes tick fully with goofy crap like this:

National Gingerbread Day

Last week I announced our intention to celebrate this day with a delicious batch of ginger snaps, which my lovely wife has been known to create with aplomb and deft bakesmanship. Then my aunt pointed out that a ginger snap is not the same as gingerbread. Indeed, true gingerbread is actually more ‘bread like’, with the texture of a hearty cake. But then there are gingerbread cookies, like the gingerbread men I used to feast upon from Bon Ton Bakery as a kid. It turns out the ginger snap is merely a variant of these cookies, employing molasses instead of sugar, and baking for a little longer to achieve their crispness. So the snap will do.

It’s believed that gingerbread found its way to Europe over a thousand years ago, courtesy of a monk who had transplanted from Greece to northern France. The town of Shropshire in England nevertheless calls itself the Home of Gingerbread, despite the first mention of gingerbread being baked there is from 1793.

The gingerbread man, my childhood favourite, was a product of the Elizabethan era. Liz enjoyed serving the little people-shaped cookies to visiting foreign dignitaries. The ginger snap itself goes by different names, depending on where you are. In most of the UK they’re known as ginger nuts, beloved for their dunking potential. Like, into beverages, not into a basketball hoop, though I hope you gleaned that from the context. In Danish they’re known as brunkage, which doesn’t sound appetizing at all. In Norwegian they’re called pepperkaker, which is a lot more fun.

The act of baking ginger into a sweet dessert treat is an act of utter glory. These suckers were delicious, and baked with a very special type of butter that means we can only enjoy about a half-cookie or so per serving, lest we get wayyyyy too high. Definitely a celebration.

National Donald Duck Day

On June 9, 1934, Walt Disney released a seven-minute Silly Symphony cartoon, which featured a duck and a pig faking a stomach ache to get out of work. Then kindly old Mrs. Hen steps in and teaches them the value of an honest day’s work. The end. This would be pretty unremarkable, except that Donald Duck (who shows himself to be quite the dancer) went on to immeasurable fame and success as a core Disney character. Peter Pig would find himself appearing in only one more cartoon before being usurped by that stuttering upstart, Porky. Things turned sour for Peter, which led to decades of substance abuse and porcine womanizing. After his brief cameo appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Peter was never heard from again.

But enough about his lazy failure of a friend – this is all about Donald. As the cartoon characters grew in scope and popularity, Donald was seen as a sort of lightning rod, meant to take on the less positive qualities so that Mickey could be re-focussed as a role model for kids. This is why in early cartoons you’ll see Mickey with a bit more chutzpah and attitude.

Clarence Nash is the guy who came up with Donald’s bizarre pseudo-duck voice. He employs what’s called buccal speech, which uses the inner cheek to create sound rather than the larynx. Clarence stumbled onto this technique while trying to do an imitation of his goat. It’s a weird noise, but it works, especially when Donald flies into an incomprehensible rage. One interesting note, Clarence voiced Donald in all the foreign language versions of the Disney cartoons.

When we were last in Disneyland in 2001-02, I was struck by how little Donald could be seen. There wasn’t much mention of him in the signage that we saw, and we ran into every costumed character except for Don. I was convinced it was a conspiracy, that Donald was being edged out the way Peter Pig had been, and I worried for Don, Daisy, and his nephews (since I assume he and Daisy couldn’t conceive on their own). Fortunately Donald is still going strong. We watched The Wise Little Hen yesterday to pay tribute to that beloved duck. By the way, Donald has appeared in more films than any other Disney character, and more comic books than any other non-superhero character. Not bad for a little duck. RIP, Peter. It could have been you.

National Earl Day

How does a day devoted solely to people named Earl not come from the weird minds of Thomas & Ruth Roy, professional inventors of outlandish celebrations? This one was founded in honour of Earl Baltes, founder of Eldora Speedway. Earl was a bandleader with zero racing experience, and he opened up what has become one of the most beloved short track, high-banked, clay oval racetracks in the country. Maybe the most beloved, I don’t know how America feels about its short track, high-banked clay oval racetracks these days. National Earl Day was founded to pay tribute to the man, and was really just an event planned for Eldora Speedway.

So what are we supposed to do about it? The literature I found says we should be honouring people named Earl. So we could listen to some Earl Scruggs, some Earl Klugh, some Earl King, or maybe the song “Duke of Earl.” We could try to track down an episode of My Name is Earl, which hasn’t made it onto any streaming services yet. We could enjoy some of the work of James Earl Jones or review the legal decisions made by Earl Warren. So many possibilities, so little mirth.

If we knew someone named Earl, we’d reach out to them and give them some love. Unfortunately the only Earl who has made a dent in my life was a man named Earl Foster, who taught me in the fifth grade. He was a fantastic teacher, and a remarkable human being. He had a reputation, oft uttered in subdued whispers around the schoolyard, for smashing metre sticks (that’s yardsticks for you Yanks) in furious bursts of rage. And yes, he did that once when we wouldn’t shut up. But he also opened my eyes to interesting literature, and encouraged my creativity beyond its musty childhood limitations. But I have no idea how to track him down. I used the Googles, and not surprisingly I couldn’t find him on Facebook. He’s around somewhere though; I’d heard he retired a couple years ago.

Wherever you may be Mr. Foster, happy National Earl Day to you.

Call Your Doctor Day

How did we celebrate this? I called my doctor. I needed a refill of my medication, and I put it off until yesterday so that I could work it around this sacred celebration. It was as rich and rewarding experience as you might expect.

This celebration comes to us courtesy of Bright Pink, a non-profit organization that wants us to use this day as a reminder that women should schedule their next physical in hopes of catching any cancer (or anything else) early. This is a great cause, and Jodie would have taken care of this except she’d had a physical not long ago and wasn’t due. I read through some pretty grim statistics the other day for Cancer Survivor’s Day, but one thing that stood out for me was the high survival right for breast cancer patients. Not quite as high as testicle cancer patients, but still over 80%. I suspect a good chunk of that 20 or so percent that don’t make it five years may not have caught it early enough.

It’s unpleasant (from what I’ve heard), but essential. If you missed celebrating this with us yesterday, don’t wait until the second Tuesday of June 2021 – just make the call and go in and get your lady parts checked out. Or if you only have man parts, make an appointment to have them checked out too. If you’ve mostly got lizard parts, you may not be human. Call your doctor to confirm this.

World Pet Memorial Day

On this day, founded by the American Veterinary Medical Association to memorialize our lost loved ones, I’d like to take a moment to commemorate our bulldogs who have passed on. Each brought their own brand of joy and physical comedy to our lives. Each brought their own patented scent of flatulence. Each one was beloved.

Rufus (20032013) was our first foray into bulldoggery. He won his Canadian championship at dog shows, yet was never bred. He and I used to walk for upwards of an hour every day – he betrayed any preconceived notions of the ‘lazy bulldog’. He was often a victim of stinky hotspots on his paws, and his farts could be lethal. He liked to suckle his stuffed toys, a trait we have only seen since in our current English bulldog representative, Trixie. Rufus had a heart bigger than the moon.

Yoko (2004-2013) was as close to the perfect dog as we’ve ever known. She was a mom of 13, and a caregiver to all of us. She had a long tongue, a lot of patience, and her farts could be lethal. She had a bizarre white patch of fur on her back that resembled a Windows cursor. She earned the nickname Pokey because she didn’t move too fast. That was because she didn’t have to move for anyone – we worked around her. She was a truly special beast, and will always be in our hearts.

Becky (2008-2016) was a bundle of quirk. She’d sit for extended periods and just lick the air. She was terrified of everything, and she never outgrew looking like a puppy. We would frequently compare pictures of baby hippos, baby piglets, even Baby Yoda to Becky’s appearance. She was full of life, and her farts could be lethal. When she was freshly born she was bumped off of Yoko’s feeding nozzles, which meant I had to tube-feed her every two hours, day and night for a couple of weeks. It was worth it; Becky, or The Bean as we called her, was special.

Bethany (2008-2016) was one of the smartest and most personality-packed dogs we’ve ever met. Her colouring evoked thoughts of tiger-tail ice cream, she loved to play with her sister and her people, and her farts were so lethal they could bring tears to your eyes. Bethany was a perfect all-around dog. She was never a mom herself, but she helped to train young Trixie in all the ways of dog-dom before we lost her as the final gut-punch from 2016. She is missed every single day.

Much love to everyone’s gone-but-not-forgotten friends.

Writer’s Rights Day

This day was founded by a bunch of writers’ groups back in 1992 and reported in the New York Times as a day to draw attention to the fact that most writers make remarkably little money. This was in the days before the online explosion led to most writers (present company unfortunately included) making a big ol’ zilch for their work. There was a two-hour protest at Grand Central Terminal on June 9, 1992, as writers boldly signed the Declaration of Writers’ Economic Rights in order to protect themselves.

The issue, as these writers saw it, was that a handful of folks, like Stephen King or Norman Schwartzkopf (who was not at all a writer) were getting multi-million dollar deals from publishers, while Joe Schmuck, amateur detective author, made almost nothing, even with a publishing deal. Writers would get their contracts cancelled. They’d get sued to pay back advances (plus interest). They wanted health insurance and benefits, like the screenwriters had with their Guild. They wanted protection.

And to my knowledge, they haven’t gotten it. The Writers Guild still exists, and a number of other more specific organizations are present and thriving, but writers are still pretty much on their own. There is no union unless you write for movies or TV. So writers’ rights are still being neglected, and certainly even more so in this era where cheapskates glom onto free online prose for entertainment. I’m kidding of course – none of my readers are cheapskates. Thanks for your support.

Besides, I have health coverage due to my geographic advantage. But if you know a writer, please don’t ask them for freebie help, or to do work for ‘exposure’. Writers will likely never see the rights they asked for in 1992 come to life. But we can at least give them some respect.

Hopefully we’ll be caught up on a few forgotten items that have slipped past us today. We also have this to contend with:

  • National Egg Roll Day. I’m not making these from scratch, but I’ll eat them from plate.
  • National Ballpoint Pen Day. One thing that has really amazed me about this project is how many days are devoted to praising office supplies.
  • National Iced Tea Day. None of that crappy, sugary powdered stuff. We’re brewing tea and icing it like pros.
  • Portugal Day. Hooray for Portugal!
  • National Black Cow Day. Not actually a day about ebony bovines, but rather the beverage immortalized in a Steely Dan song. I’ll try it out.
  • National Herbs & Spices Day. Not just for the Colonel, we’ll appreciate our favourites.
  • World Art Nouveau Day. We’ll dig into some art. Nouveau, of course.

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