Sunday, July 5, 2020

We launched into yesterday a few hours before it began, celebrating the glorious triumph of America’s creation as told through a group of actors so talented it’s almost unreal, spewing hip-hop history and melodies so haunting and hook-laden they will be resurfacing in my brain for decades to come. If you haven’t invested the time (and meager money) to see Hamilton on Disney’s streaming service, you simply must. Jodie and Abbey had seen it on stage; for me, it was an experience in enjoying an incredible piece of art for the first time. It was pure magic, and it led us directly (and perfectly) here:

Independence Day

No, really. That was it. That was our celebration of Independence Day. We learned about the initial dream of America: the freedom to be represented by fellow citizens, the vision of immigrants pooling together their efforts and passions to create a better land, the early efforts – unsuccessful as they were – to eliminate slavery. America is a brilliant idea with a faltering execution.

My great-great-grandfather came through Ellis Island and settled in New York; his son did the same just a couple years later. My grandfather was born in Brooklyn and a couple years ago Abbey and I toured every address that he called home while he lived there. My dad was born on the US Army base in Edmonton, meaning he had his pick of citizenships when he turned 18. He didn’t want to go to Vietnam, so he saluted the maple leaf. Well, he saluted the Union-Jack-thing since he was 20 when we adopted the maple leaf flag, but you get the point. He then moved to LA and became an American citizen when he was older. America flows through my blood.

As a kid my friends used to badmouth Americans, and I used to stand up for the nation. The ideals it boasts are just that: ideal. The American Dream, wherein everyone has a fair shot to work hard and become a success, is magnificent. I’ll always love that country, even when it’s not easy to do so. Unfortunately, 2020 is one of those times.

The riotous outrage on American streets reflects the reality that the American Dream does not apply to everyone. Hell, the Occupy battle against the 1% a few years ago also highlighted that, though through a different lens. America is flawed and broken, and the voices we need to listen to in order to fix it are being drowned out by TV talking heads and agendas crafted to keep the power right where it is. COVID may have cleared the way for actual societal change; that remains to be seen. But an America that would feel groovy placing a sub-par reality show host and astoundingly obvious con-man in charge is not the America I grew up loving.

So yesterday, we’d planned a big July 4 party with friends and family but had to adjust due to social distancing concerns (and even weather). Instead we said a quick non-theistic prayer for a fallen nation that it will pick itself back up, and we reflected on the brilliant re-telling of its founding through rapid-fire hip-hop and clever wordplay. Keep shouting in the streets, America. There’s still hope.

National Barbecued Spareribs Day / Barbecue Day

Spareribs are, of course, cut from the lower part of the pig: the abdomen, or “undercarriage” as they say in the industry. They are tasty, and frequently used in Chinese cuisine. Unfortunately, they were also surprisingly hard to find in our shopping trips this weekend. We had to settle for back ribs.

This celebration was, of course, meant to coincide with July 4 picnics and big family get-togethers. I’m not sure why the spareribs people got in for this one, when National Cheeseburger Day would make more sense. But that day has already passed; yesterday was all about the ribs. And besides, this gave us practice for National Baby Back Ribs Day, which shows up in September.

We love ribs off the barbecue, and we’re particularly glad that this project propelled us to purchase a sparkly new barbecue back in May. We have made more meals with that thing than with our stove in the last couple of months, or at least that’s how it feels. The barbecue is a wondrous tool, and even though we already celebrated National Barbecue Day back on May 16, the odd appearance of a second Barbecue Day (no National) is just fine with us. It makes more sense than two World UFO Days a week and a half apart.

This project is all kinds of weird sometimes.

National Caesar Salad Day

Finally, a classic food celebration wherein there is (almost) no controversy over who actually invented it and when. This piece of salad mastery came to us courtesy of chef Caesar Cardini, an Italian-American immigrant who lived in San Diego, but chose to work in Tijuana so he could serve alcohol with his food creations. It happened during a Fourth of July celebration in 1924 when the kitchen was running out of supplies. Caesar took what he had available and created the masterpiece we know and love.

Okay, some members of his staff apparently claim that they invented it. But it’s a Caesar salad; let’s let Caesar have the credit. Julia Child recalled having the salad at Caesar’s restaurant as a child in the 1920s. Sure, the original may or may not have had anchovies, but that salty fish flavour came to add the sparkle that makes this one of the most universally beloved salads, at least in this part of the world.

We didn’t have bacon bits for our salad, though that’s in part because our daughter is here visiting and our bacon bit supplies run wildly short whenever she’s around, so we simply didn’t buy any. But we enjoyed croutons, parmesan cheese, and a terrific dressing overtop some romaine lettuce; it complemented our barbecued ribs perfectly. I love it when food celebrations get on board with one another like this.

Hop A Park Day

This is a day for “hopping” from park to park in your area to truly appreciate the glory of the greenspaces in your city, town, village, hamlet, or evil mountain lair. It’s a great concept, and it’s a shame that the weather, which had turned to full-on thunderstorms by the time our household chores were done, was not cooperative.

But Edmonton has some terrific parks, and I feel it would be a good use of our time to learn a little something about them. Hawrelak Park, once known as Mayfair Park, was almost a subdivision but the Strathcona Land Syndicate skipped paying its taxes and the city claimed it in 1922. It sat unused for more than 30 years until Mayor Hawrelak called for it to be turned into a beautiful park, complete with a lake, a playground, and a heap of fields and picnic areas. Our local blues festival is a great fit for the park. In 1982 they named it after the former mayor, even though he was, from what I’ve heard, an opportunist who abused his position and gave cushy jobs to his friends.

Rundle Park is a spot on the east side of town that we almost never visit. It was built on the site of Edmonton’s first garbage dump, so it has some history. It also used to feature an amusement park and a wooden roller coaster, the likes of which our city has not seen since. The park features a free disc-golf course, which we will hopefully take advantage of for Disc-Golf Day next month.

Laurier Park is about five blocks from where I grew up, and is attached to our city’s zoo. I had a lot of firsts at that park, including the zoo parking lot attached to it: my first drag race, my first high school bush party, my first time almost getting arrested for smoking contraband substances… I’ve had a lot of great times in that park. It’s a shame we couldn’t head out there yesterday, but hey, we’ve still got Google Maps, and that isn’t weather-dependent.

Alice In Wonderland Day

I was a bit thrown by this one, as the official publication date of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was on November 26, 1865. Why on earth would there be a celebration for the story on July 4?

I’m glad I asked. It was on July 4, 1862 when Lewis Carroll was taking a boat trip along the River Thames with his buddy Robinson and three daughters of his boss, Henry Liddell (one of whom was named Alice). Why Lewis and Robinson were travelling with his boss’s kids I have no idea. But to pass the time, Lewis told the fantastic story we’d come to know and love to the three girls. Over the coming years the girls would urge Lewis to re-tell the story again and again, and finally he wrote it down and published it.

So yesterday marked not the anniversary of the story’s publication, but rather its true inception. It was a triumph of creativity, and it went on to be a huge hit on TV, in movies, in comics, and even musicals. It became Lewis Carroll’s masterwork, and it all started with the desire to entertain some kids with a good story.

We could have celebrated the day by watching one of the film adaptations, but I opted instead to give a listen to its greatest pop song appearance, in Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” I know, it’s the quickest possible way to observe this, but hey – it’s an observation. And time was tight. We also had this to look forward to:

Invisible Day

There is a notable lack of clarity surrounding this day. It might mean we should acknowledge those who feel invisible, and reach out to them to connect them to the world so they feel a little less alone. Others say it’s to contemplate the notion of invisibility as a superpower: how would you use it? Would you skulk around in change rooms, play pranks on people, or use it to collect incriminating evidence against your enemies? And what’s the deal with clothing – would you have to be naked whilst invisible or would your clothes join your invisibility?

We honoured this day by being mostly invisible to the world. We’d planned a big party, and since COVID and the weather conspired to wipe that possibility off the table we simply stayed at home. Abbey had a friend over, but they remained outside, again, due to virus concerns. We kept out of sight.

As for what we’d do while invisible, we’d both be torn between simply observing the human condition in its purest form, when people think they are truly alone, or playing pranks. I mean, you could really mess with some horrible people while invisible. Hide their tiki torch so they couldn’t go to their White Lives Matter march, then thwack them with it from behind. Make them believe the White House is haunted by a spooky ghost so they give up and decide not to run for re-election, that sort of thing.

Alas, no superpowers yesterday. Just some hiding from the world. We’ve been getting really good at that over the last few months.

National Country Music Day

I am a devoted lover of music. I love great music from any genre, except for the genres that have produced nothing that can be called ‘great music’, like noise music or whatever the fuck ‘brostep’ is. That said, I would rank country music near the absolute bottom of the music styles I enjoy. Especially new country music, which sounds more like mediocre 90s pop with a twangy voice.

Still, this is what we do. I searched ‘Country That Doesn’t Suck’ on Spotify and found a playlist with some Zac Brown Band, some Rascal Flatts and even some modern country by Hootie. I gave it as long of a listen as I could, which wound up being an impressive 45 minutes. I shut it off not out of disgust, but because I had to go make dinner.

As much as country gets its licks from music lovers, we have to embrace its important place in our culture. Without country we wouldn’t have had rock ‘n roll. Country has been flavoring pop music in brilliant and creative ways for as long as pop music has been a thing. I still crank up Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash whenever I can, and that classic era of country produced some absolute brilliance. Country-flavoured rock, from the Grateful Dead to the Allman Brothers Band, is essential listening.

Jodie used country music as an escape when she found she could not tolerate synth-heavy 80s pop music. And given that she was raised by a musician to love actual musician-music, I get it. I was young enough to have hungrily soaked up all that 80s mayhem, but it’s not for everyone. And country music is one of the most approachable genres of music we have. It’s just not for me. But dammit, I did my part.

Sidewalk Egg-Frying Day

I like the spirit of this day, even if we have to put aside its science. The fact is, an egg needs to be heated to 70 degrees Celsius (158 Fahrenheit) in order to be fully cooked. On a super-hot day, the warmest you’re likely to find a sidewalk surface is 60 degrees. So you might get a bit of a sizzle going, but you’re not going to fry that egg.

Now, if you have another surface that conducts the heat a little better, you might be able to luck out and fry an egg under the sun on that. But why would you? Just go inside and fry a damn egg. Don’t get cute.

Given that we topped out at 20 degrees yesterday (68 for my American friends), there was no attempt at sidewalk egg-frying. But hey, we learned some science and isn’t that always a win? We think so.

Today I enjoy my last sigh of freedom before returning to work tomorrow. I’ll be doing so in a more visceral way, so it will be a mental-health getaway from this project for the most part. Smile more, talk less. Celebrate more, write less. This is what’s up:

  • National Apple Turnover Day. We’ll likely be skipping this one, given that we still seem to have too many desserts on hand.
  • National Graham Cracker Day. We might snack on a couple of these, however.
  • National Hawaii Day. Our journey around America hits the tropical joy of Hawaii today. This calls for some grilled pineapple.
  • National Workaholics Day. We work really hard, even on the most pointless things (if you’re on this website, you understand). Maybe we’ll watch some of the TV show by this name too.
  • National Bikini Day. Does Jodie have one? I sure don’t.
  • Mechanical Pencil Day. Woohoo! More office supplies!