Tuesday, July 14, 2020

With a puff of wind we find our summer weather banished to memory along with the weekend and the simple pleasure of penning one of these articles whilst enjoying the tickle of some mid-afternoon rum. I was back at work yesterday, sober and scarcely awake, tuned more toward the chimes of celebratory insanity than to the day-to-day of my formerly-cubicled obligations. How could I not be, with all the joys that awaited us in a packed Monday? And why is every Monday so damned packed? Here’s what was up:

National French Fry Day

The very pinnacle of potato potential, the tippity-top of the tuber game, the absolute apex of those apples-of-the-earth… I present to you the French fry. The chip, if you lean with a British slant. Whether crinkle-cut, shoestring, wedge or lattice, the fry surpasses the dumpling, the mashed, the chip (a.k.a. the crisp), the hashbrown, or any other creation carved from its flesh. The fry is a superlative side-dish, and when crammed into poutine form can even serve as a portion of a top-tier entrée.

Thomas Jefferson boasted of being served “potatoes served in the French manner” at the White House in 1802. Whether this was identical to what we now call fries or simply meant potatoes smothered in a béchamel sauce I have no idea. The French and the Belgians are reportedly battling over who gets credit for the fry style. The Belgian stance is that, because they speak the same language and are located right up against one another, their cuisine often gets blended with that of the French and bundled along with it as ‘French cuisine’. One source claims they were making them like this in Belgium as early as 1680, which is roughly 50 years before potatoes were introduced to the region. So who knows?

And really, who cares? No one is travelling the world in search of the oldest form of French fry. If anyone is on a fry-related voyage (and really, post-Covid, that could be a fun trip), it’s to find the very best fries. I know I’ve never tried them, whatever that peak of perfection might be. The ultimate fry is almost certainly not curly, must be delicately crisp with a fluffy, yielding innard, and must contain a few of those little crunchy ones that are almost overdone but not quite. The perfect fry is elusive, as it will lose any claim to perfection once it gives up its initial heat. There is no way to successfully reanimate a fry to toasty perfection.

We enjoyed some tasty fries with our chicken feast on Sunday, coupled with that most beloved of companions, ketchup. And again last night with our homemade steamed hams (was it National Albany Day?), Jodie went out and snagged us some more. Had we gravy and cheese curds on hand we might have gone a different direction, but not every side of fries needs to be poutinified. Sometimes a terrific fry is enough. In fact, it almost always is.

National Beans & Franks Day / National Baked Bean Month

First of all, I’ve always heard this dish called ‘Franks & Beans’, not the other way around, and certainly not ‘Beenie Weenies’ as I found it designated on Wikipedia. Second, this celebration presents a bit of a challenge, as neither Jodie nor Abbey have any desire to consume bean one, which leaves it to me. I get it, they aren’t fans. Beans have a certain texture to them, and even with the presence of a tasty sliced wiener, they aren’t for everyone.

Beans have been a canned staple for as long as canned staples have been a thing, so dating back likely to around the Civil War. Soaked in sauce, they are a great food in terms of longevity, and even without any meat they contain the protein you’d need to properly call it a meal. I mean, a salad wouldn’t hurt, but who are we kidding here? The canned bean is a bean of convenience and expediency. If you’ve got the wherewithal to slap a hot dog onto a cooking service and toss it in, then you’ve got a classic treat.

I went with good ol’ Heinz Baked Beans, the classic pantry-stocker, a portion of a terrific album by The Who, and a sneak preview of next week’s state visit (Heinz, of course, being headquartered in Pennsylvania). I enjoyed them for lunch, while Jodie and Abbey were out running errands and I needed to be tethered to my work desk. And you know, I kind of miss these things. I never have baked beans due to Jodie’s aversion, but I might sneak some in next time I’m dining alone. As for the flatulent side-effects, I live among three dogs so it’s easy to pass blame.

That said, I still didn’t share my beans with them. You don’t add kindling to an already-dangerous fart-fire.

National Strawberry Sundae Day / National Make Your Own Sundae Day

We are a few days late on the strawberry celebration, but it lined up neatly with this one from the end of last week. Why not combine them?

This is the first and second of at least four sundae celebrations this year. We’ve got the strawberries last week and Make Your Own Sundae Day yesterday, Hot Fudge Sundae Day two weeks from now, then just a plain ol’ Sundae Day showing up in November, when ice cream will probably not be near the top of our list of desired desserts. We made our own strawberry sundaes yesterday, proceeded to pile onto it anything we could find around the house that made sense, and it was damn delicious. Sure, we missed out on the strawberry sauce and the classic soft-serve approach to a vintage strawberry sundae, but we also got to let loose on the quantity of ingredients. That was fun.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has either followed this project or researched food history on their own that multiple sources claim to have invented the sundae. It’s not really an ‘invention’ per se. Slapping toppings onto ice cream is common sense, not innovation. According to Linda Stradley, who wrote an entire book about the history of the ice cream sundae, the name came from a law that prevented the sale of ice cream sodas on Sundays because they were ‘too frilly’. I guess frills were seen to offend God or something. So people simply found another way to flavour up their frozen treats.

The weird spelling comes from the Ice Cream Sunday being sold on days that weren’t Sunday. I guess it’s also offensive to name something after the Sabbath day. Cool. I’m learning all sorts of ways to offend hardcore Christians of the late 19th century.

We celebrated this one right. Vanilla ice cream, sweetened strawberries, and plenty of other goodies. And no sinful, evil bubbles!

Embrace Your Geekness Day

We have already rolled along this majestic carpet this year. We did Geek Pride Day on May 25, and National Hike With a Geek Day on June 20. We have established already our entrenched geekhood, from Jodie’s love of Broadway musicals to my love of movies, music and my questionable fashion sense. So logically we should be embracing those things which geekify us on this day, right?

Jodie listened to some musical theatre as she drove around with Abbey. That’s really the only ‘geek’ type she fits into, so that was enough for her to celebrate. I indulged in some prog rock, the pinnacle of geekdom in modern music. I also visited the Truefilm subreddit to read people’s pontifications on the camera angles in Kurosawa’s later work, or the deployment of strategic shadows in Bergman’s black & white productions.

In the 1980s geekness was seen as a failing. The nerds with their thick-framed glasses – despite folks like Elvis Costello and Buddy Holly having made those cool at various times in recent history – were the scapegoats of the high school world. Their only triumph in that decade came through raping their way to victory in Revenge of the Nerds, a movie in which that actually fucking happened. By the 90s, once geeks were the ones who could master the use of computers to acquire an endless parade of free pornography, the tide turned. The geeks had inherited the earth. Suddenly if you weren’t a geek, you weren’t much of anything.

Nowadays, geekdom is akin to a manic fandom of some genre or medium. Everyone feels a bit geeky about something, and they have no problem embracing it. But for those of us who have been rocking the geek mantle since before it was cool… I guess that makes us the hipster-nerds. I’ll take it.

Gruntled Workers Day

Once again we return to Thomas and Ruth Roy, those creative kooks who devised more than 80 celebrations to pepper the calendar with interesting notions of mirth and appreciation. These two had no idea as they concocted their roster of weirdness that someday a couple of Canadian schmucks might actually make the effort to celebrate all of these things, and to bend to their whims of madness. We are really looking forward to sneaking zucchini onto our neighbours’ porches next month.

So let’s have a look at the word: we all know that disgruntled workers is a well-established trope, and that most everyone can find a way to grumble about their jobs for upwards of an hour if so provoked. And we also know that the word ‘disgruntled’ does not grammatically feature an opposite in ‘gruntled’. Actually, to gruntle used to mean to emit small, low-level grunts. It’s an archaic word, but it technically exists. But to be gruntled? That’s just pretend.

But let’s look at the intention here. Gruntled Workers Day sounds to us like a day in which people should be boasting about the parts of their job they love. Do people still love their jobs? Is that an actual thing?

Of course it is. Jodie loves being a teacher, and she is pained only by the lack of student connection she’s suffered through over the weird spring of 2020. Sure, she’s not a fan of early mornings, and she doesn’t like that she has to suspend the notion of the afternoon nap for most of the school year, but she loves what she does. She is extremely gruntled. I’m not quite as immersed in the notion of gruntle with my office drone gig, but since we’ve shifted to working from home I have loved my job. At present my level of gruntle is through the roof, which is my roof, the same one under which I sleep, and that’s heaven.

Hopefully you can all treasure what gruntles you about your jobs.

Barbershop Music Appreciation Day

Yes, Barbershop Quartet Day was back on April 11, and yes, I spent much of that day listening to a playlist of barbershop music. No, I didn’t really enjoy it. If you’ve heard one barbershop song you know what they all sound like. Don’t get me wrong – a capela harmonies are divine, and I adore the mastery of the human voice that is exemplified in the barbershop style. It’s just that the format itself is limited by the songs. You can do voice-only interpretations of all sorts of songs, but to be truly barbershop you have to forego the doo-wop sensibilities, or that crazy mutli-layered stuff groups like Pentatonix or the Whifflepoofs do.

But this is our lot in life, so as I spent some time yesterday planning for our big Folk Fest weekend next month – and yes, Folk Fest is truly happening this year, albeit in our back yard and likely with no live music – while listening to barbershop music.

Did I appreciate it? Yes, I appreciated the technical skill required to arrange and execute this style of music. But even more so, I appreciated when I shut off that playlist and got back to the musical mosaic to which my ears are more accustomed. There’s only so much Sweet Adeline a guy can take.

International Town Criers Day

The town crier, in case you’re not just now dropping in from the 1800s, was a guy (almost exclusively guys, I believe) who would walk through the streets, ringing a bell and announcing the time. They’d also make news pronouncements, so in effect they were the Facebook feeds of their day. “Hear ye, hear ye, it’s 10:00 and all is well, unless you’re one of those unpatriotic lib-tard communists who hate America!” “It’s 2:30 and check out the platter of #poachedscrod I had for lunch!” “It’s 11:45 and here’s me and my bestie making duck-faces outside of a club!”

This was how the illiterate (which was most everyone not that long ago) knew it was market day, or that the king was murdered by a poisoned pomegranate, or that we were now at war with some neighbouring county and all first-born males must sacrifice themselves as cannon fodder. Town criers also had the employment perk of locking up criminals in the stocks and administering floggings that were prescribed by angry wig-toting magistrates.

This day was conceived in 1997 by Scott Fraser, a town crier who was still operating in Waterloo, Ontario, which suggests that this antiquated and obsolete job still has some appeal for someone. In fact, Edmonton used to have its own town crier, and we’re not talking about back in the 1800s when we were a frontier fort.

Pete Jamieson, pictured above, was employed as an usher at our Dreamland Theatre (long gone) in 1935, when his manager was bemoaning all the empty seats. He sent Pete out to the street, where he walked up and down Jasper Avenue, shouting at strangers about the glories of whatever film was slated to play. He would keep it up for more than 50 years. People would pay to have their ads on his sandwich boards. He lived in a boarding house downtown, and made very little money doing what he did, but he was a fixture here, carrying on a centuries-old tradition long after technology had replaced his function.

All the more reason to celebrate that the era of town criers may still be alive somewhere.

Go West Day

Nope, I have no idea why this day exists, or how we are supposed to celebrate it. I found it in one location, on a 2012 blog entry by someone who also didn’t know what the hell it’s about. That person decided since they lived in California, they should go to the beach, which is as west as they can go. Cool.

Horace Greeley, founder and editor of the New York Tribune, gets credit for the phrase “Go west, young man,” which refers to the Manifest Destiny of American westward expansion. That’s great, and it led to the building of a nation, though “Go west, young man, and be kind to the people who already live on that land” would have been a little bit nicer. Not as catchy though, and it didn’t really jive with the genocide vibe America would employ to “tame” the frontier.

So let’s put that aside then. Perhaps we could celebrate this day by watching the truly hilarious Buster Keaton film Go West from 1925. I mean, he drives a herd of cattle through Los Angeles – the man knew how to get laughs. There’s also a film by that name by the Marx Brothers, though it features neither Margaret Dumont nor Zeppo, the hilarious brother. It’s the title of a Village People album, the one with “In The Navy”, but I’ve already tortured myself with over an hour of barbershop today.

I opted for listening to the track “King of Wishful Thinking” from the Pretty Woman soundtrack, performed by the British dance-pop band Go West. It was quick and to the point. Also, when we took the dogs for a walk, we walked at one point in a westerly direction.

It was an effective celebration and no one was murdered. Hooray!

This should be an unusual day, thanks to this bizarre collection of oddities that pass for actual celebrations:

  • National Grand Marnier Day. More booze! I’ve got this one locked down. We don’t skip the booze parties.
  • National Mac & Cheese Day. We already created a delicious macaroni and cheese dish last week, so this time we’ll work with the cheap stuff: how high can we elevate Kraft’s low-budget powdered cheese food?
  • National Tape Measure Day. Well, there’s no end of fun in this one. Especially with a dog who is terrified of tape measures.
  • National Nude Day. Will we spend the entire day in a naked state? With our daughter home visiting, that’s a big ol’ no. But we’ve got some Nude brand vodka sodas, so it’s another booze party!
  • Pandemonium Day. Things are going to get messy in here.
  • Shark Awareness Day. We have already celebrated sharks, now we will be aware of them. Such fun!

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