Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Awash in a foamy fjord of perpetual mayhem, this is the day when we start to observe that nearly every inanimate object may be subject to its own personal national day. Yesterday we explored the banal, but with waffles so it wasn’t so bad. Still, we were tested. Tested by the big hairy elbows this project swings into our free time. Tested by the loss of hours of a day off when I could have been playing cowboy in a computer game. Tested by how to make any of this even remotely interesting to ourselves. If it fails to interest you, that may be because we failed to spark our own excitement. But how is that possible, with all of this?:

National Peach Pie Day

Okay, this is a bit of a stretch, but I’m going to call it a close-enough celebration to count. How can I do this? Because in addition to being the only people standing on the playing field, we are also the only people making up the rules for this little goof-fest.

Above is a rather unflattering photo of a Peach Dump Cake that our team baker (hi, Mom!) created for us. There was no Peach Dump Cake Day, but she was inspired by National Georgia Day to give it a go. She wasn’t impressed. She suggested we heat it up and toss some ice cream on top, and you know what? She was right. It was delicious. I knew this day was approaching and I planned to repeat the snack and take a proper photo.

But then National Ice Cream Pie Day happened. Followed by National Soft Serve Day. Then National Spumoni Day. Then we had family over for a barbecue, and they brought desserts to add to the doughnuts we’d purchased for the event. We are so weighted down by desserts, this poor little dump cake passed the point of starting to turn and I never got a second helping. This is why the photo above is not particularly flattering.

The peach dump cake is more of a variation on cobbler, and I’ll posit that this makes it closer in spirit to a deconstructed pie than a cake of any kind. It was close enough for us, and it was plenty tasty. It just wouldn’t have been had we tried more of it yesterday. Alas, it has been jettisoned from our counter.

Good thing, since we’ve got to make room for National Banana Split Day today, and the dessert celebrations happening almost every day this week. It’s a tough life.

Nostalgia Night

An evening to embrace nostalgia sounds very much like a North American creation, specifically one either made by baby boomers to remind us all that yes, they made better music back in their day than in any other, or by people one generation older who wanted to remind us all that music was better when Glenn Miller was running the show. Much of our culture is based on nostalgia, whether it’s Greta Van Fleet sounding like a modern Led Zeppelin, That 70s Show and Happy Days cashing in on a previous generation’s idea of youth, or the upcoming Wonder Woman movie taking place in the mid-80s.

This night was created in Uruguay. And it was created back in 1978, at a time when one might question what ‘nostalgia’ even means in Uruguay. Confused? Me too.

The origin story for this one either traces back to CX-32 Radiomondo or else to Disco Ton Ton Metek (which I assume was a discotheque based on the creatures from Empire Strikes Back, which is especially prescient since that film hadn’t yet been released). But someone decided that the day before Uruguay’s independence day should be something special. And to be clear, it’s not a ‘Make Uruguay Great Again’ kind of racist or classist nostalgia. It’s all about the music.

And it has caught on. People have crazy nostalgia parties, spinning classic tunes from their youth, or the youth of folks older than them. It’s an annual party celebration, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to know it exists. If we ever re-do this silly little project on the road, I want to end up in Uruguay for August 24. It sounds like a blast.

We listened to some vintage music last night as well, though we fell short of having a party (for obvious reasons). But it was rock-tastic. Thanks, Uruguay.

Pluto Demoted Day

It was 14 years ago on this day when the International Astronomical Union decided that Pluto no longer fit the definition of planet. People railed against this decision, possibly because the names of all nine planets are among the few things we remember from school. Did Pluto deserve such a fate? Do kids today have to memorize more dwarf planets now, or can they just pretend Pluto doesn’t exist?

Let’s look at why the IAU made this decision. They defined three parameters that make up a planet: it must be in orbit around the sun (Pluto is), it must be large enough to have been rounded by its own gravity (yep to this one too), and it must have “cleared the neighbourhood” around its orbit. Here’s where Pluto falls short. Clearing the neighbourhood means there should be nothing else but its natural satellites (a.k.a. moons) wonking with its gravity. Given that Pluto is partly susceptible to Neptune’s gravity, and that it gets involved with a number of other objects floating in the Kuiper belt, Pluto does not meet this requirement.

Alan Stern, the guy behind the New Horizons mission NASA sent off to Pluto, disagrees with this. He claims that, by this definition, we’d also have to eliminate Neptune, Jupiter, Mars and Earth from being classified as planets, as they all have asteroids sharing their orbit. Having no horse in this race I won’t be taking a firm side, but for the purposes of yesterday’s celebration, we tried. We believed Pluto was still a planet, just for that one day. It’s not a bold or brave stance, but one we’re willing to make, just to honour the teachings of our youth. With that day done, we’ll shave it back down to dwarf planet status and move on with our lives. Sorry, Pluto.

National Knife Day

Do we not celebrate the knife every damn time we have to use one? Try it – next time you use a knife, consider what you’d have to use in its place if we had no knives. There. I’ve given you a celebration that will last you the rest of your natural life, or at least until you’re too old to be trusted with using a knife.

Legend has it that on this day (yesterday’s this day) in 1838 that Razen Bowie wrote a letter to Planter’s Advocate, advising that he created the infamous Bowie knife – the one that was made famous by his brother Jim. Jim Bowie was a frontiersman, a famous American hero who died at the Alamo in March of 1836. The story was that he was pretty damn brilliant in a knife fight, and that either he designed the famous knife that would bear his name or else a blacksmith created it just for him.

But the story isn’t always 100% accurate. Maybe his brother actually created it. It’s also believed that perhaps Jim Bowie wasn’t so well-known for knife fighting, and he just happened to get in one scuffle that made him a legend. Also, Jim Bowie was a slave trader. Not just a slave trader, but when importing slaves into America was made illegal, he smuggled slaves into the country, and swindled the government to earn a massive profit on them.

So fuck Jim Bowie. And while we’re at it, fuck his brother Rezin, who was deep into the human-smuggling game with his brother. I don’t care who invented that knife; we celebrated the way this day should be honoured: by using a knife to cut up berries. Knives are awesome. Their inventors, not always so awesome. As far as we’re concerned, history can be rewritten to state that David Bowie, who to my knowledge traded no slaves, invented the Bowie Knife.

Vesuvius Day

It was a beautiful summer day in August of 79 A.D. Or maybe it was in October or November – historians aren’t really sure about the date. And given that we’ve switched calendars and deleted days from existence on several occasions, I don’t see a reason to get too connected with this particular day. But whenever it happened, this is when we commemorate one of the most fascinating destructive events in human history.

The bomb that leveled Hiroshima was massive. The explosion that spurted out of Vesuvius back in ’79 was about 100,000 times more massive. Hot gases and smouldering ash rocketed up into the atmosphere. When you imagine the most fantastic possible CGI volcanic explosion, you still are not likely appreciating just how huge this was. Pompeii was wiped out, but it wasn’t alone. Herculaneum was wiped out as well. The population of both cities was up around 20,000, and no one had a chance to escape before things got molten.

The first impact was ash and pumice falling to the earth. Raining pure hell would be an apt description. Those who could, and those who were smart enough to know what was coming, fled at that point. Then along came the lava flows, which knocked over buildings like they were made of matchsticks. So far about 1,500 bodies have been discovered entombed beneath the wreckage.

This brings us back once again to Pliny The Elder, who has worked his way into the origin stories of National Prosecco Day and Virtual World Days in the last couple of weeks. Pliny was attempting to flee from the area impacted by Vesuvius’s eruption, and died in the process. Some say he simply collapsed and died, another story is that he pleaded with a slave to kill him in order to spare him the agony of incineration. We’ll never know, but it’s weird that we’re talking about him again.

In honour of Mount Vesuvius, I listened to an excerpt from Pink Floyd’s Live at Pompeii performance. Hey, it’s not the best way to honour the dead, but it’s something.

Can Opener Day

Was the can opener invented on an August 24? I have no earthly idea. But someone must have believed it was, otherwise why would such a bland concept get its own special day in the middle of summer? I could be out celebrating National Water Slide Day or National Burn Ants With A Magnifying Glass Day, but no – someone felt we should commemorate the thing that grants us access to corn niblets.

Cans were invented to store food around 1772. The instructions to open early canned food products involved – and I’m not making this up – a hammer and chisel. Then along came the twist-key mechanism and the stab-it-and-mangle-the-lid type of opener. Finally we got to the twisty-open type pictured above. I have never owned an electric can opener, though I have witnessed the effects of such a device on the common house cat. It’s very cute.

William Lyman of Meriden, Connecticut invented the rotating wheel can openers we know and love, back in July of 1870. So we’ve had these things taking up space in kitchen drawers for a whopping 150 years. Happy birthday, can opener, or at least happy birthday sometime back in July.

We had no cans we needed to open yesterday, and it would have been a waste to pop open some cranberry sauce or something that we had no intention of eating. But our can opener also contains a little hook thing that pops caps off of bottles. I happened to have a single bottle of Mexican Coke waiting for me in the fridge, so that did the trick. Huzzah.

Weather Complaint Day

It may seem odd for this day to show up in August, when the so-called “dog days of summer” (which I assume are called that because they are particularly flatulent days) are still going on. But Edmontonians are often reflecting right about now on whether they had a crap-tastic summer or one that was bathed in enough sun to offset the lengthy winter to come.

I joke of course – no amount of sunshine and warmth can be enough to make up for eight months of frost, snow and ice. But the weather in 2020, once we got past the monsoon season, wasn’t bad. We’ll hold our complaints until later this year, but I guarantee we will have celebrated this day dozens of times over by the time this year clocks out and vanishes into the waste bin of history.

But this day isn’t actually about complaining about the weather, as odd as that may sound. It actually commemorates a newspaper quote that was uttered by Charles Dudley Warner, an essayist, novelist, and good buddy to Mark Twain. Twain wasn’t the only one who could fire off a zinger. On this day in 1897 Mr. Warner uttered, “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” Ha. Nice one. I’m kind of sad that Mr. Warner never attained quite the level of notoriety as his buddy Mark.

Except in San Diego. Charles Dudley Warner spoke so eloquently about his love for that city they named three streets after him: Charles Street, Dudley Street, and Warner Street. That’s pretty impressive. I’ll bitch about the weather in his honour for the remainder of the year.

International Strange Music Day

A New York City musician named Patrick Grant is to blame for this day, which he launched in 1998. It was his way of pointing out that if we listen to music we consider ‘strange’ or ‘abnormal’, it will expand our horizons and therefore expand our appreciation of music. I agree completely with this. It took diving into some loud, angry music before I could understand what makes loud, angry music great. It was an experimentation in listening to album-side-length songs like “Thick As A Brick”, “Close To The Edge” and “Echoes” to understand how brilliant psychedelic or prog rock can be.

We have to venture into the unknown when it comes to music. So yesterday I dug up a selection of some of the strangest crap I could find. I started with Merzbow’s brand of Japanese noise music – a style of music that is exactly what it sounds like. It’s mostly white noise and distortion, with very little to offer those who love rhythm and even less to offer those who crave a good melody. Honestly, his song “Woodpecker” (and I don’t particularly like that I called it a ‘song’) sounds like thirty or forty large appliances all crapping out thirty or forty other appliances. I am still not a fan.

Steve Roden created something called ‘lowercase’, which is an ambient form of music. It’s the perfect accompaniment if you’re looking for some background tunes while a legion of robot doctors operate on your eyeball with no anesthetic. I jammed to some Prefuse 73, who make ‘glitch hop’ music – a subset of hip hop based on glitches and weird edits. This wasn’t bad – in fact it was a joy after the last two experiments.

The ‘vaporwave’ artist Macintosh Plus has only one song on Spotify: something called “Slick & Panic”. It’s a twelve-and-a-half-minute experience of sound effects and computerized distortion. It sounds like a hallucinogenic trip inside a Windows 3.1 computer. I honestly expected Max Headroom would be listed as a producer of the track. I then listened to an artist (group?) named Ducktails. This was ‘hypnagogic pop’, meant to recreate the experience of being just on the verge of falling asleep. It worked.

That was enough for me. There is a lot of weird shit out there, but sometimes it’s best to ease into the weirder stuff gradually. Radiohead helped a lot of its fans do this when they followed up their biggest album ever with Kid A, a foray into electronic strangeness. It’s never too late to expand one’s mind. Just stay away from the noise music, trust me.

National Waffle Day

On March 25 we celebrated International Waffle Day. ON June 29 we celebrated National Waffle Iron Day. We celebrated both of these days by eating waffles, and the March day even included an attempt to research the waffle’s humble origin story.

We know waffles. We’ve done waffles. We happily celebrated them once again, because that’s what the calendar demanded. Enough said.

Today I return to work and look forward to a wild day of hopefully not combing my house, looking for inanimate objects to celebrate:

  • National Whiskey Sour Day. This sounds like a grown-up beverage. Looking forward to it.
  • National Banana Split Day. Now we’re talking. A delicious treat we could get from Dairy Queen or make on our own.
  • National Kiss & Make Up Day. I guess I should pick a fight with Jodie so that we have some reason to make up.
  • National Secondhand Wardrobe Day. Do we own any second-hand clothes? I’m guessing we don’t.
  • Touch-A-Heart Tuesday. Another day to be kind to others. I’m guessing the next will be sometime later this week, so if we miss this one, it’s okay.

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