Tuesday, August 18, 2020

We crawled into yesterday upon rocky terrain, with the promise of a new work-week unfurling its tattered and well-worn banner. Jodie continues to float down the lazy river of summer vacation, while I am at least spared the agonies of an over-crowded beach, and am allowed to continue working from my remote, well-distanced boat. By which I mean my home office, lest my metaphors become too muddled (and they usually do). Our celebrations did not languish with this return to semi-normalcy; in fact I welcomed the distraction from emails and survey reports. How could anything not pale in comparison to all this:

National Nonprofit Day

This is where I would like to boast about all the volunteer work we do for local non-profits. Unfortunately, most of our volunteer work is tied either to theatre or school situations. We have worked with non-profits, but we are not the bastions of selfless volunteerism we probably should be. Of course, all of that can change. Volunteering looks very different in 2020, especially with so many of us refusing to leave our homes unless absolutely necessary. But it ain’t dead.

I found a website where you can search for volunteer opportunities in your area, and like anyone who feels that incessant pang of guilt at not having done enough for their fellow humans, I checked it out. Even with filtering out the stuff I’d deeply not want to do (public speaking, IT management), there are still some non-profits out there doing fine and important work, and looking for help.

The Edmonton Down Syndrome Society is looking for a board member. This is not something I have any personal experience with, but maybe one of my readers does. The Centre for Intellectual Excellence is hoping to land a communications director. This is also not something I’d likely be qualified to do, but I’m curious about the organization. I checked out their website and was redirected to a “You just won a Samsung Galaxy!” page with a couple of pop-ups. No need to look any further.

A handful of other opportunities looked interesting, but it was the city clean-up crews that grabbed my eye, and I’m not sure they are affiliated with any official non-profit. But that’s a volunteer opportunity that will make the city a prettier place, and which I can do whilst blasting various extended remixes of “Axel F” in my headphones. That’s what I call a win-win. If you missed this day, haul yourself out into the world and try to connect with some organization that is spreading goodness and grooviness.

National I LOVE My Feet Day

From what I can tell, this celebration was submitted to the mirth-o-sphere by a civilian, not some company shilling foot-care products. For that reason I will embrace it fully. By that I mean I will admit to loving my feet. They are the only feet I have ever owned (like most of you, I’ve rented several others), and they have effectively transported me through nearly 46 years of global insanity. Well, not counting the time before I learned to walk or those days when I remained firmly planted on my ass in bed.

Sure, I’d like my feet to be prettier (they are not). And I’d like them to have self-clipping toenails (which, after hours of online research turns out not to be an actual thing). And if I could have some sort of rocket-boosters implanted in the sole I’d be much happier about having to take the dogs for their daily strolls. But they have done their jobs adequately, and for that I am grateful.

The real reason for this day is not just admiring one’s own appendages, nor is it a day for cultivating a new fetish. This is a day to treat one’s feet well. I purchased a fresh pair of walking shoes for this date, given that my walks with Liberty now stretch far beyond what the other two girls can handle. And Jodie went and booked a pedicure, because unlike me she actually has attractive feet which deserve her upkeep. Mine… well, they deserve comfort. All feet deserve comfort. Which loops me right back to National Nonprofit Day (because I like to do this sort of thing). If you have a chance, donate to soles4souls.org or shoebankcanada.org, two great non-profits which aim to bathe every foot in the nation in comfort, even if the people attached to those feet can’t afford it.

Feet deserve love, after all.

Black Cat Appreciation Day

There are, from what I have just now learned, 22 feline breeds that can produce black coats. Yet black cats often get a crappy reputation when it comes to superstition and notions of ‘luck’ or prophecy. Some have called them witches in disguise. If one crosses your path, you are expected to deviate, except in Germany. In Germany if the cat crosses right to left you’re in for bad luck; left to right is a good thing.

The black cat is a symbol of anarchy. Among the first settlers in America if you were caught with a black cat it could get you flat-out killed. There are stories of black cats burned in midsummer bonfires in Europe, so needless to say this serves as evidence that people have been doing stupid shit throughout all of existence.

But there is some global love for the black cat. Sailors who were looking for a ship’s cat to stow aboard a vessel found the black ones to be good luck. Scottish superstition states that if a black cat pops in to visit your new home, it will bring prosperity. Welsh stories attribute the black cat to bringing good health. My favourite piece of lore is the tale of the Cat sith, a spectral kitty who haunts the Scottish highlands. Presumably some sort of Dog Jedi would be required to bring balance to the pet force in the region.

Pictured above are the beloved black cats of my friends and family, who were pleased as always to contribute their photos since we have none to offer. Say what you will about their place in legend, but once you brush aside silly superstition, black cats are undoubtedly pretty cool.

Baby Boomers Recognition Day

Ok, boomers, I’ve got your back.

It is fashionable at the moment for the younger folks to blame all the world’s problems on the baby boomer generation, while we Gen-X’ers sit quietly biding our time until it all becomes our fault. Yes, the people who benefit the most from our political and economic systems tend to be boomers. And sure, the cranky old folks who vote conservative and grumble that All Lives Matter are quite often boomers as well. And I will agree that many boomers have but a fleeting concept of the current financial situation for those who are starting out, with college tuitions, rent and life expenses having risen far quicker than the average wage.

But it isn’t their fault. The boomers inherited a broken system, and a few well-positioned greedy bastards have made sure that system became more and more rigged. But how do you fix an entire system like capitalism? The younger generation are fond of slogans like “eat the rich” or “death to capitalism”, but slogans can only do so much. And I’m willing to bet a sack full o’ doubloons that when the millennials are in the 60+ age group, we’ll still have a broken system. But they will have improved a lot of it, especially in regards to human diversity, environmental activism and human rights.

And the boomers have done their part as well. Thanks to boomers we have legal gay marriage, legal weed, and a lot of other incredible things. They were the first generation to actively push for abortion rights, interracial relationships, and even the normalization of LGBTQ in the media. They invented the internet and Crystal Pepsi. They marched for civil rights and women’s rights and pushed the pendulum for both causes. They demonstrated to end a ridiculous war, and while they did end up starting a couple later on, their example also taught us that people will listen to protests.

Then there’s the culture. The Hollywood New Wave brought fresh art into cinema, and that was followed up by the magnificence of the blockbuster. They poured a woke reality into formulaic TV in the 70s and set the landscape for the brilliance to come. And they produced the greatest music ever made, in my opinion. Sure, Mozart was great, but have you ever listened all the way through Exile on Main Street? It’s life-changing.

So we send out our love to the boomer generation today, and we do it loudly (since many of you have lost your hearing). You are honoured on this date because 51 years ago, it was the pinnacle of your cultural oomph when half a million folks gathered together on Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York. We still love you. Just please vote like you would have when you were 25. You knew what you were doing then.

National Meaning Of “Is” Day

My favourite part of this celebration is simply remembering a time when the nation (that would be America, the goofy nation down south) was brought to the brink of outrage because the president acted sexually inappropriately with a White House intern. It was a simpler time, one when everyone could pretend that they were deeply offended by such shenanigans. And don’t get me wrong, it was shitty of Clinton to fool around on his wife, and deeply shitty that he used his position of power to schmooze a woman into it. And he did lie about it, which is what sparked the impeachment proceedings.

This was a time when the Republican party pretended to be the party of morality and family values. I mean – they weren’t; there was at least as much scandal and infidelity and freestyle boinking going on with them, but at least they pretended. They wanted that evangelical vote, and they wanted the good, wholesome folksy folks of America to see them that way. They have since abandoned this to become the party of openly disabled-mocking, pussy-grabbing, and utter classlessness.

And while Bill Clinton was most certainly in the wrong, when he uttered the phrase “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” on August 17, 1998, he gave us some comedy gold. And he probably knew it. Bill was a flawed man, but he usually meant well, and he did some great things. Unless you believe all that nonsense about child trafficking and pizza-gate and so on, in which case I’ll just back slowly out of the room and let you finish wrapping yourself up in tin foil.

For offering us a hilarious and ultimately ludicrous defense, we thank you Mr. Clinton. You brought ambiguity and word play to a new level 22 years ago.

National #2 Pencil Day

That magnificent piece of craftsmanship up there is one of Jodie’s most beloved favourite pencils. Not simply because they come pre-sharpened to a perfect point – they do, but that’s not why she loves them. They have the right feel, the right balance, and they produce a perfect result. I get it. I used to write by hand and I had my favourite pencils as well. To one who writes, it can be as precious as a musician’s most beloved guitar.

Actually, no – guitars don’t get tossed out and replaced with identical replicas. Let’s say it’s the same as a musician’s favourite guitar pics; it’s literally the thing they hold in their fingers that releases the magic in their soul upon the guitar (or the paper).

The #2 refers to the Numerical Graphite Scale, which rates the hardness of the core of the pencil. The higher the number, the harder the writing core, and this leaves a lighter mark on the paper. Softer pencils will dull faster, but will leave a darker mark, due to the deposits of graphite material on the paper. The American system can range from #1 up to #9, but #2 is the style that is most popular, and is usually most in demand for kids taking exams.

Most of the rest of the world – Canada included – uses a slightly different scale. We were required to use HB pencils – the H stands for ‘hard’ and the B for ‘black’. There are other varieties as well on this scale, but for the purposes of this celebration, the HB (which is equivalent to the American #2) is the one we’ll celebrate. Jodie took a moment to appreciate her pencils yesterday, which she does every time she picks one up. She loves those things. It’s almost weird.

Unless you’re a writer. Then you get it.

National Thrift Shop Day

Fitting in well with National Nonprofit Day is this one. Most thrift shops are run by non-profit groups, who seek to repurpose all the crap we no longer use into crap that others can use, ideally for a reasonable price. I know Value Village is one thrift shop chain around here promoting this day as something we should all jump into, but I also know that Value Village is a private company who takes donations, then marks up the products and re-sells them for their own profit. So fuck those guys. Well, not really – they do offer inexpensive stuff, which is very helpful for those who need it. But yeah.

We still have Goodwill and a number of other thrift shops around town, and while we have friends who are able to shop at these locations and procure clothing that perfectly reflects who they are and looks damn funky to boot, neither of us have ever had such luck. It appears that, in the thrift shop chain of supply and demand, we are destined to be suppliers. And that’s what we did – we had a bunch of clothes and such that were hardly worn, and we donated them as we tend to do.

One of the first charity shops to pop into existence was created by the Wolverhampton Society for the Blind, selling items that were made by blind people. By WWII, these shops were showing up everywhere, with the Red Cross even running a number of them. Environmentalists love these shops, since repurposing goods for fresh use has a negligible carbon footprint. Jodie loves them because they are treasure troves for drama teachers looking to acquire costumes, props, or whatever. So support your local thrift shop, either by spending some money and supporting their cause, or by helping them to stock their shelves.

But please, and I’m sure they’d all back me up on this, no used underwear. When you’re ready to part with your soiled underthings, just toss ‘em.

National Vanilla Custard Day

I have never made custard in my life, and I’m not likely to start anytime soon. A custard can be a creamy sauce or it can be a thick éclair cream. It can be served on its own, or get crammed inside a pastry. We opted for the latter, as evidenced by the delicious Salted Caramel Sundae doughnut pictured above.

Custard is thickened by the coagulation of the egg protein, which is why you have to keep stirring it and avoid heating it too fast or too strongly. Curdling is always a possibility with custard, so care is required in its preparation. This is why I’ll leave it to the professionals to create it, while boasting about my own status as a professional eater of custard. Or anything the calendar tells me to.

Custard is at the heart of crème brulée, of an English trifle, of Boston cream pie and egg nog. Even a quiche is considered a sort of savoury custard, but I avoid that stuff. Custard has been around since at least the Middle Ages, and remains a classic element of the dessert landscape. It was a delight to dive in and enjoy some yesterday.

And on we go, into the wild unknown, with a heap of weird celebrations to guide us onward:

  • National Fajita Day. A terrific option for dinner tonight.
  • National Mail Order Catalog Day. Just the name of this sounds so antiquated. SkyMall anyone?
  • International Ice Cream Pie Day. I didn’t even know this was a thing outside of the Dairy Queen freezer.
  • Bad Poetry Day. A day for Vogons to trot out their worst.
  • Pinot Noir Day. Ah, good. More calendar-mandated alcohol. Delicious.
  • Serendipity Day. A day to “celebrate your aliveness” – oi vey.
  • Helium Discovery Day. Wasting good helium to make goofy voices on this day seems like a bad idea; aren’t we running out of the stuff? We’ll look into it.

Monday, August 17, 2020

The sun has once again revved its motor up to beyond-boiling, and my vacation has tragically reached its post-credits scene on this peculiar August Monday. Fortunately my work day will take place not 50 feet from my hammock, and I plan to make the most of my lunch hour in a very horizontal fashion. The splintered lens of this mangled year has redefined the parameters of a “hot spell” or a “vacation”, so much so that these once-reliable bastions of familiarity are now evolving their own unique skin. We can pine, we can mourn, or we can simply embrace the arbitrary and welcome whatever comes next. I feel little sadness at returning to work, and perhaps even a renewed sense of motivation to tackle whatever gets dealt out next. So long as I can hide out at home and continue to celebrate all of this:

National Tell A Joke Day

I like to consider myself a rather humorous person, in that I’m able to laugh at myself, at others, and at the world’s chaotic blend of hodgie-podginess. I am well enough versed in the history of cinematic and televised situation comedy that I can fire off a sufficient amount of zingers to qualify me to play a wacky neighbour to someone’s life story. This is a source of pride. I was raised as a Jew, but the only Jewish teachings I received were those of comedy. Delivery and punchline. Callbacks. I can lob a dad-joke-level pun or a witty slice of politico ha-ha-ery when needed.

But I don’t tell jokes. Did you hear the one about the guy who couldn’t tell a joke? It’s terrible; I hope you haven’t wasted your time. And yes, I used to own a few joke books that were probably given to me by father in a desperate attempt to train me for a lifetime of working the Catskills, but I just never mastered that delivery. To me, humour isn’t particularly humorous if your audience is gearing up for a punchline. The punchline needs to happen organically.

That said, there are some masterful joke tellers out there. Most stand-ups pitch their delivery in stories and observations, but a few of them lean on the classic joke format. It stems from the greats like Henny Youngman and has evolved through the surreal joke exploration of Emo Phillips, Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg (all three of whom are comedic gold). Even Gilbert Gottfried, a comedian whom my wife finds repulsive but who never fails to split my sides, that guy can still go up on stage and get away with “What do you get when you cross a…” type of jokes.

It’s a masterful skill to pull this off without appearing schlocky. Or, if you’re going to appear schlocky (which Gilbert most certainly does), to be able to do so in a way that magnifies the hilarity. It’s a skill I wish I possessed.

National Roller Coaster Day

Some people are terrified by roller coasters, while others are drawn to them with a sick, drooling hunger for extreme dives, wild loops, and gravitational shmushing into the back of one’s chair. Jodie and I fall clearly into the latter category. We once spent a New Year’s Eve at Six Flags Magic Mountain, watching the crowds race to the exit around 6:00pm to prepare for their wild night of revelry, while we and a handful of others enjoyed no-wait non-stop roller-coasting until the park closed at 10. It was magnificent.

The first roller coasters were called ‘Russian Mountains’, and they were 80-foot ice slides built in the 17th century near what is now St. Petersburg. In 1817, the Promenades Aeriennes was built in Paris. This was the first modern roller coaster, with wheeled carts fixed to a track. Coasters took a while to catch on, but by the end of the 19th century the fad had truly struck. The Gravity Pleasure Road was the first full-circuit coaster with a lifting hill to start the ride. It operated at Coney Island in Brooklyn, which has been a coveted spot for coaster lovers ever since. The Cyclone opened there in 1927, and when we rode it two years ago we found it to be exceptionally thrilling, smooth and wonderful. The magic of a good coaster doesn’t fade.

The Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland, which opened in 1959, was the first coaster to use a tubular steel track. Revolution at Six Flags was the first with a loop. To be a coaster enthusiast is a dream of ours; to have the money to travel the world and experience all of these magnificent rides would be amazing.

Unfortunately, the only coasters operating in Edmonton are tucked into West Edmonton Mall’s giant amusement park. This park is, of course, closed due to Covid, so that left us only able to reminisce about the great coasters we’ve ridden on. And to be clear, the Mindbender – the triple-loop monstrosity at the big mall – is not one of them. That coaster is rough and jarring, and not at all a pleasant experience.

But that first drop? Oh, that first drop is divine.

National Bratwurst Day

I am a little displeased that I wasn’t aware of this day on Saturday morning. You see, I have a massive pile of celebrations that I have sketched out throughout the year, but there are a handful of websites from which I am gathering events I hadn’t found in my research. This was from one of them, and we happened to dine at Barb & Ernie’s Old Country Inn restaurant for brunch on Saturday. They make an incredible bratwurst, which pairs delightfully with their potato pancakes and homemade condiments.

But I ordered the eggs benedict. Alas, I simply didn’t know this day was around the corner. For whatever it’s worth, I ordered the bratwurst at least the last three times we ate there, so my record with appreciating this finely crafted sausage is well-recorded. Pictured above is the new bratwurst burger they are offering, and I have no doubt it is as delectable as literally everything else on their menu. We simply don’t get there for anything but brunch very often, since they do brunch better than anyone else in town.

So what the hell is bratwurst anyway? My research suggests it dates back to Nuremberg in the year 1313. This is an unverified Wikipedia claim, so take it with a few shakes of salt. There are multiple varieties of bratwurst. It can be made with veal or beef, but it usually contains pork. The name derives quite simply from two Old High German words: “brat”, meaning finely chopped meat, and “wurst”, meaning crammed into a sausage casing. I’m sure there are numerous ways to season and spice up a brat to make it perfect, but I’m not one to dig around too much into how the sausage is made.

I’ll show you how it’s eaten. That’s celebration enough for me.

True Love Forever Day

This is not simply another arbitrary day for us to celebrate our true love. I mean, it is, but it has a specific origin story.

Fans of Robert James Waller – or at least the truly devoted fans who have memorized every aspect of the author’s work – will probably recognize August 16 as the day that Robert Kincaid met Francesca while he was working in Madison County, Iowa, taking pictures of covered bridges. That was in 1965, and of course it didn’t actually happen because these are merely fictional characters in Mr. Waller’s 1992 novel The Bridges of Madison County, but folks who love a good love story won’t be bothered by this.

So yes, this is a day to celebrate true love, and we did – by building a new home base together. Last night we constructed our king-size bed (an upgrade from a queen), and set up shop in our new bedroom, which used to be our family room. It’s just the two of us now, so why not set up our little love nest in the room with the fireplace, the bigger TV, and the tendency to remain cool without the use of a loud air conditioner?

We took a selfie together on Saturday for Best Friends Day; the pic above is in honour of our own true love forever… and now hopefully in a bed that will accommodate us and the dogs, since they aren’t sleeping without us. Dammit.

National Rum Day

Oh, how I have waited for this day.

I have sipped through numerous alcoholic celebrations – some of which have included rum – but it was all a rocky pathway to get to this, the most divine and sublime of all liquors. Sweet, sweet rum. Rum, mixed with Coke, was my first foray into alcohol after wine, as my aunts and uncles used to pour them for me at most family get-togethers. To this day, rum & Coke is a drink I reserve for the holiday season, since it will always signify a happy Christmas to me.

But rum can do so much more. We have friends who have a tiki bar in their living room – in fact, they don’t have a dining room at all, just the tiki bar. Jones will brew up the most elaborate and intricate beverages, often measuring out ingredients with an eye-dropper as he follows the sacred recipes of Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber. These are storied beverages, which deliver a minimum ten seconds of varying flavour landscapes with each sip. These drinks are journeys, with so many layers of magnificence you’ll want to down a dozen of them. Unfortunately, since most of Jones’s drinks contain at least 4 ounces of alcohol, that isn’t possible.

I would crawl over broken glass for a perfect mai tai. I would also pay dearly for a well-crafted fog-cutter, zombie or hurricane. Rum makes this world a sweeter and more wonderful place, and I hope I have the years to experience every brilliant method that mixologists have bent and shaped rum into something immaculate.

Last night I downed the last of my Diplomatico rum. This was a rum that my aunt Chris and uncle Graham bestowed upon me for my 40th birthday, and it changed my life. It’s a sipping rum – no mix is needed. And it’s so smooth and decadent it warms one’s very soul. Unfortunately, the distributor for Alberta got into some sort of a tussle with another distributor, and now Diplomatico is but a memory to our prairie palettes. The bottle above I’d purchased in BC over a year ago. I was saving its final drops for this special and holy day.

Long live rum. Long live me, so that I can drink lots more rum.


Today I’m back at work. This does not thrill me. Fortunately, all of this does:

  • National Nonprofit Day. We will learn of some of the great non-profits we can donate to.
  • National I LOVE My Feet Day. Will Jodie head out for a pedicure? She certainly hopes so.
  • National Thrift Shop Day. We may or may not head to a thrift shop. Given how little we like leaving the house right now…
  • Black Cat Appreciation Day. Anyone I know have any black cats they’d like me to appreciate?
  • International Homeless Animals Day. Sounds like a great day to kick one or all of our dogs out of our house. Or at least out of our new bed.
  • Baby Boomers Recognition Day. Sure, they didn’t solve all the world’s problems, but hey, they gave us the Rolling Stones, right?
  • National Meaning of “Is” Day. Sure, a day to make fun of Bill Clinton. Why not?
  • National #2 Pencil Day. Well, this is special. Jodie loves her pencils.
  • Balloon Airmail Day. Probably not.
  • National Vanilla Custard Day. I actually already took care of this one. In doughnut form, of course.
  • Stay Home With Your Kids Day. We can do the first part, but not the second.