Sunday, April 12, 2020

With tales of grand triumph and devastating heartbreak, it feels odd for us to be spewing out tales scarcely different from before the quarantine. Yet our lives soldier on, and this project cannot be shelved for another time. We either power through our lengthy roster of celebrations or we cut the tether and let this project fall to its death. We’ve come this far – there’s no way we’re doing that. Not when so much wild excitement awaits us, like:

National Barbershop Quartet Day

If you search on Spotify for ‘Barbershop’, the first result is a 75-hour playlist of so much barbershop quartet music you will throw up in your pork-pie hat. I hit shuffle and kept that running for the duration of my writing yesterday. On the one hand, the smooth, seamless harmonies were entrancing. On the other… well, the musical style does get a little old after a few songs, all of which sound like “Sweet Adeline” or “Baby’s On Board” by the Be Sharps (pictured above). Like – all of them. It was one long harmonious song.

Like most great styles of modern music, barbershop began with African Americans gathering to entertain themselves and one another. Of course, it took white people singing it for it to hit the mainstream because people have always been kind of dense that way. It was a big fad in the first two decades of the 20th century, before stepping aside for jazz in the 20s. Then it came back in the 40s and kind of hung around until it was evolved into doo-wop and the a cappella movement of the 50s by, you guessed it, African Americans. They created something cool, watched it get tempered and twisted into schmaltz, then decades later made it cool again.

If you’re craving some quality barbershop music, there is no shortage, as evidenced by that massive playlist that is continuously ringing through my eardrums right now. It’s not a shortcut to fame, unless you aim to join the Dapper Dans, who have been barbershopping at Disneyland since 1959. The good news is that barbershop music doesn’t necessarily mean listening to version after version of “Wait ‘Til The Sun Shines Nellie” and “Down By The Old Mill Stream”. This playlist showed me some quirky covers of “When I’m 64”, “Come On, Get Happy”, “I’m A Believer”, “For Once In My Life” and “Moondance.”

Barbershop lives. Long live the barbershop.

National Pet Day

There’s no better way to introduce this day than to point out that it was created by Colleen Paige, who is a “celebrity pet lifestyle expert”. There’s nothing I can add to that. This is a missed calling for all animal lovers out there. Are rapper Lil Nizzy’s cockatoos getting enough water? Does Milo Ventimiglia’s wiener dog have the right accessories? Has Donnie Wahlburg taught his cat yoga correctly? Come on people – this market is waiting for a few more experts.

We settled for our non-celebrity-associated pets yesterday, specifically the same three pooches who have been enhancing our quarantine for the last month and our lives for a long time before that. Liberty is the newcomer, of course, but she received the same treats as the rest of the dogs: a new toy and a “beef pizzle” to chew on. For those non-dog-people out there, that’s a dink. A dingus. A unit. A johnson. A tallywacker. You get the picture.

Trixie finished her treat in about five minutes (as a bulldog will), then skulked after Liberty, trying to steal a second one. She grabbed it a few times too, but Liberty didn’t seem to mind. She adores Trixie, who appears to have little use for her. We salvaged the chew though, and made sure Liberty got her fair share. It’s a day for all pets equally, after all.

So hug your pet, be it dog, cat, bird, snake, ferret, or rock. Don’t hug your fish – that’s a bad idea. But give them a kind wave and let them know they’re loved.

National Cheese Fondue Day

We weren’t certain how to approach this one. We had a little candle-driven chocolate fondue kit that we’d used for Chocolate Fondue Day back on February 5, so the plan was to source some tasty cheeses from the Italian Centre Shop and try to do something similar, hoping the candle would be sufficient to melt the cheese properly.

Then Jodie came up with a brainstorm. We have a Melting Pot franchise in Edmonton, and like all local restaurants it is probably starving for business right now. Sure enough, they had a 3-course meal (including cheese and chocolate fondue) for two for a good price, with cheap delivery across town. That was our feast last night, and it was magnificent. Beyond magnificent – it was a divine treat.

The cheeses in our four-cheese blend were butterkäse, fontina, mozzarella and parmesan. The fondue was finished with white wine, roasted garlic, basil and sun-dried tomato pestos. A number of other cheeses are optimal for fondue-ing, like emmental, gruyere, beaufort, sbrinz, and a heap of others I’ve never heard of.

The first recipe for a cheese-wine dip-fest dates back to 1699, and it can be traced to the heart of Switzerland. As the Swiss began to make a fortune exporting their cheeses, they pushed fondue as an ideal way to savour them. It made a splash at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, and home fondue pots became a fad of the 70s and 80s.

We were grateful for this one. We strongly recommend everyone try this out.

National Eight Track Day

Jodie has memories of listening to 8-track tapes as a kid. I do not. My dad was obsessed with audio and video tech – we had up to 10 VCRs in the house at one time (some VHS, several Betamax and one or two ¾ inch machines), we were the first people I knew to discover CDs, and it seems like every room had a cassette and/or record player. He even owned a 10-cassette changer, which is a curiously silly piece of technology that never caught on. But we never owned an 8-track player. My dad told me cassettes were a degradation of quality, and 8-tracks were just as bad. He only used the cassettes to make mixes of his favourite tunes – something 8-tracks weren’t good for. So I missed out on the satisfying clunk of slapping the latest Foghat into a car’s 8-track machine.

Bill Lear (of Lear Jet fame) led the team that came up with the 8-track machine in 1964. They were designed to harness the magnetic tape used in reel-to-reel machines but to work in a moving car. Ford launched 8-tracks as an option in their 1966 Mustangs, Lincolns and Thunderbirds. They were a huge hit. Quadrophonic 8-tracks were introduced in 1970, and in 1971 the first karaoke machine – the Juke-8 – was on 8-track.

8-tracks could not be rewound, and few machines offered a fast-forward option because it put a lot of strain on the tape. You’d reach the end of an album and it would start up again. Ideal for the age of the rock album. Two-sided albums would be converted into four programs. This could not always be done smoothly, resulting in scrambled song orders, and sometimes songs being split onto two programs if they were too long. In fact, instances of an album being translated over to 8-track with no song-splitting and without changing the order were so rare, there is a list of all 10 or so. So I take it back – this was not an ideal format for the rock album era.

A few albums gave out bonuses on their 8-tracks. Lou Reed’s Berlin featured an extra piano solo. If you owned the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls on 8-track, you got extended versions of “Miss You” and “Beast of Burden”, but had to settle for edited versions of a few of the other songs. Pink Floyd’s Animals included a little guitar solo to link the two versions of “Pigs On The Wing”, but the lengthy track “Dogs” was cruelly butchered onto separate programs.

I’m kind of glad I missed out on the 8-track phenomenon. They were interesting novelties, but I’ll take the new era of digital, with a splash of vinyl on the side.

National Submarine Day

Once upon a time, a ‘submarine’ was any watercraft that could travel beneath the surface. People were conceiving of these way back in the 1500s. Sketches of what was conceived and even built in the 1700s and 1800s are charming and kooky. It was a Confederate sub that became the first to sink an enemy vessel, the H.L. Hunley in 1864. It was also the first to be destroyed by a torpedo – specifically, its own. That game-changing blast unleashed by the Hunley was on a ship that was a little too close for comfort, and the Hunley didn’t make it.

The submarine is a tremendously effective boat, and it continues to be essential for naval warfare. I myself captained a submarine. Not for the Canadian Navy, but for West Edmonton Mall – that’s my ID card up there. I was 21, desperate for work, and I was hired to guide people through the Deep Sea Adventure, which consisted of four actual working submarines, gliding upon tracks through various cute underwater attractions for $5. At the time the Canadian Navy only had two subs in its fleet, so it was quite an honour being charged with one of the mighty Mall vessels. I went through a day of training, then received a call that evening that I got the job I’d applied for at Radio Shack. I turned in my epaulets the next morning.

To celebrate this day we opted not to track down an actual submarine to ride in (though I think as a former submarine captain I get automatic admission onto any naval sub – is that how it works?); instead we opted for a submarine sandwich. The sub – also known as a hoagie, a hero or a grinder – is a magnificent feat of sandwichcraft. Portland, Maine, claims to be the originator of the sub, but I’m sure similar sandwiches were being produced by Italian-American communities all over the place. No one knows who first started calling them ‘submarines’ (obviously because they resemble the shape of the boat), but they are iconic.

We grabbed ours from the Italian Centre, where they make a mild and hot version – both are fresh and perfect. Lunch was a treat yesterday.

National Louie Louie Day

If you were wondering just how long a Wikipedia entry can be for a 2:42 rock song with three chords, have a look at the entry for “Louie Louie”. When I wrote my last project, I devoted an entire day to this song, because its story is pretty damn fascinating. Sadly I wrote that one on a March 9, not an April 11. I didn’t know about the importance of scheduling all of my mirth properly.

“Louie Louie” was written by Richard Berry in 1955. There are hundreds of versions available of the song, from artists like the Ventures, Motorhead, Otis Redding, Toots & The Maytals, Iggy and the Stooges, Black Flag, Joan Jett, and so on. But the version we all know was recorded by the Kingsmen in 1963. This is the version that turned it from an easy-going Jamaican-sounding love song into a throbbing heave of garage rock. It was supposed to be an instrumental, but at the last minute singer Jack Ely decided he’d sing it. They hung a single mic above the studio while the band played and Jack sung upward. It’s mucky and messy, and a perfect rock record.

Then there’s the controversy. Nobody could understand what the hell Jack was singing, and since the previous versions hadn’t reverberated near the top of the charts, no one knew to check them out. A raucous “alternate” hearing of the lyrics made their way from town to town, with lines like “And on that chair I lay her there; I felt my boner in her hair.”

Those are not the right words.

But it was enough to get parents riled up. Robert F. Kennedy received a letter from a concerned parent in 1964, and from there the FBI began an investigation into the song. It took 31 months for them to conclude that the lyrics are unintelligible at any speed. It was finally declared not obscene – this after interviewing a member of the Kingsmen (who had broken up by the time the song was a hit), who insisted there was nothing obscene about the lyrics. Except that’s not true.

Listen close at about 54 seconds into the song – drummer Lynn Easton messes up a drum fill and you hear him yell, “FUCK!” in the background. That’s in a hit single that was investigated and cleared by the FBI. For being one of the great legends of rock history, we salute every version of this masterpiece.

Sure it’s one of the holiest of holy days in one particular religion, and part of a very holy festival in another, but we’ve got lots to party about today:

  • National Big Wind Day. Will there be big wind today? Who knows? But we’ll look at why this is Big Wind Day.
  • National Colorado Day. Our journey around the kitchens of America continues a mile in the air. Colorado exports a lot of the country’s lamb, so that will be our feast tonight.
  • National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day. And just like that, here’s lunch.
  • National Licorice Day. No chocolate eggs in this house, just some damn fine licorice.
  • Walk On Your Wild Side Day. Maybe we dress funny. Maybe we juggle knives. Not sure yet, but it will be done within our walls.
  • National Drop Everything And Read Day. We will grab as much as we can in our hands, then drop it all so we can read.
  • Easter. We actually did something really cool for Easter this year. More in tomorrow’s article!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Yesterday marked the first day of the most unnoticeable four-day weekend either of us have every experienced. We found ourselves sitting at the same desks as any other day, at roughly the same time as any other day, only instead of work stuff we were doing other stuff. Jodie has her classes she’s taking, and I have this wonderful cavalcade of weirdness doled out by the calendar. For example:

National Cinnamon Crescent Day / National Bake Week

My sources could not pinpoint the originators of these sacred and special feasts, but my experience is tilting me toward Pillsbury or some such pastry merchant. For our celebration we simply followed this recipe put out by the little dough boy himself. A baking task that we didn’t have to farm out to our team baker (hi, Mom!) because it was simple enough for me to pull off with my limited baking skills. This recipe is credited to Dorothy Veasey, who entered it as part of the 1973 Pillsbury Bake-Off and is now immortalized on their website.

Sure, heading to Cinnabon or some such establishment would have been easier, but National Cinnamon Roll Day is October 4, and by then we should be able to venture into public for high-carb, high-sugar treats. Besides – it says ‘crescent’ in the name, so there’s no point in aiming for a “close enough” when we can hit the real thing.

It was delicious and simple. And we made enough to get us through today, which is great because we don’t get to celebrate another dessert celebration for two whole days. Next week is food-heavy, even more than usual. This was a great way to kick that off.

It’s also National Bake Week, which I suspect is another creation by the good folks at Pillsbury (but I cannot prove yet). So it’s appropriate that we ventured into the realm of baking. Mom already hooked us up with that coffee cake this week, so it’s only fair that we give baking a shot, even with a ridiculously low degree of difficulty.

Encourage a Young Writer Day

Again, this is a day (much like School Librarian Day last Saturday) that should be slated to land on a weekday that doesn’t get turned into an April holiday. Jodie could have done heaps of this at school, given that she’s an English teacher and a portion of her students (albeit a tiny portion) has some skill with the written word. Fortunately, we’re becoming masters of distance-teaching and distance-working so the day was salvaged.

I always send words of encouragement to our daughter in Vancouver, who has sufficient skills to amaze me with every paper she sends me to look over for school. She’s brilliant, but I didn’t want to heap too much praise on her – she can dance, draw, act and tell jokes. If she thinks she’s too awesome she’ll do the honourable thing by slaying me and taking her place atop the artistic mountain that is this family. We can’t have that.

Jodie sent some emails to a couple of her students who have the gift, and did her best to prompt them into continuing with the act of creation during their quarantine. Preteen kids have got to be tiring of video games and binges of weird tiger-related shows by now, right? The hope is that enough quality writers will create enough quality greatness with all this free time. And yesterday was about celebrating the young ones.

National Siblings Day

This celebration was started by a woman named Claudia Evart, who had lost a brother and a sister at a very young age. Claudia launched the Siblings Day Foundation, which first established this day in 1997. The organization includes a lost siblings registry, a siblings rights project, a support group, and an adopt-a-sibling program. I may look into that last one, since this day means absolutely nothing to me. Siblings-in-law? Sure, I’ve got some great ones. But Jodie was the one hogging all the brotherly and sisterly love yesterday.

And in that spirit, she sent out a loving message to her brothers and sisters on social media, and they all exchanged pleasantries from their socially-isolated homes. Our three dogs, who are technically adopted siblings, spent a great deal of time with one another, but they opted not to specifically honour the day for some reason. Might be the whole language-barrier thing.

President Clinton acknowledged this day in 2000, and since it began it has been endorsed by 49 out of 50 US governors. The one outlier? California, for some reason. Wherever you live, if you no longer cohabitate with your siblings this might serve as a good reminder that they, like you, are going through the weird trauma of watching the world in its weirdest state of melt-down since everyone was ducking and covering under their desks in the 60s. Reach out and give them a call. Appreciate them – some of us never had ‘em.

National Hug Your Dog Day

Not to be confused with Hug Your Hound Day (that’s in September), the long tradition of National Hug Your Dog Day stretches all the way back to… yesterday, I guess. I mean, this showed up online last summer when I began research for this project, but has anyone actually heard of this day before now? No. They have not.

There are a weird amount of days during the year in which we are supposed to acknowledge our canine friends with some love. I say ‘weird’ because that should be an every-day occurrence. Heck, we’ve even got a day just for bulldogs coming up on the 21st, so these dogs are going to get downright sick of our love and attention before the month is up. I joke, of course. Dogs – in particular bulldogs – do not get sick of love and attention, which is one reason we love them so much. For almost four weeks now these three have spent just about 24 hours of every day in our company, and they don’t seem to mind.

Neither do we. We gave our dogs their due, then threw in an extra hug for good measure. They have been great company during this spell of weirdness, and we are grateful for having them around. I suspect when this day rolls around next year we will forget about Hug Your Dog Day (unless we check our social media on-this-day link), but our dogs will be hugged nonetheless. After all, they work so tirelessly for us.

Global Work From Home Day

And if you were looking for a delightful little chuckle of irony to brighten your April 10 in this particular year, look no further. As stated in the previous (and much more fun) entry, we have both been working from home for a while – four weeks this Tuesday for me, and a full three weeks for Jodie, thanks to spring break. Working from home is a radical shift for both of us – Jodie because she is deprived the experience of truly watching her students grow and learn, and me because I don’t have to poop in a stall. Also, the 2-ply quilted TP is nicer than the sandpaper they supply at work. That’s really where most of the advantages lie: in pooping.

Setting up the dual office situation around here has been challenging. We have only one office with a desktop PC, and since I have to be remotely connected to my office at all times I get dibs on it. Also, the laptop is our only PC with a mic and camera, so that fits Jodie’s needs better. Unfortunately she is relegated to operating the thing at the dining room table, which may soon become unworkable if we begin the massive jigsaw puzzle that’s waiting for us.

So adjustments have to be made. But we can both wake up five minutes before work starts, let the dogs out, start coffee, and make it to work on time. I have never been so well-rested in my life. It’s like all we needed was for the world to shut the hell down for a little while so we could get caught up on sleep.

Jodie will be working from home until summer, not returning to her school to teach until September. As soon as that mean ol’ curve gets flattened a little, I expect I’ll be called back to my hour-long bus trip (each way), my grey-beige cubicle, and my crappy bathroom options. But until then, we will celebrate the ever-loving fuck out of this day, as long as the greatness of it lasts.

National Public Health Week

Wow, more irony today, given that we are all presently obsessed with public health right now. To celebrate this week, stay the fuck home. There is literally nothing better you can do, unless you’re one of those front-line public health workers, all of whom should be getting massive raises when all this is done.

I will allow for a slight exception to our no-politics rule just this once, given that it is in the spirit of this particular celebration. Here in Alberta, our doctors were handed a pay cut that amounted to about 30% of lost income right before this fecal matter made complete contact with the fan blades. Think of that. 30%. Think of the young physicians who are probably dragging a boulder of student debt behind them, and have perhaps just invested in a home or a car. Now they have to scrape nearly a third of their income out of their budget.

Then the pandemic hit, and no relief was given. Our doctors have actually filed suit against the government – this is the fight they have to undertake for basic respect while they deal with the public calling them heroes for risking their lives as the rest of us hide out with our families. Our provincial government is hot garbage right now, and when all this is over I won’t blame any of our doctors if they opt for a sunnier environment where their dedication is recognized by the people in charge. And don’t even get me started on how they’re treating our nurses.

That’s all. No more politics. Thank you to everyone charged with maintaining our public health, and thank you to every corner of Canada that still cherishes our public health system and fights to keep it strong. Now stay the hell home everyone – if you can.

Scottish-American Heritage Month

Having already paid tribute to my Scottish heritage earlier this week for National Tartan Day, I feel I am in good shape for this month. I’m not particularly proud to have Scottish roots, nor am I proud that my grandfather was born in Brooklyn, giving me American roots as well. I didn’t do anything to achieve either of these things so pride doesn’t make sense. I’m happy to share both nationalities in my lineage. Good enough?

I’m told the Scots are as stingy with money as the Jews allegedly are, which makes any hope of gregariousness pretty much nil for me. Except I’m a notoriously great tipper, and as generous as I’m able to be most of the time, so perhaps those stereotypes are garbage. The Scots are big drinkers I’m told (and there’s some Irish and Polish muddling about in my blood too, so watch out), but I’m really not. What nationality prefers smoking herb to downing booze? Jamaican? Am I part Jamaican?

This celebration probably shouldn’t be a celebration of which cookie-cutter stereotypes I fit into. I have indulged my Scottish side more this year than ever before, with our true haggis-n-whisky party on Robbie Burns Night. And my American side always gets lots of love from the culture I consume. I hope all Scottish Yanks and Yankee Scots out there take some time this month to appreciate the awesomeness of who they are. It’s a pretty good mix.

Minus the haggis.

National Poetry Month

I love discovering that we have both been celebrating something calendar-appropriate without even knowing it. National Poetry Month might have slipped past my radar, but Jodie happens to be stanza-deep in the poetry unit she’s teaching her students. Those lucky kids get to learn about the haiku, the quatrain, the subtle groove of iambic rhythm, and so on. Most kids hated learning about poetry, but I loved it. The challenge of sculpting a thought into such a rigid format was a welcome challenge of wordsmithery to me.

Of course, that’s not the true essence of poetry, merely the parameters of the medium. Once you sink into words so beautiful they cause your mind to quiver and quake, you have uncovered the language’s hidden magic. Good poetry, whether or not it conforms to a specific style or format, is absolute music. Whether your jam is Keats, Browning or cummings, once you’ve found what moves you, then you have uncovered a fast-track to cerebral bliss.

My poetry intake is oddly up this month, thanks to Sir Patrick Stewart, who has taken to reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets on Facebook, one per day. His voice may not carry the same smooth thunder from his younger, Captaining days, but he pours the Bard’s words into the camera like harmonious molasses, shining light from each syllable and leaving no doubt to the meaning and intent behind each piece. I can think of absolutely no better way to enjoy some poetry this month than to drink a few of these performances in. And they’re all free. Damn, this world is better with him in it. And so much better when you can wash it all back with some beautiful poetry.

National Gin & Tonic Day

We are a couple days late on this one, but due to obvious restrictions on everyone’s mobility it didn’t seem wise to venture into the world to pick up the ingredients we were lacking. Specifically, the gin and the tonic. We had the ice and limes. But yesterday was supply run day, and we snared some of each. Some celebrations we will let pass us by (it was Be Kind To Spiders Week, but fuck those little verminous shits). Some will slip past us much to our displeasure (never did get around to Moscow Mule Day). But the beloved G&T will not be tossed aside.

Jodie has kept gin from her life for the most part. She isn’t a fan. Besides, it was the one alcoholic libation that led her dad into a bout of extreme sickness and hangover, so it never held much appeal for her. I went through a brief gin phase when I was still learning how to consume hard alcohol without making a scrunched-up face, but haven’t had a taste of it in decades. No particular reason – I just haven’t gotten around to it. Yesterday that changed.

National Craft Distillery Day shows up on May 22, and if the world is back in service by then we plan to visit our city’s first craft distillery for a tour and a sampling. But that might not be possible, so this may be our only gin-devoted day of the year. Gin gets its heft from juniper berries, but there are a million ways to twist and twirl those berries into something magical. Tonic water is similar to the soda water we drink on a regular basis, but with the addition of quinine, a medication commonly used to treat malaria. Interesting factoid – shining an ultraviolet light on a bottle of tonic water will cause it to glow, thanks to the quinine inside. I’m kind of sorry we didn’t have one.

So we didn’t get malaria, and we did get a blast of delicious refreshment. I’m sorry to say I still enjoy the hell out of gin, and I think it will work its way into my refreshment routine going forward. I’m doing everything in my power not to become an alcoholic or even more of a sugar-junkie through this project, but the calendar is stacked against me.

Oh well.

Good Friday

Yes, it was Good Friday yesterday, and no, we didn’t celebrate it. Jodie is a lapsed Catholic and I, as a Jew (by heritage, not so much by religion), am kind of the villain in the history of this day, so I kept my mouth shut.

I did have a question though. Why, if this is a tribute to the day Jesus was nailed to some wood and left to die, is this considered “Good” Friday? It wasn’t a particularly bullish day for Jesus. Is it weird twisting of “God” Friday? That doesn’t seem right either.

Thankfully, Google exists and we no longer have to wonder about much of anything anymore. The Good in Good Friday refers to a different meaning of “good” – think “holy” or “pious” or “righteous”. It’s a holy day for Christians, in the same way the “good book” is their holiest of tomes. So that’s it – a seldom-used definition of the adjective creates a smidgen of confusion to those of us who aren’t good – at least in the pious sense. But it’s still a good day for us heathens, and has always been, because it’s a day off.

A day off of working from home, but a day off nonetheless, and we appreciate it.

Today we get rolling with a whole heap of fun parties:

  • National Barbershop Quartet Day. We’ll be listening to some hardcore ‘shop tunes today.
  • National Cheese Fondue Day. Will we half-ass this one? Hell no – we put in an order with a local restaurant for a feast of cheese and chocolate fondue later on. Hell yes.
  • National Eight Track Day. I don’t have an 8-track player laying about, but we will listen to some tunes from the 8-track era and do a bit of learning about this antiquated technology that somehow my family never owned.
  • National Pet Day. Cool. Our dogs get more hugs.
  • National Submarine Day. Can’t hitch a ride in one, but we can eat one of the sandwich types for lunch.
  • National Poutine Day. But we just did this on March 5! How can there be another? We’ll look into that (I guess), but who cares? More poutine!
  • National Louie Louie Day. One of the most fascinating songs in rock’s history gets its own day. Be careful if you sing along incorrectly – you might end up on an FBI watch-list.