Saturday, August 15, 2020

With our insides immersed in focussed tranquility, we exist in the present, shunning thoughts of returning to work until they are absolutely necessary. The ego dreads; the id celebrates, as instructed. We are four and a half months away from the dramatic conclusion (which so far is nothing more elaborate than a video of us napping for most of January 1), but we steadfastly remain locked onto the moment. Our moment is virus-free. Our moment is geographically contained to our house and peppered with puppy antics. Our moment is also jam-packed with all of this nonsense:

National Creamsicle Day

Back on our first popsicle day I wrote about how 11-year-old Frank Epperson accidentally left some powdered soda with a stir-stick outside on his porch back in 1905, inadvertently inventing the Popsicle. But who invented the Creamsicle?

I have honestly no idea. The depth of research I’m able to comb for this exercise is scant; I’ve got a pile of celebrations to cover and an actual life to live. Every search result I found pointed me to Frank Epperson, or to the history of the Popsicle. Clearly it was put out by the Popsicle company long after Frank had been bought out or sold for parts. It is the logical evolution of the ice-pop, with creamy soft-serve perfection tucked inside.

And there’s really not much more to say than that. There is no better way to celebrate the Creamsicle than to just eat a damn Creamsicle, which we did – that’s a blue raspberry flavoured treat that Liberty is considering stealing from me. Some celebrations are this simple. Others are more like this one:

Color Book Day

For this bizarre celebration we travel way, way back to 1457. You’re probably aware that the first book ever pumped out of the first printing press was the Gutenberg Bible, written by star of stage, screen, and the best of the Police Academy movies, Steve Guttenberg. But what about the second book?

That second book was published on this day (yesterday’s this day) 563 years ago, give or take a little due to calendar restructuring and such. It was called Mainz Psalter, and the reviews call it a real page-turner. A psalter is a collection of psalms, so clearly ‘religious texts’ was the first literary fad. The book is notable for a number of reasons.

First of all, it features a date of publication, which the Gutenberg Bible did not. This is how we know to celebrate this particular achievement on this day. It was the first book to contain a printed colophon, which is a quick description of the book itself and the publication details. In that sense, it was the first printed book to get meta, and to draw attention to the act of printing. It featured two sizes of type, whereas the Bible only had the one. And perhaps most importantly, it was the first book printed in colour.

We went through decades of photography and filmmaking before anyone figured out how to reliably create those artforms in colour. But Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer, two apprentices who split from Gutenberg in order to create this piece of history, made use of black, blue and red inks. It was a time-consuming process, and one that no one was eager to reproduce, which is why you won’t find a lot of colourful books from that era apart from this one. There are only ten copies of Mainz Psalter in existence today, making it even more rare and precious than a Gutenberg Bible.

To celebrate this one we simply learned about something we’d never considered. The first of anything is immortalized forever, but the second can occasionally be even more impressive.

National Kool-Aid Day

Kool-Aid was a Nebraska creation, specifically one procured by Edwin Perkins. Edwin’s dad ran a general store in Hastings, Nebraska, which paved the way for Edwin’s profession: manufacturing stuff people would want to use around the house, then selling that stuff door-to-door. The year was 1920, and this was a legitimate way for someone to make an entrepreneurial buck.

One of his most popular creations was called Fruit-Smack, which sounds like a particularly child-friendly brand of heroin, but was actually a liquid concentrate. In 1927 Edwin figured out how to make the same drink in powder form, which he sold as Kool-Ade in grocery stores, tucking the powder into a small envelope and promising that 10 cents worth would produce 10 glasses of drink. This was the secret. Edwin’s product was in huge demand, and he went from a door-to-door salesman to the head of a successful drink company based out of Chicago.

Edwin became wealthy from his powdered creation, especially when he sold it to General Foods in 1953. You can also become wealthy from Kool-Aid if you’re so inclined, by becoming a collector of vintage products. If you’ve got a packet of Yabba-Dabba-Doo-Berry sitting around, it could net you $225. Got any Pink Swimmingo in the cupboard? You can get $400 for a case of it. Hang on to that stuff and make a mint in 20 years if you’re feeling bold.

Not us. We just drank some of the stuff. It was tasty. Not the tastiest thing we’d drink all day, but for that you’ll have to keep on reading.

National Prosecco Day

If you’re a fan of bubbly wine (and how could you not be? Just look at Liberty, trying yet again to steal the spotlight), you can set aside the expensive champagne and drop-kick that knock-off champ-ale you bought at the dollar store. Prosecco is Italian in origin, made from prosecco grapes, and it is every bit as tasty. To my wife’s palette, it’s even better.

The history of prosecco goes all the way back to Roman author and philosopher Pliny The Elder. Pliny apparently used to rave about the Pucinian, a tremendous wine. The same vino was also touted by Livia, Emperor Augustus’ wife, for its medicinal properties. In the early 1500s a local Trieste wine was created with the marketing gimmick that it was a genuine recreation of the Pucinian. They called it Ribolla. Thing is, there were other wines by that name in nearby regions, so instead it was referred to as ‘catellum nobile vinum Pucinum’ after the castle where this mythical wine had been produced.

That castle happened to be adjacent to the town of Prosecco. Over the ensuing centuries I’m sure that particular wine changed tremendously, but for the sake of inflating our sense of historical gravitas I’m going to pretend that the $20 bottle we downed last night was in fact an exact replica of Pliny’s beloved Pucinian. I know it wasn’t, but we can pretend, can’t we?

And yes, we finished off the bottle. Prosecco is easy on the tongue, so much so that even Jodie indulged a little, and she tends to skip over the alcohol-related celebrations. This one was a treat, and our final alcohol celebration until… cool. Sunday. I can handle that wait.

National Financial Awareness Day

According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 57% of American adults give themselves top marks on how much they know about personal finance. I would most certainly fall into the 43%. I’m not quite at the level of believing lottery tickets are the easy road to financial freedom, but I also have a terrible time when it comes to saving money, keeping to a budget, or investing. If Jodie could counter all of this with a buck-savvy mind we’d be in great shape. Unfortunately she’s all that, plus an impulsive online shopper. If we could afford an accountant, he or she would tell us we’re screwed.

Fortunately, financial habits are not, to my knowledge, hereditary. When our son found his industry sidelined indefinitely by the virus (he is not in an essential vocation, like professional hockey), he decided to train himself to be a day-trader. This is in stark contrast to my approach when I learned I’d be working from home, which was to train myself to be a day-sweat-pantser. I hope his journey is as successful as mine has been.

I also do not possess the financial acuity of my father, whose stack of credit cards upon his death was simply astounding. He would pay one off with another, ride the six months of no interest for the new card, then repeat with another one. I’m not quite that bad. So here’s hoping our daughter learns more from her brother than from us.

We checked our bank balance yesterday and found the news wasn’t as horrible as on some days, though it was worse than others. Our key retirement planning has been our government pensions at this point, which may be ill-advised given that the current inhabitants of said government want to place our pensions into some shaky investments. So maybe the lotto is our ticket out. Either that or one of our kids had better get rich.

Navajo Code Talkers Day

Back in 1982, President Reagan declared this day to honour the 400+ Navajo folks whose code skills helped the US to pull off a victory in WWII. In 2014 Arizona made this an annual affair, and the governor has been commemorating it ever since. Yesterday we took a stab at it.

Why were Navajos enlisted for this? At the time of Pearl Harbor’s bombing, the Navajo language was still an unwritten language. The grammar is tremendously complex, and the language bears no resemblance to any other, even to that of American Indian nations who lived nearby. At the outbreak of the war, it was believed that fewer than thirty people of non-Navajo descent could make any sense of the language. You pretty much had to be raised in the thick of it to make sense of it.

Early in 1942, engineer Phillip Johnston (who came up with the idea to enlist the Navajo in this task) demonstrated under simulated combat conditions that his Navajo volunteers could transmit a three-line English message in 20 seconds. This would have taken thirty minutes by coding machine at the time, and it was virtually unbreakable. The Battle of Iwo Jima would have turned out very differently were it not for the six Navajo Code Talkers who worked around the clock, translating and sending more than 800 messages.

There are only four of those original code talkers left alive today, and the Navajo code remains the only spoken military code to have never been broken by the bad guys. For putting in service above and beyond what anyone could have anticipated, these folks deserve to be memorialized annually.

Saturdays are always a bit more packed than other days. Alas, we find ourselves staring down the barrel of all this:

  • World Honeybee Day. We’ve done a couple of bee-related days already; not sure how to celebrate another.
  • National Leathercraft Day. We had planned to take a leathercrafting course, but that was before the world melted into a puddle.
  • National Relaxation Day. This one I can promise we will celebrate.
  • National Lemon Meringue Pie Day. Another celebration we can tackle in doughnut form. Which is good – we don’t need an entire pie.
  • Chant At The Moon Day. If our neighbours didn’t think we were nuts for sneaking zucchini onto their porches, they’ll think we’re nuts now.
  • Break The Monotony Day. What is monotony? I don’t think I even remember.
  • I Love Cowboys & Cowgirls Day. Do I? Well, considering I’m just a few hours into playing Red Dead Redemption 2, I think I know how this celebration will go down.
  • National Best Friends Day. I am 100% positive we already celebrated this.
  • National Failures Day. Well that’s fun.
  • National Check The Chip Day. A day for reminding us to get our animals chipped, though I suppose we could take this title a number of ways.
  • Chauvin Day. A day to honour the guy they named chauvinism after. That should be a riot.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Some days are carved from the mighty cosmic timber with no greater aspiration than to be filler. These are the sun-stretches when we embrace the mundane and allow our atoms to settle a little. Jodie has needed one of these days for months now; I’ve been grabbing them wherever possible, like a hungry fat kid at a free Corn Nuts buffet. And with an unimpressive roster of potential merriment on tap for yesterday, it was easy to slide fully beneath the radar and allow the seconds to thunder someone else’s landscape. We kept things light and uneventful, apart from this:

World Elephant Day

For those who have been keeping track – and I have no idea why anyone would devote the time and energy to do so – we celebrated National Elephant Day back on March 13. On that day I learned a little about elephants, and remarked at how fantastical and wondrous they are. We are now nearly five months later, and elephants are still just as fantastical and wondrous as ever. I feel no need to repeat the entry.

Still, this one was started by a Canadian, and that’s kind of cool. Patricia Sims co-founded this day with a conservation organization in Thailand back in 2012, and their website has a trove of information about the efforts to keep these majestic grey creatures a-stompin’ around the plains of Africa and India. The site also contains a number of events which took place yesterday, which included videos, talks, and a quiz competition. Oh, and they headline that particular section of the page as ‘Elevents’, so kudos to the creative minds at work here. These are my kind of people.

So without repeating myself, I thought I’d learn a bit more about elephants. I was aware that you can tell the difference between African and Indian elephants by the shape of their ears (which conveniently look like either Africa or India), but I had no idea they had 150,000 muscle units in their trunks. I don’t even know what exactly a muscle unit is, but that’s still probably impressive. They also spend roughly ¾ of their day eating, much like many of us during the lockdown of 2020. It takes about 20 minutes for a baby elephant to learn to stand up.

If you are in a position to sign on to help out the elephants (conservation costs bucks), please do. If not, just appreciate the hell out of these beasts, and spread the word.

National Vinyl Record Day

On this, the alleged 143rd anniversary of Thomas Edison inventing the phonograph, we are meant to reflect on the magic of vinyl and how it has helped to shape our lives. I say “alleged” because with so many conflicting tales of how Edison may or may not have actually invented the light bulb or the film camera, or the tiny legs on chairs that pop out and keep you upright if you lean too far back, I simply don’t trust Edison history anymore. That said, whoever invented this one, it was a winner.

Vinyl is, of course, in the midst of a grand comeback. I wish I was a part of this comeback, but my record player was mortally wounded in our last move, and I have neither the funds nor the inclination to replace it. Still, there is something about those scratches and pops that place a piece of music into an aesthetic milieu detached from time and space. It’s one thing to bask in the passion and pain of the notes Billie Holiday sang, but to hear it with those audible wrinkles can transport the mind back in time.

When I was a teenager my uncle bestowed upon me all of his original Bob Dylan albums, encompassing Bob’s entire career up to his motorcycle accident in 1966. Hearing Dylan’s revolutionary poetry nestled within the warmth of well-played vinyl added an urgency and intensity to his words. This was a revolution and rebirth he was witnessing, and it was easy to see its conclusion has not yet been reached.

My first piece of vinyl was a 45 of Elton John’s, with “Crocodile Rock” on one side and “Elderberry Wine” on the back. I must have driven my parents insane with how often I played that, which upon reflection was an astute way to subtly convince them to buy me more records. I still have a lot of my old vinyl sitting around, including that single, but no means with which to play them. Someday I’ll remedy that.

Maybe on August 12 of next year.

Baseball Fans Day

I don’t know how long this has been an actual day, but this year it lands with an indelicate splonch. Fans of baseball have had to negotiate a truncated season, an insistence that they watch the games only from home, and several cancelled games that could very well derail what little structure the Major Leagues have cobbled together for 2020. We see cardboard cut-outs and weird CGI in the stands, and that will have to do.

I am not by any measure a fan of baseball, though I do appreciate the game and the history behind it. I watched Field of Dreams and a number of other TV shows and movies that embrace the romanticism of baseball’s intertwining with American family culture – I get it. And honestly, going to a game is something I have always enjoyed. I find the intensity of the sport doesn’t carry well over a television broadcast, and that may be due to my lack of deep investment. But in person it’s a terrific game, and always a fun time.

I feel for baseball fans. Hockey and basketball seem to have figured out the logistics of their little ‘bubble’ seasons, and the vote’s not in on how the NFL fares this year, but baseball had to figure it out first. It struck me last week how much sports fans are suffering this year. Being only a fan of NFL football (and, when I can see it, Aussie football), I’m not going through withdrawals yet. Even if the season were to show up and be canceled, I’m okay with skipping a year. But others are more devoted than I. The time I pour into studying music and film they will pour into memorizing stats and watching their favourite highlights. I get it – and my heart truly aches for sports fans right now.

But I also extend that ache for theatre fans and fans of live music. It’s a crappy year for so many loves. Today I extend my heart to the baseball lovers, and trust that you will all remain fans into 2021 when the magic may happen for the full season. They may have been the first fans to get screwed over by this pandemic, but they also have the longest wait until the next scheduled season launch, so hopefully that will buy enough time for things to get more normal.

Next year, I hope those stands are stacked with actual humans. I think there are a lot of actual humans who need it.


Thirty-nine years ago, store shelves made way for the IBM 5150, the first personal computer to feature that famous blue logo. This was a huge deal – IBM was dominating the mainframe computer market, and of course a generation or two had learned to type on their typewriters, but the personal computer market was being adequately handled by Apple, Tandy, Commodore and Atari. The key to IBM’s brilliant elbow into this market was to create open architecture machines. This meant making it really easy for other companies to create cards and modifications for the computers.

Back in 1981 if you were ready to scoop up one of the first 5150s, you’d be looking to shell out at least $1,565, which is about $4,400 in today’s money. That would get you a computer with 16k of RAM, actual colour graphics (Apple was still mired in green screens at the time), and zero disk drives. When it came time to try to talk folks into spending that money, IBM considered trustworthy Alan Alda and lovable Kermit the Frog as spokespeople, but finally decided on reviving Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character. It was brilliant – they played on the Tramp’s loathing of modern tech in the film classic Modern Times, and created a connection between the character and the machine. Chaplin’s estate was on board, and wound up suing a number of other companies who also tried to “borrow” the Tramp.

By the end of 1982 IBM was selling one machine every minute of every business day. The following year sales surpassed those of the Apple II. By the end of the decade a PC running DOS and using that IBM architecture was known as an “IBM-Compatible”, which reflected the sheer dominance the company had over the market. It all came down to releasing those technical specs in order to create a number of industry standards. It was genius.

And it all began on an August day long ago. We celebrated this by using the great-grandkids of the IBM compatibles, the Windows machines we have running in our house today.

Today is yet another day in the madness, but at least we dine with style tonight – that’s always a win:

  • National Prosecco Day. Jodie has been looking forward to popping open that bottle in our fridge.
  • National Filet Mignon Day. We have tenderloin steaks to enjoy tonight, which is a different (but in my opinion tastier) cut.
  • International Left Handers Day. Perhaps a trip to the Leftorium is in order, or it would be if such a place existed.
  • Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. Needless to say, this is not the day they receive equal pay, but it’s a good day to point out that they goddamn should.