Monday, June 1, 2020

So the world, not content with being diseased and sickly, is now on fire. We aim to keep politics strictly separate from this project, and we’ll stick with that. But it shouldn’t be political to say that our outrage is not directed toward the protesters, but rather toward the murder we all witnessed on our screens last week. But that’s a conversation for another place – this is all about happy thoughts. Smiling thoughts. Thoughts like these:

National Smile Day

This particular celebration was launched by two dentists based out of Lake in the Hills, Illinois. I get that – dentists can help to create brighter, more geometrically proper smiles. It doesn’t really make us smile to think of the dentist (unless you happen to be particularly attracted to your dentist, I suppose), but we can follow the correlation.

So how to celebrate it? We went out for a quick supply run yesterday, and we smiled at everyone with whom we interacted, but what on earth did that accomplish? We’re the type of folks who would do that anyway. I decided to celebrate this one with a more specific celebration that fits my style.

In the wake of Pet Sounds, one of the most brilliant albums to ever hit shelves, Beach Boy Brian Wilson set about creating a concept album, a “teenage symphony to God” as he called it. You can find elements of every genre of music in this batch of songs, with sound effects, lyrical elements that evoked American history, spirituality and crunchy vegetables, and some exceptional tongue-in-cheek humor. The instrumental tracks were laid down, but then what happened?

Well, the collapse of the recording of this album has its own Wikipedia page, if that’s any indication. The lamer elements of the band (looking at you, Mike Love) weren’t into psychedelic exploration in their music, and wanted more of a return to what made the Beach Boys great: songs about fun, surfing, cars and girls. They just didn’t get what Brian was aiming for. Brian was also far deeper into drugs than the rest of the group, which didn’t help his as-yet-undiagnosed mental illness. The album became known as the greatest unreleased album no one had ever heard. A few tracks squeaked out on Smiley Smile later in 1967, but the overall concept was lost.

Then in 2004 Brian put together a fully realized version of the album, recorded with new musicians and new vocals, though sticking to a very Beach Boys sound. It remains my favourite album of this century so far, so to celebrate this day we popped it on. Also, we smiled at people, but the album was the real celebration.

National Save Your Hearing Day

So we’ve addressed oral hygiene, now we get to hop aboard the fun-filled rocket-train of proper auditory care! The self-care and personal health maintenance locomotive is pulling out of the station! Toot-toot!

Smart-assery aside, we all know that cranking your headphones up to their maximum volume so you can groove to Twisted Sister so loudly it’ll sound like Dee Snyder is angry at your cerebral cortex is a bad idea. And I’m guilty of this – not so much with the Sister (which reveals surprising melodic complexities on lower volumes), but sometimes I just can’t help myself. Certain songs I find impossible to listen to without increasing the volume from whatever played before. R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” is one. The Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” is non-negotiable. Even a few tracks on Smile need the extra few decibels to drive home their magic.

But hearing is not something you can repair. We’re not in the Gene Roddenberry future where Dr. Crusher can just push something against our necks and cure deafness. We should rightfully only expect one shot at making these ears last the full life-cycle of the rest of our internal organs. So yesterday we remembered to temper our desire to rock, or even to RAWK, depending on what was playing. It’s an important reminder, and quite possibly one we’ll forget by the time today’s celebrations have rocked through our being.

So for those about to rock, we salute you, but ask you to please tweak it down to conversational levels. Just for this one day.

National Speak In Complete Sentences Day

Okay, we’ve tended to our dental needs and our ear-health needs, so now it’s time to focus on perfecting our grammar. Wow, today is really a cavalcade of non-stop hyper-wacko and insane celebration, isn’t it? This is why we launched this project, so our friends and family could hear me lecture about forming complete and proper sentences. Thanks for coming along on this wild ride.

Speak in Complete Sentences Day? Seriously? I mean… I guess. S’all good. Speak like a pro. Say stuff. Stuff. Stuff is good. I’m like… yeah. Speaking. Good day. Fun celebration. So much mirth.

Okay, so writing in complete sentences isn’t the same as speaking in complete sentences. The only ears that heard anything I said yesterday were those belonging to Jodie, to my mom (who came over for dinner), to the kids when they called, to the dogs, and to the nice lady at Safeway who went in the back and gathered a couple of olives for us. I’m pretty sure I stuck to complete sentences, but who knows? Colloquial manners of speech occasionally allow sentence fragments to present themselves as complete thoughts. So what?

The truth is, some people, even people who are in very public professions, have trouble speaking in complete sentences. Perhaps they aim to connect with a more simplistic crowd by sticking to two or three-word blurbs. Perhaps they genuinely lack public speaking skills. It’s not for me to say – hopefully they are aware of this day and will take some time to mend their ways. I don’t think it’ll happen. Fuck it. Damn.

National Utah Day

And now we land in the Beehive State, a place I have only seen from the vantage point of the Salt Lake City airport, and which Jodie has stayed in for a mere two days. It’s a gorgeous state though, and certainly contains a history unique within the tapestry of America. It used to be a part of Mexico, but became adequately populated by Americans, many of whom were fleeing religious persecution out east for their Mormon ways. The Mormon foothold in Utah has remained strong. After the Mexican-American War, Utah was part of the Utah Territory (along with Colorado and Nevada), but it had trouble getting admitted as a state. They had to renounce their tolerance for polygamy first, which delayed statehood until 1896. To this day, more than half the state’s populace belongs to the Mormon church, though polygamy is no longer a real concern. For the most part. I’m not digging into specifics here.

A 2012 national survey by the good folks at Gallup actually found Utah to be the best state to live for the future, based on a number of forward-thinking economic and lifestyle metrics. Even now, the state has the 14th highest median average income in the country, and the lowest level of income inequality. Also, did I mention it’s gorgeous?

In Utah you have some brilliant skiing, but you also have some stunning dessert, including parts of Monument Valley, the area where John Ford loved to film his most stunning westerns. You’ve got Arches National Park, with those incredible stone formations. You’ve got Zion National Park, which to me looks even more stunning than the Grand Canyon (having not visited either, admittedly).

As for the famous folks from Utah, you’ve got director Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude, Being There) from Ogden, quarterback Steve Young from Salt Lake City, Roseanne Barr (yeah, I know) also from Salt Lake City, James Woods from Vernal, the legendary Butch Cassidy from Beaver, singer Brendon Urie from St. George, Matthew Davis, the guy who played Elle Woods’ douchey ex-boyfriend in Legally Blonde, from Salt Lake City, Chrissy “Twitter Bad-Ass” Teigen from Delta, Philo Farnsworth, inventor of TV, from Beaver, Merlin Olsen from Logan, Harvey Fletcher (hearing aid inventor and the father of stereophonic sound) from Provo, the lovely and talented Jewel from Payson, and of course the Osmond family.

But what to do to celebrate Utah? I found a recipe for something called Frog’s Eye Salad, which is similar to ambrosia salad in that it’s sweet, and we have no desire to eat any of it. Fortunately, I also learned that green Jell-O was a huge deal in Utah for some reason, to the point where they even crafted a green Jell-O commemorate state pin for the 2002 Olympic Games. That’s an easy win for Utah. Delicious. Apologies for our photo – the Jell-O wouldn’t stop quivering so the pic came out a little blurry.

National Macaroon Day

So what is a macaroon anyway? It might be a crunchy little coconut cookie that looks a little like a mini twice-baked potato. It might also be a no-bake chocolate and oats cookie, like the ones pictured above. It can also be a small chocolate candy. It may even be a crunchy almond cookie. It is not a macaron, those little puffy treats made at upscale bakeries, nor is it Emmanuel Macron, the president of France. So many options for this day.

We opted for the no-bake cookies. They turned out a bit runny for some reason, but they were still fantastic. It’s a mix of chocolate and oats, how could we go wrong? We celebrated this as our dessert #1, with the green Jell-O reserved for later in the evening. It’s always good to have a few drinks before settling into some Jell-O, isn’t it?

The little chocolate macaroon candies are what confused me. I used to love those things as a kid, and I still don’t understand how three or four distinctly different dessert items all have the same name. And to make things even more confusing we’ve got National Chocolate Macaroon Day coming up later this week. For that one we picked up some of the candies, for this one we made the version of macaroons we’re most used to. The coconut ones are great too, but we can only fill our home with so many cookies before we run the risk of exploding. That wouldn’t be fun.

National Autonomous Vehicle Day

An autonomous vehicle is one that drives itself. We’ve seen these, we’ve heard stories of how they will endanger the long-haul trucking industry, and we’ve all questioned whether or not we’d be willing to relinquish complete control of driving. I’m not completely sold. In theory, having nothing but autonomous vehicles on the road should work, with a network of computer calculations flapping along at speeds we mere mortals can’t fathom, keeping us safe and getting us where we need to be in the most expedient, economical way possible.

But what if they’re not all autonomous? What if there are still some drivers navigating the streets? The question is, when you drive do you fear for your own abilities coming up short, or do you fear some schmuck won’t be paying attention for the wrong split second? I’m all in favour of these things taking over, especially considering my dream vehicle as a kid was a limousine wherein someone else could worry about driving and I could relax and play video games in the back. But in reality, I’m not ready to dive in until the entire fleet upon public roads has been upgraded.

In 2018, the City of Edmonton partnered with a company called Pacific Western Transportation to launch one of the first autonomous vehicle pilot projects (and I like the irony of the term ‘pilot project’ here) in western Canada. The project is still featured on the city’s webpage. I reached out to the team running this, and expressed an interest in trying it out, maybe just sitting in an autonomous vehicle on their closed track and soaking up the experience. In exchange they’d receive all the glory and publicity attached to this project, so really not much of anything.

They were receptive, but talks broke down when COVID broke our society down for the time being. This is another of the fun-filled celebrations we won’t get to experience, unfortunately. But if things brighten up over the next few months, this one is top of my list for revisiting. Why not take a ride into the future? It might be fun, in a terrifying way.

As we welcome in June, we also welcome in a busy day with plenty of weirdness:

  • National Olive Day. We both hate olives. But dammit, we’re going to give them another try.
  • National Heimlich Maneuver Day. Hopefully we only have to celebrate this one in spirit.
  • National Go Barefoot Day. An easy enough demand. We’re both glad this didn’t pop up in the middle of winter.
  • National Nail Polish Day. Oh, we are going to get pretty today.
  • National Say Something Nice Day. That’s pleasant. We will say nice things to people, and hope they return the favour.
  • National Pen Pal Day. Do people still have pen pals? Can we get new pen pals? I’m up for seeing if it’s possible.
  • National Hazelnut Cake Day. We can’t do every dessert day. This one will likely be skipped.
  • World Milk Day. We will drink some milk and give a big ol’ thumbs-up to the world.
  • Baby Boomers Recognition Day. The boomers have taken a lot of hits these days, as it’s always easy to blame the oldest generation for all of society’s ills. We’ll send ‘em some love instead.
  • Dare Day. This could be a terrible idea.
  • Flip a Coin Day. Easy enough to do – any significant decisions today will be decided by a coin toss.
  • National Thank God It’s Monday Day. We celebrated this in January, but apparently it gets a June mention too. Fun.
  • International Children’s Day. Won’t somebody think of the children? We will!
  • Oscar the Grouch Day. Nice. I love that one of our first fictional characters was a malcontent who lived in filth.
  • Wear a Dress Day. One of us probably will. I doubt Jodie’s would fit me though.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Yesterday many folks celebrated their first return to a restaurant, to a hair salon or maybe to a retail establishment in months. Our most sacred celebration came with a return to our optimal summer serenity: Jodie’s lounge chair and my hammock, basting beneath an assertive sun. And we’ve been waiting a lot longer than two months for this; I believe I snagged only three visits to my hammock last year, as the majority of the paltry number of pleasant days seemed to land on a weekday. This year that won’t matter. I’ll devote my lunch hours to the sun if I need to. With a little luck, we shan’t want for warmth and summer this year. And no matter what the weather serves up, we’ll still have this stuff to deal with:

National Creativity Day

This day was created by ScreenwritingU, a company which delivers online courses on how to write a screenplay. The point is to encourage folks to poke and prod their creative side regularly until something spews out. It’s a great idea, though this year we are constantly in a state of oozing creativity. So how could we stretch our brains in new ways?

My hope was that we could take part in some sort of creative exercise that is outside our comfort zone. Fortunately, because we’d been putting off National Paper Airplane Day since Tuesday, we got to dabble in a bit of aerodynamic origami. We also added a bit of artistic colorful flair since drawing is most certainly outside the skill set of both of us. Jodie opted for colourful flourishes while I recreated the plane from 1980’s Airplane! instead. It looks like a big Tylenol!

We could have danced. We could have jammed with some of the instruments we have laying about the house which we cannot play. We could have tried to sing the harmonies of “Helplessly Hoping” by Crosby Stills & Nash but we’d have failed miserably and probably annoyed the hell out of our dogs. We could have sculpted, but the only material we have here we could sculpt with is potatoes, and we’d have to boil and mash them first. That seems like a lot of wasted tubers when we could just pick up a marker and draw.

So we stretched our creative muscles a little yesterday. That’s a good thing for everyone to find the time for, lockdown or no lockdown.

National Water a Flower Day

This is at least the fourth or fifth gardening-related day this year, which makes sense given the season. But this one doesn’t even feature nudity (World Naked Gardening Day flew past us on May 2), so right away it’s less fun.

We aren’t doing a lot of gardening, but we do have a few plants milling about, puffing out oxygen and generally photosynthesizing like a boss. I tried to insist to Jodie that this day – which has no verifiable origin from what my research could tell – was about watering only a single flower. It’s not National Water the Flowers Day, is it? Still, she insisted on watering all of our plants. I helped out by practicing some mime for the plants, still tapping into the National Creativity Day spirit. I think they appreciated the gesture.

It’s important not to over-water your flower (or “flowers” if you prefer). This is what I’ve been told, and given that I can’t even keep a pot plant alive for more than a month I’ll simply believe what I’m told and not question it. Of course, had we waited a day nature would have supplied plenty of sky-originated water for our modest crop, but where’s the fun in that?

This was a weird day with a weird name. I’m looking forward to Hug One of Your Children Day.

National Paper Airplane Day

We missed this one by a few days, but dammit we weren’t going to let it pass us by. A couple years back we attended a Vancouver performance by Ben Folds in which fans were encouraged to scribble their song requests on a paper airplane, then launch that airplane onto the stage in hopes Mr. Folds would pick up their crashed craft and plunk out their desired tune. That was our last attempt at crafting a paper airplane. It’s a skill that comes up surprisingly infrequently in adult life.

But that all changed yesterday. We thought it would be fun to indulge in a competition of sorts, to see who could pilot the most formidable paper-based vehicle of flight. I won’t boast about my victory so much as say that we each put in a solid effort, and neither my wife nor I will be fielding any scouting calls from Boeing anytime soon.

Paper became widely produced in China around 500BC, and origami became fashionable not long afterward. It’s not unreasonable to suspect that folks had some fun with aerodynamics around this time too, though clearly nothing they built sparked any inspiration for human-sized aircraft. The folks who eventually devoted their careers to pioneering flight and figuring out the physics regularly attributed their passion to the building of paper crafts.

When it comes to fabricating a model plane, you might think using balsa wood would make for a more realistic simulation of real-life physics, and in some ways (in particular where drag and the aerodynamics of wings are concerned) you’d be right. But paper has a higher strength-to-thickness ratio, so a card-stock plane will be a better equivalent to how steel would perform on an actual plane. So these things aren’t just for killing time in class or requesting favourite songs anymore.

National Hole In My Bucket Day

For some reason, and I could not locate an origin story for this thing anywhere, someone decided that one of the most inane children’s songs in the history of melodies deserved its own special day. Fuck.

I’m not a fan of most children’s songs, and I wasn’t back then either. That one about the dog named Bingo doesn’t go anywhere. Old McDonald has a bunch of animals – there, I saved you from listening to the same melody on repeat for five minutes. The one about rowing your boat isn’t bad, and with enough people singing it as a round it can turn into a nonsensical spew of overlapping musical psychedelia, and that’s great. Plus it draws from the same theme as Christopher Cross’s “Sailing”, a song which I quite enjoyed as a child.

This silly tune is about a guy named Henry who has a leaky bucket and can’t figure out how to fix it on his own. Read a book, Henry. Jesus. So the guy asks this clueless Liza person, and she ends up telling him through a lengthy run-on explanation that he needs a working bucket in order to fix his defective bucket. At no time does she offer her own bucket to help out – no, we just get this simplistic melody and a meandering solution. Thanks for nothing, Liza.

The roots of this song trace back to Germany in the 1700s, which is pretty impressive. Not a lot of songs from that era have oozed forward through generations. Do kids still sing this tune? Does anyone actually like this tune? And is it just me, or is Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” not the greatest song of the Yacht Rock era?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Loomis Day

Mahlon Loomis was probably a blast to hang out with. The guy spouted off crazy pseudo-scientific ideas that probably earned him many an eye-roll by his contemporaries, then when it came time to put them to the test, he nailed it. I mean, he didn’t really prove anything, but he sure as hell changed the world.

Loomis was a dentist who bounced around with his family, practicing all over the place. He patented a set of porcelain dentures in 1857, and his fellow dentists derided him as unprofessional. He then took out an ad in the local papers defending his patent, slamming his fellow dentists, and offering $500 to anyone who could “produce a similar work of art to equal in purity, beauty, durability or artistic excellence” as his artificial teeth. The guy had chutzpah. He also invented a style of teeth that ultimately wasn’t ideal due to issues with the material, but hey – Loomis wasn’t afraid to put his balls on the line to defend his work.

Then he started thinking about how to harness the electricity in the air. He was on board with the relatively recent assertion that there were multiple layers of atmosphere above us, but he felt he could use that to bring electricity down to earth, or to transmit wireless communication around the world.

Crazy, right? Except he proved himself right. He demonstrated to a group of scientists and Congressmen a successful wireless communication between two stations on two hilltops 14 miles apart. In fact, it’s believed that he may have inadvertently sent out the world’s first radio signals, though they weren’t known as such. Mahlon Loomis was a dreamer who put his life behind his dreams and pushed to create. I don’t know why his Day falls on May 30, as the date doesn’t line up with his birth, death, or any of his major experiments. But it lands on National Creativity Day this year, and I think that’s entirely appropriate. Creativity can do incredible things.

Are we actually finishing off our fifth month of this weirdness? Looks that way. Here’s what’s up today:

  • National Save Your Hearing Day. I guess we crank the music back down from 11 today.
  • National Speak in Complete Sentences Day. Yeah. Sure – cool.
  • National Utah Day. The food I found for this one looks gross. But we’re not above dipping into the gross.
  • National Macaroon Day. More yummy dessertness.
  • National Smile Day. We will smile at each other and our dogs a lot. I’ll also probably put on the Brian Wilson Smile album because it’s goddamn brilliant.
  • National Autonomous Vehicle Day. We were actually going to try to ride in one of these, then the damn COVID happened.