OK, so here’s something I should have mentioned last week. You know how they talk about the solstice being the official start of summer? This is as opposed to the unofficial start of summer, which is when you have the first argument about whether to put the window air conditioner in the bedroom. (People with central air never unofficially start summer. They just live in a year-round haze of air that smells like the inside of a regional claims-adjustment facility.) OK, but did you know which office is in charge of starting summer? I bet you figured it was the National Weather Service, or at least someone in the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Maybe NASA. Possibly someone affiliated with the Census. But you’d figured wrong! Bet you didn’t see the paragraph taking that turn, did you?
The responsible agency (in the United States) is the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, a part of the Federal Communications Commission whose purpose is to provide for emergency communications networks using registered volunteer ham radio operators. “And what the heck,” Congress said, when drafting the enabling legislation for the service. “They can set the start of summer, too.” Mind, they haven’t spent a great deal of time working on the start-of-summer problem. They set the official start during a 1954 meeting, and haven’t revisited the decision yet. Now and then someone suggests revisiting it, but then everybody gets to arguing about ham radio equipment, keeping them out of trouble. Other countries have different offices, and thus, different seasons. Great Britain, for example, has summer officially set by the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead, and they’ve chosen their start of summer as “eight days after the last American tourists give up and leave”.
Anyway, the important thing to remember is that ICE is a criminal organization that should be disbanded and all its members jailed. Enjoy the summer, where applicable!
Here are the most popular things which I did not write in the past month:
- French Words I Do Not Know, a quick guide to things you can’t talk about with me in French.
- Bacon Moustaches In Mason Jars, frankly, clickbait for the hipster audience that saw through me so clearly that they were over me before everyone else was.
- The Studio Audience, and other things not found around my apartment (I haven’t had a studio apartment since 1998).
- Episodes of Automan I Still Have In My Head, a cautionary tale. Warning: they’re all stupid.
- Robert Benchley: My First Radio Set, an essay about trying out life as a ham radio operator which the great humorist never wrote.
Almost none of you have heard me sing, and that’s a good thing. While I’m tolerably able to follow along most of the generally accepted words of a song if they’re written out for me ahead of time and can begin and end such words at approximately the right times, I have pretty much the same control over my pitch that a coal-fired locomotive engine has over its position. My voice will pick a note that’s the designated note for the song, even if it doesn’t appear anywhere in the actual song or possibly in all of recorded Western Civilization-informed music including those horrible atonal experiments made by pressing Moog synthesizers under piles of stones until they confessed to witchcraft. It might vary a little around that note as the song moves through its normal melody, but it won’t get more than maybe two-thirds of the way to the flat version of whatever note I started from.
So what I do instead is to hum along to a song, which besides meaning I don’t have to actually get the words right, means I don’t have to go to the trouble of opening my mouth any. But I have the same thing where I have one designated note for each song, and stick to that. What comes out is a tolerably timed “Hmm HMMM hm HMM Hmmm, Hmm HMMM hm HMMMMM, Hmmm Hm-mmm-MMM-MMMMM hmm HMMMMM-hmm-HMMMMmmmMMMM” [*]. It’s quite the monotone spectacle.
Anyway, all this is a way of saying I was stunned to get a special musical achievement award from the American Radio Relay League, the people who bring you ham radio, for my work in translating music into Morse Code. I’m flattered and I’d like to thank everyone who had a part in letting me achieve this, as soon as I think who that could really be.
[*] Original lyrics by Sparks, 1975.