Everything Else There Is To Say About Decorating For Christmas


I’m flattered that you’re still coming to me for advice about Christmas decorations after learning I used to be a teenaged boy. It’s not what I would do, but, what the heck. I guess the worst that can happen is a family that’s fled some aesthetic catastrophe within the house, huddling together, promising that no, there’s a reason all those Star Trek comic books were on the wall. Hey, here’s a real thing that really happened in real reality for real: the second issue of the Star Trek: The Next Generation comic from the 80s was about Captain Picard having to save the Spirit of Christmas from some leather-clad Alien Space Grinches.

Anyway a holiday is always a good excuse to decorate. Not without limits, of course. There are only so many things you can put up to commemorate, say, Washington’s Birthday without people asking questions. And not the good kind, like where you can show off what you know about George Washington’s presidential tour of all thirteen states. They ask questions like “… the heck?” And most anything you put up for the August Bank Holiday will get you strange looks. The New Jersey Big Sea Day seems like it ought to have great decorating potential, but most of that is water. Maybe flip-flops.

Ah, but Christmas. And New Year’s. These are holidays that have no socially accepted limits for how much to decorate. You could festoon your house with enough Christmas lights that structural elements crumble, and the building collapses under this load of twinkling merry. Survivors would stagger out of a heap of belongings, drywall, and ornaments. And people would just say, oh, they’re maybe a little much but it makes up for the other houses on the street. It’s one of the few chances you have to festoon things in a socially acceptable way. Heck, it’s one of the few chances to even talk about festooning. Go ahead, list three other times this past year you were able to festoon a thing without authorities getting involved.

Which gets to something important about Christmas decorating. Make sure that you’re decorating someplace or something that you have permission to. Once the authorities get called in you don’t get to enjoy a giddy night of adorning things with tinsel. You have to start sneaking around instead, hiding behind the Christmas tree or unusually wide coat-stands whenever a bunch of people in, I’m assuming, tall blue hats tromp past. Then they hear a suspicious cough off somewhere. One of your confederates, no doubt, if you’ve got this well-organized. And you have to throw a ball of tinsel at a thing you hope is a tinsel-bearing decorative structure unit, like a tree or a wreath or a cat.

That’s not the right way to do things. That won’t get you decorations that festoon a thing. The best you can hope for is that you’ll have decorations strewn about. And strewning is great, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that strewning is great in the right context. The context you want for decorating is that you aren’t trying to dodge people who want you answering questions. You want to have some beloved Christmas special that you’ve watched so often that you no longer watch it. You just have it on in the background while forming questions about the worldbuilding.

After a couple decades of this you start to wonder exactly how much thought the writers put into the mythology behind, oh, the one where Frosty the Snowman creates a wife, and then they have to go create a snow-parson who can “legally” marry them because the human parson voiced by Dennis Day isn’t sure he can do that? And somehow creating a new snow-life is less problematic? And you never see what happens to the snow-parson after that? And it’s not about getting answers to these questions. If you wanted answers go out and become an authority yourself. Not saying about what. An authority on Christmas specials would get you the answers faster, probably. But becoming an authority on, say, tidal pools? Graphic design? It’ll take longer to get answers, but maybe the joy of the season is discovering these things.

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Statistics Saturday: Eight August Holidays


  • 6th. Orthodox Christmas in July.
  • 9th. Subtweet a future Disgraced Former President Day.
  • 11th. Manasquan, New Jersey, Big Sea Day, or as it is known in giant communities, “Little Sea Day”.
  • 14th. 545th birthday of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. Surprise party; don’t tell her. No shouting or fireworks at the reveal please.
  • 18th. Alumni Magazine Reunion Day.
  • 21st. Belated Remembering Of My Brother’s Birthday And Calling The One Whose Birthday Was In July By Accident Day.
  • 27th. Orboween. (Observed)
  • 28th. Orboween. (Actual)

Reference: The Making Of Kubrick’s 2001, Jerome Agel.

Statistics Saturday: Some Things Which Are Not Components Of May


Please notice that this is a completely new joke from last month and is not me stalling because “ten fake Greek letters” and “some uncertainly named United States states” haven’t been debugged yet.

  • June
  • February
  • 32nd
  • P
  • Flag Day
  • Winter (northern hemisphere only)
  • Automan
  • K, V
  • Space Shuttle Approach and Landing Test flight 4, mission ALT-15, 12 October 1977.
  • April
  • Turbo, that movie about a snail in the Indianapolis 500.
  • Gravity

Note: Some or all of these may be found in May but are not essential components of such.

Source: Keystone: The Life and Clowns of Mack Sennett, Simon Louvish.

How Much Of Rankin/Bass’s “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” I Remember


Referring to the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated special and not the song. From Wikipedia’s plot summary:

Plot Element Do I Remember This?
Peter Cottontail is a young Easter Bunny who lives in April Valley where all the other Easter Bunnies live and work, making Easter candy, sewing bonnets, and decorating and delivering Easter eggs. Yes
Colonel Wellington B Bunny, the retiring Chief Easter Bunny, names Peter his successor despite his boasting and lying. I Guess
Peter, who has dreamed of being the Chief Easter Bunny almost his entire life, gladly accepts. No; I thought it was an open contest all along.
January Q Irontail, an evil, reclusive rabbit villain wants to be Chief Easter Bunny himself so he can ruin it for children after a child roller-skated over his tail and had to wear a prosthetic one made of iron. Yes about Irontail but I thought his name was Jeremy and I forgot why he had a prosthetic tail.
Irontail demands that Colonel Bunny hold a contest between himself and Peter to see who wins since the Constitution of April Valley states that the Chief Easter Bunny should be the one who delivers the most eggs. No, thought the contest was there from the start.
Arrogant Peter accepts Irontail’s challenge, but stays up all night partying with his friends. Yes
Although he tells his rooster to wake him up at 5:30 in the morning, Irontail sneaks into his house and feeds the rooster magic bubblegum, sealing its beak and Peter sleeps on, not hearing the crows from the popping bubblegum bubbles. No, thought he just slept through.
Though Irontail tries all day to deliver eggs with unsuccessful results, he is only able to deliver one egg to a sleeping hobo. No, thought he just didn’t try after giving out one pro forma.
However, it’s still one egg more than Peter ever delivered. Yes
Therefore, Irontail becomes the new Chief Easter Bunny, passing laws to make Easter a disaster such as having eggs painted mud brown and concrete gray, ordering the candy sculptors to make chocolate tarantulas and octopuses instead of bunnies and chicks, and having Easter galoshes instead of bonnets. Yes
Meanwhile, Peter, ashamed that his bragging and irresponsibility led to this tragedy, leaves April Valley until he meets Seymour S Sassafras, an eccentric peddler and inventor, who supplies April Valley with the colors to paint the eggs from his Garden of Surprises, from red, white, and blue cabbages and purple corn to striped tomatoes and orange stringbeans. Forgot everything about this Garden of Surprises thing and knew there was an inventor but I couldn’t have told you his name if you told me his name.
Sassafras then lets Peter use his Yestermorrowbile, a time machine, piloted by a French caterpillar named Antoine to take Peter back to Easter, deliver his eggs, win the contest, and defeat Irontail. Yes, at least, I remembered there was a time machine in this somehow.
Unfortunately, Irontail finds out about Peter’s plan and sends his spider to sabotage the Yestermorrowbile’s controls, allowing Peter and Antoine to go to any holiday but Easter. No
Since the contest’s rules don’t specifically say the eggs must be delivered on Easter, Peter tries to give his eggs away at other holidays without success. Kind of? But how does this rule make sense?
On the Fourth of July, he lies to two boys by painting his eggs red, white, and blue and selling them as firecrackers. No
When that fails, they crashland on Halloween where Peter meets a witch named Madame Esmeralda and gives her a Halloween egg as a gift making the score a tie. No and what the heck is a Halloween egg?
When she calls the other Halloween inhabitants, Irontail sends Montresor the Bat out to steal Peter’s eggs. No but how does this count as Peter not getting credit for giving away an egg?
After getting the eggs back, Peter tells Antoine they have to get back to Halloween, but they can’t go back since Antoine has to land the craft to fix it. No
After failing to give his eggs away on Thanksgiving, they go to Christmas Eve where Peter, dressed as Santa Claus, tries to sell his Christmas eggs on the streets. No
But the streets are deserted. No
Then Peter hears crying from a hat shop nearby where he meets Bonnie Bonnet from April Valley. No
Bonnie is sad because nobody wants to buy her. No and wait what? Like, is she a hat? What the heck?
So Peter tells the shopkeeper that he’ll trade her his Christmas eggs for Bonnie. No
Unfortunately, Irontail steals them again and Peter and Bonnie go after him, accidentally leaving Antoine behind. No
During the chase, Irontail crashes into Santa’s sleigh where Santa demands to give the eggs back to Peter. Dimly?
Santa returns the eggs, but Peter is too sad to say thank you since they left Antoine behind. No and wait, this is getting complicated.
Afterwards, Peter and Bonnie land on Valentine’s Day where Peter meets a beautiful girl bunny named Donna and Peter gives her a Valentine egg. No
However, Irontail finds the eggs and casts a spell on them, turning them all green, inside and out. No
As such, nobody wants the eggs anymore; even Donna gives hers back. No
Peter then vows to be more responsible and they land in the middle of Saint Patrick’s Day where he finally gets to give his green eggs away and wins the contest, becoming the official Chief Easter Bunny, Antoine returns as a butterfly, and Irontail becomes the April Valley janitor while Peter leads an Easter parade with all the characters from the story. Yes to that later part but the Saint Patrick’s Day thing is throwing me.

So in summary:

Plot Points I Remember 11
Plot Points Available 30
Percentage That I’ve Got Down 36.7%

In Which I’m Afraid I Just Let You All Down, But Argue It’s Captain Janeway’s Fault


We got back and were just settling in after the amusement park stuff, but then my love turned on the TV and what do you know but Star Trek: Voyager was on? And not just any moment of its, like, 850,000 hours of talking about chronometric isofluctuations, but the scene that made My Love finally decide to hate Captain Janeway with the white-hot intensity of a thousand burning transwarp macrophases? So we’ve been busy watching that instead and trying to remember stuff about Voyager without looking it up. Remembering stuff is a fun old pastime, something done today mostly by podcasters recording a live episode while on stage when they’re away from their cell phones. We do it recreationally. Anyway, we’ve been trying to remember exactly what the deal with B’elanna was. Our best estimate right now is that she’s half-Klingon and half- … smart? That seems right but that can’t be everything, right? Research continues, at least until we hit that episode where Janeway and whats-his-name get turned into space lizards. That one happened, right? Actually I’d watch that again. It was awful but in the good ways.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index was not traded today as everyone wanted to get to a Lansing Lugnuts ball game while the weather was nice. Was the weather nice? We’ll tell you when they get back.

UNCH

On This Date: March 25


March 25th is the 90th day of the year or so. Something like that. Good grief, is the year that little done? It feels like more. Anyway there are some six days remaining in the month unless we find a stray Tuesday that rolled under the couch? Something like that.

1409 — Opening of the Council of Pisa following the belated discovery of the can opener. In resolving the Western Schism between the popes in Rome and Avignon the council settles on the innovative approach of declaring everyone who passes by the front door, including four stray cats and a flock of pigeons, to be Pope. The problem is left unsettled but it is still a major holiday in Rock Dove Orthodox Catholicism.

1584 — Sir Walter Raleigh receives a patent to colonize Virginia, catching him off-guard. “I thought I’d get a copyright or maybe a service mark on Virginia, but you know, I’ll make do with what I have,” he says in a telephone interview by Bob Newhart. Unfortunately unsettled trade conditions and unstable capitalization foil his efforts to make money in the manufacture and trade of Virginias, and by 1792 he admits it isn’t working out nearly like he figured. Today only the prototype Virginia and one late-run production model Virginia still remain, preserved in a special museum-grade display with inert gas.

1802 — By the terms of the Treaty of Amiens, France and England resolve to stop fighting and never go to war ever again for all time except for this one more time for last licks, that’s fair, right? Sure it is.

1821 — Traditional start of the Greek War of Independence, which actually began over a month before, but they say it’s this for symbolically important reasons, and that isn’t even me making a whimsical joke but just how things are really done if Wikipedia isn’t fibbing me.

1894 — Coxey’s Army begins its march on Washington to establish that unemployment is a failure of society to provide for its citizens and not the result of personal immorality among the jobless. Oh lord we’re not living up to the moral standards of the 19th century, what are we even doing?

1950 — 25th anniversary of March 25, 1925.

1979 — Delivery of the first fully-functional space shuttle, Columbia, to the Kennedy Space Center, although the vehicle is not launched for over two years owing to the keys being locked inside and nobody knowing how to get them out without breaking a window open. They ultimately have to wait for the completion of the space shuttle Discovery and hope the keys for that fit the first, and they do, with a little jiggling around. Discovery’s first launch is delayed while the space program finds a Two Guys that will grind out a duplicate set of keys. “Look, we just want to be sure someone else can open the trunk, all right?” explains Kennedy Space Center director Richard G Smith, reminding us how there used to be a whole different key for the trunks and why was that exactly? The past is weird, that’s all.

1995 — Establishment of WikiWikiWeb, the first user-editable web site, opens an innovative new way that people who read way too much of The Straight Dope as kids can argue about David Rice Atchison in the Talk page.

2000 — 50th anniversary of the 25th anniversary or March 25, 1925.

2017 — I’m like one day ahead of deadline.

Born On This Day:

Religious troublemaker John Calvin (maybe?), Army marcher Jacob Coxey (like a one in 365 chance), Vulcan inventor D C Fontana (Star Trek if I got lucky), probably some European royalty with a name like John IV or Jacob III or Katerina The Rather So (here I’m just playing the odds). You know what, let’s say Howard Cosell too, just so there’s a name that anyone can recognize if they’re not like four months younger than me.

Died On This Day:

Do we need this installment? It’s so depressing.

Special Observances:

This is the earliest day on which Seward’s Day can fall. Seward’s Day is the day when Alaskans observe William Seward. It should not be confused with Alaska Day, but I bet it is all the time and is fed up with it. It is observed as Wright Brothers Day by confused aviation enthusiasts. Until 1752 it was the start of the New Year in England, Wales, Ireland, and the American Colonies, which raises disturbing implications about just how many days there were between March 27, 1751 and March 22, 1751. Don’t stare to hard into that one. You won’t like what you find.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell five points today as everyone was busy watching the trailer for the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 and torn between bits that made them figure this was going to be as good as they needed it to be and bits that made them figure it was going to be off in all those ways that non-hardcore-fans can’t understand. The mood on the floor is described as “hope mixed with a sense that, really, the children of the original Mads is the fullest re-thinking done? But there’s a lot of people who know what they’re doing and maybe the Ready Player One guy can be harnessed to a good cause?”

125

Some Things One Can Do For The Holiday Season


The holiday season is coming soon. It may even be here already in certain parts of the time zone. Here are some good ways to react.

Affix A Thing To Another Thing. This is a good one to learn because it is one of the fundamental units of crafting projects. Most anything you can see can be affixed to some other thing. You can start very simply, just by taking something you have and placing it atop something else. In more advanced classes you set something, such as a light cloth, between the things. This makes for fun activities like peeling up the cloth to see how much dust has got all over the things. In expert classes you can adhere things together using tape or acetylene torch welding or glue or sewing or strings. Graduate students in crafts learn to snip something off of another thing.

Make A Food Of Some Kind. This is a very good project because at the end of it you will have food or a good story about how food failed to exist. To do this you wil need:

  • A recipe
  • Ingredients
  • Bowls
  • Some more bowls
  • Indeed more bowls than you have ever imagined owning in your life
  • Lids
  • Exotic utensils kept in the kitchen drawer you never use, things that look like wispy high-dimensional mathematical constructs that have something to do with string theory
  • Bowls that you dimly remember from buried childhood memories of boring afternoons and grandmom’s that somehow emerge from the kitchen’s Scary Cabinet that you never open
  • A box of plastic wrap on which the metal tooth blade has fallen halfway off and has gone to attack thumbs, fruits, the occasional kitchen tile, etc
  • Two, maybe three more bowls

Take any of the ingredients and read the recipe. Then glance down and see that somehow all the bowls have gotten covered in a strange putty-like goo which tastes faintly of vanilla, cilantro, lemon, and sugar crystals. They will never all be successfully clean again.

  • Get some more bowls

If you’re doing well this will attract the attention of some adorable cartoon animal such as a raccoon, who’ll try grabbing at some of your food. And you toss him out and he’s right back at the counter before you even get back to it yourself. And this escalates until you blow up your whole house using a pile of dynamite sticks the size of a roller coaster and the raccoon’s still there. He holds out an adorable little cookie as peace offering and when you start to accept it he eats it instead. Directed by Dick Lundy in pretty good pastiche of Tex Avery.

Decrate an Animal in Some Fashion. Your experience in affixing things to other things will help some here. At least it will if you want to do something like set a bow on a dog, such as setting a bow on a cat. But “decorate” suggests some broader ideas. For example, why not fling balls of paint at squirrels until they’re much more colorful? Because that won’t work. You’ll just get squirrels with even better reflexes. If you want to go this way take some drops of food dye and dab them on the heads of local mice. The mice will groom from their heads on down — they’re very careful about this — and rub the dye into all their fur. Then you can set the mice around your neighbors. When they come to you and say, “There’s a bunch of green and purple mice that moved into the neighborhood!” you can exhale a world-weary sigh and say, “I know.” Trust me, this will play as really funny if you keep a straight face.

Just Wrap Some Thing. See how your affixing practice comes in handy here? Take something you can use for wrapping, such as wrapping paper, or wrapping plastic, or wrapping blankets, or wrapping vinyl shingles, or wrapping polymer foams, you get the idea. Then take something you already have and paper it up until you can’t get at it anymore. This will show them, this will show them all. Place the wrapped thing under a thing, or on top of a thing, or hang it from something such as a tree, wall, or aggrieved squirrel in blue.

Arrange for a White Christmas. White Christmases are regarded as the sine qua non of Christmases. They’re among the top days to have be White, too. A White New Year’s Eve is a distant second in popularity. A White Fourth of July is regarded with suspicion at best. White Whistuntide is regarded as somebody trying a little to hard to be funny or maybe to filk Billy Joel. The most natural way to get a White Christmas is to appeal to the ice phoenixes by setting out bowls of warm miso for them. If that fails, you can try washing the paint off your animation cells. WARNING: Stop before erasing your ink.

If that doesn’t work, I don’t know. Maybe tweet out at companies until a customer service bot answers you.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose five points today and then slid two points over to the left. Those aren’t being counted because we just aren’t thinking two-dimensionally that way. It’s hard enough keeping thoughts in order; who can deal with thoughts for which the very notion of order is undefinable? Exactly.

95

In Which Reuters Explains Just Enough To Confuse Me


So Reuters offered this Oddball News piece, “New St Andrews students welcomed with shaving foam fight”. The third paragraph:

Several weeks into the first term, the university holds its annual “Raisin Weekend”, during which the academic parents hold parties for the new students. The weekend culminates in “Raisin Monday”, when they dress the new students in costumes and send them into the university main’s lawn for a shaving foam fight.

And so I’m left here pondering whether I’m more curious about why raisins or why they count Monday as part of the weekend. I’m pretty sure it’s not a long holiday weekend, like, October Bank Holiday or one of the estimated 44 days listed as the Queen’s Birthday. (You know although Elizabeth II is recorded as ninety years old she was actually only born 26 years ago; all those Birthday holidays add up.) Well, I guess we all pad out the weekend when we figure we can get away with it. Probably the students do. How would someone find who was skipping class underneath all that foam? Fair enough, I suppose.

Also, my mathematics blog had that comic strip thing again. Please read, won’t you?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The trading community saw its confidence fully restored today with a whopping six point gain, that’s gain, that’s a bigger number than was here this time yesterday and isn’t that thrilling? Anyway, analysts are sure this reflects the market being over-sold and that we’re poised for a new bull market full of growth and happiness and the return of joy to the world.

114

Smaller Good Gifts


I realize it’s the time of year anything at all might be a gift. The self-service checkout stations at Meijer’s have started spitting out gift receipts for most anything. It turns out one of those things is if you buy a plastic cup to use the Coke Freestyle machine. I would snark about a 22 ounce fountain drink as a present, but I’ve realized that it’s not bad. There’s no breaking it and if you throw it out, it just caffeinates the lawn. This time of year the lawn needs it.

I just don’t know how you’d keep it gift-wrapped and fresh through to Christmas. Maybe they’re angling the soda as an office-party gift instead. Office Christmas Parties might be any convenient day between early Thanksgiving week and the following year’s New Jersey Big Sea Day. I won’t be sending one out anywhere.

The Freestyle Coke Mistletoe Flow is all right, I guess, although it’s pretty heavily vanilla. I expected some more peppermint. It’s not their fault. I just went in with unrealistic expectations.

Calendar Notice: When You Can Stop Cleaning Ahead Of Thanksgiving


Just a reminder to readers in the United States or observing United States holidays. Thanksgiving falls on the 26th of November this year. Therefore after 3 pm local time on Tuesday, November 10th — two weeks and two days ahead — it is officially acceptable to stop doing any dusting or mopping on the grounds that “we’ll just have to do it all over again right away” for company coming the 26th. You may shove it all into the frantic and stressful pile of cleaning done the 25th and early the 26th.

Similarly, as of 3 pm local time on Monday, November 16th — ten days ahead — it is officially acceptable to stop minor clean-up and pick-up chores on the grounds those will be done again anyway in the Taz-like whirlwind of cleaning and hollering that will occupy the 34 hours before the guests are scheduled to arrive.

You are not actually required to tell anyone when they should arrive, and just trust that they will go about their business without you, if you want to put off the dusting and mopping and general picking-up until Christmas. The pre-Christmas deadlines will be announced when we get around to it.

After Our Rabbit’s Holiday


“So you’ve been a bit of a terror, by reports,” I said to our pet rabbit. He was looking at the open pet carrier, and considering whether to punch it.

“They were desperate times,” he finally pronounced.

“They were times at your vacation cottage.” This would be my love’s parents’ house. They watch our pet rabbit when we have to be away more than a day. Our pet rabbit can’t be left unattended that long, because he’ll run up long-distance telephone calls. The funny thing is they’re not even calls that would make sense, like ordering stacks of particularly tasty hay. It’s like he just gets carried away with the fun of dialing. In many ways our pet rabbit is a little kid, except that he doesn’t give us colds or tell us complicated and rambling stories about what happened in school.

“There were dogs chasing me!”

“I know those dogs. They’re four years older than the letter `W’.”

“So they’ve had time to practice their fiendish ways!”

“They don’t have fiendish ways. They’re barely up to falling down anymore.” He sneezed, because somehow our pet rabbit sneezes, and then turned that into a snort. “They haven’t even been growling at me because they can’t work up the energy for that anymore.” And this is true. When I first started visiting my love’s parents, the dogs would take turns barking furiously at me, because they were afraid that if they didn’t, I might go on existing. Eventually they would settle down, only for one or the other to suddenly realize that I was still a thing that existed, so they had to go through it all over again. Since then, sadly, the dogs have gotten more frail. They’ll wander up to me and mutter a half-articulated hwurmf. I tell them that’s very good barking and then they collapse on the floor where they are. I’d pat their heads if that didn’t seem like taunting.

Our rabbit put his paws together and shoved on the front of his carrier, a traditional rabbit way of expressing the concept “I want this shoved over there a little”. It works better on hay and towels and light vegetables. I picked him up by his hind legs and shoved him in the carrier, a traditional rabbit-keeper way of expressing the concept “if you won’t go in I’ll just put you in”. He turned around and punched the carrier’s bars.

Finally he said, “I can scare dogs away.”

“You can scare those dogs away. They’re very timid dogs.”

“I didn’t even have to bite and the bigger one ran away!” The dogs are the same size, but perhaps there are rabbit ways of classifying dogs I don’t understand.

“That dog’s been scared away by clouds. You’re not saying you’re just as ferocious as a cloud, are you?”

“Bring me a cloud and I’ll see who scares who!”

“You’re figuring to make a cloud quiver its knees? What has got into you?”

“I had to spend forever fending off dogs!”

It struck me: the “larger” dog came up to the edge of our rabbit’s pen before running away, while the “smaller” one was too afraid of the interloper to get that close. By “running” I mean “kind of shambling about in a way that isn’t technically falling over most of the time”.

“Luckily,” he said, “I know what to do with dogs.”

“You know what to do with those dogs. You’re an expert at existing.”

“I spent my whole life getting ready to exist!”

Our pet rabbit, partly standing --- paw resting on his exercise pen's frame --- while he nibbles at a tree branch.
Our pet rabbit, existing, with panache.

“You could be in trouble if you had to face other dogs, you know.”

He almost stopped wriggling his nose a moment. “What other dogs?”

“You know there’s more than two dogs in the world.”

“No, I heard them both.”

“Did you ever notice the dogs going over to the window and barking like crazy, then stopping and hiding from the window?”

He nodded, which is the sort of thing that involves a lot of ear-flapping. “When they forgot where I was!”

“No, that’s when they saw there was another dog walking past, outside. They stopped when the other dog noticed them.”

He pushed the carrier door with one paw, letting his fingers melt through the bars. “So there are … 98 dogs in the world?”

“More than that, even. Some dogs they didn’t notice.” I figured it not worth mentioning some of the dogs were walked past the house several times, mostly on different days.

He sniffed. “More than 98 dogs seems like too many. Let’s get home.”

I don’t agree with him on the dog count, but getting home was what I hoped for too.

National Cheese, Penguins


According to Missy Meyers’s comic feature panel Holiday Doodles the 20th of January was both “Penguin Awareness Day” and “National Cheese Lovers Day”. I had no idea, indicating the need for Penguin Awareness Day awareness campaigns, but I spent at least the later part of the day ready to notice any penguins that happened to be hanging around mid-Michigan. I didn’t notice any. I may not have the adequate holiday spirit.

Cheese, now, I’m always ready to be aware of, since it’s one of the things I feel good about eating. (Other things on the list: pretty much everything except octopus. I’ve tried octopus — and squid — repeatedly and haven’t liked it any time, and since it ends badly for me and worse for the octopus I’m done with eating them, and I imagine they’re even happier to be done with being eaten by me.) I don’t know what “National Cheese” tastes like, but I’m going to go ahead and imagine that it’s “kind of like cheddar”.

Robert Benchley: A Christmas Spectacle


Did you miss Robert Benchley in “The Reluctant Dragon” on Turner Classic Movies last night? Possibly. Whether or not you did, please, enjoy this bit from Love Conquers All about the Christmas shows the kids put on.

A CHRISTMAS SPECTACLE

For Use in Christmas Eve Entertainments in the Vestry

At the opening of the entertainment the Superintendent will step into the footlights, recover his balance apologetically, and say:

“Boys and girls of the Intermediate Department, parents and friends: I suppose you all know why we are here tonight. (At this point the audience will titter apprehensively). Mrs. Drury and her class of little girls have been working very hard to make this entertainment a success, and I am sure that everyone here to-night is going to have what I overheard one of my boys the other day calling `some good time.’ (Indulgent laughter from the little boys). And may I add before the curtain goes up that immediately after the entertainment we want you all to file out into the Christian Endeavor room, where there will be a Christmas tree, `with all the fixin’s,’ as the boys say.” (Shrill whistling from the little boys and immoderate applause from everyone).

There will then be a wait of twenty-five minutes, while sounds of hammering and dropping may be heard from behind the curtains. The Boys’ Club orchestra will render the “Poet and Peasant Overture” four times in succession, each time differently.

At last one side of the curtains will be drawn back; the other will catch on something and have to be released by hand; someone will whisper loudly, “Put out the lights,” following which the entire house will be plunged into darkness. Amid catcalls from the little boys, the footlights will at last go on, disclosing:

The windows in the rear of the vestry rather ineffectively concealed by a group of small fir trees on standards, one of which has already fallen over, leaving exposed a corner of the map of Palestine and the list of gold-star classes for November. In the center of the stage is a larger tree, undecorated, while at the extreme left, invisible to everyone in the audience except those sitting at the extreme right, is an imitation fireplace, leaning against the wall.

Twenty-five seconds too early little Flora Rochester will prance out from the wings, uttering the first shrill notes of a song, and will have to be grabbed by eager hands and pulled back. Twenty-four seconds later the piano will begin “The Return of the Reindeer” with a powerful accent on the first note of each bar, and Flora Rochester, Lillian McNulty, Gertrude Hamingham and Martha Wrist will swirl on, dressed in white, and advance heavily into the footlights, which will go out.

There will then be an interlude while Mr. Neff, the sexton, adjusts the connection, during which the four little girls stand undecided whether to brave it out or cry. As a compromise they giggle and are herded back into the wings by Mrs. Drury, amid applause. When the lights go on again, the applause becomes deafening, and as Mr. Neff walks triumphantly away, the little boys in the audience will whistle: “There she goes, there she goes, all dressed up in her Sunday clothes!”

“The Return of the Reindeer” will be started again and the show-girls will reappear, this time more gingerly and somewhat dispirited. They will, however, sing the following, to the music of the “Ballet Pizzicato” from “Sylvia”:

“We greet you, we greet you,
On this Christmas Eve so fine.
We greet you, we greet you.
And wish you a good time.”

They will then turn toward the tree and Flora Rochester will advance, hanging a silver star on one of the branches, meanwhile reciting a verse, the only distinguishable words of which are: “I am Faith so strong and pure —– ”

At the conclusion of her recitation, the star will fall off.

Lillian McNulty will then step forward and hang her star on a branch, reading her lines in clear tones:

“And I am Hope, a virtue great,
My gift to Christmas now I make,
That children and grown-ups may hope today
That tomorrow will be a merry Christmas Day.”

The hanging of the third star will be consummated by Gertrude Hamingham, who will get as far as “Sweet Charity I bring to place upon the tree —– ” at which point the strain will become too great and she will forget the remainder. After several frantic glances toward the wings, from which Mrs. Drury is sending out whispered messages to the effect that the next line begins, “My message bright —– ” Gertrude will disappear, crying softly.

After the morale of the cast has been in some measure restored by the pianist, who, with great presence of mind, plays a few bars of “Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown?” to cover up Gertrude’s exit, Martha Wrist will unleash a rope of silver tinsel from the foot of the tree, and, stringing it over the boughs as she skips around in a circle, will say, with great assurance:

“ ‘ Round and Wound the tree I go,
Through the holly and the snow
Bringing love and Christmas cheer
Through the happy year to come.”

At this point there will be a great commotion and jangling of sleigh-bells off-stage, and Mr. Creamer, rather poorly disguised as Santa Claus, will emerge from the opening in the imitation fireplace. A great popular demonstration for Mr. Creamer will follow. He will then advance to the footlights, and, rubbing his pillow and ducking his knees to denote joviality, will say thickly through his false beard:

“Well, well, well, what have we here? A lot of bad little boys and girls who aren’t going to get any Christmas presents this year? (Nervous laughter from the little boys and girls). Let me see, let me see! I have a note here from Dr. Whidden. Let’s see what it says. (Reads from a paper on which there is obviously nothing written). `If you and the young people of the Intermediate Department will come into the Christian Endeavor room, I think we may have a little surprise for you. . . ‘ Well, well, well! What do you suppose it can be? (Cries of “I know, I know!” from sophisticated ones in the audience). Maybe it is a bottle of castor-oil! (Raucous jeers from the little boys and elaborately simulated disgust on the part of the little girls.) Well, anyway, suppose we go out and see? Now if Miss Liftnagle will oblige us with a little march on the piano, we will all form in single file —– ”

At this point there will ensue a stampede toward the Christian Endeavor room, in which chairs will be broken, decorations demolished, and the protesting Mr. Creamer badly hurt.

This will bring to a close the first part of the entertainment.

The Tangle At Meijer’s


I stand at the brink of the Home Decorations aisles at Meijer’s. Amongst the printed posters, ready for hanging in no home I have ever seen, is this holiday imperative: “Don’t Get Your Tinsel In A Tangle”. I stare at it. I try parsing the instruction. I can tolerate a reasonable level of twee; I’ve read some of the later Wizard of Oz books for crying out loud. But I try imagining the person who sees this and figures it’s exactly what he needs to Christmas up his home a little. I get lost, wondering if I can be even the same species as such a person. I start to have that sensation of feeling lost and bewildered and kind of like when I’m in Best Buy with a $5 gift certificate that’s expiring next week and there isn’t a single thing even remotely tempting to buy, even including USB plugs to connect to strange and obscure mini or micro USB devices.

Finally an associate comes over, and gently guides me to the Pet Care section, where I’ll be some other associate’s responsibility, and I can try to work myself back to normality by comparing the English and Spanish instructions on small-animal bedding material.

The Beatles’ Revolver Hits


The days of the year you’re most likely to hear the various songs from The Beatles’ Revolver on NewsRadio 88 or your equivalent news station:

Song Most Popular Day
Taxman November 15 (Tax Day for procrastinators)
Eleanor Rigby September 24 (Eleanor Day)
I’m Only Sleeping August 8 (Snoopy’s Birthday)
Love You To First Monday after First Tuesday of February (Why Not?)
Here, There and Everywhere October 8 (Dave Barry’s Son’s Birthday)
Yellow Submarine Second Weekend of August (Manasquan, NJ, Big Sea Day)
She Said She Said July 16 (Echo Eve)
Good Day Sunshine Penultimate Tuesday in March (first sunny day of year)
And Your Bird Can Sing May 5 (Bird Morning)
For No One December 2 (Nothing going on)
Doctor Robert October 28 (Robert defends his thesis)
I Want To Tell You Last Sunday before Last Monday in June (Honesty Day)
Got To Get You Into My Life January 14 (National Absorption Of Other Amoebas Day, Amoeba Orthodox calendar)
Tomorrow Never Knows April 16 (better get ready!)

What You Need To Know To Understand February 21


Today is Friday, February 21, unless you are reading this on the wrong day. Go back and re-wind your calendar if this has happened. It is the 52nd day of the year, which is why most people don’t think it worth gathering in monstrously huge crowds in Times Square to ring the day in, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a pretty good day if it’s your birthday or if you’re celebrating the birth of John Rawls or something.

This date is observed as Washington’s Birthday by people who never reset their computer’s time zone from that visit to New Zealand and who haven’t noticed that they’re running a day ahead of their friends because they don’t vary their daily ritual nearly enough.

The Moon is now six days past full. It should be sniffed and passed to a trusted friend to “smell this and tell me if it’s funny” before being drunk. Funny in this case means peculiar as only the minor planets smell funny ha-ha. The moon should be spotted around dawn with Saturn to its left, and Mars and Spica to the right, but do not point. Jupiter may be seen after sunset, but do call ahead as it must finish its chores before it is allowed out. Capella will be passing overhead, which should not be a matter of concern, as it rarely spits and you can’t stop it anyway. Arcturus will be rising in the sky for what it insists is the last time eve as you keep taking it for granted; pay no attention. It does this every year at about this time, and it almost always comes back, since we started keeping the folder of Arcturian understudies in a prominent location.

People born on this day include singer Mary Chapin Carpenter, astronauts Mark Kelly and Scott Kelly, and the Bavarian politician Franz Xaver Josef von Unertl, although not all of them on the same day. Persons not born on this day include cartoonist Cathy Guisewite, actor Lucille Ball, city namesake Jim Thorpe, and 19th century superclown Dan Rice. Such is the balance of all things.

The day was celebrated as Feralia in ancient Rome, in order to celebrate the Manes, which marked the end of Parentalia, which doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere and is the sort of thing the ancient Romans were all busy about when they weren’t occupied with destroying Carthage. The festivities included arranging wreaths, sprinklings of grain and salt, and scattering bread soaked in wine and violets, although if you mixed up the orders of things it wouldn’t seem out of place. You could sprinkle bread soaked in salt and wreaths or arrange some violets and grain and not seem too out of place, which should be valuable if you find yourself in ancient Rome on the time of Feralia Parentalia Manes, which is a pretty catchy name all told.

February 21st is Language Movement Day in Bangladesh, which is why your friends in Dhaka and Chittagong have called to ask if you’ll help Bengali move its fold-out couch up three flights of stairs. Be tactful in making excuses. On learning how it connects to Bangladesh’s national identity and independence from Pakistan we feel a little bad even making that joke, and it isn’t much of a joke. It’s more kind of a “huh” followed by shrugging.

On this date in 1972 the International Atomic Energy Agency Verified that Canada was making peaceful use of nuclear power in Ontario, but we can’t help noticing that it didn’t say a word about what they’re up to in New Brunswick. Meanwhile in 1881 Winnipeg’s telephone system was sold to Bell Telephone, if you were worried about that.

On this date in 1992 the Internet ran out of IPv3 addresses, which were never in use but which were kept around just in case they could be useful sometime. The last block of addresses was used to prop the vegetable crisper up in the refrigerator so that it didn’t slip out of the tracks quite so easily. It did anyway. Several IPv3 addresses are kept as curios, but the bulk were harvested for their valuable horns, which were ground up to make a folk remedy for slow DSL connections.

What Spoons Mean


One of the great things about Thanksgiving is it’s a chance for us to get out the silverware and dishes and cutlery and all that that we don’t dare get out when it’s just us eating because we haven’t got near enough self-esteem to treat themselves to the good silverware. By the good silverware we mean the silverware that’s somehow gotten tarnished even though it was definitely cleaned before it was put away last time, eleven months ago, in a series of individually custom-fitting plastic wrappers, from which it was untouched by human hands and even forgotten about for that whole stretch between April and late October. By the good dishes we mean the ones that are kind of small but have that fancy lining we’re afraid is going to be scraped off by picking up whole-berry cranberries with the fork. By the cutlery we’re pretty sure we mean something. By all that we mean the things overlooked before.

The defining characteristic of the good silverware is we have no idea what most of it is for because the only things we eat anymore are sandwiches wraps, granola bars that are almost four percent granola and 90 percent chocolate-laced corn syrup, and extruded blocks of Colby/Monterey Jack blended cheese. So here’s some of the key pieces:

Forks. These multi-tined food implements were introduced to Western Civilization during the Carolingian Renaissance, although after the notorious Stabbening of Aix-la-Chapelle they beat a hasty retreat and didn’t come back until things had gotten a whole bunch more civilized and somehow the 17th Century counted. They started with three tines, then four, reaching five just before the rise of time-management theory and Fred Taylor’s theory that they’d do better with as few tines as possible. Things went absurdly far, reducing the fork to just one long dagger-like spindle in the 1930s, when nobody had any food anyway. In the good silverware they come in a small version, for salads, in a big version, for the meal, in a tinier still version, for pie, in an extra-medium version, for some reason, and in a tiny version but with one really thick tine that looks kind of like Popeye’s bulging muskles, for Bluto to stare at silently while contemplating the injustices of fate.

Mysterious Spoons. Spoons should come in multiple sizes and dimensions, including several that are nearly all holes. Those are used when you’re trying to serve something that comes in a juice, which you leave behind because of the holes, which raises questions about whether you need the juice at all and maybe it turns out spoons are really more complicated than we realized. The important thing is to use the sharpest spoon there is to slice the gelatinized cranberries because it’s just so, so pretty when it gets sliced into neat little polygonal wedges. So pretty. So, so pretty.

Yam Mauls. These triangular posts, were designed to allow the more efficient splitting of yams or sweet potatoes by the yam pirates of the Pine Barrens. While their success in that can be disputed, so can pretty much everything else, including on what day of the week Tuesday falls, so you can’t really go by the fact there’s a dispute possible. If nothing else having one person with a yam maul means there’s the chance to end the debate on whether yams are just sweet potatoes or if there’s got to be a difference if they’re called different things. This theory fails if there’s two people with yam mauls.

Poseidon’s Trident. This long tri-tined fork is used to hold the main course in place and where needed to condemn impious seafarers beating about the wine-dark sea. Leave it in the hands of the most responsible person, which can be determined by seeing who has the longest beard of those white poofy curly things. (They’re allowed to be rental beards.) You don’t want this kind of power being put in the hands of someone trying to run the carrots aground on the Island of Circe.

Plates. There should be one master plate for the main meal, and a side plate for the salad, and a little bowl also for the salad, and maybe a tinier bowl yet for a soup, if you make soup, and if you don’t you can just use the littlest bowl as something to take out of the way before you start eating. There should also be enough glasses that some migrate to your seating partners and are never seen again; more upscale ones will send postcards relating their adventures tersely.

Don’t ask about the tablecloths. We don’t need that kind of trouble.

Forms of New Jersey Local Government (2)


Continuing on the review of kinds of New Jersey municipal government:

New Jersey municipalities organized by the McCormick Quiet-Mayor System were formed between 1880 and 1900 as the “Boroughitis Epidemic” was finally brought under control by new public health measure including “washing”, previously confined to the Shore towns around Big Sea Day. In these municipalities the Mayor is elected separately from the Town Council, and may not be in the same meeting room during the conduction of official business, thus the name. The name appears paradoxical as in practice the Mayor shouts all her or his opinions from just outside the meeting room, but the phrase survives from the days before the invention of shouting in 1934. While the Mayor has no official veto power in this organization, she or he has an effective one as to enact any resolution the Mayor and the Town Clerk must run to the county’s Board of Chosen Freeholders and show them the proposed resolution, only to be told by the Chosen Freeholders that “we have no idea who you are”. By identifying themselves to the Chosen Freeholders, the resolution is thus quashed.

What Father’s Day Card-Shopping Taught Me


Fathers are flatulent, beer-swilling, lazy, somewhat hen-pecked, horny creatures with some delusions towards being able to handle tools, playing sports with competence, or being able to interact with their kids except by hollering. Also, fathers-in-law don’t exist. And they’re satisfied with cards that aren’t all that funny. But the card market exists, however much I don’t really find it funny; maybe I’m just the one out of step. I’m also none too fond of funny birthday cards, which exist in the forms, “Ha ha, you’re old”, “What, you’re not dead yet?”, and “Wait, we’re both old yet not dead”, and yet the market seems to support that too.

But is it just my own peculiar tastes, or are funny cards just not, on average, funny?

Continue reading “What Father’s Day Card-Shopping Taught Me”