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This is one of those phrases I never thought I’d hear myself utter. Much like the phrase “Don’t feed the possum, Mother,” which was a classic from six years ago. But utter it I did,
I generally think of myself and of MKL as peaceful people. We both strive for a chill alignment with the universe and to be essentially messengers of love and light. So pardon my surprise when he revealed, during a trip to our local Jax, sporting goods/farm equipment shoppe extraordinaire, a strong hankering for a Glock. And we’re not talking Glockenspiel.
Nope, he wanted a gun. He grew up in the wooly wilds of Kansas and learned to shoot at age six. He’d owned guns before but hadn’t had one for a number of years, as he has been busy raising kid(s). Well, the kids are all grown except for one, The Boy, who is 17 and so can be classified as nearly grown. So MKL, perhaps emboldened by my trusty companion Jimmy, decided it was time to take the plunge again.
After all, the couple that target shoots together….well, it’s a togetherness activity that we share.
Since the prices at Jax seemed a bit steep, we decided to wait a couple of weeks until the Tanner Gun Show.
I’ve never been to a gun show before. In fact, I’m not a big gun fan. I didn’t grow up with them. I know they are dangerous, especially with kids around and especially especially should they fall into the wrong hands. But I’ve gotten past that, and I’ve enjoyed target shooting. It’s self-challenging and exacting. So off we went to Glock shop.
I couldn’t take pictures inside the show, which was held at the lovely Merchandise Mart in Denver. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t really pumped to test the rules of security at a gun show. Perhaps the folks there value their privacy more than others. I have to say they were certainly the most polite bunch of folks that I’ve been crammed into a ginormous room with, ever. Pondering this later, it makes sense. Because almost everyone there was already armed, so pissing off strangers is not a good idea.
MKL did find the Glock of his dreams and the ammo to go with it, and bought me some ammo for good measure. I was intrigued by a rose-gripped 38 Special and an engraved snub-nose 354 Magnum, but I think there are cash priorities for me these days that supersede firearms purchases.
The pepper spray that not only disables your attacker, but turns him or her a glowingly bright shade of green for 21 days was a serious temptation, and is a 95% certain future purchase.
The vintage army/navy surplus clothing reminded me that somewhere, in some trunk, I own a wool navy sergeant’s middy in perfect condition that I bought at the Salvation Army in Durham right before I moved out here.
And I coveted the small taxidermied cobra, who would have been a perfect companion for Dude the Armadillo.
Then, there it was. The pistol of my dreams. A pearl-handled Colt Lightning revolver from 1877. When I held it in my hand, I knew that I had held this exact gun sometime else, long ago, before. It melted into my palm as if it were just an extension of my arm. I gazed at it in amazement. The price? $1500. What does that mean? On this day, when my job and future income was hanging by a tenuous thread? You guessed it – a forced parting. Oh, but I longed for her (and yes, she was a her).
I didn’t think I would ever have such an immediate (or any) attachment to a gun. But life surprises you sometimes. Since I have seen that she is out there, I suspect our paths will cross again someday. And since I couldn’t take a picture of her myself, here’s one that’s the very image of her.
I think her name is Rose. But I’m not quite sure yet.
We concluded our day by driving Kelsea and her BFF to a fancypants dinner at the St. Julien Hotel. You will note that they looked most elegant in their little black dresses, although watching my teenage daughter walk into a hotel in her short, tight, black dress made me utter something else that I never thought I would and that will not be published here.
Note: I’ve had a lot of posts that I’ve written in the past sort of lying in wait, so instead of keeping YOU waiting, I’m going to start posting them. You’ll be out of sequence in my life, but no worries, so am I.
Picking up en route from Mount Rushmore…
After a bunch more “Think or Die” signs, we reached Crazy Horse or, more properly, the Crazy Horse Memorial. Our first experience at the monument was a faux pas in which we saw a white Suburban with 20 kid icons on the back windshield.
We exclaimed loudly that it must be the Duggars, then realized that the matriarch was sitting in the passenger seat with her window down, right next to our squawking selves. We hastily passed by, trying to deflect her icy stare, which we could feel even through her sunglasses.
Neither of us had much background information on the Memorial - Kelsea wasn’t even sure if Crazy Horse was a man, a place, or an event. So we watched the informative video, encouraged by the docents at the Center. The sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, was so cool, and his family carries on the legacy of being so cool. We love that they accept no government monies for the project, which explains why it is taking so long. Korczak started working on it in 1948 and it’s far from finished, whereas Mount Rushmore took 14 years to complete. We’d like to donate dynamite to the cause. We like the idea of being part of blowing something up. I know that sounds wrong. But hey.
Korczak’s attitude towards the government reminded me of Jim Bishop of Bishop’s Castle in Colorado, but it was clear that Korczak, unlike Bishop, did accumulate some wealth and possessions in the course of his project. The part of his “house” that was open felt a lot like a European castle.
You can’t get close to Crazy Horse unless you pay extra to take a van tour, which we didn’t, but the renderings that are used for the actual sculpture are beautiful.
There’s a nice little museum in which I had a minor spiritual journey with a Native American dress.
We got to take home a rock that had been blasted out of the mountain to form the monument.
The spot has its own post office and zip code.
There were some random pieces that seemed unrelated – like Shaquille O’Neal’s shoe.
Korczak’s studio was really cool. It had the feel of a place that would be ultra-creepy at night.
There was also a hall with Native Americans selling various wares. Somehow, we both had a problem with that. It felt like we, as white folks, were saying, “Hey guys, let’s massacre you and steal your lands, but we’ll build a monument to you to say we’re sorry and throw in a couple of folding tables so you can eke out a living on our terms.” There is no possible reparation.
We didn’t stay here too long. The vibe felt kind of empty, hollow, not right. But at least they’re making an effort.
So we left and immersed ourselves in one of the most cluttered places ever – Doyle’s Antiques and Stuff, where we were greeted by a goiter-laden donkey.
This place had unbelievable amounts of Stuff (as advertised) crammed in every corner.
and another owner reminiscent of Jim Bishop, based on the random signage.
I barely resisted the giant rooster. I would have loved to drive back to Colorado with that sitting in the back of the truck. In fact, I loved it so much, I may have to go back for it. Perfect for the front yard. Can’t you just see him peeking over the fence?
I also barely resisted the FREE stuffed pheasant whose head had been eaten by God knows what. We have Kelsea to thank for that tasteful veto, as she was thoroughly opposed to it continuing to molt in the truck for the remainder of the trip.
We did pick up an antique apothecary bottle (free) and a vintage first-aid kit for my not-soon-enough-to-be EMT.
Our last excursion on this busy day was Custer State Park. Even with all the literature, we never did figure out why the park was named after Custer, as it didn’t look like he had much of a positive influence in this area. But then I suppose that’s a matter of perspective – he was clearly influential in some way, so maybe the positive doesn’t matter.
We took Needles Highway into the park. I couldn’t really figure out why it was called Needles Highway until we got to the tunnels. It’s called Needles Highway because going through some of those tunnels is like threading a needle. We shrieked the entire way through one – and we have it on video. I’m amazed that anything larger than my truck could make it.
Needles Highway is edged by the distinctive rock spires of the Black Hills. It is also full of idiot drivers who park blocking the roadways so they can get out to see the spires from 20 feet closer, thus causing fuming road rage in certain other drivers who shall not be named publicly.
Craving calm (or tequila, but calm was my first choice), we pulled off the road at a LEGITIMATE parking spot a bit further along, and went for a climb. We each found our individual rocks for peace and sat separately for a while, doing some soul-level housecleaning. It was quiet and beautiful and I released some things into the ancient richness of the Black Hills. I hope they can float with more ease now, and find their perfect drift in the universe wherever the current leads.
Kelsea leapt from rock to rock like a winged mountain goat. I watched her silently, my stomach leaping into my mouth each time she went airborne. As we headed back to the truck, she found a boulder stack she wanted to free climb. She’s a good climber, having spent some time at the climbing gym, and so I didn’t stop her, but as a mother, all my thoughts were, ‘Oh God, what if she falls and breaks her head open like Piggy in Lord of the Flies?’ Of course, she didn’t.
Needles Highway runs into the Wildlife Loop Road, which (as you might imagine) loops around the Park. It’s a great road and took us through a variety of changing terrains of equally matched beauty.
We hadn’t been on the loop for five minutes before we saw a buffalo nomming grass on the side of the road. Then we encountered some anti-social antelope, and another small bison herd in the distance.
Kelsea can tend towards carsickness, so she distracted herself by taking pictures of her shoe.
I did the same, though I was stopped at the time.
And then we came upon the donkeys. I suspect that the park has planted the donkey herds to guarantee any passing tourist an up-close and personal wildlife experience.
Because there was no avoiding the donkeys.
Totally social, tame, hand-feedable, another visitor gave us peanuts to feed them.
The babies were adorable.
And each donkey dutifully checked out each car to see who had the best treats. I love donkeys and haven’t had such interactions with them in, well, ever. But I han’t been around baby donkeys since Anegada. And a little further down the road was ANOTHER herd, with the littlest baby just getting his legs. They caused a donkey traffic jam.
And one decided to give me a close-in hello.
A few mule deer sightings, and we were back on the road to Rapid City, marvelling at the cool softness of the air and the diversity of the landscape we’d seen today.
We were both starving and went to Botticelli’s Restaurant, which smelled amazing, but was understaffed. Our wait was 45 minutes and I thought Kelsea was going to eat me. She did eat the paper from her straw before her food came. And the food was good, particularly the chicken piccata, but probably not worth the painful wait.
And so Day 3 came to a close. We have a couple of stops on Day 4, and then we are homeward bound.
As a single working mom, the amount of time I get to spend with my daughter is limited to weekends, and even the weekends are often limited to a day and a night, if either of us wishes to have a social life, which we both do. That’s really tough because we love each other and have fun together and each helps the other make sense out of life. I know it’s the quality of time spent together more than the amount, but most of our time spent together is quality time – it just would be nice to have more of it.
So we had last night and today together. We were both kind of tired last night – she was a little quiet, so we just hung and watched Jersey Shore and Ghost Adventures. She stretched out on God’s Cat. I took a bath. As I say, a quiet night. Today, upon rising, we ate and then talked about life and compromises and how to live with difficult people and right/wrong conundrums and all sorts of things for an hour or more. I think we both felt like we got a lot of value from our talk. Each time we have one of those really good talks, we seem to understand one another better. So, no, this is NOT how to annoy your teenager. Or at least not how to annoy mine. We’re getting to that. Trust me.
Wanting to go out but not being sure what we wanted to do, we decided to hit Longmont and the flea markets. It’s a pretty good flea market town, and we like its Main Street. So off we headed. Our first stop was where we got God’s Cat, and we had been contemplating a second, but fortunately for my wallet, this flea market was closed on Sundays. Across the highway, however, in their old location, was another flea market, with a parking lot sale going on. Unfortunately, I did not realize the extent of the parking lot sale until I had actually placed my truck in the middle of the parking lot sale. At that point, I realized that there was no place to park because there was a sale in the parking lot (see how I’m not picking up on the parking lot sale concept) and I had two choices: run over people in their booths or squeeze between the cones indicating that I’m where I shouldn’t be. As Kelsea can tell you, I have extensive experience with putting my vehicle where it shouldn’t be. The people at Home Depot and at Camp Lejeune Marine Base can vouch for this as well. We made as graceful an exit as possible and parked far away, hoping not to be recognized when we approached on foot.
We love flea markets. We poked around to our heart’s content and found some things that were too expensive but too wonderful, such as PorkChop the metal boar:
An old freezer that had a buckle latch as opposed to an actual handle, and was in mint condition:
China cats were nestled in the corners of your grandmother’s couch, staring at you psychotically for all eternity:
We both agreed that we would have to leave the house and never return were this to arrive at our door:
I revelled in a totally inappropriate sock monkey:
Made all the more inappropriate by its tag:
As we exited, we encountered a life-sized nutcracker:
Kelsea looked askance at me when I said that you could fit a baby’s head in there.
We headed down to Main Street, and though most of the shops were closed on Sundays, because clearly any money spent on Sunday in Longmont should be going to the church, we did enjoy our window shopping experience. We were also greeted by two gentlemen occupying a bench, who asked us if they could buy a cigarette from us, and when we said no, asked us for money to buy cigarettes, leading us to wonder how they intended to pay us for cigarettes had we had them to sell.
I wanted to share some of the interesting signs and displays from Main Street with you:
A very clever window display for men’s clothing:
Longmont has lots of free and easily accessible public parking and numerous small public art installations:
We did find Barbed Wire Books to be open. It claims to be the largest used bookstore in Longmont, and one we hadn’t yet visited, so we went in. I picked up a couple of mysteries.
Kelsea told me she was hungry enough to eat me, so we made our final stop The Pumphouse. The burgers were good and they had misters (those things that spray mist, not men – and when I say “not men”, I don’t mean that they don’t spray men, they WILL spray men, but men is not what they spray – oh, never mind) above the patio diners that sprayed just enough to cool, but not enough to dampen. Kelsea shared with me her most recent app acquisition:
And so, we headed for home.
Now, you may be wondering about the “how to annoy my teenager” part of the day. Well, that comes into play when I share with you what we bought at the flea market.
We found her a new army jacket from either the WWII or Korea era – I can’t tell which, but it’s in excellent shape, was only $10, and was a medic’s coat, so she is totally thrilled with that. But sorry, no image.
We found a small $2 sign for the kitchen. It’s a reminder for me of a) how to cook, and b) how to live:
I discovered a 1960′s Ouija Board. Previously, I have refused to have a Ouija Board in the house – perhaps because my Mother was so strongly opposed to them – but when I saw this one, I knew that it was the perfect time for it to arrive in my life.
And last, but so totally not least, I found Him. I had been in the booth where He was before, and didn’t even see Him, but when I walked in again, He immediately caught my eye, and it was all over. I had to have Him.
And this is where I began to annoy my teenager. She found Him terrifying. Their initial meeting went something like this:
Me: Look! I found the coolest thing ever!
Her: GAH! What IS that?
Me: I don’t know. Isn’t it awesome?
Her: NO! You are NOT buying that.
Me: But He wants to come home with you. Here, hold Him.
Her: Get that thing away from me.
Clearly, they did not have immediate chemistry. So the rest of our afternoon played out along similar lines.
Me: He likes you. He’s looking at you.
Her: Well, make Him stop.
Me: Sorry, I can’t do that. He does what He pleases.
Her: Mom, you’re sick.
Her: I’m hungry. Let’s go get a burger.
Me: Okay. He likes burgers too. And He thinks you’re pretty.
Her: Mom, STOP IT.
Me: What? I’m just saying.
She offered to carry Him on her lap if she could keep the truck windows open, but I’m smarter than that.
He was apparently all the rage in the 1950s, with numerous other incarnations, and was highly collectible among housewives of the day. Can you imagine coming home after a hard day at the office and being confronted by multiple versions of Him? Kelsea would rather stick her head in a garbage disposal.
So I will keep Him until I sell Him on Ebay, or tire of annoying her, whichever comes first – and I think we know which one that will be.
I am so looking forward to the coming months with my daughter.
Got your coffee or Big Gulp? Got your beignet or apple fritter? It’s a long one today…
Happy May Day! (Mayday! Mayday!)
Or, if you are in Hawaii, Happy Lei Day! Yes, today is Hawaii’s 82nd year of celebrating Lei Day. On this day in 1785, King Kamehameha I (whose real name, you probably didn’t know, was Kalani Paiʻea Wohi o Kaleikini Kealiʻikui Kamehameha o ʻIolani i Kaiwikapu kaui Ka Liholiho Kūnuiākea) defeated political rival Kalanikupule to formally create the Kingdom of Hawaii.
I am assuming that marking today as Lei Day is related to this fact, although, as the idea for the holiday was originated by newspaperman Don Blanding to celebrate island culture, it may only fall on this date because, after all, it rhymes with May Day. The day even has its own song, written by Red and Ruth Hawk (I know, yes, really, “Red” Hawk), entitled “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii” (catchy, huh?). While the song is now performed as a Hawaiian hula, it was originally composed as a fox trot. Somehow the image of women and men foxtrotting in grass skirts is rather incongruous.
Our friend Andrew used to live in Hawaii, and he would always bring me back beautiful tuberose leis when he returned. I, most unfortunately, have never been to Hawaii. Just one of many omissions that I have yet to repair.
Today in 1751, the first cricket match was played in America. It may also have been the last, for all I know. Understanding this game is on my list of things to do before I die, albeit low on the priority totem pole.
Have you ever tried to figure it out? Or have it explained to you? I have. About six years ago, an English friend sent me an email attempting an explanation. Here’s a short verbatim (including CAPS) excerpt:
THE ‘CRICKET PITCH’ IS THE TWENTY TWO YARD STRIP IN THE APPROXIMATE CENTRE OF THE GROUND OR PLAYING AREA; A ROUGH CIRCLE OR OVAL, BUT NEVER A SQUARE. THE TERM CRICKET SQUARE IS USED TO DELINEATE THE AREA WITHIN THE CIRCLE OR OVAL THAT THE ACTUAL PITCH, OR ‘WICKET’ CAN BE PLACED, AS OPPOSED TO THE OUTFIELD (BEING THE REST OF THE GROUND). THE EXACT PLACEMENT IS DECIDED BEFORE THE START OF THE MATCH BY THE BY THE HOME TEAM’S ‘GROUNDSMAN’; A PERMANENT EMPLOYEE/ NOMINEE CHARGED WITH CARE OF THE GROUND. IT CANNOT BE ALTERED DURING THE COURSE OF THE MATCH, EVEN THOSE LASTING FOUR OR FIVE DAYS, HOWEVER MUCH IT DETERIORATES, AS THE STATE OF THE PITCH AT ANY TIME AFFECTS THE BOUNCE OF THE BALL AND IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IN THE BOWLING STRATEGY ADOPTED BY THE FIELDING TEAM (FAST, SPIN OR SLOW BOWLER ETC.).
The entire explanation was only a brief summary, and it was 4 PAGES LONG. I don’t believe there is enough ALCOHOL IN THE WORLD to make this sport logical.
Today in 1759, Josiah Wedgwood opened the Wedgwood pottery company in Great Britain. (Note that, contrary to what your fingers find logical in typing, there is no “e” in Wedgwood.) Wedgwood, who was related to Charles Darwin, was ahead of his time as far as industrialists were concerned, so much so that he built an entire village on an estate called Etruria to comfortably house himself, his workers and his state-of-the-art factory.
His jasper ware, originally in Poland Blue, but later in shades of green and pale yellow, with themes based on greek mythology, was a favorite of Queen Charlotte, Queen Elizabeth II, and, most importantly, my mother. She had a few treasured pieces of genuine Wedgwood, and taught me how to recognize imposters just by touch. It’s lovely stuff.
Today in 1851, Queen Victoria opened the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Continents. Held for 5 1/2 months in an amazing temporary structure in London’s Hyde Park, this was the original World’s Fair. That structure, called the Crystal Palace or the Great Shalimer, was a magnificent construction of glass, similar to a greenhouse.
I wish I could have seen it. It had the dubious distinction of housing the very first pay toilets! Of the 13,000 exhibits, some of the most noteworthy were a voting machine;
a very early model of the fax machine;
the Ko-hi-noor Diamond (which was the largest known in the world at the time);
and – my personal favorite – the Tempest Prognosticator – a barometer that used leeches as part of its measuring system.
Today in 1869, the Folies Bergeres opened in Paris.
Located at 32 rue Richer, Folies Bergeres was the first music hall in Paris, and its concept of exotic women in revealing costumes has been flatteringly imitated around the world for decades. Many a less-than-mainstream performer launched her career on the stage here, most notably American expatriate Josephine Baker, who rocked the world with her risqué ”banana dance” in 1926.
The painter Manet captured a slice of the Folies Bergeres in his canvas aptly titled “A Bar at the Folies-Bergeres” in 1882, which has been subject to much analysis and interpretation from art critics over the last century. By the way, it was Manet’s birthday yesterday.
Please note the mysterious green shoes on the mysterious cankles in the upper left hand corner.
Today in 1930, planet Pluto was officially named. And I refuse to buy into the whole “dwarf planet” crap.
The little planet of rock and ice with the eccentric orbit was good enough to be one of the cornerstones of “My Very Elegant Mother Just Sat Upon Nine Porcupines.” It should not be demoted – or underestimated. Like Southerners who continue in their hearts to fight the Civil War, it’s just biding its time. Kelsea is a huge Pluto fan, and sports several T-shirts and posters calling for justice for her buddy.
Today in 1991, Oakland A’s Rickey Henderson stole his 939th base, breaking the all-time base-stealing record. Now, I am not a baseball fan. So why is this historical? Because my Mother and I both thought that Rickey Henderson had the nicest ass in baseball. Ever. I recall my Dad sending me a newspaper clipping of RH in mid-swing that provided an excellent view. He attached a note saying that my Mom had asked him to send this along, but he had no idea why. I don’t believe either of us ever enlightened him.
Yes, on this May Day (or thrimilce, as the Anglo-Saxons called it), you can see we have much to celebrate. So do so in one of a myriad of traditional ways:
Gather oodles of flowers – in other words, go “a-Maying”. (I remember my friend Martha and I did this when we were 17 – we filled her father’s old Cadillac convertible to bursting with blooms. We put the top down and waved and blew kisses to everyone. Then we had a wreck. But just a tiny wreck. Boy, was her Dad mad.)
Festoon your cow with floral garlands and dance around her. A maypole may be substituted for the cow, if needed.
Wash your face in the early morning dew.
Throw eggshells at disagreeable strangers. (You can thank Germany for this one.)
Mark small cakes (a.k.a. bannocks) with a cross and roll them down a hill.
Bring beer, vodka and food to the graves of your loved ones.
Sacrifice a reindeer to the goddess Rauni.
Lay some eggs beside a stream for the woodland elves to use in making cakes.
Carefully make a bonfire, and even more carefully, jump through it.
If you happen to be a chimney sweep, wear gold paper on your clothes and line your face with pink paint and white chalk.
That should keep you busy.
Thus endeth the history lesson. Hope you feel slightly enlightened.
Pencils ready, class? OK, let’s get started.
It’s the birthday of the match.
On this day in 1827, English chemist John Walker sold the first friction match. Fire-makers in various forms had been around for centuries, but this was the first to be successfully commercially produced. However, it smelled like fireworks and had an unfortunate and unpredictable tendency to shoot sparks a great distance upon lighting. In fact, the sulphuric scent was part of the reason that matches were called “Lucifers”, a name that persists in some countries.
Four years later, a Frenchman named Charles Sauria added white phosphorus to the matchhead to improve quality and reduce the smell. But with one drawback down, another was added. White phosphorus was exceptionally toxic, and resulted in the workers who were exposed to it daily in the match factories falling victim to phossy jaw, a horrible, disfiguring condition that caused the jawbone to abscess and to glow a greenish-white in the dark. Left untreated, phossy jaw caused brain damage, organ failure, and death.
The use of white phosphorus in matches was not completely banned until 1906, but activists started protesting it most vigorously in 1888, when the London Match Girls strike occurred.
1400 women and girls employed at disgracefully low wages in an incredibly toxic match factory run by Bryant & May refused to work until conditions improved. Activist and theosophist Annie Besant aided the women in appealing their cause.
The group generated widespread public support and became unionized, settling the strike with many of their terms met.
I too am one of the masses who enjoyed collecting matchbooks over the years since I left home. While it’s one of those things I’m learning to let go of (and it helps that restaurants and bars don’t often provide branded matchbooks these days), it is pleasant to take a walk down memory lane once in a while when I look through the matchbook basket.
Today in 1906, Mount Vesuvius erupted, the only volcano to erupt on the European mainland in the last 100 years. Having erupted in A.D. 79, destroying Pompeii and leaving one of the world’s most vivid living cemetaries, the 1906 eruption killed over 100 people and decimated several cities in the province of Naples.
According to some historians, today is the anniversary of Christ’s crucifixion and death, although honestly, no one can say for sure. They just didn’t keep those kind of records. Well, if they did, they’re lost now. Funny how the talk is all about Jesus’ birthday and the day of resurrection, but not about the day he actually died.
Today in 1949, South Pacific opened at New York City’s Majestic Theater. Starring (originally) Mary Martin (who also played Peter Pan on Broadway) and Ezio Pinza, the musical ran for 1,928 performances.
South Pacific inspired many of us to dream of a tropical paradise thousands of miles away… palm-fringed islands of white sand, surrounded by turquoise lagoons….sigh….wait, where was I? Apparently, not where I want to be.
On this date in 1926, Benito Mussolini received a small portion of his just desserts – a feisty 50-year old Irishwoman named Violet Gibson shot him in the nose.
He didn’t die. She spent the rest of her life in a British mental institution. One of life’s little ironies.
Today is also the birthday of LSD, first concocted on this day by Albert Hoffman (not to be confused with ’60s radical Abbie Hoffman) in a Swiss Lab.
He first discovered its psychedelic powers when he accidentally absorbed it through his fingers – that must have been a real shock. But three days later, he deliberately ingested the substance and rode his bicycle home. Quite the trip. In fact, the first LSD trip is now known as “Bicycle Day”. Hoffman never thought the drug would be used recreationally, but did believe that it had some therapeutic efficacy. Little did he know.
In China, today is the Festival of Pure Brightness, the day to go visit your ancestors’ tombs, sweep them out and tidy them up. It is then customary to leave offerings, including cold food and flowers, and burn incense and paper money (hopefully fake paper money) as sacrifices to those who have passed.
It’s also No Housework Day (something that I personally have no problem with whatsoever), but this might be a conflict of interest for Chinese tomb-sweepers.
Today in 1923, Dr. K. Winfield Ney performed the first brain tumor operation under local anesthesia. The anesthesia was cocaine on the patient’s scalp. I’ve always thought this was an exceptional bizarre concept; any brain surgery seems unbelievable, but the idea of being awake and chatty for an operation on the most important part of your body just freaks me out. I wonder if that first patient was exceptionally chatty due to the cocaine? Although I don’t suppose it’s absorbed through the scalp. Anyway, I’ve always had a morbid fascination with those films of brain surgery where, when the surgeon pokes Spot A, the patient says, “I smell moose droppings!” and when the surgeon pokes Spot B, the patient says “I hear the William Tell Overture!”.
We celebrate two human birthdays today:
Will Kellogg (1860-1951), developer of Kellogg’s cereal flakes and bookkeeper at his brother’s Battle Creek Sanitarium. He looks like a bookkeeper, doesn’t he?
The Sanitarium, which was THE hot spot for the rich and famous to come and subject themselves to enemas, mechanotherapy, physiologic tonics and nuts (seemingly of all sorts).
With a staff of over 800, I doubt anyone had to lift a finger for themselves, but the Depression depressed the sanitarium, and it eventually became a U.S. Army Hospital. Luckily, the Kelloggs were able to fall back into their bowls of flakes. Better flakes in bowls than flakes in hot tubs, I suppose.
Jackie Chan (1954 – currently alive), cutie-pie and martial artist/stuntman extraordinaire.
He holds the Guinness World Record for Most Stunts Performed By A Living Actor, and, not surprisingly, his heroes are Bruce Lee, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton, who also performed their own stunts.
He holds himself up as a role model for children by the characters he portrays in his films, and has broken almost every bone (although not arms and legs), and some of them more than once.
And today, we mourn the loss of the following larger-than-life figures:
Dick Turpin, romantic English highwayman, was hanged on this date in 1739.
Highway robbery got its name from rogues such as Turpin, who, after trying to follow a straight and narrow course under an assumed name, was unmasked and arrested (and subsequently hanged) as a horse thief. His body was stolen by grave robbers (a.k.a. body snatchers, a.k.a. Resurrectionists) but they were caught red-handed with the corpse and it was returned to its final resting place.
Growing up, one of my favorite poems was Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman”. It’s actually one of Kelsea’s favorites now, and she’s not a big poetry fan. There’s no evidence that Noyes based the poem on the tale of Dick Turpin. However, Dick Turpin’s horse was named Black Bess, and in the poem, the Highwayman falls in love with the landlord’s black-eyed daughter, Bess. Coincidence? I think not.
If you’re not up for reading, Loreena McKennitt did a lovely musical rendition of this epic piece.
The great showman, P.T. Barnum passed into the great beyond today in 1891 at the age of 81.
(Barnum is the larger one in the above picture.) An entrepreneurial egomaniac and consummate showman, Barnum made millions by promoting hoaxes and human oddities. He established “The Greatest Show on Earth”, which was originally known as P. T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome (and which included a freak show), and was the first to buy his own train, which he used to transport the show across the yet-to-be-paved county.
And in 1977, we said Sayonara to Tomoyuki Tanaka, Japanese film producer and father of Godzilla.
What red-blooded American child of my general age didn’t root for Godzilla as he terrorized cities and ate trains?
And, oh, the sequels, the spin-offs, the battles, the little tiny singing Asian girls who lived in a flower from Godzilla vs. Mothra! I think that was my favorite.
And finally, today is International Beaver Day. This date was chosen for the honor because it is the birthday of the late Dorothy Richards of Little Falls, New York, who studied beavers for 50 years.
And to help you celebrate, here are some little-known facts about beavers.
In the 18th Century, Canadians used silver trading tokens in the shape of a beaver – it was valued at 10 beaver pelts.
In April of 1999, beavers were responsible for the untimely deaths of eight of the famous flowering cherry trees of Washington, D.C., in an event that was known as “Beavergate”. In a sting that was followed intently by dozens of Washingtonians, three beavers were snared in the Tidal Basin by trusty Park Services employees, and peace once again reigned in the our nation’s capitol.
The slap of a beaver’s tail in the water can be heard up to half a mile away.
Beavers have three eyelids, and the third is transparent so that the critter’s eyes are protected underwater – this curious feature is called a nictitating membrane. (Note that the photo below does not show a beaver – honestly, I have no idea what animal this is. Nor am I sure that I want to know.)
Beavers mate for life. Isn’t that sweet?
The world’s largest beaver statue is located in Beaverlodge, Alberta, Canada. It’s 15 feet tall, 18 feet long and poses the beaver atop a 20 foot long log.
Drop in for a visit if you’re in the neighborhood.
OK, pencils down! Thus endeth the history lesson. Hope you feel slightly enlightened.
Today is the 21st anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in Alaska. 10.9 million gallons poured into the pristine waters around Bligh Reef just after midnight. The vessel was on autopilot in the inbound shipping lane to avoid icebergs. Autopilot and iceberg are two words that should never be paired together in a sentence or a thought.
This unsullied, isolated area suffered immediate, massive losses of wildlife – hundreds of thousands of animals, including sea birds, sea otters, harbor seals, bald eagles and orcas, to name a few. These deaths have continued to mount due to contamination issues in the food chain. Devastating long-term environmental impact persists – you can’t massively screw up an ecosystem that took nature hundreds of thousands of years to create and expect it to return to its original state in 21 years. Or maybe, say, ever. All these years later, I still remember the images of the volunteers tenderly cleaning the oil from afflicted birds.
It’s the birthday (and the death day) of John Harrison, who solved the problem of longitude. He died at age 83 in 1776 – I wonder how I’d feel about dying on my birthday? Not that I suppose I would have much say in the matter.
Now, you may wonder why longitude (which according to Wikipedia, is pronouncedˈlɒndʒɨtjuːd/ or /ˈlɒŋɡɨtjuːd/ - excuse me??),[ was a problem? Well, it was much more simple to determine latitude - the sun rises and sets on the horizon, and so, mariners and others who needed directions could make determinations of position based on those two visuals. But with longitude, there was no fixed frame of reference (like the horizon) to make such calculations logical. So Harrison, a clockmaker, deduced that if you made a clock that was fixed to a time in a set location (for example, London, picked by Harrison due to his own location), you could make calculations based on the position of various celestial bodies.
OK, it’s complicated – it took hundreds of years for smart scientists to figure it out, so don’t expect me to be able to explain it in two sentences. Instead, I refer you to a most excellent and surprisingly entertaining book: Longitude: The True Story of A Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel (available at www.amazon.com).
Harrison, most unfortunately, received no credit for his discovery until three years before his death. At that time, he petitioned King George III to intervene on his behalf with the Board of Longitude, a collection of scientists challenged to solve the longitudinal riddle. The King did so successfully, and Harrison was finally compensated and recognized for his achievement. He made five increasingly accurate longitudinal watches, all of which survive today.
Presto-changeo, it’s Harry Houdini’s birthday! The son of a Rabbi from Appleton, Wisconsin, this escapeologist extraordinaire, over the course of his career, freed himself from such devices as a milk can full of beer, the belly of beached whale (eww), and the infamous Chinese Water Torture Cell.
The Chinese Water Torture Cell required that Houdini be shackled and suspended upside-down in a glass and steel tank filled to the brim with water; the magician had to hold his breath for three minutes to effect his escape.
He flirted briefly with an acting career and with aviation, but other than “magic”, his passion was exposing fraudulent spiritualists. After the death of his mother, whom he adored, he attempted to contact her via seances with numerous mediums and after too many failures, began to debunk these shysters out of frustration and a sense of justice.
Even though Houdini was portrayed as having died during a performance of the Chinese Water Torture Cell trick in several films, he actually died of peritonitis caused by a ruptured appendix. Granted the ruptured appendix was contributed to by a McGill University student by the name of J. Gordon Whitehead, who tested the magician’s claim that he could withstand any blow to the body above the waist without injury – Houdini didn’t have time to tighten his abdomen before Whitehead struck him. He passed out during a performance some nights later and following his revival and the conclusion of his performance, was taken to a hospital where he died several days later on Halloween night.
Sparked by his final words and his interest in spiritualism, Houdini’s wife Bess kept a candle burning by his photo and held a séance every Halloween night for 10 years following his death. While Bess finally determined that “ten years is long enough to wait for any man”, seances for Houdini continue to be held around the world on Halloween. I suppose if he were to pay a visit on that night, he’d be as busy as Santa.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, founder of San Francisco’s famous beat bookshop City Lights Bookstore, celebrates his birthday today. The only San Francisco business (as opposed to building) to be designated an official city landmark, it’s a wonderful place for experiencing the alternative and creative culture that makes the city so uncommonly rich.
It’s the anniversary of the death of Jules Verne – visionary and father of science fiction. He wrote about air, space and underwater travel and exploration well before there were vehicles for such things, and his incidental predictions were remarkably accurate. Here’s another book recommendation: Around The World in 80 Days. Better than any of the movie versions!
It’s the 405th anniversary of the death of Queen Elizabeth I. The cornerstone of the Virgin Queen’s legacy lay in her diplomatic skills that made England a force to be reckoned with in the political and military world. Some little known facts about this powerful monarch:
She owned more than 3000 dresses and wore new shoes each week.
She was terrified of mice (must be a soulmate of mine).She ate sweets constantly, thinking they would make her breath sweet. Given the poor dental hygiene of the times, this actually worked against her – her teeth were black and some of them were missing. In fact, she stuffed rags in her mouth to keep her cheeks from appearing hollow. Due to the rags and the missing teeth, it was difficult at times to understand her.
She consulted astrologers frequently, was not a morning person, and her favorite flower was the pansy.
It’s National Chocolate Covered Raisins Day. Raisinets were my favorite childhood movie candy. Remember the jingle? “Goobers and Raisinets – the chocolate covered candies – that pour!” Yum. Too bad they’re not on the Atkins Diet.
And finally, it’s Kick Butts Day.
If you smoke, stop. It will kill you. You can do it. It won’t be easy, but you can do anything you put your mind to.
Thus endeth the history lesson (and the Mom-lecture). Hope you feel slightly enlightened.
Today is the birthday of the sewing machine, the telephone book and the Communist Manifesto.
If you’re of a certain age, your mother probably had a sewing machine. Mine did, and she made many of my clothes when I was small, as well as most of the clothes that my Barbie Dolls wore. (As an aside, did you know there was actually a short-lived Trailer Trash Barbie? I kid you not. Someday, I’ll do a Barbie post.)
I actually did learn to use one – in high school, I created almost the entire wardrobe for the cast of one of the school plays. That wound up being a very bittersweet experience for me, as I was somehow the only one of the crew who received NO recognition. It pissed me off and embittered me towards sewing. When I moved away, my Mom bought me a machine, but I could never get the hang of it. I think it is still in Pat’s shed. That’s sad because I enjoyed creating things. Maybe someday, I’ll try again. I’m the only person I know with PTSD around sewing machines. But then, I’m the only person I know with a fear of yeast.
Who can forget Steve Martin’s portrayal of “a poor black child” in “The Jerk”, yelling “The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!”? On this day in 1878, the first phone book was published – it was one page and contained 50 listings for New Haven, Connecticut. Just think, now we go to a lot of trouble to be sure no one can find our phone number unless we give it to them, yet at the same time, we are constantly connected to millions of strangers via social medium. Ironic, isn’t it?
The Communist Manifesto was published today in 1848 by Karl Marx and Fredric Engels. I’m not going to get into the details – you can find them elsewhere – but suffice it to say that pure Marxism promoted a classless society (in terms of segregated classes of people, not couthness), which, if it were somehow possible to abolish man’s natural tendency towards greed, might be the way to go, as it actually promotes democratic thinking.
However, in Communist countries, the theory has been degraded and has resulted in the authoritarian, Big Brother types of societies that democracies find so objectionable. (As I type this, ”Dr. Zhivago” is beginning on TCM – one of my mother’s favorite movies, and one that demonstrates, with debatable accuracy, some of the tenets of communist society.)
It’s English poet W.H. Auden’s birthday.
In his honor, here’s one of his most beautiful and sorrowful works.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
And it’s the birthday of actor Alan Rickman, a.k.a. Snape from the Harry Potter movies – the character we love to hate.
He actually has an extremely solid body of work, dating from 1978, even though most of his roles were rather villainous. The Guardian named him as one of the finest actors never to have received an Academy Award. He’s 64 and he looks very good for his age.
Today, we mourn the following individuals who have passed on:
Dutch philosopher Spinoza, best known for propagating the theory that God and Nature are just two names for the same thing. I agree.
Dame Margot Fonteyn, prima ballerina of the Royal Ballet and partner extraordinaire of Rudolph Nureyev,
and Sunny Lowry, the first British woman to swim the English Channel. At age 22, it took her 15 hours and 41 minutes, and society branded her a harlot for daring to wear a two-piece bathing suit that exposed her knees. Talk about not having your priorities straight.
Lastly, it’s the day that the Carolina Parakeet, the only parrot native to the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, passed into extinction in 1918. May the beautiful little thing rest in peace.
Thus endeth the history lesson. Hope you feel slightly enlightened.
On this day in 1847, the first group of rescuers reached the Donner Party.
Heavens, what a horrible trip these poor people had. As you may know, the Donner Party is famous for having had to resort to cannibalism to survive when their overland journey from Illinois to California was stalled by deep snow in the Sierra Nevadas. To me, one of the most unfortunate parts of this tale of woe is that, when the first rescue party arrived, while 14 of the emigrants had died, there had been no cannibalism. However, in the week-long interval between the arrival of the first and the second relief parties, the survivors had begun to eat their dead. Desperate times, desperate measures. It’s not impossible to imagine.
Today is the day that 30,000 United States Marines (boo-rah!) landed on Iwo Jima in 1945. The image of the American Flag being raised by six soldiers was taken on the 5th day of the 35-day long battle by photographer Joe Rosenthal, and was the first photo to win a Pulitzer prize in the same year it was published. Three of the six men in the photograph were killed in action during the conflict, which was ultimately a victory for the Allied Forces.
It’s the birthday of Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, born in 1876. Bohemian, with a rare ability to capture essence rather than appearance, Brancusi was a shepherd-turned-sculptor who excelled in carvings in wood, stone and bronze.
He also made most of his own furniture and doorways, so he was clearly handy to have around the home. A spiritual man, he nevertheless had a strong appreciation for wine, women and smokes. In the last 19 years of his career, Brancusi only made 15 sculptures, and in an interview towards the end of his life, was said to have been puttering around his studio, “communing with the silent host of fish, birds, heads and endless columns he’d created.”
He’s known for having created the most expensive sculpture ever sold at auction ($37.2 million). Sorry to be a modern art ignoramus, but I have to ask why this piece sold for that much.
Brancusi’s grave is in Montparnasse in Paris, which ironically has several sculptures that he crafted as gravestones for others. His grave is remarkably unadorned, and for a reason that I can’t identify, he appears to have been buried with abstract husband-and-wife painters Alexandre Istrati and Natalia Dumitresco.
Today is British actress Merle Oberon’s birthday (1911-1979). Beautiful yes, but honestly, I never thought much of her acting skills. She’s always seemed so wooden and as if she were overacting. She was the mixed race child of a British subject and a Ceylonese/Maori Eurasian woman, though it is unclear if her mother was actually her mother or, in reality, her grandmother. After a car crash in 1937 resulted in severe facial trauma, she was somewhat obsessed with film and lighting techniques that would minimize the appearance of her scars onscreen. She died from a stroke at the age of 68 and is now a resident of the famous Forest Lawn Cemetary. (I had a friend who urinated on graves there by accident once in the dark.)
Today in 1963, Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking feminist book “The Feminine Mystique” was published.
I waited on Betty Friedan back in 1981 when I worked at a clothing store in Harvard Square called Serendipity. I recall sneaking peeks at her as I ran her credit card through the machine. I have to say, and I truly, truly, mean no disrespect by saying this, that she was one of the ugliest women that I have ever seen. Though I did compliment her on her book. Even though I never read it.
It’s Chocolate Mint Day. If you’ve never grown it in your garden, I’d encourage you to do so. It really does smell just like chocolate when you rub its little leaves.
And lastly, it’s the 12th anniversary of the death of Grandpa Jones. Known as Grandpa due to his extreme grumpiness when he arrived for early-morning radio shows, he was a remarkable clawhammer banjo player and a longtime cast member of “Hee Haw”, which will, no doubt, only be familiar to Southerners of a certain age.
When I was 15, I was forced to participate in a “talent” show at Theosophy Camp in Hot Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, where I was staying with my grandmother one summer, and the skit in which I had to perform was a recreation of the singing washboard women from Hee-Haw. Oh, dear. I’ll leave the whole damn thing to your imagination.
It’s not as if cows hibernate. But today is a day for a short cow write. (Not a write about short cows, but a short write about cows.)
Why? A few reasons.
Today is the anniversary of the first and only cow being milked in flight. Yes, 80 years ago today, Elm Farm Ollie, aka Nellie Jay aka Sky Queen, a docile half-ton Guernsey from Sunnymede Farms in Bismarck, Missouri, boarded a Ford Tri-Motor Airplane for the 72 mile flight to the International Air Festival in St. Louis.
Nellie was an exceptionally productive milk cow, and couldn’t wait until she landed, so she produced 24 quarts of milk en route, which was then dropped to the ground in small paper containers attached to mini-parachutes. Elsworth W. Bunce had the honor of milking the bovine aviatrix. It is rumored that some of the milk was served to Charles Lindbergh at the festival.
The anniversary of this historic event is celebrated annually in the small Wisconsin town of Mount Horeb at their Mustard Museum. Nellie Jay also has had an opera written about her exploits, called Madam Butterfat.
So, that’s one reason.
The second reason is even more important to me! And it is this….
Calving season has begun!!!
Yes, perhaps it’s a little early, and no, I don’t own a cow, or a calf for that matter. (Though I always said that if I ever had another baby (not going to happen) that I’d like for it to be born during calving season.)
When driving Highway 36 into Boulder, you pass by some open space that is still reserved for ranching. Every winter, the farmers who graze their cattle in these wide, expansive fields move the herds elsewhere. In the spring, when it’s calving time, they move them back, a few cows at a time.
Yesterday, I discovered that the first prodigal cows have returned, and with them are their itty-bitty calves. They look like little spots on the grey-green grass, but soon there will be dozens of them, romping, kicking up their little calf heels and dozing in the bovine nurseries. And THAT’S how you know that spring is really coming.