Sunday, February 6, 2011

History Detective Does It Again - Nobel Committee Takes Note

Though the true origin of Valentine’s Day has long been clouded by indifference, personal reflection on the matter has provided uncharacteristic lucidity, shocking my doctors and putting the question to rest once and for all

In Third Century Rome, Emperor Claudius II decided single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, outlawing marriage for young men and ensuring a steady supply of edgy, short-fused fighters for the Roman army. This severely limited the prospects for young women, upsetting them to no end, while simultaneously causing the emperor’s approval rating to skyrocket in the ‘males, age 35-to-50’ bunch.

A priest named Valentine, comprehending the injustice of such a decree, began to wed young couples in secrecy. These weddings took place in a fictional cave near the foot of Mt. Aelop (giving rise to the modern-day word ‘elope’ which translates to mean ‘right under the emperor’s big fat nose’).

Valentine’s insolence was soon made known to the emperor, prompting Claudius to call for the priest’s execution.

Valentine, understandably disconcerted by this edict, prepared to flee to the United States; which, unfortunately for him, hadn’t been invented yet. In fact, it would be several centuries before the world would take on its present globular form, and North America would cease drifting about, finally declaring itself an independent continent.

Escaping instead to France, Valentine immediately recognized the French an insufferable people and, without unpacking his bags, made for England. Upon arriving in London, Valentine set up shop as a monger of flowers, confections and pickled beets; goods that were largely spurned by the locals as frivolous extravagance.

To make ends meet, Valentine hunted wild game, having the good fortune one day of taking a goat. This ultimately proved a misfortune when it was learned that Valentine’s arrow had found one of the king’s goats—a goat, not surprisingly, indistinguishable from any other goat.

Valentine was arrested forthwith.

At trial, Valentine’s defense centered ‘round the unlikely story that a cherubic, midget had committed the crime, flying away before All the King’s Men arrived to pronounce the unfortunate goat’s demise. (It seems All the King’s Men had been occupied in processing the scene of a suspicious accident involving an egg, which may or may not have been pushed from a wall). Valentine was about to add that the midget was riding a unicorn, but could see the gullible King’s Court had already fallen for his ruse—something he could never have put over on the far more cynical French.

The king ordered Valentine’s release (forthwith) and called for an immediate round-up of all chubby midget archers… a disturbingly common demographic in those days.

Meanwhile, back in Rome, Pope Gelasius I (creator of the popular Italian treat, Gelato), for no reason whatsoever, issued a decree that established Valentine’s Day as an official holiday; the holiday originally being celebrated (at the clever suggestion of Valentine, himself) with gifts of flowers, confections and pickled beets.

And that’s the truth about the origin of Valentine’s Day.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

State Department Release - Vancouver Olympics

Travel Advisory
United States Department of State
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Washington, DC 20520


The U.S. State Department has issued the following advisories for American citizens planning to attend the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada.


1) A number of fraudulent Olympic venues have recently been established for the purpose of taking advantage of witless travelers. Visitors should be watchful for perpetrators of this chicanery, who often advertise sham events such as: Moose Roping, Snowshoe Racing, Loon Calling or Caribou Milking.

2) Exercise caution if you are approached with an offer to purchase time-share property. Tourists are being targeted with what would appear to be incredible offers to purchase large tracts of land in Canada’s most northern reaching territory of Nunavut. Potential investors are warned that this region is made up entirely of snow, and that climate change experts agree it will be part of the Arctic Ocean by 2012, the wet part. If solicited to buy property in northern Canada, politely tell the flimflammer that you want none of it.

3) Recent activity by gangs of reprobate bears have prompted the recommendation that you conceal the Molson’s in your locked vehicle to avoid Canada’s most pervasive crime, the smash and grab theft of beer by drunken bruins.


1) Before departing for Canada, verify that your Traveler’s Checks can also be used as Travelers Cheques, the only form accepted in Canada.

2) Exchanging your U.S. currency for Canadian currency is not recommended. Even when exchange rates are favorable, this is an unwise practice for vending-machine-reliant travelers, as Canadian money doesn’t work in their vending machines either.


1) Canadians will readily identify you as a U.S. tourist by your foolish grin and incessant conversation about the weather. Avoid trying to fit in with the locals by adding the word “Eh” to the end of sentences. Canadians realize they do this; when you do it too, they just think you’re making fun of their impediment.

2) Do not call members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Dudley Do-Right. The Mounties have guns, and they know how to use them.

3) When conversing with Canadian’s from the Province of Quebec, it is acceptable (and encouraged) to pepper your conversation with regular exclamations of “Sacré Bleu!”

4) Never call a Canadian, “Hoser.”


1) Moose frequently assist law enforcement authorities in reducing traffic speeds by standing in the middle of the road. Since moose are 95% leg, motoring to Canada in a low profile vehicle will allow you to drive right under them without slowing down. Otherwise, be sure to purchase moose insurance—you’re going to need it.

2) Should you require medical attention while in Canada, you will receive the best of care, at a reasonable price, as long as your illness is related to a hockey injury or the common cold. Any other malady is best managed by a lawyer who can update your Last Will and Testament.

3) Travelers shouldn’t be alarmed by the odd fact that water draining from Canadian toilets circles neither left nor right. Parliament’s attempts to earmark funds to research this phenomenon have been frozen in committee.

4) If you lose your passport in Canada, you will be required to use the secret password to re-enter the United States. When the Customs Officer asks “How much Canadian whiskey do you wish to claim?” reply: Nunavut!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bean Dip and Mini Coopers

The other night, I fell asleep on the couch. I was awakened around midnight by a car's headlights shining into the living room. "Yet another young couple mistaking our drive for Lovers-Lane," I grumbled as I stumbled out the door to chase them off.

I was annoyed at the understanding that I would enjoy no more sleep that night, but the evening was to become frighteningly disturbing.

As I approached the Mini Cooper, I could see four heads inside the vehicle. I thought about the make-out cars of my youth, and was feeling a little sorry for these kids as I approached the driver’s side window to admonish the occupants. As the driver lowered his window I looked inside the car. I wanted to run, and I tried, but was unable to move.

Inside the car were four big-headed, bug-eyed, grey-skinned, no-nosed, slit-mouthed – Spacemen! This was doubly disturbing because I was powerless to escape, and I could hear the spacemen’s thoughts as if they were my own.

The driver had the largest head (I’ll call him Big-Head) and was the one who addressed me… telepathically, and in English, with a French-Canadian accent.

Big-Head… telepathically: Slave-earthling, what is your name?

Me… thinking: I’m Scared!

Big-Head… telepathically:
(These earthling names get weirder all the time.) Scared, direct me to the nearest dairy farm.

Me…nothing: Though I think I may have pointed before I fainted there in the driveway.

When I came to they were gone.

As panicked as I was, I knew I had to call someone to report what I had seen. Who to call? Homeland Security? NASA? National Geographic? I decided the Air Force would be a good place to start.

I ran into the house and grabbed the phone. I thought I would call the operator in order to be promptly connected. As I put the phone to my ear and was about to dial “O” I heard a soft voice ask, “May I help you?”

Startled, I replied, “Is this the operator?”

“This is the United States Alien Detection and Tracking Service, a division of the Department of Agriculture. What can I do for you?"

“I just saw four spacemen in my driveway! They were driving a Mini Cooper!”

“No you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did! They’re gone now. I passed out; I don’t know how long I was out. You’d better hurry!”

“We know all about it. The situation is being dealt with.”

It was then that I realized I wasn’t saying anything aloud, and I could hear the phone’s dial tone ringing in my ear. The whole conversation was taking place in my head!

“It’s you, isn’t it!” I screamed (in my head).

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, I know it’s you! Listen Big-Head…”

That’s all I remember. I must have passed out again. When I came to, it was morning and I was back on the couch.

That’s where my wife found me. She says it was just a bad dream, and advised that I lay off the nachos and bean dip. I think she suspects there's something to the story, but is taking advantage of the opportunity to alter my eating habits for her own selfish purposes. She may be right, or maybe she’s one of them.

I stopped eating bean dip, for now. I’m also maintaining a focused vigil whenever I see a Mini Cooper roll by.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I'm Going Back to Bed

My favorite holiday is approaching, but don’t buy a card or bake a cake. Don’t shop for gifts or plan a party, either. Don’t even send me a friendly greeting via email.

Why? Because none of these are required in order to celebrate Groundhog Day. On Groundhog Day, even listening for the news on whether Marmota monax saw his shadow is optional.

Though few groundhogs will have shaken off the slumbering effects of hibernation by February 2nd, a number of North American antagonists will abusively ply the groundhog in wintertime competitions of dubious seasonal precognition. Georgia has their groundhog, General Beauregard Lee; Staten Island, NY has Charles G. Hogg; and many in Ohio look to Buckeye Chuck. Even Canada practices this black magic, through Ontario’s Wiarton Willie.

None of these imposters, however, have been able to hold a candle to the biggest fraud of all, Punxsutawney Phil. The people of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania make the dubious claim that their groundhog has been at his post since 1887, a feat they say made possible by Phil’s annual ingestion of Groundhog Punch, an elixir that allegedly adds 7 years to Phil’s life (more black magic). They don’t explain why, if it adds 7 years to Phil’s life, an annual dose is required. Maybe he’s come to rely on the stuff.

Punxsutawney Phil’s popularity (if not his credibility) has been enhanced by the fact that his annual forecast is recorded in the Congressional Record. (A practice that hasn't done anything for the legislature's credibility, either.)

There are other parts of the Punxsutawney fable that don’t really add up. I’ve learned that Punxsutawney Phil spends the year (with his mate Phyllis) in the town’s library under the care of volunteers. There, they live on dog food and ice cream, presumably passing the time reading books and periodicals, and making fun of the librarians.

On the eve of the big day, Phil is placed in a heated burrow under a simulated tree stump at Gobblers Knob, where ceremony calls for him to be unceremoniously yanked from his rest at 7:25 a.m. on February 2nd, the precise moment of the Punxsutawney sunrise. This is when Phil supposedly gives his forecast to one of the inner circle of the Groundhog Club, a man dressed in tuxedo and top hat.

Phil’s forecast must be translated from his native tongue, Groundhogese, though it is largely believed that the communication is nothing but a lot of groundhog cussing about being rudely awakened and placed on display before enjoying his customary mocha cappuccino.

I say this must stop! The residents of Punxsutawney Pennsylvania have made Groundhog Day into a multi-day affair that involves such events as an Oreo stacking contest, a Groundhog Jog (little more than a waddle, I suspect) and a Groundhog Beer Dinner—something that may finally explain all of this nonsense.

The beauty of Groundhog Day lies in the fact that the usual demands of a holiday aren’t placed on those of us who choose to observe Groundhog Day in our own carbohydrate-induced hibernation from the comfort of our winter beds.

Let the six weeks begin, and goodnight.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Our two cats - Ricochet, Sly and Boots

Someone in the family, I don't know who, brought a couple of young cats into the household.

I'm told the cats had been left at the door of our local veterinarian—abandoned. Doc neutered them, gave them their shots, and made them available to the first

That’s the propaganda that’s being foisted upon me, anyway. My family knows that I’m a sucker for anything that can be gotten free. Like when my neighbor yelled: “Hey, Carl! You want my old charcoal grill. One of the legs is rusted off, and I lost the part you grill on, but most of the charcoal stays inside. You want it? It’s free!”

The grill is behind the shed; my favorite place to hide the things I’ve brought home for “parts.”

Anyway, hearing that these young mousers hadn't cost me anything, and had been rendered incapable of spawning even more mouths to feed, I welcomed them into the family.

Our old tom cat “Kitten” recently went on to the Happy Hunting Grounds. Arguments continue over how long he lived. The boys say four of five years; my wife says ten, at least. I say it was eleven, but it seemed like twenty, since Kitten had a nasty (or unfortunate) tendency to be in my path whenever I happened to be moving around the house in the dark.

I’d be up in the middle of the night, groping my way toward the bathroom or the refrigerator (I don’t know why I haven’t put a refrigerator in the bathroom yet!) and I’d step on Kitten's foot, or tail.

We would both howl; Kitten as he tried to fight off the demon that was attacking him in his sleep and me as I tried to levitate from my one foot while maintaining control of my bladder. I would take an aspirin in an attempt to minimize the damage from the impending heart attack, and sit up for the next two hours, waiting for the adrenaline to subside. Kitten always sat up with me, probably more for self preservation than a desire for quality together-time.

Over the last few years, Kitten had gotten into the habit of thanking me whenever I opened the door to let him in or out. It was just a little, trilling sound. I think he appreciated the fact that I pronounced his name correctly - Kitten preferred the more French Creole sounding "Key-tawn." He wasn't really from Louisiana, but he wanted everyone to believe that he was. I miss Kitten.

The new cats have been named, several times, and will continue to be named and re-named for some time to come. Eventually, we'll pare the selections down to two or three names for each of them. If they survive to old age, one of those names may stick.

For now, I think I’m going to enjoy Smoky, Butter, Sophie, Stinky, Sly, Maurice, Fluffy, Boots, Ricochet, Peanut, and Walt—both of them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Letter 2009

It’s that time again, time to light a Yule log, don the gay apparel (not a favorite tradition of mine) and dash off my annual holiday greeting.

It’s been quite a year! I hardly know where to start. Maybe it’s best if I recap chronologically.

January We brought in the New Year by firing shotguns into the frigid night sky. What fun!

Sadly, we learned that a sudden barrage of gunfire in the middle of the night provokes great anxiety in chickens. A strange sound came from the henhouse, a sort of chicken-scream, followed by a clunk and a thud. The frightful awakening caused our hens to spontaneously drop their eggs before pitching over dead, en masse. We filled the freezer with chicken.

February The groundhog forecast a quick end to winter. Groundhogs make poor prognosticators. (Winter held for another 12 weeks.)

MarchI finished boiling syrup on March 12th. Using the boiling tub for such a short time each year seemed a waste, so I tried my hand at distilled spirits. I have only a hazy recollection of the balance of March.

April See March... I’m told a good time was had by all!

May Spring finally arrived! We saw the groundhog for the first time since February. We dined on groundhog that evening. In case you’re wondering, it tastes like groundhog. It was a sweet revenge.

Popcorn futures were up, and looked to hold real promise, so we planted all our tillable acreage in popcorn.

June We rebuilt the outhouse after the seat gave way and the wife took a dip in the honey pit. She had been telling me it needed some work. I suppose it’s my broader base that prevented me from recognizing the problem earlier.

July Vacation! We took a daytrip to a floating peat bog that’s surrounded by a swamp called Buckeye Lake. It wasn’t until our arrest that we learned this bog, the only one of its kind in the world, is a protected area. Our daytrip became a three-day trip with free lodging and meals, complements of the County Sheriff.

Meanwhile, the neighbor found the power line we had run from his house to ours. He unplugged us… again. We lost everything in the freezer.

August The weather was so hot that our popcorn popped right there in the field. What a racket! I set up a roadside stand and tried to sell popcorn-on-the-cob. It never really caught on.

September To offset the loss of farm income, I started a new business. My system for winning the lottery seemed sure to offer a lucrative financial reward.

October Our oldest son had what some might term success in deer hunting. It’s unfortunate that the neighbor’s bull was brindle colored, but the freezer is full of meat again.

November The wood shed burned to the ground as a result of a Cornhole mishap when my younger son was experimenting with exploding corn bags–he thought it would enliven the game. Sanctions by the American Cornhole Association are pending.

December We’ve been burning losing lottery tickets for heat, but the stack is running low; I’d say we have less than a cord remaining. The top six feet of the neighbor’s 20 foot spruce made a wonderful Christmas tree! We blamed the power company.

Well, that’s our year in a nutshell, though the year’s not over yet–anything could happen! Please include us in your prayers, and Merry Christmas!

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