January 17, 1920 Prohibition Begins in The USA

At midnight on January 17, 1920 the Volstead Act made the sale and production of alcohol illegal in the United States. But as Americans had never been good at following rules (or rule for that matter), they almost instantly began finding loopholes and ways to make the inane law obsolete.

There’s no doubt that Americans had a drinking problem. Thirty seconds after the Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock, everyone who’d been onboard started scrounging for things to make booze with. The guy who started the first bar was a demigod. Americans drank and tortured witches, the drank and started revolution, they drank and fought each other over slavery. They drank rum, which was cheaper and quicker than beer, and when Irish and Scottish immigrants brought it along, whiskey. America was the drunkest person at the party. Any 19th century attempt to ban alcohol resulted in uprisal and riots.

In the early 20th century, the temperance movement gained some traction. This was a movement led by women, who weren’t allowed in bars (hint hint) and were sick of dealing with drunkard husbands blowing money on booze and ruining their families. The movement was supported by factory owners, who were trying to keep workers sober enough to keep up new working habits (i.e. lots and lots of hours and lots and lots of sadness). Furthermore, prohibition was influenced by good old fashioned American racism. The influx of immigrants between 1880-1920 scared the hell out of a lot of white people, who were nervous that the flood of ‘boisterous’ lower class immigrants and the saloons that kept them happy would lead to a decline in the moral character of America. This, rather than say, slavery. We’ll forgive them this snobbish concern, since they were almost certainly shitfaced when they made it. With a pesky disruption in Europe stirring which would be known as World War I anti-German hysteria blew through the country and the only patriotic thing to do would be to shut down the mostly German-owned breweries.   

World War I in itself was another cause of prohibition. Nations tried to ration cereals and grains for the war effort and squash soldier drunkenness. Leaders in Europe had already noted the effects of alcohol on soldier performance, with Kaiser Wilhelm stating that the next war (which would turn out to be WWI) would be won by the least drunk nation. Tsar Nicholas II, whose Russia had lost the Russo-Japanese War partially due to intoxicated troops, banned the sale of vodka in retail stores. The stage was set for booze to be banned, and American went for it.

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The Trouble with January

I have always felt bad for January. It’s the king of all redheaded step children. Surrounded by the dazzling December and the frustrated king frog that is February. All January ever did was come at a bad time of year. I determine to enjoy January this year, but January makes it hard.

Before January was even a month, it was disrespected. Native Americans called it the Wolf Month because it was the month hungry wolves howled outside of villages. January wasn’t even a month in Ancient Rome, being originally lumped into the winter which, as the Romans saw it, deserved no month. It was simply a cold shitty time of year that was better behind them than ahead or present. The year started at March, which is a calendarial idea I think we could all get on board with. When King Pompilius came along and added January, Romans could at least name their enemy.

Modern people don’t help the case for loving January. It’s known as Dry January, which I guess is the month for people to detox after the overindulgence of the holiday season. Or the previous 11 months. It’s also been labelled Veganuary, which is exactly what you think it is, but given the choice between going vegan for 31 days or quitting drinking for 31 days, I’d rather be dead. My search goes on.

My hopes were raised, if not a bit surprised at the naughtiness of January 2 being national Creampuff Day, but then I reread it and realized it was just about pastries. January 5 is National Whipped Cream Day. January is the month of all things cold. It’s National Soup Month and National Hot Tea Month. It’s National Oatmeal Month. These realities endear me to January a bit, as I love soup and oatmeal and have long advocated for days in their honor. Tea can go back to England. There’s a string of good holidays later in the month. January 19 is National Popcorn Day, January 22 is National Hot Sauce Day, while the 23rd is National Pie Day and the 24th is National Peanut Butter Day. I foresee January 25being National Go-On-Cholesterol-Medication Day.

St. Knut’s Day comes in the Scandinavian countries on January 13. On this day, St Knut (A Danish duke) was assassinated, which led to civil war. In Finland this day is observed by men who dress up as goats and visit homes demanding food and booze leftover from the holidays. If they don’t get what they want, they will commit evil deeds. As if dressing as goats and getting drunk doesn’t suggest evil enough. It’s said that St. Thomas brings in Christmas and St. Knut [and his goat men] take it away. And as we all know, nothing marks the end of Christmas like goat men. In Sweden St. Knut’s Day marks the end of the holiday season. Swedes take their Christmas tree outside and dance around it.

In America, and some parts of the south, January 22 is National Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. On this day, one is supposed to listen with intent to the meows, mews, trills, and squawks of their curious furry little buddies and answer the questions they have been trying to convey for eons. These might include: why don’t you lick your asshole? I’ve been demonstrating the technique for you for years. Why don’t you sing the door opening song? Don’t you know it’s bad luck for us to go through a door without the song? This is why I keep coming back in and out. It’s so frustrating.

If I feel embarrassed by any of the cat’s questions, I’ll just drown the humiliation on January 31. AKA Brandy Alexander Day. If that doesn’t help, I’ll just worry about it in February.

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Zen Hours on a Saturday

Zen Hours on a Saturday

It’s 5 am on a Saturday. The alarm goes off. The night is still in process and, judging from the darkness and lack of sound, movement, life, or joy, it doesn’t plan on ending anytime soon. Burke and the Shihtzu are snug in bed, content and quiet and comfort ooze off them like little daggers and bury themselves into my skin and then assault my organs, which also want to stay in bed. I stuff a pillow over my face and moan. I sit up. I moan. I stand. I moan. I moan. I moan.

In the living room, the cat sleeps on her little bed on our bookshelf, looking just like a cat might being cozy in a cozy picture of a cozy country bookstore. Applying the case of Misery vs Loving Company, I poke her in the ear. She instinctively swats at my hand and looks up at me in confusion and anger. She’s wearing her Who the fuck is that? face. It’s instantly replaced by her Oh, it’s you face. I stagger through my quiet, dark flat. I press the button on the coffee pot. I drink a glass of water. I take my vitamins. This is no ordinary Saturday, one that promises relaxation and movies, a glass of wine with lunch maybe or a whiskey with my cereal. No. This is no Saturday. For I have to work.

I don’t really go for New Years resolutions. Any major positive changes I’ve made in my life have been done throughout different times of the year and often without planning, forethought, or fireworks. The major things I want to do in my life (write, work out, read, eat carbs) I already do. But I spent the break thinking about minor tweaks that could improve my quality of life. There are a few small ones (draw, replace Reddit in the morning with an article, stop showering in a British accent). But one that jumped out to me was being present.

I have always had a problem living in the present. I think too much about the past, like many of us, but my real realm of life is the future. I am always looking at my watch. I leave so early for trams that I often just miss the one before the one I was hoping to catch – which ruins my day. I am a poster boy for the country’s deep need to implement meditation into schools.

The worst for me is work. How many times I have awoken on Tuesday morning and wished it was Thursday afternoon cannot be counted. And all too soon, it’s Thursday. Worse, I am a teacher and being present in class is a real requirement. Nobody (certainly not me) wants a teacher on autopilot. So my goal was to think less about the future, be present in the present, and stop looking at my watch. Today – a working Saturday – will be a terrible test.

Oh, I’ve worked on the weekends. I spent my bachelor studies years waiting tables and bartending. In both, I was forced to go to into work when everyone else was leaving work. I would literally pass those people on the way to my job as they were leaving theirs. Our vibe, mood, aura were absolute yin and yang of the work world. Theirs equaled elation, relaxation, a peace of mind afforded those who didn’t have shit to do for 72 hours. Mine: misery, stress, the sallowness of mind damned upon those whose following 8 hours would require not only work, but working with people. My job was literally to help those people unwind from the stress of their very difficult jobs. Surely, the hours before working at night were terrible. I couldn’t enjoy myself. If I had to work at 6 pm I’d turn down lunch plans at noon. Sorry, have to work. But with bartending you have to be present. You are surrounded by dozens of people and they all need drinks in the present. There’s no time to look at your phone or think about later. You are busy slinging booze to hairless apes who need it.

Enter university life. Oh, sure, I thought, who has ever heard of a university teacher working on a weekend? No way. University teachers get the weekends off so they can hang around with younger women in small coastal towns. They need the energy to pull off a rollneck cardigan and shop at local marts. They require those weekend hours to do erudite things like open wine while talking about Rimbaud and listening to Hank Moseley (or one of those other guys) on the local jazz radio station. On Saturday night he must entertain equally as successful friends – doctors, philosophers, writers – in his rustic coastal town cottage, where they will wine and dine and talk about the problems of the universe and all the things contained within it.   

No.

Wrong.

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The Merry Lords of Misrule (and the war on Christmas)

For centuries, Christmas has been a time to let down hair, eat and drink in a way that causes doctors to cry, dress up, and celebrate with friends. It’s a time to cast aside the dietary and social guidelines we are governed by all year. A time to embrace heartburn and weight gain and the miracle of Tums and elastic waistbands. It’s long been a time of light in the middle of an unforgiving, cold, and dark winter. But despite these pleasant aspects of a beloved holiday, history has witnessed a war waged against Christmas.

To understand the origins of the war on Christmas, we first look at the origins of Christmas. Like so many of our holidays – Easter, Halloween, National Taco Day (Oct 4) – Christmas comes from the Pagans. In Christmas’ case, it comes from the ancient Roman feast of Saturnalia. This holiday honoring the god Saturn took place in the last week of December. Just as Christmas would, Saturnalia was a time to let loose and celebrate, and it involved a broad range of rituals both public and private. Romans set aside social barriers, cultural mores, and they drank, feasted, cosplayed animals, and screwed their neighbors. The party ended in the late 4th century when Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius I forbade all pagan activities, and decreed that the church in Rome was monotheistic and that December 25 was the nativity of Christ. Christmas’ coincidence with Saturnalia was no coincidence, as the Church was trying to get people to turn away from the sex, fun, and feasting of paganism and look towards the solemn prayer, guilt, and permanently-delayed gratification that Christianity offers in cheerful bucketloads. But Saturnalia’s customs wouldn’t be forgotten overnight and many of them carried over to Christmas. And so Christmas caught on in a big way.

Medieval Christmas was a twelve day event that was like a mix of Christmas, Mardi Gras, and Halloween. After the monthlong period of advent, a period of fasting, sober reflection, and wondering why you were Christian, Christmas started on December 25. It went through the Feast of Fools on January 1 and ended with Twelfth Night on January 5. (Today, January 2, is the ninth day of Christmas, so if you feel like partying in a chicken costume, go at it. Extra points if you include nine ladies dancing). During the festival, celebrants ate boar’s head, pies, and peacock. They drank cider and ale. They mummed, wassailed, hoggled, and probably some other archaic verbs. And then they experienced jollity and mirth. In another paganistic tradition nabbed from the Romans, presiding over the entirety of the Christmas festivities was the Lord of Misrule (or the Abbott of Unreason). This was a peasant or a subdeacon who acted as a faux king or a ‘maister of merry disports’ who oversaw the festivities and the Feast of Fools. They dressed as women or in colorful costumes and ‘leapt and ran’ while presiding over dining and drinking commoners. Major emphasis on the ‘drinking’ part, for the festivities were a time to get fralalalalalalala-liquored up. It was an explosion of joy after a period of restriction.

It will surprise nobody to learn that Christmas’ 17th century critics were the Puritans. The Puritans were a sect of Christians that wanted to cleanse the Church of England from Roman Catholicism. Among other issues, they believed they did not follow scripture as rigidly as it should. According to them, there was no scriptural tradition on which to base Christmas. For in no place in any bible does it read ‘…and lo was the Christ child crapped out on December 25 in a manger and henceforth shall all humankind on that day eat hamloaf and buy reindeer sweaters at Target’. But the bigger issue was Christmas’ links to the aforementioned paganistic traditions. In the mid-1600s, English Protestants saw Christmas festivities, or ‘Foolstide’ as they called it, as nothing more than the ‘anti-Christian rages of the beast’, and while I’m not 100% sure what all those words mean, they definitely sound like Puritans being unhappy about other people having fun. When the Puritans took control of the government after the fall of Charles I, they tried to abolish Christmas. The custom of the Lord of Misrule was banned as well. Because it is a fact well-established that every time a pagan’s good time is ruined, a Puritan gets a buckled hat.    

Spoiler alert: Christmas won. Sure, the Puritan decrees were at times followed, but even the Puritans noted this was under duress and that the people wanted Christmas celebrations. The church simply couldn’t defeat a foe as popular as Christmas. Yet though we may look with a laugh at the curmudgeonly Puritans grumbling over Christmas, it did help dig cleavages in England that would lead to civil war and revolution. Christmas has survived, but it has had its detractors. Nowadays, people gripe about the commercialism of the holiday or the fact that shops put up decorations too early. If you’re a Fox News fan, or an idiot, you think there’s a war against saying ‘Merry Christmas’. Some complain that the hoopla is just too much and unwarranted, but this is nothing new. ‘It’s now December, the greatest part of the city is in a bustle . . . everywhere you may hear the sound of great preparation.’ This was written by the Roman philosopher Seneca in 62 AD in a letter to a friend in which he complained about the hustle and bustle of Saturnalia season. Some things never change.

While a resurgence of the Lord of Misrule was occasionally attempted, it never really caught on again. This is probably for the best, as it was recorded in Ancient Rome and later even in England that the Lord of Misrule was sacrificed at the end of Christmas. But today we drink in honor of the festivities and the twelve days of Christmas. And a-wassailing we shall go. Wassailing took place on January 5 or 6 and was an activity sort of Christmas carolling if it’s done by a tipsy rugby team. Poor or common people would dress up, make wassail in wassail bowls, and visit the houses of richer people and sing wassailing songs offering good tidings and blessings in exchange for food and drink. If they weren’t given this, then sometimes the wassailers got rowdy and demanded it before they’d leave. Don’t do that part.  

Ingredients

  • 2 apples
  • cups apple cider
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 15 whole cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 Tablespoon light brown sugar

Instructions

Pretend the apples are voodoo dolls of your boss and your cloves are little daggers, and poke the whole cloves into the apples on all sides until they’re begging for mercy and offering you a raise. (nota bene: if you actually hear someone screaming while doing this, please put the cloves down and go to your nearest mental health emporium). Add all ingredients, including the (screaming) apples, to a large pot over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer for 30-45 minutes. While this is simmering, stir occasionally, take in deep breaths, and put a wreath of leaves around your crown or put on an animal mask (yes, Goofy or Donald Duck are fine).

After 30-45 minutes, remove the apples and whole cloves. Ladle into mugs and a-wassailing you shall go! Go visit friends and sing to them and drink with them. Drink to a festival of light in the winter, drink to friendship and festivity, and drink to winning the war of Christmas.

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Here Home for the Holidays

By Thanksgiving, I had said it probably 25 times, in almost exactly the same sentence structure, with the same subordinate additions.

‘Nah, I’m staying here for Christmas this year, you know, it’s great to get home – Langhorne home – for Christmas, but yeah my parents and I basically agreed that I’d come home every other year. Last year was a pain, cancelled flights, COVID tests, all that, it’ll be nice to have a nice relaxing Christmas.’

I sounded like someone rationalizing a failing, a lost job, a recent breakup in which they had not been the victor. I sounded like someone doling out big portions of overcompensation. But it’s true, I was looking forward to a nice quiet Christmas at home. Here home.

Since we were both staying in Prague, Burke and I decided to make our here home Christmas a big happy event. We decided on a big tree, in her words ‘taller than me’, which I pointed out wasn’t the achievement it might sound like. We came up a menu of American side dishes – mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, pineapple souffle, stuffing – to cozy up to a main dish to be named later. Since it was just us for Christmas, we would get lots of gifts for each other and the pets (though I didn’t wrap the pets’ gifts too well, the dog has trouble pulling strings and the cat just doesn’t appreciate the effort). Here home Christmas was on!

I hauled the taller than me tree for a mile and half through the season’s only snowstorm. I carried it on my shoulders and in front of me in two arms as if it was a wrapped bundle. Each week I pitched a new main dish: ham, turkey, a roast chicken, lasagna. Every one of which was met with a half-hearted ‘okay’ which meant ‘no’. At least once a day I’d say to someone, ‘I can’t tell you how happy I am that I don’t have to fly across the world in December.’ They’d look at me in wonder and I’d continue. ‘Going to be a relaxed, chilled out Christmas.’

‘Good for you sir, now would you like to pay for that sweater?’

‘Oh sure.’

There were other signs that I was making a good choice. The grim promise of airport madness, threatened strikes, and in December bad weather reports that forecast snow and ice and delays and stranded people. All while I sat in my pjs on my couch, drank a beer and ate mashed potatoes along with something. My dad had decided (as he does now and then) that he would skip Christmas. In his mental mechanics of this plan, he doesn’t get anyone a gift and they do the like. He enacts this plan by telling my mom and a few others, but doesn’t mention it to his many friends and other relatives, instead hoping that his broad circle of friends and family can read his mind. Thus he ends up getting gifts and not reciprocating. This goes in tandem with a promise to only do one of our family’s holiday parties (‘Let me tell you something, this year I’m doing Christmas Eve and not Christmas. I’m staying home. I’ll order Chinese food.’) I don’t mind not getting or giving a gift, I just don’t want to hear about it while watching football.

On Christmas Eve, we spend the day watching Christmas movies and cooking. Our main dish is fried chicken cutlets, following the trend of our adoptive country. Later in the day I see pictures of my Langhorne home family Christmas. There are colorful hors d’oeuvres and salads and meatballs and happy Galeones in flannel shirts and elastic-waist pants. The tree is beautiful. In one of these pictures, my father actually looks happy, dare I say, teetering towards festive. Though he is holding a plate of pasta and it’s hard to be unhappy while you’re doing that. Though I am happy with my decision to stay here home for the holidays, I do feel some twinges of sadness and longing. There is nothing like home for the holidays. Even if home is far away, across a sea of discomforts and inconveniences.

On Christmas we have a wonderful day. I get and give gifts, finding in my old age that giving is more satisfying than getting and wondering why the world doesn’t get that yet. We listen to Christmas tunes, walk the dog, watch movies, and eat chocolate. In the evening, we tidy up and eat eggrolls and jalapeno chicken poppers, the traditional Christmas dish of an American in Prague in 2022. Six hours behind us to the west, my family is settling in for another day of eating and pushing the boundaries of their elastic waistbands. I talk to a friend in the evening.

‘Nah, I stayed here for Christmas this year, you know, it’s great to get home – Langhorne home – for Christmas, but my parents and I basically agreed that I’d come home every other year. I’ll be there next year, though, don’t you worry. Next year it’ll be nice to have a big crazy family Christmas again.’

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December 16, 1773, the Boston Tea Party

To all Americans, the Boston Tea Party conjures images and stories we’re all familiar with. A bunch of colonists angry about taxes and dressed as Mohawks dumping $1.7 million of tea into Boston Harbor in a dark December night. It upped the ante in America’s War for Independence. It led to thousands of artists’ renditions. But the Boston Tea Party also helped a mood shift in American tavern culture and a change in American drinking habits. And it was planned in a tavern.       

In our uber-connected times, I can get up in the morning and call a complete stranger a Nazi before I even get off the toilet. And this is awesome. However, this sort of chummy comraderie wasn’t possible 250 years ago from afar unless you wanted to send a letter and that sort of defeated the purpose of zinging someone. So, people had to meet. Where? The pub. The tavern was the place to be in Colonial America when people lived in a relatively unconnected way or further apart. There weren’t massive offices like there are now. The tavern was the place to meet, drink, eat, engage, read, and socialize in colonial America.

Not only was the tavern where people met and engaged, but it was where the sought and found entertainment. And boy did people in 1770 need entertainment. The lack of Gameboys and basketballs meant that children had to horrifically rely on themselves for entertainment. This led to games such as jumping. Adults at the time were ingenious and found ways to trick kids into doing work by calling it games. This metastasized in quilting bees and wood-carrying contests. When the kids found their way home, the adults had to get away from them and for this they went to the tavern.

Taverns had the benefits of being a. child free and b. full of booze. It also had entertainment, usually dictated by who the tavern catered to. This is because the adults’ station in society usually dictated their hobbies and free time activities. Upper crust men played chess, read books, engaged in political and social debate, and wished for the rest of humanity to disappear off the face of the planet. The lower classes enjoyed simpler games and physical activities like horseback riding and killing native peoples who lived near their house. The colonial tavern provided both. And booze. Lots and lots of booze.

Taverns that catered to elites were filled with books, pamphlets, and broadsheets; intellectually-geared clubs allowed men an opportunity to discuss interesting subjects. Benjamin Franklin had a club at the Green Tavern which demanded each potential member write an essay on a topic of his choice. Long scrolls or tapestries about famous battles or scripture stories were unravelled and lecturers told stories and answered questions. In direct contrast to our current state of informational blitz, the news in the mid-18th century came slowly and when it did people were eager to hear it and talk about it.  

But not everyone. For the lower or working classes, taverns had games like whist, backgammon, and checkers. But it was the physical games that here most popular. Shuffleboard, cock fighting, dice, ninepins, and quoits were played. Quoits involved heaving a piece of metal, rope, or a rubber ring to land on a spike. About 150 years later this game was renamed to ‘horseshoes’ to better collocate with ‘hand grenades’ to idiomatically convey the importance of goal fulfillment. Ninepins was the precursor to bowling, no word if you had to rent shoes.

Otherwise, taverns hosted theater and traveling shows. Punch and Judy shows, magicians (who were often considered the lowest form of entertainment), ventriloquists, jugglers, and circus acts drew people to taverns. Though this depended on location as New England had stricter laws regarding drinking, entertainment, or anything that took them away from work and agony. Deformities were a draw (and still are, but they’re on Reddit and not at a tavern). People with three legs, Siamese twins, ‘a cat with eight legs and two tails’ once drew a crowd to the Green Dragon in Boston. And, these being the times they were, African people, Native American chiefs in full war dress, or little people. It must have been an extraordinary experience, made more so by the fact that everyone was drunk on rum. Things must have been good for a while.

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Drink Like an Egyptian

Despite the reputation that Sunday has garnered of a relaxing day in which to become closer to god and your favorite NFL team, I find it a relatively unpleasant day. Unless there’s a holiday on Monday, the weekend is ending. The absolute joy of Friday and the quietude of Saturday are gone and what is left is a day in which the whole week is looking you in the face and saying: ‘well?”

Some people can fully appreciate a Sunday. They can drain every drop from it, going out on day trips and coming back late in the evening, maybe even after midnight. But I don’t understand these people, as they are either psychopaths or Czechs, and are the same people who have a whole national sport revolving around locating mushrooms in the woods, bringing them into their homes, cooking them, and then eating them. Psychopaths.

So I spend most of my day working. If for no other reason than to make Monday somewhat tolerable and Tuesday manageable. As I veer towards a conclusion of my work, the perennial question is called forth: to drink or not to drink. Oh, it’s so tempting. Just a beer to end the weekend. As I have the willpower of a shoe, I know that one will lead to two and two will lead to me shouting at the football (gridiron, not the sissy kicky game going on in Qatar) game on TV. Alas, for this, I go to history.  

I find that history not only allows a glimpse into the life of people in the past, but that their lives often included alcohol. The Romans feasted at the drop of a laurel wreath, the Celts drank mead and beer for community fun and to stave off the anxiety of a dark forest. Winston Churchill started out his day with brandy and moved on to gin, champagne, whiskey, and beer throughout…and he won World War II. If you want a drink and you’re on the fence about it, read about the past and keep a bottle opener nearby.  

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Christmas Movie Reviews

Tis the season to watch movies. Christmas movies come in all shapes, sizes, and genres. Here are some to keep your eye on.

The Christmas Mystery

This is about the disappearance of a bell, which, as you might guessed, possesses an inordinate amount of magical Christmas cheer. So much so, that if it remains in its disappeared state, Christmas will be ruined. Friendly, affable, mildly chubby struggling dad-cum-security guard is accused of the heinous crime. Thus it’s up to his children to find the bell and its real thief, thereby saving Christmas. No spoiler alerts, but there were tears at the end and they were accompanied by frenzied holiday bell tolling.

A Harold and Kumar Christmas

When a missent package for Harold arrives at Kumar’s messy house, he is forced to float over to Harold’s house on a cloud of marijuana smoke. They then embark upon a series of wild adventures, involving many drugs, Russian gangsters, Neil Patrick Harris, Claymation monsters, and somewhere along the way they discover the true meaning of Christmas. Very, very highly.

Gremlins

An absent father buys his kid an over-the-top guilt-gift in the form of an ancient cryptid – because that usually works out. Along with the creepy big-eyed cryptid (with Howie Mandel’s voice) he gets vague instructions involving feeding time (time zone, please!) and hygiene requirements (no water!). Things go awry on Christmas Eve and the only two police officers in town literally run away from the monsters. The creepiest part is the stunning lack of human activity on Christmas Eve. I feel it was social commentary on the evaporation of the in-person social structure. Very prescient.

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Drinking out of Other People

I played rugby back in college about 249 years ago. And if my foggy recollection is correct, we had a bit of a drinking problem. There were drinking games and there were drinking songs. There was something of a drinking Olympics, but I don’t remember who won. Or if there was a winner. Or if this actually happened.

Somewhere along these times, we ended up in possession of a prosthetic leg. It was from the knee down. And to whom it had once been attached to was never fully discussed, but as no angry person ever hobbled after us, I’m guessing it was just one of things you gather from either someone’s basement or attic. You know how it is. Old books, a few army medals, the Declaration of Independence, someone’s leg.

We took to drinking out of this leg after games. I suppose we did this because it seemed like a badass thing to do and we were, after all, rugby players, so we should do badass things. What I did not know is that we were more or less carrying on a 15,000 year old tradition of drinking out of other people’s body parts.

People have been drinking out of each other for 15,000 years. Gough’s Cave in England serves as the first archaeological evidence of this practice. While it’s not exactly known why whoever was around at that time did that, it’s clear it happened. A skull was found with scrapes in its bowl and smoothed out edges for consumption without cutting yourself.

Though the practice is attributed to the Vikings, and seems to slip in easily to explain the cheers ‘Skol!’ it seems that the Vikings were about the only people not doing this. The Chinese date this practice back to 453 BC, when the winners of the Battle of Jinyang made their enemies’ skulls into winecups. The ancient Xiongnu of (present-day) Mongolia did it too. Laoshang killed the king of the Yuezhi around 162 BC, and in accordance with their tradition, ‘made a drinking cup out of his skull’. Later, they would drink blood out of it with Chinese ambassadors. I’d like to call your attention to ‘in accordance with tradition’ a phrase which suggests this had been done for a long time. Ancient Mongolia sounds like a fun place to visit.

In Buddhist tantric and Hindu tantric rituals in India and Tibet people drink from skulls but they never belonged to an enemy. In fact, the skull’s previous owner doesn’t matter much. To them. I’m guessing the former owner would have two cents to add to its use.  

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Life on Mars

It’s Monday morning. I have my normal morning, which involves waking up at 5 and working before work. Today, I am finishing an article for a kids’ magazine about what living on Mars would be like. I get caught up editing a few sections and before I know it, it’s time to walk out the door. I do with a glum demeanor on my mug.

I know, I know. Monday. Case of the Mondays! But that’s not it. I don’t mind Monday. I don’t like Sunday. What Monday has going for it, is that it’s not before the week, it’s during the week. This logic relies on the understanding that no matter how unpleasant a Monday morning can be (and this one is epically bad, with freezing rain and skies so gray they look like the side of a steel ship), at least you’re getting the thing over with.

A woman slips in the mud in front of me and I don’t even smirk. Madness. Three boys do a routine reminiscent of the three stooges. Not a grin. It’s clear – I’m depressed. It’s no doubt the article I’m writing. What would life on Mars really be like?

When I  was a kid as far as I knew, actually living on Mars was the domain of sci-fi writers and Marvin the Martian. It was oft-depicted taking place in huge bubbles with three moons in the background. A happy family in sleek Martian spacesuits stood smiling at their nice red lawn which was in front of a decidedly futuristic house. I figured it wouldn’t be bad. I liked the moon. Now I’d have three.

But times have ushered in the actual discussion of colonizing Mars. And suddenly Mars lost its sci-fi allure and became a place that was 300 million miles away and where I couldn’t get a decent cheesesteak.

When I began writing the article, this vision grew far worse still. We’d have to live underground in lava tubes or caves. Our houses would have to be thick protective shells to keep us safe from cosmic radiation. The atmosphere is much thinner than Earth’s, so we’d have to wear spacesuits all the time. All the time! What if we had to poop? By the time I get to Mars, I’ll likely be in my 70s and I feel like pooping is going to be both a daily priority and necessity. Amazingly, it gets worse. Mars only has 38% of Earth’s gravity, so we wouldn’t be able to move very fast. Since I’ll be in my 70s that’ll be fine with me, but I’ll miss watching baseball and football. I’m sure Martian supervisors will introduce something like slow baseball and anti-gravity football and then try to sell us on it, but it won’t be the same. And I’ll be the old man bemoaning the ‘real’ sports of ‘my day.’ And then I’ll crap in my suit.

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