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Notes on a Class

About three Tuesdays ago, I was in my office getting ready for my classes the following day when an extraordinary thing happened – I couldn’t remember anything. Oh, I knew my name and I knew where I was and after a quick look at my driver’s license and a couple coolly-worded questions to my colleague, those things were confirmed. I mean I couldn’t remember anything about the last class.

I looked through the coursebook for a reminder, but everything came up blank. A mild panic ensued, until I realized I was looking at the wrong book and, probably more problematic, was trying to plan the wrong class. This brought its own level of terror, but I quelled that by finding someone else to blame. The matter was all but closed.

But then my stupid brain started thinking, which never anywhere good. Brain said I should probably remember something that happened six days earlier. Brain also said I could probably do some things to remember things better, further explaining that I could probably locate some of these techniques on the ‘internet’ a thing I mostly used for work, for cat memes, and to find out who won the Eagles game. On the way home, I punished brain for its insolence with several blasts of 80 proof liquids (that’ll show em!). The problem is, brain doesn’t get quieter until like glass four of those liquids. From glass one to three, brain is loosened up and makes observations, some of which aren’t even ridiculous.

At the end of the evening, I had decided to make notes throughout each class to show that I was being present. These notes might be extemporaneous of language and involve the mood, the feel, tensions, a thing or activity which had gone particular poorly or particularly well (usually the latter). And it would all be in the hopes that I could look back the following week and be transported to not only the structure of the lesson, but also the lesson itself as it occurred with a whole bunch of people. (It should be noted that brain also came up with the idea to build a boat from all of my furniture and live on the Vltava ‘in peace’. But that was after five glasses of said liquid.)

And so, for three weeks I did just that. In each class, I’d make a note when class started and a note about how I felt and anything extraordinary that happened (nothing, so I had to make something up). Then, several times throughout class, like some learned (hard -ed) teacher, I’d step off to my notebook and jot a note. It all went more or less swimmingly, until I read those notes last week.

Last Tuesday, planning a class, I found that I needed a nudge to help remind me about the last class. Perhaps, I thought, I can not only get information, but help carry over some of the juice which had propelled the last class forward. I swung back through my notes with the cockiness of the well-prepared. I was gifted for my efforts. As long as ‘gift’ means shows that I am a lunatic who should no longer be allowed in public.

Tuesday: 10:30–12:00            14.11.23

Class Notes

10:30 –

Class has started. Where is everyone?

10:38 – six people come in late. Six! This is the future of society!? These are the people who will be taking care of me in my old age?! Well, hopefully when I need my diaper changed, they won’t be eight minutes late!!

10:51 – How could they have misunderstood those directions? They were to read a sentence and fill the blank with the correct verb. We did an example. This is intentional. That’s what they were doing in those eight minutes before they came in – chatting about ways to mess with me. Argh.

11:03 – Do lawyers have a better life than this? Is it too late to go to law school?

11:09 – Man, this pen sucks. N ed a n w pen. Lo k at t is cr p, this pen can b rely get through a senten e without b ea ing. A g ! I b t lawy rs get be ter p ns.

11:21 – Oh, glory be! I found a better pen in my bag. Joy Joy Joy. Why does everyone hate November? I like November. It’s close to Christmas, which means two weeks of eating what I want. Also, food.

11:23 – Oh my God. I think someone farted.

11:23:08 – Yeah, it was me.

11:26 – 24 minutes left! Just 24 minutes left!!! Happy days are coming in 24 minutes!

11:41 – I’m hungry. I think I only brought a grapefruit and oatmeal. I hate morning me.

11:42 – Maybe I’ll get a kebab. IN 8 MINUTES!!!! Wait, I think someone just asked a question.

11:43 – Nah, they got it sorted out amongst themselves.

11:48 – The world seems bet er a ain…wa t a sec nd, ba ! Th s pen s cks to !  

11:50 – class is over! Complete mindfulness attained. I’m es ent ally Bud ha.  

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Martinmas Part II

Last Saturday, November 11, people all across Europe celebrated the feast of Saint Martin. In the Czech Republic and Germany, people opened the first young wine of the season at 11:11 am on 11.11; many others ate goose – the traditional Saint Martin dish. Others drank whatever they could in order to deal with the people who’d been drinking wine since 11 am. But what’s the story with this November holiday which targets fowl and celebrates young booze?

November 11th belongs to Saint Martin of Tours. Like many saints, Martin of Tours was something of a jack of all trades – soldier, monk, bishop, saint. Like many saints, his life was rather picaresque of the very good or the very bad. He gave half of his cloak to a freezing beggar one cold November day. He tried to avoid becoming a bishop by hiding out in a barn. Like many saints, he died an agonizing death (crushed between two mill wheels). On November 11th (his crushing date) we call upon superstitions and symbolism. He was ousted from the barn by a noisy goose, which he had cooked and thus we eat goose. Because of Martin’s good deed with the cloak, God grants us a few warm days in November called ‘Saint Martin’s Summer’. Because of Martin’s past as a soldier and pacifist, World War I ceased on 11.11 at 11:11.  

But Martinmas, like many other liturgical days, falls on a day already important to huge swaths of European society. Martinmas, like Halloween (or Samhain) is a transition day, for eons serving as the change from autumn to winter. It is known as Old Halloween, Martlemas, or Old Halloween Eve. The original date for Samhain, Martinmas was moved due to the Gregorian calendar’s pesky tendency to drop days. So even without Martin and his geese and deeds, Europeans practiced customs on this day with clear emphasis on food, booze, and practicality.  

As Martinmas marked the end of harvest season and beginning of winter, it was also a day of practical importance to the agricultural peoples of Europe. Animals were slaughtered and harvests were collected. Much surrounding those things came to an end or started. Leases were ended and started, rents were due, wages were paid, seasonal ploughmen and other workers finished their work contracts and prepared to move on. Hiring fairs were organized and a new set of itinerant workers was hired for the following season. People brought their work inside, men dropped their farm equipment and picked up crafts and mugs filled with alcohol.

Twas the season to be boozed up. The end of season meant a period of celebration, but rather than boohooing the end of summer, Martinmas welcomed the winter. Not to be feared, the winter was considered a period of indulgence. The outside time of the year was over for now so it was time to enjoy indoor activities: feasting, drinking, and partying – a song, by the way, I have been singing for three decades. It was all kicked off by Martinmas, went through Christmas and into Candlemas. (You’re no doubt noting a trend to these revel days, I suggest making festive days by adding the suffix -mas to everything. Fridaymas, Tuesdaymas, or My Birthdaymas has a nice ring.) On Martinmas they drank, ate, and took part in ancient customs like mumming and bonfires. They sent off farmhands with a feast, a thanks, their pay, and a hangover.   

There would have been no better time of year to feast. Animals would have been freshly slaughtered – pig, goose, and beef would have been enjoyed by all. The Germans called November ‘blood month’ for reasons that make us flinch and animals sprint for the hills. Records from a 1492 monastic Martinmas feast show beef, mutton, ale, and wine. The sheer proportions made it three times larger than their Christmas feast and suggested that they probably involved local poor in the festivities (sharing with the less fortunate as Martin had). They paid singers and minstrels and put them up for the night. Similar accounts for churches, communities, and colleges mention eel, paycock, swan, goose, pig, and beef. It was a great day of the year to be a hungry human and a less great time to be a domestic animal or a bird who lived near water.  

That Martin is the patron saint of winemakers, soldiers, tailors, cloak makers, goose haters, and millers (sick joke) – all tracks. But he also happens to be the patron saint of shoemakers, tanners, leather-dressers, glovers, purse-makers, and parchment-makers. All no doubt owing to the many things made from the abundance of recently abandoned hides lying around at the end of the Martinmas slaughter. If you were an animal in November, someone was going to eat you and then wear you.   

But Martinmas was big on the other side of feasting too – getting pickled. It was a time to revel with young wine, ale, and hot ale posset. In his 1592 satire, Pierce Penniless his Supplication to the Divell, Thomas Nashe lays out the eight kinds of drunkenness, the sixth kind of which is a ‘martin drunk’ – a man who’d drunk ‘himself sober ere he stir’. Social drinking at its best. The German and Dutch agreed, terming ‘Martinsman’ a ‘jovial festival drunkard’. An early Scots weather proverb goes ‘between Martinmas and Yule, water’s wine in every pool’. AKA: The forecast calls for extended periods of wine-drunk idiots peeing in your bushes. Although references to the common Martinmas drinker seems to allude to a cheerful, fun-loving drinker, some never got the parchment. It was a day of excess, filled with drunken quarrels and, naturally, jousting. Because what you really need when binge drinking is to be atop a horse with a giant sharp stick charging another drunk atop a horse with another giant sharp stick. If they didn’t get killed or lose their faces, people acted out of line. One 1421 record shows that a John Hedon (no joke) ‘became disorderly and propounded inane questions, uttering opprobrious words against his companions’. In other words, Uncle John ruined another Martinmas with his opprobrious propounding! John was fined 12d; others not so lucky. Some took advantage of this day of revelry by unfairly sneak attacking their enemies. They’d catch their enemy not only off-guard, but shitfaced or hungover. Something I think should be mentioned in the Geneva Convention with opprobrious words.

This all is a formal way of saying what we have known for years – November is a time to prepare for winter, to revel, to drink and to eat heartily, to fatten up for the cold months. It’s practically in our bones and fatty cells. Jeans tight in December? Who cares? You are only following your historical directives. Leave your worries and weight loss for the spring and summer. Today, we drink and dine.

To celebrate we’re going to concoct a posset. The adventurous among you might just drink it, too. This is a drink of ale, curdled milk, and spices. It should make you forget any problem you have as long as that problem isn’t lactose intolerance. The posset dates back to at least the medieval period. It appeared in John Russell’s Boke of Nurture in 1460 and if there’s one thing we know about 1460, it’s that people were less comfortable than we are today, the TV shows weren’t as good, and shitting yourself to death at age 20 was not uncommon. So, they knew how to make a drink. (Nota bene: this drink will not make you shit yourself to death, but please see above comment on lactose intolerance).


–        Two egg yolks

–        1.2 cups of Cream (or 1/10 of a pottle for you Olde English nerds)

–        A pint of your favorite ale, or lots of those

–        Cinnamon stick or a bit of powder

–        Nutmeg

–        Sugar

–        A pot

–        A posset pot (or any glass that has handles)

–        Pants with an elastic waistband (or no pants at all, who are we to judge?)


Mix up two egg yolks and set them aside. Boil the cream, add a cinnamon stick (or powder). Revel in the warmth of it all. Mock those who do not revel. Strain the eggs with a little cream. When the cream is well boiled and as thick as your Uncle Jim remove from heat and add the eggs. In another pot heat up your ale/beer with some sugar (Why not? It’s cold outside!) Take a moment to think of Martin crushed between two mill wheels. Then add some nutmeg. When all is heated, inhale deeply and enjoy the atmosphere of a medieval Martinmas celebration ozzing into your kitchen (sans the ubiquitous stench of feces and the tormented shrieking of animals being butchered). Then pour the cream and egg (after removing the cinnamon stick) into your beer and drink. Drink to Martinmas, to the reveling season, and to the god of elastic waistbands.

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Saint Martin’s Day

It’s an ugly Saturday – wet, cold, early dark, the sort of day that’s ideal to watch Harry meet Sally or Andrew Lincoln kill zombies and everyone else he meets. However, we have been invited by friends to Czanksgiving. This is a Thanksgiving feast created by a friend of ours that blends Czech and American. So, alongside our turkey and mashed sweet potatoes we have Czech dumplings and cabbage. The booze is of international variety, the conversation is warm, and we soon forget about the rainy day and lean our shoulders full force into merriment and mirth.

When our friend’s brother arrives, everyone wishes him a happy name day (Martin) and, having completely forgotten, I of course jump on board so as not to look like a schmuck. As I stand in the corner drinking pear brandy and listening to the different stories being told, I review what I remember about Saint Martin’s Day.

There’s a lot going on with November 11, Saint Martin’s Day – or, if you prefer, Martinmas, Martinmesse, Martlemas, Old Halloween or Old Hallowmas Eve. As you may have guessed from the list of names, St. Martin’s Day is an ancient holiday. Sort of like a Halloween in the Roman world, like Halloween (or Samhain) it too marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter. Harvests were collected, animals slaughtered. It was the end of the economic year, workers were paid, and it was time to wish farewell to travelling ploughmen. Work was done, and so it was the beginning of the winter revelry season, marked by storytelling and mumming.

Helping them in their revelry was the first wine of the season. Saint Martin’s Day is traditionally linked to the pouring of the first young, fruity wine of the season. Combining this with the first animal slaughter makes it a pretty big day historically. But in many European cultures, the wine was poured for people outside the city gates. In Prague, the first pour takes place at 11:11 am on 11.11. So, as you can imagine, by the time we were running across the city to visit our friends, the people we encountered were pretty red-faced and cheery.

If something taking place at 11:11 on 11.11 sounds significant, it should. The Great War was ended at those exact coordinates and this is why in Europe this day is Armistice Day and in the U.S. Veterans Day. But the Great War was not the first conflict ended nor the first treaty signed on this day. The Treaty of Granada in 1500 divided the Kingdom of Naples between Louis XII and Ferdinand II of Aragaon. The Treaty of Zstiva-Torok (1606) was a peace treaty which ended the 15-year Long Turkish War between the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg monarchy. The Canandaigua Treaty in 1794, the Treaty of Sinchula in 1865 – Bhutan ceded lands east of the Teesta River to the British East India Company.

Perhaps this goes back to St. Martin who is the hero of St. Martin’s Day, well, after the church takes things over from the pagans. It’s within Saint Martin that we see lots of themes associated with this day. He was a soldier until he threw down his arms and refused to fight. He was a bishop, gave half of his cloak to a beggar that ended up being Jesus (good guess!), and spent a night sleeping in a goose den.

Nevertheless, and no matter the motivation, merriment was had by all. Then some more. Then some more. I didn’t eat goose, but I did eat two birds (turkey and duck). And I didn’t drink any wine, but I drank enough beer and pear brandy and gather that St. Martin and the itinerant ploughmen would have been proud. It was a lovely night and the bad weather stayed at the door.   

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Two Weeks

I love reading. But it wasn’t always that way. I remember the days when I was punished by being sent to my room with a book and being ‘forced’ to spend an entire afternoon whiling away the hours just reading and occasionally daydreaming about being on the cast of The Real Ghostbusters. When I got more into reading in my early twenties, I realized the foolishness of looking that particular gift horse in the mouth. 

When I finally took to reading, I never looked back. I buried myself in all sorts and ate them up. And reading has been its own education. Not just in the obvious ways, but also an education about myself. One who lies to themselves about reading is in for a tough row. Books take a few days to a few weeks to read and if you pretend you like Sartre when you really prefer Terry Pratchett, well, it’s going be a rough one. 

It was perhaps two months ago when I realized that it was taking me a very long time to finish books. Why was that, I wondered. One of the many voices in my brain piped up and coughed and pointed to my phone, the slutty succubus who hangs out in my pocket and drains me of all energy to intellectual pursuits or things that don’t rhyme with Creddit. But then there was also the fact that I am very busy and therefore, at the end of the day, very tired. When I finally stop my work on any given day, I am exhausted and find that Netflix has a better chance of being watched than just about anything else that might happen. 

But as it had taken me two months to read a 312 page mystery novel, a change had to be made. I have therefore created an edict. Whenever I open a book, I have two weeks – 14 days – to read it. I am now trying to come up with some punishment for if I fail. 

If you have any ideas – that will not result in bodily harm to anyone in my house – feel free to comment. If you would like to join me, please let me know. As you know, misery loves company. Or at least I read that somewhere and it didn’t take two months to get.  


Not So Mischief Night

I was never allowed to do anything bad on Mischief Night. My mother once told me she had a crystal ball and I believed her all the way up til my junior year in college, assuming that if she hadn’t beaten me to death by then, then she couldn’t see anything I was doing.

Mischief Night was relatively tame where I lived. We had some ruffians nearby, but they didn’t do anything but throw an egg or two at your house and then run screeching into the night and forest. Some kids from my high school once tried to egg the house of Randall Cunningham. I wasn’t there, but in hindsight nobody seemed to express much shock at getting caught, what with the caravan of Volvos Nissans lined up outside the estate of the state’s most famous professional athlete. I wonder if Randall still thinks about it.

My one and only Mischief Night confirmed my lifelong status as a rule follower. I went out with three guys from my street. We were ill equipped, I believe only bringing along a roll of toilet paper to cover someone’s house in and I don’t think there were eggs. We dressed in dark clothes, which for me meant my grade school uniform. It was dark green, but this is what I had to work with. I did so under the assumption that we’d be in the woods. Dark Green + Dark Woods = Where’d that guy go?

I was wrong.

Almost instantly I was seen from a back window. A woman doing dishes peered out into the woods and noticed four stalking idiots. An evidently highly-trained operative, she snapped off her lights and was quickly on her porch. Seconds later she was yelling at us to disappear. Most of us did. Most. I became petrified and stayed in position. This position was lying on my stomach in front of a tree. The flood lights of the backyard were on and I could feel them pouring into my head. Every time they’d snap off, the woman would wave a hand and snap them back on. Eddie squatted behind a tree a few yards away, impoloring me to get up and make a run for it. I thought I was hidden.

“Listen to your friend. Get out of here,” the woman shouted.

“Dame. Come on.”

I tried to get up, but alas my shoelace was attached to a stick that wasn’t budging. Eddie wandered out of his hiding spot to help and, when that gesture proved useless, the woman herself came out and undud my shoelace. She pulled me to my feet and padded me on the butt (different times, I called no authorities).

Thus was the beginning and the ending of a great criminal mind. Since then I’ve left all sorts of mischief to those who aren’t me. I stay home, watch a movie, and listen for ruffians and shenanigans. 

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Stuff to be Terrified about Today

I normally love writing for kids. It’s a weird turn of events in later years. But one of the byproducts of writing science and history articles for kids is that you learn things you just would have been very happy not learning.

For instance, climate change is making spiders bigger. Yes, bigger. I’ve always sort of been worried about climate change and the prospect of floating on a door atop the future Mid-European Atlantic that used to be known as ‘Germany’ but now I have to add big spiders to that nightmare. Enjoyably enough, in future research I learned that spiders can also survive in space. So when global warming does get bad enough and humanity is forced to go live on Mars, spiders can follow us.

Another scary fact is that there are the frozen bodies on Mount Everest. And they are used as landmarks for people climbing up and down. I’m not so scared of the idea of dead people. I am, however, terrified stiff by the fact that there are people on Earth stupid enough that when they run into a frozen man in a Columbia jacket their only thought is ‘Oh, I have to make a left at Larry.’ And then off to the ‘dead zone.’

There’s a haunted radio station in Russia that’s been broadcasting a dull monotonous tone for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the last three-and-a-half decades. Horrifying. I’d love to visit it, but the most terrifying aspect of that ghost radio station is that it’s in Russia.

You can die from holding in a sneeze. This wouldn’t bother me, but it’s also possible to die from sneezing too hard. Sneezing. The function we can’t control can kill you if you don’t do it like fricking Goldilocks.

King Charles II used to drink red wine mixed with cremated skulls. He wasn’t the only one either, as this was a way to be healthier. Also, the barber was where one got bled. If you were sick, you were ordered by the doctor but it was beneath him to make people bleed. This doesn’t terrify me as much as make me sad that I didn’t live then. I bet people almost never had to go to work. Yes, it was because they had died, but still. No work.  

My last bit of research dragged out that some ants turn into zombies via parasitic fungus, which – wait for it – manipulates their brains. (This is how it starts.) I don’t have any problem with ants, but the fact that they can be killed and then redirected to eat my hotdog. It just seems rude.

I guess it’s good as all my other terrors are real life. A mortgage. A neighbor who sings to his tennis racket. After these daily terrors, what’s a spider with wings or an ant that’s trying to kill Andrew Lincoln? Manageable. Now, I have to get my tennis racket.  

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The Surprise at the End of the Hairy Lemon

My siblings and I have long given up the one-upmanship of our formative years. I, for example, rarely bring home dead squirrels anymore. My brother no longer sends our mother his W2s. Amanda gave her a few grandkids. I did my part by moving 4,200 miles away. And I think I was winning until my sister Julia announced that she was going to take my mom on a trip around Ireland.

My mother has been mentioning ‘Ireland’ to my dad for thirty or forty years until she gave up the ghost and started going on cruises with her friends. But a lifetime of mild disappointment was nothing compared to what I was facing now?  

Namely, how was I going to compete with my sister taking her to Ireland? Short of finding Brigadoon and setting up the Once a Century Pub Crawl, I couldn’t. Alas, bitterness set in.

But one night I awoke in a sweat and possibly surrounded by candy wrappers. It was a moment of clarity that went like this: You live near Ireland you bugwit. This was followed by more positive insights such as: I could fly to Ireland! I could do it as a surprise! It would be fun!

My moment in the son sun.

There were two concerns.

The first – a heart attack. My mom is notoriously jumpy and conducive to scares. Not just conducive, but with a predisposition that a doctor should look at. We once sat at a table together for an hour before I scared her into vaulting milk all over her shirt by asking what time it was.

So, in order to avoid employing Dublin’s emergency services, we decided to do it in a pub, with me sitting and waiting, and her seeing me. This would hopefully avoid any shock that we’d have to awkwardly explain at a viewing.

The second – my dad. My dad’s inability to keep a secret or retain information without blabbing it to all who hear is famous within our family. In fact, it’s famous outside of our family. Word has it that in one of his past lives in the revolution era colonies, he was hogtied days before Paul Revere’s ride. Another early life was sent into Brittany as decoy on June 5, 1944.

And so I arrived, I walked to a pub, got a Power’s Gold Label, asked the bartender where the Hairy Lemon was. He pointed me about 40 yards down the road and I drank the liquor with joy. Once inside the Lemon I Guinnessed myself and took up a small table by the door. They came in, my mom flipped (no medical issues), and my sister and I cheersed a job well done.

The following day happened to be her birthday (33rd) and we embarked on a great weekend of Irish history, archaeology, beer, food, and rugby. This is all despite the pub crawl my sister and I did on Friday, whose venues grow dimmer and dimmer the later they were visited. Somewhere in there was a Five Guys visit. A door code for a bathroom that I’ll always remember (0502). And the night was capped off at the restaurant of the hotel, which, my sister assured me was during the day a charming Irish pub/restaurant. This assurance came because at night it was lit and had the otherwise ambience of a vampire orgy. Everyone was much better looking than us and somehow younger by several hundred decades.  

When the red light went on and the dancing began we made our escape. Our left half our pints on the table mocking us as we ran. In the morning, as promised, we dropped into the restaurant and were greeted by a sweet-smiled young lady with blonde hair. She airily directed us towards a table and took our order. Under her breath, I could have sworn she said “you didn’t finish your drinks last night.”

We left this rendezvous out when filling my mother in on events, mainly because we were afraid to implicate her. Who knows what rules bind the Irish Vampire. It didn’t matter. Had we been bit by vampires, at least we’d have been in Ireland – the land of the jovial and friendly and inviting. That evening, exhausted by walking and touring, we stopped at a place for seafood chowder and brown soda bread. The barmen and women told us funny stories, bantered with us, and snapped jokes at us. By the time we were turning on the rugby, we were ready to drift off. And I wish I had before the end.

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On September 26 1774, Johnny Appleseed was Born

…and went on to spread booze throughout the frontier

The apple has seen some tough days. It’s the malicious culprit in loads of folklore. What knocks out Snow White? What has Adam ruin the lot for humankind (according to medieval art, not the bible)? And is it the Golden Pear of Discord or the Golden Banana of Discord that sparks the Trojan War? No, it’s the Golden Apple of Discord.

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Despite its evident tendency to introduce ruin and mayhem, the apple was a constant in my early life. They made their way into my oatmeal and lunches. They were offered under the suspiciously-rhyming decree that one a day would definitively forbid the approach of a certified healthcare professional. Throughout the year, apple culture peaked around October. We bobbed for apples at our school Halloween festival. We lost teeth in caramel-covered apples, where they stood like crooked little tombstones. And in September, a class trip to Steyer’s Orchards introduced me to the glories of apple cider. (The next day, spent entirely on the toilet, stomach acids swirling after two jugs of cider, I was introduced to consequences of actions. And the importance of two-ply toilet paper.)  

One positive story about apples came from the folk character Johnny Appleseed. He was a simple frontiersman who wore threadbare clothing, wore a tin pot hat, and wandered and seeded the frontier with apple trees. The real man was John Chapman, born in 1774 in Massachusetts and raised in Pennsylvania. The legend isn’t far off from reality. He collected seeds from Pennsylvania cider mills and roamed the frontier delivering apple seed to families and starting nurseries. He walked around barefoot and slept rough. He was very kind to people and animals and became a vegetarian in later years. This was remarkable at a time when most people ate whatever they could to get calories in an American wilderness notably bereft of Trader Joes.  

But Johnny Appleseed wasn’t simple. He created nurseries, which he fenced in and for which he hired caretakers. He returned when a couple of times a year to work on them. By the time he died in 1845, he owned more than 1,200 acres of valuable frontier land. Moreover, contrary to the Disney version of Johnny Appleseed, he wasn’t bringing people apples for food, he was bringing them apples for booze.

The first apples sprung up as malus sieversii in the mountains of Kazakhstan. And no doubt the first person to bite into one never did so again. They are so bitter that they were only marginally preferable to dying of hunger. So people didn’t eat them, but they did press the hell out of them and let the resulting juice ferment. There’s no record of who first realized fermented apple cider made you drunk enough to tongue kiss a woolly mammoth, but by the time the Romans show up in the British isles in 55 AD, the people there were drinking a cider-like beverage and developing the rules for mob football. The Germanic tribes and the Normans were drinking similar beverages, and the Romans spread this newfound elixir throughout their entire empire. And Europe and the Mediterranean were drunk on apples.

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Spider of My Dreams

For some reason, I used to take a great deal of delight in telling others my dreams. I guess this bad habit lasted until college, when I was informed that describing one’s dreams to another human adult had the same effect as slowly reading a phone book to them in a monotone voice while administering 400 ml of NyQuil. So it made people fall asleep with the added bonus that when they woke up, they absolutely despised you.

So I stopped. Having more than enough points against my personality, I chose to cut my losses on that one and just keep my dreams to myself. Until, of course, now. Now, I have a blog so if you are reading this just remember a. that you chose to, b. you can stop reading anytime you want, and c. you probably like me or are plotting against me. In any case, please don’t hate me.

Last week I dreamed about spiders. You’re going to want to notice that at the end of spider there’s an s. In English, this designates a plural. Not one spider, spiders. In my dream, they were literally flying through the air. Towards me. Big ones. But the kind with sharp legs. Oh it was awful. Then, I noticed another spider – this one that was sort of big and meaty, like a small dog, and was sitting in the middle of a web watching television. So, naturally, a bunch of former NFL players showed up and began poking him in one of his several eyes. I thought this was a bad idea and evidently I voiced that opinion because the big spider agreed with me (verbally) and then decided he should hang out with me. He did not leave my side for the rest of the dream. I think we went to the movies and he was charged the child rate.

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No-No No…No!

It’s a too-warm summer night in Langhorne. Mid-August. Moments ago, my sister carried her shrieking child out of the living room and as her wails and shrieks dopplered away from us and became the problem of those upstairs, my mood enhanced as if someone had removed an iron rod from my colon. It’s time for beer and the Phillies.

The Phillies are a large part of my visit home. My dad and I watch the games pretty religiously and we hang out and chat and make lists (top five war movies not including WWII) or A to Z (on author’s second book titles) or we have in-depth discussions about our favorite sandwiches and why we hate specific people on the TV. Or, my dad’s favorite topic, how and when someone died. Bonus points if it was unexpected and violent.

My friend Collin is visiting. He’s from Wisconsin so we spend a great deal of time explaining things to him like non-dairy creamer and electricity. We have spent the day walking around the city and in between second hand bookstores and houses of founding fathers we found our way to more than one pub and lubricated our happy spots. After dozing on the train back we stopped at a pub placed about 100 feet from the train station and refilled. We are ready for baseball.

Michael Lorenzen is on the mound against the Nationals. It’s his second start. My father has stayed upstairs, as one trip downstairs is enough in a day for him. A second would be something like the hubris which makes rich people frozen twinkies on Everest. My mom sits with Collin and I. we all chat and watch the game.

Collin knows baseball, but football’s his game. He knows the inside out of everything when it comes to the sport. Baseball is his casual sport and he watches it with a passing fancy and it becomes secondary to his beer and our chat.

In the fourth inning, my mother and I make eye contact and actively don’t speak. We know what’s happening, but it is strictly against family rules – and against all of Philadelphia sporting rules – to say it aloud, to acknowledge it, or to call attention to it in any way.

Michael Lorenzen is pitching a no hitter. A no-no.

My mother and I shake it off and go back to the game. My mother asks Collin about his family and his family’s makeup and hand cream allegiances. There’s not a peep from upstairs.

Superstition is very important to any sports fans. Of course, there are those superiorly-posed fans out there who roll their eyes and with nonchalance claim that we mere observers have nothing to do with the outcome of a sporting event, but this is simply insane.

Evidence. August 15, 1991. Terry Mulholland is 6 innings into a perfect game against the Giants. My mother, brother, and I are watching in silence. Nobody has said a word. My mother brought crackers with jam and cream cheese. And then, suddenly, my best friend Eddie popped through the front door and announced:

“Hey! Did you guys know Terry Mulholland’s pitching a perfect game?”

The looks and admonishment from us to him took days off his life (a thing to be verified in 45 or so years). And then we all watched in horror as Charlie Hayes botched the throw on Rick Parker’s grounder. Eddie was ejected from the house and his father was called on the phone before he got home. His punishment was no doubt vicious and accepted by the gods of baseball because Mulholland later achieved the no-hitter via Charlie Hayes’ great play to end the game.   

Fast forward to May 1991. Tommy Greene is pitching a no-hitter against the Expos. Eddie and I had made plans to watch the game together, but he had been detained by a need for Tastycakes – a fully understandable excuse. However, Eddie never arrived and, when it became clear in the third inning that Tommy Greene was throwing a no-hitter, my family understood and silently nodded our assent. The man had learned his lesson and Greene’s no-hitter went on unhindered.   

So you see why nobody can say anything to Collin. He doesn’t seem to understand what’s happening and all I can do is say to him “Do you know what’s happening? Do you have any idea?”

Collin, thinking this is one of our fun drunken word puzzles, says “Sure I do, buddy. Sure I do.”

He gets up to get another beer. A few moments later, he hands me one with a wink and a nod.

When my sister arrives downstairs, we glare at her and the five-alarm fire waiting to happen that she has attached to her hip. If anyone in the family will ruin a sporting event, it’s my sister, a woman for whom sports rules are on her personal Totem of importance around the daily temperature of Mars or the habitat of the Eurasian otter.

“What’s going on?” she asks.

“Nothing. How are you?” I quickly ask, cutting off my mom. My mom will give away too much and this will lead to questioning. We don’t want questions. We want quiet.

My sister brings forth no requests from my dad, who has been in his room watching in absolute quiet. He has not engaged any of us, least of whom my mother, who would by this point in the evening often have received a text message for a bag of peanuts or a ginger ale or other things suggesting he’s mistaken her for a Lufthansa slight attendant.  

In the eighth inning, when Tom McCarthy says “Lorenzen has given up no hits here in the eighth” the quite in the booth is palpable. One imagines John Kruk staring in awe at McCarthy. Seconds later, Kruk says “Now, what did you just say right there?”

McCarthy: “What?”

My mother and I glance at each other. The gall.  

When Lorenzen pitches the final pitch and only after Johan Rojas catches the ball, celebrates, and then runs to the infield, do my mother and I celebrate. Collin jumps up and, no more prompting needed, jogs into the kitchen. He returns with celebratory beers. Amanda comes in, the celebration has upset her daughter and we need to keep it down. We don’t. Amanda heads for upstairs.

“Do you know what just happened?” I ask Collin.

He stares at the screen and realizes that the celebration is more than your normal mid-August slog celebration. “Did he pitch a no-hitter?” he asks.


“Why didn’t you tell me?”

My mother’s phone beeps the answer, though he doesn’t know it.

“Amanda, bring dad some peanuts and a ginger ale.”   

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