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The Kid Calendar

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Things change for me all the time in my 40s. I wake up to new aches and pains and each week seems to bring with it a new thing on or in my body that has decided to stop working like it used to. I discover hair where once there was no hair and no hair where once hair reigned. My doctor is on speed dial. I look in the mirror and say “huh” a lot and then I invariable follow that with “oh well.” It’s quite a show.

One of the things I miss most about being a kid is enjoying the Kid Calendar. You know, the phases, feelings, and events that influenced and were influenced by the changing seasons and months. When I was a kid, the Kid Calendar was a wholly different one than the one our parents followed. Each event and date on the Kid Calendar meant some new shift or focus for my kid brain.

While my parents’ calendar read June, July, and August, the Kid Calendar combined those all into one thing: summer. This was a huge highlight of the Kid Year. As such it was earmarked for freedom, fun, sunburns, tick inspections, and wounds that would turn light pink under said sunburn. There might be a trip to the ocean, a leniency period on bedtimes and curfews. Summer was a time to spend outdoors. The woods and the Neshaminy River were our daily venue, adventure was the name of the game. If a summer day ended without bleeding or at least one run-in with a deadly creature, then it was not a successful summer day.

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March 5, 1953 Happy Stalin’s Death Day

On the night of February 28, 1953 Stalin summoned members of his inner circle to his dacha on the outskirts of Moscow. They met now and then for dinner, a movie, and irrational ravings about capitalism. Tonight, summoned were Deputy Premier Georgy Malenkov, Chief of Secret Police Lavrenti Beria, Nikita Khrushchev, and Defense Minister Nikolai Bulganin. Though they had been invited for dinner, Stalin did have an ulterior motive. Like many dictators, Stalin suffered from an all-encompassing paranoia. If they were drinking and watching movies with him, they couldn’t be plotting his overthrow. Khrushchev pointed out later that the mood that night had been pleasant, suggesting they weren’t always. The implication was that Stalin’s parties were often terrifying.   

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In the Still of the Night

On February 28 1983, M*A*S*H ended. For 11 years, we sustained our disbelief and didn’t ask “Wait, how long was the Korean War?” We watched Hawkeye, BJ, Hot Lips Houlihan, Colonel Potter, Klinger. And on February 28 1983, we said goodbye to them. The last scene focused on the two main characters, BJ and Hawkeye, as they pour out their hearts. 139 million people cried. And then the two biggest alcoholics in television history said goodbye and went home to Crabapple Cove and Sausalito. And 139 million people wondered what exactly they were going to do on Monday night at 9 o’clock. They’re still wondering.

Though producers and writers have been trying to replicate the show since then, there’s no saying what the magical equation and alchemy were. For so many years people tuned in to watch the doctors and nurses suffer and laugh. We were there when Henry Blake’s death was reported. We were there when Klinger broke the PA system. We were there.

Or, at least, I was there roughly. As an obsessive fan during the rerun period (i.e. 1983 until an hour ago) I watched and rewatched the episodes roughly 7,000 times. I won a game of M*A*S*H Trivial Pursuit in the late 1990s, receiving the question and giving the answer in Pig Latin. To this day, when I read about a celebrity if I can place him or her to an episode of M*A*S*H, I instantly know who they are. The DVD and now download age have made M*A*S*H a constant part of my life whenever I so desire. This very fact makes 12 year old me squeal for delight at every remembrance.  

I bought GI issue boxer shorts and named my bedroom The Swamp. I went out for Halloween as Hawkeye Pierce so many times that the kibosh was finally enforced by my disconcerted parents. As if a bloody surgeon walking around our neighborhood was an odd thing. Pbbt. I called people ferret face and was boggled when they didn’t get angry. They simply had no idea what I was referring to. And then there were the martinis.

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Meditations on Getting my Cat Stoned

The dog loves to play. This is hindered by the fact that the cat hates the dog, everything about the dog, and all things the dog represents and embodies. The cat voices this distaste with an almost constant meowing that sends my blood pressure through the stratosphere.

Oh, this wouldn’t be so bad (I can always drink) except the cat comes equipped with scimitar-like claws and the dog has no snout. My nightmare machine produces lots of clashes between those claws and my dog’s unprotected eyes. We have considered getting the dog a pair of goggles, but then that would raise lots of internal questions about who I have become as a person that I’d rather avoid right now. Instead, I brought the cat to the vet. The veterinarian found that the cat has a minor back problem and suggested CBD (cannabis) oil to help her relax and to not be such an asshole.

It’s an unusual event leaving a vet’s office with a bottle of cannabis oil for your cat. I was reminded of those days in college when I’d leave a shady house with a baggie paranoid that I smelled like a skunk. I went to the grocery store and bought the cat some treats as the vet said her appetite would increase. Or, in the parlance of the lifestyle, she would get the munchies. Instinctively, I picked myself up some cookies and a can of Pringles, because you never know when you might get a contact high, or accidentally take 4-8 drops of the oil yourself.

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Remember the Maine, Down with Spain!

On February 15 1898, a huge explosion sounded through Havana Harbor. The U.S.S Maine, sent to Cuba to protect American interests during the Cuban War for Independence against Spain, was quickly sinking, a massive hole in its fore. An American steamer and a Spanish cruiser, the City of Washington and the Alfonso XII, respectively, rushed to its assistance and saved over 100 men. However, 261 men would die.

Everyone handled everything perfectly. America handled the news in stride and made a nationwide pact to reserve judgment until all evidence could be investigated. The newspapers put out thoughtful analyses and reasonable discussions of the tragedy and promoted a cautious reaction from the U.S. America followed suit and everyone decided that it was best not to jump to conclusions – in this case that the explosion had been caused by the U.S.’s possible enemy, Spain – and allow cooler heads to prevail.  

Ha hah ha hah ha, nah, I’m just kidding. Everyone lost their shit. And fast. The U.S. was pretty well on edge because of Cuba’s third war against Spain and because of the atrocities Spain had committed against the Cubans. They were urged forward by the shrill and shrieking accusations – or at the very, very least heavy insinuations – from the U.S.’s two leading newspapers that Spain was responsible for or involved in the tragedy. Though Joseph Pulitzer, the owner of the New York World, one of the most vociferously accusatory newspapers, privately said that “nobody outside of an insane asylum” could actually believe Spain was involved, his newspaper sang a far different tune. Though the newspapers weren’t directly responsible for the cause of the Spanish American War, they sure helped. The rallying cry, “Remember the Maine, down with Spain!” became rampant and two months later, William McKinley, who had been trying to cool things down, declared war.

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7 Telltale Signs I’ve been Watching Squid Game

I am enormously susceptible to media. After watching The Walking Dead, I judged everything in terms of zombie avoidance, zombie combat, and where to hang out if I become a zombie. Well, these days it’s Squid Game. This was, it must be said, not my idea. If I were left to my own devices, I would watch comedies where the biggest threat is that Willy might not be free at the end (Thank God that worked out). Now it’s Squid Game and, as always, each day brings a Squid Game-induced insight. Here are 7 telltale signs that I’ve been watching Squid Game. (spoiler alert: While I have not seen all of Squid Game and I actively try to not give away too much, tread lightly if you haven’t seen it. in the same vein, please be careful with comments/feedback. I’d like to be rightly horrified.)

Brushing up on kid’s games

One of the very disturbing aspects of Squid Game is that well-known, nostalgic childhood games and innocuous little competitions are turned into horrifying life or death blood fests. With that in mind, I have begun reviewing the rules and tactics of games from my own childhood. I have begun a personal rolodex of strategies and tactics that helped me win the games then. Well not me, but someone I was watching after being eliminated. So if anyone needs a powwow on the tactical dimensions of tag, I am your man. Please let me on your team.

Picking my team

I was in line at the grocery store last week when I realized that at any minute a man in a red suit and with a circle on a black mask might force me at gunpoint to create a team. I then looked around in a panic to find my nine teammates. I located the room’s psychopath (every room has one). I decided that while he was physically strong, he would stab me in the back with a broken Sprite bottle at first opportunity. I found a guy who had decided to open his beer before paying for it. A dick move? Yes. Disgusting? Yes. Inconsiderate? Yes. But I figured he was gutsy and, plus, if he was eliminated, I wouldn’t be too upset about it. An old man in front of me had his groceries sorted within his box in a relatively brilliant manner. Eggs were stacked sideways, fruit was dangling from the sides, tied to the handles by knots, spreads were riding the cart in the same way. Deciding he was wise from a lifetime of struggle, I chose him for my team.

Trying to find 7 other human adults to test out 001’s tug-of-war strategy

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The Ad Campaign that Birthed the Brandy Alexander (or Brandy’s Dad, anyway)

Late January seems to be a dead zone of (interesting) alcohol-related history. So it was with relief that I found that today (January 31) is Brandy Alexander Day. If you haven’t run across the Brandy Alexander, then you should. With brandy, crème de cacao, cream, and ground nutmeg, it’s like a milkshake that makes you forget math. It’s the favorite drink of two Anglophone heroes – Mary Tyler Moore and John Lennon (who called it “the milkshake”). No wonder the Brandy Alexander gets its own day.  

But there doesn’t seem to be any reason why that day is January 31. One article suggested that the cocktail was invented in 1922 to celebrate the wedding of Princess Mary and Henry George Charles Lascelles, but that wedding took place on February 28. January 30, 1969 is the anniversary of The Beatles’ last appearance as a group and their famous rooftop concert. So, maybe drinking a Brandy Alexander on January 31 while listening to Yesterday might set you right. But Yesterday was written by Paul, and his favorite drink is marijuana. The origins of this cocktail is so hearsay and multi-claimed that my research proved fruitless. In the depths of despair I came across Brandy Alexander’s dad – the Alexander. While the Alexander’s origins aren’t 100% certain, it’s story is interesting. So we turn to the obvious – trains.

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How to Know You’re about to Die in a British Mystery

If the guy on the right thinks he’s in love with you, run!

Anyone who likes mysteries understands the joy that only comes from seeing one British person murdering another British person. In America, you’re going to die if you’re in the same room as the guy with the gun, so if you can just avoid him (i.e. all of them), then you’re theoretically good. But in Britain, where this convenient tool for murder is nonexistent (because they are all in America), they have to be a bit more imaginative.

And let’s just say you end up in Britain, and worse still, a British mystery, how do you know how to avoid being murdered? The sad fact is, when you realize you are going to die in a British mystery, it’s too late. You’re dead. And you will be found the following day by Inspector Morse, Lewis, Poirot, Foyle, Barnaby, or a Polish maid. So, just in case you end up in a British mystery, here’s how to know if you’re about to die.

You are the primary suspect for the first murder

If you are an unlikable person with a motive in a British mystery, sorry but forget it. You’re so dead that any mystery watchers knew you were dead when you became the primary suspect. If it makes you feel any better, everyone will feel bad that they suspected you of being the murderer. For a while.

You’re alone and have a conversation with a person we can’t see

If you say something like: “Hey, it’s you! Oh I was worried!” You have about 9 seconds to live. There’s a great chance that the next (and last) phrase out of your mouth will be something panicked like: “Hey, what are you doing?” Then you’re dead. You should have just sprinted away through those woods.

You know who the murderer is and you’re about to tell the police

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Runner’s High

There is a duality that goes with getting exercise accessories for Christmas. On the one hand – neato, accessory! On the other – ah man I gotta work out to use this. For Christmas I received the JLAB sport earbuds and it was this accessory that quelled my sad cries while dressing to run.

Running in the winter is sort of like dressing up like a tank for Halloween. I put on my sweats and my unfortunately matching vest. The vest is a necessity for warmth and for holding my phone through which I listen to my groovy tunes that help me chug along and stifle the sounds of my own implorations for a quicker death. Today I put the earbuds in and am immediately informed by a woman’s voice that my earbuds are waiting to be synched.

I set on my Bluetooth and the woman informs me that the earbuds have synched. The woman’s voice is digital but alluring in a way that brings back oddly stirring memories of the Jetson’s maid. I put on my Spotify playlist and begin my run.

It’s amazing to me the possibilities that technology has wrought upon on. When I started teaching, I would carry a pile of papers into class and a CD player for listening activities. Now, everything I need for class fits on a flash drive the size of my thumbnail. My phone is a bankcard, a camera, an information portal, and a place to put my drink.

While I am running, the earbuds make every song so clear that I can hear the musicians’ heroin dealers show up to the studio. I chug along slowly, urged along by Bob Dylan and Otis Redding. Despite the fact that I am running and trying not to die, I am as relaxed as I can be. But then I scratch my ear.

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The Drinker’s Dictionary

When Benjamin Franklin arrived in Philadelphia from Boston, he was warned off of going to a tavern called “The Three Mariners.” Told it attracted a bad element, he was instead told of a place called “The Crooked Billet” which was far more reputable. It seems that Philly already had a bad reputation for ruffianism.

One of these people who warned him might have given him the hint: go away from the water. As taverns started popping up around the new colonies in America, they started at the water. This makes sense. Sailors and merchants coming from sea would want to wet their whistle and catch syphilis from a prostitute before heading back out to sea. And what better place to do those things than in a tavern. The further away from the water a tavern was, the more reputable the establishment and its clientele.  

About 38 years before people were telling Franklin to stay away from coastal pubs, William Penn was consternated with the rowdy elements drawn to the taverns in the caves along the Delaware River. As most Philadelphia area residents know, not much has changed.

In the mid-1700s the Brits were noting the difference between beer drinkers and gin drinkers. As have drinkers for the last three hundred years. In 1751 in England, artist and social critic William Hogarth painted Gin Lane and Beer Street to point out the difference between the two lifestyles. Beer Street is full of mellow people admiring art, looking for a chip shop, perhaps a bit gassy, but otherwise just enjoying their day without ruining their lives and society. Gin Lane is rife with negligent parents, decay, suicide, wasted waifs of alcoholism, and what look to be some Disney characters.

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