Archive for April, 2022

96 Bags of Poop on the Moon


I awake at 5:30 and everyone in the bed is asleep. No we’re not swingers (at least I don’t think we are). The cat’s at the foot of the bed in a ball, Burke takes up the right side, and between us, the little sliver of white hair known as Maisy the Shih tzu. I slowly slip out of bed, careful not to alert anyone to my movement. However, before I can put my toe on the floor a little head pops up and two sleepy black eyes blink at me.

I’m caught. Before I sit up, the dog is next to me as if she’s riding shotgun to my driver. She stretches her lower half and then awkwardly tumbles to the floor where she stretches her upper half. The stretch depletes her and she plops down into a long-bodied position and waits.

I am not sure if dogs are lovers of routine or if our dog has just become accustomed to our routine. But now she has her own. She’s up with the earlier person (usually me), who brings her downstairs to relieve herself. Once back upstairs, she aggravates the cat with nosebutts until she gets fed. After breakfast, she might wander the flat for a few minutes before getting back into bed with Burke. When Burke moves to the living room to start planning and organizing her day of teaching, Maisy sleeps on a blanket on the couch until about 10.

Bringing a dog outside between 5 and 6 in the morning is an activity that becomes far more pleasant as the winter turns into spring. It’s lighter, warmer, crisper, the grass is green. The only advantages winter brought were that the dog did her business more quickly and I could more easily see the poop of other dogs in the snow. Now, as I bring down Maisy in the not-quite-light, I tiptoe through the faecal minefield.  

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On April 14 1865, John Wilkes Booth Goes to the Star Saloon for a drink

The events of April 14 1865 are some of the most infamous in American history. Abraham Lincoln went to a play at Ford’s Theatre, he sat in a box and watched the comedy Our American Cousin. In the third act, actor and confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth snuck into his box. When actor Harry Hawk delivered “you sockdologizing old mantrap!” the crowd roared with laughter, just as Booth knew they would. He took the opportunity to pull the trigger of the Deringer he held up against Lincoln’s head. Mary Todd Lincoln and Clara Harris screamed as Major Henry Rathbone jumped up and struggled with Booth. Booth stabbed Rathbone, screamed “Sic semper tyrannis” which is Latin for “See you in your grade school history book!” and broke his leg while jumping onto the stage and into the annals of monumentally bad fucking decisions.

In America we learned this story in grade school, along with the words “assassination,” “coma,” and “dagger,” but not “sockdologizing mantrap.” We learned the power of context, and would never again hear “Ford’s Theatre” without attaching it to bad omens. We learned context to relativize the magnitude of the event. When Mr. Hancock explained that John Wilkes Booth killing Abraham Lincoln was like Harrison Ford killing President Reagan, we were aghast.   

What we don’t learn is how the events of April 14 were linked to alcohol. Before Ford’s Theatre, Booth stopped at the Star Saloon next door for a few whiskeys to steel his nerves. He might have looked down the bar to see the president’s coachman Francis Burke, his valet Charles Forbes, and John Frederick Parker having a drink. When Booth would arrive at the president’s box a few minutes later, he would get inside with ease because the police officer in charge of guarding his box, John Frederick Parker, was at the Star Saloon. Across town, George Atzerodt was set to shoot Vice President Andrew Johnson at the Kirkwood House Hotel. Atzerodt went to the hotel’s bar, spent the evening getting shitfaced, and eventually lost his nerve and ran off into the night. Perhaps Lincoln might have been spared had the barman at the Star Saloon poured drinks like the barman at the Kirkwood. One of the best accounts of Lincoln’s assassination is that of another barman, James P. Ferguson, who was in attendance in Ford’s Theatre. He ran the Greenback Saloon, which flanked the theatre’s other side. Because his wife was ill, his guest that night was Mary Ella Cecil, a girl with whom he would fall in love and gift a canary named Jimmy.

And so, surrounding one of the most infamous murders in history is the full spectrum of human beings in pubs. On the one hand, Booth drinks at the Star Saloon to prepare for a difficult task. Nearby, you have ordinary working men enjoying a drink while their boss is at an event. As a result of his boozy appetites, Parker shirks his duty, which results in tragedy. George Atzerodt gets too drunk to do what he’s supposed to do but ruins his life anyway. One can only imagine the horror he felt in the morning along with his hangover. For as long as pubs have peddled booze, people have fucked their lives up in them.

To say that Abraham Lincoln’s death was influenced by alcohol is like saying a soldier’s death in combat was influenced by gun violence. Alcohol was ubiquitous in 19th century America. People made it in mass quantities, other people drank it in mass quantities, and a growing number of people wanted to get rid of it in mass quantities. Abraham Lincoln was a non-drinker; nevertheless, his attitudes towards alcohol were increasingly scrutinized by a public that was finding alcohol a worsening social problem. The growing temperance movement had only gathered steam during the Civil War, when soldiers matched alcohol with its troublesome soulmates – trauma, depression, and guns. A war, by the way, that was partially financed by a tax on alcohol introduced by one Abraham Lincoln. About five score and two years before Lincoln won the Republican party’s nomination in 1860, George Washington bought rum to court voters. Washington also had a whiskey distillery. But by the time Lincoln came around, politicians were expected to address America’s troublesome relationship with booze. Perhaps, given the change in attitudes towards alcohol, it’s only fitting that his murder would be so linked to it.

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Happy Unbirthday

It’s Monday and I’m looking for a rationale to have a drink. Before you say it, I know that drinking doesn’t need a reason. But I’m a sporting fellow, and I thought I’d try to track one down. April 11. What is there to drink for on April 11?

April 11 is international Louie Louie Day, Hug Your Dog Day, and Farm Animal Day. but I’ve always hated that song, I hug my dog every day, and the further away from farm animals I stay the better. It’s the day Apollo 13 launched (1970), Idi Amin was deposed (1979), MacArthur got fired (1951), the Civil Rights Act was passed (1968), and Joe Dirt premiered (1991). Some of these events are more impressive than others (how does one measure up to Joe Dirt, after all), but I am left unaroused by these facts. The search went on.

It was about 10 in the morning when I was struck by inspiration. My birthday is October 11, the polar opposite of my birthday is April 11. I leapt for joy and when the roomful of students eyed me inquisitively, I decided to come clean.

“April 11 is my polar opposite birthday.”

The students murmured in a way that suggested they didn’t share my enthusiasm or my spreading sense of dread. No matter, I thought, this will add to my reasoning for a drink. One student, a nice gent by the name of Honza, raised his hand.

“Yes?” I asked.

“Does that mean it is your…unbirthday?”

I looked at the screen and was struck that we were focusing our language portion of class on prefixes.

“Honza! You genius!”

Honza looked chuffed as hell. He looked around the room.

“You just invented a word.”

“I did?”

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Pickett Goes to a Shad Bake…and loses the U.S. Civil War

In late March 1865, generals on the Union and Confederacy sides were playing something of a chess game in Virginia. General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant smelled the end of the war on the horizon. Lee’s army was decimated by wounds and desertions. Morale of the Confederate army was at its lowest point. Lee was trying his best to hold his line and keep Richmond from falling.

The Union, as you might imagine, were trying to accomplish the opposite. Generals Warren and Sheridan were trying to maneuver an attack against the line on Confederate General George Pickett’s right flank. The Union generals thought they had him cornered, but Pickett surprised Warren by advancing and pushing him back. By doing this, however, Pickett realized he had unwittingly exposed himself and correctly surmised that General Warren knew this as well. He was forced to pull his men back to the lines at the crossroads at Five Forks. He immediately received the worst thing in history: a terse message from his boss.

General Lee: “Regret exceedingly your forced withdrawal, and your inability to hold the advantage you had gained. Hold Five Forks at all hazards.”

If Pickett was stressed about this, he didn’t show it. He set his line and, not knowing that two divisions were maneuvering to exploit his weakness, he was fairly confident he could hold it against General Warren. On the afternoon of April 1, scouts describing the area as quiet and thinking no action would be taken that day, he went to the camp of General Rosser, who had extended an invitation to a shad bake.

Before writing this article, I had never once heard the word ‘shad’ and had I been asked to define it, would have gone with a derogatory name for someone who had slept with a sheep or perhaps archaic past participles of shed, shit, or show. The collocative coupling of shad bake threw me through a loop and I deduced it was an animal. In the end, shad is a fish. It is a voluminous fish found in the North Atlantic, which then swims up fresh water streams to spawn.

It has a place of great importance and derision in the American story and it has been said that it is “the fish that fed the (American) nation’s founders.” Shad were introduced to colonists by the Native peoples of New England and the Lenape of the Delaware. William Penn negotiated with the Lenape over shad fishing in the Schuylkill River in the 1680s, having realized its delicacy in both pickling and smoking. At Valley Forge, George Washington’s men were said to have been saved from famine by an early thaw that tricked local shad populations into early spawn.

While the voluminous shad might have fed America’s founding fathers, they might not have been so happy about this. The shad has been called an inside-out porcupine and the devil’s fish because of its thousands of miniscule bones. Picking them out is an laborious, frustrating chore. The legions of shad might be explained away by the fact that they were the last fish anyone wanted to eat. Thus it was only in desperation and when no other food was available that people ate the shad. By the late 18th century it became known as a poor man’s food.  

But the shad fad was not dead. The shad bake has its roots in the traditions of the native tribes of Connecticut. They apparently taught the colonists the baking method of nailing the shad to wooden planks around a fire and angling them in such a way that the excess oils dripped off the fish into dishes below. Thought the shad might have been the last fish anyone wanted to eat, the early 1800s saw a middle class interest in travel and Americana and so the shad bake was rebranded as a quintessential springtime event. It has remained so in communities in New England, throughout the MidAtlantic states, and in the South.

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