Archive for April, 2024

January 29 1393, Charles VI Attends the Bal de Ardents

It seems that the cards were against Charles VI of France from the start. He inherited the throne at 11 along with the Hundred Years’ War. He inherited a rivalry with the House of Orleans and House of Burgundy and Philip the Bold. For his part, Charles started out with the name Charles the Beloved. He’d die as Charles the Mad.  

But it was on a military expedition in 1392 when things went sideways for Charles the Beloved. The expedition had been taken up to avenge the attempted murder of a friend and it had been recommended against by his advisers. Nevertheless, they set of to Brittany in June. Tromping through a forest near Le Mans, Charles and his horse were accosted by a barefoot leper. Of all the bad omens to befall a person, lepers who can’t afford shoes are among the worst. The leper begged the king to stop his expedition and go home, saying that he had been ‘betrayed.’

Like many of you, I too follow a strict rule of heeding warnings by a guy whose face is falling off. You have to assume he’s made some mistakes in his life. Nevertheless, Charles didn’t listen. And I do get it. If the president was told to leave Detroit by a homeless guy eating his own hair, I wouldn’t expect him to listen. But still, a leper.

Later in the expedition Charles began to act erratically. He became paranoid. He came down with a fever and began to speak in a nonsensical and ‘disconnected’ way. (Think Trump trying to explain calculus). When a drowsy knight dropped a lance against a helmet, the clang sent Charles over the edge. He sprung to life and attacked his own men, killing a few (including the Bastard of Polignac, whose last thoughts were probably that being murdered by a king all but guaranteed that his unfortunate name was going to be in the history books). The king was put in a residence to recuperate and gather his wits. He did half of those things.

Charles took to escaping from his Paris house to run into the streets. They had to wall up the entrances to keep him in. At points he didn’t know who he was or that he was king and probably why he had to wear a big crown around his house. He recognized servants, but not his wife or family. In his delusion, he believed that his body was made of glass. He was terrified that he would break, so he had metal rods sewn into his clothing to protect his frail body. With the mental decline of a king came the desperate attempts of his wife to treat him. She called in an eminent doctor who may not have been a medical man, but had somehow reached the age of 92 in the 14th century, so he might apply leaches to your genitals but he was basically considered a wizard.

The doctor prescribed a ‘program of amusements.’ Essentially, the idea was that if you filled your life with fun, games, and entertainment, you’d have no time to realize that you might be made of a chandelier. It was one of these amusements that led his wife Joanna to arrange the Bal De Ardents – the Ball of the Burning Man.

Masquerade balls were a way for society and royalty to get shitfaced and to make asses of themselves without anyone knowing who had a caricaturist draw their butts a hundred times. The Bal de Ardents combined three of royalty’s favorite things – drinking, hiding behind masks, and talking around fire. Five men dressed in hair suits to look like crazed wild men. This involved DETAILS – tar and coarse hair. In other words, they made themselves into the most flammable things in Paris outside of the wells of actual petroleum under the roads.

Except there weren’t five men, there were six. Somewhere among King Charles’s delusions that people were trying to hurt him or that he needed to escape his own house, he decided that climbing into a suit made of hair and tar would be a great idea. The dance began. Charles among them. He must have been getting a bit of a thrill knowing the secret that one of these wild men was none other than the king of France. Since the event itself was dangerous, no open flames were allowed in the hall. Except nobody remembered to tell the Duke of Orleans – aka the king’s no-good drunken asshole of a brother. He entered the hall and, in order to get a closer look at people covered in flammable wax and hair, raised a lit torch to the dancers. A spark jumped onto one of the hair suits and, as people are well known to not keep a cool head once they’ve been chained together and set on fire, the fire quickly spread to all the dancers – the king included.

Everyone carries around a tale of festivities gone wrong, a time when the bad salmon loaf killed your guests. A time when cats ate the pizza. The whiskey was drunk in the bathroom by your asshole brother in law. Alcohol only exacerbates the level of badness. The Thanksgiving one uncle brought his potato hunting rum and the other uncle wore his red hat. Go back further in history and stories become less awkward and more violent and murder-y. Go back to before the Magna Carta and showing up to a party meant you were genuinely taking your life in your own hands. But at least you’d be drunk while it was happening.

Rome was a great place to die at a party. Roman emperors were famous for throwing dinner parties which involved running through a guest or slaughtering a room of senators who had irked you. Until you were murdered you probably had the time of your life. Roman parties were known for their phenomenal party favors. You were given the serving boy who had waited on you. The Egyptians were no slouches when it came to throwing parties and surely the pharaohs occasionally flexed their powers

Probably the most famous worst dinner party in the world is the one thrown in April on a Friday in 33 AD. The Last Supper has everything one wants in a bad party story – intrigue, murder, wine, the lord and savior of millions, and a guy named Judas. The party is not only famous for one guy having too much wine and selling out his friend, but other friends who get too drunk to do anything about it. In other words – every college party ever. The party solidified the West’s fear of the number 13. Another godly party in Norse mythology has the trickster god Loki crashing a dinner party of the gods (also as guest number 13). The party resulted in Balder’s death and, you know, leads to a series of domino events which resulted in Ragnorak – the apocalyptic battle between the gods and the forces of chaos. So, parties have had some influence. MY GOD MAKE THIS FUNNIER.

Due to the quick thinking of Charles’ niece, who covered him up in her skirts, he survived the ordeal. One other dancer jumped into a vat of wine. The other four dancers died in an unenviable way, in the words of the Monk of Saint Denis ‘they were burned alive – their flaming genitals dropped to the floor.’ In other words, your bad salmon loaf ain’t so bad.

The tragedy had far-reaching consequences. Charles and his family were humiliated. A public outcry for retribution ran through the streets. They were forced to do an apologetic royal progress through the city in humility in history’s first known walk of shame. Charles lost his shit and expelled the Jews a few years later. His brother Louis of Orleans was blamed for the event and people already thought he was a sorcerer, and, cool as that might look on a Tinder profile now, at the time a thing like that made you less popular. Civil war ensued. 200 years of ineffectitude followed. The French still strike.

To celebrate, we drink the flaming Dr. Pepper. This is a drink that is set on fire and dunked in a beer to finish it off.


  • 8 ounces beer
  • 3/4 ounce amaretto
  • 1/4 ounce overproof rum


  • Fill a pint glass halfway with beer
  • Add the amaretto to a shot glass and top with the rum
  • Set the rum on fire and very carefully drop the shot glass into the beer.
  • Chug until you see into time.

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Girl vs Duck


It’s Sunday afternoon and to avoid doing any kind of work I elect to visit a local tavern for a couple of bowls of forget-everything juice. The pub we chose is in the middle of a park near our house. We sat on the back deck which has large windows that look out over a pond in the back. The pond is home to several ducks, some of which are babies. They scoot around the water and as long as you can’t see their feet paddling frantically beneath them, it’s mesmerizing.

One duck was curled into a ball of brown fur on the cement quay. His neck was curled back and his bill jutted from the little ball he had become. The sun was on him. He looked to be in utter comfort. This of course is when a little girl decided to come mess with him. She inched up and when the duck didn’t budge, she saw the prospective glory of direct interaction with the duck. She visibly held her breath. She sidled a few inches. My God, she thought, she was going to make it happen.

We’ve all been there. What child doesn’t want to play with furry wild animals, especially those which honk and swim? Ducks look harmless and they taste delicious. The most famous duck in the world only wears the top half of a sailor costume. How harmful can they be? The girl flattened her back so it was ramrod straight. She pressed her arms to her side. She gave a spot-on impression of a person inching along a wall except for the fact that the closest wall to her was the one I was leaning my elbow on thirty feet away. She slid one foot to her left and then brought the other one to it. She ignored her mother’s calls.   

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Quest for Happy


When one has a bad day, one that never seems to end, they go to their comforts. Mine are complex carbohydrates and the antics of Phil Dunphy and family. When this proved ineffective – I ate too much and Phil was too wholesome. I felt like a devil.

Still in search of comfort, I went to the internet. The internet is a bad place filled with bad people. It’s currently ruled by an orange troll who – every 3 minutes for the last 8 years – has subjected humanity to his peculiar brand of abject stupidity cum incoherent rambling interlaced with lies that only a shoe might buy. So you can understand my wariness.  

I watched a GIF of a pretty girl winking at me, but this didn’t do what it seems to have been meant to do. I watched it over and over again from a plethora of women and at a number of speeds and yet, at the end of the winking, I was still bummed out. Seems the world falling apart at the seams and being overwhelmed at work can’t be fixed by a woman whose name I don’t know winking at a camera. Stop the presses.

I looked up on the internet how to get happy again, but all it did was suggest a bunch of deep breathing exercises and self-reflection which was, quite frankly, the thing I was trying to avoid.

Left with no other alternatives, I went outside.

Outside is scary. I don’t know if you know this, but outside is where other people are who aren’t your dog, girlfriend, cat, or TV. On TV and the internet, I can shut people off and go do other things like read books or hide in my bathroom. Outside was just chockfull of people who wanted to be near me, but not to talk to me. No, they wanted to talk to my dog. My dog, not understanding that my current state of mind was in hide-and-don’t-seek mode, wagged her tail and welcomed attention and whatever treats older Czechs carry around in their pockets. This led to conversations. Who has conversations when they want to feel better? Psychos, that’s who.

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The Savings

On Easter Sunday I awoke to a light and bright morning. My clock said it was a little after 5:30 am. Something was off. For the last four months the only light that existed at 5:30 am was the one coming from the fridge that I was trying to commit suicide by freezing myself in. I have no faith in the supposed restorative and resurrective powers of Easters. I stepped out onto the balcony. What is happening?

Then it dawned on me – the daylight savings fairy had come. The cat came out, unimpressed but with a certain wariness that shows the sun had clearly had an effect on her. The dog takes the opportunity to look under the balcony wall at the park below. Nevertheless, nobody feels comfortable.

Daylight savings is a northern locale is an odd thing. One day you’re eking through days that start at 8ish and that end at 5 or 6ish and the next you have the midnight sky. Everyone gets confused – the dog, the cat, my emotions. In Prague, it’s almost as if one minute it’s dark mornings and the next day we are closing our blinds at 6 pm. Eating dinner at 7 feels like you’re having an early lunch. Day drinking takes on an element of guilt that I hate to admit actually adds to the fun.

Here are my tips for dealing with daylight savings.

  • Inform your pets about the time change with a stern lecture on punctuality. They’ll still stare at you blankly, but at least you’ll feel like you’re making a difference in their understanding of temporal mechanics.
  • Use daylight saving time as an excuse to start happy hour seven hours early. After all, if time can play tricks on us, why can’t we return the favor? Tonight’s (read today’s) trick – waking up hungover at midnight. Tada!
  • Treat bedtime like you’re 97 years old and just had a glorious dinner at Denny’s. It’s 4:30 pm. Time for some Wheel of Fortune and then a nine-hour nap.
  • Embrace the chaos and declare daylight saving time the official “free pass” for all your time-related mishaps. Missed a meeting? Time change. Forgot your anniversary? Time change. Shoot the neighbor’s alpaca again? Two words: Time. Change.
  • If you’re the artsy type, use daylight saving as inspiration. After all, postmodern literature was meant to be read in times of abject confusion and hallucination, such as daylight savings or when you’re jetlagged, or you’ve been a prisoner of war blinking messages in Morse code to your roommate to discard the porno under your bed, for example. Have you ever seen a Dali painting? What about the clocks? Coincidence? Blink-blink-long blink-long blink-blink.
  • Finally, dealing with the existential dread. Don’t. It may be an hour later, but your life is still spiralling into a bottomless pit of bills, mortgages, short vacations, and your neighbor’s alpaca.   

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Weird Things that I have Learned this Week

Writing articles for kids has opened my eyes to a lot of different things. Mostly this is how much I didn’t know. I used to read these articles in coursebooks and think ‘wow, how did this person come up with this stuff?’ and then I would act as though I knew this information.

Thea reality is, this information is come across now and then when you get off of Reddit and read things called ‘books’ and ‘articles’. Here are some weird things I’ve learned this week in my writings.

The first known author was a priestess in ancient Mesopotamia. Not only did she write about and tributes to her favorite gods, she is the first person to write autobiographical information. One of the things she wrote about was how much politicians suck. There was a contingent of politicians and rulers who were trying to remove her from power. The first (known) writing we can attach to a name and the person is complaining about politicians. We never stood a dog damned chance, did we? Also, had they succeeded she might have been executed, banished, exiled, or gone through a humiliation ritual – things which we should bring back for politicians who, say, try to overthrow the government because they’re orange petulant man-children.  

There was a thing called the ‘Great Emu War’. It took place in Australia in 1932. The Australian military deployed soldiers armed with machine guns to combat this infestation of emus in Western Australia. And the soldiers lost. While humans have waged wars on infesting species before and since (wolves, toads, pythons, republicans) this – as far as I know – is the only ground campaign against a non-human enemy. And we lost. The message – don’t fuck with nature or things that live in Australia, and definitely don’t fuck with both at the same time.

However, there was something known as the Battle of the Frogs and Mice. This occurred in Ancient Greece and was mentioned by the poet Homer as a bizarre legend about a battle between frogs and mice. According to the story, the mice sought to avenge the death of their king by waging war against the frogs. The battle was said to have taken place in a swamp, with the frogs ultimately emerging victorious. But we all knew that.

Some communities in the U.S. throw cow poop as part of local festivities on July 4th. While most American communities limit their creative activities on July 4th to bald eagle meet and greets or a vast number of eating contests (hotdogs, watermelon, pie), some use it as a way to get things away from them – such as cow poop. Other communities dress up their animals in American flags and march them in parades. Just as John Adams would have wanted.

Please keep alert on this April Fool’s Day. We have been duped by left-handed hamburgers, toilet paper shortages, and attacking Martians. And I put it beyond no person on the right wing of American politics to try to instigate something insane and then claim it was an April Fool’s joke. And, well, I put it beyond nobody who supports right wing politics to eagerly believe it. Don’t drink too much. Pay attention. And remember, other channels exist.   

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