Entry 882: A Tribute to Adventurous Eaters

Let me begin by saying that the “adventurous eaters” referred to in the title of this post are not the people who try out the new Danish-Ethiopian fusion restaurant before there are any YELP reviews. (“☆. I didn’t like having to eat aebleflæsk wth injera, and the wot-seasoned krebinetter was too spicy.”)

The adventurous eaters I’m talking about are our ancestors, the brave men and women and Neandertals who were the first beings to eat various things.

For instance, consider lobster. Google “history of lobster,” and you’ll see a lot of articles about how plentiful they were when settlers first came to North America, so much so that they were fed to prisoners and apprentices (the lobsters, not the settlers), which means that interns in the 17th century ate better than they do today.

From the search results, it would almost seem as though lobsters didn’t even exist before people came to the new world, but of course they did, albeit without rubber bands on their claws. I did find some references to ancient Greeks and Romans eating crustaceans, but then came the Dark Ages, when folks forgot how to melt butter.

But none of that answers my question. I don’t care how long ago lobster was first eaten, or by whom. I want to know how people figured out how to eat it, or why they thought something that looks like a lobster was edible at all.

I mean, think about it: ten or eleven thousand years ago, somebody–let’s call him Neandertal Nick– is wading in the ocean with a metal detector* which, in those days, was a child who was held underwater until he found something valuable or drowned. (Neandertals are now known to have been tool users.) Looking down, Nick sees this monstrous-looking thing and shouts (Neandertals are now known to have had language skills, possibly at a slightly higher level than President Trump), “Hey look what I found!” or perhaps, “Ow, ow, ow” because the lobster has grabbed his toe.

Nick trudges back to the beach with his find (the fossilized bones of his metal detector will be discovered thousands of years later) and shows it to the rest of his tribe. Keep in mind that, back then, the lobsters were probably much bigger than they are now, possibly even much bigger than Nick, although maybe not as enormous as this 6.5 foot behemoth from 480 million years ago.

So here’s my question: What would have made Nick’s people think for even one minute that this thing was food? How bad must the hunting and gathering have been that year for them to even attempt to eat it?

Anyway, let’s say somebody decides to see if there’s anything inside the hard casing, so they bang it against a rock. It cracks open and–wow–there is a meatlike substance enclosed, and they make a nice meal out of it, and millennia later their bones will be found near those of the metal detector, only theirs will show signs of various bacterial, viral and parasitic infections.

Fast forward some indeterminate amount of time until ancient Rome shows up, and Ur-Italian Sal finds a lobster while on vacation at the shore. The locals, he learns, have a legend about this horrifying creature, about how it kills anyone who tries to eat it, but only after the predator suffers from diarrhea so bad they want to die. “Ah,” says Sal, ”but those ancients were too stupid to cook it first. Also, fire hadn’t been invented yet.**”

So Ur-Italian Sal chops off the lobster’s head to kill it, and grills the rest of it over a blazing fire on the beach, and paleontologists use carbon dating to learn that Sal died long after Nick and his buddies and his metal detector. Because everyone (now) knows you have to cook the lobster while it’s alive.

Do you see what I mean? How many people had to die so that we could enjoy a nice fra diablo?

And that’s true of many of the foods we eat. My son-in-law is an ardent mushroomer, and mostly knows the edible ones from the poisonous ones (although one batch that he said were good gave me a headache). But what about all the people who died while figuring out which was which?

How many Japanese people died learning which fish were suitable for sushi? What could have possessed ancient Russians to devour the tiny, yucky, squishy balls they found inside of sturgeon–and on crackers no less?

Once Eve tried an apple, how many people died from eating the seeds before someone said, “You know what? Let’s not eat the seeds.” How did people find out when a lychee was ripe rather than deadly? Who figured out you had to peel an orange before eating it? Why do people even today think kale is edible?

You see what I’m saying here? Our ancestors had to discover what they could eat, when they could eat it, and how to prepare it. And the only way they could do it was by ingesting stuff and not dying.

Yes, the FDA has its faults, but it’s a better system than that.

I’ll tell you this: if it had been me back then, everybody would have wondered about the creepy guy who watched them eat and then followed them around for a day or two.

See you soon.

*They almost never found anything.
**Not that I’ve gone out of my way to be historically accurate in this post, but archaeologists believe that, while Neandertals did use fire, they didn’t know how to start a fire from scratch. They’d sort of wait around for a lightning strike and then say, “Hey, let’s cook something!”
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Entry 881: Not So Close Encounters

“41 UFO Sightings Reported In CT In 2019 So Far” read the headline, and I clicked through because I live in Connecticut and I was eager to learn if this was an unusually high number and, if so, were the aliens responsible for the various construction projects that have been slowing traffic on the Merritt Parkway since they landed in Roswell NM in 1947.

“President Donald Trump recently said he was briefed on UFOs,” the article began. The Commander in Chief probably came away from the briefing convinced that visitors from space had been shot down by our brave Revolutionary War pilots. “A group of Senate lawmakers received a classified briefing recently,” the article continued, without mentioning whether perhaps aliens had absconded with Mitch McConnell’s chin.

Naturally, I wondered if its 41 sightings qualified Connecticut as a hub of UFO activity as well as a center of croquet-playing activity. So I looked it up. Evidently, Connecticut is 19th in the nation for UFO reports, thus making The Nutmeg State just a little nuttier than the rest of the country.

I found this map that rates states by UFO sightings on a per capita basis, ranking them, for some reason, on a scale of flying saucers to cows–a reference, I guess, to frequently reported bovine eviscerations that have been blamed on anti-dairy aliens. (It is theorized by some that visitors from other solar systems may be lactose intolerant.)

I stared at the map for awhile, trying to find a correlation between UFO sightings and some other factor that could lead to a joke or two. UFOs and states with legalized marijuana, perhaps? Blue states lining up with little green men states? Inverse relationship to education rankings? Nope. There’s no consistent correlation to anything that’s obvious.

I did note, however, that UFO sightings have increased since Donald Trump became President, although it’s unclear whether that’s a coincidence or a case of aliens just wanting to check in on one of their own. It could also be because people from other planets wanted to get to Earth before Trump started erecting a wall around the Earth.

There has also been a sharp uptick in sightings since Trump announced the creation of a U.S. Space Force, and that’s certainly understandable. After all, you’d want to do some reconnaissance if a planet in your neighborhood suddenly began amping up its space military, wouldn’t you?

And, by the way, the U.S. military has noticed the increased UFO activity. The Navy has even instituted a formal reporting system for its pilots to keep track of what the Navy euphemistically calls “Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon.” That includes everything from drones to weather balloons to Iron Man, who I understand (SPOILER ALERT!) may be deceased, possibly not at the hands of Thanos as everyone believes, but having been shot down by an overzealous Navy pilot.

UFO sightings not withstanding, a majority of Americans think we have been visited by aliens. In fact, more Americas believe in alien visitations than voted for Donald Trump in the last election. It should be pointed out, however, that it is likely some of the Trump voters are the same people who have personally seen, and perhaps received voting instructions from, extraterrestrials. For instance, consider this account of a sighting in Minnesota:

“I talked really quiet out-loud saying, ‘If there are any aliens up there please show me your space ship; do something,'” the person said, according to the incident report.

Sure enough, an object lit up for two seconds to the east and zoomed north, according to the account.

“I said, ‘Thank you; please do it again,'” the person reported.

And roughly one minute later, the witness saw the same thing, this time to the northeast, and moving in the same direction. The person described it as “what people who see UFOs call a power-up,” but noted it was for a very brief amount of time, almost as if “they only wanted me to see them.”

That certainly sounds like a Trump supporter to me, especially if the alien lights spelled out “MAGA.”

Getting back to my state of Connecticut, UFO activity seems to be concentrated mostly in the northern part of the state. That makes sense, because states to the south like New York and New Jersey* have far fewer sightings and it would seem weird if the flying saucers showed up in Connecticut without first zipping up I-95. Even farther to the north, in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, there’s a dramatic increase in sightings, which also makes sense, since there are a lot more cows there.  It’s also possible that the aliens are coming from Canada.

All in all, I think 41 is a good number of visits for Connecticut. It’s not enough to make me think there’s about to be an alien invasion, but I’d hate to think we’re not interesting enough for ETs to take a look at.

See you soon.

*One New Jersey report of “an enormous craft” turned out to be former Governor Chris Christie at the beach.

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Entry 880: Holding Babies for Ransom–Another Questionable Business Idea

In my last post, I wrote about some business ideas that didn’t seem to make any sense. This post is about another one.

One of the gifts my daughter Casey requested last Christmas was a photography session so she could get a professional family portrait of her, her husband Alex and our granddaughter Sydney.

We had seen the work of a new studio in nearby Greenwich CT. It was an English company called Venture Photography that has studios throughout Great Britain and had also opened U.S branches in Caldwell NJ and Minneapolis. “Family photography at its best,” says its website, which of course is filled with beautiful and unique pictures.

They were having an introductory offer, selling their $100 “Silver Family Photography Experience” for just $70. Here’s the description:

“Enjoy an hour-long photoshoot, after which our digital team will work their magic on your images. You’ll then have a cinematic viewing of your photographs, before deciding which stunning image you would like as your free 10” x 8” desk frame worth $350. Package worth $700.”

Now, my wife and I are not naive idiots. We know how photography studios have worked since the beginning of time, or at least since the camera was invented. They sell you a package at a lowball price on the assumption that, once they show you the beautiful pictures they’ve taken, you won’t be able to resist buying their deluxe package–including 8 x 10s and holiday cards and albums and wallets–for a few hundred dollars, minus $10 because nobody carries photos in their wallets anymore.

Well, as the date of Casey’s Silver Family Photography Experience approached, we discovered two things:

  1. Venture Studios doesn’t operate like old-fashioned studios.
  2. My wife and I are, in fact, naive idiots.

You see, we only thought we knew how studios worked, based on decades of life experience that, evidently, no longer applies. We had acted upon these thoughts in lieu of looking up reviews online which would have revealed a slight problem with our assumptions. Venture’s reviews are unusual in that they are universally consistent. Everybody says more or less the same thing: “Beautiful photographs that you can’t afford to buy.”

It turns out that if you want any pictures in addition to the one 8 x 10 included in the package, the prices starts at $150 . . . each. That’s for a single 5 x 7. They go up to $1,500 for “a piece of wall art.” And remember–this “wall art” is of your family, not a framed Picasso print.

And if you want digital images, those are $500 . . . each. In other words, Venture is essentially holding your baby’s photos for ransom. What parent, they think, could walk away from such gorgeous pictures of their offspring no matter how ridiculously-priced they are?

Well, it turns out, lots of them. The review pages are full of people who took their one picture and ran, sadly leaving all the other beautiful images behind, basically informing Venture that it could keep their babies. That’s what Casey did, too. And that leads me to this question: what the hell kind of business model is this?

I mean, you took in $100 and had a very good and very professional photographer take gorgeous pictures of the unbelievably ugly Roscoe family. You spent time retouching the images so that Grandma Roscoe’s mole was a bit less terrifying. And now the Roscoes are back for their “cinematic viewing” and they are absolutely thrilled! For the first time ever they will have family photos that don’t make even them somewhat nauseous. In addition to the 8 x 10 included in the “Silver Family Photography Experience,” they’d like a bunch of additional 8 x 10’s, a couple of 5 x 7’s, and a package of digital images that they can email to their even more unfortunate-looking relatives in Missouri. They’ll pass on the “wall art” because, really, there’s nothing even Venture’s digital artists can do to make the Roscoes look like passable humans when blown up that big. And the total comes to . . . wait, what? $3,100? The Roscoes don’t think so. “Just give us the one 8 x 10,” they say, thinking that, surely, Venture will come down in price rather than eat all the miraculously decent-looking Roscoe photos. But, no, that doesn’t happen. Venture simply hands them the 8 x 10 and waves goodbye, having likely lost money on the $100 sale.

How does that make sense? Do they really get enough people paying those extortionate prices for the photos to make up for all the sane ones who don’t?

Apparently not. The Venture Studio in Minneapolis has already gone out of business. Maybe people in England feel guiltier about leaving their family’s photos behind. Or perhaps English folks are just so happy when Venture retouches their teeth they’ll spend anything for the pictures.

So I guess we’re lucky the Venture in Greenwich stayed in business long enough for Casey, Alex and Syd to have their picture taken. But we’re not out of the woods quite yet, because, the one picture Casey did select won’t arrive for 6-8 weeks because it’s coming from England. Is that why they’re so expensive, because they’re imported from Great Britain, even though the photography studio, the photographer, and the photographic subjects are all here in the U.S.? Has President Trump imposed a tariff on family portraits? Have they been blessed by the Queen? Do they come with free tea and crumpets? Have Casey, Alex and Sydney been replaced by Harry, Meghan and Archie?

In any case, if you live in the New York metro area, I encourage you to go have your picture taken by Venture Studios in Greenwich, CT so they’ll stay open long enough for Casey to get this friggin’ photo.

See you soon.

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Entry 879: Questionable Business Ideas

Today, I’d like to discuss some questionable business decisions that have come to my attention, starting with . . .

Let’s Invest Thousands of Dollars to Get Fewer Customers

The first thing you have to know about this is that most of the movie theaters near where I live in Southern Connecticut are owned by a company called Bow Tie Cinemas, a firm whose motto, according to its website, is “Bringing Style and Elegance Back to the Movie Going Experience®.”

Like “Make America Great Again,” this slogan assumes that people want to return to some imagined better times in the past. However, while you could perhaps pinpoint an era or two when America was somewhat great, or at least good, I believe it would be more difficult to recall an age when folks typically wore tuxedos and evening gowns to see a movie. Certainly, in recent years, the closest you could get to “style and elegance” at the movie theater was not slipping on fake butter on the way to your seat.

As the first step in its efforts to make the cinema all fancy, Bow Tie is renovating its theaters, installing, its website says, “reserved electric reclining chairs” with built-in trays and cup holders. I think Bow Tie’s first step should have been to fire the person who writes the content for their website, since the promise of electric chairs is not likely to bring in the crowds, even for an Avengers movie.

We recently went to one of the renovated theaters, and the new electric chairs are, in fact, shockingly (HAH!) comfy. At the same time, because the new seats need room to recline and flip out all their trays and such, I estimate that they reduce the theater’s seating capacity by roughly 30%. And, no, Bow Tie has not raised ticket or concession prices. Yet.

So how does that work, profit-wise? Remember — they own most of the theaters in the area, so it’s not like they’re going to lose much business if they don’t upgrade. I suspect they’re going to join the new, very annoying fad of having waiter service in the theater, so that, in addition to having to watch a movie while people in the audience are talking to each other or to the characters in the film, you now have to hear the movie’s dialogue over people ordering burgers and nachos from employees who are walking back and forth between you and the screen. (I’ve written previously about Alamo, an early entrant in this aggravating trend.)

I’ll tell you this: eating in the dark and trying to find the ketchup to dip your fries into is not stylish and elegant. It’s more like sticky and icky.

Also, note above that Bow Tie’s new chairs are not only electrified, they’re reserved. This is another new movie theater trend I can live without. I don’t like the pressure of having to choose seats at the ticket booth. (“Where’s the screen? How far away is that really?”) Plus, it makes it more difficult to leave the customary empty seat between you and other movie-goers, and it makes it impossible to move when the guy sitting right next to you starts noisily eating pizza and humming loudly along to the songs in Rocketman.

However, I do like that I can recline almost to a prone position and take a nap if the film is boring . . . and if the guy in the reserved seat next to me would just shut up.

Moving on now to another questionable business idea . . .

How Many T-Shirts Do You Need?

An ad on Facebook has made me aware of a company called Fresh Clean Tees. Its website freely admits that it is modeled on “subscription services like Dollar Shave Club or BirchBox.”

Well, okay. But Dollar Shave Club sells disposable razors. Birchbox sells cosmetics that get used up. T-shirts don’t work that way. Unless there are a lot of people out there who throw their t- shirts away after wearing them, it’s difficult to imagine why someone would need t-shirts sent to them on a regular basis. “Oh, no. My next shipment from Fresh Clean Tees is late! I might have to wash a stale, dirty shirt!”

Insanity is Doing the Same Thing and Expecting a Different Result

Finally, we have the Coca-Cola Company, which has had its share of bad business ideas over the years, like Coke C2 (which sounds like it contains plastic explosives), Coca Cola BlāK (which was coffee soda or something) and Tab Clear, which was only sold in cans, so you couldn’t see its primary product attribute.

But, of course, Coca-Cola’s most famous bad idea, and still the poster child for paying too much attention to market research, was New Coke, which was supposed to replace Old Coke because market research said people didn’t like Old Coke anymore except it turned out they did, and Old Coke had to come out of retirement after just three months.

When you have an idea that was so historically horrible, you just have to lick your wounds and move on, right? Well, Coke doesn’t think so. Coke thinks people’s tastes have changed again, even though they didn’t really change when they thought they changed back in 1985. So just like Bow Tie Cinema is bringing elegance back to where it’s never been before, Coke is bringing New Coke back to an America that never wanted it in the first place.

That’s right. This summer, Coke is bringing New Coke back “for a limited time.” Of course, as it turned out, New Coke was only around for a limited time the first time, but this time, Coke is announcing in advance that they’ll be taking it off the market because, as everyone knows, when something is only available for a limited time, it’s much more desirable, even if it’s terrible.

Also, to be fair, the unwarranted return of New Coke is arriving in a Stranger Things edition to tie into the new season of the popular Netflix show, which take place in 1985, and will presumably depict teenagers drinking the old New Coke even though, if Netflix wanted to be historically accurate, it would show nobody drinking New Coke in 1985, because, obviously, no one did.

I’m sure the new New Coke will be a big success.

See you soon, with a post about another questionable business plan.

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Entry 878: Just Do It, Nike

In the eight years I’ve been doing this blog, there are a few topics I’ve never touched upon. Sneakers, for example.

WordPress, which is the site that hosts this blog, allows writers to search all their posts. I just searched mine– almost 880 of them–and I have only even used the word “sneakers” six times.

Not that I’m not athletic or anything.

Anyway, so this post is about sneakers. Specifically, it’s about a sneaker that has been withdrawn from the marketplace, meaning that, if any pairs have gotten out into the world, they’re probably worth thousands of dollars now.* Cheap knockoffs are likely being stitched by Chinese laborers even as I write this.

The sneaker I’m talking about is the Nike Air Max 1 USA, which Nike had planned to introduce to coincide with the July 4th holiday because everyone knows that our founding fathers could jump much higher while wearing Nikes.

To mark the occasion, the Nike Air Max 1 USA shoes were emblazoned with the U.S. Flag. Not the current U.S. flag, but an earlier model, from before Hawaii and Alaska became states. Also California, Michigan, Texas, and, well, most of the states. That’s because the Nike Air Max 1 USA featured a version of the colonial flag, commonly called the Betsy Ross flag.

Some people, notably former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, had a problem with this. While it’s true that Kaepernick seems to not like any U.S. flag (especially while a song is being sung about it), he particularly doesn’t like this one, because, he says, it is offensive to people of color. I’ll get to why in a moment, because it’s not obvious, at least not to me.

Kaepernick’s opinion carries some weight with Nike because he is one of Nike’s many spokespeople. And Nike didn’t want one of its spokespeople speaking badly about it.

So the Nike Air Max 1 USA has become an historical footnote (HAH!).

In a statement, Nike said it chose not to release the shoe “as it featured an old version of the American flag.” That seems to imply it was an error, as if they told their designer to do a sneaker with an American flag on it and the designer chose the wrong one. “Our bad,” says Nike. “The flag we used was slightly out of date. We meant to choose one with 37 more stars.”

Also Nike’s market research department discovered that even female athletes don’t much identify with Betsy Ross.

One of the states missing from Nike’s flag, Arizona, did not agree with Nike’s decision to withdraw the shoes, and demonstrated its displeasure by withdrawing tax incentives it had promised Nike to build a factory in Phoenix. “Arizona’s economy is doing just fine without Nike,” said Governor Doug Ducey. “We don’t need to suck up to companies that consciously denigrate our nation’s history.”

No, sir, he’ll save his sucking up for companies that denigrate our history unconsciously.

Governor Ducey isn’t angry at Nike for denigrating our history by putting our glorious Star Spangled Banner on the heels of a sneaker. That, he thinks, is perfectly okay. He doesn’t even care that Nike used an Arizonaless flag. He thinks Nike denigrated our history by not putting our flag on an athletic shoe. In other words, he doesn’t believe Nike should have backpedaled on its product launch.

And I’m now going to say something I’m pretty sure I have never said before: I have to side with Arizona on this one.

Although, I hasten to add, it’s not for precisely the same reason.

While I have not written often about sneakers, I have covered, quite a few times, various controversies concerning the confederate flag and confederate statuary. The gist of my opinion on the subject is this: While the fact that a vast portion of the populace is offended by these symbols is an excellent reason to remove them, the even better reason is that they are representations of an entity that was at war with the country in which you currently reside. It is, therefore, less appropriate for state and local governments to display confederate symbols than it would to display, say, Russian ones, since we haven’t  technically fought a war against Russia. Yet.

But now we come to this Nike thing . . . and the reason Colin Kaepernick didn’t care for the Nike Air Max 1 USA. It wasn’t for aesthetics. (“I prefer my stars to be arranged in rows.”) It was because, evidently, he and others think the Betsy Ross flag is “an offensive symbol because of its connection to an era of slavery.”

Hmm. First let me say that I fully supported Kaepernick’s right to kneel during the National Anthem, and that in no way do I wish to limit his or any other American’s right to have stupid opinions. However, it’s one thing to be offended by the confederate flag–a symbol directly related to slavery; it’s quite another to take offense just because something happened to be around at a time when people had slaves.

I mean, if you’re going to do that, why not protest George Washington being on our money, or on our bridge to New Jersey, or on our capitol city, or on a giant phallic in that capitol city? Not only were there slaves when he was doing his thing, he even had a few (although he freed them at the end of his life–when he didn’t need them anymore). And, wait! Shouldn’t we finish demolishing the Liberty Bell? It was around when slaves were. It’s already cracked; one good gong in the right place should do the job.

You know what else was around during “an era of slavery?” Fireworks. How can we, as a society, allow our nation’s beginnings to be celebrated with such an obviously racist display? And for crying out loud, can we all just stop wearing cotton!!!

Hell, if you’re going to take offense at something sneaker-related, what about the laces? Aren’t they a symbol of bondage and being tied to an owner?

Look, I get it . . . at least as much as an old white guy can get it. People of color are understandably touchy about the country’s history. But can you be just a little bit rational about it?

See you soon.

*After I wrote this, I learned that a pair had shown up on a sneaker auction website for $2,500.^
^Yes, apparently there is a sneaker auction website.
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Retro Holiday Post: All Your Independence Day Questions Answered

I thought I’d take July 4th Eve off and repost my holiday piece from last year (with a few updates).

Well, tomorrow is America’s big celebration, our day to show all the world how successful a true democracy can be until greedy, crazy people take over. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to answer some of your questions about the holiday.

Q. Why do we celebrate our independence on July 4th?
A. I’ll let one of our founding fathers, John Adams, tell you in his own words:

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations.“

Q. Wait–that says “the second day of July.”
A. Yeah, so what’s your question?

Q. Why is Independence Day on the fourth?
A. Well, the second was when the Continental Congress voted unanimously to declare independence. Adams was possibly not suggesting an “independence day” as much as a celebration of the first, and one of the few times, Congress unanimously agreed on something. (By the way, the vote was 12-0, with New York abstaining, possibly because it was stuck in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike and didn’t make it to Philadelphia until the third.)

Q. So the 4th was when they actually signed the Declaration of Independence?
A. No, that would be August 2nd.

Q. So what the hell happened on the 4th?
A. Well, there was an extended happy hour at Ye Newe Taverne in Colonial Williamsburg which, in those days, was just Williamsburg. Also, that was when Thomas Jefferson finished writing the formal declaration. He then gave it to his slaves to run off on the mimeograph machine (this was before email). While there was a report that Jefferson, Adams, and Benjamin Franklin signed the Declaration on the 4th, Francis Lightfoot Lee, one of the founding fathers your founding mother didn’t tell you about, said the whole July 4th thing was, and I quote, “news that hath been faketh.”

Q. So the fourth has no significance at all?
A. On the contrary, it is a very popular day for presidents to die. Three of our early leaders, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, all passed away on July 4, two of natural causes and one when he choked on a hot dog. There hasn’t been a presidential death on the fourth since then, however, so I’d say we’re long overdue. Ahem.

Q. Speaking of signers, why is John Hancock’s signature so big?
A. Because he gave everyone a discount on their cart insurance.

Q. How come Independence Day wasn’t moved to Mondays like all the other holidays?
A. Before voting on the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (UM . . . HA!) in 1968, Congress took a poll and discovered that Americans were just as stupid then as they are now. It turns out that many thought the actual name of the holiday was “The Fourth of July,” and that some people didn’t even know what it celebrated. (Common answers: Official Start of Summer, invention of the gas grill, Cinco de Mayo). To avoid confusing folks by having the Fourth of July come out on, say, July sixth, Congress wisely kept it on the fourth.

Q. How do other countries celebrate July 4th?
A. Let me ask you a question: do you happen to recall taking part in a survey back in 1968?

Q. Why do we have barbecues on Independence Day?
A. That became a tradition beginning in 1822 in Chicago, when a meat packing plant caught fire on July third. People thought it smelled like independence.

Q. How could the whole world come together in only two days to defeat the aliens?
A. You may want to change your Google search to “Independence Day movie.”

Q. Why do we have fireworks on July Fourth?
A. Because it somehow seems appropriate, given our country’s history, that we celebrate our birth by blowing stuff up.

Have a wonderful holiday everyone, and see you soon.

*Francis Lightfoot Lee was a real person, who really signed the Declaration of Independence as a representative of Virginia. He was not an ancestor of Robert E. Lee, nor was he descended from Native Americans, as his middle name might lead you to believe. I can’t find any reference to the origin of “Lightfoot,” so I’m going to assume it was a nickname given to him when he was a star midfielder in the nascent American soccer league** or, later, when he won the first season of Dancing With the Hessians.
**The American soccer league was so bad, the game wasn’t played here again for over 200 years.
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Entry 877: Can Childhood Trauma Get Passed Down?

In a recent post about old Chinese food (that is, Cantonese cuisine, not the crusty lo mein currently in your refrigerator), I wrote a bit about my grandfather, who has been dead now for over 30 years.

He came to mind again the other day, or at least his apartment did, for reasons I’ll get to in a moment.

I don’t know why, but I can recall in a fair amount of detail the layout of my grandparents’ apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn circa 1960. That’s odd in itself, because I don’t have a clue about the apartment I actually lived in at the time, on East 54th Street in Brooklyn. I’ve recreated a rough floor plan of my grandparents’ apartment here. although it’s not even close to being to scale. There are features that, to my 21st century sensibilities (influenced heavily by watching too much HGTV), seem absolutely bizarre, such as the refrigerator not being in the kitchen but, rather, in an alcove by the front door. (I’m sure that at least that part of my memory is accurate, because my grandfather went to the refrigerator often, either for ice cream or castor oil, which seemed to me to be the only two things that were in there.)

I know there was a dumbwaiter because I was fascinated with the little, painted-over door, convinced there was some deep mystery behind it rather than an antiquated system of delivery or disposal. (The dumbwaiter had already been disabled by the time my grandparents moved in, and I don’t think they knew how it had been used. Every time I asked my grandfather about it, he invented a different story about its purpose, some of which involved small, curious boys and their subsequent oblivion.)

I remember there was a window near the rear of the kitchen. There would always be a package of Canada Mints on the sill (the green ones, not the red). My grandmother, who I never remember having teeth, would gum a mint all day long while gazing out that window into the courtyard below. My grandfather, meanwhile, would sit on the love seat in the living room, staring out a window that faced the same way. They would yell out to each other gossip about the people who came and went. Shouting from one room to the next: last century’s version of texting.

I don’t remember watching anything on the black and white console TV in the living room except wrestling. Bruno Sammartino, Killer Kowalski, Buddy Rogers and our favorite, Argentina Apollo, who wrestled barefoot. It’s incredible that I can still recall the names.

All in all, to my six-year-old self, my grandparents’ residence seemed like a musty old apartment filled with musty old furniture and inhabited by musty old people. (Of course, my grandparents then were younger than I am now, so I hope my granddaughter doesn’t think I’m musty.)

Getting back to the floor plan of their apartment, there’s one thing that may or may not be missing. I simply do not remember whether there was what today would be called an “en suite” in the master bedroom. I never went into that bedroom, so I may never have known. I’d like to think there was, though, not only because it seems like it would have been very inconvenient for my grandparents to have had to constantly trudge down that long hallway, but because, if that bathroom at the end of the hallway was the only one in the apartment, the story I’m about to relate somehow becomes even more horrifying.

Fast forward almost six decades.

Our daughter Casey was cleaning out our basement because our basement is largely filled with her junk, as is our attic. While going through boxes, she came across a DVD labeled “Uncle Fred.” It was from a video she once planned to do in college. It was going to be about my mother, and Casey had recorded various friends and relatives telling stories about her. She abandoned the project because, according to her, “everybody talked like they were at a wedding. I wanted funny stories.” She had kept this one DVD, though, perhaps because she knew Fred was my favorite relative on my mother’s side, including my mother.

“Look what I found,” she said, presenting it to me. I immediately searched for a slot to put the disk into my computer before I realized I was one or two desktop generations away from having a PC that could play this relic. I did have an old laptop, though, and later that day, I popped in the disk. It whirred and clicked for awhile, trying, I guess, to figure out what I had put into its mouth and what it was supposed to do about it. But then–there was Windows Media Player and there was my uncle Fred–my mother’s younger brother.

Fred, a lifelong diabetic, died quite a few years ago, so it was good to see him again. He was seated in an easy chair wearing a red shirt, shuffling papers on which he had apparently jotted down stories to tell about his sister. He was, he told the camera, nine years younger than Sunny (my mother), and she used to terrorize him by hiding behind curtains. Oh, and by the way, from the day he was born until the day she got married, they shared a bedroom.

That would have been the room I labeled “guest room” on the floor plan above. I should mention here that my mother was not a child bride. She got married at age 24. Fred would have been a teenage boy and my mother a woman in her twenties and they still would have been roommates.

This could again be my 21st century sensibilities speaking, but I frankly don’t know how such a weird, Ozarks-like living arrangement could be anything but psychologically-damaging. However, I always thought of Fred as being normal, at least relative to my other relatives. My mother, on the other hand, was always a lunatic and still is, albeit now one with dementia.

Knowing what I just revealed to you, it should be clear why I sincerely hope there was a bathroom in the master bedroom of my grandparents’ apartment.

The alternative is just to terrible to contemplate.

See you soon.

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