Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac



When the Canadian government announced in 1986 that a new dollar coin would be launched BOS-LOONIEthe following year and the dollar bill phased out, they had planned to continue using the voyageur theme of its predecessor, and the master dies for the coin were sent from Ottawa to the Mint in Winnipeg. Somehow they were lost in transit.

An investigation found that there were no specific procedures for transporting master dies and that they had been shipped using a local courier in order to save $43.50. The investigation also found it to be the third time that the Mint had lost master dies within five years. Fingers started pointing.  An internal review by the Royal Canadian Mint found that an existing policy did require the two sides of the dies to be shipped separately. The new coins dies were indeed packaged separately but they were part of a single shipment. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police contended that the dies were simply lost in transit. But the Mint said the dies were stolen. They were never recovered.

Fearing possible counterfeiting, the government approved a new design for the reverse side of the coin, replacing the voyageur with an engraving of a common loon floating in water. The coin was immediately christened the “loonie” throughout English Canada (“huard” in Quebec) when 40 million coins went into circulation on June 30, 1987.

The final dollar bills were printed two years later on June 30, 1989.  And in 1996, Canadians got a two-dollar coin, the “toonie.”


It was one of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required. ― P.G. Wodehouse

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In 1861, sixty people boarded the St. Nicholas, a steamer that carried passengers between Baltimore and points along the Potomac – among them a Madame LaForte, a stylish young lady who spoke very little English with a strong French accent. She was accompanied by her brother. She had a number of large trunks with her because she wanted to set up a millinery business in Washington.  A beguiled purser assigned her a large stateroom, and dutiful deckhands hauled her trunks to her cabin.

When the St. Nicholas departed, Madame LaForte emerged from her stateroom and began to flirt shamelessly with the male passengers and ship’s officers, overwhelming all who attended her, including the captain, with a stream of coquettish French.

Another passenger, George Watts, was worried. He had been searching the decks, looking for a Colonel Zarvona, the man who had recruited him and several others for a dangerous mission. Had the colonel missed the boat?  Would Watts be arrested as a rebel spy and hanged. At midnight, the brother of the French lady tapped him on the shoulder and said he was wanted in a nearby cabin.

As Watts recounted: “I hurried to the cabin and found all our boys gathered around that frisky French lady. She looked at me when I came in, and Lord, I knew those eyes! It was the Colonel. The French lady then shed her bonnet, wig and dress and stepped forth clad in a brilliant new Zouave uniform. In a jiffy the ‘French lady’s’ three trunks were dragged out and opened. One was filled with cutlasses, another with Colt revolvers and the third with carbines. Each man buckled on a sword and pistol and grabbed a gun, and then the Colonel told us what to do.”

Zarvona and two others confronted the boat’s captain, who, when told that 30 armed men were aboard, quickly surrendered command. The Confederates who had boarded in Baltimore as well as their compatriots who had come aboard later seized the steamer, which in addition to carrying passengers, carried supplies to the Union gunboat, the USS Pawnee. Their plan was to seize that ship as well.

In the early morning of June 29, the St. Nicholas docked and took aboard 30 Confederate soldiers. The passengers from Baltimore were permitted to leave with all their possessions. Then came the bad news: the gunboat had returned to Washington.

Determined to make his seizure of the St. Nicholas worthwhile, Zarvona began a raiding expedition that would give them the Monticello, a brig laden with 35,000 bags of coffee, the Mary Pierce, with a load of ice, and the schooner Margaret with a cargo of coal.

Zarvona and his crew returned to Fredericksburg where they received an enthusiastic welcome. At a ball given in their honor, Colonel Zarvona delighted those present by appearing in the hoops and skirts of the lady milliner from France in celebration of his new-found fame as the Confederacy’s first cross-dressing soldier of fortune.

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“Humor keeps the elderly rolling along, singing a song. When you laugh, its an involuntary explosion of the lungs. The lungs need to replenish themselves with oxygen. So you laugh, you breathe, the blood runs, and everything is circulating. If you don’t laugh, you’ll die.”

     Mel Brooks, born June 28, 1926, has kept the world rolling along since he broke into the entertainment business in early TV. Director, screenwriter, composer, lyricist, comedian, actor 01f/26/arve/g2659/024and producer, he is best known for his comic film farces and parodies.

     He began his career as a stand-up comic and writer for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows then teamed up with fellow writer Carl Reiner, as The 2000 Year Old Man. In the 70s he became one of the most successful film directors, producing such comedy classics as Blazing Saddles, The Producers, Young Frankenstein (numbers 6, 11 and 13 on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 comedy films of all-time), The Twelve Chairs, Silent Movie, High Anxiety, History of the World, Part I, Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. The musical adaptation of his first film, The Producers, became a smash hit on Broadway. Brooks is one of the few entertainers with the distinction of having won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony award.

A true funny man, no joke was ever beneath him.

Well, it got so that every piss-ant prairie punk who thought he could shoot a gun would ride into town to try out the Waco Kid. I must have killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille. It got pretty gritty. I started to hear the word “draw” in my sleep. Then one day, I was just walking down the street when I heard a voice behind me say, “Reach for it, mister!” I spun around… and there I was, face to face with a six-year old kid. Well, I just threw my guns down and walked away. Little bastard shot me in the ass. So I limped to the nearest saloon, crawled inside a whiskey bottle… and I’ve been there ever since.


Paul Revere was anti-semitic! Yelling all through the night, the Yiddish are coming the Yiddish are coming!

Every human being has hundreds of separate people living under his skin. The talent of a writer is his ability to give them their separate names, identities, personalities and have them relate to other characters living with him.


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June 27, 1893: Pardon Me Boy, Is That the Chadron Choo Choo?

The streets of Chadron, Nebraska, were filled with people on a bright June morning. Spectators climbed atop roofs; they hung out of second-floor windows. Jester’s Freak Band, a cornet group, provided lively music. The prize was $1500 and a fancy saddle; the challenge, a 1,000-mile race from Chadron, Nebraska, to Chicago, Illinois, and Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show near the site of the 1893 World’s Fair. Ten riders took the challenge.

The rules were fairly simple. Each rider was allowed to begin the race with two horses; he was required to stop at various checkpoints along the way; and he must finish the race riding one of the original horses.

The competitors were a questionable lot – various drifters and ne’er-do-wells, such as “Rattlesnake Jim” Stephens and “Doc” Middleton, a “reformed” horse thief. Rules were broken; animals were injured. A newspaper from along the route reported that “ladies are pulling hairs from the manes and tails of the horses as mementos, and if they have a hair left when they reach Chicago it will be surprising.”

Only six of the original ten riders finished the race. The first-place finisher was a railroader named Berry who, riding a horse named Poison, rode triumphantly into Buffalo Bill’s Wild West arena on the morning of June 27 where he was greeted by a crowd of 10,000 people including Buffalo Bill himself.  In a lavish ceremony, Berry was awarded the saddle.

But the winner never received his cash prize. Race promoters discovered that shortly after the beginning of the race, he and his horses had secretly traveled the first 100 miles of the race aboard an eastbound train.

Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people. — W C Fields


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In 1927, thrill-seekers plunked down their quarters to take a ride on the Cyclone, a new attraction at Brooklyn’s Coney Island. Noting the success of the Thunderbolt in 1925 and the Tornado in 1926, Jack and Irving Rosenthal jumped into the roller coaster business to the tune of about $175,000, and the Cyclone was built.   It would take only 700,000 riders to recoup their investment. The Cyclone was built on the site of America’s first roller coaster, known as Switchback Railway, which had opened in 1884.

The Cyclone remained extremely popular through the years and has accumulated its share of legends. One is from 1948, when a coal miner with aphonia, the loss of speaking ability, took a ride. He had not spoken in years, but screamed as the Cyclone plummeted down the first drop, and said “I feel sick” as his train returned to the station, whereupon he fainted.

Statistics were never kept to tell us how many other people got sick on the Cyclone or how many threw up.  And of course there were more serious incidents. Two men were killed in separate incidents during the 1980s, both Darwin Award contenders who felt the need to stand up during the ride. One fell out and the other was whacked by a crossbeam.

The Cyclone began to deteriorate during the 1960s and was shut down in 1969. Two years later, the city of New York bought it for one million dollars. It was condemned a short time later and, in 1972, it was nearly destroyed to make way for an expansion of the New York Aquarium. A “Save the Cyclone” campaign did just that, and it was refurbished and reopened in 1975. The Cyclone was declared a city landmark in 1988 and a National Historic Landmark in 1991.

That quarter ticket now costs nine dollars.



I used to be a Republican.  There, it’s out in the open.  It was a long time ago, and I was too young to see the error of my ways.  At the time, our family was pretty much all Republican – not avid table thumping Republicans, but Republicans all the same.  Truman was a swear word, and we all liked Ike.  Ike was like a grandfather, and my grandmother loved him.

As long as I’m confessing, I might as well admit that I probably would have voted for Nixon over Kennedy.  Fortunately, I was not old enough to vote.  It was a couple of years later  in college that I began to change.  See, the conservatives are right.  Colleges take our respectable fresh-faced Republican youths and teach them unsavory liberal things like literature and philosophy and science.

Honest John

It happened to me, and I never saw it coming.  For a few days, I was just an independent.  But it’s a slippery slope indeed, and the leftward lurch was inevitable.  And by the time I graduated from the halls of propaganda, my mind had been molded into the liberal quagmire it is today.

In the space of time between my Republican innocence and my liberal decadence, I did my mandated military time.  Since I was a Republican and Republicans love guns, I naturally opted for service that dealt with guns.  I joined the artillery because they had big guns, guns they didn’t have to carry over their shoulders.

After my six mouths of basic gun toting, I became a typical weekend warrior spending some miserable hungover Sunday mornings doing my thing for my country.  And every summer I did my two weeks duty, even as I was fast becoming a liberal.   Being an artillery sort of guy, we got into big guns, really big guns during our summer mission.  This really big sucker of a gun we toted was called an Honest John, and I guess it was technically a rocket not a gun.  One summer we got to fire the thing.  Actually we didn’t get to pull a trigger or anything; we just stood around while it was fired.  It was a holy shit moment when that thing took off, like a launch at Cape Canaveral only lots faster.

During the rest of the two weeks, we got to tote the sucker around the woods of Washington, pretending we were in pitched battle with an unseen enemy (probably Mexican rapists and murderers).  For me, the high point of the exercise was the day we camouflaged Honest John so well we couldn’t find it for several hours.

Our Honest John rocket, hidden

Yes, you can see it happening: I was morphing into nasty liberalism, and liberals like nothing better than to hide guns from conservatives.   Sad but true.  I don’t really like guns any more, little or big, or rockets. As Johnny Cash sang:  “Don’t take your rockets to town son, leave your rockets at home, Bill.  Don’t take your rockets to town.”

Or perhaps as Waylon Jennings sang: “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be liberals.”


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In addition to his significant and far-reaching designation of ketchup as a vegetable, President Ronald Reagan had another major food moment on June 25, 1987, when he issued the Presidential Proclamation (number 5672, if you’re keeping track) calling for the celebration of National Catfish Day, a day to recognize the value of farm-raised catfish – not the ordinary bottom-feeding catfish found in any catfish hole, but those fine-finned fellows raised on pristine family farms.

More and more Americans, said the Prez, are discovering this uniquely American food delicacy. “They thrive” – the catfish, not the Americans – “in clean freshwater ponds on many American farms, where they are surface-fed soybean meal, corn, fish meal, vitamins, and minerals. Farm-raised catfish not only furnish American consumers with a tasty delicacy but also provide a nutritious, low-calorie source of protein that is also low in cholesterol.”

Top with a dollop of ketchup and you’re on your way to seafood Shangri-la.

Noodling is fishing for catfish using only bare hands, practiced primarily in the southern United States. The noodler places his hand inside a discovered catfish hole. — Wikipedia  And hopes for the best, one would presume.

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JUNE 24, 1947: BAD DREAM AT 9,000 FEET


At about three in the afternoon on June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold, a recreational private pilot, was heading toward Yakima, Washington. Flying at 9,000 feet, Arnold saw nine objects flying in formation out of the side window of his airplane. He watched them bob, weave, and dart about – showing off at an incredible speed. These strange craft were not your traditional flying machine shape; they had no nose or tail, but rather were perfectly round, metallic and highly polished.  Arnold radioed in his sighting. It must have been a slow news day for when he landed at the Pendleton field in Oregon, he found a full news conference waiting for him. It was there that Arnold used the words that found legs with scary space phenomena enthusiasts everywhere. He said that these strange flying objects looked like saucers skipping across water.

In addition to being the first use of the term ‘flying saucers,’ it is generally considered to be the ShatnerTZ_5046first widely reported UFO sighting in the United States (even though our friend Harold Dahl saw his flying doughnut a few days earlier). Perhaps because there was a corroborative sighting ten days later (although people were now beginning to see UFOs more often than pigeons).  A United Airlines crew also spotted five to nine disk-like objects over Idaho that paced their plane for 10 to 15 minutes before suddenly disappearing. (This may have been the very flight on which William Shatner saw one of the actual aliens chewing on the wing – but that’s an allusion for another day.)

The United States Air Force officially classified Arnold’s sighting as a mirage.

And some ufologists (yes, ufologists) began to express doubts about the psychology of the man when he reported several other UFO sightings in the years that followed, particularly his report of two living transparent UFOs that he characterized as space animals with the ability to change their density.  And a fondness for chewing on the wings of airplanes.