OCTOBER 29, 1636: HERMIT OF GRUB STREET

HERMIT OF GRUB STREET

Henry Welby was a gentleman of fortune, education and popularity in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth who suddenly secluded himself from all public life – not as a hermit off in the Grub_street_hermitwilderness but right in the middle of London. His irrevocable resolution to live a solitary life followed an incident in which his younger brother, displeased over some trifle or another, attempted to shoot him at close range, certainly with the intent to kill.

To fulfill his resolution, Henry took a house at one end of Grub Street, known primarily for bohemians and impoverished hack writers. He occupied three rooms himself – one for dining, one for sleeping and one for study. The rest of the house was given over to his servants. A technical quibble here perhaps: can a man truly be a hermit with servants?  But it would seem that he managed. While his food was set on his table by his cook, he would wait in his bedroom. And while his bed was being made, he would retire into his study, and so on – thus avoiding any actual contact with his servants.

He ate only a salad of greens and herbs in the summer and a bowl of gruel in the winter. He drank no wine or spirits, only water or an occasional cheap beer. Occasionally, on a special day, he might eat an egg yolk, no white, or a piece of bread, no crust. Yet he provided a bountiful table for his servants.

And in these three rooms, he remained – for forty-four years, never ever leaving them until he was carried out on a gurney.  Not one of his relatives or acquaintances ever laid another eye on him – only his elderly maid Elizabeth ever saw his face. And she didn’t see much of it because it was overgrown by hair and beard. Elizabeth died just a few days before Henry’s death on October 29, 1636.

Books were his companions for those forty-four years, and not once did one of them shoot at him.

Alice in Donaldland, Part 8: Stipulations and Legal Briefs

“Is this the Queen’s court?” Alice asked the two funny-looking men blocking the big iron gate.

“Who wants to know?” they chimed together.

“I’d like to join the Queen for some golf,” answered Alice.

“She’d like to join the Queen,” they taunted, looking at each other. “Do you have a nondisclosure agreement?”

“I’m afraid I don’t, but I’m not the sort of person to disclose things. Are you the Queen’s guards?”

“Guards?” They looked at each other and laughed. “Do we look like guards? We are the Queen’s personal lawyers — Tweeedledum and Tweedledumber, attorneys-at-law. Here, sign these.” They each pushed a pile of papers at Alice.

“What are these?”

“Sworn statements that the Queen didn’t grab you, wouldn’t grab you, and was miles away when the grabbing occurred.”

“But the Queen probably won’t — ”

“Of course he will. The Queen has big hands and — ”

“– a big heart. I know, I know.”

“You also stipulate that grabbing isn’t a crime if the Queen grabs,” said Tweedledum.

“It’s not even naughty,” added Tweedledumber.

“And Collusion isn’t a crime if the Queen colludes. Obstruction isn’t a crime if the Queen obstructs. Subtraction isn’t a crime —

“Okay, I stipulate,” said Alice impatiently. “And the Queen isn’t a witch, and doesn’t grab girls and is making Donaldland great again.”

“I think she’s got it,” said the twin lawyers. “And what about the White Knight?”

Alice began to recite: “The White Knight and his nefarious throng of 98 — ”

” — 125 — ”

” — 125 dastardly democreeps are out to destroy the good Queen.”

“And the Queen is cooperating fully with his witch hunt and is willing to answer any number of questions. As a matter of fact, we have provided a list of answers to the questions the Queen is willing to answer.” Tweedledum handed a piece of paper to Alice.

She read: “Yes. No. Maybe. I couldn’t say. Fourteen. Uruguay. 1492. None of your damn business. Never. Maybe tomorrow. Gilligan’s Island. Wayne Newton. Crooked Hillary.”

“What more could we possibly do?” said Tweedledum.

“Legal is as legal does,” said Tweedledumber.

“Hand me the briefs, said Tweedledum.

“No,” said Tweedledumber. “It’s my turn to wear the briefs.”

“No, it’s my turn.”

“My turn.”

“My turn.”

“I’ll sue.”

“I’ll sue first.”

“I’ll counter-sue.”

“I’ll counter-counter sue.”

And off they went, arguing and leaving the gate for Alice to enter. Which she did.

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OCTOBER 23, 4004 BC: AND ON THE 29TH HE RESTED

AND ON THE 29TH HE RESTED

Those who predict the imminent end of the world display a certain amount of chutzpah if not foolhardiness (such as Micheal Stifel, October 19). It probably takes even more of those qualities to identify the exact date of the beginning ofcreation the world, but didn’t James Ussher (1581-1656) do just that.

As Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College in Dublin, Ussher was rather highly regarded in his day as both churchman and scholar. He was not your average man on the street (“Tell me sir, when did the world begin?”) making bold proclamations. And evidently he didn’t just pull important dates out of a hat. His declarations were based on an intricate correlation of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean histories and Holy writ, incorporated into an authorized 1701 version of the Bible, or so he explained. And they were accepted, regarded without question as if they were the Bible itself.

Through the aforementioned methods, Ussher established that the first day of creation was Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC. He didn’t give a time. On a roll, Ussher calculated the dates of other biblical events, concluding, for example, that Adam and Eve were driven from Paradise on Monday, November 10 of that same year BC (it took them less than three weeks to get in trouble with God). And Noah docked his ark on Mt Ararat on May 5, 2348 BC. That was a Wednesday if you were wondering.

 

Late-breaking news: Dr. John Lightfoot, of Cambridge, an Ussher contemporary, declared in a bold bid for oneupsmanship, that his most profound and exhaustive study of the Scriptures, showed that “heaven and earth, centre and circumference, were created all together, in the same instant, and clouds full of water,” and that “this work took place and man was created by the Trinity on October 23, 4004 B.C., at nine o’clock in the morning.”

Time Was

Wretched Richard will jump out onto the proverbial limb and give you a few more dates you might be wondering about.

January 29, 3995 BC, 8 a.m. — God creates the horny toad.

March 12, 3906 BC, 5:00 p.m.  — Shouting something about his damn sheep, Cain slays Abel.

September 3, 3522 BC, 6:00 p.m. — God creates Facebook, then decides the world isn’t ready for it.

October 2, 2901 BC, 4:00 p.m.  God, having been in a bad mood all day, turns Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt.

June 7, 2549 BC 11:15 a.m.  God once again in a creative mood creates marijuana.

1:30 p.m. –Later that day, God, thoroughly annoyed with all his creations except his latest, instructs Noah to build an ark because he, God, is going to destroy the world.

August 14, 2371 BC,  5:30 a.m. — Methuselah finally turns his toes up after 969 years on this good earth.

July 7, 1425 BC, 8:30 p.m. — God gives Moses the Ten Commandments.

March 1, 2 AD, 10:15 a.m. — God creates an amusing diversion featuring Christians and lions.

July 2, 1854 AD, 11:45 p.m. — After a few too many martinis, God creates Republicans.

Alice In Donaldland, Part 7: Alice Joins a Tea Party

Alice approached the Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse. “No room,” they cried out when they saw Alice coming.
“There’s plenty of room,” said Alice indignantly, sitting down.
“Did you bring your birth certificate?” the March Hare asked.
“Of course not,” said Alice.
“Then how do we know you were born?”
“Because I’m here,” answered Alice.
“I’m not convinced,” said the March Hare. “Have some wine.”
Alice looked all around the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. “I don’t see any wine,” she remarked.
“There isn’t any,” said the March Hare. “And there’s no free lunch. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.”
“Your budget wants cutting,” said the Hatter. This was his first speech. “Why is Obamacare like a writing desk?”
“I give up,” Alice replied. “What’s the answer?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter.
Alice sighed. “I think you might better spend your time than wasting it asking riddles that have no answers.”
“Spend, spend,” said the Hatter. “Tax and spend. That’s all you liberals do.”
“Cut the budget,” said the March Hare.
Here the Dormouse shook itself, and began singing in its sleep, “Twinkle, twinkle, budget ax. How I wonder what it whacks.”
“Entitlements,” said the Hatter.
“Public radio,” said the March Hare.
“Planned Parenthood,” said the Hatter.
“The EPA,” said the March Hare.
“Why do you want to whack these things?” asked Alice, confused.
“Because they promote gay rights, MeToo whiners, and diversity, said the Hatter.
“Illegal immigrants are going to bankrupt our grandchildren,” added the Hatter.
“That’s silly,” said Alice.
“What do you know?” retorted the March Hare. “You weren’t even born. You don’t have a birth certificate.”
“But people don’t carry their birth certificates around with them,” answered Alice.
“Then where’s your Constitution?” the Hatter demanded.
“I don’t carry that around either.”
“Then how do you know original intent?”
“I don’t think – ”
“Then you shouldn’t talk.”
This piece of rudeness was more than Alice could bear. She got up in great disgust and walked off.  The others took no notice, but went back to their discussion of how big the next tax cut should be.

OCTOBER 17, 1814: THIS ROUND’S ON ME

THIS ROUND’S ON ME

An unfortunate incident involving beer – aged porter to be precise – occurred in London back in 1814.

The central London parish of St Giles was, as slums go, one of the slummiest.  Although it has since been rather gentrified with theaters, Covent Garden and the British Museum nearby, it was then mostly squalid housing where immigrants crowded into its ramshackle buildings, often more thanbeer one family to a room. Near one end of the parish stood the massive Meux and Company Horse Shoe Brewery, its giant vats filled with thousands of gallons of aging porter.

One particular vat which held over 135,000 gallons had seen better days. Like the shanties surrounding the brewery, it suffered from age, and on October 17 it succumbed, bursting and letting loose enough precious liquid to give all of St. Giles and then some a pretty good buzz, although the fury with which it was released made tippling difficult. Like giant shaken cans of beer, nearby vats ruptured and joined the game of dominoes.

Within minutes the brick structure that was the Meux and Company Horse Shoe Brewery was breached, and the deluge roared down Tottenham Court Road, flinging aside or burying in debris anyone or anything in its path.

Homes caved in. A busy pub crumbled, burying a buxom barmaid and her ogling patrons for several hours.  All in all, nine people were killed by drink that day. Those who didn’t lose their lives lost everything they owned to evil alcohol. Soon after the suds subsided, survivors rushed in to save what they could of the precious brew, collecting one or more for the road in pots and cans.

St. Giles smelled like the morning after a particular robust party for weeks. The brewery was later taken to court over the accident, but they pleaded an “Act of God,” and the judge and jury bought it, leaving them blameless. The brewery even received reparations from the government.  God, it would seem, has a soft spot for brewers.

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer. ~ Abraham Lincoln

Alice in Donaldland, Part 6: A Grinning Cat

Read Part 1

Alice stood at a crossroads, wondering which way she ought to go. As she pondered, a large Cat appeared on the branch of a tree a few feet away. When the Cat spotted Alice, it grinned at her. She had never known a Cat to grin before and didn’t even know a Cat could grin. It looked rather good-natured, but it had very long claws and a great many teeth so Alice thought it wise to treat the Cat with respect.

“What sort of cat are you?” Alice asked. “You must be happy, smiling like that.”

“I’m a Cheshire, “answered the Cat. “And I always smile.”

“Cheshire? Wouldn’t that make you a cheese?”

“Have you ever seen a cheese smile?”

“I guess not. Well Mr. Cheshire Cat, sir, I wonder if you might tell me which way to go?”

“That depends a great deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where — ”

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

” — so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added.

“In that direction lives a Hatter,” the Cat said , pointing. “And in that direction lives a March Hare. Visit either; they’re both mad.”

“Oh dear, I don’t want to go among mad people.”

You can’t help that. We’re all mad in Donaldland. Speaking of which, are you going to play golf with the Queen today?”

“I should like to,” said Alice. “But I haven’t been invited.”

“Oh you needn’t be invited. All that’s required is signing a nondisclosure agreement.”

“What would I not be disclosing?”

“Oh I can’t disclose that.”

“Where would I find the Queen’s Court?”

“There are several courts. There’s the Tennis Court, the Basketball Court, and the Supreme Court. At the Tennis Court, the Queen’s subjects serve.”

“What do they serve?”

“Why the Queen of course. At the Basketball Court, everyone runs about madly, stealing chickens and turkeys and partridges. When they’ve collected five fowls, they get to sit down. The Supreme Court is where things are decided; it’s divided into three wings.”

“Chicken wings?”

“No, no, no. Groups of deciders. There’s the liberal wing, the conservative wing, and the sexual predator wing and they all make decisions. But the Queen tells them what their decisions are.”

“It sounds like a Kangaroo Court,” scoffed Alice.

“Kangaroo Court, that’s rich. I like that.” The Cat’s grin widened. “Perhaps I’ll see you there. Ta ta.” And with that the Cheshire Cat began to disappear until only it’s grin remained. Alice, having already forgotten who lived which way, picked a path and started off. As it turned out, it didn’t matter which path because she came to a clearing with a large table, and both the Hatter and the Hare were crowded into one corner. A Dormouse sat on the table between them.

Part 7, Coming Tuesday

OCTOBER 8, 1361: DOGGIE JUSTICE

Alice in Donaldland, Part 5: Of Cabbages and Queens

Read Part 1

Alice left the caterpillar thinking that the sooner it became a butterfly, the better off it would be. She walked along, her mind filled with images of the poor White Rabbit’s head, the Queen’s big hands, and the many curious things she had encountered. Then, just ahead, she spotted yet another curious pair — a Walrus and a Carpenter. She could tell the Carpenter was a carpenter by the nails sticking out of his mouth, the hammer in his hand and the word ‘carpenter’ on his hat. She could tell his companion was a Walrus because it had flippers and a big tuft of whiskers. The two of them were working on a tall wooden structure.

She watched them for a few minutes, then asked: “What are you building?”

“A wall,” said the Carpenter.

The Walrus elaborated: “A great big beautiful wall.”

“Whatever for?” Alice asked.

“To keep out rapists and murderers and other low-lifes,” said the Carpenter. “It will stretch all around Donaldland.”

“You don’t seem to have gotten very far with it,” Alice said, sitting down on a rock.

“Donaldland wasn’t built in a day, you know,” said the Walrus.

“I think it’s Rome that wasn’t built in a day,” Alice suggested.

“That’s why we’re building the wall,” snapped the Carpenter. “To keep out the Romans and rapists and murderers and other undesirables from shithole countries.”

“That’s not a very nice word,” said Alice.

“Which word?”

The second one from the — you know which word I mean. The icky one.”

“I’m afraid she’s right,” said the Walrus. “Shithole countries has been walked back.”

“Walked back?”

“The Queen has a very high IQ,” the Walrus continued. “And big hands and a big — ”

“Heart,” said Alice, having become quite familiar with the drill.

“But the Queen sometimes uses the wrong words. And so we walk them back to a point where he never said them.”

“Isn’t that revisionist?” Alice suggested.

“That’s a very big word for a very little girl,” said the Carpenter.

“Well, I’m usually a lot bigger. I’m just having a small day.”

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of other things: of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and queens.”

“Wouldn’t king make a better rhyme,” Alice asked.

“We don’t use that word,” said the Carpenter. “The Queen doesn’t like that word; it reminds him of his predecessor, and that distresses him.”

“Why?”

“In the second place, he was born in one of those places we walked back,” said the Walrus.

“In the next place, he did health care,” said the Carpenter.

“What’s wrong with health care?” asked Alice.

“Healthy people don’t need health care.”

“In the last place, he had funny ears and a funny name,” said the Walrus.

“What about first place?” asked Alice.

“If he were a horse, he’d be a horse of a different color,” the Walrus and Carpenter chimed together. “Pardon us, but we must get back to our wall or the Queen will have our heads.”

Incoming tweet: “A beautiful wall. Tall wall from C to shining C. I want my wall NOW! Infidels pouring in. Rapists, murderers. Murderers, rapists. BILD WALL!”

Part 6 Coming Thursday

Doggie Justice

A French gentleman traveling through the forest north of Paris was murdered, as French gentlemen traveling through the forest north of Paris were apt to be in 1361. His body was buried dogfightat the foot of a tree. His dog, who was traveling with him, remained beside his grave for several days until hunger caused him to quit his vigil.

The faithful dog made for Paris and presented himself at the house of a good friend of his master’s, where after being fed he carried on so much that the friend was obliged to follow him back to the scene of the crime. There, he tore at the ground until the body of the murdered man was exposed to view.

No trace of the assassin was discovered for some time, but then one day the dog was confronted with a man named Chevalier Macaire. Well, that dog immediately lost his good-natured demeanor and lunged for the man’s throat and had to be restrained at some difficulty.  It happened again on other occasions. The dog spotted Macaire in a crowd and attacked.

Since the dog was normally a gentle soul, suspicions began to be aroused. These suspicions found their way to the king of France who ordered the dog brought before him. The dog remained perfectly behaved until Macaire was brought forward and again the dog attacked. “Hmmm,” thought the king.

During this particular time of history, judicial combat was often used to settle doubtful cases, on the assumption that God would provide victory to the person who was in the right.  Amusing jurisprudence perhaps, but who was to argue with the king when he ruled that a duel between Macaire and the dog would settle the matter.

The confrontation took place on October 8.  Macaire came armed with a large stick; the dog was given a cask into which he could retreat. On being let loose, the dog immediately attacked Macaire from one side then another, warding off the man’s blows. The murderer was quickly seized by the throat and thrown to the ground, where he hastily confessed before the king and the entire court — and was hanged, of course.

It’s Always the Cow

Late one night, when we were all in bed,
Mrs. O’Leary lit a lantern in the shed.
Her cow kicked it over,
Then winked her eye and said,
“There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight!”

Who is this Mrs. O’Leary, whose cow is supposedly responsible for the Great Chicago Fire of 1871? Her legend has been kept alive for 145 years now and her name is synonymous with big fires. She was one Catherine O’Leary, an Irish immigrant, who actually had five cows. The cow named Daisy got the blame for kicking the lantern over, but since no one was in the barn to witness the event, all five cows could have had a hoof in it.

Conspiracy theorists have over the years suggested other scenarios: Naughty boys were sneaking a smoke in the barn. Spontaneous combustion. A meteor broke into pieces as it fell to earth October 8, setting off fires in Michigan and Wisconsin as well as in Chicago. Daisy had an accomplice; Daisy acted alone. A drunken neighbor started the fire. Obama may not have started it, but he should have stopped it.

 

Cheap Halloween Thrills

Although I ruled out flesh-eating zombies, I didn’t rule out all zombies. I Walked with a Zombie is a film that’s a lot better than its shlock title would suggest. This 1943 film is intelligent, atmospheric and realistic in its depiction of voodoo in the Caribbean.

Diabolique is a classic 1955 French suspense film. Set in a boarding school, it centers on a plot to kill the school’s abusive headmaster by his submissive wife and his mistress. They accomplish the deed, but become haunted by the disappearance of his corpse.

1 The Shining

2 The Exorcist

3 Beetlejuice

4 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

5 Ghost Story

6 Ghostbusters

7 Freaks

8 Ichabod and Mr. Toad

9 I Walked with a Zombie

10 Diabolique

 

OCTOBER 4, 1582: TEMPUS FUGIT, REALLY FUGIT

Alice in Donaldland, Part 4: The Caterpillar’s Press Briefing

Read Part 1

“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar. This was not a particularly encouraging beginning to a conversation.

“My name is Alice. At least I think I’m Alice. It’s been a rather confusing day.”

“Can’t you see you’re interrupting a very important press briefing?”

“But there’s no one here but you and me.”

“Where are your credentials?”

“I’m afraid I don’t have any credentials,” Alice replied politely. “But I do have a couple of questions.”

“No credentials, no questions. Next.”

Alice watched as the Caterpillar looked around as if waiting for someone to say something. She was about to speak up herself when the Caterpillar bellowed: “How many times do I have to answer the same question? You might get some new answers, if you’d ask some new questions. Next! The Queen has addressed this many times, and I have no intention of addressing something the Queen has already addressed, and you have his address so go there or somewhere else. Next!”

Alice watched dumbfounded as the Caterpillar once again looked around. When the Caterpillar looked in her direction, Alice raised her hand. The Caterpillar stared at her angrily and said: “I answered that question on Monday. This is Wednesday and I’m not going to answer again on a Wednesday. Come back next Monday. Next!  The Queen has never grabbed anyone, although the Queen does have big hands.  Next!”

Alice raised her hand again, but the Caterpillar ignored her and continued: “I have a great deal of credibility. I’m sitting here taking your stupid questions. That shows the kind of press secretary I am as I try to provide information while you display hostility with your fake news and your fake questions. Next! Must you constantly bring up the White Knight and his horrific herd of 54 sniveling democreeps and their deplorable Witch Hunt. Why don’t you ever bring up the Queen’s many positive accomplishments that are making Donaldland great again?”

At that moment, the White Rabbit came running up, panting. “Am I late?”

The Caterpillar glared at the White Rabbit and said: “The Queen has no plans to fire the White Rabbit. Even though his recusal in the face of the White Knight Witch Hunt was a despicable dereliction of duty, the Queen remains very sort of confident in him.”

Incoming tweet: “White Rabbit is OUT!! Nice enough guy but not very smart. Tiny hands, big ears. SAD!!! But off with his head!!!!”

Part 5, Coming Monday

TEMPUS FUGIT, REALLY FUGIt

In 1582, the Gregorian Calendar was adopted for the first time with Poland, Portugal and Spain leading the way. The calendar was implemented by and named after Pope Gregory XIII . He didn’t like the Julian Calendar in use at the time because Easter kept creeping back to an earlier time of the year so that eventually it would fall in the middle of winter, even on Christmas Day (which wasn’t creeping) and really confuse Christians.

Jews didn’t care a whole lot because they were already up to year 5303. Muslims were back at 1001. The Chinese were celebrating 4278 (Year of the Horse). Certain scientists were way ahead of everyone else at 11582, having added 10,000 years to the current year to make the starting point the beginning of the human era (like they knew what day that was) instead of the birth of Jesus who they say wasn’t born in 1 BC but in 4 BC (lied about his age) and wasn’t born on his birthday (Christmas).

But back to the Christians for whom it was October 4, 1582, and also for whom tomorrow would be October 15, because Pope Gregory took ten days right out of the calendar to put Easter back where it had been when he was a boy.  calendarWell, you can just imagine how upset folks who had birthdays or special anniversaries or doctors’ appointments between October 5 and 14 were.

Some people just refused to use the new calendar. Many European countries fell into line later in the year. But many Protestant countries thought the new calendar was part of a Catholic plot . Britain (and its colonies) didn’t come along until 1752. The Greeks didn’t start using it until 1923. And a few malcontent members of the U.S. Congress refuse to adopt it until Obamacare is repealed.

Calling All Crimestoppers

An all-American, tough but smart, police detective arrived on the crime scene on October 4, 1931. Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy comic strip first appeared in the Detroit Mirror. The strip continues to run to this day, although drawn by others since Gould departed for that precinct in the sky back in 1985.

Along with police procedure and gadgets such as the two-way wrist radio, the strip featured a bevy of colorful characters. There’s Tess Trueheart, Tracy’s lady friend and eventual wife, his adopted son Junior and his wife Moon Maid (an alien), their daughter Honey Moon, Junior’s second wife Sparkle Plenty and her parents B. O. and Gravel Gertie. An almost endless list of villains: Abner Kadaver, Art Dekko, Breathless Mahoney, Cueball, Flattop, Gruesome, Junky Doolb (blood backwards), Littleface Finny, the Mole, Mrs. Chin Chillar, Mumbles and Pruneface.  You’ll find an exhausting list here.

 

Cheap Halloween Thrills

Dark October nights are meant for ghost stories. Four old men get together to sit in front of a crackling fire, sip sherry, and tell each other tales of terror, but they will find themselves in the middle of their own ghost story, one that involves a dark secret from years ago and a present vengeance with horrendous accidents and ghostly encounters. The cast makes the movie: Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and John Houseman are the four old men in the 1981 film, Ghost Story.

1 The Shining

2 The Exorcist

3 Beetlejuice

4 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

5 Ghost Story

SEPTEMBER 30, 1861: ON THE BEDPOST OVERNIGHT

doubleON THE BEDPOST OVERNIGHT

Born in Philadelphia in 1861, William Wrigley, Jr. became one of the foremost chewing gum industrialists in the world (just how many chewing gum industrialists are there in the world, you ask).

In 1891, at the age of 29, Wrigley traveled to Chicago with $32 in his pocket and a big idea – a product, actually – Wrigley’s Scouring Soap. Okay, he wasn’t about to set the world on fire with scouring soap, but he also had the bright idea to include a free gift with each package of soap – a can of baking powder.  Now here was something to set consumers’ hearts a-pitter-pattering. Eventually, he found the premium to be more popular than the product and, being a flexible entrepreneur, he switched to selling baking powder.

Did he offer free scouring soap with the baking powder? No, he offered two free packs of chewing gum. And once again the premium, not the product, caught the public fancy. Odd, since chewing gum had been around for 5,000 years or so – under desks and park benches, on the soles of pedestrians’ shoes.  Nevertheless, it caught on, and Wrigley bagged the baking powder and concentrated on gum.

 

Two years had passed since his arrival in Chicago when he went full steam into the chewing gum business, founding the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, giving the world Juicy Fruit and Spearmint gums, and, in 1914, double your pleasure, double your fun, Doublemint gum, which eventually spawned Wrigley’s most notable gift to humanity, the Doublemint twins.

 

With the chewing gum business firmly established, Wrigley’s mind wandered – to the west coast. There he bought a rocky island off the coast of California, known as Pimugna to its original inhabitants, the Pimugnans. The island was first claimed (as was just about everything) by the Spanish Empire, then by Mexico, then by the United States.  A home to hunters, gold-diggers and smugglers, it was a natural to become a tourist destination – which under Wrigley’s guidance it did – 26 miles across the sea , Santa Catalina, the island of romance.

Girl Around the World

Reporters Leo Kieran of the New York Times and Herbert Ekins of the World-Telegram were out to demonstrate that air travel was shrinking the world and that it was pretty much in the reach of most people. They would do this by means of a race around the globe using kilgallen2commercial transportation available to anyone with the price of a ticket. When the race started on the evening of September 30, 1936, they had been joined by a last-minute participant from the Evening Journal — a 23-year-old rookie crime reporter named Dorothy Kilgallen.

A fierce rainstorm kept the three contestants out of the air for the first leg of the race — a short hop to Lakehurst, New Jersey, to catch the airship Hindenburg. Kilgallen almost missed the flight, but the crew delayed departure until she boarded.

Ekins quickly proved to be the savviest traveler as well as the most competitive. Arriving late in Frankfurt, Germany, he quickly boarded a KLM DC-2, a plane that had finished second in an air race from London to Melbourne. Kilgallen and Kieran, on the other hand, headed to Brindisi, Italy, by train to catch a flight from there to Hong Kong on a British carrier, Imperial Airways. The train was excruciatingly slow, and the flight was delayed for seven hours because of wind.

When the two reporters arrived at a stopover in Bangkok, Siam, Kilgallen opted to hire a single-engine plane whose pilot lost his way in Indochina and made a frightening landing in the middle of a field before finding his way to Hong Kong.

Waiting to board a steamship headed from Hong Kong to Manila and the Pan Am China Clipper for the flight back to the States, Kieran and Kilgallen learned that Ekins was long gone. He had talked his way onto a Pan Am trial flight as a crew member. Although taking the no-passenger flight was cheating, Ekins was pronounced the winner, having completed his journey in 18 days.

With just the tiniest bit of grousing, the two defeated reporters acknowledged his victory in a cable from Manila while waiting for a typhoon to pass. They completed the journey in 24 days. In some ways, Kilgallen was the real winner, despite her second-place finish. Her accounts of the journey, cabled back to the Evening Journal each day, filled with descriptions of exotic lands, jungles full of dangerous beasts and shark-infested waters, made her a celebrity. It also launched her successful career which ended abruptly in 1965 with her mysterious death (a story for another day).

Alice in Donaldland, Part 3: The White Knight’s Witch Hunt

Read Part 1

After Alice had walked for a little while, she heard the pattering of footsteps in the distance and wondered what sort of strange person or animal she might meet this time. It was the White Rabbit, trotting slowly back again, and looking about anxiously as it went.

“Oh my dear paws,” the White Rabbit muttered, not even noticing Alice. “Oh my fur and whiskers! The Queen will have me executed, as sure as foreigners are foreigners. Where can I have dropped my gloves?”

The White Rabbit finally noticed Alice and said angrily: “Why are you just standing there? Help me find my gloves. I can’t go to the press briefing without my gloves.”

Alice dutifully began looking around for a pair of gloves as the White Rabbit continued wailing: “First I recuse myself, now this. The Queen will have my head for sure.”

“I don’t think I understand what exactly recusing oneself is.”

“Of course, you don’t. You’re a girl.”

Alice was getting quite tired of hearing such talk and she replied: “I’ll have you know I’m smarter than any … any … dumb bunny.”

“Recusing oneself,” the White Rabbit continued, ignoring her outburst, “is very much like excusing oneself. Recuse, excuse. For instance you would say ‘excuse me’ when leaving the room. But if you said ‘recuse me,’ you would stay in the room and just pretend you weren’t there. See?”

“I suppose.”

“I’m pretending that I’m not paying any attention to the White Knight’s terrible, terrible Witch Hunt because of a conflict of interest. I suppose you know what that is?”

“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t.”

“A conflict of interest is when I’m very interested in what’s going on in the room, but I’m pretending that I’m not.”

“Why is the White Knight hunting for a witch?”

“The White Knight and his mob of 23 sinister democreeps are looking for Collusion, Obstruction, Distraction, Distortion, Discombobulation, Uglification and Derision.”

“I don’t know about all those other things, but your gloves are under that little bush over there.”

Incoming tweet: “White Knight and WHORED of 35 pernicious dems. Worst witch hunt in history. Let me say this about that: I am not a witch!”

The White Rabbit scooped up his gloves and ran off without even a thank you or goodby.  Alice tried to follow him but lost him when he ran behind a large mushroom. The mushroom was even taller than Alice but, by stretching herself up on tiptoe, she was able to peep over the edge of it. There her eyes met those of a large blue caterpillar, that was sitting on the top, showing not the slightest interest in her or anything else.

Part 4, Coming Thursday

Going Down: Alice in Donaldland Begins

Alice was growing sleepy, sitting next to her sister who was reading a book. “What’s the use of a book if it can’t get you online?” she muttered to herself. Just as she was beginning to drift off, a large White Rabbit ran by. This was rather remarkable in and of itself but even more so as the Rabbit pulled a watch out of its waist-coat pocket and said “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late. The Queen will tweetstorm me for sure.”

READ ME

SEPTEMBER 24, 1991: OH, THE THINGS YOU’LL WRITE

Probably the foremost children’s book author of the 20th century died on September 24, 1991, at the age of 87. Dr. Seuss, Theodor Geisel, published 46 books for children including a new kind of first reader that sent Dick and Jane into well-deserved retirement.

Dr. Seuss was born in the early 1920s, when Geisel (born in 1904) was attending Dartmouth College. Among his pursuits there was work on the humor magazine Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, for which he rose to the rank of editor-in-chief. However, one dark day at Dartmouth, Geisel was caught drinking gin at a party in his room. This was frowned upon by the Dean, who insisted that he resign from all extracurricular activities, including the college humor magazine. To continue work on the Jack-O-Lantern surreptitiously, Geisel began signing his work with the pen name Dr. Theophrastus Seuss. (Other pseudonyms included Theo LeSieg and Rosetta Stone.

Geisel had a successful career in advertising (Flit, Standard Oil, U.S. Army) and as an editorial cartoonist denouncing fascists, racists, isolationists and Republicans.  But it was his children’s books that gave him lasting recognition. His first, published in 1937, was And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street. He followed with such celebrated books as The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Horton Hatches the Egg, Horton Hears a Who!, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. In 1954, Geisel was challenged to write a book using only 250 words appropriate to beginning readers, “a book children can’t put down.” Nine months later, using 236 of the words given to him, Geisel completed The Cat in the Hat.

Geisel made a point of not beginning the writing of his stories with a moral in mind. “Kids can see a moral coming a mile off,” he said.

Numerous adaptations of his work have been created, including 11 television specials, four feature films, a Broadway musical and four television series.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent!”

“If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good.”

“They say I’m old-fashioned, and live in the past, but sometimes I think progress progresses too fast!”

“I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam-I-Am.”

“Writing simply means no dependent clauses, no dangling things, no flashbacks, and keeping the subject near the predicate. We throw in as many fresh words we can get away with. Simple, short sentences don’t always work. You have to do tricks with pacing, alternate long sentences with short, to keep it vital and alive…. Virtually every page is a cliffhanger–you’ve got to force them to turn it.”

Froggie went A-forecasting

On September 24, 1788, the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser described a rather ingenious barometer devised by an unnamed Frenchman. The instructions: Equip a clear glass bottle with earth and water to a depth of about four fingers and a tiny ladder that reaches from the bottom to the lower part of the neck. Find a small green frog and put it in the bottle. Cover the bottle with ap iece of parchment pricked with a pin to admit air. As long as the weather remains fair, the frog will perch at the top of the ladder, but if rain approaches the frog will go down into the water.

 

Alice in Donaldland, Part 2: A Dodo in Name Only

Read Part 1

On the other side of the little doorway (which didn’t seem little at all any more), Alice passed through the loveliest gardens she had ever seen, filled with beds of bright flowers and dear little ponds. Along the way she passed several signs that said: Make Donaldland Great Again At one of those ponds, she spotted a queer-looking group of animals marching around it. “Curiouser and curiouser,” she said, although everything was curious today. There was a Duck and a Dodo, a Lory, an Eaglet and a Mouse. They moved about the pond, each at its own pace, some faster, some slower, some stopping now and then, some bumping into one another, until the Dodo suddenly cried out “The Caucus-race is over.”

“Who has won?” they all shouted.

The Dodo thought for a moment then said: “Everyone. We all have won.” Everyone cheered. Alice, who was now standing among them, asked: “What is a Caucus-race?”

The Dodo pressed a finger to its forehead and thought some more. “It’s like a real caucus only it’s not, because we’re not invited to real Caucuses anymore. We used to be GOPPs, but we’re outcasts now. We’ve been tweetstormed by the Queen.”

Alice was filled with questions, and she blurted them right out: “What’s a GOPP? What’s a tweetstorm? What kind of animal are you?”

“I’m a Dodo.”

“Aren’t Dodos extinct?”

“Might as well be. I guess I’m a Dodo In Name Only. And a GOPP in Name Only.”

“You haven’t told me what a GOPP is,” Alice complained.

“A Grand Old Party Pooper. Except things aren’t so grand anymore.”

“Because you’ve been tweetstormed?”

“Yes. A tweetstorm is a weapon the Queen uses to show his displeasure.”

His displeasure? I don’t understand.”

“Of course you don’t understand,” said the Dodo. “You’re a girl.”

“I resent that.”

“I imagine so. But some people have to be girls.”

“I mean I resent your suggesting that girls are somehow inferior.”

“It wasn’t my idea,” said the Dodo. “The Queen has decreed it so.”

“Why would she . . . ?

“He.”

“Are you saying the Queen is a he?”

“I’m only saying what is so.”

“Why is he a Queen and not a King?”

“Queens are more statuesque, better looking, smarter and more powerful. That’s what he says. And queenliness is next to godliness, after all.”

“And he, the Queen, doesn’t like girls.”

“Well, he does like to grab them,” said the Dodo.

“That’s awful,” said Alice angrily.

“He does have big hands and a big . . .”

“Heart,” interjected the duck, speaking for the first time. “We try not to notice. It’s easier that way.”

“He says they like it,” said the Dodo. “And who wouldn’t want to be grabbed by royalty or a television star?”

“Me, that’s who,” Alice growled.

This conversation was fortunately interrupted by the Lory who held up a smartphone and announced: “Incoming tweet.”

They all gathered around and read: “White Knight and his gang of 13 wicked democreeps are DESTROYING our GRATE country. Dumb Southern White Rabbit recuses himself. SAD!!”

And another: “White Knight is Black Knight. White Rabbit too. Lyin’ Dodo, Little Mouse, Crooked Lory, Leaking Duck, all lowlifes. Off with there HEADS!!”

The animals began to sob and mutter and lament the unfairness of their situation, giving Alice the perfect opportunity to slip away and continue her exploration of the lovely gardens.

Read Part 3

SEPTEMBER 20, 1839: IT ISN’T RAINING RAIN, YOU KNOW

IT ISN’T RAINING RAIN, YOU KNOW

An English officer, living in Calcutta recorded an unusual phenomenon on September 20, 1839. As he was walking out of doors, it began to rain but it wasn’t raining just rain; it was raining fish. They were small,  just three inches in length, a size you’d throw back but there was no water anywhere nearby to throw them back into. Some fell on hard ground and were killed; others fell on soft grass and were unharmed (of course, they eventually died anyway). Shortly after this event, in a nearby village some 3,000 to 4,000 fish of a different species were found carpeting the ground.

Turns out such showers aren’t really that unusual, and it doesn’t have to be fish. It can rain all sorts of creatures with or without rain rain. According to the folks at Modern Farmer: “Over the years many different animals have reportedly fallen from the sky. Tadpoles over Japan; spiders over Brazil; frogs over Serbia, ancient Egypt and Kansas City; brown worms over Indiana; scarlet worms over Massachusetts; red worms over Sweden; snails over England; a shower of raw meat (thought to be venison or mutton) over Kentucky; blackbirds over Arkansas; eels over Alabama; snakes over Tennessee,” and bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover.

Sometimes the animals survive the fall. Witnesses of raining frogs have described the animals as startled (startled indeed!) and exhibiting rainingcats2normal behavior after the downpour (such as croaking, in both senses of the word).

There have been no reliable reports of an actual cat or dog rainfall — at least without the presence of prodigious amounts of alcohol. The origin of the phrase “raining cats and dogs” remains a mystery of etymology. In 1651, British poet Henry Vaughan referred to a roof that was secure against “dogs and cats rained in shower.” But we have no way of knowing whether he had actually witnessed such a shower. It is curious that he, being a poet, didn’t prefer a phrase such as “frogs and fishes rained in shower” with its superior alliteration.

 

The Only Thing We Have  To Fear Is — Oh My God!

Economists disagree on the major causes of the Panic of 1873. Inflation after the Civil War, speculative investments in railroads, a big trade deficit, property losses from major fires in Boston and Chicago, European economic woes. One economist was rumored to have blamed it all on a great storm of cats and dogs. In any event, on September 20 the New York Stock Exchange closed for the first time in its history and stayed closed for ten days. Panic ensued. Dead cats, dogs, frogs, fishes and investors covered Wall Street, triggering a depression that lasted for another six years.

Going Down: Alice in Donaldland Begins

Alice was growing sleepy, sitting next to her sister who was reading a book. “What’s the use of a book if it can’t get you online?” she muttered to herself. Just as she was beginning to drift off, a large White Rabbit ran by. This was rather remarkable in and of itself but even more so as the Rabbit pulled a watch out of its waist-coat pocket and said “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late. The Queen will tweetstorm me for sure.”

Now wide awake with curiosity, Alice jumped up and chased after the Rabbit, just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit hole. Alice went right down the hole herself, never giving it a thought, and found herself falling. Either the well was very deep or she was falling very slowly, for she had plenty of time to look around. The sides of the hole had become walls, and the walls were covered with pictures. Mostly they were grumpy looking old white men, but among them were many pictures of what seemed to be a Queen. She looked a lot like the grumpy old men except for the royal gown and the royal crown nestled in a strange outcropping of very orange hair. The Queen had big hands and, Alice imagined, a big — Alice didn’t finish the thought for she landed with a thud on the floor of an ornate room. It was an odd room with no windows or doors and above her just the blackness through which she had fallen. Then she spotted a single door that she hadn’t noticed before because it was so tiny, certainly too tiny for her to go through it.

The only furniture in the room was a single table. On the top of the table was a small bottle with a note attached that read: Drink me, if you want to become very small. She took a sip from the bottle and, finding it quite pleasant, finished it off. She waited for something to happen — and waited. Nothing. Finally, she picked up the bottle to see if she could get another drop out of it and saw the other side of the note: I lied. The only way to get small is to keep saying over and over that you are small. It’s like pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, except there are no boots or straps and it’s down rather than up.

Alice sat down in front of the little door and recited “I am small. I am small.” She repeated these words for the longest time until she saw that the little door was getting bigger and bigger. Or was she getting smaller? When the door looked like a normal-sized door she said loudly: “I really am small.”

A sign on the door read: Welcome to Donaldland, Home of Alternate Facts. She opened the door, stepped through and realized that everything on this side was as small as she was, so she felt like her normal size. “I think I’m going to like this place,” she said.

Read Part 2

SEPTEMBER 3, 1993: INFINITE MONKEYS

INFINITE MONKEYS

In Stockholm, Sweden, the newspaper Expressen gave five stock analysts and a chimpanzee the equivalent of $1,250 each to make as much money as they could on the stock market in one month.

Mats Jonnerhag, publisher of the newsletter Bourse Insight, turned in a nice performance. His stock portfolio gained $130. Not good enough. The stock-picking chimp (who went by the name Ola) saw the value of his portfolio climb by $190 for an easy victory.

While the stock experts carefully assembled their portfolios using a variety of analytical tools, Ola put aside such things as price/earnings ratios, volatility measures and technical factors in favor of darts, which he tossed at the Stockholm Stock Exchange listings.

Naysayers will no doubt bring up the infinite monkey theorem: that an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters and an infinite amount of time could eventually write the works of Shakespeare. Or the lesser quoted corollary that seven monkeys with seven typewriters in seven weeks could write the Republican Party Platform.

In a reported real-life attempt to prove either of these theories, two chimpanzees and an orangutan were put in a room with three typewriters. By the end of just 24 hours, they had written “jid;lwer fivcjfdoske flfjwlsjfpos p3mzds[sk,43l;cv kdid,ewodkdjss;djelldsd kdjhdps ddodlsps psvvspap39djk3^jh& jfioermcjd,ud3$m kidelqqwerty” Even more amazing: They had used exactly 140 characters which they tweeted (using the orangutan’s twitter account). It went viral.

Getting a Buzz On

Parade-goers lined the streets of Flint, Michigan, on September 3, 1900, the first Labor Day of the new century to witness tbuzzhe debut of a new automobile, the first ever made in that city. It was not created by General Motors as practically every car to follow was. This car was designed and built by Charles Wisner, a county judge by day and an automotive visionary by weekends.

Wisner’s Buzz-Wagon, as his unusual vehicle was lovingly called, was the first of three he designed and built. None ever went into mass production. That was left for the Chevrolets and Buicks that would arrive later. The Chevrolets and Buicks would offer a smoother ride with a lot less noise, and in an unusual departure from the Buzz-Wagon, they would have brakes. The Buzz-Wagon, it seemed, required a sturdy immovable object such as a lamppost or a large building for it to bump into in order to stop.

Fortunately at the Flint Labor Day parade, the immovable object was unnecessary. Much to the amusement of several thousand spectators, the Buzz-Wagon stalled and had to be pushed out of the parade.

 

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