JULY 14, 1789, 1973: BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO

BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO

Every écolier and écolière knows that the breakup of France – Révolution française – began in 1789, its defining moment the storming of the Bastille on the morning of July 14. 1789. This storming_the_bastille[1]medieval fortress in the center of Paris represented royal authority. That the Bastille housed only seven inmates – all with good reason to be there – was unimportant. It was a symbol of the abuses of the absolute monarchy, and the French had had it with monarchs, aristocrats, and pretty much anyone in power. Bring on liberté, égalité, fraternité.   King Louis XVI, exit stage right

 

Bye Bye Don

Another momentous breakup took place on the evening of the same day, nearly 200 years later, in 1973, at Knott’s Berry Farm in California (Knott’s Berry Farm was America’s first theme park and probably the only one devoted to grapes and strawberries and such things). Every schoolgirl and schoolboy knows that the Everly Brothers were one of America’s most successful pop duos, lending their sibling harmony to such hits as “Bye Bye Love”, “All I Have To Do is Dream” and “Wake Up Little Susie”, a franchise that would seemingly go on forever. Well, forever is a long time, and brothers Don and Phil had, by the end of the 1960s pretty much had it with liberté, égalité, fraternité and most definitely with each other.

The defining moment of their breakup came in the middle of their set when the stage manager told the audience that the rest of the show had been canceled because brother Don was “too emotional” to play.  In reality, Brother Don was too drunk to play. His skipped guitar notes and bungled lyrics sent brother Phil into a real snit. Phil smashed his guitar and stormed off stage into a solo career, promising he would “never get on stage with that man again.”

 

Phil and Don reached a sort of detente a decade later.  Louis XVI, on the other hand, was beheaded.

(Phil Everly died in January 2014).

I have no intention of sharing my authority. — King Louis XVI

Death Visits Aunt Agatha, Part 2: A Bargain Is Struck

Monty hated the thought of paying Bridget Berman seventy-five dollars a day to do practically nothing and eat his food in the bargain. What if Aunt Agatha held on for three or four days? No matter how bad she looked, she was a tough old bird. She could rack up a couple hundred dollars while he was in the city.

By the time Monty bit the bullet and finally contacted Bridget Berman, he had already devised a scheme to avoid paying the old hag more than what he considered appropriate remuneration for her services. Emphasizing how sick the old lady was, how she probably wouldn’t make it through the next 24 hours, Monty proposed a flat fee for Bridget’s sitting services. “Ninety dollars,” said Monty, “It’ll be like getting paid time and a half most likely.”

Bridget didn’t trust Monty at all; she assumed right off that he was trying to procure her services on the cheap. But if the old woman were really dying . . . Bridget also hated to pass up something extra for next to nothing. She expressed doubt about the arrangement. “But I will consider it. Mind you, just consider it. First I must see your aunt for myself.” Bridget had watched a good many people check out of this world and felt confident that she could reasonably judge the amount of time a person had left.

Later, as they stood at Aunt Agatha’s bedside, Bridget, after carefully studying the dying woman for several minutes, concluded that here lay one very sick woman and that she had better get an agreement quickly, before Aunt Agatha expired. “I don’t know,” said Bridget, “She doesn’t look all that bad to me. But I understand your situation, and I want to be as agreeable as I possibly can. One hundred and fifty dollars.”

Monty stood silently thinking. Aunt Agatha groaned.

“One twenty-five,” said Bridget.

“You’ll stay until she dies,” said Monty.

“Or until you return,” said Bridget.

“Agreed.”

Ten hours passed. Monty was in the city, Bridget sat bedside, and Aunt Agatha lay there still looking as though the next minute would be her last. Bridget sighed and dozed off. She awoke Saturday morning to find Aunt Agatha just as ill and just as alive as she had been the night before. For eight hours, Bridget stared at the bedridden woman just lying there, continuing to breathe without consideration for others, taking money from Bridget as though she were a common pickpocket.

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JULY 12, 1960: MR. POTATOHEAD WAS NOT AMUSED

MR. POTATOHEAD WAS NOT AMUSED

Two knobs in the lower corners on the front of a plastic cube-like structure, when rotated clockwise or counterclockwise, move a stylus that displaces a metallic powder on the back of a screen, leaving horizontal and vertical lineographic images – in layman’s terms, magic. In the Romneywords of the French inventor, L’ecran Magique. Or in the words of the marketers who made it one of the 100 most memorable and most creative toys of the 20th century, Etch-a-Sketch.

The mechanical drawing toy, which was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998, was first marketed on July 12, 1960, by the Ohio Art Company, timed perfectly to catch the big wave of the Baby Boom. In England, it was known as the DoodleMaster Magic Screen. (There was also the Magna Doodle and the Mystic Writing Pad.)

Although it remained popular throughout the fifty plus years of its existence, the Etch-A-Sketch reached a new notoriety in 2012, when it became a part of the demise of a presidential campaign. The simple plastic rectangular box may have contributed as much to the 2012 election – in influence –  as all the SuperPACs put together. It happened when candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign manager, asked if Romney was boxing himself into ultra-conservative opinions during the primary, answered: “I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”

Trying to contain the brouhaha, the Romney campaign only added to its woes by saying that since the mention of Etch-A-Sketch caused its maker’s stock price to triple, they would next mention Mr. Potatohead.

 

JULY 10, 1984: IN THE AFTERNOON HE HUGGED A TREE

To burnish his environmental creds, President Reagan visited the salt marshes and crabbing grounds of the Chesapeake Bay. There he claimed credit for cleanup efforts in the area, provoking a hue and cry among critics who found his environmental policies wanting.

In a bit of derring-do, the President climbed to the top of a 50-foot observation tower at the Bird_WatchingBlackwater National Wildlife Refuge and made eye contact with two wild bald eagles.

Lunching with a group of Republican Chesapeake Bay fishermen at a Tilghman Island fishing village, Reagan asserted that his efforts to protect the environment were ”one of the best-kept secrets” of his Administration, which indeed they were since no one had been able to find them. The grateful fishermen donated two bushels of crabs to his re-election campaign.

When a reporter asked the President where former EPA head Anne Burford who had resigned amid charges of mismanagement fit into his secret record, press secretary Larry Speakes ordered the lights turned off. Reagan, who was used to being in the dark was unfazed. “My guardian says I can’t talk,” he quipped. Thus, his environmental record remained a closely guarded secret.

Unfortunately for Scott Pruitt who just resigned  as EPA chief, Larry Speakes was not around to turn off the lights.  And Anne Burford’s image just climbed a notch or two (though not of her own doing).

JUNE 26, 1927: LOOK MA, NO HANDS

LOOK MA, NO HANDS

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.

 

TRUE CONFESSIONS: MY DARK DAYS AS A REPUBLICAN

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.”

 

JUNE 17, 1972: CREEPS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT

CREEPS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT

It was the middle of the night in June 1972, and while much of the nation slept, something was burglarafoot at a large apartment complex in the Foggy Bottom area of Washington DC. A security guard noticed pieces of tape covering the latch on the locks on several doors, leaving the doors unlocked. He removed the tape, naively thinking nothing of it – the wind maybe?  (He evidently had never read a suspense novel.)  An hour later, he discovered that the locks had been retaped and realized that this was something more than just the wind. He called the police who discovered not just one but five intruders in the offices belonging to the Democratic National Committee.

     The five men were charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications. In September, a grand jury indicted them and two other men (E. Howard Hunt, Jr. and G. Gordon Liddy) for conspiracy, burglary, and violation of federal wiretapping laws.

     The men who broke into the office were tried and convicted in early 1973.  An investigation, tied all five men to CREEP. CREEP is the loving acronym applied to the 1972 Committee to Re-elect the President, the President being Richard Milhouse Nixon. Trial judge, John J. Sirica, (who evidently did read suspense novels) suspected a conspiracy involving people at the pinnacles of government.

     In March 1973, James McCord, one of the original gang of five claimed that he was told to plead guilty. He implicated Attorney General John Mitchell and other top Nixon aides, who began to topple like so many Republican dominoes, and the June 17 Watergate robbery quickly escalated into one of the juiciest political scandals of the century.  Although many have tried to top it, none have succeeded.  Until now, perhaps.

 

MAY 22, 1856: SENATORS WILL BE SENATORS

It all started in the Senate chamber in 1856 when Senator Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts Republican, addressed the Senate on the explosive issue of whether Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state. Three days later on May 22 the “world’s greatest deliberative body” became a donnybrook fair.

In his speech entitled “Crime Against Kansas,” Sumner identified two Democratic senators caneas the principal culprits in this crime—Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina. In a little bit of overkill, Sumner called Douglas to his face a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal . . . not a proper model for an American senator.”  Andrew Butler, who was not present at the time, received an even more elaborate characterization.  Mocking the South Carolina senator’s image as a chivalrous Southerner, the Massachusetts senator charged him with taking “a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean,” added Sumner, “the harlot, Slavery.”

Representative Preston Brooks was a fellow South Carolinian to Butler. He read a certain amount of ridicule into the remarks, and he took great umbrage on Butler’s behalf.  In one of the Senate’s most dramatic moments ever, Brooks stormed into the chamber shortly after the Senate had adjourned for the day, where he found Sumner busily attaching his postal frank to copies of his “Crime Against Kansas” speech.

Brooks claimed that if he had believed Sumner to be a gentleman, he might have challenged him to a duel.  Instead, he chose a light cane of the type used to discipline unruly dogs. Moving quickly, Brooks slammed his metal-topped cane onto the unsuspecting Sumner’s head.   As Brooks struck again and again, Sumner rose and staggered helplessly about the chamber, futilely attempting to protect himself.  After a very long minute, it ended with Sumner lying unconscious. As Sumner was carried away, Brooks walked calmly out of the chamber without being detained by the stunned onlookers.  Overnight, both men became heroes in their home states.

Surviving a House censure resolution, Brooks resigned, was immediately reelected, and promptly died at age 37.  Sumner recovered slowly and returned to the Senate, where he remained for another 18 years. But the incident symbolized the breakdown of civility and reason in the capital and serves as a reminder to current legislators to always play nice with one another.

Man Smart (Woman Smarter), Part 3 — Complications

Captain Petrullo spent most of that afternoon grooming himself into the spit-polished image of the perfect commander, the perfect lover, the perfect seducer. How wonderful, he thought – a perfect man making love to the perfect woman and, as a bonus, making the vile Mayor Cervantes the perfect cuckold. Once he had primped and pruned himself to perfection, he strutted up Ponce de Leon Boulevard to Fat Freddy’s Cafe where it had been agreed he would wait, drinking absinthe, until summoned by his amorata.

And Mireille still intended to summon him as the sun made its unhurried journey toward the western horizon, even though she had had the entire day to get cold feet. She somehow knew that this was a monumental, now-or-never moment; were she to not seize this opportunity, she’d never bring herself to take such a bold step, if she even had another chance. She intended to summon Captain Petrullo right up to the point at which she pulled a sheet of paper from the desk and wrote: Come to me now. Yours truly, Mireille – right up to the point the phone rang and she heard the chilling words: “Meeting’s been canceled. I’m on my way home. I’ll be hungry.” These cruelest of words were finalized by a most loathsome burp and the drone of the sudden dial tone.

Captain Petrullo had taken the rather arrogant step of assigning one of his 500 men to a post near the Mayor’s house, specifically to carry Mireille’s letter of liaison to him at once. And by the time the young man arrived at Fat Freddy’s, just as the stubborn sun dipped at last into the sea, Captain Petrullo, whose absinthe had certainly made his heart grow fonder, whose imagination had aroused him in every other conceivable way, sat in a state of intense anticipatory excitement. Thus it was with great agitation that he read words he had never expected, words that implored him not to come to Mireille’s house, that her husband was at this moment on his way home.

A commander of a 500-man army unit must by virtue of his position, be bold and decisive, even when under the influence of absinthe and a now almost uncontrollable passion. Bold and decisive Captain Petrullo was. He stood and said in a very loud voice so that everyone in Fat Freddy’s could hear: “This is very serious news indeed, Private Vincent. Go to the men and prepare them. I will assemble the unit at once. This is a night that will test our readiness, to be sure.”

These dramatic words had their intended effect on the audience. Everyone sat in silence, staring at the captain, showing alarm. He surveyed them and remained silent for the longest time. Then the crafty captain said quite solemnly: “We have a serious situation which I am not at liberty to discuss. I deeply apologize but I must establish a curfew. Please go to your homes and remain there. No one can be allowed to leave – or enter the city tonight.” He turned dramatically and marched out.

He marched straight to his 500-man unit and quickly placed them on duty at posts around the city with the most emphatic orders that no one was to leave or enter. No one, he repeated several times just to be certain they understood, instilling in them the notion that were someone to exit or enter the city, someone else would surely be shot. Then Captain Petrullo marched, no strutted, to Mayor Cervantes’ house and to a very surprised, but very happy Mireille.

continued

This story  is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

APRIL 14, 1999: THE FUTURE WILL BE BETTER TOMORROW

THE FUTURE WILL BE BETTER TOMORROW

Fireworks, rock music and chants of “Q2K” punctuated the April 14 announcement by former Vice President Dan Quayle that he was tossing his hat into the Republican ring for the 2000 presidential race. He offered himself as the antidote for “the dishonest decade of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.” He promised to restore integrity, responsibility and more malaprops to the White House.

And he came out swinging against television character Murphy Brown (even though she wasn’t running for anything). She and her ilk contribute to a “poverty of values,” he intoned. “A character who supposedly epitomizes today’s highly intelligent, highly paid, professional woman — mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another lifestyle choice.”

Quayle’s candidacy was greeted by a thunderous silence. He exited the race a few months later, after finishing eighth in the first Republican straw poll. Maybe too many folks were confused by that Q2K campaign slogan.

In any event, the world was cheated out of future Quayle gems such as these:

If we don’t succeed we run the risk of failure.

Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.

A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls.

It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.

When I have been asked during these last weeks who caused the riots and the killing in L.A., my answer has been direct and simple: Who is to blame for the riots? The rioters are to blame. Who is to blame for the killings? The killers are to blame.

Bank failures are caused by depositors who don’t deposit enough money to cover losses due to mismanagement.

I deserve respect for the things I did not do.

I love California, I practically grew up in Phoenix.

The global importance of the Middle East is that it keeps the Far East and the Near East from encroaching on each other.

I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy – but that could change.

The Radish That Broke My Mother’s Heart

We were the first on our block to have a television set.  Perhaps today that’s more a confession, an admission of weakness, than a source of pride.  But back then it was a source of great pride.  This, of course, was way back then — when we got our first television set, television programming didn’t invade our living rooms until four in the afternoon, and it exited by eleven, wrapping things up and signing off with the Star Spangled Banner and a test pattern, a device that tested the clarity of your vision or something like that.  (The late night part is hearsay; I was not allowed, early on, to stay up that late.)  But even though it was a mere seven hours of television, we flaunted it.

One problem with that early television schedule quickly surfaced – it stretched right through dinnertime.  But technology would solve that problem for us, too.  One night, with great ceremony, my father brought home the devices that would allow us to watch “Super Circus” and “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet,” without culinary interruption — TV trays.  What a marvelous idea.  They were tinny, vulgar and liable to collapse under anything heavier than roast beef, but night in, night out, my mother would slap a full meal right onto those trays.

Bless her.  Given diners who never once dropped their eyes to look at their plates and a husband with the narrowest of gastronomic parameters, she still put that dinner on those TV trays every night, making certain that every meal, no matter how meat and potato it might be, was accompanied by a healthy salad.  Little wooden bowls brimmed with lettuce, onion, carrot, celery and radish. We were partial to radishes – round and ruby red until cut by my mother into slices so uniform that, if they were placed side by side, you’d need a micrometer to measure the difference in thickness.

Though they all look pretty much the same, radishes can vary widely in their intensity of flavor, so it was not unusual that on one night our salads contained some particularly potent radishes.  Nor was it unusual that a person such as myself who never checked to see what was on the salad fork before plunging it into his mouth might inadvertently bite into several radish slices at once.  The resulting assault on tender ten-year-old taste buds was dramatic.  And any adolescent gourmand in the same situation would, after the fire died down, shriek:  “What are trying to do, kill us?”

My mother quickly and quietly, with mumbled apologies, removed the offending salad and went to the kitchen, where she remained, sitting in the shadows, most likely sobbing, while her selfish loved ones blithely watched television, unaware that a heart had been broken.

I thought nothing of my thoroughly ignoble behavior at the time; it was just one more carelessly tossed off cruelty.  But as the years passed, that single unpleasant act began to haunt me more and more.  My early visions of my mother sitting in the kitchen sniffling intensified as I aged.  And finally my mother was wailing at the top of her lungs and beating her breast before finally flinging herself in anguish against the refrigerator door.  And it was all my doing.

When I reached the age she would have been on that day of infamy and then some, I finally had to face my personal devils.  One night over martinis, during a visit with my mother, I broached the subject, and words of remorse began to tumble from my mouth like ills from Pandora’s box.  My mother looked at me as though I were crazy or something and said in her understanding, gray-haired way:  “Are you crazy or something?”

Classic denial.  My mother had buried the Day of the Radish deep within some crevice of her mind, denying it, and she continued to do so for the rest of her days.  Nevertheless, I have cleansed my conscience, and I can eat radishes once again.

 

 

APRIL 10, 1953: COMIN’ AT YA

COMIN’ AT YA

The poobahs at Hollywood’s major film studios watched with amazement and envy as the independently produced 3-D movie Bwana Devil wowed audiences in late 1952.  Columbia Pictures quickly threw together a black- and-white thriller that for an hour hurled practically every prop on the set at the beleaguered audience. It was just as quickly forgotten.  Then on April 10, 1953, Warner Brothers released its entry — in color and stereophonic sound — House of Wax, a horror film starring Vincent Price as a sculptor who kills folks, covers them with wax, dresses them up as famous historical figures, and displays them in his wax museum. Audiences loved it, making it one of the biggest hits of the year. Even critics gave it a go. And although it took a while, the Library of Congress selected it in 2014 for inclusion in the National Film Registry, deeming it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

The film revived Vincent Price’s career, positioning him as the go-to guy when you needed a mad scientist or fiendish psychopath.  Although House of Wax had a couple of classic 3-D effects (the pitchman with a paddleball and a character who seemingly stands up in the audience and runs into the screen), it was not loaded down with them. This might have been because the director was blind in one eye and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

And What Do We Suppose Jumbo the Elephant Really Was

On this day in 1985, Lancelot the Unicorn who had been touring with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus — famous for outlandish attractions — was exposed as a fraud.  Audiences were appalled to learn that Lancelot wasn’t a real unicorn at all, just a goat with a horn surgically attached to its forehead.

IF IT HAD ONLY BEEN A NACHO

It would seem that in modern politics every president has been forced to deal with a scandal, big or small –vicuna coat, Watergate, Iran Contra, Stormy Daniels. Gerald Ford’s scandal would probably be trivial in comparison to most. But it may have cost him re-election. It was April 10, 1976, in San Antonio, Texas, at the Alamo, where a tiny faux pas morphed into the Great Tamale Incident as the President attempted to eat a tamale without removing the corn husk, playing into his reputation as a bit of a bumbler.

MARCH 23, 1925: MAKING A MONKEY OUT OF A MOLEHILL

MAKING A MONKEY OUT OF A MOLEHILL

On this day in 1925 in the forward-looking State of Tennessee, it became a crime for a teacher in any public school or college to teach any theory that contradicted the Bible’s account of man’s creation. Wouldn’t you know it, within two months, a Dayton, Tennessee, high school science teacher and trouble-maker, John T. Scopes went right on ahead and taught his students that man descended from a lower order of animals, monkeys no less. This was, of course, the infamous theory of evolution.tumblr

Scopes was indicted, and later convicted, in what became known as the Monkey Trial. The trial, broadcast on radio, gained national attention, and brought together two of the biggest names in the nation, William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution and Clarence Darrow for the defense. Bryan chastised evolutionists for teaching children that humans were but one of precisely 35,000 species of mammals and that human beings were descended “not even from American monkeys, but from old world monkeys.” Darrow volunteered his services to the defense because he “realized there was no limit to the mischief that might be accomplished unless the country was aroused to the evil at hand.”

Scopes was fined $100, but the verdict was later overturned. Darrow called the case “the first of its kind since we stopped trying people for witchcraft.” This was almost a hundred years ago. Thank goodness we’ve gained a lot of insight since then.

My Kingdom for a Bic

Pedro I a 14th century king of Castile was one of the first monarchs who could write, and he had very nice penmanship. That didn’t prevent him from being stuck with the moniker Pedro the Cruel for various transgressions, real and imagined. His greatest sin seems to have been his hatred for the monks, a hatred which was returned in kind. When Pedro died by the dagger of his illegitimate brother on March 23, 1369, his place in history was left to those monks who could also write. And they proved that their pens were mightier than his sceptre. Good penmanship can only take one so far.

The Game Show That Wouldn’t Die

Beat the Clock made its CBS debut on March 23, 1950, hosted by Bud Collyer. It ran until 1961. It rose from the dead in 1969 as The New Beat the Clock, running until 1974. It reappeared in 1979 as The All-New Beat the Clock, and later as All-New All-Star Beat the Clock.

To win, contestants had to “solve problems” within a certain time limit which was counted down on a madly-ticking giant clock. If they succeeded, they “beat the clock”; if they didn’t, “the clock beat them.” And they died.

 

MARCH 20, 689: SOME FOLKS JUST WON’T STAY BURIED

SOME FOLKS JUST WON’T STAY BURIED

Back in the 7th century on an island in northern Britain, the very holy St. Cuthbert gave up the ghost. The exact date of his departure was March 20, 689. Not only was Cuthbert very holy, he was, you might say, holier than thou, or at least holier than all his peers. He devoted his entire life to converting the half-savage heathens (and there were quite a few half-savage heathens at the time) and praying — lots of praying. Such was his devotion that those about him often wondered if he were not a man but an angel.

Cuthbert was duly shrouded and buried, remaining at rest for some 11 years until some curious monks dug him up to have a peek. They found Cuthbert in perfect condition, which they accepted as miraculous proof of his saintly character. They placed him in a new coffin, leaving him above ground so he might perform miraculous cures.

Another 174 years passed and, with Britain facing an invasion by the Danes, the monks (different monks) carried Cuthbert’s still perfect body away and wandered with it from place to place for many years.

Finally in the 11th century, Cuthbert’s body found a permanent home where it was enshrined and enriched with offerings of gold and jewelry from the faithful (there were a lot more of them now). In 1104, the body was inspected again and found still fresh. Another 400 years and another inspection.

Three hundred years. It’s 1827 and Cuthbert is past due for inspection. This time, however, the inspectors were much more rigorous, and it was discovered that Cuthbert was an ordinary skeleton swaddled up to look whole, including plaster balls to plump out the eye holes. It would appear that some monks along the way had been quite naughty. St. Cuthbert himself serves as a fine example of a person who was far more interesting dead than alive.

Deciders Unite

The Whigs didn’t last long as as political party. Formed in the 1830s out of annoyance with Andrew Jackson, they gave us four presidents — William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary republicanTaylor and Millard Fillmore, commonly known by their nickname, Who? (not to be confused with the rock group of the same name). As is the case with many political parties, they had disagreements over tents, finding themselves unable to deal with the concept of big ones, and eventually tore themselves asunder with internal disagreements.

The semi-official date of the party’s actual death was March 20, 1854. On that date, a number of don’t wanna-be Whigs met in Ripon, Wisconsin, and the result of that meeting was the birth of the Republican party, which lasted until 2016.

Yellow Bird, Part II: Lady Meets Bird

“Bon jour,” said Antoine, “you have returned.” He held his arms out in an expansive, embracing gesture that suggested he might step forward andYELLOW throw his arms around her. Instead, he dropped them to his side. “I am very pleased that you have come back and I am flattered as well.”

“You knew I’d be back,” she accused, leaning back against a post that supported the roof of the patio – rather seductive, thought Antoine, noting how her stance favored her figure, and rather reckless, given the condition of the structure against which she leaned. The simple blouse and short skirt were island skimpy but not as dramatic as last night’s outfit.

“I hoped,” said Antoine. “I only hoped. Please sit down.” He was relieved that even though she didn’t follow his suggestion, she did move away from the post. “All of the lunch guests have finished and departed. I’m sure, however, that I can find something in the kitchen to accommodate your desires.”

Her dark eyes flashed with the suggestion that they hid more desires than he or his kitchen could accommodate. “I purposely came late,” she said, and Antoine’s heart raced until she added: “I had a breakfast meeting, so I’m skipping lunch. I came late so I wouldn’t be tempted.” Antoine stifled a sigh. “At least not by food,” she said, and her eyes were once again toying with him.

“Then let us try to tempt you with something else,” said Antoine, and he too paused with playful ambiguity. “Some wine perhaps?”

“You’ve done it,” she said, laughing. “You’ve broken my will. I’d love some wine.”

Antoine departed, then returned a few minutes later carrying two glasses and an open bottle of wine. He found his guest wandering just beyond the patio. “You’re absolutely right. This is like what I’d imagine the Garden of Eden to be.”

“But there are no snakes,” Antoine said, sitting down on the edge of the patio and pouring the wine.

“There are, however, other tempters,” she said, returning to the patio and sitting down so that the two glasses of wine were between them. “That tree is magnificent. What is it?”

“Tamarind.”

She studied the tree, squinting. “I’m not wearing my glasses. Do I see a parrot near the top of the tree?”

“I’m inclined to think it is some scoundrel from the Middle Ages changed to a bird by a sorcerer,” said Antoine.

She laughed. “I feel foolish having to ask. After all, I am an ornithologist, albeit a nearsighted one. I study North American species primarily.”

Nearsighted, thought Antoine. So those deep dark eyes are not perfect in every way. “You’re more than welcome to study that bird,” he said. As if summoned by Antoine’s words, the parrot descended from its lofty perch, glided toward them and came to rest, with much ado and fluttering, on the ornithologist’s bare knee. “Perhaps,” Antoine added, “you would like to dissect it.”

The ornithologist was startled for only a moment by the parrot’s arrival. She grinned at it and said, “Pretty bird.” Somehow Antoine would have expected an ornithologist to say something more meaningful to a bird.

Beaux nichons,” the bird answered.

“Hush,” said Antoine, reddening. “He just babbles sometimes.”

“I understand some French,” she said, flashing those dark eyes at the bird. “You are a brazen bird.”

Beaux nichons,” said the parrot. “Beaux nichons.”

“I apologize for the bird’s complete lack of civility and taste.”

“It’s all right,” she said with a giggle. “After all, he’s French.”

“I assure you there is not a single French feather on that vile bird. He speaks French only to embarrass me. Probably taught to him by an Englishman. His pronunciation is appalling. Apologize to Mademoiselle . . . Goodness me, I’m afraid I have inadvertently failed to inquire for your name.”

“Rachel,” she said, smiling back at him while she stroked the bird’s head.

“Rachel,” said Antoine. “A lovely name, but one would expect that.”

“Rachel,” said the bird.

“See,” said Rachel. “The old bird’s not hopelessly bad.”

Beaux nichons,” said the bird, and with another dramatic fluttering of wings, it lifted off toward the tamarind tree.

They sipped at their wine without speaking, emptying their glasses, and Antoine quickly refilled them. “The parrot’s coloring is quite remarkable,” said Rachel, and Antoine suspected that ornithology had erased any thoughts of romance. “I think it might be quite rare.”

“I would hope so.”

“I mean it might be endangered. I have a colleague that would know for sure. I’d like to bring him by. He knows tropical birds. He’s been working in the islands for years – most recently in Martinique.”

“Ah, he’s French,” said Antoine.

“No, he’s not.”

Antoine shrugged. “He can be forgiven for that.”

“I’m afraid he’s English.”

“He can’t be forgiven for that. Only pitied.”

Rachel laughed. “You’re such a chauvinist. He’s a very intelligent man. He has some great ideas about how to repopulate endangered species.”

“I once knew an Englishman who had an idea,” Antoine mused. “His head exploded.”

“Stop,” she said and leaned into him, but before he could respond, she was on her feet.

“Bring him by,” said Antoine. “If it means your returning, I’ll gladly suffer anything.”

She laughed and kissed him on the cheek, lingering just slightly, before quickly turning and departing.

“You were absolutely reprehensible,” said Antoine, staring at the strutting bird. “Pretty bird, my ass.”

The parrot cocked his head to one side, looked at Antoine as though seeking forgiveness but said: “God save the Queen.”

“The lady is an ornithologist. Do you know what ornithologists do? They eat birds – especially parrots.”

“Polly want a fucking cracker.”

“A rather attractive ornithologist,” Antoine continued. “I thought all scientists were dowdy. Like the English – all tweed and no substance. Tweed. One shudders at the thought. Yes, an attractive ornithologist. I think I would like to have a liaison with the ornithologist with the deep dark eyes and beaux nichons.”

Beaux nichons.”

“Ah bird, you are no stranger to such liaisons, are you? Yes, I remember that yellow bird and how shamelessly you behaved with her.”

 

continued

This story is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.