Netflix, Stones & Scones

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When I get bored, or if I’m a little sad, I like watching documentaries on my laptop about old, historical things— like English castles, Russian tsars and evil Nazis dickheads. It’s calming and therapeutic… yet, cheaper than Xanax.

Today, I stumbled upon a documentary about Westminster Abbey on Netflix. You know that big, old Gothic church that Prince William and his wife, Kate, got married a few years ago? Yeah, that building. It’s been around for nearly a thousand years… and it’s THE place to get buried if you are super cool and accomplished. There are kings, queens, princes, dukes and even scientists— like Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. There are scads of writers, too, including Aphra Behn— who, in the mid-1600s was the first woman to make a living as a novelist, playwright and poet. #oldtimeygirlpower

Westminster Abbey is also the place where the kings and queens of England are crowned. During the ceremony, the monarch sits on this really old wooden chair that was built in 1296. The chair still exists today. It’s survived generations of termites, vandals, and the really fat ass of King George IV, who in the mid-1800s spent most of his time eating large amounts of food and shagging women— all while being addicted to opium. He was a real winner. #momoneymoproblems

The chair was designed to house a special slab of stone beneath the seat. This slab is called the Stone of Scone. It’s important to note that the name has nothing to do with actual breakfast scones, much to George IV’s utter disappointment. Rather, the stone was the seat upon which hundreds of years of Scottish kings were crowned a really long time ago. In 1296, though, King Edward I of England took the stone from the Scots so that it could become the coronation seat for his many future, royal, and sometimes tubby, descendants.

As you may guess, this did not sit well with the Scottish. It didn’t take much to inflame their ire during this time, but stealing their favorite old rock was an easy way to do it. In between eating haggis, playing bagpipes, and drinking whiskey, the Scots stewed about this horrendous act for hundreds of years— even after the two nations joined together under one monarch. The English refused their many requests to have the stone returned— unwilling to compromise with the plaid-wearin’, brogue-talkin’ heathens to the north.

Fast forward 700 years. (I didn’t promise this would be a short story.) On Christmas Day in 1950, four Scottish students broke into Westminster Abbey with a crowbar and snatched the Stone of Scone from beneath the seat of the coronation chair. Okay, snatched might not be the best word for something that weighs 336 pounds. Rather, they dragged the stone out of the Abbey on an old winter coat and managed to secret the slab of rock across the border to an eager, and joyous Scotland.

British police vigorously searched for the stone for three months before the Scots finally relinquished the stone in time for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation months later. The boys that took the stone were pardoned and details of the investigation were plastered all over the newspapers. Yet, each side still claimed ownership of the Stone of Scone and its history. Eventually a deal was reached so that Scotland could keep the stone for most of the time, except during coronations… every other Christmas, and the 2nd Tuesday of the month. Like a divorced couple’s joint custody arrangement of their 336 pound baby. It was all very complicated.

Strike that. No… no, it wasn’t complicated. It’s actually very simple. England and Scotland, two very advanced nations and pioneers in the development of representative democracy, were fighting over a FUCKING ROCK. A piece of goddamn stone that you can find in any riverbed, on any hillside… hell, even in someone’s weedy backyard.

See, this is why history is so awesome. And this is why I watch historical documentaries to make myself feel better. Because even if I’m having a bad day, a sad day, or I’m depressed about what’s on the 5 o’clock news, I know that we humans have done stupid stuff all throughout our history. The dates and years on the calendar may change, but our stupidity does not.

IMG_3927And there is definitely something comforting in that.

Don’t you think?

#januarying

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When the Romans weren’t busy building aqueducts and drinking lots of wine, they took time out to create a unifying calendar system. After all, it’s impossible to run an empire if everyone can’t agree on something as basic as what day is Wednesday. Can you imagine the chaos? It would’ve been like the U.S. Congress, only more Italian.

January is named after the Latin word for door— ianua. Since the month is the door into the new year, the Romans thought Ianuarius was a fitting name. While I’m not inclined to disagree with the dead guys that created the calendar, I must say that I don’t think that January is the most forgiving of months.

I have several reasons for this assessment. First of all, if you’re like me, your body is still recovering from the holiday food onslaught which seems to begin earlier each year. While I eagerly inhale a pumpkin spice muffin in October, by the end of December, my colon makes me drop the damn sugar cookie and back away from the cheese ball. And it really doesn’t take no for an answer. Just like Donald Trump.

I’m sure you feel that post-holiday sluggishness, too. That knot that forms in your stomach when you force down that last stuffed mushroom off the plate. But, you have to eat it, right? It looks lonely on the platter all by itself.

These cold and dreary January days don’t inspire feats of achievement, either. You may tell yourself to go to the gym, but you’re more likely to sit on your ass and watch The Bachelor while wearing the ugly Christmas pajamas your in-laws gave you. No need to hide it, I know you want to see how many girls Nick Viall can shag before the season is over.

Yes, January inspires laziness. Last week it was rainy and gloomy— like much of this month has been— and I decided to drink milk that was three days beyond its expiration date just so I could avoid going to the store. (Don’t worry, I did smell the milk first.)

But, for me, the biggest challenge of the month is of the cold and flu variety. I find it distressing to know that there are enough cooties floating around in January to fill the Hindenburg. It’s not unusual to find me shirking away from hugs and kisses during this time, and cleaning my cell phone with rubbing alcohol and a Q-Tip.

I realize I sound obsessive-compulsive. But, if you only had one functional lung, you’d be just as freaked out as I am. A little cold can quickly turn into pneumonia for the elderly, or disabled folks like me. So, think about that when you venture out into public when you are sick. You never know how far your germs may reach.

And on that uplifting note, have a happy January. But, for goodness sake, wash your hands!

Halloween 101 (throwback)

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In case your calendar is out of order, I’d like to inform you that Halloween is this weekend. This means that it is socially acceptable for the children in your neighborhood to come to your front door and beg for products containing processed sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
If you want to be well-liked, you’ll purchase the really good candy (which contains chocolate). Further, you should make sure each piece can fill the palm of a 10-year-old boy wearing an Iron Man costume—anything smaller may be met with disgruntlement and covert eye-rolling. Also, please don’t be a house that only gives out Sweet Tarts. If we wanted candy that reminded us of antacids, we can just go down to Walgreens and buy some Tums.

Many folks think that Halloween is a modern holiday, but, actually, that is not the case. Use of the word “Halloween” dates to 1743, but it derives from the term “All Hallows’ Eve”—which was an old religious festival (with pagan roots) that honors the dead. As early as the 16th century, celebrations of All Hallows’ Eve were widespread in Scotland, Ireland and Wales—and the traditions bear a marked similarity to those we know today.

Children would wear disguises and sing rhymes and songs in exchange for fruit, nuts, and sweets. This early form of trick-or-treating was called “guising.” Like today, that harvest feast would be the highlight of their childhoods.

I’d like to see what would happen if we passed out a bunch of fruit and nuts to trick-or-treaters nowadays. Half of the kids would sneer at the fruit and the rest would go into anaphylactic shock from their severe nut allergies.

Halloween is about more than just trick-or-treating, thankfully. It’s also a time for scary books and movies that will make it hard for you to sleep at night. Long before Hollywood made movies about chainsaw murderers and children that see dead people, writers throughout history have been crafting stories designed to make you wonder if you remembered to lock your front door.

I must admit that I’m a wuss when it comes to scary books; I generally avoid them whenever possible. One of the innovators of American horror fiction was Edgar Allen Poe. In 1843, he published his famous work “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I was forced to read this short-story in school and it seriously freaked me out. Since that day, I can’t listen to the sound of a human heartbeat without thinking about it. If you haven’t read it, please do. Even if you aren’t a “reader” (you poor human, you), it’s only around eight-pages long, so you should be able to muscle through it. After all, the menu at the Cheesecake Factory is much longer than that.

Lastly, I hope you and your loved ones have a safe Halloween—may it be filled with fun, good memories and lots of high fructose corn syrup.

(Originally appeared in print in The Patterson Irrigator on October 30, 2015)

Olympic drama

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At long last, the Summer Olympic Games have arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As a self-proclaimed Olympic junkie, I’m quite excited. I look forward to the Olympics in the same way that some people anticipate other life milestones.

For example, you may get a bright zing of happiness when you meet your grandchild for the first time. I get that same feeling when I see Michael Phelps swim the anchor leg of the 4×100-meter relay. While this might have something to do with the tiny Speedo he wears, I really can’t be certain.

Given the recent world tragedies and the deteriorating political tone here at home, I think we all need a hefty dose of the Olympic spirit. I’m tired of listening to politicians that sound like schoolyard bullies. I’d much rather watch athletes hurl pointy javelins across a field than endure presidential candidates slinging insults on Twitter.

In 1896, the modern Olympics were founded on the principles of international cooperation and sportsmanship. Since that time, athletes from around the world have gathered together every four years to compete.

Despite the best intentions of the Olympic movement, it has occasionally fallen prey to world events over the years. In 1916, 1940 and 1944, the Olympics were canceled because of two messy and unfortunate World Wars. It’s hard to gather together in peace and cooperation when much of the world is too busy trying to kill one another.

Even geopolitical disagreements have left their mark on the Games. In 1980 and 1984, respectively, the Americans and Soviets decided to boycott each other’s Olympic Games. Like sulky teenagers refusing to attend a birthday party, the two superpowers decided that not attending the Olympics in their rival’s country was better than attending.

This doesn’t make sense to me. If you don’t go to the birthday party, everyone else is going to eat all the cake. And Olympic cake is the best. It’s shiny and comes in three flavors – gold, silver and bronze. Why wouldn’t you want a piece of that? Silly, silly people.

The Olympics can be a powerful economic and political tool, as well. In 1936, a dude named Adolf Hitler hosted the Games in Berlin. He recognized that it was the perfect time to convince Germans, and the world, that reclaiming their nationalistic identity led to success. By getting back to their pure Aryan roots, they’d be more powerful than ever and the world would bow at their feet.

Unfortunately for Adolf, an African-American man named Jesse Owens was a hiccup in this Olympic vision. Mr. Owens’s four gold medals made him the hero of the Games – a fact that made Chancellor Hitler’s little, ugly mustache burn most annoyingly. Gotta love the Olympics.

No offense to fans of the NFL, NBA and MLB, but you just don’t get this same kind of drama and excitement.

Four years is definitely worth the wait.

One for the ladies

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Now is a great time to be an American woman. This is nice to hear, especially since women have to live 4.8 years longer than men do. Just five years from now, we’ll mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment—the landmark legislation which gave women the right to vote.

In recognition, the Treasury Department recently announced that they are redesigning the $10 bill to include a yet-to-be-determined woman on the currency. While I appreciate the government’s gesture, I’m little bummed that they chose the $10 bill. It’s the one denomination that I can never find when I need it. And now I know why.

According to the Federal Reserve, $10 bills make up only 5.2 percent of the currency in circulation. The only bills less common are the $50 and the $2—the latter being the weirdest and most useless of all currency. After all, the only $2 bill I’ve ever encountered now resides in the junk drawer of my kitchen—the place I keep playing cards, half-used lip balms and pens that don’t work anymore.

While it would be nice to see a woman have a more prominent placement, like on the $100 bill, I know that will never happen. Benjamin Franklin is so entrenched on the $100 bill that it would take a feat of superhuman strength to rip that bespectacled man off the face of it.

That said, though, we women have another reason to celebrate; the Women’s National Soccer Team won the Women’s FIFA World Cup! While I know just as much about soccer as I do about astrophysics, this doesn’t take anything away from my joy.

Our team was given $2 million by FIFA for winning the tournament. I thought that was nice … until I decided to look into the amount the German men’s team received for their World Cup victory last year.

I gasped out loud when I saw the number—$35 million. Yes, you read that correctly. That’s 350,000 Ben Franklins. I also learned that each participating men’s team (regardless of performance) was given $1.5 million—the prize money rose dramatically if you managed to win a few games.

I instantly became livid. If a person of the male gender had walked into the room at that moment, I would have growled and seriously considered the benefits of castration. And I wouldn’t have even felt guilty about it. Frankly, I believe this earnings disparity to be an insult to women everywhere.

It’s like saying: “Oh, did you win the World Cup? Congrats. Here’s a brand new car!”

“Oh, and did you win the World Cup, too? Congrats. Here’s a pack of chewing gum.”

Women shouldn’t have to settle for less—like the humdrum $10 bill or mediocre prize money. But, in a world where American women only earn 78 cents on the dollar, I really shouldn’t be surprised when things like this happen. The question is: When will society finally do something about it?