Yes, I’m writing about dogs again. Last year saw the earthly departure of Rufus and Yoko, my two loyal – albeit halitosis-heavy – bulldog assistants, and I would be remiss (which is Latin for “an asshole”) if I did not honor their memory with a few feel-good tales of puckish pooches to warm the cockles (which is Latin for “the taint”) of the heart. Luckily, as chock-full as the internet may be with cat pictures, it is similarly packed with tales of loyal canines.
I make no apologies for the fact that I am a dog person. Dogs may not be smarter than cats – though they could be; I distinctly recall some Youtube video in which a dog retrieves a beer from the fridge – but they are more emotionally devoted to their human friends. I love that when I come home every day, my remaining bulldog assistants (Bessie & The Bean, so named for her legume-esque stature) are jubilant to the point of ridiculousness. In my limited experience, cats simply don’t offer that kind of overflow of positive energy.
And devotion. That’s a big one. The loyalty of my slobbery little friends has never truly been tested, but I’m sure it exists. The canine companions who grace today’s page have all demonstrated a form of loyalty that every super-villain dreams of extracting from but one of their grunting minions.
Any pile of devoted-dog stories must contain a customary bow to Hachiko, the Akita owned by University of Tokyo professor Hidesaburo Ueno. Every afternoon, Hachiko would show up at Shibuya Station to await Ueno’s train. In May 1925, only about a year into their relationship, Ueno suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and never made it home. Hachiko showed up anyway, and proceeded to pop in to the station at the exact same time every day to await his master’s return. For almost ten more years. Read more…
When I rolled this project over and booted it out of bed more than two and a half years ago, I had to decide where to place that bar of ethics beneath which my words would never limbo. I have never sold out to become a corporate shill (yes, my bubbly praise over Big Rock Brewery did set into motion a timeline that would have me trading prose for pay, though given how much I love the product I don’t consider that selling out).
I have never cheated in my writing duties, despite having a stash of practice articles tucked into a corner of my hard drive. I have never scribbled my daily kilograph after midnight because “it’s technically tomorrow.” Screw that – I have lived my life by the scrolls of TV Guide, which begins each new day promptly at 5:00am.
Also, apart from a few dalliances into more blue subject matter (the kids love that stuff), I have maintained a relatively smooth PG-13 flow (my article about ‘Fuck’ notwithstanding). Today will be no exception, despite the fact that my topic of choice today is Fucking.
With a population of 104 at last count, the village of Fucking, Austria probably sees more tourists per capita than any other place in Europe. The town was named after a 6th-century Bavarian nobleman named Focko. As the language of the region evolved, the spelling of the town varied: it was Vucchingen in 1070, Fukching in 1303, Fugkhing in 1532, and by the 1700’s it acquired its current spelling. The –ing suffix is an old Germanic denotation, meaning “belonging to” the root-word. So Fucking is “the place of Focko’s people.” Read more…
As my fingers bluntly stab my keyboard, weighted down by a hangover from sun and loud music, I wonder how I’ll get through today’s chosen topic on Chinese science education without passing out. It wouldn’t be my first afternoon spent with the lopsided grid of a keyboard’s footprint etched into my forehead.
This morning has found me in the blissful yet listless afterglow of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, an annual celebration of everything that brings light into the universe: music, family, friends, sunshine, beer, and deep-fried foodstuffs. It has also found me ready to scrap my topic in favor of a drowsy reflection on what I feel is Edmonton’s most profound and spiritually elevating annual event.
For those who have never attended this magical collective, I hope you have found a similar event – an yearly renewal of your inner chi and a simultaneous escape from the humdrummery of life. Here’s how the dusty reset button of my inner balance was pushed this weekend, and why I recommend a hearty dose of Folk Fest to everyone I know:
One can make it through Folk Fest with very little actual folk music. I hardly ever listen to “hardcore” folk. From Joan Baez’s warbly vibrato to the up-tempo thump of modern Celtic music, I’d just as soon hide under my blanket with an old Muddy Waters record. But more often than not, that lyrical fruit-filling that gives folk its flavor can be found within the pastry shell of a myriad of styles. We watched Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite give folk music the blues; Cody Chesnutt threw folk into funk; the Blind Boys of Alabama raised folk into that holy and delicious confection of gospel. Read more…
Thankfully for us disciples of feckless fact and impractical information, the human body does not always cater to the limits of logic and science. We can always gawk upon the fortunate – or unfortunate – whose innards form their own rules, leaving their mark in the lore once mined by Ripley and Guinness and Barnum and other protectors of the peculiar. Immersing myself as I have in a mandated one thousand topics across the spectrum of mind-piquing knowledge, I was bound to run across a few of these folks.
Last December I wrote about Tarrare, an eighteenth-century Frenchman who ate his weight in food every day, and made his living on the proto-freak-show circuit, devouring live beasts before gaggles of open-jawed onlookers. The clinical term is polyphagia: an insatiable appetite, or a hunger that can’t be conquered. In Tarrare’s case, one can also account for a critical depravation of good taste, as anyone who eats a live snake before an audience is clearly disgusting as well as edacious.
Right around the time experts were prodding Tarrare with a stick, trying to figure out what made his insides work this way (and perhaps waiting to see if he’d eat the stick), another polyphagious man was making medical headlines. Charles Domery sold his patriotic soul and devoured everything he could find. He was a truly voracious eating machine.
Charles Domery was born in Benche, Poland (sorry – I couldn’t find a better picture of the place) around 1778. He was one of nine brothers, all of whom – according to Charles – shared the same unquashable appetite. Having lived through feeding one male teenager, I cannot fathom what sort of pre-industrial job the Domery patriarch must have held to afford to feed nine with such an appetite. But if the dinner table was a battleground in Charles’ youth, it showed no ill reflection upon his temperament. Those who knew him said he was a good egg. Read more…
Earlier today, someone suggested to me that I pen an article about surströmming, which is a northern Swedish delicacy. As with any food that is considered a delicacy of a very specific region, yet has not made the official menu of well-known cliché ethnic foods from its nation (in Sweden’s case that would be meatballs, lingonberry sauce and whatever that whacky Muppet is cooking up), I knew it would sound gross. And it does. Surströmming is a fermented Baltic sea herring whose odor is allegedly so horrendous it has been banned from two major airlines and the Stockholm airport.
It’s an “acquired taste”, I’ve been told. This is a puzzling psychological concept to me, and would make for a more interesting kilograph than some terrorist cousin of the anchovy family.* There are foods I have tried and loved from the first bite – Kobe steak tartar, key lime pie, crème brulé, among others. But it’s true that sometimes a particular gustatory journey requires baby steps before the palette can truly hit its stride. Why is that?
Even beer. When my beloved aunt and uncle gave me my first can of O’Keefe’s Extra Old Stock (my father passed on this rite of traditional bonding; he was more a drinker of wine and A&W Cream Soda), I hated it. Maybe that was because it was crappy beer, but I really think my tongue just needed some training wheels before it could appreciate what hops and malt could become. It’s a curious thing.
* Actually, the airlines claim they feared the tins might explode, it had nothing to do with the smell. Right.
Babies are born with a predilection for sweet foods and a natural disdain for bitter or sour stuff. We don’t generally lean toward salty eats until about four months, but once we leap off the boob into a heaping bowl of solid foods we become suddenly very adventurous. This might explain why those little two-nub pieces of Lego can so easily find their way into a toddler’s gullet (though I suspect Freud would say that has more to do with a penis obsession, the sick bastard). Not long afterward, neophobia sets in. Read more…
Unite a crowd of people under the frumpy awning of hate and it’s not hard for things to shimmy out of control. Provide those same people with a river of cheap beer and a charismatic leader to stoke their ire and you’d best check that you’re insured against a savage pandemonium. When the promotions team for the unimpressive 1979 Chicago White Sox were looking for ways to beef up fan attendance and amuse their loyal ticket-buyers with something that could counterbalance the Sox’s pitifully mediocre season, they’d have been wise to heed this advice.
Mike Veeck, the promotions director and son of team owner Bill Veeck (hooray for nepotism!), was determined to bring some fun into the stadium, maybe by catering to local music fans; Disco Night back in 1977 had been a huge hit. When Veeck heard that local loudmouth DJ Steve Dahl was thinking of blowing up a huge stack of disco records at a local shopping mall, the gimmick seemed somehow perfect to entertain the kids in the cheap seats at Comiskey Park.
And so was born Disco Demolition Night, a convoluted cocktail of bad ideas and pitiful execution. Anyone who brought a disco record to be blasted at the park was admitted to the July 12 doubleheader for 98 cents (Steve Dahl’s radio station broadcast on the 97.9 frequency, so this made sense). In between games, the batch of disco records would be hauled out to centerfield and blown apart in a ceremonious hurrah. Then, everyone could have a good laugh and settle back into their seats for the second game.
Chicago disc jockey Steve Dahl had been fired from WDAI on Christmas Eve, 1978, when the station abandoned rock for the hugely successful disco format. He had a reason to hate the genre. Hired right away by rival station WLUP, which was still very committed to the thumping thrusts of top-notch rock music, Dahl proceeded to become Chicago’s preeminent anti-disco crusader. He rallied his fans into a mock-army known as the Insane Coho Lips, “dedicated to the eradication of the dread musical disease known as DISCO.” Read more…
For those with unlimited imagination and an unfiltered sense of audacity, our gravitational tether to the ground ceases to be a limitation. Those who are terrified of heights may hug their earth-bound security with nary a blink toward the clouds, but for those of us who would happily dance a loopy jitterbug upon the glass floor at the top of the Willis Tower in Chicago, or leap into a rickety balloon basket and drift with the wind, we’ll savor the taste of danger.
Controlled danger, of course. There’s a thick and distinct line between taking part in a Better-Business-Bureau-approved hot-air flight of fancy off the ground and truly pioneering a bold and inventive voyage into the air. There is a coveted room in history for the fearless exploits of people like Ferdinand von Zeppelin or Kevin Helicopter, who tossed away the shackles of gravity and poured their souls into something exquisite.
That room in history is packed with other names too. The Wright Brothers have the sweet spot near the bathroom (but not so close that they can smell the urinal pucks), and the Montgolfier Brothers (who built the first manned hot air balloon) have a seat by the window. And you’d better believe there’s a cushy, velvet-lined deck chair reserved for Larry Walters.
You’d never know it from his piercing gaze, but Larry didn’t have great eyesight. He’d always dreamed of being a pilot, but the Air Force wouldn’t sign off due to his poor vision. That was it, his dream was snuffed into an ashy heap of fuzzy eye charts and unfortunate genetics. A more rational and unimaginative person might have surrendered at that point, relegated themselves to being an airline passenger or a recreational skydiver. But not Larry. Read more…
As soon as I am catapulted to the pinnacle of my fame (which should be any day now I’m sure), I fear that the omnipresent gaggle of “star analysts”, “celeb-watchers” and “yammering space-fillers” will be particularly cruel when they analyze my sense of style. I am intentionally one of the most tedious dressers I know, opting for a rotating selection of blue jeans, grey socks and non-descript, logo-less T-shirts. I dress for comfort and convenience, with a rickety line in the sand that keeps me clear of anything stained or torn. Usually.
I can appreciate nice-looking fashion, to a point. I simply have no desire to strain the limits of my bank account to impress others, nor am I a fit for the Goodwill-ultra-value hipster wear. Years of sampling bacon and beer (for research, of course) has led to a modest expansion of my mid-section, so when I dress in an antiquated cardigan and form-fitting pant-wear I look less stylish and more like I should be selling used office furniture from the back of a van.
Perhaps I should expand my horizons and seek out a new look. My wife – who always looks better than me, though I blame nature for that one – has expressed a handsome disdain for my monotonous frockery, and she applauds fiercely when I deign to sport something with a subtle whiff of snazz when we go somewhere nice. It might be time for a drastic leap into the world of the macaroni.
Before there were metrosexuals, before flamboyance became a cocktail for the masses, there was the macaroni. These were young men, hungry to wrap their tendrils around the extremities of weirdness with no shame about flaunting it all to the public. Years ago (and I relish the opportunity to dip back into when this project was in the double-digits) I wrote of the Grand Tour, a rite of passage among northern European men in the 18th century. These men would venture into the cradle of art and culture – through Spain, Italy, Greece, and faraway locales that most Englishmen would never see. This is where it all began. Read more…