Tag: Career

Day 996: The Greatest Prank In The History Of History

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“That putz, Bolton. This will totally blow his mind.”

The above may have been uttered between the cool gusts of sharp giggles at a gathering of the Berkeley chapter of E Clampus Vitus, an organization designated either as a “historical drinking society” or a “drinking historical society”, depending on whom you ask. These are folks who are dedicated to the noble history of the American West, though they prefer to cozy up to their history with a frothy glass of smirk. Call them deviant scholars, outlaw students of the distant past and the eternal spirit of yeeha. Practical academics and impractical jokers.

The brass plate left by Sir Francis Drake near the bubbly Pacific coast is little more than a whopping banana peel, left on the ground to trip up one unfortunate mark but soon elevated into an established part of the natural vegetation. The so-called plaque that signifies the terminus of European exploration across our happy little continent is a hoax, a forgery, a one-off gag that exploded into accepted fact.

The lesson here is that history, for all her dates and names and oft-inexplicable motivations, can be a blast. Especially when iniquitous historians with a smirking sense of humor mess it up on purpose.

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Herbert Eugene Bolton was one of the most respected historians of American western expansion, the author of a now-commonplace theory that asserts that we should look at colonial expansion across all the Americas holistically, rather than piece by piece. He was a brilliant man, the fantastic mind who established the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley as the preeminent historical resource it is today. He was also a member of E Clampus Vitus. One would expect he’d have been on the lookout for shenanigans. Read more…

Day 977: The Last American Witch

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In the throes of one of America’s most delightfully absurd episodes of mass hysteria, twenty people were executed in 1692-93 for the crime of probably being witches. Maybe. The Salem Witch Trials – which were merely the American performance of a fad that had been lighting it up in Europe for decades – have leaked into all formats of American high art: poems, novels, movies, and a segment of The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror VIII” episode.

But while we, the sophisticated and wise citizenry of the modern age, can look back upon our ancestral paranoia with a wry titter, our bubbly sense of smug urbanity goes flat upon learning that witch trials are still happening in 2014. So-called witch-children were slaughtered in the Congo in 1999. An angry Kenyan mob burned eleven suspected sorcerers in 2008. In India, it’s estimated that between 150 and 200 women are lynched each year for being witches – some are accused of such simply because they turned down a sexual advance.

This is an era in which a car can pilot you to your destination while you restructure your fantasy football league in the back seat, and people still freak out over witchcraft? Fortunately, the good ol’ U.S. of A. has evolved significantly in the last 321 years. In fact, there hasn’t been an actual case of witchcraft accusation since… wait, 1970?

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Welcome to Flowing Wells High School in Tucson, Arizona; a solid 6/10 on the national GreatSchools rating system, and home of the Mustangs. It’s also the kind of place where a rumor can be as dangerous as a drunk holding a lit match in a tumbleweed factory. This fact became evident in the aftermath of a late 1969 visit by Dr. Byrd Granger from the University of Arizona. Yes, this story about witchcraft features a woman named Granger – Harry Potter fans, feel free to rejoice. This prof happened to be an expert on witchcraft and folklore, and was happy to pass on her knowledge to the local juniors and seniors. Read more…

Day 956: ‘Scuse Me While I Bust This Guy

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“Show them as scurrilous and depraved. Call attention to their habits and living conditions; explore every possible embarrassment. Send in women and sex; break up marriages. Have them arrested on marijuana charges. Investigate personal conflicts or animosities between them. Send articles to newspapers showing their depravity. Use narcotics and free sex to entrap.”

So said a leaked memo written by the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, with the aim of fracturing the influence of those hippy-weirdo rock stars on the youth of the late 1960’s. Perhaps they were taking a cue from London Drug Squad detective Norman Pilcher, who had arrested Donovan in mid-1966, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in 1967, John Lennon and Yoko Ono in late 1968, and George Harrison in March of 1969 – all for drug possession. Of course, Pilcher would later be disgraced for perjury, and was strongly suspected of having planted his evidence. I believe it was Harrison who remarked that there had been drugs in his home, but not the ones that Pilcher found.

It was in the misguided fog of this backwards policy that Jimi Hendrix was busted at Toronto International Airport after a small quantity of hashish and heroin was found in his bag. A conspiracy to undermine his influence? Perhaps – but that so-called conspiracy threatened to steal twenty years of Hendrix’s future.

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After a May 2, 1969 concert at Detroit’s Cobo Hall (check out the INSAAAANE stage design!), the Jimi Hendrix Experience was warned of a possible drug bust the next day. Tour managers Gerry Stickells and Tony Ruffino took this seriously; not only was a gruesome amount of money at stake, but this was a time when no one was really sure if a serious drug bust might ruin a musician’s career (as opposed to now, when we all know it can only help). Read more…

Day 944: Nine Obsolete Jobs That Are Worse Than Yours

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More so than usual, lately I have been seriously reconsidering my vocation. Not this writing gig; despite the meagre pay and sparsity of days off (so far, zero), I adore absorbing airborne globs of trivia then regurgitating them here for you, like a mama-bird spewing sports facts into her babies’ hungry maws (“the biggest football blowout in history was Georgia Tech over Cumberland, 222-0! Eat up, kids!”).

No, it’s my monotonous day-job that’s presently slurping the syrup from my emotional pancakes. Six years, one university degree and over 944,000 hand-plucked words later and still I slog paper in and out of printers – a lackey for drones, with no seats open at the drones’ table. At least none I’ve been invited to fill. I won’t lie; some days my spirit lies limp like a flaccid balloon nine days after the last crumb of birthday cake has been crammed into a gullet and converted into poo.

But I suppose I should be thankful even to have employment. Far from a blunt and clunky segue into the state of today’s economy, I’m instead hip-checking my way onto the road of vocations past: a glimpse into the job-sheet for the career counsellors of yore. For those similarly disenfranchised with their present stagnancy, you are but one quick time-machine away from such lucrative and dynamic opportunities as the following:

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Do you like to meet new people? Are you confident in your ability to see at night? Perhaps you like playing with fire and you’re after a job that pays better than ‘arbitrary arsonist’. Back before London loaded up its curbs with street lighting, the link-boy (or Glym-jack) could be hired for a lowly farthing to escort you on your way, torch in hand.

This may be an obsolete profession today, but a number of houses in Bath, England still have link extinguishers (pictured above) fastened to their outsides, so I suppose an enterprising young entrepreneur could find a way to disable the electrical grid in Bath and resurrect this once-dead job. Read more…

Day 857: How Ignaz Semmelweis Changed The Medical World And Never Lived To Know It

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Does the name Ignaz Semmelweis mean anything to you?

My readers whose boot-prints lay along the medical mud-path (or in the frightening swamp of germophobia) will shout an esteemed “YES!”, probably with the reverence my musician friends would reserve for a Les Paul or a Robert Moog. Dr. Semmelweis’s work has probably saved millions upon millions of lives, which is particularly impressive considering he was virtually laughed out of the medical profession.

Many of history’s great geniuses have toiled in anonymity, but it’s a thing of spectacular bamboozlement when someone with the foresight to establish something that is accepted as a subconscious standard decades later was actually lambasted by his peers for thinking outside the box. Louis Pasteur is revered and regarded, with his name showing up on the sides of milk cartons, juice boxes, butter bars and syrup jars for his work in germ theory. But Dr. Semmelweis?

The poor guy doesn’t even pass the spell-check feature of Microsoft Word. And without him, Pasteur might never have uncovered all those secrets of the micro-universe between the filthy ridges of our fingertips.

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Dr. Semmelweis (who, according to the photos I could find, may never have had a full head of hair) was born in the Buda part of Budapest, in what was then a part of the Austrian Empire. He earned his doctorate degree in 1844 and decided to specialize in obstetrics. He was assigned to the First Obstetrical Clinic of the Vienna General Hospital, serving under Professor Johann Klein, a man whose contributions to the field of medicine appear to have been little more than squat. I mention this only because his dickishness plays into this story a little later. Read more…

Day 855: Globe-Surfin’ – The Life Of The Perpetual Traveler

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It only took 14,465 days for me to figure it out, but I think I finally know what I want to do when I grow up. No, it’s not writing; that’s my fall-back option if the real dream doesn’t pan out. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy plucking fancifully at my keyboard like a squid with a brand new marimba. But all that arrhythmic finger-tapping can be exhausting. Also, it gets in the way of my finger-drumming along with Rush’s “YYZ”.

No, the answer wafted sensuously into my think-holes this morning on a breeze of sweet euphoria and buttery revelation. I want a vocation that simultaneously provides no measurable improvement to the world around me while enabling me to try the best regional food and liquor around the globe. Something with only the vaguest of schedules, yet with a built-in excuse to disentangle myself from unwanted invitations whenever necessary. I’m craving a career that would inspire envy and drive in my younger self – a true calling steeped in long, lazy stretches within the regal realm of unending liberation.

I want to become a perpetual traveler. Is that too much to ask?

Not to be confused with a hobo.

Not to be confused with a hobo.

There are two variants on the perpetual traveler philosophy. The first is rooted in the freedom of not being a resident of any nation. It’s an expression of pure anarchy, or as pure as one can muster on the friendly side of local laws. One must still adhere to regional rulebooks, but without having to pledge fidelity to any bureaucratic system. The bastions of authority may still dictate the impenetrable limits of your actions, but they don’t own you. To put it existentially, you are adrift – truly disconnected from the rigors of permanent residency. You never vote, and you are tethered to the ramifications of politics by nothing more than the sponge-cake strand  of your whim. Sounds pretty, doesn’t it? Read more…

Day 833: Tales From The Motown Snakepit

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The music that roared through the stucco and plaster of Hitsville U.S.A. to become the Motown sound that defined soul music in the 1960’s was crafted by some of the most formidable talent the music world has ever cradled. Unfortunately, while stars like Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and Martha Reeves are free to bask in the wondrous afterglow of their landmark careers, some of Motown’s elite suffered a premature closing curtain.

Mary Wells, the one-time Queen of Motown who helped to launch the label into the mainstream suffered from an unfairly tragic end, while the unappreciated fuel that fed the funk-tank, James Jamerson, is anything but a household name today. Both deserve to have their story told, if not within the fiery glow of a major studio bio-pic at least with the delicate and reverent touch of a kilograph written by an eternal fan.

By the time I was born, each of these individuals had already ridden the crest of their relative stardom. That means nothing to me – I grew up in an era when people paid actual money to own “We Built This City” on vinyl. The music industry, which has always been a pit of snakes and scammers, had become a wretched den of Milli-Vanillified lies. That’s why the music that rocked my youth was mostly culled from an era I’d never seen. And it’s fair to say that no one rocked my innards quite as much as James Jamerson.

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James moved from Edisto Island, South Carolina to Detroit with his mother when he was a teenager, and he learned to play stand-up bass in high school. On nights and weekends he began playing in local jazz and blues clubs, which led to a steady gig at Barry Gordy Jr.’s studio in 1959. I don’t feel it is any measure of exaggeration when I say that James’ bass playing, which appeared on roughly 95% of Motown’s recordings between 1962 and 1968, was the most fundamental ingredient in the label’s extraordinary, genre-defining success. Read more…

Day 823: Trolling The Trough-Crusties – Worst TV Part 7

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Posting a list of bests and greatests opens the door to debate, dissent, and the occasional inter-cubicle pelting of office supplies. Posting a list of worsts never seems to stoke the same ire. I have offered a tankard of derision for the insipidly successful sitcom According To Jim throughout my 823-day journey and have yet to hear one person defend the show’s quality. I appreciate my audience’s congruity. Perhaps it’s a rare thing for someone’s “worst” to be another someone’s favorite.

Even the shows I can’t stand today – and I make no apologies to fans of Two And A Half Men or The Big Bang Theory – I would hardly consider them to be among the absolute worst fare in the medium’s history. Just as I’m certain those folks who abhor shows I enjoy, like The League or It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, would likely not plunk them at the bottom of the proverbial barrel.

Sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves just how low art can sink, which is why once every month or so I like to pick apart the worsts of things – most often television because she was my third parent and we still keep very much in touch. Just as we eventually grow to learn that our actual parents are flawed and imperfect, we must also acknowledge the defects in TV’s past, the moments we all wish she could take back.

And these are just the sitcoms.

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Concocting satire surrounding one of the worst genocides of the past century is a painfully delicate operation. The British nailed it in the 80’s with ‘Allo ‘Allo! and the Americans found a winner years earlier in Hogan’s Heroes. But check out this pitch for Heil Honey, I’m Home:

“It’s a parody of the cutesy family sitcoms of the 50’s and 60’s. We’ve got Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun living in an apartment building, and their next-door neighbors are… wait for it… Arny and Rosa Goldenstein, a Jewish couple! Oh, the hijinks! Oh, the hilarity!” Read more…

Day 464: Electro-Blasto Man

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All of us have had jobs we’ve hated. I’ve spent time as a lowly grunt in a meat packing plant (a dreadful six hours of my life), I’ve talked innocent consumers into devoting entire hours of their lives to a lengthy, wholly uninteresting telephone survey of their recent purchases, and once I even worked as a janitor in a mannequin factory. When none of the company’s merchandise turned into Kim Cattrall within the first two weeks, I had to quit.

Sometimes we find ourselves doing a job we genuinely enjoy, but we simply aren’t very good at. I spent three months working in a CD store when I was 19, and found that I was far better at getting high with the staff and talking to customers at great length as to why they totally had to purchase the 20th Anniversary Edition of Dark Side of the Moon, but I wasn’t particularly adept at actually moving product. Sometimes though, it almost seems as though a force from above is attempting to intervene on our career path, nudging us in a different direction.

This is the story of one such man. Roy Sullivan was a devoted park ranger, committed to… well, to ranging the shit out of Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Someone upstairs wasn’t happy with this career choice, and Roy found himself struck by lightning. Seven times.

Not at once. That would have been weird.

Not at once. That would have been weird.

According to Roy, his first encounter with lightning occurred when he was a boy, helping his dad hack down a field of wheat. This is actually an undocumented eighth lightning strike for Roy; the good people at Guinness who bestowed the notorious World Record upon Roy only allowed for the seven strikes on official record – the ones which occurred on the job – to count. Read more…