Thursday, June 28, 2012
A friend of mine announced his participation in an intellectual exercise that’s becoming so frequent I feel compelled to address it:
Yinz are readin’ my shit on the crapper.
That’s the crude crux of it.
“Hope you don’t mind, but I keep your book right there on top of the tank so I can read it whenever I’m in there doin’ my business,” he said. “I really enjoy it.”
The assumption betrays arrogance, but I believe he was referring to my book.
“I was looking at the one about the light years being less filling than regular years and really had to just sit there and think about it,” he said. “Then I cracked up.”
Ah, yes. “No. 24: Colorful conversation starter: ask astronomer friends if light years are less filling than regular years.”
It is a bit of thought provoker, one I’m glad he reacted to by remaining stationary instead of immediately bounding straight to the local Science Center to seek expert opinion.
“And I cracked up over that one about the difference between irony and coincidence. Good one!”
Whoa. That’s No. 266: “Try not to confuse the words irony and coincidence. It’s not ironic when two old friends of similar taste run into each other at the same B movie. It’s coincidence. Irony is when a wolf eats a vegetarian.”
There’s a 72-page spread between the items. Just how long was he in there, crack out, cracking up?
But I didn’t ask. I just told him what I tell everyone.
“I’m thrilled you’re enjoying my book and couldn’t care less where you read it. Ideally, you’d be fully clothed and reading it aloud through the public address system between innings at a sold-out Pirate game, but just knowing you’re reading it really pleases me.
“Now, how about you buy me a beer and I’ll let you sit here and bask in my wit and the overpowering aroma of Old Spice I apply because I’m convinced it makes the missus feel frisky.”
He said, “Uh, no, thanks. I gotta go.”
Back to the bathroom for more crayon-themed musings? He didn’t say.
Why do so many people feel sheepish about admitting they read on the toilet?
No one feels any inhibitions about reading waiting at a bus stop, another mundane situation that requires our often restless bodies and minds to remain motionless.
My mind craves intellectual stimulation and there is no less stimulating exercise than entering a bathroom to go No. 2.
Are you like me? Ever been so desperate for bathroom reading material you know from the warning labels that every toothpaste container includes enough poison to kill a deer?
Like most men, I’m fine with No. 1 because it allows me to play bowl NASCAR with things like cigarette butts. Really, juvenile potty games are one of the reasons men like me drink so much beer.
It’s completely different with No. 2. The daily duty, or daily doodie, if you will, is demeaning to refined gents like myself -- if you can call anyone ambitious about creating toilet tornadoes with really strong streams refined.
Mankind has conquered space travel. We have cured crippling diseases. We all have really great TVs. Yet for one or two moments every day (be sure to eat your fruits and vegetables) we’re no different from our dogs.
We have to hunker down and crap like animals.
Shouldn’t we have evolved beyond this unpleasantness? Isn’t there an app?
So at least until I see a YouTube video of a bear simultaneously defecating while pawing through a Playboy, reading while pooping makes me feel elevated above common woodland animals.
It’s perfect. You’re alone. If you’re going to hear any distracting noises, they’re your own and you can time them to proper chapter conclusions.
I’ve always done it. I’ve read Steinbeck, Twain, Louis L’Amour -- getting through classic Joseph Heller without ample toilet time would have been a real Catch-22.
I couldn’t have made it through Ohio University in four years without all the time I spent poring over text books while on the commode.
And please don’t misinterpret that as a slam at Ohio’s august Alden Library. We had this divey little Mexican joint near the house and I was always bolting back and forth between one or the other.
So let’s put this topic, shall we say, behind us.
While other authors may find it distasteful to learn their prose is being read in the bathroom, it’s perfectly fine with me. You could say I don’t give a crap.
I thank you for reading my book and -- hello Kindle, iPad and other tablet readers! -- this blog while you’re taking a satisfying dump.
I feel about you the way loyal British subjects feel about Queen Elizabeth.
I love you. You, to me, are the real royalty.
And it doesn’t bother me even one little bit to learn you read my stuff while seated upon your throne.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
I felt a flood of emotion when I learned Ann Curry was being dumped from the “Today” show, which is exactly how Ann Curry wants me to react when she reports on things like actual floods.
I felt confusion, heartbreak, anxiety and finally, sustained relief.
Confusion because dumping Curry won’t fix a thing; heartbreak because she seems like a nice lady; anxiety because we’re about to be subjected to another tedious search for elusive anchor chemistry; and sustained relief when I read that Curry’s going to haul in $20 million to take a hike to some news outpost like Budapest.
Feckless TV critics devote endless time and space dissecting the ratings and petty hostilities of late night TV hosts when that is a format that still succeeds.
I prefer Jay, but some nights I’m entertained by Dave. I can find something nice to say about Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson and am even warming to Jimmy Fallon. And if all these hosts go dark at the same instant, I’ll always have Seinfeld re-runs I’ve already viewed 193 times previous to spare me from having to ever watch Conan.
But morning network TV is an absolute mess.
The right side of its brain strives to be news oriented; the left, entertaining. The result is two hours of pure mindlessness.
Recent “Today” opening segments progressed like this: Morning! Wildfires, immigration, hurricane, Romney, Obama, Supreme Court, Olympics -- you can almost sense palpable unease on the set as the anchors convey something they worry might upset viewers.
Actual news takes about nine jiffy minutes. Then anorexic but still lovely news reader Natalie Morales drops a clip designed for someone on the set to play the part of scripted straight man.
This morning it was a 30-second spot saying the British Parliament had changed the official name of “Big Ben” -- Clock Tower -- to Elizabeth Tower to mark the old babe’s Diamond Jubilee.
Now, anyone who’s seen even a week of “Today” knew exactly what was going to happen next. Someone was going to launch a joke that would signal, hey, we apologize for having to put you through all that news so we’re going to give you a giddy burst of laughter to signal we’re just moments away from the cooking segments.
Today, the line fell to Curry, a woman so earnest she couldn’t be funny if Al Roker smashed her in the puss with a pie.
“I guess you could call that a sex change operation.”
The reaction was the same as if Tony Soprano told a joke to Paulie Walnuts and the gang down at the Bada Bing: Uproarious laughter. Al was practically wiping tears from his eyes.
Some of this over-reaction may have been sympathy for Dead Ann Walking. Curry’s clearly well-liked, but it’s not working, something that saddens Curry.
“It’s hard not to take it personally,” she told Ladies Home Journal. “You worry, ‘Am I not good enough? Am I not what people need?’”
I can sympathize.
I, too, have given into swooning frets over my popularity.
Back in the fourth grade.
Curry’s problem is, like the venue she serves, she wants to be all things to all people.
I wish “Today” and current ratings leader “Good Morning America” would just ditch the pretense of being interested in actual news and go full pander on their core demographic: mothers who care about true crime stories involving mothers who were killed by husbands, mothers who kill their husbands and mothers suspected of killing their children.
I tried to think who the surefire host to sit next to Matt would be and really think they should try Ellen Degeneres. She’s very funny and intelligent.
Savannah Guthrie, the current frontrunner to replace Curry, will be in the same predicament that’s led to Curry’s demise. She’s intelligent, attractive and gets giggly with Matt and Al.
That didn’t help Curry and it won’t help Guthrie.
So where’s a guy to go for morning news?
“CBS This Morning.” The six-month-old show features Charlie Rose and Erica Hill doing 60 full minutes of serious news in an appealing and balanced format. Then at 8 a.m., Gayle King comes in to take over most of the fluffy stuff.
Rose is a real pro -- and he’s good and ugly, too. I trust ugly anchors because I know they earned their news chops through more than their pretty haircuts.
Hill’s wonderful. She’s pretty, whip smart and delivers the news in a professional way that doesn’t lead me to believe she’s going to offer up an exposed breast for me to suckle in case things start to get too scary.
If you’re interested in serious journalism and haven’t checked it out, I have some news for you.
So does CBS.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
I was incapacitated yesterday from what I thought might have been some bad pork. But as we all partook and I’m the only one who got sick I can only conclude someone in the family tried to poison me.
Each has their motives.
With the 6 year old, my being in the mix takes away from the one-on-one time she gets to spend with her darling Mommy.
The 11 year old wants to kill me because I won’t get her an iPod touch, and she says she’s the only girl nearing 6th grade without one. I tell her that’s not the only condition that makes her exclusive. She’s also the only girl whose parents don’t have stable incomes.
She despises my brand of logic.
Val? Talk about your prime suspects.
It was a great weekend in Latrobe with the Westmoreland County Airshow. We spent Saturday driving between three lively backyard parties with great views the aerial festivities.
Before departing, I turned to her in the car and said, “Now, pay attention: if anyone starts saying anything nice about me or my book, do not interrupt them. Just let them talk until they’re finished.”
Honest, she wanted to kill me right there.
I was rude and belittling.
But the reaction to my book’s been refreshing to my ego. Many people are enjoying it and are willing to say so out loud and in front of others.
I attribute it to having played possum with my career since I began freelance writing -- anniversary alert! -- on July 1, 1992. Few people expected to see me produce such an entertaining little book.
Low expectations may finally be working to my benefit.
In fact, my career neatly dovetails with my favorite baseball team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Like me, they haven’t had a winning season for 20 years. People are so conditioned to them stinking it up for so long that everyone in town’s delighted they’re showing a pulse.
That’s why it was so funny, too, that every party we went to someone came up to gush about my book and I made Val stand there and endure it all. If she was elsewhere, “I’d say, ‘Hold that thought while I go fetch my wife and a handy megaphone I keep in the trunk.”
So I sleep with one eye open. Always have.
The stomach pains began at about 3 a.m. Monday.
It’s very uncommon for me to be so sick I can’t even get out of bed. But I was bedridden all day Monday.
The problem was gastro-intestinal in nature. That implies symptoms too nasty to relate in polite company.
But I had none of that. I wish I had. It might have helped pass the poisons.
Instead I just lay there too weak to move and too pained by stomach cramps to sit still.
I forced down some chicken noodle soup that didn’t sooth. Ice cream didn’t help either.
Later in the evening I had some fat boy hard pretzels. It’s doubtful a doctor would prescribe that salted sort of roughage, but I figured something hearty might zamboni my intestines of what was paining them.
If it keeps up I’m going to have to consider elective surgery. I’m thinking a C-section.
I’m feeling well enough to type today, so that’s an improvement.
Even this was exhausting so I’m heading straight back to bed. No more work the rest of the day and I’m turning off the phone.
That doesn’t mean I don’t welcome your good wishes for my improving health. In fact, I welcome them.
Just call Val.
Sunday, June 24, 2012
I normally try and dig a little deeper than six or so months ago for Re-Run Sunday consideration. But I saw a surge of readers to this previously unread post from November 2011, "Searching for Mr. Stupid." It's very odd. Certainly we can't be running short on stupid.
But it pleases me to have this one find an audience after it was ignored on its premiere so giving it a mulligan today seemed like an intelligent thing to do.
By now many of you are familiar with my pretentious affections for my online subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary.
At $275 a year, it’s a true extravagance for any writer who works in a room with two dictionaries (hard- and soft covered), a laptop dictionary and a smartphone with near-instant access to a cornucopia of murky definitions.
But none of them measure up to the granddaddy of them all. The typical hardcover dictionary has about 150,000 definitions. The OED has more than 600,000. It strives to list every single word ever uttered and, yeah, I checked off all the Hall of Fame profanities the very first day.
I read it the way other people read Agatha Christie mysteries. I want to learn who done it. How words became words. And when they became words.
The dictionary lists as precisely as possible when a word became widespread enough for inclusion.
That’s how I became acquainted with the history of stupid.
According to the OED, stupid is only 470 years old. I thought stupidity was as old as Adam.
Check out the sentence used in 1541 to inaugurate stupid, attributed to a Mr. R. Copland who included the word in his book, “Galen’s Fourth Terapeutyk: “For the fyrste speake ouer lyghtly and to imprudently, and the other are all togyther stupydes, sturdy, & lytygious.”
Inserting that sentence into my otherwise pristine copy nearly caused my laptop spell checker to explode. The 19-word sentence includes seven modern misspellings.
Maybe Mr. R. Copland was stupid.
I was hoping stupid was an eponym -- a name derived from a person. Then I could learn more about Mr. Stupid. In fact, it might have inspired me to write a dandy History Channel documentary, “A Man Named Stupid.”
Here’s a factoid to brighten your day: money was named for Thomas le Mony who lived way back in the 13th century, when it must have cost, gee, one egg to fill up your whole tank.
So money was in effect coined for Mony. How rich!
Assuming he was generous it would have been good to have been neighbors with Mony, at least until the 99 percent showed up to occupy and crap all over his yard.
Words spelled by smart people were what led me to look up stupid.
In this November 8 post about Herman Cain’s follies, I wrote about the times when my old newspaper asked me to chaperone spelling bee contestants to the National Spelling Bee in Washington. I needed some examples of winning words and found a list of every winner since it all BEE-gan back in 1925.
Recent winning words include “cymotrichous” and “stromuhr,” examples too obscure and frightening for even word nerds like me to look up.
But what most struck me about the list was the steep increase in the degree of difficulty of winning words over the past 86 years.
Early winners were “fracas,” “interning,” “therapy,” and “initials.”
Can you believe it?
Turns out The Greatest Generation had weak vocabularies.
In fact, I’ve seen “fracas” on my daughter’s 5th grade spelling tests.
Guaranteed, there’s no way our nation’s best spellers from past decades could have conquered “rageshree,” “ramachandran,” “pratyush,” or “shivashankar.”
Don’t beat yourself up if those four mentions leave you scratching your head. They’re not spelling bee words. Those are actual names of some recent winners.
Kids named Bob Smith or Sue Miller have been getting drummed out in the early rounds.
So, speaking of Mony, it’s another day, another dollar here in Blogland.
I wonder if by spending my time doing things like this will one day lead to my name being included for posterity in some prominent dictionary.
“rodell, v., U.S.A., 2011: A nonsensical use of time. Example: “I rodelled the whole day away looking up stupid things in the dictionary.”
Friday, June 22, 2012
I almost did the unthinkable this week while golfing at Latrobe Country Club. I nearly killed the only man there with the potential to be more famous than Arnold Palmer.
Yes, I nearly killed a local weatherman.
He’s Scott Harbaugh, a forecaster for WPXI-Channel 11, Pittsburgh. That’s the station we watch for the same reasons most discerning news consumers watch theirs: the anchors all look nice and cuddly.
Scott’s part of that. He’s always come across like a forecast that has people planning for picnics. He’s sunny and pleasant.
As my ball was sailing straight for his noggin -- which was about 70 yards away from where I was aiming -- I wondered how my life would change if I was responsible for ending his.
I’d be a pariah, I knew.
People love weather forecasters. Me, too, as I wrote in this still-popular June 2009 post, “Weatherman is my Superhero.”
You don’t kill Weather Man.
You invite him to be grand marshall in your holiday parade.
Some men like to go to fantasy baseball camps where they shell out big bucks to meet their heroes and rekindle dreams of what it would be like to play pro ball.
Me, I’d like to attend Fantasy Weatherman Camp.
I’d get up early in the morning, banter with the chipper co-anchors as we applied our hangover-concealing make-up, and try to look professional as they filmed the action promos where I’m studying weather systems the way Ike did on D-Day.
Then . . . Show Time!
It’d be no stylish business suit for me. Instead, I’d wear a long flowing robe like the kind the artists depict God wearing when they want to convey omnipotence.
Because there’s something so God-like about beaming to the universe with almighty authority just what the world will be like five days hence. In fact, I wish they would try their hand at predictions outside meteorological realms.
“A low pressure system will bring sunny skies, the Pirates will sweep Detroit at PNC Park and Lindsay Lohan will find love and stability in time for the weekend, which includes a chance of scattered showers -- details after traffic!”
Happily, fate intervened and I did not smite Scott, nor his father, with whom he was golfing in the group directly behind us.
My ball ricochetted off the top of the golf cart behind which they ducked when they heard us scream, “Fore!”
I immediately felt terrible. My friend tried to cheer me up by telling me it was maybe the most remarkable shot of the day.
“The putting surface is maybe 50 times times the size of that golf cart,” he said. “Yet, you were able to catapult a golf ball off that tiny roof. Amazing.”
Another friend decided to be controversial. He approached the Harbaughs and said the last words I spoke before teeing up were: “Watch this: I’m going to kill that son of a bitch.”
Happily, they took it all in good humor. It would have been justified if the weatherman had experienced a reaction that could have been characterized as “stormy.”
I was glad because I got to sit next to Scott for dinner and he couldn’t have been more pleasant. Turns out, like me, he, too, studied journalism at -- link alert! -- Ohio University, the nation’s no. 1 party school.
He told a great self-effacing story about his days forecasting weather in Bluefield, West Virginia.
Conditions indicated an emerging storm could either be a whopper or a non-event. He relied on his expertise, consulted colleagues and eventually told his audience not to sweat it.
Well, you can guess what happened. Bluefield got hammered; 44-inches of snow.
“I felt really terrible,” he said. “I knew people were counting on me and I let them down.”
Weeks later, he said an old lady approached him in the grocery store, pinched him on the cheek and said, “It’s okay. We still love you.”
So I’m relieved I didn’t kill a man who can inspire that kind of affection.
Plus, I now have friendly access to a man who can help perpetuate what, to me, will be a really nifty prank.
It’s always been a dream of mine to see a weatherman proceed through a routine forecast until it comes to the part where the High and Low pressure systems begin working their way across the screen.
That’s when the weatherman can shriek in terror and yell, “Run for your lives! There’s a giant H about to land on the city!” and dash off the set as startled anchors try to recover their composure.
It’d be an instant YouTube sensation.
Of course, it’s just as likely that I’ll never see Scott again.
He blew that West Virginia forecast, but I’m sure he can predict nothing but trouble next time he sees me coming.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
I had grand ambitions for this week’s productivity. I was going to write a travel story about fans making Alabama pilgrimages to Jimmy Buffett’s birth place, send copies of my new book to media friends who might help me promote it, and send query letters to agents who might be interested in my novel.
Here it is Thursday and I haven’t done squat.
Instead I’ve been besieged by an avalanche of pesky distractions.
I tried starting projects and never got any traction.
Woe is me!
Or when it comes to starting productive work, me is “Whoa!”
I’m too distracted now even to put together a coherent post about the distractions. So I’m just going to run ‘em down before all the good seats are gone at the Happy Hour.
• The Blue Angels -- The nation’s premier aerobatic group has been roaring what seems like just inches above my head for the past two days. They’re in Latrobe for Westmoreland County Air Show 2012 at the Arnold Palmer airport. The airport flight path runs directly over my office and the first roar of the F/A-18 Hornet’s jet engines nearly blasted me out of my seat. They’re all over the skies and it’s riveting. They spent the afternoon flying directly over my home and I’d run out the door every two minutes just to catch a glimpse. They’re loud, awesome and right upon you before you know it. Air show week is the one time all year where everyone in Latrobe collectively ducks. Distraction Level (scale 1-10): 7
Heat -- My office is unbearable and I’m rethinking my commitment to not use air conditioning all summer. I’m distracted thinking someone else is going to get rich off my idea to develop a line of clothes that we’ll wear to keep cool, the way we wear sweaters to keep warm in winter. If you’re cold and cheap in the winter, you could conceivably never use the furnace. But the only to way to keep cool indoors in summer is to crank up an air conditioner that is working its mechanical little ass off cooling down 98 percent of the room where you’re not. It’s a terrible waste. D.L.: 8
• Bacon -- I don’t know what the lunch special was at The Pond on Tuesday, but the main ingredient was bacon. It’s impossible to work in an office where the restaurant below you is cooking lots and lots of aromatic bacon. Another link alert: you can read my ode to bacon here. I’m surprised no one’s developed a bacon perfume for women. I’m sure men would find those wearing “Eau de Bacon” irresistible. D.L.: 7
• Twitter -- Like fatherhood, Twitter is another thing I used to ridicule and have since fully embraced. Ever since I got a big rush of new followers (well, big for me), I’ve felt an unreasonable obligation to tweet more faithfully. I enjoy the art of it and sometimes smirk when I think I’ve composed a dandy. But my tweeting is distracting me from my other distractions. I don’t know whether it will lead to anything profitable or not. I’m doing about a dozen a day now. You can check them out here. D.L. 6
• Crayons -- I’m now spending about an hour or so each day using crayons to sign books for friends or buyers -- and those categories are interchangeable. Anyone interested in my book is a friend. But, I promise, no one signs a book like me. I use nearly a dozen crayons on the title page, sign it in crayon and even include a tiny crayon self-portrait up in the corner. Takes me about 10 minutes to craft each one. A distracting idea? Certainly, but I think it makes the book special. I hope so. And, man, I’m really digging that part of my duties now includes about an hour a day spent scribbling with crayons. Try it! It’s fun! D.L. 6
• Golf -- I’ve played more golf this year than in the past two. And I still stink. When people ask me how I play, I say, “I’m erratic, which is an improvement from lousy.” Erratic golfers hit at least a few good shots. I was invited to my second fancy function at Latrobe Country Club in one month yesterday and played mostly lousy with some erratic shots thrown in for good measure. I don’t know why I can’t improve. I told my friend I think my problem is I’m too social. If I golf with people I dislike I play better, but that’s about four hours spent with people I dislike. I play lousy with people I enjoy because I never shut up, tell jokes and do more giggling than golfing. My friend said, “Well, can’t you concentrate on golf for four hours and save the social element for the 19th hole?” No, I can’t. I’m simply too much fun. D.L.: 8
• Kids -- Val works Monday and Tuesday every other week so I’m home those days watching the kids. I can’t work with the kids around. They’re too distracting. And it makes me feel noble when I think, to hell with work, my daughter wants me to play with Barbies so I’m playing with Barbies. That crayons and Barbies are two of my key distractions doesn’t reflect well on my wage-earning diligence. D.L. 20 (10 per kid).
• Beer -- As I mentioned, I’m a very social person. I get calls nearly every day from someone who wants to see me. None of these people play pinochle. But they do uniformly drink beer. And they’re my friends. I like to drink beer with them. But my friendships distract me from getting more done. Like I said, right now I’m typing fast and furious -- and that’s not a current events reference -- so I can get to the bar for a few before dinner. That’s crazy. But, hang in there, boys. I’m on my way. I’m distracted by all the time I spent wondering why my priorities are the way they are. D.L.: 6
• “Bein’ a Dad” -- This is a 1998 Loudon Wainwright III song I heard on Father’s Day. It’s catchy and hilarious. It keeps going through my head. Check out the first two verses:
Bein' a dad isn't so bad
Except that you gotta feed 'em!
You gotta shoe 'em and clothe 'em
And try not to loathe 'em
Bug 'em and hug 'em and heed 'em
Bein' a dad can sure make you mad
Man it even can drive you crazy!
It's as hard as it looks
You gotta read ‘em dumb books
And you end up despising Walt Disney
Now I’m distracted by wondering whether I need to devote about $50 and a dozen hours getting caught up to speed on I guy I only recall from a few appearances on M*A*S*H. D.L. 5
• Tech problems -- The homepage for www.EightDaysToAmish.com was down for the past two weeks. This is a cosmetic distraction. Most readers wouldn’t notice it. But it’s a spiffy gateway to new readers and, thanks to Twitter distractions, I had a bunch of new readers the past two weeks. Several said they tried to click onto my blog by the Twitter link and found the page closed. So I had a golden opportunity to reach new readers and am fearful some of them may never come back because the blog with the word “Amish” in the title operates like it’s run by tech-resistant Amish people. I am distracted with worry that one of them may have been Stephen Spielberg. D.L. 8
Total Distraction level: 84 out of 100.
Total earnings for the week: about $100 in book sales.
Scorecard: I had a hell of a lot of fun.
Golf, kids, crayons, beer, bacon and Blue Angels -- there are some real angels in heaven who probably didn’t have as good a week as I did.
And I can just about guarantee next week's going to be super-productive!
I'll just need to concentrate.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Mark your calendars for November 2015. That’s when ice celebrates its 200th birthday.
The declaration will no doubt startle those who revere the literal word.
How could ice be only 200 years old when earth endured what is known as “The Ice Age” 20,000 years ago?
Let me to explain.
Prior to 1815, ice was a substance that inspired one expression: profanity. It was slippery. It impeded motion. It made drinking water without a campfire difficult.
Sure, there may have been some Nordic types who reveled in ice, but that’s only because they had no choice. Guaranteed, go to Disney World this February and I’ll wager you dollars to lutefisk you’ll spend at least an hour standing in line with folks named Sven and Olga.
No one in their right mind chooses to live in landscapes dominated by ice. In fact, the only species that seems to do so is one the one famously ill-suited for any kind of mobility. That is the penguin.
It can’t fly, its webbed feet make migration impossible, and its lack of thumbs rule out the hitchhiking option. They seem like agile swimmers, but that can’t be or else they’d have long ago colonized places like Key West.
So we can all agree ice is a menace to hospitable living, right?
Wrong. And that’s why 1815 is a year to commemorate.
All hail Frederic Tudor!
He is to ice what Benjamin Franklin is to electricity. He didn’t invent it, but he realized its potential and harnessed it.
In fact, you could draw a line through history right at Tudor and 1815. On one side is barbarity, the other side civilization.
Tudor is the visionary who in 1806 gazed upon frozen New England ponds and saw gold.
Perhaps I’m drawn to celebrating him and his achievement because he seems like exactly the kind of guy with whom I could sit around and enjoy a cold beer.
And that was precisely the problem.
Cold drinks were an unheard of luxury back in the 19th century. No one ever dreamed ice had a utilitarian potential.
No one but Tudor. The third son of a wealthy Boston lawyer, he was a renown family layabout who’d skipped going to Harvard, as was his privilege, because he reasoned excessive study would bore him.
Sensing a kinship?
One day he and his rich brothers were enjoying an afternoon idyll with ice cream -- I like to imagine hammocks and really, really early Jimmy Buffett songs were involved -- when the oldest brother casually remarked what a pity it was that people in the sunbaked climes would never know what it was like to experience a chill.
The speculation immediately brain barnacled in the young Tudor’s head.
Why not, he wondered, take the chill to them?
It’s interesting to wonder if he considered mass moving equatorial people north in what would be a racially charged version of Make-A-Wish. Probably not. Taking ice in the other direction made more sense.
He’d spend the next six years and thousands of dollars of other people’s money trying to make that happen.
With borrowed money he bought a freighter and set sail on a 1,500-mile journey with a cargo preposterous enough to earn ridicule from the Boston Gazette. This from the paper’s February 10, 1806:
“No joke. A vessel has cleared the Custom House for Martinique with a cargo of ice. We can only hope this doesn’t prove a slippery speculation.”
Who knew smart ass bloggers existed 200 years ago?
His early efforts were uniform failures that led him to long stretches in debtor’s prison. The ice kept obeying basic physics and melting from solid to slush to liquid then being too tuckered from the exertion to turn to steam.
My favorite part of the story is imaging him trying to explain to baffled islanders why he kept showing up on their shores with boats full of warm water.
A restless self-promoter, he’d carry a cooler of ice with him to restaurants to add to the glasses of fellow diners to create demand where none previously existed.
He never quit and history shows that on Nov. 1, 1815, Tudor succeeded in delivering 150 tons of ice to the Caribbean, a region that today is difficult to fathom without frozen daiquiris, pina coladas and other cocktails to slurp.
I suppose I’m drawn to his story because it so contrasts with mine. He never had access to cold liquor and changed the world.
I have access to plenty of cold liquor and rarely bother to change my profile picture.
I bare him no historical grudge. I can’t imagine enduring these forecasted scorchers without access to ice for my bourbon or to add refreshing chill to beer-filled coolers.
He’s a man who should be memorialized.
Anyone think a big ice sculpture is too obvious?
Sounds cool to me.