Events and Holidays

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
The glowing history behind Christmas's most stop-motiony character.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a fictional Christmas-time character that first appeared in 1939 as the ninth reindeer pulling Santa’s forced servitude toy-distribution sledge. Known for his glowing red nose and inability to successfully convince his co-workers to allow him to participate in common playtime activities for reindeer, he was the creation of a low-paid advertising copywriter for Montgomery Ward.

Rhonda, Carl, Ricky and Rudolph

Robert L. May was tasked with coming up with a cheery Christmas coloring book to lift the spirits of Depression-era shoppers using an animal as the star. After going through a round of rejected characters which we would like to think included Rhonda the Ruby-Lipped Rhinocerous and Carl the Crimson-Beaked Cockatiel, he decided to make a deer his central character, finally landing on “Ricky, the Deer with Extreme Nose Rosacea”, at which point he was fired for being such a terrible copywriter. Just kidding; of course the deer was Rudolph, and May’s creation was described in the poem he wrote for the book, which was first published during the 1939 holiday season. Written as a poem in anapestic tetrameter, the same horrific rhyming disease that also afflicted Dr. Seuss, May told the story of a young reindeer named Rudolph, whose father may or may not have been the guy in the Operation game. His unfortunate genetic disorder is ridiculed by his co-workers, causing great distress to the young deer, who is then convinced by lawyers from the Animal Defense Fund to file an employment discrimination lawsuit that ultimately wins him $14 million which bankrupts Santa and then Christmas is canceled (See: “The Year Without A Santa Claus“).

A killer-diller lulu of a magilla

The poem was a hit with shoppers, who snapped up over 2.4 million copies using their 24 million greedy holiday snapping fingers, but even so the poem wouldn’t be reprinted until 1946 because of wartime restrictions on paper use (thanks again, Hitler.) May was generously given the rights to the Rudolph story and proceeded to release a spoken word version of the poem, followed by a print book, with both items making killer-diller moola like a lulu, if you really want the whole magilla, which in 1940s-speak means they sold well. Next, his brother-in-law Johnny Marks, who was a songwriter, decided to write a song based on the now-famous deer in 1949. It became an instant hit; or at least it did after it was recorded by country-western star Gene Autry and made into actual records and played on whatever people used for MP3 players back then. It sold more copies than any other Christmas song with the exception of White Christmas and the one those chipmunks sing about the hula hoop.

Get to the sled!

A sequel, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Shines Again, starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as an older and now bitter, disillusioned Rudolph who exacts bloody revenge on a Mexican drug cartel for killing his family over a magic candy cane or something. But again, that’s just what we’d like to think. The character probably achieved it’s ultimate fame as a result of the eponymous Rankin and Bass stop-motion TV special which aired in 1964 in what is now regarded as a Christmas Classic, right up there with the Santa Norelco shaver commercial and that one weird special where David Bowie sings “Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby in a cardigan sweater. The special added such characters as Sam the folk-singing hipster snowman, Hermey the slightly masochistic unlicensed dentist, and Yukon Cornelius, winner of the most gravity-defying mustache in history. Subsequent annual viewings have cemented Rudolph and his pals into the public consciousness like an impacted Abominable Snow Monster molar, although certain children, not necessarily me, suffered deep psychological trauma when they weren’t allowed to watch the show until they had finished eating their nasty pig-in-a-blankets, because Tivo hadn’t been invented yet, and he had mean parents.

So while you may have your Dasher’s, Donner’s, Vixen’s, Nixon’s and Agnew’s, remember good old Rudolph and his glowing proboscis is at the front of the pack making sure that you get your Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots you never got when you were a kid, as long as you eat your pig-in-a-blankets.

Photo Credit: olivia_henry cc

Gotta Have That New World Smell (Columbus Day)
Uncovering the unsordid history behind the not-quite discoverer of America

Every American schoolchild is probably familiar with that famous poem about Christopher Columbus, so if some of you schoolchildren out there know it could you please send it to me? Because I can’t think of it right now and I’m too lazy to Google it. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the day behind the man behind the day celebrated as the time Equatorial Guinea declared its independence from Spain in 1968, except we call it Columbus Day, and we celebrate it because a Spanish guy discovered the Bahamas 600 years before Carnival Cruise lines.

Colorectal Polyps and Colusa, Illinois

Although Columbus is traditionally celebrated as the first European to discover America, it is now commonly known that that honor goes to Leif Ericson and his Vikings, who beat the Packers 26-10 sometime in the 11th century at a settlement called “L’Anse aux Meadows” in Newfoundland (Official Motto: “We’re Not Only A Dog, We’re A Country!”). Even so, Columbus has secured his place in history, right between colorectal polyp and Colusa, Illinois, as the discoverer of the New World®. #NewWorldColumbus #NWRocks #IndigenousSlavery

That New World Smell

Columbus began his journey where most explorers do: at the local bank, which in this case was the King and Queen (Ferdinand and Isabella) of Spain. After lobbying for two years he was finally able to procur funding from the court in the sum of 1.14 million maravedis, or 555,000 guildergroats, or 3.5 million guineafrancs; an amount so large that in today’s dollars it could only be measured in Kelvin. So, while Isabella and Ferdinand presumably waved their hankies from the dock, Columbus set sail on August 3 in a small fleet consisting of a large carrack called the Santa María, two smaller caravels, the Pinta and the Nina, and three tiny caramels named Dick, Bartholomew, and Leon, which Columbus kept in his right pantaloon pocket. After a voyage of however many units Spanish people used to measure the time it takes to sail to the New World with back then, a lookout on the Pinta spotted land at 2:00 in the morning while he was watching the Late, Late Show. He immediately alerted the Captain, who was able to verify the discovery and alerted Columbus by firing a lombard, who, being part of the Lombards Local 128, later sued Columbus for wrongful termination, but that’s another story. Calling the new land “San Salvador“, because Finland was already taken, Columbus began a long career of making scholars write history books about him of which you can read if you want to know more. After three more trips the intrepid explorer decided to settle in what is now Haiti while it still had what he called “that New World smell”.

Columbus Day Cards and Frank Sinatra

Columbus’s voyage has been celebrated since colonial times in the United States; many cities celebrated the 300th anniversary of his landing in 1792 by taking a day off from wearing their itchy powdered wigs. In 1892 President Benjamin “Yes, I Was A President, Too” Harrison called upon the people of the United States, apparently with a gigantic megaphone, to celebrate Columbus Day on the 400th Anniversary of the day he landed, which was October 12 if you haven’t been keeping score. The first state to officially recognize Columbus Day as an official holiday was the famous, tropical seafaring land of Colorado in 1906. In 1934 Generoso “Not Actually A Real” Pope, an Italian leader in New York City, along with the Knights of Columbus lobbied to make Columbus Day a Federal Holiday, until they realized that “lobbying” did not mean hanging out at the bar in the foyer of the Biltmore Hotel on West 47th Street hoping to score some free drinks. It wasn’t officially recognized as a federal holiday until 1937, when the Hallmark Company reluctantly agreed to make a couple of Columbus Day cards: “New World? I was just getting used to the old one!” and “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, Columbus sailed under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain in the context of emerging western imperialism and economic competition between European kingdoms through the establishment of trade routes and colonies in 1492”. Many Italian-Americans celebrate Columbus Day as a reminder of their heritage, for although Columbus wasn’t an American, he did apparently like to listen to Frank Sinatra.

So the next time you’re eating a caravel, watching the Vikings beat the Packers, or just firing your lombard, remember Columbus, the man who’s memory we honor in the most American way possible: by not getting our mail for a day.

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Calm Your Caxirolas: It’s the World Cup!
We do our best to explain earth's quadrennial vuvuzela fixation.

Every four years there is an earth-wide contest to see who are the most obnoxious soccer fans in the universe, during which some games are also played. This is the FIFA World Cup, which, to many Americans, has all the excitement of wondering whether or not you remembered to use that $5 off coupon at your last oil change, but to the rest of the world, is like the Super Bowl and the World Series had a baby, and it descended to earth wrapped in a fiery rainbow and wearing golden shin guards, and then it kicked a black and white ball around on the grass for two hours while every human on earth went absolutely bananas. Which is to say that I don’t think there’s an analogy for the excitement the World Cup has for the rest of the world that an American would understand, but you should know a little bit about it in case your boss is from Uruguay and decides to have mandatory conference room game discussions about Fernando Muslera‘s dismal performance at the Copa América, instead of going over last month’s dismal sales results.

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Yeah, but what if the Gorn had a vuvuzela?

[x_pullquote type=”right”]If a game in America were to end in a tie, fans would just wander, zombie-like, out of their favorite sports bar, not speaking, wondering why they just spent twenty dollars on some mediocre hot wings…[/x_pullquote]The World Cup has a few rules and regulations that may seem strange to many Americans, one of which is the allowance for a tie game. As much as Americans now seem to want each of their amateur athletes to get a medal, trophy, new car and a college scholarship just for being able to not tie their cleats together, they also equally abhor anything in their professional sports that even comes close to a tie, draw or stalemate. There must be a winner, or there won’t be a good enough reason for rioting and looting after your favorite sporting team wins their respective world championship; I mean, those cars aren’t going to just overturn and burn themselves. If a game in America were to end in a tie, fans would just wander, zombie-like, out of their favorite sports bar, not speaking, wondering why they just spent twenty dollars on some mediocre hot wings when they didn’t even get the chance to celebrate their world-shattering win or gripe about their sucky team. However, if a World Cup game remains tied after 90 minutes of regulation play and 30 minutes of overtime, then each team chooses their strongest champion and they fight to the death in the center of the field using only objects they can find around them, such as diamonds, sulfur, saltpeter, or — no, wait; sorry, that was that episode in Star Trek with the Gorn. To be accurate, only games in the initial round can end in a tie; championship games obviously have to have a winner, so they do penalty kicks until someone gets a goal, or the stadium collapses under the sheer weight of unbearable suspense and vuvuzela spit.

Funyuns and Caxirolas

You’ll also get no chance for a bathroom break during the game, as there are no timeouts or commercial breaks in World Cup soccer — er, football. This concept is enough to make a corporate American ad agency’s collective head pop off and $100 bills spout out of it, as commercials are the lifeblood of American televised sports. You’ll just have to wait until halftime comes before you can get your Funyuns and Baja Blast Mountain Dew and go potty. Each World Cup also has its own mascot, logo, slogan, even musical instrument. When Brazil hosted their World Cup in 2014, they created the “caxirola” a percussion instrument that looked like an amputated avocado with hives and a handle. Although designed to be more friendly and much less noisy than a vuvuzela, the caxirola was ironically not allowed into games because, in a preliminary match between two Salvadoran teams, fans used them to pelt opposing players. Yay, sports!

So next time you’re complaining that your favorite sporting activity is too violent, or it’s fans aren’t violent enough, just remember it’s only a few short years until you can enjoy some real sporting activity at the next World Cup in Russia, where hopefully the official musical instrument will not be a sawed-off balalaika.

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Blood, sweat and gears (the Tour de France)
Our fact-feeble guide on how to tell your polka dots from your peloton.

Every year a contest plays out that punishes the participants in ways only the top competitors in their field can fathom; where once friendly teammates can turn suddenly hostile from competitive self-preservation, and even the slightest mishap can prove costly. The welcome end of each day offers only a brief rest before the beginning of another, grueling stage tomorrow, with the finish line seemingly months away. But enough about the upcoming Presidential Elections; let’s talk about the Tour de France.

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No, really; what is a “peloton”?

[x_pullquote type=”right”]The Tour de France (Translation: “That Race Lance Armstrong Always Won”) is the premiere cycling event of the year…[/x_pullquote]The Tour de France (Translation: “That Race Lance Armstrong Always Won”) is the premiere cycling event of the year, commanding the rapt attention of the approximately 122 actual American cycling fans who actually watch it live at three in the morning. Held each summer in France (Official Motto: “Our Wine Can Beat Up Your Wine”), it was originally organized in 1903 by the French magazine L’Auto (translation: “Car”) as a way to boost paper sales, possibly by trying to convince riders that these new car things were a much less exhausting way to travel up the French Alps than wooden bicycles. Considered the premiere race in all of bicycledom, riders come from all over the world to see if someone can finally explain to them what a “peloton” is, and why they should be in it, and are there any dues for joining.

The Champion of Accented E’s vs. the Devil Baby

While the route of the race changes every year, each race always traverses the mountain chains of the Alps and Pyrenees before ending up at the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Élysées (Translation: “The Champion of Accented E’s”). Riders spend three grueling weeks battling wind, rain, and devils holding babies all the while wondering why they shouldn’t just hop a ride in their air-conditioned support car instead.

Let’s get ready to rumble

The race consists of 21 days of racing over a 23-day period, and includes one individual time-trial stage, nine flat stages, five hilly stages, two silly stages, six mountain stages, one karaoke stage and one stage where all the riders agree to just sleep all day so everyone can win. The race alternates between clockwise and counterclockwise circuits of France, leaving the unfortunate riders using digital watches completely lost. Teams of up to nine cyclists compete against each other using bats, knives, chains and — sorry; wait; that’s the rumble scene from “West Side Story”. Actually, team members do their best to support their leader by setting the pace for him, running down attacks by other teams, grabbing coffee, returning any overdue videos he forgot to return before the race, and so on. The racer with the lowest overall time for each stage gets to wear the coveted yellow jersey, so named because it has never been washed, with other colors awarded for other accomplishments, including white with red polka dots (“King of The Mountain”), white (“Fastest Overall Rider”), green (“Most Lucrative Advertising Endorsements”), red (“Most Blood Spilled After Crashing Into A Fan Dressed As The Devil”), and black (“Most Needing To Do Laundry Real Soon.”)

Tour de France facts

  • The winner of the first Tour de France was Maurice Garin. He also won in 1904 but was disqualified when it was discovered he had actually been using a motorcycle the entire race.
  • The average cyclist will burn 124,000 calories over the entire the tour, equivalent to 243 McDonald’s double cheeseburgers, 619 Krispy Kreme donuts, or one slice of Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory.
  • Coincidentally, each rider will produce enough pedal strokes (486,000) to power the making of 243 McDonald’s double cheeseburgers.
  • The nickname of the Tour de France is “La Grande Boucle” (“The Big Belch”); a reference to the frequent stomach gymnastics that riders experience after a finishing a particularly difficult hill.
  • Each cyclist will produce enough sweat during the race to flush a toilet 39 times, which is ironic because none of them will actually be able to use a toilet during the race.
Photo Credit: nic_r cc
Photo Credit: dizid cc

Ball Boys, Four-Tuples and Frankenberry (Wimbledon)
We get to the centre of tennis' oldest living tournament.

Wimbledon is one of tennis’ four prestigious Grand Slam tournaments, and arguably the most famous, although I’ve never heard anyone actually really argue about it. The annual tennis tournament is held each year at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (Official Motto: “I Say, Jeffries, Fetch Me My Snobbery Jacket, There’s A Good Chap”) in London. Officially named (apparently by Yoda) “The Championships, Wimbledon”, it is the oldest tennis tournament in the world, having been held in London since 1877 (Official Motto: “We’re The Year That Invented The Stapler!”). Wimbledon occurs during mid-summer, which, for you Americans in the south, is right after NASCAR starts, and for those in the north, just after the last NHL hockey fight ends with the awarding of the Stanley Cup, unless you count the after-awards fight in the locker room.

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12,244 gallons of tennis

[x_pullquote type=”right”]Wimbledon is the only major tennis tournament still played on grass, which I feel obliged to quickly point out to you excited Colorado tennis fans who were just about to buy a ticket to London does not mean “pot”.[/x_pullquote]Wimbledon is the only major tennis tournament still played on grass, which I feel obliged to quickly point out to you excited Colorado tennis fans who were just about to buy a ticket to London does not mean “pot”. The use of grass may also explain why the 128 players chosen for the tournament are “seeded”, but this is probably just an attempt to wring a really lame joke out of that last sentence. The tournament offers competition in men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, mixed doubles, unmixed singles, re-mixed triples, shaken and not stirred four-tuples, and the occasional duodecuple resulting from a spontaneous family brawl over on center court. The penultimate matches take place on “Centre Court”, which, for us backwards Americans, translates as “center court”. This court is only used for tennis the two weeks a year that the tournament takes place, while the rest of the year it is used for grass-themed parties, close-crop lawn-mowing demonstrations, and tiny games of football. The initial capacity of Centre Court in the 1880’s is not known, but historians speculate it was about 12,244 gallons. Today, the famous court has a capacity of 15,000 people, along with video scoreboards, a retractable roof, and tiny, inconspicuous lasers for “motivating” lazy ball boys. The south end of the court houses the Royal Box, from which members of the Royal Family can appear to be interested in the matches while getting their photos taken. Players traditionally bow or curtsey when the Queen is present in the box, but when she is not, they pretty much ignore it.

At least there’s always Frankenberry

Ball boys and girls play a crucial part in keeping the flow of the game smooth and humorous, as they scurry after each finished ball like hunched over rodents chasing a cheeto. Ball boys were originally provided by a company called Goldings (No Longer Used Motto: “Don’t Come Bawlin’ If Your Ball Boy Isn’t Ballin’, Boy!”), who built them from spare parts left over from street orphans. Since 1969 ball boys and girls have been supplied by local schools, who use the threat of potentially getting hit by a 140 mph serve as a method of maintaining discipline. Each ball boy or girl receives between £120-£180 (approximately 2,433 tuppence or 15 half-farthings, minus comeuppance) per day, which is probably more than some of the Latvian players make all year. All players are required to wear white during the tournament, which is a drag for the players that like to eat BBQ ribs and red Kool-Aid betweens sets, but rules are rules. The most famous Wimbledon tradition involves food, with spectators traditionally enjoying bowls of strawberries and cream from their posh box seats, while cheap ticket holders have to settle for small bowls of Frankenberry with some skim milk.

So, as you watch this years’ exciting Wimbledon matches on TV, or at least two seconds of it you’ll see while surfing past it to get to a M*A*S*H rerun, remember to enjoy it as a prime example of quaint British tradition, even with the snobbery jackets.

Baseball’s Seventh Inning Stretch (the All-Star Game)
We take a swing at baseball’s Midsummer Classic.

The crack of the bats, the roar of the crowd; yes, the media-aggravated summer rioting season is upon us, which means baseball’s annual All-Star Game can’t be far behind. Also known as the “Midsummer Classic” or the “Tuesday Night Pretty Little Liars Pre-empter”, this contest between the stars of the American and National League teams is played on the second or third Tuesday in July, and signals the symbolic halfway point of your favorite team’s losing season. Starting players are chosen by the fans, using ballots distributed at Major League games and something called “the internet”. Managers choose the pitchers while managers and players choose the reserves, and the game of baseball itself chooses the managers, as they are the leaders of the teams from the previous season’s World Series. Once all of the sides have been picked and the leftover skinny guy with the cheap plastic glove goes home crying, the home team is chosen using the time-honored baseball tradition of grabbing a bat and moving up the handle to see who reaches the knob first. The game is the only meeting of players of both leagues during the year, aside from the World Series and interleague play, and possibly bumping into each other leaving closed-door performance-enhancing drug hearings.

It’s the Super Bo… Excuse me; the “Sensational Basin”!

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Flying Cars and the Non-St. Louis Arch

[x_pullquote type=”right”]The original ticket price was about $1.65, which may seem cheap today, but at the time of the Depression could have purchased a small farm consisting of two pigs and a field of dust.[/x_pullquote]The game was the brainchild of Chicago sportswriter Arch “Not The St. Louis One” Ward, who, in 1933, thought it would be nifty, if not really swell and possibly even keen (remember, this was the 30’s) to feature a game played between the stars of the two current leagues. The first game was held as part of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair (Official Motto: “Believe Us; Flying Cars Will Be Here Any Day Now!”) and was a huge success, with tickets from the game selling for $19,136. In today’s money, that is; there is only one known unused ticket left, and that’s how much it sold for on auction. The original ticket price was about $1.65, which may seem cheap today, but at the time of the Depression could have purchased a small farm consisting of two pigs and a field of dust. In honor of Ward’s contribution, the “Arch Ward Trophy” is given to the All-Star Game player whose first and last name contain the exact same number of letters, while the most valuable player receives the conveniently named “Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award”, inexplicably named after Ted Williams, one of the leading British show jumping riders of the 1950s and 1960s.

The Home Run Derby

The night before the All-Star Game a Home Run Derby is held, where long ball hitters get to see if their steroid injections are paying off. Ha ha, players! Just kidding! Don’t come beat me using your freakishly huge arms! Actually, the derby is an exciting chance to see eight of your favorite fence-swingers exhibit their batting prowess, while hundreds of dedicated baseball fans pack the stands to see if they will be one of the lucky ones to take home a cherished bit of baseball history and immediately post it on eBay (**RARE** ACTUAL 2015 HOME RUN BALL MUST SEE!!!!!!!!!!). Four players from each league are tossed rubber-armed Grandma pitches by a flinching, screen-protected pitcher, and given 10 outs per at bat to see how many pitches they can hit over the fence, or, in extreme cases, into low orbit (see: “freakishly huge arms”, above). Gold balls are used after the sixth out, with money given to charity for every home run hit with them, which to me seems kind of a scam, because gold is pretty heavy and probably just breaks the bats. The winner of the derby receives a trophy which looks like pair of TV rabbit ears made from baseball bats and is named after… well, nobody just yet, probably because sponsors spent all their money paying for those gold balls.

So at this years’ All-Star break, relax and enjoy the spectacle of your favorite multi-millionaire players getting a $50,000 bonus for hitting two grounders to shortstop. And for all you pre-teen girls: relax; Pretty Little Liars will be back next week.

[feature_headline type=”left” level=”h6″ looks_like=”h6″ icon=”book”]This column is featured in the book Sports Survival Guide for Men[/feature_headline]

Photo Credit: Wikipedia cc