Events and Holidays

Gentlemen, Start Your Marmons! (the Indianapolis 500)
Our possibly fabricated take on "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing"

Billed as “the Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, along with the fees that homeowners outside the track charge to park your car, the Indianapolis 500 is one of the most recognizable motor races in the world. Contested every Memorial Day in the US at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it is part of the “Triple Crown of Motorsport” along with the Monaco Grand Prix and the Kentucky Internal Combustion Horse Robot Derby. The race had its 100th anniversary in 2011, and, through an apparently yet unidentified space/time anomaly, the 98th running was held in 2014. The event is contested by “Indy cars”, which are open cockpit, single-seat, open-wheel billboards for auto parts with a car built underneath them. Each race features a field of 33 cars arranged in a grid of 11 rows of three cars apiece, which are then mashed together until someone either crashes or wins or both. The current winner’s prize is $2.5 million, which, although one of the richest purses in sports, is still less than a Mouawad 1001 Night Diamond Purse, which goes for $3.58 million.

Watch out for Marcy and Marmons

[pullquote type=”right”]The first Indianapolis 500 race was run in 1911 and won by Ray Harroun in a Marmon, a rare, 4-wheeled rodent, which reached the hideous speed of 75 MPH.[/pullquote]The original racetrack was built as a gravel-and-tar track in 1909 and hosted three long-distance races which were marred by crashes as a result of potholes mandatorily placed there by the Indiana DOT. Principal track owner Carl Fischer then decided to spend $155,000 (current equivalent: $1.4 trazillion) to pave the track with 3.2 million bricks, and added a 2 foot 9 inch wall around the track to catch the parts from crashed vehicles in order to sell them to local Applebee’s restaurants for their walls. The track owners decided to concentrate their racing efforts into one big 500-mile race and offered the then phenomenal purse of $25,000 (current equivalent: GNP Portugal) to the winner. This first Indianapolis 500 race was run in 1911 and won by Ray Harroun in a Marmon, a rare, 4-wheeled rodent, which reached the hideous speed of 75 MPH. However, Harroun was considered a hazard by the other racers as he did not ride with a riding mechanic, whose job it was to watch for traffic, ask the driver why he didn’t take a particular exit, and constantly check to see if he was speeding because their friend Marcy said this road always has cops.

Indianapolis 500 Facts

  • After taking an amazingly wrong turn during band practice, the Purdue All-American Marching Band found themselves performing on the track near the finish line in 1927, and it has been a tradition ever since for them to play.
  • The practice of singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” before the race begins was started in 1948 by operatic tenor James Melton, who reasoned that there just wasn’t enough opera in car racing.
  • The winner is awarded the Borg-Warner trophy, made with parts from Patrick Stewart’s Star Trek “Locutus” costume welded to a rusty brake drum and valued at $1 million.
  • Janet Guthrie was the first woman to race in the Indianapolis 500, and the first to ask for directions when she got lost at the 145th lap.
  • In 1977, Tom Sneva became the first driver in the race’s history to run a lap at more than 200 mph when a misguided practical joke by his pit crew superglued his accelerator pedal to the floor.
  • If all of the hot dogs and bratwurst sold on race day were laid end-to-end, the entire state of Indiana would spontaneously vomit in revulsion.
  • It is said that Yankee Stadium, the Rose Bowl, Churchill Downs, the Colosseum in Rome and Vatican City could all fit inside the massive Motor Speedway track, which may explain why ESPN is planning a baseball game played with footballs by priests on horses being chased by starving lions for next years’ sweeps 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: State Farm cc

To Tree or Not to Tree (Arbor Day)
Have you hugged your tree, bush, vine, or prickly bramble today?

Arbor Day, once a fairly forgotten day relegated to the holiday minor leagues along with “Bastille Day“, “National Pharmacists Day” and “Eggs Benedict Day“, has seen a resurgen – what? It’s still obscure? No wonder it was so hard to find info on it. Okay, Arbor Day: the celebration of the invention of counterweight-carrying devices found in theater fly systems… Nope; hang on… vine-supporting structures… Arbor, California… Arbor, Nebraska… the central post of a fishing reel to which fishing line is attached… former Canadian Supreme Court Justice and international legal leader… here we go; “Arbor Day”: a day for planting trees.

Prickly Brambles and quonset huts

[pullquote type=”right”]It is a day set aside for the care and planting of trees as a reminder that they provide all of our oxygen and could kill us at any time.[/pullquote]Arbor Day was so named because just calling it “Tree Day” was considered too intolerant, since it would exclude bushes, vines, briars, hedges, thickets, prickly brambles, small topiaries in the shape of fairies riding a butterfly, and so on. Also, I claim “Prickly Brambles” as my stage name if I ever decide to join a jug band in Branson, Missouri. It is a day set aside for the care and planting of trees as a reminder that they provide all of our oxygen and could kill us at any time. Arbor Day is usually celebrated in the spring, although the date varies depending on climate, planting season and whether it’s too icky outside to dig holes today. For example, in Antarctica, Arbor Day is celebrated for approximately 2 minutes in late April, and consists of a half-frozen weather scientist burning last December’s dead Christmas tree for heat because it’s -45 degrees, and that’s just inside his quonset hut.

Cool names and wicked beards

J. Sterling Morton, inventor of using your cool middle name as your main name, originated the first Arbor Day on April 10, 1872 in Nebraska City, Nebraska (Official Motto: “Hey, We Were In A Hurry To Incorporate And Nebraska City Is The Best Name We Could Come Up With On Short Notice. Go Bug ‘Iowa City’ For A Change.”). Prizes were offered to individuals and counties for properly planting the largest number of trees, as many Nebraskans of the time had never seen a tree and were apparently in danger of planting it with the roots sticking up. It is estimated that over 1 million trees were planted that day, after which Nebraskans said, “I think that’s plenty of trees for a while” and went back to arguing about who was the best Cornhusker football coach in history. But the idea caught on, and soon other states began following suit. Birdsey Northrop, who not only had the most hilarious name of the 19th century, but a wicked cool beard as well, was the guy responsible for bringing Arbor Day to the world, possibly to show everyone that even though your name is Birdsey, you can still get into Wikipedia. Then, in 1906, a Pennsylvania conservationist named Major Israel McCreight decided that his name was going to be the most hilarious of the 20th century, and helped influence President Theodore Roosevelt to issue an “Arbor Day Proclamation”, so that school children could be educated that trees weren’t just for carving your initials into or hanging tire swings from, but were also blah blah blah conservation, etc.

Return of the fairy topiary

Today, many nations, some of them containing actual real trees, celebrate Arbor Day or a variation of it, including the Republic of Macedonia, Lesotho, Malawi, and other countries I didn’t realize existed until writing this just now. Even Niger, an African country which has 80% of its land mass covered by the Sahara Desert, has an Arbor Day, which quite possibly could be it’s most sacred holiday, as there are only about three trees in the whole place, and one of them is in the presidential palace and consists of a small topiary in the shape of a fairy riding a butterfly.

Photo Credit <a href=””>Vicki Burton</a><a href=””>cc</a>

Paper Fish and Huntigowks (April Fool’s Day)
Everyone’s favorite day to finally get back at their co-workers without getting summarily fired.

April Fool’s Day, sometimes called “All Fools Day”, sometimes called “If You Post-It Note My Office Again This Year So Help Me I’ll Kill You Day”, is considered one of the most light-hearted, if not most annoying days of the year. The practice involves people or organizations playing practical jokes or hoaxes on each other, in hopes of scoring the most hits on the inevitable Youtube video of their roommate rocketing to the ceiling after sitting on the chair you rigged with an air horn. For example, in the early 50s, the BBC ran a feature story on the “spaghetti harvest in Switzerland”. This was humorous because everyone knew that spaghetti was mostly harvested in Italy. Interestingly, the day is not a national holiday in any country; Brazil claimed it was once, but then said “Ha Ha! April Fools!”, except in Portuguese.

Ancient Roman whoopee cushions

[pullquote type=”right”]There is no certain historical reason as to how and when April Fools Day started, although it probably occurred in conjunction with the discovery of the whoopee cushion by Roman Emperor Elagabalus around 218 AD.[/pullquote]There is no certain historical reason as to how and when April Fools Day started, although it probably occurred in conjunction with the discovery of the whoopee cushion by Roman Emperor Elagabalus around 218 AD. However, setting aside a day for pranks is an interestingly common custom in all societies. The French call it “Poisson d’Avril”, which means, apparently, “tape a fish to my back”, because that’s what french schoolchildren do to their friends. When the discover the paper fish, they yell “Poisson d’Avril!” (Literally, “April Fish!”). This may also explain why the French did so poorly in World War II. In Scotland, April Fools’ Day was traditionally called “Huntigowk Day” because Scottish is one weird language, so I’m glad they speak mostly English now. The Polish have a popular rhyme: “Prima Aprilis – uważaj, bo się pomylisz!”, which means, “Geez, can someone tell me how do you pronounce the z with the dot over it again?” It is used as a warning to be careful on April 1, as someone just saw your brother going into your bedroom with four cans of shaving cream. The common prank in Portugal is to throw flour on friends’ faces, continuing the long-standing tradition of everyone being very leery of the Portuguese.

Should you or shouldn’t you?

Those with a positive view of April Fool’s jokes say it promotes camaraderie, laughter, and even exercise, as victims struggle not to fall down stairs with greased hand rails, or experience elevated heart rates due to expertly placed spiders. Naysayers have a negative view of the practical joke practice, partially because it involves potential shame and embarrassment on those being pranked, but mostly because they just didn’t think of the prank first. Some hoaxes are even taken seriously, such as happened with the radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” in 1938, or when a politician says they are “going to clean up Washington”.

Famous pranks, hoaxes, high jinks and spoofs

  • The King’s College choir in Cambridge released a video statement in 2014 announcing their decision to discontinue using boy sopranos in their choir in favor of adult men who had inhaled helium. King’s College choir season tickets sold out in 2 hours.
  • In 1996, Taco Bell announced that they had purchased the Liberty Bell and were renaming it the “Taco Liberty Bell”. This precipitated a rush by other companies to purchase similar national sites, such as the “MacDonald’s ‘Gotta Love It!’ Gateway Arch”, “K’nex Lincoln Logs Memorial”, “Jefferson’s Bourbon Memorial”, and “Clearasil Craters of the Moon National Monument”.
  • In 1984, the Orlando Sentinel released a story featuring the Tasmanian Mock Walrus, claiming that many people in Florida were adopting it as a pet. The spoof backfired, however, as a band already named “Tasmanian Mock Walrus” sued for copyright infringement, won, and became moderately successful in Australia in the 80s.
  • The British Library announced in 2012 the discovery of a long-lost cookbook containing a recipe for how to cook a unicorn: “Taketh one unicorne and then marinade it in cloves and garlic before finally roasting it on a griddle”. MacDonald’s immediately announced it’s plans for the “Limited Time Only” McUnicorn the next day.
  • On April 1, 1980, The BBC overseas news service reported that London officials were going to update the iconic Big Ben tower clock with a digital readout. The report was immediately seen as a hoax, as everyone knew no one would know what combination of buttons to press in order to set it and it would just keep blinking “12:00” all night.
Photo credit: Lucius Kwok (cc)

Yeah, baby! It’s March Madness!
Your guide to the yearly excitement of March M- WHAT!? YOU'RE CRAZY! HE WAS TOTALLY SET!!

“March Madness” primarily refers to the inter-office semi-legalized gambling that takes place every spring right after everyone becomes an instant self-proclaimed expert on whether [insert random basketball player name here] has the “ups” and “efficiency numbers” to “contribute” the maximum number of “quotation marks” to “complete” this sentence. There are also some basketball games. The tournament is for men and women in U.S. Division 1 NCAA schools, although occasionally a Central American team, such as Gonzaga, sneaks in there. It consists of 68 teams, 67 of which don’t begin with the words “Duke”, involved in a single elimination, no holds barred, last-ditch-effort use of as much hyperbole as possible leading up to the Final Four games contested on the last weekend of play. You’ll know it has arrived when your husband starts shouting “Yeah, baby! One and done!” at your toddler on the potty.

9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to 1

[pullquote type=”right”]Many people participate in “pools”; groups of people who fill out the official NCAA basketball “brackets” partially by using their knowledge of college basketball they just got this morning on[/pullquote]Many people participate in “pools”; groups of people who fill out the official NCAA basketball “brackets” partially by using their knowledge of college basketball they just got this morning on, but mostly by whether Kentucky is any good this year. Most of these efforts are meaningless, however, as the pool is usually won by Susie in the Records Department, who knows nothing about sports and chooses her teams by arranging them in alphabetical order. The odds of filling out a perfect bracket are 9,223,372,036,854,775,808, which is about the same odds as not being in a seat on an airplane right behind the crying baby.

Neutral compositories and frozen pea bags

The teams are grouped into brackets according to division, and then seeded utilizing a highly sophisticated mathematical system involving a Univac computer from the 50s, the volume of expelled air from a deflated basketball, and the current distance Bobby Knight can throw a metal folding chair. After the initial 68 teams are selected, the nominal seeds reciprocate the lower brackets according to girth, then proceed over the course of three weeks, or “time-displacement units”, via pre-selected neutral compositories, to a tri-ethanol compound, where they are then un-bracketed, dried, and displayed on television. At this point, the gross national product output of the country dips to below zero, as a temporary, 3-week virus causes 1 in 7 workers to call in sick. Interestingly, the volume of shouting by irate office managers who can’t find Metcalfe in Accounts Payable has been found to equal roughly the volume of shouting at local sports bars. Also, in the “I didn’t need to know that” facts department, vasectomies rise up to 50% in the days prior to the tournament, along with the sales of frozen bags of peas.

Carlie’s Car Wash Sparkles

Part of the allure of the tournament is the excitement of seeing smaller, normally less successful teams advancing in the tournament against the odds, wowing the crowds with their pluck and tenacity, and confusing them with their strange mascots, consisting of Keydets, Jaspers, Salukis, Toreros, Zips and Paladins. Although a #16 seed has never beaten a #1 seed, that hasn’t stopped your mother from asking what a “seed” is. The tournament has a history of expanding the number of teams about every 20 years, so by the time this column reaches Alpha Centauri, your local Pee-Wee team should be eligible. (Go Carlie’s Car Wash Sparkles! Beat UNLV!)

Now that you’re much more well-informed about the impending domination of your television programming by pontificating guys who like to use the word “bracketologist”, you’ll know when to stay out of your local Buffalo Wild Wings until April. When the NBA playoffs begin.

[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]

We’ll Take The Shakes But Hold The Snakes (St. Patrick’s Day)
It's not easy to be green when Sheila in Human Resources thinks she's Irish.

First, the obligatory St. Patrick’s Day Joke: What’s green and gets made fun of because it involves drinking copious amounts of beer? Answer: Germany! While we admit that that joke was lame and pretty much just made up on the spot, at least it gives us an intro for today’s historically inept treatise on the only holiday named after a saint. Unless you count Saints Valentine, Nicholas, Independence or Arbor. (Mental note: check to see if Punxsutawney Phil is Catholic.)

Sheila in HR and blended McRibs

[pullquote type=”right”]As is the case with many holidays, such as National Beer Day, Oktoberfest, or payday, Saint Patrick’s Day has devolved into being centered around beer.[/pullquote]Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated every March 17 and commemorates the death of this patron saint of Ireland, although I bet he would prefer we remember the time he was born, or at least when he was somewhat mildly healthy. The day originally was created to remember Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and to celebrate Irish culture and heritage, in general. But, as is the case with many holidays, such as National Beer Day, Oktoberfest, or payday, it has devolved into being centered around beer. The holiday is generally celebrated in America with parades, parties, and being ridiculed and pinched for forgetting to wear green because you’re more worried about finalizing the Stuebens account by the end of the week than pleasing that extrovert Sheila in Human Resources who thinks she’s Irish but is really Lithuanian. It’s also customary to wear shamrocks, three-leafed plants which may have historically been used to explain the Trinity to pagan Irish, but which are now more associated with pale green, mint-flavored beverages available for a limited time (and I don’t mean rancid, blended McRibs).

Saint Patrick’s Day facts

  • Saint Patrick’s day is a legal holiday in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, where it is recognized alongside Evacuation Day, the commemoration of the first successful use of an indoor toilet in the county.
  • The city of Chicago first dyed the Chicago River green in 1962, when a semi truck hauling four tons of lime Jello accidentally crashed through a railing into the river.
  • Hot Springs, Arkansas holds the record for world’s shortest Saint Patrick’s Day parade, with a route that runs 22 feet from Callahan’s Bar to O’Grady’s Tavern.
  • According to Irish lore, Saint Patrick is credited with driving all of the snakes out of Ireland, although the International Snake Society insists they just simply don’t like Irishmen.
  • A 2012 estimate tallies the amount spent on beer on Saint Patrick’s Day in the U.S. at $245 million, which is, coincidentally, the same amount of sick day compensation paid out on March 18.
  • According to legend, Saint Patrick’s original name was Maewyn Succat, but he changed it to Patricius after being mocked mercilessly during second-grade recess.
  • There are no female leprechauns, although you also have to realize there are no male tooth fairies, so it probably all works out.
  • According to legend, leprechauns hide their gold at the end of a rainbow, saving it in hopes that someday they’ll have enough money to buy some female leprechauns.
  • In honor of the day, Indianapolis dyes its downtown canal green, Savannah dyes its downtown fountains green, and Burfis Coleshock of Palm Springs, Florida lets the algae stay in his swimming pool a couple of days longer before he cleans it.
  • A traditional phrase of Saint Patrick’s Day is “Éirinn go Brách”, which translates roughly as “Erin had too much green beer and had to hit the ladies’ room to… you know…”.

Please Bee Mine, Deer! (Valentine’s Day)
We hope you heart this lovingly fact-devoid history of everyone’s favorite compulsory holiday.

For many people, Valentine’s day evokes memories of unrequited grade school crushes, paper Valentine receptacle bags decorated with hearts and paste and taped to your school desk to hopelessly await Cindy Melpers Valentine (which never came), and indigestible antacid hearts that told us “YOU ROCK,” even when we knew better. For others, it’s even worse.

Cheese-making bryds and the Black Death

[pullquote type=”right”]”Valentine’s Day”, also known as “The Feast of Saint Valentine”, also known as “Obligatory Chalky Heart Consumption Day”, is celebrated the world over each February 14th.[/pullquote]”Valentine’s Day”, also known as “The Feast of Saint Valentine”, also known as “Obligatory Chalky Heart Consumption Day”, is celebrated the world over each February 14th. The original St. Valentine was a guy called Valentinius, who apparently had a case of reverse-Grinchism, with a  heart three times too large, causing him to crave roses and boxes of inedible chocolates, followed by the consumption of chalky, heart-shaped antacids with encouraging words printed on them such as “Hot Stuff”. At least that’s what we’re going with. Valentine’s Day was first associated with romantic love by Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages (Official Motto: “Things Were Looking Up But Then There Was That Whole Black Death Thing”), with these lines from his hit 1382 poem: “For this was on seynt Volantynys day, Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make, for which his third grade teacher gave him a D for atrocious spelling. We’re not sure what cheese-making bryds have to do with love, but it must have done something for Chaucer, because he had at least three kids.

Enough with the Black Death already

By the 18th Century (Official Motto: “Yay! We Made It Through The Black Death!”) the European notion of Valentine’s Day had evolved into an occasion for offering flowers, candy, and cards called (wait for it) “Valentines”. “Saint Valentine’s Keys” were charms given to lovers, and also to children to ward off Saint Valentine’s Malady, which was basically epilepsy. Apparently, Europeans equated love with children having long periods of vigorous, uncontrollable shaking, which, come to think of it, is what most dancing consists of today. The handwritten Valentine’s cards of the 19th century gave way to the mass-produced, “You’re a deer, please bee mine” animal pun-themed greeting cards of today, as well as the practice of trying to find the right gift for men to apologize to their girlfriends with. In 2010, an estimated 15 million “e-valentines” were sent via the internet, because nothing says “I care” like potential spam in your junk email folder.

Valentine’s Day facts

  • The earliest surviving Valentine card was a 15th-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife, which says, “Je suis desja d’amour tannéMa tres doulce Valentinée (Translation: “Not sure what a rondeau is, but it makes a sweet Valentine”).
  • The Greeting Card Association estimates that around 190 million valentines are sent each year in the US, half of which are given to Cindy Shotzenheimer, that cute girl you liked in 6th Grade but were afraid to talk to.
  • Teachers receive the most Valentine’s cards, in inverse proportion to the number of “F’s” they are likely to give out.
  • In China, Valentine’s Day is called “pinyin”, meaning, “the state has ordered me to provide you with this certificate of mandated ‘love’. Let romance commence post-haste, comrade citizen. But first, let us sing the Chinese National Anthem: ‘Arise, we who refuse to be slaves,’ etc.”
  • Valentine’s Day in Finland is called Ystävänpäivä, which translates into “Friend’s Day”, meaning Finland has commitment issues.
  • In Wales, people celebrate Valentine’s Day as Dydd Santes Dwynwen Day, commemorating St. Dwynwen, the patron saint of consonants.
  • More than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate are sold for Valentine’s Day each year. In contrast, less than 3 gallbladder-shaped boxes are sold during National Liver Awareness Month.
  • Men spend an average of $130 on women during Valentine’s Day, more than double what women spend, proving that, once again, men screw up their relationships twice as much as women.
  • More than 8 billion candy hearts will be produced this year, enough to choke every man, woman and child in the universe forever.
  • Only 27% of people who buy flowers on Valentine’s Day are women, because, basically, men hate getting flowers.
  • The Italian city of Verona, where the fictional Romeo and Juliet lived, gets 1000 letters addressed to Juliet every Valentine’s Day. Romeo only gets a Pottery Barn catalog and a past-due notice on his dirk.
Photo Credit: luckylynda74 cc