Day 1,006: Sciencey Foods

Yesterday I started off writing an article, then thought I’d next-level the fucker by drinking some egg in an otherwise fine beer. This was an act of creative hubris on my part, somewhat inspired by the weirdness of how I spent my 2020: celebrating every damn National Whatever Day I could track down. That meant trying haggis, making my first mint julep, and even slapping together a Baked Alaska just because I thought I could.

Last year’s adventure taught me one solid lesson: it’s the writing I love. Cooking is fun, eating even more so, but I am only equipped to pour my brain-parts into the written word. It’s a fantastic leap from writing about people foolish enough to chug back eggs in their beverage to actually becoming one of those people.

So today I’ll withhold any brash indulgences and stick to words. Words about food. Words about people who have plunged their vocational hands up to the wrists in food, and developed some of the science that improved on Mother Nature’s tragic shortcomings. These are winners of the Stephen S. Chang Award for lipid science.

We’re going to start with Rex Sims. Actually, I’m going to start by prefacing all of this by reminding everyone that I am not a scientist, and my eyes will gloss over sentences like “When hydrogen is absorbed on the catalyst surface dissociation into H* and H* occurs which allows for both saturation and isomerization to occur.” I’m sure that’s 100% accurate, but I do not know what it means, nor do I plan to learn what it means and explain it in my folksy, lovably Canadian-Jewish fashion. But I will point out that Dr. Sims’ work with General Foods (he was a fat & oil man) paved the way for frozen dairy products.

We would not have Cool Whip if it weren’t for Dr. Sims. He worked on emulsifiers, and also came up with the magic behind Stove-Top Stuffing, Shake ‘n Bake, and Tang.

Damn, this guy’s work went into space. I just scrolled through the other recipients of the Stephen S. Chang Award, and no one else has a resume as bodacious as Dr. Sims. I think we’ll look a little closer at him and ditch those other wannabe food-science celebs.

Dr. Sims may have provided the science, but Ruth Siems (similarity in name purely coincidence) actually invented Stove-Top. The magic of Ruth’s work lay in figuring out how big to make the dehydrated crumbs. Too small and you’ll have a gooey, lumpy slog of spice. Make ‘em too big and you’ll end up with little rocks of unpleasant crunch.

Ruth was not a scientist; she earned her degree in home economics. And once General Foods threw that stuff onto shelves in 1972, households had a new option besides potatoes or rice for an easy side dish.

If this were yesterday, I might have been foolish enough to try eating some Stove Top raw out of the box. Fortunately, I have learned and grown since then.

Next up, good ol’ Shake ‘n Bake.

I have nothing to say about Shake ‘n Bake. It’s a product, it tastes fine, and it’s no substitute for real fried chicken. I’m sure it’s a healthier alternative, and has been since its introduction in 1965, but I’ll take a crispy slab of Crisco-soaked white meat over something that has danced around inside a bag then got tossed in the oven.

Look at that pitiful drumstick up there. That sad little gam that once hoisted up the torso of its host body as it plunked through what was likely a tiny cage. It was eventually hacked off and sent to its destiny, only to be ineptly battered and undercooked, its flavor potential squandered because some lazy bastard couldn’t be bothered to do it right. Then they took a photo and posted it online.

People are weird.

“Tang sucks.”

Those were the words of Buzz Aldrin in 2013, reflecting upon one of the lesser high-points of his career with NASA. I mean, he’s not wrong. Tang may be a palatable form of powdered sugar-water, but it’s no Kool-Aid. Its main claims-to-fame were that astronauts drank it in space, and it inspired a Wu sort of Clan in the hip-hop world of the 1990s. I feel like this article has once again shifted to me crapping all over the fine work Dr. Rex Sims contributed to the world of food science.

Instead we’ll shift the discussion over to Bill Mitchell, the General Foods chemist who took Dr. Sims’ work and turned Cool Whip and Tang into actual products. Bill was an innovator, and if General Foods hasn’t named a wing of their head office after the guy, then they are fools. Actually, they are nothing – General Foods was absorbed into Kraft years ago.

But Bill’s coolest move might have been as he was attempting to create self-carbonating soda.

Packed with delicious and noisy carbon dioxide, Pop Rocks were invented in 1961 but not sold until 1975. This was likely because either the General Foods marketing people found the stuff too terrifying to sell, or maybe because the suits in the boardroom just didn’t have the foresight to know how badly kids want candy that virtually explodes in their mouths. By 1983 they’d yanked them back off the shelves. How could they be so cruel to my generation? It’s no wonder no one my age shed a tear when Kraft took them over.

Maybe Pop Rocks disappeared because of that old urban legend, the one that says that Mikey from the Life cereal commercials perished when he guzzled too much Coke and Pop Rocks one afternoon. It seems the combination made stomachs explode. Or at least it seemed that way until the first episode of Mythbusters demonstrated that not to be true.

The one thing all of these deliciously chem-treated foods has in common is Dr. Rex Sims and his brave forays into making processed food for all of us. Every one of these foodstuffs comes bundled with longevity and popularity, even if they lack any nutritional value.

All things considered, I’d take any of them over another glass of Egg Beer though.

Day 1,005: The Egg Beer Experiment

I stared listlessly – without even the slightest trace of list – at my screen this afternoon, trying to scratch my brain for a topic. Yes, I had made a habit of allowing Ms. Wiki’s “Random Article” button to guide my journey through topic selection, but toward the end of this project in 2014 I began poking my own ideas into the mix. I mean, once I heard about the mummy of John Wilkes Booth going on tour around the country, I wasn’t about to wait for random chance to dump me onto that particular topic.

So as I scanned an article about 19 ways to jazz up your ramen noodles (which I never make, so my reading that article was more an act of boredom than anything else), I began to wonder… do people ever crack an egg in beer? And just drink it?

I hit up good ol’ Google and punched in ‘Egg In Beer’. I was not disappointed.

Actually, I was quite disappointed.

First off, it’s a colloquialism I’d never heard before. When someone is asking for something good, perhaps something beyond what they rightly deserve, a response could be, “What do you want – egg in your beer?” I suppose that implies that getting an egg in one’s beer would somehow elevate the beverage to superhuman levels. Or maybe it’s a warning that adding that extra thing they don’t deserve would spoil what they’ve already got – a perfectly fine beer.

Had the definition ended there, I would not be penning a kilograph about the concept. No, consuming a raw egg cracked into a pint of beer is not unheard of – in fact it’s a delicacy to some people. One Seattle court battle from 1915 saw a judge ruling that an egg cracked into a beer does not go against any statutes prohibiting giving away free food at bars. Once it’s in the beer, it’s a beverage ingredient. So I suppose this was… good news? An easy workaround for taverns who aren’t allowed to give away food but don’t want their regulars leaving their stools for a snack elsewhere? Or is it just grotesque?

I’m leaning toward just grotesque, but then I truly have no idea.

I suppose I have some idea…

We’ve all heard of guzzling raw eggs as a cure for a wicked hangover, and we’ve also heard of downing some hair-of-the-dog – a bit more booze to somehow regulate the mind. I’ve tried the latter, and found varying results, depending on the severity of the hangover. I’ve never tried chugging raw eggs, simply because I can’t see the logic in forcing something slippery and slimy down one’s gullet when one is already feeling one’s belly doing a dance of impeding rejection. Cracking a raw egg into a beer would combine those dubious cures into one though, so maybe that’s the secret. I have no hangover at the moment, nor do I feel like generating one to find this out.

My last genuine hangover was January 1, 2020 – National Hangover Day, which I celebrated fully at the outset of that weird gas-leak project I pulled off last year. I’m extremely happy this alleged cure had not crossed my radar, or I might have been foolish enough to try it.

Now if I was to head down to Hanoi, I might find something that would change my mind on this issue.

Egg Beer, served at the Giang Café in Hanoi, is just like it sounds, except less vulgar. First off, you’ll find no bulbous yolk doggy-paddling through your suds. The chef whips up egg whites with some sugar and butter, then pour that into the beer, giving a robust and sweet treat that actually sounds quite appealing. Sure, it looks a little custard-like, but how bad could it be?

It would have to be better than the Red Eye cocktail, made somewhat famous in the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail. That’s beer, raw egg, tomato juice and aspirin. Again, we’re talking hangover cure here, and not a leisurely beverage. I suppose when the demons of a fractured morning are pounding on the inside of one’s skull, one will do what one has to in order to make it through. Even if that means downing something that by any logical measure sounds vile.

Smoking weed doesn’t give you a hangover that could lead to this. Just sayin’.

Eggs in beer is known as a ‘miner’s breakfast’, implying that folks who work in a mine are so grisly and macho (or perhaps wholly devoid of taste buds) that they’ll regularly down this concoction, just for fun. Season 2 of The Wire also introduced us to the Irish Breakfast allegedly enjoyed by Baltimore dockworkers, which involves the same basic two-ingredient recipe. Paul Newman, playing an alcoholic lawyer in the 1982 Sidney Lumet film The Verdict, also chugged one of these for breakfast.

I suppose the lesson here is that cracking an egg into a beer is, if not at all palatable, a great way to demonstrate that your character is odd, visceral, and perplexingly male.

Hey! I’m all three of those things, right? I mean – simply writing about “egg in beer” feels a little flat to me, especially after having spent a year in which my daily writing assignments were flecked with weird real-world experience. I’m not desecrating a fine beer with a raw egg though. I will, however, try to recreate the Giang Café’s recipe for Egg Beer. Just for you, the reader. You’re welcome.

In my haste, I forgot to separate the yolk from the white, so in effect my finished recipe landed closer to the Paul Newman recipe than the Vietnamese delicacy. And it tasted like a frothy, somewhat buttery beer. Big thanks to local brewery Alleycat – not for supplying me with any free beer for this (though I will accept free beer and proceed to conduct weird culinary experiments with it if they’re open to it), but for creating a tasty brown ale that made me forget I’d stupidly inserted wrongness into every sip.

I have no regrets.

Not true – I have one regret. I should have simply cracked the egg in. The butter, which I’d had the foresight to melt prior to whipping this all together, began to harden again once I poured the mixture into the drink. Maybe I didn’t whisk it enough. Maybe I should have left out the damn yolk. But once little chunks of butter start creeping into each sip, transforming them into bites… yeah, that’s just a mouthful of regret.

I already had a tasty beverage awaiting me. What did I want – egg in my beer???

Day 1,004: Summertime Can-Kicking

It’s at least 150 degrees in this stuffy upstairs office, and I have no topic at the tip of my fingers. I turned on the fan behind me, and it laughed at me. I have spent my adult life making a show of how much I love extreme heat, but without air conditioning, and after having endured an unprecedented wave of record-setting hot days, I’ve had enough. Alas, my exhaustion at this perpetual sweat-fest will not help me scrounge a thousand words from the lint-pile of my brain-pocket.

I considered writing about stickball, a beloved pastime from my grandfather’s youth. I quickly learned that stickball is pretty much baseball with a stick (and an appropriately bouncy ball), and no kilograph can be wrested from something so simple. What else did he play? Kick The Can? Isn’t that just about kicking a can? Nope – digging up a topic on this sweltering Friday will be a bit of a challenge.

Then I found a site that explained the rules to Kick The Can “in 14 steps”. Okay, I’m just curious enough to want to break that down.

Proper footwear is, of course, recommended.

Like a stupid person, I assumed Kick the Can was just street-soccer, played with a can because kids in the Depression couldn’t afford proper sports equipment. When we were young we played snow-soccer with a frozen juice-box, which was always fun until someone fell on the thing and oozed tropical punch slush all over their pants. But a more complex and intricate game intrigues me. This was the site I selected to learn the 14 steps to can-kicking wonder. I could tell it was a great choice when I learned that step 1 was to gather your players. It suggests inviting kids to play Kick The Can and offers the helpful tip of saying, “Hey, we’re going to play a game called Kick The Can. Would you like to play?”

I’d have never thought to include the word ‘Hey’. This is why research pays off.

Step 2 is finding a plastic bottle or can to play with. Obviously this is a trick step, because if you select a plastic bottle you’ve already lost at Kick The Can. So pick a can. Empty would be best.

Advanced players may wish to opt for ‘gigantic’.

Step 3 involves choosing the boundaries of the playing area. Playgrounds and cul-de-sacs are suggested, with the tip that you also want plenty of places to hide. I’m not yet sure if this is because hiding is part of the game, or if you’ll just need a place to lay low in case you accidentally kick the can into the wrong person’s face and they get violent.

Step 4 says to designate a ‘jail area’ where players who are caught must stay. At this point I’m convinced that this game has nothing to do with kicking a can at a goal. Is it too late to switch topics back to stickball? Probably. Besides, at this point I want to know how to send my friends (or random strangers who responded positively to my carefully-worded invitation) to this jail place.

The fifth step involves designating one player to be “the seeker”. Not in the Quidditch sense – this is really looking like a game of hide-and-seek, but with kicking a can. Okay, so we’ve got one seeker and a whole bunch of hiders.

Just like John Wick! But with a can.

Next, you set up the can somewhere in the open. I’m starting to see how this game will unfold – with the can receiving one lone kick – and I’m going to hop right out in front of what you’re probably already thinking, and suggest you fill the can with glitter. In fact, even if you’re going to play soccer-style with a can, get some glitter in there. Have some fun on a hot day.

Step seven involves the seeker counting while everyone hides. Hopefully your playground and/or cul-de-sac and/or department store where you’re playing has plenty of quality hiding places. Once the counter has reached the apex of his or her allotted number-quotient (counted to 100 or whatever), they must go searching for the hiding people. Once a hider has been spotted, the seeker announces the person’s name and hiding spot to let everyone know. That’s when shit starts happening.

Both hider and seeker sprint toward the sacred glitter-can in the middle of the playing area. If the hider gets there first, they kick the can, thus satisfying the game’s title. If the seeker gets there first, he directs the hider into the pre-designated jail area.

Another fun idea: play in an actual jail!

The kicking of the can effectively swings open the jail doors. If a hider lands his or her boot on that shiny aluminum, society essentially collapses and all criminals are set free. This means that hiders are free to run out and boot the can even without being found, assuming they have an opening and wish to free their incarcerated brethren. The seeker has to keep constant watch on the thing. Step 9 involves resetting the can after it has been kicked – the seeker does this while the hiders hide again.

Step ten explains that the winner of the game is either the last hider to remain free from jail, or the seeker once they finish catching everyone. Another option – and this will be adopted by the kids who lean more toward being an asshole – is to ‘jail’ one kid you don’t particularly like, then to take a seat beside the can and read a book. The kid in jail can’t move and no one will sneak up to kick the can and free them. Bonus points if you plop the jail in the hot sun while the can rests in the cool shade.

Glitter clean-up is, of course, optional.

Step 11 suggests variations, like having multiple seekers. This is a great idea if you’re playing with 60 or 70 people. Step 12 is just stupid, suggesting you can tag players to send them to jail. This does away with the can concept, except as a means of liberation. It also invites kids to smack one another. Come to think of it, they might enjoy this. Step 13 says you can play in the dark with flashlights, which is always a great idea. Actually, you could play this game quite effectively in a cemetery, and after dark it would be all kinds of fun.

The final step isn’t a step at all, it simply offers an entirely new game involving knocking over a can with a ball. Nope. No kicking, no way.

Or, you can do the really smart thing on a day like this and simply find some air conditioning and read about Kick The Can instead. That’s my recommendation.

Day 1,003: Forget Saskatchewan, We Want Ice Cream!

This happened often during the original project.

Maybe not “often”, but frequently enough that when it happened last night, the sudden spurt of mental calisthenics felt familiar and friendly, like running into an old co-worker at a clambake. Sometimes during the nearly 33-month stretch of this project’s original run, I’d select a topic, write an article, and realize hours later just how tremendously dreadful or dull the piece was. No matter – the aim was to write 1,000 words every day, and that I did. Except the next day I’d have to double it because I didn’t want to sacrifice a day of the project to something so banal.

Well, it happened again. After having oozed out a kilograph yesterday on the 1964 Saskatchewan provincial election, I lay in bed at night wondering… why? It wasn’t particularly funny, nor was the story of the election all that interesting. It was a thousand words of filler, and since this is merely an experimental revival and not another string of a thousand days, I have no space for filler. Instead, I’m going to plant a foot, change direction, and see where this takes me:

Meet Tom Carvel. He lived in upstate New York during the Great Depression, and made a scant living selling ice cream from his clunky old truck. I imagine on some nights when business had been slow, he and his wife Agnes would have to subsist solely on ice cream to survive. Hopefully he stocked some of the heartier flavors, like Maple Walnut or Shrimp Cocktail. Times were tough. And when the going gets tough, the goddamn truck tire goes flat on Memorial Day goddamn weekend under the hot goddamn sun beside some goddamn pottery goddamn store.

Anyhow, Tom was having a really shitty day. His truck was full of ice cream, and he wasn’t exactly in a hotspot of pedestrian activity. In desperation, as his product transformed into a sweet, succulent goo, he started pitching the stuff to passing motorists. People stopped, as they often did in the 1930s (cars topped out at around 8 MPH, I believe), and Tom’s melty glop was a hit. Tom realized two things: people will go nuts for ice cream with this consistency, and he’d be way better off planting himself in a single location to sell the stuff, rather than drive around and hunt for customers.

Tom borrowed some electricity from the pottery shop and made a mint (a chocolate-mint mint if you will, which I won’t) over that summer. The equivalent of $60k in today’s money, which if you ask any ice cream vendor they’ll tell you is a depressingly large sum of cash. Tom opened the first Carvel shop on the same location (he ousted the pottery store, though the polished online history seems to omit any of the juicy details of that move), and patented the first soft-serve machine.

And here’s where things get interesting – as if ice cream itself isn’t perpetually interesting on its own. While hocking his machine to a bunch of schmoes who didn’t really know what they were doing, he realized that he could sell his machines along with his expertise and signage and take a percentage of the profits from all over the place. And that’s how Tom invented franchising. I mean… sort of. The history of franchising stretches back to Isaac Singer’s sewing machines in the 1800s, and it’s a hell of a lot more complicated than soft-serve ice cream sales… but let’s pretend none of us have any portion of a business degree (I don’t!) and just say that Tom pulled off a pretty cool and profitable move.

An even profitabler move – and yes, we do intend to keep trying to invent words here at 1000Words Industries, at least until one of them sticks – was Tom’s 1956 handshake deal with Ray Kroc to supply all milkshake machinery to Ray’s little McDonalds business. To this day there’s a Carvel logo on every soft-serve machine in every McD’s on the planet.

This made me wonder: what is really in McDonalds ice cream? It’s generally assumed that anything purchased beneath the Golden Arches™ will be at least somewhat less healthy than similar products elsewhere, but does the same hold true for something as basic and pure as soft-serve ice cream? It turns out the answer is yes.

This photo has nothing to do with the article; it’s a left-over pic from my Saskatchewan election article. Enjoy!

You introduce air into the process of freezing your ice cream – that’s how soft-serve exists. McDonalds most likely uses a liquid flavor mix, ultra-heated and sterilized for our protection. Up until 2017, their ice cream contained such yummy preservatives as sodium phosphate and disodium phosphate, which are usually used to keep meat products all fresh and squishy. The phosphate brothers are also known for contributing to heart disease, osteoporosis, kidney problems and even space-herpes, so good riddance to them. They also switched over from phony vanilla flavoring to natural vanilla, which means they no longer employ lignin, a chemically-treated byproduct of paper manufacturing.

Yes, lignin was dancing around in every delicious cone of McSoft-Serve you’d enjoyed prior to 2017. You basically ate pulp-and-paper-mill poop.

But that was then! This is now! Or, since I wrote this before you’ll read it, this is some other incarnation of then! Today, McDonalds’ soft-serve is geared for the more health-conscious 21st century market!

I searched for ‘glob of fat’ to punctuate this next paragraph, not realizing that’s an actual fucking product.

A cone of vintage, paper-poop-heavy McSoft-Serve would run you 170 calories, four and a half grams of fat and 70 milligrams of sodium. A cone of next-gen modern vanilla McGoo will net you 200 calories, five whopping grams of fat and 80 milligrams of sodium. So they took out some harmful chemicals, even reduced the number of artificial sweeteners from three to two, and they somehow concocted a more deadly cone. You’ll even wind up with an extra few grams of sugar with the new stuff. Though for those of us who ask for our McSundaes with “an irrational amount of extra caramel”, do we really care?

No. We don’t. We’ll still grab a cone if we damn well want to, or if the lineup at the Dairy Queen drive-thru is too long. Oh, DQ also claims they invented soft-serve, but I don’t have time to dig into that theory today. Besides, their story isn’t nearly as folksy and delightful as Tom Carvel’s fortuitous flat tire and the subsequent chain of events that turned him into a gazillionaire.

Also, I’m still a little hung up on that pottery store suddenly vanishing like that. Stay tuned for a deeper exploration on Day 4,667: Blood On The Kiln – The Real Tom Carvel Story.

Day 1.002: Sea-Science In Super-Comfort

In this age of crippling wealth disparity and with the zeitgeist-du-jour trending toward treating capitalism with a derisive scoff, dare I devote a day’s typesmanship to exploring superyachts? Yes, the superyacht is a thing, and no, I can’t afford one either. And while my desire to poke my attention into the sparkling crannies of a billionaire’s plaything is pretty close to nil, the Earth 300 has tickled my interest. I mean… just look at that thing.

The first thing you’ll probably notice – after the gargantuan black orb of doom perched upon its back – is the lack of lounging decks, hot tubs and polo fields like you’d normally find aboard a watercraft for the stupid-rich. No, the Earth 300 is a proposed palace of science. If built, this would be the Starship Discovery of research vessels. Working on board would be like performing experiments and studying marine species in the Playboy Mansion, albeit with fewer bikini-clad girls swimming through the grotto.

Maybe. We’re not entirely sure about that. More below.

The largest yacht in the world, pictured above because I like including something to scowl at in all of my articles (see Tom Brady yesterday), is 590 feet long. It’s owned by the royal family of Abu Dhabi (of course), and while I’m sure it has hosted many wild parties akin to what you’d see the bad guy throw in a James Bond film, it really contributes nothing to the world of science. If Earth 300 gets built, it will make this luxury vessel look like a boat for ants. Really, really wealthy ants.

Earth 300 will be 300 meters long, so about 980 feet. It would house 450 passengers working in 22 laboratories on all sorts of ecological and oceanological mysteries. The observation deck will swing out on a cantilever, and that big glass marble on its back will be a 13-story “science sphere”. What happens inside a massive water-bound science sphere? Science!

I imagine it’s going to be a big motorcycle Globe of Death thing… but with science!

This monstrous craft is set to be powered by a molten salt reactor. I was hoping this actually involved really, really hot salt and that its fuel reserves would be measured in shakers. But alas, this is just a fancy way of saying it will run on atomic power. From what I can gather, a molten salt reactor won’t spew out a bunch of radioactive fumes, as these get absorbed by the molten salt. Great idea, though they don’t expect the technology to be ready until the end of this decade or perhaps beyond. In the meantime, the Earth 300 will be built with some other eco-friendly power source with plans to retrofit it once molten salt reactors are all invented and ready to deploy.

The article I found on molten salt reactors gets into far more detail than I can possibly make interesting. In the list of ‘Disadvantages’ to the technology, they note that a modified molten salt reactor could be used to create weapons-grade nuclear material. So a particularly crafty batch of Somalian pirates could board and conquer the Earth 300 and use its propulsion system to turn themselves into the next global nuclear power. Cool!

All they have to do is modify this thing. Easy!

The Earth 300 will cost around $500-700 million to create, which is why we’re looking at maybe having one of these things, not a fleet of them. Entrepreneur Aaron Olivera has already dropped $5 million just to create the design. Actual construction has yet to begin, but when the news of this massive vessel dropped back in April, Olivera was confident they’d be splashing forth and saving the environment by 2025. Yacht-maker Ivan Salas Jefferson insists they will be “making science sexy” with this superyacht. As if science isn’t sexy enough – have you seen the tuchus on Neil Degrasse-Tyson? Come on.

So what can we compare this to? Is there any other ginormous slab of modernist architecture out there, combing the waves for the secrets of how to save our sad little self-destructive human race? Well… not really on this scale. The closest comparison to Earth 300 also lies in the realm of the theoretical, though as far as conceptual floating labs go, the SeaOrbiter is pretty bad-ass.

Standing 51 meters high (31 of those below sea level), the SeaOrbiter is more of a floating sea-base than a superyacht. Think of it as the Death Star of the sea, but with a massive laboratory instead of a planet-destroying cannon, and staffed with marine biologists instead of stormtroopers. It would also deploy underwater robots to explore the seabed beneath it, so if that doesn’t bump it into the realm of badassery, nothing will.

The estimated cost of this glorious structure was only pinned at about $53 million – a bargain by massive floating science vessel standards. Construction was due to start in 2014 but as of today it’s still only floating around on paper. Except for the “eye” of the station – that’s the pointy thing on the top. That was slapped together in 2015 with the intent of shipping it off to Cherbourg until the rest of the station is put together. Maybe.

It strikes me that a superyacht meant for the decadent kibbitzing of the ultra-wealthy stands a lot more chance of being built than one meant to undertake ecological research. I don’t know how deep Mr. Olivera’s pockets are, but it’s going to take some serious moneybags to get the Earth 300 off the ground and into the sea.

Like, Rich Uncle Pennybags money.

Once it’s out there though, the Earth 300 should be fine. This is because in addition to the scientists and their trusty assistants, the vessel will also be hosting up to 20 VIPs in super-luxurious cabins. This could be Puff Daddy, Guy Fieri or maybe the guy who played Newman on Seinfeld, assuming NBC paid him justly. The cost will be $3 million per luxury trip, and the celebs (or random wealthy folks) will be encouraged to participate in the science. Because what could go wrong with that? This is where we might find a bevy of bikini-clad girls – up on that top deck with the best view of the ‘science sphere’.

Whatever – those are the folks who will keep the Earth 300 afloat and in business, assuming it ever finds its way into the ocean. For now we can dream of superyacht luxury being laid out for scientists looking out for our collective welfare instead of oil-rich princes who live in excess at the expense of our collective welfare. Dreaming’s better than nothing.

Day 1,001: Welcome To Typo-Town, KS

In pecking about for a fresh topic to tickle the fingertips, it’s important to land one’s literary beak on a morsel of sufficient substance to fill a kilograph when such a task is needed. Today, as I wander once again into the murk of daily writing, I opt instead to snarf down the first pellet I chance upon, even if it should prove to be a salty pebble. With my first click of ‘Random Article’ I was directed swiftly to “Lerado, Kansas.” After nearly seven years of relative inactivity after the end of this project, I’m welcomed back by an entry with four sentences.

One sentence describes the town’s surrounding area as ‘Reno County’. Another tells us which school district would serve the local kiddos. A third sentence claims its post office – called ‘Netherland’ until 1884 – shut down in 1904. And the one snippet of potentially pen-worthy factoidery tells us that Lerado was intended to be named for Laredo, Texas, but someone screwed up and swapped the vowels. It’s a Typo-Town. Neat.

It’s also, as I’d learn after a bit of a deeper dive, a ghost town.

Yay! Ghosts!

There is, as one site explains it, a single occupied home in the town’s mostly-unmarked perimeter, and it boasts foul-language-heavy signage, warning passers-by to keep on moving. This is most likely because said tourists are seldom ghost-town hunters, eager to check out the still-standing schoolhouse or lodge hall / opera house. They mostly swing by to check out the charred remains where once the Peters family home stood. In 1993, its inhabitants – mom, dad and two little kids – were murdered by a random local, the house then set ablaze. They caught the guy and he wound up sentenced to 51 years in prison, but folks love a crime scene don’t they?

I read enough about this gruesome murder to know I have no desire to focus my exploration of this four-sentence town on that one tragic and senseless night. This is not a true-crime site, and besides – they caught the guy. Like, right away. He was, thankfully, a terrible criminal who stood no chance of getting away with it. Fuck that dude. No, I’m more interested in the town itself. What did this place, now the home of one grumpy-ass resident, hope to be when that postal clerk half-assed his job and screwed up the town’s name?

Fortunately, our researching skills here in the 1000Words word-pit have improved over the last seven years. This is how I found myself checking out the Lerado Weekly Ledger from November 4, 1886. The first item that grabbed my attention was the “Local Hash” column, right dead-center down the middle of the front page. This is where local-interest, hard-hitting events are found. For example: “The Ledger is under obligations to Mr. J.O. Coleman for a very fine squash. Mr. C. informed us that he had blackberries during September.”

You can do a lot with a fine squash.

I admire a newspaper bold enough to report the past fruit experiences of the townsfolk it serves. We’ve lost that connection to local media. I have no idea what my neighbors might have grown or purchased six months ago, and dammit I have a right to that information.

Snooping through their trash just ain’t cutting it.

But back to Lerado.

This same front page boasts a hearty prophecy: “THE FUTURE IS GREAT”. Yes, four – count ‘em, FOUR railroads are building toward Lerado. It will be the hub of the Midwest, or whatever Kansas was considered in 1886. The article admits that, sure, things have seemed bleak in Lerado over the last few years, but don’t worry! That’s all behind us! “Lerado is on the highway to prosperity!”

Except that it wasn’t. This little optimistic town, celebrating the grand opening of the Hammel House Hotel and the laying of the cornerstone of its opera house, never landed even one train. By 1888 the front page of their newspaper was mostly taken up by a chapter of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. There are no entries for that paper after January of that year. News items – again, detailing the mundane minutiae of residents’ lives – were now plopped at the back of The Saturday Bee out of Hutchinson. By the end of the 1920s, most mentions of the town were contained within obituaries.

The town was stocking up on ghosts.

There was a spike of interest in the area when oil was discovered in Lerado, but that tapered off in the mid-30s. So what the hell happened? Where were those four railroads? How did Lerado’s destiny go from opera-house-worthy to abandonment?

In the end, the death of the town came largely thanks to Dr. John A. Brady, a Louisville physician who scoped out where the railways were expanding then bet the bank on Lerado. The Missouri Pacific was reaching westward and the Rock Island line was heading southwest, and Lerado was right where they’d meet, creating a transportation hub that could only mean a future metropolis and competing frozen yogurt stands fighting it out in the shadows of skyscrapers and flying cars. The Rock Island folks approached Doc Brady and asked for some aid bonds from the town so that they could finance the railroad, and the Doc said no. Why would the town help? These two railroads were heading this way anyway, and the junction would be beneficial for everyone, right? Right?

History has proven: don’t trust a Brady.

Nope. The Rock Island execs paid for another survey, then swung their line toward Hutchinson instead. Local Hutchinsonians sweet-talked the Missouri Pacific folks to do the same, and that was that. Lerado, that plucky little typo-town with big dreams of prosperity and phallic squashes, was ten miles off the nearest railroad and its real estate market tanked. Doc Brady lost everything and sulked back to Louisville. By 1915, all that remained was the school house and a country store.

There’s undoubtedly a lesson cloaked beneath this little tale, something about blind hubris and one needing to nudge themselves toward a brighter destiny by helping others, but none of that made it into Wikipedia’s scant four sentences. The grizzly murder has mostly faded into a necessary oblivion and the descendants of the folks who had danced and toasted one another at the grand ball that opened that hotel in 1886 likely have no idea they share part of their lineage with Brady’s bogus blunder in a Typo-Town.

Today the population of Hutchinson is around 40,000, and it’s the county seat for Reno County. The population of Lerado is that one guy. Seriously, stay the hell off his lawn.

Day 1000: How It Ends

originally published September 26, 2014

Inside this cubicle the air is thick as honey, with asphyxiating flecks of the mundane bracing against the irrefutable promise of a golden weekend. Outside these pin-cushion partitions – and indeed inside as well – every tiny molecule in the universe is saying its goodbyes to its neighbors and preparing to splash into the unknown permutations of a distant someday. My fingers hammer at these tiny plastic letters, fully ignorant of what’s to come.

Or are they? The hallowed fingers of esteemed science – no doubt similar in size and shape to my own, only tasked with a far more specific purpose – have combed back the hair of the observable now and picked at the scalp-nits of projection. The fields of astronomy, physics, mathematics, and a cabinet full of –ologies have given us a map of what’s to come. A timeline of time’s last hurrah.

And the best part? If any of these predictions are wrong, every record of them will likely be destroyed before anyone finds out. That’s my kind of science.

Within 10,000 years, human genetic variation will no longer be regionalized. This won’t mean we’ll all look the same – the blonde gene will still speckle crowds and set up offensive jokes, but it will be distributed equally worldwide. This forecasted panmixia is far more optimistic than astrophysicist Brandon Carter’s Doomsday Argument, which places our present at roughly the halfway point of humankind’s civilized journey, and projects a 95% likelihood that we’ll be wholly extinct in 10,000 years.

If global warming hasn’t already soaked us into a Kevin Costner-esque hellscape by then, we may also be facing the melting of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which will raise the sea levels by 3 or 4 meters above wherever it will be once we lose the rest of the polar ice caps, which should happen long before then.

Long term forecast: buy a big-ass boat.

In 36,000 years, the red dwarf star Ross 248 will become our sun’s closest neighbor. In 50,000 years, Niagara Falls will have fully eroded into Lake Erie, which might not matter as we could be facing our next ice age around then, which will render most of our terrestrial tourist attractions rather unpleasant to visit.

It would take about 100,000 years for a full-on terraforming project to turn Mars into Earth Part II, so we’d best get started on that. Especially considering that by then we’ll have likely experienced a supervolcanic eruption that will dramatically tweak the landscape. The proper motion of the stars will have rendered most of our constellations completely unrecognizable. We might as well find a new home.

In about 500,000 years the fascinating terrain of Badlands National Park in South Dakota will probably have eroded into nothing – that is, if it hasn’t yet been smashed by a meteorite about 1km thick. We’ll probably see one of those by then.

In a million years, the red supergiant star Betelgeuse will likely go supernova. On the plus side, its troubles end there. We’ll still have our issues to contend with. For example, every piece of glass in the world today will have decomposed by then. The Great Pyramid of Giza will erode into nothing, and any granite monument will have eroded by one meter. Also, this is roughly when Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon will disappear. Neil’s mark on the universe will outlive the rest of ours.

On a happier note, assuming we can keep our grubby mitts off our oceans, in about two million years the coral reefs around the globe will have fully recovered from our polluted meddling. The Grand Canyon, however, will have broadened into a wide valley around the Colorado River, which won’t look nearly as impressive on a postcard.

In 7.2 million years, the faces on Mount Rushmore will have crumbled into unrecognizability without the intervention of some serious geological surgery. Mars has more to worry about though: in 8 million years its moon, Phobos, will be disintegrated by tidal forces on the planet, turning into a ring of orbiting crud that will crash onto the planet’s surface about three million years later and leaving a big mess that nobody will want to clean up.

In about ten million years, the East African Rift valley will be flooded by the Red Sea, splitting apart the continent of Africa. Around this time evolution will have seriously altered the population of our globe, assuming you believe in such crazy science. In 50 million years the California coast will have scooted north along the San Andreas Fault toward Alaska, while the Appalachian Mountains and Canadian Rockies will have eroded to a nub. Also, the larger chunk of what’s left of Africa will be separated from western Europe by a theoretical footstep, as it sweeps north and closes off the western gate to the Mediterranean, forming a new range of mountains in the process.

No more luaus in Hawaii after 80 million years – that’s when the Big Island becomes the last to sink into the Pacific. Things get really interesting around the 250 million year mark though, as our continents may have circled back around by then to once again form a single supercontinent, which we are presently calling Amasia, Novopangea or Pangea Ultima. It doesn’t really matter; by then no one will care what we called it. Another 250 million years down the line, it will have drifted back apart.

In 600 million years, tidal acceleration will have nudged the moon so far back it will no longer be possible to view a total solar eclipse from Earth. The sun will be brighter then, water will evaporate and plate tectonics will grind to a halt. By 800 million years from the present, carbon dioxide levels will have plummeted to the point at which photosynthesis is no longer possible. Goodbye ozone, goodbye oxygen and goodbye multicellular life. As far as its residents are concerned, Earth is a goner.

We will have lost the rings of Saturn at around the 100 million year mark. By about 1.5 billion years from now, Mars will start to look moderately more attractive, having achieved a planetary temperature roughly equivalent to Earth’s during our last ice age. So that’s something. Meanwhile, our planet is going to be about as attractive a home in 3.5 billion years as Venus is today. Dress lightly.

In 5 billion years, the sun will exhale its last breath of hydrogen, and evolve into a red giant. By then the Milky Way will have collided with the Andromeda Galaxy, fusing into a single unit known as ‘Milkomeda’, because ‘Androky Way’ sounds stupid.

Chances are we’re looking at about 7.59 billion years before the sun has expanded enough for the Earth and moon to plummet into its surface, snuffing out whatever is left of home. Venus and Mercury don’t stand a chance at this point, however it’s likely that Saturn’s moon Titan will have achieved temperatures that can support life by then, so I suppose we have a backup plan.

Now we’re looking deep into the haze at the heart of our little crystal ball. In one quadrillion years, assuming we haven’t fallen into the surface of the sun, Earth will detach from its orbit, along with the rest of our planetary brethren. The sun will likely scoot out of the galaxy in about 100 quintillion years, that is if it doesn’t slip into the massive black hole in the galaxy’s midsection.

According to the theory of quantum tunneling, in 1065 years every molecule in the universe will have rearranged and all matter will be liquid. Stephen Hawking believes that all objects in the universe will have decayed into subatomic particles by the time we’ve reached 1.7×10106 years into the future. Coincidentally, this is exactly how long I insist on waiting before I’d be willing to sit through a production of Cats.

After that, there isn’t much to write about for our universe. Everything collapses or gets reborn in a fresh Big Bang. Existence gets its final passport stamp and trades itself in, or else it circles back around and once again rolls the opening credits. It’s a humbling notion to one guy in a dusty beige cubicle. It fills my soul with all the passion and destruction of the universe in one mighty surge.

Which is perfect, since nothing sells better than graphic sex and nauseating violence.


Day 999: Buh-Bye, So Long And Hallelujah

originally published September 25, 2014

It’s a completely valid question.

For the past 50 or so days I have been fielding one question more often than most: what am I going to do for Day 1000? Will the final kilograph reflect upon the 999 that came before, like some extended clip show of my greatest guffaws and most aww-rending moments? Will I spend my final entry in closing-credits mode, thanking those who have made this all possible and put up with my considerable dearth of free time over the last 2 years and almost 9 months?

In short… no. While my original intent was to meander down that self-serving footpath for my final article, I decided that I would only do so if I could cite the Wikipedia page that had been created about me – as it turns out, that doesn’t exist yet.

In order to figure out my final missive, I felt I should turn to the moulder of my wisdom, the sage oracle who has helped to shape my morality, my perception, and even my understanding of the world: television. I have experienced the highs and lows of series finales – certainly at least one of them could illuminate the road to a poignant, entertaining, and (most of all) worthy coda to this monstrous undertaking.

My first option is the beloved trope of bringing back a classic character for the finale. In my case I could introduce a surprise cameo by Yoko Ono, Craig David, Mary Nissenson, or if I really want to stretch to my roots, Phineas Gage. I could style the entire piece in a blend of haiku, musical theatre and secret code (did anyone ever figure that one out?). It sounds trite and cliché, but that’s always a place to start, isn’t it?

Shelley Long nearly stole Sam Malone right out of Cheers in the show’s final episode. Ron Howard opted to remind everyone how much better Happy Days was before he’d left, as did Topher Grace in the final entry of That 70’s Show. Dr. House welcomed back most of his former colleagues in the finale, including the guy who’d killed himself in season 5. Michael Scott returned to The Office, Fox Mulder helped to seal The X-Files, and even Eldin showed up to tweak Murphy Brown’s house after a few years’ absence.

There are many precedents for this, though I don’t think it would make sense for my project.

If one question has rivaled the popularity of the finale question, it has been what I will do next. 2000 Words, 2000 Days? No chance. 1000 Complaints About The Government, 1000 Days? Too negative. 1000 Sexual Partners, 1000 Communicable Diseases? That one is intriguing, so long as I’m only the documentarian, not the subject.

I will not be using tomorrow’s pulpit to announce a spin-off, though there will be another project taking shape within these electronic walls in due time. Besides, spin-offs that launch from the boot-end of a successful series tend to be obvious attempts to milk a franchise, and I’m not just talking about AfterMASH and W*A*L*T*E*R. Did our culture really benefit from 22 more episodes of Jack Tripper in Three’s A Crowd? Mayberry R.F.D. lasted for three seasons in the top 20, so I suppose this gimmick could work – hell, Boston Legal lasted a while too after having swept James Spader and William Shatner clear of The Practice.

Maybe I’ll wait to see how Better Call Saul turns out.

Perhaps there should be some concern that my exit from this stage may be a little premature. Many shows have run series finales under the belief that their network’s shiny silver ax was set to dice it into cancelled chum. Maybe there’s a Day 1001 waiting to pop up on Saturday morning, extending my tenure beyond my initial plans. Of course that would betray the site’s original intent (not to mention its registered domain name), so I’d call that fairly unlikely.

Sledge Hammer! wrapped up season 1 by nuking Los Angeles, as they were pretty certain they were on the cancellation block. They were wrong, and season 2 was awkward and ultimately fatal to the show. Scrubs was offered one final half-season by ABC after the My Finale episode, and poor Futurama has endured four distinct and legitimate series finales. The latest show to offer up a pseudo-ending was Community, which satisfactorily wrapped up last spring under an uncertain renewal decision by NBC. Time will tell whether they should have let the show die or whether Yahoo! will make another season worth our while.

As for this joint, let’s safely bank on #1000 being the final curtain.

What if I totally blow it? What if my final thousand words are pedantic and uninspired? What if I disrespect the entire run of this project and piss off my fan-base, maybe by finishing off at 995 words? What if I leave a bunch of unresolved loose ends? Considering the lack of a story arc in this little universe, that might not be a concern. But there’s a lot of pressure here.

The creators of Seinfeld provided a karmic closure to its four reprehensibly selfish characters, while also opening up the door for many of their most beloved one-off characters to return for the finale. Yet the audience mostly loathed that final episode. Even more controversial was the cryptic church scene at the end of Lost that invited more questions than it answered.

Nope. I need to do it right. I want to be lumped in with the best. Inasmuch as this will be compared with any other finale to a large writing project; I can’t let my metaphor blow my perspective here.

A perfect finale can take many forms. Breaking Bad finished with a final episode worthy of the brilliance of the series’ entire run – resolving every storyline and completing the arc of each character. The Fugitive’s last show was the first finale to truly earn the next day’s headlines, as it closed off a 4-year story with a tremendous punch, at a time when most shows were happily thwacking the reset button every week.

Friends said goodbye as it was meant to, by terminating the weird vortex of New York in which six people could almost never actually work, yet could afford upper-middle-class lifestyles in Midtown Manhattan. Star Trek never got to end its five-year mission to its fans’ satisfaction, but Star Trek: The Next Generation concluded with a magnificent intertwining of multi-dimensional philosophy.

Then there’s the 135-minute epic that brought M*A*S*H to a close, landing a 77% audience share, which beat out The Fugitive’s 72% share to become the most-watched series finale in history. Was it the best ever? Probably not, though the story that wrapped up the arc of Charles Winchester may have been the high point of the entire series.

Perhaps I need to look at a classic twist. Newhart’s big reveal was that the entire series had been a dream by Bob Newhart’s character on his first successful sitcom – my pick for the greatest series ending ever. No, I might be overthinking this. Maybe simplicity is the key here. It’s like I’ve always said: “Don’t stop believin’. Hold on to that feelin’. Streetlights people, don’t stop

Day 998: Crossing Abbey Road

originally published September 24, 2014

This Friday marks the 35th anniversary of what I believe to be the greatest album of all time.

Before you flick lint in my beer or pelt me with wads of Big League Chew for not designating this title to Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates of Dawn or Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Too-Rye-Ay, allow me to point out that there are many albums that are flawless – sometimes in spite of a number of actual flaws. Nary a wayward note blemishes Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life, and Paul Simon’s Graceland is among the few utterly perfect slabs of 1980’s vinyl. For me, “the greatest” combines not only artistic and technical brilliance, but the subjective distinction of having served as the soundtrack to many of the most fantastic moments of my life. Your results may (and probably do) vary.

The story of Abbey Road is one of pure, primal mirth, flecked with auburn specks of encroaching melancholy. It is the last glorious and romantic trip to Maui for an otherwise doomed marriage. It marks the greatest rock band in history (an assertion I’ll stand by as wholly factual) producing one final brushstroke upon their legacy before heading their separate ways.

This is not a happy group.

In January of 1969, the Beatles were moving in four different directions, and had been for over a year. Their plan was to return to the studio, record a back-to-their-roots album, perform their first concert since the summer of 1966 (the Pyramids in Egypt were a proposed locale, as was a barge adrift in the Atlantic), and film it all for posterity. This attempt to reconnect resulted in a cavalcade of arguments, the grandiose concert reduced to a noon-hour gig on the roof, and the temporary quitting of George Harrison.

It wasn’t pretty. This heinous atmosphere can be seen in the resulting film, Let It Be, which is probably why Apple – the company that still controls the Beatles’ legacy – hasn’t officially released Let It Be on DVD. The album was scrapped (though later pieced together for release in 1970), and the band could very easily have signed the papers and moseyed into the rock ‘n roll sunset. Then they were saved by this guy:

Producer George Martin had overseen just about every recording session since the band first stumbled wide-eyed into EMI Studios in London back in 1962. He had been shut out during those January sessions (and happily so – four sniping Beatles made for cruddy company in the studio), but he was eager to record one more album like a group, under the strict condition that he be allowed to wander through the thick fog of their monstrous egos to take his rightful position at the helm of the project. The band agreed.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney had spent an affable day together in April recording “The Ballad of John & Yoko” without either of the other Beatles, so the hope was that the two would play together nicely for the new album. There were still concerns; Paul wanted another semi-conceptual epic like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, while John just wanted to record a regular goddamn album. There was talk about stashing Paul’s songs on one side and John’s on the other. The infamous side-2 medley (which John later claimed he despised) was the compromise.

Matters weren’t helped when John and his new bride Yoko Ono got into a nasty car crash in June. John escaped relatively unscathed, however Yoko was committed to bed rest. Rather than condemn Yoko to the indignity of recuperating at home, John had a bed brought into studio 2 at Abbey Road so that she could continue to oversee the recording sessions, something that didn’t sit well with the other band members.

It was an environment which might have been more conducive to explosive fistfights than creative mastery, but somehow Abbey Road was completed. The original title of the album was to be Everest, which would have included a quick jaunt to Nepal in order to shoot a snapshot of the band beside the massive mountain, but that was scrapped. They just wanted to get away from one another, so to keep things simple they spent ten minutes walking back and forth on the crosswalk outside the studio while photographer Iain MacMillan stood on a stepladder and took one of the most iconic shots in rock history.

Then there’s the matter of the music.

“Come Together” landed Lennon in the fetid legal broth of copyright infringement, courtesy of Morris Levy, who owned the rights to Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me.” Most folks with a deft ear hear more of an homage than a rip-off, but that’s all muddy water and Ono sideball under the bridge now. Chuck never achieved the swampy, sloppy groove that carved this song into the cave walls of rock brilliance. As an aside, Paul did indeed sing the harmony vocal in the verse, despite engineer Geoff Emerick’s claims to the contrary. Geoff was right about the chorus though – that’s John harmonizing with John.

George Harrison finally tasted the top of the charts with “Something” – the first and only Beatles song to reach that high with George’s fingerprints all over the music and lyrics. Frank Sinatra called this “the greatest love song of the past 50 years”, though when he sang it, he altered the line “you stick around now, it may show” to “you stick around, Jack, she might show.” George must have liked the change; whenever he sang the song in concert, it was with Frank’s amended lyrics.

That blurry dude on the left is Mal Evans, who had been the Beatles’ roadie since the days when they’d sleep stacked on top of one another for warmth inside a frozen van. He finally showed off his supreme musicianship by pounding on the anvil for the chorus of Paul’s song, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” a piece that John dismissed as “more of Paul’s granny music.” Which it totally is – fun, but fluffy. George called it “fruity.” Ultimately, Paul’s insistence on perfection on the track allegedly drove the other Beatles to loathe the song.

Far from reviled is “Oh! Darling,” a song so steeped in Louisiana swamp-pop, locals in the region apparently believed upon their first listen that it had been recorded by a local artist. John claims the song is better suited to his vocals, but fuck that; this tune is indelible evidence of the cosmic magnitude of McCartney’s rock voice. The story goes that Paul arrived in the studio early and recorded a single vocal take. He repeated this every day for a week in order to capture that perfect early-morning grit in his throat. While the song was never a single in the UK or USA, Robin Gibb’s cover from that wretched Sgt. Pepper movie hit #15 on the Billboard pop charts. Ugh.

Ringo Starr’s second published song (albeit written with a good chunk of help from George) often gets dismissed as a kids’ song. But as with most Beatles recordings, there are treats to be found within the textured grooves of “Octopus’s Garden”. Perhaps the funkiest recording tweak involved Paul and George’s vocals getting crammed through compressors and limiters until they sounded downright subaquatic. That, or George blowing bubbles into a glass of milk for a low-tech sound effect.

The song that Guitar World claimed to have possibly launched the genre of doom metal was John’s “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”. The finished song is actually a joining together of two separate pieces, one recorded way back in April (and featuring Billy Preston on Hammond organ), before the sessions for Abbey Road had picked up momentum. The abrupt cut-off that ends the track (and the side) comes courtesy of John, who selected the exact moment for the crescendo of instrumentation and Moog-synth-induced white noise to sever, leaving a jarring void as the needle shimmies into the inner groove.

The month of April, 1969 featured a record number of sunlight hours for England, fresh off a brutally cold February and March. That, along with George’s exalted relief at having a morning to chill in Eric Clapton’s lush garden rather than deal with the prattle of business at Apple, propelled him to write what many consider to be his masterpiece. “Here Comes The Sun” almost featured a guitar solo – in fact, one was recorded by George before being scrapped. If you’re a fan, it’s worth watching this clip of his son, Dhani, grooving to the recently unveiled solo with George and Giles Martin.

The song “Because” was infamously penned by John Lennon upon hearing Yoko play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”. He asked her to reverse the chords and a song was born. This isn’t exactly true – or perhaps Yoko didn’t succeed in matching the structure in reverse – but it’s a good story. Paul and George have both claimed “Because” to be their favorite track on the album, most likely due to its ethereal triple-tracked, triple-stacked vocals. Listening to “Because” is like floating on a river of pudding whilst getting massaged from the inside out. There are endorphins in the brain that are only triggered by the pure bliss of hearing this magnificent song.

Now to the medley. “You Never Give Me Your Money” is but one song, though its suite-style arrangement makes it feel like three. Money had been at the heart of the Beatles’ woes all year, as they risked losing the publishing rights to their own songs (and eventually would), and became mired in conflict over the band’s finances and the finances of their fledgling record label / ludicrous hippie vision, Apple. The backing track was actually recorded at Olympic Sound Studios, not Abbey Road. But we’ll let that slide.

According to George, “Sun King” was the Beatles trying to pull off Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross”, a stunningly atmospheric instrumental that had been released into the wilderness of rock earlier that year. The poetic-sounding foreign lyrics at the end of “Sun King” consist of a handful of Spanish words that Paul knew, mixed with some Romantic-language-sounding gibberish and the term “chicka ferdy”, which was an old Liverpool childhood taunt.

“A bit of crap I wrote in India” is how John described “Mean Mr. Mustard.” Indeed, on its own it isn’t much. But it’s a fun 66 seconds, and features a spine-throttling fuzz bass played by Paul. One of John’s efforts to acquiesce to Paul’s medley idea was to change Mr. Mustard’s sister’s name from Shelly (as can be heard in an early take on the Beatles’ Anthology 3 collection) to Pam.

“Polythene Pam” was, in fact, a real person. A man who John claimed was “England’s answer to Allen Ginsberg” invited John over years earlier and introduced him to a woman who dressed completely in polythene (a British variant of the term ‘polyethylene’). That might be the story. Alternately, the song could refer to ‘Polythene Pat’, a fan from the Cavern days in Liverpool who used to eat polythene. Either way, it’s a messed up story.

Jessica Samuels claims that she was the one who came in through the bathroom window. One of the so-called Apple Scruffs – the obsessive fans (who may now be your grandma!) who staked out a perpetual patch of land outside the studio and the Beatles’ homes – Jessica says she climbed up a ladder into the bathroom window of Paul’s home in St. John’s Wood, then opened the door so the entire gaggle of fans could steal some photos and try on Paul’s pants. Why Paul was moved only to write “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” instead of pressing charges is a mystery.

“Golden Slumbers” is Paul’s tiny dalliance in ‘borrowing’ from another artist, in this case from the poem “Cradle Song” by 17th-century dramatist Thomas Dekker. He spotted the sheet music for the piece at his dad’s place, but not knowing how to read music he simply wrote his own and tweaked the words.

There isn’t much to say about “Carry That Weight”, though it was one of the songs that propelled that homeless weirdo to camp out on John’s property in the Imagine movie. It blends seamlessly from “Golden Slumbers” (which it should – they were recorded as a single track) and incorporates elements of “You Never Give Me Your Money” to create a thematic continuity for the medley. The Bee Gees covered this song twice. Why the hell they did this, I have no friggin’ idea.

“The End” is the resounding thud that slams the door on the Beatles’ incomparable recording legacy. They gave Ringo a drum solo (which he’d never really wanted to do), then launched into a trade-off of guitar solos, cycling through Paul, George and John in that order. The guitar solo roundtable was recorded in one take, with all three playing live against the pre-recorded backing track. It was the Beatles’ version of the late-60’s jam band scene, packed into a tight 2:20 song. This is the kind of song that rattles a ribcage to the point of nearly splintering – enthusiasm and discipline wrapped in a lettuce-leaf of magic.

The album should have ended right there. “Her Majesty” was a mistake; the song had originally been placed between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” in the medley, but Paul instructed tape operator John Kurlander to cut it out. He did so, but because he’d been trained not to toss anything out, he tacked it onto the end of the tape, in case Paul changed his mind. This explains the 14 seconds of silence before the song, whose final note is buried beneath the opening guitar of “Polythene Pam” and whose initial note is in fact the thunderous conclusion of “Mean Mr. Mustard.” Paul heard the happy accident and loved it, and so the song was allowed to stay. It sounds to the untrained ear like the simplest little ditty on the album, but just try to play that bastard.

The magnificence of Abbey Road wasn’t enough to keep the Beatles together – John would inform the group of his departure precisely one month after the album’s final mixing session. Indeed, the critical response to the album was tepid at first, though it has since grown to become many critics’ favorite album, and remains the best-selling Beatles album to this day.

Perfection takes a winding, sometimes emotionally brutal path. In the case of the Beatles’ Abbey Road, we are all better off for their journey.

Day 997: Hollywood’s Original A-List, Part II

originally published September 23, 2014

Last year I penned a heartfelt tribute to Lilian Gish and that first generation of cinematic ladies who made male hearts swoon, back when it was still gentlemanly to swoon in mixed company. Alas, the big bold number at the top of this article threatens an accusation of sexism if I don’t supply that article’s flip-side in short order. So here you go: five sploosh-worthy gents who first glued eyes to screens.

It’s important to note that the qualifications for being a sex symbol in the 1910’s were somewhat different than today. Washboard abs were barely an asset; Fatty Arbuckle was a lady’s man and he had the body shape of a Barbapapa. Acting back then was all in the eyes, and it was to the eyes that our attention was drawn. I suspect that in 1914, Channing Tatum’s beady greens wouldn’t have made the cut.

The style of acting required for silent film is truly unique; no one knew (or cared) whether these men could sing, or if their voices sounded like a sack of wet noodles being dragged through a frog’s trachea. We say that Hollywood is superficially mired in its obsession with physical looks today (seriously, why has every on-screen cop since Andy Sipowicz been traditionally attractive?), but back then looks was all they had. Looks, and the ability to brood on cue. Gotta have that brooding glare.

Those eyes will look into your soul, rearrange the contents therein and leave you a changed person. This is Sessue Hayakawa, and he was causing hearts to throb before literally any other Hollywood star. In his time – which began about a hundred years ago – he was as popular and beloved to audiences as Charlie Chaplin. Born in Tokyo, Sessue broke down racial barriers before the paint had even dried on their walls. He refused any role that perpetuated schlocky Asian stereotypes, and was thusly thrust into the spotlight when Cecil B. DeMille cast him as the romantic lead in 1915’s The Cheat.

Sessue started his own production company, produced 23 films of his own and became incredibly wealthy, yet his name strikes almost zero chords of recognition today. I just finished a degree in film studies and I’d never heard his name uttered in one lecture. The only performance of Sessue’s that I’ve seen is the one that netted him an Oscar nomination, as Colonel Saito in Bridge On The River Kwai. In fact, many of his films are considered to be lost today. But back in the day? He could raise the barometric pressure inside a theatre full of ladies with one coy stare at the camera.

Now here was a set of abs that could grate a block of cheddar into sunset slivers. The first Hollywood “event” movies were the swashbuckling adventure flicks of the early 20’s, like Robin Hood, The Mark of Zorro or The Thief of Baghdad, and Douglas Fairbanks was the era’s Jason Statham, commanding the lead in most of them. By 1919 he was the country’s most popular actor after Charlie Chaplin, he was about to marry Mary Pickford (the highest-grossing actress in the business, making them Hollywood’s first power-couple), and all three stars hooked up with filmmaker D.W. Griffith to launch United Artists, the first artist-run production house in Hollywood.

Fairbanks and Pickford were the first to slap their handprints and footprints in cement in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd. He presented the first Oscars. Then the talkies happened.

It wasn’t that Fairbanks’ voice was a cacophonous disaster; movies simply weren’t being made in the same way, and in the new reality of the marketplace, his first few performances didn’t resonate with audiences. He retired from movies after 1934, just as his son took over the family business of stardom.

Calm down, ladies. He’s taken. He has also been dead for more than 65 years.

Back in the rollicking 1910’s, the western was as ubiquitous in the cinematic landscape as superhero movies are today, and William S. Hart was among the first to follow the genre to stardom. John Wayne was still in grade school when Hart hit the scene, transitioning from the Broadway stage to the new medium as many curious actors did. Hart was a devotee of the Old West. He was friends with Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, and he even bought Billy the Kid’s 6-shooters. He insisted that his westerns be realistic and true.

Hart’s white pinto horse, Fritz, became the first famous steed of the movie world, beating out Tom Mix’s Tony and Roy Rogers’ Trigger. But the popularity of Hart’s pictures – which were admittedly a little blatant in their morality, and were far outshone action-wise by the likes of Douglas Fairbanks – began to wane in the early 20’s. He bowed out of the scene before the talkies moved in to made the decision for him.

The ladies loved Valentino. Known as the Latin Lover, Rudolph Valentino (born Rodolfo Alfonso Rafaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla – presumably his birth certificate was printed on tabloid-size paper) was originally type-cast as the grizzly Italian villain type. It was The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse (1921), one of the first films to gross over a million dollars, that launched him to stardom. He married, then married again, then got sued for bigamy and un-married the second woman. The tabloid crowd, such as they were in the 20’s, ate it all up.

The press loved to play up Rudolph’s alleged effeminateness, which caused him no end of ire. He challenged one Chicago Tribune writer to a boxing match over a snarky story. The women didn’t care; Valentino had eclipsed any and all other sex symbols of the era, a fact that was evidenced by the reaction to his demise.

A bout of appendicitis led to his premature death in 1926 at the age of 31. Over 100,000 fans lined New York streets for his funeral, leading to an all-day riot around the Frank Campbell Funeral Home on Madison Avenue.  Apparently women committed suicide, they were so despondent. I don’t think that crossbow guy from The Walking Dead can expect that level of fan adoration.

And because there is always a portion of the lust-hungry female audience who gets giddy over the funny guys (what single woman wouldn’t fall for a guy with a Bill Hader tattoo?), I feel I should pay tribute to the beloved Harold Lloyd. Harold Lloyd was about as popular a comedic actor as Chaplin in the 20’s (and he released three times as many features), and considerably more popular than Buster Keaton. Like Keaton, Harold insisted upon performing all his own stunts, which makes the fingernail-biting building-climbing sequence in 1923’s Safety Last! all the more fantastic.

Harold was so devoted to his work, he paid for it in body parts. A prop bomb on the set of a 1919 production went off, costing Harold the thumb and index finger of his right hand. To be clear, the bulk of his stardom was achieved after this disaster, with a prosthetic glove subbing in for his missing digits when necessary.

The talkies didn’t kill Lloyd’s career – he simply slowed down his schedule until 1963 when he retired completely. The movies he left behind – Why Worry?, Girl Shy, The Freshman, etc – are still gut-splittingly hilarious today.

We can’t all be Valentinos or Fairbankses, ladies. This is what you’d have had to choose from among Hollywood’s first generation of A-list hunks. What do you think, are we better off today?