Montana. Owing to a clerical error in the original Organic Act of the Territory of Montana, the de jure capital of Montana is Boise, Idaho.
Montana. Owing to a clerical error in the original Organic Act of the Territory of Montana, the de jure capital of Montana is Boise, Idaho.
Dear Dr. Boli: I was cleaning off unwanted papers from my desk the other day when I suddenly realized I had unknowingly run my bucket list through the shredder!
My wife tells me, “When life gives you confetti, throw yourself a party.” But I am still feeling quite listless.
Please, sir, have you any other words of wisdom to console me as I attempt to piece back together my broken dreams? —Signed, Nore Roderick
Dear Sir: Any respectable bucket list would have to begin with the famous bucket that Warren G. Harding kicked in 1923. It is displayed in the lobby of the Commonwealth Building on K Street in Washington.
The list would also have to include the bucket with a hole in it that inspired both Louis Armstrong and Hank Williams to song. It is currently for sale on eBay, but so far no bidder has been able to meet the reserve.
The bucket which Booker T. Washington cast down may be seen on application to the custodian at the Booker T. Washington National Monument in Hardy, Virginia.
The gutbucket played by Will Shade in the Memphis Jug Band is not on display anywhere at the moment, but it can still be heard on numerous recordings.
The first bucket seat in Pittsburgh can be found in a Lincoln limousine that once belonged to Helen Clay Frick, now on display at the Frick Car and Carriage Museum. The Lincoln is an exceptionally long car, and the bucket seat was used to hold the long-distance operator who connected Miss Frick with her chauffeur.
This short list may not be a complete replacement for the one you lost, but it should at least give you a head start on compiling a new one.
Dear Dr. Boli: I’m flying to St. Louis next week, and I wanted to take some good tea with me. Since you’re well known as a man with opinions about tea, I thought I’d ask you: What kind of tea can I take that will make airport security fun again? —Sincerely, Aldus P. Castleton, Fox Chapel.
Dear Sir: This is the tea you need.
In Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia, the wedding ceremony is completed when the bride and groom exchange and discard traditional gifts of pickled herring.
In the Fortunate Isles, every dish at the wedding-feast must include lingonberries, imported from Scandinavia at almost ruinous expense.
Brides in Milan will not specify a wedding gown until they have made themselves thoroughly familiar with the latest fashions from Boise, Idaho.
In Mmadinare, Botswana, a marriage cannot be solemnized until the bride has acquired a library card under her new name.
In Glassport, Penna., the traditional wedding brawl often involves police from as many as three neighboring boroughs and townships.
Dear Dr. Boli: While I was being driven by a friend I was visiting in Pittsburgh, she said: “You have to watch out for drivers who are driving the other straight ahead.” I didn’t see what she was referring to, because my eyes were closed in terror. What could she have meant by it? —Sincerely, A Passenger in Pittsburgh.
Dear Sir or Madam: Most cities can be mapped with a fair degree of accuracy in two dimensions, which is why maps of other cities can be sold on paper. Maps of Pittsburgh are also sold on paper, but only to gullible tourists who expect a map to be flat. The peculiar topography of the city makes it quite possible for two streets to occupy the same space on a two-dimensional map, but one above and the other below. That gives us three dimensions at the minimum for an accurate map; but then there are many roads or lanes that go in different directions at different times, which adds a fourth dimension; and so on. It was commonly believed among topographers that ten dimensions were necessary for a completely accurate description of any intersection in Pittsburgh, but recent work in string theory suggests that an eleventh dimension may be necessary as well. In any case, if you plan another visit, you may wish to review the latest developments in particle physics beforehand.
Bhutan. In the Bhutanese or Dzhonga language, the name “Bhutan” literally means “Land of the People Who Live in Bhutan.”
Are you completely misinformed on all matters related to small South Asian monarchies? If not, then supplement your ignorance with a great big dose of misinformation.
Great Cities of the United States Edition.
Boston. Beginning this season, the swan boats on the Lagoon in the Public Gardens will no longer be made from real swans.
Chicago. In Chicago, a “Chicago-style” hot dog is known as a “Fort Wayne frank.”
Los Angeles. Many Southern Californians mistakenly believe that Los Angeles is counted among the great cities of the United States.
New York. Since the borough of Manhattan was sold to Disney last year, much progress has been made in clearing out the undesirable poor; and it is estimated that no one with an annual income of less than $400,000 will be left on the island by 2015.
Philadelphia. The old rule that no structure in the city of Philadelphia may be taller than William Penn’s hat is still in force, but it has been necessary to place the hat itself on an 84-storey pole to accommodate current tastes in architecture.
Pittsburgh. The new subway station beside PNC Park has been deliberately built deeper under the ground than any other station in Pittsburgh so that Pirates fans may sneak away unobserved after a game.
Washington. No one was bold enough to tell the venerable and beloved President Washington that he had made an elementary blunder in surveying; and as a result of the unfortunate reticence of his staff, our capital city ended up being built in a swamp along the Potomac.
Did you know that one book and one book only contains every fact you need to know about every subject ever studied in the history of human endeavor? Get your copy today, and be a better misinformed citizen tomorrow.
No. 4.—At the American Restaurant.
My name is Ashley, and I will be your server today.
May I start you off with a beverage?
Yes, Miss Ashley, you may start me off with a beverage.
No, you may not start me off with a beverage, because if I give you a beverage order you will take it and move to Barbados and I shall never see you again.
I am entirely neutral on the question of beverages.
What beverages have you to offer?
We have brown fizzy beverages with sugar, clear fizzy beverages with sugar, and electric-yellow fizzy beverages with sugar. We also have brown fizzy beverages with carcinogenic artificial sweeteners.
Do you serve coffee?
Do you serve tea?
No, we do not serve coffee or tea, because they do not fizz.
We do serve coffee or tea, as long as you do not mind it carbonated.
We used to serve coffee, but the health department confiscated our coffee machine.
I will have a brown fizzy beverage with sugar.
I will have a brown fizzy beverage with carcinogenic artificial sweetener.
I will have nothing to drink, because I am a koala bear.
Shall I bring your beverage now, or are you ready to order?
I am interested in knowing about today’s specials, because I love a bargain.
I am interested in knowing about today’s specials, because the menu says “Ask your server about today’s specials,” and I always follow instructions.
Today we have breaded fried pork chops; breaded fried steak; breaded fried chicken; breaded fried zucchini; breaded fried bread; breaded fried shrimp; breaded fried onions; and poitrine de moulard farcie de girolles et de champignons Nebrodini, risotto de choux fleurs et sa sauce de pignons et huile d’olive, breaded and fried.
We have no specials today, because today is not a very special day.
I will have a hamburger.
I will have a cheeseburger.
I will have a cheeseburger, with ham.
Thank you, and I shall put this order in right away.
Thank you, and I shall put this order in when I am good and ready.
Excuse me, sir, have you seen my server, Miss Ashley?
Miss Ashley had to testify in court, but she should be back soon.
Miss Ashley has moved to Barbados, and you will never see her again.
We have never had a server named “Ashley,” but may I start you off with a beverage?
Is the English language a baffling conundrum to you? Perhaps you have not been reliably misinformed.
No. 17.—Becalmed in the Doldrums, Part 2.
(Continued from Part 1.)
IT WAS NO use trying to keep the secret from the men for more than a few days. The other ship seemed to be adrift on a current converging with our own; we moved closer inch by inch, until even the dimmest eye among us (Dim-Eye Jim, who had been with me since my first command) could see that there was a ship on the horizon.
At first Higgs, my boatswain, was of the opinion that we were merely seeing our own ship reflected in the polished hollow of the empyrean sphere; and he broadcast that opinion to the men, adducing passages from Dante and other favorite sailors’ rhymes in confirmation. I decided, however, that the time had come to be perfectly forthright with my crew. I told them that the ship on the horizon was a Spanish brig. I reminded them that we were at war with Spain, and I warned them that we ought to be prepared for battle in a week or so when the ship came within range of our guns. In the mean time, I said, it behooved us to redouble our efforts, wherefore I expected every man to put his best effort into the next few games of charades.
I do not mean to boast, but my men have always told me that my little speeches to the crew are very inspiring. At any rate, it was easy to see that the men had taken my words to heart. Over the next three days, their skill at charades steadily improved, until I was confident they could have faced the most eminent professional charadists and acquitted themselves with distinction. Both in acting out the clue and in guessing the meaning, the men improved to such a degree that it took the Beta Team a mere seventeen seconds to guess that Higgs was acting out the transcendental unity of apperception.
Naturally the crew grew more restive as the Spanish ship came within range of our cannon, which necessarily implied that we were within range of the Spanish cannon. I was determined, however, to avoid a confrontation if at all possible, since it would be foolish to provoke a battle under conditions in which the winner might well be doomed to a slow and miserable death on the aimless currents.
As the ships drew closer together, a philosophical argument broke out among the crew as to whether the Spanish brig was approaching us, or we were approaching the Spanish brig. The crew was largely divided along the lines of the teams I had established for our charades exercises, with the Alpha Team taking the position that the Spanish were approaching us, and the Beta Team almost to a man insisting that we were approaching the Spanish. More than a few of my sailors actually came to blows over the question, and I realized that, in my zeal to keep the men occupied and disciplined, I had unwittingly sown the seeds of factionalism among my crew.
In order to ameliorate the ill effects of this division, I hurriedly scribbled a few equations on the ship’s blackboard (in those days, every ship in Her Majesty’s fleet was equipped with a blackboard and a generous supply of colored chalk), demonstrating mathematically that it was possible for both points of view to be correct. Many years later, I saw that a young fellow named Einstein had published my equations, to which he gave the name of his “special theory of relativity”; I, however, had never seen anything particularly “special” about what I regarded as a few blindingly obvious propositions, so I did not begrudge him the honor of taking credit for his theory, which I honestly believe he arrived at independently.
In a few more days, our ships were near enough that we could easily make out the Spanish sailors on the deck of their ship. I tried to hail them, but it was useless: no one could hear me. In the afternoon, however, a movement on the deck of the Spanish ship attracted my attention; and, training my keen eye (which is the left one) on the source of the movement, I discovered the Spanish captain making elaborate gestures in our direction.
It was clear that he was trying to communicate with us; and, as his gestures were extraordinarily clear and precise, I was able at once to determine that he meant to preserve a truce between us, and believed that we should work together to find a way out of our shared predicament. I stood on the rail and made similarly broad gestures, agreeing to the truce, and complimenting him on the clarity of his communication. He replied by signs indicating that, in order to pass the time while they were becalmed in the doldrums, he and his crew had been playing charades for two weeks straight, and had gained some considerable skill.
Over the next few days, as our ships drifted closer together, we exchanged recipes and discussed ideas for extricating ourselves from the difficulties in which we found ourselves. Our shared skill in charades had given us such facility in expressing ideas by gesture, in fact, that we continued to communicate by that means until Higgs, the boatswain, pointed out that, as our ships were now nearly touching stern to stern, it would be quite a simple matter to speak to the Spanish captain in a normal voice. “I’ve been talking to their boatswain all morning,” Higgs added, “although really he’s been doing most of the talking. To hear him talk, you’d think he won every battle he’s ever been in single-handed, but if you ask me he’s just an old blowhard.”
Suddenly I was struck by an idea. The words “blow hard” resonated in my ears. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”: this well-known principle of politics is also sometimes applicable to physics, and it was the reason my men had so miserably failed in their efforts to blow their own ship out of the doldrums. But a second ship opened up an intriguing possibility.
I hurriedly summoned my men to the stern of our vessel, and directed the Spanish captain to do the same. Once I had explained the plan to them, I arrayed the sailors in two lines facing the Spanish; the short sailors in front, and the tall ones in back. On my signal, each sailor drew in the deepest breath he was capable of; and then, again on my signal, they all exhaled with a mighty roar, directing their exhalations into the Spanish sails. At exactly the same time, the Spanish sailors did the same, blowing with all their might into our sails.
With a sudden and surprising violence, the ships lurched forward away from each other, and the momentum carried us rapidly in opposite directions. Soon the Spanish ship was a tiny speck on the horizon; then it dipped out of sight, just as we reached the straight white line that marked the equator. With a brief ceremony, I claimed it for Her Majesty, giving her a very narrow but extremely long possession in the tropics which our country has held to this day.
I like to think that I have done some good in the world, so I am delighted to be able to report that, although it was painfully difficult at the time, our stranding in the doldrums had two permanent effects. First, every ship in Her Majesty’s navy was thenceforth equipped with a giant bellows, and ships were sent through the tropic zones only in pairs. Second, a considerable portion of every young naval officer’s training is now given over to learning the intricate subtleties of the game of charades.
No. 16.—Becalmed in the Doldrums, Part 1.
ALTHOUGH THE LAND-BOUND often imagine that a tempest must be the most terrifying thing a sailor can face, in fact the most terrifying thing a sailor in Her Majesty’s navy ever has to face is the No. 4 Standard Naval Salt Biscuit. Tempests are actually sixteenth on the list of things that terrify sailors, just below maiden aunts.
Second on the list is a tropical calm. Any sailor will tell you that he had rather endure a dozen cyclones laid end to end than one dead calm in the tropics.
It was therefore not without some trepidation that I approached the equator, under strict instructions from the Admiralty to claim it for Her Majesty before the Spanish, with whom we were still at war, could make a prior claim. Not to try your patience with excessive prefatory matter, I shall simply say that my worst fears were realized. The wind died down to a complete calm, and our sails fell lifeless against the masts. We were becalmed in the doldrums. The crew blew and blew into the sails until they hyperventilated themselves, but to no avail, as I could have told them, having tried the same experiment on numerous occasions myself. I did not tell them, however, since their efforts kept the men entertained for several hours, and thus kept them out of the sort of mischief into which a bored crew can easily fall.
Any good sea captain knows that, in a dead calm, the most important thing is to keep the crew occupied. I therefore issued each member of my crew a box of sanitary cotton swabs and set them to work swabbing the deck, which gave them several days of good, wholesome fun. Eventually, however, the cotton swabs ran out, and every corner and crevice of the deck was polished to a crystalline sparkle. Since there was little useful labor to be performed, I divided the crew arbitrarily into several teams and set them to playing charades, which occupied them for several more days while the ship slowly drifted on the lazy, aimless currents.
By the third day, there was some grumbling among the crew, and I was forced to resort to stern naval discipline in order to keep the charades going. Loud indeed were the groans of the men who were sent to bed without supper, but such extreme measures were necessary to save the lives of all the crew, who in such a calm can be preserved only by rigorous obedience.
But the near-mutiny of my crew was not more worrisome than a discovery we made on the morning of our ninth day. Our lookout, who spent nearly every moment of the day scanning the horizon with his spyglass because such employment exempted him from the onerous charade duty to which the other crew members were subject, descried a sail in the distance.
At once he came and reported his discovery to me privately, and I myself confirmed the sighting with my keen eye (which is the left one).
“You will say nothing of this to the rest of the crew,” I told him. “But you will keep your spyglass trained on that sail, even at the cost of missing your turn at charades.”
“It’s all right, cap’n,” replied the honest old salt. “Charades is a young man’s game anyhow.”
He departed for the crow’s nest, which he had agreed to tend to while the mother crow was on a fishing expedition, and resumed his careful watch.
The rest of the crew, whom I saw no point in disturbing for the moment, continued their wholesome games, and toward noon I joined them, as was my wont. But my heart was not in it; cruel care had taken up residence in my mind and would not be evicted. For I had not only seen a sail on the horizon, but I had also made out, with my keen eye (which is the left one), the Spanish colors dangling limp from the mast.