Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Thursday, November 11 -- Veterans Day
Veterans Day was originally established as Armistice Day, in commemoration of the end of
fighting in World War I (which was called "The Great War" at the time) at the 11th hour of the
11th day of the 11th month.
The holiday was observed on Nov. 11th from 1919 to 1970; along the way, the name was
changed to Veterans Day to include those who served in World War II.
Then the Monday Holiday Law, in order to create more three-day weekends (which promote
tourism and travel, boosting the economy), turned Memorial Day, Labor Day, Washington's
Birthday (Presidents Day) and Veterans Day into floating holidays that always fall on Mondays.
This put Veterans Day on the fourth Monday in October -- shifting it away from November and
the coming Christmas season. Apparently November already had too many holidays.
The trouble was that, unlike Memorial Day and Labor Day, Veterans Day had always been tied
to a specific event, and the "11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" was a mantra that people
were loath to give up. State after state moved its observance back to the fixed date, until finally,
in 1978, the federal holiday was shifted back to November 11th.
Poor Washington and Lincoln! They each used to have their own birthday holidays, as befitted
the two greatest presidents in our history. But they were combined into one date, which floats
ethereally between the two (the 11th and 22nd of February) without ever quite landing on either.
"God Bless America" was first performed on this day in 1938. Irving Berlin wrote the song
especially for the massive voice of Kate Smith. The sustained notes of this anthem demand a
powerful singer, and compared to Kate Smith, most who sing the song as a solo sound rather
Smith first sang it during her regular radio broadcast, and the song quickly became a patriotic
favorite of the nation. It had a resurgence in popularity after 9/11. The simple lyrics are easy to
memorize -- but are also, like the melody, rather shallow.
However, compared to "The Star-Spangled Banner," with its nightmare melody and warlike (and
sometimes nearly incomprehensible) lyrics, commemorating a rather trivial event in history,
"God Bless America" starts to look like a better choice for national anthem.
Fortunately, "America the Beautiful" exists, and I hope that someday Congress gets around to
lifting from us the burden of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and letting us have something singable
to open our baseball games.
This is the 125th anniversary of the birth of George S. Patton in 1885. Patton was ambitious,
brave, crafty, and talented as an American general in World War II, but his inability to restrain
his rhetoric got him in constant trouble. He stoically bore the frustration of being put in charge
of a nonexistent "invasion force" used to deceive the Germans into thinking that our D-Day
invasion would take place in Flanders, on the Belgian coast, while Dwight Eisenhower led the
real invasion. But Patton was soon in the field -- and continued to be the general that the
Germans feared most.
Patton's life became the source material for the movie Patton, one of the three greatest popular
war films of all time (along with Tora, Tora, Tora and The Dirty Dozen). George C. Scott was
brilliant in the title role, and most people would rather think of Patton as Scott portrayed him
(from a script by Francis Ford Coppola) than see him as the smaller, less charismatic man that he
But then, wouldn't we all rather be seen at a heroic scale?
Friday, November 12 -- Spectacular Failure Day
On this day in 1912, the frozen bodies of Robert Scott and the four remaining men of his failed
polar expedition were found on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Not only did they die, but they
did so after learning that Roald Amundsen's Norwegian expedition had already succeeded and
reached the pole before them.
It is not coincidence that in this double failure, Scott became a national hero in Great Britain,
with statues raised to him all over the country. One wonders how he would have been honored if
he had actually succeeded -- i.e., if he had made it to the South Pole first and managed to return
This is a day to think back on your most spectacular failures (assuming that they lie behind you
rather than ahead) and think positive thoughts, such as, "At least I didn't die on the way home,
the way Robert Scott did." If this is not enough to cheer you up, then list all the things you
learned from your worst failure -- even if it was only how to blame other people for it.
French sculptor Auguste Rodin was born today in 1840 in Paris. Two of his sculptures -- "The
Kiss" and "The Thinker" -- have joined the ranks of art that is instantly recognizable. Few
artists achieve as much.
Saturday, November 13 -- Underwater Tunnel Day
The Holland Tunnel, which runs under the Hudson River, connecting New York City with
Jersey City, opened to traffic on this day in 1927. Consisting of two tubes, each large enough
for two lanes of traffic, it was the first underwater tunnel built in the U.S., and continues in
Robert Louis Stevenson was born on this day in 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Most people
know him primarily from the Authors card game, where four titles are memorized by all the
players: A Child's Garden of Verses, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Treasure Island holds up brilliantly -- though it's worth remembering that Stevenson's title for
the book was The Sea Cook. Fortunately, an editor saved him from this folly.
Stevenson, always troubled by ill health, died at the age of 44 in Samoa; he loved the Pacific
islands and lived in or visited several of them. His brilliant poem "Requiem" was used, in
accord with his wishes, as his epitaph. The entire poem -- a masterpiece of form and meaning
-- goes like this:
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
In my considered opinion there is no more perfect poem in the English language.
Sunday, November 14 -- American Education Week
American Education Week has been observed since 1921, spotlighting the importance of
providing every child in American with a quality public education.
When you look at the insane way public education has changed and deteriorated, with each new
theory leading to ever greater failures, and with teachers' unions ensuring that teachers are paid
more and more while accomplishing less and less, you can only conclude that American
Education Week is a spectacular failure.
American composer Aaron Copland was born on this day in 1900 in Brooklyn, New York.
Incorporating American folk music, he strove to create an American music style that was both
popular and artistic -- and succeeded brilliantly.
From Appalachian Spring (which incorporates the melody of the Shaker Hymn "Simple Gifts"
by Elder Joseph Brackett) to the ballets Rodeo and Billy the Kid, which have become the
quintessential "western" music, Copland expressed the themes and moods of America better than
any other composer. And his most perfect work, Fanfare for the Common Man, has lost none
of its power and inspiration over the years.
Cartoonist, illustrator, and children's book author William Steig was born on this day in 1907.
The New Yorker published more than 1,600 of his drawings, including 117 covers, and he wrote
more than 25 books for children. He won the Caldecott Medal in 1970 for Sylvester and the
Magic Pebble and received two Newbery Honors, for Abel's Island and Dr. DeSoto.
Other favorites include The Amazing Bone, Brave Irene, and CDB. It was with CDB that I first
became aware of him. I still quote from it, to the annoyance of those who must put up with such
sentences as: "CDB! DBSABZB!" and "NQ"; "URLQM." (If you find these sentences baffling,
try saying the names of the letters; if that doesn't work, then the translation is "See the bee! The
bee is a busy bee!"; "Thank you"; "You are welcome.")
Officially, the book is for children ages 4 to 8. It came out in 1968, the year I turned 17, so
clearly my fascination with it proves my continuing childlike innocence. (Or perhaps my
ongoing commitment to immaturity.)
Oh ... and Steig also wrote the book Shrek! on which the movie was loosely based. The book
has a much more repulsive Shrek than the movie, and he and his princess (who has no pretty
phases) speak to each other in verse like this:
Said Shrek, "Your horny warts, your rosy wens, like slimy bogs and fusty fens, thrill me."
Said the princess, "Your lumpy nose, your pointy head, your wicked eyes, so livid red, just kill
Monday, November 15 -- National Bundt Day
No, I didn't invent National Bundt Day -- it's real. Almost everybody has a bundt pan in their
cupboard -- which they never use! This is the day to pull it out, open the recipe book, and make
a robust, delicious bundt cake from scratch!
If you're even more ambitious than most, there are many more-elaborate bundt pans to choose
from. Here's a selection from Nordic Ware: http://sn.im/nordicbundt . (Full URL:
Oddly enough, CutleryAndMore.com actually shows a better selection of Nordic Ware bundt
pans than Nordic Ware's own site: http://sn.im/cutlerybundt .
And my favorite, the pan that makes a set of small train cars, shows up here:
http://sn.im/trainbundt . (Full URL:
http://www.amazon.com/Nordic-Ware-Platinum-Collection-Train/dp/B000UXPCF0 .) My
sister-in-law -- who is an ambitious cakemaker and decorator -- has made bundt cakes using
several of these special pans, and the results are, in a word, wonderful.
This is America Recycles Day, to promote recycling and buying recycled products. But let's be
honest about this: How much of the stuff we sort out to put at the curb as "recycling" actually
gets recycled? In a lot of places, the answer is "none of it," because recycling is often not
Out in the middle of the Pacific, there is a vast swirling floating mass of plastic refuse; there's
another in the middle of the Atlantic. Where once the Sargasso Sea was so thick with floating
seaweed that sailors sometimes imagined they had found solid land, there are now plastic bags
and jugs and other such material.
If recycling actually worked, this would be a treasure trove. Instead, it costs too much to pick it
up for it to be economically useful in recycling.
The easy solution for most recyclables is to use the version of plastic recycling that completely
reduces plastic to biodegradable carbon. The process is commonly called "burning," and the
result of it is lots of liberated carbon. After years of being trapped underground as fossilized
organic matter, it seems only fair to let the carbon roam free again. But alas, because of the hoax
of global warming and the resulting fear of carbon emissions, we can't get rid of this ocean-strangling mass of plastic!
This is George Spelvin Day, in honor of an otherwise unsung actor who has appeared more than
10,000 times on Broadway. He first appeared in a New York performance of Charles A.
Gardiner's play Karl the Peddler on this day in 1886.
Yet this hardworking actor has been singularly unloved. No one has ever gone out with him --
or either of his sisters, Georgette and Georgina. No matter how often he appears in theatre
programs and playbills, there is never a soul waiting for him outside the stage door.
That's because "George Spelvin" is a fictitious name used to conceal that fact that an actor listed
in one part is also playing a second one in the same show. If the actor's real name appeared in
both roles on the program, then audiences would know from the start that the same person plays
both roles -- suggesting that they are really the same character. Or there might be a character
that is constantly talked about, but who never appears -- George Spelvin might be credited with
playing that character as well.
Those audience members who know about the George Spelvin tradition will know that
somebody is secretly doubling -- but they won't know who, so the plot's secrets are still
This is I Love To Write Day, which officially encourages people of all ages to write a poem, a
short story, or a letter to the editor, or to start or finish a novel.
Personally, I don't think there's any shortage of people writing things -- indeed, there's
probably a surplus. What with texting and email, people are writing constantly -- and badly.
I suggest that the name be changed to "I Love to Write Well Day," in which you try to write a
few paragraphs of narrative or explanation that actually make logical and grammatical sense.
Once upon a time this was a skill you were assumed to have learned by eighth grade. Now I find
that it is astonishingly rare even among upper division students at the university.
So yes, do sit down and write something, if you feel like it. Then save it, and reread it a month
later. See if it still makes sense to you. If so, then you're probably doing OK as a writer.
Tuesday, November 16 -- Manifest Destiny Day
The Lewis and Clark Expedition reached the Pacific Ocean on this day in 1805. They had
glimpsed the ocean more than a week earlier, on Nov. 7th, moving Clark to write in his journal:
"Great joy in camp! We are in view of the Ocean, this great Pacific Ocean which we have been
so anxious to see. And the roaring or noise of the waves breaking on the rocky shores . . . may
be heard distinctly."
But apparently the traffic in Portland was as bad then as now, and it took nine days to actually
get to the beach.
Once America officially reached the Pacific, it was taken by many as a given that American
should -- and eventually would -- claim all the land from the Eastern seaboard to the seacliffs
and beaches that now mark the western edge of California, Oregon, and Washington.
Having grown up in California, I can attest that it is a Good Thing that we bullied England into
backing away from Oregon and Washington, and whipped Mexico into surrendering the rest of
America from Texas to California.
Wednesday, November 17 -- Homemade Bread Day
Use your sense of irony, and instead of plugging in the bread-making machine and getting that
lovely frothy round loaf, celebrate Homemade Bread Day by going to Great Harvest Bread
Company and buying a loaf of bread that is far closer to what your Mom used to bake than
anything you can pull out of one of those machines.
Queen Elizabeth I -- the "Virgin Queen" -- acceded to throne of England on this day in 1558.
After the chaos of the religious struggle between Protestants and Catholics during the preceding
decade, Elizabeth was determined to bring England domestic peace -- and victory over the
Catholic kings who were determined to destroy her and seize her kingdom in the name of Christ.
It wasn't Elizabeth who defeated the Spanish Armada -- it was destroyed by the weather and
Francis Drake's fleet. Nor did she create the finest art ever to come out of England -- it was
Shakespeare who brought that off. But they worked under her leadership and inspiration.
Elizabath taught a whole kingdom to be loyal and brave in her service -- and the result was
England's emergence as a dominant player on the world stage.
The Suez Canal formally opened on this day in 1869. It had taken a million-and-a-half men a
whole decade to dig the 100-mile canal. It shortened the sea route from Europe to India by
6,000 miles. An Anglo-French commission ran the canal until 1956, when Egypt's president,
Gamal Abdel Nasser, nationalized it, on the principle that even though English and French
money built the thing and it was mostly English and French ships that used it, they had parked
their canal on Egyptian soil, and finders keepers, losers weepers.