Barga

Just a year after my father’s demise, his face, or to say the image of him, started corroding from my memory. Now, after almost a decade, the only memories I’ve left of him are the stories he used to tell every time my brother Nivin and I had a fight. And the times he took us to the woods, as soon as it started drizzling, to hunt for the monitor lizards.

‘Never attempt to catch this guy from up front,’ he used to say, skinning the animal. ‘If it manages to clasp its teeth around your leg, either one of you must die before it would release its grip.’

My father was a man full of fascinating stories. In summer nights, we used to sleep on the veranda to escape the heat and my father would take us from the mysteries of treasure pots to the fables of misty ghosts through the legends of forest–dwellers. Like a perennial stream, until he died, he had never run out of stories. Often, when he repeated a story, I used to point it out and he would narrate the same story in a different but a compelling way. The only problem with his tales was the moral he tried to attach to them as an epilogue. For instance, at the end of his tales about the lizards, he used to say: ‘Hold on to what you love with as much rigor as that lizard.’

I was so captivated by his stories that after my mother’s death, I started accompanying him to the fields and helping him with his chores as he went on narrating his stories one after the other. In that way, I hung around him for most of his life while my brother squirmed at us and roamed about with the goons he called friends.

One day, Nivin approached me as I was assembling the cart. ‘Why don’t you join us, Njani?’ he said. ‘What good it’ll do you loitering around with the old man?’

‘Leave about good for a second. What bad has come out of it that you’re so bothered?’

‘I think it’s high time you hang out with the people your age.’

‘What’s your problem, eh?’

‘Everyone thinks you’re a sissy. Even my friends say that you’re a baby who’s reluctant to get off from his father’s lap. They’re saying it to my face, Njani. It’s ruining my repute.’

‘Now I understand you. That’s what this is all about, then?’

He stormed out of the house stomping and cursing. After that incident, he refused to talk to me for a couple of years after which he grew up and started helping my father in the fields.

Speaking of my brother, the only similarity Nivin and I shared was a birthmark on our thighs. He always hated the fact that we were twins and I came out of my mother first — or at least that’s what the witcher woman told my father. So my father considered me the elder one, to Nivin’s distaste, even though he looked older and taller and thought he was wiser than me.

So he preferred calling me by my name instead of Anna which used to upset my father a great deal. Whenever he heard my brother calling me Njani, he would lose his calm and thrash him with a tamarind stem until my mother interfered. A few times she too couldn’t stop him but would fall prey to his angst.

Growing up, I observed this in several other twins — the younger one of them always looks elder. I tried to convey this to Nivin many times but his head was as thick as his skin.

 

One day, we were fighting for the deer meat. Nivin wanted a stew made out of it while I preferred roasting it on coals. My father then intervened and narrated this story, I think, to gross us out. He began:

‘Like me, my father, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and great-great-grandfathers, everyone had only sons as their progeny. Except for my brother who had two daughters — both of them were still-born. Some villagers considered it a boon on our lineage while some, a very few of them, deemed it to be a curse.

‘It was said that one of my grandmothers wanted a girl-child and prayed the mountain gods for years together but it looked like they weren’t kind to her prayers. Still not deterred, in her fifties, she adopted a girl from her distant relatives despite the resistance from both sides of the family. Even though such a thing called adoption was unprecedented in our village up until then, somehow she managed to get her husband’s and the birth mother’s approval.

‘They looked after the baby with their life. The husband brought crabs from the fields, tied a wire to their claws so that the baby could walk them like a dog. When the baby got tired of playing, they fried the crabs on coals and ate their meat. The woman never left her side and was said to have taken the baby along even when she had to pass water. Together, they did everything they could do to keep the baby happy.

‘When the baby was five, the husband brought home a wounded crane from his farm so that the baby could play with it. To his joy, the baby got excited, as soon as it saw the crane, ran to the bird jumping, and started playing with it. The old man, contented on watching the baby’s mirth, went for his daily dose of toddy. The old woman was busy preparing sticks for her cooking while the baby was left alone with the crane in the veranda. The crane might have mistaken the baby’s eyes which were moving rapidly for fish or god-knows-what and tried to have a bite. The old woman heard shrills and rushed to the baby to find her eyes — both of them — gouged out by the crane. An eye was strewn on the floor soaked in blood and the crane was picking at it with its beak. And the other one was dangling on her milky cheeks now turned bloody by the optic nerve. Howling, the woman kicked the bird with all her might. The bird bugled and would have flown away but for its wound.’

There was a strange custom in our village. If anyone’s on the verge of dying or unsure of survival, they rotate a live black hen around their head. They believed that if the hen dies, the person lives and if the bird lives, the person dies. In this case, my father told us, instead of wasting a hen, they thought they could use the culprit crane. It died immediately, but to their shock, the baby died after two days.

 

Our village priest used to run a school in his backyard, taking in kids under three years and teaching them to write and read until they were of ten years. The only reason my father sent us there was that the priest charged neither money nor grain for his services. Those were the times when the closest thing we’d had to a slate was a fistful of sand filled in a brick stencil and we had to use our forefingers to write on it. Our initial excitement, with which we had rushed to the school, had worn out after an hour into the writing practice. Not a single pupil went home that day without bleeding fingers.

It was worse in my case. While my brother’s skin had just a shear, my fingernail came off entirely leaving me in agony for over a month. My father scampered to the school the next day and abused the priest with such a harsh tongue that it compelled the poor fellow to provide finger caps made of cloth from then on. Even after that consolation, my father was hesitant to send me back. But somehow Nivin convinced our mother and continued his classes nonetheless. Two years into Nivin’s education, the priest died in a farming accident — he was unloading his cart of rice bags when they fell on him — and the school was closed, for, as it turned out, his sons and daughters were as ignorant as the village folks.

It’s a fact that everyone has love-and-hate relation with their families. But as for me, I had nothing but love for my father and reserved the antithetical for Nivin. At thirteen, he could carry a plow to the field all by himself while I couldn’t even lift it off the ground. Even though we were married to the girls from the same house, Nivin managed to garner more dowry than me. To add to my vacillations, he made it a custom to remind me of my setbacks from time to time. Like when he used to go to school and boast about it, saying that he would grow up to be a learned man while I would turn a ruffian. For quite some time, I tried to bottle my angst and stopped talking to him altogether when I couldn’t take it anymore.

One day as I was leaving for the weekly market, my father called for me.

‘Njani, why don’t you call for your brother so that we could have a chat?’ he said snuffing his naswar.

I remained silent, upon which he replied: ‘Is there something wrong between you both?’

I shrugged my shoulders. He continued nonetheless: ‘Do you care for a story, Njani?’

‘This isn’t the time, Bapu,’ I began, ‘I am leaving for the market — ’

‘Sit down,’ he cut me off and began his story before I could even sit.

‘The relation between my father and his brother, my uncle, was worse than the two of youse. It was worse than enmity, you can say. Whenever there was an occasion in the family, dealing with these brothers was a more daunting task to our relatives than making preparations for the event, for inviting one would upset the other. In functions they both had to attend, they cursed at each other, forgetting and foregoing their dignity. I saw them both swearing to kill one another and describe in detail how horridly one would kill the other.  Want to know the reason for their hatred?

‘My grandfather had no property besides his agricultural land. So, on his deathbed, he distributed it equally between the brothers, and passed away. Everything was calm until the start of the cropping season.  No one in the family knew then there was a storm in store for them — a storm which would last two decades. My uncle accused my father of encroachment on his land. To be honest, my father did no such thing. So, the family stood behind him and my uncle went to the village heads.

‘My father being a sincere man, and they knowing it, the village heads denied to call for a meeting at first. Not dejected, my uncle bribed some of them and made them call my father for the meeting. It went on for a month and my uncle, to bear the expenses of the village heads, had to sell a part of his land. And at the end of it, they decreed that my father was not guilty and there was no such encroachment as accused.

‘Unable to digest the truth and defeat, my uncle, who had a bad taste for them, next sought the help of a revenue officer who lodged a complaint against my father. The case went on for years in the mandal court all the while my uncle’s family starved. His wife died of cholera so he married again and that woman eloped with some bloke just after a year. His children died malnourished while my uncle was busy in the mandal. My dad worked hard on his field, managed his duties and did everything at his disposal to increase the produce on the crop every year. My father was relieved of the case not until you were born, and the verdict was in his favor. As to my uncle, no one knows what happened to him. Some say he committed suicide. Others say they’ve seen him begging in the Barangaon city. We’ve never been there so we don’t know the amount of truth in that news.’

As he completed his story, I looked at him puzzled as to why he narrated it to me.

‘I know how you feel about your brother.’

I opened my mouth but he waved his hand to dismiss my trial of protest. ‘I’m thinking of transferring the land to both of you, this year. You’re old and ready enough, I think. And let me say you this. We don’t worship mythical heroes or gods in our village, Njani. All that we villagers, look upon as success is the highest amount of produce on a crop in a season. I think you can beat your brother at that, don’t you?’

I nodded half-heartedly.

‘And take this as my advice. Never waste your money on pleasures. Do you know the reason they respect me in the village?’

I shook my head.

‘My father, dying, gave me half an acre of land. I bought out the surrounding lands of it and augmented it into two acres. I can say with a bit of pride that I was the only one who managed to do that in my generation. No matter how weak and feeble you are in your childhood, how insecure you are about your strengths, people will forget them once you’re successful in their eyes. That’s the reason, in folklore, heroes are said to have been born with golden armor and wicked people are said to have been born killing their mothers.’

 

My old man died a year after we’d had that conversation. As promised, he gave both of us an acre of land. And thus began my trials to shellac my brother. The first year, I tried every trick in the book to produce more grain than Nivin. I spent most of my days in the field, took my meals there and drank water from the stream flowing nearby and slept in the meadows for the fear of wild boars.

But all in vain, for at the end of the season, Nivin had managed to turn out the same amount of grain as I. To be upright, he managed a bagful excess, but he donated it to the local deity. So, in a way, we were on the same level in terms of yield.

I worked harder the next year but again it was Nivin who had the upper hand. I would’ve gone mad if not for my wife, who blessed me with a boy snatching away my distress. The year after that, Nivin’s grain weighed two times more than mine. It was then that my wife told me: ‘I think your brother’s cheating you.’

How?, I wondered.

‘He might be stealing from your heaps of grain. Otherwise, think of it, how can he produce more than you without working as hard as you? Listen to me and appoint someone to guard the crop at nights.’

I took heed and selected her brother for the watch-guard.  But he reported every morning that there was no such foul play as we feared. Yet I paid him to guard for the entire season. This time Nivin produced the highest grain in the village and people began talking about him.  I was so upset that I couldn’t eat food for a week.

Just when everything was going downhill, there came a stranger in our village. He built a shack for himself on the river bank. The entire village took him for a sorcerer and dreaded running into him. People chided when someone brought up his topic, but talk they did of him nonetheless. They were even reluctant, my wife told me one evening, to go to the river to bathe.

Intrigued, I decided to pay a visit to this enigmatic person and went to the river one fine morning. The shack was empty except for a bed and some earthly pots blackened by soot. From the window, I could see the man standing in the river and folding his hands at the rising sun. Sunlight glinted in the drops of water falling from his palms. The wind made his long jet black hair dance to its tune. The scenery was so serene that for a second I forgot all my woes and wanted to join him in the water. He came in as he completed his respects and I took a good look at him. He had broad shoulders, a divine face and looked no more than forty.

After a brief introduction, we began talking, and before I could realize, we talked into the nick of the night. I left unwillingly but returned the next day first thing in the morning. I connoted all my problems to him and he said he would help me. All that I had to do was to believe in his god and pray to Him seven times a day. I did it with unperturbed conviction for a month when he gave me a root wrapped in a leaf. ‘Dip this in your blood and throw it in your field,’ he advised and I abided. Surprisingly, that season, my production increased and was equal to that of Nivin. That cleared any doubts I had had for my friend. And from then on, I started blindly following his words.

The main reason I have trusted him was he never asked for money, grain or a favor. One time when I offered him money, he shook his head smiling and said: ‘I’m here to help you, Njani. And I’m not a man of apprehensions, mind you. When I need a help from you, I’ll definitely ask for it. You can be sure of it.’

The next year, Nivin, had a heavy loss and had to sell a part of his land to clear his debts. I was overjoyed on hearing this but soon it morphed into pity for my brother. I asked him to seek my friend’s help but he was, as always, resistant to counsel.

Even my produce hit an all-time low one season. When I sought for my friend’s aid, he introduced his brother, who looked just like him but only younger. He guided me to change my name by adding a consonant to it. So I changed it to Njanni but there was no change in my produce.

I confronted the brothers seething with anger, when they said in unison: ‘Give us a last chance.’ I did and they asked me to remove a room in my house. I went along with their whims despite my wife’s rebuffs. But at the end of the year, I got the highest grain not only in the village but the entire mandal. As per the custom, the villagers made me a member of the grain board, awarded me two quintals of wheat and gold-coated tiger claws. Somehow the villagers got a whiff of my secret and one by one they thronged to the shack. I never saw the shack empty again. My friend got so occupied with the villagers that I had to send a note asking for a rendezvous which he rejected.

After a month, as I sobered from my success, my friend paid a visit to my house along with his brother and a village head in tow. ‘As for the services we rendered, Njani, we want to charge you a fee,’ he said standing in my veranda. ‘Even though it won’t be sufficed, I would like to have your acre of land.’

Before I could utter a word, he continued: ‘As for my brother, he would have the grain you produced this year.’

I was knocked out of my wits and words failed me. My wife rushed out of the house and started shouting at the edge of her voice, hurling curses at the trinity. Soon, the whole village was standing in our veranda with pricked ears and piqued interests. My friend jotted down the conversations I had with him over the years; only he called them dealings. I was partly relieved that he didn’t reveal my feelings towards my brother. Not one soul spoke up in my defense and it was pretty evident that they were all under his spell. Thus, I was robbed off my land, grain and dignity. The next day my wife left me along with my sons.

A few sympathizers dropped in on their way to the fields the next day to say that they would stand by me. Together we went to the river bank, in hopes of demanding justice, but there was no sign of a shack. Apparently the brothers were wanderers and had left for another village in search of a different friend. On enquiry, I got to know that they sold my land to the village head that was with them on that fateful day.

To my surprise my brother came for my rescue and was ready to give me a part of his land. I didn’t want to live at someone’s mercy, least of all his. So I started working as a laborer in my own field. I waited for my day. After all, my father used to say, every dog has its day. It came after two years, on my trip to a nearby hamlet, where I heard people talking about two brothers with powers in hushed tones. But by the time I had reached them, they had fled. So, I had set out on an expedition asking the wayfarers if they’d seen two identical people in saffron clothes.  I lived on wild berries, stream water and slept on the tree branches. I begged, robbed and threatened the travelers for food.

When I had run out of money, I started working in a roadside inn where my friends, on one of their escapades, chanced upon me. They tried their best to slip but I was too slick, by then, for them to escape. I bid a goodbye to my inn-mates and directed my friends to a groove.

‘I know you are cheats. But tell me this,’ I asked them at knife-point. ‘Do you people really have powers?’

‘Would you be standing there threatening us if so?’

‘Then how did you increase my produce every year?’

‘Who told you it increased?  It was just higher than everyone else’s.’

 

As Njani was busy writing his story, a young man in saffron clothes entered his room silently. ‘Swami,’ he bowed down, ‘the other masters are waiting for you.’

‘In a minute,’ Njani said, closing his book, and went for his friends but only after donning a saffron shawl around his shoulders and a smile across his face.

Featured image: “The City of Masulipatam,” 1672, from Columbia University

Saturday Evening Post Time Capsule: February 1937

See all Time Capsule videos.

Featured image: Library of Congress

News of the Week: February Blues, Cursing in Virginia, and How to Make a Chilly Night a Chili Night

Okay, I’m Ready for Winter to Be Over

Regular readers of this column know that I much prefer the cold days and nights of the fall and winter over the warm days and nights of the summer. Actually, regular readers of this column might be a little sick of hearing that. But I bring it up again so I can say this: I’m ready for spring.

I love the cold temps and the fact that it gets dark early, and I even love snowstorms (yes, I’m one of those people), but there comes a time, right around the end of February, when even I have had enough. I want to put the shovels away for the season, the chill in the air and the dry skin start to get to me, and I’m ready for more tennis to be shown on my television. So bring on the warmer temperatures.

Of course, stay tuned to this spot in July, when I’m sure I’ll be complaining about how humid it is, the ants and the bees, the fact that I have to wear shorts, the tourists that double the population of my town, and how Labor Day can’t come soon enough.

Oh, who am I kidding. I’ll be complaining in June.

Maybe what I’m really itching for isn’t spring, but fall. Maybe the only reason I’m ready for warm weather to come is that it means we’re that much closer to September.

The Closest Thing to Home

That was McDonald’s slogan in the late 1960s. Now it looks like they’re literally trying to make that happen.

The fast food chain is selling six scented candles that smell like beef, cheese, ketchup, pickles, onions, and a sesame seed bun. I know they’re going for a Quarter Pounder theme here, but I think it’s a mistake that there’s no candle that smells like french fries.

The best thing about these candles is that they’ll make your home smell like a McDonald’s. The worst thing? They’ll make your home smell like a McDonald’s.

Here’s the first appearance of Ronald McDonald, in a 1963 commercial, long before the company thought of selling candles. That’s former Today show weatherman Willard Scott under the makeup. He has a tray of food on his head.

Uploaded to YouTube by VintageTVCommercials

This Woman Has Been Selling Girl Scout Cookies Since 1932

This weekend is officially Girl Scout Cookie Weekend. The cookies are available from your local scouts or online (yes, there’s an app for that), including the best ones, the Samoas (they may be called Caramel deLites, depending on where you live).

If you’re near Wernersville, Pennsylvania, you can buy them from Ronnie Backenstoe. She’s been selling the cookie for 88 years. Back when she started there were only three flavors of cookie, many troops baked their own, and Herbert Hoover was president.

It’s worth noting that she’s not still selling the same boxes of cookies she was selling in 1932. That’d be weird.

Road Trip!

Breaking News: You can now legally swear in Virginia.

RIP Clive Cussler, Katherine Johnson, B. Smith, Hosni Mubarak, Sy Sperling, Larry Tesler, Diana Serra Cary, and “Mad” Mike Hughes

In addition to writing or co-authoring more than 80 books, including popular novels like Raise the Titanic! that featured his hero Dirk Pitt, Clive Cussler led various expeditions to shipwrecks and lost treasure. He died Monday at the age of 88.

Katherine Johnson played a major role in getting Americans to the moon in 1969. She was one of the subjects of the Oscar-nominated 2016 film Hidden Figures. She died earlier this week at the age of 101.

B. Smith was a style and home decor expert who was also a successful restaurateur and author. She died last weekend at the age of 70.

Hosni Mubarak was the former president of Egypt. He died Tuesday at the age of 91.

Sy Sperling was not only the president of the Hair Club For Men, he was also a client. He died last week at the age of 78 with a full head of hair.

Larry Tesler was the computer scientist we can thank for creating the cut, copy, and paste functions we use every day. He died last week at the age of 74.

Diana Serra Cary — aka Baby Peggy — starred in several popular silent movies when she was a child. After leaving the industry at a young age, she went on to author several books. She died Monday at the age of 101.

You can donate to her GoFundMe page to help pay for medical bills and funeral costs.

“Mad” Mike Hughes was a daredevil and inventor who was convinced the Earth was flat. He died when his rocket crashed on Saturday. He was 64.

Quote of the Week

“They asked Katherine Johnson for the moon, and she gave it to them.”

—opening line of Margalit Fox’s obituary for Johnson, in The New York Times

This Week in History

First Woolworth’s Opens (February 22, 1879)

I miss this chain. I have a lot of great memories of shopping and eating there when I was a kid.

If you happen to be in Bakersfield, California, at some point, you can eat at the last remaining Woolworth’s lunch counter in America, at the Five and Dime Antique Mall.

Ben Hecht Born (February 28, 1894)

The writer of such movies as The Front Page, Wuthering Heights, Some Like It Hot, and dozens where he didn’t even get credit wrote several short stories for the Post, including “Swindler’s Luck,” featured in our January 12, 1952, issue.

This Week in Saturday Evening Post History: Party Holding Up the Elevator (February 25, 1961)

I bet the people on the first floor in this Ben Kimberly Prins cover are swearing like people in Virginia.

Illustration showing the a party holding up an apartment building's elevator

There’s Still Time for Chili

Sure, it’s been warm lately and I’m ready for spring, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still have some cold nights ahead of us in the next month or so. And what better to eat on those nights than chili?

Here’s a recipe for Cowboy Beef and Black Bean Chili, and here’s one for Turkey Pumpkin Chili, which won a contest among Post staffers in 2009. If you’re looking for something a little more healthy, how about this Vegetarian Chili?

There’s even a Chocolate Chili, though I don’t know if you can use the chocolate from Samoas or Thin Mints, but hey, give it a shot.

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

Leap Day (February 29)

How are you going to take advantage of the extra day we have in February this year? Call in sick? Take a trip? Go shopping? Clean the house? Get married? Maybe you can just sleep in late.

South Carolina Primary (February 29)

… or maybe you can celebrate the day by watching live coverage of this Democratic Primary.

Super Tuesday (March 3)

Here are all the states holding primaries on Tuesday: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and #%$&! Virginia.

Featured image: Shutterstock

“Here Comes the Bribe” by Sam Hellman

A newspaper reporter and fiction writer with a healthy sense of self-deprecation, Sam Hellman wrote in 1925 that “those who have been reading my stuff will hardly believe that I am a college graduate with an early academic penchant for Greek accusatives and Latin gerundives.” In his humorous stories, witty commoners with crude dialect dress each other down in farcical situations. In spite of his highbrow studies, Hellman observed people and their language while traveling the country after college. In “Here Comes the Bribe,” a scrappy Long Islander accidentally finds success in politics.

Published on April 5, 1924

 

Politics, I has heard said or read, makes beds strange fellers. Many a true word is spoken of a pest. Ever since I let them Doughmorons fluke me into grabbing off that job in the legislature I ain’t had no more sleep than a guy with the hives doing a six-day bike trick on the corrugated roof of a boiler factory.

Ordinarily a new cuckoo elected from Long Island to one of them per-dime grafts attracts about as much attention out in the state as the second vice president of the Lotto Club of Gimme, Utah, would in Somewhere, east of Suez; but in my cases things is different. Besides being the only Democrat that ever copped in the county, the platform I run on was woozy enough to make the big city papers throw a mess of infernal triangles offa the front page to get room for spelling my name wrong, and also for surprising me with reporters’ ideas of what I would ’a’ maybe said if they’d seen me.

You lads that cuts your breakfast short every Thursday morning and rushes mad to the news stand with a nickel in your hand remembers how Luke Cravens, the boss of the party, slicked me into getting on the ticket with a promise that they was no chance of winning, but a good one of getting the bum’s rush outta Doughmore, which, as more than two million and a quarter folks knows, has been the heights of my ambitions from the day the frau and the Magruders f.o.b.’d me into this limousine layout.

I guess it ain’t fair to blame what happened on Luke, him not having no way of knowing that the Republican bird was gonna beat it with a frill and the building-and-loan jack the day before the election; but I don’t see where I could ’a’ done anymore. It looked like a cinch that I’d be trimmed bad, and besides would get the air from the club crowd on account of the bill I was talking about introducing to slap a heavy tax on golf balls, sticks, links and such.

Instead, here I is with a Hon. stuck in front of my monniker and stronger’n ever with the pill pushers, them blah boys having figured out that what I was aiming at was a deep schemes to keep the rough-raffs outta the game.

After election night I don’t get to see Cravens for a week. Finally, I drifts into the village to give my sorrows swimming lessons and I meets up with him.

“Heard the latest?” I inquires.

“Not lately,” he comes back. “What’s yours?”

“I’m resigning,” I tells him.

“I know one better than that,” says Luke. “They was once a Scotchman and — ”

“I’m resigning,” I repeats.

“Sure you are,” returns Cravens. “Talking about something in general, what’s your ideas on nothing in particular?”

“What do you think I am?” I yelps. “Kidding or cuckoo?”

“If you ain’t serious,” says Luke, “you’re kidding; if you is, you’re what comes after the ‘or.’ What’s eating you?”

“I’m all et,” I answers. “Got any notion what I been through since last Tuesday?”

“Better’n you have,” says Cravens, prompt. “The boys has been running you ragged for cuts of the cake they expects you’ll get for ’em in Albany. In facts, I sent a dozen or so lads up to see you myselfs.”

“That’s damn nice of you,” I barks, grateful, “and I’ll set you up to a quart of wood alcohol the first chance I gets. You responsible for them bobos that drug me outta the hay at three a.m. and them janes — ”

“Janes?” says Luke. “What janes?”

“Well,” I tells him, “I don’t remember the names of more than two or four hundred of ‘em, but they was one old gal that wanted to know where I stood, if anywheres, on Sunday shows; another that tried to smoke me out — ”

“Don’t let them worry you,” cuts in Cravens. “That gang usually gets after the candidates before the election; but not figuring you for a chance, they laid off until right now.”

“They ain’t no ‘right now’ in them cases,” I growls. “It’s wrong whenever.”

“You gotta put up with that kinda stuff,” says Luke. “You must remember you is in the public eye.”

“Yeh,” I comes back, “like a cinder. Can you resign with a lead pencil or do you gotta do it with ink?”

“Forget it!” snaps Cravens. “Don’t be a scoffjob. They ain’t a politician in the state that’s sitting prettier than you is. In a coupla years we’ll have you in Congress, and you might be governor someday.”

“Uh-huh,” says I; “and I might also get to be the mother of the late queen of Armenia, but I ain’t got none of them kinda itches. I’d sooner sleep tight than be President. Anyways, after what I has been doing since I seen you last, I just gotta get out from under.”

“What you been doing?” inquires Luke.

“Nothing,” I answers, “excepting to kid everybody that come to see me into believing that I was wild about the hop they was whooping it up for. I shooed out four women with a cross-my-heart that I’d have the law on the sun for making cider cheat. If that don’t annoy you none, what do you think of the eleven boys I promised the same job to?”

“What job’s that?” asks Cravens.

“Road overseer,” I tells him.

“Don’t worry about that,” says Luke. “It ain’t even vacant. I thought you told me you didn’t know nothing about politics.”

“I don’t and I won’t,” I answers.

“You plays it perfect,” comes back the County chairman. “Promise ’em everything; deliver only to them that does.”

“Does what?” I bites.

“Delivers,” says Cravens. “When do you grab the night boat for Albany?”

“When’d you lose your ear sight?” I yelps. “Ain’t I just got done telling you that — ”

“Now, now,” interrupts Luke, soft, “be mother’s little angel pet. You can’t quit, Dink. We ain’t never elected a Democrat here before, and if you does a yellow we’ll never have another. You can’t expect every Republican to play ball for us by jumping the works with a skirt and the roll. Besides, I thought you was wild about getting away from Doughmore. Here’s a chance to leave it flat for three months, anyways.”

“That part of it’s all right,” says I; “but I ain’t keen about making no sucker outta myselfs. Here I is promised all up to vote nine different ways on everything, from getting after the Pullman folks on this berth-control proposition some wren talked my arm off about, to taking snipes outta little gal’s mouths — ”

“Listen, bo,” cuts in Cravens, “they is only one way of making a sucker outta yourself at the legislature.”

“How?” I asks.

“By going to the mat for something on the account of a campaign pledge,” explains Luke. “It ain’t even good form to mention ’em after election.”

“Ain’t I supposed to act like the voters wants?” I inquires. “Or is I supposed to do like I thinks personal?”

“Thinking’s even rude,” replies Cravens; “but they is two ideas about the subject you brung up. Some holds that a guy should do like he wants to do — ”

“And the other?” I butts in.

“And the other,” goes on Luke, “that he shouldn’t never do nothing that he don’t want to.”

“Smelligent,” says I. “Where does the people get off in that kinda misdeal?”

“They don’t,” answers Cravens. “They keeps right on riding and paying fare.”

II

If it wasn’t for the Magruders I would ’a’ passed up the job in spite of all that Luke said and done to skid me into it, but them babies is got a way of rubbing my fuzz the wrong way and making me do a lotta tricks I shouldn’t oughta. All Jim and Liz has to do is to be for a thing for me to pick up a club and beat its brains in. I ain’t ordered ham and eggs since I found out they liked ’em.

After I finishes up my talk with Cravens, in the which I promised to think it over a couple days, I beats it home and finds the Magruders cluttering up the front porch.

“Has you resigned?” asks Lizzie.

“Want me to?” I comes back.

“Jim says,” answers the measle, “that you — ”

“Never mind what Jim says,” I cuts in. “Ain’t you got no ideas in your own name? Don’t you ever get anything in the box score excepting assists?”

“I got a mind of my own,” snaps the Magruder nix.

“All right,” I admits; “but why don’t you take it outta the safety deposit and show it to us sometime? I ain’t gonna swipe it.”

Large man smiles as he leans over a dinner table towards another man.
“Know who I am?” (Illustrated by Tony Sarg)

“I wouldn’t trust a politician,” says Lizzie, cold; “not even with nothing.”

“Is you really gonna take the job?” butts in Jim, quick, to cover up his wife’s fox paws.

“Why not?” I inquires.

“Well,” says he, “it’s a pretty dirty game, ain’t it?”

“Ever play in it?” I wants to know.

“I wouldn’t touch it with a six-foot pole,” he comes back. “They ain’t nobody in politics but a lotta grafters.”

“We once lived in a house,” says I, “where we had a furnace that was always on the bum. One day it got so cold I went downstairs to see what the hell. I found out the janitor was peddling the coal I’d bought and hadn’t taken the ashes out for a month. So I canned him, cleaned the thing out myself and never did have no trouble after that.”

“You should oughta get the kinda furnace we is got,” remarks Lizzie. “Jim says — ”

“The furnace I’m talking about,” I continues, “is a figure in speech.”

“Ours is a Little Diamond Hot Box, ain’t it, Jim?” inquires the sciatica.

“Where’d Lizzie go?” I asks, acting kinda surprised.

“I’m here,” she answers, wide-eyed.

“You’re here, all right,” says I; “but you ain’t there. What I was trying to broadcast,” I goes on, turning to Magruder, “before that frau of yourn turned on the statics, was the idea that if you don’t like dirt you can’t cuss it outta the room; you gotta grab a broom and sweep.”

“I suppose,” sneers Jim, “you’re gonna make politics as clean as a hind tooth, huh?”

“I’ll maybe try,” I answers. “What’ll you do? Stand around while some dip frisks your pockets and bawl out the coppers instead of taking a crack at the crook?”

“Jim ain’t afraid of nothing,” says Lizzie.

“I ain’t afraid of my wife neither,” I shoots back.

“You calling me nothing?” busts out the misses, who ain’t said a word so far.

“Not a thing,” I returns, hasty. “You vote at the last election, Jim?”

“What for?” he comes back. “They don’t count ’em anyways.”

“Well,” says I, “it’s a cinch they don’t count them that ain’t cast. When I gets to Albany — ”

“So you’re going?” interrupts Magruder.

“Yeh,” I tells him. “I kinda feels that I owes that much to prosperity. I’m looking ahead to the time when Dink O’Day Day will be celebrated from Rock Bound, Maine, to Climate, California, and when statutes of me in the parks will be as thick as empty shoe boxes after a church picnic.”

“You’ll look swell in the legislature,” sarcastics Jim. “What do you know about parlor-mantel law?”

“No more’n I know about kitchen-sink law,” I admits; “but it won’t take me more’n a minute and a half to run it down and make it drop from exhaustion.”

“I never seen a guy hate his wife’s husband like you does,” says Magruder. “Ever hear of Roberts’ Rules and Orders?”

“I don’t wear no man’s collars,” I answers, “and that bird Roberts ain’t gonna give me no orders. Anyways, Luke Cravens is the boss of the district. Where does this Roberts boy — ”

“You wouldn’t understand,” cuts in Magruder, “even if you knew. For example, suppose you was to get on the floor of the house — ”

“Who’s gonna put me there?” I yelps. I don’t want you to get no ideas I’m such a stupe as I sounds, but I’m even willing to carry that reputation for the pleasures of razz-jazzing Magruder.

“I mean,” he explains, “if you was making a speech on some bill and a bobo should get up and move that it should be put on the table, what would you do?”

“It all depends,” I answers, “on the way he said it. If he was nice and polite, I’d put it there; but if he tried to rough-bluff me into doing it, I’d leave it just where it was and he’d probably spend the next few minutes picking a inkwell outta his hair.”

“Flying codfish!” hollers Jim, waving his hands like a yell leader. “And you’re the kinda guy that’s gonna make laws for fifteen million people!”

“That’s what,” says I; “but what do you expects if right thinkers like you won’t take no interest in politics and’d rather play golf than vote?”

“Talking about golf,” comes back Magruder, “is you really gonna introduce that tax bill?”

“I’ll tell the popeyed world I am,” I replies. “A dollar on each ball and five fish on each club.”

“Think you can put over a grab like that?” he asks.

“I wouldn’t be so surprised,” I answers. “When I gets done telling the boys about the terrible housing conditions of the ducks on Long Island on account of the land being drug out from under ’em for golf courses, I expects the tax’ll go with one big sob. D’you know things is so bad on the North Shore that seven and eight ducks is gotta sleep on one rock?”

“I didn’t even know ducks slept on rocks,” remarks Lizzie.

“You should study national science, gal,” I returns. “What’d you suppose they slept on? Credit? Where’d you imagine the expression ‘duck on the rock’ come from?”

“I don’t know,” says she.

“I don’t know the name of the saloon neither,” cuts in Kate, slipping me the glare to sidetrack. “Please stop teasing Lizzie and try and give a imitation of talking sense.”

“Who should I imitate?” I inquires. “Jim?”

“You couldn’t go further and do worse,” suggests the Magruder exposed nerve; and when I starts laughing she goes on, all flustered, “I means, you could go further and do no worse.”

“That’ll be enough,” yelps Jim. “I’ll do my own answering back from now and on. Cutting the kidding cold,” he continues, turning to me, “I thought that golf-tax idea of yourn was to keep the cheap johns from building links around Doughmore and the other swell clubs.”

“Even a natural error like you,” says I, “couldn’t be no wronger. Can you see me pulling chestnuts at a fire for the plutocats around here? I’m a friend of the common people and — ”

“The commoner, the friendlier,” interrupts the frau.

“Maybe,” I admits; “but I promised the duck growers of this district that I’d go to the front for ’em, and a promise and a performance with Dink O’Day is as alike as two peas in a puddle. Experts has tried with instruments and them slow movie cameras to find a difference between ’em, but without no luck. It was funny. Oncet they was studying a promise of mine, and when I told ’em after a coupla hours it was really a regular performance and not no promise a-tall, they just gave up.”

“Doing business with a politician,” remarks Magruder, “I guess they hadda. When you gets to Albany them experts’ll be able to leave their naked eyes at home and still see the difference.”

“What makes you think so?” I inquires.

“Didn’t I hear you tell that Glumph woman you was gonna pass a law to stop all picture shows on Sunday, Wednesday and the nights the Ladies’ Aid met?” asks Jim.

“You did,” I tells him.

“Yeh,” jeers Magruder; “and wasn’t I there when you promised Mildew down at the Tivoli that you’d put the censors on the hummer and fix it so the film folks could do anything they wanted to, within reason and without?”

“Such is the case and the facts in it,” I confesses. “What about it?”

“How you gonna keep both promises?” demands Jim.

“What,” says I, “leaving out present company, could be simpler? I’ll introduce the bill the Glumph frill wants and also the one Mildew’s after.”

“How,” yelps Magruder, “can you be on both sides at oncet?”

“Ah,” I returns, “that’s what makes politics a art. What’s wrong with the way I’m doing? Some of the folks in the county wants this; some others don’t want that. Who’m I to say what’s proper for ’em? I’m just like a waiter in a restaurant. Everybody that comes in asks for something different. I puts in the order. If the chef don’t wanna cook up the mess, whose fault is it? A jane drifts in with her trap all set for a pair of fried wizzle-wumph eggs, sunny side up. Is it my business to tell her they ain’t good for her complexions and try and set her up to a platter of raw ox ears?”

“You mean rare, don’t you?” inquires Lizzie.

“I don’t know no more what you’re talking about than you do,” says Jim; “but how you gonna vote on these different things when its comes to a show-down?”

“O’Day,” I replies, “is far enough down on the roll call for my judgment and my conscience to get together before I has to. I’m gonna introduce everything that anyone wants and let ’em take their chances. Personally, nothing don’t interest me excepting my duck bill, and I shall fight for it with all the powers I has, with faith in the right and — ”

“Oh, hire a hall!” snaps Magruder.

“The Monday Club’s got a dandy place,” says Lizzie. “You can get it for fifty dollars a night; besides, they is still got the decorations up from the Pappa Eta Motza sorority dance.”

III

Me and Cravens goes to Albany together, Luke figuring on introducing me around to the high moguls of the party and seeing that I get started off K.O.

“You’ll be kinda busy getting settled,” says he, “so I has taken a little work off your hands.”

“What work?” I asks.

“Well,” he answers, “I figures they is about eight jobs you’ll get to hand to the boys in the district and I’ve picked ’em for you. Seeing as I got you into this, the leastest I can do is to save you from being bothered. I has even notified the lads we’s named.”

“That’s nice,” says I; “but — ”

“’S all right, Dink,” cuts in Luke. “They ain’t no thanks necessary. It’s maybe taken up some of my time and all that; but when I likes a guy, going to trouble for him’s a pleasure.”

“Yeh,” I returns; “but how about them fifty or sixty birds I promised plums to?”

“Albany,” answers Cravens, prompt, “is quite a town. They is a coupla good hotels, and I knows a restaurant I’ll take you to, where you orders tea and gets what you meant.”

Not caring nothing about them jobs at Doughmore, I don’t chase the subject no further. Anyways, I don’t aim to stay long. My ideas is to stick around the legislature just enough to see what makes the thing tick and maybe pull a stunt or two that’ll get me in bad with the jokes at home, after which me and politics’ll call it a day.

Luke makes me acquainted with a bunch of bobos that is supposed to run the works and winds up by taking me to the mansion to meet the governor. He turns out to be a decent feller.

“I has heard a lot about you,” says he to me.

“I’ve seen your name mentioned, too,” I comes back, not to be undone in courtesies.

“I wanna talk to you someday about taxes,” he goes on. “I understands you has studied ’em deep.”

“Governor,” I replies, “I don’t wanna brag, but if they is anything about taxes I don’t know it musta been sprung the day after tomorrow.”

“That’s fine,” smiles the big chief. “They is causing us a lotta trouble. ‘

“Unwrinkle your brow, gov,” I cuts in. “My golf bill will solve everything.”

“I must look into it,” says he, and me and Cravens beats it.

“I thought,” remarks Luke, “that you canned that tax idea of yourn when the Doughmorons started being for it.”

“No,” I tells him, “I’m going through with it just to prove to them coupon barbers that they give me the wrong rap.”

“Well,” says Cravens, looking at me kinda narrow, “the play might work out good for you at that.”

“You mean,” I asks, “the bill might pass?”

“It’s got as much chance of doing that,” he answers, “as one of them ducks of yourn would have in a scrap with three wildcats, four hyenas and a pair of Australian gluffaws.”

“I don’t get you,” I returns, puzzled.

“No?” smiles Luke. “All right, Rollo, roll your own hoop. If you should want me to cut in later on, you knows where to find me.”

I’m still all up in the air trying to figure out what Cravens’s been driving at when I gets to the hotel by myselfs and runs into Shem Conover, a baby from up in the state that was knocked down to me earlier in the day as a real slicker in jamming stuff through the House.

“I been waiting to see you,” says he. “I wanna little chin-chin.”

“About which?” I inquires.

“That golf-tax bill you’re touting,” he answers. “Need any help?”

“I ain’t so sure I’m going through with it,” I tells him, not liking the bimbo’s looks.

“Who’s been talking to you?” he asks, slipping me the narrow eye like Cravens done.

“What you getting at?” I yelps, getting kinda peeved at the mystery stuff.

“Listen, bo,” says Conover, “and don’t try and gruff me off the lay. If you wanna get any action with that bill of yourn you gotta be sweet to me. I’m chairman of the committee that’s gonna get it, and if you don’t put me in the line-up — ”

“What’ll you do?” I barks.

“I’ll fix it,” he comes back, slow, “so that the chloroform won’t work when you want it to, and when you gets ready to deliver the body you’ll find the livest corpse you ever seen.’

“I’ll sue the Central for this,” says I. “When a lad buys a ducat for Albany they ain’t got no right to dump him off at Matteawan.”

“You’re in Albany, little one,” remarks Conover, cold; “and when you is in Albany you gotta do like the Albanians does. Do I get a hand dealt me?”

“I ain’t gonna introduce the bill,” I growls, “and besides — ”

“Too late,” interrupts Shem. “If you run out on it I’ll have it introduced as a committee measure. The idea’s too cushy to drop. They worked it with patent medicine down in Arkansas and with baking powder out in Missouri, but the golf act’s a new one on the sandbag circuit. Give it a coupla thinks,” he finishes up, and drifts away casual.

A man is grabbed by the collar by another.
“You’ll find the livest corpse you ever seen.” (Illustrated by Tony Sarg)

I looks around expecting a guy in blue with a bunch of keys to grab him, but nothing like that don’t happen. Dizzy and woozy, I drifts across the street to the restaurant Luke told me about and squats me down.

“What’ll you have?” asks the waiter.

“A cup of tea, God forbid,” says I.

It’s wonderful what a little oolong will do for a lad that gets the kind he means instead of the sort he asks for, and right away I begins to perk up some. But it don’t last long. I’m about to yell for an encore when I looks up to see a feller standing besides me, a stout, surtaxy appearing citizen with a wide grin.

“Know who I am?” he inquires.

“Considering the luck I been in all day,” I answers, “you couldn’t be nothing excepting a revenue agent.”

“My card, Mr. O’Day,” says he, and slips it.

“‘August P. Stevens,’” I reads aloud, and then to myselfs, “‘representing the Universal Outdoor Co.’”

“You cover all that territory by yourselfs?” I asks.

“No,” he comes back; “I’m mostly in Albany and Washington.”

“What do you sell,” I wants to know, “scenery or air?”

“I don’t sell,” he returns, looking me straight in the eyes. “I buy.”

“What?” I asks.

“Different things,” he answers, evasive. “I suppose you know we is one of the largest sporting-goods houses in the world. Naturally, we is interested in your bill to tax golf balls and sticks. Shall I sit down?”

“If your lumbago’ll let you,” I replies; “but you might as well know later than sooner that I’ve heard enough of that bill this afternoon to last me until three weeks after my funeral. I ain’t even sure I’m gonna flip it into the hopper.”

“The boys around here,” says Stevens, “’ll tell you that I’m a square shooter and don’t mince up no words. With me a spade’s a spade and I know how to dig. What do you need to help you make up your mind about that bill?”

“Which way?” I mumbles, fanning for time.

What a zero brain I’d been not to get jerry to that talk of Luke and Conover about sandbags and chloroform and the such!

“Our way, of course,” answers the sportsgoods man. “You forget the golf tax and we’ll not forget you.”

“I see,” says I; “you wanna bribe me not to put the bill in.”

“Oh,” returns Stevens, “you can put it in; but it’ll get sick in the committee room, be operated on and die under the ether. All you gotta do is to let the dead stay dead and get all wound up in something else. You ain’t got a thing to lose. They ain’t no chance of jamming the tax over and — ”

“What do you wanna buy me off for then?” I cuts in.

“Well,” says Stevens, “they is always a outside possibility of anything going through in the last-minute rush. Besides, we don’t wanna have taxes on balls and clubs even discussed.”

“You can’t stop that,” I retorts. “I’m full of it now.”

“Full of what?” he inquires.

“Disgust,” I snaps, and ducks outta the place.

IV

They ain’t no meeting of the legislature the next day, and I runs down to Doughmore, first having wired Cravens that I was coming and for him to meet me. I ain’t one of them holier than thous, but raw work always did get me sore, even in them times when I didn’t ask a dollar bill for references. Luke sees right off that I’m riled.

“Do I look like a grafter?” I asks.

“The light ain’t so good here,” he comes, back, calm. “What makes you doubtful?

I cuts loose and tells him everything that happened to me in Albany after he left. He listens with about as much excitement as I was retailing a bright crack pulled by my third cousin’s infant progeny.

“You don’t seem surprised none,” I remarks at the finish. “Is they all dips up in Albany?”

“No,” replies Luke, “they is about 95 percent honest; but at every session in every legislature they is always a few sandbaggers — guys that push in stick-up bills, not with any hopes of passing ’em, but on it gamble that somebody will get all scared up and buy ’em off. The railroads used to be the prize marks, but — ”

“Say,” I shoots out a yelp, “you ain’t got no ideas that I’m a sandbagger, is you?”

“Well,” returns Cravens, “at first I thought that blah of yours about golf and ducks was just some pretty fun you was having with the Doughmorons; but when it flopped with them and you kept right on yelling tax, even in front of the governor, I begun to get a little suspicious.”

“Honey sweets the Malay’s pants!” I hollers.

Man points to his chest in response
“Do I look like a grafter?” I asks. (Illustrated by Tony Sarg)

“Huh?” inquires Luke.

“That’s Latin,” I explains, “for lads with evil minds that thinks everybody else is got ’em.”

“Evil mind, eh?” says Cravens, kinda peevish. “Any bird that’ll go to the front for a new nuisance tax, when everybody in the country is nearly bent over double carrying the load of ’em they got now is either a stupe or a grafter. And you ain’t so stupish.’

“Damn it,” I barks, “I’ll  — ”

“Listen to me,” interrupts Luke. “I ain’t calling you a crook, but what do you expect people’ll think of a bobo in these times that’ll talk up another gouge, and picks out a nice juicy game like golf for the victim?”

“I was only kidding,” I mumbles, feeble;

“I suppose,” admits the chairman; “but like the feller remarked after lugging careless baby six blocks, they is such a thing as carrying a kid too far.”

“It seems to me,” says I, suddenly remembering his stuff in Albany, “you was willing to take your bit.”

“I was,” he answers, cool, “I don’t never throw no spoons away when it’s raining soup.”

“Gosh,” I groans, “I’m in a swell fix. If I don’t introduce that bill now they’ll say I been bought off. If I does, I’ll have to go to the mat for it and keep fighting all the time I’m gonna resign,” I announces, blunt.

“That’ll be the worst yet,” says Cravens “Then they’ll figure you was bought off good and was afraid of a investigation.”

“What shall I do?” I asks.

“Just forget all about it,” advises Luke. “I’ll fix things with Stevens and Conover so nothing’ll ever be mentioned about the golf bill.”

“Sure you can?” I wants to know.

“Certain sure,” says Cravens. “Won’ I the guy that sent ’em to see you?

On the way to the house I meets up with Lizzie. “I just been to the Monday Club,” she tells me. “You still wanna hire a hall?”

“No,” I answers, “not a hall — a hole.”

“A hole?” repeats Lizzie. “What you gonna do with a hole?”

“Crawl in,” says I.

The first page of the story, "Here Comes the Bribe," by Sam Hellman, as it appeared in an old issue of The Saturday Evening Post
Read “Here Comes the Bribe” by Sam Hellman from the April 5, 1924, issue of the Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: “Flying codfish! And you’re the kinda guy that’s gonna make laws for fifteen million people!” (Illustrated by Tony Sarg)

In a Word: Bissextus: A Short History of Leap Years

Normally, I devote this column to exploring surprising roots of common words, but today my focus is on a word so uncommon that we only use it every four years. The word is bissextus, and it brings with it a lesson on the history of Roman calendars.

From near the founding of Rome (approximately the eighth century B.C.), its people relied on a local lunar calendar to keep track of seasons and religious ceremonies. A lunar calendar is one based on the phases of the moon instead of, like today’s calendar, on the Earth’s relationship to the sun. This ancient Roman calendar included ten months of 30 or 31 days each, and the new year began in March. (In the beginning, then, September, October, November, and December really were the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months, as their names indicate.) The resulting calendar year contained only 304 days, which were followed by an uncounted winter season.

According to tradition, the second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, decided he wanted wintertime on his calendar, so he added the months of January and February to the end of the year, creating a 354-day calendar. This was followed soon after with a similar Roman republican calendar that had 355 days.

To keep the dates in sync with the seasons, the people in charge of the calendar occasionally added weeks or even a whole month to the calendar to realign the dates. Unfortunately, those “people in charge of the calendar” were politicians, so new days were sometimes added sporadically and for the wrong reasons, including to extend one’s term in office.

In the mid-first century B.C., the calendars had become so misaligned with the seasons that the vernal equinox, usually in the last third of March, was falling in the calendar in the middle of May. Julius Caesar, by this time emperor of Rome, had had enough. He called on a top astronomer to offer a solution to the mess that was the Roman calendar.

The result — what we today call the Julian calendar — was a solar (or tropical) calendar, giving up all pretense to being guided by the moon’s phases. It recognized that a solar year was 365.25 days long (which is close to being accurate, but not spot on), and so it established that a regular calendar year would contain 365 days, and every fourth year would have one extra day added to it. It also realigned the calendar to make January 1 the beginning of the new year.

So we have arrived at the modern idea of the leap year, but the Romans didn’t call it a leap year, and that extra day isn’t the one you think it is. With the old lunar calendars, the days of the month weren’t simply numbered consecutively; they were named by counting backward from the next calends (the first of the month, coinciding with the new moon), ides (middle of the month, on the full moon), or nones (approximately nine days before the ides). This system wasn’t abandoned in the new Julian calendar.

When it came time to decide where to put that extra day every fourth year, Caesar and his astronomers didn’t stray from older calendar traditions: They decided to add that extra day where they had been inserting extra days for centuries — after the sixth day before the calends of March. That means, from a certain point of view, a second sixth day before March 1 was added to every fourth year. And this is where our word bissextus comes from.

Bissextus, or the bissextile day, comes from the Latin bis “twice” + sextus “sixth.” A leap year is also known as a bissextile year. We refer to February 29 as “leap day,” but to purists, that added bissextile day was actually last Monday, February 24.

The Julian calendar, with some later, minor adjustments (including a modern numbering system), sufficed for centuries. But a solar year is actually 365.242199 days long, not the nice round 365.25 that Caesar’s astronomer reckoned. By the mid-16th century, the Julian calendar was off by about 11 days, which was causing problems with the calculation of religious holidays.

A new solution was issued in 1582 as a papal bull from Pope Gregory XIII. The Gregorian calendar — which is what mall calendar kiosks are selling every November and December — eliminated 10 days from October of that year, thus realigning the spring equinox to March 21. It also established a new calculation for leap years: For centennial years, only those divisible by 400 would be leap years. The year 2000, then, was a leap year, but 2100, 2200, and 2300 will not be.

Protestant countries weren’t so keen on this new calendar because of its source, so it took time before it was widely adopted. England and its colonies didn’t adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752, which is why George Washington, for example, appears to have two birthdays in 1731: February 11 according to the Julian calendar his parents would have used when he was born, and February 22 according to the Gregorian calendar we use today.

Featured image: Shutterstock

Review: Standing Up, Falling Down — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

Standing Up, Falling Down

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

Stars: Billy Crystal, Ben Schwartz, Eloise Mumford, Grace Gummer

Writer: Peter Hoare

Director: Matt Ratner

 

Billy Crystal has been in our lives for so long it’s easy to forget he doesn’t make that many movies these days, but he’s found a worthy return in this big-hearted comedy about two hard-drinking, emotionally tormented loners who, despite themselves, strike up the most meaningful friendship of their lives.

One is Scott (Parks and Recreation’s Ben Schwartz), a struggling young standup comic returning home to Long Island after finally dropping the mic on his career in Los Angeles. A booze-infused tavern encounter introduces him to a garrulous barfly named Marty (Crystal), who turns out to be a successful local dermatologist (thank goodness he doesn’t have to operate on anybody, given his systemic blood alcohol level).

There’s not much plot to speak of in Standing Up, Falling Down; we spend most of our time becoming acquainted with the two guys and the various characters in their orbits, particularly Scott’s oddly distant father (Kevin Dunn), his mother (Debra Monk), who is weirdly delighted her son has taken up residence in his old bedroom, and his sister (Grace Gummer), with whom he engages in merciless insult duels that usually end up with one of them saying, “I love you, I guess.”

As for Marty, he’s twice widowed with two grown kids who have little or no use for him — a status that dates back to the dark days of his first marriage. Aside from the occasional one-night stand, Marty’s most constant companions are Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, and it is his considered opinion that they all deserve each other.

Crystal, now an elder statesman of comedy, has easy chemistry with 30-something Schwartz. Both actors possess that unique type of screen presence that makes you happy just to spend time with them, and indeed that’s the best thing that Standing Up, Falling Down has to offer. We hang with these guys watching a ball game on TV, going for a few car rides, playing some bar games, and smoking some pot (the latter resulting in an absolutely hilarious sight gag). Eventually they come to share more meaningful moments, as casual friends become intimate confidantes.

In the end, each man is inspired by the other to move ahead with his life rather than remain in the self-defensive foxhole he’s dug for himself.

The rap on Crystal has long been that he too often — and too sharply — veers between broad comedy and maudlin sentimentality. But age has been kind to him in that respect. That jarring dichotomy is present here, as well, but somehow it’s more understandable in someone like Marty, a guy whose long life has encompassed both delirious joy and crushing sadness, and whose memories of those extremes can arrive in rapid succession — and perhaps even simultaneously.

Featured image: Ben Schwartz and Billy Crystal in Standing Up, Falling Down, Courtesy Shout! Studios

Rockwell Files: Gary Cooper Puts On a Good Face

In 1930, Norman Rockwell traveled to California on the advice of his lawyer, who wanted the artist out of his home state of Vermont while he, the lawyer, settled a contract lawsuit with another magazine.

Rockwell stayed with friends who lived near Hollywood. He was fascinated by the extras and out-of-work actors he saw on the streets. Back home, he relied on neighbors for his models. Here, if he needed any type of face or character, he only had to walk around town to find what he wanted.

But when he got the idea for this cover, he asked the friend he was visiting to help him find a cowboy actor. Rockwell was stunned when Paramount Studios offered the services of their mega-star Gary Cooper.

When Cooper showed up for the modeling session, Rockwell later wrote, he filled the doorway, making Rockwell keenly aware of his own “narrow shoulders and puny arms.” But during three days of modeling, Cooper proved to be easy-going, very cooperative, and a practical joker who brought along exploding matches and ash trays that jumped when they were touched.

Gary Cooper as the Texan by Norman Rockwell, May 24, 1930. (Norman Rockwell / SEPS)

Probably in gratitude to Paramount, Rockwell put the name of Cooper’s latest movie, The Texan, on the slate in the background. The movie premiered shortly before this issue appeared on the newsstands.

Movie stars weren’t the only people who impressed Rockwell in California. He also met a school teacher there, Mary Barstow, who later returned east with him as his new wife.

Featured image: Norman Rockwell / SEPS

This article is featured in the March/April 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Contrariwise: Youth Football Should Be Sacked

The numbers don’t lie. When it comes to sports in America, nothing’s bigger than football. More people watch it than any other sport, and the NFL’s marquee event, the Super Bowl, is viewed by roughly one-third of the country annually. But the sport’s wild popularity provides cover for a number of problems, not the least of which is the staggering number of injuries players at all levels suffer. And that’s why we need to end youth football in America.

According to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign and the American Academy of Pediatrics, every year, more than 775,000 kids under age 14 are treated in E.R.s for sports injuries. Nearly 215,000 of those come from youth football, with 10,000 kids requiring extra hospitalization. Though many consider hockey one of the most violent of team sports, for every reported injury from youth hockey, there are ten from football.

Those statistics alone are disconcerting, but also consider the impact of concussions or, worse, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). That debilitating condition, caused by repetitive blows to the head, has been shown to contribute to a wide range of maladies, from depression and anxiety to insomnia and memory loss. In the worst cases, it’s a factor in behavioral issues, progressive dementia, and even suicide. And it isn’t confined to NFL athletes. According to a 2012 piece in the Journal of School Health, every year, youth football players between the ages of 5 and 18 suffer 23,000 nonfatal traumatic brain injuries. The cumulative effect of these injuries doesn’t begin at the advanced levels; it begins anytime a child laces up and takes a blow to the head, no matter their age.

For every reported injury from youth hockey, there are ten from football.

If you’re wondering how youth football continues to exist with all these possible outcomes (not to mention the potential for paralysis, broken bones, and internal injuries), then you’re asking the right question.

Sure, removing youth football from middle schools and junior highs would dismantle the feeder system that leads to high school, college, and the pros. To that I say, “So what?” The long-term health of America’s kids is more important.

This article is featured in the March/April 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Shutterstock

Rockwell Video Minute: The Tattoo Artist

See all of the videos in our Rockwell Video Minute series.

Featured image: Norman Rockwell / SEPS

Cartoons: Phone Booth Funnies

Want even more laughs? Subscribe to the magazine for cartoons, art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

 

Sailor covers his eyes as he spins a rotary phone.
Leo Garel
October 7, 1944

 

A desperate sailor flirts with a telephone operator as he makes a phone call.
“Hello, operator?…are you busy tonight?”
Geisenheimer
September 6, 1952

 

Woman presses her ear against the wall of her phone booth to hear a neighboring conversation, much to the chagrin of the people waiting to use her booth.
Ron
September 2, 1944

 

An unhappy, unattractive man waits while his buddy tries to set up a double date.
“I thought maybe we could make it a double date if you can get a friend of yours for Herman. Not too good a friend, incidentally.”
Follette
June 23, 1951

 

 

Man comments on the person inside the phone booth he needs to use.
“No, I think he had it when he went in.”
Bill Harrison
January 23, 1954

 

A small, irritating little man is using a phone booth.
“No, this isn’t Steve…guess again…no-o-o-o…unh-uh…nope…try again…no, not Malcolm…no-o-o-o…nah…”
Civic
October 20, 1951

 

Want even more laughs? Subscribe to the magazine for cartoons, art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Putting a Price Tag on Life

Everything, as they say in America, has its price. It has been found that a lack of sleep costs the American economy $411 billion a year and stress another $300 billion. Countless other studies have calculated the annual cost of pain ($560 billion), heart disease ($309 billion), cancer ($243 billion), and diabetes ($188 billion). Surf the web at work sometimes? That costs the American people $63 billion a year. Did you show up hungover as well? Tack on another $77 billion.

And while you may not know it, the American government has long put a price tag on Americans themselves. The Obama administration pegged the value of the average American life at $9.1 million. That was up from $6.8 million under the Bush administration.

Americans have developed the penchant for measuring nearly every aspect of their lives in dollars and cents, a process of seeing humans as assets that is so deeply ingrained in American life and decision-making that it constitutes a national philosophy.

Consider the price tags that Americans place on nature. According to “willingness to pay” surveys, dog owners will shell out $7,000 more than cat owners to save their pets, while Americans would pay $257 to save the bald eagle from extinction and $208 to save the humpback whale. (That may sound noble but should be compared to the survey finding that Americans would pay $225 to drop ten pounds.) Think the purple mountain majesties of a Yosemite or a Yellowstone are priceless? Think again. The total economic value of the National Park Service was recently estimated at $92 billion.

What is the impetus behind such calculations? The short answer: cost-benefit analysis. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan passed executive order 12291, which mandated cost-benefit analysis for all major environmental and health-and-safety regulations. Many of the above examples were the product of such analyses. But if you look back further — before the Reagan era — to the mid-19th century, you’ll find that the pricing of everyday life has long been an American pastime. Go back even further and you will uncover some of the deep — and disturbing — origins of this American penchant to price everything and everyone.

In 1830, for example, the New York State Temperance Society measured the social damage produced by excessive drinking by pricing the overall cost to the city. “There cannot be a doubt,” the society concluded after a series of in-depth calculations, “that the city suffers a dead yearly loss of $300,000” due to “time spent drinking,” “drunkenness and strength diminished by it,” “expenses of criminal persecutions,” and “loss to the public by carelessness.” An 1856 article titled “The Money or Commercial Value of Man” in Hunt’s Merchants Magazine — the first national business magazine in America — valued the education of New York children at a profit of $500 million to the country.

In 1910, an article in The New York Times headlined “What the Baby Is Worth as a National Asset” utilized Yale economist Irving Fisher’s money valuation of human beings to deduce that “an eight-pound baby is worth, at birth, $362 a pound.” By 1913, as eugenics became the rage, the National Committee for Mental Hygiene asserted that the insane were “responsible for loss of $135,000,000 a year to the ­nation.”

Such acts of social pricing, while rare in the early 19th century, were ubiquitous by the early 20th. The common thread running through these examples is that the men (and they were nearly all men) who made these calculations were imagining American society as a capitalized investment and its inhabitants as income-­generating units of human capital.

Aspects of everyday life such as education, mental health, or alcohol consumption could only be given price tags if one treated American society and its residents as a series of moneymaking assets, thus measuring their value in accordance to their ability (or, in the case of hungover employees surfing the net, their inability) to generate monetary income. This uniquely capitalist way of conceiving of the world, which I have called investmentality, was already poignantly on display in that 1856 Hunt’s Merchants Magazine article which priced the value of a child’s education.

“The brain is … an agricultural product of great commercial investment,” noted the author, and the “greatest problem of political economy” was how to “produce the best brain and render it most profitable.”

Today, as the term human capital crops up everywhere and countless self-help experts encourage Americans to become more productive by “investing in yourself,” an investmentality has achieved the status of common sense.

The investmentality that sparked the pricing of everyday American life emerged out of the rise of American capitalism. The key element that separates capitalism from previous forms of economic organization is not market exchange or monetary spending (those have been around for thousands of years) but rather widespread capital investment. Such investments are acts through which various aspects of everyday life are reconceived as income-generating assets and valued as such. As capital flowed into various investment channels across the U.S. in the 19th century, distinctly capitalist quantification techniques escaped the confines of the business world and seeped into every nook and cranny of society.

Like capitalism itself, the pricing of everyday life is not an exclusively American phenomenon. Similar examples of investmentality and social monetization first appeared in 17th-century England and can now be found across the globe. What distinguishes America is the enthusiasm with which our elites embraced money measures. As early as the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville recognized that “as one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the
value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?”

There are various reasons why the U.S. embraced the pricing of everyday life more than other nations, yet one reason demands a few final words: American slavery. The “chattel principle” and the rise of an economic institution in which human beings were actually bought and sold helped to jumpstart, legitimize, and normalize the pricing of everyday life. On the rare occasions when early Americans did seek to evaluate social developments in monetary values, slaves served as their main source of both inspiration and data.

The earliest instances of pricing everyday American life I discovered in my research were from South Carolina in the 1710s — the colony with the highest proportion of slaves and the most capital invested. By the 1740s, South Carolina governor and slaveholding planter James Glen anticipated the invention of gross domestic product two centuries later by calculating the income-­generating “value” of all inhabitants of the colony at £40,000 a year.

Up north, similar developments were afoot. In 1731, Benjamin Franklin priced the social cost of a smallpox epidemic in Philadelphia by calculating each loss of life at £30 because that was the going price of slaves in the city. He was not alone. “Calculating the value of each person, in a pecuniary view, only at the price of a negro,” a newspaper called the Weekly Magazine estimated the monetized worth of all Americans as “equal to nearly one hundred million sterling” in the 1790s.

It was, in short, often the institution of slavery that set important historical precedents by first enabling early Americans to price the residents of their young nation, be they free or enslaved. By the mid-19th century — following a half-century in which Southern investment in human bodies (alongside Northern investment in real estate, railroads, and factories) had fanned the flames of American investmentality — slavery finally came to an end. The pricing of everyday life, however, was just taking off.

This article is featured in the March/April 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Shutterstock

Your Health Checkup: Medication Mishaps and the Balance Between Benefit and Risk

“Your Health Checkup” is our online column by Dr. Douglas Zipes, an internationally acclaimed cardiologist, professor, author, inventor, and authority on pacing and electrophysiology. Dr. Zipes is also a contributor to The Saturday Evening Post print magazine. Subscribe to receive thoughtful articles, new fiction, health and wellness advice, and gems from our archive. 

Order Dr. Zipes’ new book, Bear’s Promise, and check out his website www.dougzipes.us.

One of the first guiding precepts I learned as a young physician was from Hippocrates, who taught “Primum non nocere,” or “Above all, do no harm.” The Latin phrase reminds all doctors to consider the possible adverse consequences of a medication or a procedure since all therapeutic interventions confer a risk as well as a benefit, and the balance must be assessed in a given patient.

Problems can result when patients make medical decisions for themselves or loved ones and fail to consider all the pros can cons. For example, self-medication can be risky, such as the use of dietary supplements. As a society we spend $35 billion a year on dietary supplements, the vast majority of which have no proven benefit, yet we challenge established lifesaving advances such as the use of vaccinations or water fluoridation.

A major problem with dietary supplements is that companies manufacturing them are not required to establish safety before marketing. They are only required to report serious adverse events that are monitored by the FDA, who then must hold the company to account. Experts propose a very short list of benefits, including ginger for nausea, peppermint for upset stomach, melatonin for sleep disruption, fish oil for cardiovascular health, folic acid for pregnant women, and vitamin B12 for vegans or the elderly with poor absorption.

There can be notable harm with some dietary supplements as well as with some commonly prescribed medications. I have written about nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, celecoxib, and naproxen, and recommended acetaminophen as a substitute. But the latter, in excessive doses, can also be a problem by causing liver disease.

Polypharmacy – taking multiple drugs at the same time –  creates the potential for harmful drug-drug interactions. Almost half of older adults take five or more medications, and one in five of these drugs may be inappropriate, often leading to hospitalization for an adverse drug reaction.

Examples of some common drugs that can cause problems include the following:

These drugs offer some examples of potential problems that can occur with medication misuse. My advice is: read labels and talk to the pharmacist or your physician to be sure you are not over medicating, even with apparently harmless medicines like multivitamins. Remember, there are risks to self-medication, so take charge of your own health and avoid medication mishaps. Put all your medications — including dietary supplements — in a bag and take them to your health provider or pharmacist. Go through them one at a time with an expert to be sure to keep what is relevant and important, and toss the rest.

Featured image: Shutterstock

The First Black U.S. Senator Argued for Integration after the Civil War

Despite a days-long outcry from Democratic senators attempting to block the first African-American member of the U.S. Congress from taking his seat, Hiram Rhodes Revels was finally voted in to the Senate along party lines 150 years ago today.

Revels had been appointed to his seat by Mississippi Republicans, as senators at the time were selected by the state legislature instead of by popular vote. Revels had served as an alderman in Natchez, Mississippi, having settled there after traveling the country as a minister, educator, and chaplain for the Union army. When he arrived in Washington, D.C. to be sworn in, Revels was met with protest from the minority Democrats.

“There was not an inch of standing or sitting room in the galleries, so densely were they packed,” according to The New York Times, “and to say that the interest was intense gives but a faint idea of the feeling which prevailed throughout the entire proceeding.” An atmosphere of fervent argument erupted in the chamber in those few days of deliberation over whether or not to allow the first black senator into the body, but the Times only hints at the insulting, racist language hurled at Revels and his defenders.

The official argument used against Revels was that he had not been a U.S. citizen for the nine years required to be eligible for the U.S. Senate. Even though Revels was born a free man — in 1827 — Democratic senators argued that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 had given the Mississippi alderman only four years of citizenship. Several Republicans held that this was an absurd argument, and that the Senate ought to vote Revels in and begin a new age of representation for African Americans. Democrats accused them of “hollowness and insincerity” for the causes of black men, claiming Republicans were only looking after “partisan considerations.”

In the late afternoon, on February 25th, the vote was taken, and Democrats lost, 48 yays to 8 nays. The Times credited Revels for remaining dignified even though “the abuse which had been poured upon him and on his race during the last two days might well have shaken the nerves of anyone.” He took an oath of office, took his seat, and the Senate was adjourned for the weekend.

Of the two Mississippi Senate seats filled in that session, one had been most recently occupied by Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Harper’s Weekly ran a political cartoon by Thomas Nast that featured Davis as Iago, the traitorous villain of Shakespeare’s Othello, looking on at Revels taking his place in the chamber: “For that I do suspect the lusty moor hath leap’d into my seat: the thought whereof doth like a poisonous mineral gnaw my inwards.”

A Thomas Nast cartoon depicting Confederate president Jefferson Davis as Iago, the villian from Shakespeare's Othello
Thomas Nast depicted former Confederate president Jefferson Davis as Iago, the traitorous villain from Shakespeare’s Othello . (Library of Congress)

Revels only served in the U.S. Senate for about a year. Toward the end of his term, on February 8, 1871, Revels sat on the Committee on the District of Columbia as it heard arguments over a clause that would have effectively desegregated D.C. schools. Senator Revels addressed the committee, arguing against an amendment to strike the clause, saying, “If the nation should take a step for the encouragement of this prejudice against the colored race, can they have any ground upon which to predicate a hope that Heaven will smile upon them and prosper them?” He spoke about the oppression of African Americans all over the country that continued because of segregation in housing, church, transportation, and education, and he pleaded his fellow senators to consider how desegregated schools could help to empower African Americans “without one hair upon the head of any white man being harmed.” Unfortunately, his side lost the vote, and school segregation remained lawful in Washington, D.C. until 1954.

Revels was the first in a small wave of black southern congressmen during the Reconstruction Era. A few years after his term, another African American — Blanche Bruce — was elected to the Mississippi Senate. Bruce was able to serve a full term, but Mississippi hasn’t elected an African-American U.S. senator since. In fact, only ten have served in the history of the country.

Featured image: Hiram Revels, the first African American to serve as a U.S. senator. (Library of Congress / Brady Handy Photograph Collection)

40 Years Ago, the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team Made Us Believe in Miracles

The story sounds like the stuff of movies. So much, in fact, that it later became one. On one side, you had the most powerful force in their sport, a team of professionals known for their ability to crush everyone in their path. On the other, a group of college students untested in international play, primed to meet an opponent that should soundly beat them in convincing fashion. But that’s not what happened. 40 years ago, the U.S. Olympic hockey team rode an improbable streak into battle against the powerhouse Soviet Union. What resulted was one of the greatest games ever played, capped by perhaps the greatest broadcasting call in the history of sports. But it still wasn’t over. Here are five things you should know about the Miracle on Ice, including the fact that it wasn’t the Gold Medal game.

1. The Soviet Team Was a Monster

Going into the 1980 games, the Soviet team had won the gold in five of the last six Olympics. In fact, the team reigned as the preeminent power in international hockey from 1954 until the U.S.S.R’s dissolution, with 22 International Ice Hockey Federation gold medals between 1954 and 1990. The Soviet players were technically professionals, but their clubs were arranged in such a way that their player status didn’t exactly violate International Olympic Committee rules. That meant that other countries were fielding amateur athletes while the Soviets were using veteran players with long histories and superstar status.

2. Herb Brooks Was Born to Play (and Coach) Hockey

U.S. coach Herb Brooks won a state hockey championship as a high school student. He played in college for the University of Minnesota, but was the last player cut from the 1960 Olympic squad. However, he went on to play for eight U.S. National and Olympic teams between then and 1970. As a coach, Brooks went back to Minnesota and took the Golden Gophers team to three NCAA titles (1974, 1976, 1979); those achievements led to the offer to take the helm for America.

3. The American Team Was Loaded with Students

(Uploaded to YouTube by YouTube Movies)

Brooks selected several of his own players for the team, as well as players from rival schools that he knew well. The U.S. team was definitely seen as a collection of underdogs who were on a collision course with the Soviet legacy. In order to compete with the Eastern European and Soviet teams, Brooks emphasized conditioning while merging the speedier European play style with the more physical American and Canadian game. He surmised that the team that could endure the Soviet assault might actually overcome them. Brooks named Mike Eruzione from Minnesota rivals Boston University as team captain.

4. The Miracle on Ice

Al Michaels discusses his legendary call. (Uploaded to YouTube by NBC Sports)

The U.S. didn’t exactly have it easy. They had to play seriously powerful teams at every step of the draw. In the first round, they tied Sweden in the opening game, then went on to beat Czechoslovakia, Norway, Romania, and West Germany. As the brackets merged for the final round, the U.S. had to face the U.S.S.R. To the surprise of everyone, the young Americans hung in with the superior-on-paper Soviet team. U.S. goalie Jim Craig put on a heroic performance, stopping 36 of 39 shots. Eruzione scored with 10 minutes left, giving the U.S. a 4-3 lead. As the clock ticked away and the reality of an American victory sank in, broadcaster Al Michaels made the call, saying “11 seconds, you’ve got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!”

5. It Took One More Game for Gold

Dave Christian's hockey jersey
The jersey worn by Dave Christian of the Team USA “Miracle on Ice” squad during the 1980 Winter Olympics on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
(Picture by mahfrot; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

Despite the wave of good feeling that swept over the country from the improbable win, the U.S. still had another game to go. On February 24, they faced Finland, coming from behind in the third to win 4-2. The game boosted American spirits that had been battered in the wake of a down economy and the Iran Hostage Crisis. Thirteen of the 20 players on the team would play in the NHL, though Eruzione waved off a draft offer from the New York Rangers, saying that he’d achieved all he wanted as a player. Brooks coached the U.S. team again in 2002, taking them to an Olympic silver; unfortunately, he died in a car accident the following year.

Today, 40 years later, the game remains a legend in both the Olympics and hockey in general. Sports Illustrated named the game the Greatest Sports Moment of the 20th Century. Despite an avalanche of awards that includes multiple Emmys, Al Michaels refers to his “miracle” call as the highlight of his career. He recreated those famous words in Miracle, the 2004 Disney film about the 1980 team, which stars Kurt Russell as Brooks.  After the Olympics began accepting pros in basketball in 1992, hockey followed suit in 1998. The circumstances that made the 1980 win so miraculous may no longer exist, but the memory, and that call, will last forever.

Featured image: The Herb Brooks statue in St. Paul, MN. (Sam Wagner / Shutterstock.com)

Considering History: Remembering the History of Slavery Is Both Necessary and Patriotic

This series by American studies professor Ben Railton explores the connections between America’s past and present. 

Since its August 2019 launch, the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, an initiative that examines the consequences of slavery in the United States, has received many different responses, including pushback and critique, from a wide variety of sources. But over the last few weeks, a new challenge has emerged: the Woodson Center’s 1776 Project, a collaboration between a number of African-American journalists, entrepreneurs, and academics (although it features no historians). As Woodson Center founder and 1776 Project creator Bob Woodson puts it, in a direct rebuke to the 1619 Project’s emphasis on slavery’s enduring legacy, the 1776 Project is intended to “challenge those who assert America is forever defined by past failures.” “We seek,” the project’s mission statement adds, “to offer alternative perspectives that celebrate the progress America has made on delivering her promise of equality and opportunity.”

In other words, the 1776 Project seeks to create an explicit dichotomy between remembering the histories of slavery and moving forward, arguing that focusing on those histories (the 1619 Project’s central goal) makes continuing our shared progress more difficult. The 1776 Project also strives to distinguish between criticisms of America’s past and celebrations of its promise. In this Martin Luther King Day column, I made the case for critical patriotism, which is critiquing America’s failures (past as well as present) in order to move the nation closer to its ideals. Here, I want to make a parallel case for challenging why better remembering our most horrific histories is both necessary and patriotic.

Offering a particularly striking illustration of the defining interconnections between slavery and America’s origins is Founding Father George Washington. It’s not just that Washington was a slave-owner, and thus subject to the same critiques I leveled against his peer Thomas Jefferson. Instead, it’s that in perhaps his most significant role as the nation’s first president, Washington was even more thoroughly defined by his choices within that horrific and destructive system.

American Revolution Era engraving of George Washington and his family. They're accompanied by their slave, who was known as "Curtis"
Washington and his family (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Washington was inaugurated and began serving his first presidential term in New York City, the new nation’s capital, in 1789. But the July 1790 Residence Act shifted the capital to Philadelphia for the next ten years, during which time a permanent capital would be constructed in Washington, D.C. When it came to slavery, Pennsylvania was distinct from the rest of the nation, having passed the 1780 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, a law which, along with a 1788 Amendment, made it illegal for a non-resident slave-owner to hold slaves for longer than six months (after six months’ residency, any such enslaved people would become free). Washington argued that since he was only in the state due to his presidential role, he should not be subject to that law; but fearing that his slaves would nonetheless be freed, he devised a plan to rotate all slaves back to Virginia just before they reached that six-month threshold, keeping them all enslaved.

At least one of those enslaved African Americans directly resisted that practice, using instead the household’s Philadelphia location to escape from slavery and the Washingtons. That woman, Ona Judge, is the subject of Erica Dunbar’s magisterial book Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge (2017). As Judge put it in an 1845 interview with the abolitionist New Hampshire newspaper The Granite Freeman, “Whilst they were packing up to go to Virginia, I was packing to go, I didn’t know where; for I knew that if I went back to Virginia, I should never get my liberty.” After Judge escaped, President Washington devoted considerable time and resources to seeking her re-capture and re-enslavement, even refusing an offer (made by Judge through intermediaries) that she would return if she were promised freedom upon the Washingtons’ death. Although she was indeed never caught, she would remain a fugitive throughout her life.

Runaway Advertisement for Oney Judge, enslaved servant in George Washington's presidential household. The Pennsylvania Gazette, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 24, 1796. "Advertisement. ABSCONDED from the houshold [sic] of the President of the United States, ONEY JUDGE, a light mulatto girl, much freckled, with very black eyes and bushy black hair. She is of middle stature, slender, and delicately formed, about 20 years of age. She has many changes of good clothes of all sorts, but they are not sufficiently recollected to be described—As there was no suspicion of her going off, nor no provocation to do so, it is not easy to conjecture whither she has gone, or fully, what her design is;—but as she may attempt to escape by water, all matters of vessels are cautioned against admitting her into them, although it is probable she will attempt to pass as a free woman, and has, it is said, wherewithal to pay her passage. Ten dollars will be paid to any person who will bring her home, if taken in the city, or on board any vessel in the harbour;—and a reasonable additional sum if apprehended at, and brought from a greater distance, and in proportion to the distance. FREDERICK KITT, Steward. May 23 [illegible]."
Fugitive notice for Ona Judge in The Pennsylvania Gazette (Wikimedia Commons)
Neither Judge nor slavery were the only elements of Washington’s presidency, but they were defining features of it. Washington’s attempts to navigate these legal questions of slavery and abolition reflect how thoroughly intertwined slavery and America were. At the same time, Ona Judge’s quest for liberty embodies America’s revolutionary and founding ideals, its equally constitutive arguments that all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” I can imagine no founding era figure who exemplifies a lifelong pursuit of those ideals more than Judge, and thus no more patriotic act than remembering this fugitive slave — which likewise requires remembering the man, family, and system from which she was fleeing.

Another American who was fleeing that same system in search of those same ideals happens to be one of the most prominent individuals associated with the origins of the American Revolution and the new nation: Crispus Attucks. Attucks gained fame when he was shot and killed at the March 5, 1770, events that came to be known as the Boston Massacre. Attucks is often described as “the first casualty of the American Revolution.” As we approach the 250th anniversary of the Massacre, it’s worth noting that Attucks’s status as a fugitive slave has been much less consistently highlighted in that famous narrative of this iconic Revolutionary figure.

While some details of Attucks’s life remain hazy, others are clear and historically significant. His father was apparently an enslaved African (Prince Yonger) and his mother (Nancy Attucks) a Native American of the Natick tribe; Nancy may or may not have been enslaved as well, but in any case such a mixed-race child was defined by the colony’s laws in the era of Attucks’s 1720s birth as a “black,” and thus he was enslaved from birth on a Framingham farm. In 1750 the roughly 27-year-old Attucks ran away from slavery, which we know because his master, William Brown, placed an advertisement describing Attucks and seeking his return. Although Brown warned that “all Matters of Vessels and others, are hereby cautioned against concealing or carrying off said Servant on Penalty of Law,” Attucks not only remained a fugitive for the next 20 years but became a sailor as well as a ropemaker at Boston’s seaport.

Engraving of a scene at the Boston Massacre. Crispus Attucks can be seen as one of the men shot and killed by British soldiers.
Depiction of the Boston Massacre (National Archives)

That role and setting are certainly part of what led Attucks to King’s Street in March 1770, as many of the protesters were sailors. But how much would our narratives of Attucks as a defining member of that pre-Revolutionary protest, as “the first casualty of the American Revolution,” shift if we likewise foregrounded his status as a fugitive slave — as a man who had been born into that world, had escaped it in his quest for liberty, and faced every day after the possibility of being recaptured into that tyrannical system? And how much would our narratives of the Boston Massacre and the Revolution shift as well? At the October 1770 trial of the British soldiers charged with murder, their defense lawyer, future founder and president John Adams, critiqued Attucks’s “mad behavior,” arguing that his “very looks was [sic] enough to terrify any person.” But indeed, Attucks’s actions and identity were neither mad nor terrifying, but representative of both the worst and the best of America, at our founding moment and ever since.

Featured image: National Archives at College Park / Public domain

Seriously Good Films to Get You Through the Rest of Winter

Locke & Key

(Netflix, February 8)

Based on Joe Hill’s bestselling graphic novel, this long-awaited 10-episode series finds a recently widowed mother (Scandal‘s Darby Stanchfield) moving back to her ancestral home with her three kids after her husband is brutally killed. they find a series of reality-bending keys that may help solve the mystery of his death, but may free a long-imprisoned demonic presence as well.

Little Fires Everywhere

(Hulu, March 18)

Scene from the Hulu film "Little Fires Everywhere"
(Hulu)

Fresh from Big Little Lies and The Morning Show, Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon stars in this eight-episode series, based on Celeste Ng’s bestselling novel, as a wealthy Ohio matriarch who rents an apartment to a struggling artist (Scandal‘s Kerry Washington) and her daughter. The pair’s kids become fast friends, but when some of them get a lot closer than that, sparks start to fly.

Hope Gap

(March 6)

Scene from the film, Hope Gap
(Origin Pictures)

Writer/director William Nicholson (GladiatorShadowlands) based this portrait of a dissolving marriage on his own parents’ split after 33 years. A history professor (Bill Nighy) who thinks he’ll be happier with the mother of one of his students, and a writer (Annette Bening) so focused on her work that she never noticed her husband’s unhappiness, etch a tableau of mutual reclusiveness enlivened only by a shared love for their grown son (Josh O’Conner, The Crown‘s Prince Charles).

Military Wives

(March 27)

Scene from the film, Military Wives
(Lionsgate Films)

In November 2011, viewers across Great Britain were transfixed by a performance by The Military Wives Choir — a group of women who came together while their husbands were deployed in Afghanistan. Director Peter Cattaneo’s (The Full Monty) stirring dramatization of the group’s beginnings stars Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan (Amazon Prime’s Catastrophe) as the mismatched pair who launch the choir, bickering and reconciling their way to unexpected fame.

For biweekly video reviews of the latest films, visit Bill’s column, “Movies for the Rest of Us,” or check out his website, moviesfortherestofus.com.

This article is featured in the March/April 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Darby Stanchfield in the film, Lock & Key. (Netflix)