Tommy’s reports always begin with his backpack of mystery, set between two brightly colored converse-clad feet. Before unveiling the tell-all visual within, however, he painted some historical imagery that ended with a court jester taunting the crowd with the ol’ “pig-bladder-on-a-stick” gag. (That one never gets old.) It was this historical gag that led to what we now know as the rubber chicken. (And this is when the rubber chickens made their appearance from the backpack of mystery.) A longer history than any of us expected, the rubber chicken was a staple of entertainment for the founding father of modern clowns, Joseph Grimaldi, and well as for Negro Baseball League pitcher, Satchel Paige. The great pitcher was known to do a ridiculously long wind-up pitch which would end with the “ball” being a balled-up rubber chicken. (Much to our delight, Tommy did his best Satchel Paige impression of this.) Today Loftus Novelty in Salt Lake City holds the rights to the rubber chicken mold we know today:
Tonya went next with a report on the world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. She really scored a topic we knew nothing about, which is the best sort to have on Report Night. Salar de Uyuni was a prehistoric lake, and now the dried remains are a salt wasteland the size of Connecticut. Underneath the salt crust is the world’s largest supply of lithium, as of yet untapped. When it rains it becomes the world’s largest mirror, and there are even a couple hotels completely made of Uyuni’s salt. (I mean everything: walls, chairs, tables, beds.) You can read more about Tonya’s topic by clicking on the photo below.
Mike opened the night with his best report as of yet: the history of Entertainment Comics. It was extremely fascinating and equally off-color. (Let’s just say that “gay” is not the only word that has changed meaning in the last 50 years.) It was a juicily controversial topic, as well, since the E.C. saga is intertwined with censorship woes. When the Jewish community celebrates Purim they hiss and boo at the mention of Haman’s name in the story of Esther. Likewise, hissing and booing ensued at the mention of Fredric Wertham’s name, the real-life villain of the E.C. adventure. But when the door closed on E.C., creative genius William Gaines found his open window by creating Mad Magazine.
For a particularly piquing E.C. story, read about the last panel of the last Entertainment Comic here.
I have fallen behind on reporting reports. Apologies. Maybe I will catch up on the missing December and January reports, but for now…
February recap! There were only five of us in attendance, and while this cuts back on the variety of topics, it also gives more freedom to take time and discuss. (Or in last night’s case: discuss, watch a Colbert video clip, discuss, and watch two episodes of Arrested Development with the hilarious Martin Short.)
This was (very pregnant) Lariate’s second report, and I now have a new appreciation for the Christmas carol O Holy Night. We learned the origins of the song began with a French poem entitled “Midnight Christians” which Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight later paired with music in 1855. However it wasn’t until 1906 that a Canadian inventor played the tune on an AM radio program with his violin, making the song the popular carol it remains today. Lariate also shared the most popular renditions of the tune, with Celine Dion’s rating number one. (Apparently so many famous musicians have covered O Holy Night that she gave up keeping track!) Set to power point and including a video clip of David Archuleta, Lariate may have been the only person who kept her report to five minutes. (Amazing.)
Our family drove to spend Christmas in my in-law’s cabin up north. When the kids and Mike were busy in the back of the van, I drove and sang O Holy Night over and over, eventually just speaking the lyrics and reflecting on every word. Report Night is such a gift in that way. Thanks Lariate!
These two never disappoint with their reports, and this month they rolled their five-minute holiday topic into one ten-minute report. (Smart, no?) Armed with power point and a rhyming poem entitled “Twas the Night Before Report Night,” John & Tonya hilariously took us through their topical brainstorm. The result was a smattering of many interesting topics.
We learned that Puerto Rico celebrates Christmas with Asalto–which is the Spanish word for assault. Sound merry yet? It is. Imagine this: instrument-toting parade and party goers show up at your house unannounced, you invite them in and serve them food and drinks, and then you travel with them to go to the next person’s house–all night long. (I told you it was merry.) In Scandinavia they start partying at 3pm with a drink called aquavit, said to raise the dead.
But cross-cultural Christmas celebrations were only the beginning. They also elaborated on the following:
-special Christmas brews from the Annual Belgium Festival, such as Very Bad Elf Special Reserve Ail from a 1795 recipe
-liberal reasons not to celebrate Christmas, such as supporting China’s economy and the environmental impact of chopping down countless Christmas trees
-top-selling toys from the last century, from iTouch in 2007 to Cabbage Patch Kids in 1983 to the Duncan Yo-Yo in 1929
-The Annual North Pole Ice Sculpture Contest
They ended with a fun video clip from Straight No Chaser:
*John’s white elephant topic is Mike–as in, the Mike who reported on the Star Wars Holiday Special.
*Tonya’s topic for January will be (if I remember correctly) the history of contact lenses. (Please correct me on a comment if I’m wrong about that.)
I am the one who makes the Report Night rules, who sets the limits and imposes crazy ideas upon those willing to partake in our tomfoolery. So I was the one who spiced up December’s get-together with these two morsels: holiday-themed topics, under 5 minutes. In so doing, I quickly realized I had shot myself in the foot. Come the week of Report Night, I had yet to cement for myself a topic that maintained my fleeting fancies.
My mind was already filled, however, with the historical and cultural images of ancient Palestine and the Christmas story. I had written a narrative on Mary the mother of Jesus, and researched many of the familiar characters of the Biblical account. So about four days beforehand, I landed on the Magi. And then off again. And on again. You see, I had peeked into the wonders of history and cultural anthropology like a child peeking in a keyhole. I was a bit baffled on how to package this vast and hidden world in a comprehensive, five-minute report within a few days. (I’m 98% sure I went over five minutes.)
One of my visuals was a long string. I explained that many people groups have the incredible fortune to be traced all the way back to the beginning–having a variety of written texts and uncovered artifacts to compare and confirm their culture. The Israelites are such an example. There are countless other cultures that have been lost in time with only a few accounts (or less), leaving historians to wonder if they were real or mythological. Using scissors, I then cut the string in two places and removed that middle section. The Magi fall into this third group: historians can look at one end of the thread and then another piece further back in history, compare the incredible similarities, and guess that they may actually be pieces of the same lineage.
I took the group through a crash course in ancient Palestinian history; beginning with the Babylonian Empire, marching into the Persian’s heyday, swallowed by Alexander the Great and the Greek Period, casually sauntering into the Maccabean Period which included 100 fine years of Israeli independence, and ending with the Roman Age–the time of Christ’s birth. All along that tour of history, I followed the priestly tribe of the Medes: the Magi. A permanent fixture of spiritual and scientific influence, the Magi maintained their identity as royal advisors for hundreds of years–if not more. In both Babylonian and Persian times, the Magi were responsible for training and crowning the prospective kings. They were highly spiritual (monotheistic, years later they adopted Zoroastrianism as their religion), and educated in classical literature, astronomy, and astrology.
Six hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Magi are referenced heavily in the book of Daniel as the group relied upon when dream interpretation was the order of the day. When these court advisors to King Nebuchadnezzar were unable to do so, Daniel (who was able to interpret his dreams) eventually replaced their leader and–logic would have it–became the head of the Magi. Another credible assumption (this report was full of “credible assumptions”) is that Daniel shared his own spiritual knowledge with this educated tribe of priests–including the prophecies of the coming Jewish Messiah. So for sake of pondering, it is possible that 600 years before the birth of Christ, God paved the way for this Gentile group of spiritual advisors to recognize the King when he came.
*The white elephant topic I ended up with for January: The best way to dispose of a dead body and get away with it.
*I forgot to mention Mike’s white elephant topic: Secret Societies.