Thursday, January 19, 2023

A Portal Opens

Welcome to the realm of Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings, gates and passages, a supreme being who looks both forward and back.  In his right hand, Janus holds the key to the future, and so do you.

January is the time when right-thinking humans promise to mend their ways and turn the page on the seven deadly sins, entering a new portal where the slate is wiped clean and everyone starts over.  Gyms and athletic centers fill up with new registrants seeking to rehabilitate bodies gone wrong, reverse the damage from reckless behavior, rev up their dating profiles and live happily ever after.

Penitents give up sugar and spice and everything nice, eschew salt, embrace the treadmill, investigate gluten and skip merrily into the vegan life.  Thousands of waterbottle-bearing trekkers make the pilgrimage to Yoga, try out salt rooms, suffer through Thai massage, trade their Honda Civic in for a nice healthy Schwinn, swap their comfy plush BMW for a more respectable BMI.

There is a time, the prophets say, a time for every purpose under heaven, and January is the time for redemption, for self-discovery, for taking the road less traveled.  All things are possible now, all doors are open, the explorer simply has to pass through, accept a new set of tenets, cope with the oddities facing a stranger in a strange land.  All of your instincts implore you to give it the old college try, to persevere through drought and darkness, to face the 31 days of January with gumption and grit and to break on through to the other side.

If, after all is said and done, the sinner crashes and burns, well, that’s February’s fault.

A Casual History Of January

Big things happen in January.  Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves on the first day of the new year in 1863.  George Washington defeated the British at Princeton and drove them back toward New Brunswick on January 3rd, 1777.  On the same date in 1959, Alaska was admitted as the 49th U.S. state, for better or for worse.  And in 1946, William Joyce, widely know as “Lord Haw Haw,” was hanged by the British for broadcasting Nazi propaganda into Britain, the bastard.  Who’s laughing now? 

On January 6, 1412, Joan of Arc was born in France.  After a series of mystic visitations by alleged saints, Joan inspired French troops to break the British siege at Orleans and win several important battles during the Hundred Years’ War between France and Britain.  Alas, she was eventually captured and sold to the British, who tried her for heresy and burned her at the stake.  Ouch!  Peevish, those British.

On January 8, 1815, General Andrew Jackson took a little bacon and he took a little beans and he met the bloody British at the town of New Orleans, inflicting over 2000 casualties.  Both sides were unaware that peace had been declared two weeks earlier with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent.  “Oops, never mind,” said newscaster Emily Litella.

On January 8, 1935, Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi.  His father took a peek at the none-too-pretty child and snorted, “He ain’t nuthin’ but a hound dog.”  Somebody wrote it down.

On January 11, 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General declared cigarettes may be hazardous to one’s health.  Since then, about 480,000 people a year have died from cigarette smoking.  In 2018 alone, smoking cost the United States more than $600 billion, including more than $240 billion in healthcare spending and $372 billion in lost productivity.  “It looks pretty cool, though,” said Marlboro Man Jerome Jackson, who died of lung cancer in 2008.  Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, JJ.

In mid-January of 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met at Casablanca in Morocco to work on strategy during World War II.  In the subsequent movie, Humphrey Bogart played Roosevelt and Ingrid Bergman portrayed Churchill.

In 1741, that rotten traitor Benedict Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut.  After gaining command of West Point in 1780, he conspired to turn over the garrison to the British, but his plans were discovered and he fled to British headquarters in New York and then to London, where he ran a Slurpee kiosk in Trafalgar Square until his death in 1801.  Boo on you, Benedict!

On the other hand, good old Albert Schweitzer was born on the same day in 1875 in Upper Alsace, Germany.  He served as a medical missionary in Africa and received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of the brotherhood of all nations.  You go, Albert!

And finally on January 15, 69 A.D., Roman Emperor Servius Sulpicius Galba, who had succeeded Nero, was cruelly assassinated by the evil Praetorian Guard in the Roman Forum.  We told you about those damn Praetorians, Servius, but would you listen?  No!


During the Great Depression, only about one-quarter of the American population made New Year’s resolutions.  By the end of the 20th century, however, that number nearly doubled and nobody knows why.  Perhaps, with the world seeming to go to hell in a handbasket, people began grasping for any illusion of control, up to and including ancient pacts with the gods that have over time turned into pacts with ourselves.  That hypothesis begins to fall apart, however, when we notice that resolutions in 2021 dropped back down to Great Depression levels.  Apparently, we have a threshold for how bad things can get before we go back to just leaving events up to the gods.  In any case, some New Year’s promises from the past:

 On 1 January, 1660, Samuel Pepys resolved to write a record of his daily life in England.  Pepys continued his ritual for almost ten years, providing readers with a key description of everyday life in London during the 1660s.  Trouble was, nobody cared.

Satirist Jonathan Swift, the famed writer of Gulliver’s Travels, penned a list of New Year’s resolutions in 1669.  Among his resolves, Swift promised he would not be grouchy or morose or suspicious, that he would marry a young woman, embrace cleanliness “for fear of falling into nastiness,” and, most notably, “Not to be fond of children, or let them come near me hardly.”  It must have worked, Swift never had a single child, thus avoiding all those long, boring Little League games.

So you think you’ve got a challenging list of resolutions?  In the 1930s, the great Cambridge mathematician Godfrey Hardy, one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century, aimed rather high: 1. Prove the Riemann Hypothesis; 2. Make 211 not out on the fourth innings of the last Test Match at the Oval; 3. Find an argument for the non-existence of God which would convince the general public; 4. Be the first man on top of Mt. Everest; 5. Be proclaimed the first President of the USSR, Great Britain and Germany; 6. Murder Mussolini.  Hardy never did prove the Riemann Hypothesis, but his pupil Ramanujan did.  Oh, and someone else took care of Mussolini.

A good friend of The Flying Pie, having smoked  marijuana every day for five years to no good end, resolved to quit one January 1st.  “The weed is derailing my life,” he said,  “I just want to feel clearheaded again.”

During New Year’s Eve festivities, he tried to get as high as humanly possible with a long drought at hand.  “One of my friends really got into the weed that night and offered me this tincture—a THC concoction he used to put himself to sleep.  He told me to take two drops before bed.  Once everyone was gone, I took the two prescribed drops to help me sleep.  Thirty minutes later, nothing.  I took two more, then a half-hour later three additional drops.  That worked, though it was now past midnight.  The next morning I woke up stoned out of my mind.  I couldn’t even gather myself up to get out of bed and I stayed there all day, hiding under the covers.  Finally, I sobered up and realized I had broken my resolution only an hour into the New Year.  Initially, I felt forlorn, a bust at even getting through the first two hours of my solemn promise.  As they say, however, Time heals all wounds.  In retrospect, I decided that having failed in my resolution, I guess I’m good to smoke weed for another 365 days.  No harm, no foul.  I want you to know, though, that I haven’t given up.  I’m more resolute than ever.  And just wait til next year!”

Who says Satan doesn’t exist?

I’ve Just Seen A Face….

“Had it been another day, I might have looked the other way.”---Lennon & McCartney

The cold can be fierce in the early days of a New England January, but there is beauty to buffer the shock.  The rains creep in during the early evening before the temperatures drop like a rock into the teens, freezing the water to the leafless branches of the trees, creating a vast mirror for the Sun when it rises in the morning.

Snow falls softly in the night, the wind molding the white modeling clay into voluptuous sculptures, curved without angles, sweeping off into the distance.  Here and there, the window-candle  remnants of Christmas still brighten the dark streets and lighten hearts.

In Boston, a young boy, 16, gets on a bus for home after a basketball game.  Looking out a window, he can see into a bus adjacent and just before he turns his head away, a young girl sits down, looks out her own window and smiles.  This is not just any girl, this is Helen of Troy, Cleopatra and Annette Funicello rolled into one, and there is mischief in her eyes.  Then again, it’s easy to be flirtatious when safely  ensconced in one vehicle while the victim of your spell is locked in another.

The boy, a hopeless romantic, is a quick study.  His instincts tell him to fly to the girl at all costs, even though he’ll be delivered to some frozen hell untold miles from home with no relief in sight.  The promise of Romance is one thing, the possibility of frostbite another.  “I’ll never see her again,” he thinks, correctly.  “I’ll never be able to find her.”  Just as the driver closes the doors with an emphatic wheeze, ardor wins the day and the boy leaps to his feet, runs to the front of the bus and asserts some feeble excuse to leave.  The driver throws up his hands and obliges.

The girl has seen all this from her comfortable nest and rises in welcome, smiling at her boy’s pluck.  “You have no idea where we’re going, do you?” she laughs.  “No idea at all,” he allows.  “Whatever happens, it will be worth the risk.”  There are women who wait all their lives to hear such a glorious peaen, and even young girls of little experience are struck to the core by the shock of hearing it.  She looked at him differently now, discovering a new smile she had never thought of using before.

They sat in their seat for the better part of an hour, exchanging stories, laughing, and finally, holding hands.  The girl was visiting her grandparents, lived off in the hinterlands of someplace called Iowa, had an “unimportant” boyfriend, would go to college there some day.  She would write, maybe even call, they would surely find each other again.  As the bus pulled into her destination, she lightly kissed the boy on the lips and rushed outside to her waiting grandparents.  The boy instinctively knew he would never see her again, and that was okay.  Even if nothing else followed, this one rare hour of a single night was enough.  He felt headstrong, giddy, grateful for the day.

Trudging through the snow backwards with a thumb raised, his heart skipped a beat when a new Lincoln pulled over.  The driver, a middle-aged man, had once been an inveterate hitchhiker and was happy to find someone to listen to his stories.  Once done, he turned to the boy and asked him about his evening.  “I took the wrong bus on my way back from a basketball game,” the boy said.  “The Celtics won in overtime.” 

“Wow!” said the driver, brightening.  “You don’t get to see something like that live very often.  Must  have been the highlight of your week!”  His passenger smiled and looked back at him, as if in happy affirmation.  “Not exactly,” he thought.  “It was right up there,” he said.

That’s all, folks….