Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

A Letter of Apology to Labourers

18 September, anno domini 2010

Dear Sir or Madam,

Two weeks ago today I made a promise to you that I could not, as it turned out, keep. In an effort to remove from my back the burden of shame I have borne these many years for failing to live up to my family’s duel legacy of hard work and criminal activity, I intended to write a week-long tribute to outstanding men and women labourers. I could not live up to that promise. The only explanation I can offer you for my actions is that I was engaged in what I hope you will accept as a more fitting tribute to your labours: I was working.  I would like to extend a special apology to the intended subjects of my tribute, Messrs Henry and Heracles and Mmes Riveter and Virgin.

Were it not for you and your hammer, John Henry, the world may not have become aware of the intrinsic evil of machines. We would have been doomed to an apocalypse at the hands of our own creations. Because of you we — and by ‘we’ I mean ‘Hollywood movies’ — are ever vigilant against the machinations of technology, and the world is safe. For now.

Heracles, of your many labours, the cleaning of the Augean Stables stands out as particularly verendic. There are heroes enough in this world to face lions, boars and hydras; but rare is the man who would clean up a 30-year-old pile of whatsit. You stepped in a pile that even Mike Rowe would fear to tread in, and you came out victorious. Stinky, but victorious.

Rosie the Riveter. In Europe’s darkest hour, with the last of the free countries on the brink of collapse, you roused America to action. “We can do it!” you told us, and you were right. Japan may have awakened a sleeping giant when they bombed Pearl Harbor, but it was you who filled him with terrible resolve. The free people of the world owe you a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.

Mary, the only labour for which you will ever be famous might have been over in a matter of hours, but from it you brought forth the Saviour of the human race. The ramifications of this act are so mind-blowing, the whole world is still trying to figure out what to do with it. On behalf of the faithful, I thank you for agreeing to an insane job offer from an angel you’d only just met. We will be marveling in the mystery of the Son you bore  — yet who created you — for eternity to come.

You are all worthy of  recognition for your awesome labours. If the opportunity presents itself, I plan to follow through on my promise and dedicate posts to you in the future. I sincerely hope I have not offended any of you.

Tenderly I remain your verendicompendist,

S. Hamley Bildebrandt

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Filed under History, Lore and Legend, Technology, The Future, Unsung Heroes

Labourers

Monday is Labour Day. Here in America it’s spelt Labor Day because of the the Great Depression and the War. In order to create jobs and to stem the tide of global fascism, most of America’s U’s were melted down between 1937 and 1945 to increase the output of pro-war propaganda[i] and German ethnic slurs[ii] for the war effort. Roosevelt’s U Drive helped the Allies win the war, but it’s been causing us to lose Scrabble games to our friends across the pond ever since.

A vat of molten U's destined for the the Western Front.

In honour of the men and women who have spent their lives toiling long hours under impossible conditions just to earn an honest living, each post this week will be dedicated to an awesome labourer.

Like many payers of homage, there is an element of guilt inspiring my tribute. I don’t work, or at least I don’t do the kind of back-breaking, self-sacrificing manual labour I am here paying tribute to. And I feel guilty about it.

The sad truth is, I’m a disgrace to my family name. I come from a long line of manly labourers. Going back to my Scottish roots, my ancestors were cattle thieves. When they immigrated to the United States, some of them became train robbers. It may not have been honest work, but it was manly. And tough. On my father’s side I’m of lumberjack stock. Our ancestral town, which still bears our name, is an entire city of lumberjacks to this very day. My grandfather was a lumberjack too. And a coal miner. And a carpenter. Both of my grandfathers lived through the Great Depression and World War II.

A memorial to grandpa. He used to shave with that axe.

I, on the other hand, am a high school teacher and an artist who cries a lot.

Perhaps in writing this I hope to honour the ancestors who would shun me at family reunions were they still living. Perhaps I have it in me to be a great labourer as well, but I haven’t had the opportunity to test my mettle. Perhaps I just wanted to use the expression “test my mettle” without actually having to, you know, test it.

What is certain is that the labourers of this world are awesome and deserve our recognition and gratitude. Labourers, this week is for you.
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[i] “Uncle Sam wants you!” read “Ncle Sam wants yo!” until April, 1937.

[ii] Krat didn’t make quite as much sense as kraut.

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Filed under History, Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes: Cool Air

Presumably everyone who reads this blog has skin. If you’re reading this and you don’t have skin, I sincerely apologize.

Unless you’re an android, in which case you don’t understand the concept of remorse. Or contractions, which there have been four of so far, so you’re beyond lost.[i]

But androids aside, I think I have statistics on my side when I say that most of you have skin. So I don’t need to extol to you, O be-dermised reader, the glories of cool air. We all know the refreshing, life-giving feel of a cool breeze on our skin; how it renews body and spirit alike. I could recount for you the many splendours of cool air, but I won’t. Today’s post focuses on an oft-neglected benefit of cool air that, frankly, puts all its other, more obvious charms to utter shame.

We’ve probably all heard some version of the story involving a bush pilot in the Amazon/Congo/Australian Outback/Sumatran jungle/Camden, NJ who swears he saw a snake swallow a cow/water buffalo/bouncer — whole. I’ve never put much stock into such stories. For no other reason, really, than that bush pilots are notoriously unreliable people — blackguards and knaves, the lot of them. That and because if there were snakes that big, one of them would have killed Jon Voight by now.

But there was a time when giant snakes slithered their way across the earth. Snakes so big their midsections would be three or four feet in diameter. Such monsters could easily swallow a cow — and much larger things — whole. Jon Voight wouldn’t stand a chance. And neither would the rest of us.

A life-size papier-mâché replica of a baby prehistoric demon-snake.

Many people like to have pythons and boa constrictors as novelty pets. I’m not entirely sure why, but I think it’s because it gives people a taste of danger without any of the nasty drawbacks like injury and death. Pythons and boas are big enough to kill us, but just a bit too small to bother. We wouldn’t quite fit inside. But if the monster snakes of primordial earth were still around, we’d make a tasty treat. Fortunately for us, snakes have gotten much, much smaller since then.

And to what do we owe a debt of eternal gratitude for ridding the world of voracious dino-snakes? Who is this unknown benefactor of the human race? This shrinker of snakes, this defender of Jon Voight.

Cool air.

Angelina Jolie's dad (somehow). Pre-death-by-snake.

Snakes, we all know (especially you, android), are cold-blooded. Cold-blooded animals can’t regulate their own body heat like mammals can. That’s why lizards are always hiding in the shade and then sunning themselves on rocks. It’s how they keep themselves from hypothermia or overheating. The bigger a reptile gets, the higher the ambient temperature it needs to keep its body temperature at a livable level. For reptiles to be as large as they once were, as in the case of dinosaurs and snakes the size of pine trees, the overall temperature of the earth would have to be much higher than it is now. And so it once was, but it has cooled down a lot since reptiles ruled the earth. It’s the very coolness of the air that is keeping reptiles from getting as large as they once were.

That’s why the farther north one goes in the Northern hemisphere, the smaller the reptiles get. It’s also why all those stories about giant snakes swallowing large livestock come out of tropical climes, not the remote forests of Alaska or Tibet, for example.

In short, the only thing keeping you, me, and everyone you love from a painful, slow death in the belly of a slithering behemoth monster-snake is cool, refreshing air. That just makes me want to breathe in its breezy freshness all the more deeply.

And we’d better all hope and pray there’s nothing to this global warming thing, or else Jon Voight’s days are numbered. And while that might not sound all that bad, allow me to remind you that in spite of the full force of reptilian rage being unleashed against her, J-Lo survives. I don’t know about you, but if I have to live in a world where J-Lo survives, I’d prefer it to be one not dominated by predatory über-snakes.

Our future if we take this global warming thing lying down.

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[i] That makes five.

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Filed under Animals, History, Lore and Legend, The Future, Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes: Mirrors

The late Michael Jackson, seen here starting with the man in the mirror.

The relationship between humans and mirrors is a complicated and often uncomfortable one, mired by superstition and misunderstanding. Sure, man and mirrorkind are willing to live in peace with each other, but it is an uneasy peace at best.

People need mirrors because they offer a simple but invaluable service: they reflect light and images clearly and accurately. There are other materials in this world with reflective qualities, but none of them has the effortless talent of mirrors. Water distorts whatever image it reflects. Bronze and other metals are too dim and cloudy to be of any use. Seeing our reflection in spoons and on toasters might make us laugh, but it’s no way to prepare for a big date. Mirrors, quite simply, are the best at what they do. They are like an entire race of Albert Einsteins in a world of Pauly Shores.

So when mirrors offered to provide the human race with clear reflections, no strings attached, it seemed too good to be true. But the humans learned soon enough that any offer made by a mirror is a double-edged sword. The very thing that makes mirrors a necessity in life is what makes them the bane of our existence. Mirrors show what they show. No more, no less. No matter how closely a mirror has worked with a human, no matter how long they’ve spent in his or her employment, no matter what personal feelings they might feel for them, a mirror never sugar coats the images it sees. It gives the truth to us straight: baggy eyes, pasty complexion, love handles, cellulite, crooked teeth, lazy eyes. Everything.

As much as we’ve grown dependent on the reflective properties of the mirror race, it’s become the very thing we despise about them.

Elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror. And that's cute somehow.

I know I’m not making mirrors sound very good. Allow me to clarify. In no way do I mean to imply malevolence or spite on the part of mirrors. I can assure you they mean us no harm. Lying simply isn’t in their nature.[i] They don’t always understand us humans, and admittedly all-too-often they feel a smug condescension toward our pride and egos. In fact, they even take delight in bursting our bubbles with the image staring back at us in the bathroom each morning, but only because of how dedicated they are to truth. In their culture, such blunt feedback is viewed as a sign of great respect and loyalty. We need to understand that mirrors are just as frustrated with people for not understanding their acts of kindness as we are with them for showing us how imperfect we are.

I want to make something else clear as well. Mirrors perform another function that is in many ways far more important than knocking our egos down a few pegs; a function that regularly saves human lives. I might even go as far to say it could play a role in the survival of the human race. I speak of course of the role of mirrors as vampire detectors.

I hope for your sake, my dear reader, that you are versed in the essentials of vampire safety. If not, I’m afraid this is neither the time nor the place to catch you up. For now, suffice it to say that because vampires are undead and have no souls, they cast no reflections in mirrors. Not only is this terribly interesting in a symbolic literary sort of way, it’s also a big advantage we have against these undead predators. Since vampires can only enter a home if invited, it’s an absolute necessity for you to keep a mirror in your foyer so you can give it a quick glance to see if the person at your door is friend or fiend. If you don’t see a reflection, you’ve got a vampire on your hands.[ii]

It is an established factoid that every year in the United States alone, five thousand people unwittingly invite vampires into their homes. Of those five thousand, 90% end up dead. The other 10% have a far worse fate in store for them. Just think how many lives could be saved if people observed proper vampire safety. It only takes a few mirrors strategically placed in vulnerable points of entry in your home to protect yourself and the ones you love.

Mirrors knew what kind of deal they were making with the human race when they agreed to show us our reflections. They knew people would blame them for auto accidents even though they had the decency to warn us that ‘the objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.’ They knew we’d fear and revile them if they broke, believing seven years of bad luck would come upon our heads. They knew we’d even blame them for our own physical shortcomings. But most importantly, mirrors knew — eons ago they knew — the threat that vampires posed to the Living. And yet they stood by mankind through it all. They bore with our scorn, our contempt, our fearmongering. Vampires pose no threat whatsoever to mirrors; they have no blood to give the undead. But even though this wasn’t their fight, the mirrors joined themselves to mankind as our silent protectors against the dark race that walks the night. Night after night, year after year, century after century, they have kept their vigil on our walls, ever waiting, ever watching lest a vampire enter a human home.

The good news is this T-rex isn't a vampire.

If we understood — really understood — all that mirrors have done for us as a race, we’d thank them. We’d never stop thanking them. In showing us ourselves, warts and all, mirrors haven’t just been giving us a lesson in humility. They’ve been sending us a much more important message. As long as we have a reflection to look at, and as long as we have imperfections to fret over, we’re still human. And as long as we’re still human there’s hope. It’s when our reflection disappears that we need to start worrying.

The only vampire I'll ever invite into my house. Well, except for Bunnicula.

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[i] There are glaring exceptions: fun house mirrors and one-way mirrors being chief among them. Sadly, in the case of the former, many were forced into their position by ruthless and unscrupulous men. In the case of the latter, they are reluctantly willing to deceive in order to promote justice in places such as police interrogation rooms.

[ii] Whatever happens, don’t panic. Just make sure you’ve got a wooden stake handy, an ultraviolet light switch, and a cannister of garlic spray on your keychain.

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Filed under Lore and Legend, Ridiculon, Unsung Heroes