"Bye, Columbus -- you devil, you"
Happy Columbus Day (observed). The real anniversary of the historic landing in the Bahamas was yesterday, but since that was a Sunday and we need a three-day weekend, the holiday's today.
The fake timing of the celebration is right in keeping with the day's slightly off-center theme. Today we celebrate the alleged supposed purported discoverer of America. Who thought he had made it to India and called the natives Indians.
But dammit, he didn't sail off the edge, and that's worth a lot. And so after this brave explorer is named the second largest river in North America, along with countless cities, counties, universities, whole countries, etc.
Not really, though. The guy's actual name was Colón. Plus, he missed the big naming enchilada as an Italian mapmaker put his own name on the continent.
To be sure, if this kind of discovery were made today, there would be corporate naming rights. The whole expedition would be sponsored by Subway. You'd have Doritos Columbus, Ohio. Viagra Columbia River. AOL Columbia University. And so on.
There'd be video cameras all over the ships. Guys would be voted off every week. Maybe whole ships would be voted out of the flotilla. "Pinta, the tribe has spoken. Back to Spain." Weekly talent show competitions for fresh water. People sitting at home would be yelling at their video screens, "He can't tap dance!" "You call that fado?" "I hate that scurvy b*stard."
Hope you've got the day off and are reading blogs at home or in some other mellow place. Play some Sinatra records. Ditto, Dean Martin. Tony Benedetto (a.k.a. Bennett), too. And Clooney -- hey, mambo, mambo Italiano. And tonight rent the movie Big Night, one of the biggest little pictures you'll ever enjoy.
The closest I ever got to the real spirit of Columbus Day was the one I spent in New Haven, Connecticut, where I was living on a temporary assignment in '77. I shared an apartment on Wooster Square, where a bust of Chris himself resided in the park. On the next street over were a couple of establishments, Sally's and Pepe's, who positively defined the pizza joint. Just to give you some idea, Sally was a guy.
Out here on the Left Coast, where folks of Italian heritage are fewer and less organized than in the Northeast, this is a half-fast holiday at most. For example, state and municipal government offices are open. And parking meters are in operation -- what more need I say?
Rather than party with the "Eye-talians," the locals of Oregon ask, "Where were you on Columbus Day of '62?" I was in a nice schoolyard in Newark, N.J. on that Friday, thanks, doubtlessly bummed out that the World Series game scheduled for the day in San Francisco had been rained out. But people who were in the Pacific Northwest that day will tell you all about the most hellacious windstorm on record for this region.
Now known universally as the Columbus Day Storm, it triggered winds clocked at 116 miles per hour on the Morrison Bridge in Portland. A wind gauge on the Oregon Coast registered 179 miles per hour. Dozens of people died, and the property damage was unspeakable. Some of the rich history of that day can be found here.
For me the day brings to mind one of Jersey City, N.J.'s many great natives, the late Flip Wilson. His late-'60s comedy routine on Columbus's voyage -- a trip commissioned by Queen Isabela, who bragged "Chris gon' find Ray Charles!" -- broke down many barriers between black and white audiences. Wilson's classic character Geraldine played the Indian maiden: "How y'all gon' discover somebody who don't want to be discovered?"
If you get blown away today, I hope it's in a good way. May there be fruit on your plain.