Today: Cebu explained. And more.

Yes, I know; it’s a deeply creepy picture. It’s not the fact that this comely lass is playing the role of an old man that’s bothersome - no, the vixen tricked out in Kringlegear is a staple of cheesecake. What unnerves me is the realization that she has flayed Santa’s face and lacquered his skin to make her mask. You could almost read her expression not as holiday cheer, but delight that the smell is gone. Or at least not as bad as she expected.

This is from a Life magazine in 1944. You can tell there’s a war on from the picture in the left-hand corner. You’ll also note the Whitman Sampler - it contained multitudes of chocolates of varied edibility. There were the soft pillowy creams, jellied disappointments, and a dreaded vile thing whose rich chocolate garment hid a nugget of grim pistachio putty. I don’t know anyone who liked that one, and surely Whitman knew it was an unpopular item. Perhaps there was a line in Old Man Whitman’s will stipulating that every sampler must contain a pistachio item, “so that I may continue to spit from the grave on the world which has brought me nothing but money and dental discomfort.”

You got Whitman’s at the drug store or the Woolworths. In the same genre was the Russell Stover brand, identified by the ribbon printed right on the box for your convenience. It's already wrapped! Every Christmas Eve my dad brought home a box of Russell Stover, and he usually got the double-decker number: after you’d cleared out the top floor, there was an exact duplicate right below. I still see these boxes in the drug store. When I lived in DC I’d see them in the People’s Drug on 18th (aka the State Analgesic, Surficant and Tobacco Dispensary #292) and just the sight of the blue box and its ersatz ribbon took me back twenty years. Did I buy any? Of course not. I’d moved on to your boutique chocolates. Now I stood over the counters of Godiva and examined the truffles with the practiced eye of a German in a Thai brothel.

Now we have a tin of Williams-Sonoma Peppermint Bark, a fine holiday candy packaged to look like some hardy remnant of the Victorian era. Nothing says 21st century American Christmas like something that reminds you of 19th century England. You could issue Special Edition Hogarth Christmas Gin, complete with a label showing a staggering man in a top hat and soiled waistcoat, and it would sell out by Thanksgiving. “Inspired by the paintings of English artist William Hogarth, this special Christmas Gin brings back an era of roasting birds, plum pie, rigid class stratification, Masonic perfidy, and an anesthetized lower order vomiting out charity porridge onto the freshly fallen snow. Hogarth Christmas Gin: Bring Back the Past, and Bring Up the Blood!”

Cebu, I was going to say. Cebu. First, a few notes of thanks. I get a lot of stuff over the transom, and this year I am going to do my best to thank everyone who’s contributed material to the site. It’s really quite humbling. The last year hasn’t seen many updates to the site - well, 40-some matchbooks and 30+ Flotsam Cove entries, but it may have seemed as if a general air of abandonment had fallen over some parts of the site. Not so. I have been working behind the scenes for the last half-year, and after New Year’s Day you’ll find version 9.0: additions to absolutely everything. Double the motel postcards; double the restaurant postcards; a newly revamped Institute, more Curious Lucre. And that’s the start. I’ll be meeting with the StarTribune online genies in January to discuss ways I can hoover up their bandwidth, and that means video and audio aplenty. It’ll all be free. Just buy the book every other year; that’s all I ask.

Here’s something that came in the mail that demonstrates how unbalanced my ledgers are, how I much I owe the patrons of this ste:

Elizabeth in Aurora, CO read that I’d bought a barn for Gnat, and it was missing the farmer and the pig. How she deduced which product I was describing, I’ve no idea, but she was the general manager at a store that sold the same item. She located a pig and a farmer and sent them for Gnat. They fit the playset. Now her farm has a farmer; now the sty has a pig.

This is where I wonder exactly what I did in previous lives to deserve this sort of readership.

And this is where I try to earn it in the future. For a year or two I’ve had the Amazon donation button down there. Why? It’s not as if I need the money. I can bear the costs. (Especially when I don’t pay them. Egh. I settled the problem with the hosting company on Friday, and I felt like such a bum; here I thought I was paid up. Ohhh, no. Idiot.) There are minimal software costs - $160.00 this year for programs and fonts. Add it all up, and I made money on the site. So what to do with the extra donations?

That’s where the Cebu comes in. Anyone who has a kid who watches Veggie Tales might recognize the word; it’s from “The Song of the Cebu,” a lethally catchy ditty about a boy in a canoe with three cows, or water buffalos, which the narrators calls Cebus. I have no idea if this is a word in any language, but when you listen to the song six times a day like I do, the word gets fused to the definition in the song. Gnat, too: show her a picture of a water buffalo, and she says Sayboo!

There’s a charity called Heifer Project that uses your donations to buy livestock for Third-World agrarian peasants. You can buy a share of a cow, the whole cow, a goat, chickens, pigs - all manner of animals. You write the check, and on the other side of the world someone from the Project shows up and gives the animal to someone. Hands the family the reins, which is the equivalent of tossing them the keys.

Well, friends, you just bought someone an entire Cebu. I took all the extra cash and gave it to Heifer Project, and one gen-u-ine Water Buffalo will be delivered to a SE Asian family in 2003, thanks to your donations. I call him “Bleatus.”

This will be a tradition: every year all the money contributed that exceeds the cost of running this site will be donated in the form of pigs, sheep, ducks or Cebus.

See you tomorrow,, with a link to keep you amused & stunned the rest of the year.


Merry Christmas! Had I time I’d provide some sort of rumination about the holiday, but since time is short tonight I’ll give you the condensed version: it’s as good as you make it. The longer version of these sentiments can be found here, in today’s Backfence column. When you’re done with that, come back and check out an interesting site that will be a delight for anyone with broadband and an interest in obsessive sci-fi fandom. Ask yourself: if you and your friends decided to shoot an entire episode of TOS Star Trek, and you wrote a script set on the recommissioned Exeter, and you rented a warehouse, built a replica of a Constitution-class starship, designed all the sets and lighting to look like 1967 TV, and spent SEVEN YEARS on the project, meticulously recreating the look and sound of a TOS episode, what would the result look like?

It might go something like this. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Starship Exeter. How did I find this? One of the guys involved works in our mailroom. Go make their hit counter go nuts, and again: Merry Christmas. (Yesterday's Bleat provided below in case you missed it, and don't want to fight the archives.
Amazon Honor SystemClick Here to PayLearn More