Sharpen Up!

Your guide to being the smartest person in the room--or the Zoom--for the month of April.

By J.C. Bruce

Spring has sprung. Earth Day looms. And the Final Four will be played soon. But the one thing you need to know about this month is that...

April 17 is Blah Blah Blah Day

Every month has dozens of "holidays" that have been officially declared by some organization or another. A partial list of this month's celebrations appears at the end of this newsletter. But first, Blah, Blah, Blah Day.

What is it?

It's kind of a procrastinator's catch-up day. Not as glamorous as Adopt a Ferret Month (more on that below), but nonetheless, deserving its own recognition.

Blah Blah Blah Day is the time to take out the trash, stop smoking, lose weight, pick up your clothes, get a job, clean your fingernails, quit your job, buy one of my books. Whatever. So, mark your calendar. Or not.

And speaking of special holidays, it's...


Adopt a Ferret Month

Yes! Those furry, fun-loving little bundles of joy with their adorable teeth have their very own month. Isn't that great?

I was surprised to discover this, my only knowledge of ferrets having come from one of the funniest short stories I've ever read: The King of the Ferret Leggers. It introduces readers to the sport in which live ferrets are trapped in contestants' pants, an endurance contest in which the winner is determined by who can take the scratching and clawing the longest (or is the last to bleed to death, I suppose).

But ferrets aren't vicious, bloodthirsty predators, we are now told. If you decide to adopt one, drop me a line and let me know how it goes. But, seriously, best not to stuff one in your trousers.

April is also Beaver Awareness Month. And who among us could not improve our awareness of beavers? Naturalists point out that beavers help keep our waters clean by building dams that create habitat for fish, ducks, songbirds, and, I assume, wild ferrets.

And the beginning of the month is also, famously...

April Fools' Day

The origin of April Fools' Day is shrouded in the fog of time, but here's what the History Channel has to say about its likely beginnings:

April Fools’ Day may date back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, as called for by the Council of Trent in 1563. In the Julian Calendar, the new year began with the spring equinox around April 1. 

Some people didn't get the memo and continued to celebrate the new year during the last week of March through April 1. They became the butt of jokes and were called “April fools.” Pranks included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as poisson d’avril (April fish), symbolizing a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.

And your shoes are untied.

Hop Hop Hop

The Easter Bunny is scheduled to make her annual appearance on Sunday, April 17, so get your baskets ready and don't hesitate to push the other kids out of the way so you, and you alone, can be the egg-gathering champion.

There is also a religious holiday associated with this date that has nothing to do with magic rabbits and greedy egg-gathering. It also meanders all over the calendar from year to year.

Ever wonder why Easter isn't on the same day each year? Here's the official answer:

The date of Easter is determined by the moon. Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

Well that certainly clears it up. Not.

The confusion traces its roots back to the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Big debate: When to celebrate Easter? Christians living in Syria wanted Easter and Passover to be linked on the calendar. Roman Christians wanted Easter on a Sunday. The Romans won and so we have this complicated formula that nobody can remember.

Invest in Our Planet

On April 22 we celebrate Earth Day, an annual event since 1970 designed to increase public awareness of the planet's fragile environment and the damage humankind is doing to our natural resources.

You can read a comprehensive history of Earth Day here.

Here's my quick take: If you observe Earth from Jean-Luc Picard's spaceship, you quickly realize that, comparatively, our atmosphere is eggshell thin. That's all that shields us from the horrors of outer space -- unforgiving vacuum, solar and cosmic radiation, the constant bombardment of meteors and asteroids. It constitutes the tiny envelope in which we must survive. How dare we pollute it -- choke it with gases that increase its temperature, raising our sea level, destroying our agricultural areas, endangering all our lives. And the lives of our children.

This should be a no-brainer. Don't set fire to your own house. Especially when you are in it.

Other April Milestones and Events

International Pillow Fight Day is celebrated on April 2 worldwide. Yo, Vladimir: Put down your guns, already, there are better ways to settle things.

Ponce de Leon "discovered" Florida on April 2, 1513. He thought it would be cool to enslave the native Calusa, but they thought it would be more fun to shoot him in the ass with a poisoned arrow. After which, Ponce slinked off to Cuba to die. He never found the Fountain of Youth (which, by the way, is hidden behind the Whataburger in DeFuniak Springs).

April 3 marks the 100th anniversary of Joseph Stalin's appointment to become the general secretary of the Russian Communist Party. A century later, Russia is still ruled by yet another vicious ferret-faced dictator.

On April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King announced his opposition to the war in Vietnam. One year later to the day, he was assassinated in Memphis.

The first Twinkie was produced on April 6, 1930. It had no expiration date.

Palm Sunday is celebrated this year on April 10.

Louie, Louie Day is celebrated on April 11, the birthday of its composer, Richard Berry. It has been called the greatest dance song of all times and has been recorded more times than any other rock song in history.

International Be Kind to Lawyers Day. Not making this up. It's April 12. Should be April 1, right?

Passover begins on Friday April 15 and ends on Saturday, April 23.

Paul McCartney announced the formal breakup of The Beatles on April 10, 1970.

Good Friday, the day the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth is remembered, is April 15.

The Boston Marathon is set to run on April 18.

April 20 is celebrated by cannabis enthusiasts as a kind of informal National Marijuana Day. I forget why.

April 26 is National Help a Horse Day. I'll celebrate this day when our equine friends create a Help a Human Day. Last time I was in the saddle, El Diablo tried to kill me, making it the last time I will ever be in the saddle.

Independent Bookstore Day is April 30. There aren't that many left and they deserve our support.

They Said It

"Journalism is a craft that takes years to learn. It's like golf. You never get it right all the time. It's a game of fewer errors, better facts, and better reporting.”

-- Ben Huh

"By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community."

--Oscar Wilde


News of the Weird

In case you were wondering, that fish embedded in the roof of this Oxford, England building is not the result of a Sharknado.

It's a twenty-five foot sculpture installed years ago by an American ex-pat named Bill Heine, who was inspired by the sound of American warplanes flying overhead in 1986 on their way to bomb Libyan terrorists.

Heine thought the shark crashing through the roof of his house sent a message of how terrifying objects falling from the sky could be.

City officials were aghast, but after years of bluster have now declared it a protected landmark. You can see more images here.

In other news of the weird...

-- At a screening of The Batman, theater operators in Austin had to stop the movie when an actual bat began flapping about in the theater. They called animal control but were unsuccessful in ridding The Moviehouse & Eatery of the flying mammal. Patrons were offered a refund, but most chose to stay and watch the film despite the danger of rabies from the uninvited guest star.

-- Desperate for cocktails, a herd of deer overran the patio of an Oshkosh, Wisconsin, tavern, then smashed through the bar's front window. They dispersed in a bit, as you can see in the video here. Drinks were on the house -- actually all over the house.

-- Did your mother ever nag you about wasting your money on comic books? Mine did. Little did she know: The first-ever Marvel comic book, among the most sought-after among comics collectors, has sold at auction for $2.4 million. Now where did I stash my copy?

-- Prague, a city with painful memories of Soviet domination, is now home to an endangered eastern black rhinoceros. Zookeepers have named the baby rhino Kyiv to honor the brave people of Ukraine.

-- Why did the salamander cross the road? We may never know, but in Marquette, Michigan, city officials are closing a busy road each night to allow migrating salamanders safe passage.

-- The New Hampshire legislature has rejected a proposal that would have called for the state to secede from the union. There is no truth to the rumor they were afraid no one would notice.

Keep up with news of the weird at The Strange Files on the Tropic Press website.


What I'm Reading and Watching

Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin is an exhaustive study of a former KGB agent turned ferret-faced dictator. What makes Vladimir Putin tick? Answering that question is the aim of this 533-page tome by Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy. I discuss the book with Ron Rollins in our latest episode of the SHARPEN UP podcast (more on that below). It's a big read with details at such a granular level that it will be more of interest to scholars than average readers -- but there is no denying its thoroughness and timeliness even though the first edition was nine years ago.

For a more condensed read, check out The New York Times' The Making of Vladimir Putin.

Servant of the People

Before he became the heroic face of Ukraine's fight against the invading Russian hordes, Volodmyr Zelenskyy was a television actor portraying a heroic Ukrainian president fighting corruption. Vaulted into the president's job on a fluke, the show, Servant of the People, chronicles his adventures as a fumbling but well-intentioned political novice. Now streaming on Netflix, not only is it surprisingly funny, it's eerie seeing this man in a comedic role knowing the daunting struggle he and his people are facing now. Must-see TV.


A few days ago, I was surprised and delighted to receive an email from an old newspaper friend and colleague from Texas, Leon Unruh, who reached out after reading one of my novels. He now lives in Alaska and he's written a real page-turner of a novel that I've just begun, Dog of the Afterworld.

Also queued up on my ever-growing book stack is Intimacies, a novel by Katie Kitamura, selected for reading by my podcast partner Ron Rollins for our semi-annual Dayton Book Guys retreat in Hocking Hills, Ohio.

Elsewhere on the screens, both silver and streaming, we spent the month of March catching up on the Oscar nominees and were pleased when our favorite, CODA, won for best picture. Then shocked by the slap seen round the world.

Will Smith slugging Chris Rock on live television? Even given the provocation of Rock's off-tone joke, it seems so out of character. Then I was reminded of the curse:

Moments before Rock poked fun at Jada Pinkett Smith's shaved head, he uttered the word "Macbeth" in a crowded theater. Did he invoke the Curse of The Scottish Play?

It helps to know that among the superstitious thespian set, there are three things you NEVER do: You never wish someone good luck before a performance (you say "break a leg" instead). You always leave a light on over the stage when the theater is dark and empty -- the so-called "ghost light" to ward off evil spirits. And you NEVER, NEVER, NEVER utter the name "Macbeth." Doing so invites calamity

This dates back to 1606 when an actor scheduled to play Lady Macbeth died suddenly and William Shakespeare was forced to replace him. Since that time, the play has been widely viewed as cursed. It is referred to as The Scottish Play -- never by name -- and actors avoid quoting from the play's lines before performances.


Weird Science

The slow loris, a nocturnal primate found in Southeast Asia, is sometimes kept as a pet, but beware--it has a toxic bite, rare among our fellow mammals.

What's also unusual is how they do it. The loris licks venom from sweat glands in its elbow-pit, then mixes it with saliva. The mixture contains a chemical compound similar to cat allergens, but can be enhanced by other factors, such as their diets in the wild.

No other primate is known to be venomous.

Speaking of poisons...

Abraham Lincoln's mother died after drinking milk. The cow whose milk she consumed had recently eaten a toxic plant known as white snakeroot.

The longest poisonous snake in the world is the king cobra, which can stretch as long as a car.

Be careful before eating an African spur-winged goose. Like that's a thing. Still, strange science fact: After consuming a certain kind of beetle, the spur-winged goose's flesh becomes poisonous. You've been warned. Eat one and you and your goose will both be cooked.


Disturbing Science

Microplastics, the teensie bits of plastic spreading all over the Earth, have been found polluting the highs and lows of our planet -- from the peak of Mount Everest to the depths of the Mariana Trench. Plastics have even been found in baby poop.

But in a recent report, scientists say they have now discovered yet another place plastic particles can be found: human blood.

How harmful is this? Can plastics circulating inside us penetrate the blood-brain barrier? Research is ongoing, but here's an Earth Day suggestion: Maybe now's the time to cut back on those disposable water bottles. Better safe than, well, you know.

From Our Mailbag

I heard a rumor that before he became the real president of Ukraine, Volodymr Zelenskyy did a skit in which he played the piano with his genitals? That can't possibly be true, can it?

Why, yes, it can. Here's a link.

Sharpen Up purple on white.png

Earlier in this newsletter, you said something about a podcast?

Why, yes, I did. Thanks for asking.

It's called SHARPEN UP -- funny how this newsletter and the podcast have the same name, no? I host it with my friend and former newspaper colleague Ron Rollins. He broadcasts from his art studio in Dayton, Ohio, and me from my loft in Naples, Florida.

Ron and I chat about a wide range of subjects. Our latest is a discussion of Fiona Hill's book Mr. Putin, mentioned earlier.

In addition to the traditional audio podcast format, we also video record SHARPEN UP. You can watch the Official Premier Episode on You Tube here:

You Tube

SHARPEN UP is expanding the number of audio channels on which it is available, including these:

Apple Podcasts
Amazon Music
Podcast Index

Once again you end your newsletter with a commercial. Should we just resign ourselves to enduring this each month?

Endure? That's so pejorative. Think of it as yet another helpful hint to make the best use of your leisure moments.

And what better way to spend your free time than to curl up with a good book. Such as: The Strange Files, Florida Man, Get Strange, Strange Currents, and Mister Manners.

You can also visit my website at www.jcbruce.com

Enjoy this Newsletter?

If you like this newsletter, please forward it to your friends. All of them. You can play a crucial role in helping The Strange Files series continue its meteoric rise on The New York Times Bestseller List by sharing this FREE email to everyone you know. They can subscribe by clicking below. Then they, in turn, can share it, and so on until everyone on the planet, except Vladimir Putin, is on the email list. Cool, huh?


Got a Question For the Next Newsletter?

Send me a note by clicking this link.

About All Those Other April Holidays...

April is also Autism Acceptance Month, Alcohol Awareness Month, Distracted Driving Awareness Month, Global Astronomy Month, Holy Humor Month, Informed Woman Month, International Black Women's History Month, International Customer Loyalty Month, International Twit Award Month (I'm not making this up), Jazz Appreciation Month, National Heartworm Awareness Month, National Humor Month, National Pecan Month, National Pest Management Month, National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, Occupational Therapy Month, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month, School Library Month, Straw Hat Month,Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, Worldwide Bereaved Spouses Awareness Month, Youth Sports Safety Month, and Buy One of J.C. Bruce's Books Month (so declared here).

And this parting thought