I Love The Smell of Gunpowder In The Morning

July 2, 1999

Unlike Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, or Christmas, the 4th of July doesn’t seem to have spread beyond the United States. Maybe that’s because it’s the symbolic celebration of the day when a group of drunken colonists in what would become the United States decided to take a collective whiz on the King of England. Being Eighteenth Century men, they of course did it with fancy speeches and calligraphy. In the more enlightened Twentieth Century, we celebrate the event by blowing things up. This may not seem like the enlightened thing to do, but consider history: In the Eighteenth Century there were lots of things to shoot. There were abundant small mammals. There were pesky native peoples who, for some reason, thought they had a claim to the area.

Later on, with the native people in increasingly short supply, there were British soldiers, which added the thrill of a target that could shoot back. The advance of history, however, has seen the decline of legitimate targets. This isn’t a bad thing in itself, but history and psychology have both shown that we’re happier and less likely to shoot or blow up the wrong things if we have some way to express our primitive instincts. And if we can combine that expression with a spectacular light show, that’s an added bonus.

Here’s what I suggest: from now on the Fourth of July will be represented by Lenny the Seven-Fingered Firecracker Man who, on the night before the Fourth, will deliver brightly colored packages to everyone’s house, except in areas where they’re illegal, and then Lenny will deliver the packages wrapped in brown paper sacks smuggled over the county line. It’ll be just like Christmas, except the packages will have fuses and we’ll eventually get to blow them up. At Christmas, of course, there’s no need for this, mostly because we work out our primitive impulses in the shopping frenzy, but also because it’s usually too cold to go out and shoot anything.

Enjoy this week’s explosively funny offerings.


Squawks" are problems noted by U. S. Air Force pilots and left for maintenance crews to fix before the next flight. Here are some actual maintenance complaints logged by those Air Force pilots and the replies from the maintenance crews.

(P) = Problem
(S) = Solution

(P) Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
(S) Almost replaced left inside main tire.

(P) Test flight OK, except auto land very rough.
(S) Auto land not installed on this aircraft.

(P) # 2 propeller seeping prop fluid.
(S) # 2 propeller seepage normal – # 1, # 3, and # 4 propellers lack normal seepage.

(P) Something loose in cockpit.
(S) Something tightened in cockpit.

(P) Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
(S) Evidence removed.

(P) DME volume unbelievably loud.
(S) Volume set to more believable level.

(P) Dead bugs on windshield.
(S) Live bugs on order.

(P) Autopilot in altitude hold mode produces a 200 mpm descent.
(S) Cannot reproduce problems on ground.

(P) IFF inoperative.
(S) IFF always inoperative in OFF mode.

(P) Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.
(S) That’s what they’re there for.

(P) Number three engine missing.
(S) Engine found on right wing after brief search.

(P) Aircraft handles funny.
(S) Aircraft warned to straighten up, "fly right" and be serious.

(P) Target Radar hums.
(S) Reprogrammed Target Radar with the words.


Life in the 1500’s:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and were still smelling pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the b.o.

Baths equalled a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually loose someone in it. Hence the saying, "Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water".

Houses had thatched roofs. Thick straw, piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the pets… dogs, cats and other small animals, mice, rats, bugs lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, "It’s raining cats and dogs,"

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could really mess up your nice clean bed. So, they found if they made beds with big posts and hung a sheet over the top, it addressed that problem. Hence those beautiful big 4 poster beds with canopies.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt, hence the saying "dirt poor". The wealthy had slate floors which would get slippery in the winter when wet. So they spread thresh on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on they kept adding more thresh until when you opened the door it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed at the entry way, hence a "thresh hold".

Sometimes they could obtain pork and would feel really special when that happened. When company came over, they would bring out some bacon and hang it up to show it off. It was a sign of wealth and that a man "could really bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and "chew the fat."

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with a high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food. This happened most often with tomatoes, so they stopped eating tomatoes… for 400 years.

Most people didn’t have pewter plates, but had trenchers – a piece of wood with the middle scooped out like a bowl. Trenchers were never washed and a lot of times worms got into the wood. After eating off wormy trenchers, they would get "trench mouth."

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the "upper crust".

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock them out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a "wake".

England is old and small and they started running out of places to bury people. So, they would dig up coffins and would take their bones to a house and re-use the grave. In reopening these coffins, one out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they thought they would tie a string on their wrist and lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night to listen for the bell. Hence on the "graveyard shift" they would know that someone was "saved by the bell" or he was a "dead ringer".

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