Kage Baker liked books of lists. It wasn’t a love of facts, or a fondness for solid information. She didn’t read them for research. It was her particular personal approach to whimsy that led her to read peculiar lists, because they amused her. They were all attempts to classify and make logical things that were usually based in craziness.
There are practical lists, of course – we learn them in history classes, in mathematics drills and chemistry labs. King lists, battles and truces and congresses. The Periodic Table of the Elements, and where the lanthanides lurk. Pronouns and adverbs, case and gender. None of these is especially entertaining, not even sniggering schoolgirl jokes about conjugating verbs (amamus, amabus, yerapairofrollerskates …)
What Kage liked were the impractical ones. Absurdity, mischance, general confusion and improbable results all lined up tidily: the perfect illustration of her much-loved assertion that Truth was not only stranger than fiction, it was funnier. Ten National Leaders Who Expired During Coitus. Movies That Would Have Flopped If Their Plot Holes Were Plugged. Six Animals Devolving Before Our Eyes. Saints Who Lost Their Vatican Franchises. Those were the sorts of things she liked.
And since she liked them for their giggle quotient, she preferred to have them read aloud to her. Being read to was always a luxury, and one Kage associated with perfect leisure and all being right with the world. And in such surroundings, what could be better than listening to someone recount a Dozen Biology Projects Eaten By Their Originators? Only the sequel, Four Biologists Who Survived Eating Their Research Projects …
She read them for pleasure, for downright fun – there was a bit of a craze for the books in the 1980’s, and we bought them all and took them with us camping. Nothing like a good read from a book of lists, by candle or propane lantern light, round an oak fire on a summer evening … especially enlivened by the reader and the audience choking with giggles and spraying rum into the fire to spark all blue and green in the flames.
My mind was led to this remembrance naturally (if by convoluted means) today. I’ve been thinking about Kage an awful lot the last week – to better effect every day, thank goodness, since at first all I did was make myself miserable. But the pits on the road of recovery can be climbed out of, eventually, and then left behind. I’ve been slogging on resolutely, melting in the gods damned heat and feeling sorry for myself, and then – this morning, things were … better. Good, even.
The weather is cooler and dryer. The thunderheads and wild cirrus manes of clouds are closer, and have obligingly sucked up the swampy damp that was clinging to the earth. There is a wind, an actual wind! It’s blowing through every door and window of the house, getting grabbed up by the many fans and flung through the house in long glassy ribbons of coolth.
My brain has come back on line.
Doing so, I finally noticed it was August 15th; which was especially handy since I had a doctor’s appointment today. And I therefore remembered that this date always struck Kage as memorable, since a lot of heroes fulfilled their destiny and kicked the ol’ jam jar on this date. The second Arab Siege of Constantinople, for example, was lifted – lots of dead heroes on both sides, and lots of relieved survivors who had no idea the reprieve was to be temporary.
This is the anniversary of the battle of Roncevaux Pass, where great-souled Roland shattered his horn and his heart calling for aid. In succeeding years, the Saracens destroyed Taranto on this date, and the Holy Roman Emperor Otis II was killed by them at Capo Calonna.
Duncan I of Scotland was murdered by Macbeth on this date. And so was Macbeth, in his turn, 17 years later. The city of Rhodes surrendered to the Knights of St. John. The city of Lucca surrendered to Francesco Sforza. The Mongols invaded Japan and were promptly destroyed by the Divine Wind – for the second time. Brussels was destroyed by the French, and Leignitz by Frederick the Great.
However, the last man ever executed for treason at London Tower also died on August 15th, presumably marking a more civilized era beginning – at least for the staff of the White Tower. The Tivoli Gardens opened; The Wizard of Oz premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Woodstock opened. The “WOW! Signal” was received by SETI.
It is the first day of the flooding of the Nile.
The Beatles played Shea Stadium.
So it wasn’t all bad. And those are only part of the list that Kage celebrated on August 15ths, the various August 15ths she traversed in her years of exploration. She drank to Roland and Duncan and Macbeth; to the drowned Mongols and the resurrected Nile. It was fun.
It’s still pretty much fun. Looking back over the lists, sipping a Limeade Sparkler from Taco Bell, well-adulterated with Bombay Sapphire Gin … so much better than lying in a pool of sweat and tears feeling sorry for myself. So I drink to Kage.
Do join me, Dear Readers. It’s August 15th – a glass with you, my friends!