Things Learned While Looking Up Other Things: the messy mind of a fact hoarder

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The journalist Sydney J. Harris (who died way back in 1986) would occasionally include works titled “Things I Learned While Looking Up Other Things” in his syndicated column, which I used to read in The Charlotte Observer newspaper.

That’s essentially what this post is about. When you tell everyone that you stole someone else’s idea, that’s an homage. Right?


This is something I learned while playing the video game Assassin’s Creed: Origins: more years passed between the time the pyramids were built and Cleopatra’s time than have passed between Cleopatra’s time and the present. Mind blown. Don’t tell me that you can’t learn anything from video games.


Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball. He was, however, a Civil War hero on the Union side. And he was on Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston, SC, when the alleged first shots of the Civil War were fired. He still didn’t invent baseball.


The actress Joan Crawford was born with the name Lucille Fay LeSueur. She changed that to the stage name “Joan Crawford.” It seems like it should have been the other way around, doesn’t it?


My alma mater, the University of South Carolina, houses the Elmore Leonard Archive at the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. It is kept in 111 separate boxes and consists primarily of drafts, manuscripts and typescripts of Leonard’s novels, short stories and screen adaptations, along with research and notes relating to these works. I’m not sure how it ended up there, as I’m unaware of any Leonard connection to South Carolina. But, I think it’s cool.


Nebraska seems flat. But, since it is on the surface of a sphere, we know that the state has curvature. The larger the sphere, the less the curvature is noticeable. It seems plausible that all of space has curvature that’s not immediately apparent. All of which implies that the shortest distance between two points is never a straight line, even though this seems to be true up close. I know this is only a partial thought, but it’s where my mind went when I was thinking about space-travel alternatives to the standard hyperspace/warp drive fictional constructs.


Paul Williams, the founder of Crawdaddy! magazine, the first serious national magazine of rock-‘n’-roll news and criticism, befriended science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick and became his literary executor after his death. Williams also wrote one of the first biographies of Dick as well, Only Apparently Real: The World of Philip K. Dick.


Here’s the thing: in the year 1967, the Monkees—a fake band created for American television viewers—outsold both the Beatles and the Stones in record sales. When you consider that this was the year Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (which is an amazing LP) and Their Satanic Majesties Request (not as amazing for me, but a couple of good tunes) were released, this fact becomes increasingly mind-boggling. This may be me being slightly hypocritical, but I still like “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer” and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” You know what? I like “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Valleri” also. Damn, I’m a Monkees’s fan.


Kurt Russell’s father—Bing Russell—was a character actor best known for playing Deputy Clem Foster on Bonanza and Robert in the movie The Magnificent Seven. He has more credits than I can list here, many of them westerns. In the 1979 TV movie Elvis, he played Vernon Presley, Elvis’s father. Elvis, of course, was played by Kurt Russell. A lifelong baseball fan, he was also the owner of the Portland Mavericks, the only independent team in the Class A Northwest League. The documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014) tells that story; I recommend it.


When I was in my early 20s, I invented a cocktail that I called the Cherry Tootsie Pop. A simple concoction. It was equal measures of grape juice and orange juice, liquor of choice, and a splash of grenadine (which used to have some alcohol in it, but, alas, no longer). On the rocks was my preference, but it’s drinker’s choice. I stumbled upon the drink during a housewarming party I threw for myself. I thought it tasted just like a cherry Tootsie Pop. The thing is, the recipe is so simple, that I’m sure someone else made this cocktail before I did, so I probably shouldn’t claim that I “invented” it. It’s like claiming to have “discovered” America when there were already people living there. Online, I’ve discovered a cocktail recipe for something someone else named Cherry Tootsie Pop, but it involves limon rum, brandy and Red Bull. It does have a splash of grenadine, so there’s some common ground. I bet mine tastes more like a cherry Tootsie Pop than theirs does, although it sounds tasty as well.


I like the jellied cranberry sauce and Sharon likes the kind with stems and twigs in it. A couple of Thanksgivings ago, we bought two cans of each, made by Ocean Spray, to carry us through the holidays. When I was opening the first can, I noticed that the label was on the can upside down. Thinking this might have been a mistake, I looked at the other three cans: they were all upside-down. Then I looked it up. They’re supposed to be this way because there’s an air bubble on the rounded end of the can (the bottom) and storing it this way makes it easier to get the cranberry sauce out of the can. Who knew?


As I keep learning new things, I’ll try to remember to share them.

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4 thoughts on “Things Learned While Looking Up Other Things: the messy mind of a fact hoarder

  1. Hardly surprised that the Monkees could outdraw the Stones and the Beatles in that particular year. When you consider that they were playing songs that had the sound that the Beatles had made their fortune on, they had a well-promoted weekly TV show aimed at teenyboppers, and both the Stones and the Beatles had turned their backs on their fanbases to go psychedelic with the exact albums you cite, It’s a surprise to hear it, but having heard it and considered the context, I’m not surprised. And yes, I was a Monkees fan, too. They acted like complete loons for their show (with songs like Gonna Buy Me a Dog and Auntie Grizzelda written to support it),but their album work was solid.

    Just as a point of conversation, in my own humble opinion the Beatles peaked musically with Help! Listen to the guitar work on Ticket to Ride or the soaring harmonies of You’re Gonna Lose That Girl. That was the last time they embraced the music that had made them gods and started trying to be something that other bands, Cream, Jefferson Airplane, and The Doors for example, were doing so much better.

    Thanks again for doing this. You’ve filled a big hole in my reading that was left when the boys at Nerd Lunch, a killer pop-culture site, switched from a weekly blog post to a 2½-hour weekly podcast; I mean, who’s got time for that… Shades of The Beatles, right?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Always glad to fill a hole. I don’t disagree with you about the Beatles and the Stones. At least, not entirely. I consider the early work and the later psychedelic work to be from different bands, in truth. I like some songs from both eras. I feel the same about early and late Eagles as well. Chicago? Nah. I like the early stuff. You can keep the later stuff without the horn section.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My job each Thanksgiving (among others) is to open the cans of cranberry sauce. The first year Ocean Spray broke out those new cans my head exploded. I also tried to watch the film version of Assassin’s Creed and my head exploded then also. While the cans eventually became understandable, I still don’t know what the hell that movie was trying to say. I just hope the video game is more enjoyable. Great trivia nuggets here!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Not that the Assassin’s Creed mythology doesn’t get a bit muddled over the course of—what?—twenty games or so, I think you would enjoy the games more, if you’re so inclined. I never watched the movie, so that makes it difficult for me to compare them.

      Liked by 1 person

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