Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Teddy Roosepig

I tried finding a good presidential Halloween costume this year, but I came up short. You'd think with it being an election year there would be tons of options, but I just wasn't feeling any of them. I considered dressing up as Sexy Abraham Lincoln again and recruiting friends to go as Sexy Jefferson, Sexy TR, and Sexy Washington so we could collectively go as Sexy Mount Rushmore, but surprisingly few friends (read: none) wanted to join me. Their loss.

It's okay, though. The strange-presidential-costume theme continues in the Presidentress household thanks to my 5-year-old son insisting on being Teddy Roosepig.

I need to state here, emphatically, that this was not my idea. I'm not sure if I'm giving him all the credit or all the blame; I'm just saying.

It started when I showed my kids the Teddy Roosevelt costume I found on Amazon. They all rebuffed me, so I let it go. But then a few weeks later, my youngest came up with this pig thing and decided that he needed to morph it with Teddy Roosevelt.

At first I thought it would be disrespectful (unlike that classy Lincoln costume of mine), but I asked on Facebook and Twitter, and everyone who responded said that it was a great idea. A couple even said that Teddy himself would find it hilarious. So it happened. 

I bought the costume from Amazon, but when it came I saw that it didn't include the boots. So I found some kids costume boots on Amazon, too. (When I bought them, they were $10 with free Prime Shipping. They've gone up since then, which is unfortunate because you could buy some real kids' cowboy boots for the current price, I imagine.) Then I found a "pig kit" with a nose, clip-on tail, and ear headband. 

I cut the ears off the headband and hot-glued them to the hat, and I hot-glued the mustache to the snout. (I also trimmed the mustache a bit because it was far too bushy for TR.)

Because of my affinity for aardvarks, I know that the word "aardvark" comes from the Afrikaans (South African Dutch) words for land (aard) and pig (vark). Hence this costume should really be called Teddy Roosevark. Plus Roosevelt is a Dutch name, so it's even more appropriate. ("Roosevelt" apparently means "rose field," so Roosevark would, I suppose, mean rose-pig, and pigs are pink, after all. It's perfect.)

Maybe I'll reuse my Lincoln costume from last year so my kid and I can comprise half of a very dystopian Mount Rushmore this Halloween. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Cubs, Trump, and Armageddon

The Chicago Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908 and haven't even appeared in a World Series since 1945. It's not exactly a novel joke to suggest that the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series would result in armageddon. I've heard that joke all my life and have alluded to it on numerous occasions. And that's all it is: A joke...or is it?

The Cubs have made it into the postseason a few times in recent years, and each time I've been reminded of a particular short story by W. P. Kinsella. For those of you who aren't fans of baseball literature, Kinsella is a Canadian writer known in the U.S. for his stories about baseball, and his plots often involve at least a slight supernatural element. (His best known work is a novel called Shoeless Joe, the basis for the movie Field of Dreams.)

The short story in question is called "The Last Pennant Before Armageddon" from the collection The Thrill of the Grass. The premise is that the Cubs are having an unbelievably good year, but their manager has been receiving messages from God in the form of recurring dreams in which various people (including Al Capone and longtime Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley) plead with God to let the Cubs win. God tells them that the Cubs will win the last pennant before armageddon. Finally, with the team on the verge of clinching the pennant, international tensions between the United States and USSR have reached a critical level, and the Cubs' starting pitcher is showing signs of fatigue. The manager needs to decide whether to leave his starter in, which might cause the Cubs to lose but would also keep the world from ending, or whether he should pull his starter and bring in his reliable closer, thus winning the pennant but leading to a nuclear war that would wipe out civilization. (I won't tell you what happens.)

Even though that story is about the Cubs winning the National League championship, not the World Series,  I've always considered this a creative look at the typical "The Cubs winning the World Series will lead to armageddon!" joke. In the past it was just amusing but this year, just a few days after the end of the World Series, America will vote for a new president. That president might be Donald Trump, which could very well lead to the end of the world.

As I write this, the Cubs have won their Division Series and are headed to the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers. (It should be noted that in Kinsella's story, the championship series is against...the Dodgers!)

Now, I'd love to see the Cubs in the World Series. I'm not exactly a Cubs fan, per se, but they've always been my favorite National League team. I spent good chunks of my childhood in Chicago and live in the Chicago 'burbs now. (It would be even better---though possibly more damning---if they face the Cleveland Indians, another perennial loser that hasn't won the World Series since 1948. I grew up an Indians fan in Northeast Ohio and have been waiting my whole life for them to finally win the whole thing. There's no doubt that a Cubs-Indians matchup would signal an apocalypse.)

Over the past few days, Donald Trump's campaign has taken a nosedive, so it seems less likely that he can win. Does that also mean the Cubs will lose? We'll have to wait and see.

Back in 2003, the Chicago Tribune ran an article about Kinsella's story. The Cubs were in the playoffs that year as were the Boston Red Sox, who hadn't won a World Series since 1918. In that article, Kinsella said that he wasn't rooting for either team to win because he likes them more as lovable losers. Neither team made it to the World Series that year. The Red Sox did wind up winning the World Series the following season and the world did not end, which is further proof that armageddon is dependent on the Cubs and not any other team.

In that 2003 article, Kinsella was asked what would happen if the Cubs won. He said, "You never know. We'll just have to see." Sadly, Kinsella won't know how it turns out this year because he died last month, which seems like a classically Kinsella-esque twist to this whole scenario.

Am I being melodramatic and superstitious? Yes, absolutely, and hopefully that's all it is. But if the Cubs and Donald Trump both win, there's no way you'll convince me it was just a coincidence.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

DIY Presidential Rings

A few months ago, as the Fourth of July approached, I realized I didn't have anything specifically presidential with which to accessorize my holiday outfit. Then I remembered some presidential spoons a friend had sent me a while back, and I realized I could turn one of those into a bracelet.

I scoured the web and YouTube for tutorials on making a bracelet out of a spoon, and somehow I decided it would be better to turn the spoon into a ring. I don't remember how or why I came to that conclusion, but I'm not sure that matters.

This is a mandrel
The problem with this plan was that I really needed a ring mandrel, something I hadn't even heard of until I started researching this whole thing. Luckily they sell them at Michael's, and with a 50% off coupon I got my mandrel for only $10. Turns out you can also get them for around the same price on Amazon. Make sure you get one that's all metal! There are some that are plastic, which is fine for making wire rings or whatever, but if you're going to be hammering this thing, it needs to be solid metal.

You'll also need a presidential spoon, of course. The spoon collection my friend sent included George Washington, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, Rutherford B. Hayes, William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk, and Calvin Coolidge. Since this was for the Fourth of July I decided to go with Washington (plus I had a backup Washington spoon in case I destroyed the first one).

Besides the mandrel and spoon, the other tools you'll need are a rubber mallet (or something similar), a block of wood (or something similar---this is for you to set the ring and mandrel on when you pound away at them), a hacksaw or something else that will cut through metal, and a metal file. Thankfully Mr. Presidentressor had all those items. Well, actually, he didn't have a rubber mallet, so I wrapped two thicknesses of washcloth around a regular hammer for my first attempt, but I got a mallet for the second one. I recommend the mallet (more on this later).

I didn't take photos while I made the ring because for some reason I didn't think I'd blog about it, but then the ring came out so well I realized I had to. As it turned out, the only other person in my life who was actually excited about my Washington ring was my cousin Christina, who demanded one for her birthday. She chose Andrew Jackson because she hates him and wanted to be ironic. I just recently made hers, and I was smart enough to photograph the process this time. (Also, her birthday isn't until December so she's probably going to see this in advance and it'll ruin the "surprise." Sorry, Chris.)

So, how to make one of these rings? First thing is to measure how much spoon you'll need. I wrapped a thin strip of paper around my finger, cut it to the right length, then I used that to mark the back of the spoon in Sharpie.
Bent spoon. I wound up
bending it even more
before we cut it.

(Come to think of it, the very first thing you should do is check eBay to make sure the spoon you're cutting and bending isn't worth, like, $900. I didn't check until after my ring was finished, but the first auction I found for the George Washington spoon was $3.95, so it's all good.)

At least one of the tutorials I found said to pre-bend the spoon into a loose ring before cutting it, since the extra length of the spoon would allow for more leverage. I did that, and while it's true that the spoon is easier to shape that way, it also made it harder to cut with the hacksaw later. For the Jackson spoon, I left it straight for cutting, but then it was really, really hard to bend it without that extra leverage. When I make another ring (and yes, there will be a next time), I'm going back to bending it first, and we'll just have to struggle a bit to cut it.

Cutting Andrew Jackson

Once your spoon is cut, the edges will probably be a bit sharp. Use a metal file to smooth those down.

Okay, so when your spoon is cut and filed, it's time to start using the mandrel and mallet/hammer to bang the ring into shape. The idea is to put the spoon on the mandrel and use the mallet to bend the spoon around the mold. Don't worry too much about properly sizing the ring right away. Start big and work your way smaller. You can fine-tune it once you're further along. Remember to set the mandrel on a wooden block while you hammer. I covered the block with an old washcloth to help protect the spoon and to keep the block from chipping.

Some tutorials showed using a vice to hold the ring onto the mandrel to keep it in place while hammering. That would probably help a lot, but when I made the Washington spoon, Mr. Presidentressor was in the middle of some other stuff and I didn't want to bother him for a vice. For the Jackson one, I just forgot, plus I'm not sure that would have worked with these spoons anyway. So what I did was set the mandrel down on the block of wood with the spoon in the middle. I held one side of the mandrel down with my right foot and the other with my left hand, then used my right hand to beat the crap out of the spoon. This was...maybe not the smartest setup, but it worked.

A few words of caution: Be really careful when you're banging away at the spoon, especially if you have body parts nearby. It hurts to whack yourself with a mallet. What hurts even more is when you hit yourself and skin your hand with a mallet. Don't be me.

The shaping process was fairly quick and easy with the Washington spoon. The Jackson one took some more effort because I hadn't pre-bent it before cutting. For that one, Mr. Presidentressor wound up clamping the mandrel to our block of wood, with the spoon between the mandrel and the block. He then used some pliers to bend the spoon up enough that I could start hammering away at it.

(At this point, could I have left it clamped and continued to hammer the ring that way rather than holding everything with my foot and hand? Probably, yes, but it didn't occur to me. Also, it's important to rotate the ring to hit it from different angles, and it needs to be moved up the mandrel as it gets smaller, which would have involved a lot of unclamping/reclamping, so I'm sticking by my rudimentary process.)

It's also important to note that (at least with my spoons) the part with the presidents' heads just would not bend. That wound up not being a problem, though, because it looked fine---possibly better---on my finger with that part lying flat.

One other minor snag was that at some point while making the first ring, the washcloth I'd wrapped around the hammer tore, but I didn't realize it. As a result, there's some scratching on the spoon to the left of Washington's head. His face is intact, though, so all is well. I didn't run into any issues with the rubber mallet and Andrew Jackson. For this reason, I strongly recommend a mallet.

My spoons started out quite tarnished, but by the time I was done, they were sparkling. Don't waste time and effort on silver polishes before you start. It'll probably work itself out.

All in all, I'm very happy with the way the rings came out.

Jackson looks like Buchanan here, doesn't he?

There was something cathartic about whacking away at Andrew Jackson's head. Also, before I made the Washington one Mr. Presidentressor and I had been out at breakfast. When we were done I said, "Okay, I need to get home so I can bang George Washington." Crafts are always better with innuendo.

Now, if anyone has any ideas on what to do with the other end of the spoons, let me know. The Jackson one has a scene of the Battle of New Orleans, and I can't just throw it away.