The silly season is upon us.
The American pro football season opened a few weeks ago, and the local team got their
clock cleaned. Again.
For those who don't know, football is a team sport that combines the two worst features
of American life: violence and meetings. Two teams, each consisting of 11 large men in tight
pants and helmets, fight over an oddly-shaped ball (known as 'the pigskin') and try to move
the ball to either end of a 100-yard-long field. They do this by lining up face to face across
the field and running into each other. After the collisions, the teams get together in
something called a 'huddle', which is a fancy word for 'staff meeting'1. Occasionally players and spectators
may disagree with a referee's call, resulting in something resembling a management-labour
dispute, complete with shoving, shouting, and hurt feelings all around. (As far as I know,
nobody calls a strike, which is something that appears to happen only in baseball.) This goes
on for an hour, with frequent interruptions for rest periods, arguing, cheerleading, trips to
the loo, entertainment, and general malingering. The team with the most points at the end
Football games have an interesting feature known as 'stopping the clock'. This means that
the clock runs only when players are engaged in productive activity, such as holding the
football or running into another player. It also means that an hour-long football game can
last an entire afternoon. The business community ought to consider adopting this practice, as
it could be the answer to project overruns and missed deadlines.
Our local team, the Cincinnati Bengals,2 has the dubious distinction of being the worst team in the National
Football League for several years running. They have perfected the art of snatching defeat
from the jaws of victory. Think of poor ol'
Charlie Brown trying, season after season, to kick that football and Lucy yanking it
out from under him at the last minute. That's our Bengals. I don't think they could beat a
team of elderly nuns. (Thinking back to my grade school days, I know they couldn’t. Those
nuns were mean.) But, season after season, the locals try to get excited about the team's
prospects, the way you worry away at a bad tooth and hope the pain won't get any worse.
The pain always gets worse.
To distract ourselves, we celebrate something called Oktoberfest Zinzinnati. It
combines some of the best features of American life: eating, drinking, and making fools of
ourselves. One highlight of the Oktoberfest is the World's Largest Chicken Dance and
Kazoo Band. According to my informed sources, the Chicken Dance song was composed in the
1970s by Werner Thomas of Switzerland. It was originally entitled Der Ententanz, i.e., the
Duck Dance, but the name eventually morphed into the Chicken Dance. The dance is easy to
learn, looks about the same whether the participants are sober or three sheets to the wind,
and is about the most fun you can have and still keep your clothes on. The dance quickly
became a staple at wedding receptions, Oktoberfests, and other occasions where groups of
people and alcohol meet.
The Chicken Dance goes like this:
- Begin in a circle with everybody facing one another.
- When the music starts, shape your hands like the beak of a chicken and open and close
them for four counts.
- Tuck your hands into your armpits to make 'wings' and flap your 'wings' four times.
- Place your arms and hands like the tail feathers of a chicken and wiggle down for four
counts (as if you're laying a large egg).
- Clap four times.
- Repeat this process four times.
- After the fourth time clasp your neighbours' hands and strut in a circle.
- Switch directions on the band leader's command.
C'mon, everybody - dance to the music! (You'll need to be able to
play a MIDI file on your computer to hear this song. Those of you reading this at work may
want to turn down the volume on your speakers.)
Each year we have a celebrity on hand to lead the Chicken Dance. In past years 'Weird
Al' Yankovic, Davy Jones (formerly of the Monkees) and Verne Troyer (Mini-Me of 'Austin
Powers' fame) have contributed their talents to the silliness. We even made the Guinness
Book of World Records back in 1994 for the World's Largest Chicken Dance, a feat that
was promptly surpassed at the Canfield, Ohio, County Fair. That got our tail feathers in a
knot, so in 1998 we added the kazoo band to the dance. Anybody can do the Chicken Dance,
but it takes a special person to dance while playing the kazoo. Especially brave people wear
lederhosen, which are short pants made of leather. (You can convince people to do just about
anything if you give them enough beer.)
You'd expect that something called Oktoberfest would take place in October but you
would be wrong. In these parts it's held in mid-September, for reasons unknown. I assume
it's because our weather gets dicey in October, although we may be trying to pre-empt the
original Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. This year's Oktoberfest Zinzinnati takes place
September 19-21, and we'll be doing our best to recapture our Guinness Book listing. And if
we don't manage it, there still is beer to be drunk and schnitzel and bratwurst and potato
pancakes to be eaten. Did I mention the beer?
September also means tuning up for the coming winter, the season of moans and whinges.
Those of us who hate cold weather start with a few tentative whimpers and squeaks and then
build up toward the full-throated, operatic wailing and kvetching3 of December. While
winters gales bluster and blow, we loudly sing:
icumen in, loude sing god***n'
Fall also marks the opening of the new opera season. I don't get too excited about it, but
my pet cockatiels love the Saturday afternoon broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera in
New York. They especially like the screechy sopranos, and they'll chirp along and try to
out shout the singers; give 'em a rousing aria and they'll even try to dance. They have
definite opinions about the music; they like Mozart and Rossini, they'll sleep through Alban
Berg and Richard Strauss. (They're are a conservative lot, my birds.)
Many people think opera is just a lot of hollering - which it is - but it's artistic hollering,
generally performed by robust and temperamental individuals. Their passion for their art is
shared by many in the audience, who can be vocal in their opinions. 'Innovative' stagings or
incompetent singing can result in loud booing and, on occasion, fisticuffs and food fights.
Some singers develop a reputation for being unusually difficult. One soprano, who had made the stagehands' lives a living hell during rehearsals, learned
the error of her ways on opening night when she threw herself from a wall during her
dramatic suicide scene and discovered that the stagehands had replaced the mattresses she
was to fall on with a trampoline. The audience, who thought they'd come to hear a tragedy,
saw a performance unique in the annals of opera. (Which is too bad - stuff like this could
really help opera catch on as popular entertainment.)
Oh well, it ain't over 'til the fat lady sings or the fat guy fumbles the last catch of the
game. So we'll tune up our vocal cords, dust off our lederhosen, and dance our little
tootsies off. Cheers!
they're really mooning the spectators2Often referred to as the Cincinnati
grousing, grumbling, whining, yammering, yawping...