The naked truth about our calendar [Published Dec. 28, 2006]
No doubt one gift you received in the past couple of weeks is one you will actually keep and use: a 2007 calendar.
The humble calendar you hold in your hand is the culmination of millennia of struggle, as humankind strove to find out for sure what day it was. It started as a way to predict the next harvest, and we have now refined it into a sophisticated tool that helps us turn five vacation days into a 10-day escape by strategically deploying them next to holidays and weekends.
Also, we have added nudity.
The nude calendar has become a respectable fund-raiser, thanks to some older English garden-club ladies who posed behind strategically positioned melons or shovels or birdbaths and were eventually portrayed on film by fine actresses doing Yorkshire accents behind melons or shovels or birdbaths.
Now everybody does a nude calendar, from humane societies to librarians. The Nude British Columbia Gold Rush History Calendar features a “new set of historic tongue-in-cheek gold rush poses,” an image I don’t care to dwell on.
Ancient cultures had trouble figuring out how to deal with the solar year’s extra quarter-day. A long lunch? Also, months have to be of different lengths, which means somebody has to come up with a rhyming poem that everyone recites with their eyes rolled up to remember how many days are in each one.
By the time the Romans came along, nobody had any idea how old they were or when to mail their tax forms. The Romans were can-do people who had plumbing and bureaucracy, and they were by gollus going to straighten out the calendar. Which they nearly did. Except they thought even numbers were unlucky.
Remember: These are the guys who engineered aqueducts and buildings by making calculations with Roman numerals. Like multiplying the Olympics by the Super Bowl. And they thought even numbers were unlucky?
“You can’t put XIV columns on this temple. It’s unlucky.”
“But isn’t XIII unluckier?”
“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you M times ...”
“I know, I know. This is Architecture CI. All right, I’ll LXXXVI the XIVth column.”
The Romans were so picky about how long their months were that most months didn’t contain enough days, so every other year had to include a 13th month, called Mercedonius.
(The scandalous Empress Messalina was a former Miss Mercedonius.)
The calendar was off again by the time it landed on Julius Caesar’s desk, so he overhauled the months and moved the start of the new year from the first day of spring to the first day of January, which is completely arbitrary and, therefore, a good time to schedule a hangover.
The calendar we have now is STILL 26 seconds too long. That will add up to a whole day after MMMCCCXXIII years.
Which is, coincidentally, also the amount of time it will take to balance the federal budget by selling copies of the U.S. Congress nude calendar, featuring lawmakers hiding behind the flag.