It's Presidents' Day, and you didn't get your partner anything, did you? It's not too late to go to the drugstore for a milk-chocolate Polk, but you'll be lucky if they have one. Most of the popular presidents are probably sold out. You'll be lucky if you get a bag of gummy Grover Clevelands.
Q: What is Presidents' Day? Clue me in here, bro.
A: It celebrates all presidents. Even the ones you never hear about, like Andrew Hoover or even John Clancy Stanton, known as "Old Lanky Shanks" because of his long legs. (This is why you sometimes read about Lincoln referred to as "New Lanky Shanks.")
Yes, even President Abigail Adams, who was commonly referred to as "John" because her husband had been elected to the position, but died before assuming office. She simply assumed his clothing and counted on the lack of good interior illumination and poor-quality spectacles to pass as her husband.
Q: Wasn't Presidents' Day once something else?
A: Yes. It was split into Lincoln and Washington Days, and then it was fused together into a horrible thing with two heads that frightened schoolchildren. So they decided to invite all the other presidents to share a meaningless day chosen to give postal clerks a three-day weekend.
This had a tremendous impact on newspaper revenue, since it was customary to run ads with a picture of George Washington, holding an ax, saying "I cannot tell a lie. These mattress prices are the lowest ever." (This referred to Washington's predilection for attacking people with an ax when they accused him of lying.)
They couldn't quite get good ads out of Presidents' Day, since most presidents don't have memorable quotes that work in ads. I mean, "Zippykazoo and Tyler too!" doesn't mean anything today. The ads ceased to run, and within five years 27 percent of American papers had ceased publication.
Q: Do we have to celebrate all the presidents?
A: Yes ... and no. The official ceremony requires that you read their names in order, pausing between each to shout "Huzzah!" and throw a straw boater in the air. But you are allowed to skip two presidents if the person reading the names has given you a Grumble Card. The card must be waved before the president's name is read, though, so if you're one of those #NeverPolk types, be on your toes, because he comes early.
Q: Does this holiday have any songs?
A: Of course. There are the standard patriotic hymns: There's that Civil War favorite, "My Thighs Are Mighty Tired From the Crushing of the Gourds"; the Revolutionary drinking song, "The Bottle Hymn of the Republic," and, of course, "Yankee Doodle Dundee," which must be sung in an Australian accent.
Later you can break into small groups and discuss "America the Beautiful," and ask if anyone ever actually saw a purple mountain, or a plain that was fruited.
Q: Sounds like a great opportunity for costumes!
A: Well, duh; haven't you seen the pop-up costume stores that have opened in strip malls? You can be any president you want. Sexy Coolidge is popular this year. There's a Nixon costume with starched sleeves so your arms are always up, throwing the "V "hand signal. (You'll want to have a friend dressed as Sexy Gerald Ford, helping you eat and drink, since you can't get your arms down.)
The Sexy Truman costume can be fun if you spend most of your time at parties in the kitchen, waiting for someone to complain how hot it is.
Speaking of those pop-up stores — doesn't it seem like they're opening earlier every year?
If you're old enough to remember Lincoln's Birthday, you know it didn't start until a few days before. Mom would put out the decorations — the little stovepipe hats, a shovel in the corner to remind us that Honest Abe wrote his lessons on a shovel with the magic chalk he got from the Freedom Ghost who lived under the Illinois State Capitol building.
Now it's, like, the Presidents' Day decorations are in Target two months before it happens.
At least it's a reminder: Get your cards out now!