listen, he said, you ever seen a bunch of crabs in a
no, I told him.
well, what happens is that now and then one crab
will climb up on top of the others
and begin to climb toward the top of the bucket,
then, just as he’s about to escape
another crab grabs him and pulls him back
really? I asked.
really, he said, and this job is just like that, none
of the others want anybody to get out of
here. that’s just the way it is
in the postal service!
I believe you, I said.
just then the supervisor walked up and said,
you fellows were talking.
there is no talking allowed on this
I had been there for eleven and one-half
I got up off my stool and climbed right up the
and then I reached up and pulled myself right
out of there.
it was so easy it was unbelievable.
but none of the others followed me.
and after that, whenever I had crab legs
I thought about that place.
I must have thought about that place
maybe 5 or 6 times
before I switched to lobster.
“the great escape” by Charles Bukowski from Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way. © Ecco Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
Today is May Day, the first of May, a date that may have more holidays than any other. It's the date when many countries celebrate Labor Day, a tradition with its roots in the 19th-century labor movement in the United States. In 1886, unions around the country went on strike in support of an eight-hour workday. Since many of the organizers of the strikes were communists, socialists, and anarchists, May Day has also come to be associated with communism, and was a big national holiday in the Soviet Union. President Eisenhower tried to take back May Day during the Cold War by declaring it Law Day and Loyalty Day. It remains a day of rallies and protests in many parts of the world, and in 2006, protest returned to the United States on May 1st to call attention to immigrants' rights.
Its roots as a holiday run much deeper than the labor movement, however. It's been a celebration of spring and fertility in places like Egypt and India, and in pre-Christian Rome it was the time of the festival of Flora, the goddess of flowers. In medieval England, people gathered flowers to "bring in the May" and erected a maypole bedecked with garlands. It's also the date of Beltane, a Celtic calendar festival celebrating the start of summer. Beltane was known for its bonfires, and has been revived by neo-pagans all over the world as a major religious holiday. In Germany, May 1st was the date of a pagan festival that was assimilated by the Christians and turned into the feast day of St. Walpurgis. The night before — Walpurgisnacht — is still celebrated in parts of rural Germany as a kind of Valentine's Day, with the delivery of a tree, wrapped in streamers, to one's beloved. It's also a day to celebrate Hawaiian history and culture, and it's known as Lei Day in Hawaii. One of the largest contemporary May Day celebrations in the United States takes place in Minneapolis, with a parade and pageant staged by the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theatre. It's been going on since 1975 and attracts about 35,000 people every year.
It was on this day in 1786 that Mozart's first great opera, The Marriage of Figaro, premiered in Vienna. It was based on a French play, and it tells the story of a single day in the palace of Count Almaviva. The count spends the day attempting to seduce Susanna, the young fiancée of the court valet, Figaro. Susanna and the Countess conspire to embarrass the count and expose his infidelity.
It was a light-hearted, comic opera, but the musicians and singers could hardly believe the quality of the music. One singer, an Irish tenor named Michael Kelly, later wrote: "I can still see Mozart, dressed in his red fur hat trimmed with gold, standing on the stage with the orchestra at the first rehearsal, beating time for the music. ... The players on the stage and in the orchestra were electrified. ... Had Mozart written nothing but this piece of music it alone would ... have stamped him as the greatest master of his art."
On this date in 1840, the first official adhesive postage stamp was issued in Great Britain. Up until the late 1830s, the recipient of the letter was supposed to pay upon delivery. Rates were inconsistent: postage was calculated based on number of sheets of paper, and the distance from sender to recipient. The rules were complicated and postage was expensive, and people often refused to pay, costing the government a lot of money. A schoolmaster named Rowland Hill developed a new system that established uniform postal rates based on weight. The sender would pay with stamps that cost a penny each. The design of the first stamp was an engraved profile of Queen Victoria on a black background, called the Penny Black. Since Britain was the first country to use prepaid postage stamps, they have never printed the name of their country on their stamps, just a portrait of the reigning monarch.
On this date in 1707, the Acts of Union joined the Kingdoms of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain. They had shared a single monarch for a hundred years since Queen Elizabeth I died childless, and James VI of Scotland became James I of England. The Acts of Union combined their two parliaments into one. Many Scots were unhappy with the union, but as historian Simon Schama said, "What began as a hostile merger, would end in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world ... it was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history."
All 102 stories of The Empire State Building opened to the public on this date in 1931, 45 days ahead of schedule and $5 million under budget, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street in New York City.