The Almanac


Easter basket

April 4: Easter. This year, judging from recent buying patterns, the nation's children, and probably some adults, will receive more than 600 million "Peeps" (marshmallows shaped like chicks) -- a record-breaking number. Peeps have been made for more than 50 years, and though they were out of vogue in the 1970s and 1980s, sales have risen dramatically in recent years, tripling since 1994. Industry observers offer two explanations: Peeps, though loaded with sugar, are fat-free; and they are benefiting from nostalgic Baby Boomers' interest in so-called retro food. Other foods that have recently come back into favor after a long hiatus include fondue (fondue pots, for many years almost impossible to find, are now sold at upscale stores), and meatloaf and pineapple upside-down cake (recipes for both abound on the Internet).


Baseball contracts

April 4: Baseball season opens today. Fans can be relatively sure of a strike-free season, owing to the passage last year of the Curt Flood Act, which revokes part of a 1922 Supreme Court decision exempting baseball owners from antitrust laws. The exemption, based on the idea that baseball was not a business, prevented players from suing owners over anti-competitive practices; many have blamed it for the eight major-league strikes since 1972. The new act allows players to sue owners, but only over contract negotiations, and only if the players' union first disbands. It allows no suits pertaining to relocation or league expansion -- and yet it is named for a player who sued the league, unsuccessfully, in 1970 because he wanted the right to refuse a trade.


April begins the peak season for the generation of scrap tires, as many vehicle owners buy new tires in preparation for heavier driving during the summer or to replace snow tires. The number of tires discarded in a year has risen steadily along with the number of cars and trucks and the miles driven; it now stands at about 270 million. The development of potentially longer-lasting tires has done little to stem the increase, largely because many drivers neglect to follow basic maintenance procedures such as rotating and balancing tires and checking the pressure. Disregard for such measures is thought to be especially prevalent among those who lease their cars -- a group whose number is sharply rising. Some good news can be found in another recent trend: the growth of secondary markets for old tires. The rubber from more than 70 percent of this year's scrap tires will be put to new uses -- for example, as fuel for cement kilns and paper-mill boilers.

Arts & Letters

April is National Poetry Month, and the American Poetry & Literacy Project will be handing out free volumes of poetry, including 60,000 copies of a new anthology of travel and adventure poems titled Songs for the Open Road. Some 40,000 copies will be placed in the glove compartments of new Volkswagens -- the largest single effort in the APLP's history. Others will be given away on Amtrak trains, at airports and other travel-related sites, and to Peace Corps volunteers. The APLP was founded in 1993 by the late Joseph Brodsky, the 1991 U.S. poet laureate, and Andrew Carroll, a college student who sought out Brodsky after the latter spoke about the need to make poetry more widely available. It has since given away at least 250,000 books of poetry. This year, as in the past, the group will also give books -- not necessarily Songs -- to people in hospitals, prisons, nursing homes, hotels, subways, and, on April 15 (tax day), post offices.

The Skies

April 1: Venus, which shines in the west just after sunset all month, lies above fainter Saturn tonight. 2: Mars, which this month is at its brightest since 1990, is near the waning Moon tonight and will be near the almost-full Moon on the 29th. 4: At 2:00 A.M. local time, Daylight Saving Time begins. Set clocks ahead one hour. 18: The crescent Moon, Venus, and the red star Aldebaran lie close together in the western sky this evening. 22: The Lyrid meteor shower peaks early this morning. 30: Full Moon, also known this month as the Fish, Sprouting Grass, or Pink Moon.

Health & Safety

No-smoking billboard

The first National Alcohol Screening Day takes place on April 8. Sponsored by a variety of organizations, ranging from Mothers Against Drunk Driving to the National Interfraternity Conference, the project will offer people in malls, hospitals, schools, and other venues the opportunity to hear a presentation on alcohol problems and to fill out a questionnaire aimed at pinpointing risky drinking. It will give participants concerned about their alcohol consumption referrals to health-care professionals. 23: Many of the nation's highways and pedestrian bottlenecks will have altered surroundings as of today, when a ban against billboard advertisements for tobacco products goes into effect. The ban is part of last year's settlement between 46 states and the leading tobacco companies. Many of the billboards that once touted cigarettes and related products will now host anti-smoking messages, paid for by the industry under the terms of the settlement.

50 Years Ago

Charles W. Morton, writing in the April, 1949, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "As a vehicle for the rough stuff in American life, the radio forum is rapidly coming to the fore. Voices, personalities, and language  ... approximate the goings-on in the Silver Dollar Saloon when Cactus Jack and his ruffians blow in of a Saturday night.... On almost every program the forum tries to include one or two of the most rabid extremists who can be found on a given issue, and to pit them against more normal folk. The more preposterous their ideas, so the theory goes, the more interesting to the listener will be their collision with saner minds. It would be hard to think of any prominent quack or eccentric of the past ten years who has not been served.... Against them, a speaker of courtesy and conscience can scarcely make himself heard."

Illustrations by Mari Takabayashi

The Atlantic Monthly; April 1999; The April Almanac; Volume 283, No. 4; page 12.