The (Non-)Trivia I Got Wrong But I Don’t Feel Bad About


Sometimes I get things wrong — nobody’s perfect! But I try to make up for that by citing to my sources and giving credit/blame to those I cite. And sometimes, weird things happen — the people who know the answer turn out to not actually know the answer. Here’s one of those stories.

On January 7th of this year, I wrote a Weekender (what I sometimes call these Friday emails) about trivial things that don’t really rise to the level of trivia. I used the below as an example.

You’ve almost certainly heard the song “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire. If not, you can click that link, but it may get stuck in your head all day. The song starts with these lyrics:

Do you remember, 21st night of September?
Love was changing the mind of pretenders
While chasing the clouds away

I’m an insatiably curious type, so of course, I wanted to know: did something important happen on the night of September 21st, in some unnamed year (presumably before 1978 unless Earth, Wind & Fire also had a time machine). And the answer is… well, not a very fun answer. Here’s what songwriter Allee Willis confessed to NPR in 2014

“We went through all the dates: ‘Do you remember the first, the second, the third, the fourth … ‘ and the one that just felt the best was the 21st,” Willis explains. “I constantly have people coming up to me and they get so excited to know what the significance was. And there is no significance beyond it just sang better than any of the other dates. So … sorry!”

No fun, right? There was nothing special about September 21st, much to my chagrin.

Well, I have good news. Allee Willis is wrong. And as a result, so was I.

“September” was co-written by Willis, guitarist Al McKay, and bandleader Maurice White. In September (not coincidentally) of 2019, the Wall Street Journal sat down with Willis, Maurice’s brother and bassist Verdine White, and Maurice’s widow and songwriter Marilyn White. And like usual, when asked about the September 21st date, Willis told that the story she had been telling was wrong:

Maurice passed away in 2016. Two years later, I went to lunch in L.A. with his wife, Marilyn. Someone in the restaurant recognized me and came over and asked, “What’s the significance of the 21st of September?”

I told him what I had been saying for 40 years: “There is no significance. That date just sang the best.” Marilyn stopped me.
She said, “Are you kidding? The 21st was the day that our son, Kahbran, was supposed to be born.”

Maurice never told me that. For decades, I had been disappointing people whose birthdays or weddings were on the 21st of September. Now they know.

And now I know, too. Thanks to the half-dozen of you who emailed me about the WSJ story. I appreciate being wrong, at least in this instance.

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: The Easter Egg Hunt that Caught a Bad Egg: Kids solving crimes by making arrows for sky cameras.

Tuesday: Indiana Jones and the Porcelain Throne?: The movie with a secret toilet.

Wednesday: Why 420 is High Time for Some People: I think the title is self-explanatory, yeah?

Thursday: The Moon Over the Rhine: The bridge with a secret butt.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “An illusion of justice” (Washington Post, 30 minutes, August 2019). Here’s a clip from the article:

This is a story about a wrongful conviction. It’s about witnesses who were rewarded for lies and threatened for telling the truth. It’s about overly aggressive law enforcement, a supine judiciary and almost comically ineffective representation, and how all of these things put a man on death row who nearly everyone now agrees is innocent — even the man who prosecuted him now doubts his guilt. It’s a story about the lives ruined along the way. And it’s about the murder of a much-liked deputy that, because of all of this, remains unsolved.

You’ll note that the article is from the summer of 2019. I just discovered it this week because the convicted man is still on death row. The main story linked will make you ask, “why?”

2) “Was There a Civilization Before Humans?” (The Atlantic, 7 minutes, April 2018). This article is behind a soft paywall; if you’ve read too many articles at The Atlantic this month, save it for the next. And it meets Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, which states that “any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘no.'”  Or, more accurately, “probably not.” The issue the author tackles is simple but deep — given enough time, almost any evidence of civilization will be erased from the view of future civilizations. So, yes, there’s a chance, albeit ultra-slight, that tens of millions of years ago or more, very intelligent lizard-y creatures walked the Earth and made tools and stuff like that.

3) “The legend of the Fenway Pizza Chucker” (ESPN, 14 minutes, April 2022). To really appreciate this, you need to watch this 3-plus minute video first. (It’s embedded in the article, too.) The short version: In 2007, some guys are at a baseball game at Boston’s Fenway Park, with great seats just outside the field of play. A batter hits a foul ball right near them and when the outfielder goes to catch it, two of the fans try to catch it. In doing so, the player and fans collide and one of the fans ends up with at least one beer, maybe two, spilled all over him. It’s not a great outcome but stuff happens when fans with beer collide with baseball players. No big deal.

But then, inexplicably, another fan from a few seats away takes a slice of pizza — a whole slice, and we’re talking ballpark prices! — and throws it at the fans who just took the beer bath. Again, inexplicable. The commentators spend about three minutes showing the pizza throwing clip over and over again, basically ignoring that there’s a baseball game also going on. The clip has been legendary in Boston and in baseball circles alike ever since. Just say the phrase “here comes the pizza” and if you know, you know.

Fifteen years later, ESPN caught up with the pizza thrower. This is his story.

Have a great weekend!