Here’s All I Remember About Columbus


Monday is Columbus Day. Christopher Columbus is credited with “discovering America,” even though there is ample evidence that he did not — Indians, for example.

The Indians who were keeping an eye on Columbus’ landing party are now referred to as Native Americans, unless you are trying to play Cowboys and Native Americans. No one plays that.

But Columbus had to discover a New World for political reasons — the Queen of Spain had financed the trip, and it was imperative that Christopher discover something, claim it for Spain and return home victorious. Or, well, off with his head.

It’s sort of like America claiming the moon. I simply do not understand how anyone can “own” the moon. I suppose one nation or another was going to claim it eventually and whoever got there first had dibs but, really, who can own a natural satellite?

And that’s pretty much what they said to Columbus.

“Nice job, Chris! Now we own something that no one can see, feel, hear, smell or taste but we are responsible for. How do we even know it exists? I suppose you’re going to try to colonize that ‘New World’ of yours — tell people you’re going to take them over there, charge them an arm and a leg, then dump them over the edge of the earth. What a racket!”

And yet here we are, sitting here in America without even a clue as to what Spain is up to these days. We don’t even care.

And poor Amerigo Vespucci, for whom the continent was actually named, he’s sitting in Italy wondering what the heck happened. We don’t care about him either. We highly suspect he’s dead.

But Columbus was determined to colonize his New World. He built a fort from one of his wrecked ships (the Santa Maria, in fact) and left 40 men on the island of Hispaniola. When he came back with 1,200 more, the fort had been destroyed and there were no survivors. The 1,200 didn’t fare much better. Columbus had lured these men with tales of gold and riches waiting to be plucked by anyone brave enough to cross the ocean. Most of them died, too, and those who didn’t complained constantly about lack of food, medicine and a severe shortage of instant gold. There were several attempts at mutiny, and Columbus skedaddled out of there with a couple gold nuggets stashed in his bloomers for the Queen.

At least that’s how I understand it.

I did hear that Columbus’ kinfolk tried for several hundred years to get their mitts on the extensive amount of American land the Queen had promised Columbus, but by then we had a government, so you know that wasn’t going anywhere.

Nonetheless, Monday is Columbus Day, a day dedicated to an intrepid explorer and his foolhardy plans, and a day when even Americans who get off work squint at their bosses and say, “Tell me why again?”