You must forgive my disheveled appearance this morning.

The uncombed hair, the week’s worth of beard, that distinct man scent that follows the terminally unwashed …

I’m just back from vacation, you understand, and I’ve been on a bender. Not the old-style bender, mind you — surely you would have read about that in the papers. No, this time I went on a history bender, reaching back a few thousand years to revisit the early civilizations and hopefully glean knowledge through their triumphs and foibles.

Alexander the Great and the military prowess of the Greeks. 

The rise of the Roman Empire followed by its slow, predictable fall.

Russian history, from the early days of the Romanovs to the blood-soaked reign of the communists to the sneaky greed of Putin. (Fun fact: A good 300 years before Donald Trump crafted his campaign slogan, Empress Catherine I uttered a vow to “make Russia great again,” an idea that so delighted the Russian people, they likely had the motto printed on their fuzzy hats.)


I checked in on Genghis Kahn and the brute brilliance of the Mongol armies, realizing in a beautiful “Aha!” moment that Kahn was undoubtedly the inspiration for “The Walking Dead”‘s latest villain.

I studied the history of Islam, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars, the ramblings of Karl Marx, the complexities of Israel vs. Palestine, the Cuban Revolution and the misunderstood facts of McCarthyism, all in one great orgy of learning, and with the kind of focus and dedication I never once displayed when I was actually in school to learn these things.

By the time the bender was over, I felt like I’d fought in a thousand battles, toppled 500 tyrants and witnessed the horrors of a dozen genocidal maniacs.

Not to mention all of those powdered wigs.

When I’d stumble to bed each morning, just ahead of sunrise, my ears would ring with the fatal whoosh of the guillotine blade, the menacing stomp of Red Army boots and the thunder of horse hooves blazing into barbarian battle.

Who needs Six Flags or Disneyland when you’ve got the death-defying ride of human history? Can you blame me for skipping a shower or three?


As vacation highlights, this frenzied indulgence won’t get me into High Times or the Penthouse Forum (I’d have to make up terrible lies about Marie Antoinette and I just won’t do it) but I feel that I’ve learned enough that I can now conquer Lewiston (and possibly part of Danville) through strategic use of false flags, propaganda and maybe a pincer move or two. Not to mention my amazing phalanx.

In 500 years or so, some bored dork on an uninspired vacation will get down to studying how New England revolutionary Mark the Nearly Adequate transformed an old mill town (and possibly part of Danville) into an empire, only to drown in the Androscoggin River, Frederick Barbarossa-style, while trying to plant his flag.

Which is still less embarrassing than how Greek philosopher Aeschylus went out.

So, that’s what I did on my late-winter vacation, and I’m here to tell you: The most striking thing about studying past civilizations is the uneasy sense of deja vu that haunts every inch of the historical landscape — you could be drunk and half-asleep and it’s still easy to see, for instance, how the fall of Rome relates to the present time. It feels like the same turn of events over and over, but with different names, different weapons and different costumes; a great Sisyphean wheel of serfs and lords and power-crazed madmen.

The more things change, as the old nugget goes, the more they stay the same.

And with that in mind, I’m off to conquer Lewiston and, eventually, to shower.

Mark the Terminally Unwashed is a Sun Journal staff writer. Fellow scribes can email him at


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