With tonight's opening of the National Envelope-Licking League regular season excitement is mounting. The prime question on fans' minds: will licking superstar Hank ``Henry'' Phillipart be able to return from the disabled list? Phillipart's performance in the finals set an envelope-licking record and secured his spot in the Hall of Fame, but fans were heartbroken when in a mental error he licked his lips. Doctors and trainers asked about the prospect of getting his mouth opened again and his tongue back into prime licking shape have been mum since the accident, apart from some positive-sounding noises, and it remains to be seen whether this great talent will lick again.
The next question is whether Providence Beehives coach Mary Fifield's new training regimens truly overcomes tongue paper cuts. These have always been the bane of speed and if, as she insists, the unconventional ``double w'' lick proves itself in regulation play --- and if it isn't banned by the ever-wary Rules Vigilance Committee --- we could see all manner of records falling and possibly shake up of the whole league. Will we see the end of reliable lickers like ``Firma'' Dabrio and Ellen ``Nibbles'' Ashton, or see the long lazy J lick become as charmingly dated as the crossed-ellipsis dab? We'll know for certain by May, but we may have our minds made up by 10:30.
The Buffalo Rivers won five straight exhibition matches including the inaugural match in their Tonawanda facility, seeming to seal them as the team to beat. Still, team captain Harvey ``910'' Coover keeps his traditional caution, remembering their eight-game 2004-05 winning streak before the famous Baton Rouge Meltdown, including two forfeits due to envelopes flapping back open, and the discovery of concealed damp sponges in the mouths of the MaMasHam Trio.
Coover is confident that will not happen again thanks to the in-mouth flashlight inspections, and team rules requiring players to use paper dishes and plastic cups. ``It's draconian,'' he admits, ``but it beats temptation.'' He understands environmentalist concerns, ``but the need to set a standard for clean and fair play must be worth something'', and that ``I couldn't have made it through these trying times without the support of Mason, Michigan.''
The Tonawanda building, despite opening without a name, sets a new standard for the league: besides standardizing the gap between the envelope desks and competitor seats --- always an arguing point among fantasy envelope-licking fans --- the on- and off-deck seats now have an array of coffees and teas including chamomile. And new sound-scaping technologies mean contests will take place to the sweet refrains of over eight distinct instrumental versions of ``The Girl From Impanema'', Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer, and three of ``Greensleeves'', with a fourth added during the holiday season.
While the amateur, fantasy, and kids-playland Fan Lickers Wing in Tonawanda are highly regarded one aspect is controversial. ``Although we're pleased with the Joyner Family glue and have no intention of departing from generations of traditional manufacture,'' league president Paulin Tay said, ``their recipe does not withstand the batter-dipping and deep-frying of the Fritter Envelopes'' which is expected to be a big seller. Critics allege Fritter Envelopes could be made with the traditional glue, and assert the change was made to open the door to C5 envelopes. Still, the Stick With Glue committee plans to protest Monday's regular-season opener against the Portland Cement.
Meanwhile merger talks continue with the American Stamp-Licking Association. The ASLA has been troubled, with the rise of self-adhesive stamps, which have hurt in ways self-adhesive envelopes have not affected the NELL. Sticking points are believed to include the equivalence of records between the ASLA and the NELL's training and development stamp leagues, and equipment transfer from the ASLA. ASLA's decade of turmoil began with the over-acquisition of H Makeup rate stamps in 1999, a surplus not fully burned off until 2007, and the league has never recovered its financial stability.
For all the good or hopeful news, there remain 672 games until the playoffs begin. It's tonight that players and fans will get their first taste of whose expectorations were too high.
Trivia: The Bahá'i calendar sets no day aside specifically for religious observances. Source: Mapping Time: The Calendar and its History, EG Richards.
Currently Reading: Britain and the World in the Twentieth Century, John W Young.