Dug Retzler has made plenty of questionable choices.

Hanging a wreath of cheese puffs on his front door. Getting a degree in photography. Heck, his whole first marriage.

But with a little time and perspective, he’s always been able to see the bright side.

Now Retzler is urging others to celebrate bad decisions. He’s on a mission to make Leap Day into National Poor Choices Day, and he’s starting here at home.

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“Baltimore is a perfect place for celebrating poor choices,” said Retzler, 70, an artist and community activist. “We’re all just fumbling through and doing the best we can.”

Why not celebrate the bad decisions that might somehow, someday, lead to something good?

Dug Retzler of Hoe's Heights is on a mission to christen February 29, Leap Year Day, as National Bad Choices Day. He's distributing flyers and buttons at Baltimore bars to make Leap Day a time to celebrate poor judgement. He creates his own buttons, flyers and tee shirts to honor the day. He is pictured at home on February 20, 2024 only a few days before the big day.
Dug Retzler of Hoe’s Heights is on a mission to christen February 29, Leap Year Day, as National Bad Choices Day. He’s distributing flyers and buttons at Baltimore bars to make Leap Day a time to celebrate poor judgement. He is pictured at home on Feb. 20, 2024, only a few days before the big day. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Besides, there is not much else to do on Feb. 29. No special ritual marks Leap Day; no groundhog or leprechaun ushers in this date that arrives only once every four years.

“The joke is that it’s an annual event,” said Retzler, explaining that on off-years, he recommends celebrating the holiday in the window between 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 28 and dawn on March 1.

Despite his shock of gray hair, Retzler speaks with the energy and enthusiasm of a child starting summer break, one idea ricocheting off the next. He’s worked in the film industry and led many creative projects, including Nature Art in the Park, an annual installation of works in Leakin Park. He also planted an orchard of fruit trees in a vacant lot near his home by the Roland Park Water Tower.

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Since coming up with the idea for National Poor Choices Day, Retzler has targeted his campaign at the site of many dubious decisions: dive bars.

He’s already made one questionable choice since coming up with the idea — transforming the living room of his Hoe’s Heights home into a button-making factory. Retzler has crafted about 1,300 colorful buttons to promote the holiday, dropping them off at bars around the city, including the Mount Royal Tavern and Mum’s. He’s shipped boxes for friends to distribute in other cities, including New Orleans, San Francisco and New York.

Dug Retzler's living room is a button-making factory
Dug Retzler’s living room is a button-making factory. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Retzler demonstrates his button making machine in his home dining room
Retzler demonstrates his button-making machine in his home dining room. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

The buttons have been a hit at 1919, a bar on Fleet Street in Fells Point, said co-owner Sally Hutchins. “The holiday rings true for a lot of people who come to this place,” she said. “People are really looking forward to it.”

Hutchins, other staff members and the bar’s regulars have come up with a list of poor choices they may or may not want to reenact on Feb. 29: blowgun practice, indoor fireworks, a bagpipe performance. They’re even contemplating having someone officiate spur-of-the-moment weddings.

The staff has also dreamed up some unusual cocktails in honor of Poor Choices Day: a prosecco and gin concoction and a Long Island Iced Tea shooter, Hutchins said.

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Other than visiting a dive bar, Retzler has no clear prescription for how best to spend the day. “Oh, I don’t have a clue,” he said.

But Retzler hopes that people will take the opportunity to reflect on decisions that didn’t pan out as planned, yet led to positive outcomes. That’s been the story of his life, he said. He majored in photography at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and although he never worked as a photographer, his art skills have powered him through many projects. His first marriage didn’t last, but he wound up with two wonderful kids, he said.

And then there’s his wreath of cheese puffs, inspired by an inside joke. Not great in a heavy rain storm, but a conversation piece for sure.

“If you’re open to it, there’s a lesson to be learned out of every experience,” Retzler said.

Retzler reads his official declaration of National Poor Choices Day
Retzler reads his official declaration of National Poor Choices Day. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

At Melanie’s Griffith’s Tavern in Hampden, co-owner Allison Crowley said customers had snapped up all the buttons Retzler had dropped off. She didn’t have a plan to celebrate Feb. 29, but was certain poor choices would be made.

“We are definitely gonna be open, and that’s probably all it takes,” she said.

Julie Scharper is an enterprise reporter for The Baltimore Banner. Her work ranges from investigations into allegations of sexual harassment and abuse to light-hearted features. Baltimore Magazine awarded Scharper a Best in Baltimore in 2023 for her series exposing a toxic work culture within the Maryland Park Service.

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