|“Will you listen to me when you’re a teenager?” I asked Gnat as we went down the escalator at the Mall last night.
“Sure, dad. But will you still be alive when I’m a teenager?”
Heh. “I hope so. Probably. Sure.”
“But I don’t want you to die! I want you to always be my dad.”
This not an hour after I’d posted those stupid lyrics from Silent Running. Gather your kids, tell ‘em everything they love will die, tell them why, in the sun, in the manure, etc.
“Don’t worry hon. I will always be your dad. Now let’s get donuts.”
We went to heaven: Krispy Kreme, a treat I’d been building up for two weeks. We pass the place, I tell her of the wonders inside, and promise we’ll go there after supper some day soon. Today was the day. Krispy Kreme Day. The store is big, certainly bigger than it needs to be. It’s just a donut shop, for heaven’s sake. I recall the Mr. Donuts of my youth, in Fargo – often small shops stuck in a decommissioned gas station or shoehorned between larger stores in the mall. The free-standing units were modest. (And orange. But what wasn’t.) The moment I walk in to the KK, I swoon; the smells in the air and the designs on the wall combine to make a perfect potent piece of Americana, and at that point I don’t care what the donuts taste like. I just want to live here. Maybe some day she’ll recall the place and have the same affection for the look & feel of the 50s as I do, simply because they were married to the smell of dough and sugar at a crucial age.
She was very impressed by the donut. “It was awesome,” she said.
And yes, I am trying to raise a fat kid. Of course! Goes without saying! McDonald’s, Krispy Kreme – that's all she eats. Look: we do McDonald’s once a fortnight, at the most, and she has a cheeseburger. No soda, no juice, no fries; she gets the apples. Occasionally I buy a small fries, and we split that. We never get donuts. But that’s not POLICY, it’s just the way we live. If it’s POLICY then you make the forbidden things alluring and attractive; if you stigmatize them you undercut your own authority because they see no reason why the items are taboo, and if you make all sorts of heavy food rules whose moral weight exceeds that of the Ten Commandments then the kid's going to have food isssues. Make the fun stuff part of a rotating sequence of balanced indulgences that roll around with predictable regularity,, and you raise a sane kid. Says me. Get back to me in a decade.
Back at the coffee shop.
No blues today – it’s all-female music, from sassy soul singers (with attitude!) to today’s limp-voiced waifs from the Planet Bummer. We need some Anita O’Day around these parts, we do.
Finished “Silent Running.” I forgot that the hero blows himself up at the end. Of course. But of course. The hero always died in those days. If they’d made Star Wars in 1972, Luke and Han would have had a collision heading back to the base, just to show the futility of doing anything.
AW CRAP: the network is down in this café. This is how quickly you get spoiled: you never consider cafes as places where you can slide out the laptop and roam the globe. At first you’re amazed. Takes a day to get used to it. Takes two to be irritated when you can’t. Well, doesn’t matter; I don’t need the web to bore you dead; I can do it without resorting to links and research.
Audio-heavy bleat today, as I go down another rabbit hole. Apologies.
As I drive around this week – and I’m spending more than an hour in the car each day – I’m listening to old radio shows, and not just for entertainment, because often they’re not entertaining at all. Sometimes it’s just interesting to see what they found interesting in 1937, and what a pleasure it is to realize that you can listen to something over 70 years old and understand every word. It takes awhile before things sound odd or old. Even the slang is understandable, for the most part; when someone says "he ups to the microphone," you get it. It means "approach," obviously. Comes up to. But might there be some other nuance?
Listen to this except from a Durante tune from the same era, and you suspect it has a more aggressive connotation. Now it's chest-bumping. I know, I know: who cares? Well, it's interesting -if only to me, he said, aware this is a very narrowly focussed bleat - how language is made up of millions of details that are never written down; they're common knowledge in both senses of the word, and the ordinariness of the thing sometimes ensure it'll never be noted or remembered. It's a great expression: So I ups to him. No one would know what you meant now. We probably won't have this problem in the future; a million podcasts will preserve all manner of speech for future anthropologists. It's the golden age of the vernacular, for better or worse.
(Accent junkies note how Durante adds a faux Italian suffix in the third line, ending in a vowel, but still gives it that East Coast swallowed "r." Me-a becoms Me-ar, ever so slightly.)
The clerk just came over and apologized for the internet wifi being down. Bless this place. Anyway. The show is “Silver Theater,” or rather “1847 Silver Theater,” since the sponsor was International Silver, maker of 1847 Rogers Brothers Silver. Got it? This was a new innovation in drama, apparently, and I was surprised to see it was performed in 1937. Sounds a little ahead of its time, in that it doesn’t suffer from the hokeyness and tendency towards corn you find in the thirties stuff. It doesn’t hurt that they had good actors: Rosalind Russell and Jimmy Stewart in the first play, a four-parter called “First Love.” It had nothing to do with First Love. It was intended to promote a new line of silverware called “First Love,” supposedly named by Rosalind Russell herself! (Sure.) It aired on a Sunday afternoon, and apparently caused a sensation. I can imagine the buildup – ads on the radio, stories in the fan mags, perhaps displays at the department store. After one week the audience – female, mostly – was hooked and hooked hard; this was gold! This was as good as it got, what with Comedy! and Romance! and Glamour! and all the rest of the conventions of prewar chick-scripts. By week three I'm sure all the listeners got together Monday morning to discuss the story. Took the country by storm. The "Twin Peaks" for the '37 housewife.
The story concerns a plucky young gal who comes out to Hollywood to be a star, but blows the audition instead of the director, and ends up a bitter waitress only 12 minutes into the story. Meanwhile, across town, a PR agent who sounds just like Jimmy Stewart gets fired at “Superbo Pictures” on the orders of his client, a nasty glamour-queen biatch who’s starting to go long in the tooth. (We hate her instantly; she is vain and has a Theatah voice without a trace of kindness.) Jimmy Stewart vows he’ll get back at the studio by building up a no-talent wannabe actress and making the Superbo studio chief sign her. Now if he can just find a no-talent wannabe actress.
Okay, where do you think this story is going? How do you think it’ll end? You think the waitress fills the bill? You think she turns out to be the BEST ACTRESS THE SCREEN HAS EVER SEEN? You think she falls in love with Jimmy Stewart, who cuts a few ethical corners - not enough to make us hate him, but enough to make her run away sobbing in despair? There’s not an unpredictable moment in "First Love, but thanks to the actors at least the dishwater’s good 'n' sudsy. What I like are the signifiers, to use a pretentious term inaccurately – the things that were commonplace to the ear then, but strike us now as a sign of the time. The inevitable gong-and-chopsticks music that accompanies anyone Asian, that sort of thing. Sometimes they make sense, but only if you understand radio drama. And you do, whether you know it or not. Here’s the Disappointment Montage, where the heroine gets turned down for job after job after job. Play this for someone 200 years ago, and it very well might make no sense at all, but you're skilled in the ways of modern drama, and you'll get it.
The strings tell you everything’s going bad, and the harp tells you this is altered reality – in this case, compressed reality, complete with a tortured inner monologue. The strange “better-go-back” refers to the opening moments of the play, when the heroine heard the train tracks whisper “better go back” as she left her home town. Which means she is horribly insane, so really, you shouldn’t be surprised when she stabs Jimmy Stewart in the eye in episode 3.
Well, no. Of course not. In these stories, pluck and spunk always win, and the horrid movie-queen gets her comeuppance, usually at the hands of someone who is younger and yes prettier – but also smarter and better. I suppose this counts for something. These morality plays always show Hollywood as venal and corrupt, but in the end Art and Truth triumph, usually in a happy arrangement with Commerce and Marital Intercourse.
Here’s the end of the show – the actors come out to “chat” with the producer, accompanied by the sickly sweet “First Love” themesong. Rosalind Russell pretends to stammer like, well, a woman, of course; they just go all to pieces when confronted with silverware. Note Jimmy Stewart’s effusive farewell. (Sorry about the clicks - I was using a program that recorded all computer sounds, and it caught some scrolling.)
One other note: Jimmy Stewart’s sidekick sounds like the worst actor in the world, but this is intentional; I think that was his schtick. His dialogue sounds written, utterly unnatural, and it’s delivered in this annoying nasal style that had to mean something I’m just not getting. If Steven Wright shows up in a modern movie, people know why he sounds that way – he’s Steven Wright, that’s why. I suspect the same thing works here. The second excerpt, from a scene at an amusement park, is as emotional as he gets.
It contains an actual “d’oh,” delivered a half-century before Homer.
This would have made a great Diner, but my enthusiasm for that project is rather diminished for now.
Oh, and the First Love silverware? Judge for yourself. The show ended at 5:30 PM Sunday night, and you can imagine the listener sighing, taking the coffee cup to the sink, and girding herself for the evening meal. 1847 Rogers offered a small fork from the "First Love" set for only 45 cents - "One dollar and five cents off the regular price" - and I expect many listeners bought one. Perhaps in the belief they'd get the whole set. Perhaps just as a momento of the October Sundays when they listened to the story. Years later the daughter was going through Mom's stuff, found the fork, thought: what is this? Doesn't go with anything. Out it went.
It went with something, all right - but it wasn't the sort of thing you bother to tell anyone. Everyone has a First Love Fork. What's yours?