As much as I would love to tell you about my brush with the Nielsen ratings group, it’s column fodder. Suffice to say they’re putting together ratings for downloadable music, and are trying to get people to install snitchware that phones the mothership and tells them what you’re listening to. Oh, yes, sign me up. The person who made the offer did not know whether the software worked with Apple computers; it wasn’t on her script, and I could tell from her voice she had a mortal dread of going off the script. “I’m supposed to stay neutral,” she kept saying, as if vouching for cross-platform compatibility would somehow tip the company’s hand, and she would be sucked down a chute into a bin of fire like a member of SPECTRE who disappointed. She put me on hold to get the answer, but no one knew. No one! Whoever put the questionnaire together didn’t anticipate that question. She also couldn’t tell me what sort of information would be sent back to the company, only that "it wouldn't slow down my computer."

Hence I suspect the only people who sign up will be those who don’t stray much from the usual places online, or seek out curious streaming stations; the results will probably show most people watch CNN on their browsers and listen to AOL radio. Which may indeed be the case. But consumers don’t need stats like these anymore. Once upon a time you watched highly rated shows because, well, they were highly rated. It was your duty. But who cares what the ratings are now? Unless you're selling something, of course. But everyone's selling something now. Even if they're giving it away.

Cloudy day, with intermittent sun. Usual drill – morning summer school, afternoon summer school, errands. This meant a dozen trips in and out of the loaner car  - an Accord, not a Civic. Every stop reinforced a hundred times over my decision to get a vehicle with four doors and lots of room; it’s a pain to crawl in the back and belt up the kid. Compared to the Element, it’s like trying to ballroom dance in a tunnel from the Great Escape. Between trips to the schools I went to a local antique store. The Home of the Arbitrary Pricing! It’s always amusing to see what some people think some things are worth – one display packed with 60s & 70s ephemera had a few sheets of notebook paper with traced drawings of continents and countries. Two dollars. I wouldn’t buy that half the price if it was my lost childhood work. On the other hand, a 1952 Good Housekeeping – bursting with gorgeous color ads and illustrations of women in psychotic glee over the properties of Tide or the shelving capacity of a Kelvinator – went for three dollars. Old random photos of long-dead people standing outside a barn? A buck a throw. The saddest photos are the Christmas shots – the tinseled tree, the cars on the mantel, three generations assembled, Dad present only in the burst of the flashbulb reflected in the mirror. Something had to happen to sunder these pictures from the clan to which they’d belonged. There shouldn’t be any orphan photos, ever. A few words on the back would suffice: Betty & Edna, Racine, ‘42. That would be enough. You could debate which one was Betty and which one was Edna, but at least they’d have an identity. Better to be Bettyoredna in Racine than a lost face in a pile of photos in an antique store basement.

The little girls in the 50s photos look like little girls; the boys all look like they’ll grow up to be auto-parts dealership managers or clocktower snipers. It’s the hair, I suppose. The grandpas have a look I recognize from my old childhood – the high pants, the grave blank face, and the glasses: black rims on the top and clear on the bottom, with a transparent bifocal welt. A shirt pocket that sags slightly from the pack of smokes. The general impression that the man would prefer to be wearing a hat.

Oh, you can only take so much. They’re like the tombs of Pharoahs, for all the riches, but unlike the Pharoahs, you get the sense that these people were here not too long ago. Just missed them. They leave behind things they never expected anyone else to see – jottings in the margins of a recipe book, an ad from the paper ripped out and stuck in a magazine. I found a stack of birthday cards – the sort of thing a proud mom puts away, just because – and paged through the names. Aunts and uncles. (Kids had so many aunts and uncles then.) Lots of cards for the third birthday. Lots of cards for the fourth.

Nothing for the fifth.

I took my purchases up to the counter; the clerk was interested in the 1956 Minneapolis Symphony program I’d found. She knew some old folks who used to play in the Orchestra. She opened the back and ran a finger down the list . . . there they were. Sometimes you leave a face, sometimes you leave a name.    

Well. I have to get to work now, so I’ll leave you with two things. First is an excerpt from a sticker book I bought for Gnat: Barbies of the World. We’re going to match them to countries on the map, learn about other nations. Here’s a foin Strine Sheila:

This, however, seems  . . . well, words fail.

And as long as we’re on the subject of pulchritude: the first installment of the Bathing Beauties site is up. More old newspaper photography from the pre-color era. Enjoy! (And new Quirk, of course.) Thanks for coming by, and I’ll see you tomorrow.