Chilly and damp. And by damp I mean the sort of all-day rain that makes it feel like it’s raining even when it’s stopped. Ever room you enter feels like a big wet dog just left. Good for the crops, as we say in these parts, utterly disconnected from the rural experience as we are. As far as we know, everything’s good for the crops. Even hail. Keeps ‘em in their place. A little hail now and then, and the corn doesn’t get so cocky.
I don’t think I slept at all last night. Maybe I did. The evidence is unclear. It’s possible that the moment the alarm pinged my ears my subconscious lived an entire night in one or two seconds; the mind works fast when it has to. I just know that I woke with a head full of cold spaghetti, and I can’t quite put things together in the usual way. I’ve had enough coffee to make my spinal cord feel like a freshly-struck tuning fork, but the mind isn’t following. I blame “Lost.” I stayed up too late watching the season finale, and was duly Amazed at the Shocking Revelation. If I can quote something I emailed to Jonah Goldberg for posting at the Corner:
The season finale is one of the great innovations of modern TV. When
I was a kid, hunkered down in front of the ambergris-powered set (the
TV listings were delivered once a fortnight, and consisted of coal
marks on a shovel), shows just ended. There weren’t any plot arcs;
there weren’t any cliffhangers. This might have been a good thing -
if “Mission: Impossible” would have had a cliffhanger, we all know
what it would look like: Willy is discovered in the parking ramp
putting a latex mask on the Prime Minister of El Vagueador, while
Barney gets wedged in an air duct! Both crises would have been solved
in the first 47 seconds when the season continued.
The cliffhanger may lead to all sorts of contrived hugger-mugger, but
it’s fun. In the old days, as I said, shows ended, and that was that.
Now we get to spend the next day spinning theories at the office with
the guy in the next cubicle: “did you see ‘Lost?’ Could you believe
it when Tony Soprano staggered out of the jungle and announced he was a Cylon?”
A year or so ago I had brief argument with Mr. Steyn about serial television, and he made the perfectly correct point that it renders the shows useless in reruns. No one wants to dip into “Lost” halfway through the third season, and I can’t imagine why they’re thinking of syndicating the show – unless they use the magic of computers to insert Thurston Howell and Lovey into the plot, which would change everything. Why, that would be a mash-up, to use a word I’m getting tired of. The act of mashing seems to carry more weight than the final product. It’s a mash-up of Cicero and a 1937 radio tube catalog! Brilliant! Well, maybe. I’m all in favor of rearranging and recombining, but sometimes it seems like we’re eating our seed corn. A while ago I downloaded all the constituent elements for the Byrne / Eno song, “Help Me Somebody,” thinking that I, too, could resort them into a new and interesting tune. It didn’t take long to realize that everything I did pointed back to the superior original.
I suppose someone could do a slow, aching ballad version of the song, with Chris Isaak singing the part of the preacher; that would be interesting. So would an all-kazoo version of Mahler’s second. Interesting. For a while.
This morning I realized I’d be busy and / or brain dead tonight, so I scanned a few things in case you were in the mood to travel back 90 years. At the dawn of the new century I bought, for six whole American dollars, two volumes of the Independent magazine from 1917. Judging from the spines, they were part of a library collection; judging from the condition, they had sat unmolested for half a century, unread. The Independent – “with which is incorporated Harper’s Weekly,” according to the cover – was founded in 1848, and along the way swallowed up the aforementioned Harper’s, the Chataquan, and Countryside Magazine & Suburban Life. (That last journal seems to have disappeared without a trace into the Independent’s solemn dense pages.)
It was a pro-war magazine, with endless Wilsonian hymns to the spirit of Worldwide Democracy that would surely follow once Kaiserism was wiped from the land. The hand-drawn graphics are exquisite; the pictures less so. Here’s one cover:
Gaah! Beware the indistinct Russian! Comfort yourself with our savior and Intellectual Better, our President:
He appears to be lecturing a dog. As well he should! Everyone must realize the stakes!
They really loved red ink, eh? Other colors were used, but sparingly; I imagine the critical, strategic hues were used for the war effort. If you can judge the era by this journal, there were three concerns: the Great War, of course; prohibition, which the magazine seemed to support as a progressive cause, and food shortages. The war effort had diverted rolling stock to the east, which led to a fubar’d transportation system; disruptions in commerce on the seas also affected some critical spice routes, it seems. A heavy hand on the pepper shaker makes the Hun smile, the post-office posters probably said.
The ads were martial as well. This one touts a “physical culture” book. Get T-R tough, men; it’s a hard road ahead. Imagine Jack LaLane waving a fist from a comic book ad, promising to make you Commie-Killer Hard, and you get the idea. Check out the text:
Keep that in mind the next time someone insists that our entire culture has been militarized and turned into a fascist drill-parade: even the ads in the intellectual journals called men criminals if they weren’t able to vault over the trench lip and take a few slugs in the pan.
It goes without saying that your bowels should be ready for war as well:
As someone who’s studied the advertising of the 20th century – well, looked at a lot of ads – I can attest that this obsession with strange, indistinct threats posed by the digestive tract lasted into the sixties. People were obsessed by the fact that they carried aroud 10 yards of a cloeliac labyrinth teeming with immigrants.
The fine arts are presented with this ad for the books of spring. Speaking of Prussians! Irwin S. Cobb was an American humorist, now forgotten but much beloved back then. His granddaughter married Mike Wallace, of "60 Minutes" fame. What really sticks out, of course is the work by Mary Roberts Rinehart:
Bab, a sub-deb! It sounds like a novel written entirely in the voice of someone with a head cold. I think it goes without saying that the entire 1917 novel is available on line. As for the author, Mary Roberts Rinehart, she lived to be 84, died a month and a half after I was born, and one of her words was the source for the mystery-novel cliche, "The butler did it." (And he did, too.) I'd google the rest, but I have a piece due tomorrow morn, and I must get to it.
It's a fascinating tome - I use that word reluctantly, but it fits; it's heavy, ponderous, full of wool suits and handlebar moustaches and ediorial cartoons in which Lady Liberty urges men on; if this isn't a tome, nothing is. I'll post more. I wanted to put it up today, because the ads come from the May 25 1917 issue, and it'll be ten years bfore the date has any special resonance again. It's interesting, but it still leaves me cold. I don't recognize the teens the way I recognize the 20s. For all its technological advancement, it's still proto-modern. But it has a gravity that would soon be dispelled. It's the last time everyone was certain about most things. After this, the deluge; after this, everyone was jitterbugging on the lip of the dam, pointing out the cracks.
Possibly the most simplistic thing I've written all week, but at least I admit it.
Have a fine weekend; wish me luck in my Friday meeting, where I'll make the pitch for my next job. There may be Bleatage on Monday - it depends. But in any case I leave you with the conclusion of the long, grindingly pointless Diner series. Spoiler alert! Highlight the text below only if you never listened to the old radio shows.
The fellow who shows up in the field in 1927 is Jeremy, the Dark Chef, my producer from the old show, and the best sidekick in the business. He was instrumental in making the Diner what it was, and I'd planned to bring him back into the new incarnation at some point. This was the first time we'd done a Diner in oh, seven years. We didn't rehearse; we didn't have to. We could do this after a 30 year hiatus.
If you doubt that I've been planning this all along, and think I've been making it up without knowing what the heck would happen, well: recall that the earlier episodes that first saw the appearance of the Nine-foot tall Pillsbury Doughboy Terminator Robot from the Future was called "In the Wink of an Eye, Robot." Which refers to this. Yes, the buzzing fly had a point. And the sound used to indicate time travel? It really had a point. It might be a small, cheap payoff, but humor me: it made me smile. Enjoy! The iTunes version with embedded art is here. The MP3 version is here. The Flash version below is, well, below. (I see it decided to display a graphic I used as a time-travel joke: how apt.) Have a great weekend, and I'll see you soon - with a job, or without one.
That's not exactly as hard-core as the Spartan command to come back with your shield or on it, but this is is not Sparta. In case you were wondering.