Warmer, windier, cloudy. March before March.

It's the fifteenth anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The first one, I mean. I was in DC working in a syndicate bureau at the time, and we learned the news the old-fashioned way: an ALERT on the wires. Green letters on a black screen. We headed to the break room to turn on CNN. It seemed preposterous that anyone would try to topple the towers; such a thing seemed absurd. I don't remember anyone thinking that this was the start of anything - it was a one-off by crazies, and these things happened. It hadn't happened here yet, but it was no surprise that it had finally happened. Then it went away and we got on with the 90s.

I was watching “Saboteur” last night, a nifty, tight little Hitchcock film from ’42. Critics be damned; it’s better than “The 39 Steps.” Certainly looks better, and it has a magnificent villain. All the bad guys, the collaborators, were Americans; only one was allowed a speech to explain his fascist sympathies, and they had to do with power and control, ordering society along efficient lines. But not much ideological cant. Bob Cummings had one brief speech about the strength of America and the freedom-loving nations; it was Simple and Direct and Heartfelt and effective, and would be scissored out by an editor today, because no one would believe that anyone would say those things without six cubic yards of but-studded caveats. 

While working on some other projects I’ve been feeding sheets to the scanner, digitizing the reams of microfiche detritus I’ve printed off over the years. Given the horrible state of the fiche – and the fiche reader, which was a balky, sullen, finicky beast when I started at the paper 10 years ago – I fear there will never be an effort to put it all online. A wretched loss. The smallest things tell you so much – bygone theater ads, second-string music acts (Pappy Trester and his Famous Screwballs!), elegant examples of 20s commercial illustration. For example: here’s something interesting for those interested in grocery stores.

The Piggly Wiggly System! The layout is an exact science:

Shopping is effortless, eh? Tell that to the people who have to turn around their carts at the end of aisles two and three. It’s a killing zone, I tell you. Since the aisles only have one item, instead of one on each side, I’m guessing things were stacked up and accessible on either side, Double-Indemnity style.

Fruits and vegetables were at the end of the experience, instead of the beginning as they are today.

As for the NRA logo, it’s a reminder of the happy days of FDR’s attempts to revive the economy by pouring a bowl of alphabet soup over its face. The NRA, among other things, was intended to prevent the depredations of competition, and “allowed industry heads to collectively set minimum prices,”  as this rather scant wikipedia entry notes. (The same page relates the story of the tailor who was arrested for charging 35 cents to press a suit; the NRA rules specified the price at 40 cents. So he was arrested. Consider that the next time someone complains that liberty and civil rights have been eliminated in the last 7 years.)

Since the government-approved slogan for the NRA was “We Do Our Part,” businesses that didn’t display the logo were, by implication, not doing their part, and not with the general flow of the modern world, brother. Even movie theaters hastened to assure the public they were doing their part:

Again, imagine that appearing in a modern newspaper tomorrow. You can’t. If you can, you need to stop watching “V is for Vendetta” every weekend and give the dog a long walk.

Here’s Durante shilling for The Man:

And from Busby Berkley’s “Shanghai Lil” number from “Footlight Parade,” a 1933 classic. You want to talk about a climate in which dissent is discouraged? Imagine having reservations about price controls, entering a theater with the NRA logo in the window, and seeing this in a dance number:


Here’s the entire sequence; my favorite is the long pan down the bar, which must have made collars hot in some quadrants; Blacks and Jews and Chinee doxies all drinking together! Jingo-rama card-show aside, it's a great sequence, and I'm sure no one went home



I’ve been blogging here / about the things I dig / Busby and the Piggly Wig.

New comic cover here. See you at buzz.mn.