This week went by like a bus on fire going sideways on an oil slick. If I worked on Wall Street, I would have felt as if I was in the bus. From the sidewalk, the perspective is differen.

Nevertheless, the week went by; I look forward to the boons of Friday night. Between now and then: another column, a video shoot, a PJTV interview, and At the stroke of five, though, I’m done, providing I don’t have a stroke at four.

Went outside a while ago to make a fire in the chiminea. Got it working; got a nice aromatic plume pouring out from the top. Right away: rain. Went inside. It stopped raining. Just went out to relight it. Again: the nostalgic perfume of autumn, wafting through the backyard. And then it began to rain again.

So I have the power, then. I’ll be taking requests next week.

I have a new plosive-packed mike check to freak out audio engineers: Poor Patricia had a pratfall on a perfect Perkin’s plump pumpkin pie. Say that three times quickly without making the needle bounce into the red. On the way to piano today Natalie wanted to eat at Perkins for supper, and I said sure – and we’d have some pumpkin pie. Perkin’s perfect pumpkin pie. The mind has some trouble with Perkins-perfect after it’s handled plump-pumpkin, and we tried and tried until we got it right. She thought it was delightful fun. If I’d said it to the waiter she would have dissolved in embarrassment. I didn’t. But only because I forgot.

An indication you’ve spent too much time on the internet: you dream you’re meeting Instapundit for a beer at Drew Curtis’ house. The invitation showed a can of beer the size of a grain silo. I took the bus to get there, and was surprised at how dodgy the neighborhood was, but it had great signs and movie marquees. Naturally, I took pictures of these gorgeously decayed urban remants for the website.  People started looking at me in a curious, suspicious fashion. Just like real life. When you can’t even take pictures in your dreams we’ve become too suspicious.

I’ve dreamed a lot about old signage lately. It seems to be a comforting trope in the back of my head, as if those big metal signs with neon carving letters in the night suggested some sort of permanence by their bulk and their beauty. Obviously not physical permanence, because they were all removed out of fears the bolts would pull from the bricks and the signs would cleave Mrs. John Q. Shopper. That would be the last thing struggling downtowns needed. No one had their skulls split open by some rusty remnant of the 20s at the new suburban malls. But the great signs – the ones crafted from the 30s through the 60s – have a persistent aesthetic presence unmatched by anything that came before or after.

Years ago, during one of the many trips between Fargo and Mpls, I came up with a way to eliminate billboards and make them more useful: holographic emitters by the roadside. (You know, those.) Your car would trigger them as you approached. It sounded like such a capital idea I ruined it with refinements – why, you could program your car to show only certain styles or products. It sounded terribly futuristic to imagine 3D custom billboards popping into view like Pole Position scenery every few miles, but it makes no sense. Makes no sense now, of course; that’s what your iPhone tricorder is for. The old billboards will survive because they don’t allow you any options; you’ll see a giant sign for a boat dealer, pal, and you’ll like it.

But. I can see signs coming in different flavors, responding to the composition of the crowd. If everyone wore some sort of detachable demographic chip that broadcast interests and aesthetic preferences, urban environments could shift to suit our tastes if it detected a critical mass  Imagine standing on a street corner, waiting for the light to change, and the billboards suddenly shift to early 60s graphics. You’d know you were among friends.

But would it be real? If the actual world kept adjusting itself moment by moment to fit the needs and opinions of the people who flowed around the streets, would anything be genuine – or would it all just be a series of mirrors? Well, that’s what it is now, but you don’t note the changes because they happen more slowly. Take a time-lapse shot of a popular intersection over the course of a few years; it would dress and undress and dress itself again, over and over. Signs are clothing; buildings are the bodies. Which brings me to this picture I found in the photo archives the other day:

Some glass, some gas, some electricity: civilization. I didn’t recognize the intersection right away, but careful examination revealed a clue:

That would be this building, the WCCO radio HQ. (Barely visible in the rainy pic is “Lee’s,” a diner sign on the corner; the page linked to above has the sign in the lower right-hand corner.)

Then there’s this, which helps date the picture:


Let’s look around the internet and see if we can find the cover, shall we?


So the picture was taken around June 14, 1952. The magazine cover proves it. Also the date on the back of the photo. I could have kept that detail from you and seemed AMAZING, but honesty, best policy, etc.

Hey: to my delight, many of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour shows I’ve been watching are available free on Hulu. They’re here. Eighty-eight shows, with perhaps a half-dozen clinkers. “Mad Man” fans are instructed to go directly here: “The Hangover.”

Have a great weekend. Watch out for the bus.

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