One of those days where a dozen slights, real or imagined, seem to pile up like fish against the grate of a fast-flowing drain. And I’m not a slight collector. If something looks like it could be a slight, but can be ascribed to a mistake, or oversight, or simply a different way of regarding the worlds - i.e., not through my particular eyeballs - then that’s what it is, and you’re happier if you just shrug and move along. But when a slew of slights arises simultaneously, you wonder.
There are different kinds of slights, of course. The cheerful-but-pointed insult. The faint praise. Fine-grained mockery. A tincture of condescension. Omission. Deletion.
Hmm: for someone who doesn’t collect slights I seem to know the taxonomy well enough.
Going through some folders today, winnowing out things I really don’t need - like the individual pages of scanned pulp mags. I’ll never read the stories. It’s only the art and the ads that interest me. Like this:
Real Racket Dirt by Ace Reporters in Easy Money magazine - could you get more 1936? The cover is lurid enough:
Lust-mad coolies and slant-eyed Nacy Gannon:
Not one of those stories seems to fit the cover. Let's look closer:
That's everyone's fear, isn't it? Someone might be in that suit of armor in the spooky old mansion. But you never expect someone to lean out of the painting and settlle in for the show.
Who did the work? The table of contents misspells his name as John Newton Howett. It’s Howitt. He was a legit painter, academic training, landscapes. Started doing illustrations for the magazines and ads high-class stuff; he did a lot of Jell-O work. Then the Depression hit, and magazine money dried up. Shudder-pulps paid the rent.
Then there was a hard time; then there was a war. Legit work again:
Uh - Hon? You forgot your prop/ I don't even know what it was supposed to be, but it's pretty obvious you don't have it.
More of his work here. There were so many of these guys; even the least of them deserves to be remembered as much as the splatter lads and abstractionists.
Went to the Fair today. No, the Fair hasn’t begun. I went to get Before shots, so I can return to the scene on Thursday and do the After shots. Set up my camera on the sticks in the Grandstand so I could shoot down the broad concrete bridge that culminates in the Strib booth.
“You taking pictures so you can blow something up?”
I turned around. Old guy with a security badge, nervous grin.
“People taking pictures,” he said. “You wonder what for.”
I wanted to say: Yes, that’s it exactly. My devious evil plan to sow fear and discord at the State Fair is predicated on showing up with this here ID around my neck, which gives me the figleaf of legitimacy - the fruits of a decade working as a sleeper agent, I might add. I am filming this locale so I can pass the images to another agent, who will be able to orient himself, and achieve the maximum amount of terror by detonating a bomb on a structure occupied, at most, by 20 people at any given time. Because, you know, it’s just preposterous to send the suicide bomber to the Fair to walk around and get acquainted on his own, then come back the next day. Better to send someone to arouse suspicion. Because there’s nothing more odd than taking pictures, is there? Let us repeat together the Idiot’s Creed: NOW WHY WOULD YOU TAKE A PICTURE OF THAT.”
But I grinned and said “you know, ever since 9/11, I can’t take a picture of something that isn’t my family at Disneyworld, without someone wondering why.”
You know why I’m suspicious? Because I’m a single middle-aged male out of uniform and out of context. If my camera was bigger and I was accompanied by a harried put-together woman in her early 30s who fiddled with her ear like she had an IFB, I’d be fine. Context established. Single guy with a camera: weird. Single guy with a small camera and a tripod: not sure if serious weirdo. This is why I hang my credentials around my neck, because if people see a laminated rectangle dangling from a lanyard, they relax.
I walked to the Midway, where the workman were still erecting the rides; to the Barns, where burly men were hoisting bales of green hay; to the magnificent Horticulture building, which always makes me wish it was named the Dorothy Parker Pavillion - every year I enter that structure it feels more and more like a cathedral dedicated to the pre-war American geist. There’s no more perfect example of 1930s “Things to Come” machine-culture techno-optimism in the state, and the fact that it’s full of honey and apples is all the better. Really: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Emerald City.
Makes me wonder: people of my generation lament how that cool sleek 60s look, the mid-century modern style, didn’t take root and continue, how the few examples of that exuberant American look was bulldozed by the banality of the Seventies. I wonder if my parents’ generation looked back at the styles of the 30s, and felt the same pang.
Whether the old man who wondered if I was a terrorist goes to the Horticulture Building, and remembers being 12, looking at the new WPA Post Office, and thinking Buck Rogers would approve.
I think I’ll do a video about that. The Fair is the string that threads through every generation here. Ten days, every year: a mere ticket of the second hand of the long clock of our lives.
And if I say that on camera, I will make sure someone bounces into the frame, dressed like a boxer, and cold-cocks me on the jaw, just for being a pretentious ass.