From Shorpy




Poor you. It’s late. I’m feeling . . . discursive. Prone to ramble. Well then:

As much as I’d love to point you to my interview show on the Strib website today, there was a rare technical cock-up. Audio only. No video. I tried to put a bright happy face on the experience - well, gang, now that we know that can happen, we can take steps to make sure it never happens again! - but I wasn’t the guest who spent time to come to the studio and chat. And so you will never see me propose that skyway restaurants compete with food trucks by sending out miniature trucks like Shriner cars to roam the skyways selling hoagies.

I wore my wireframe glasses, too. Decided today that I hate & despise my black-rimmed Ray-ban mod frames. They’re not me. I don’t like looking at myself when I wear them. I look old. My grandpa wore glasses that were black and the top and clear on the bottom - modern for him, perhaps, which is odd; you never think of your grandparents as doing anything modern.

Why? Because young kids assume that the Wrinkled Ones have no knowledge of the world as it’s happening now. They have no idea how to tell it like it is, man, because they live in the Gauzy Was, not the All-Important Now. I thought of that when I saw this article about fold-out maps, and how they’re making a comeback. (via Instapundit.)

The guides are written colloquially, just as a friend might speak, so the commentary leans towards the sassy. Local artists ensure each one has a flavor that reflects the vibe of the city.

"We always tell the artists, 'If your grandmother sees it, she shouldn't like it," said Nicolas Marichal, USE-IT's editor-in-chief for Europe.

Yeah, don’t let Granny see it, because she’ll wonder why there’s a red circle around the best place to get hash from a tranny hooker. Really, this might have been apt 50 years ago, when women suddenly put on a smock and put their grey hair in a dense bun the moment they stopped menstruating - if you believe the ads, anyway - but give Granny some credit.

I didn’t use any phone-based maps on my Europe jaunts, because it’s expensive if they’re live, and the pre-loaded maps don’t give you the same sense of being somewhere else as getting out a physical map. I use tri-fold laminated maps that can be easily consulted and stowed. I’d happily ditch them for Google Glasses, though. For someone who does not like getting lost, ever, the idea of a HUD that offers a gently throbbing red alert when I’ve strayed from the destination is comforting. Wife would insist we go down this alley to follow the sign that says CAMEO FACTORY in handwritten paint, and we’re going down an alley that gets narrow and dark, and it’s Naples, and twilight, and I think: well, it’ll give me directions back.

404 Street Not Found

Uh - hon? This street is coming up invalid. Let’s go back.

Oh where’s your sense of adventure.

But my glasses can’t resolve the address.

Otherwise a great day. Didn’t do the Strib blog, because. So there. Live with it. Had morning work, a column to file, a video to shoot. I can only shovel so much coal. It was cold, miserably so, and noting the fact is not complaining. But really: 19 below with the wind. The dog went outside because that’s what dogs do, and tried to squat on the icy sheet of the backyard; his legs went this way and that and he couldn’t get up. Had to carry him back in. Let me note with resignation that his training has failed, and the imperative to deposit stool outside the den is not as strong as one would like. You get used to these things. Every gradual incremental manifestation of decline, you accommodate and incorporate. Because he’s part of the family; he’s the dog part. He walks around the table and suppertime and barks if he doesn’t get some rice.

He looks up when you pass, ears up, cloudy eyes wide: something going on? Yes? No? Okay then.

He sleeps all day. I pass, I stop, I watch for the rise and the fall of his breathing. Why formulate it like that? The fall. And then the rise. This is February, the month he was born. The smells of spring are just a dozen weeks away. I can’t wait to see him raise his snout - the one thing that still works as well as ever - and read the breeze.

Right now it’s a mean thing, the wind; it doesn’t just drop the temps. It catches the outside door and flings it open like a madwoman intent on finding her husband with a lover, and knocks over the pot on the steps. The pot with the evergreens. Today the wind took the door with such force the pot broke, and the screws popped out of the frame, and the door-closer mechanism was bent. This has happened so many times there’s not enough wood to provide purchase for the screws of a new mechanism. The entire door frame has to be replaced.

Fitting it happened on the last day of January, no?

I always thought it peculiar that the Romans had a god of doorways, since that seemed a rather minor job for a deity, and would subject the fellow to ribbing at the God Conventions.

“What do you handle?”

“Oh, war, pestilence, violent expansionism. And you?”


“Doors!” Coughs, looks into his drink. “Really.”

“Well it’s more than that, of course. There’s portals of any sort. Hinges and knobs as well. Knockers in all shapes and sizes. You’d be surprised how much is involved.”

“Yes. Quite. Well, nice talking with you . . .”


“Right. Well, nice to meet you.”

But Janus was the god of transitions, which is a far more subtle concept. His temple had a symbolic door that was open in time of war, and closed in time of peace. A god of war was a concern of the State. A god of transitions would be someone a Roman brushed up against on a daily basis.

If they believed in those things. I don’t think most Romans paid them much thought beyond rote propitiations. Jupiter, sure - either as the Big Dude, or the Prime Mover divorced from the soap-opera pantheon, or Sol Invictus. The family gods of ancestors. Plebe fads for Dis or Mithras; patrician cults for Venus or Bacchus.

In other words, one big top god, and then one personal one. The human brain arranges itself like that quite easily, as if there’s a natural pulse to existence - the beat of a heart, one two. The rise and fall of breath, one two.

The break in a blog between the top part and the lower section that comes after the ad. One two.




As I may have mentioned, I’ve been watching “World at War,” the damned-near perfect BBC documentary on WW2. Saw it first in college on a small B&W set; the picture’s probably the same size on my computer monitor. It fits: epic in scale but human in focus. The episodes can go from the individual tale to some grand collective narrative in a second, without friction or effort; it is never didactic, never bathetic. The narration by Lawrence Olivier, whom everyone seems to insist on calling Larry, is a 23-hour recitation of rue and damning facts, all the more devastating for his understatement. When pride and celebration is called for, the pictures and footage tell the story; Olivier - sorry, Larry - is spared the jingo-jolly hurrah-for-our-side stuff. It’s not that sot of a project. It’s squarely on the Allied side, of course, but only inasmuch as it was battle against an evil regime and its various echoes in other countries, and being on the side of the Allies rather goes without saying. Or did at the time. Still does, but give it time.

Anyway: introducing each episode is the produce Jeremy Isaacs, who opens with the somewhat off-putting statement: “Welcome to the World at War.” Er. No thanks. His introductions all have a little jot of acid in the delivery, and set the tone well. He appears the very model of the British Major Documentary Maker. But the introductions, for some reason, linger after he’s done talking. If you know you’re fading to black, you just look at the camera and hold it until someone says Clear.

This is on the DVD. I don’t think he was happy with his reading. (If you can't handle Flash on your device, this will work.)



Some cultural notes on things that happened a half century ago:

I was driving home from work yesterday, listening to the old radio channel. The other choices: 1. BBC World Service, which at that hour usually airs a documentary on something like the role of sandals made from old tires in sub-Saharan Africa; B) the clean comedy channel, which has some very funny people interspersed with Moms Mabley and drawlin’ men what tell long stories an’ such; C) The filthy comedy channel; D) The William Conrad Channel, which is the old-time radio channel. They had a CBS Radio Workshop drama called “The Storm.” Narrated by Bill Conrad. Later that day I think I heard a Gunsmoke, starring, of course, Bill Conrad.

Today I’m driving home and there’s an episode of “This Is Your FBI,” with Harry Morgan. They’re going to arrest . . . Bill Conrad. Keep in mind that you could turn on “Escape” later and hear Bill Conrad. I’m a big fan of the big guy - he nailed Matt Dillon like Shatner nailed Kirk. But the more old radio you listen to, the more you hear the same ten people. I mean, the same ten people.

Some actors could do accents, but you still heard those distinctive voices. For example: one of the shows-a I just-a cannot-a stand is-a the Life with Luigi, concerning an Italian immigrant who narrates each-a show as a letter to his mama mia. There’s a blowhard Italian guy on the show who’s trying to marry off his daughter to Luigi. Running gag. Every fargin’ ep, there’s the daughter gag - just like Chester Riley in “Life of Riley” managed to run into an undertaker in every ep. The Italian guy - Pasquale - was Alan Reed, who was A) Jewish, not Italian, and B) Fred Flintstone. He was on many shows. Distinctive voice, to say the least.

My point: parents of my generation walked past the TV set where the boomer kids say transfixed by Flintstones and Rocky and Bullwinkle. How many of them recognized the voices? How many thought “Hey, Fred sounds like Pasquale” or “Golly, the narrator on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show is none other than Matt Dillon.”

Plenty, I’ll bet. When there are ten voices they tend to take out a long-term lease on a room in your head.

Also: I mentioned a few weeks back the “Couple Next Door” radio show, a 15-minute comedy serial notable for the rapport between the actors who played the husband and wife, and the fact that the woman who played the wife - Peg Lynch - wrote all the episodes. Hundreds of them. Daily. I had a brief falling-out with the show for a week, which sounds odd, I know. Old radio shows generally have a tone from start to finish, a formula. They didn’t change much. If they were lame from the start, they were lame all the way through. But after listening to a few score “Couple” episodes, I realized that the husband got his comeuppance in almost every single episode, usually because he blustered too much or was flattered or cajoled or maneuvered into doing what his wife wanted him to do. The stories in which the wife or the 6-year old daughter arewrong are few.


But then I remembered reading about the show’s origins: when the show began under another name decades before (decades!) the wife was a Blondie ditz, all at sea in the world, a shopper, no head for money, a silly little thing. Peg Lynch, over the course of the decades, rewrote the story to balance the scales: shoe on the other foot. And it worked, for two reasons: 1) the audience, I’m guessing, was 99.8% female, women at home; 2) the culture had changed enough so the husband’s complaints about the erosion of fatherly authority and the “new ideas” about men and childrearing and psychology and all those other things struck a chord. In 1958.

In its own way, the show was rather subversive. It’s also useful as a piece of cultural anthropology; you don’t see shows these days that have the line “Will you get Daddy his cigarettes?” One episode reveals what middle-class people with cultural aspirations were expected to do - en route to a bridge party they didn’t really want to attend (in those days, apparently, people called you up at 7, invited you over for bridge, and you drove over and played even if you really didn’t want to) the couple listens to a piano concert on the radio and argues over the composer. They have the record; they’d listened to it just a while ago. But they argue over who it is, and you hear people who know names on labels, and know that these things are important, but there’s a subtext of class identification there as well.

Anyone who wants a subject for a master’s degree in media and gender studies, and God help you if you do, would be advised to give “The Couple Next Door” some careful study.


That's it for today - there will be Strib Blog in the noonish time, and tumbr as well. Have a grand weekend!

Note: preview says the comments are closed. I have no idea why this is happening. One. More. Damned. Thing. To fix.







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