I pushed through the doors to the atrium and wondered, as I always do, if the restaurant still had that cook who made the incredible sea bass. It had been 15 years since I was there. He was from Iran; he was a marvelous soul and we loved eating there before having a child meant the end of going out for a while. One night he felt emboldened to cook some native dishes, including something I think he called Murgh. Aptly named.

Looked up at the sculpture hanging over the atrium - two triangles, enormous, made of small pieces of stone hanging from individual wires. Over the years they have become slightly maladjusted, so the triangles are no longer smooth. I always think of the picture of the artist that used to hang on the skyway level, looking pensive, smoking a cigarette. The picture was removed a while back but I always expect it, and will never not expect it. The building went up in the late 70s and I was thrilled to see a new skyscraper, even though it’s a rote dull thing. Used to be the HQ of Pillsbury.

Past the security desk; flower shop on my left, as always. Mini-mart on my left, as always. Through the glass: a building across the street that used to be the Pillsbury HQ, but was a bank before that. The ads showed their big vault door. Your money was safe. I’m sure it’s still there; no one rehabs a building and thinks “no possible reason anyone would want a vault in the basement, so it’s remove it at great expense.”

Pushed through the door to leave, caught the cigarette whiff from the smokers outside in the sun, and as the door proved more heavy than I thought I had a quick flash of an old flame, and was reminded:

There is no worse sensation in a dream than being too tired to walk, but required to do so by the plot your brain-stem invented half a second ago. I found myself at a table with old friends, almost a meeting in Valhalla of old comrades, everyone joyous and happy to see me, and I spotted an old flame and was convinced I needed to wash my hair for the occasion. Be right back, have to run up to my room. This required passages up and down endless staircases, limbs like dead lead, ending up in some place I had no intention to visit. And then the alarm -

I’d erased that as I woke but here it was. Well. No such hindrances now. Bright blue day, the start of June, briefcase in hand, tie whipping around my shoulder. CAUTION. CHIPOTLE said the exit ramp down the street as I waited for the light. Cross; into the building, up the escalator, remembering the mnemonic for getting off the elevator correctly. If I take the right bank, turn left. If I take the left bank, turn right. BONG bong announced the elevator with the notes that make me hum the rest of the Big Ben chimes. Beep the door, down the hall to my cube.

I try to take a different route every day. Every block has its own cast of ghosts.

Listening to a Couple Next Door this morning - only 24 of 730 to go - and caught a reference to a “Night Letter.” See, Aunt Effie, who’s cheap, sent a Night Letter, because the rates were low and she could use 50 words, most of which were so cryptic they requred ENIGMA-level decoding. It was spoken as if everyone knew what a Night Letter was, which I suppose they did. Still, 1962? Telegrams?

It’s the first I’ve heard of it. You’d think it would be more common in dialogue. Ah, you got something to say, send me a Night Letter. But perhaps it was a piece of the vernacular so long enmeshed in people’s thinking that it just never made its way into anything. So ubiquitous it was never acknowledged. If that makes sense. Not sure it does. You do wonder how many other little details passed into the ether without leaving a mark. There’s no fossil record for these things.

But there’s more! Wikipedia on the term:

There is a tradition of shabnameh ("night letters") in the Persian world as well. Shabnameh were widely distributed in the 20th century in Iran over the course of several revolutionary movements.

More recently, night letters have been a tactic employed by the Taliban and other extremist groups in Afghanistan to intimidate supporters of secular government and education.

The Western Union type were advertised thus. There’s Papa going off on business, but he would send a Night Letter when he got off the train to let everyone know all was well. Or when he got to the hotel. A man could be waylaid ‘twixt station and hostel, you know. Before wireless, who’d know if the train derailed? People wandered into the world and were never seen again, you know. For all we know Father there is leaving them behind for good, because he had spent company money on their house and some investments and there was nothing to do but turn the corner and melt into the crowd. Perhaps the Night Letter was the last they heard.

Look, if you’re going to disappear, a Night Letter’s the best way to end things. A telegram in the day would imply that another might follow. A Night Letter farewell is like a benediction.




Once again to the dusty shelves of . . .

Early computer programs:

The "Word Rolls" had, well, words. So everyone could gather around and sing.

Here's what they looked like.

It really was a remarkable invention. Now we associate it with . . . what, exactly?

They were capable of inflection, if the player manipulated the Expression Lever, and one of the great joys of my life many years ago was discovering the collection played by Gershwin himself. Ninety-nine years later and the man springs to life.

This line from wikipedia entry on the rolls goes back to what I was saying about the things we never knew everyone forgot:

The final selection, "An American In Paris", was recorded by Frank Milne in 1933. Milne worked as a roll-editor with Gershwin in the 1920s, and edited several of the rolls reproduced on this disc. So skilled was Milne as a roll editor, the liner notes suggest that he may not have actually "played" "An American In Paris" at all -- in the same way that a musician can write sheet music, Milne was able to prepare roll masters by marking the lines on special graph paper that would be used as a template for the holes punched in the actual piano roll.

Code, indistinguishable from music. I mean, sheet music is code. But programming a computer to play music is completely different, right?





Look who's back!



Elmer: the next swoon king.

Ginny Simms was the singer for Kay Kyser's band, and as Wikipedia put it, "nearly married Kyser but left in 1941 to do her own radio show." A lot more to the story than that, you suspect.

As usual, Elsie undercuts Elmer almost immediately, and brings the subject around to her work.


Some episodes survive, but I can't find any.

It's a pity they didn't put Elmer and Elsie on the air. They would have been a fine comedy team; I can imagine William Waterman playing Elmer, for one thing.


Lead with your worst admission, I suppose:

"It's that new" is the excuse for the millions of people who have declined to borrow a dollar bill. Perhaps because Grand-dad was 100 and the littlest was eight. They wouldn't get it.




These days when the temperature gets hot hot hot, and people are pasted in their chairs with wavy lines coming off their heads, few people think "Jellied consomme, that's the ticket."

WHY SWELTER when you can have tomato Jell-O? Really, why.



Ah! An in-store display. They never survived. Always tossed out. Who had room to keep them, once the promotion was over?

Your choice of "Naturally Red" or "Pink Sugar." Also known as "Red #7" and "Pink #3", but you have to attach an adjective or adverb to sell it. IN THE LOWER THIRD OF THE COLOR GRADIENT is a lousy way to move the merchandise.

Wonder if it came out in the wash if you got it on your husband's collar.




The 1960s were lousy with this cartoon style. Flat. Abstract. Bow-ties growing out of chins.

Radio: brought to you on trucks!

So . . . support trucks!



From armed defender of American freedom to a symbol of frosting swiftness:


"Add water and beat." Would that everything was that simple. Francis Barton did not exist, of course; she was a Betty Pretender. Her middle name was Lee; she had a radio show in the 30s. Having never lived, she never died.

God forbid your frosting is "sugary."



Beeee-yooutiful mid-century design.

Perkins products. Well, it was manufactured for them; apparently they contracted that part out and felt compelled to share the fact with consumers. Kraft has it now. The labels are considerably duller. Who wouldn't snap this up over the usual messy cluttered packets we have today?

That'll do; see you around here and there, and enjoy some more of Frank's electrified imperialism below.


blog comments powered by Disqus