Oh it’s so good to be done with all of that, isn’t it? The holidays. Today is the strangest holiday of them all - an “observed” day off for many that’s a repeat of the meaninglessness of New Year’s Day, with extra added non-holiday feelings. It’s a nothing day. But we deserve it, because New Year’s fell on a Sunday. Whoo-hoo! Four day week! Time to recover from the forcible festive interval.
Eh. I took the tree down on Saturday; it was bothering me. With the family gone it was just a forlorn thing to see. I stopped turning on the lights on Friday. I gathered up house decorations and put them in piles. You feel so distant from the holiday at this point it’s like cleaning out the house of a stranger who died.
On Friday night I had a disappointing pizza. I wish it had not been so. I’d bought a new brand at the grocery store; they had samples. “It’s from Wisconsin!” said the sampler person, as if the Badger state set the national standard for pizza. I mean yeah, cheese, sure, but cheese is the easiest part. The people with no true understanding of a pizza will judge it by the quantity of cheese, which is like judging the quality of a bed by the amount of blankets on top.
The sample was really good, though - she made it in one of those little toaster ovens that imparts a perfect crispness to a style of pizza I can only describe as “Wisconsin Bar Food” - the crust isn’t great, and in fact belongs to the Saltine genre of Midwestern pizza crusts, but you don’t care because the sauce is rich and the pepperoni is crispy on the edges. I bought the Mighty Meaty, which tells you right up front you’re getting the works, brother. This is the pizza for people who want the holy trio of pizza flesh - pepperoni, sausage, and Canadian bacon, diced up and sprinkled all over in machine-minced cubes.
Instructions: bake 10 to 12 minutes, until cheese is bubbling and crust is brown. Alexa, set a timer for 11 minutes. Wasn’t done. Another two minutes. Wasn’t done. Another four minutes: the perimeter was crispy, but the rest of the pizza was just a thick wet newspaper. I ate two pieces and decided I’d have to perform some surgery here, so I trimmed outer inch, and ate that. The interior, which was a glob of meat, I scraped off for the dog.
He looked up at me with great expectations.
“I can’t give you this,” I said. “Not all of it. You will get pancreatitis.”
Whatever that is it sounds great meat please
“I’ll give you some, but only after our walk.”
What did you say did you say walk
I got the leash, and he was conflicted; on one hand, there is MEAT ABOUT, but on the other hand, we could go on a walk and FIND MEAT MAYBE. About six months ago Scout found an entire rotisserie chicken on the grounds of the high school, and he has never forgotten it. Every walk has to go to the spot where the chicken appeared. Religions have been based on less.
Out went. The sidewalks: pure ice. In the shadows: rabbits. Dog. Leash. Ice. It was a trial, but when I felt him start to run I braced myself so I wasn’t knocked off my feet.
Anyway, Saturday: I went to MicroCenter, which is like Victoria’s Secret for geeks; aisles and aisles of cords and raw computer parts. I had intended to clean up the area behind the TV, replacing the six-foot cables with 3-foot cables, color-coded. The line at the cash register was 30 people deep. On New Year’s Eve. I didn’t feel pathetic anymore about not having plans; that would come later.
After dinner I set about cleaning all the cords, and decided I would mount the ethernet switch on the wall, using some Command adhesive squares. But I didn’t have ones that could hold that much weight, so I drove to Walgreens around nine.
While I was there I remembered I had snapped the shoelace on my brown shoes the other day, and I should probably get some new laces. This somehow made the trip less pathetic, because possibly I could be getting these new laces because I was going out. Look at me, everyone! Buyin’ shoelaces. Maybe goin’ out on the town to cut rugs. Won’t say I ain’t.
So that was my weekend. That, and polishing up a few details on the new site. New and improved!
SO WHERE’S THE RETRO ART oh be still. This year it’s photography on the top, but before you get depressed about that, all the banners that were going to go up top have been moved to the main index page, which now resets every Monday.
2017 is the 20th anniversary of the Bleat. I think I would be amazed and delighted to see what it became. But in the short-term, I’m frustrated by my limited skill set.. There are some long-lasting sites out there whose designs are not even designs, just flensed bones, so I think at least I have novelty working for me. I want the page to look different every day, but be familiar; I want every week to have a new theme, but belong to the week before and the week after. At the start of the year I want to give you something NEW.
But really, it’s more of the same. I’m looking through what’s planned for the year to come, and it’s more of the same - because that’s what I want to provide. I’ve carved out certain themes. The more I add, the more the site becomes a resource, a compendium, an accumulation of meditations on 20th century culture. This isn’t the objective, really - it’s the side effect of doing this every weekday. The main objective is to give you something to enjoy.
So what’s en route? Aside from the Bleat, there’s about 550 pages of updates en route. Now if you’ll forgive me, I have to start on 2018.
Magazines and newspapers were full of fake Ripleys. They matched the style and layout. Everyone knew they weren't Ripley, but who cared? Here were AMAAZING things!
Except they were prety lame. This one was called "Food for Thought," by Robert Pilgrm. Let's take a look.
Mrs. F. B. Southard's husband was a railroad man; he shows up in Poor's Directory of Railroad Officials.
Well, perhaps, but history usually says the Officer of the Table "called for attention, announcing 'The King is about to ear his egg!" The rest seems true.
Parisians came in whole families to admire their sovereign's dexterity with an egg. In an almost religious hush, he would knock the samll end off the egg with a single stroke of his fork.
So that's where Guillotine got the idea.
Here are two sounds that most everyone understood in 1942:
The Beethoven, of course, is dot-dot-dot-dash, or V, or V for Victory. The laugh? Everyone knew the dirty chuckle.
Welcome to The Year of Gildy. We’ll do the four movies over the next few months. Friday’s “LISTEN” will be devoted to the amazing wealth of custom cues the radio show produced, including its charming theme.
The movie doesn’t use the charming theme. Instead it’s this strange thing - an old nursery-rhyme tune that starts quoting Mahler, of all things.
Some basic background: Gildersleeve was one of the first spin-offs in radio. It took its character from Fibber McGee & Molly, and moved him to Summerfield to take care of his niece Marjorie and nephew Leroy. The household had an African-American cook, Birdie. Gildersleeve’s foil-and-friend was Judge Horace Hooker; other recurring characters included Peavey the Druggist, Floyd the Barber, and a procession of women. Trust me: there’s more to it than that, but for the purposes of this installment, that’s what you need to know.
When this movie came out the show had been on the air for two years, and was still a year away from its sudden and gratifying maturation. But it was a hit on radio, and the audience had certain expectations ab out the characters.
At first we meet Judge Hooker, who sounds nothing like the distinctive voice of the radio character. Then we meet Birdie -
- who sounds like Birdie, because she is Birdie. Then we meet the all-America proto-Dennis-the-Menace Leroy . . .
. . . who can’t look like the radio character, since that kid was actually Walter Tetley, a grown-up who did kid voices. So they use Freddie Mercer, known for his angelic voice, and right away we hear Leroy being all artistic and stuff, which the actual character would have scoffed at right away as sissy longhair stuff. The pianist is Judge Hooker’s sister, who had a brief appearance in the radio show as a completely different type of person.
It’s just like Lum & Abner movies. It was entirely possible to be like the radio show. They just didn’t do it. It’s like making a Miami Vice movie in 1986, and Lt. Castillo is Jewish, and Zweitak is a woman.
What works so well is Peary, who was exactly what everyone expected, right down to the hilarious catchphrases:
I never understood why that was supposed to be funny.
Anyway, Aunt Emma shows up to take care of the kids. (Aunt Hattie in the show, but WHO CARES.) Gildersleeve gets enmeshed in a rather labored plot about marrying Judge Hooker’s sister, and naturally this misunderstanding - which could be cleared up in a few sentences - produces a vindictive spasm from the Judge. Why, if Gildersleeve doesn’t marry someone in ten days, he’ll take the children away.
Sure, that would fly. That would stand up in court. It's contrived in a way the show usually avoided - at least in its better days.
So . . . they give Gildersleeve a big build-up, so he's seen as an important man.
Well, it’s short, and gives everyone what they want - and more. Most of the comedy is visual and physical, two things the radio show couldn’t have.
And it shows us Summerfield, which looks like a nice typical studio backlot:
The family's graphic abilities are rather impressive; there's no explanation where they got this.
Here’s something else that audiences would have laughed at in 1942:
Cultural literacy test: why was that supposed to be funny?
By the time this year is over, you're going to know more about this show than you would ever thought you needed to know. But not for reasons you might think.
That'll do for today! Don't miss my Sunday newspaper column! Just click on the Star. You know: The big green Startribune Star.