A former co-worker died while I was in Europe at the end of the summer. It was a surprise when I heard the news. Usual scant details: he hadn’t been well.
He left the paper during one of the shuddering downsizings. When he was cleaning out his desk - a messy heap of silverfish bait like most of the newspaper desks at the old place - he asked I wanted this big box of old recipe books. The stuff from which the Gallery of Regrettable Food had been built. Why - why yes! And over the years I’ve added the best ones, and I’ve more to add in 2018. They will be noted with a particularly important designation:
From the Al Sicherman Collection.
The collection being a box under his desk, but a collection nevertheless.
I’d run into him once after he left, somewhere. He was the same: Shorter than me, always in a state of manic dishabille, always cheerful with a nervy edge. Imagine Groucho with a lot of Harpo. He was always nice to me, and was one of the first people at the paper to welcome me aboard and say welcoming things with some exaggerated remarks about what a madhouse I had joined. Which was remarkable, because I was treading on his territory. He wrote for the food section, but he was primarily a humorist, and I was coming in to plow the same furrow.
The memorial was held Wednesday night, and I got to see a lot of people who’d peeled away during the buyouts. The Old Guard. Reminded me that I feel utterly in between the demographics of the office - I’m approaching Old Guard status at 20 years, and the bright young things have little interest in how the paper was back in the old days of 1997.
Should they? Yes, because Newspapers are not like Insurance Offices. The events of the age roll through a newspaper office like no other business, except perhaps a big stonking market crash. But no, because really, there’s not that much to say.
Why, in my day we’d crank up the ATEX and bang out our copy on keyboards that required strong, sturdy hands to press a key. We had save-gets, or macros as you’d call ‘em now - all aligned on a Function pad engrimed with sweat. Honest newspaper sweat. Green letters on black screens, that’s all we had, and we liked it. Would you like to hear about wall coffee? We had coffee, comin’ out of the wall, in two silver pipes. Hot as Hades, kept you up all night.
Eh. I was there and I’m not nostalgic for it. I sat next to a couple of Old Guarders and felt them winding down, pulling inward, caring less.
But not Al. He kept writing, and he kept up his standards - couldn’t do otherwise; he was just one of those friendly writers the readers loved. I wonder why he left, though. The deal must have been good.
I can’t imagine the deal they would put on the table that would make me stop writing for a newspaper.
Here’s the thing: google his name, and the obits are first. I suppose that’s how it works, but you have to go past the obits to find the blog he started a year ago. He bought a domain.
A year or so, maybe three, it’ll lapse.
He turned out so material before the internet came along, and it’s buried in static captures of webpages in the archives. His work won’t be lost, but it won’t be accessible.
It would be great if a lot of his stuff could be put up on the internet, preferably under the corporate banner which ensures a measure of, well, temporary permanence, but. People are busy.
Scanning columns and posting them as jpgs isn’t the answer; that always puts up a hand between the material and the reader, makes them look like scrolls from an ancient age. Even though at the time it was the most direct conduit to the author we had: fresh words in a paper on your doorstep.
In the future, history will begin around 2003. Because they have evidence. Before that? Mists and rumors. 404s on the Wayback Machine.
It reminded me that I came in at the end of an era at the paper; it seemed much looser and collegial in the 70s and 80s, like the Daily of the same era. Then something happened to papers; it’s as if they pumped soporific drugs into the atmosphere. Part of it might have been better surroundings - newer desks, partitions, a more professional appearance. Part of it may have been the switch to computers - there’s something about the clack-clack of typewriters, along with the haze of cigarette smoke, that makes a place feel like a true newspaper, not an information dissemination facility.
It was a mess in 47.
But you could go upstairs and enjoy the sun with all the gals from the steno pool. If we had a steno pool. Most likely they were from circ, with a few Torchy Blanes working the Women’s Section.
Anyway. The memorial - which was mostly laughter, as people told old Al stories - was held in the ballroom built next to the Van Husen Mansion. I’ve driven past countless times, and was stunned to think I’d never noticed this castle.
Mr. Van Husen made his money in grain, and put it to good use.
You want to talk about the 1%? This was when there was the 1%. For all the ornate detail, there were spaces that had had that abtract look I like:
Rational and civilized. The staircase rises up under a stained-glaass window that might be a reconstruction - the place fell to ruin for a while, and was pilfered by the usual miscreants.
Now it's available for events and weddings. The number of spaces like this in America exceed what you probably think, and while they're all a testament to the wealth of the men who built them, they're also creations of great beauty that eventually overshadowed their patrons. The money came and went, but for a while enough passed through the hands of certain people and this happened.
Make something good that survives you, that's the job.
Finn is copyrighted, you know.
He leads a zombie army of faceless crackers, and has a scarecrow hat to symbolize his identification with the purportedly spooky silouette on the hill.
This is the exact same box design they used in 2015. Yes, I keep records of such things.
Wacky nerd dog's oversized head makes him fall over unless he grips the pumpkin:
The adddition of nocturnal winged creatures makes it spooky, along with the pumpkins and the half-moon above the I in the product's name. These indicate TERROR IN SPONGY MUFFIN FORM.
I have no idea why there's a can of "Little Bites" in the corner, , or why the artist thought it would be great to make the chocolate chips look as if they are some growth that will start wiggling around, the tip of a tentacle mindless searching for prey.
We’re always interested in doppelgänger towns, aren’t we? Same name, different place. There’s a Minneapolis in Kansas, and someday I’ll get around to it. This week . . . Fargo.
Fargo, Oklahoma. Wikipedia: " The population was 364 at the 2010 census. Fargo, like many towns in the region, has never fully recovered from the Dust Bowl years."
I think the pictures bear this out.
No, I don't think it's booming.
“Can you get the car through the front door? No? Can’t help you.
Triplets, dozing in the old folk’s home.
Detail: big-box front door with a faux stained-glass window, strange blind, the word “Cash” written in small letters.
The Elevator: skyscrapers of the plains.
Really, I don’t know what else to say here. There’s almost nothing about which one can comment.
Boarded-up busted window, stuff jumbled in the store.
But is that a piece of ornamentation up there? It is.
Yes: Masons. You’d think that would be the cornerstone, since that seems like a Masony sort of thing.
Dead bank, I'd guess:
Time has erased the sidewalks, as it will do. They can take the weight of a million feet, but are helpless against time. Or perhaps the road receded?
No one’s here anymore. No goes here anymore. There’s nothing here for anyone to go to.
“Boss, I just got tired. Got down to the bottom of the door and my back hurt. I quit. Just didn’t see the point.”
The burger company came in and built a new restaurant, and the dad gummed thing just sunk.
The sign over the door says “Community Building.”
The remnants of the slanted roof from the bygone building still cling to its neighbor.
There’s a door on the second floor but I don’t think they’re worried anyone will walk through it.
If you look at it one way, the right side looks like it could be an angled front.
And that’s Fargo.
The other one.
That'll do; see you around.
Motels await you!