I haven’t been out shopping all week. Big deal; I know. What a momentous development. But usually I make a trip in the middle of the week, and it gets me out, gives me that familiar and comforting knowledge that I have provisioned. It turns out that it’s not necessary every week, and that calls everything into question. God! Country! The ineffable sense that there is a purpose to the universe! I mean, if I can accept the fact that we don’t have a month of Bounty Towels and go on as if this won’t cause a problem in a fortnight, what other strange beliefs will infect me? What other things I held with such clenched certainty are just a construct that got me through the day?
It’s enough to make a man drink. Oh, but is there anything to drink? I didn’t go provisioning. (Yes, there is enough to drink.)
It is good now and then to revisit your beliefs, your convictions - take them off the shelf, blow away the dust, hold them up to the light, and say: do I hold on to this out of habit, or am I correct in some way that is mutable but still has a firm core? This is a figurative description, of course, although it would be nice if we actually had beliefs on a shelf somewhere, with labels. Eventually you’d notice one you didn’t quite feel the same way about, and then it would go to the Goodwill with the old sweaters whose cuffs are too wide.
Does that happen to you? Perfectly good sweaters in every respect, but apparently I walk around thrusting up my sweater sleeves to indicate I am about to get something done, and after a few months I look like the Yellow Kid.
You know the Yellow Kid, right? Bald ginchy little slum-dweller who was one of the first cartoon characters. I have discovered some previously unknown Yellow Kid cartoons in a digitized Google Books copy of a 1896 magazine aimed at the clothing industry. I went through every page of the pdf - hundreds of them - looking for interesting ads with interesting stories, and there was nothing but collars and buttons and hats, with a few details that remind you nothing changes. One of the ads was stark, and began “we will not discuss politics,” as if you had expected a shirt-maker to endorse a candidate. But:
The United States presidential election of November 3, 1896, saw Republican William McKinley defeat Democrat William Jennings Bryan in a campaign considered by historians to be one of the most dramatic and complex in American history.
The 1896 campaign is often considered by political scientists to be a realigning election that ended the old Third Party System and began the Fourth Party System.
In other words, everyone was absolutely vibrating with politics, and everyone who cared was a hairbreadth away from throwing their cigar on the floor and punching the other guy, provided both had paused to push their sleeves up. The times were so fraught that a shirt-maker made an ad that said “we’re not taking sides. Gold, Free Silver, Tariffs - leave that for another day.
Another shirt-maker offered shirts for the McKinley side and shirts for the Bryan side, assuring the buyers that they were of equal quality. One company saw a market in remaining neutral; another saw money in selling to the faithful.
Whether anyone in 1907 passed their shelf and saw the ideals of 1897, neatly labeled, and wondered A) if they still believed, and B) if it mattered anymore, I can’t say; passions unravel. But you end up fighting the new battles with the ideals of the old ones, which makes you wise - you have context - and disadvantaged, unless you’re supple enough to adapt and revise.
The more specific and relevant your ideals are, the less likely you are to modify them. The deeper and simpler they are, the more likely you are to adjust. But it’s the people who have the deepest and simplest principles who are out of favor in hot-head times. The old ideas are like the face of an old forebearer, staring down in sepia-hued disapproval.
All I knew about McKinley when I was in grade school was that he was president, and he got shot, so they named our school after him. They named all the schools in Fargo after Presidents, except for Ben Franklin Junior High, and he was sorta president. When Central High School burned down they built two new modern schools: North, and South. Not a lot of imagination there, but it made sense. They used the same plans for both. It was odd going to school knowing there was a parallel universe-version on the South side. All the post-wr grade schools were built with the same scheme - low-slung, glass blocks, minimal ornamentation, presidential names.
All those presidents did president things, which meant they sat in the White House and signed bills and occasionally fought a war, and they shook hands and were upright, calm, wise, sober, and just. And all the people of the day were the same.
The past was a settled matter, and it was full of adults who built things and endured things and settled things and discovered things and invented things. It was good to be here now in the country they made.
I think all the ideas I have on the shelf came from that time. I swept them away and put them in a box when I entered my twenties, but I had nothing to put in their place, and eventually they reappeared. Today while driving daughter to work we were having a conversation about school shootings. I was talking about Fargo when I was young, how this simply didn’t happen, how there were guns in everyone’s rumpus room, or at least dad’s drawer, because chances are he was in WW2 or Korea. How my dad taught me about guns and how I learned to shoot and learned that I didn’t want to. She was telling me that Fargo of my childhood is no longer applicable, and I suppose she’s right - but that hardly means there’s nothing to learn. It’s one thing to examine the ideas on the shelf and put a few in a box, or push them to the back row - but what if, just what if, someone else came along and swept them to the floor with one broad gesture and said they were doing everyone a favor?
What if everything that happened before wasn’t a never-ending indictment but a series of lessons imperfectly learned? What if every fulminating, bitter, self-righteous tweeter and tumblrer calling down the harpies on someone who was insufficiently adjusted to the new intellectual parameters of the day wasn’t the best person to judge the entirely of Western Civ?
What would happen if we looked at the past with honesty, yes, but also gratitude and a tincture of forgiveness? Would it not be easier to get things done if there was at least one ideal on the shelf we all shared?
Wouldn’t it be great if I could tie this to “not going to Target enough” and bring it all home? But nah, I’m just typing and seeing where it goes.
Yes, it's the return of Lance Lawson! All new strips! New in the sense that they're frm 1948, but weren't posted before.
This is so 1948-specific I defy anyone to figure it out. Also, i've no idea why Lance is involved in this.
An early sci-fi show - tales told in future tense, as the overly dramatic announcer put it.
Number 2 sounds like an old Star Trek cue. Number 3 has John William's new Star Wars Evil cue.
The "George" character is an alien whose species has killed everyone on earth, but doesn't understand mortality, because it's science fiction.
Instead of the swank old sounds of Goodwill albums, this year we're going to share bad 1960s pop music. The second- and third-tier tunes.
Last week we heard a teen tell Mr. White his daughter was hot. This week it's time to annoy Mrs. Green.
Well, thank you! Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you've enjoyed your visits. See you Monday.