Re: yesterday’s notes about not being up on the news - meaning, declining to put your face in front of the information firehose every four minutes - I was reading an article in the New York Times about what it was like to get your information from a newspaper for a few months instead of social media. The author said he was calmer, and more informed: the articles always came out the day after something happened, so there was time to compile and consider, rewrite and rethink.
By some amusing coincidence the paper he read was the NYT, but in general he’s on to something. The only question is whether something devoted to such an ancient timeframe as yesterday can survive in the era of Hot Takes, and I’m not sure it can. Newspapers will turn into online-only, eventually, and online is ruled by the merciless metrics of the clicks. Stories that don’t get enough eyeballs get yanked off the homepage. Sensationalism will rule!
Again! in other words. This story is a hundred years old. Clickbait - or, if you wish, given the price of old papers, Pennybait - was the norm for decades. I’ve been spending about two hours a day for the last fortnight looking through old newspapers from various eras, and the pre-war stuff is . . . feisty. KIDNAP GIRL TAKES POISON in huge letters - the top story. WILL YOU BE NEXT as an inch-high banner headline, talking about auto carnage. (Nothing much was happening, so the paper ginned up a three-day series of stories about auto wrecks.) The immediate post-war period is pretty hard-boiled, too, but around the middle of the 50s this stultifying blandness sets in, and it seeped in deep, into the marrow of the industry. The papers were informative, considered, sober - and by modern eyes, dreadfully dull.
Someone who decides to go tabloid, and make it smart, could save print.
For a while, anyway.
Things I have been doing to break up the routine and shake out of things and attempt to clamber out of the 42-foot trench that has been steadily deepening for the last year as the end of daily parenthood grows nigh without pity:
New Breakfasts. This was a revelation. For years I have had the exact same breakfast, because it has the desired flavor profile. A bowl of Raisin Bran, because it provides Bran and Raisins. It’s a metaphor for life, too! At first you get mostly flakes, but as time goes on your experience deepens and gets richer, and you are rewarded with more raisins. Eventually the bowl is about 40% raisins and you’re sick of them, and vow to shake up the box every morning in the future. But you forget.
Then a sausage with sriracha sauce; this cuts the sweetness, provides a bit of heat to conclude the meal, and then it’s coffee upstairs before the screens to work.
BTW, I never regret waking up. I’m always glad, even if I don’t feel entirely rested. There’s an immediate reward to come: breakfast, and coffee. To repeat a previously stated adage: I don’t have coffee to wake up, I wake up to have coffee.
So what if - bear with me, this is tectonic - what if I had something else for breakfast now and then? I have elaborate weekend breakfasts that have everything I want - scrambled eggs with cheese and peppers, sausage, hash browns, half a bagel. Perfect. But what if I threw in one of those prefab Jimmy Dean Bowls? Dessicated steak, potatoes, Tangy Sauce, peppers?
Downside: it takes, like, FIVE WHOLE MINUTES to nuke, but it was worth it, inasmuch as it was different. The next day, of course, I scurried back to habit, but the next day I had this Evil sausage-gouda-egg sandwich thing I’d bought for my wife. She didn’t want it; they’re all bland, she said.
“Not if you add flaming sauces that hurt you later,” I said, but that didn’t sway her. So I tried it - mmm! Bland! But different! Dip it in harissa.
This may not be entirely surprising to you, since you might have noticed this blog is rigorously programmed, but I just as I know Scoop is on Tuesday I know what I will have for lunch on Thursday. So here’s my daring, break-the-mold, caution-to-the-wind plan: what if I scheduled breakfast the same way I scheduled lunch?
So that’s one way life has opened up. The second:
While I have been dragging my feel horribly on dropping the next novel, and am tempted to just put it out there even though there are ragged spots and stuff that probably needs fixing, well, it will be out on April 1st. I say this because I want the next one to be ready next April, and if there’s to be a next one, I had better start it.
I have. A planned sequel to “Casablanca Tango” has been shelved for a while, because if I’m really doing a series of novels about Minneapolis as told through its newspapers, I have to do the 20s. I’ve done the 80s: the Daily, a college paper (Graveyard Special) I’ve done the mid-80s, a free weekly. (Falling Up the Stairs) Casablanca Tango was a 40s tabloid; Morocco Alley - which is a humorous scream about the end of print - is about newspapers in the mid-2000s. The new novel is set in 1927- 1929, and reflects all the study I’ve done of the era the past few years.
Here’s how I know I’m on the beam. Every night’s writing session ends with a prompt, so the next day I know what to do. The last prompt: reporter gets off the streetcar at the Foshay Tower site to talk to the foreman about the two men who fell off a girder that morning. I expected the scene to be about that. When I picked it up, it turned into a conversation with the callow guard controlling access to the construction site, and out of nowhere a name comes up that ties together Graveyard, Casablanca, Morocco, and this one.
The best thing a writer can say when they’re writing a novel: I did not see that one coming.
AND NOW, from the Dept. of Misc., our Thursday feature:
A reminder that most of the movies they made in the 20s were minor, and probably lost. This is from a 1922 movie magazine, detailing the exciting features coming soon to your town.
That's quite the scorch. Not enough that it doesn't look like college - which is now so entrenched in the culture it's "dear old college life" now- they have to give the story a rather convincing dismissal.
Charles Ray was the director as well. IMDB:
Ray portrayed simple unaffected country bumpkins in silent rural melodramas. Unfortunately, Ray let Hollywood turn him into a headstrong egotist. Alienating most producers, he put up his own money to finance a major feature called The Courtship of Myles Standish (1923). The film was a miserable failure that wiped out Ray's fortune. Comeback attempts were hampered by the advent of the sound picture.
Doesn't seem as if people in the business liked him. Alas:
In 1943, an impacted tooth became infected and Ray died from it at the age of 52, almost completely forgotten by the public whose attention he had commanded so surely twenty years earlier.
Does this look like a railroad picture? Because it's a railroad picture.
As for Ms Griffith:
In 1966 she filed for an annulment from her fourth husband, Broadway actor Danny "Call Me Mister" Scholl. They had only been married a few days. In court, she testified that she was not Corinne Griffith. She claimed that she was the actresses' younger (by twenty years) sister who had taken her place upon the famous sister's death. Contradicting testimony by actresses Betty Blythe and Claire Windsor , who had both known her since the twenties, did not shake her story.
Whoa. She kept up the story for years, too. But don't think she was unbalanced: after the talkies killed her career, she went into real estate and wrote books. At her deathin 1979 she was worth $150 mil, and was one of the richest women on the planet.
I'm sorry, but of course I think of the Nick Lowe song:
She was at her peak and still heading upwards; dying alone of malnutrition and barbituate additction was but 15 years away. IMDB page on the movie here, if you're interested.
It's possible the reviewer didn't actually see the picture:
IMDB says he was quite successful, but there's scant biographical information. This matters:
The handsome, dashing matinee idol introduced two classic sleuths to the screen: The Lone Wolf and Boston Blackie
That's like being the first Spade and first Marlowe. Alas:
His career declined with the advent of sound pictures.
An extinction-level event.
Welcome to Jesup! We’re probably not missing another S.
History: "By February 1869, Willis Clary had begun building a two-story hotel near the junction of Macon and Brunswick Railroad and the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad and four stores had sprung up in the area. Clary became a driving force for the establishment of what would become Jesup and was its first mayor."
Label scar: check. Ornamental lighting with brackets for the colorful banners announcing something: check. Sickly tree: check.
Empty store: check.
Not A Berry Patch; THE Berry Patch. The 50s / early 60s facade is quite attractive - no, really, it is. These things modernized an old downtown, brought a new spirit.
If I had to bet whether the Berry Patch was the original store after the remodeling, I’d be hesitant to say it was, and hesitant to say it wasn’t. The lettering suggests it was.
"Let's go downtown to shop! You can see so many shingles."
YES. The O’Quinn building.
But what the devil was it built to hold? What’s that peculiar entrance?
The primary tenant of the the O’Quinn Building, the Strand Theatre opened in 1924 with 894 seats. Theatre builders of this time typically rented space adjoining their theatres as it was considered prime real estate. The Strand was transformed into a two-screen theatre in 1988 and closed in 2009.
Missing some terra-cotta, alas:
It's a dinner theater now.
There was an older building underneath,but it wasn’t anything special.
When the tiles start falling off and no one puts them back up, it sends a signal that contradicts the trees. If you know what I mean.
Spot the strange, myserious pole!
Next door: a mummy.
GO AWAY WE DON'T SELL ANVILS
It doesn’t take long to figure out what’s odd, and wonder what’s going on here.
If you can explain those windows, you no doubt possess some rarified knowledge of the times. I'm baffled.
Around the corner. It’s been gone a long time, but the scar hasn’t healed.
Finally: this sums up many a small-town downtown, unfortunately.
It’s the pot placed just so that makes me smile, though.
Thursday already! Good Lord. Well, enjoy; see you tomorrow with who knows what. Friday's always a mess - er, a delightful potpourri of accumulated whatziz. See you around.
BTW: working title for the 20s novel: The Angel Dance.