Sunday was quite peculiar – lovely, once the violence stopped. A hot day followed by an angry storm; sirens, meanacing winds, boiling clouds, tornados, wall clouds, the whole magilla. The TV news overhyped it, of course; even after the threat of tornadic activity had passed the weatherpersons couldn’t lose the grim sound of DOOM in their voices. Switch to a man in the field, holding – are you getting this? Do you see it? – a handful of hail. Hail! It fell right out of the sky! “The winds have died down and the rain is ended, but we don’t know how long that will last,” he shouted. Hey: the storm has passed. It’s not going to double back and pounce again. Back to the newsroom, where a fellow was reading dispatches: “Four-inch thick tree brances down on Lexington.” Stop the presses. Back to a another guy in the field, who gave away his out-of-town origins by referring to the highway as “the 35W.” No one around here says that. It’s 35W, not the 35W.

From nervous cloud-watching to boredom and low comedy in half an hour. The storm had passed by sunset, and then the world shone with an unearthly light out of a Turner painting. Birdsong; rumblings in the distance; cue the fourth movement of the Pastoral.

I sat by the big TV, since the storm was obscuring the satellite’s reception; glad I had them put a local antennae on the dish. Read the rest of the book about Rockefeller Center. Final verdict: pass. It springs to life now and then, but it’s dragged down whenever a Rockefeller enters the story, which is frequently. But it had some interesting details. The ushers at Radio City Music Hall had their fingernails inspected before each shift – even though they all wore gloves. (White gloves, of course.) The opening night of the Hall was a complete disaster, an interminable program that stretched until 2 AM. The New Yorker magazine took potshots at the complex all through its construction, with E. B. White noting he would trade the place for a simple Beer Garden in Central Park. (There’s one in every era, isn’t there?) (He later made his peace with the place, though.) The sections dealing with Roxy were good enough, since Roxy was one of those force-of-nature impresarios who blow through once a decade. He was a Minnesotan, as was one of the center’s main designer, Deskey. You know the latter’s work, even if you don’t know the man. (He also designed the Crest toothpaste tube. And this is interesting: the guy who did the interiors for Radio City Music Hall is dead, very dead - but the firm he founded has a website, No link because it's dull.)

The head usher wore a tux, even though he was never in contact with the public. Why? Because you behave the way you’re dressed, of course, just like the crispness of your behavior is subtly reinforced by the knowledge that your fingernails are clean beneath your white gloves. Bill Stern – hmm, that name sounded familiar. Why? Because, as the book later noted, he was also a radio broadcaster.

Here’s his jingle for his Colgate-sponsored show. I love the way the singers appear to be walking across hot coals to spell Colgate.

Friday night I was watching “City Lights,” the merits of which I’m not going to go into here. (Except to say that the famous ending is still a heart-wrencher – AND perhaps one of the most flagrant examples of self-love the screen has ever seen.) There’s a nightclub scene in which a man dressed like a criminal strangles a woman and throws her around: very violent. Very. But it reminded me of something: one of those ah-ha moments when you swear your hands would find a hot light bulb if you waved them above your head.

Here’s the Chaplin:

And here’s what I was reminded of:

That’s a still from “Woodland Café,” a Disney Silly Symphony. (Flipped for emphasis.) It’s a dance from a nightclub populated entirely by insects. (And arachnids.) The violence of the scene seemed bizarre and out of place in the cartoon, but now I know what they were doing: it’s an Apache Dance, which concerns a French pimp beating up a prostitute. Hence the striped shirt, the hat. The pimp in the Chaplin film is smoking; the Disney bug was smoking before the girl bug slapped it out of his mouth. Enjoy, kiddies! (A brief history of the Apache dance here.)

I had a devious plan when I suggested that the Prof take some time off; if he took the bait I could do the same and say I was just following his lead. But I have to take time off. True story: if I did not take this week off at the paper, I would start to lose vacation days. Because I never take vacation days. Not because I am some Working Machine that is Loathe to Rest, but because I feel guilty taking vacations. I’m serious. My work schedule is very elastic; I don’t have to go to meetings, I don’t have to punch the clock, I don’t have to have my butt in a chair between certain hours. The columnist’s life, free as a bird. So in those circumstances there isn’t any excuse for not writing all my columns. I’m serious. So I never take time off. But if now my highflown principles have collided directly with economic reality, and I will lose money if I don’t STOP WORKING. So there’s nothing in the paper next week.

Then I got to thinking: well. Why not take the week off for real. But what of my – and brace yourself, I’m about to coin a word so inevitable it may spread, and you’ll find yourself sick of it shortly – what of my blogligations? Answer: I spent some freetime this weekend cooking up a large batch of additions. Tomorrow, many many matches; Wednesday and Thursday a horrible update to the Big Little Books site, and Friday some long-overdue additions to the Engraveyard. Most of all I look forward to a week away from writing about anything topical. I am in full Python Gumby mode. My brain hurts.

Anyway, more to come; see you tomorrow.

No! Wait! There’s more! Gnat pictures. There. Now I’m done.



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