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Tuesday, April 28 | The Bleat.

Cold rote day. It’s greening up nicely, but when the temps sink to the 40s and 50s it’s like watching a movie with the sound off. Just as well – Mondays are a happy blur of skut work, best done free of distraction. Spent most of the day working on pieces that will be released to the world for absent-minded mastication Tuesday – this included, I suppose.


I meant
to discuss this yesterday: the red brush on the automatic shoe polisher. There’s one of these machines in the bathroom of Orchestra Hall – black brush, red brush. The red one always made me feel as if I didn’t know something important about shoes. Surely there wasn’t a vogue for clown-hued shoes in the 60s and 70s; surely no one put red polish on their brogans; surely people couldn’t have been confused by a brown brush; surely I don’t know what a brogan is, except that it sounds like the sort of footwear favored by a gumshoe, or a detective.

There are two explanations: one, the red was used for buffing. You used the black one for polish; you buffed it with the red. If they’d made the buffing-brush a color that fit your shoe-hues, people would have used it, and that would have made both brushes full of polish. Two: the red brush was for Cordovan polish. I nodded: well, that makes sense. Too bad I don’t know what that is.

There are some shades of Cordovan that lean towards the bright arterial-blood of the brush, but I don’t buy it. Otherwise the brushes would be stained with brown, no? Unless no one has brown shoes in Orchestra Hall, which is likely.

I first encountered the machine at Northport Clothiers in Fargo, a men’s “toggery” – there’s a word that’s gone the way of “bootery” – my father frequented for his sartorial needs. The main salesman knew us all by name, and I can see him now: middle aged, thin, glasses, sort of an Alfred E. Newman shaped head and grin, well-dressed. My childhood memory also places him downtown at Strauss’ menswear; perhaps he worked there as well, or -

Oh, hell, call Dad and see what he says.

Anyway. Northport had one of the shoe polishers, and like all things with a button that does something, it was an object of great delight to the kids. Parents told their kids not to push the button. Why? Because they weren’t shining shoes. Because they would wear it out. Because it’s annoying, somehow. Stop amusing yourself in ways I really cannot object to! Even then the red brush was pristine. Even then it confounded.

By the way, the correct term for the brush is “Bonnet.” The only company that makes them is Beck, and this site says:

Brushes contain no special polishes, and the colors do not designate any particular function.

Case closed. I can sleep.

Just called Dad, said “say, this might sound obscure, but do you remember the fellow who worked at Northport Clothiers, and -”

“Sure, Phil Hoagland.”

Turns out they were contemporaries; Phil’s family also farmed out north, but since they went to different elementary schools, they didn’t know each other until after the war. I asked him if Phil also worked Strauss, and he said he did – might even have worked Siegel’s menswear. Retired, ended up in “an Old Soldier’s home,” and died four years ago, “up in Lisbon.”

I’m pleased to note that “Blue Dahlia” was not only on TV Monday night, but it pushed “Veronica Lake” to #13 on Google Trends. You’ll see more of her today on Black and White World, up around 12:30 or so. Small town website of the Week at buzz.mn at noon, and there’s something on the Lake Pepin monster right now.

 

37 Responses to Tuesday, April 28

  1. micberma says:

    Man, I haven’t seen a shoe polisher in years! I remember running across one at a hotel in Europe. I looked first to see if anyone was watching, then I pressed the button a few times and listened to the soft whirring of the brushes. :-)

  2. Ross says:

    As kids we used to dare each other to run one of those buffers in the old Red Goose shoe store near our house. Great store, that: patient salespeople, wood shelves from floor to extra-high ceiling and a minah bird. No parent in our neighborhood ever had to ask a kid twice to go there for a new pair of shoes. There was also one, I think, at the barbershop my father took us to(Tom & Jerry’s in Wauwatosa–they were both bald, of course).

  3. hpoulter says:

    Dang – how’d I miss “Blue Dahlia”? That’s a great noir and Vernica Lake is easy to look at. Watch for Minneapolis native Noel Neill (Lois Lane) as the hatcheck girl. I couldn’t find a Trek connection.

  4. GardenStater says:

    There was one of those polishers in the men’s room of a place I worked not long ago. It won’t really polish your shoes, but it will take the dust off them.

    Times have changed–I started working in Manhattan in 1982. Back then, EVERY man wore a suit and tie, and polished shoes. I’d go to the bootblack (sorry, just love that word) two or three times a week, and get my shoes shined. It cost about $1.50, and I’d tip the guy a buck. Those babies shone like patent leather. There was a really good shoeshine guy at a place on Madison and 33rd. He was in his late teens/early twenties. If I got there when it wasn’t crowded, he’d spend about ten minutes on my brogans, applying several layers of polish, dressing the heel and sole edges, and making them look like brand new.

    Now I work in the suburbs. There’s literally no place to get your shoes shined. And it doesn’t matter, because “business casual” has taken over. No more suits and ties, no more mirror finish on the shoes.

    I miss those days.

  5. hpoulter says:

    “The Blue Dahlia” will play again on TCM on Fri, May 29, 2009 at 8:45 AM EDT. You can set a reminder on the TCM web site so they ill email you a reminder before they play a film. This is a good one to catch and record because it is NOT available on DVD.

    We watched “Act of Violence” from Netflix this weekend, with Robert Ryan as a limping vet hunting down his old prison camp C.O. played by Van Heflin. Excellent film. Good story and beautiflly photographed, also features an aging Mary Astor (as a jaded B-girl) and a very young Janet Leigh.

  6. boblipton says:

    There is one right now in the men’s locker room of my gym.

    Bob

  7. hpoulter says:

    Shoeshine stand or jaded B-girl?

  8. Terry Fitz says:

    I would have bet my paycheck that the red brush was for buffing. I suppose it’s one of those things that you put together in your head incorrectly and just carry it around with you forever as simple fact. Until a Lileks type comes along and shakes the very foundations of the universe. If I’m wrong about the buffer, what else have I deluded myself about? I recently learned that “index” cards are named not for their function, but for the type of paper they’re made of. Holy smoke. I ended a sentence with a preposition. If the rest of the day goes like this Mr. Lileks will have a lot to answer for. Jeez! Did it again!

  9. hpoulter says:

    ““index” cards are named not for their function, but for the type of paper they’re made of”

    Do you have a source for this? It’s hard to believe. I mean, they were used in card indexes, right? “index” is the name for the first finger (like “pollex” is the thumb), so it descibes how you would flip through a file card drawer.

  10. Dianna says:

    i had just taken a large sip of coffee when I read hpoulter’s last comment. what is the best way to dry off my keyboard?

  11. Dianna says:

    oops, guess it’s the second to last comment

  12. GardenStater says:

    I prefer a jaded B-girl that gives shoeshines. Two birds, one stone, etc.

  13. Terry Fitz says:

    Re: index cards. The factoid was delivered by a paper expert at a company training session. Who knows if she was correct? Here is a link to a website that supports it, but doesn’t prove it. Could still be a chicken / egg thing. Check the table.

  14. margaret says:

    I think the named the paper after the function. The paper is just a light cardstock.

  15. Terry Fitz says:

    oops. this time with link re: index cards…http://glossary.ippaper.com/default.asp?req=knowledge/article/235

  16. Patrick says:

    Living in the land of Turner, I pass by a large LCD screen near the Turner Complex that displays ads for the various Turner-owned channels, like CNN, Headline News, Cartoon Network, TBS, and of course TCM. I always look forward to the TCM ad, to see what movie’s airing tonight. I nearly cause a wreck slowing down and craning my neck to try to see it in the sideview or rearview mirror. Sometimes I pass by the screen on the way in to work at the precise moment the ad shows up, but on the way home it’s always touch and go. That’s how I found out about the Chuck Jones special they aired a few weeks ago, along with some of his cartoons, albeit not his better ones, with the exception of “What’s Opera, Doc?” and “The Dot and The Line: A Romance In Lower Mathematics” and “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” about a week ago.

  17. Nancy says:

    LOL! “I nearly cause a wreck slowing down and craning my neck to try to see it in the sideview or rearview mirror. Sometimes I pass by the screen on the way in to work at the precise moment the ad shows up, but on the way home it’s always touch and go. ”

    So YOU are the one! I have always suspected that might contribute to the perpetual “mystery jam” on the cnnector.

  18. Bill McNutt says:

    I recall a McDonald’s commercial a few years back. Utterly dominating the kid and parents-with-kids market, they wanted to modify their image to try to capture some of the adult professional market. So they dressed Ronald in a business suit and had him do a few commercials.

    One such commercial involved two guys chatting in an executive men’s room about the shoe polisher. As many of us have done, they remarked on just what the red polisher was for. Just then, an enormous clown shoe appears and gets the red polisher applied to it. Camera pans back to Ronald McDonald in a business suit with clown shoes.

    He nods, says, “Gentlemen,” and lets himself out of the men’s room.

    Cute ad, and, I think, the only successful part of the campeign.

    And since I can’t find a copy of that ad on youtube, I have selected a Japanese McDonald’s ad at random for your amusement.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gr6Wwb6Std0

    Bill McNutt
    http://willstuff.wordpress.com

  19. DaveInAz says:

    Broadcasting the Blue Dahlia at 8:45 AM?! That’s just sick and wrong. I can’t do noir before breakfast.

  20. Does anyone else ever notice that it seems that your parents know EVERYONE in your town. Drive down any street in East Sacramento with my Mother and she’ll point out that “Marilyn used to live in that house until they moved over to River Park. They sold it to the Jensesns who owned Capitol butchers”. She’s either Wiki-Mom, or Mom-i-pedia.

    I used to work for Georgia Pacific in a paper distribution subsidiary and recall fondly that we sold pallets and pallets of Bristol 110lbs Index card stock 36 X 48. White was of course de rigeur, but canary and sky blue were movers too.

  21. hpoulter says:

    “can’t do noir before breakfast”

    That’s why God invented the DVR.

    Or, if you are really webby, you can find binary versions of the movie on Usenet binary newsgroups or Torrent feeds.

  22. hpoulter says:

    Whoops – I take it back – it’s not out there (yet), because it has never been on DVD to copy.

  23. LindaL says:

    I’m a bit surprised that our genial host either didn’t attend or failed to mention the rally in support of Principal Cadotte from his daughter’s school:

    http://www.startribune.com/local/43835317.html?elr=KArksUUUycaEacyU

  24. Ron Ramblin says:

    Dremel used to have those shoe polishers in their catalog at least 15 years ago.

    I just had a memory flash. There was one in one of my dad’s friends offices and I always wanted to give it a whirl. I doubt I ever got the chance to press the button on the handlebar. I imagined attaching wheels to the rollers and riding it like a scooter. I could have invented the segway at age 7. I wonder if I can file for intelectual property.

  25. DaveInAz says:

    Well, yeah, I could, and probably will. But still, that’s like broadcasting The Twilight Zone at 8 AM or Monday Night Football on Tuesday at noon or waking up to your radio alarm at 6 AM playing “Stairway to Heaven”.

    There is a time for every purpose under heaven. (Turn, turn, turn.)

  26. roger h (bgbear) says:

    The factoid was delivered by a paper expert at a company training session

    If they were from Dunder-Mifflin or Wernham-Hogg, I would have my doubts about the accuracy of the information.

    Speaking of noir, I saw a good one last night on TCM that I never heard of called “The Dark Corner” (1946) with Lucille Ball as the detective’s secretary. Good story and lots of noir stuff like stairwells, shadows, venation blinds, and guys in hats.

  27. jeischen says:

    Count me in as another who thought the black brush was for shining and the red was for buffing. There was one in the barber shop (the high-classed one where the local bankers and lawyers went) my mom took me to as a kid. That barber shop also had Playboy magazine (inserted in a dark, hard plastic magazine cover so as not to offend the devout) for perusal for the patrons. Ross, we had a Red Goose shoe store for kids in my hometown. They also sold Buster Brown and Keds brands. I remember you would get a golden egg with some kind of prize inside with every purchase. Just checked e-bay and there was all kinds of old Red Goose advertising merchandise for sale, including the toy prizes.

  28. HelloBall says:

    Rats. Roger beat me to my comment about paper factoids from Michael Scott. Stupid work!

  29. DryOwlTacos says:

    Bristol and index are comparable weights of cardstock. Index is polished a little and bristol is not.

    Ancient childhood recollection: my uncle had his very own shoe polisher, because he was my Rich Uncle (to my dad’s unending bitterness). I recall that it had both a black and a red one. I thought maybe the black one was for his shoes and the red was for my aunt’s shoes. She was Rich, too, after all.

  30. ProfessorSteve says:

    Mr. Lileks,

    Not related to this post, but thought you might find this dissection of the symbols of the Unilever Logo interesting. Meaningfulness aside, I still think it’s ugly!

    http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=pt&u=http://www.cidadedoslogos.com/news/&ei=Izn3SajeEaDmtQPWhpThDg&sa=X&oi=translate&resnum=1&ct=result&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dhttp://www.cidadedoslogos.com/news/%26hl%3Den%26safe%3Doff%26client%3Dsafari%26rls%3Den

  31. Nixmom says:

    LindaL–I was surprised as well. Kept looking in the background of the news footage last night to see if I could spot him.

  32. ProfessorSteve says:

    Drat!!

    I just checked the link posted above, and you have to go back about 5 pages to get to the right one with the Unilever logo – can’t figure out a way to directly link it – possibly has to do with Google translating from Portuguese.

    My apologies.

  33. Bill McNutt says:

    You know, now that DryOwlTaco mentions it, I think my paternal grandfather had one, too. And he was VERY MUCH working class.

    Bill
    http://willstuff.wordpress.com

  34. bellczar says:

    Hey, I am one of the few people who has actually used index cards to make an index. Of my record collection. It had about 6000 cards (one per song) when I converted to computer. Now there are 22,416 songs. That would be a lot of cards!

  35. Harry Bosch says:

    For your information a ‘gumshoe’ is a detective. You must bone up on Mickey Spillane.

  36. Ross says:

    roger h(bgbear):
    I, too, _love_ “The Dark Corner”. The young Ms. Ball was extremely sultry and still worth watching as a performer. I’m sure I’ll be stoned publicly for saying this, but I hold that just the reverse of the the standard rhetoric about Lucille Ball is true: you usually hear all about how she never made it as a movie star because the studios didn’t know what to do with her, but when she got to do her own thing on TV, blah, blah, blah. I say she was right where she should be in noir and as a smart-mouthed, hot friend in comedy(sort of the thinking man’s world-weary veteran trouper). The fact that the studio didn’t get enough public reaction to really push her as a star just means she was “too hip for the room”, a fact borne out by the later mindless mass adulation for all that completely unfunny mugging she did on TV. Frankly, it’s a wonder she isn’t on French currency, considering how they took to Lewis, the king of that style.
    jeischen:
    You’re right–Red Goose always had the strangely dated (read: exotic, if you’re a curious kid) BB/Keds mascots in the window alcove. And I forgot about the eggs completely. Probably because my chances to get shoes there were pretty quickly ended by Kinney’s(they were cheaper & I’m the youngest, & though the Red Goose staff said they didn’t mind when we quieter kids stopped in to trade “hello”s w/the minah, Mom didn’t want us bugging them when she couldn’t count on still shopping there). Maybe I’ll take a gander(sorry) at that stuff on EBay. Thanks for the tip(although I loathe bidding on things–name your price & either I’ll buy or I won’t. Yeesh).

  37. Humbledaisy says:

    The red/burgundy/black color is oxblood. According to the guys over at TheFedoraLounge.com, it’s the best shoe color EVER. They must not get out much.

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