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JOE returns Ap. 6
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(note: it's late and hence this is unedited. No time; the book calls.)

I had to grin when reading this City Pages article (link goes to Chad The Elder's summation & commentary) about overprotective parents, since the author goes to the same place I go with Gnat. It’s a gigantic multi-level play structure, and yes, I am frequently one of the parents who tags along with the kid; I imagine from a distance I might seem like one of those overprotective sorts who cannot let the kid just go and play. Truth is, I’d prefer to sit in the bleachers and read a book, but Gnat begs me to come up and do the slide with her, so I negotiate my way up three stories o tunnels and ramps and bridges. I can see the advantage of giving her a walkie-talkie – that thing is huge and complex, and sometimes I look up from my book and have no idea where she is, and to this date that still produces a small bright squirt of unease. Like most parents, if I could implant a transporter relay under her skin that allowed me to beam her right here in front of me right now, young lady, I would. But you have to let them get lost, too. Lost by your standards, anyway. Rarely by theirs.

When I was a kid the summer meant many things – sleeping late and watching bad game shows, but it also meant leaving the house for hours, exploring the town on my bike. It meant taking the gravel road beyond the waste treatment plant to go down by the stinky river, and never once fearing a hobo would rise up from the brush and clamp a hand over your mouth; it meant twilight rides around the campus a few dozen blocks south, pedaling home up 8th street in the velvet heat of a summer night. It meant walking downtown on Saturdays with my best friend to buy donuts and comic books, and sitting on the curb to review your acquisitions. It meant freedom.

Nowadays we trade freedom for experience – better that the kid have New Experiences under close safe supervision than they wander off into the world. For the world isn’t round, after all. It just looks that way from space. It’s square and it has edges and sometimes people fall off and that’s the last you hear from them. A million kids will run outside to play tomorrow and all but one will stay clear of the edge. Do you want to take that chance? You want to be the one parent today who looks up from the sink and sees the black and white in the driveway?

But there’s nothing you can about the kid who gets his heart kicked and shunned and stabbed from day one, grows up compressing his rage into a tight dense knot, gets a taste of evil – rolls it around on his tongue – likes the taste, and starts to drink it the way you drink Coke. There’s nothing you can do – the same circumstances might have produced a jackass who kicks the dog for sport but keeps his finger off the trigger, or a fellow dead to all emotion, or a man who takes the collar and preaches in the ghetto. Sometimes you get the killers. But these things are comets, as rare as the horrible days where some kid sees the sharp crease where the square edge of the world falls away. Dwell on these things and you’ll go mad yourself. Resign yourself to the fact that you can’t protect them in the end; they’ll go out in the world and get their ego bruised, their heart broken, their dreams sullied and tarnished. All you can do is teach them to remember: if bad news defined the world, it wouldn’t shock us when it happened. Face the sun; it’s there for a reason.

“This is the best day ever” Gnat said tonight; we were at Annie’s Parlour in Dinkytown, eating hamburgers for supper. She was right, even though she says that all the time. I’d finished my work by eleven; we played Cooties, Uno, Candyland, Busytown Board game, and then I took a nap. She woke me up by drawing an alarm clock and putting it by my ear and whispering “ring ring.” Off to the office; I visited the bank, then we went to have supper so my wife could come home and have a nice half-hour alone for a change. The hamburgers were perfect. I was ravenous, and allowed myself an extra ration of French fries. The overhead speakers played songs that had been lame when I sat in the restaurant in the early 80s, writing yards of drivel. When we were done she got a straw, bit off the top and fired the paper sleeve at me over and over again. She hit me in the heart every time, but they’ll do that. Without even trying to aim.

Overdue noir update! This may be it for the week, since book-work is reaching a critical stage. Once again I watched a movie from Warner Brother’s “Gangster” collection – each disc which has a preview, a cartoon, a comedy short, and the main feature. Start with the preview:

DuhYUHhhh. This is from a trailer for “Boy Meets Girl,” which featured Cagney and Sullivan horsin’ around in that 30s style I can only take in limited doses. And the trailer provided twice the maximum daily requirement of that. Dick Foran, known also as “the Singing Cowboy Dick Foran, looks inordinately moronic here. What a foroon, as Bugs might say.

The 1938 newsreel contained great dollops of editorializing, from “Peace” in scare quotes . . .

Aren't you glad you don't see that fiend in the daily news? Shudder. There's this comfy reassurance:

They're not quite clear on what this means, other than FDR "steers the ship of state of avoid Europe's hatreds." This segues to a campaign stop at the NY World’s Fair grounds, with the future that will never be still under construction:

I’ll skip the cartoon, a B&W Looney Tunes featuring the old Daffy. You know, the one who cried Whoo-hoo a lot and crossed his eyes. It’s a boxing story, and compared to Bugs’ efforts in the ring, it’s just a useful benchmark for how good cartoons eventually got.

The movie was another terrific Warner Brothers movie:

It has the Dead End Kids, all of whom died on Normandy in ’44. True story! Anyway, the movie begins with an establishing shot you couldn’t do today:

That’s supposed to tell the audience the time, and of course it did – then. The camera moves on to show a wonderful image of old Lower New York:

To show the passage of time and the intrusion of modernity, we revisit the scene years later, after Cagney gets out of stir. The street looks the same, but there are more motorcars than carriages, and there’s this:

It’s a motorized advertisement for a radio shop, driving through the streets, playing music. Just driving around, blaring jazz. The precursor of the car with the alarmingly thumpy sound system, I suppose. What would be the modern equivalent? Perhaps a truck that drove around dispensing wireless internet access, perhaps. This next shot is nicely composed, but to really judge the impact you have to see yourself sitting in a small cramped theater in some backwater Kansas burb, dreaming of the world beyond:

There’s the obligatory gang-war montage, oft repeated through the years. Literally. Here are two frames:

Compare – and contrast! – with these scenes from “The Roaring Twenties”:

Same shot. In the days before VCRs, you could get away with this. Nowadays if anyone repeats a shot, let alone uses the same footage, nine-hundred film geeks take to the internet.

There's a short scene in a newspaper, one of those Front Page-type places most journalists dearly believe are the direct ancestors of the bloodless rooms they work in today:

There's a sign in the upper-left-hand corner - you can't see it in this shot, but I noticed it because I'd seen it in another movie. The journalist's creed:

Trust me: it says "It must be fit to print / It must be acccurate / IS IT INTERESTING?" One out of three isn't bad.

Oh, and what about the movie? Well, it has that potent Depression-era blend of sentimentality and violence; you note that Cagney gets the respect of the feral youth by kicking them in the kneecaps, repeatedly. (During a basketball game, so there’s context.) The movie assembles great sympathy for Cagney’s character, then spends it all in the last reel, when he loses his cool and shoots about 47 cops. The famous ending packs a punch, no matter how many times you’ve seen it. At least it’s nice to see religion presented like, well, religion, instead of some gloomy scary Latin-saturated brotherhood in service of an elder god who may or may not be on our side, depending on what side of the universe He woke up on this go-around.

See you tomorrow, in some form or another.