From Shorpy



Something I almost did at Trader Joe’s today: bought flowers. A sprig, a spray, a bunch, whatever - brighten up the kitchen. But it’s February. It’s dead cold and blank white and the skies, they are cloudy all day. I almost prefer to desaturate everything. The time will come to dial it up again. It’ll mean more.

Something I decided to do this weekend: use Evernote to take pictures of the mixes and sauces I have in the cupboard, so when I’m planning a meal while shopping on the weekend, I know what we have.

Something I decided not to do this weekend: that thing up there that I said I had decided to do, because really. C’mon.

Something I tried to do with limited success this weekend: eat. The sprained jaw is getting better, but I still have to slide the food in. I can talk all right; i can drink. I can live a normal life as long as I don’t have to open my mouth too wide. It’s getting better. It puts me in a bad mood, though, so:

Something I decided to do a few weeks ago: set up a second Network Attached Storage device so I can cut down my number of backups to a sane number, and - this is really the key - involves little black boxes sitting on a shelf under the desk, side by side, looking cool. There was a sale on 2 TB hard drives at the Nerd Center today, so I went there. Was feeling odd. Detached. Ho-hum errand on a ho-hum day in the most ho-hummiest month of the year, with a stupid busy week ahead.

I saw: a 13-port USB hub. That’s for me, I said. It was $49.99. That’s not for me, I said. Card: $30 INSTANT SAVINGS. Well then it’s for me again. But wait: here’s another 13-port USB hub for $24.99; it could be better. Except it was the same thing with a different logo sprayed on the bottom. One was Imagitech and the other was Technomagic, or something like that. Separated at birth in a Chinese factory, sent on different belts to receive the mark of an imaginary company.

Something I'm surprised I did: watched an episode of Maude. We'll get to that later in the week, after I've recovered.

Something I did not do: set up the NAS, because the room is going to be painted this week. A cool ash white. The furniture has to go in the middle of the room, everything will be disconnected, so I’ll put it all together lately. Besides: I needed the USB hub I had set up already to digitize . . .

a cassette tape taken from my answering machine in 1983.

Something I found while cleaning out the closet. Of course, I knew what it was on sight: COBRA. That was the brand. Ran it through Garageband, but didn’t check how it sounded. The batteries were low, so everyone sounded drugged, or like they were speaking from beyond the grave. Adjusted the pitch to bring them back to life; a parade of people I’d forgotten, including the stupendously alcoholic former housemate who was always setting up some magazine or publication, and never paid me for what I wrote. One he paid me with a hundred dollar bill he created on a computer. It was redeemable for actual cash when he got some.

There’s a guy who wants to write a book review, and I remember he was a pain. Dependable, workmanlike - one of those older guys who hung around the U too long. Something of a pill. BEEP. Call from the receptionist at the Daily telling me there’s “a personal letter for you from the Washington Post, if you want to pick it up.” No idea.

It would be interesting if it was one call after the other, but it’s not. Long swaths of barely audible tape-rumble, sudden dial tones, BEEEP click yeahhh, heyyyy, from someone I cannot recall - prank calls from bygone co-workers, then my dad swimming into the mix to ask for my social security number.

Here’s the thing: when I tried to reset the pitch, I used my dad’s voice as the baseline. Once he sounded right, everyone else sounded right.

There’s another side to go. It’s an odd artifact. I don’t like it.

The machine sat on top of the fridge, which was out of sight on the right:

Video frame of something shot at my apartment a few years later. I recognize the pictures on the wall: there’s a shot of the Flatiron I took the year of the answering machine tape. It’s all very strange. It’s a reminder that a quotidian account of your past is not exactly something you would want to recover, and in fact would be made up of details you had not forgotten but simply consigned to the storage bins in your head because there’s just so damned much of it, and so little of it matters.

As it happens I have actual physical bins as well, and as I mentioned I’ve been reclaiming the Storage Closet, going through Everything to reduce the stuff down to the things that matter - which, as it happens, are things with no personal connection whatsoever. Items of historical or artistic merit: save pile. Folder of 6th grade school papers: g’bye pile. Just because my Mom put something aside decades ago, and I’ve lugged it from here to there, doesn’t mean it means anything.

So I opened a small box, and it had the cassette tape of the phone calls. What else? Well, some buttons I wore on my waiter vest at the Valli. Out. Some medals from high school speech and debate: all out but one. My childhood ring with my birthstone: for heaven’s sake. No. A pin that consisted of two letters: BF. That would be Ben Franklin, my junior high. In the go-pile, for the antique store. Then -

A box with very old script and the name of a jewelers in Vermont, of all places. Eh?

Inside: gold. A gold bridge.

A gold bridge that replaced a tooth between two molars, and judging from the shape, bottom right.

Where I now had a hole.

Vermont. This was my great-grandfather’s bridge. If the box was Vermont, then he had it before he moved to North Dakota. He moved to North Dakota right after the war.

So this was in his head at Gettysburg.


EWWW said daughter. Why don’t you sell it? It’s gold.

I might. Take the money. Buy flowers. Put them here.

Because I’m certain it’s been a very long while since he had any.




This weekend's movie: a 1939 pre-war number designed to get everyone up to speed on the Nazi menace.



I should note I don't mean "Nazi menace" sarcastically. Yes, this is propaganda, in the strict sense, but the intention is to inform people that the Nazis were bastards intent on very bad things.

From the very start I knew I would enjoy this:



The Faceless Narrator, informing us of the perils to come - an urgent voice that addresses the nation as a unified entity, one that had better understand what we're up against. But since this is pre-war, what's the immediate peril?

The German-American Bund.



Under the guise of being true patriotic Americans, the Bund seeks to bring fascism to America, and do away with that pesky Constitution. This is seen as true Americanism, since it would allow the body politic to be true to itself, its true culture and identity.

Well, look who's the head Nazi:



George Sanders, again, cool and lethal.

I'm not here to recap the plot; you can imagine. Spies and plots and hugger-mugger, interspersed with some extraordinary montage and animated sequences that have nothing to do with the story:




The film shows how the Nazi cargo moves from Germany across the ocean . . . .



Across its spy network in America (remember, this is 1939, and we're seeing what supposedly already exists, not some dire prediction of future penetration.)



It's loaded into planes . . .




Leaflets! Leaflets full of poison, dumped on the American streets!



This leads almost directly to Nazi kids in Bund camps with punchable mugs:



Who can possibly save us?



Whew. It's just 8 years after "Little Caesar," and he's switched sides. Supposedly he worked hard to get the film made, lending his box-office clout to get the word out. People weren't exactly itching to get into the fight in '39.

Working by his side, the female-staffed telecommunications network:



Isn't that a fine shot?


Of course, some imdb reviewers rolled their eyes:

The movie is heavy-handed propaganda which becomes almost comical with its over-dramatic narration and failure to recognize the irony in its supposed hate of propaganda.

Both sides used it so both sides are the same. Right.

No subtlety used in this film. For those not interested in the anti Nazi message, Confessions of a Nazi Spy does succeed on the entertainment level as well. But I will say that playing America the Beautiful over the end credits was a bit much even for audiences in 1939.

Was it? I've no idea. If you were pro-Nazi or just didn't want to get involved, sure, you might roll your eyes and grumble that patriotism was being co-opted by the warhawks. But you probably weren't too surprised.

Hollywood did that all the time. Then.

Oh, if you're wondering whether the movie proves the observation made over the last few weeks, that the Nazis have the best offices:




Usual raft o' things today - Matches right now, Strib blog between noon and one. Tumblr around the same time. Just keep clicking those buttons below!








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