From Shorpy



It’s necessary to remember that last year was ruined, too. The spring came early, so early that people threw off their usual suspicion and decided it was here to stay. For the most part, it was - but the chill came back at the most inopportune time: the blooming of the trees. We have two trees that decide they’re actually flowers. They erupt in white blossoms that perfume the air and carpet the lawn, and they’re my favorite thing in the horticultural landscape of Jasperwood. They’d come and gone before we moved in. Discovering them the next year was like a present.

Last year it got cold when the trees blossomed, and I felt cheated. The lesson: You cannot please us up here, no matter how hard you try.

Although trying a little harder would be nice.

It was grey and wet again all weekend, but at least the rain ate at the snow and revealed - again! - parts of the backyard smothered by the sins of the sky last week. My wife went off on a business trip, so it was just Daughter and myself - and she had a sleepover at a friend’s, so I was left bereft on a Saturday night. Did things. Horrible, evil things.

No, of course not - worked. Finished up the book thing. What is it? Well, it’s a website that I turned into a book, thinking I’d take advantage of Apple’s bookstore, but it didn’t turn out to be the blockbuster I anticipated. Perhaps I just got tired of it -

Hold on, I’m supposed to be selling this thing.

“Tiny Lies” is a hilarious compendium of the strangest AND the smallest: ads from the back of old newspapers and magazines that sell straight-out poison, electrical butt-guns, useless geegaws, love potions, naughty books, liquor kits, and things like, well, this:


Death to Swinney?

Oh, there's so much more. Send no money and gett a thousand frogs! Most of us would send people money if they promised not to. Did you know that deafness was cured with oil rubbed on the nose, or that treatments for bad vision involved sucking out your eyeball with smelly rubber cups? Yes, it’s all here: arsenic galore, alum douches, treatments for diseases no one has any more. Packed with all the hokum and quackery of a credulous era, “Tiny Lies” is a treat for anyone who wants to feel justly superior to an era where advertising could say anything, content you wouldn’t complain. You were either shamed, or dead. Now there’s an ideal market.

There. That’s true. I plinked away at it for two years, forgetting about it, returning, groaning, ripping it up, rewriting, throwing stuff out. As a website, I think it’s just fine. As a $3.99 book, I think it would be a rip-off. But $1.25? That’s less than a penny a page. The scanning, the sorting, the resizing, the writing - I think it’s worth it.

You don’t have to pay $1.25. You can just download it and read it and say “eh, I would have paid .99, but not $1.25, so never mind.” You can download it for free and give it away. All of these things constitute a gross abuse of trust, but hey, it’s the internet.

See, it’s an experiment. If enough people pay $1.25 for this I will do more. If not, I won’t. Click on the cover and you'll be whisked to the proper page.



On Sunday I picked up Daughter from the sleepover and that was it for leaving the house. Dank weather and the nice cozy study. Because “Cozy” is one of those words you love to use in late April.

Finally got around to digitizing some cassettes I found in a box, and discovered they were answering machine tapes from 1984 - 85. Something of a golden era, in retrospect. Some of the voices made me smile, especially if I knew how that turned out. My parents’ voice. A lot of hang-ups. I had something of a famous answering machine back then, because I treated the message like a small skit, a piece of theater. One hang-up gave me a jolt - in the background I could hear a distinctive laugh, that of Warren Rust, a friend of my folks. Couldn’t miss it. Dad had called up my phone and played the message. I could imagine the rest of the menfolk downstairs in the basement as well. Two gone and one lost to senility now, only my Dad plugging on. I can still see the basement; I can still see all those men, laughing downstairs over a Schmitt’s while the women talked upstairs in the kitchen. They were company. That was the term: company is coming over. This meant TV-Dinner trays and ashtrays and the good glasses on the top shelf. If you were lucky it meant cousins - all of whom were female and older than me but for a while inclined to incorporate me into conversation, which usually had to do with the cool records they brought. I have a memory of everyone listening to SKYYYYY PILOT HOW HIGH CAN YOU FLY, and everyone was silent and reverential because this was deep. High, but deep.


The voice of my agent, which made me set my jaw. The betrayal was still two and a half decades away.


Various editors; a KTCA producer; the voice of a friend who died last month, her voice a stickpin in the heart. The voice of the Impossibly Unattainable Girlfriend Who Wasn’t, asking me to come dancing. There’s a story. O if I’d been blogging then. In the spring of that year there appeared on campus a tall woman with long legs, about a yard of astonishingly curly hair, and the sort of figure one normally associates with a rabbit-head logo. She rollerskated everywhere, as if having sprung from a Dire Straits song. What made it all very worse for English majors who could only stare and pick the gravel from their chin: she was pretty smart. I knew this for certain because she read my column, among other things. She had one steady beau but a few on the string. Arty types all. A musician, a photographer, a writer, and so on. I couldn’t really figure out what our relationship was, which is usually a good indication that it wasn’t, at all. On the other hand, who cared. She went off to New York, came back later; we had lunch at the Uptown Bar, and it was a strained and difficult conversation. After that: in the wind.

Another voice of a very dear friend who dropped me about seven years ago. I felt partly responsible - never know the particulars, since I just ceased to exist - and it hurts, and made me wonder what I should have done. Besides many the thing I knew I did. A friend who went on and on and on in hilarious fashion; last talked to her when I needed to know how to cook a kosher meal for Michael Medved, and she said “oh, it’s been years, and now you need some Jewformation.” She didn’t like Michael Medved at all but was quite helpful. As it happened he just had salad.


Hah: it’s a guy setting up the TV show where I drove the Zamboni, an experience I used for “Graveyard Special.” The show was called “Matrix,” produced by the U of M, and introduced as usual by Peter Graves. Yes. Later I would live two blocks from his old high school and take my daughter to rent movies in the store that was once his neighborhood movie theater, but of course I didn’t know that.


Son of a local beloved TV anchor. BEEEEP Rick, the guy with the DJ voice, a slick skinny guy who hung around the Valli - in fact, he says he’ll meet me at the Valli on the tape. Smoked True Menthols, notable for their plastic filter. “Take a trip to the mountains,” he’d say, shaking one out for you. One of the top five pinball artists at the Valli; short-order cook who bounced from one Dinkytown restaurant to the other, and would periodically vanish to go to Montana or some other state to be a radio announcer for a while, that being his main trade. Things would happen; PDs would be unreasonable, formats would change, relationships would go south, and he’d pop up at the Valli again, working the hairnet side of the trade. Then the Valli closed and we all wandered away.

About 15 years later I was standing outside the office, having a smoke, and a city bus pulled up. The door opened. Rick was behind the wheel. He shot me an index finger and winked.


Star-Tribune reporter who tried to get me hired for many years, bless her. Still remember: I’d been at the paper for about three months when we were purchased by another company. As I left the meeting she wandered past and said “Last fired, first hired.” It was like a baseball bat to the head. She didn’t mean it. No one ever thought anyone would be fired. Ever.


Whoa: way old girlfriend, but not at the time. She’d come to mind on Friday when I was tweeting about a movie I saw.

Which brings us to Black and White world.




This week’s movie: the Generic Protagonists!



It takes some time to introduce the leading lady; make ‘em wait for what you know they want. Ladies and Gentlemen, actress and scientist, Hedy Lamarr.



What sort of unworthy bloke is she paired up with this time?



He looks a bit geeky, doesn’t he? Almost dorky. But of course when you hear him speak it’s a different matter: a Continental accent, full of wry acceptance of life’s foibles, undergirded with steely resolve. This is the sort of fellow whose quiet decency will bring the Nazis to their knees. That, plus all the oilfields he blew up.

Hey, wait. Haven’t we seen him before? A man on the run who’s an underground hero . . .



No, too callow.



Anyway, where are they? Why, a cosmopolitan cafe in a neutral port, a place brimming with intrigue, competing factions, and local politics - all murmuring and burbling under the sound of the orchestra and gay laughter. Why, it’s almost like that place in . . . .



It’ll come to me. Anyway, what a film like this needs - beautiful woman with her heart torn in two by love, and a noble man who must find safety so he can continue the fight - is a wheedling little man who oozes a certain savoir faire but still seems like someone who will be easily ground to jam by the juggernaut of fascism, someone you like but expect to have a bad end. Someone like that Ugarte character in that movie called . . . damn, tip of my tongue.




Now that we have the hero, the girl, the oily go-between, I think it’s only natural we expect - nay, demand - someone who has an attitude of private delight that suggests the war has not affected his affairs at all, and it it has, it’s something he can shrug off, as men of the world do. After all, I remember a movie where there was this guy, he had a bar, and he wanted to sell it and get out of town, and there was another bar owner who seemed to care more about swatting flies than the encroachment of fascism on the remote North African outpost where he made his living. Does that ring a bell?




Remarkable! I think that’s the same guy. Well, let’s go back to the cafe. Hello - now we know why the beauty is reluctant to give her heart to the hero. She’s married to a man who has made his peace with the fascists, but only to play a game that requires a certain amount of sarcastic obsequiousness the Nazis are too dim to detect - for the most part. If they do note his tone, it’s set aside for the moment, because he is useful.



In other words, here’s the pitch: All right, boys, we’re doing “Casablaca” again, but this time Ilsa’s married to Renault, and Lazlo is Rick, coming through town, and the fat guy works for the underground, and Ugarte is working for the good guys, but otherwise, it’s the same drill. Get cracking. Max Steiner already wrote the score, so don’t worry about that.

Don't worry about anything, because we have Hedy.



She's not the greatest actress, but it's really difficult to think why that matters at all.

Well, there you have it. If you missed things on Friday, by all means click "Previously" and enjoy the new (old) Patriotica site. See you around in the usual places.

And, er, buy the book. If you don't mind. Comments are below the stack of links and commercial enticements.






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