A rather perfect Monday despite the domestic discord of getting an owly child, not entirely awake, off to the morning event. It’s a “trek,” where they ride bikes here and there and take soil samples and learn about pollution. This is secondary to the main purpose, which is getting them out of the house, on bikes, and out in the world. While I am happy for them to test the soil for the presence of arsenic or check the Falls for bobbing oil drums of PCBs and other industrial byproducts dumped into the waterstream, I don’t worry about exposure. It’s clean around here. Everything is probably cleaner than it’s been in 50 years, but you can’t instill the requisite concerns i you say that existing regimens have done a good job reducing pollution. We must always been on the cusp of sudden, horrible spoilage. Progress is inconvenient.
I was thinking about this on the way into work; there was a radio discussion of The Environment, as it’s called now. It was Ecology when I was a kid. I don’t remember what the BBC was talking about, because I was thinking about the previous piece they’d run on new insight into bacteria. Something called “Quorum Calling,” if I recall correctly. Bacteria have a way of sensing if there are enough of them to attack. There’s no point attacking your host if there’s just a few of you; once you have your mob in place, you can strike and be reasonably assured of success. They didn’t say what I was thinking, perhaps because I missed it, but if you can disrupt that process you have a marvelous weapon. Of course, once we do that, no doubt they will mutate and we’ll become zombies.
Just once I’d like some Terrible God-Playing Tinkering to result inadvertently in species-wide improvement: everyone being stronger, smarter, and better looking. But no, it’s always plagues and zombies and the Army taking over and sealing off Manhattan before they’re overrun. It would be nice if it was the other way around. “We’re widening the bridges into Manhattan, because now everyone in the outer bouroughs who’s infected is good-looking enough to move in and hang out at the rooftop clubs!”
I mentioned that my child was Owly. I chose the word with deliberate cruelty, since I knew it had been applied to me when I was like that in the morning, and I hated it. And so we visit upon the next generation the sins of the previous. I am but a transmitter for verbal bacteria - oh, and speaking of the real thing, Scientists Have Discovered that they infect cells by means of small needles - well, I suppose it goes without saying that they’re small - which they grow when the Quorum signaling means it’s time to do the natural thing and start killing the host. They grow needles with caps, and the caps break off when they puncture the host cell, flooding it with proteins that disrupt the cell’s normal organization. Ingenious. Frightening, but that’s the curse of intelligence. You cannot frighten bacteria. You can only trick it into thinking it’s alone.
I was owly, though. The phrase irritated me, which only boosted the owlyousity. The iron rule of dealing with an irritated child: anything you say has the effect of a cheese grater applied to a fresh wound with cheerful gusto. The other phrases that set me off: “on your high horse,” which made no sense because there were no horses around high or low, and “running around,” a description of any peregrination around town with friends. No one who was cheerful and humble was ever regarded as a chap on a low horse. No “running” was ever done. We drove. To specific locations.
Anyway. All was forgiven when we reconnected at the end of the afternoon. She’d texted me a picture of a bloody knee, a casualty of the bike ride, laconically subtitled “First day goin’ great,” which made me laugh. Home to rip off the cover the lawn people had put down after seeding and fertilizing and aerating, the last attempt to make something grow on the fallow side of the hill, the stony ground were no seed ever found purchase.
A riot of green. The entire side of the hill is verdant now. I stand at the bottom and look up; I see the improvements, the additions, the maintenance, the towering birches that were stubs when we moved in, the miles of hostas my wife put in on the boulevard. I see the dog way up the hill, looking down at the indistinct world that surely must still smell like home, and I think: this place is the best it’s ever been. I realize that anew now and then in between the troubles, or vice versa, and feel like the lucky fellow I am. Should think that more often; should be more grateful. You let the irritations and disappointments compound, they start talking to each other, and the needles come out.
I’m listening to a “Chill” channel on my internet radio app. Not rdio, not Pandora, not Spotify. It’s not “Lounge,” which for some means “chill-out music played in an Ibiza bar catering to vacationing musicians,” although “Lounge” for a while meant “50s cocktail music,” back when that stuff had a revival, although “Lounge” also meant “Exotica,” which was the Tiki-flavored music that also had a revival in the late 90s, until people realized that most of it was rather tiresome. “Chill” is not “Ambient,” which is a term I ascribe to music on my iTunes playlist I use for really deep relaxation and/or sleeping on a plane. Some of the most magical interludes of peculiar sleep have happened on a plane listening to Harold Budd. Basically, if it can’t ever wake me up, it’s Ambient. If it’s something I can see playing while I’m standing on the balcony of a ship, it’s Chill. There’s a preference for wordless tribal warbling in some Chill, which probably goes back to Deep Forest, and makes me think A) this reminds me of walking through a Guatemalan rain forest, and B) I can’t believe I actually hiked through a Guatemalan rain forest.
I used to hate to travel; I used to hate to fly. Now after two months at the kitchen counter at night I feel like I’m straining on the leash.
Our weekly look at products, mascots, logos, and ads of the olden times, reminding us what commercial culture looked like, and what assumptions informed the ads.
This installation of Borden Drama finds America’s favorite bipedal bovines in the usual situation of domestic friction: Elmer is being a pill, and Elsie, ever cheerful, is needling him with the direst of insults. In this case, comparing him to swine:
But she has a point. Why, everyone has to work together and do without in order to defeat fascism, dear. And that goes for ice cream, too! The human stares at them with something close to fascination, knowing he has the power of the Federal Government and its various enforcement apparatuses behind him. Why, look at the confidence with which he leans on the ice-cream container. No sir, you’re not having a bit of this.
Elmer frankly expresses what a lot of people must have thought: it's not like the war doesn't get any milk, you know. This earns him a stern look from the dispensary man:
Eventually Elmer’s mind is changed, as it always was - but in this case, as some sort of punishment he ends up as a soda jerk, suggesting has been forced to exchange places in order to understand what merchants must go through. Then Elsie the Borden cow turns to us with her delightful smile and reminds us that if we lose the war, we will die. So. Puts the dimished amount of ice cream in perspective.
The full ad shows a kitten licking its paws.
Given where else they lick, I’m not sure that was the wisest choice.
CLASS DIFFERENCES SOLVED BY BAKER'S CHOCOLATE
More social anxiety that comes from judgmental old ladies: it’s the dreaded Mrs. “Banker” Jones. She tossed that one in just so we all know the family has money, although it’s not as if she made any of it.
Whew! Now you too can penetrate heretofore unobtainable social status by manipulating chocolate in a fashion that softens the heart of snooty killjoys. I don’t quite get the uplifted nose and pronouncement of dietary restrictions; it’s like she’s saying “why, I never! I’m fat, and you propose dessert. The nerve!”
It’s a generic term now - if not legally, then certainly among people who use them. It replaced bandage because it sounds like it, and has more happy bright vowels at the end. Stylish mid-fifties box:
Those little ones never stayed on for more than five minutes. And they all washed off in the bath.
I had no idea. Did you?
They color-coded them according to genre. My parent’s record player had all black, with one or two reds. Interesting. Some kids grew up in a house where green was the norm, I’ll bet.
You could tell at a glance what sort of music someone liked. How convenient!
This Campbell wartime ad had a reminder why soup wasn’t exactly filling the shelves, and showed what the field rations looked like.
Why couldn’t they have looked like regular soup cans? Wouldn’t you have been pleased to see a familiar humble sign of home, of normalcy, of the world you left behind? You may be in the middle of the Pacific, but here’s that familiar red and white can. Seems like that would have been wise, but on the other hand, the cans have a message: you’re in the Army now.
Comic Sins up! And the usual usual everywhere else. See you around.