Friday night the phone rang around 8:45. That would mean family, or the office. It was a survey taker. She wanted to know if I would like to participate in a brief survey about banks. By “brief” she meant “interminable,” but I didn’t know that at the time. i said sure! because it’s one of the hallmarks of middle age that you’re excited by the opportunity to tell them what you think, by cracky.

We got off to a good start; she asked if I made all the decisions, shared them with someone in the family, or had no input at all.

“My wife’s in the room,” I said. “How do you think I’m going to answer that?”

She laughed, and on we went. So many banks about which a fellow’s supposed to have an opinion.

How likely are you? Very likely, somewhat likely, neither likely nor unlikely, somewhat likely, not likely at all.

Would you say you have a positive opinion, somewhat positive, neither positive nor negative, bitter and resentful, or working on a bomb?

On an on about every bloody bank in the country. One of them I’d heard about because they put up billboards on a street I pass two years ago, a campaign to raise brand awareness. It worked; I knew they existed. And said as much: “how would you characterize the message the advertising intended to send?” was a question.

“The bank exists.”

The follow-up questions asked how much I’d be likely to use the bank, and of course my answers were “not at all.” I know they exist. Their ads say they want me to be prosperous - as opposed to all the other banks hell-bent on grinding their customers into penury, I suppose.

I said I was well aware of Wells Fargo ads, because I think I saw them on the web, but I think that’s because they dropped a cookie and followed me around for a few days like a stray dog - so don’t take my awareness to mean anything. I recognized the red-and-gold logo, that’s all. Don’t infer anything from that.

TCF. Do you feel positive, negative, gaseous, liqueous?

In this case I said I felt somewhat positive about them, but again, it’s because they gave me my first ATM card back in 1977. I feel somewhat negative about them because their HQ is a dull building, and they’ve emptied out the atrium space that used to have a restaurant an a small fishtank set into the wall. I know that doesn’t help.

I hear her typing. She’s typing “removed fishtank” or “got a lonely, lonely man here.”

But it does matter, really; TCF adjoins the Foshay tower, and the transition from the craptacular brown-brick building to the Deco lobby of the Foshay is like going from 1974 England to 1928 New York - and, I should mention, the exterior of the building does that irritating 70s trick where the building is bigger and wider above the street, like a stone mushroom. On the other hand, I check the time-and-temp sign as I come off the freeway, and recognize that they were the first to install those around town when the time-and-temp sign was a new innovation.

Less so now, though.

At the end of it she thanked me for my time, and I said that I had done phone surveys for two days in college, and remember being grateful when someone said yes.

“Well thank you,” she said. “I was below my quote tonight but you’ve brought me back up to where I should be. I appreciate it.”

They have quotas. If they don’t meet the quotas on an ongoing basis I’m sure there’s a talk in the manager’s office. It’s beige and has a motivation poster on the wall and a thin plant in a silver bucket and perhaps pictures of the manager’s family on the desk, if it’s the kind of place that sticks around long enough to hire family men; if it’s a boiler-room the manager might be some hotshot in his early tender 30s who thinks he’s something, all right, surely something; he has a shop, he has minions, he has a spot in the lot for the car that’s his pride and joy, and when he goes to the bars on Saturday night with his friends there’s a tacit understanding that he’s the leader of the pack, because alone among all of them he’s a manager. A leader. And so he lays down the law about quotas, with a smile at the end to motivate like the books say.

Or he’s one of those guys who knows that this is BS, that everything in this shop is a cheese-grater on the gums of the sole and everyone ignores that because it’s a job and hey, it beats standing up all night at the Quik Stop, right?

I had one of those managers once. Ed. Ed knew I was not long for the job. The job required Detail, scrupulous attention to detail, and I was more of a Concept Guy. Unfortunately when you are collating television listings a certain amount of precision goes with the territory; you can’t say that the Addams Family will air “in the late afternoon” and give the episode summary as “hijinx result from the intersection of different worldviews.”

Ed understood, but on the other hand, c’mon, man.

Up the chair was Ed’s boss, and Ed had to answer to Her about me. I should note that her office was in the middle between the veal pens and the Office Support Staff, the people who would be there forever while the drones in data entry came and went.

There was actually a picture on the wall of a kitten hanging from a branch, with the exhortation to hang in there ‘til Friday.

I sometimes think that the dominant objective in my life has been the avoidance of office culture. Not because I am a rarified soul who cannot flower in its stony ground, but because I just cannot adjust to what everyone else accepts without trouble. That’s my problem.

No, that’s not right. There have been two workplaces I loved. The Valli restaurant, and the Daily. The Daily Newspaper was an office, but it had life and noise and smoke and laughter and a purpose. But that was college. College, when you can spend an hour studying something with no immediate practical application, go to a workplace and help put out a newspaper in the course of a few hours, stay up late, arrange your day outside the preposterous paradigm of drive-here / do-this / drive-back.

College ruins you for the real world. My wife sometimes notes that I still live like I do in college, and I always say: yes. And it’s one of my proudest accomplishments.

What makes it possible, of course, is all the people who don’t. So when one of them calls with questions, sure. Banks? Oh, I have opinions about banks. I know you won’t get around to TCF’s logo, but really. Forty years without a meaningful refresh.

And if there's one thing I can't stand it's a bank without a meaningful refresh, but they didn't ask that one.



Once they learned there was money in horror, the cheap studios started cranking out the thrillers as fast as they could. It wasn’t as if there were copyrights on ancient concepts; no one owned the idea of a vampire. But no one wanted to stray too far from the proven winner. If you’re going to do monster horror, it had best be set in some undefined mittle-europa locale where the basics of the genre are in full supply: castles, villages, villagers, and gloom. So:

Monogram. Urgh. Wikipedia says: The idea behind the studio was that when the Monogram logo appeared on the screen, everyone knew they were in for action and adventure. Well, they knew they were in for it. Let’s see if we have the basics.


It’s the thrilling, mysterious hour of 7:30!

Do we have the requisite burgomeister to bring a small amount of late 19th-century bureaucracy to this hamlet?

We do. As the movie begins, they’re discussing the recent outbreak of people dying from blood loss, and the associated puncture marks in the throat. Some insist it’s vampire:

But of course the men of Science know better. Why there were Men of Science in this small town I’ve no idea, but there’s always some guy with a lab.

The lab, by the way, can be reached by a set that actually looks as if it's from one of the Universal horror movies.

It leads down to the Pit of Woo, where there's a beautiful Gal Scientist:

That’s Fay Wray. Speaking of big names:

we also need a crazy guy who can play the Redd Herrink, and here they got a coup:

You want something that reminds people of the original Dracula, get a guy from Dracula. That’s Dwight Frey, of course, the Renfeld of all Renfelds. He plays the village idiot, who wanders around the village wearing the smile of a simpleton or the wide-eyed alarm of a lunatic. He keeps a bat in his pocket, and takes it out periodically to pet it, thereby PROVING he is a vampire. He’s great fun to watch, but there isn’t enough of him.

Prefiguring his great run in the Universal Horror films, the impeccable exactitude of Lionel Atwill.

Does he look like a guy who almost lost his career thanks to a naughty party and nudie flicks? Says a Frankenstein fan page:

All the press attention turned sour shortly after the Atwills separated in 1939, the Mrs. retiring to a mansion in Palm Springs. Atwill became the focus of a highly publicized, career-crippling scandal over a Christmas 1940 party held at his Malibu home. Guests, some possibly underaged, were said to have cavorted in the nude on a tiger skin rug while stag movies were screened. In a court appearance, an emphatic Atwill claimed that he was “absolutely not guilty”, resulting in a felony charge for perjury.

He later said he had "lied like a gentleman" to protect friends and associates. It really takes someone with the poise and intelligence of an Atwill to carry of the phrase "Lie like a gentleman" and make it a good thing.

So you have all the elements for a good 30s chiller. But there’s more! The village sets are from a Universal movie; they rented them from “Frankenstein.” The interiors are from James Whale’s bizarre thriller, “This Old Dark House.” So it has the talent and the sets of a major studio release. And it’s dull, dull, dull. One charitable reviewer at imdb shows how far people will go to praise anything: it’s an “above-average example of the lowest of the low budget film-making of the 30s.” Also, it turns into Frankenstein.

Nice logo, though.

Let’s look at something else in the same genre, shot the year before.

The spelling and typeface lets you know you’re in for Euro-vamps, which could mean Max Schreck-style ghouls with pointy ears and long nails, or . . . well, it’s hard to describe this movie, except to say that once you watch it you see where David Lynch got everything. It’s an astonishing thing. Barely makes sense. The plot is difficult to discern. None of that matters.

I think we’ve entered the genre of European Movies Where Certain Images Might Be Symbolic:

The hero, if you can call him that, is a fellow who spends the first half the movie wandering around with a blank look:

Julian West, who would go on to be the senior fashion editor of Vogue, but that’s another story.

Back to the symbolic symbol things:

You know the plot might not be apparent to everyone when they have to spell it out - in a talkie:

But that's not fair to the film. It's not really a talkie, and it's not a vampire movie in the strict sense with capes and i-vant-to-drink-your-bluud and holes in the neck. It's 75 minutes of barely comprehensible dream imagery, a gauzy nightmare.

Even the dialogue is from dreams:

Nonsense! Silly man. Then there's the soldier with one false leg, shown in shadow like a half-Pan creature:

It's full of scenes . . . like this.

Compare the two: completely different artistic undertakings. The first one made its money back; "Vampyr" lost money - in fact, one audience at a big European premier demanded its money back, and when the management refuse, they rioted.

Those were the days.


Work blog around 12:30 and Tumblr as well. See you around!





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